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May 30, 2016

VGFlicks: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Part 2)

Alright, so we’re back to this review of an adaptation of a game I’ve never played, with a fantastic edge given to a piece of the world’s history (changed quite a bit, of course, to allow the fantasy to exist and to make the story interesting). Go read Part 1 to know what happened so far. I just hope I can remember all the names.

Alright, so we’re still in the year… uh… I don’t know. Prince Dastardly, of the royal family of Nasal is on the run with Princess Danika of the Holy City of Alamo, after he has been wrongly accused of killing his adoptive father, King Shaman, with a poison tunic (I still can’t make sense of that). Therefore, his brother, the now King Tut, and his second older brother Gareth, have put a bounty on his head. However, Chancellor Dazeem is actually the one responsible for this murder. The two are captured by Sheik Homer and his men, and after they escape, then make their way to King Shaman’s funeral in the city of Everett, where Dastardly also finds out about his uncle’s machinations involving the magical time-manipulating dagger found earlier. And thus, Dazeem heads out to find a guild of assassins to chase down his nephew and kill him; we also know that Dazeem’s plan involves letting his brother die at a younger age so that he can access the throne in his place. So Danika and Dastardly hurry back to Alamo.

…Wait, I think I got some names wrong. Give me a moment, I’ll rewatch the movie up to now….

(A hour later) Okay, I’m ready. Wow, I got ALL the names wrong in that recap.

This moment of horror was brought to you by Disney,
the happiest place of Earth!
By this point in the story, Tamina warms up to Dastan, and the two head back to Alamut, but on the way get ambushed and captured by Sheik Amar and his men; the revolt started by the runaway prince resulted in Amar losing most of what he had at his old camp. That night, Amar’s camp is attacked by a bunch of snakes sent by the Hassansin-in-chief, and Dastan kills all of the reptiles using his own combat prowess and some sand of the dagger of time. Tamina manages to convince Amar and his men to escort them to a sanctuary, on the promise that they’d be allowed to take all of the gold there.

May 27, 2016

VGFlicks: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Part 1)

Have you played any game from the Prince of Persia series? I have. It belonged to a friend, it was the SNES port of the very first game, which was originally made for the Apple IIe in 1989. That was before I had much gaming experience, so I sucked in every possible way, and was unable to even get past the first level. Well, in my defense, this game did have a pretty innovative attack-block-attack-block system for the time, which I never mastered… The franchise itself saw a reboot on PC, starting with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, followed by Warrior Within and The Two Thrones, with an interquel in 2010 titled The Forgotten Sands. And that interquel came out around te same time as this movie, which is based on the first game of this reboot trilogy/quadrilogy, and it was a way to capitalize on the release of the film – gotta have tie-in merchandise, am I right? This disregards the second reboot that happened in 2008, and… Just give me a second, I need to get my story straight.

Anyway, before I get lost again in a desert of years, dates and titles, I’m gonna talk about today’s movie. It was released in theaters on May 28th, 2010. While it bears the name of the first title in that reboot trilogy, it actually incorporates elements from all three games. It features Jake Gyllenhaal in the role of Prince Dastan. You might remember him as a teenager dying in a plane crash in the comfort of his own home. Or perhaps, as an older teenager in that time Roland Emmerich froze New York City solid. Or maybe you remember him from that confusing and nonsensical but nonetheless awesome film Source Code (It’s right there, on my giant list of guilty pleasures!). Or maybe you know him from Brokeback Mountain? Either way, you probably know him from somewhere, and that’s all that counts.

Unfortunately, with my lack of knowledge on the series, I cannot properly judge this movie as an adaptation – but hey, it’s an adaptation, I can still cover it on my site. I mean, I wanted to do Ender’s Game, but then I remembered my copy of the DVD wasn’t working right ever since my mom put it silver face down on the table (some time later, she did the same to my copy of Just Dance 2015, unlucky me). So Prince of Persia it is.

Okay, enough time wasted. Let’s jump right into this!

May 23, 2016

Kirby Super Star (Part 2)

Hello and welcome back to this review! There’s only two (technically three) sub-games to cover for this review. There’s a whole bunch still to say, so let’s jump right into it!

Revenge of Meta Knight

Meta Knight, aboard his mighty ship the Halberd, has decided to launch an assault on Dream Land! Kirby sets out to stop him, no matter the cost! Kirby lands on the Halberd with the Warp Star and runs through the main deck, eventually reaching an open area where Meta Knight’s mooks unleash a large robotic lobster. Of course, Kirby can try to fight it, but the Halberd takes off before the lobster can be defeated, and Kirby will be thrown out of the Halberd by the strong gust.

Like other games in this collection, Revenge of Meta Knight tweaks a few conventions to give the player a unique experience. First off, the levels are timed, so you just can’t waste your time. Run, run, run through a level, run like your life depends on it. Second, the game is divided into levels, but much like Spring Breeze you cannot go back to a previous level; and levels are separated by quick cutscenes showing the large world and what happens on it. However, the best addition to the game is the underling talk.

"Calm down!"
"I'll try... WE'RE ALL GONNA
See, this game may be relatively short, but it uses a pretty cool idea: Sometimes the hub at the bottom of the screen will be replaced by the discussion between MetaKnight’s crewmen, the… Meta Knights. On one hand, they are indubitably loyal to their leader. On the other, they are terrified of Kirby. Thankfully, they’re a pretty large gang, and they have the resources to overcome this opponent. Thus, they start off pretty confident in this fight.

And they're almost proud of it.
Kirby lands in a forest area that then goes into an underwater cave, including an auto-scrolling section with bomb blocks and walls in the way. You’ll quickly notice that this game is more difficult than the previous straightforward platformer adventures in this collection. At the end of this level, Kirby fights Whispy Woods and then a stronger version of it, Twin Woods (it’s two Whispys sharing a life bar, just in case you were bored with the lack of challenge against a single Whispy). Kirby then gets to the Warp Star and tries to board the Halberd again, but gets blasted off. He runs through a second level, at the end of which he finds Dyna Blade and uses her to fly onto the flying warship. However, Meta Knight’s crew shoots Dyna Blade down. What? You jerks wounded her? That’s a dick move! I mean, I know I did it earlier, but…. But… But…… That’s still a dick move!

Make It Attack Its Own Weak Spot. That shouldn't be
a strategy heroes use against villains.
Kirby makes his way through the Halberd, and eventually reaches one of the ship’s main weapons: The Main Cannon #2, also known as the Combo Cannon. He defeats it and moves forward, prompting Meta Knight’s mooks to start to lose hope. Their troubles aren’t over, as Kirby’s next stop is the right wing, where he does considerable damage to the ship. Annoyed, the Meta Knights unleash Heavy Lobster at Kirby again, and Kirby eventually defeats it (which is not simple as it has a tendency to use attacks that make Kirby lose his current copy ability). Kirby then finds himself under the ship, where he does even more damage. To say the crew panics would be an understatement.

Wait, is the skull.... crying??

Up there! Right above you!
After a brief run under the ship, Kirby finds the reactor; it’s impervious to all of his attacks, but it isn’t impervious to a laser weapon used in the very same room to try and defeat Kirby. Ah, gotta love that oversight from villains. They give us something that only they can destroy, and provide us with exactly the thing they own that allows us to destroy it. Isn’t that right, giant-Bowser-with-a-switch-at-the-end-of-a-long-hall-over-a-lake-of-lava-that-instantly-makes-you-lose-the-fight? With the reactor destroyed, the Meta Knights decide to gang up to stop Kirby at all costs, but Kirby defeats them, so the crew abandons ship, leaving Meta Knight on his own. The mooks’ dialogue boxes become sadder and sadder, too, like we’re actually killing… characters with personalities…. Goddammit, the moral of No More Heroes is gonna follow me forever! Finally, Kirby reaches Meta Knight. Once again, the knight wants to make this a duel between swordsmen, and you can refuse this offer though it means you’ll need to be faster at beating Meta Knight.

When Kirby’s rival is defeated, there’s only 60 seconds left to the timer. Kirby is blasted on a Wheelie and drives off, while Meta Knight tries desperately to damage Kirby and prevent him from escaping. I imagine him, saying, “If I’m going down with this ship, SO ARE YOU!” Thankfully, some luck and some skills let Kirby escape, and he lands on a platform from which he sees the Halberd falling into the ocean and slowly sinking. The end… of this sub-game.

Ah, I just love the smell of destroyed airships in the
A pretty difficult sub-game, but I enjoy it. Many parts are tricky, and some bosses are really tough, but it’s a mode that I enjoyed. It can also be called a day in the limelight for Meta Knight and his crew, since it’s implied that Meta Knight was trying to conquer Dream Land to rule it as some sort of benevolent dictatorship (contrary to Dedede’s “feed me or I’ll steal all your food” dictatorship), and it’s shown he treats his crew like family. Said crew has also hidden many stashes of food around, including Maxim Tomatoes, explaining why Kirby can find them and refill his health as he thoroughly demolishes the Halberd room by room. All in all, a solid sub-game that you’ll definitely enjoy. Now, let’s move on to the final one…

Milky Way Wishes

The longest sub-game in this collection, Milky Way Wishes has a complete story and changes completely the way copy abilities work. See, this time around Kirby is unable to gain copy abilities from enemies; instead, he has full access to every single ability in the game, at any moment, through the Start menu or by pressing X in-game and picking an ability with Left or Right (this is called Copy Essence Deluxe). The problem is that Kirby needs to find all 19 Copy Abilities in the levels he visits, on trophies similar to those he could take abilities from in every other sub-game of this collection.

I've never seen you before, who the heck are you
to give orders to Kirby like this?
The sun and the moon are fighting, and this duel between giants might well be the end of Dream Land! Hey you two, are we gonna have to settle this in a board game like they did for Mario Party 6? A little jester creature called Marx heads out to find Kirby and asks him to end this feud, by finding the comet known as Galactic Nova and ask its help. However, in order to find Nova, Kirby needs to gather a lot of power from the nearby planets; he does this by collecting the stars on them. Oooh, a cosmic-level story? I like where this is going.

Thus, Kirby can explore all the planets around his solar system; Floria, Aquarius, Skyhigh, Hotbeat, Cavius, Mecheye and Halfmoon, and even a tiny planet on the map that hides one ability. Every level can be completed with normal Kirby, but some areas are closed off until you get an ability that lets you open the way. Of course, you’re invited to revisit all the worlds to find the remaining abilities. Every world includes a fight with a boss seen in a previous sub-game, and sometimes it also includes a mini-boss bonanza. When all these levels are beaten, we access the final level: Nova itself.

I like the stoner look. More Nintendo characters should have it.

Awww, it had the :3 face before the :3 face was a thing!

After gathering all seven Stars, Kirby finds Nova and is about to wish for the Sun and the Moon to stop fighting… but then Marx comes the Hell out of nowhere, bumps Kirby away and wishes for domination over Planet Popstar. Ack, I’ve been manipulated by a jester!


Marx happens to be the one who caused the Sun and the Moon to fight, and the one who sent Kirby on this quest, all so he could gain immense power from Galactic Nova. Well that’s just great. I could say I haven’t seen it coming, but then again I wouldn’t have seen it coming if suddenly Mario, Link, Samus, DK and Pikachu had come to Kirby’s help as a group called the Nintenvengers. So that twist with Marx comes pretty much out of nowhere; Even Dimentio’s twist was heavily hinted at.

Marx, now almighty, tosses Galactic Nova into Planet Popstar, and Kirby goes inside Nova to stop its motor. Sadly, it’s not enough, as the godlike being continues on its course, and so the Sun and the Moon decide to help each other and push it away from Planet Popstar. Now Kirby has to battle Marx, in the toughest fight in the whole game! You’ll notice that, outside of a few differences, Marx has attacks that feel a lot like Tabuu’s in Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s Subspace Emissary, which makes me thing that Masahiro Sakurai has drawn inspiration for the Subspace Emissary’s final boss from the final bosses of his Kirby series. Drawn inspiration from, or plagiarized himself? You make the call!

Marx is finally defeated, and as a result he crashes into Galactic Nova, destroying it. Planet Popstar has been saved, until the next attack from an interdimensional cosmic monster or a megalomaniacal citizen. Kirby decides to take some time off and sleep through the next day. Unless it was actually a dream like the infamous ending to the American Super Mario Bros 2… oh well, whatever. Completing this mode unlocks…

I really liked this one, definitely ranks up there among my favorite modes of Kirby Super Star. While the plot itself is nothing to write home about, the idea is at least interesting (a tiny citizen of Dream Land wanting more power, and of course Galactic Nova, who is implied not to be the only one - in fact, odds are the people at HAL Laboratory might bring back that part of the Kirby mythos soon... The new gameplay is neat, although it makes the first few minutes of the game pretty difficult, all while making the game almost ridiculously easy when you've found all 19 copy abilities in the levels. All in all, a strong mode.

The Arena

Whatever you do, do NOT get the Sleep ability!
This is the usual Boss Rush mode, the one you see in just about every Kirby game. However, unlike previous Boss Rush modes, you are given a few options to help you defeat the 19 bosses of this game. To help you on this quest – undoubtedly the hardest mode available here – you have access to all the copy abilities AND a Helper, which can prove vital in certain fights. In the resting area between two bosses, you get to see which boss is next, so you can plan your strategy ahead; and if you’re low on health, there are five Maxim Tomatoes having from the tree. Plus, between two bosses there’s always two ability trophies nearby to let Kirby gear up. I know this is the third time I’m making a comparison to the same game, but this feels like the Boss Battles mode or the All-Star mode of the Smash series. The order of the 18 first bosses is random, but it includes the major bosses from every sub-game as well as a few collections of mid-bosses (and inexplicably a zero-effort battle against a Waddle Dee, but I’m not complaining!), and the 19th boss will always be Marx. Beating this mode unlocks a Sound Test that includes all the music and sounds in the game.

Well, that seems to cover everything!

Final Thoughts

Hey, wait! This isn’t a sub-game, those are my last words about the whole game! Ignore this sub-header. So, what do I think of this collection of games?

It. Is. Awesome. I completely understand why this is considered one of the best Kirby games ever made. Of course, you need to complete a game in order to unlock another, but the games have a steady increase in difficulty, starting with the simplistic Spring Breeze, ending with Milky Way Wishes. There’s a neat selection of abilities here, adding up to 19 (not counting the limited-use ones, like Paint, Cook, Mike or Crash), and just as many potential Helpers in your quests. Simply changing the idea behind every sub-game did wonders, as each of them feels unique. None of these games are too long, though some may seem a bit short (you can probably go through Spring Breeze in less than 10 minutes, and Gourmet Race is over in barely over 3 minutes). The longest two are, without a doubt, Milky Way Wishes and The Great Cave Offensive; the former, because you need to complete some levels multiple times in order to find some abilities, which themselves require other abilities to retrieve. And the latter because you can beat the game in about 20 minutes if you don’t care about the treasure chests, but it can take a couple hours to find everything (and, speaking from experience, I can tell you that some treasure chests here are in the worst places possible!). Even with a strategy guide, it’s a tough side-quest. Although, the nods to other video game series are a neat touch. Hey, Final Fantasy heroes? I heard you needed some orichalcum? I just found some under Dream Land. Don’t ask.

As I mentioned, every sub-game has a unique feel; the graphics don’t actually change all that much from a sub-game to another, and yet every sub-game looks gorgeous. The music is also really awesome. Even better is the creativity of the many bosses encountered on these adventures; they range from the small but intelligent Meta Knight to the impressive Dyna Blade, passing by the Halberd’s main cannons (and its reactor), King Dedede, Wham Bam Rock and, of course, the final battle against Marx. However, Megaton Punch and Samurai Kirby, while fun, feel superfluous. They don’t add much to the collection, although to truly beat this game you need to complete both with flying colors. (Do note that, of the two, I prefer Megaton Punch.)

Like the Animal Friends before them, the Helpers are a unique mechanic to play around with Kirby’s Copy Abilities. It’s like every game tries something new with those, am I right? The Helpers are distinguishable from their enemy counterparts and can often be of great help against some enemies and bosses. However, when controlled by an AI, the situation makes them go from brilliant to dumb as rocks. It all depends on the current opponent and what it can do. Your Helper will be ultra-useful against, say, Chameleo Arm (who can disappear) and other bosses who mostly stay on land, but anything that spends considerable time in the air will screw them over (like, again, Wham Bam Rock, or good ol’ Kracko). Hell, you need to have the Helper be used by a second player in order to complete certain puzzles in the Great Cave Offensive. My final issue with the game is that a Game Over is almost the same as losing a life; merely a slap on the wrist.

So, not counting Megaton Punch and Samurai Kirby, do I have a quick thing to say about each sub-game?
-Spring Breeze: Short, but that was the point. Still, why did they have to cut a whole level and a boss from Kirby’s Dream Land?
-Dyna Blade: Basic, but enjoyable.
-Gourmet Race: Challenging, because King Dedede’s AI is way too fast. But it’s not impossible to win, if you practice a lot. My least favorite sub-game.
-The Great Cave Offensive: This one plays up the puzzle aspect of the series, moreso than Milky Way Wishes. I just wished some parts of it weren’t so grating! How often have I had to defeat that Bonkers in the upper floors of the Castle to try and access that one stupid chest in the castle’s basement?
-Revenge of Meta Knight: The best “mooks as characters” study one could ever do in a 2D platformer, showing the personalities of those enemies you usually defeat without a second thought, and expanding on Meta Knight’s motivations and attitude. I mean, such studies are often done in RPGs (the Paper Mario series comes to mind, with its Goomba village, its Koopa village, etc.), but it’s still a rare occurrence in a platform game.
-Milky Way Wishes: I love the concept of Galactic Nova, that thing looks just awesome. I’m a bit less of a fan of Marx as a villain, though part of that could be blamed on the very limited story of this mode, which tried to cram all the info in the intro and before the final few battles. It’s still my favorite mode in the game, with its unique take on copy abilities (and I might like to see this concept in a full game someday), but like with everything else, I know that I can enjoy it despite its flaws.
-The Arena: The toughest mode, for damn good reason. It took me 30 tries, but I managed to beat it once, with a combination of strategy and luck (Gotta use it when I have it!). It is more merciful than most boss endurance modes in the previous Kirby titles, though, so there’s that.

Well, that covers everything. All in all, Kirby Super Star is an amazing game and if you haven’t played it, you really should.

Alright, that’s five down, a last one to go from Kirby’s Dream Collection. I could be tempted to do that last one next Friday, but I think I will go for a video game movie. Let’s see, I had Ender’s Game but that one can wait, I have Max Payne but it seems too generic... I can’t review TRON: Legacy as long as I haven’t seen the original TRON… Oh, I know! Let’s go with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. I’ll probably regret it, but who cares. A bad adaptation can’t hurt me, right?

May 20, 2016

Kirby Super Star (Part 1)

The good news is that I only have two Kirby games left to review, after which I’ll write a final post about Kirby’s Dream Collection and I’ll be done with it. And today, I am not reviewing a single Kirby game… well, I am. But that game contains multiple smaller games. And… wait a second, am I talking about Kirby Super Star or Kirby’s Dream Collection? Wow, there’s like an Inception thing going on. There’s this game that is a collection of smaller games, and one of those smaller games is also a collection of smaller games! It’s like Matryoshka dolls!

I'm glad to see the job center has a lot more Kirby.
That's neat.
Kirby Super Star (also known as Kirby’s Fun Pak in Japan) was released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System on September 20th, 1996 in America. The game’s box proudly proclaims “8 games in one”! It contains an updated re-release of the first Kirby’s Dream Land, and seven more games. Also, all the adventure games in this collection let Kirby use his famed copy abilities, along with an all-new mechanic: The Helpers. You see, when Kirby inhales an enemy with an ability, he can keep that ability, or he can sacrifice that ability to summon a Helper of the same species as the monster he inhaled. That Helper can them follow Kirby around and attack the other enemies in the way. Of course, Helpers can take damage, so you still need to be careful not to lose them in a tight spot. They're not always useful, but they can often make the difference between victory and defeat in some levels and against some bosses.

Everyone knows more feet equals more buttkicking.
Although neither really attacks by kicking...
Kirby Super Star was also the first Kirby game to feature a health bar, which means Kirby had a lot more hit points than in other Kirby games. The Helpers also have health bars, though they have less HP than Kirby. To balance things out, the enemies also have increased life points, which is a pretty neat idea.

As for how this review is going to work, I think I’ll split it between games. Oh no, I won’t post eight different articles. But I’ll separate this review among the eight games, starting with the ones that are unlocked at the beginning and moving forward until all have been covered, with my thoughts on a game at the end of its section.

Let’s jump right into this!

May 13, 2016

My Top 12 Criticisms On Gaming

I was at first wishing to do something a little more joyful, but then I decided to go the other way. I assume that if you read this blog, you’re interested in video games, right? I mean, you’re probably a fan of Nintendo and whatnot, and maybe you also know a lot about the other consoles in the great console battle. That’s what I assume, anyway. And so, it is likely that you’ve run into a number of trends in game development, or in gaming in general, that you simply cannot stand. You see a game use any of these and you just go “Urghhhhhh… again?” Or worse even, what was up to that point a good game becomes intolerable in your eyes. These are the gaming clichés that have worn out their welcome, the missions that annoy the players rather than encourage then, the characters who serve no purpose… we’ve all run into stuff like that. The good games may contain a few instances of these gaming tropes, the bad games may contain dozens of them.

Obviously, my gaming experience will taint this Top 12, so if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might know a few of my pet peeves. I will try to remove most tropes related to storytelling, as those can be found in just about any story, beyond the realm of video games. However, everything else is fair game; game development, gaming communities, trends, gameplay elements… I’ll try to keep the rage to a minimum. But I’m sure you’ll agree with me on more than a few elements on this list. Hell, you could basically consider this list “12 common complaints directed at video games, that I’ve seen, and that annoy me, ranked from what I consider the least bad to what I consider the worst”. Obviously that title would have been too long for Blogger. Remember that these are my opinions, you’re free to disagree; Heck, if you’ve got something in video games that really annoys you, and it’s not on the list, feel free to discuss it in the comments! In fact, please do, I want to hear what irks you in gaming today. Alright, let’s get this started.

12. Rubber-band AI
How it is supposed to work.
A problem that mostly applies to racing games and mini-games. When it comes to racing games, I’m very much in a “love it or hate it” mindset, many factors can tip the balance of my opinion. I know for a fact that AI, in video games, is very difficult to program, and thus there’s always a chance of having something too easy or too difficult for a human player to go against. Rubber-band AI is the practice in which the AI of CPU opponents in a sport game is programmed in such a way that in case of potential defeat against the player, these opponents will become harder, better, faster, stronger… and smarter.
The problem with this method is that there has to be this fine balance that very few games actually get right; when faced with possible defeat, the adversaries either stay relatively weak, or become so persistent and dangerous that you become the hopeless one. You know, I don’t mind when this practice is fair. However, some games combine this with what is called “cheating”, which computers can very easily do against human opponents (a particularly blatant example is in many Mario Kart games, where karts who are about to lose often reach impossible speeds or take impossible shortcuts if that means beating the player). Rubber-band AI is not supposed to feel like the computer is cheating. It's meant to add difficulty without having to resort to cheap tactics, the idea is to have the CPU opponents act like human players do when they don’t want to lose; they give their all. That doesn't equate to cheating, human players who are about to lose don't suddenly gain infinite mushrooms or get inexplicably faster! Rubberband AI can be done well. I just don’t see it done well very often.

May 6, 2016

New Super Mario Bros. Wii

I am a man of a few friends. Well, actually no, I have many friends, but the friends I can see in person are few. Don’t act like you don’t have Internet friends too. Most people I met during college and university, I don’t hear about them much anymore. However, whatever friendships I could salvage from my high school days, I managed to keep. And to this day, I still see these friends. There is, of course, the Pokémon fanatic I often mention in passing, but there’s also a guy who’s a lot more active than I am, who I see maybe three or four times a year, at most. And every time he comes over, he has one request: Play New Super Mario Bros. Wii. He just loves that game, and we played through it (granted, we would take shortcuts), even beating it pretty quickly. Don’t ask us to get 100% completion just yet, we don’t see each other often enough for that.

Following the massive success of the 2D/3D platformer New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS (which I reviewed previously), Shigeru Miyamoto and everyone else at Nintendo decided they could continue on this way; more 3D throwbacks to the retro 2D Mario platform games. And thus came out New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Also one of the games that barely uses the Wii’s motion detection, with the remote being held horizontally; and the motion detection itself is used when one of the characters, mid-jump, wants to spin, which activates the ability of the Propeller Mushroom. Or when a character wants to pick up something large, like a barrel, a frozen enemy, or a Toad. There are some other gimmicks that require tilting the Wii remote. The game also features a number of new power-ups. Of course, it’s just another Mario platformer, so I won’t exactly have much to say about the plot.

May 2, 2016

"Rated M" Month: No More Heroes (Part 4)

Well, through the last three parts, Travis made his way to Rank 3. He only has two opponents to defeat now, on this strange quest of… revenge? After all, it’s strongly implied that during Travis’s first encounter with Sylvia, she offered to help him deal with whatever he was hoping to achieve... Okay, so we bring Thunder Ryu’s katana to Naomi, who’ll build a new beam katana based on it. Then, we collect the money to pay the entrance fee for the battle against Assassin #2. Finally we head out towards this fight, which takes place at Destroy Stadium.

"We are interrupting this rerun of a Canadians-Bruins
hockey match to show a baseball match where
something actually fucking happens!"
Travis gets into the baseball stadium with his bike and mows down hordes of baseball players. Aw yes, I knew this game lacked some good vehicular rampage! I mean, you could hit passersby while driving around Santa Destroy, but nobody cared, not even the fucking cops. When all the baseball players are defeated, a trap opens on the diamond, and Travis jumps down and gets the call from Sylvia, except this time she makes it really short, and she recites the same things she ever says, almost in a mechanical way, like she’s tired of saying these things. To be fair, she’s been saying the same basic message nine times by now, so I can see why she’d be fed up. Anyway, Travis goes to the stadium’s basement and meets with Assassin #2, Bad Girl.

Yes, that's a large cleavage. Yes, that's a bloody baseball bat.
Don't aim for the former if you don't want to be bludgeoned
to death by the latter.

Just kidding. Even if you give no
damn about her boobs, she'll still
go and kill you.
Least creative name in the entire game, but to be fair, she’s not trying to put on a show, unlike some other assassins. She’ll be fine just bludgeoning you with a baseball bat until your face no longer looks like a face. Have I mentioned that, even compared to ALL of the other assassins seen so far, she’s fucking insane? If you thought the others were bad, just wait till you see her. She doesn’t have a backstory or a motivation, she just wants to kill anyone and everyone. "They're all going to pay. With their fucking lives", she says.

Incoming FastGimp Special! It's a Home Run!
Bonsoir, elle est partie!
How crazy is she? She spends the fight completely hammered with booze, yet is still extremely capable. When Travis points out that she’s not an assassin, just a perverted killing maniac, she replies that it’s the same; well, she may be nuts, but she’s got a point. Midway through the fight, she lights her bat on fire. At one point, she will feign to be wounded and start crying, and if you get close to her out of pity, she can grab her bat and deal to you a one-hit kill. There’s apparently a cloning machine in the next room that constantly spits out men in bondage suits (Bring out the gimps!), and Bad Girl is first shown killing some of them just for fun. She can even throw them at you, in which case the gimps will turn into mooks that you need to kill. She’s HARD no matter the difficulty, with a lot of hit points.

"Shit, I almost died with a boner. ...If I cop a feel, does it
count as necrophilia?"
Hell, even when Travis beats her and shoves his beam katana through her belly, she starts smashing him with her baseball bat some more. And she smashes a lot, too, until she finally dies from her wound, while she’s on top of him. Travis wins, but barely. The UAA cleaners show up, sans Sylvia, and say that Travis is now ranked second. Sylvia mysteriously couldn’t be there? Gee, after all the shit I’ve dealt with, she just up and leaves! Well, at least there’s only one opponent left.

Travis collects the money for the final entrance fee. Here it comes, the final battle. But this time, Travis receives no call, so he dials Sylvia’s number. Someone else answers; an older woman. When Travis asks about the United Assassins Association, the woman replies that Sylvia is a professional con artist, and the UAA is a scam she put forth to steal a ton of cash out of assassins, by pitting them against each other. Ah, the fucking Sylvia bitch! I want to see her head roll by the end of this game! The woman, who reveals herself to be Sylvia’s mother, still asks Travis how far he went into Sylvia’s plans, and when he says he’s #2 in rank, she still convinces him to go forward and kill the #1 assassin. It’s not like it makes any difference now, does it?

Who the Hell puts crates on the highway?
Okay, fine, we’ll go. Travis leaves his motel room, only to find a guy stealing his motorbike! Whatever Travis does now, he has to do it by foot. He retrieves his bike almost at the other end of town, near the interchange, and finds himself having to follow bikers onto the highway. The highway chase is pretty difficult until the path cuts off into a forest area, and Travis’s bike has to jump over fallen trees. At the end, Travis also has to take his bike to top speed to make a risky jump over an open bridge. Into the dark forest, Travis’s bike crashes and he has to continue by foot.

Hello, Thunder Ryubi-Wan-Sensei. Now that you're a
ghost, I feel your teachings will be a lot more ethereal.
Hey, I just realized, this feels an awful lot like Star Wars in a weird way. I mean, look! Thunder Ryu’s spirit is over there, showing Travis which path to take! All the enemies on the way towards enemy #1 are equipped with beam katanas and wear scary masks like Siths! Including the final section where four of them attack at once! Finally, as he approaches the final battle, Travis sees Ryu’s spirit vanish, leaving behind a note (in pretty bad English, too), saying that Travis has to choose whether to become a hero or a villain. Travis moves forward and gets a call from Sylvia. She says she would like to love him, but that she can’t, because he’s a fucking loser otaku/geek who will remain a loser even if he reaches the top of the food chain. She never intended to let Travis fuck her. She was gonna bailout no matter what he was gonna do. She still invites him to push forward, save, and get ready for the final fight…

I swear, the next time Travis sees this bitch, he’ll go Queen of Hearts on her. Off with her fucking head!

Cool story, Mr. Dark Star. Now please, may I know where
you got that purple dye? I really want to make my mullet
as purple as your beard. ...Just kidding, you look like a clown
that tried and failed at being a businessman.
We get to the final battle, in front of a giant castle. There he is, Dark Star, the obvious Vader rip-off. He even tries to pretend that he’s Travis’s father, and tries to make him remember his parents. All Travis can remember is that his parents were killed, and not by anybody, either… by the girlfriend he had at the time. He still remembers Jeane. And just as Dark Star tries some more mind tricks, a fist blasts through his crotch from behind, instantly killing him. ……No, really.

Dark Star falls to the ground, revealing a girl around Travis’s age…. And it’s Jeane. For the record, Jeane was Travis's only girlfriend up to that point. Travis is ready to fight his parents’ murderer, but Jeane leaves a whole bunch of plot exposition that would raise the game’s rating beyond what’s acceptable on the Wii. And so her speech is fast-forwarded. No, really, look!

In the afterlife? Will dark be bright, will cold be warm,
Will the day have no night in the afterlife?
Will the blind have sight? In the afterlife?

Here's the sequence, slowed down so that you can understand what she says.

Travis is Jeane’s half-brother, and she only found out they had the same father sometime after they fucked. The same alcoholic, violent, wife-beating asshole of a father; so she killed him. And Travis's mom, too. And the reason Travis went up the ranks was to hopefully find the assassin who did this. I mean, holy shit. And Travis named his cat after that girl? Man, that’s just sad. This is the final battle, better get ready.

As an MMA fighter, Jeane is really quick and can easily dodge your attacks. And she has enough hit points to be annoying, so she’s really hard to defeat. She’ll respond to your attacks with punches and kicks, and your best bet is to slash and roll out of the way, repeatedly. She has three “phases”, and gets stronger with each. I found that this battle was a lot easier if you used the second-to-last beam katana (the one with five beams) instead of the last one (which lacks attack power). The battle is still pretty difficult, but not as bad as it could be.

Shinobu! I knew I had a good reason to keep you alive!
Yes, Travis-Senpai will notice you.
At the end of the third phase, when Jeane’s HP are down to 0, she tries a final attack and grabs Travis’s heart with her hand through his body. Yeah, I figured she could so that after she punched through a guy’s pelvis. However, as Jeane is about to win, SHINOBU (remember her? Assassin #8?) shows up out of nowhere and cuts Jeane’s arm. Showing pity for his half-sister, Travis wishes that her next life is better than this one, and ends the fight by cutting her up. Shinobu leaves without a word, Travis recognizes that his quest is over; his family has been avenged. Not in a heroic way, but it's done.

I hate to see brothers fighting.
When he’s back at home, Travis saves on the can, as usual… Except someone cuts through the door with a beam katana and attacks. Now that our protagonist is First Rank, everyone who wants to be First Rank are going to attack him! Of course, on the john Travis doesn’t have access to his own weapon, so he’s trapped. That is, unless you have bought every beam katana upgrade, in which case someone else pops up behind the First Rank wannabe and kills him, giving Travis a chance to get up. The new guy is none other than the assassin who killed Letz Shake, a guy called Henry Cooldown, who also uses a beam katana (except his weapon also has beam cross guards; and yes, this was years before laser cross guards would make it on official Star Wars lightsabers in The Force Awakens). Henry lets Travis get ready, then waits him outside… for the bonus boss battle. Good luck with that, as Henry is a character of about equal strength to Travis. Except from hit points. Henry has an INSANE amount of hit points. And if you’re not careful, he can take down all of yours before you’re halfway into taking down his.

A real badass can take hundreds of hits and his suit
is never gonna get torn, ever.

Even when you defeat him, the two keep fighting, and Travis asks Henry to explain who he is. Get ready for a dump of exposition: Henry is Travis’s twin brother, as well as Sylvia’s husband for a decade now. Deciding that this crazy game world is too crazy, Travis and Henry choose to end it all, and jump to try and kill each other. Sylvia says she doubts there’ll be a sequel to the game…

And she looks so happy
about the whole thing, too.
And then Desperate Struggle came out, so… yeah, that mindfuck ending was just to mess with the player. The whole game is messing with the player, really, from its hypocritical message to its plot that goes almost nowhere for more than half the game, and only wraps up in the last few fights (and even then, most is done only moments before the final boss). The most we can say about this game’s plot is that, as a satire of “Reach The Top” games, it does an okay job; it calls out the player on treating the opponents merely like obstacles, not like separate characters, and it actually attempts to humanise these opponents. Travis is a deeply flawed nominal hero, who’s only going against opponents who are worse than him (and in some cases, actually better than him), and his motivations are flimsy all the way to the end (Hell, the last part is basically the game dropping a couple of drama bombs just because it needs to get wrapped up!).

No More Heroes shines however through its battle system. It is very simple on the surface, yet there are multiple little details that have to be discovered by the player. Anyone can press A to have Travis hit his opponents repeatedly with his beam katana, and pull the finishing move by moving the Wii remote in a direction. Add to this all the evasion techniques (and the Dark Step), the many Dark Side powers that you can use as you progress through a level (those can be earned at random while killing enemies and change the gameplay to let Travis do some absolutely amazing stuff), the wrestling moves, and you get something unique and enjoyable. What’s even better is that you are using this battle system against creative opponents with cool designs and even cooler movesets. It is this combination of knowing how to use your weapons to the best of your abilities, and how to respond to their own attacks, that makes it worth trying.

The Ranked Battles are fun, there’s no doubt there. They are the meat of the game. But to get there, you need to collect the money in the wide open sand box of Santa Destroy… which, as I explained in Part 3, is a pretty poor example of the genre. Although, that was kind of the point; as a spoof of ultraviolent games (which, for some reason, many wide open sandbox games tend to be), the actual wide open sandbox sections are actually kinda boring. The K-Entertainment assassination gigs and other job mini-games aren’t bad, although having to constantly drive back and forth between places gets pretty tiring. Collecting money to participate in the Ranked Battles is one of the longer tasks in the game, and it feels more like a chore by the end… and only at the end do you find out that all this money you sent to the UAA was spent by Sylvia in music shows, spa visits and other personal stuff. Just to twist the knife in some more. Well, there's still the quest for all 49 Lovikov balls...

Also, I don’t know if I’m the only one with that problem, but sometimes Travis’s bike is unresponsive. Considering the size of Santa Destroy, you WILL want to use the bike to go anywhere, and you often need to do sharp turns by pressing B before turning left or right, yet for some incomprehensible reason, in my game, when I do that the bike always turns left. Even if I wanted it to turn right. It’s a minor issue, but a very annoying one nonetheless. Thankfully, if the bike gets stuck somewhere, you can call Bishop and he’ll arrive with your bike, wherever you are.

My favorite weapon.
And my least favorite.
Another problem I have is with the final beam katana. Is it awesome? Yes, it doesn't need a metallic support and the beam somehow stays the same length. It also has better range. It's the closest you'll get to a real lightsaber. The downside? It's expensive, its upgrades are expensive, on your first playthrough that weapon is available only for the last few bosses (and thus you can't practice much with that weapon). Plus, compared to the five-beam weapon that came before it, the Tsubami MK-III is actually pretty weak, and the main combo Travis does with it are just impractical. It's really hard to use against Jeane, and especially against Henry.

The graphics are pretty great (the cel shading style gives the game a pretty unique look, less cartoony than The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker, but more stylized than most CGI games out there). And the game’s soundtrack is Fan. Tas. Tic. Many awesome pieces of music in there, usually the boss fight themes.

In the end, No More Heroes is a game to try. Is it good? Yes, it’s a good game, but it’s definitely not for everyone. Many parts of it have to be experienced rather than watched. The battle system is great. I could complain about the gratuitous foul language, although it’s justified by the story and its characters, and I can’t complain about the blood since it’s a part of the game’s commentary. However, I will gladly poit out the hypocrisy in the message, being a game that glorifies its own violence while trying to get into your head that so much violence is wrong. The morals are... muddled, to say the least. No More Heroes can get very challenging, as on Mild and Bitter difficulties you often HAVE to know all of the techniques, but the result is definitely enjoyable. It's far from perfect, it has a number of issues, but I definitely suggest that you try it at least once.

And now, this closes “Rated M” Month, probably the only time I’ll ever do such a themed month. I mean, what are the other M-rated games that I own? No More Heroes 2? MadWorld? Resident Evil 4 for the Wii? The first two will probably find spots somewhere in my reviewing schedule next year, and the latter will probably be reviewed one October. In the meantime, I’d sure take a break from M-rated games now… let’s go back to something else…

Hmmmm… Okay, time for some more Mario this Friday.