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December 29, 2017

The Disney Afternoon Collection (Part 3)

Darkwing Duck / DuckTales 2

Darkwing Duck

I am the gamer that beats classics in the night!
I am... Darkwing Nick!

That damn bridge, that damn Quacker Jack.
Damn...
The last of the three games that I actually played back when I owned a NES, and the one that made me curse my life away with the myriad of Quebec blasphemes I knew at the time. Yes, this is probably the hardest game in the collection, although that might just have to do with the gameplay mechanics. Oh wait, no, even once you know how to play, it’s still pretty hard.

Darkwing Duck is tasked by the head of super-secret organization S.H.U.S.H. to take down the members of evil team F.O.W.L., which has been causing various acts of mayhem around the city. That’s all we need for the story! Launchpad McQuack will helpfully bring Darkwing where he needs to go, and then let him do the rest. Let’s get dangerous!

Heh, can you believe Darkwing Duck is the one Disney TV show I never watched? DuckTales, Chip’n Dale, TaleSpin… yup, saw them. DW? Unfortunately not. Not that this would have helped, outside of providing some backstory and info on the various characters and villains...

Thanks, my bottomless magazines!

Hang in there ducky!
Darkwing Duck can jump and shoot bullets. He can protect himself from projectiles thanks to his cape if you press Up. That’s right, he has a bulletproof cape! I mean, capes aren’t recommended for heroes anymore, but if they’re that useful… Going around, DW can also find new weapons, which can be activated with your Select button. They’re actually not that useful because their ammo is very limited, but they can be good to get out of a few troublesome areas. However, DW’s main feature is that he can hang underneath platforms and other items that can be grabbed, such as street lights and wall fixtures. It’s absolutely required in order to beat even the first level, so you’d better get used to it! On top of that, by a simple press of the Down and Jump buttons, DW will drop down from a platform he stands on, hanging from it instead. Turns out to be necessary to destroy some of the enemies on the way.

It's a shell-shocker.
For, you see… much like DW and his cape, most enemies in this game can protect themselves from harm. For a platform game, this takes “Attack its weak spot” to a whole new level! Whenever you encounter an enemy, they’ll use their own strategy. That turtle? It can only be hurt when it tosses its shell at DW like a boomerang. That robot? Only its head can be harmed to reveal the mouse inside, which is then defeated with another bullet. A lot of enemy weak points are located a little high, forcing DW to do a very short jump to shoot and hurt them. Thankfully, many of them are located in areas where DW can jump to avoid the enemy attacks, or drop down to hang from the platform they’re on. Yes, many mooks in this game are defeated by doing this, so you HAVE to master the controls quickly. (And of course, most of them take multiple hits to go down!)

Add to this that the enemies are frequently located in levels filled to the brim with platforming traps, such spikes or endless pits, and you’ll see that they make up quite a dangerous combination!

The game’s progression works this way: Three levels open for DW at the beginning. Once he has beaten them all, three more open. When those are beaten, we move on to the seventh and last level.

Doesn't look like it, but this is one of the toughest
bosses in the game. It's the Joker to DW's Batman!
Want more difficulty? How about the bosses? They’re all tough. Some are tougher than others, but they’re all tough. Their difficulty ranges between “Not Easy” and “Oh God This Is Hell”. For added bonus, one of the very first bosses is quite the wake-up call regarding difficulty. Let me tell you about Quackerjack. Yes, that Joker wannabe. Okay, hear this out: The fight happens on two platforms one above the other, and a ground floor. As soon as DW jumps on the one Quackerjack is on, the evil clown duck will move to a different platform, giving you a split second to shoot and hit him (usually allowing only 1 point of damage as a result, while bosses have a lot of HP). Quackerjack is tall, and will hurt DW if the latter is hanging from a platform – but still small enough that if DW is hanging, his bullets will go over the jester’s head. To top it all off, Quackerjack’s sidekick, the Banana Brain puppet, is located on the highest ledge (which has spikes) and will constantly follow DW, dropping bananas when he’s got a good aiming angle. Did I mention DW has only 4 Hit Points?

I hate these goddamn egg chicken robots!
As for Steelbeak... eh, he's easier on his second phase.
That’s probably the toughest boss in the entire game, but the others are no slouch either. The final boss, Steelbeak, also has a very nasty technique where DW must climb up fixtures to get to him, and jump to shoot and damage him, all while avoiding or killing the criminal’s spherical robots, which sometimes shoot bullets too and respawn very quickly. Gah! And there’s a second phase past that point! This game’s developers are evil, I swear.

This quest takes us to fight many members of Darkwing Duck’s rogues gallery, including Megavolt, Reginald Bushroot, the Liquidator, and Professor Moliarty… Oh, and some were-duck who was never in the show and turns indestructible when the full moon is out – and the only reason we have a chance against him is that he's fought during a cloudy night, with the moon hidden at regular intervals.

Crates! Your friends when you're a chipmunk...
Your enemies when you're a duck.

These mice are wearing armor. Non-mouse-sized armor.
However, while the game definitely offers a challenge, it’s anything but bad! The controls take a moment to get used to, but the game is fair afterwards. Darkwing Duck’s measly four Hit Points often prove to be more than enough, and while ungodly difficult, the game is at least merciful. Every level has a checkpoint screen. If DW dies while fighting the boss, he will respawn at the boss fight. And while losing all of your lives is an instant Game Over, you've got infinite Continues, and you will always resume at the start of the level you lost your last life in (though on the Game Over screen, you can also choose to go back to the level select menu to pick a different level to play). That's fair. Enemies will frequently drop items, such as gasoline (to refill your secondary weapon ammo), heart containers (sometimes even health kits, which refill all of DW’s health!) and, on rare occasion, extra 1-Ups represented by DW dolls. A doll of the main character is an extra life? I wonder where they got that idea! That was in the first DuckTales game, no? They should sue! ... ... ...Oh wait, same company.

This level had genie ducks in lamps, and ducks shooting
fire, flying on magic carpets. You'd expect another Arabian
Nights theme for the villain - nope! It's the
electricity-based villain Megavolt instead.
As with every other game in this collection, the 8-bit art is truly fantastic, making every character from the show perfectly recognizable (if sometimes not quite identical in shape, like a Quackerjack who appears as more buff, or a Steelbeak who’s surprisingly small). As for the music, it’s pretty great as well.

If you’re looking for an actual challenge, Darkwing Duck is the game to try. It’s quite possibly the hardest game here. While it adds a lot of difficulty to the platforming aspect, the fact that most enemies can protect themselves is a nice touch, one that was seldom-seen in platform games at the time. The levels are fun to explore and keep you on edge, as you must always be careful to see what’s coming, and the boss battles are creative and require quite a bit of quick thinking and dexterity on your part. This one is worth playing – but can you beat it? (Hell, if I can, I’m sure you can. Practice makes perfect!)

DuckTales 2


Time for an adventure, my nephews!
As if the previous one hadn't been dangerous enough!
So I thought Darkwing Duck was difficult… It’s not the only difficult game in here! DuckTales 2 greatly improves on the first in just about every way, including difficulty. Much like in the original, we have levels that can seem linear at first glance, yet encourage exploration – perhaps even moreso.

The nephews find a piece of an old map in Scrooge’s money bin. A map that belonged to his uncle Fergus, a map that will lead to a great treasure – that is, if they can find the remaining 7 pieces scattered in many parts of the world! Each land has its key treasure worth a million dollars, yet again, and of course they’re guarded by bosses. Once again, we have five locations: The Niagara Falls, Scotland, Mu, Egypt and the Bermuda Triangle.

Unbreakable blocks? What is this magic?

Hang in there ducky! (Take 2)
As with any good sequel, the developers took cues from the criticism directed at the previous game and added many improvements to this one. For starters, Scrooge’s abilities. You no longer need to press B+Down to go into a pogo cane jump. Pressing B will suffice. Originally, it was impossible to make Scrooge swing his cane to destroy blocks located higher. Here, if he stands next to a wall, he gets in cane-swinging pose, after which you can jump, then press B to swing. This lets Scrooge break stuff that would have otherwise been too high for him – whether it’s blocks or treasure chests. In the first you could also only swing your cane to push things forward – here, some blocks are made so that you can pull them with your cane (and thus decide where you want to position them). Not all blocks can be pulled at first, some are too heavy. Finally, when you find Launchpad McQuack, you can use him to go back to the level select screen. That doesn’t seem like much, but the screen he appears on will also always be a level’s midway checkpoint. Ah, Launchpad. I trust you more as a checkpoint than as a pilot.

Oh cool, thanks!
...Wait. How can you upgrade a wooden cane?
However, not all blocks can be destroyed at first – in three levels, you have to find and save Gyro Gearloose, and he will apply three upgrades to your cane. One will let Scrooge break some tougher blocks with pogo jumps, another will let him break the same type of blocks with a cane swing. The last upgrade will give Scrooge more strength to pull heavier stuff around in order to solve puzzles. In two of those levels, Gyro appears before the midway point, so I recommend you get Gyro’s upgrades, use Launchpad to return to the level selection screen, beat the level where Gyro appears past the midway point (it’s the Bermuda Triangle), then beat every level. Once the upgrades have all been found, the order doesn’t really matter.

The map of Mu Island, as made by StarFighters76 and posted on
GameFAQs. If it doesn't look mazelike, then you haven't explored
that level by yourself.
At first, the levels feel a lot more linear than in the first game, but that’s a lie; they’re actually far, far more complex. They’re almost miniature Metroidvanias. I’m not kidding! Each level has plenty of secrets, whether it’s the usual stuff like jewels popping out of nowhere or chests that appear magically – but we also gain access to plenty of larger treasure chests, which may contain rubies, extra lives or additional special treasures (each worth a million, and there’s two of those secret treasures in the game). Each of the five levels also has a piece of the treasure map, usually hidden cleverly and forcing you to REALLY explore the level. Some of those are behind blockades that require Gyro’s upgrades to overcome. Then some others are located behind puzzles, like the one that requires to pogo-jump on four blocks, in a certain order, a precise number of times on each block (A nephew communicates that info earlier in the level, so if you’re bored by NPC talks, you’re out of luck). The second puzzle happens on Mu Island, and solving it raises the land above sea level, allowing Scrooge to visit some lower areas that were blocked off. Eeyup, this duck can't swim.

When you complete a level, you get the money you found on the way to the boss, and then you enter a shop menu. The items there are so expensive. Here’s what you can get:
Why do I have to buy a new safe before every level anyway?
Why can't I just get a bigger safe?
-One map piece (1 million $);
-Two additional Hit Point dots (750,000$ each, described as "Special Energy");
-Extra lives (800,000$ each – huh, didn’t know you could monetize resurrection!);
-An extra continue (500,000, but you can only have one until you use it up; also, I didn’t know multiple resurrections would be less expensive than a single one!). Also, as soon as you use one, the game reopens on the shop menu, so if you have enough money, you can buy a new one;
-A cake, which you can access from the Pause menu if you’re low on health at any moment. EXTREMELY useful, but still rather expensive (150,000$). That is some caviar cake if I ever heard of such.
-Last but not least, the most annoying gameplay mechanic here, a safe. Yes, a safe. If you don’t buy one, during the next level you walk into, your money won’t be saved if you die. You’ll restart with 0$, and remember that any magical appearing jewels won’t respawn unless you leave the level and come back. The worst part might be that you never start the game with one; you can only buy one the first time you return to the level selection screen. And just in case you die, you have to buy one before every level you go in! It’s thankfully cheap (50,000$), but it really is the worst aspect of the game. Sure, you get a guaranteed million dollars each time you kill a boss, so that's helpful when the shop menu opens, but still…

Pay attention to the orange stones.
I like these puzzles where you have to figure out the
connections between a screen and a later one.
On top of all that, the game has some cutscecnes made of dialogue, even if it’s mostly Scrooge talking to his nephews, niece, and terminally-crashed employee. The nephews show up frequently in the level, and are more useful here as they help Scrooge in solving the puzzles. It kind of annoys me that Launchpad takes three dialogue boxes to describe every level before we enter it, but I suppose it’s good for those who like some world-building. Since the entire point this time is to visit levels and discover their secrets, you need to take risks. They usually pay off if you listen to the clues – work smarter, not harder! That’s for the levels.

How are the bosses? Well, for the most part, they are relatively simple yet again – most of them have only two means of attacking, which are somewhat easy to predict. The last boss, a parody of the T-1000 from Terminator, has only one way of attacking (outside of ramming into you), which involves him clinging to the ceiling and kicking downwards at you. Not so bad, you say? Did I mention he does that almost as soon as you just over him, ready to pogo-jump at its head? It will usually hit you faster than you can hit it.

Rocks Falls, Everyduck Dies.
Scrooge isn't just anyduck, thankfully.
This game also has, hands-down, one of the hardest bosses in the entire collection: The Golem Duck from Mu Island. Okay, hear this: This guy cannot be destroyed as it’s made of rocks, its weak point is the red sphere in its center. It walks across the screen, stops, and will either blast us with its arm cannon or make rocks fall. The rocks are hard to avoid, because they seem to fall exactly where Scrooge is. Three rocks at a time, all in your vicinity. One will stay on the field. The Golem can’t move across the screen until it’s been cleaned of the fallen rocks. To hurt the Golem, you must throw a rock at it with your golf swing, which breaks its weak point free. Then, pogo-jump on the red ball. The Golem’s attacks are faster than yours, so you’ll frequently be swinging to throw a stone at it when another one falls on you. Thankfully, if you do well, you can damage it many times in a row. Five hits and it dies, and thank God, because it really is a fucking frustrating boss.

Scrooge is still smiling, because he knows he is gonna beat
up Flintheart easily.
Or so he believes.
Collecting all the pieces of the map opens a new level, the basement of the castle in Scotland, where you can rematch the level’s original boss (who has new evil tricks) to receive another great treasure. After all five main levels have been beaten, a pirate ship appears in the Bermuda Triangle, with Glomgold on it saying he has kidnapped Webby, and will only let her free in exchange for the treasures found. After the final boss, it all depends on how much you’ve collected: If you only have the main five treasures, you get a normal ending where the ship sinks, along with them. If you’ve found the secret treasure of Scotland and all treasures, you get the best ending. If you end the game with precisely 0 dollars, the McDuck name is shamed by Glomgold. Good work!

Even pirate ships are full of loot to plunder!
Oh wait, that should have been our first destination.
Is this game better than the first DuckTales? Honestly… I am tempted to say yes. The first one has a nostalgic value, and is still beloved by many, but there have been so many improvements for this one that I can’t help but see it as superior. It’s a shame that it’s not nearly as well-known. Six levels instead of five, bosses that can be actually quite difficult, tons of secrets, and exploration being rewarded more than ever. It even has puzzles! Nothing to say on the 8-bit art and the music, it’s still great. The improvements to the gameplay mechanics add a lot – sure, some things are difficult to grasp, and if you don’t read the instructions you might wonder how to do some things at first – although, wasn’t that true of the pogo jump in the first place?

Suddenly, Duckinator 1000.
Yet all it does is reach to the ceiling and kick at you.
Would be easy if it wasn't so fast.
The addition of items that can be saved for in-level use (such as the cake), and the need to look for upgrades offered by Gyro, give this game a unique dimension. Sure, you could buy upgrades in TaleSpin, but you had to follow a certain order of levels, you weren’t given such freedom of exploration. In fact, you’re encouraged to grab all the upgrades first, then play every level, in order to find all of the treasures, including the map pieces. The increased difficulty is also welcome – although the game is still fair, rewarding your exploration by letting you buy extra lives and continues between levels, so that you don’t have to start over.

All in all, a very fun game. Join me in the next part as I take a look at the final game in the collection: Chip’n Dale Rescue Rangers 2!

December 25, 2017

The Disney Afternoon Collection (Part 2)

Chip’n’Dale / TaleSpin

Chip’n’Dale Rescue Rangers


When you're a smol chipmunk, every zone is Macro Zone.
After a quick quest that involved the Rescue Rangers finding a lost kitten, they return to HQ and discover that their ally Gadget has been kidnapped! And they have to go save her, she isn’t just the team’s token girl, she’s also their pilot and inventor! They can’t do much without her! Or can they?

As it turns out, they can still do pretty well. In this platform game, you control Chip or Dale and go through various levels on this quest to find Gadget and defeat Fat Cat. Monterey Jack and Zipper are around to help too, although Monterey Jack’s only contribution is to smash through a few walls to let the team through, while Zipper grants temporary invincibility to Chip or Dale and instantly kills every enemy that shows up on the screen.

I mean, I wonder how they can have the strength to lift
these heavy steel boxes, but hey, it's not like I'm gonna
complain.
As for the chipmunks’ primary means of attack, they are technically harmless… although they’re surrounded by potential weapons. For you see, anything the two heroes can pick up can then be thrown at enemies. The levels are littered with hundreds upon hundreds of light wooden boxes, heavy steel boxes, apples, bombs and everything else, oh my! There are multiple advantages to this: Chip or Dale always has something to throw, and there’s always enough room still to allow them to keep on throwing. By pressing down, the PC (player chipmunk) can even hide into wooden and steel crates, killing enemies coming into contact with them. The wooden crates then disappear, while the steel crates survive and can be reused at will. Gravity also decided it only wanted to work intermittently, as wooden crates will be flung all the way across the screen (no matter how far that is, in spite of the strength our character should have) when used to attack, when sthrown forward or upwards, while the steel crates are so heavy they’ll just drop right in front of the chipmunk that threw it. The advantage is that steel crates can then be used to complete little puzzles where Chip or Dale has to reach a higher ledge… usually to get more flowers or stars.

December 22, 2017

The Disney Afternoon Collection (Part 1)


Intro / DuckTales

I began the year with a review of DuckTales Remastered. During the year, a game came out on Steam, cataloguing six 8-bit Disney titles, including the original DuckTales. It’s called The Disney Afternoon Collection, and it’s six beloved NES games in one, with some additional modes and new stuff to try!

So many memories for so many kids of the 90s...
Many gamers have grown up with Capcom’s Disney NES games, most of them based on animated TV series that aired during the Disney Afternoon programming block on the Disney Channel between 1990 and 1999. Among others, the block featured DuckTales, Chip’n’Dale Rescue Rangers, TaleSpin and Darkwing Duck. Of course, that’s before Disney tried to appeal to children of the 1990s and we ended up with shows like The Mighty Ducks or Quack Pack. (Speaking of, I think the new DuckTales series actually takes cues from Quack Pack in portraying Huey, Dewey and Louie with different personalities instead of being completely interchangeable individuals, and actually does it right… but that’s a tangent for a cartoon reviewer.)

The Disney Afternoon Collection was released on April 18th, 2017, developed by Capcom and Digital Eclipse, and published by Capcom. It’s practically brand new! And a true blast to the past, for anyone who grew up with either of the six titles, and who can now play them again!


Here’s how this review will work: I’ll first explain the modes and options available, then I’ll try to spend only a little more than 1000 words discussing each game. I mean, it’s still going to take me four parts for all this! Wow, I really ended the year with a lot of long reviews…

(By the way, since it's currently the Steam Winter sale, if you want it, it's got 60% off the regular price!)

December 15, 2017

Cuphead


Oh, craps! ...Oh, crap.
“Oh golly gee, it seems that Cuphead has put himself and his pal Mugman in a heap o’ trouble! He went to the casino on the wrong side of the tracks, and gambled and gambled. He likes to roll the dice! But then the Devil came, and they played his game, and he got them trapped like mice! And now they’ve been tasked with collecting the souls of other debtors, in order to salvage their own!”

Cuphead is one of the surprise indie hits of 2017. It's been a long time coming, in production since 2013, but no one thought it would become so popular.  If you visit any gaming community, chances are that you’ve heard a lot about it already. It has since become famous for the crazy amount of detail given to its art style… and infamous for its crazy difficulty.

They stand on chips but they're not chipped!
Made by MDHR Studios, Cuphead is an attempt at making a video game with the aesthetics of an old cartoon from the 1930s, mostly those of Fleischer Studios. Anyone who knows cartoons of that decade will remember the defining elements: Constant surreal transformations, great designs everywhere… also, everything moves. The cartoons of that era, for some reason, seemed to believe that the viewer would get bored if everything wasn’t in constant motion. Screen static and poor video quality are a part of the effects used for the game, another throwback to the technology of the era, and we also get a soundtrack composed of jazz music played by a big band.

Everything about this game is brilliant, and I’m about to tell you all about it.

Whoa, the Devil is a lot taller in person.
Though, if he stopped changing size...
The plot is very simple. Cuphead and Mugman went to the casino, gambled, and eventually the casino’s owner, King Dice, raised the stakes, bringing in his boss, the Devil himself. Under promise of great reward, Cuphead was pushed into gambling some more… but lost. The Devil is however a clever guy, and he says that his new lackeys can go free… that is, if they can defeat the other debtors that the Devil has accumulated over time, and collect their soul contracts. And oh yeah, since these guys all struck deals with the Devil, it’s possible that they’ve gained special powers of their own too, so the fights will be harder than they imagine.

December 8, 2017

Steam Pack 7


As you all know, I use Steam Packs as a way to quickly review some of the titles I wouldn’t spend 2,000 words discussing, and this includes a lot of cheaper games… as well as free games. I own quite a number of free games. Not that this is a bad thing, on the contrary. Free games are usually shorter or simpler than any titles on Steam you might pay for – and, as a result, those are bound to make their way onto these lists. At the same time, they still showcase great talent from young developers, and sometimes can be a lot more interesting than they seem at first. (Which isn't to say that they're all good, obviously - free games vary in quality just as much as games you can pay for.)

This time around, I want to do something a little different. Only free games! Yes, I know winter is coming, and the Winter Sale will happen on Steam soon-ish, but that’s a story for another day. Today, I want to check through my collection and take out four free games that I’ve never played, and see whether I want to keep them or not.

I guess another word for today’s four games is “ambiance”. Each game brings its own ambiance, a somewhat creepy tone, which works well in the world presented in each of them.

I am also at these crossroads of Steam where I might run out of space if I download more games, so you can probably imagine that I wish to get rid of some games in my collection; and what better way but to play through a few and see whether I want to keep them? The Steam Packs are surprisingly useful for this. Well then, let’s not waste any time!

December 1, 2017

Top 12 Just Dance Levels, Part Deux

I discussed some levels that I disliked, now it’s time to end this overall look at the Just Dance franchise with a final list of levels that I personally enjoy. Mind you, there are few of those from JD2015 because they were all covered on my previous lists. This will contain mostly levels from JD2016, and a few from JD2014. I had a decent list of levels I wanted to include here, but for the sake of keeping it to a single list, I’ve kept it to 12.

Before the list proper, a few honorable mentions:
JD2014: Maria (Ricky Martin), Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! A Man after Midnight (ABBA)
JD2015: Tetris (Dancing Bros.)
JD2016: Balkan Blast Remix (Angry Birds), Born This Way (Lady Gaga)

Well, no time to waste, let’s jump into this right away!

Dammit, I don't want to like One Direction!
But... that music... it's... so decent... I am... impressed!
Ack! No, that's how they assimilate you!
I honestly have no idea how One Direction found their way once again into my Top list. Sure, they’re at the bottom, but they reach the list! No Control is on the first page of Just Dance 2016, so it’s one of the first titles a player sees. And it’s a fantastic dance crew level. It’s not too difficult for someone who just started playing the franchise, and it’s also a great moment to present the dances with multiple choreographies that slightly differ for each participant. I have a blast every time I play this level, I almost cheer when it passes by in the World Dance Floor. That’s the mark of a great stage. Definitely ranks up there with the better content we can access through Just Dance.

A song to dance to with your father, or your son.
Or with your father and your son, if you're three
generations enjoying video games.
I wanted to avoid DLC content for this list, because it’s unfair to include levels you would have to pay for. However, I covered all good levels for JD2015 on my previous lists and I couldn’t exclude this one. Papaoutai is that French song that has been a surprise hit all over the world (and it’s great to play to a French song for once). It’s so catchy, we almost forget that it’s about Stromae growing up without a father because said father died in the 1994 Rwandan genocide! Think about THAT the next time you tap your foot to this ditty! The choreography is great, featuring a father and his son, often doing movements one at a time as though the two were separated. That doesn’t stop them from getting together at the center of the screen, son at the front, father at the back, for an awesome moment where they complete each other’s moves. It’s just a great choreography and I think it’s the favorite DLC I ever bought from the series.

There are just too many great moments in this level.
A singele image doesn't do it justice.
Any fans of comic books? You’ll be delighted by this level. It starts with comic books spread on a table, then the dancer leaps out from the cover in the center for the choreography. That’s actually a pretty cool costume too, reminding me of famous hero costumes like Wonder Woman and Miss Marvel, among others. The choreography itself is enjoyable, with the dancer swinging her arms in circles, punching upwards… The developers went a step further with the backgrounds, throwing in various references to comic book styles. The written onomatopoeia shows up at various places, explosion pass by through the screen, the camera often moves back ever so slightly to reveal the sides of the panel. The best might be when pages zoom in on the backgrounds and we see panels drawn in the styles of famous comic book artists like Jack Kirby. I have a total geek-out on this level! No wonder I love it!

That is not the Lion King I grew up with, but it's a Lion
King I could get used to. Besides, who doesn't love catchy
songs about tragic tales of loss and murder?
Once again, a song that is surprisingly dark for how catchy it is. “Dancing savannah animals” isn’t exactly what comes to your mind for a song about a tragic murder in a club. Still, as with any item on this list, Just Dance delivers with a level that looks great, plays great, and is overall just loads of fun. No, I didn’t pick it just because it’s got a lion, although I’m biased towards always picking that dancer whenever I play the song. What else can I say, the lion looks cool with those Lennon specs. If lions aren’t your go-to wild animal, we also have a hippo, a lemur and a giraffe. I chuckle at the thought of the motion capture session for this particular song. Gotta love how colorful everything is, yet again, even if I could say that for 95% of all friggin’ Just Dance levels. I also love the conga parts in this choreography, it’s a nice touch, especially since the song’s genre lends itself to that.

Just in case you needed a reminder of the sheer EPIC of the visuals
in this one.
I don’t know half the names on this song. I did discuss it in my proper review of Just Dance 2016, though, and spoiler alert, another song I discussed there will show up later on this same list. Hey Mama is one of those levels that is fun when you just play it, but fantastic once you realize all the work that went into it. You mimic the moves of a dancer dressed like a flight attendant, I think, and two guys in the background. Replicated to infinity. I don’t think you comprehend the concept of infinity until you see the same thing repeated to what seems like an infinite number of times. The camera moves back from the dancers to reveal the two guys behind the flight attendant, in the middle of a hangar. Oh, and just to hammer in the endless repetition of these guys, at one point the main crew is on a moving platform, passing by more floors crowded with these guys. Holy macaroni. If you’re dancing to the level, you might not even notice them, but thanks to YouTube, you can. It’s jaw-dropping.

I should probably add that a Just Dance level featuring a few copies of the same dancer isn’t quite as impressive, unless you turn it up to 11 as with Hey Mama did with its thousands of copies of the same dancers. It’s more impressive if you use all different dancers showing up for cameos, as seen with a dance higher on this list.

Why do I want a crown of flowers all of a sudden?
The original song by The 5th Dimention was very groovy, but also five minutes long, so the game instead relies on this cover by The Sunlight Shakers, which is shorter. I dunno why, I love this sort of music, even if it’s as far from metal as can be. The cover is still really good, and keeps all that’s really necessary for a Just Dance version of the original track. I might have been a hippie in a past life, because I love this song and the designs around it. The characters are two women in hippie garb, and the choreography sees great chemistry between them. Hugs and hand-holding are a part of it, too, and you all know how much I loathed whole “Hold My Hand” routines in previous Just Dance titles; here, it’s manageable since it’s temporary and doesn’t cause problems. Gotta love the visuals that change drastically between Aquarius and Let The Sunshine In, going from watery blues to vibrant warm colors, sun in the background and flowers sprouting around. It’s a damn good level for a damn good cover of a damn good song.

And it's hilarious, too!
Classical music in a game? Why, yes! And it works! As a matter of fact, it also becomes a shout-out to the physical comedy of silent films. Two jockeys dance on a race track, behaving as though they were riding horses. Items come towards then like hurdles to jump on, while the background, like a green screen, plays a recording that makes the race track feel so much longer. That’s when you realize that everything is a prop, and the dancers are actually on a stage. We’ve been played! This one is fun, not very difficult, and all-around very enjoyable. The comical elements are well present, and I can attest, everyone I’ve played this song with have had a great time. It’s also the first time my mother scored 5 stars on a song on her first try, something that would not ever be achieved again. Yes, sometimes my parents play too. This is an inclusive game!

This is not your system crashing!
It's bound to surprise you at first, too.
The 2016 edition had a lot of odd tracks, including the Balkan Blast (AKA the Angry Birds theme song), Chiwawa, the William Tell Overture, an Irish Meadow Dance, and then this one. The Ievan Polkka is a cheery, funny song, and it’s sung by Hatsune Miku, which I’ve never really been listening to. The voice does seem to add to the hilarious, though. To think she dances on the screen while holding a leek… yeah, this is basically Meme: The Just Dance Level. (And that’s before JD2018 came out with “Beep Beep I’m A Sheep”!) The background is pretty basic, a series of screens forming a complete picture and sometimes showing different images. Best part might be when the track seems to glitch along with the character who freezes on the screen in different poses, before resuming as if nothing happened. Do not adjust your system, it’s fine. I love the silly tracks in the series, it’s a nice change of pace from the ones given to modern pop songs.

One of them looks like some metal band drummer, and I like that.
AKA the only “seated dance” that doesn’t suck. This one shows the two dancers in a close-up, only torso and up. It’s probably one of the least exhausting dances in Just Dance history, though. The concept is simple. These two guys are in a car, a really good some comes up, they dance in the car. Just the arms and head. Making faces along with the music. It’s the first time we get such a close-up of these porcelain white characters, and it’s actually pretty cool – if you don’t mind the slight uncanny valley of these bodies of utter whiteness, especially when they’re mouthing to the lyrics, and all that’s in their white mouths is just more white. Seriously though, the guy on the right is the better of the two. This level is just amazing – not that the original choreography for Teacher isn’t good, mind you, I just largely prefer this one. And while it’s a great level, never ever imitate these two during a car ride, because the driver lets his hands off the wheel far too long.

Why do I suddenly want to go watch Deadpool again?
With George Michael’s untimely passing in Christmas 2016, early this year I was interested in revisiting the duet choreography for this song. Yes, the track that sounds unbearably romantic, yet is about guilt from cheating on one’s spouse. Of course, as a result of the misleading music, the choreography for the song is very romantic. Even if it shouldn’t be. A man and a woman on a lascivious dance, requiring great chemistry between both partners (making this kinda awkward if played by two people with no romantic interest…). I’ve criticized other Just Dance levels for this, but here, it truly works. And while it makes things a little tricky if playing alone, it’s still enjoyable. You will just feel silly hugging yourself, is all. The level as a whole breathes that romantic vibe, even if it’s not supposed to be. Really, one of the strengths of Just Dance is when you see levels that combine the mood of the track with dancers that embody that mood and a fitting animated background. It's difficult to get all the parts right, but here, that was definitely achieved. Also DAYUM, that saxophone. 

Remember: As soon as you start listening to this song, a saxophonist lurks
in the shadows near you, playing along to the track. That's why the
saxophone always sounds so real when you listen to this song.
Saxophonists are great players, but also creeps.

I talked about it at length In my review, and it’s one of the shining examples, along with Hey Mama, of the improvements made in the newer game. The sole dancer switches between a few different models, one which wears clothes like Bruno Mars’ in the official video for the song. Yet, despite the model changing frequently, the choreography seams flawlessly. On top of that, the character is moved around a giant colorful city, with plenty of monuments visible. Oh, and just in case that wasn’t enough, the character is joined by multiple dancers from levels in previous Just Dance games in the background. It’s not two guys repeated thousands of times, but it’s impressive regardless. It ties the entire Just Dance universe together, in a weird way. And it’s all over this song, which is a treat no matter how often you listen to it, even three years after its release. Would there be a better way to celebrate the series? Probably, but this is as close as we get.

Just Dance Town. Population: Innumerable.
And we hope you like it as much as they do.

This level has it all: Great song, great choreography, great
backgrounds, it plays super-well, it's just the right level
of difficulty... and it's HOT.
Sometimes, all it takes is a simple song with a simple level, along with cool graphics. No matter how many improvements the franchise has seen with time, a fun dance is a fun dance, and nothing trumps that. This is one of the unexpected entries on the list, even passing by some of the most beloved levels in the series to steal the #1 spot. “Follow The Leader” is a one-dancer choreography assisted by multiple dancers in the background, all of which move in rhythm with the main one. I also love the juxtaposition of cold and hot, represented by the factory at the back. Cooler colors in some scenes featuring giant gears, and larger hot scenes with floating particles, lava thrown upwards, even more gears, and a whole crew of back-up dancers in the dark. Damn, is it me or it’s getting hot in here? The changing colors on the dancer’s clothes wasn’t anything new by that point, but it meshes so well with the backgrounds. The choreography is great, not too easy, not too hard, and very enjoyable every time I play it. Truly a fantastic example of what can be achieved with this franchise.

I don't get it. We're close to winter in Quebec, there's snow on the ground,
we are below zero Celsius, and I am sweating!
This is too hot. I'm hyperventilating!

Well, I guess that’s truly all I had to say about Just Dance. Closing the book on that franchise now. It was a fun time, wasn’t it? Some cussing, some praising, a lot of music. Really, you should give the franchise a try, if you haven’t. And if you already love it, more power to you; keep enjoying it. I know I love it.

Next week… Hm… I really should do another Steam Pack.

November 27, 2017

Worst 12 Just Dance Levels, Part Deux

In 2015, I made a big mistake. I split my favorite and least favorite Just Dance levels in two lists, one which had 24 items, one which had 12. Because I’d much rather be positive. However, I had not played enough Just Dance 2014 to discuss some of the levels in it, whether it’s the ones I like or dislike. The lists would have been much more different, had I gone to do this. Now, Just Dance 2016 was not a part of those lists, so most entries on this list and the next one will be from that game – but expect to see a few levels from Just Dance 2014 and 2015 in the lot, either as levels I used to like but don’t anymore, or levels I grossly oversaw during my original list and now deeply regret skipping.

And since I like to get the bad out of the way before I discuss the good, I will start off with a new, updated list of 12 (technically more) levels I utterly despise in Just Dance 2014, 2015 and 2016. Also note that most levels came back on the Just Dance Unlimited service, usually with improved graphics, and that's where I got my better screenshots for this list.

Microsoft, G4? Product placement much, Pitbull?
Yeah, I know, it’s another case of “I hate one of the names behind the song so I put the song on the list”. I made my hatred of a certain guy clear in my previous list. However, it’s not exactly a reason to hate the level itself, so I’m placing it at the bottom of the list. The level itself isn’t quite bad, just forgettable. The difficulty is fine, the dancer looks alright, the Gold Moves are spaced out and easy to make. I don’t quite hate Pitbull, though it feels as though he’s trying to cooperate and team up with every single musical artist out there. When is he teaming up with Metallica? I want to hear that. I'll live happy not hearing the other guy on this song, though.

11. Gibberish (MAX) JD2016
Thanks to the lyrics for pointing out that we are
listening to nonsense.
Just Dance loves to include choreographies by duets, trios and dance crews. Some duets are paired off pretty well, others aren’t. Every choreography that comprises more than one member should be paired off pretty well, actually, but sometimes things just don’t seem to work all that well. Personally, Gibberish always gave me that effect. It’s enjoyable enough, but I’m not a big fan of the choreography and feel it doesn’t really mesh, especially the interactions between the two dancers. There’s also that part in the actual gibberish part of the song, in which the camera moves a little forward, only to snap back in its original place afterwards. Not even sure why. Might be just to show off the effect… which, you know, that’s not necessary, other levels do it better.