One thing I like to say a lot when I make these end-of-year things is that I don't have infinite time or money. I miss a lot of stuff in favor of other stuff. I am easily the least qualified person to compile a summary of any year. However, I do listen to a lot of video game music. So I decided to talk about that- one of the most subjective things on the planet next to art and favorite color.
The one truth I like to hold onto, is that no matter what happens to this industry, the music gets better and better every year. There's something for everyone and it has not stopped for a second. So this would be my line up for the 10 songs that stuck with me the most way after I stopped playing the games they came from. It's hard as I limited myself to 10 so I didn't stuff the whole list with Tropical Freeze songs. They are in no particular order, so hopefully you enjoy.
Also YouTube Links. Get ready!
La Dance Macabre (Lich Yard) by Jake Kaufmann [Shovel Knight]
This was a really close tie with High Above the Land (Propellor Knight's Stage) but La Dance Macabre has a real Castlevania vibe to it which I really, really enjoy. The tempo in this song is perfect and keeps me moving. I think I was sold on Shovel Knight as soon as I played this stage. So La Dance Macabre has a special place in my heart.
Evil Eye by Simon Viklund [Payday 2]
You may or may not remember Payday 2 from Overkill Software about a bunch of dudes in clown masks robbing banks. You may or may not remember there was a crossover with Dennyton Games and Hotline Miami. And you may or may not have heard this fantastic pounding 2014 release known as Evil Eye by the awesome Simon Viklund. Perfect tune to weather a police assault or two.
Tomorrow is Mine by Keeley Bumford [Bayonetta 2]
I might be prepared to say that Tomorrow is Mine is a little cheesy in someways. But I am damn glad it served as the main theme for Bayonetta 2, because I was always ready to fight angels or demons with this track going. The music for the first Bayonetta struck me in a lot of the right ways, so I am glad to see the sequel keep the soundtrack streak moving.
Bowser's Castle by Shiho Fujii, Atsuko Asahi, Ryo Nagamatsu, Yasuaki Iwata [Mario Kart 8]
I don't really know who is mainly responsible for the Bowser's Castle song in Mario Kart 8, but they did a fantastic job. It's my favorite Bowser's Castle yet, and this song always leaves me psyched to revisit it. I think Alex Navarro said it the best describing it as Nintendo's version of metal. Well put.
Menschmachine by Petri Alanko [Trials Fusion]
WELCOME TO THE FUTURE. MAN. MACHINE. THE FUSION!
I think I have fallen too far down the hole of this song to tell whether it's the best or worst thing in the year 2014. But man do I enjoy it all the same. I love the build up and simplistic lyrics. Good on you RedLynx. Keep that title screen music tradition rolling.
Remnant of Twilight by Masato Koike, Yuki Matsumura [Hyrule Warriors]
I don't remember the music in Twilight Princess very much (well, not at all really) but I love the beat they laid down for this one in Hyrule Warriors. Love this beat so much. As much as the Warriors team is known for shredding guitars and turning everything into a very special kind of rock music. I like this one for the sense of marching. Extra points if you're playing as Zant or Midna.
Zone 1 Level 2 by Danny Baranowsky [Crypt of the Necrodancer]
Get your necrodance on. I'm actually super terrible at this game, but damn if the soundtrack by DannyB doesn't grab me anyway. I dig that disco beat. And it's extra swell when the merchant stretches his pipes and sings a bar or two.
Urabon by Grillo [Lethal League]
Lethal League has some sick beats. And nothing is quite as sick as Urabon by Grillo. Love this track. Not much else to say about that. Just let it wash over you.
Paper Boats feat. Ashley Barrett by Darren Korb [Transistor]
I suppose my dark 2014 confession is that I don't appreciate the Transistor soundtrack as much as the next person. I tend to gravitate toward songs that really pump things up. But I do really enjoy the Paper Boats song enough to make it a mention. As far as a soundtrack with lyrics goes, Transistor has the rest of the year beat. Really nice stuff.
Punch Bowl by David Wise [Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze]
If I did a more traditional list, Punch Bowl by David Wise would have been the best boss theme of 2014 easily. But for this one, it just makes it as one of my favorite songs in 2014 in general. I love fighting the Bashmaster to this song. The guitar is so, so good. Not something you'd expect in a Donkey Kong Country game, but I am glad to have it.
Sarumarine's 2014 VG Soundtrack of the Year - Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
If you're curious, if I had to pick a winner, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze would be my favorite soundtrack of the year. That whole list is so amazing with so much variety and catchy tunes that I've had it going in the background for most of the year. Grassland Groove, Fruity Factory, Horn Top Hop, Busted Bayou, Big Top Bop, and more. Just really outstanding work from all involved to make that soundtrack possible. It really helped me adjust to the Retro controls of the DK game while grooving out to all the music. I think Tropical Freeze would be a lesser game without it for sure.
Sarumarine's Most Anticipated: Hotline Miami 2
For looking forward to 2015, I think I'm looking forward to what the soundtrack for Hotline Miami 2 might be more than the actual game. The first Hotline introduced me to a lot of cool artists I wish I had known of before. And here's hoping that Hotline 2 shows me even more cool music and people responsible for it. I'm sure there is going to be a lot of masked murder, but at least it'll sound good.
Here's to soundtracks in the year 2015. I'm really psyched to see what pops up next.
I recently finished The Evil Within, and while I debate whether or not I've played enough games to make a list of anything in the year 2014, I thought I'd talk about this one- because it sure gave me a lot to think about following the nightmare adventures of gruff detective guy Sebastian Castellanos. From what I can gather from the internet, it's a very divisive game and I can perfectly see why.
I still had fun with The Evil Within. Or rather, that kind of Souls-like fun where it gets hard to decide if it's awesome or bullshit.
The Evil Within (Saw What You Did There)
The Evil Within (or TEW, a great acronym) is billed as survival horror with an over the shoulder camera to evoke third person shooter action and more importantly, Resident Evil 4. I suppose it's an inevitable comparison to make considering the director is Resident Evil guy Shinji Mikami, but I can say that if you try to play TEW like RE4, you're not going to have a good time. Many of the enemies are built to exploit that kind of mindset as they have whole combo strings and running grabs, so if you try to do your one step backwards to aim and shoot you're going to get caught every single time. There is a lot more running this game, both in and out of combat. So as a minor pro-tip, you're going to want to upgrade stamina. Just saying.
Overall it is a rough game. It's pretty easy to see where it lacks polish as you play, and I'm not just talking about those letterboxes. I played this on the PS4 and adapted to the black bars sandwiching the screen. You can argue if it's stylistic choice or a design element to keep the game from collapsing into itself, but there's really only one boss fight where it's really noticeable as it's almost impossible to keep an eye on the ground and the ceiling at the same time. Luckily there are combat options to mitigate this. But the letterboxes and unpolished edges didn't kill the entire experience for me. I don't know, maybe I'm not that picky. But I feel like Skyrim was a bigger mess on the technical side if I had to pick a more guilty culprit.
Really my biggest problem with TEW on the deepest levels of opinion is the aesthetic. The unfortunate part is that the game doesn't feel like it has its own identity. It's main inspiration and art direction is taken straight from the Saw movies. So for me, it doesn't have much to do with horror and is more torture and mutilation with characters you don't have much reason to care about even when they're getting split apart. The game leaves nothing to imagination. Nails in brains, crazies with chainsaws, barbwire through the skin, blood by the gallons, and other stuff that makes TEW feel like a lost Doom level.
I know some people will be into that. But it's not very scary and feels like raw gore is trying to carry the whole thing. What's also a shame is that there's a psychological aspect they could have done much more with if they weren't trying to pile on the gore. There's only one or two enemies I find with really fantastic designs, and one of them is Safehead, or the Keeper, who has played a lot in the promotional material. Maybe you wouldn't think that a guy wearing a safe box for a head would be that great. But he has a lot of animations that sell the idea perfectly. My favorite of which is him smacking his head with his hammer to make a great clanking noise. It's so good.
Kneecaps are the New Headshots
When it comes to playing the game, like I said before it's not the smoothest experience. But I still had fun because The Evil Within places a weight on ammunition and supplies I don't find very often. Every bullet is a celebration. Every healing syringe is a fist pump. Every new gun is a block party. Scavenging areas and picking up stuff feels so great that exploring the somewhat ho-hum environments is still very satisfying. They also like to hide keys (in really ridiculous spots) that open up locked boxes in the save room that give you extra ammo and other bonuses. Whenever I found a key, I was always super pumped to get back to a save room to see what I got.
I will say that TEW has one of the roughest starts I've ever seen in a long, long time. Before you get your crossbow and other weapons, the two-three hours or so are a major slog. There's a unreliable stealth mechanic the game expects you to lean on until you get more bullets or supplies. But the major strategy or spin TEW tries to put on shooting zombies is blasting their legs so they fall down and you can set them on fire with a match. For the majority of the enemies and bosses, setting them on fire is a big deal. It either kills them instantly or does tons of damage. And if there's a crowd, the fire spreads so you can waste three or four enemies with one match and save yourself lots of bullets. Helping this is the agony crossbow with various trap bolts that can immobilize enemies, blow them up, freeze them and more. The game is really built around it, so, you really want to use it. Seriously, don't save that shit. Just use it.
You can still headshot enemies if you want, but how the aiming works and the way enemies shamble and stumble about, it's much harder than say... a residence of evil in the fours.
The Instant Kills Within
The other really big thing is that... The Evil Within has bucket loads of things that will kill you instantly. So much so that your health bar doesn't even really matter. Almost every single boss will kill you as soon as they touch you. I can see where it's meant to establish tension. You really don't want crazy spider lady to slap your shit... but it just makes TEW super punishing and unforgiving. And if you manage to die three or four times on a boss encounter the tension is gone and all that is left is frustration and aggravation. That's not even including many of the traps and extended sequences where failure means instant death. Another pro-tip is to save all your upgrade goo for anything but your health bar. Your health bar is like points in Who's Line is it Anyway? It just doesn't matter.
The bosses are definitely the low point of the game except for Safehead guy. He's one of the rare encounters who doesn't blast you instantly if he touches you, so that's probably why I actually had fun with him. He's more of a hazard while you battle other things in the environment and while that might sound annoying, he's pretty well balanced so that it's not a real hassle. There's more going on with Safehead than all the other boss encounters so you actually have time to enjoy what's happening.
"I'm a police officer. Maybe I should help you."
I'll finish things up here with one of my favorite lines from the game found above, which comes from Sebastian Castellanos the player character. It perfectly sums up his deal as he's nearly a blank slate. He's Mr. Detective Guy in a bad spot. There are files in the game that fill in his backstory, but it never plays into the main plot or any meaningful way. You could switch him out with anyone and it would hardly matter. The other thing is how he doesn't seem to pay much attention to what's going on even when other characters are explaining the gravity of the situation. As a detective, he never seems to have the appropriate reaction to what's going on. Maybe he's been there and done that, but there's no way to know as he fails pattern recognition and asks dumb questions like "Am I going crazy?" ten hours deep into the story when a doctor has already laid down just how severe the stakes are.
As a few final pro-tips, don't upgrade your melee. Whether it's at level 1 or level 5, it's always junk and a waste of valuable upgrade points. Stick that into your ammo stock or literally anything else. Also, if you find a certain powerful weapon known to pop up in games like these, don't try and save it for the final boss. You'll just end up disappointed. Trust me.
To be perfectly honest, I have a major soft spot for Platinum Games. I feel like they're real underdogs in the video game world of today. They're always turning in fantastic work without the sales to show for it. They don't load down their games with gratuitous DLC. Bonuses, costumes, and goodies can always be unlocked with enough patience and skill (or if that proves too tough, in-game cheats so you're not blocked off forever). Even minor stuff like a game I played with online multiplayer had zero online achievements. It's the little stuff that shines through.
The polish and consideration they put into their products is not something you see very often these days. They're doing video games right... but not enough people buy their stuff so I feel like they won't be around for long. I'm doing my best to enjoy them now.
So in many ways it's mind blowing to me that a sequel to Bayonetta came out in this day and age. I want to say that if you like character action games, or a game with plenty of spectacle and the gameplay to match, or a good product with amazing controls, go buy Bayonetta 2! But I realize that it came out on the Wii U (a console with a spotty reputation) and features a protagonist who uses her hair to summon demons, often getting next to naked many, many times throughout the game. I trust people know where they stand on that kind of thing.
I'll try to rein it in, but god damn Bayonetta 2 (and its predecessor) is one hell of a video game.
Bayonetta 2 (The Return of Non-Stop Infinite Fun)
The wicked witch of the weave returns for all kind of entertaining nonsense and some minor tweaks to the gameplay you wouldn't think would make a huge deal. But if you try to go back to the first Bayonetta you can tell with the handling. The pacing for Bayonetta 2 is way, way better and ever so slightly easier difficulty wise. You are no longer penalized for using healing items. Instant death QTEs have been removed. But don't worry, if you're looking for challenge you'll get there eventually as things ramp up. This game has the same kind of spirit that carried the original through all the ridiculous spectacle and absurdity. Hair demons, giant lightning hammers, bosses so big you have to fly around them, quad chainsaws, Punch-Out!! references, magic mecha, and sick duels on par with the Jeanne fights from the first game.
It can be kind of overwhelming sometimes. The inclusion of the new mechanic Umbran Climax that changes all of your regular attacks in to heavy hitting wicked weaves can add to the confusion. There are more than a few boss fights where there is so much going on, it can be hard to keep track of your character or know when to use your dodge to get in Witch Time (temporary slo-mo bonus for evading attacks). That's really one of my biggest complaints. It's not a very big complaint in the grand scheme of things, but I definitely thought about it. Sometimes bosses feel way harder than they really are, but I guess I feel conflicted because I want to watch what's going on in the background but there's really no opportunity unless I'm watching someone else play. Either way, there's really nothing else like it.
The controls are especially solid. For all the insanity that happens on the screen, you're never fighting the controller. It's true that the Wii U offers the ability to play on the touch screen of the Wii Pad. I messed around with it a bit, but Bayonetta 1 and 2 are way too demanding for me to make that manageable on the default difficulty. Buttons and sticks are what you need to dodge and weave your way to victory as you string together combos to get satisfying flourishes in the form of punches and kicks from your demonic stand known as Madama Butterfly. In Bayonetta 2 she gets a little more screen time with some torture attacks and major boss showdowns.
Dancing Through Heaven and Hell
The thing I really enjoyed in Bayonetta 2 is shedding more light on the game's version of Hell known as Inferno. As a result of the story, Demons now make up another set of enemies trying to collect Bayonetta's soul and really freshen things up from all the angel killing done throughout this game and the first one. They all have some pretty fantastic designs and even better names. Hatred. Insidious. Greed. Deception. And probably my favorite name of the bunch: Pain, Driver of Agony. These creatures from hell, appropriately, can be a real pain in the ass so you have to be on your toes. But I definitely was not let down after all the teasing from the original Bayonetta. They even drop different currency in the form of orbs that even the devil may cry about.
There's also a multiplayer mode known as Tag Climax which I can only describe as competitive co-op. You team up with another player (or a CPU) in a series of six fights you can bet Halos on (the game's currency) for varying levels of difficulty. While you're trying to survive the fight, you're also trying to outdo your partner in terms of combos. Whoever scores the longest, greatest combo while taking the least amount of damage is the winner. I really love this mode. It also serves as a good warmup for the main game and works surprisingly well given how Nintendo does online play. There's even an option to mess with the computer while you wait for someone to match up with you.
You can expect a fair number of surprises and some really tough-as-nails battles if for some reason the story mode leaves you wanting. Not to mention, secret characters! You will still have to beat the story mode in order to get the most out of Tag Climax, as it unlocks fights for you to pick from based on set pieces from the single player. Also it lets you get a hold of money really quickly to afford some of the more ridiculously priced items in the game.
Still it's surprisingly well done since I never expected or wanted multiplayer in a Bayonetta game.
Fire the Afterburners Again
I don't know how much I could recommend Bayonetta 2 without overdoing it. I do have to say that the game's tone and sense of humor is just as ridiculous as the first game. So if you didn't like the idea of the main character stripping down every time she summons a demon to crush her latest enemy, that hasn't changed here. The plot line, while a little more reigned in, still does pretzel twists with the same kind of tongue and cheek you can come to expect from a game where you can head butt a dragon into the side of a skyscraper. The supporting characters can be pretty polarizing. And the ending of Bayonetta 2 is a little disappointing as it doesn't get quite as grand as the first game. Still, it's a well polished experience that easily plays better than the first outing.
Again, I'm amazed this sequel even exists, so I've taken great care to cherish the experience. I'm not going to say that you'll never see character action games again after Bayonetta 2. But I don't think you'll get a game like this in a long, long time.
Bayonetta (Wii U Edition)
Bonus time! If the idea of getting two games for the price of one is appealing to you, act now as the first Bayonetta comes in the same case as Bayonetta 2!
I decided to replay this game after beating Bayo 2, and I'm really glad I did because I forgot just how brutal this game is. The original Bayonetta is a great game, don't get me wrong, but the pacing is kind of all over the place and it reminded me just how hard it was to score well. Maybe Bayonetta 2 is just that good, I don't know. There are some long stages in this game, with QTEs that kill you instantly if you fail them. Some of the early bosses take awhile to beat without having all of your weapons or the accessories and skills to speed them up. Not to mention those two assholes Gracious and Glorious. Bayonetta is unforgiving and demanding. But if you can hang with it, there is a lot of fun to be had here.
Bayonetta still features one of my favorite boss battles ever in the form of Jeanne. Her boss music, Red and Black, is fantastic and she's such a joy to keep up with since she has your moves. That fight on the wing of a crashing plane is too good. There's no trick to Jeanne fights, no gimmick. It's just a matter of "how well can you play Bayonetta?" For me? Not too good, but they're still fun none the less. I had to break down and use pay phone cheats to unlock her since scoring Platinum for every stage of the game was never going to happen in my lifetime.
The Wii U Experience
For the most part, Bayonetta plays just as good as it does on the 360 when it first came out. I did notice some hits to the frame rate on some of the crazier boss battles where there's a ton of stuff going on at once. I don't know if it's my system or something else (as I had been playing a bunch of Bayonetta 2 beforehand) but I went back to the 360 version and didn't notice the same chug. It's not a huge deal breaker. You can certainly use the reaction time, but it's noticeable for sure. You can use the touchpad if you're feeling adventurous, but I don't know how you could possibly stand it considering everything Bayonetta throws at you. This does get kind of annoying as it relies on motion controls as default for the vehicle sections... but it's easy to switch to more manageable controls.
In any case, if you didn't see Bayonetta the first time on the PS3 and 360, it's not a bad time to start now as it plays just as well on the Wii U. Considering I got it with Bayonetta 2, I couldn't help but play through again if only to relive that absolutely ridiculous final boss. Big Bang Bonus punch, right into the sun. I still haven't seen anything like it. There's ridiculous, and then there's Bayonetta. I'm only left feeling very glad these games exist.
Back when I was talking about the Metal Gear series, someone mentioned I should play Peace Walker for a number of reasons. Most of those reasons involving the story lead in to the likes of Metal Gear Solid V with the characters and setting, and maybe that it was under appreciated or something. Well, I played Peace Walker.
The result is that I have a new low as far as this series is concerned. I thought Metal Gear Soild 4 was my least favorite, but boy does Peace Walker beat that game in spades. At least MGS4 doesn't require voodoo, blood sacrifices, and obscure logic shit just to see the final ending. People were complaining about the unclear nonsense it took to beat the P.T. Silent Hills demo thing, and Peace Walker has that same kind of flavor. Hopefully this isn't the start of a bad trend for Kojima-related projects.
I'm not saying its the worst game ever, even in relation to Metal Gear. But the lows outnumber the highs in staggering amounts.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (Deterrence Deterrence Deterrence)
This is a game that never ends.
Peace Walker is the game that absolutely refuses to end. That may be good or bad depending on your tastes and experiences, but for me, this game felt like an eternity. I spent a good two days being completely done with it, but unable to leave it alone because I was stuck in Chapter 5 and desperately wanted to finish it out because I felt like I was so close. I found at least three different explanations on how to reach the final boss only to be completely stumped as the game nearly refused to let me finish the video game world's longest, most drawn out game of hide and seek I've ever seen. Man, is Steve Blum good at playing elusive instigators. I still don't know how I managed to unlock the final mission, but I'm so glad it's over.
But let's back up real quick. My main problem with Peace Walker is that it's not really a Metal Gear Solid game. It's more along the lines of Monster Hunter with a Metal Gear Solid coat of paint. It's a weird half-Metal Gear where you can't crawl around (you can only lay down in a stationary position), you can't sidle along walls edges, and in lieu of boss battles with quirky super soldiers, you fight tanks, helicopters, and AI controlled machines by the bucket load. It's also designed primarily to be a handheld with lightning fast stages designed to be beat minutes at a time. Unfortunately these short missions don't have nearly enough variety or things to justify it. It's got multiplayer, and that must be why all the bosses in this game take forever to beat. Forever. Like there aren't enough missiles and rockets in the world.
But I'm four paragraphs in and I feel like all I'm doing is dumping on it. It's not that bad, but if you're expecting another sneak-em-up Metal Gear style, you had best rearrange your expectations.
Codename: Batman (Advanced CQC is Awesome)
However, the greatest thing Peace Walker does is moving Naked Snake/Big Boss one step closer to having the ability to completely wreck squads of guys with nothing but two fists and some fast moves. CQC is really, really effective in this game. You could probably beat all the sneaking stages in this game with nothing but your bare hands. One of the reasons it's so good, its a new combo move that involves throwing an enemy to the ground, and then mashing out the attack button to take down any of his nearby friends. It's so damn good, and fun, and effective.
Peace Walker is the only game I know where you can turn Big Boss into Batman. My favorite tactic involved throwing a smoke grenade into a crowd of guys, running in, throwing one of them to the ground, and then taking out the other three with the CQC Combo Chain before the smoke clears. It's so awesome. So every cutscene from MGS3 where Naked Snake takes out like five guys at once is now totally possible. What's also improved is ambushing guys around corners. You can grab an enemy as they're rounding a corner and do what you please with them. I like tossing them on the ground and then holding them up. The only thing keeping you from beating the game without firing a shot is all the boss battles with tanks, AI drones, and helicopters.
Not So Much about the Mission
The main focus though doesn't have much to do with the actual playing of the game. Really it's about building your oil rig-style main base. You have to fill out your personnel roster by kidnapping the soldiers you usually avoid or murder throughout the story. The main draw involves using the resources of your crew to research gadgets and weapons. However, the way the game unlocks new stuff is something I never got a handle on. Sometimes it would be a bonanza as I have shotguns and radars to research and other times complete droughts. I got to a point toward the end of the game where I had nothing to research but was building up tons of funds. All that money, and nothing to spend it on. Which wasn't so bad because the main thing you really need to beat this game is a rocket launcher.
You'll also need tons of patience. Because those rocket launchers only have 5 or 6 shots and you'll need way, WAY more than that to beat the boss encounters in this game. Half of boss fights involve waiting to resupply. They take so long. I don't know if I've said that before, but they take forever. Even if you're shooting for weaknesses, the amount of damage it takes to beat a tank or an AI drone is stupid. It makes even The End fight from MGS3 look fun. Mostly, the problem is that they're poorly paced and feel built for multiple people hammering on a single target like Monster Hunter. But who the hell is going to play the PS3 version of Peace Walker online? No one I could find, that's for sure.
That final boss is total garbage too. The presentation, the difficulty, the weird J-Pop music they play when you're fighting a Metal Gear. And the pilot is wearing nothing but her underwear for some reason? What probably makes it feel worse than it actually is was all the effort (or luck) just to get there. I do really love the idea of building your worst enemy. Creating the final boss... but getting there is just too dumb to capitalize on that.
No Peace for the Story
The story is alright. Steve Blum's character wants to equalize capitalism from Central America, and then things get weird as Metal Gear stories tend to do. Most of this probably falls on my personal preference. It's got a few hitches involving The Boss from MGS3 (who I felt had a pretty complete story) and there's a pretty confusing plot beat with Big Boss where he's wondering about things that were explained to him at the end of Snake Eater. Like, didn't EVA already cover why The Boss defected to the Soviet Union and why you had to kill her, Big Boss? And then the namesake of this game bringing her back as a singing robot... well... I think I would rather play a game as The Boss instead of playing a game about The Boss if that's what it takes.
I did like the comic art style (not so much those QTEs) for a couple of characters. Villains look like real villains with devious smiles and twisted necks. Hot Coldman has some pretty fantastic grins. And Big Boss looks like an insane mountain man in some scenes.
And then there's Paz. Who doesn't do much in the story at first except add tons of creep factor later on. If you were uncomfortable with the Beauty and the Beast unit from MGS4, prepare to take on Paz. Beating Peace Walker completely involves crawling in a box with her while hearts rise up with all sorts of unfortunate implications. Again, I don't know what it adds to the experience other than to be a poorly executed non-sequitur. I can really do without scenes like this in these games. I just want to sneak around and fight quirky bosses, man. Maybe blow up nuclear walking death machines every now and then.
Finding that Ending
I'm also still burned about how obscure the ending to this game is. I still don't know what triggered it, and I'm not even talking about the parts you need to get there. Eventually you're just grinding it out playing missions that aren't good enough for repeated playthroughs. You could say that there is a lot here in Peace Walker, but the game feels bloated rather than stacked with content. The unique or funny missions are few and far in-between (like holding up soldiers with a banana) and there are too many that feel like busy work (disarming claymores, anyone?)
But it's over now. Peace Walker is done. And I really don't know what to think of Metal Gear Solid V now. I'm sure that game will be weird and crazy as Metal Gear games tend to do. I just hope they don't bury the plot progression behind unclear goals and mounds of uninteresting tasks.
And I would complain about Paz... but they pretty much already dealt with that problem in Ground Zeroes.
Ah, Metal Gear Solid! What a strange, divisive franchise. I would be lying if I didn't say that Dan and Drew's recent escapades had inspired me to replay through the core 4 games of the series. From Playstation to Playstation 3, I went on all the main missions of Solid Snake and company in his struggle against top secret nuclear weapons and quirky top secret super soldiers.
Like when I played Donkey Kong Country 2, I tried to beat them as fast as I could out of challenge considering I've played some of these games to death. But this is by no means speedrun material. I never got below the 5 hour mark across my four playthroughs, mostly because I got caught up in the cutscenes sometimes. But the refresher course is nice, even if some of my performance was pretty garbage in some cases. Metal Gear Solid 4 was especially rough, oh man... but we'll get there eventually.
Metal Gear Solid: Tactical Espionage Action
The first time I saw anything about Metal Gear Solid on the Playstation 1 was in some magazine with maps of the Helipad and the Tank Hangar leading up to the first fight with Revolver Ocelot. The layout of the base and some of the tips on the sides of the pages really got my interest with the idea of sneaking inside a place and trying not to get caught. The weapons lockers and talk of various keycards was also pretty cool. Although it was years and years after its release before I actually got my hands on it.
This game was really something. I had never seen anything quite like it. The cutscenes and voice acting (regardless of quality) were interesting at the least. And the one thing I have to give this game is how memorable it is. It's a game with personality. MGS walks a line (much like the Yakzua series) where the characters within the game take everything really seriously. However, you're sneaking around in a cardboard box and there's a boss is reading your memory card while one character threatens you not to use a turbo button during a life or death interrogation.
The Good: Psycho Mantis
"There's no need for words, Snake. I'm Psycho Mantis!"
Easily my favorite boss in the entire series. Psycho Mantis was the moment I was completely sold on the game. He's such a fun idea with the way he uses his 'psychic powers' to read memory cards and the inputs from your controller. MGS always had a really firm grasp on how to use the fourth wall, whether through tutorials, or just to screw with you during a boss battle. The whole "switch controller ports" was amazing when Campbell called in about it. Totally unforgettable.
The Bad: Ocelot's Interrogation
"When your life reaches zero, the game is over. There are no continues, my friend."
Back when I first played the game, MGS kind of loses it's momentum right after Mantis where you have to do some backtracking to fight Sniper Wolf, and then get thrust into the interrogation scene. This was pretty damn hard back in the day. I wasn't really up on my button mashing, and beating Ocelot at his game gave me fits. It's still the low point of the game, which might be the point since Snake has been captured the situation is looking pretty bleak. If you give up, you can make it even bleaker (even though you get the best secret item in the game later on.) Still, the option to escape via ketchup sauce is pretty great.
Metal Gear Solid is one of my favorite games. I put it on a list and everything. I've got a memory card where I beat it on every single difficulty. Even Extreme, which took awhile because I messed up with my ration use and had to beat the Hind D fight with one hit left on my life meter. I didn't have much trouble returning to it, and even though I planned to skip the cutscenes, I ended up watching a bunch of them. Especially the Mantis fight. But to finish this out, I'll leave you with some great music.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (Substance Edition)
Metal Gear Solid 2 is where things got a little too weird for me. Not that this series was ever grounded with gasmask wearing psychics and walking nuclear equipped tanks. But whoa man, MGS2 goes to some crazy places. I wanted to beat this way faster, but I ended up re-watching the majority of the story just to remember how strange this game got. At the time, I remember being pretty puzzled at the stuff they tried to do with Raiden and early story beats reporting that Snake had died in the tanker. I went along with most of it because I really didn't know what was going on.
Now that I've played through the whole series and know the ins and outs of the insane plot, I can appreciate what they tried to do with this game way more. The bait and switch protagonist trick is still really ballsy looking back on it. And the layers and layers of meta? piled onto an already ridiculous series goes a little too far for me. However, it does have an excellent payoff in the Arsenal Gear section when your main radio contacts go absolutely nuts. It's one of my favorite Metal Gear moments, even if it's not in one of my favorite Metal Gear games. "I hear it's amazing when the famous purple stuffed worm in flap-jaw space with the tuning fork does a raw blink on Hara-kiri rock. I need scissors! 61!"
The Good: Hot Metal Gear Solid 2 Music
"A Harrier? What is this!?"
While Metal Gear Solid 2 ranks pretty low on my Metal Gear spectrum, the one thing the game has in spades is the music. It has some of my favorite boss themes in most video games with the Dead Cell boss fights and the last boss theme with Solidus. I remember being pretty psyched when the Dead Cell boss theme made it into Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Fantastic choice. The Tanker and Big Shell areas also have some pretty great tunes when you're sneaking around or getting into a shoot out.
The story is probably the biggest mark against it. It's pretty labyrinthine and nuts, and whether it actually made good on all that GW and Patriots stuff is probably up to the individual to decide. The few good payoffs in Arsenal Gear don't quite make up for the long cutscenes spouting off stuff like La-le-lu-li-lo and information control. Not to say I can't get deep with fiction, but for MGS I've always just wanted something on par with Die Hard or action movies with a bit of that Japanese flair involving bipedal machines called Metal Gear and cyborg ninjas.
Metal Gear Solid 2 rates pretty low for me. I do like what they did with the control scheme and how you go about shooting and sneaking around. The option to get through the game without killing anyone, even the bosses, is a pretty fantastic idea/challenge to subvert the kill-em-all nature a game like this usually has. Still, when Snake and Otacon talk about their adventures traveling around the world sabotaging and destroying Metal Gears, I rather like the sound of that.
Also I never liked the controls of the High Frequency Blade. I just gave Solidus the old one-two in the final fight and took him down like Little Mac would have done. Punch-Out!! style, baby.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (Subsistence Edition)
Metal Gear Solid 3 is a real contender with Metal Gear Solid for my favorite game in the series. The Cold War setting was super refreshing after the techno madness of MGS2. This game introduces a lot of fun characters (even if they overstay their welcome later on) like The Boss and Naked Snake's codec crew. Of course, it also introduces the likes of The Pain and The End... but for the most part I really loved the jungle/survival paired with the eighties spy fiction direction of this game. Not to mention that title theme song. Snake Eater...
I played the Subsistence edition with the new camera controls. Again, I probably would have beaten this faster... but I really enjoy the cutscenes and story. It's still pretty crazy how close it is to my MGS2 time, which is strange because I felt like I beat this game way faster. Apparently not though. In any case, I love this game's selection of tools and weapons. I know it's a stealth game, but there are lots of fun combat options. The M37 shotgun is too much fun. And you can finally acquire and wield the greatest handgun ever made... the Colt Single Action Army. 6 shots... you know the rest.
The story is also (fairly) easier to follow and that really, really helps.
The Good: THE FURY
"Son of a biiiiitch!"
There's a lot of good in MGS3, but the high point for me would be the boss fight with The Fury. I love this guy. Having a shootout with this flamethrower in a line of tunnels is a lot of fun. Especially since you can change lanes by jumping across barriers or blowing up barrels. The fire effects are neat to watch (even if they have some fuzzy hitboxes) and you can use just about anything to kill him. Not to mention that boss theme. I especially love how he curses and yells as you score hits on him. His voice acting is pretty appropriate.
The Bad: The End...
On the other hand, you have The End. I know I'm in the minority on this one, but The End is the most boring boss fight in the entire series. He doesn't have cool music, and you can't even have a sniper battle with him because he'll sneak up behind you and KO you in one hit. The worst part is that he doesn't even kill you, and drags you back like seven screens. That's the thing about The End. He just wastes your time. Even for Metal Gear, that's just dumb.
My favorite way to deal with him is equip the shotgun and thermal goggles and go hunting. Blasting this asshole in the back is tons of fun. I know that killing him makes you miss out on his tranq rifle... but he's so boring. It's a nice bonus that there are two ways to skip him if you're doing another playthrough and really don't care about his stuff.
The I-Don't-Understand-How-to-CQC: The Boss
Now, you think that maybe the final fight in the game would be really great. However, I don't understand how CQC works with her. I've looked online and read forums, but I have no idea what you're supposed to do when she rushes you. I've rotated sticks and pressed circle, but she floors me every time. So the Boss just becomes a hide-and-go seek match with a tranq pistol and stun grenades. She's an alright fight I guess, but no where near as good as fighting Liquid in MGS. I miss the simplicity of punching, kicking, and dodging.
Metal Gear Solid 3 is really cool and a major contender with the first game in the series. I feel like I've said enough with the setting and the camo system and weapons... so I'll just leave some more great music. Fantastic soundtrack. Snake Eater...
Too much. If I had to describe Metal Gear Solid 4 in one phrase, it would be: too much. I know that at some point this was supposed to be the last in the series, but the way the story goes and all the characters they try to bring back, it just feels too much. Nothing about it feels particularly effortless. MGS4 is my least favorite of the bunch, no contest. The lengths they go for callbacks or fan service breaks my willing suspension of disbelief. And I know it's a Metal Gear Solid game, but the idea that REX would still be functional so many years after the absolute beating Snake gives it is in MGS is... ridiculous! I don't think even Senator Armstrong can talk his way out of that. And that's not even really worth complaining about compared to the other stuff in this game.
They also throw a lot of creepy voyeuristic stuff right in your face. Usually that was hidden enough where you had to work for it or know a thing or two about easter eggs. But most of the major boss battles end in some woman (motion captured from a fashion model) in a cat suit stumbling toward you, usually trying to hug you and dodging your bullets like they're Psycho Mantis on controller port 1. I don't really see what it adds to the experience other than "pretty sexy creepy, right?" If you want to be optimistic, you could chalk it up to the horrors of war or something how video games desensitize people ala MGS2... but I feel like it's really unearned in this case.
The Good: All those Wonderful Weapons
It's not all bad though. I'm not trying to say that MGS4 is the worst thing in the world. It just doesn't move at my speed. The one thing that I do really love about it is the insane selection of weapons and the collection aspect that has to do with finding new inventory. There are a lot of cool choices that reference other MGS games. From the Mac 10 from the MSX Metal Gear, the Five-seveN from the GBC Ghost Babel, to Fortune's Rail Gun from MGS2. The one glaring omission is the FAMAS from MGS... but I suppose the SOCOM could cover that. In any case, the weapon variety on display here is impressive and you're never at a loss for options. My favorite is equipping non-lethal air foil rounds on the automatic shotgun.
The few parts of the game where you're in the middle of a warzone between two sides is also neat as you can try to pick a side to help or simply sneak your way through them. It's where you can put a lot of your weapons to use if you want.
The Bad: Death of a Thousand Cuts
Really my beef with MGS4 is no simple thing. The story is what it is, but there are lot of little annoying things in this game. The boss battles don't feel as fun as previous entires. Also the fight with Vamp is really dumb. I knew what I had to do but it took me forever to figure out the right button combination or where I was supposed to stand in order to pull it off. The REX vehicle segment in the tunnel is really frustrating as I take damage from all over and have no idea where it's coming from or how it's happening. The final fight with Ocelot suddenly getting a different control scheme was also pretty frustrating. Overall, I just didn't have as much fun. And I feel like it maybe has to do with this game being so busy making references to previous MGS, that it doesn't have the time to be its own thing.
Or at least it feels like to me.
However, that hallway scene (you know the one) at the end of the game is still really well done. All you're doing is mashing a button, but the tone of the scene and emotions they're trying to evoke is really on point. I especially love that amidst the dire straights of Snake and crew, Sunny suddenly shows up at the end making eggs during the last stand of the final battle. I know it's supposed to be a symbolic deal as she's been trying to make eggs the entire game... but still. Pretty great.
Then there's whole ending scene and what could of been with the reappearance of characters that should be ground mulch... but whatever! Metal Gear Solid. Nanomachines, son! Kojima Productions. Remember the name.
Metal Gear Verdict
I'm really glad this series exists. I don't quite love it as much as some people do, but I do find it entertaining and enjoy the weird personality it brings to the table more often than not. And because I use the internet, I feel like maybe Kojima's ego is becoming too big of a deal with this series. Almost too involved in a David Cage sort of way where people no longer see the game and only focus on the director. It's really hard to tell if that guy is in on the joke or really believes his own hype, but I don't know if I have any plans to check out Metal Gear Solid 5 immediately when it comes out. I will get around to playing it eventually like I always do with this series... but I guess I'll be interested to see how it shakes out.
Ever since Tropical Freeze I've been in a Donkey Kong state of mind. I also dug an old CRT out of my closet and found a space on my desk for it. So I figured that was reason enough to break out some of my old consoles and hook them up for a time. Eventually this led to playing probably my all time favorite DKC game in the form of Donkey Kong Country 2 - Diddy's Kong Quest.
I'm one of those weirdoes who can go back to just about anything and play it just fine. The whole HD era hasn't done much to change my tolerance to the polygons of the N64 or the OG Playstation. Going back to the SNES was really easy, and damn do those old consoles fire up quickly. No home screen, no load bar, no connecting online or updates or patches. Just press power and go. It's refreshing how fast it is to play a game. It's a matter of trade offs and convenience, but when it all works it's really nice.
Donkey Kong Country 2 - Diddy's Kong Quest
Man, what a game. Donkey Kong Country 2 left a really solid impression when it came out, and going back to it has just about the same impact as before. The one thing I've realized only recently is the pun in the subtitle if you cram 'Kong' and 'Quest' together for conquest. Diddy's conquest. I would expect no less from the series that brought you alliterations and dumb wordplay like Fear Factory, Tree Top Town, and Very Gnawty's Lair. Not to mention stuff like Punch Bowl in Tropical Freeze.
I beat the game a little over two hours going as fast as I could. I've already played to 102% three or four times way back in the day, so this time I tried my hand at the speedrunning method. World record is like 40 minutes or so if you're curious so I'm a little off from that. At any rate, it gave me everything I needed to reaffirm by love for this game. Pirate Kremlings, Barrel Bayous, Flights of the Zingers, Krazy Kremland, and the dawn of the helicopter ponytail. Not to mention those bramble stages and that oh-so-good music. And man does this game get vicious when it comes to animal stages. I know why Squawks is no longer an animal buddy you can ride, because I murdered that stupid parrot super hard.
So Tight, So Solid
The controls in this game are so good. It's really easy to feel the difference coming off Tropical Freeze. And making a comparison like that only works in the sense of the series, as Retro Studios is a different studio from Rare and has a whole different take on the adventures of Donkey Kong and company. So obviously they handle different. But it's just so nice to have 100% confidence of bouncing off enemies without worrying if the game will give you the extra height. Holding down the Y button for running and zipping through stages feels natural. The total control necessary for navigating all the perils of Crocodile Isle, whether on the ground or flying through the air, are totally there.
Which is good because DKC2 is all about tricky jumps and perilous enemy placements on small platforms or strategically placed killer wasps waiting for you to run into them. I died maybe twenty times or more throughout my 2 hour run, most of them involving pits in bayou stages and crocodiles acting as platforms as they rise and descend out of water. There wasn't really a place I got stuck on, except for a few stages where I forgot that pressing the up and down buttons can control your speed of ascent and descent with Squawks the Parrot or air currents in a giant well. Even the bramble stages went pretty smoothly, which brings me to my next point...
The Bramble Scramble
Aw yeah, I know what you want.
Back when I was a kid the bramble stages were like the hardest thing ever because they were levels where the gimmick involved wrapping death around the player at every angle possible. Then they would spice things up with long strings of barrel cannons where one wrong button press would blast you into certain doom or maybe make you fly Squawks through obstacle courses consisting of angry hornets and dive bombing buzzards. Man, deaths were plentiful back then when it came to the stickerbush levels.
However, these stages always had the coolest, most relaxing music which worked well with the frustration of constantly bumping into the walls and ceilings of pain, especially when that dumb parrot was involved. I really love Stickerbush Symphony. It's probably my favorite song out of DKC2. But I'm still kind of amazed by the reputation it's built up over the years. I would not be surprised if people hated it on principle after crossing the uncanny valley of popularity. There have been a million remixes of this song both official and unofficial. So I feel it's important to mention the rest of the soundtrack ain't nothing to sneeze at either.
Mining Melancholy, Never Forget
I bought the DKC Trilogy album from the Nintendo store back in the day that had all three Donkey Kong Country soundtracks. And I have never forgotten about one of the worst omissions from a soundtrack I've seen in a long time. On the DKC2 CD they had forgotten to include Mining Melancholy that played for levels like Squawk's Shaft, Windy Well, and Kannon's Klaim. That was probably my second favorite song right behind Stickerbush Symphony and I couldn't believe someone had managed to mess up that badly. I had to reburn the whole CD just to put it back in there.
But the main point is that the soundtrack of DKC2 is pretty incredible so missing out on any of them is really noticeable. I could just fire off my favorites like Hot-Head Bop for the cauldron stages. Or Bayou Boogie when you get stuck in the swamp. In a Snow-Bound Land only appears in two stages, but it's still pretty great. Another one of my favorites, which I feel doesn't get quite enough love, is Disco Train for the rollercoaster rides in Krazy Kremland. Even the tracks for the Kong's helping you out had some great themes. Stuff like Funky the Main Monkey, or Swanky's Swing for the quiz games. I also really enjoyed the final boss theme when you go head to head with K. Rool called Crocodile Cacophony. His blunderbuss has some mean tricks.
And of course, I have to give a special spot for Mining Melancholy. Love that theme for the mine.
Second is the Best
The first Donkey Kong Country is a good game, but I really like the direction they took for the sequel. The pirate theme works well enough if only to have an excuse to give the Kremlings cool hats and cutlasses. I also love the various worlds and appreciate how they generally tried to avoid hitting the usual destinations like desert world, ice world, fire world, etc. Some stages had elements of these, but they were usually spread out and incorporated other themes so it at least had some variety. Donkey Kong Country 2 is the only game I know that has a Beehive Rollercoaster World where you go from raiding bee farms to an amusement park and back.
If you ever asked me where I stood on the whole Donkey Kong Country series, I'd tell you that it's one of my favorites in the grand scheme of this thing we call video games. And while I could easily place them in order of greatness, I think they're all pretty fantastic platformers with outstanding soundtracks the great controls required to thread through brambles, killer bees, and blasting barrels. Donkey Kong sure has come a long way from tossing stuff at plumbers and kidnapping women at construction sites.
And while I didn't put much time into Donkey Kong Country Returns, I spent the past week going through the latest entry of Tropical Freeze on the Wii U. Overall I had fun, barring time adjusting to the way Retro Studios does platformers, but if there's one thing I came away with is that this game's soundtrack is too good. At the risk of overhyping it, god damn the music is amazing. Thank you David Wise. Give that man a lifetime achievement award or something.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
I think my favorite first impression with Tropical Freeze is the game's new villains in the form of Viking themed Arctic animals known as the Snowmads. The Kremlins from the SNES days were a pretty distinctive bunch whether they were marauders, pirates, or going industrial. And with their schizophrenic leader King K. Rool constantly reinventing himself they were always fun to mess around with. The Snowmads might not make a strong as impression, but they have a diverse crew ranging from penguins with spiked helmets, horned owls that spit fire, and walruses armed with pufferfish polearms. The character is always appreciated, especially when the game is focused on toppling their latest campaign against the Kong Family. Special shout outs to the polar bear with an ice hammer known as the Bashmaster.
The game is also delightfully colorful. Maybe there's a worry with the subtitle of "Tropical Freeze" it might all be ice levels, but the worlds and stages have some amount of variety. Two of my favorites involve the second world mixing the themes of autumn and mountain climbing, and the fifth world that combines the jungle and a juice factory following the stages of processing fruit into delicious looking icicle treats. Maybe for that reason the final world is kind of bland considering how it finally leans into the ice/blizzard theme, but I found it okay. What's also nice is the amount of unique assets that go into some stages. I kept looking for when the game would try to reuse a giant cheese wheel, but there was a lot of effort that went into set design here.
The Retro Control Feel
Possibly the largest stumbling block, unfortunately, is adjusting to the controls and the physics of a Donkey Kong Country game made by Retro Studios. I didn't put much time into Returns, so this wasn't felt in its fullest until I played through this game. As you probably expect, Tropical Freeze is a whole different beast from the days of the SNES Country games. The sense of momentum in this game is pretty crazy compared to how the Kong characters moved before. There's a start up time to moving and some sliding to keep in mind when trying to come to a stop. Running is replaced by dash rolling, and you will need some time to build up speed to fling yourself across the stage. I don't know how many pits or instant death traps I stupidly fell right into because I expected instant speed for long jumps. Swimming is also pretty tricky and deliberate, especially for the obstacles the game asks you to navigate. Prepare yourself for world four, it's going to be rough.
Grabbing and throwing is also relegated to a different button, so you can't just hold down the run button to pick up barrels or objects. Sometimes this can feel a little finicky as I struggle to pick up barrels I plan on, and other times accidentally pick up barrels I had no intention of grabbing. Bonus points if these barrels are placed right next to vines, and you can't grab a barrel and swing on a vine at the same time. Luckily lives are plentiful in this game. And if you're really having that much trouble, you can always buy more from the shop.
The height of my frustration with Tropical Freeze involved a level known as Bopopolis that is a text case for the strange nature of getting extra height after jumping off enemies. Easily the hardest stage in the game but only because you're fighting the controls. I still haven't figured this out, but the timing window is completely different when you're shot out of a barrel as compared to when you jump on an enemy moving about in a stage. This is really, really unfortunate considering Bopopolis is the second extra level in world two. So you'll probably reach this stage and suddenly feel like Tropical Freeze is a busted mess because you can't get past the first enemy on this dumb stage because you keep bouncing off his head into a bottomless pit.
Luckily, I did finally acclimate myself to the way Tropical Freeze handles. And while it might not be as tight as say Donkey Kong Country 2, it's pretty close if you can learn the physics and the way your character goes flying off moving platforms due to momentum. Diddy, Dixie, and Cranky Kong as your partners offer up movement options. Diddy has a jetpack for hovering, Dixie uses her ponytail for some minor helicopter lift, and Cranky uses his cane Ducktails pogo style so you can bounce off spikes or other harmful items you might not otherwise pull off with DK on his own. Of course you have to get there first and I can totally understand if you're unwilling to put up with the journey.
The Tropical Freeze Soundtrack is Too Good
I have to be honest. The thing that elevates Tropical Freeze from 'okay' to 'great' in my book has a lot to do with its soundtrack. Donkey Kong Country music composer veteran David Wise returns to score the music in this game. And wow, does he completely kill it on all fronts. Not to say that every single song is incredible or memorable, but overall the quality is outstanding from start to finish. Even some of the subtle remixes of old DKC songs come out awesome, which is impressive for me because I believe the danger of orchestrating or modernizing old songs is making them sound generic without the unique punch you can get from an SNES sound chip. This is pleasantly avoided.
Everything is so good, especially the boss battles. I think my favorite theme (and favorite boss fight this year) is Punch Bowl where you slug it out with a polar bear in a juice reservoir. There's also Big Top Bop as the theme for the first boss fight with a seal. And with my love of guitar out of the way, I can mention some of the stage themes like Wing Ding, or Jammin' Jams, or Busted Bayou. There's also Horn Top Hop for a distinctly Bavarian theme. Or even some of the mine cart levels (which you'll probably hear plenty of as you try to beat them) involve Sawmill Thrill and Trunk Twister. And I guess I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Grassland Groove music for the savanna stages. It seems to be a crowd favorite.
The soundtrack is so good that it makes the in game music options pretty pathetic. They only offer up four songs for each world to listen in the menu, and it isn't even the great ones. You can't even listen to Punch Bowl in there. They might as well not even bothered.
Here's a playlist from YouTube you can browse through if you feel compelled. I think it's worth getting lost in there for awhile.
Donkey Kong Country Tough
To wrap this up, overall Tropical Freeze can be a pretty tricky game even without levels like Bopopolis making you second guess the control scheme. There's hardly a stage in this game I beat on my first try. And those mine cart levels are scary accurate to the kind of time put into the original ones back in the first DKC. I suppose this can be good or bad depending on your temperament. At the very least Tropical Freeze isn't a game you can blow through in an afternoon unless you're speedrunning it or something. Even then you have a lot to learn with enemy layouts and what kind of curveballs the game will throw you. Bosses will put up a fight and are pretty long in comparison to how quick they went in the SNES days.
But I like this game. I think if you have a Wii U and are somewhat familiar with the Donkey Kong Country series, Tropical Freeze is worth picking up. I think the experience will be much easier if you didn't put in a ton of time with the first three games. I can see that overcoming the new control scheme might be hard for some. But if you can get past that there's a good time to have here. You'll get a great soundtrack, a nice colorful journey, the opportunity to beat up penguins and walruses, and an awesome boss fight with a polar bear. Bashmaster is easily my favorite boss battle this year.
Those rocket barrel stages control like garbage though. Grrr.
Recently a friend of mine re-introduced me to Blitz the League 2. It's a football game (or handegg if you prefer) from Midway Games when Midway Games was still a thing back in 2008. However, unlike other football games Blitz the League 2 is more about ridiculousness than fair play. It's about making hits so hard you rupture spleens or shatter foot bones. It's about beat downs between plays where you rip of helmets or punch the opposing teammates so they don't do so well during the next scramble.
If I had to describe it, it's like North American football with a dash of hockey player-on-player violence and the dramatic over-the-top choreography and script writing of wrestling. Make no mistake, Blitz the League 2 can be a very, very dumb game. But that means a lot of dumb fun too.
However, I put "attempted to play" because I've gotten so frustrated at it I'm convinced I'll never beat it.
Blitz the League 2: A Boss Fight in Every Play
One thing you may not know about me is that I don't play sports games. At least not modern ones. I've only bought two sports games through my entire life. One is the Super Spike V'Ball / Nintendo World Cup 2-in-1 NES game. And the other is Kobe Bryant's NBA Courtside. I mean I've played a dash of Tecmo Bowl and other sports games when friends talk me into it. But generally I find sports boring because it always seems like an overly long tug-o-war on a field that never changes with an obnoxiously small ball of some sort. But that's just me. I mean no ill will to people who live and breathe that stuff.
However Blitz the League 2 has a lot of satisfying systems and window dressing that moves it beyond the standard "get ball to other end of field" monotony that brings down more serious titles like Madden and what have you. This game is about character. Crude character, but character none the less. Every team has someone you have to worry about through their Team Captains system. Whether they're the quarterback or a linebacker or free safety- whatever position they have on the field, they're going to give you the most grief as you try to get to the end zone. And man oh man will they give you grief.
However, due to the way Blitz games work, you have the power to take them out of the game. Permanently if you hit them hard and fast enough. Since both teams have a special meter, you can burn some of that meter to inflict hard hits and injuries during tackles or evasions. Naturally, hitting the Team Captains so hard they break a bone or get a concussion is really, really satisfying. Doing so after they've scored on you or intercepted a throw is so very cathartic that it makes the game of football that more tolerable. You can take revenge in many satisfying ways with what could be the prototype of the X-Ray system from Mortal Kombat (2011).
The League of Great Names
I really love all of Blitz the League's fake team names and team captains. They're all pretty great. When it comes to teams, you have the Detroit Devils, the Kansas City Crossfire, the Atlanta 404, the New York Nightmare (mare as in horse), the Minnesota Reapers, the Los Angeles Riot, the Miami Hammerheads, and on and on. When it comes to the Team Captains you'll be worrying about, you have the likes of Cookie Wallace, Ezekiel Freeman, Henry Cho, Packrat James, Daunell Sullivan, Karl Tirpitz, Bruno Battaglia, Kimo Talofa, HJ Latshaw, Tyrell Price, and more.
Helping you put the name to the face is probably my absolute favorite part about Blitz the League 2. The locker room videos introducing each team and team captain. I don't know what it is about them, but it really makes each game you play more like a boss fight than anything else. I find them appropriately dramatic (or over dramatic), and the narrator speaking during most of them does a great job letting you know who you're playing and how much a dirtbag they may be. You can check out a couple below through links. I don't know what that says about Blitz the League 2, but they're easily my favorite thing about the game.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Cleveland Steamers. The team logo is a train. Yes, Blitz is that kind of game. There's also the Vancouver Beavers, but they're a little less direct with that joke. But besides those two bad attempts at dumb jokes, they're all pretty memorable. That's not even mentioning the custom team you create for the campaign mode where you can come up with your own sports team, team captain, and go the Cleveland Steamers route or something more presentable like the Atlanta Kings or (the team I made) the Honolulu Leviathan.
Then I Actually Played the Game
The campaign has some great hooks early on as it hits you with tons of customizable options for your fictional team taking on the League. I absolutely love this stuff. They have a smattering of logos, color options, uniform patterns, and you have the power rename everyone on your roster. So you can have quarterback R. Davis throwing touchdown passes to wide receiver M. Domino. Or you have linebacker P. DiCesare breaking some unlucky running back in half. Or L. Kennedy running interference on a passing play. As you progress through the season, you get money to upgrade your team training equipment. Your agent will also give you challenges for some games like scoring three touchdowns agains a team with great defense, or sacking the quarterback, or putting the team captain out of commission with a well placed injury. All give you rewards so you can perform better.
For not playing any football games in the last ten years, I did pretty well. The early going in Blitz the League 2 is lots of fun. Then I hit the wall so hard and so fast that I got the most frustrated I've ever been at a game. There's a plot point where your team captain goes to prison, and you have to play a game of prison yard football (yes, movie references are mentioned) to get early release. The deal here is that if your team captain is injured IN ANY WAY WHATSOEVER, you instantly lose the game and have to start over. I must have been at this single game for hours. Maybe upwards to 20+ restarts. I just couldn't get through the whole game without my captain getting plastered in someway. And when that shit happens in the 3rd or 4th quarter when I'm in the lead...
I did manage to beat the prison game, but not before all the good will I had for Blitz the League 2 was sucked away. Right after the prison scene is a game with the Los Angeles Riot, who are essentially the final boss you play a couple times throughout the game. Suddenly I couldn't tackle anyone, they intercepted all of my throws, and my runs were stopped cold. Either I was super lucky in the beginning of this game, or the difficulty spike is way out of whack.
A More Reasonable Answer
Of course, I don't play sports games. So it's probably closer that I just don't have any idea what I'm doing. I don't know what any of the plays do other than make my guys run/block in different patterns. So when you get to the prison game it's possible that Blitz is finally looking to see if you know how to actually play something close to football. The Quick Play mode is still fun if I just want to play a quick game of combat with a little football sprinkled on it. I think I can easily say that the presentation and team building portions of the game are way more enticing than actually playing it.
There's a bunch of other stuff too like how the story mode features Jay Mohr as your agent and Lawrence Taylor as Quentin Sands. That stuff is sprinkled on light enough that it doesn't get too annoying, but it's probably something that will vary from person to person. The "story" is definitely not the main pull here. But the idea of playing a game where football is even less glamourous than it is in real life opens it up to a lot of stupid fun and more satisfying ways to play even if your passes are getting picked off every other throw.
A long time ago a friend of mine sat me down to show a little bit of Yakuza 4. I only remember this really long scene of a man talking to a woman in a trench coat who wanted a huge loan in the form of millions of yen. Past that there was a little running around in a nice looking depiction of the streets of Tokyo and a fight with some dumb thugs. It seemed okay.
I was half paying attention at the time because there were other things I was more interested in (and I didn't own a PS3 at the time) but with the dawn of 2014 and the slow launch of new consoles with games that don't interest me, I decided to follow up on some old recommendations. And man am I sorry I didn't get this sooner. Yakuza 4 is just the game I've been looking for. It's got the right amount of seriousness, wacky personality and flashy action.
And the game is an action RPG set in modern times if you can believe it.
Yakuza 4: The Great Japanese Crime Soap Opera
This is the fourth entry in a long running series about Japanese organized crime syndicates known as the Yakuza. These games are not about saving the world or even Japan, which is surprising considering this is an action RPG. No, they're about modern crime stories where the main characters are caught up in a lot of Yakuza politics as people and forces make grabs for power inside and outside different crime families with all the illegal nonsense that entails. The first three games follow Kazuma Kiryu, aka the Dragon of Dojima, as he tries to go straight without letting the Tojo Clan that raised him fall apart because of his personal honor and dedication to family and other idealized stuff.
Like any good mafia/organized crime story, he can never stay away for long as people and forces are always drawing him back in.
Yakzua 4 has a distinction from the previous entries as it features four playable characters including Kiryu, and not all of them are wrapped up with the Yakuza. One of my favorite things in video games is when you have multiple playable characters with different views. Anytime you have stories that aren't related to each other that eventually intersect is great. Bonus points if they're always brushing up against the main plot that eventually draws them in. And this game has a great cast from the shady moneylender Shun Akiyama, the gorilla-like hitman Taiga Saejima, the beat cop who bends the rules Masayoshi Tanimura, and the Dragon of Dojima Kazuma Kiryu.
And if you're the type to keep up on Japanese narratives, you can rest at ease knowing the plots of these games are always entertainingly ludicrous and convoluted. People kill, get killed, plot, take bullets for others, scheme, lie, conspire, rip their shirts off for dramatic fights, and fake their deaths at such regular intervals that it wraps around to the point of being really entertaining and sometimes dumb. And the characters always take it really seriously.
This is basically a soap opera. Make no mistake about it.
Level Up For the Truth!
The main thing (at least for me) is how the Yakuza games are basically RPGs set in modern day. There are random encounters, experience points, skill points, moves to learn, gear to equip, weapons to modify, money to earn, jobs to manage, but all in the setting of a fictional district in Tokyo. You shop at convenience stores, meet shady weapons dealers in back alleys, and train on rooftops or in the basements of dojos. It's a really well done slice of a city with product placement and advertisements out the ass. But it's the kind of stuff you'd expect in a major city. It's really smart product placement. If you visit a bar, you can buy Jack Daniels Whiskey or Skyy Vodka. And if you're way too hammered, you can buy some Boss Coffee to freshen up. There's also Club Sega and Don Quixote discount stores.
The combat however, is in real time with combos involving light and heavy attacks. Special attacks often involve situational moves like if you're up against rails or walls, or if the enemy is flat on the ground or near one or more of their hapless friends. There are lots of cool and really brutal looking attacks in this game since 99% of it focuses on hand-to-hand combat. Considering how gun control is Japan is really strict (much like how it's treated in Sleeping Dogs' take on Hong Kong) guns are hard to come by and often really expensive. Shooting is kind of awkward, but often packs a real punch. But I found it way more fun to beat up on dudes and kick them around with flashy special attacks. Like I said before, some of them are really savage looking and great to use on dumb punks.
There's lots of other stuff, but I found all of it really fun. This is the kind of game where random fights are where you can play around, but the boss fights are always there to make sure you know how to play the game for real. The boss fights in this game are no joke, you'd better know how to dodge and block.
Out of the four characters, there only one I don't like playing as mostly because I can't do any of his moves and get beat up on by everyone. But I'll do a quick rundown to cover all of them.
Shun Akiyama - The Lifeline of Kamurocho
Akiyama is the first and easily my favorite character of the bunch. He's a guy who doesn't really have to worry about money. Apparently he has so much money that he's willing to lend it without collateral or interest. All you have to do is take one of his weird tests and you're good to go. In a fight he likes to kick people stupid with a funky style somewhere between taekwondo, capoeira, and Chun Li. It's a lot of kicking, and he's got one fantastic special attack where he kind of launches himself into a group of three enemies and kind of spin kicks them all in the face. I have a hard time describing that one, but it's fantastic.
His story is kind of slow in the grand scheme of things, but he sets the stage as it were, as you acquaint yourself with the city and hang out with a mysterious lady who needs tons of money for a reason she doesn't want to tell you. Mr. A also has a great secretary known as Hana. She's pretty awesome.
Taiga Saejima - A Gorilla in Disguise (his actual title is more like Legendary Hitman)
Saejima is my least favorite character... but only because I can't play him worth a damn. I like his story, and his general character, but when it comes to combat I'm so terrible with him that I barely have any fun. He's super slow compared to Akiyama and a huge target since he's like six feet tall. Enemies are always slapping me in the back of the head when I'm trying to attack and I get comboed to hell and back. Saejima is also blessed with the hardest boss fight in the game in his second chapter where you're supposed to fight and win against the protagonist from the first three games. The boss fight is so hard, I thought I was supposed to lose, but no.
It's even worse because I have no idea how to do his awesome sounding special moves like a Bell Ringer (where he uses an enemy like a battering ram and charges them into the wall) or the Flying Clothesline (where he hits an enemy so hard with his arm they spin into the air) and other cool things. Saejima is just so frustrating, I wish I could play him better.
Masayoshi Tanimura - The Parasite of Kamurocho
Tanimura is a beat cop detective who loves to gamble and generally ignore his patrols. He's the kind of guy who is only interested in his personal definition of justice. Bribes and understandings with businesses that employ illegal aliens (from southeast Asia) is perfectly okay as long as they don't piss him off. He's probably my second favorite as he has tons of sweet grabs and throws in the vein of Akido and Judo. His life bar is teeny tiny, but he's got parries that can intercept all kinds of incoming attacks and brush off enemies no problem. His moves are pretty easy to pull off and really fun to watch as he breaks arms and leg drops all sorts of thugs.
His section is where the plot starts to pick up. This is the part of the game where I really had to resist trying to power through it just because I wanted to know the story. Some of his side missions are pretty good, and I really wanted to try and learn all of his special moves. He can even slap hand cuffs on weak dudes to just take them out of a fight early on. Fun stuff.
Kazuma Kiryu - The Dragon of Dojima
Kiryu is great. He has like a hundred moves (not literally, but it feels like it) carried over from the first game in the series and is the kind of guy who gets to the bottom of things. But since he doesn't know the other characters there are plenty of scenes to play on misunderstandings as things come together. The man has a reputation as the Dragon of Dojima and lots of other characters treat it appropriately. The guy is a force to be reckoned with armed or unarmed.
At the same time, there's tons of funny scenes with random battles as clueless gangsters run up to you and try to start a fight with the main protagonist of the Yakuza series. And you just smash all of them. What's also nice is that he doesn't have a problem with guns, so if you want to bring a machine gun or shotgun to the final boss, that's perfectly okay. Great fun with Kiryu.
And Plenty of Wackiness Along the Way
While the story is taken really seriously and treated as such by all the major characters, the substories (sidequests) can often be really stupid and fun with all the Japanese strangeness you might expect from that corner of the world. One of the characters may find himself hunting down Kappa in the middle of modern day Tokyo. Or another might accept training from a guy who kinda looks like Sergeant Slaughter that uses a non-lethal machine gun. Another quest has you fist fight with a dude who almost looks exactly like the Joker from Batman. This isn't even taking into account all the side actives like batting cages, pachinko, hostess clubs and hostess training, fishing, mahjong, blackjack, running a dojo, sexy table tennis, and more.
Like any good RPG these days, Yakuza 4 is packed with all kinds of nonsense. Not all of it is as polished as the next, but it's there if you want to play around with it. Recently, I've found myself wanting more personal or focused stories as opposed to fighting for the fate of the world/galaxy/universe. And Yakuza 4 was right up my alley. I've had a fantastic time with this game, and now I finally feel the pain of everyone who wants Yakzua 5 localized for North America.
So I played way, way, way too much Grand Theft Auto Online. I would say it's okay for the most part. It still has a lot of problems (and even some new ones) that plague the series. Like most things, it's probably more fun with friends or other likeminded folk. But for me as a guy running solo with no crew affiliations, I had to make my own fun with this game. And the most fun I had was collecting cars and slapping bulletproof tires and turbo charging the shit out of them.
How I Made My Fun with 10 Cars
The missions are pretty lukewarm and incredibly hard, often asking you to pull off ridiculous shit with little to no payoff so I guess it's no surprise no one wants to play them. Races have devolved to Criminal Records and Down the Drain with Super cars and absolutely nothing else. There seems to be only one Survival map that happens to be Scrapyard. And I think I've only seen one session where one other guy actually wanted to play Skydiving. Oh, and I played one game of Tennis that didn't increase my strength stat like in the single player.
However, collecting cool vehicles kept me coming back for some reason. Making my own personal list of hot cars and cool vehicles was really appealing, so I figured I would share my madness.
Collecting Cars and the Import/Export Garage Love Story
One of my favorite things from the Grand Theft Auto series was the Import/Export garage. I found a lot of fun in tracking down cars from a list and delivering them to a dock or hangar. It gave me a reason to pay attention to the road and get out of my vehicle to make a daring theft or harass some unlucky motorist. I was really disappointed when this was nowhere to be found in the single player of GTAV. However, they sort of brought it back for the Online with Simeon and his car theft list. The other 99.9 percent of players don't seem to share my love, so it's one of the few things I can do without constant interruption/murder.
The major catch about this would be that the vehicle list is super limited and seems to be the same two groups of cars every single time. I must have stolen a million Mammoth Patriots and Schyster Fusilades. It's a damn shame they can't make it interesting and ask for like a Cop Car or a BF Injection or something. There must be hundreds of vehicles in this game and they only pull from a list of ten. I suppose maybe they were thinking ahead and realized how terrible their vehicle spawns are in online. Where the entire world only uses four of five cars to fill the road, sometimes making Simeon's car list damn near impossible to fulfill.
So that's when I decided to make my own car list. I stopped caring about the guns. I didn't care about the shootouts. I forgot the bounties and gaudy Super cars everyone seems to be in love with. I bought a ten car garage and set out to fill it with the stuff I cared about. I recently bought my tenth car, and I'm feeling like I've actually gotten something done in GTA Online.
Sarumarine's Showroom: My 10 Cars
Every car has a story. Especially in this game when people seem to want to kill you just 'cause it's something to do. Sometimes getting one of these personal beauties was a real pain in the ass. But it's worth it. And every single one of them has bulletproof tires so you can't stop me when I'm crusin'. That's what Sticky Bombs are for.
The Bravado Duneloader (without junk in the back) is without a doubt, the hardest fucking vehicle to find out of the whole list. It was especially infuriating when these would spawn in a mission where I couldn't take it to my garage. But I love the way this thing looks. I gave it a silver paint job, a turbo engine, and bulletproof tires so I can roll all over the Grand Senora Desert even someone takes shots at me.
I really wanted an FIB Buffalo or Unmarked Cruiser because I've always admired the pure black government agency vehicles in Grand Theft Auto- but since you can't store Emergency vehicles in your garage, I decided to make a fake one. It also has four doors, which was helpful in a handful of missions when there was three other people to climb in. I tinted the windows black so I can always feel like I'm up to no good. It's also low-key at the same time, so when I park it at the heliport no one messes with it.
This is my all-time favorite vehicle in Grand Theft Auto V. The BF Injection is so damn cool- that's why it was an amazing pain to find up near Sandy Shores. The game was being a real asshole by spawning nothing but Benefactor Dubstas for actual days when I really wanted a damn dune buggy. This black-and-copper Injection was my personal vehicle for the majority of my time online. Love it to death. I've rode through hell and high water in this thing and nothing but respect for it. Now if only more people would run Off-Road races so I can unlock more upgrades for it...
I didn't drive this much, but I love the look at it. I didn't even have to mess with the white and red paint job. I took it right off the street and it was good to go with no problem at all. I gave it bulletproof tires just incase but never got around to turbo charging it.
Declasse Sabre Turbo
I spent most of my time with this muscle car. I've always loved the Sabre Turbo. I could recognize the back end of this car anywhere. I mean... you know. Luckily finding a Sabre Turbo is like trying to find dirt. It's literally EVERYWHERE and spawns in the tens of thousands. If you can't find a Sabre Turbo, I don't know if I believe you.
Canis Mesa Off-road
The Canis Mesa Off-road, or the Merryweather Jeep, was the vehicle I had to spill the most blood to get. First I had to pay 7500 dollars to get four mercenaries to attack a random player so it would spawn on the map. Then I had to kill the player I attacked with Merryweather when they tried to get in the jeep. And even when I managed to get away, I ran into another player heading back to my garage where they killed me and stole it. I thought it was gone for sure, but I shot out two tires and the guy who took it from me lost interest. I then drove it back to my garage riding rims praying and hoping no one else would try to kill me before I could get a tracker and insure it.
But man, what a beauty. Totally worth it. I gave it the color I use for races. Creek Brown.
I really love the way the BF Surfer van is based off the VW Bus. Unfortunately, that's about all I like about it. This thing moves at 5 miles an hour and is a really big target in the trigger happy world of GTA Online. It's not hard to find a rusty beater version of this van, but I lucked out and found a pristine clean version on a coast near a lighthouse in the east. When I was driving it back, I managed to get a 1000 dollar bounty on me which made the slow ride back tense as hell. Lucky for me, no one felt like going out of their way to collect on me.
I really wanted a purple car for some reason so I made it a Declasse Tornado. Of course as soon as I realized that, all the Tornado spawns dried up and I had to really look for this car instead of stumbling over it. That's pretty much GTA Online's car spawn in a nutshell. Feast or famine. Either way, this is probably my favorite showcase vehicle. Bonus points for being a convertible. It's slow, even after a turbo charge, but it sure looks great! White tires are the best.
As much as I've grown to hate Super cars from the stale Races in GTAO, I figured I would at least buy one. I like the Vacca mostly for how it handles rather than how it looks. After I bought it, I took it out to buy bulletproof tires and was almost immediately killed by a guy near my apartment. He really, really wanted to destroy this thing for some reason. Luckily, even with a busted tire, I managed to escape and get to a mod shop. I guess I can understand that guy's distain for Super cars. Unfortunately, this one is mine.
The tenth and final vehicle makes me feel like I've come full circle with the Grand Theft Auto series. Probably my favorite car from Grand Theft Auto III (the first game in the series I played) was the Banshee. You could find it on the first island and then whenever you felt like it on the second island. I didn't know you could even buy it for the longest time considering it's so far down the list on Legendary Motorsports page. But now that I have one in a cool green paint scheme, I don't know what else I can do with GTA Online.
I wish they would have let you put more types of vehicles in your garage like the FIB Granger or the Romero Hearse. I've always loved stealing the unique or gimmick vehicles like in Vice City and San Andreas. But for now, I think I've gotten everything I've wanted.