A Comprehensive Argument for Localizing Mother 3

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We all want what we can't have.

Before every Nintendo Direct, the live chat is always tittering about something or other. Animal Crossing, Pokémon, whatever. These games will come. But there’s one request that only seems to get louder each time.

Mother 3.

“Come on Reggie, give us Mother 3!” yelled a puppet nerd at E3 a couple years ago. The community was ecstatic to get any recognition, even as Reggie burned the guy alive.

Hearts leapt when Lucas, the game’s protagonist, was reintroduced into Super Smash Bros. as DLC. He was a stark contrast against the rest of the DLC characters, the Fire Emblem swordsmen and anime dudes.

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In 2015, series creator Shigesato Itoi announced that Mother 1, retitled EarthBound Beginnings, would finally come to the west after over 20 years. Could the same happen to Mother 3, wondered fans?

Mother 3 released on the Game Boy Advance in 2006, after the Nintendo DS had already overtaken it. Yet nearly 13 years later, hopes for the game to be officially localized are somehow still alive.

Why is this game still being talked about all these years later? What’s so special about it that fans won’t let it go? Even with a fantastic fan translation available, why do we still crave it?

“Mother 3 tomorrow for sure,” I tweeted on the 12th. I was joking, of course. But there remained a part of me, however small, that hoped I could will it to be true.

A few days earlier, a news story made the rounds that Nintendo had indeed once attempted to localize Mother 3. However, some of the more controversial elements of the game deterred them from completing the work.

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Is that true? Is Mother 3 impossible to adapt to a western audience? I don’t think so.

I want to look at these controversial elements of the game. Using Nintendo’s own precedent for localization and the current climate of gaming, I believe that these elements can be rewritten into something Nintendo can be comfortable selling outside of Japan.

I’m going to explain how Nintendo could, would, and should finally localize Mother 3.

How could they?

Make no mistake, Mother 3 is one of the darkest games to hold the Nintendo seal of approval. To an outside observer, it appears to be a colorful, kiddy RPG. But there are serious themes of loss, trauma, and despair for basically the whole story. What Lucas and company go through is tragic. But I think that’s a big part of why the game has stayed alive for so long.

EarthBound has its share of uncomfortable moments, too. Most famously, the final battle against Giygas uses horrifying imagery and text. The legend is that Itoi based it off a rape scene he saw in a movie as a child, though the veracity of that has been debated. EarthBound starts as a jolly, weird trek through small-town America, but its disturbing final hours have birthed untold amounts of discussion.

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Mother 3, on the other hand, uses its darker moments to develop real pathos. It’s not uncommon for a player’s first playthrough to end with tears (and the playthroughs after that, too). More than either of the prior games, Mother 3 is emotional. “No crying until the end” is a series mantra, but it’s the third entry that sincerely earns it. That’s why it’s still alive.

When EarthBound was rereleased on the Wii U, it got a T rating from the ESRB. However, it also sold quite well on the struggling platform due to the reputation the game had earned over the years. With a little work, Mother 3 could easily earn a T, even if it wouldn’t in its current form.

The primary offender cited by the recent article is the Magypsies. What’s a Magypsy? They’re the equivalent of the seven wise sages in every other RPG. They guard the needles that protect the world. For holding that role in the story, though, they’re portrayed very unconventionally.

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While the Magypsies behave and identify as females, their genders are not easily pinned down. Characters use both male and female pronouns to refer to them. Some also have facial hair. The description in the fan translation reads, “these men are more ladylike than ladies are.”

I am in no way equipped to discuss gender politics in 2006 or in 2019, but I do know that Nintendo has dealt with this scenario on many occasions.

Who could forget Birdo’s infamous gender confusion? Some still believe that Birdo is or once was a man, but in the west she’s been female for decades. Vivian from Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is said to be transgender in some versions. Gracie the Giraffe in Animal Crossing is male in Japan, but female overseas.

Whether or not the current state of the Magypsies is offensive or not (I really couldn’t say), in a scenario where Mother 3 was being localized, Nintendo would almost certainly remove this aspect of their characters. Considering the above precedent, I don’t believe that the Magypsies would be an impassable roadblock. Changing a few pronouns and character designs would be no different than some of the other choices they’ve made.

The last Magypsy does identify as male. For him, I don’t believe anything major would have to change. There’s no rule that the Magypsies all have to be the same gender.

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One of the Magypsies is involved with one of several sexually-themed scenes in the game. That scene in particular is uncomfortable for most westerners who play the game. It’s not clear what exactly is happening, or how the audience is supposed to interpret the scene, but the writing makes it clear what is being evoked.

In this case, writing and context is everything. I would absolutely change that scene to make it more palatable for a western audience. However, I can fairly easily think of how it could be rewritten and relocated to change the context.

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Beyond that, there’s a joke about sexual harassment that I think is really funny, but it plays way differently in this climate. A few other quick moments go slightly beyond the typical Nintendo game. However, I don’t believe any of these scenes are beyond changing.

There are probably countless examples of Nintendo making those changes, but the one that immediately springs to mind is Fire Emblem Fates. The Japanese version has a whole face-petting minigame that was stripped out of the English release.

This was a controversial choice. Some thought it was unneeded censorship, while others realized it’s a really creepy thing to put in your game. I think Nintendo was in the right to remove the face-petting, and I can’t imagine that rewriting a few scenes in Mother 3 would be more difficult.

The hardest part to change would be a mushroom-induced drug trip on a tropical island. Even putting aside that cartoon drug trips have been a thing since Dumbo, it wouldn’t be that hard to recontextualize. Just make it a dream sequence instead of hallucinogens. They would definitely need to change some of the dialogue from said hallucinations, which can be unsettling. But anything could be plugged into those interactions due to their nature.

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For context, the first Uncharted game has a T rating. Nathan Drake shoots and kills close to a thousand people, and it’s apparently not over the M line. I think Mother 3 in its current state could have a T rating, and changing the offending elements would surely put it there. Since EarthBound has a T rating, Nintendo clearly doesn’t mind it being associated with the series.

Taking all of that into account, I don’t believe that modern-day Nintendo would be unable to translate Mother 3 strictly because of the risqué elements. That means localizing Mother 3 is a matter of will they, not can they. So why don’t they? The answer is more complicated than you might think.

When would they?

Nintendo of America has much less power than many realize. Reggie doesn’t have a Mother 3 button in his office that he stares at every day, laughing in spite. Other branches of Nintendo need approval from Japan before they can do much of anything.

I’ve been in love with the Mother series for years, but I didn’t find out until very recently that the fandom is completely different in Japan than in the west.

To western audiences, EarthBound is the definition of a cult classic. It sold very poorly in America due to terrible marketing, and it wasn’t released at all in Europe. But the game is so special that it grew a small, incredibly dedicated fanbase.

People say that all fandoms are terrible, but I have never seen anything from the EarthBound community I didn’t love. Everyone is held together by a passion for this incredibly weird, quirky, beautiful game. It inspires fan art, music albums, documentaries, and even cookbooks. EarthBound was the ultimate underdog, the neglected child kept around only through memories and Super Smash Bros.

When EarthBound finally saw a rerelease on Wii U, it was like a weight had been lifted. Nintendo seemed to know the game was special, and they treated it differently than the rest of the virtual console games. It was a big success.

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EarthBound finally got the chance it deserved. For the people who had stuck with it for so long, it was vindication for nearly 20 years of passion. Ness wasn’t just the guy from Smash anymore.

Mother 3 had an even greater aura of mystique. It never made it outside of Japan officially, which just added to the legend. The fan translation has shown thousands how great the game truly is. To keep such a special game out of westerners’ hands seems like a crime. How could they?

Well, Japan doesn’t think the same way. It shocked me to learn that Mother 3 wasn’t actually very popular in its original country. In fact, the whole series is viewed differently over there. The first and second Mother games are remembered as “those games I played when I was a kid.” They’re just a footnote in the long and varied career of Itoi.

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Was it the timing of Mother 3 that dampened its reception? The darker story and themes? The state of the genre at that point? Maybe a little of all of them. In the west, Mother 3 is the holy grail that was kept away from us, and we had to take it back. In Japan, it’s nothing amazing. Of course, I’m speaking generally, and the actual situation may be different than how I understand it.

The release of EarthBound Beginnings in the west is not analogous to a prospective Mother 3 localization. Mother 1 was already translated, but never came out until decades later. While Mother 3 may have begun translation, as indicated by the recent rumor, it was never finished. There would have to be a certain opportunity for the game to get a proper localization.

Knowing the relationship between the branches of Nintendo, the only way to get that opportunity is for the game to be reissued or remade. Knowing Mother 3’s Japanese reputation, it doesn’t seem like that opportunity is incredibly likely. It was released on the Japanese Wii U Virtual Console, but it stayed exclusive to that region.

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On the Switch, Nintendo’s classic game library is a husk of its former self. As of this writing, only NES games have been offered in their subscription service. While it would be great to have EarthBound Beginnings added to that list, the current situation is pretty pathetic. The Wii incarnation of the Virtual Console had games from Nintendo’s first three consoles, as well as some from then-rivals. The Wii U kept it Nintendo-only but added Game Boy Advance and DS.

The current state of the Switch makes it unlikely for this specific GBA game to come back as-is. People are always dreaming of a remade collection of the trilogy, but that’s sadly nothing more than a fantasy at the moment.

Why should they?

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Aside from its original release, this is the best time in history to release Mother 3. The Switch is the new haven of RPGs after the migration from the 3DS and PS Vita. In fact, tons of small, quirky games are enjoying success on the Switch, even more than on other platforms. And I can’t diminish Undertale and its ilk, which are unabashedly inspired by EarthBound. The climate is right for Mother 3 to thrive.

Some people say that the fan translation is good enough. In fact, it’s probably better than what Nintendo would put out officially. The translation is a basically pure version of the game, free of the changes and censorship an official localization would bring. It’s readily available in rom form and on reproduction cartridges that can be played on official hardware. What’s the point?

The amazing team that translated the game did so because Mother 3 is special. Because of their work, everyone can experience it. But an official translation would mean that, finally, Nintendo realizes it’s special.

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The story may be subjective, but Mother 3 certainly has the best gameplay of the trilogy. Rhythmic attacks add some needed depth to EarthBound’s combat system. Environments are creative and memorable. New characters and scenarios are introduced so that the experience is never stale, as happens to many RPGs.

I’m of the opinion that the GBA sound chip is typically awful. Mother 3 has the best music on the system, period. Shogo Sakai must be a genius, because the instruments sound incredible. There’s not a bad song in the whole soundtrack, which jumps between genres, tempos, and time signatures.

The spritework is effective and expressive. There are so many little touches to the animation that’s rarely found in most games.

Every character has a story. Most RPGs are content to have a few repeating generic NPCs, but Mother 3 has a whole village of individuals that develop and change over the game. The player barely gets to know Lucas and his family before they’re fully invested in their story, and they want more than anything to give them a happy ending.

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The story will make you cry.

Do we deserve Mother 3?

Mother 3 deserves us.

Mother 3 deserves the second chance that the first two games got. It deserves to be recognized for the art that it is. It deserves to be more than a meme before Nintendo Directs, and it deserves to be more than a set of references in Smash.

Lucas deserves happiness.

I barely realized, but I’m writing this on Valentine’s Day. Lucas’s signature attack is PK Love, and the game’s theme song is the Love Theme. Mother 3 is a game about love struggling against hate. It shows the worst and best aspects of humanity personified in a clash for the fate of life.

I truly believe that one day, though not any day soon, it will finally come here. That's the optimism the series is built on.

When and if it ever does, remember…

No crying until the end.

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BAM! It's My 2018 Game of the Year List!

WOW!!

Another year, another list. While 2018 in gaming didn't reach the emotional highs of last year, there was plenty of good old-fashioned fun to be had. The main entries on this list were released in 2018, but I also included some honorable old games that I enjoyed too much to ignore. Also, don't worry too much about the specific numbering, because I switched some around just between drafting this and putting the list together. They're bound to shift around some more.

Let's get to it!

10. Yoku's Island Express

I’m not a huge fan of the Metroid school of game design. At the best of times, Troid-likes can be satisfying and rewarding, but many fall into the traps of unclear direction and aggravating punishments for failure. Yoku’s Island Express takes a decidedly more laid-back approach to the genre, combined with a pinball twist. What a stroke of inspiration, by the way.

Yoku isn’t the most challenging game, but that’s a welcome change for me after spending significant time in other Troid-likes bashing my head against progression walls. There are secrets and side activities, but you won't want to tear your hair out. The world is inviting, unlike something like Hollow Knight, and there’s no real penalty for missing a paddle swing. Yoku just wants you to go with the flow, which is all right by me.

9. Mega Man 11

What do you do when making a Mega Man 11? Do you stick to series formula like Glue Man (who is probably a robot master at some point)? Or do you attempt to radically innovate to compensate for the extended hiatus of everyone’s favorite blue robot? This was the position that Capcom found themselves in, and I can’t be too unhappy with the result.

Mega Man 11 is considerably more demanding than Yoku, but I never felt like it reached the difficulty of the NES games of yore. Even on Normal mode, with a conservative distribution of checkpoints, the game gives you plenty of options to overcome its challenges. For the purists, Mega Man 11 still offers what you would expect from an entry in the classic series. The double gear mechanic feels more like a crutch than anything else, though – I would love to see it expanded on should Mega Man 12 come out before too long.

8. Dragon Ball FighterZ

Traditional fighters are not my jam, but the latest in an endless sea of Dragon Ball games offers something for even the newbies. The bar for “making something cool happen” is set extremely low, so button-mashers like myself can delight in the game’s eye-melting colors.

However, I never played too too much of the game. I didn't take it super seriously, and by the time my PS Plus subscription ran out, I wasn’t moved to re-up. The single player mode is also pretty dreadful, but I wasn’t expecting much. I was expecting a quick fix of blonde dudes yelling and big explosions, and the game delivered on that and then some.

7. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

I basically marathoned Yakuzas 0, Kiwami, and 6 this summer, and I’ve really come to love the series. Yakuza 6 is the only one really eligible for the list since it came out in 2018, but it’s fighting a tough battle against 0 for my favorite. Yakuza 6 has Ono Michio-Kun and a sparkly new engine; Yakuza 0 has Pocket Circuit, real estate, and Miracle Johnson.

Unfortunately for Yakuza 6, I prefer 0 in the most important areas. The fighting, story, and side activities are more entertaining, which is where it really counts. Not that 6 is especially bad in those areas – I especially enjoy the ineffective Yakuza clubhouse headed by Beat Takeshi – but it just doesn’t reach the same heights. Plus, there is practically no Majima in Yakuza 6, a sin near unforgivable.

Honorable Old Game #1: Yakuza 0

God, this game is so good.

I have a penchant for things that can enjoy pure stupidity while being earnest enough to take itself seriously. It’s a paradox in its own right, and seemingly an impossibly small line between obnoxious gags and bad edginess. Nothing I’ve seen can walk that line like the Yakuza series, and Yakuza 0 is practically in a league of its own.

The ridiculous aspects of Yakuza 0 are well known at this point – break-dance fighting, over-the-top karaoke, and disco among them – its serious moments can have just as much resonance. The soap opera-esque plot and memorable performances anchor bicycle-centric combat in a crime drama that still stands out. And have you ever wanted to punch a trio of antagonists more in your life? I'm very curious on the new spin that Judgement (aka JUDGE EYES) will bring next year.

6. Donut County

In my Donut County review, I drew some wonderful visual metaphors out of thin air which I don’t feel the need to repeat. Suffice it to say that Donut County is a short and sweet experience. While I wish there could have been more to the package, every minute I spent was filled with nothing but pleasant vibes.

From the unusual premise to the charming cast of woodland critters you swallow, I really have nothing bad to say about Donut County. I theorized that it would be a great game for the little ones, which I was delighted to learn was true. Whether you’re a kid or a kid at heart, Donut County is a hole lot of fun.

5. Celeste

I’m sad to admit that I dismissed Celeste when it first came out. Another hard-as-nails pixel indie platformer? I’ve seen it before. But out of any of its ilk, Celeste feels like a new level in design. It’s the definition of doing a lot with a little as a wall-hug and dash move are all that carry you through the game. The game’s challenges are immaculate and squeeze every drop of potential the core mechanics offer.

And while Celeste will make you suffer, the presentation that surrounds it is what makes the difference. Madeline doesn’t explode into blood like in Super Meat Boy. The fantastic music just keeps going and you instantly get to try it again… and again. Keep pushing, Celeste says, and you can overcome yourself to succeed. That theme is overt in the narrative, but it’s in the gameplay that I really came to appreciate the message.

4. Marvel's Spider-Man

A decade from now, I wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s game was still the benchmark for what a Spider-Man game should be. Step 1: Make the Swinging Good. Easy, right? Well, they did it, anyway, and the rest of the game ain’t bad either. Combat has just enough wrinkles to get you through everything you need.

The other gameplay styles and minigames aren’t as fun, but they put a skip button in so it’s not a big deal, anyway. The point stands that this is a realized interpretation of the mythos that works perfectly. The fresh angle on Peter's world kept me curious, and the story took me for a bit of a ride at the end. I was done with the Arkham formula, but it turns out all I needed was a new swingy – and sticky – hero to make it better than ever.

Honorable Old Game #2: XCOM 2/War of the Chosen

So much of my time in 2018 was spent commanding little guys around a grid shooting aliens. XCOM 2 is great fun on its own, but delving into mods elevates it even further. Sending Doom Guy into battle with Tommy Wiseau and Bob Ross after suiting up to the deployment theme from MGSV is great every time. Going around those turn timers is also fantastic.

The new additions in the War of the Chosen expansion give even more life to the experience and easily warrants another playthrough, even so close to the last one. I played two full campaigns and a third of one and a third of another one. From blowing up the statue in the first mission to watching Yukiko get the final chop on the last Avatar, XCOM 2 is a perfectly paced ride of anxiety and triumph.

3. Hitman 2

Good evening, 47. Your target is Giant Bomb user jeremyf. At this time, everyone on the site is busy putting their favorite game of the year in lists, and the target is no exception. He’ll be spending his time on his computer, trying to organize his thoughts into something worthwhile. Seems like he’ll be easy to take out, but there are many options available to you.

Perhaps you could dress in a flamingo costume and push him off a ledge. Maybe you could poison his food or drop a statue on him. Or maybe you could pose as the internet police and send him away for excessively mediocre blogging. 47, I dare say that your assassinations are more fun than they’ve ever been, and the ability to revisit all of Season 1’s content adds even more value to this rewarding game. Indeed, I think everyone should play it and find out for themselves.

…Sorry, I got a bit distracted there. I’ll leave you to prepare, 47.

2. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

What can I say about Smash Bros. Ultimate? Does the fact that I ended my year-long blood feud with Nintendo and bought a Switch not say enough? There might be less “new” content than previous entries, but collecting such a detailed history of not only the series, but the gaming universe under one roof is plenty ambitious. And since Everyone is Here, no one gets left out. They’re even putting my boy Mike in!

Spirits seems like a fun idea that someone took way too seriously. The dedication to representing some of these characters is nothing short of slavish. That multiplied by over 1000 spirits equals one unbelievably passionate dev team. For me, tragically, the novelty has already started to wear out, and I seriously doubt I’ll finish the mammoth adventure mode. At least the variation in battles is leagues above Dragon Ball’s attempt.

While the days of the Subspace Emissary seem far gone, the point remains that this is the Most Smash Bros., and probably the Best Smash Bros., ever. Near everyone I know loves Smash Bros. And if you don’t love Smash Bros…

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1. God of War

I have no history with the God of War series. I knew Kratos was a guy with a red thing on his face, but nothing beyond that. The new God of War is a cinematic game with a little kid constantly around, and yet I think it’s a great game. That takes some skill to pull off! Even with a small cast, every character is memorable. The combat is a departure but still highly fun. Exploration is often rewarded with not just loot, but genuine character moments and backstory.

The vast majority of Kratos and Atreus’s relationship is written very well, and I spent time mentally in both their places. That’s to say nothing of the stunning vistas of the new setting. Some people will say that God of War became just like any open-world game on the market, but I really think it sets itself apart. Sincere congratulations to Cory Barlog and his team.

End

Boy, there were still quite a few games that I didn't get to check out! Like the entrancing Tetris Effect or indie favorites like Into the Breach and Dead Cells. I'd love to give them a shot, but 2019 is already dangling carrots! How about Dreams, Animal Crossing, or gosh darn Psychonauts 2?! And games like Hitman and Smash Bros. are going to keep evolving as well. My point is, there's always something to look forward to. Whether you're an avid idle game fan or hardcore RPG fanatic, it's the best time to be playing video games.

Thank you to everyone on this site for patronizing my work over the past year and to those who will continue to do so. I'll be reading your lists as well, so make sure they're good ones! Have a good holiday and we'll talk again soon.

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Reviewing the Music of Super Smash Bros.

Oh god, it’s this dude again. I thought we were rid of him for good this time. What lame-ass excuse does he have this time?

Um… my computer broke? Yeah. For real.

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Anyways, I wanted to get at least one more blog post out before my game of the year list later this month. I’ve talked about my excitement for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate a few times now, and after the fighting itself and the crazy crossover potential, the music is one of my favorite elements in the series.

I couldn’t contain my excitement, so I downloaded Ultimate’s leaked soundtrack and went to town. I had to piece the names of the songs together using only someone’s google sheet, memory, and cross-referencing YouTube videos. While that sounds pointless given that in days the full game will be out, it was satisfying in the same way as solving a jigsaw puzzle.

Listening to the new tracks made me want to compare the offerings of each game in the series. Just by virtue of Ultimate bringing in nearly all the music from the series, it’s technically the best by default. But I want to look at what each game offers as a whole in terms of music direction, both in the original soundtrack and the remixes from other franchises.

Keep in mind that while I’m by no means a music producer, I’ve listened to these tracks more than is probably normal or advised.

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My view of the original Smash Bros. has changed over the years. Even if it’s clearly the least of the series in terms of content, there’s an inherent nostalgia emanating from its low-poly soul. That extends to the music as well. The instrumentation used through the whole soundtrack is instantly recognizable. The style applies well to every song, which helps considering this was the first time these characters (and their music) came together in one game.

While every song in Smash 64 was supplanted by the next game, the chipper presentation of its music is still enjoyable to some extent. However, the songs and their respective stages are inseparable in my mind. I would never set a 64 song to play on any other stage in Ultimate. Not that that's a bad thing, but the series would very quickly move to greener pastures.

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The leap from 64 to Melee couldn’t be more pronounced. We go from chipper MIDI trumpets to full, sweeping orchestrations. Along with the added graphics and modes, it signals that Smash Bros. has moved beyond a novelty fighting game to become something actually special. The music in Melee still holds up today, and for a few songs I think it still has the best arrangements.

Melee’s original music is comfortable to listen to. Both menu songs are good, though I actually prefer the first one compared to the unlockable track. The trophy theme is pleasant, while the song for the target minigame is a certified banger. Songs on Battlefield and Final Destination are alright, but not my favorites.

Like I said, the remixes in Melee totally eclipse the analogues in Smash 64. The Zelda theme is given the proper pomp with actual instrumentation, Brinstar shreds on electric guitar, and the take on Gourmet Race that plays on Fountain of Dreams continues to prove that Kirby has always been Nintendo’s #1 badass:

Outside of the 8 franchises that got a stage in the original Smash Bros., this is the first time many series got their source music referenced in Smash, and in some cases the first time players heard them. Why do you think that the de facto music referenced for F-Zero is Big Blue and Mute City?

My pet favorite series, Earthbound, also got its first musical exposure in this game. In Melee, there are great versions of Makin’ Friends and Pollyanna from the original Mother, and a bumpin’ take on Earthboud’s Fourside theme. I promise that I’m bringing these up for a point later on. For now, just know that Melee’s soundtrack is like an old blanket: You’ve used it a thousand times, but it’s still nice and warm enough to give you support.

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Here’s where we stop playing around. Pound for pound, I think that Brawl’s soundtrack has the best new music in the series, and you’d have to perform a miracle to change my mind. There’s more variety in style than ever before, and this is the first time the series has pulled from other games sans any remixing. That does support the game’s portfolio as a whole, but I’m looking primarily at the music created specifically for each game.

It all starts with the majesty of Brawl’s main theme. I may detest Cloud’s inclusion in the Smash series, but getting the great Nobuo Uematsu to helm the song was a perfect choice. The Latin chanting transforms the atmosphere of the game until you barely notice the plumber with a mustache fighting a yellow rat. This may have been the last time where the word “epic” was appropriately used before it lost all meaning.

Brawl has what I call for, lack of a better term, a “Mario World Soundtrack” – where the same melody is repeated over and over in different contexts. When your theme is as divine as Brawl’s, there’s no problem with that whatsoever. Most of the other songs in the original soundtrack are also great listens.

The menu and Battlefield themes are both great for where they fit in. The trophy theme is perfect elevator music with lovely guitar and hypnotizing Basse Nova claves. Not every song’s a winner – like the new target theme that would sound better at a bar mitzvah – but most are. Special mention goes to Final Destination, which comes close to actually surpassing the original arrangement and will be the only song I play on that stage in Ultimate.

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Let’s not forget the strength of the remixed soundtrack. The previous franchises are still going stronger than ever. Special mention goes to the Link to the Past and Kirby remixes. And a begrudging respect from me to the Fire Emblem series, going from just one song having to share with a Zelda stage to a full suite of great battle music.

The game’s new additions came out of the gates swinging as well. Kid Icarus and WarioWare have some great takes on their respective melodies. Animal Crossing got rearrangements that managed to become good fighting music. Pikmin got the all-time platinum classic, “Environmental Noises.” R.O.B.’s music is iffy to be honest, but I’m not losing sleep over him.

This was also the first time third-party music appeared in Smash, and the results are mostly positive. Metal Gear Solid got a handful of remixes that slap, like the Theme of Tara and MGS1’s Encounter theme. While Sonic has more Crush 40 than you can shake a stick at, the series got only one remix, albeit by series legend Jun Senoue. The thing is that Sonic never got another remix again. What gives, SEGA? You don’t have a problem rearranging for the Olympics, but Smash is off-limits?

One last addendum – there are some interesting songs that were actually cut from Brawl, including a Yoko Shimomura arrangement of her own Beware the Forest’s Mushrooms (Geno for DLC) and a number of Earthbound songs that I love but aren’t really suited for battling.

But yeah, in total, I absolutely adore Brawl’s soundtrack, especially its main theme. But with two games left in the series, how did the team follow it up?

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I like the soundtrack to Smash 4. Really, I do. Some of the songs, especially the ones used in promotional material for the game, are really great. But this entry did start some trends in the music directing that I’m honestly not a fan of.

Let’s start with the main theme again. While it is fairly catchy, it doesn’t come close to approaching the level of Brawl’s. Maybe I’ve just been spoiled. It definitely has a lot of energy and gets you ready to fight. Smash 4 also has a Mario World-style approach, and the melody is versatile enough to work for that. In a vacuum, I might even say Smash 4’s theme is great, especially on Battlefield and in the menu. But on Final Destination and in the trophy gallery, it doesn’t compare to Brawl. The theme is just less good to start with, so there’s less to work with.

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When it comes to remixes, there’ still a good variety of styles, and once again some real stars. The Pokemon X/Y battle theme is awesome, Yoko Shimomura and Magicant is a match made in heaven, and, once again, an approval under my breath for the music of Xenoblade. Between those new ones, music taken from past Smash games, and rips directly from the source material, you can find a handful of really good songs to go on any stage.

But for some of the other new songs, man, I just have to wonder what the hell happened here? I’m not really sure if Sakurai told the composing team to do a certain thing or if it just worked out this way, but I have a lot of the same problems with the weaker tracks in Smash 4. If I had to sum it up, I would say that a lot of them don’t have room to breathe. It’s not all of them, but the culprits have it bad. A lot of brass up front and uncomfortable noise in the background make for an unpleasant listening experience.

I don’t know the cause of this, either, but it seemed like it wasn’t enough to just have one song anymore. So many of the songs are either general medleys or straight up two songs in one. I was going to list a few here like I have been, but I hadn’t realized exactly how many songs fall into this category. The number of new tracks that pull from multiple songs, for better or worse, is over 40.

This isn't all of them...
This isn't all of them...

This choice almost never works out for the better. Transitions between songs seemed forced even at their best. It just makes me wonder why they thought this was necessary. Were they trying to get as much mileage as possible? Whatever the case, I didn’t enjoy it.

Then there are remixes that are just categorically worse than the original. Egg Planet in Super Mario Galaxy? Essentially perfect. Egg Planet in Smash 4? A mess of trumpets with some added waffling near the end. At least they had the decency to include the original version. But I suppose that’s still better than getting no remixes at all – I may hate Cloud, but I feel bad for his fans having only two songs to work with, period.

But my biggest problem with Smash 4’s soundtrack is the redundancy. Look. Every video game composer wants their shot at the Mario or Zelda theme. But you just have to respect that they’ve been overdone at this point. How are other songs supposed to breathe when the same melody is suffocating the options over and over? Here are some more stats. The Super Mario Bros. theme is in the game 9 times. Jungle Level from Donkey Kong is 8. So is the Zelda theme. You see the issue here, right?

Smash 4’s soundtrack has some good things to add, but it’s really boosted by what it takes from other games over what it offers on its own. But things get a little bit different in Smash Ultimate’s soundtrack.

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Initially, I thought Smash Ultimate didn’t have very much new music, but it’s actually pretty comparable to Brawl and Smash 4. It’s the distribution that’s weird. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The main theme, Lifelight, is the first in the series with lyrics that are meant to be understood. And I have to say… I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. While lots of people are going gaga for it, I hate listening to the English version of Lifelight. The lyrics are cheesy, yes, but I love Snake Eater so that can’t be the problem. The melody itself does not lend well to English in my opinion. Every syllable feels forced to both fit the song and literally describe the story mode.

I have less problems with the Japanese version, but only because I don’t understand it. However, this only causes me existential crises as I realize I effectively just said subs>dubs and I don’t know what to do. Let’s just say that Latin is the best language and leave it at that.

Fortunately, without lyrics the song is quite enjoyable. It is similar to Smash 4 both in general feel and Mario World-ing once again. The main menu theme is great with an insane person going to town on the bass. I haven’t really gotten into it in the other contexts of the game, but I like what I’ve heard so far.

Wait... Lock Down's in this game?
Wait... Lock Down's in this game?

The remixes are where things get more curious. For the most part, composers were content to stick with one song per track, which is appreciated. And blessedly, they aren’t just retreading the same ground again. There are no more versions of the songs I mentioned in the last part of the Smash 4 section. Instead, they’re either covering wholly new songs or ones that haven’t been remixed in a long while. I’m really thankful for that.

But the big thing is, the love was not evenly distributed among franchises. Sakurai said he let the sound team choose pretty much any series they wanted. And I can’t blame them for what they did, because I know I would rush right for Castlevania and Mega Man, too. Those two series have some of the best music in gaming by any measure. So, Castlevania got over a dozen remixes, with over thirty songs in total, and Mega Man has 17 new arrangements in its wonderful portfolio. Ironically, the problem is that while all of the music is equally badass, I’ve never chosen the Mega Man stage without someone groaning, and the Castlevania stage has bosses, too. But, let’s just say that the new offerings for both these series have some serious head-bangers.

With the assumption that the talented composers went for those two, most of the other series were stuck with leftovers. It’s great to see the man who brought us “Dayyyyytoooonaaaaaa!!” give us “F-Zeeeroooooo!!” and I love the new take on Kass’s theme, but quite a few of the new songs suffer from the same noise pollution problem I mentioned in the Smash 4 section.

Midna’s Lament in Twilight Princess was a weird choice because it’s a wistful piano piece, but the new arrangement is practically vomit through a speaker with brass, choir, and cymbals clamoring for attention like they’re pageant kids. Molgera’s theme is the same way. Oh, by the way, the originals for those two have been removed from Ultimate :)

But the biggest injustice in my eyes is what they did to Earthbound. The original Magicant and Fourside fit perfectly for their respective stages. The new Magicant is a half-time beat with more agressive synth than legally permitted in 12 states, and Fourside is a mess, totally losing the charm of the original. It’s safe to say that the loudness issue has not been totally resolved. Here’s a waveform for an example:

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Now, I’m not audio engineer, but doesn’t that seem a little much to you? There’s no time for a respite from some of these newer tracks.

Fortunately, where Ultimate falters, it can fall back on what came before it, just like Smash 4. I don’t like any of the Splatoon remixes, but the songs pulled from the original games make up for it, and the same applies elsewhere. And, like Smash 4, there are some real bright spots in Ultimate’s soundtrack, particularly in Castlevania and Mega Man, but also in other areas. With over 800 tracks, there’s bound to be something you enjoy.

The music of Super Smash Bros. is about more than background music to a fight. To many, it’s an encapsulation of their favorite game’s history and personality. It feeds in to the best side effect of the series: the celebration and discovery of gaming’s history. You might think I’m crazy for spending so much energy worrying about this stuff, but to so many people it means more than what you would imagine.

Though puzzlingly, the best song in the series has yet to actually make it into one of the games:

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Switch CIty, Vol. 7: Mega Man 11

Mega Man has to gear up to take on these bosses.
Mega Man has to gear up to take on these bosses.

Switch City is BACK! (again). Which is fitting, because Mega Man is BACK! (again). Everyone's favorite blue robot had a hibernation period, then there were some games imitating the classic NES style, then there was another stretch of time where nothing happened, a sad, sad game called Mighty No. 9, and finally here we are.

When playing Mega Man 11's demo, I thought this game might not be so different from Mighty No. 9 as people would like. The change to a 3D modeled art style and lackluster sound design are some of the big similarities. But there was a personal slant: I rage quit Mighty No. 9 in the level where you run back and forth an increasingly long hallway with instant death traps and no checkpoints. Seeing how sparse Mega Man 11's checkpoints were in the demo gave me pause.

Block Man must have been the worst level they could have picked for the demo.
Block Man must have been the worst level they could have picked for the demo.

The full game (and a difficulty change) put my fears to rest. Mega Man 11, in most areas, successfully modernizes the classic Mega Man formula, and it's a sign of life for a character most thought was powered down for good.

Our introductory cutscene shows a young Drs. Light and Wily arguing over whether to go forward with Wily's new Double Gear system, which gives a huge power boost to robots who use it, or Light's proposal of robots with independent thought. The two are unable to reconcile their differences, and Dr. Wily swears his revenge. Back in 20XX, Wily suddenly remembers this important event in his life for I guess the first time? Upgrading his machine with Double Gear technology, he swoops into Dr. Light's lab and kidnaps a new batch of robot masters. Then he taunts Mega Man and Dr. Light, instead of, you know... killing them.

Picking apart the story in a Mega Man game is never worth your time, even when it's presented straight-faced in the X series and beyond. I find it darkly funny that Light and Wily's falling out leads to not only 11 mostly harmless adventures, but to multiple wars, genocides, and actual apocalyptic events in the future. If only you two could work out your differences. What is less funny is the voice acting, meaning I wish it was funnier. They've already peaked, so maybe they shouldn't have even tried.

But let's get onto the meat of the game, the platforming action we all know and love. Mega Man's charge shot and slide are restored after their absence in 9 and 10. However, he also has the Double Gear system installed, adding some new abilities to the pile. You can activate either a speed or power boost at will, but it took some time for me to internalize those options. I know I'm not alone in saying that I get Mega Man tunnel vision, relying on basic charge shots to get the job done. It's hard enough to remember boss weapons, when they're unlocked.

The change to 3D models allowed for Mega Man to put on a little hat when he uses different weapons.
The change to 3D models allowed for Mega Man to put on a little hat when he uses different weapons.

And in this game, the boss weapons can be pretty useful. I'm used to, like, the Top Spin from Mega Man 3, but you can actually get utility out of most of them in Mega Man 11. Clear enemies in front of you with Block Man's weapon or freeze enemies vertically with Tundra Man's. With the power gear, they can be made even more potent, and they can stop stage hazards like in past games.

But I think to really enjoy this game, you need to buy upgrades from the shop. Some of them, like the one that reduces knockback, seem damn essential. The auto-charging buster is also great if your thumbs hurt from Joy-Con buttons. I think some of these should have just been installed from the get-go. If you can make Mega Man control better... that shouldn't be an upgrade, you know?

Once you master your toolset, I think Mega Man 11's levels are quite fun. I found myself making tough jumps with confidence where I would be stressed in the NES games. Mega Man feels not exactly how he used to, but how he should in a modern take on his series. The stages are supposed to be hard, but beatable. They have more than their fair share of crush traps and bottomless pits, but you're encouraged to use the speed gear to avoid them.

For making tight windows like these, speed gear is your friend.
For making tight windows like these, speed gear is your friend.

To my knowledge, though, I don't think there's a point in the game where the Double Gear is required. Purists who hate the idea can beat the game without using it, but I like it. While the speed gear is for escaping tough situations, it seems like the power gear is good for speedrunners and their ilk. One of those skill floor/skill ceiling type deals that game designers love so much.

Checkpointing, as I said above, can be an issue. On the "normal" difficulty, you get the traditional mid-level and pre-boss checkpoints in each level. However, they didn't compensate for the stages being much longer than they used to. It can be demoralizing to be sent all the way to the start with only three lives to work with.

My advice? Ignore the labels in the difficulty selection, but follow the descriptions. "Casual" is for fans of the series who are a little rusty. That fit my description, so I swallowed my pride and chose it. I think it was the right decision. The greater number of checkpoints and lives made my experience a lot better than in the demo. Feel free to choose the difficulty that suits you best. My second playthrough of Mega Man 11 will be on normal, but as a first showing I think casual is a good option.

You know what else made my experience enjoyable? I spent the whole game with the Switch's sound turned off. The sound design of Mega Man 11 is easily its weakest element. I guess if you had to get something wrong, better that than the jumping and shooting. Still, when I think Mega Man sound, I think of something very specific. I could hum along to any number of tunes from older games. Spark Man? Plant Man? Hell, let's just say what we're all thinking - Dr. Wily's Castle from Mega Man 2? Here, the music is totally forgettable, and sound effects lack the punchiness you would expect. It doesn't feel like a creative choice, more like they just came up short.

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One of the stranger things about Mega Man as a series is how it has these traditions that no one really likes. Nobody actually wants to fight the boss rush, or jump on those disappearing blocks. But it would feel weird if they weren't there. In this sense, Mega Man 11 was in a very tough spot. Where it does deviate from tradition, even in minor things like the doors, it feels wrong. At the same time, I wouldn't want another 8-bit retread of the same formula. In the task of modernizing a 30-year-old series, I have to say that Mega Man 11 succeeds. It doesn't hit every note perfectly, but it gets the chords right. While you won't want to listen to its music, I think you can still Rock out to Mega Man 11.

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Switch City, Vol. 6: The September Direct

There are lots of ports coming, but Isabelle is making sure Mario Maker ISN'T one of them!
There are lots of ports coming, but Isabelle is making sure Mario Maker ISN'T one of them!

Hello once again readers! I've been spending time with many others in Spider-Man's New York, catching pigeons and assisting the police state, or whatever you do in that game. But Nintendo's latest direct presentation has finally rolled around, so I thought I'd do what I do best - picking it apart like the fun-hating vulture I am.

I kid, I kid. This direct gave me video game whiplash with the quality of announcements. There were some really great moments and surprises out of left field contrasted with stretches of video I skipped past out of disinterest. How about we run down some highlights and lowlights?

Luigi's Mansion 3

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Talk about a surprise! With the first Luigi's Mansion being dumped on the 3DS, I think most people assumed that would be it. But they are making a proper third game, and it looks pretty good based on the 30 seconds they showed. This time, it looks like a haunted hotel is giving Luigi the spooks. Assuming it's just one mansion again, this could be a nice change of pace from the type of marquee Switch releases out so far.

3DS

I give the Switch crap for being a porting destination, but even more so that's what the 3DS has been reduced to. People always talk about how many systems are out there, but how many are actually being played? Surely any Nintendo fan with that much brand loyalty would have invested in a Switch by now. Those ports are all good games, sure - but is it really worth the effort to keep the 3DS alive? It's practically in hospice care by this point.

Katamari Reroll

AH MAN, I TAKE IT ALL BACK

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PORTS ARE AMAZING AND I LOVE THEM

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LONELY ROLLING STAR IN MY FACE UNTIL I DIE

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Yoshi's Crafted World

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It's pretty funny that I've reviewed both Yoshi's Island, a game that could be fun with better level design, and Tearaway, a game that's rough around the edges but has a seriously impressive papercraft style. Now we have Yoshi's Crafted World, which is merging those two things. Unfortunately, Tearaway did such a great job with its visual style (and how that affected the rest of the game) that Yoshi seems bound to unimpress me. Not that it looks bad, but it just seems more limited.

They also look like they're doubling down on what I don't like about Yoshi's Island? Flipping the level around and all that stuff just seems like an expansion of the exploration-based design that didn't work so well for me. I know people swear up and down by this stuff, but I think I have to see more before I'm convinced. Nice that this game came out of the ether, though.

The Final Fantasy Gambit

Many moons ago I said that people like the Final Fantasy franchise for no reason. Do I regret it? Yes. Have I changed my mind? Not really? A certain community spotlight host's suffering has only served to reinforce that notion.

Anyway, like a hundred of those games are coming to Switch now? Congratulations?

Splatoon 2 Update

The update looks cool and all, but I haven't followed this game at all. I was a big fan of the first Splatoon on the Wii U, and I played it pretty often. But when the Switch came out, I really had no interest in Splatoon 2. The reasons? First, there's absolutely no way I can get good enough to play online and not cry inky tears. The second? Well, I knew I'd eventually have to shell out for...

The Nintendo Switch Online Boondoggle

All right, I could easily write a whole blog post on how bad this service is, but everyone already knows. No matter how happy Mario and friends look in the ad, the "extras" you get are garbage.

Finally, the Zero Fun Experience of Ice Climber as a Wi-Fi Game!
Finally, the Zero Fun Experience of Ice Climber as a Wi-Fi Game!

First, the eloquently named "Nintendo Entertainment System Nintendo Switch Online." With that name I can only assume no other consoles will be included, at least in the foreseeable future. I would say the number of NES games I will voluntarily play is in the single digits at this point, and I can easily play them elsewhere. It's pretty laughable that Nintendo would consider this an improvement over the virtual console, which still had its own set of problems. Even the interface they showed looks ugly as sin.

How about cloud saves? Don't worry if you break your Switch - as a premium customer, your data is automatically uploaded to the cloud and protected! (The unspoken implication being "after you fork over another 300 big ones")

There's also the awkward voice chat solution, total ambiguity with "special deals," and more, but I think the most pressing issue can be summed up in one sentence:

The online isn't going to get better.

Right now, Mario Kart players teleport around the track. Smash Bros. games lag out. Many Splatoon matches are determined based on whose team has the fewest dropped players.

Nintendo charging for online isn't going to change that. Your online experience won't improve, you'll just be paying for it now. I would love to be wrong, but I really see no reason for any of you to subscribe to this service.

Smash Bros. and Animal Crossing

Boy, I've been a downer, eh? Let's end on a positive note. That Animal Crossing game is FINALLY happening! Plus, Isabelle is in Smash Bros. Now? Why not, I guess.

After so many spinoffs, it's awesome that we're finally getting a real-deal Animal Crossing again, this time in HD! What they showed looks very similar to New Leaf, but it's been so long that I have to imagine there will be some substantial additions. Part of me is still nostalgic for the simplicity of the older games, though. All I know is, everyone and their grandma is going to play this religiously. Like, they'll all be playing it together at church instead of singing hymns or whatever.

As for Smash, I dunno. I don't like Isabelle so much that I was clamoring to play as her, but I also don't want to beat up a cute dog. It's also interesting that she's a new fighter and not an echo, but it's pretty clear that label means nothing anyway.

Stop! You must pay $20 to proceed!
Stop! You must pay $20 to proceed!

So, that's the direct for you. Some cool stuff, some bummers, but overall I think it was a good watch. There's enough to get excited about even if you're angry about everything like I am. If you read everything, I hope you had a laugh or two. What were your highlights from the presentation? Do you hate my opinions? I look forward to finding out, and I'll see you in the next blog!

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What's Goin' Down: My Most Anticipated Games

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Do you smell it? Things are changing. Soon, the leaves will fall and the cool air will blow. Not that I'll notice, because I'll be too busy playing those new video games!

Between God of War, the Yakuza series, and catching up on the Switch's cavernous library, this year has already bore some impressive gaming fruit for me. But that don't mean we're done by a long shot!

Conveniently for blogging purposes, my anticipated games can be broken up into monthly intervals. So, uh. let's write about them, I guess. (nailed it)

September -- Spider-Man

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I got pretty tired of the old Arkham formula after a while. I can only beat down so many thugs, and my tolerance for collecting question marks is pretty much evaporated at this point. That might be why my excitement for the new Spider-Man game is somewhat muted.

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Still, every time they show something new for the game, I get more interested. It's one of those games where the enjoyment is conveyed just from looking at it. Apply all the fancy adjectives you want, but the best word for swinging around is just "fun."

Not only is Insomniac a trustworthy studio, but they've shown a lot of appreciation for the little details of Spider-Man's world. One of my favorite things is how Spidey will take pictures with civilians or just throw out some quick finger guns. This is great after Arkham's stupid write-offs for why no innocent people are hanging around the streets of Gotham.

Anyway, the real reason I want this game is because the new trailer with J. Jonah Jameson's radio show was appropriately stupid and self-aware, and even listening to him describe typical open-world activities is great.

October - Red Dead Redemption 2

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This is a weird one. Have you ever felt excited for a game out of obligation? That's sort of what I feel with Red Dead Redemption 2. By all means, there's a lot to love. The game is sure to greatly innovate on graphics, storytelling, and horse testicle technology. But I find myself looking forward to this game more because of how prolific the last game was and the staggering popularity of Rockstar's catalog.

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But I, for one, think their writing is pretty lame. It's mostly one-note "satire" that wears thin real quick. And while taking the setting out of modern society might reduce some of that, it also takes away the potency of the wacky open-world hijinks GTA is so famous for. And is anyone really invested in Blue Shirt Guy's story when we know where it ends?

This is all speculation, of course. Rockstar's talked a big game about the advancements in all the systems and whatnot. At the very least, Red Dead could top God of War for Desktop Generator of the Year. We'll have to see how it pans out, but one thing's for sure: I'm staying far away from the online component because fuck that noise.

November - HITMAN 2

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Oh yeah, now we're speaking my language! You may ask, isn't Hitman 2 just more Hitman? I say, I sure hope so! I think I've said just about everything I can about how great Hitman is, and the sequel is only looking to build on what's already there. Even the little sniper minigame they put out is surprisingly fun.

Only one location has been shown off, but I'm sure the team has learned a lot from the first season. With any luck there will be more maps like Hokkaido, and less like Colorado. Elusive targets and community contracts also add new wrinkles to the environments. Some of the later elusive targets, and especially the game of the year content, have really demonstrated IO's mastery of their formula.

Here's very conclusive evidence of my excitement for this game - for the first time, I preordered the Super Duper Edition that comes with everything plus more. Time will tell if this was a good move - after all, WB hardly has a good track record with this stuff - but I'll do whatever I can to ensure IO can make the best experience possible.

December - Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

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We're in Switch City, baby, and the buses have stopped running!

Even with a truncated hype cycle this time around, the wait for the new Smash is as agonizing as ever. Who doesn't want to take Simon Belmont for a test drive? He's only bringing 34 freaking music tracks with him!

I think my friends and I will be living and breathing Smash for a long time after this game hits. I can be somewhere,beat someone down in Smash, and wind down with a quick Picross puzzle? Sign me the dang up.

They've changed things around to the point where every character looks fun to play (except Cloud because he can choke on his own giant sword). The new modes are exciting - squad strike, where you switch out your set of characters, and smashdown, where each fighter can only be picked once.

Cramming a ludicrous amount of content into the Ultimate Smash Bros. - I can think of no better way to close out the year.

On their own, any of these four games would be exciting. But to have them come out in such quick succession is madness. Right now, I feel like I'm right on the top of the roller coaster, seconds away from a blistering ride. In just a few short weeks, the summer drought will be truly over - and this will be a fall to remember.

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Switch City, Vol. 5: Picross S2

Vol. 4: Enter the Gungeon

Attention, everyone! I'm back with a hot-off-the-presses new release on the Switch. It's the sequel to Picross S, Picross S2!!!!

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I had no idea this was coming out. It just sort of dropped from the heavens and I was more than happy to pick it up. I've still got a long way to go in Picross S (and I've barely touched mega picross) but I wanted to see what was up in the sequel.

The first piece of good news is that all the features from the last game are back. That includes both normal and mega picross, as well as the adjustable assist options. Once again, this is great variety for players of all skill levels. Once again, all puzzles are unlocked from the get-go. However, this is not the case for the new mode, clip picross.

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There are five larger images in clip picross, each made up of a set of ten puzzles. This sort of thing has been done before in other picross games, but in this case each piece must be unlocked by playing the other puzzles. With this setup, I might be forced into playing mega picross more. What I really love about clip picross is the weird shapes some of the grids take. In the main game there are only a few sizes, so the new layouts change your thinking.

And one last addendum: the game reuses some music and sound effects, but the main theme playing during puzzles has been changed to a new, more chill track that I like a lot more. Even still, picross has always been one of those "podcast games" everyone loves so much.

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I've barely started playing Picross S2, but it's already looking promising. Yes, it's sort of a known quantity, but maybe it flew under your radar. If you've still never checked out a Picross game I definitely recommend it. At only nine bucks, you should check it out!!

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Switch City, Vol. 4: Enter the Gungeon

Bienvenidos a Switch City, everybody! For the person out there anxiously awaiting this blog, I apologize once again for the lateness. Between my normal duties and a crippling addiction to XCOM 2, I just haven't had time to get into something new on the Switch. It was only a few days ago that I picked up my next game, Enter the Gungeon. Given the short time I've spent with it, and the nature of the game, this blog will probably be a shorter one. But enough of that, let's get to it!

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Enter the Gungeon was a game I overlooked when it first came out. Even back then, I was getting a little tired of the indie-pixel-roguelike shtick that still hasn't gone out of style. Perhaps dismissive of me, but Gungeon didn't seem to have a strong hook. As I've found during this blog, my appetite for games is pretty different on a portable system. When I can pop out a run wherever is convenient, a roguelike like Gungeon is a lot more appealing. Plus, the developers just pushed out a big update for the game. While I have no idea what's changed, this seemed like a great time to check it out.

Wow, look at that guy, I've never even been to this level.
Wow, look at that guy, I've never even been to this level.

My assumptions weren't incorrect, per se. Enter the Gungeon shares a lot of DNA with other games in the genre. Most prominently, its structure is basically the same as The Binding of Isaac. Every run, you explore a procedurally generated dungeon, clearing rooms full of enemies and finding random loot until clearing the floor's boss and unlocking items for future runs. And thinking about it, that's not bad, or anything. I mean, aren't all platformers about a guy running to the right and jumping? As long as the game brings something creative to the table, that should be more than enough for me.

The obvious thing about Gungeon is that the people in this world are really up on their second amendment rights. Not only does everyone have guns, a lot of people are guns. Or bullets, which is close enough. Unlike Isaac's unsettling eldritch horrors, headless fetuses, and poop, Gungeon's enemies are nice to look at. The image of a bullet shooting a gun is novel, and you'll even see different types of bullets denoting which patterns they fire in. Some bosses are a little underwhelming so far ,but there is a literal Vulcan Raven, which is pretty rad.

The blank faces really sell it for me.
The blank faces really sell it for me.

I like the art style in a broader sense, too. While part of me is still weary whenever I see another pixel art game, it's done well here. The lighting is very nice and gives the Gungeon a sense of depth that would otherwise be lost.

I have barely scratched the surface of the game's inventory of guns, but I'm impressed at the variety I've seen so far. Each, combined with multiple characters, mix up the strategy of each floor. You also unlock NPCs in the lobby which will provide you with new objectives for your future runs.

But would it really be a roguelike if you didn't die all the time? As of yet, I've struggled to make a run last longer than 15 minutes, and I've yet to make it past the second boss. Even then, I had the feeling that there were hidden depths to this game. Some sneaky secrets that the man doesn't want you to know about. And once again, I was right.

There's a whole wiki dedicated to the game, and briefly looking at it I was seriously impressed at what's here. I learned about mechanics I had no idea existed. I felt like I got a peek behind the curtain, and I'm not sure if I want to rip it all the way open or save some of the mystery for myself.

I was surprised how fun I found Enter the Gungeon. How much time I'll commit to it, I'm not sure (Especially if I keep sucking at the game). However, seeing all the resources available for players of all skill levels was a very encouraging sign. I won't marathon through it like Mario or XCOM. But every once in a while, I can see myself firing up the Gungeon for another run.

I'd like to leave you with the game's kickass theme song:

And with that, I'll see you on the next blog post.

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Switch City, Vol. 3: Yoku's Island Express

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Vol. 2: Super Mario Odyssey

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I never really cared for the Metroid genre. It's not like I didn't try; I went through Super and Zero Mission, I tried Prime, I played a number of indie games in that style... but it never really clicked. There were too many issues and annoyances that I assumed were just inherent to the genre. Plus, I kind of hate the term "Metroidvania." For one, the real Castlevania games don't play like that. For another, it's such a long word. Surely there's a more pithy phrase we can use? How about "Troidlike?" Yeah, I like that.

Yoku's Island Express is one of these Troidlikes, but it has an interesting new layer. Yoku is a little bug who arrives on Mokumaka Island to become its new postmaster. His task is to explore the island and save it from the mysterious "God-Slayer." The catch, of course, is that he's tied at the waist to a boulder and has to traverse via pinball. The pinball element was enough to get me interested in the game.

What surprised me about Yoku's Island Express, however, wasn't its delightful disposition and pinball twist. Instead, it surprised me with how well it avoided my issues with the Troidlike genre.

Don't know who put these bumpers everywhere, but I'm not complaining.
Don't know who put these bumpers everywhere, but I'm not complaining.

While most people say that Troidlikes are nonlinear, this is usually untrue in practice. Most are about as linear as any other game. You can flail around in Maridia all you want, but unless you get the Gravity Suit from a different area it's inaccessible. To complete the game, there's a mostly set order you have to collect the power-ups, often requiring backtracking.

This isn't the case with Yoku. While your Symphony of the Nights swamp you with powerups and items, Yoku only has a handful of upgrades. Instead of gating with items, it focuses more on developing the pinball aspect. I was much more inclined to explore the island, and actually went into some areas early by virtue of just looking around.

Another frustration with other Troidlikes is the penalty for death. Say you happen to explore Brinstar and get some upgrades, only to stumble into an area with tougher enemies who kill you. Back to the last save point, gotta do that all again. Not the case with Yoku! In fact, there's barely a fail state at all. Falling in some brambles will take away a few fruits, which can be replenished in seconds. Other than that, you're launched right back onto the table where you can try again. Even when falling in more open areas, the island is small enough that you can easily get back to where you were.

Progression is usually blocked by some rock to bust through.
Progression is usually blocked by some rock to bust through.

And there's no planet destroying-bomb or bizarre fucking pop ballad to end the game. Once you see credits, you're told to go explore the island as much as you want. Finish up those sidequests and get those collectibles to your heart's content. There are still some things I've yet to do, and it's nice to know I can if I want.

Travelling with pinball is lots of fun, but sometimes I wish the bumpers were a little more precise. I'd often find myself going through the same pathways when trying to get to a different one. It was mildly annoying, but the lack of a fail state alleviated much of the frustration. And who can get annoyed with such cute characters and groovy music?

Yoku's Island Express is a pretty short game, so I don't have a ton to say about it. But it takes something pretty special to "fix" a genre I usually don't care for. Kind of makes me wonder what else would be improved with pinball... RTS? FPS? Visual Novel? Anyway, even if you're not a Troidlike fanatic, Yoku offers a chill pinball experience that's perfect for handheld mode. Check it out!

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Switch City, Vol. 2: Super Mario Odyssey

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Vol. 1: Introduction and Picross S

Welcome back to Switch City! I may have been without substantial internet for over a week, but that didn't stop me from doing my homework for this feature. That's the magic of the Switch, I suppose - a magic I have begrudgingly come to enjoy.

I used my time away to get every last stinking moon in Super Mario Odyssey. This was one of the "big two" for the Switch last year along with Breath of the Wild, and the only one exclusive to it. Despite this being the first time I've owned the game, it's far from the first time I've experienced it. For starters, Mario Odyssey enjoyed monolithic popularity in the speedrunning community for months. Over that time I've seen dozens of runs in multiple categories. Plus, in the very very brief window of time I had access to my roommate's Switch, I rushed through as much of the game as possible.

This is all to say that any of the "magic of discovery" that made this game so popular is totally lost on me now. Going into the game I knew nearly everything there is to know about it. However, I don't really see this as a negative for the purpose of this feature. Personally, I think it allows a more objective look at this game. The result? Well, let's-a-see.

Mario hits the NOS
Mario hits the NOS

The first thing I want to touch on is the platforming controls, which may be the best of any 3D Mario thus far. Nintendo can get away with using like two buttons on their controller because they're so good at making each input versatile in a variety of contexts while staying intuitive. In Mario, these manifest as Jump, Crouch, and Hat. Any combination of these inputs will result in one of the many moves in Mario's toolbelt (which you can demo at any time).

Of Nintendo's attempts to supplement Mario's abilities with a "gimmick," Cappy feels like the most successful. We can all agree that FLUDD was a little clunky with multiple buttons and nozzles to juggle. The Mario Galaxy spin is effective but limited with a cooldown. Cappy's moves basically expand on what the spin could do. For starters, the hat can be used for offense on the ground and air, like the spin, but at a much greater range and with some (albeit finicky) control over direction. You can throw the hat to slightly extend your jump and reset your momentum, just like the spin. From there, though, you can dive on the hat, throw it again, and dive one more time. This combo is rather simple to master and it's useful the whole game, especially for making sweet shortcuts.

And while the game doesn't always require you to pull of said sweet moves, it definitely anticipates it. Cappy will congratulate you on certain shortcuts if you pull them off. Rewards are hidden at the top of structures that at first glance seem impossible to scale but can be reached by the platform masters among us. For instance, piles of coins are hidden on top of the wall boxing in a seemingly top-down section. Another developer would make those walls go up forever, but Nintendo used them instead to reward thinking outside the box and mastery. I absolutely love it. Plus, the Luigi's Balloon World minigame is a great way to test your acuity with the platforming against other players. It's surprisingly addictive.

Time ran out just as I buried my face in the balloon, but that just made me more eager to optimize and succeed.
Time ran out just as I buried my face in the balloon, but that just made me more eager to optimize and succeed.

So when the platforming controls fail, it feels depressing. I would occasionally bonk off ledges that I should have cleared, and my dives would fail to hit Cappy or not come out at all. I feel like the dive move is the one exception to the intuitive controls, requiring an unnatural combination of crouch and hat. In Mario 64, only one button was needed. It seems wasteful, but maybe a dedicated dive button could have avoided these frustrations. They were comparatively rare occurrences, but each time it was just a bummer.

I didn't take any screenshots of captures so enjoy this art
I didn't take any screenshots of captures so enjoy this art

But Mario's moves are only one portion of the game. The other is the capture mechanic. To use hip modern-day parlance, the captures are a mixed bag. As a way to shake up the pace from being Mario all the time, I think they mostly succeed. But once you get past the moment of "you can possess that?!" their mediocrity often sets in. Like the tank's inaccurate shooting, the bird's clumsiness, or the podoboo's sensitivity. That said, there are also some great captures like the onion and cheep cheep. The captures take up a big chunk of the game's challenges, and their situational (read: predictable) uses feeds into some other issues I have with the game, which we'll get to later. I usually prefer playing as Mario, and using his abilities to skip a section meant for a capture feels great.

What else do I like about Mario Odyssey? I love the Steam Gardens music. I love love the costumes both celebrating Mario's erratic history and being plain silly. I love love love this screenshot from the ending:

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Mario and Bowser just tried to kill each other for the thousandth time in a conflict that crippled a dozen world societies. Yet in the face of mutual rejection, all they can do is comfort each other. That is fucking hilarious and shows off the side of these two's relationship that allows them to play tennis and race together. I love how every other culture is freaking out about Bowser, but Mario just accepts this charade as a fact of life.

But I'm going to be completely honest right now. The structure of Mario Odyssey? What the platforming controls are used for? The actual game part of the game? It's poop.

Simply put, there are too many moons in Mario Odyssey. Let's check back with the older games, shall we? Mario 64 had 120 stars of varying complexity, impressive for its time. Mario Sunshine also had 120, except no it didn't, because a chunk of those were blue coin shines, which everyone hates. Plus, some of the shines were just slightly harder replays of earlier challenges. Mario Galaxy had around 120, with a number of them again as repeated challenges via comets. Galaxy 2 had an additional 120 stars after the first batch (which included comets) which were just thrown about the existing levels without much thought.

So, Nintendo clearly has trouble creating 120 good, unique challenges. So why on earth did they decide to put 880 moons in Mario Odyssey? As a result of this absurdly high number, the ratio of "good moons" in this game is at an all-time low.

When you get a star in Mario Galaxy, it signifies the end of a thought-out level and a reward for the player doing something substantial. Except for one star where you jump on a roof and Luigi just gives it to you. In Odyssey, Luigi Roof Star is 80% of the game's content.

Slightly off camera is the level's start. Often, Mario Odyssey doesn't even bother to use the pretense when handing out its moons.
Slightly off camera is the level's start. Often, Mario Odyssey doesn't even bother to use the pretense when handing out its moons.

Collecting a moon means nothing in Mario Odyssey. Many moons are just sitting there. There's no challenge or anything, they're just there to be collected. You get one moon by sitting next to a guy on a bench. You get moons by throwing your hat at something. You get a disturbing number of moons by ground pounding some random point. You can't walk two steps without tripping over a moon and doing a little dance.

Some moons are just unfun. They aren't hard or interesting, they're just not fun. Like finding seeds across the level and running them back to a pot. There are no obstacles, there's no way to speed it up, you're just holding a seed and running for over 10 of the game's moons. How about herding sheep? Does that sound like a fun way to use the game's mechanics? Did no one at Nintendo realize these things are simply not fun, when so much of the game is?

MFW too many moons
MFW too many moons

In the earlier examples I talked about how Nintendo repeated some challenges even with a lower number of stars. Well, in Odyssey, they've fully committed to their golden rule. "If you do something once, do it again." No challenge is unique in Mario Odyssey. There's standard stuff like recycled bosses, but it goes further than that. Essentially, the same types of challenges are reused for each of the game's areas. Captain Toad - every level. Stack goombas - every level. Koopa racing - every level, twice. Each sub-area has exactly two moons in it. No more, no less. Even some of those sub-areas are repeated later in the game. So many moons are obtained just from talking to Toadette. She gives you moons for collecting other moons.

The cumulative effect of this design means two things: One, the game ceases to surprise you as you know exactly what moons will be in each level before you even get serious about collecting them. Two, it means that you're playing a standard 3D Mario 7 or 8 times over. For sure, there are good fun moons. Like the hint art that rewards players paying attention to the environment. Or the story moons that are just traditional 3D Mario challenges. But the thing is, these interesting moons are worth the exact same as a stupid bullshit moon.

The best way to improve Mario Odyssey is to delete moons. Within the shiny swamp, there are probably enough fun ones to make a better game. Unfortunately, trying so hard to hit 880 makes each collectible pretty much worthless.

The hardest moon is not the final gauntlet but this jump rope game. The only way to win is to cheat like me.
The hardest moon is not the final gauntlet but this jump rope game. The only way to win is to cheat like me.

So, there's a lot to like about Mario Odyssey. It's got a wonderfully quirky attitude and fantastic controls. On its own it could be called a great game, a fantastic game even. But earlier 3D Marios have done this style of game in a much more rewarding and satisfying way. I'll stick to Galaxy for now, but a sequel or expansion to Odyssey would get me interested - so long as they focus on the right things.

I can't believe it, Mario was dead this whole time.
I can't believe it, Mario was dead this whole time.

Next up: I get a lot more positive on a genre I don't usually like.

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