Category Archives: musings

Everything old is new again in NES Remix

gd nes remix initial thoughts impressions

It’s been said and said before, but I never had an NES of my own growing up. I got started on the SNES–that’s a super NES for those not hip with the gaming language–and a GameBoy for road-tripping purposes. Man, I miss that GameBoy along with my well-played copies of Tetris and Super Mario Land. Anyways, there were a few neighbors that I hung out with and got to mostly watch them play NES titles from the side, and so I ended up missing out on a lot of what many might consider true Nintendo classics. Though I do now also own a NES Classic, which is tiny and cute and needs to see me use it way more, and I have gone back and tried a few of these classics over the years, such as Jetpac, The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid.

When word got out that Nintendo was shutting down its Nintendo Club program back in the summer of 2015, I got my act together and spent points that needed spending. You can see what I procured for myself, though obviously this post is going to be all about that NES Remix. ::takes a deep breath:: Right. Here’s everything remixed in this kickoff of Nintendo’s new series, which, as of this posting, is three entries deep:

  • Balloon Fight
  • Baseball
  • Clu Clu Land
  • Donkey Kong
  • Donkey Kong Jr.
  • Donkey Kong 3
  • Excitebike
  • Golf
  • Ice Climber
  • Mario Bros.
  • Pinball
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Tennis
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Urban Champion
  • Wrecking Crew

NES Remix is all about changing things up, going from the expected to the unexpected. Most challenges in NES Remix are simply excerpts from these vintage games, involving timed tasks, such as speedrunning, clearing an area without dying, or defeating a certain number of enemies while utilizing a given power-up. They do not start out very taxing, and it’s more about nailing the challenges perfectly in good time to earn stars and 8-bit stamps for your collection book. Stamps that, now thanks to the ice-cold removal of the Miiverse app, are pretty much useless, but whatever…I still like collecting ’em.

However, the remix categories are additionally based on the fundamental reshaping or combination of games, sometimes by blending in more modern graphical features of the Wii U, for a new experience that may even be technologically impossible on an actual NES console. For example: completing a darkened level that is lit only by a spotlight superimposed over the player’s character, navigating on disappearing platforms in Super Mario Bros., or playing a Donkey Kong stage as Link instead of Mario, as seen in the screenshot at the top of this post, challenged by Link’s inability to, y’know, jump over incoming barrels. These are neat and the real draw of NES Remix, even if modders have been toying with this stuff for years; it is fun to see Nintendo’s stab at it.

Naturally, I was more interested in seeing the remixes for games I’m familiar with, such as Balloon Fight, Excitebike, and The Legend of Zelda. Other games, like Ice Climber, the Donkey Kong entries, and Urban Champion, did nothing for me, as I already didn’t know how to play them to begin with. I recently unlocked all the levels for Pinball and immediately cleared them because Pinball is just the best, whether in real life or videogame form. I sometimes lose myself in Kirby’s Pinball Land because, every now and then, you just need to hit a ball with some paddles and earn a high score.

NES Remix is good fun. I don’t want to complete every challenge it throws at me, and that’s fine. I’ll stick to the games I know and appreciate and ignore the oddballs. Still, I have other Wii U titles to get to as I inch closer and closer to boxing up the system and getting a Switch.

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Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Legend of Kay Anniversary

Here’s an oldie, but also a sorta newbie–Legend of Kay Anniversary. Evidently, the original Legend of Kay came out on the PlayStation 2 back in early 2005 from German developer Neon Studios, but I’ve never heard of it until now. This newer version of the game comes with improved graphics and online leaderboards for players to compare scores, and it was released on just about everything under the sun, namely PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and the Nintendo Wii U on July 28, 2015, as well as later ported to the Nintendo Switch last May. So, kind of hard to miss…except I have chosen to constantly skip past it on my protracted PlayStation Plus list since getting a digital copy back in March 2018 because, well, to be honest, I need to be in a specific mood for this type of character-action game.

Let’s start off with a whole bunch of lore that will either mystify you or cause your brain to melt out your ears. Because it’s a lot. For many generations, the mystical land of Yenching had been inhabited by many animals, mainly cats, hares, frogs, and pandas. Due to a religious code called the Way, these four races had prospered throughout the ages in their own separate towns. However, as the years passed, the younger generations began to defect from the Way. Ultimately, with no protective code to guide the races, Yenching was invaded by gorillas and rats (known as the Din), led by Gorilla Minister Shun and Tak, the Rat Alchemist. Minister Shun now rules the majority of Yenching with an iron fist and is said to reside in the volcanic mountain of Waa-Lo. Got it. Ultimately, after all that, Legend of Kay Anniversary is about a young cat-warrior named Kay who tries to save his once-peaceful island.

The first thing I had to do in Legend of Kay Anniversary was invert the camera controls, with this being a PlayStation 2 game. Times sure have changed when it comes to that. Also, the voice acting in this thing is…woof. Or should I say meow? Either way, it’s atrocious, full of stilted language and phoney 90s-esque attitude, and a part of me wonders if all games from this era had lackluster voice-work or if it is just this beast. I mean, I’m the guy that, in my mind, still thinks Ty the Tasmanian Tiger was a fun-as-heck romp, but worries that if I was ever to return to it I’d discover it’s just as iffy as Legend of Kay Anniversary. Sometimes nostalgia is good, sometimes it breaks your heart.

Gameplay is what you probably already expect and very similar to other character action games of this time period, such as Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, Jak II, and Vexx. Except those were all better games; actually, wait, I can’t speak for Vexx, having never played it, but you know what I mean. You’ll run around a somewhat small, enclosed environment, picking up things like gold coins and other collectibles, and attacking enemies with your sword, either by mashing the attack button for a three-hit combo or using more sophisticated moves, like a downward strike while jumping. There’s some light platforming puzzles to solve as well, and the only neat thing I’ll say Legend of Kay Anniversary has going for itself is the way you can combo-chain from one  enemy or destructible item to another, which can take you to new, seemingly unreachable places.

Unfortunately, there are major issues with the game’s camera, which have always been a thorn in these types of games’ side. However, the twitchy and unpredictable nature of Legend of Kay Anniversary’s camera makes it an incredibly frustrating experience, making even basic moves like jumping from one level platform to another a test of one’s patience. Attempting to string together a series of combos or avoid being overwhelmed by a group of enemies increases its difficulty tenfold. If you find yourself in an enclosed area where the camera is forced to adapt, you can expect to frequently lose sight of Kay entirely.

Even though I was just pining after Haven: Call of the King recently, Legend of Kay Anniversary is not doing it for me. Maybe if it controlled a little better, because the amount of story here is surprisingly, but then again, I can’t stand listening to Kay talk out loud, nor do I completely agree with the strange language choices, such as a reliance on the word naughty. If anything is naughty, it’s this needless remaster. Younger gamers might like it, but that’s probably an insult to younger gamers, considering they murder me all the time in Fortnite.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

I’m sorry, Clanker, but there’s just no saving you

I’m still hiking around in this overpopulated landscape, chipping away at Rare Replay. I got the massive collection of games digitally back in the heyday during E3 for watching some streams via Microsoft’s Mixer app, and it’s been interesting seeing a lot of the games within it because, for the most part, I was never involved in a lot of Rare’s work growing up. This is probably because I never had a Nintendo 64, where the company seemed to shine brightest, and I also never touched a ZX Spectrum, where a lot of the company’s work started, under the divine name of Ultimate Play the Game. So far, I’ve dug deep into Jetpac and Gunfright, noodled around with the ultra difficult Battletoads, and not really touched anything else much other than to pop Achievements for basically opening each game once. Go me.

Look, I’m never not in the mood for a good collectathon, and I’ve always heard good things about the Banjo-Kazooie series. My first and only experience with the franchise was with Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts on the Xbox 360 some years back, which, while it certainly had a number of items to collect, focused more on customizing vehicles and winning races and building the strangest contraptions this side of New Jersey. Not my forte; I’m no engineer. On a whim, I decided to see what Banjo-Kazooie is truly all about. Turns out–frustrating camera controls and the worst underwater swimming section I’ve ever dealt with, but more on that in a bit. Plus, Jiggies.

Ultimately, Banjo-Kazooie is a mascot-driven platformer developed by Rare and originally released for the Nintendo 64 in 1998. It follows the lighthearted story of a bear named Banjo and a bird called Kazooie as they try to stop the plans of the evil witch Gruntilda, who intends to switch her beauty with Banjo’s sister, Tooty. Yes, those are all their real names. The game features nine nonlinear levels where the player must use Banjo and Kazooie’s wide range of abilities to gather jigsaw pieces, along with other collectibles, to get closer to taking on Gruntilda. Along with the jumping and climbing, there’s challenges like solving puzzles, accessing out-of-reach areas, collecting items, and defeating enemies that wish the duo harm.

I was going to initially say it’s mostly mediocre platforming, but than I hit a wall in the game. In Clanker’s Cavern, you have to free him from his chain that is hooked at the bottom of a low pit. It’s a long swim down there and, logically enough, it’s a long swim back up there. Most gamers would agree that water levels suck. Swimming underwater in these levels sucks even more, with the bonus possibility of running out of oxygen to make things even nastier. Clanker’s Cavern is the second level of Banjo-Kazooie that focuses on water, with Treasure Trove Cove being the first, and it contains its own demon in the water. However, in Treasure Trove Cove, you never have to deal with the fear of running out of air. In Clanker’s Cavern, that’s your biggest fear as you swim down to free stupid ol’ Clanker.

Right. At the bottom of this deep underwater pit is a key hooked beneath Clanker’s chain. To release him, you have to swim through the keyhole three times. Seemingly simple, yes, but that’s where they get you. Like I said… it’s a long swim down and a long swim back up, and if you don’t nail swimming through the keyhole perfectly each time, your chance of seeing blue sky diminishes rather quickly. Now, there is a fish called Gloop in the area spitting out air bubbles to give you a bit of a reprieve, but once again, grabbing them takes precision, and that’s not one of Banjo-Kazooie‘s bright spots. The swimming is slow and somewhat floaty, if that makes any sense, and I refuse to try and save Clanker anymore.

Perhaps I’ll just move on to Banjo-Tooie and pray that nothing similar to this level exists in that game; still, I’m sure I’ll find something just as annoying to battle with, but until then, may Clanker continue to be chained up against his will.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – The Last Guy

I finally gave up on The Walking Dead with the latest season. I was so disappointed in how they ended up handling Rick’s “last” episode, and I just felt like the show was treading water and repeating many of the same scenarios, such as stumbling upon a new group of people that need saving but might not be completely trustworthy. Oh well, it had a good run, and I absolutely love the first season to the point that I’ve re-watched it several times. I also gave up caring about Telltale’s The Walking Dead adventure series after its second season. Again, oh well. Anyways, The Last Guy is about zombies, specifically avoiding ’em, which hopefully explains all the fluff before this sentence.

In The Last Guy, Earth has been struck by a mysterious purple beam of light, and everyone touched by it has turned into a giant zombie. Sucks for them. However, you are the chosen one, and it is up to you to rescue the last survivors on the planet by leading them to safety through zombie-infested streets. With a classic arcade style overhead view, you’ll have to make your way through detailed real-world cities and use your heat vision to find people hiding in buildings. Once collected, you’ll take them to the Escape Zone before time runs out.

The Last Guy is played from a top-down perspective of a city that has been overrun by giant zombie-esque monsters. Also, when I say top-down, I mean it…we’re up high, as high as a bird or a plane, so everything is teeny tiny below. As the titular last guy, you can dash, manipulate the line of people following behind you, and use thermal imaging to find survivors hiding inside of buildings. There are over 12 playable locations, including cities from North America, Europe, and Asia, and what’s really neat is that The Last Guy uses high-resolution satellite imagery from Google Earth to render these map. Each city also features a leaderboard for overall score and counters that record the number of people rescued. There are four VIPs in each city to find, which, when rescued, add bonus points to the final score and unlock additional bonus stages; however, I only played the first three levels and never found anyone, so I stink.

The Last Guy seems perfectly fine, but it didn’t hook me hard. Sure, it feels good to dump a ton of people into the Escape Zone, but then you just go back out and do it over and over again until time runs out. The zombies don’t seem too hard to avoid early on, and there are several power-ups on the map to help with your stamina or even warping you around. Getting three stars at each location definitely looks like a challenge, but it’s not one I’m going to go after. When it comes to zombies and zombie-related crises, nowadays, I’m all about keeping my distance.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

It’s completely true that A Good Snowman is Hard to Build

I don’t think I’ve ever actually constructed a full snowman. I’ve made mini versions that were no bigger than a few inches tall on several front stoops, but the real deal just seems like a lot of work, especially once you realize you have to lift those snowballs on top of each other. Our next door neighbors built one last winter in the backward, and we got to watch it slowly melt away, which is always a little depressing. Anyways, snowmen…they are cool, especially if you take the angle that Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes fame does; however, you won’t find any sickly monstrosities in A Good Snowman is Hard to Build, but every snowman you construct is simply adorable, and there’s even one named Paul.

Right, let’s get to it. For spring is coming. A Good Snowman is Hard to Build is a puzzle videogame created by Alan Hazelden and Benjamin Davis. After searching around on my very own blog here, I see that I’ve played some work by Hazelden in the past, namely a thing called Skipping Stones to Lonely Homes. That’s nice of me. And, in my Twitch Prime list, I have another of his to install and play down the road–Cosmic Express. Anyways, A Good Snowman is Hard to Build was released in 2015 for personal computers and mobile devices, but I only noticed it the other day, again, in my Twitch Prime list, waiting to be installed on my computer. Ultimately, I’m glad I did.

A Good Snowman is Hard to Build is, more or less, a bunch of puzzle rooms with the connected theme of building either one, two, or three snowpeople. You do this by rolling a snowball into a large ball, then rolling another into a medium ball and putting it on top of it, and lastly adhering a small snowball as the being’s head; if you do this correctly, you will construct the named snowman and open up paths to more puzzle areas. Graphics are by Benjamin Davis, and they are adorable, even the little monster you control. The game’s original soundtrack is by Priscilla Snow, and it’s calming and quiet, perfect for the background as you rack your brain for a solution.

Now, I won’t sit here and lie to you and say I solved every possible puzzle on my own, as I did have to look up a few solutions online later on, namely for: Willow; Rob, James, and Matthew; and Zoe and Richard. However, I did do the bulk of them unassisted, and it feels great to see your finished snowman. The trick is figuring out how to roll each ball to the appropriate size, and your limits are often dealing with a small amount of space to do this, as well as only so much snow to get the job done. I eventually learned that you can leave the puzzle are and return to it from a different direction, which helped a lot, as did rolling balls in top of each other and then off each other. There’s quite a bit going on in this rather adorable-looking puzzle game.

It’s pretty short; I finished A Good Snowman is Hard to Build in a few hours, in two different sittings. Evidently, after finishing all the main puzzles, you get access to some sort of alternative universe, which I walked around in for a bit, but couldn’t seem to figure out what to do next. Maybe there are even more puzzles to complete. Oh well, spring is coming, and the snowmen will eventually melt away, leaving no trace behind but a small puddle. Maybe next winter.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, a big ol’ boring collectathon

I started playing Assassin’s Creed Syndicate when I came home from the hospital last August; I’m still playing it. It’s a long one, bloated with things to collect and many uninspired missions that I no longer even care about completing the way the developers clearly want me to, but I like finishing things that I start, and so I’ve stuck with it still despite it being really boring. Those are both my words and Melanie’s word; the poor thing has had to endure watching me run around like a maniac in search of every single collectible. I’m currently in sequence 8, with one more sequence to go, along with a few Achievements to unlock because, at this point, I’ve put in a good chunk of work to unlock them already…might as well see them pop.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is set in a fictional history of real-world events and follows the centuries-old struggle between the Assassins, who fight for peace with liberty, and the Templars, who desire peace through order. The story is set in Victorian-era London and follows twin assassins Jacob and Evie Frye as they navigate the corridors of organized crime and take back the city from Templar control. Naturally, this being an Assassin’s Creed game, you’ll run into many a notable figures as you stab and loot your way to victory, such as novelist Charles Dickens, biologist Charles Darwin, inventor Alexander Graham Bell, political theorist Karl Marx, nurse Florence Nightingale, Duleep Singh (the last maharajah of the Sikh Empire), Sergeant Frederick Abberline of the Metropolitan Police Service (known for his investigation of Jack the Ripper), and Queen Victoria. Phew.

It’s an Assassin’s Creed game, which means it does all the same things previous ones have done, but on a grander scale, this being on the Xbox One and not the Xbox 360. It’s got main missions, side missions, a thousand collectibles, gear to upgrade, income to earn, gangs to upgrade, skills and perks to unlock, and so on, just like Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag–maybe the last one I’ve truly enjoyed–Assassin’s Creed II, and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. I wasn’t thrilled with Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, and all I remember from it is that is focused heavily on bombs. Anyways, taking place in a bustling place like London, the buildings are bigger and more closely connected to each other; to help get around somewhat faster, both Jacob and Evie have access to a grappling hook device that shoots a zipline from one place to another. This still doesn’t make all the running around fun or that much quicker, as climbing can still be iffy, with the occasional leaping off of rooftops to your swift death below.

Here’s something funny I’ve been doing while running around from one place to another simply to collect a pressed flower, a poster, a beer bottle, or a chest full of crafting/upgrade ingredients. I’ve been telling Alexa–that robot lady everyone seemingly now has in their house–to play a playlist of polka music. Honestly, it makes all the to-ing and fro-ing much more enjoyable, because it’s not like any interesting dialogue is happening at this time, and getting from A to B can often take a couple of minutes, depending on where you are and whether or not there’s a fast travel viewpoint nearby. At some point, I have to give up the notion that I’m going to open every single chest in this game because…there are just too many.

Combat in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is still a button-mashy mess. You can string together a couple of combos, as well as counter an incoming attack from a different enemy, but only if you time it just right. Then, some enemies, require you to break their stance by stunning them before you can begin a new combo. This sounds par for the course, and it is, but things go sour real fast the minute you have four or more enemies attacking you at once, as well as snipers on rooftops that you have to dodge. I eventually began using hallucinogenic darts from a distance to get enemies to fight each other, with me sneaking in at the end to finish off the remaining survivors. It’s not the coolest way to go about it, but it works. Also, while the skill trees make it seem like Evie is the sneaky one and Jacob is the more aggressive combatant, both play exactly the same way and can unlock the same abilities for fighting…so there’s really no point in having two playable characters other than for story-related reasons.

Looking at my games to install list on the ol’ Xbox One, I still have Assassin’s Creed III to play. Also, this month, we’re getting a free copy of Assassin’s Creed: Rogue from Games With Gold. Ugh. I’ll never be done with this series. Plus, there’s the newest ones, Origins and Odyssey, which, according to podcasts I’ve listened, sound like they are too big for their britches. Can’t wait. Part of me enjoys the idea of a collectathon, but maybe only one that is both not this big or a bit more fun to play. Heck, I enjoyed collecting 10 eggs recently in Dear Cousin more than anything I’ve accomplished in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. Please pray that I’m finished with this beast sooner than later.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – King Oddball

They truly named King Oddball appropriately. This comes from 10tons, which you might remember from a previous Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge, one on Sparkle 2. Seems they enjoy making their strange puzzle games, though this one is focused more on physics and destruction than matching colored orbs and finding keys in a fantasy realm. Still, it’s goofy, and I personally love that; give me all the weird gaming experiences out there.

King Oddball tasks you with ending the world with boulders and…well, your tongue. Which is probably as long or longer than a giraffe’s. The titular King swings a boulder back and forth with his tongue, but it’s up to you to decide when to release it and at what angle. If you time the release accurately, you can crush as many targets as possible with each boulder toss. The concept is simple, but it quickly grows more complicated because you only have so many boulders, plus the inclusion of other obstacles can impede your tosses. You’ll need to master King Oddball by anticipating how boulders roll, bounce, and launch from exploding crates. Physics–it’s a good time. Also, make sure you take advantage of collapsing structures.

The overworld map is broken into a three by three grid, so, y’know…nine squares. Each square is its own set of contained levels, often with a theme, such as grenades or dealing with helicopters, and there’s about 15 or 16 levels to conquer before you can move on to the next square. I completed all of the far left three squares and a little bit of the top middle before deciding that I’d seen enough of King Oddball. I was able to jump on the tile that contained my progress statistics, which, if you really wanna know, look like this:

  • Time played: 00:28:17
  • Total throws: 300
  • Levels lost: 55
  • Levels won: 47
  • Foes destroyed: 311

With the main quest progress sitting pretty at 36%, I think I’m okay moving off of King Oddball. It’s quite fun, really, and more than just an Angry Birds clone, which is what I was initially worried about. I probably could plow through the remainder of the game in a few hours, but I’ve got other things to take care of than throwing boulders at tanks, even if it is quite enjoyable, especially when a boulder bounces back high enough to hit the King and you get a free boulder from it.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.