maanantai 29. elokuuta 2016

R.I.P. Summer of 2016

Summer has ended. Winter is coming. [insert image of a dead Stark here]


A lot happened to me this summer. Some of it bad, some of it worse, some of it quite damn good. Either way, things that occupied my mind for extended periods of time. Summer is always a critical time for me, mostly because of my actual work. Lots of special stuff to sell brings lots of customers. What I'm trying to say is that after the massive reboot of this blog in spring, I haven't been able to capitalize on it. Yet.

I've talked plenty about what happens next, but none of those ideas are even near fruition. Designer's block has not been an exception, it's been a rule - a clockwork rule - for the past months. Luckily I've managed to clock in a couple of reviews, but a couple ain't nearly enough considering how excited I was about restarting this thing. However, just so we're clear, the Mario vs. Donkey Kong marathon wasn't supposed to last that long anyway - I have more games to review on that front, but I'll save them for later. For my own, and your sake - it's not healthy to take on dozens of games from the same franchise in a row. Trust me, I know. Once more, after three more reviews, the Mario vs. Donkey Kong 35th Anniversary Marathon is over. I'll stop when it's still fun.

So, as I was saying, the next three months are all about change. As I was reviewing different layout options last week, I realized that the biggest mistake I made when I rebooted this thing, was deciding on a thorough change all at once, with zero actual ideas for any part of it. So, it will be a gradual one instead. I'll start with the FAQ section - I've already washed the old one out - and by tomorrow night, you should be able to read a more comprehensive and up-to-date bio of yours truly, if you're interested in the man behind the "clusterfucks" and "rock hard controls". I'll then move on to work on the external links, and those which link to my own pages, I'll check that their respective contents are up to date as well. The reviews will once again change to the acclaimed Ups/Downs format starting with the next review. Uh, actually, a bulk of reviews will be heading your way next week, if not before - with at least two reviews which are totally apart from the previous marathon.

As for more marathons, do I have line-ups planned for ya or what? October's the time of Monster Mash as it always was - because of Halloween - and I've already got a couple of reviews written for it, kind of like to pay back for the couple of very short-lived Mashes of the past. I already mentioned The Legend of Zelda 30th Anniversary Marathon, but I'm still not sure whether I want to go at it now or in the distant future when Breath of the Wild comes out. Rest assured, though, it's coming - I've actually been dying to continue where I left off the last time. Never thought I'd say that, at least in public. It's hard to jot down the next RPG Time!, 'cause I'm not sure of the amount of spare time I'll have towards the end of the year. But, both Final Fantasy XV and World of Final Fantasy are coming VERY soon, and I'm playing about three J-RPG's in a very loose tandem on my 3DS. It's not impossible for an RPG Time! to rear its head before 2016's over. In addition, there are a couple of smaller "marathons" coming up very soon; the first one comes right after Mario vs. Donk... OK, just Mario, and the second one is part of the Monster Mash. What comes in between? Hell if I know. I'm going where the wind takes me. :) As a matter of fact, I do know. Sorta.

I made a promise to myself some time ago, that once I had rounded out my Legend of Zelda collection with the two games that were missing - a little over TWO YEARS after buying the first one! - I would stop collecting games for as long as it takes for me to reach total financial security. You see, for the last seven years that I've collected games, even good paychecks have barely left me enough to eat after rent, after bills, and after feeding my inner monster. I have always lived on the principle that I have to get myself something special every month, just to remind myself why I go to work every day and motivate myself. For the last seven years, it's been a game or two. Well, this summer's done a real number on my bank account. Actually, that's a poor choice of words - there are no numbers on my bank account. So, two weeks ago I took the bull by the horns and fulfilled my promise. I bought the last two Zelda games I was missing - Spirit Tracks and Skyward Sword - and declared that I will no longer make random game purchases. Anyone who catches me buying a game that's not already on my pre-order list, gets a twenty, no negotiation, until the time I publicly declare to have started collecting games again, which could be years from now.

Seven years is a long time; a 566-game long time, to be exact. Plus, I still have vast ROM libraries for several systems to punch through at will, so don't you worry about me not having enough to go on here. Actually I feel like I have more than ever, now that I'm finally focusing on playing my old games before buying new ones. Who knows what kind of gems I'll find? Or what kind of stinking heaps of overrated horseshit might've I missed during all this time? Time will tell...

...And that time is now.

sunnuntai 7. elokuuta 2016

REVIEW - Super Mario Galaxy 2

GENRE(S): Platformer
AVAILABLE ON: Wii, Wii U (Virtual Console)
DEVELOPER(S): Nintendo
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo
RELEASE DATE: May 23, 2010

Super Mario Galaxy, as we all know, spread like wildfire in the Wii community. Not only was it named one of the greatest video games of all time upon arrival, it also served as Nintendo's one defining underdog asset at the peak of the last great console war. After its release, Mario creator and developmental manager Shigeru Miyamoto quickly commissioned an updated version of the game to capitalize on its success, and gave the team a year to complete Super Mario Galaxy More. Its updates largely consisted of material that was cut from the original game due to time restraints and gameplay issues. As the game began to take shape, and as the creative designers seemed to come up with completely new ideas by the hour, the deadline of the game expanded by over a year, and it was decided that the game was to be a true sequel to Super Mario Galaxy instead of the intended re-release of the original. Upon its arrival - in the twilight of the original Wii - Super Mario Galaxy 2 was hailed as yet another masterpiece in the exact vein of its predecessor. This one, I missed completely, as even none of my friends were active Wii gamers at that point of time. Super Mario Galaxy proved to be a positive surprise after a lousy first impression from years back, let's see how this one fares now that I've got all the bases covered. It was an update, sure, but were all the black spots that plagued the original truly harvested?

Dinosaurs in outer space

Effectively retconning the events of Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario Galaxy 2 begins with the Princess once again inviting her favourite plumber for cake (yup) during the Star Festival, a time when comets fill the skies of Mushroom Kingdom, raining down Star Bits. On his way, Mario finds a stray Luma, who immediately takes a liking to Mario and tags along as Bowser, having grown to enormous size after munching on Grand Stars, attacks the castle and snatches the Princess. Afterwards, the villain escapes to the center of the universe. Mario takes to outer space, and finds a stranded planet, which turns out to be mobilized and serving as a starship. The ship's owner, Luma mechanic Lubba asks Mario's help in rescuing his crew along with the usual Grand Stars and the Princess, and in return, he offers his ship.

I hadn't even started with Super Mario Galaxy for the second and definitive time, when not one but two of my friends were already telling me that Super Mario Galaxy 2 was so much better. Well, I'm a completist, I didn't really care all that much, but granted, these sudden praises, as well as the surprisingly good taste Super Mario Galaxy left me with, got me all pumped up about Super Mario Galaxy 2. Firstly, what we've got here is one gigantic game - there are over 240 DIFFERENT Power Stars to collect in Super Mario Galaxy 2 (with 70 once again being the minimum to beat the game), 49 galaxies to explore, a serious multiplayer mode for those who care (whereas Super Mario Galaxy only had the daddy's little helper mode available for a second player), and a hell of a lot of secrets to unravel. Though, once again, most of these secrets are pretty much shoved in your face. Be that as it may, beating Super Mario Galaxy 2 will take a good while. Completing it... will not happen for casual players. I'll surely get back to the game's enormous difficulty level.

Here we gooooooo...
The game definitely looks and sounds the part of what is essentially an update - fucking fantastic. I always thought that design-wise, the original Super Mario Galaxy looked kinda odd. It had occasionally strange enemy and level design, it didn't really feel like a Mario game from time to time. Well, some of the aforementioned designs are up for reprisal in "Part Deux", but to compensate, we have nostalgic, innovative, mostly fabulous designs heavily inspired by some of our all-time favourite games in this franchise. Exploring new, recently unlocked galaxy belts is always a party; there's sure to be at least one galaxy in each world designed to blow your mind if you're a long-time fan. My absolute favourite level in the game spills it all by its name alone: Throwback Galaxy. A throwback to what? That's for you to find out. The music is even better than before. Koji Kondo and Mahito Yokota are joined by Wii Sports, New Super Mario Bros. and Mario Kart composer Ryo Nagamatsu, to work on a massive soundtrack filled with rehashed Super Mario Galaxy jive - those epic outer space adventure tunes we so kindly adored - new tunes, and a whole truckload of remixed stuff from days past, mostly from the original Super Mario World. Just one proper level into the game, we can see why.

He's green, he's lean, he's a digesting machine

Yoshi's back in the supporting role he's most famous and acclaimed for, and as the one key element that really separates this game from its predecessor. He's also a good key to start talking about the power-ups, since he's kind of like a power-up in himself; like all power-ups in the world of Super Mario Galaxy, he's only required for certain, occasionally optional, tasks to be completed. I was kinda frightened how Yoshi's core features would work using the Wiimote controls - the 3D setting, not that much, since I already had experience playing as him in the Super Mario 64 remake. You use the Wiimote to point at stuff to eat and press the B trigger; it's a solution worth tipping your hat for in most situations, in the most precise ones it's a bitch. When you're crossing a raging lava pit using Yoshi's tongue to swing from one connecting point to another, you'll wish you'd had a larger TV - it feels that not even 48" is enough to constantly register a connection to the remote.

Gee. It's Bowser. Oh my God.
Adding to the previous game's list of gimmicky power-ups, we have three more gimmicky power-ups which are only required in few choice situations in few choice levels - and of course, two of them in the final boss level (the final boss level for casual players, that is). First up is Cloud Mario, probably the most useful and easiest to use out of the three. This allows Mario to jump somewhat further by default, and also, to create up to three cloud platforms from thin air to stand on; the energy needed to create those platforms is refreshed each time Mario picks up another cloud. It's utilized quite neatly, and works like a charm. The Spin Drill allows Mario to drill through certain types of soil with his spin attack, to the opposite side of whatever rock he's standing on; to find secret items, solve puzzles or even fight bosses. Finally, the Rock Mushroom turns Mario into a devastatingly fast and destructive rolling rock. It's initially quite cool, as you can smash through all kinds of backgrounds and most enemies in the game - excluding Chomp - but just wait 'til you get to parts where you must actually steer the rock. There's no way to avoid witnessing these situations - time and luck will tell if you actually have to deal with them to boot. We're just a snap away from discussing that difficulty level of the game.

Yoshi has his own short set of gimmicky power-ups, and man, will you rupture a vein or two. The Blimp Fruit allows Yoshi to float upwards for a short spell. The Bulb Berry's a strange one, as it illuminates and "creates" platforms that otherwise aren't really there. The Dash Pepper makes Yoshi run straight forward like crazy, and he's even more of a bitch to control than Rock Mario, not that much if you're going for level completion, but God forbid if you're trying to actually do something in particular, like collect coins or a Comet Medal or something. Which finally brings us to that enormous level of difficulty critics have sometimes blasted the game for - as will I.

Yup. The bosses are huge.
In Super Mario 64, I never had any trouble of finding the 70 Power Stars I actually needed to complete the game. Of course, every time I went for the kill and set on a trip to find all 120 of them, I ended up crying my guts out. Finding the mandated amount of 70 Power Stars in Super Mario Galaxy was almost automatic for the any-player, as long as you had the will to explore, and unlock those secret galaxies. Well, if you're a casual player, you might just reach 50 Power Stars in Super Mario Galaxy 2. You'll really have to fight for the remaining 20. Let's start with the Comet Medals; each galaxy in the game holds one, and by finding a certain amount of these unlocks a Comet Challenge in some random galaxy of the game. The challenges are pretty much the same as in the first game: speedrun challenges and such. In this game, you simply MUST take part in them if you're going for the minimum amount of Power Stars to merely beat the game. You also MUST take part in other challenges that were made for not only 3D platformer veterans, but grand masters of the Wii control scheme, and hope for the best. You will think to yourself, that hey, maybe I can just collect enough coins and Star Bits to feed those Lumas, birth me a couple of new galaxies to explore, and collect the easiest Stars from those levels for compensation. Yeah, that's not gonna work. First of all, the secret galaxies in the game very often just have one easy Power Star - that's not enough to raise the total to the warranted amount. Secondly, the amount of coins and Star Bits those Lumas ask of you are preposterous. The ones that ask for coins, are almost without exception hidden in levels where it's either hard as fuck to collect coins altogether, or waiting at the end of very hard levels, where you'll have probably died a few times on the way, losing all of your coins. The ones that ask for Star Bits to chew on ask for such amounts, that you'll basically be forced to replay levels, preferrably the easiest levels in the game, to come up with such sums. That's not hard - that's boring. Even as an explorer by nature, I ended up having 60-something Power Stars when I reached the final threshold to Bowser's keep, having conquered about 99% of the "normal" challenges the game has in store, plus already a few "optional" challenges. Yeah, the game is hard. If I were a gambling man, I'd say it's even outright unreasonable at a whole bunch of occasions. As per usual in the Super Mario Bros. (and World) series, an extra world is unlocked after the initial ass-kicking is done; why not just give us one extra world to begin with... we could really use one.

Further adding to the difficulty are the controls, which are still not perfect, and make us fear all the new stuff this game has in store. Surprisingly it's the Nunchuk that seems to break more often than the 'Mote; Mario seems to either slow down, or stop altogether whenever you suddenly change direction in the middle of the most urgent run, and both Rock Mario and Dash Pepper-powered Yoshi are almost impossible to keep in some modest form of control. I've lost hundreds of lives in this game just because of the glitchy analog control and that alone. That's not an angry gamers' view, that's a fact which I've had other people see for themselves - people that would be happy to point out that I'm just a bitter, frustrated old gamer, and that there's nothing wrong with the controls. Since the quality of the controls at the very least is a flaw that the player can't do zilch about, "unreasonable" is pretty much the one word to describe Super Mario Galaxy 2...


...But, if only it were that simple. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is also, at its core, a very good and entertaining game, and slightly better than the first one. Hell, let's just say it: one of the best Mario platformers there is, at the very least of the few most recent generations. Whereas New Super Mario Bros. goes for the faithful recreation of the most classic 2D Mario set-up, Super Mario Galaxy does the same to the 3D schtick of Super Mario 64 (adding in the gravity mechanics, of course). Neither one of these arcs never hit the prime of their respective concepts, in my opinion; it was the actual cross (not just an occasional mash-up) between the 2D and 3D realms of the Mario franchise that hit the ultimate jackpot of these times. I guess that one's up next.

< 8.9 >

maanantai 1. elokuuta 2016

REVIEW - Super Mario Galaxy

GENRE(S): Platformer
AVAILABLE ON: Wii, Wii U (Virtual Console)
DEVELOPER(S): Nintendo
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo
RELEASE DATE: November 1, 2007

You could say that by finally reviewing Super Mario Galaxy, I've come full circle. In the very beginning of this whole blog, in the very first review I ever published in August of 2010 (Super Mario Bros.), I slipped in a little something to bash this game. I've similarly taken advantage of a few later situations just to tell you how overrated I thought this game always was. Just recently, I've gone back to my Galaxy-bashing mode as if to say "a review of Super Mario Galaxy is coming". Just to assure you I've got nothing severe against this game just for the heck of it - or just because it's a Wii game - it's only fitting that six years after my first review, almost to the exact date, I'll finally come clean with what bothers me about this game. Also, all the stuff there is to love about Super Mario Galaxy. Yes, to be perfectly honest, this essentially direct successor to the almighty Super Mario 64 is a great game. Just not quite as amazing as the Nintendo 64 classic was upon its arrival; it suffers from occasional technical slumps and in my personal opinion, in all of its admittedly fresh appeal it often feels a bit too distant from a vintage Mario set-up.


In perhaps his most insane fit to date - as an epic update to his stunt in the original Paper Mario - Bowser tears Princess Peach's castle right off its foundations, and into outer space. Mario manages to hitch a ride, but is spotted by Kamek and tossed to another planet, which is actually a giant observatory run by a beautiful enchantress named Rosalina. With the help of her and her "children", and the magic of the 120 Power Stars scattered across the near galaxies, Mario attempts to reach the center of the universe where Bowser's keeping his still as lovely, yet still as unwilling bride-to-be.

Oh gravity, thou art a heartless bitch.
First impressions often are the most important ones, especially in the world of video games. An hour into a game - depending on the game, of course - you'll very often know if it's any good, or interesting enough to see through. Many Mario games, actually the most Mario games I've ever played, have left me with an amazing first impression. Sometimes that impression has stuck with me through the whole game, sometimes they've fallen flat towards the end. My first impression of Super Mario Galaxy was just ghastly. It was a brand new game back then; not the first game I ever played on the Wii, but the first to force the Wiimote and Nunchuk combo on me. I originally found them very uncomfortable. I found the game very uncomfortable, as well, and although I knew very well that it was more or less a Super Mario 64 sequel - that is, a sequel to one of the best games ever made - the first 30 minutes weren't any sign of it. Cutscenes after cutscenes, tutorials after tutorials, the gameplay felt all weird due to the gravity mechanics and the round shape of the playfields... there was nothing about it that justified such praise the game got from just about everywhere. Not to mention getting nominated for the fancy title of the greatest Mario game ever. Then I finally got to collecting Power Stars, and at its best moments, the game really felt like a Super Mario 64 revival. Then, I realized how much I missed that game, and that maybe I should go and play Super Mario 64 instead. So I did, and I never touched Super Mario Galaxy again. Until now. The same feelings lingered, but I was determined to suck it all up and not rest until I'd seen the credits. After the very slow passing of, say, two hours, the hours started to tick away like seconds for a fine period of time. I realized I was always wrong about this game. I was right about a notable sum of things, but the truth is that Super Mario Galaxy has its amazing moments. It's not the best Mario game ever made, but had I missed out on it completely due to my thick negativity towards its oddities and the excessive hype that followed in its wake, I would've died as a very sad Mario fan.

Super Mario 128 ( was actually called that first)

After the odd and dare I say, humble beginnings of the game, we are thrust into a gravity-based outer space adventure that indeed plays out almost exactly like Super Mario 64 in its core. Serving as a substitute for the castle, we have the observatory - which, unlike the castle, practically shoves its few secrets in your face. The observatory is kind of like a castle in itself, with a terrace, fountain, bedroom, kitchen, and finally, engine room, all of which serve as hubs for galaxy exploration. There's also a library, in which Rosalina tells her and the observatory's origins in the form of an illustrated fairy tale; the more you advance in the game, the more chapters of this darn cute story are unlocked. The story of the game is uncharacteristically deep, and while you're still basically doing the same stuff you've been doing in these games since Super Mario Bros., there's more to it than just saving that damn damsel in distress from the most stubborn old turtle there is. As to how necessarily we needed more than that age-old core plot to keep us entertained, that's another thing completely.

I'm-a Commander Maaariooo, and this is my favourite store on
the Citadella.
The galaxies are the paintings of the game, and they all have a different amount of Power Stars to collect, from one to five, unlike in Super Mario 64 where each painting held seven Power Stars, and the rest were scattered in secret locations and levels all around the castle and its grounds. This allows the inclusion of a whole truckload of different galaxies and level themes to explore, and like I said, the observatory has its secrets, which are shoved straight into your face assuming you're being at least somewhat of an explorer, and are willing to go for some extra challenges which are outright presented to you - you don't have to look for anything special to unlock these, you'll just have to win. If you're not fully comfortable with the control scheme, you'd better get used to it if you're going for 100% completion in Super Mario Galaxy. I'd say fully conquering Super Mario Galaxy is very challenging, but not as challenging as conquering Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World or Super Mario 64. Once you get used to the controls, some of it's outright child's play. The final boss level isn't as bad as it first seems, you can skip a whole lot of tough levels - you need half of the Power Stars in the game to finish it, even less than in Super Mario 64 - but it's the different Comet challenges, Luigi rescues and secret racing levels which are the shit, assuming you're interested in the game beyond being able to make it to the credits. Super Mario Galaxy ain't over quickly, not even for the most casual of casual players.

With the strange (and somewhat unbelonging) worlds, comes a bunch of new power-ups. Super Mario 64's health points are back, but so are Super Shrooms which were missing from that game - they now double Mario's health until his first defeat. The Fire Flower has been downgraded to a temporary perk, alongside Starman and the new Ice Flower, which serves a different purpose than in the New Super Mario Bros. series. This item allows Mario to walk on water and lava, and jump between adjacent waterfalls as if they were solid walls. The Bee power-up allows you to fly for a limited period of time, and is cancelled out if you hit water. The Boo power-up allows you to pass through mesh walls and windows. The Spring, now that's a shitlist favourite if there ever was one. This turns Mario into a Slinky, which means he moves by springing up from the ground, and if you push the A button at the exact right time, he jumps really high. You can just imagine the comfort of the controls with that one, especially in a level that is wholly built of narrow pathways. Good thing about these disappointing power-ups is that they're very gimmicky, they're basically novelties needed for one or two levels in the whole game each, with the exception of the Bee item that appears numerous times throughout the game. That's OK, it's definitely the most useful one out of all these crap items.

An underwater boss in a 3D Mario game? ...Not quite as bad
as it sounds.
Star Bits somewhat replace the classic coins, which are now essentially health items - but you only have to collect 50 of them to gain an extra life, and ones that are too far for you to reach, you can collect by simply pointing the Wiimote at 'em. Throughout the game, you meet a lot of Lumas (Rosalina's star children) who actually eat those Star Bits, those damn cannibals, and will grant you passage to extra Power Star challenges within levels, and to extra levels from the observatory. They are pretty cool to keep an eye out for. After Luigi is rescued from a certain predicament in a certain galaxy, he sets off looking for Power Stars on his own, and usually gets his ass lost or captured. He's that brother no one wants to have, but can't live without, so of course you'll go look for him, deducing his whereabouts from a photograph you'll get from the observatory's Mail Toad, for another Power Star. Finally, the Comet challenges - these include speedrun versions of previously completed missions, tricky and precise races against your shadow self (that damn thing from Sunshine and one certain game where he totally ravaged my nerves), daredevil challenges which pit you against a boss with only one health point to spare, just to mention a few. These are quite fun, but completing them all is only for completists who are fully at home with the controls.

Before I let this one off the hook and head into Super Mario Galaxy 2 - which I've heard from many reliable sources to be the real thing, suddenly... - I have to commend this game for one special feat. Super Mario Galaxy is possibly the greatest sum of musical score in a Mario game, ever. The epic, yet still somewhat goofy and quirky soundtrack by Mahito Yokota and Nintendo court magician Koji Kondo is like a cross between Star Trek, Star Wars, even The Legend of Zelda (as my friend wanted to add) and classic Mario. One couldn't even imagine a better soundtrack for an adventure among the stars starring Mario. If it's not the best collective ever, then it's right up there with Super Mario World. It's really refreshing after the disappointing and repetitive soundtrack of the New Super Mario Bros. series.


Super Mario Galaxy is a clever, fresh and stellar platformer, which occasionally stumbles on its own unusual being. The controls aren't perfect, the game starts off very slow, but as it starts picking up the pace, it very often reaches the gold standard of its spiritual predecessor. Like I said, it's still not my favourite Mario game, but I have to admit, it's the most refreshing Mario experience I've had in recent months, and it comes from a mighty fine place, with a mighty fine purpose. All about that snotty first impression all those years back hasn't been forgotten, but most of it has.