Legend of Zelda

I recently played through The Legend of Zelda, and to my surprise I found it to be a much better game than I remember it being from having played it many years ago. It certainly has its rough edges, and A Link to the Past improved on the gameplay in almost every way, but there’s still a lot to like about the original.

In no particular order, here’s a bunch of random things that struck me while playing.

There is a lot more freedom than in modern Zelda games. Right from the start, you can go pretty much wherever you want in Hyrule, including most of the dungeons. Want to go right to Ganon’s lair in Level 9? No problem! Granted, you won’t get past the Old Man in the second room without the Triforce, but you can still go inside. But if you know where Level 8 is, you can buy a Blue Candle, burn down the entrance, and see how far you can get. Heck, in the Second Quest, I cleared Level 8 before I found Level 7 at all.

Modern Zelda games have more of a tendency to keep you on a particular path, forcing you through a tutorial-ish segment at the start and blocking access to the next dungeon in the predetermined sequence until you complete its predecessor. You have some freedom to explore the world in between, but it always feels like you’re straying from the intended path, instead of freely exploring at your leisure. The otherwise fantastic Ocarina of Time took this to an extreme, with Navi frequently shouting her irritating “Hey! Listen!” if for whatever reason you hadn’t reached the next plot point yet.

Speaking of which….

Dungeons aren’t built around their treasure. In the original game, a lot of the treasures aren’t at all necessary to complete the game. In fact, a lot of players deliberately avoid getting the Book of Magic since it arguably weakens the Magical Rod‘s attack, which itself isn’t actually needed for anything. With the exception of a few critical items, if you fail to thoroughly explore each dungeon and miss something as a result, you’re free to keep on going anyway.

Contrast that with Ocarina of Time and later games, where each dungeon’s treasure is invariably necessary to reach the end, and is typically key for defeating the boss guarding whichever plot coupon you’re collecting. And once that’s done, the treasure will be needed to reach the next dungeon. Every time.

Puzzle solving is surprisingly lacking. The original game’s dungeons are much more fighting-oriented, with puzzles generally restricted to finding hidden passages between rooms and pushing the occasional block to reveal a staircase. This is definitely something that the later games improved on, striking a better balance between fighting and puzzle solving.

The real puzzle solving is in finding where some of the dungeons are in the first place. In the First Quest the entrances are out in the open up until Level 7, but in the Second Quest they start hiding them as soon as Level 2, with nary a clue as to where each one can be found. The Second Quest is actually a bit unreasonable about this, expecting you to find which tree Level 7 is hidden under armed only with a somewhat inaccurate clue and the Blue Candle (the superior, not-limited-to-one-use-per-screen Red Candle being hidden within Level 7 itself!). I’ll admit to resorting to look online to find out where Level 7 was, which was a good move, since it would’ve taken hours and hours of repetitive and time-consuming play to eventually come across it.

That said, however….

The Second Quest is pretty nifty, and adds a lot of replay value by upping the difficulty considerably. I thought the placement of the first few levels was well-done. Level 1 is in the same place in both locations, letting you get started in a superficially familiar environment. But where Level 2 would be in the First Quest, you find a fairyless pond. Of course you immediately suspect there’s a dungeon hidden below the water (and there is — Level 3), but you need the Whistle to reveal it, and the Whistle is hidden in Level 2. So where is Level 2? Where the hidden shop selling the game-critical Food was in the First Quest. A player familiar with the First Quest would have little trouble finding the first three dungeons in the Second Quest just based on his or her knowledge of where important locations where in the First Quest. But after that, however, the training wheels come off and the dungeons are hidden in much less obvious locations. Sometimes, excessively so. [glares at Level 7]

The dungeons themselves also have some nifty tricks to them. I was particularly amused by how Level 4 has a decoy treasure! The Book of Magic is fairly easy to find, but completely worthless since the Magical Rod isn’t found until a later dungeon. The real treasure, the Raft needed to reach Level 5, is only accessible through a series of rooms reachable from a hidden passage in the Triforce room! Pretty sneaky, but fair, since the Map of the dungeon makes it clear there’s a few rooms that are otherwise inaccessible, so you’re given a chance to realize something’s up.

Not many Zelda games reused the idea of a Second Quest, though. The only one I’m aware of is Ocarina of Time, which had a “Master Quest” version on Gamecube that significantly changed the dungeons. Granted, it’s more work to do that sort of thing in 3D than it is in 2D, but it’s still an idea worth revisiting.

The real villains are the Old Men. Think about it. Sure, Moblins will shoot arrows at you, but they’re just doing their job. They can’t help it that the Hyrule economy is in a slump and Ganon is the only person… er, pig thing… hiring. But when you catch them off-duty, chilling at home, they’ll immediately offer to pay you off to keep that little secret between the two of you.

But the Old Men are jerks through and through. Come into their home, and they’ll fine you for breaking down their door.

… OK, maybe that’s fair. Do you know how long it takes a tree to regrow after being burned down? But that’s no excuse for them giving you incomprehensible “clues”…

10TH ENEMY HAS THE BOMB

… or running illicit gambling operations …

LET'S PLAY MONEY MAKING GAME

… or making surprisingly stereotypically thuggish threats …

LEAVE YOUR LIFE OR MONEY

… is it no wonder that so many live in dungeons that are otherwise filled with monsters? Clearly, they are monsters too. If nothing else, they’re evolved from Cuccos — why else would they be impossible to kill yet relentlessly fight back if you attack?

Also, come to think of it….

If Zelda had the Silver Arrows, she could have defeated Ganon herself. The game’s intro text clearly states that she is the one who broke up the Triforce of Wisdom and hid its pieces in the eight dungeons, so somehow she managed to fight her way through all the same areas that Link does. So how did Ganon manage to capture her, if she’s just as tough as Link? Because she didn’t have the Silver Arrows, Ganon’s one weakness, which for some reason he keeps hidden in his own lair. If she had them, she could have used them, too — notice how in Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, she fires Light Arrows at Ganon while Link engages with his sword.

That’s a lot more impressive than Peach, certainly, who gets kidnapped by Bowser so frequently that she has to schedule board game nights and kart-racing tournaments around Bowser’s weekly invasions of the Mushroom Kingdom.

Complaining about Metroid: Other M

The core gameplay of Metroid: Other M isn’t bad, at least from what I’ve seen of it so far (just before entering Sector 2), but man, some of the design decisions are questionable.

The rationale given for why Samus doesn’t have all her equipment from the previous game is indefensible. Of course for gameplay reasons Samus can’t start off fully loaded with equipment, since that would gut the defining characteristic of the series: exploring the environment to find upgrades to enable further exploration. Except in Other M, she does have them, but decides not to use them until Adam “allows” her to.

This, by itself, could have been made to work. It’s not unreasonable to say Samus should avoid using devastating weapons like Super Missiles or Power Bombs when she and the GF troops on the so-called Bottle Ship haven’t assessed the degree of structural damage or whether there are any survivors nearby. It would have been far more interesting had these prohibitions been made voluntary for the player, with the consequences of using (or not using) certain weapons having an effect on how things play out. It’s just aggravating to see an upgrade lying there that could be accessed with a Super Missile, and knowing Samus has Super Missiles, but not being allowed to fire one.

But what makes this excuse for de-powering Samus inexcusable is how it applies to all of her equipment. She’s prohibited from using her Ice Beam until she’s already been fighting enemies in the requisite fire-and-lava level of Sector 3. But given how the GF marines have been using their own Ice Beam weapons from the very beginning, why wasn’t Samus allowed to use hers? Even worse, she’s not allowed to use her Varia Suit‘s heat shields until she’s already been running around in Sector 3 taking heat damage for several rooms, and Adam knows this.

WTF? What possible excuse could Adam have for prohibiting Samus from using a purely defensive and life-saving feature of her armor? And more importantly, why would Samus let herself be subjected to this level of dickishness? The first time Adam tried to make her step foot in a lava-filled chamber without the Varia Suit, she should’ve cut off all contact with him, quit cooperating with the GF marines, and struck out on her own. Anyone willing to needlessly put her in harm’s way like that is no one she should be taking orders from. Especially when she’s not under his command to begin with!

I’m not sure I’m looking forward to any forthcoming cutscenes that might try to justify this dysfunctional relationship. The cutscenes so far have ranged from mediocre to painful, especially with the drearily flat narration by Samus’s voice actress. For example, how many times can we make Samus say “baby” during the opening cutscene? Are we supposed to take that bizarre and overly-long thumbs-down cutscene seriously? Unless I see evidence otherwise, my interpretation is that Adam always resented Samus’s asinine youthful-rebellion nonsense while she was under his command, and is using his newfound control over Samus to exact revenge. Meanwhile Samus, who thought her displays of insubordination were somehow being respectful and endearing, is subjecting herself to Adam’s abuse because she’s desperately seeking approval from the person she subconsciously sees as a father figure. It’s a pretty drastic change from how Samus had been portrayed as a self-reliant unflappable warrior in pretty much every other game, and it’s no wonder why some reviews call the plot downright sexist.

Also, why are there vast lava-filled caverns on a space station anyway? Wouldn’t that kind of melt the station’s hull? The holographic emitters hiding the walls in the “outdoors” areas of Sector 1 made sense, but holographic lava wouldn’t be hot, and certainly wouldn’t have giant monsters swimming around in it. No doubt one of the other sectors will turn out to be the ice caverns. What space station doesn’t have those, right?

Adam’s dickishness also extends to locking doors at various times, keeping Samus largely limited to following a linear path through the station, cutting out a lot of the opportunity for free exploration of the environment. The Metroid Prime games didn’t fall into this trap: there’d be a hint of where you were supposed to go next, but the game wouldn’t actually prevent you from going wherever you wanted to explore or look for items. At some point Samus will no doubt be allowed to revisit the areas, if only because there’d have to be some way to collect all the items she’s had to pass up on account of not being allowed to use the ability needed to reach them.

There’s a pretty good game under here, but you have to suffer through the presentation to find it.

A remake that is (not) terrible

A little while ago I complained about the abominable remake of The Prisoner. As further evidence of how that review was not just a case of “they changed it, now it sucks“, I present you with this:

Unit-03
It’s time to play inappropriate music and chew bubblegum. And Unit-03 is all out of bubblegum.

Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance improves on the original.

You may recall that my assessment of the first Evangelion remake movie is that it stuck far too close to the first several episodes of the original series, to the point of often being nearly shot-by-shot identical save for the increased budget. A nice visual upgrade, sure, but compressing six episodes’ worth of material into a movie left the plot feeling rushed and the overall effort seeming rather unnecessary.

Evangelion 2.0 instead retells the other twenty episodes of the original series. It manages this by streamlining plot and character development and excising filler wherever possible. The core of the original’s storyline is still there, but it’s been extensively reworked, and mostly for the better.

Unit-00 wielding a missile against the Tenth Angel
For Unit-00, anything can be a melee weapon.

The clearest example of that is the fight scene with the Tenth Angel. Instead of just being an upgraded version of the corresponding scene in episode 19, it also incorporates quite a bit of the fight scene against the Sixteenth Angel in episode 23 of the series, particularly the so-called director’s cut version of that episode. (And the movie does it much better than the episode did; I always thought the shorter, non-director’s-cut version of that fight more effectively conveyed the emotional impact of <spoiler>Unit-00′s destruction and Rei’s death</spoiler>. But I digress.)

And while I’m whipping out the spoiler tags, I might as well add that the fight also has a big surprise for those familiar with the original series, who surely aren’t expecting the fight to include <spoiler>the beginning of Third Impact</spoiler>

The characters, particularly the three main pilots, have been toned down from the series. Shinji isn’t as mopey and angsty and manages to actually take decisive action a bit more. Rei is still mysterious but less aloof; we even see her try to get Shinji and his father together, which isn’t completely out of left field given that she’s <spoiler>a clone of Shinji’s dead mother</spoiler>. Given how Shinji and Rei have a closer relationship in the movie, it’ll be interesting to see what happens this time around when he eventually learns Rei’s backstory.

Asuka's doll... thing...
This is several kinds of wrong.

Judging from the Internet, toning down Asuka’s whole set of issues is a much more contentious topic, but if you ask me, the “resolution” we see of them in the movie is superficial and won’t last. (Or perhaps she doesn’t know certain details of her own past yet?) I mean, she carries around a doll or puppet of herself. Now if you haven’t seen the series before, that might merely seem a little odd, but believe me, once you learn where it came from, that’s seriously messed up.

No, my biggest complaint about how Asuka is treated in the movie is not her character development or (<sarcasm>horrors!</sarcasm>) her changed last name, but the repeated gratuitous fanservice shots of her. I’m willing to accept giving her her own version of Shinji’s toothpicks scene, but pretty much everything besides that is way too blatant and unnecessary. Sure, some of it was in the original series too, but not to the same degree, and even there it also served to torment Shinji. Here, it’s clearly just to titillate the viewer. (And no, hanging a lampshade on her test plug suit doesn’t make up for it.)

Mari
I just destroyed Unit-05; better make myself scarce for the next 45 minutes of screen time.

I can only assume that if new character Mari had gotten more screen time, she would’ve been subjected to similar treatment. (She certainly seemed to enjoy her redesigned plug suit….) It’s hinted that there’s more going on with her than we see, but then most of what we do see of her is her effectively filling in for Asuka after Asuka gets written out a little after the halfway mark.

And while I’m complaining about things, I might as well point out that the soundtrack dissonance used during Unit 03′s fight scene just doesn’t work for me. Using Komm, Süßer Tod during End of Evangelion worked, as does the scene with the Tenth Angel around the end of Evangelion 2.0, but this definitely does not. Maybe it’s just me, though.

But really, that’s about the extent of my complaints about this movie. This is what a remake should be: true to the spirit of the original, but not afraid to take liberties with the source material. Approachable to newcomers (assuming they’ve seen Evangelion 1.0, naturally), yet enough that’s new to keep those familiar with the original engaged. In all honestly, I have no idea what’s going to happen in the first few minutes of Evangelion 3.0, let alone the remainder of the remake. And most importantly, I’m looking forward to see what they come up with.

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The Prisoner remake: a load of number 2

Title for The Prisoner remake
When the title screen tells you to give up, you know you’re in trouble.

The short version: don’t waste your time watching last year’s remake of The Prisoner. Stick with the original.

Considered on its own merits, the remake isn’t terrible, but it never rises above mediocre either. There’s an over-reliance on camera trickery to create confusion on the part of the viewer, with lots of disjointed cuts between scenes that, at it worst, makes some episodes (particular the fifth one) simply difficult to follow. It can be hard to tell whether something is happening concurrently with another scene, or is a flashback, or a dream, or or an hallucination, or something else. Given that each of those happen with quite a bit of regularity, trying to disentangle the editing while making sense of the plot is a nontrivial task.

6 carries 93, wearing a dark shirt 6 seconds later, 6 is wearing a light shirt
Hey, no one noticed when John McClane’s shirt changed color, right?

It would have been nice if the editors had remembered to check for continuity between successive shots, though. Let’s get the basics before we start getting all fancy with the cuts, OK?

The remake does do a couple interesting things with the premise, and it certainly takes things in a very different direction than the original, but it does neither well enough to really stand on its own. And as a fan of the original, it’s impossible for me to evaluate the remake without constantly comparing it against the 1960s version. And there, it comes up far, far short of the mark.

Obviously, a remake is going to change some things. I understand that. Heck, the last time I wrote about a remake of something here, my major complaint was that it changed so little for most of the running time, except for the effects budget. But the The Prisoner remake makes the mistake of changing absolutely fundamental aspects of the original without providing a satisfying payoff for those changes.

The most grating is the issue of 6′s identity. In the original, Number 6 refuses to ever refer to himself as Number 6, the identity imposed upon him in The Village. He never calls himself by any number. He never wears the numbered identity badge that everyone else wears. There’s even an episode where Number 2 struggles to get him to even say the number six in any context.

Contrast the remake, where at the end of the second episode we see 6 screaming at 2 “I am 6, you bastard!” In the following episodes 6 shows no resistance to being identified as 6. The real Number 6 would die sooner than accepting that.

The Village
The remake’s Village is no Portmeirion.

The remake’s version of The Village and the people living there defies suspension of disbelief. The Village is surrounded by desert, and allegedly there is nowhere else. That’s right, the majority of people there accept The Village as being the entirety of human civilization, despite it obviously not having the industrial base needed to manufacture the cars and buses and everything else within it. This is taken to the extreme in the last episode, where we see people arriving by bus to The Village; not only can the new arrivals not explain where they arrived from, but no one besides 6 considers people arriving from allegedly nowhere as something worth questioning.

OK, maybe this isn’t entirely inexplicable, since it’s pretty obvious that the people in The Village live in abject fear of 2, and it would make sense that they would be terrified of voicing any opposition to what he tells them. Even though 2′s weapon of choice is sadistic psychological manipulation, he isn’t above orchestrating acts of terrorism to keep people in line, such as having a diner full of people blown up in the first episode in order to silence 554, where “silence” in this context means “put into a coma.” Although, given 2′s fondness of hand grenades, he may have simply done it himself.

2 holding a grenade
2′s the kind of guy who will throw a grenade at you and ask if you’ve had sex with your mother. I am not making this up.

In the original, most of the Number 2s didn’t sink to that level of obvious evil, and there was some ambiguity as to whether at least some of them were prisoners themselves who capitulated to The Village’s unseen masters. No, the remake’s 2 is pretty clearly evil. Nor is there any question in the remake as to 2 being in charge. This time around, when 6 asks “Who is number one?” — a recurring question in the original — the answer simply comes back that 2 is called 2 instead of 1 as a show of humility. Period.

I’m reluctant to call the remake The Prisoner In Name Only, but then there’s the issue of the episode titles. Each title is a one-word version of an episode of the original, but in only two of the six episodes is the plot even remotely related to the plot in the original. What’s the point, other than trying to slip in a shout-out?

It’s fitting how in the opening of the first episode we see 6 bury 93 in a shallow grave in the desert. 93 is wearing the same distinctive outfit that the original’s Number 6 wore. According to the commentary, the creators of the remake had even tried to get Patrick McGoohan to play the role of 93. I think that pretty much sums up symbolically what the remake does to the original.

Spoiler warning: If you don’t want me to spoil the endings of both the original and the remake, you better stop reading here.

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Not so Humble

Does the fact that Linux users are contributing almost twice as much for the Humble Indie Bundle as Windows users prove that we’re twice as generous as they are?

Yes. Yes it does.

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Still got it

Remember how I was briefly pretty OK at Mega Man 10′s Special Stage 1?

Well, my time on clearing Special Stage 2 is holding up quite a bit better. Monday evening I managed to get the #6 spot on the leaderboard with a time of 2:27:83. The score was still there, albeit having dropped to around #27ish, Thursday evening. I then managed to slightly improve my time to 2:24:91, which is as of this evening at #22. That’s five days on the Special Stage 2 leaderboard.

I guess either the other players are having even more trouble with Special Stage 2 than I, or there simply aren’t as many people trying to get on the leaderboard this time around.

I don’t think I’m going to improve my time much more than 2:24:91, certainly not without figuring out a way to effectively use the Mirror Buster against Punk. It’s his weakness, but I have a really tough time trying to hit him with it. The only way to use it offensively is to reflect the enemy’s shots, and I haven’t figured out Punk’s pattern well enough to do it reliably. It takes me significantly longer to beat him with it than it does just using the Mega Buster on him, since at least with that I can hit him rapidly.

Also, it takes me about 1:40:00 to get to Punk’s room, which is about the same as the #1 score on the leaderboard to clear the stage entirely, so there’s clearly room for improvement elsewhere too. I have an idea what parts I need to speed up in (since they’re the ones where I’m not constantly moving forward), but it’s really hard to keep moving without getting hit and losing even more time from getting pushed back.

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#17 is the new #1

For a brief time in the late afternoon (Eastern time) on Monday, April 5, 2010, I had the world’s seventeenth fastest time on Mega Man 10‘s Special Stage 1.

What’s that, you say? “Pics or it didn’t happen“?

17  CAPTDERIV  2:54:86

By around 9 pm that evening, my score had dropped to #30, the very last place on the leaderboard. Since then it’s fallen off completely, and now the bottom spots are dominated by the sorts of times that were at the very top when I was #17. As of this writing, the current #1 spot is over a minute faster than my time. This blog post shall stand as the only persistent record of my accomplishment.

What was the secret to my fleeting success? Playing Special Stage 1 many times the day it came out, before the people who have way too much free time on their hands had a chance to fully learn the stage and claim the top spots. It’s easier to rank if everyone you’re competing against is just as new to the stage as you are.

If you want to follow my lead, Special Stages 2 and 3 get released on April 26.

Mystery

The pilot episode of A Bit of Fry and Laurie isn’t particularly remarkable, except for this virtuoso performance by Hugh Laurie:

Man, Hugh Laurie sure looked different in the late eighties, before he started popping Vicodin.

Anyway, once you get past the pilot episode, the bits of Fry and Laurie on display are significantly improved. If you forced me to pick out a favorite from Season 1, I’d have to go with anything with Control and Tony in it, or, if you prefer your sketch comedy with a valuable moral, Doctor Tobacco.

Mega Man 10

Mega Man 9 was a great game. It took everything that made the early NES Mega Man games terrific and built on them, and avoided the traps that made the latter games me-too rehashes of the same basic gameplay. It played off of the player’s expectations of how a Mega Man game plays out, slipping in traps to trick and surprise anyone who grew up playing the original games. (And its increased difficulty modes in turn played off the player’s expectations from having played the game in normal mode, instead of just making enemies harder to destroy.) The weapons are nicely varied and often have dual uses, such as Tornado Blow hurting all enemies on the screen and boosting your jumps a bit thanks to the updraft. Mega Man 9 easily ranks in the same tier as Mega Man 2, one of the greatest games of all time, period.

Mega Man 10, on the other hand, is a good game. Not great, but good. It’s a pretty solid game, but definitely not as innovative as its predecessor.

The weapons are somewhat harder to use effectively. Several of them have a two-stage attack, and only the second stage deals significant damage. For example, the Commando Bomb‘s blast waves are more effective than hitting something with the bomb itself, and the Thunder Wool‘s lightning bolt is much stronger than the cloud that rises up from Mega Man’s arm cannon to fire it. It’s good to not have each weapon just be a differently-shaped projectile, but it can be tricky to aim for something near your target.

(Speaking of Sheep Man, I get the distinct impression from playing the game that he was originally supposed to be something like Thunder Man. They tried to make him look like a robotic cloud, but it wound up looking more like a robot sheep, so they ran with it. It would certainly explain why Sheep Man’s stage is electricity-centric rather than pastoral.)

The individual stages aren’t bad, though the gimmicks in them aren’t quite as fun to play through as they were in Mega Man 9. The disappearing blocks (heh heh) in Sheep Man’s stage are neat, but the see-saw thing in Blade Man‘s stage is more tedious than anything. Some stages have branching paths, which is then taken to a bit of an extreme in Wily Castle 1, where the branches themselves have branching paths.

I don’t think pointing out that Dr. Wily turns out to be the villain warrants a spoiler warning.

Wily Castle is the high point in the game. The bosses in particular are pretty great, riffing on past games and, in one case, a minor Internet meme? I really like the music for the Wily Castle bosses, and I think it goes particularly well with the first one. I also suspect that anyone familiar with Mega Man 2 will do the exact wrong thing out of instinct when they first encounter Wily Castle 3′s boss, like I did. That’s the subverting-player-expectations thing that Mega Man 9 did so well. And the final battle has a decent variant of the requisite fight against Wily Capsule.

By the way, Dr. Wily has tried to take over the world nine, or maybe ten, times already. Who keeps issuing him building permits for new Wily Castles? It’s not like he could build his latest Wily Castle in secret.

Why do I say nine or ten? Mega Man & Bass is a classic-series but unnumbered Mega Man game, so technically Mega Man 9 is the tenth in the series, and Mega Man 10 is the eleventh. Mega Man 9 supports this by referencing each of its nine predecessors in its ending. However, Mega Man 10 only calls out to the nine numbered classic-series games before it, completely ignoring Mega Man & Bass. And it’s not as though Inti Creates isn’t aware of Mega Man & Bass, since they developed both Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10. It’s odd.

The plot makes no sense, even by the low standards of Mega Man games. Ostensibly, Dr. Wily needs Mega Man and Proto Man’s help to recover the components of the Roboenza cure machine from the infected robot masters who stole it from his lab. And it is reasonable to think a mad scientist who spends all his time making killer robots would be interested in not having them infected by a virus. But it turns out that Dr. Wily was behind Roboenza all along! So… why wouldn’t he already have the cure stockpiled somewhere, or design Roboenza so infected robots didn’t steal his stuff? They were his robots, too, since they have DWN-series numbers. Any why would he give Roll a functioning cure capsule, if he wants to trade the cure for robots’ loyalty? Or why not just use his close access to Mega Man and Proto Man to infect them directly? Was Dr. Wily just hoping that Mega Man and Proto Man coming into close contact with the infected robot masters would cause them to catch Roboenza? It seems needlessly indirect, especially when he’s right there in Dr. Light‘s lab working on the cure machine.

Dr. Wily’s plan here makes the whole Mr. X thing in Mega Man 6 look downright genius by comparison.

Mega Man 10 does have an easy mode, which apparently has some people up in arms. Normally I’d say “if you don’t like it, don’t play it”, but you do need to play through it to unlock some of the challenges, without which you can’t get 100% completion on those. Easy mode also counts for the in-game challenges, which I’m not entirely sure I like. My second play-through was on easy mode to unlock some of the challenge stages, and without trying too hard I passed the challenges for beating the game under an hour, beating the game without dying, and beating the game without using any E-, W-, or M-tanks. (Granted, though, I did go through a few Shock Guards — even easy mode can surprise you with spike traps.) I’d like it better if the in-game challenges distinguished which difficulty level you beat them at, just like how some of the challenge stages distinguish between getting through the stage and getting through without taking damage. But beating the game without taking damage would be difficult even on easy mode. Doing it on hard mode… wow.

The challenge stages are a good way to practice fighting the game’s bosses without playing through the appropriate stage first, and they also give you a chance to practice with each special weapon and explore the full extent of its capabilities. I wasn’t aware, for instance, you could use the Wheel Cutter to climb walls, until I went through the challenge stage where it was needed.

If Mega Man 9 is on the same tier as Mega Man 2, I’d say Mega Man 10 is somewhere between the original Mega Man and Mega Man 4: still good, but a bit disappointing, especially when compared to its predecessor. I’d be apprehensive about the prospect of a Mega Man 11, since it doesn’t look like they’re going to top Mega Man 9 anytime soon.

Rockman Paper Scissors

Given that one of the core mechanics of the Mega Man series is the rock-paper-scissors style system of how each robot master is vulnerable to another robot master’s weapon, and given that the original game had robot masters that attacked by throwing rocks (Guts Man) and scissors (Cut Man) (and yes, rock beats scissors), it’s surprising that there still has never been a paper-themed robot master.

Get Equipped With

I just learned what will be bumping River City Ransom off the first page of my Wii’s menu: Mega Man 10.

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Zoda’s Revenge

Zoda's Revenge title screen

I recently purchased and played through Zoda’s Revenge, the sequel to StarTropics, on Virtual Console. Having played the game before back in the day, I knew I was in for a control scheme with weird jumping mechanics (but not nearly as weird as those of its predecessor, of course). However, I had forgotten just how awful the game’s storyline is. None of it makes any sense if you make the mistake of stopping to think about it.

Well, prepare to join me in making that mistake. I’ve taken the liberty of stripping out all the entertaining parts of the game and distilling what’s left.

Chapter 1

Mike Jones’s uncle, Dr. Steve “Dr. J” Jones, is struggling to decipher something that he had presumably found in the wreckage of the Argonian escape pod in the previous game. Of course, in that game he had had no trouble translating the ship’s log he somehow extracted from the melted wreckage, so why this last code is giving him such a difficult time is a mystery, especially when we discover the secret behind it.

A very tough cipher, apparently.  He apparently never tried reading it backwards before.

And as anyone who’s ever read something backwards knows, it automatically turns whatever book you happen to have lying around into a portal through time.

Oxford Wonder World  Time travel is stripey.

Chapter 2

Mike winds up in the stone age, where luckily for him, not only does everyone speak English, but they also happen to have a prophesy about him saving their children from a monster. The prophesy may or may not also be phrased in terms of baseball.

Reliever from the south  Southpaw reliever

For all I know Mike is indeed a pitcher, which would explain why he throws every weapon he eventually acquires in the game. (Throwing axe! Throwing dagger! Throwing kitana?!) However, much like Inigo Montoya and the Man In Black, Mike is not left-handed!

Right  Handed

Either stone age psychics are just as accurate as modern-day psychics, or the stone age villagers were really hoping for Link.

On the plus side, though, it turns out Argonian telepathic powers still work even if one of the parties involved is thousands of years in the past. Because if there’s one message that someone who suddenly appears in the stone age needs to hear, it’s that they traveled back in time.

Chronotelepathy!  Yeah, I got that from the stone age village.

Chapter 3

Mike time travels to Ancient Egypt, wherein he helps deliver a pizza to Cleopatra. I can only imagine the delay was because some fat plumber kept stomping the delivery turtle.

Yes, that is indeed pizza.  Delivery turtle?!

Mike then makes his way through a hedge maze to learn psychokinesis from a monkey.

Or a reed maze.  Whatever.  Apparently, monkeys evolved telepathy.

Mike then explores the Great Pyramid, which for some reason has conveyor belts in it. I assume this is because the StarTropics universe takes place in the alternate timeline where Ra took the Stargate with him when he abandoned Earth, but forgot all about the conveyor belts in his landing pad.

Ancient Egyptian conveyor belt loop.

Chapter 4

Mike next travels to nineteenth-century London, wherein he teams up with Sherlock Holmes to stop Zoda from stealing a particular artifact from a museum (which I can only assume, like all artifacts in British museums, was itself originally in Ancient Egypt).

Hey, aren't you fictional?  I was wondering when you were going to start revenging.

Now, you might think that not even time travel can let you meet Sherlock Holmes, since he’s a fictional character and all. That just shows how little you know about time travel.

Also worth pointing out: yes, Mike is on a fetch quest for tetrads. Except in the Virtual Console version of the game, where Nintendo was apparently worried about trademark issues or something and replaced all instances of “tetrad” with “block”, even though the graphics didn’t change at all, and come on, everyone knows what those are.

Chapter 5

Mike’s next stop is the Gold Rush. Words cannot do justice to the one-two punch of blatant anachronism and painful attempt to be what-they-though-was-cool-in-the-90s: The Cactus Dance:

Mike then has the option of using explosives to mine for gold. And remember kids, if you ever find a chicken nugget buried in a mountain while mining for gold, just go ahead and eat it.

How did the chicken nugget get there?  Oh yeah, I always eat meat found lying in caves.

Then Mike gets new psychokinetic powers from a talking donkey. Or maybe they’re magic powers. Whatever. In a post-Cactus Dance world, does it really matter?

Psychic donkey.  Magic donkey

Chapter 6

Mike finds himself in Renaissance Italy. You can tell this because all the people on the streets of the village are such extreme ethnic stereotypes you might think you were playing Punch-Out!!.

Capturing the Italian experience.  All Italians carry an emergency supply of pasta.

Also, the pizza delivery guy from Chapter 3 recognizes you on the street. Why this makes sense: Mike is in Italy now, and the pizza was delivered from Italy. Why this makes no sense: Cleopatra lived in the first century BCE, whereas the Renaissance took place over a thousand years later. Mike can travel through time by shouting gibberish at a book. What’s the pizza guy’s excuse?

Maybe the pizza guy is just really old.

Anyway, Mike saves Leonardo da Vinci from Zoda-Y’s plaster-breath by fetching the hammer and chisel from his workshop’s basement. Why Leonardo has a dungeon full of deadly traps between the first floor and the basement is a mystery, as one might think an old man would have difficulty navigating the series of well-timed jumps needed to get through. Even more inexplicable is how the villagers are fully aware of his personal dungeon and don’t seem to find it odd.

Never babysit my kids.  Everyone should have a dungeon in their basement.

Once Mike chisels Leonardo free, he then gives him some advice on a painting he’s working on, in another painful attempt by the game to seem 90s-cool at the cost of damaging the space-time continuum. Also of note: in Leonardo’s two-frame animation where he changes the painting, at no time does the brush actually touch anything but her face.

Well, Mike, you are several hundred years in the past.  What Dan Brown doesn't want you to know.

In return, Leonardo lends Mike his flying machine so he can reach an old castle with the next tetrad. En route, Mika telepathically warns Mike from the future about how the evil aliens are also traveling through time in search of the tetrads. This might’ve been useful information, had Mike not fought Zoda-X back in London nor already been aware Zoda-Y is in Italy.

Looks safe to me.  Useless information.

In the old castle, Mike fights a bipedal triceratops who spits energy spheres, in case things hadn’t been anachronistic enough. Also, Zoda-Y ambushes him at the end, and refers to Zoda-X as his henchman. This is despite that fact that they’re both clones of the original Zoda (whom Mike killed at the end of StarTropics), and despite the fact that there’s also a Zoda-Z you fight at the end, so if any of the three clones would be the leader, Zoda-Z would be it, not Zoda-Y. No wonder the evil aliens are losing: they have no clear chain of command.

The elusive bipedal Renaissance triceratops, now with energy breath!  Unaware he's also a henchman, apparently.

Chapter 7

There’s not much to say about this one, actually. Zoda-Y sends Mike to a Transylvanian castle where he fights a bunch of undead monsters and, ultimately, Zoda-Y as well, scoring yet another tetrad in the process. Maybe the creators of the game finally gave up on trying to put a plot on this game?

Chapter 8

Never mind. Mike arrives in Arthurian England for the last tetrad. Apparently everything the creators of this game know about England comes from fictional works. It doesn’t help that even the knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail look daring and heroic by comparison.

Thanks, Lancelot.  Heroism: ur doin it rong.

King Arthur seems OK with the whole thing and decides to knight Mike and order him to fight the obligatory dragon. Along the way, Mike encounters Merlin, who had been disguising himself as animals throughout history in order to give Mike psychic/magic/whatever abilities. Everyone needs a hobby, I guess.

Who could forget a talking psychic monkey?  So... you're into donkeys, huh?

Side note: it seems that the fact that Merlin has been helping Mike along his journey was supposed to be a sudden reveal in Chapter 8. Unfortunately, the Game Over screen has Merlin encouraging Mike to give it another try. Whoops.

Anyway, turns out Merlin is best friends with Hirocon, the ruler of the Argonians, notable for having had their butts kicked by Zoda in the previous game. Hirocon hid the tetrads across time and space for a hero to someday find them. Hirocon nailed the “across time” part, but one would think a spacefaring alien would consider “across space” to include “places other than Earth”. No wonder they got conquered by Zoda.

Hirocon is all about English mythology.  It would've been easier had they been colocated.

Merlin upgrades Mike’s psychic power enough that it’s finally actually useful to use as the main weapon. Mike presses on, slays the dragon, gets the final tetrad, and discovers via time-traveling alien telepathy that Zoda-Z is attacking C-Island in the present. Since Mike’s understanding of time travel comes from a totally excellent movie, he doesn’t quite get that “urgency” and “ability to travel through time at will” are mutually exclusive. So he turns to the last page of the book that for some reason lets him travel through time by shouting gibberish….

That's not the last page.

Chapter 9

Mike arrives at C-Island, just as he did in the first chapter of the original StarTropics. The island has received a graphical upgrade since then; I blame the seven Argonian children Mike saved from Zoda at the end of that game. Anyway, Mike walks to Coralcola and discovers that everyone’s contracted swine flu.

Oink! Oink! Snort!  How convenient.

OK, it might’ve been Zoda-Z’s doing. Reabducting the Argonian children — the last survivors of their race — wasn’t enough of a dick move, so he also swinified a bunch of defenseless villagers. (In StarTropics, the chief game Mike the village’s only weapon: a yo-yo. And Mike never gave it back.) On the plus side, the final dungeon turns out to be the first dungeon of the original StarTropics, remixed a bit for the sequel’s control scheme.

You didn't get double quad hearts in the first room in StarTropics, though.  Fighting the reanimated skeleton of StarTropics's first boss?  Yes, please.

Well, it’s not quite that easy, since after fighting the C-Serpent’s skeleton, Mike gets one last chance to stock up on potions before going through a boss rush culminating in the final showdown with Zoda-Z and his swinification gun. (Luckily, the effects on Mike are only temporary.)

SWINE FLU GUN!  Wild boars can't use weapons.

Mike emerges victorious, rescues the Argonian children (for the second time), and the villagers have inexplicably reverted to their human form. As luck would have it, Chief Coralcola, despite living on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific, is a pro at Tetris, and can figure out how to reassemble the tetrads to form…

With your tetrads combined...  ... I am Captain Planet!  Wait.

As shocking as this may be, I am not going to mock the fact that Argonians have seal-people-in-blocks technology, since StarTropics already established that. In the final two chapters of that game, Mike collects the three “magic cubes” from Zoda’s spaceship, and when they’re recombined, they turn into the seven Argonian children. What I am going to mock is how apparently seven children can be sealed in three cubes, but they used twenty-eight cubes (7 tetrads x 4 cubes/tetrad) to seal Hirocon by himself. It seems to me if the cube plan was your survival-of-the-species Plan B, you’d want to cram as many people as you can in there to maximize genetic diversity once you start rebuilding your population.

There’s also the little problem of how Hirocon hid the tetrads throughout Earth’s history before having himself sealed inside them.

You mean the tetrads on a different planet?  That plan seems dubious.

It gets worse. Apparently their plan is now to go back to Argonia and rebuild their society. Never mind that Argonia is presumably crawling with Zoda’s yellow and green stormtroopers now, and probably being ruled by Zodas A through W with 23 iron fists. You know, the invasion force that destroyed their military and nearly exterminated their race. And then traveled all the way to Earth on two separate occasions just to wipe out the last few survivors. No, I’m sure going back with a total force of one man and seven children will be enough to liberate the planet.

Plus, there’s the whole issue of not having a spaceship. The Argonian escape pod melted into an unusable wreck in the Lost Ruins in the original game, and Mike blew up Zoda’s ship in orbit around Earth shortly thereafter. (Mike escaped in an, um, escape pod right before the big boom.) Earth doesn’t have ships capable of interstellar travel. Plus, they’re on a small island in the middle of the Pacific ocean, so even if Earth did have such vessels, they aren’t going to be anywhere readily accessible.

What’s that, you say? You can just turn yourselves into pure energy and fly back to Argonia like that?

WHISKEY TANGO  FOXTROT

WHAT?!?!?! If the Argonians have an innate ability teleport themselves across interstellar space, why didn’t they just do that in the first place? Why didn’t the entire population of Argonia just teleport themselves to some uninhabited planet when Zoda attacked? Sure it’d take a little advance planning, but so does scattering tetrads throughout Earth’s history so you can be resurrected should your planet be conquered. Actually, the latter would be harder, what with the time travel and everything. Plus, the Argonians would have had a casualty rate of zero instead of billions.

Boy, it’s sure a good thing Mike saved the leader who came up with that plan, so he can continue ruling over the tattered remnant of his civilization as they return to a planet no doubt occupied with the same invading force that nearly killed them once already. Had Mike not traveled through time collecting tetrads, the Argonian children would have lived long and happy lives in an island paradise. Sure, Zoda-Z would have come after them, but as long as Mike had saved the Super Nova weapon from the end of StarTropics, he wouldn’t have been any more difficult to defeat. (I assume the only reason Mike didn’t have it in this game was because he justifiably wasn’t expecting to have to fight aliens that day.)

Congratulations, Mike, you just doomed the Argonians.

The Smeg It Was

Over the course of April 10 through 12, untold millions of people worldwide observed the resurrection of something that once had died but now is risen, in perpetual hope and expectation of its eventual return in glory.

I am talking, of course, about Red Dwarf: Back to Earth, a three-part miniseries that marked the first new Red Dwarf to be made since 1999.

I don’t need to tell you I’m a Red Dwarf fan — my three computers are named holly, kryten, and queeg, after all. I first discovered and fell in love with the series back in high school, when the local PBS station would air Red Dwarf, Red Green, and two episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus in an epic two-hour block on Sunday nights. I believe they eventually stopped doing that because federal law prohibits PBS from airing anything that awesome.

Back in 1999, Red Dwarf season 8 ended (after Rimmer kicks Death in the groin and tells him that “only the good die young”) with the words “The End”, followed a few seconds later with “THE SMEG IT IS”. Alas, until this month it was the end. There was no season 9, and the movie never got made.

All hope for new Red Dwarf was lost, until I stumbled across by chance the Red Dwarf page on TV Tropes a couple days after Easter, and noticed the tiny little paragraph closing the write-up:

A three-part story Back To Earth was recently aired across the Easter Weekend of 2009 on digital channel Dave, putting an end to the complete lack of any new TV or book output since 1999.

The next step was obvious.

So, was Back to Earth worth a 10-year wait? Sort of. (minor spoilers ahead)

Part 1 starts off is textbook Red Dwarf, with things having reverted back to the premise of the pre-seasion 6 episodes (though taking place 9 years after season 8): just Lister, Rimmer (a hologram again), The Cat, and Kryten aboard the titular Red Dwarf (with Holly’s absence given a brief hand wave). Nothing great by any means, but not bad either.

The transition from the fight with the giant squid in the water tank to Katerina‘s appearance is very clumsy, and though the abruptness of it can be explained in light of the reveal in Part 3, surely there could’ve been a cleaner transition between the two. Even ignoring the impossibility of the Red Dwarf supporting two holograms at one time (especially seeing how it happened in the last two episodes of season 1), the rest of Part 1 does little other than to set up the premise of Parts 2 and 3.

The storyline that fills most of Parts 2 and 3 is sort of weird. Remember that scene in Spaceballs where the bad guys watch a VHS copy of Spaceballs to figure out where the heroes are? It’s sort of like that, but stretched out over half an hour.

More specifically, the crew get sucked through a swirly thing into the “real world”, which is eagerly awaiting the premiere of Back to Earth. They find a promotional DVD case of the three-parter, and while there’s no actual disc inside, they learn from the back of the case that Back to Earth is the end of Red Dwarf. Since in the “real world” universe they’re just fictional characters, they’ll cease to exist once Red Dwarf has ended, and so they seek out their creator to plead for more life. Hilarity ensues.

This level of self-referentiality is tough to do well, especially as the backbone of the entire plot. While Back to Earth manages well enough, being set in the “real world” loses some of the feel of being Red Dwarf. Which isn’t to say there isn’t excellence to be found within; take, for example, this scene that mercilessly spoofs the magical image enhancement capabilities found in TV shows:

Also, you just know someone in Britain is making a real-life Carbug.

Oh, and lest you think my constant scare-quoting of the “real world” is some sort of spoiler, I’m doing it because of the one infuriating difference between the real real world and the “real world” as shown in Back to Earth: the “real world” apparently got ten seasons of Red Dwarf instead of eight. Lucky smeggers.

In any event, it’s obvious that just as Back to Earth is about the Red Dwarf crew asking the show’s creator to keep making episodes, Back to Earth has the ulterior purpose of testing the market for interest in, well, new Red Dwarf episodes, and not-so-subtly asking The Powers That BBC to fund it.

Maybe the whole “ten seasons” thing wasn’t an error but a promise — the half of Grant Naylor still working on Red Dwarf has apparently said he’s not interested in making season 9 but is interested in making season 10, whatever that might mean.

And we all saw how well season 8′s promise of more Red Dwarf turned out. But one can hope for new life, and isn’t that what the Easter season is all about?

Well, that and Peeps.

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You cannot grasp the true form of Mother 3 spoilers

Seriously now, major Mother 3 spoilers ahead. I’m going to discuss major plot points in the game. I’m even putting everything behind a cut, to prevent you from reading anything accidentally. OK?

Read the rest of this entry »

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Aahh, doorknob! I mean, Mother 3!

Mother 3 title screen

Mother 3 is better than EarthBound (a.k.a. Mother 2).

For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, Mother 3 is the game where Lucas and the New Pork City stage in Brawl come from. (Tip: if you want to avoid Mother 3 spoilers, don’t play Brawl.)

Mother 3 delivers the same style of humor as its predecessor, despite having a more serious, even depressing, storyline. And manages to pull it off, no less. To avoid spoilers, I’ll save further discussion and speculation on that for a separate post, but suffice it to say I’m still trying to figure out whether or not I liked the ending. (And EarthBound’s cast list at the end blows Mother 3′s out of the water, but never mind that.)

Graphically, it has the same cartoony 16-bit sprite style of EarthBound, but larger and with much more detail. Whereas EarthBound gave you a two-frame walk animation, Mother 3 has sprite animation like this:

The battle system is much the same as in EarthBound, including the rolling HP meter. Fighting in Mother 3 relies on more exploitation on that mechanic, however; there are plenty of enemies that do lots of damage, but beating them quickly lets you exit battle before most of the HP drop occurs. Likewise, which characters you rely on to heal makes a difference, since the longer you wait, the closer everyone else could come to death. There’s also a new combo mechanic, where tapping the button in time with the rhythm of the background music deals more damage. Together, they keep battles fast-paced, despite being rooted in an archaic choose-everyone’s-action-at-the-start-of-the-turn system.

Even better, the final battle doesn’t depend on spamming a command that is either only available in the final battle (Sing in the original Mother) or is largely useless until the final battle (Pray in EarthBound). Instead, the final battle in Mother 3 is… something else entirely. But enough about that, without getting into spoilers.

Hippo Launcher

Like EarthBound, the enemies you fight skew strongly towards the goofy. In particular, the villains in Mother 3 spend a lot of time making chimeras, so when you aren’t fighting the Pigmask army you’ll be facing off against kangasharks (kangaroo + shark, complete with a joey + shark in its pouch), cattlesnakes (not a cat + rattlesnake, but cattle + snake), and hippo launchers (which do not launch hippos, but rather are a hippopotamus + rocket launcher, and are just as dangerous as you’d expect).

I’d say that the Pigmask army’s geneticists have too much free time, but their orders come from the top. Normal animals are boring, after all.

The music in Mother 3 is very good, and there’s plenty of it. The sound player accessible from the title screen has no fewer than 250 songs in it. In particular, there’s a lot of variety in the music that plays during battle, which prevents the tap-in-time-to-the-rhythm mechanic from being too easy, especially since some songs don’t have a steady beat to them. My only complaint musically is that the villain’s leitmotif is very heavily represented throughout the soundtrack, so if you don’t like it, that’s going to pose a bit of a problem.

Restrooms

While the “dungeon”-type areas you fight through are generally good, a few in particular stand out. Tanetane Island is wonderfully creepy and disturbing, and the boss at the end was indeed magnificent. The tower in Chapter 8, whose name I won’t mention due to it being a spoiler, is quite possibly the greatest final dungeon I have ever seen in an RPG. At the very least, it has the best use of toilets in a video game, period.

Although having experienced EarthBound isn’t strictly necessary to understand Mother 3, I’d recommend it. Not just because I’d recommend playing EarthBound in general, mind you, even though I would. There are connections to be found between the two games, which I’ll probably ramble on about at great length in the spoilery companion to this post. Maybe someday EarthBound will finally be released on Virtual Console.

Finally, I must say that the Mother 3 translation is very well done. The project’s blog goes into great detail about all the challenges involved in making it, and the end result shows a lot of polish and attention to detail. It wasn’t just a matter of replacing Japanese text with English text; there were lots of technical problems that had to be hacked through along the way, all without anything to go off of except the binary code of the game.

So stop reading this and go play Mother 3.

[Image credit: starmen.net]