Sunday, July 23, 2017

I tried the Hey! Pikmin demo and I think I liked it

When Nintendo first revealed this handheld Pikmin spinoff last September, I immediately added it to my ever-growing (or maybe I should say never-shrinking) "buy these 3DS games as soon as is humanly possible" list.

Later, when it slipped out that Hey! Pikmin's developer wasn't an internal Nintendo team but the forever-maligned Arzest--makers of Yoshi's New Island, among other titles of debatable quality--my interest flagged a bit. It diminished even more after early hands-on impressions of the game made their way onto the Internet.

None of the above caused me to give up on Hey! Pikmin entirely, mind you. Even when my (uninformed) opinion of it was at its lowest, I still expected I'd pick up a copy once my bank account allowed.

Fast forward to this weekend, when I played through the Hey! Pikmin demo Nintendo recently--finally!--dropped onto the 3DS eShop. The gist of my reaction to that bite-sized version of the game: I'm definitely buying it, and sooner rather than later.

As for what tossed me back onto the Hey! Pikmin hype train, here are the first four reasons that came to mind:

The game looks great when splashed across a pair of 3DS screens--OK, so "splashed across" probably is the wrong phrase to use here, especially if your 3DS is of the LL or XL variety. If you use one of the original 3DS models, or one of the smaller New 3DS systems, though, Hey! Pikmin looks superb on its screens. Which shouldn't be a surprise, really. 3DS screenshots often disappoint visually when viewed on a computer or phone, but the games they represent almost always appear many times more impressive when experienced in motion and on the "real deal." At any rate, the hand-painted art style Arzest employed while producing this platformer is beyond pleasant. It reminds of the aforementioned Yoshi's New Island, but improves upon that title's aesthetic in pretty much every regard.

I already love its rather deliberate, exploration-focused gameplay--Early on, Hey! Pikmin's gameplay stumped me. It looked like a side-scrolling platformer, but that didn't really gel with strategic nature of the series' other entries. Thankfully, everything becomes abundantly clear once you start plodding your way through this portable Pikmin offshoot. Basically, it is a side-scroller, but it doesn't require players to hop from platform to platform, à la Super Mario Bros. Instead, you move Captain Olimar to the left or right with the 3DS' circle pad--or its directional pad or even A and Y buttons--while a tap of the systems' touch pad launches the Pikmin that follow in his wake to and fro. (You do the latter to collect or break objects, or to damage enemies.) I know it sounds clumsy, but I found it to be both competent and comfortable while completing the demo.

No 3D? Doesn't bother me a bit--I know some folks gets riled up when a 3DS game doesn't support the system's stereoscopic 3D feature, but I'm not one of them. Although I understand where they're coming from, and I wish every release made for Nintendo's second dual-screened handheld allowed people to customize their experience in such a way, I never turn on 3D while playing 3DS titles. Plus, adding stereoscopic 3D effects to Hey! Pikmin wouldn't have made much sense, as most of its action takes place on the portable console's lower screen.

I also can't say I mind being forced to use the 3DS' circle pad and touch screen--A lot of people prefer to use traditional input methods--directional pads and buttons--while playing games. I get that. In the case of Hey! Pikmin, though, ignoring the 3DS' touch screen would only make corralling the titular creatures more awkward than it needs to be. I guess the developers at Arzest could've included a mode that aped the control scheme of Yoshi's Island (where pressing a button brings up a target reticule, and another press launches a Pikmin). Even if they'd gone that route, though, I'd personally stick to the one highlighted in this demo, as I found it plenty precise.

Don't take all of the above to mean I had no issues whatsoever with the Hey! Pikmin demo. One negative that popped up during my 30-minute playthrough: the frame rate chugged or skipped now and then. It didn't bother me much, but I could see it being a problem if it happens frequently or if the action ever slows down substantially in the retail release.

Also, the soundtrack in the Hey! Pikmin demo is a bit too subtle for my liking. That doesn't mean the same will be true of the full game, of course, but I won't be shocked--or dismayed--if that's how things play out.

Have any of you tried the Hey! Pikmin demo? If so, what did you think about it? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section of this post.

Friday, July 21, 2017

So, who else has pre-ordered a physical copy of Undertale for PC, PS4 or Vita?

Three days ago, fangamer finally opened up pre-orders for physical copies of Undertale's PC, PS4 and Vita ports.

Although the initial batch of Collector's Editions--going for $64 a pop--sold out yesterday, the site's now letting people pre-order CE copies that will ship in December. (The first run supposedly will be sent to eager buyers in late September.)

As much as I adore the Undertale Collector's Edition--which will contain a two-CD soundtrack of 100-plus songs, a booklet of sheet music, a gold-plated music-box locket, a matchbox-style box and a copy of the game--I no longer have the space for such bulky items. So, I went for the Undertale Standard Edition, which still looks pretty sweet and only set me back $25.

Have any of you pre-ordered one or more versions of Undertale's PC, PS4 or Vita ports via fangamer in recent days? If so, which did you buy?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Happy (belated) 26th anniversary, Final Fantasy IV!

Although I recently singled out Final Fantasy V as one of the 10 titles that most shaped my taste in video games (read this post for more of my thoughts on the matter), that doesn't mean I dislike its 1991 predecessor.

On the contrary, I adore Final Fantasy IV nearly as much as I adore Final Fantasy V. The former's characters, graphics and soundtrack all blew me away when the game originally landed on store shelves 26 years ago--nearly to the day, if we're talking about the Japanese release--and they continue to have a special place in my heart today.

Going back a bit, though, can you believe Final Fantasy IV first saw the light of day 26 whole years ago? Actually, I can believe it, as it definitely feels like it's been ages since I was 15. (That's how old I was when the game hit the streets in my neck of the woods.)

Illustration by bykillt
That said, I remember tackling Final Fantasy IV for the first time like it was yesterday. The SNES my older brother and I shared was set up in the lower level of our childhood home, attached to a tiny color TV our parents bought us for Christmas a few years earlier. (Granted, it was quite the improvement from the even smaller black-and-white television we previously used to play our stack of NES carts.) As we did with most games back then, my brother and I huddled in front of the aforementioned monitor and slowly but surely made our way through Final Fantasy IV as a team. One of us would play for a few hours--with more than a bit of verbal assistance, of course--and then hand the controller to the other so he could do the same.

My fondest memories of that initial experience (spoiler alert!): being introduced to Rydia and her summoning skills, climbing Mt. Ordeals so Cecil could become a Paladin, Palom and Porom sacrificing themselves, and journeying to the moon to defeat Zeromus and save the planet.

What are your most cherished memories associated with Final Fantasy IV? Also, which version of the game do you like best? (I personally prefer the original release, though I'm also pretty fond of the DS remake.)

See also: previous posts about Dōbutsu no Mori's 15th anniversary, the GameBoy Advance's 15th anniversary, the GameBoy's 28th anniversary, the SNES' 25th anniversarySega's 56th anniversary and Taito's 63rd anniversary

Friday, July 14, 2017

Pardon the interruption

Hello, everyone. Some of you likely have noticed that I haven't updated this blog since July 8. Rest assured all is OK with me, my husband, my family--even my cat.

As for why it's been a whole week since I last published a post here, the answer is pretty straightforward: I've spent that time driving across the country (from Wisconsin to Texas) and moving into the cute little home my husband and I bought about a month ago.

The house in question is showcased in the photo above. Actually, so is my rather handsome (if I do say so myself) husband.

Want to see some more snapshots of my house, my husband, my cat, myself and some of the amazing things we've seen this year while living in various parts of the southern and southwestern US? Check out the photos I've shared on Instagram.

Don't worry, I'll return to publishing two or three blog posts a week shortly. In fact, things should get back to normal on Monday or Tuesday--as soon as we gain access to the Internet at our new abode.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Introducing: the Singing Mountain podcast

I've been a fan of Drew Mackie's Back of the Cereal Box blog ever since I first came across it--which was shortly after it made its debut in early 2003, if memory serves.

If this is the first you're hearing of Back of the Cereal Box, boiled down, it's a pop-culture blog. Or, as Mackie himself puts it, it's a "record of the weird ways pop culture intersects with [his] life."

Often, it's a record of how pop culture intersects with his life as a gay man who has long loved video games.

Considering all of the above, it shouldn't surprise that Mackie piqued my interest when he revealed his plans to launch a podcast about video game music.

Singing Mountain is the result of those plans. In the four podcasts he's published so far, Mackie's discussed Super Mario RPG, the Mega Man series, The Great Giana Sisters and EarthBound.

That's not the full extent of what's covered in Singing Mountain's initial batch of episodes, mind you. The latest ("Ric Ocasek in Moonside"), for instance, focuses on EarthBound while also bringing Mackie's childhood, The Cars, Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory,” the litigiousness of Beatles and even Janet Jackson into the mix.

Hell, Mackie may even introduce you to a new word or two if you keep your ears peeled. He certainly expanded my vocabulary a bit when he dropped the word diegetic into his commentary on Onett's arcade theme.

See also: posts about The Nichiest Podcast Ever