There’s been a swell of talk about Mega Man lately, what with the release of Mighty No. 9 this week. While it might be a little unfair (to some) to call the game a giant trash fire, it at least didn’t exactly set the world on fire, let alone live up to the enormous amount of hype generated by its pedigree and Kickstarter success. Everybody who has been waiting for a proper, new 2D Mega Man game put their hopes into Mighty No. 9 to be their new jump ‘n shoot savior, a retro resurrection that doesn’t even try to hide how much it’s paying lip service to the Blue Bomber.
While its release has come and gone just barely over 2 years ago now, the week of its anniversary seemed to be the perfect time to talk about the actual best Mega Man revival game in recent years: Shovel Knight.
What I like about the Kirby series so much is how hard the game tries to make you feel good. The platformers have a history of being pretty breezy affairs – short games that are pretty easy no matter how experienced in video games you are. Most of Nintendo’s core game series are varying degrees of accessible, but the Kirby series in particular stands out as the type of game series to make sure absolutely anyone playing them is having a good time.
Though it’s a bit hard to lump all the Kirby games together as a “series”, in the traditional sense. Kirby as a character has been used into so many weird one-off games that span a hilariously diverse roster of genres that he’s known to be the character Nintendo tends to experiment with, at least in the past. Some of my favorite Kirby games are golf games, or breakout clones. But the platformers are the marquee events, and what they lack in challenge they make up in pure, straight-inject-to-the-veins joy.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is one of the best examples of a game that smartly utilizes nostalgia in it’s soundtrack. It’s a game that could have easily been a quick rehash of old ideas, using the same basic template established by the original DKC trilogy 20 years ago to elicit a cheap thrill for those looking to recapture the jumping monkey goodness of the games of their past. Instead, we got something unique that’s filled to the brim with special care and detail. So, how does the last Donkey Kong game use music to pay tribute to the original series, without feeling like an easy cash-in?
The original DKC games have been cemented as bonafide classics over the years, and that kind of pedigree doesn’t spring up out of nowhere. This stuff was revolutionary back in the day., though honestly the platforming mechanics haven’t aged the greatest. Age doesn’t treat the absolute perfection too kindly, and the SNES DKC games can’t stand tall in the same mechanical league as icons like Sonic and Mario. The actual platforming is just a bit too sloppy to stand the test of time. But the presentation and atmosphere still retain an unflappable timeless sheen that makes for quality revisiting to even those uninitiated today.
By atmosphere I’m mostly talking about specific key features. What the hell did Donkey Kong Country do to establish itself as something worth praise 20+ years later?
In 2013, a little Kickstarter success by the name of Risk of Rain came out, and I fell in love. I have a soft spot for Roguelikes, and a completely separate, even softer spot for good co-op games, so Risk of Rain came crashing in to pierce straight into my heart out of nowhere. I never heard of the Kickstarter when it was going on, instead stumbling onto the game when it was a new release on Steam. I quickly snatched it up, and roped my buddies into playing with me.
The soundtrack blew me away. A few of the tracks from it still get regular play from me, and the atmosphere the songs lended to the experience inspired me to gush about it over a dumb Youtube video for a while. It’s a game that really exemplifies a soundtrack’s ability to influence how I feel about a game and its world. It was good!
So when the developer Hopoo Game’s new game, Deadbolt, came out, you’d think that I’d be pretty hyped. Chris Christodoulou, the composer for Risk of Rain’s soundtrack, was back on board for the new game. Somehow, neither the idea of a new Hopoo game or a new soundtrack by Mr. Christodoulou got me motivated enough to buy the damn thing. I recognize it as a complete failure on my part, and does not reflect poorly on the devs themselves. It’s only after a desperate Steam Wishlist browse for something to play did I decide that I should finally hop into this thing that, by all accounts, I knew I’d be into.
Okay, so the game is made by GameFreak, so it has a bit of pedigree, but who would have honestly expected a game as strange as Pocket Card Jockey to be as great as it is? The gameplay is crazy addicting, the writing has made me laugh out loud at least a dozen times, the music is all over the place as far as genre goes – and it’s all amazing.
It’s also $7.
In Pocket Card Jockey, you play as a guy or girl who wants to be a professional horse racer. For some reason. Your character really doesn’t know why. S/he’s also not that good at it. In fact, after the first time you get on your horse and try to ride it, it kicks you off, runs you over, and you literally die.
While you’re dead, the music that plays behind the exposition is fantastic.
Good-quality headphones are a luxury I recommend using when playing most games, but Monster Hunter is a series I feel gets some of the greatest benefit out of the experience. This largely has to do with the platform a typical Monster Hunter game is played on. While console versions of many Monster Hunter games exist, the series has gotten the most notoriety from portable systems like the PSP and the 3DS – which is shame, because the game’s killer sound design is wasted on those system’s painfully underpowered speakers.
I don’t want to make too many blanket statements about the series given my experience with it mostly comes from Monster Hunter 4U (and to a lesser degree, 3U) but Monster Hunter has some of the best sound design implementation in a game series. It’s more than just the soundtrack – everything from the monster cries, to the sound effects, to the way the game uses audio to physically place the player in the world, comes together to wrap the player in an environment that feels legitimate and lived-in, despite all the environments being literally sectioned off from one another.
I’m getting a little ahead of myself, per usual. For the uninitiated, Monster Hunter is a game about you and your friends getting together to beat the shit out of large, imposing creatures. Think of Monster Hunter as a cross between Diablo and Shadow of the Colossus, with a decent chunk of Phantasy Star Online thrown in. There are few things in the world of video games more satisfying than collectively beating the piss out of an oversize monster with a group of close buddies, or even strangers. The Monster Hunter series brought cooperative hunting and focused boss fights to a polished sheen, and has deservedly gained a dedicated following due to the super deep gameplay and ridiculous amount of content stuffed into such an unassuming game.
Pokémon was a worldwide phenomenon in the mid to late 90s. It featured a huge roster of creatures, ranging from adorable to completely badass to absurdly gross, all available for you to obtain and use in the games in one way or another. With an innovative, child-friendly take on the RPG system, an upbeat attitude, and of course, great music, it made sense why it took off. Before we knew it, Pokémon had plushies, action figures, trading cards, an anime, school supplies.
We’ve been blessed with an avalanche of retro-inspired pixel art indie games of late, and it’s not hard to find quality titles – if you’re into that sort of thing. Seems like every time I take a trip to the Steam home page I stumble across something pretty and interesting, and Environmental Station Alpha was one such discovery.
Wearing a love for Metroid on its sleeve, Environmental Station Alpha is an unassuming exploration platformer that winds up being a lot more in-depth and mysterious than it initially lets on. With a curious story and solid mechanics, the little indie darling ended up being one of the best $10 I’ve spent on a whim, becoming one of my favorite games of this year. There was something about the presentation, between the gorgeous pixel art and serene soundtrack, that sucked me in until completion.
Halo is a series that has a soundtrack to match its ambition. The grand, sweeping score has always tried to match the scope of the story being told, and it usually lives up to the hype.
One of the reasons I like to talk about music in games is because it’s the part of video games that often gets ignored, or overlooked. It’s not often I read a review that takes points off or adds to the score because of a game’s soundtrack, and that’s a shame.
For the last few years, I have spent the month of October playing through a few of the classic Castlevania games because of the season’s ideal atmospheric value, and because I’m too much of a baby to handle proper horror games. It’s a series I never played much as a kid, but they’ve made for quality retro revisiting regardless, since they’ve all aged spectacularly (except 2, obviously.)
The cream of the pre-Symphony of the Night crop has to be Rondo of Blood. It has a messy localization history, the gist being the game didn’t get brought over here until some time later, while America received a sort-of (watered-down) port in the form of the SNES game Dracula X. While the TurboGrafx-16 game eventually found its official way to American consumers in the form of a Wii Virtual Console port (as well as being remade for the PSP, as Dracula X Chronicles), the two versions differed enough to warrant separate playthroughs, as the level design diverged quite a bit between the two.
Bloodlines is the track that plays over the opening level, and Castlevania seems to be the kind of game that leads with some of their best material.
What I love about the song – besides actually everything – is how much it differs between the TurboGrafx-16 and the SNES versions. Compare the two below: