Tag Archives: metroid

FGC #252 Kid Icarus: Uprising

I'm walking on airKid Icarus was a formative NES action game. Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters was the portable sequel that continued with similar, improved mechanics. Twenty years later, Kid Icarus: Uprising was released.

And Kid Icarus: Uprising is bonkers.

Say what you will about things getting stale, but with Nintendo franchises, you generally know what you’re going to get. Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Bros, two Mario releases separated by decades, might not seem terribly similar to some magical human being that has never seen a videogame before, but, once you start steering Mario around the Mushroom Kingdom/Universe, it’s clear that both games come from the same base run/jump/stomp concepts. This continues through basically the whole Smash Bros cast: The Legend of Zelda is for exploring/swordplay, Donkey Kong is for simple jumping and running, Captain Falcon and F-Zero are for racing, and Metroid is for metroiding. Yes, there are spin-offs and outliers, but Star Fox is always for shootin’, even when your arwing can fold up like origami.

So you’d be forgiven if you were expecting the first Kid Icarus game in ages to be at all similar to the prior two experiences. But it turns out this Pit doesn’t need a jump button. And speaking of which, the control scheme is optimized for this guy…

Gimme some sugar

If you have less than four hands, bad news, you’re gonna have a bad time.

Masahiro Sakurai, creator of Kid Icarus: Uprising, considers his creation to be a shooting game. That is… generally accurate? Half of every level takes place in the sky (or an approximation thereof), with heroic Pit blessed with flight by Goddess Palutena. During these sections, conceptually, you are basically playing Star Fox, and the 3DS adapts well to fight and flight mechanics. Heck, there’s a reason Star Fox 64 3D was one of the first 3DS games: the 3DS seems practically made for 3-D shooting galleries. Pit, with his wings and arrows, adapts well to the role, and you could easily make the argument that this is a “modern” version of Kid Icarus’s iconic final stage. And, let’s be real here, that section probably was the best part of Kid Icarus (or the only part where any kid ever accomplished anything…) . So, yes, okay, let’s make a Kid Icarus shooting game.

Except… eventually Pit lands. Palutena’s blessing can’t last forever, and Pit must explore the second half of most levels planted firmly on the ground. Maybe there’s a tower to scale, maybe there’s a dungeon to explore, but it must be done on foot, and jumping and flying is right out. It’s here that KI:U’s control scheme gets crazy, and… why can’t he just control like a normal Nintendo hero, again?

TANK!The on foot sections of KI:U are probably best described as “experimental”. If you’re breaking this down to its core components, you’re pretty much looking at an innovative way to control a FPS hero… but in a 3rd person perspective. It’s… cumbersome. And it takes a little getting used to. Actually, it takes a lot of getting used to, and I swear the level designers know it. Some of the more demanding sections include honest-to-God walking puzzles. For those that missed the fun, that’s a challenge, usually involving narrow ledges, where you can “fail” because you did not walk correctly. That’s not something that should ever be in a videogame, because walking should be as easy as… walking. If a toddler can master something (if Dirk the Daring can master something) it should not be a remote challenge in any kind of videogame. But it seems like Angel Land has a hero or two with some manner of vertigo, so constricted walkways might be a problem. Maybe Pit had eggplants for brains a few too many times.

And it’s not just the controls that might repel a new player. There is a weapon upgrade system that is… opaque seems a little too gentle. Completely insane? You can buy new weapons by offering hearts (currency) as tribute, but all the good weapons are available via a weapon combining system that… I have no idea what is going on. There are star ratings for various weapons, but there are different types of weapons, and Pit’s shooting style changes dramatically from one weapon to another. Yes, this sword is powerful, but it would mean giving up a pair of orbs that shoot homing missiles. And the sword doesn’t “shoot” at all? But it reflects shots? Well, is that going to be at all useful in the next level that I know nothing about? Can I try before I buy? No? Hey, it’s not like the average level lasts fifteen minutes or so…

WeeeeOh, and determining the “difficulty” for a level before you play it? And it’s a one to ten incremental system? I’m sorry, what’s the difference between this stage being level 4.5 difficult versus 4.7 difficult? I can understand the difference between “Normal” and “Hard”. I’ll even tolerate a “Very Hard” or “Professional” mode. But decimals? Just show me exactly where the bar is for “world is filled with invincible skull heads”, and I’ll choose the next level lower than that. ‘Kay? Thanks.

But all of this insanity is not why Kid Icarus: Uprising is bonkers. What’s bonkers is how much, despite everything in this game, you will want to play more.

Kid Icarus, more than any other Nintendo game, is a playable cartoon. And that’s not because of dialogue boxes or “the plot”; it’s about the simple, instant rapport between Pit and Goddess Palutena. From the first moment, they’re chatting over the action while “you” are playing the game. Occasionally, a villain breaks into the narrative to hurl insults. As episodes progress, various other characters join the fray, and, while you’re busy with a grim reaper or two, Pit ‘n Pally are going through their comedy routine. And then, as it inevitably must, Pit gets real in later stages, Palutena is absent, and “lesser” goddesses have to pick up the slack. It’s not the same, and that’s not a bug, but a feature. When, after fifteen stages of having Palutena in your corner, she’s suddenly missing, you notice. You notice, and you notice it sucks. Where’d my goddess go!?

VroomAnd it’s in this manner that Kid Icarus: Uprising worms its way into your heart. Its systems may be dense, its controls may be some manner of hand-torture, but it contains some of the most instantly approachable and sympathetic characters in gaming. Considering Pit didn’t have very much to say in his initial adventures past, “I’m finished!” it’s a rather significant accomplishment that KI:U makes a better case for Kid Icarus: The Animated Series than every other Nintendo mascot. And these are the best mascots gaming has to offer! Pit is standing in the heavens of the gaming hall of fame, and it’s all thanks to one game.

One game that is nothing like its forbearers and is attached to impossibly janky controls. It’s… kind of bonkers.

FGC #252 Kid Icarus: Uprising

  • System: Nintendo 3DS. Given the direction of Nintendo’s “handheld market”, this game might never see another release again. It really is 100% geared toward the 3DS, which is kind of an accomplishment in itself.
  • Number of players: There’s a multiplayer “fight” mode here (as is proper to Sakurai games), and some sort of co-op thing, but I’ve never met anyone else with a copy of KI:U handy, so I can’t really speak to how it all plays. All I know is that it was mysteriously implicated in a number of cases of boneitis back in 2012.
  • Think of the Centurions: Palutena’s army, the noble centurions, are just as fragile as ever. And Palutena notes that they are disposable… but you’ll feel bad if they die. And, dammit, she’s right. Poor lil winged dudes…
  • Metroidian: Despite the presence of space pirates and “metroids”, there is no relation between Kid Icarus and Metroid.
    NONE

    None.
  • Just play the gig man: It’s a good thing Super Smash Bros. 4 got to reuse a lot of this music, as it is phenomenal. Sakurai doesn’t seem to direct games with half-assed soundtracks.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Male deities seem to come in all shapes and sizes, but I’ve noticed a peculiar trend with the goddesses of KI:U.

    Wankery Week never ends

    With the exception of Medusa, it seems like every heavenly being of the female variety could double as Pit’s “playful” older sister. Actually, to put a point on it, Palutena is the older sister, and the rest of the women are her cool friends that jokingly flirt and tease the dweeby Pit. Or maybe it’s just the spirit of fanfic coming upon me again. Could go either way.

  • Did you know? Viridi is the one recurring character that appears in “chat scenes” but is never directly fought. Dark Pit, Hades, Medusa, and even your own allies appear on the opposite side of Pit’s sword-bow at one time or another, but Viridi is always on the sidelines. Guess it helps to have your own army.

  • Would I play again: My hand is a little knotted right now… Maybe after a little healing…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze! Guess we’re on a Nintendo kick again, ROB? Or maybe you’re just looking for a banana smoothie? Whatever the case, it’s time to roll around with some Kongs. Please look forward to it!

DO IT!

FGC #235 Metroid: Zero Mission

Lose some weight, tubbyI’ve already named Super Metroid one of the five most important games in gaming. I’ve already gushed over a remake of one of the best Gameboy games ever produced. And, yes, I took time out of my busy day to explain how Samus Aran’s butt is the worst thing to ever happen. Oh, and I played pinball. Look, I know it, you know it, Ridley knows it: I like Metroid games. I love Metroid games. I even love anything that looks remotely like a Metroid game. This is absolutely no secret.

My secret shame, though? I hate Metroid: Zero Mission for the absolute pettiest of reasons.

Why do I love Metroid games? The most obvious answer has something to do with the way a Metroid game is traditionally structured around exploration. I’m not someone that gets hung up on whether or not you can sequence break, or if some renegade AI is telling Samus where to go, or whatever; all I really care about is playing around in giant, planet-esque environments that occasionally contain zoomers. And by “playing around”, I certainly mean shooting everything for absolutely no reason. Seriously, has anyone figured out exactly how many creatures Samus doesn’t have to obliterate to complete her average mission? At this point, I’m committing dessgeega genocide entirely out of spite. And the minute you get that screw attack? Oh man, Samus’s feet never touch the ground again, she’s just a whirling dervish of unending destruction.

Come to think of it, it almost seems like the exploration is secondary. I just… like being Samus Aran.

Moving right alongMost videogames are about the destination. As an easy example, I’m looking forward to Kingdom Hearts 3 (I’ll probably be looking forward to it for a long time), and it’s almost entirely to see “how it ends”. And it’s not even that I care that much about the plot of Kingdom Hearts (this is a lie), I could conceivably live the rest of my life never knowing whether or not Donald Duck gets a happy ending, but… I’m interested. And, while I do actually enjoy the gameplay, magical venues, and general “feel” of your average Kingdom Hearts game, I am absolutely playing that game to get to the all-important ending. See also: Xenosaga, every JRPG ever, and even a healthy percentage of Zelda games. There’s joy in discovery in searching across Hyrule, but I can safely say a few recent adventures of Link were finished only for the sake of finishing. Or, put another way, there’s a reason I’ve (re)completed Wind Waker HD but not Twilight Princess HD.

But I don’t ever feel that way with a good Metroid game. It really is about the journey, and I get more joy out of dodging rising lava or plowing through space pirates than I ever do when I see that Mission Complete screen. I killed all the metroids, I saved one metroid, I got saved by one Metroid being killed, whatever, it’s all immaterial to the sheer joy of poking around Zebes, and gradually getting better at doing it. My first run through Super Metroid, I was stumped by the glass tube/super bomb “puzzle”, and wasn’t able to progress much past acquiring the gravity suit. My clear time on that file was somewhere around ten hours. That means that, basically, I spent an extra seven or so hours exploring Zebes with nowhere new to go, and I never got tired of it. There’s just so much fun in being Samus Aran that I could explore Zebes with nowhere to go for hours in the same way I could spend a few hours at the beach with no real goal. And I’m a guy that has quit random games halfway through their tutorial because I got bored. Being Samus Aran is fun, end of story.

Except… Metroid Zero Mission divorced me of that notion.

They don't fall, thoughMuch of Metroid Zero Mission is fun. As ever, I love exploring Zebes, and the construction of “this” Zebes is a great balance of Metroid (1) and Super Metroid. Things are familiar, but not the same. It’s actually very close to the Igavania template: you know about where the clock tower is supposed to be, there’s sure to be a basement full of monsters, but everything else between is up in the air. You know you’re heading toward an inevitable confrontation with Dracula/Mother Brain, but there are Speed Booster puzzles now? Neat. There is enough “new” here to not get repetitive, but it’s still familiar enough to be indisputably Metroid/Zebes.

And then there’s the new material. Say hello to Zero Suit Samus.

For anyone that loves Metroid but mysteriously skipped Metroid Zero Mission, MZM, plot-wise, plays out almost exactly like the original Metroid. Beat Kraid, beat Ridley, beat metroids, beat Mother Brain, escape an explosion, call it a day. However, MZM adds a “new” story to the finale: while escaping Zebes, Samus Aran loses her powersuit, and must infiltrate Space Pirate HQ to acquire a new one. Samus is naked for this adventure, and is equipped only with a stun gun and her apparently natural ability to somersault twenty feet in the air. This transforms Metroid into a stealth affair, as Samus is vulnerable in her zero suit state, and your average space pirate mook can do about three e-tanks worth of damage with a single shot. And… get ready for a lot crawling. Like a baby. Woo.

For what it’s worth, this section of Zero Mission is probably as good as it could be. The stealth seems fair (space pirates are not omniscient in their Samus-detecting), the layouts are conducive to careful sneaking, and, yes, the moment you finally reclaim the powersuit and transform the space pirates into a fine paste is superb. In fact, for years I actually defended the zero suit section of Zero Mission, because it’s one of the few instances of stealth (particularly in a 2-D game) that I can tolerate. I’m pretty sure I had wholly good memories of Zero Mission through the Gameboy Advance’s lifespan, and even somewhere into the DS’s era.

BooooBut then I got in the habit of playing Metroid games recreationally. Like, oh, it’s a boring Saturday, maybe I’ll take some time and play through Super Metroid. Oh, I played through Super Metroid last week? How about Zero Mission this time? And every time I played Metroid Zero Mission “casually”, I quit after Mother Brain, and ignored the zero suit segment. Every. Time. Why? Because Samus sans suit leads to “levels”: a strict, linear challenge that can only be successfully solved one way. And I’m not playing Metroid to play an adventure game, I’m playing Metroid to rip through rippers and explore a planet. Metroid Zero Mission’s zero suit segment isn’t Metroid to me, and, at that point, why am I even playing?

And what’s more, it makes Samus Aran worse. I said earlier that I enjoyed “being” Samus Aran, but that’s apparently not true. I like being Samus Aran… only while in a powersuit. The heroine isn’t the heroine, she’s just a delivery device for the real star of the show: an anonymous piece of tech. That’s not good! Sure, Iron Man or any of the many “mechanical knight” superheroes have a similar problem, but they’re not the only prominent heroine in Nintendo’s pantheon. Mario can stomp goombas without his hat, Link can slash Moblins while in a bathrobe, but Samus Aran needs her powersuit for a fun experience. It also probably didn’t help when Zero Suit Samus was basically a penalty for using a smash ball in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, or when “naked” Samus was a recurring threat of “oh no, she’s vulnerable now” during Metroid: Other M cutscenes. The message has been clear since Metroid: Zero Mission: Samus is a strong woman, but without her powersuit, she’s prey.

It’s… demoralizing.

JerkSo, despite liking 90% of the game, I hate Metroid: Zero Mission. I hate that it made one of my favorite heroines appear weak. I hate that that stupid stealth section kills my playthrough every time. I hate that I have a save file from right after that section, so I can just copy that file and play through the post game infinitely. I hate that “Justin Bailey” Samus used to be a reward, not a punishment. I hate that one stupid blunder completely kills this whole experience for me.

I hate you, Metroid: Zero Mission, and the zero suit you rode in on.

FGC #235 Metroid: Zero Mission

  • System: Gameboy Advance and WiiU Virtual Console. Unlike Metroid Fusion, this game was not part of the GBA/3DS Ambassador Program. More’s the pity.
  • Number of players: The one and only Samus Aran.
  • Favorite Boss: You ever notice how there are a lot of giant bugs in this game? Like, there are two different kinds of worms, and then there’s that cocoon/moth thing… or are they all supposed to be related? I have no idea. Anyway, aside from the old standbys, I like giant moth thingy, because there’s nothing like chasing down an enormous insect and pumping missiles into its ovipositor. Apparently it’s called “Imago”.
  • Favorite Remake Addition: Every Metroid game should include the Speed Booster. Every. Single. One.
  • He’s Too Big: The Ridley fight in Zero Mission feels like a nice balance of “hectic” and “you’re still going to win”. That’s good! The Mecha Ridley fight, meanwhile, always seems to be completely impossible or really, really easy, but never anything in between. That’s bad! So… zero sum Ridleys.
  • Did you know? Crocomire of Super Metroid was apparently intended to be in this game, but he got scrapped somewhere along the way. What’s interesting is that his sprite is pretty smooth and tan, so it’s possible there would have been a story (likely involving beam weapons) explaining why he is red and lumpy in time for Super Metroid. Or maybe he was just cancelled because making him lumpy would be too expensive. Who knows.
  • Would I play again: Gladly! Just, ya know, only about 90% of it.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Guilty Gear Isuka! I think there’s a puppy in that one! Please look forward to it!

There it is

FGC #224 Castlevania Aria of Sorrow

Favorite clocktowerIs Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow the pinnacle of the Igavania legacy?

Koji Igarashi is widely credited with being responsible for the perennial Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Where once the Castlevania franchise had been “only” a series of difficult action platforming affairs, Castlevania: SOTN broke the mold and ushered the franchise into a world of maps, secret passages, and more random food items than you could shake a dagger at. Granted, practically everything in Symphony of the Night was already a part of previous Castlevania games (particularly the skeleton sprites), but the IGA-helmed SoTN blended all of these elements into a much more Metroid-y, exploration based affair. It wound up being new, innovative, and, most importantly of all, fun. And, aside from a shocking lack of a boss rush, SoTN was considered to be perfect.

But… how do you improve on perfection?

Castlevania SoTN was followed by Castlevania Legends, and, later, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. Neither of these games involved Koji Igarashi, but both tried different techniques to bottle the SoTN lightning. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon attempted to ape the Metroidvania gameplay with scattered success, and Castlevania Legends decided to just include SoTN star Alucard to hopefully polish up that turd to a level where it didn’t immediately stink up the joint. It didn’t take. But Circle of the Moon at least made the Igavania a standard piece of the Castlevania puzzle, and didn’t trash the “experiment” like the second adventure of a certain Hyrulian elf.

And then there was Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance. C:HoD was the first IGA returned to the Castlevania franchise after SoTN, and… well… let’s say he was getting his skeleton legs back. A lot of HoD seems like it was in response to Circle of the Moon, and, right down to the basic “rivals” plot, much of this game feels like “this is how I would have done it.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as I’m at least one person that prefers HoD to CotM, but the whole experience still feels rather… shallow. The “chaos castle” is generally bland and a poor excuse to recycle almost the entire map, and, despite some downright charming references to Slide along homeearlier entries in the series, HoD generally feels like a “lesser” Castlevania. Yes, this is what happens when you attempt to convert a Playstation game to a handheld format. Thanks for playing, pray for peace in Wallachia.

And then came Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. Now here’s a proper Igavania.

Except… let’s not talk about that yet.

Let’s talk about what came after Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin is an Igavania… but it seems much more “level based” with its multiple portrait stages and a castle that is almost perfunctory. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia took this even further, and the majority of the game is comprised of “levels” that would feel right at home in earlier adventures. Hell, the “castle” of OoE is practically a “bonus” afterthought. And then there’s even Castlevania Aria of Sorrow’s immediate sequel, the bafflingly named Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, which superficially follows the Metroid path of its forefathers… but closer examination reveals a number of “level-y” areas, complete with a final series of challenges that barely amount to more than dangerous hallways (or maybe towers).

In short, it seems IGA shifted away from the metroidvania template after Aria of Sorrow. The basic elements were still there, but they generally tapered off until we got “all challenge levels” Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, and no one was surprised.

So why was Aria of Sorrow the end? Well, maybe it’s because it really is the pinnacle of IGA’s intention.

PEW PEWAt first blush, Aria of Sorrow doesn’t do anything Symphony of the Night didn’t. You’re a normal quasi-vampire with a sword or two, and you’ve got to explore a castle. Expand your skills as you defeat bosses, eventually gain the ability to turn into a bat, and maybe you’ll see the “secret” ending for finding the right nooks and crannies in this kooky castle. I’m sure there’s some wall meat around here if you get hungry for more.

But Aria does have more than Symphony. Aria introduced the Tactical Souls System, seemingly the apogee of the “Alucard can equip every damn thing in the castle” system of Symphony. Soma, our hapless hero, can absorb the souls of literally every monster in the castle, and each soul offers a new and interesting ability. Okay, most of the abilities are stupid (do you really need a monster soul to augment your spitting ability?), but there’s always that joy of discovery to be had, and maybe that witch that can’t seem to fly is going to offer a useful ability (answer: yes, she gives you the power of cats!). And, since AoS takes place in the far flung future of two decades from now, all sorts of items are available to Soma, like handguns, RPGs, and even a laser gun. Okay, sure, a legion of lost souls has always had the ability to generate laser blasts, but it’s so much more satisfying when you let loose with a gun that is wider than the protagonist. Couple this with every food item through the whole of human history sitting around Soma’s inventory at any given moment, well, to say the least, Soma has got some options. You could easily play this game a hundred times, and never use the same soul/item combination twice.

And maybe that’s all Koji Igarashi ever wanted.

SpookyIt’s been said before, but, as fun as the Igavania games are, they’re kind of lacking in some design sense. Many areas of many of these games are basic monster gauntlets, and, even going back to SoTN, you can likely point to any random point on the map, and quickly discover a flat hallway that is “only” a series of indistinct monsters. And, while part of the appeal of these Igavanias is that we’ve left the plodding Belmonts in the dust, even at top speed, you’re likely to cut through these dreary hallways again and again. One could easily argue that a “good” Metroidvania should be more… interesting. Look at Super Metroid, look at all the creativity that goes into any given room on that planet… or just consider how a speed booster equipped Samus Aran would absolutely destroy 90% of Alucard’s greatest adventure.

But maybe that was never the point.

Maybe the point has always been all the wild “crap” that could be squeezed into any given corner. Maybe it’s not about appealing room layouts, but the interesting inhabits of those rooms, whether they be psycho maids or waiter skeletons. Maybe it’s about going through that same stupid hallway over and over again, but every time you return, you’ve got a new ability to try out. No, the latest iteration of the fireball or the ability to hover mid jumpkick isn’t going to make the traversal any faster or easier, but it could make things a tweak more exciting. Maybe it’s not about seeing the same stupid skeleton continually, but seeing just how many ways you can mangle those bags o’ bones. Maybe it was never about 100% completion, or uncovering every last bit of the map, or finding the fastest route to (not) Dracula. Maybe it was about something else all this time.

A-hoy!And maybe, having crammed so much into Aria of Sorrow, Koji Igarashi felt content, and decided to move onto other challenges. Going forward, maybe he wanted to join the best of the old with the wonder of his new, and the later Igavanias were born. Maybe Aria of Sorrow was the top, and from there, only dissimilar challenges remained.

Or maybe I’m just happy we finally got a decent boss rush. Hey, whatever makes a game good.

FGC #224 Castlevania Aria of Sorrow

  • System: Gameboy Advance and WiiU Virtual Console. Has anyone picked up any GBA games on the WiiU? Is the emulation any good? I’m still using my Gamecube player over here.
  • Number of players: One Soma. Maybe a Julius, but still just one.
  • Favorite Soul: Waiter Skeleton allows Soma to toss curry at monsters. I like curry. I also like that all monsters seem to target the curry, so you can actually use the curry to effectively manage some of the more crowded challenge rooms. YUMMYGo get yer dinner, Balore!
  • Favorite Boss: In this case, it has to be Julius Belmont. Unlike battles with Richter in SoTN or… Richter again in Portrait of Ruin, this Belmont battle feels right, less like an easter egg and more like the typical Dracula battle… except maybe from the wrong side. Just watch out for that cross special.
  • Favorite Weapon: Excalibur, the legendary sword in the stone… is still in its stone. Cute.
  • Did you know? The plot of this game is based on an actual Nostradamus prophecy regarding a great evil coming to power in 1999. Dude was off by eighteen years, but, still, pretty good for a guy from World Heroes.
  • Would I play again: I love this game. And every time I play it, I have to play…

What’s next? Random ROB is taking a backseat so I can play… Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow for Nintendo DS! What? I have to play the sequel after the original. It’s only proper. Please look forward to it!

Erm