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January 2010

The People's Mario Strikes A Blow

The People's Mario Nintendo's famous Super Mario Bros. takes place in the breezy Mushroom Kingdom where even the clouds offer a friendly smile, but what if the setting were switched to the Communist-entrenched Soviet Union?  How would a Mario of the people handle an onslaught of Goombas?  Check out "The People's Mario" in which Mario strikes with a swift hammer to turn his foes into bloody pulps set against the rousing march "Farewell of Slavianka" as performed by the Red Army Choir.

That was much more awesome than it had any right to be. Check out the nearly fullscreen Flash version for greater clarity if you want to watch it again. Goodness knows I do. Oh my, is this how propaganda works?

(via MetaFilter)

Game Music Theory Studies Of Sonic, Zelda, Mother 3

Name that tune! I've been sharing and armchair=analyzing my favorite video game music for a while, but if you want to read analysis that's operating on a much higher level, head over to Cruise Elroy, a blog where game music is plucked apart through the eyes of a music theory aficionado.  Prepare to be impressed with studies of the soundtracks from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Sonic the Hedgehog, & Mother 3; Nintendo composer Koji Kondo's favorite cadence; and the surprisingly detailed transitional portion of the Ocarina of Time medley from Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

There are actually references to three additional Ocarina songs embedded in this ten-second sample. Let’s dig them out.

First is the coda from “Minuet of Forest”:  Compare 0:08 in “Minuet” with the beginning of the transition section above; the melody from measures 5-6 is played twice. You may notice that the second instance is higher in pitch than the first; this is what music theorists call a sequence.

The second piece is “Bolero of Fire”: Compare 0:05 in the transition above to the opening motive in “Bolero.” The context is different and the specific intervals have changed; however, the piece is still identifiable because it maintains the same melodic contour and is similarly sequential.

The third reference involves that quick piano snippet at 0:09 — it’s a passing allusion to the piano ostinato in the Ocarina boss battle theme: The medley ups the tempo significantly, but the allusion is unmistakable — both feature the same chromatic descent, in the same range, on the same instrument.

Every example is backed up with a sound snippet and sheet music perfect for following along at home.  Never let anyone tell you that game soundtracks cannot be musically interesting or creative.

(via MetaFilter)

Realistic Koopa Paratroopa Is Creepy

Dangerous Creature We've all seen some fantastic sights in video games over the years, but plenty of those sights are best left to the digital domain.  When computer-generated fiction becomes reality, the result can be downright chilling.  Consider this image as seen on a t-shirt for sale over at RIPT Apparel in which a realistic Koopa Paratroopa from the world of Nintendo's classic Super Mario Bros. is seen munching on a fire flower as created by artist Travis Gentry.  That ain't right!  Koopa Paratroopas are supposed to be energetically cute l'il reptiles, not... this.  The shirt is only available for sale until midnight, so if you want to scar your friends, now is the time.

Grand Theft Auto Expansions Finally Coming To PS3, PC

500x_gta_elc_ps3It's been a long time coming, but the two expansion packs for Grand Theft Auto IV — The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony — are finally leaving Microsoft Xbox 360 exclusivity behind and crossing over to the Sony PlayStation 3 and PC.  Available either on a single disc for $39.99 or individually through the PlayStation Network for $19.99, the content will be available in late March.  Kotaku has the details.

"It's been a long time coming, but we are proud to finally deliver Episodes From Liberty City for the PC and PlayStation 3," said Sam Houser. "We appreciate the patience of our PlayStation 3 and PC fans worldwide, and we look forward to putting the games in your hands this March."

According to the title's publisher, Games for Windows - LIVE players can enjoy 32-player multiplayer matches and an advanced video editor, and all fans will experience new songs on the updated soundtrack as featured across Liberty City's 13 diverse radio stations, alongside in-game television and Liberty City's own internet.

While I'm interested in this, a quick survey around the office resulted in lukewarm "meh" all around.  Why?  "Those are old games," one co-worker friend told me.  I say, so what?  Have you played them?  No?  Then what's the problem?  The price is a little higher than I expected, but as long as the experience matches the level of detail and care in Grand Theft Auto IV, I'm willing to pay the entry fee for some playtime in the sandbox.

The Men Who Play Mario

Mario Did you know that there are some people who do not understand why adult men enjoy Super Mario games?  It's true!  Kotaku's Stephen Totilo recently wondered whether or not he's becoming a little too old to enjoy Nintendo's prime franchise, and so he sought out opinions from colleagues who also relish titles such as last year's New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story to discuss why adults enjoy the series and why they keep coming back to it.  He asked me for my thoughts on the matter and I was happy to speak out in favor of the iconic plumber.

Matthew Green, 28-year-old writer for and knows there other, non-Mario games targeted to him. "I'm part of a demographic meant for Modern Warfare and Madden, but I always look forward to a trip back to the Mushroom Kingdom," he wrote to me. He told me he keeps playing because he grew up with thee games and they make him smile.

The Mario games also make these men feel young. Green: "There's a sense of wonder and a spark of imagination at the heart of the Super Mario Bros. games, and as children we pick up on that right away.  Then, over time, most people lose that spark.  School, career, social engagements, relationship drama, mortgage payments, credit card debt, medical ailments, and other things that we pick up on our way to and through adulthood weigh us down and we forget the simple pleasures of saving the princess from a turtle despot with an eye for annexing kingdoms and galaxies.  Those of us who continue to play Super Mario games and who make them a part of our adult lives found a way to keep that spark alive."

As long as Nintendo keeps creating quality Super Mario releases, I'll keep coming back for more.  Despite branching out into the Grand Theft Autos, Bionic Commandos, and Uncharteds of the world, I always come running back to Super Mario when he makes a solid appearance.  His games allow me to revisit a cast of characters and setting that is familiar and friendly when shooting cybernetic villains and stealing cars becomes stale.  Mario's peppy music, matchless platforming, and in-joke humor keep me smiling the entire way through his games, and in the end it's the smiles that I'm after when I play.  For all the analysis and study that I put games through, what I really want is to be entertained and engaged.  The Super Mario Bros. games do that for me every time.

(Well, except Mario Party.  A man has to have standards.)

Become The No. 1 Quarreler In Violence Fight

Violence FightAiming to take on arcade brawlers such as Street Fighter, Final Fight, and Double Dragon back in 1989, Taito unleashed the final word in arcade titles with baffling names: Violence Fight!  Yes, it's Violence Fight, the game where the mafia, reckless drivers, and general businessmen compete to become the "No. 1 Quarreler" in a series of violent fights.  Choose from four larger-than-life titans such as Bat Blue and Ben Smith to take on competitors from all over the United States who are "speaking boastingly of their strength".  Prepare yourself for Violence Fight!

Taito's 1989 alley brawler beat 'em up Violence Fight remains a classic of the genre - if the genre in question is 'shit arcade games that sank without trace'. Stagger slowly around dull, samey levels! Mash at the unresponsive controls to perform as many as four or five moves! Struggle to comprehend the poorly localised text!

My favourite part of Violence Fight, ('favourite' here operating in a purely technical capacity, as it might in sentences such as 'my favourite STD' or 'my favourite suppurating head wound') are the big comic sound effects that appear whenever you land a blow that knocks your opponent over. GOGON! BOGON!

I can't stop giggling like an idiot at the title "Violence Fight".  You have to admit that it tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the game.  Taito tried again in 1992 with a sequel, Violence Fight II, but considering that we haven't heard of plans for Super Violence Fight or Violence Fight HD Remix, you can probably figure out why we haven't heard of this fighting game franchise again or, perhaps, ever.

(via Reddit)

Desktop Wallpaper Offers Eternal Choice

Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt If you're like me, then the very first image you saw after turning on your brand new Nintendo Entertainment System was the menu screen in which you're expected to choose between Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt.  Such a classic moment deserves suitable desktop wallpaper for your various digital devices, so David Oxford of Kombo and Poison Mushroom has put together a little something to commemorate the eternal choice.

The resolution used here is 1024 x 768, but with a black outline, adjusting the size should not be difficult. Here is the one I have set up on mine, taken from the start-up screen of the game which came with my first NES, Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt:

Head over to Poison Mushroom to download your preferred variation (centered or indented).  Incidentally, the choice may go on forever, but the answer is simple: Super Mario Bros.  You'd be surprised how often the correct answer in life is Super Mario Bros.

The Legend of Zelda's Handheld Adventures

Linksawakening There's more fascinating discussion and history coming from Nintendo's "Iwata Asks" series of interviews, and this time the topic revolves around the many handheld titles in the Legend of Zelda series.  History's spotlight falls on Link's Awakening, Oracle of Ages, Oracle of Seasons, Minish Cap, and just a touch of Phantom Hourglass as Takashi Tezuka and Eiji Aonuma reminisce with Satoru Iwata.  Here's a sample of the dialog in which the surreal nature of Link's Awakening is explained:

Tezuka: I remember that we made The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening in a real peculiar frame of mind. We began in the free spirit of an afterschool club, so the contents are quite unrestrained. If you look at it, you can tell.  Characters similar to Mario and Luigi appear, and  Yoshi dolls appear, too.

Iwata: Characters like Mario and Luigi?

Tezuka: Yeah. (laughs)

Iwata: Was that all right?

Tezuka: It was for the Game Boy system, so we thought, "Oh, it'll be fine." (laughs)

Everyone: (laughs)

Aonuma: We couldn't do much visually anyway.

Tezuka: That's right. It was monochrome. We've moved along at quite a good clip in a relatively freewheeling manner. Maybe that's why we had so much fun making it. It was like we were making a parody of The Legend of Zelda.

Iwata: A parody of your own game? (laughs)

Tezuka: Yeah. (laughs)

Iwata: Today, if you just barged ahead using characters resembling Mario and Luigi-even if it were for a Nintendo game-it would be quite a problem.

Tezuka: Yeah, I'd get mad. (bluntly)

Everyone: (laughs)

Nakago: And it wasn't just Mario and Luigi, but something like Kirby, too.

Iwata: Huh?

Tezuka: Um... Kirby was in there, too. I think we asked for permission, but...

Iwata: Oh. (laughs)

Tezuka: But some people at HAL Laboratory might say they never heard anything.

Iwata: I suppose so. Oh well. I'm not sure how many people at that time recognized it was Kirby.

Aonuma: But that character appeared as one of Link's enemies, and if you got close, he would suck you up! (laughs)

Iwata: About that time, Kirby was still just a fledgling character, so I think people thought that it was an honor to have him appear in a The Legend of Zelda game.

Stick around past the end of the interview to see some never before seen ancient design documents that detail early concepts from the very first Legend of Zelda game for the Nintendo Entertainment System back when the game was still called "Adventure" and an early schematic for some unused level design in the first Super Mario Bros.  I would love to be a fly on the wall for one of these discussions.  Aside from the history being discussed, these meetings must be absolutely hilarious because these guys never stop laughing.  It's no wonder their games are packed with fun. 

Secret Origins: Mario Is Missing!

Mario Is Missing! I really should have known better, but I went ahead anyway.  1993 was a difficult year for Super Mario fans such as myself.  Super Mario World had been released two years prior, while the next Mushroom Kingdom adventure was still two years away.  What was a Nintendo fanatic supposed to do to bridge the gap?  The Software Toolworks must have sensed the building demand in the marketplace, because the company licensed everyone's favorite plumber for a series of edutainment titles based on the popular Super Mario franchise.  The gaming magazines of the day made it seem palatable - almost enjoyable, even - but after all these years my one gaming regret involves that boring summer day when, at the age of twelve, I walked up to the gaming counter at K-Mart and said "I would like to buy Mario Is Missing."

Continue reading "Secret Origins: Mario Is Missing!" »

Need For Speed Among First Wave Of Apple iPad Games

iPadHas the new Apple iPad changed your life yet?  Maybe it's just me, but I can't say I have a need for an oversized iPhone.  Still, the iPad is coming and Electronic Arts is ready to jump in, as the company debuted another version of Need for Speed: Shift at the Apple press event.  Kotaku has the details.

EA's Travis Boatman came on stage to show off an iPad version of Need for Speed: Shift. Rather than comment on how pretty the photograph looks, let's hear from our own Michael McWhertor, entrenched at the Apple event as we speak.

"They're showing off an iPad version of Need For Speed: Shift. Looks like a much higher res version of an iPhone game, but it takes advantage of screen real estate. Tap on the car to get an in cockpit view, tap on the rear view mirror to see behind you."

A good show, but only one game? Boatman left the crowd with a promise: "Expect a lot more from EA soon."

Get ready for a whole slew of iPad games from the big third-party publishers. Is there really a demand for Need For Speed and other console-based franchises on a tablet computer? I can sort of understand the push for iPhone games since they are basically portable by definition, but while the iPad is designed for on-the-go use, it seems impractical to hunker down with one in a public place just to play a game.  Talking with co-workers has me thinking that I'm missing the point though, but they're all Apple-faithful and I tend to be critical about new technology that sports a high price tag.