Archive for April, 2014

When we think of fantastic scores or memorable music, most people would tend to go toward artists’ direct albums or compositions completed for movies or television series. Some of the greats, like John Williams, Danny Elfman, James Horner, and Hans Zimmer, have made the movie experience that much greater by matching up the score to the action or drama on-screen. Most people felt a strong reaction when they first heard the fanfare of the Star Wars theme or the playfulness of the music from The Nightmare Before Christmas. It invokes tension, passion, levity, or power.

The same could be said from the world of gaming…

Music in video games has been vital to making some of the greatest gaming experiences that much greater. Star-crossed lovers finally admitting their feelings, the majesty of a new world being opened, and a melodic backdrop that fills out an adventure that is just beginning are just some of the connections that music has made in the gaming world. Admittedly, my gaming experiences are somewhat diverse, but I have tended to appreciate certain series over others. I have been a loyal Nintendo follower but have dabbled in the world of Sony and on the PC, with little connection to Microsoft or Sega. Still, the list below includes some of the best musical compositions I have heard over the years from some of the most memorable games across these many platforms.

For this list, I will only be picking one song per franchise in order to diversify the songs listed. While many title themes can be identified for being extremely memorable, I am purposely going to shift my focus to specific tracks that invoke a level of intense connection with the experience on the screen, with honorable mentions for other songs that are similarly impactful.

10) Metroid – Prologue: The Metroid series has used a lot of mechanical sounds to produce its accompanying themes, but the prologue in Super Metroid truly raised the bar for the fanfare of the series. A true accomplishment, beating Ridley and Mother Brain is no easy task. Neither is traversing a harsh terrain with no true allies to save you. Samus was also revealed to be a woman in this game, which made the experience sweeter. Women had not been protagonist in these games with the same type of bravado and matching soundtrack. The finale/prologue changes the atmosphere to a more heroic element, adding to that accomplishment of halting evil and escaping the collapsing planet. The 16-bit song is just fine, but the orchestrated version takes it to a whole new level.

9) Mega Man – Dr. Wily’s Castle: Having achieved victory over the first 8 bosses, Mega Man finally reaches the end of his quest at the evil Dr. Wily’s lair. Achieving this is no small feat, as the simplified controls and dangerous terrain of the first eight levels does not provide an easy path toward this goal. The high energy brings the player back into the zone with the ability to take on this final set of levels. Some of the other Mega Man games revisited this soundtrack, including a revitalized version in the Mega Man X series.

8) Star Fox – Corneria: The soundtrack to the Star Fox series has a lot of use of electric guitar and in a lot of ways sounds like some of the music from the Mega Man series. What makes this particular song so memorable is that it sets up the epic quest of traveling throughout the galaxy to take on the evil Andross. Starting off the game with such a rocking’ ballad helps to set the tone almost like starting off a great mixtape with You Give Love a Bad Name. The remainder of the game has equally energetic music but only Star Wolf comes close to the level of energy as this one.

7) Mirror’s Edge – Still Alive: While I only ever played this game in its demo version, the main theme from the game is clearly present, upfront, and magical. The song gives the perfect background to the free running experience of the game. Mirror’s Edge was an interesting concept even without its music. A game that is based on navigating through the rooftops and a city on foot without being able to stop for a breath keeps the energy level up and could be a little too intense for some. What the music does is to almost make you feel like you are flying and gliding through the landscape and grooving while exploring each of the runs. This may not be an epic song, a beautifully sad ballad, or a hard-edged battle theme, but it is exactly what is needed to enhance the experience of this game.

6) Super Smash Bros. – Melee (Main Theme): With the first Super Smash Bros. being such a great success, the sequel was highly anticipated and seen to be a potential instant classic on the Gamecube. One of the best things about this song is that it is everything that is amazing about some of Nintendo’s greatest franchises. When I first turned on the system with this game, I was excited to see what Nintendo had produced. With the characters coming alive on-screen (and in a way that was far and above the graphics of the N64), the music just made the experience that much more epic. Even before actually playing the game, I knew this was a true winner. Super Smash Bros. Brawl had a more epic feel to it with the choir element, but the difference between the first and second games was significantly more memorable.

5) Super Mario – Gusty Garden Galaxy: Anyone can say that the first game’s music is the most memorable and it has been adapted to fit the proceeding games in the Mario series. Super Mario 64 revolutionized the series with the 3-D worlds, while Super Mario Sunshine raised the bar in graphic presentation. Finally arriving at Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii, Gusty Garden Galaxy enhanced an already memorable series of compositions. SMG as not only 3-D, but it was also so big that it could not fit on one world. There were a few other musical themes that appeared before this one, but Gusty Garden Galaxy is just fun, playful, and majestic to a level that truly boasts the new heights of the series. The plumber is going nowhere and this theme is proof of Nintendo’s ability to still make its primary formula work toward the benefit of the fans.

4) Castlevania – Lost Painting: To be honest, this song is better in the recomposed piano version, but the entire soundtrack for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is spectacular. The entire game is amazing. It officially combined the RPG genre with the action-adventure genre to create an action RPG. While Alucard is the only true playable character, the ill-fated vampire turns his actions toward thwarting the villainous Dracula from overtaking the world. The castle which he must traverse is full of twists and turns, and a whole assortment of thematic areas with their own musical arrangements. When this song arises, it is like a reprieve from the harsher elements of the game, but not fully removed from the majesty or sorcery of Dracula’s castle. The version in the game was understated from its arrangement, but the many iterations, both orchestrated and arranged for piano, help to better paint the picture of mystery and adventure that the game produced.

3) Chrono Trigger – Magus Confronted: Similar to a series higher on this list, the music from this game truly enhanced the experience in remarkable ways. Battle music in RPGs is typically energetic and hard-edged, but the reveal of the anti-hero and the start of the battle had a level of fanfare unmatched by most other games up to and beyond that point in gaming history. Chrono and his team enter Magus’s Castle, defeat Ozzie and his gang, and arrive at the sanctum at the lowest level of the castle. Walking into the room, there is an eerie, quiet atmosphere about the upcoming confrontation. Arriving before Magus, he goes into a speech about disrupting his plans and then the music begins with some soft strings, vocals, and flute performing a descending ominous introduction to the battle music. Finally, the fanfare begins and the epic battle against the wizard commences. While the fight itself is easy to manage in terms of his attacks and patterns, the battle music gives the experience a much more epic feel. Later battles against Lavos and Queen Zeal are much tougher but lack the sophistication and energy that Magus achieves.

2) The Legend of Zelda – Fi’s Lament: For arguably the best franchise in gaming history, this may seem like an unlikely song to reach the top of the list. The main theme is easily more memorable and invokes that sense of adventure and heroism that has become a gaming standard. Even some of the themes from Ocarina of Time, such as Zelda’s Lullaby or Gerudo Valley, are more widely known. It is because this song produces a much stronger specific response that it wins out in this list. Fi is a character that may be more forgettable as Link’s sidekick, but she surprised gamers when this theme finally appeared in the game. After finishing his quest and while ready to return the master sword to its stone, Link discovers that he is also parting ways with Fi. Though she is a creature without emotion, there is something different in these finals moments that the two characters share. They quested to save Zelda and restore balance to the land, but their goodbye appears to have extracted a sense of emotion out of the stoic Fi. Link appears affected by realizing that he is leaving her behind, and gamers suddenly felt the same way. Navi, the King of Red Lions, and Midna never were able to create that same emotion in their final goodbyes and that achievement should be recognized.

1) Final Fantasy – To Zanarkand: This series could easily have its own top thirty. Each of the Final Fantasy games have been accomplishments in storytelling and composition. FF6 has several tracks that take the 16-bit game to amazing heights, including Terra’s Theme and Phantom ForestFF7 could possibly win as the best musical soundtrack out of the entire series, particularly the Main Theme and Aerith’s Theme. There are even several competitors in FFX that could give To Zanarkand a run for its money, including Suteki Da Ne for its portrayal of Tidus and Yuna finally giving into their passions and sharing a beautiful moment alone together. In the end, the top song on the list serves as the title track and the one that builds the story toward its conclusion for its protagonist. Tidus is searching for proof of what happened to him during the attack by Sin that threw him 1000 years into the future. He joins Yuna in hopes of learning the truth about his time travel and his father while also supporting her quest to defeat Sin. On the eve of reaching Zanarkand, the group gathers for their final descent into the lost city. Lost in thought, this piano theme plays and ties the story together in the perfect way, part love song and part thematic ballad of an ill-fated hero. Just a perfectly composed piece.

Agree with these selections? Tell me what your favorite songs or themes are from your favorite games.

While in competition with the Sega Genesis and the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, Nintendo prepared its next generation system. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) upped the ante to 16-bit graphics and expanded the company’s ability to produce a greater variety of games. All of Nintendo’s favorite characters returned and in exponentially greater ways. Mario, Samus, Link, Kirby, and Donkey Kong make the list for their contributions, but can they make the top spot?

Honorable Mention: Super Mario RPG; Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island; Street Fighter II Turbo; Donkey Kong Country; Earthworm Jim; Super Castlevania IV; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtle in Time; F-Zero; Contra III; Earthbound; Gradius III; Tetris Attack; Super Punch-Out!!; Super Star Wars; Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3; Killer Instinct; Mega Man X 2 & 3; NBA Jam Tournament Edition

Star_Fox_SNES10) Star Fox

Starting a new Nintendo franchise, Fox McCloud entered the scene with his Arwing and a trio of wingmen ready to do battle with the great Andross. Capitalizing on the underserved arena of flight simulators, this game combined an intriguing flight experience with an entertaining comedic banter from the wingmen. Slippy Toad, Peppy Hare, and Falco Lombard accompany the star fighter Fox to Planet Venom to hopefully save the galaxy from the mad scientist’s evil grasp. This was challenging and pioneered the 3-D graphic design for the future of gaming.

250px-Kirby_Super_Star_Coverart9) Kirby’s Super Star

The pink puffball came back and with a much more integrated and expansive game this his first console and handheld editions. Kirby’s world expanded to the realm of two-player adventure with a whole new combination of powers to absorb. The game had a few adventures that took the more traditional route, but then it added a boss battle mode, treasure hunting adventure, and a couple of mini-games.  It may not have had the same difficulty level as the other side-scrolling adventures, but it was still tons of fun to play with a friend.

Mega_Man_X_Coverart8) Mega Man X

While the first set of Mega Man games were simple yet challenging, the X games added a number of different elements that took the series to a new level. The basic design was the same, with the 8 boss levels and series of stages leading up to an end boss. Added to the game was a new set of upgrades, dash abilities, and blaster charging, as well as a new master villain, Sigma, and new ally, Zero. The stages were bright, colorful, and dynamic, allowing players the engage in a new level of gameplay that far exceeds its predecessors. The 2nd and 3rd games are also impressive, but this one started the newly revamped series.

super-mario-world-17) Super Mario World

Mario returns for one of his top two games in this list. Super Mario World took the experience of Super Mario 3 and advanced it to the new system. Taking Mario back to the age of the dinosaurs, the feel of the game was similar to its side-scroller predecessors. Yoshi made his first appearance as Mario’s wingman. Replacing the leaf with the feather cape was another slight change. The most important thing was that it revisited the formula that had been working for so long, with the Koopa kids and battling with Bowser to save the princess. This ended up being a great way to start the new system.

DK_Country_26) Donkey Kong Country II

While the first game in the series reintroduced Donkey Kong in a new way, the sequel really mastered the formula for collecting items throughout each level and making elaborate and expertly designed levels and bosses. Diddy and Dixie Kong traveled through several different areas, each with their own special bosses and with the help of some animal friends. Racing across a level with Rambi the Rhino or Engaurde the Swordfish made for some great experiences. After collecting all of the items in each level, the bonus world truly ramped up the difficulty level and made the total gaming experience a blast.

Supermariokart_box5)  Super Mario Kart

Racing with Nintendo characters…excellent! This served as the first Nintendo game to connect characters from across several of its franchises. With characters including Mario, Luigi, Peach, Bowser, Donkey Kong, Toad, and Yoshi, players had 16 tracks to explore and race through to to earn the Mushroom, Flower, Star, and Special Cups. If the racing was not enough, players were able to grab special items and use them to gain an advantage. Added to this, there was a battle mode to enjoy as well. The overall design was a little crude, but there was only so much that could be done in the SNES. This was still an instant classic.

250px-Smetroidbox4) Super Metroid

Metroid connected some of the best elements of Mario and Zelda, but Super Matroid officially became its own supreme game. Samus finally revealed that she was a girl, but she also unveiled a new set of weapons and a truly dynamic experience. Mother Brain came back but was joined by a new iconic member of the Metroid series, Ridley. The game was innovative for the way that it incorporated weapon upgrading, saving, and backtracking to explore the entire world. It was surprising that there was not another addition to this series until the Gamecube was available 8 years after this release.

The_Legend_of_Zelda_A_Link_to_the_Past_SNES_Game_Cover3) Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

No Nintendo system’s top ten list would be complete without at least one Zelda game. Considered one of the best of the franchise, A Link to the Past truly expanded the story of Link and Zelda, as well as expanded the art of exploring the world of Hyrule. Link found himself a hero to start the game, but he was unprepared for the adventure ahead and had some serious exploring ahead of him to collect the necessary weapons and items to battle Sahasrahla and Ganon to save Zelda. Bouncing between two worlds and becoming a rabbit until finding the correct item to save his form, the Zelda franchise was forever changed by the continued expansiveness of its successors.

st_ds_box_ya2) Chrono Trigger

One of the best genres of games that released on the SNES was role-playing games. Squaresoft was particularly successful at creating these experience. Enter Chrono Trigger. A legendary hero started off as a spiky red-headed kid who got entangled with the princess, Marle, and found himself traveling through time to stop Lavos from destroying the world. The game followed 7 playable characters and made sure to have story lines that incorporated all of them as important to the broader story. The moment that Chrono, the protagonist, died in the middle of the story, it served as the first game that truly shocked players with the death of its title character. Though he could be and must be saved to progress, beating the game was discovered to not truly be the end. The game also boasted several different endings based on at what point of the storyline Lavos was defeated. Truly an impressive title.

2408854-4670746880-ff3_u1) Final Fantasy VI (FF3 – US)

Surprise to many, FF6 still remains my favorite game on the SNES. This sequel of the Final Fantasy series was compelling and challenging. Terra, a troubled young woman, found herself struggling with gaps in her past and eventually discovered that she was part human part Esper. In a world of magic, she is saved by a thief named Locke, and later joined by a large team of allies. One of the RPG world’s best villains made his appearance in this game. Kefka had that infamous laugh and challenging ascent through the final battle. Similar to the #2 game on this list, the game allowed for every character to engage in their own storyline and character development, particularly when the world is reshaped in the middle of the story. I have played through this game too many times to count and have never grown tired of the experience.

Next up will be the N64. Sometimes considered the underrated system of the Nintendo series of consoles, it boasts some of the best games of all time.

Corruption in political activities is not a new concept, particularly with campaigning. Parties toss around attack ads rather than actually promote their beliefs and platforms with any legitimate detail. “Disconnected” groups make public claims to defame opposing candidates. Voters get turned away by threatening individuals. Parts of the Voting Rights Act have been stricken down in connection to a belief that racism has diminished or vanished, which creates more challenges against Voter ID laws. Large donors have found ways to use Super PACs to get around the $5,200 limit per donor. Money seems to be the most significant concern out of all of these, although there are some other elements that are used to represent this corruption.

Money…the element that influences politics. The Supreme Court has now opened the flood gates for more control of money from the wealthy. The former policy was that a donor could only contribute $5,200 total, but companies and organizations could donate whatever they wanted into Super PACs. The new ruling allows for individual donors to donate to as many candidates as they choose. They just cannot donate more than $5,200 to a single donor.

On the surface, conservatives can argue that this is just opening the opportunity for more people to participate in the process. The problem is that you have to have the money to contribute to multiple candidates, as the average American is never going to contribute more than the $5,200 allowed to one candidate. Average donors may contribute $5 or $10 to their favorite candidates, but they cannot compete with the available bank of the wealthiest 1%. Less than even a fraction of 1% of campaign contributors ever have hit the $5,200 limit. This leaves the playing field for candidates significantly on the side of the two-party system, particularly the conservative business connection part of that, and decreases the value of the average American.

Liberal/democratic candidates will be able to benefit from this as well, as they have some wealthy potential contributors at their disposal, but this means that moderate and independent candidates are now facing a steeper climb to have the opportunity to succeed in politics. It is too easy to imagine that corruption will breed expectations for quid pro quo for donors to candidates. Justice Scalia has stated that he believes that only that type of corruption would be of concern, but he somehow seems to fail to see that as a clear possibility in this case. All I can see happening is that the 646 wealthy donors that contributed the $5,200 maximum in the last election will spread their wealth around to more of their favorite candidates and/or those that cozy up to them for their money, like Sheldon Adelson.

I just hope that enough people pay attention to the significance of this change after others, like Citizens United, and find ways to keep the process as honest as possible.

o-DAILY-SHOW-facebook

To see the episode with Jon Stewart’s attack on the ruling…

With spring finally starting to reveal itself, I feel like I want to unveil my favorite games of all time. I am a somewhat casual, somewhat more invested gamer and have been playing since I was old enough to understand the Atari 2600. Classics like Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, River Raid, and Combat filled the hours as I played with my older sister. Taking a moment to reflect on my favorites, I decided to follow the route of so many YouTube channels and produce my own Top Ten list.

“Like” if you agree. Comment if you think I missed something or would argue against me.

Honorable Mentions: A Boy and His Blob; NES Open (Golf); Contra/Super C; Battletoads; Super Mario Bros. 2; Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!; Castlevania; Chip n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers

f08069c9e465da174f931299d050d9961331534856_full10) Little Nemo: The Dream Master

Though this may be a game that most people passed up, this was one of the first games to put to screen the idea of transporting into one’s dreams and do it well. Nemo enters his dreams and has the ability to take on the qualities of different creatures as he navigates different worlds. The difficulty curve on this game was surprisingly high, as the later levels required a lot more awareness and decision-making when switching between animals. Capcom had been surging with a number of great titles at the time, but few had the success of their final product like this one.

255px-DrMarioBox9) Dr. Mario

Tetris may be the standard, but Dr. Mario was the king of the NES puzzle games. With the basic task of destroying viruses by stacking matching colored pills on them, the game was easy to learn but difficult to master. It was surprising that using just three colors was enough to make this a worthwhile game. The best part of this puzzle game compared to others, like Tetris, was that the two-player mode expanded the gameplay immensely and set the tone for multiplayer puzzle games of the future. Personally, I got to a point of just setting it to the max level and seeing how many times in a row I could beat it, but I had plenty of practice to master the art of virus destruction.

KA_Boxart8) Kirby’s Adventure

Like Nemo above, Kirby was imaginative and transformative, but few realized that the little pink puffball would so quickly emerge as a key Nintendo mascot. Similar to Nemo, the side-scrolling hero could adopt the special abilities of the enemies to help defeat bosses and power through levels. The difference was that this hero had a much broader range of possibilities and caught on more definitively with players. Spawning a whole series between the console and handheld systems, Kirby proved that he was more power than his stature may suggest.

TMNT NES American Box Art7) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle II: The Arcade Game

Truly riding on the success of the TV series, TMNT reinvented itself between the first and second games. The difficulty level on the first game was so high that most players failed to ever see the ending. Going more with the traditional beat ’em up, side-scrolling style play, the reinvented series started with a strong single/two-player combat system and memorable moments and characters. Konami even hid a variation of the infamous code in the game that allowed for players to start the game off with 99 lives, making it impossible to ever lose (unless you really tried).

cover_large6) Mega Man Series

It is so difficult to choose just one of the games because this entire series for the NES was excellent. The little blue warrior with the upgradable weapons proved himself as a staple of the early years of Nintendo. The bosses may have been somewhat simple at the beginning, but it was Nintendo’s version of encourage fan forecasting of what elements or bosses would appear in the next installment. No matter if it was Wood Man, Toad Man, or Shadow Man, players knew that Dr. Wiley was waiting for them at the end of the game. The save system was interested, as players had to write down a code to return to the game but it helped when a level proved itself more challenging.

1355101207-005) Metroid

Blending together some of the best aspects of a few of Nintendo’s other great titles, Samus entered the scene as a heroine who was on a mission to stop Mother Brain from destruction. Ready with an arm cannon which could be upgraded, she battled her way through a treacherous planet to stop her antagonist. The ability to turn into a ball which could drop bombs was a helpful bonus. The identity of who Samus really was somehow stayed a secret until the sequel on the SNES, but it was clear that Nintendo had found itself a newer, more aggressive mascot.

finalfantasynintendoentertna_14) Final Fantasy

Although not the first role-playing game to capture some serious attention, Final Fantasy had a depth that was truly impressive on an 8-bit console. There were no true main characters, but players had the ability to select their desired party from a collection of different roles. Whether you wanted a band of thieves or a combination with different mages, the customization was impressive for 1990. This game also spawned, arguably, the best role-playing series of all time. I have spent weeks and months playing through Final Fantasy 3, 7, 10, and 12, and it is all thanks to this humble start.

1165732965-003) Duck Tales

Not many would place this game so high on the list. Duck Tales was a fun TV show that got adapted into a console game. There were other attempts that were good but not nearly as successful, including Darkwing Duck and Chip n’ Dale. The difference with this game was the combination of difficulty, playfulness, and hidden gems that made this title one of Nintendo’s best. Scrooge McDuck is not a typical protagonist. As an already wealthy adventurer, it would be surprising to find him wanting to put himself in danger, but he does it anyway. Needing to save his nephews and eventually encounter Dracula were interesting extra touches that made this game such a gem.

1036635022-002) Super Mario Bros. 3

The first game was a classic. The sequel was a quirky new take on the themes of the game. The third was a masterpiece. Mario has been Nintendo’s lead character for years and this game served as a tribute to the character, even relatively early in his existence. The game was the first to introduce Bowser’s children as the world bosses. It also introduced a wider range of powers, including the Hammer Suit, Super Leaf, Frog Suit, P-Wing, and Tanooki Suit. The game was challenging, especially in the final world with the never-ending tank and airship levels. This could easily be the top game of the console, except for the fact that Nintendo created another excellent series…

eu_box_front1) The Legend of Zelda

Link has come to save the Princess Zelda and all Nintendo fans immediately rejoice. This was an interesting overhead view adventure game that combined fighting, puzzles, and questing as players explored the world of Hyrule. This game sparked a franchise that has produced some of the best games of all time. Link, Zelda, and Ganon are linked for eternity and fans would never have it any other way. Boasting a regular and second quest, the game optimized the early save system and the complexity of the future of adventure games.

Stay tuned for the next installment featuring the SNES Top Ten, and like/comment whether you agree or would challenge my list for the NES.