Review: NES Remix 2 (Wii U eShop)

Sorry about the lack of a GHG update yesterday. I set out to finish the main portion of this game, and finish it I did. Finally!

Anyway, if you’ve been following the blog or my social media posts over the past couple weeks, you know that I’ve been putting a lot of time into this game. How much is a lot? I just checked my Daily Log, and yeah, I said wow:


At nearly 43 hours in — and I still don’t consider myself done with it — this little $15 eShop title absolutely consumed me. It was really just supposed to be a slight distraction between bigger games like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Nier. Instead, it became one of the most memorable, challenging, and competitive games I’ve ever played.

Now, for those who haven’t played either of these games yet, they are essentially a collection of bite-sized challenges built off of classic NES games, such as Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Dr. Mario, Kirby’s Adventure, and Metroid. There are also lesser-known ones thrown in there as well, such as Wrecking Crew, Wario’s Woods, Pinball, and Clu Clu Land.

Each of these games has a variety of different challenges to complete, many of which have time and life limitations. Additionally, separate sub-challenges may be involved that require you to get through different types of obstacles within each title. All of them have a hidden running timer that records how long each one takes, and depending on your time, you are awarded 1-3 stars. If you do particularly well, you get a rainbow 3-star.

Acquiring those rainbow stars don’t really do anything, and they are there mainly for personal satisfaction and bragging rights. You can experience 100% of what both games have to offer by simply getting 3 stars on all of the stages.

Additionally, there are Remix and Bonus stages that can combine elements from multiple games, have enhanced graphics, and change up gameplay mechanics and level structures from what you may be used to. All stages, remixed or otherwise, run the entire range in terms of difficulty. Consider the original game challenges a warm-up for these.


I really liked 2013’s NES Remix, but it wasn’t quite as compelling and enjoyable as its sequel. While game selection certainly plays a part in terms of perceived quality, NES Remix 2 introduces some key improvements that elevate the experience.

My favorite new feature is that your best playthroughs are all recorded, as are those of other players within Nintendo’s Wii U/3DS social network, the Miiverse. This not only lets you share your best times with others, but you can now watch all of those really fast runs from the many talented players out there. While I would recommend figuring out how to best navigate each challenge on your own first, I think it’s a lot of fun seeing how other players achieve such incredibly low times. This helped raise my game considerably.

Contrast this with how it’s done in the first NES Remix, where you can see other times, but not how they were achieved. It gave you a time to aim for, but you had to go onto something else like YouTube to actually see them. Integrating it all into the game itself is an inspired touch.

I’ve noticed that the community is much tighter for NES Remix 2 because of this, even though both games are part of the same collective group. I’ve had a blast sharing my times, along with a slew of doodles I’ve done to go along with them, like these, which I drew for Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Kirby’s Adventure, and Super Mario Bros. 3:




One thing the NES Remix games lack — and the sequel is no exception — are true leaderboards. The only way to see other players’ times is if they manually post them to the Miiverse. If not, you won’t see them pop up while in-game.

This is too bad. Hopefully if we see future installments, this is something they can add, because it would be great to see how your scores truly stack up against the rest of the world.


Speaking of leaderboards, however, one of the new modes — Championship Mode — does include rankings. This mode, inspired by the 1990 Nintendo World Championships, combines three challenges from Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, and Dr. Mario. You have a little more than six minutes to get through the three games, and much of your final scores comes down to how well you do in Dr. Mario.

The neatest thing I noticed going from the main game’s challenges to Championship Mode is how the skills you learn there translate over. I actually felt like a much better player at all three games as a result. It’s a lot of fun, and after a few tries I’ve already worked my way up into the top 25. I have a long ways to go before I come close to catching the leader, though!


The other new mode in NES Remix 2 is Super Luigi Bros., which is a remixed version of Super Mario Bros. Inspired by stages from the first NES Remix, you take Luigi from right-to-left, along with Luigi-esque physics that really change the way the game is played.

Admittedly, I haven’t played through the entirety of this mode yet, since it’s not all that interesting to me. Championship Mode is, in my opinion, by far the one that is the more addicting of the two.


NES Remix 2 feels a bit easier than the original game. It might be because the games control better for the most part, but I do think they were much more lenient with star requirements this time around. I think this is fine, because the heart of the game is continuing to whittle down and refine your times as much as possible.

If you play the game this way, you’ll obtain all the rainbows relatively easily, but even if you want to just semi-casually 3-star everything, you shouldn’t run into too many issues. This keeps things fresh, moving the whole experience forward at a good pace.

NES Remix 2 is a great game. It represents one of the best values to be found on the Wii U eShop, and is one of my favorite games of the year so far. Highly recommended.

  • Graphics & Presentation: A-
    Beautiful 8-bit sprites with subtle updates in the Remix stages, such as colorful, painted backgrounds. Improved Miiverse integration and newer games give it a more polished feel than its predecessor.
  • Music & Sound Effects: B+
    Clear audio, remixed music, and one particular Super Mario Bros. theme late in the game is especially memorable. The Game Over and Miss sounds are the same as before, though.
  • Gameplay & Controls: A-
    Newer games means mostly better controls, with a couple titles like Wario’s Woods and Zelda II feeling more slippery than they should. Tons of content rewards throughout keep you coming back for more, and additional game modes provide even more to see and do.
  • Value: A+
    If you play to chase high scores, this will keep you occupied for many, many hours. $15 is a bargain for this much gameplay.

Overall: A



Quick Update: NES Remix 2 (Wii U)

I’ll be back tomorrow with my regularly scheduled update, but for now, here’s a video of my Remix II replays from NES Remix 2:

Full disclosure: I had a big mug of coffee before recording this, and humorously, you can tell I’m kinda wired throughout. I’m talking way too fast, and I run out of breath a few times as well!

I do like the energy, though, so hopefully I strike that happy medium next time.


Speaking About Games: It’s Getting Easier!

For a couple of weeks now, I’ve been recording gameplay footage and providing running commentary for each of them. Although I really fumbled my way through the first couple videos — which took countless takes to finally get right — they’re becoming a lot less painful to do, which is a good sign.

My first one, which is already kind of difficult to watch, can be found HERE. Just listening to it, I can tell I was very distracted by the sound of my own voice in the room, and I was also likely trying to be quiet since family was on the other side of my closed door. Focusing through distractions I surely wasn’t.

For my second attempt, I tried something a little different, opting to do a preview of the game I’m currently playing, NES Remix 2 for the Wii U:

I wanted it to be slightly more formal, but still feel casual, and I think it turned out OK. There are, of course, a lot of things I would change, but instead of iterate endlessly on the same thing and risk it losing any sort of spontaneity (and me getting burnt out in the process), I decided to stop with what I had and publish it.

One of the most important bits of advice I ever heard was from one of my favorite YouTubers, boogie2988, who said to just keep creating content and get it all out there, no matter how you’re feeling, and eventually you’ll build up a base of fans, subscribers, and new friends. Check him out if you haven’t; he has a lot of great things to say. He also partially inspired me to start this whole GHG journey.

Anyway, I like the overall flow of that video, and I’m glad I was able to squeeze in the parts about Super Luigi Bros. and Championship Mode, which I still haven’t really spent any time with as I continue through the main game. One thing I do regret is not getting the information about Championship Mode right. A little pre-recording research would have made me sound less like an ignoramus! Oh well, c’est la vie.

My third video was a singular set of NES Remix 2 replays for Zelda II: The Adventure of Link:

What I wanted to do with this one was showcase a single, focused theme, going through all of the game’s challenges in order. I was also admittedly pretty proud of some of my times, so it’s a mildly selfish opportunity to show off a little bit, which is tough, since I don’t like bragging about much.

My voice still sounds a bit hesitant, with odd pauses, mixed-up tenses, phrases that don’t go together, and the dreaded “speaking from the throat”, which is a clear sign of nervousness.

This took me quite a few restarts to get going, and after about the tenth fail, I almost gave up. Good thing I didn’t, because about 95% of the audio here is from the final take that followed.

Today, I did my fourth video, which walks through all twenty of the first Remix I stages from the same game:

I feel like I’m starting to catch my stride here. Not only did I get this in just two takes, but I think I’m sounding more comfortable and relaxed.

Much like my blog posts, I need to work on better word variety, stamping out fillers like “you know”, “uhh”, “yeah”, etc., and like the First Impressions video earlier in this post, doing more research and preparation prior to hitting the record button would really help. It’s a small detail, but it’d be nice to be able to call out the actual enemy names and such instead of falling back on generics like “that guy”, “those baddies”, and “the boss”.

This is also my longest video at just about 12 minutes. That’s a lot of talking from someone known for being a pretty quiet guy.

Anyway, I’m having a blast doing this, and apologies again for everything being so NES Remix-focused recently. It’s such a fun series that I hope we see more of in the future. Just between the Game Boy Color, Super Nintendo, and Game Boy Advance, the possibilities are endless!


Review: Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (Sega Master System, 1990)


Back in May, I reviewed the original Sega Genesis and updated PlayStation 3 versions of Castle of Illusion. While the classic Genesis game is one of the most beloved of the 16-bit Disney titles, its 8-bit Sega Master System installment and two sequels aren’t as well known.

Multiplatform games are a double-edged sword. They are less interesting to me when they’re nearly identical across different consoles. A little extra and exclusive content here and there doesn’t do anything for me. However, when you have games that span across systems of different generations, things can get unique, and if you’re lucky, these ports and reimaginings can match and sometimes outdo their predecessors in certain ways with good design, creativity, and iteration, all on technically inferior hardware. Thankfully, Castle of Illusion on the Master System is a great example of the latter.


Things start off familiarly enough, with the opening story unfolding much like the Genesis original. However, instead of being told via in-engine sprites, the visuals are presented as custom still-imagery that already do a nice job of stepping out of the shadow of its 16-bit big brother.

Two difficulties are included: Practice and Normal. Oddly, Practice is highlighted by default, but I would skip it unless you are totally new to the series or platforming games. It’s a very basic and almost insultingly easy 3-level course that’s over almost as quickly as it starts. Normal is what you want, and contains all the game’s worlds and bosses. The Game Gear version, which is nearly identical to this one, has Normal as its default selection, so I’m glad Sega fixed this for the handheld port.


Obviously, Castle of Illusion on the Master System isn’t going to look as good as the Genesis version, nor should it be expected to. However, I think Sega did a wonderful job bringing the game to life, coming up with a visual design language that makes the world vibrant and fun to look at.

Mickey Mouse himself is animated quite well, with a look that is inspired more by the classic ’30s-’50s style vs. the Genesis design, which is a much more modern take on the iconic mouse’s features and personality.


Mickey also does a lot of the same things I loved from the 16-bit game, such as how he precariously teeters on edges. He does so both forwards and backwards, which is a great touch. Additionally, his tail waves when he ducks, and he’ll look left and right if you pause while climbing a ladder.

All of these little details give the game a nice, high-quality feel, and you can tell that Sega’s artists enjoyed putting time into his frames of animation.


Most notably, significant changes were made to this version’s level design and gameplay. Instead of just copying and approximating the 16-bit level layouts that so many gamers were used to, the Master System stages are more sprawling and exploratory.

Many times, you’re faced with multiple paths to explore, with experimentation being rewarded with extra power, valuable health replenishment, and extra lives. Even if you are just intent on getting to the end of a level, Castle of Illusion does a good job of not feeling linear — like you’re just running straight down a narrow hallway — and go in all different directions.


The various stages in Castle of Illusion will feel familiar, with forests, caves, toy chests, treats, castles, and clocks all represented. I found the actual design of each level to be of very high quality, with some requiring excellent coordination, providing a surprising level of challenge.

Some areas have an auto-scrolling element, where you have to stay ahead of and get by moving obstacles before you get pushed off the left side of the screen. There are also puzzle elements, false floors, and other traps that are impossible to see and rely on repeat memorization, which are common to that era’s design. They are rarely fatal, but can certainly be annoying.


Mickey still has his tried-and-true butt-bounce attack, but can no longer stock up on apples to be used as projectiles. Instead, he can pick up items throughout the levels to chuck at baddies. The controls to pick up items can feel a bit unresponsive at times, and it led to a good number of unnecessary hits, making that particular game mechanic feel under-cooked.

Items you can pick up can also be used — and are sometimes required — to access out-of-reach ledges, ladders, and other areas. The game respawns these items if you happen to accidentally lose them, but enemies respawn too. I’m glad it works like this, because it’s a much better option than having to lose a life to reset a level’s item placements.


For the most part, controls are sharp, and Mickey moves a bit faster here than he did before. However, precision platforming isn’t his strong suit, and I was frustrated on several occasions trying to make some jumps that would have been a lot easier in comparable platformers.

Hit detection also seems a bit spotty and a bit unforgiving, which can make Castle of Illusion feel more difficult than it should be. It’s not a deal-breaker, but I’d say they’re slippery, and like the item grab mechanic, leads to too many unintended hits on our brave little mouse.


Castle of Illusion‘s bosses are a highlight. They are colorful, large, and can be deceptively troublesome if you’re not careful. Several of them require some rather expert dodging and timing to defeat without losing a life, though, and I think most players will meet their doom several times facing them.

They’re not as difficult as, say,  the Mega Man bosses, but they are certainly much harder than the ones seen in the Genesis game, many of which were too easy to defeat.


Speaking of Mega Man, you think some of the folks on the Sega development team were fans of the Blue Bomber’s first game?

Don’t worry, this guy isn’t anywhere near as bad as the Yellow Devil!


The music in Castle of Illusion is very similar to that found in the Genesis version, and it’s perhaps this aspect of the game that saw the least amount of change. There are some different tunes and takes on those classics, but because of the lower quality and less accurate instrumentation, that authentic cartoon feel is somewhat lost in translation.

It all still sounds good, as I’ve always liked the warmth of the Master System’s sound chip, but they come across as a bit too derivative, especially when compared to the big changes elsewhere.


You can probably tell this by now, but if you’re a fan of the 16-bit Genesis original, this is a fairly easy one for me to recommend. It has some weird control quirks and other 8-bit nuisances, but there’s more than enough new content here to make it a wonderfully charming complement to Mickey Mouse’s 16-bit debut.

  • Graphics & Presentation: A-
    Colorful and nicely animated sprites, clean backgrounds, and large, memorable bosses give it a premium feel.
  • Music & Sound Effects: B
    The same soundtrack you know and love, scaled down to Master System standards. Some new additions and solid sound effects round out the game’s good audio.
  • Gameplay & Controls: B
    Tweaked gameplay mechanics and completely new, non-linear level design make it feel like a different game, but loose controls and unforgiving hit detection can be frustrating. Good boss challenges wrap up each area.
  • Value: B-
    A quick game that can be beaten in a couple hours, but it will take additional time to explore and master all of the various branching pathways.

Overall: B



Industry Memoirs: Lessons Learned, Part 1

This is a revised and expanded version of an email I sent to my QA team back in March of 2010. I was a Sr. Manager at the time working for THQ in Phoenix, AZ.

To set this up, the majority of the team was at the peak of testing the second installment in our UFC series. Some cracks were starting to show in their resolve and camaraderie, so I decided to share this with the entire department.

It might have been specific to that particular time and project, but I think this is useful advice for any new leader, or someone coming into the workforce fresh, whether it’s in videogames or not.

20140724_ufc2Stress levels run high on big projects. Stress levels run high in Quality Assurance, period. This has been a universal truth for as long as I’ve been in this industry. As the end of UFC 2‘s test cycle approaches, I’ve been asked several times, “How do you deal with all this stress so well?”

The thing is, I don’t know that I do. I know I haven’t in the past. Maybe I’ve learned to not let it show as much?

Whatever the case may be, I know it’s hard not to focus solely on — and get annoyed by — the world as you know it: Your team.

This very insular existence becomes the mind-numbing standard until that submission notification to Sony and Microsoft goes out and releases us back into the wild. “What is this… ‘sunlight’ you speak of?” and its variants are things I commonly hear during crunch-time, even in Phoenix where that scalp-baking sun seems to hover just a few short feet above our heads.

Sometimes we get pushed beyond our limit, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of losing it with our testing brothers and sisters, and so I want to share a couple key moments in my career that helped me keep and maintain perspective.

Back in early 1996 when I was still a new Tester, my middle name was “Overly Ambitious”, and I had an arrogant, know-it-all attitude to match. I thought I was going to be the next big-shot Designer on The Bard’s Tale IV, after all. I came into the job thinking that I was above my peers, just because I had played a bunch of obscure import games and could namedrop various industry figureheads. It’s definitely cringe-worthy stuff to recollect.

Anyway, about 4 months or so into my time at Interplay, one of my coworkers was chosen to be the newest Lead Tester. I don’t know why, but I got so mad that he was picked instead of me. He ended up taking over as my direct supervisor, and frankly, I treated him like garbage. He would ask me questions and I wouldn’t even look at him. When I did answer, it was with a bitterly sarcastic tone, usually under my breath.

From my perspective, I was just venting and didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. I was responding to the situation the best I knew how. I was only 21, and in hindsight, it was the exact same way I would typically respond to my parents if I hadn’t gotten my way. In other words, childish. What a spoiled brat I was!

Instead of talking to him about this directly, I just clammed up. I found out later that my ridiculously immature behavior was being communicated up the chain to the head of the department, with suggestions that I be let go. Miraculously, I was somehow spared, but it could have easily led to a quick end to an even shorter-lived “career”.

Eventually, he invited me outside to talk during one of our breaks, and he just came out and asked me what my deal was. When I put it all out there instead of just internalizing it, I realized just how insanely unfair I was being. Here I was, a green Tester, angry about someone’s promotion that was completely well-deserved.

We became good friends after that, often shooting the breeze about art, and it was a critical lesson in teaching me the importance of not taking a passive-aggressive approach to coworker tension.

In most cases, an open and honest chat is the best way to get things resolved. What I did almost got me canned, and upon reflection, I was in the wrong the entire time. After that, my perspective changed, and I realized that all things considered, work was good! The summer before that I was jockeying a telemarketing desk and pushing carts around at Target. At Interplay, I was testing Descent II and Wolfenstein 3D, enjoying complimentary pizza during overtime, and hanging out with great, like-minded people that I am still friends with today.

20140724_freespace2However, another incident that really stands out for me was from when I was working offsite at Volition back in 1999. This one doesn’t have such a happy ending.

I was a Manager at the time, and I was asked to go out there to help put the classic space combat sim FreeSpace 2 through its final testing phase. There were 3 other Testers there from back home who had already been there for a few weeks —  including one of my best friends from college — and we would all be together for an additional month.

Things started out great, as it was a heck of an amazing opportunity to be working directly with the studio, and spending all that time with my coworkers would be a terrific way to build strong bonds. However, as the days, nights, and weeks passed, well, you know how it goes. You’re in the same office for 16+ hours per day with each other, you go out to lunch and dinner with each other, you ride in the same car with each other, and you’re in the same hotel room with each other. Something’s definitely going to give.

And give, I did.

As the Manager, I really should have kept it together. Instead, I reverted back to playground behavior, where I would be sarcastic, play favorites, not stand up for them in meetings, and mainly focus a lot of that rubbish on my friend. I was even throwing Sega Dreamcast controllers and being hurtful with my words if I was beaten at Soul Calibur. Yes, really. I actually look back on times like that and attribute it to why I don’t really care for multiplayer games anymore.

I don’t know why things turned out that way, but by the end of the project, real damage to our friendship had been done. Although he and I still hung out and for years after that, it created a permanent rift between us that never fully closed. At the end of the day, why? Because I got tired of the same stories and jokes? Because I didn’t like hearing him snore?

No, it was because of me. I put myself and those superficial things ahead of anything else, including a friendship that we had both invested a lot into. Once again, an important lesson was learned about treating others fairly and compassionately, and it would take at least several more years to finally get it right.

My experiences are not unique, and mistakes are part of life. I know that judgment during stressful projects can sometimes be clouded by many different factors, but these situations can be transformed into something great, and hopefully some of the missteps I’ve made along the way can help others avoid the same traps I fell into.


More Playing, Talking, and Drawing

When you’re tired, it’s tough to get in front of the microphone. However, I bought one for a reason, so today I did a Let’s Play — or Let’s Replay, rather — for the Zelda II section of NES Remix 2:

A lot of my posts and social media updates lately have revolved around this game, and for good reason: It’s a lot of fun, and its short bursts of gameplay that focus on achieving the lowest times possible is highly addicting. It’s hard for me to think of another series — besides maybe the license tests from the Gran Turismo games — that have made me so obsessively replay stages over and over like this.

20140723_kid_icarus_boxartAs I mention in the video, I’m currently working my way through the Kid Icarus levels, and for me anyway, this particular title feels like the Ice Climber of NES Remix 2.

The controls are slippery and seem almost broken at times. There is a very specific way that you have to do things in order for the controls to work correctly, so I suppose it’s just a matter of getting used to them.

I hate fighting so much with a game, though, and hopefully it clicks before too long. It’s highly regarded in the pantheon of classic NES titles, but one that I’ve never quite been able to get good at.

At any rate, sorry for the short update today, but I’ll have a new entry in my Industry Memoirs section by the end of the week. It’s been a while since I’ve written one of those, so I’m looking forward to diving back in!

In the meantime, here are a few more Miiverse sketches that I quickly did last night and this morning while finishing up my Zelda II stages:



It doesn’t look anything like the Master Sword, but without any reference material handy, this is about all I could come up with off the top of my head. I’ll draw a proper one soon!



For this one, I “increased” the resolution of the Link stamp, added some more detail to him, and attempted to make it look like the bolt was cutting through the numbers. I reduced the number of bits flying off of them since it was starting to look surprisingly gruesome.



Here’s an extreme close-up of the Triforce, or maybe it’s just a rock monument to the actual Triforce? Whatever the case may be, I made it look aged, with cracks and other rough details.



Finally, this is another one using stamps with the addition of a sunset, stairs from the alter, and other little bits. Hopefully the time on the sign — which is from one of the Kirby stamps — is readable on the small screen when it displays in-game.


Drawing again because of… the Wii U?

Who would’ve thought that Nintendo’s latest console would be responsible for getting me back into art again? While many people — included myself — scoffed at and cast doubt upon the GamePad, in my opinion, it’s more than proven its worth.

Games like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD really benefit from it with its nice quick-access inventory/menu functionality, and off-TV play is fantastic for the games that support it. However, I think it’s the Miiverse — Nintendo’s social network for the Wii U and 3DS — where the GamePad truly shines.

It’s nice to type up messages like you would on Facebook and Twitter, but it’s the handwritten notes, hints, and pictures that you can leave for the community which I find the most fun. There are so many amazing artists out there, and many of them have inspired me to dust off my stylus and take a crack at drawing again.

I haven’t created much for the better part of 17 years. I loved doing anime-style work traditionally with Tria/Prismacolor markers on Letramax paper, and I took it pretty seriously at the time, dumping lots of money into supplies. Honestly, I don’t know why I stopped for so long. Doing it again now, I realize how much I missed it.

All of the sketches I did initially were for NES Remix. I drew little pictures here and there earlier this year, but I decided to jump in with both feet and sketch something bigger every time I got full rainbows on any of the games:



This drawing for Mario Bros. was first up. It’s become one of my more popular ones on the Miiverse. I don’t like the way his hat looks, but for a first attempt, I think it turned out OK. At this point, I was just getting used to the tool set, which is very light, but I think they work great.



Balloon Fight turned out to be a fun game, similar to the old arcade game Joust. For this one, I tried to make it look like his hand was stretching out towards the viewer, but I’m not sure it was all that effective.



I hated — and I mean really hated — Ice Climber when I first started playing it. It was one of the few games I honestly thought was broken! Over time, though, I learned how to play it well enough to get all the rainbows in it.

What do I think of it now? It’s OK, but I don’t know if I’ll be rushing out to play it again. For this sketch, I created an original character based loosely on the female second player from the game. The hammer inadvertently turned out looking like the mallet from Donkey Kong.



Here’s a Wind Waker-style Link to celebrate getting all the rainbows in the original Legend of Zelda. I loaded up a picture via Google for reference, and this is what I ended up with. Most of the shading is true to the original image, but I added more to give it a three-dimensional look.



My Simpsons-inspired Luigi that I drew shortly after starting NES Remix 2. I forgot to add highlights on his hair, and I totally got his mustache wrong. However, after several drawings in a row, I was starting to feel really comfortable with the sketching tools, trying new techniques with shading, and spending more time touching up my handwriting to give it some additional style.



As I’ve been progressing through NES Remix 2, I’ve been taking time to share some of my times as simpler, less time-consuming posts. Since this game doesn’t have leaderboards, this is the only way to share them in-game, which is unfortunate.

Anyway, I started off with this one using a Tanooki Mario stamp and more experimentation with hand-drawn motion effects and fonts. These only take a few minutes, but they’re still fun to make.



A “remix” of my own using Punch-Out!! and Super Mario Bros. 2 stamps, along with some hand-drawn elements to show motion and depth.



This one’s just silly, but I wanted to mess around with changing the look of the stamps themselves. Little Mac’s about to go Super Saiyan!



Running out of ideas, I tried something a little different with the bounce/impact effects, but besides that, there’s not much going on here…



…and so, I decided to detail out and stylize some numbers, which I loved doing back in high school.



When I got to Kirby’s Adventure, I went back to drawing the characters again. I’ve never tried to draw him before, and it’s harder than it looks! I took some liberties with his face design, but I like the way he turned out overall.


20140722_ghg_miiverse_7Another one of Kirby. Keen observers will notice that he’s actually blowing out instead of sucking in, but I guess in the context of displaying a score, it still works.


Anyway, as much fun as Miiverse posts are, I wanted to try my hand at getting back into color work too. I downloaded Art Academy: SketchPad on the Wii U, which is cheap at only $4, but it’s pretty limited in terms of functionality and drawing options.

I’ll write up a full review at a later date, but here’s my first piece: Finn the Human from the great cartoon Adventure Time:



All in all, I’m having a great time getting back into drawing, and again, I owe it all to the Wii U. It’s not only been a surprisingly good console for games, but it’s proven its worth on the creative side as well.

Please add me as a friend if you’d like to see more and follow my doodles. I’m ghibli99 on the Nintendo Network, so I’ll see you online!


Progress Report: NES Remix 2 (Wii U)

20140721_nes_remix_2_2I cannot tell a lie: I’m all sorts of addicted to this game.

Now, as much as I played the heck out of the first NES Remix, the sequel does just about everything better this time around, providing an experience that is more fun from the get-go.


First of all, the selection of games on display here is arguably better, mostly because they are newer and more refined in their gameplay and controls. Some, like Kirby’s Adventure and Wario’s Woods, were originally released in 1993 and 1994, respectively.

This is quite impressive given that the 32-bit PlayStation came out in 1994, two generations removed from the 8-bit NES. I always like seeing the differences between launch games and those from the end of a console cycle. It’s like night and day.


Anyway, another area that has seen noticeable improvements is the Miiverse. You can now watch replays from your friends — which are prioritized — and other players to see just how they got those low Clear Times. This is a terrific addition, and one of the best features of NES Remix 2. In my opinion, it’s always best to try figuring out how to get as low a time as possible on your own, but once you’ve hit a wall, watching ultra-fast runs really opens your eyes to shortcuts and other tricks.

Knowing what you need to do and actually doing it, though? These are two very different things that can be very difficult to replicate. I’ve retried stages many, many times in order to shave off a tenth of a second or two. It can be infuriating when you can’t seem to improve upon or even match the best Miiverse times, but it’s so much fun, and I find it nearly impossible to tear myself away from the game until I’m successful.


My mentality and approach to playing this has also changed. In the original NES Remix, I was perfectly satisfied and would move on if I just got 3 stars. I would eventually go back and rainbow star everything, but that wasn’t until much later. In NES Remix 2, I find myself almost obsessing over each stage, wanting to beat the lowest Miiverse times that appear for each one.

Doing things this way has made forward progress in the game a lot slower, but it has also given me a very deep appreciation for each individual title, and it underscores how well these old Nintendo games were designed. Even the ones that are just OK are elevated when the element of time comes into play.


Getting back to the Miiverse, another addition that makes a huge difference is that now the individual game and stage names are tagged in Miiverse posts. In the first NES Remix, if you were viewing updates outside of the game, you wouldn’t have any context, unless the person who wrote it put it in their post. Here, you can see which game and stage a post pertains to, so it’s a lot more helpful now.

I’ve been having a blast comparing times and doodling pictures for other Wii U players. I’ve mentioned it before, but the Miiverse is by far my favorite implementation of a console social network. It’s smooth, easy to use, and a lot of fun.


In terms of the actual Remix stages, I’ve barely scratched the surface. As I did with NES Remix, I’m going through all the individual games first before I take on the wacky and unique challenges to be found there.

I also haven’t really messed with the modes outside of the main game, namely Super Luigi Bros. and Championship Mode.


Any gripes so far? Yeah, one thing I’ve never liked in this series is that you can’t just forfeit a life and retry the current sub-stage you’re on. It’s annoying when your only options are to (a) restart the entire thing from scratch, (b) waste time trying to lose a life, or (c) wait for the sub-stage timer to end. Depending on the circumstances, this can take a long time, and a slight tweak in design could have made this so much more streamlined.

Another quibble is that occasionally, you’ll run into a challenge where one of the sub-stages is simply a long, drawn-out, non-interactive demo. I’m looking at you, Punch-Out!! and Kirby’s Adventure. Why they decided to put these in the game baffles me. If you replay these to improve your times, you will learn to hate them quickly.

Finally, I wish there were traditional leaderboards, with sorting options for friends, regions, and time periods. Currently, the only way to know what times your friends achieved is if they manually post them in the Miiverse. A more automated leaderboard system would have been so much better for a game like this.


Besides those things, however, this is one fantastic game. It takes the addictive formula of NES Remix and polishes it into a better experience. I look forward to playing through the rest of it, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that SNES Remix isn’t far behind!

For more first impressions of NES Remix 2, check out my YouTube video HERE.


Progress Report: Nier (PS3)

It’s been pretty slow-going with Nier. I’ve been on a platforming and oldschool tear lately with Shovel Knight, Electronic Super Joy, DuckTales, and the NES Remix games all occupying most of my time. Despite all that, I find myself thinking about this game a lot, and have become quite addicted to it as I’ve gotten back into it this week.


It’s not a looker, though. Full of weird visual glitches like the one above, the overall image quality looks like an up-resolutioned PlayStation 2 game.

The world of Nier is designed well, however, with large, sprawling towns that feel alive. NPCs have interesting things to say more often than not. I like that quest givers are clearly highlighted throughout each area, which makes them easy to find when you’re focusing on that aspect of the game. What I don’t like is that once you’ve taken on a quest, finding that NPC again can be more difficult than it needs to be since they’re no longer marked. You have to refer back to your quest log for hints on who assigned them. For me, at least, they’re easy to forget.


I really like the loading screens. They’re simplistic, but are full of character, and I look forward to seeing all the different ones that Cavia put in the game, including the journal entries from Yonah.


While I haven’t discovered any methods of fast travel yet — I’m still early, heading to the Junk Heap — I like that I can roll around Nier‘s overworld like Link in the Zelda games, making the long back-and-forth journeys less boring.

These outdoor areas between towns can be huge, and the draw distance is impressive. Again, they might not be the most detailed, but they are still pretty good and support the somber tone of the narrative. They also give you lots of space to plan out and execute attacks on individuals and mobs.

I don’t like that digging up items and harvesting materials from fallen creatures require a slow animation cycle to play every time, though. Maybe this is a given in titles like this, and I know it’s more realistic, but it gets a little old when there are so many things in the world to gather. Ladders and pushing/pulling blocks also have an overly slow feel to them.


You can (and have to at least once) fish in Nier, and while the mechanics are almost insultingly simple, it’s not implemented very well. It’s annoyingly easy to lose bait and fish even when you think you’re doing everything correctly. Most recently, I enjoyed the fishing mini-game in Persona 4 Golden. It had a good visual feedback system, but Nier‘s is vague. As a result, I’ve lost a good number of lures on what should have been simple catches, and above all else, it comes across as wasted time.

One area of Nier that I can’t fault at all is its audio. It contains some very good voice acting, and the soundtrack in particular is of the highest quality. One listen to “Song of the Ancients (Devola)” is enough to seal the deal. Nier‘s compositions get mentioned quite often when Favorite Soundtrack lists are discussed, and for good reason. It’s one of the most beautifully consistent, stirring, and memorable ones I’ve heard in quite some time.


I’m also digging the gameplay. At first I wasn’t really sure what to make of it. Combat felt repetitive and not very clear, but I’ve gotten comfortable with it, and I’m also gaining a sixth sense on what to avoid this early on in my adventure. Those one-hit deaths will make you a fast learner!

I haven’t really gone too deep with some of the customization systems, like the word-related one. I just do the auto-equip for now, but I’m sure later as I amass a good collection of them, I’ll be scouring the internet to find the best and most effective combos. The metagame was one of my favorite aspects of 2010’s Dragon Quest IX on the Nintendo DS, and I get the feeling I’ll be enjoying those same qualities in Nier as well.

So despite the various nags and quibbles I have with this game, it’s one where I feel the whole is going to be greater than the sum of its parts. I’m very much enjoying Nier so far, and I’m glad my friend encouraged me to start playing it.


Bringing my voice to YouTube

When I was in high school, memorizing and reciting poetry was a big part of my junior year English class. I distinctly remember Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, which now, over two decades later, not only remains in my memory, but the content resonates with me more strongly than it ever has. Age and life in general have a tendency to do that.

After standing up in front of the class for the first time to deliver it, my teacher made a passing comment about how he thought I had a good speaking voice. Teens don’t have a reputation for ignoring the older generation for nothing; I got embarrassed, shrugged it off, and quickly went back to my desk. He would go on to say this a few more times throughout the school year, at one point saying I really needed to be on the radio. I would just smile uncomfortably and try to forget about it.

Why do we do this? I’ve never taken compliments well, and my first reaction — instead of doing the polite thing and saying thanks — is instead to downplay them. I mean, who knows? Had I instead taken my teacher’s words to heart, I might have gone on to study Media Communications or Broadcast Journalism in college, like my best friend did. I think he has a terrific speaking voice, and he went on to do great things on the TV news channels down in Florida.

Those words from high school stuck with me over the years. I never particularly cared for the way my voice sounded, and as a result, I never pursued anything in that realm. It’s like Werner Brandes (Stephen Tobolowsky) said in the terrific film Sneakers about his own voice, “I always thought it was kind of nasal and pinched.”

But as they say, one of the worst things you can do is have regrets in your life, so with one of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2014 being to face my fears, this week I decided to tackle them both by bringing my own voice to YouTube.


After doing considerable research and of course, talking myself out of buying the most expensive microphone available on Amazon, I picked up a Blue Snowball USB microphone. With good reviews and an inoffensive price point, I bought one along with a Nady MPF-6 pop filter. I was going to buy a small acoustical microphone shield, but it’s an expensive addition, so for now, I’ll likely just buy a piece of foam and create a do-it-yourself one, or use a small pillow.

The microphone itself is of very high quality and is available in a variety of different colors. I went with the brushed aluminum finish, which has a beautiful, classic look to it. Packaging is nice, and although the microphone housing is plastic, it has substantial heft and does not feel cheap. It sits on a sturdy, folding desktop stand, which the pop filter can be conveniently attached.

PC installation is simple: Just plug it into an open USB port, Windows auto-detects it, and you’re ready to start recording.

There are three settings on the microphone, which are designed for speech, live music (activates a -10 dB pad), and environmental (omni-directional). Mine shipped in position 3, so if you pick one of these up, be sure to select the appropriate setting before you begin.


The pop filter came in a somewhat cheap and flimsy blister pack, and the flexible gooseneck has a disappointing tendency to float and not stay in place during adjustment. However, it’s one of the cheaper options available, and if you’re going to be doing a lot of talking, this is a wise investment. Additionally, the stand mount is very solid, and once it’s in place, it stays put.

On the software side, for recording and editing, I have the open-source Audacity, which is easy and very comfortable for me to use. In many ways, it’s similar to one of my old favorites, Cool Edit. Still image, video, and audio integration is all done in Adobe Photoshop and CyberLink PowerDirector.


So with those details taken care of, it was time for the real work to begin. I sat there at my desk earlier this week pondering what exactly I wanted to talk about. Yeah, it would be related to gaming, but how exactly? My mind raced, thinking about the massive amount of current YouTube videogame content creators, and what — if anything — I could possibly bring to the table.

Feeling intimidated, I watched some of my favorites for some inspiration. The most important thing I realized is that the ones that I really like and keep coming back to are incredibly passionate people. They don’t just regurgitate what’s been said before, and you not only learn about the games they’re playing, but you gain meaningful and lasting insight into them as human beings. Sure, some of them do it more loudly than others, but there are just as many who are quiet and introspective. For every expletive-weaving Rageaholic there’s a mild-mannered Pete Dorr, and I like that. I like that a lot.

It opened my eyes. I stopped thinking about it too much, and decided to simply talk about the game I was ready to 100% complete: NES Remix for the Wii U. Now, as I’ve said before, I didn’t really like the game all that much at first, but later on it became one of my favorites. Even looking at that re-review today, I feel the game is even better now, with fantastic replay value and very fun Miiverse integration.

I should have know this next fact beforehand, but yeah, deciding to do something and actually doing it are two very, very different things. While I knew I wanted to discuss the final stage of NES Remix, exactly what I wanted to discuss was difficult to figure out. Would I need an intro? Would I just talk while I played? Would I write a script? Would I edit out the bad stuff? Would I just do a play-by-play of what I was doing? The questions in my mind went on and on.

To get the easier part out of the way, I wrote a script for the brief intro, which went pretty smoothly. Recording it took a good number of takes, as I experimented with different inflections and emphasis, but it was more so because I kept messing up!

For the actual gameplay, I would end up trying every approach. On my first attempt, I immediately gained a new-found respect for people who can play games well and talk coherently at the same time. It’s really hard to talk when you’re trying to concentrate on not dying in a game, and after several failures, I stopped and decided to save that one for later.

Next, I recorded myself playing, and when I was finally happy with the footage, I jotted down notes and scripted out the framework for what I wanted to cover during each segment. This too ended up being a failed style for me since as I was talking about one thing, my eyes would scan ahead, tripping up what I was trying to currently get out. Similarly to what I said above, folks who can read scripts, anticipate what’s ahead, and make it all sound natural have a great talent.

Finally, feeling a bit frustrated and on the verge of quitting, I decided to just do it commentary-style on the fly. I worried about this approach since I’m not the most talkative person on the face of the planet, and am an introvert by nature. However, I set out to get this done, and get it done I did. It took a few tries, but it ended up being the most natural and comfortable technique for me.

After finishing recording and getting everything tidied up in post, here is the result:

For a first attempt, I think it turned out OK. Of course, all I can fixate on are the little mistakes, long pauses, weird choice of words, and other such nitpicks. That’s the double-edged sword of being your own worst critic, right?

In any event, it feels good to have finally broken through this long-standing sound barrier in my life, and I appreciate the comments and suggestions I’ve already received from my friends, readers, and now viewers. I look forward to creating more of these, and as always, if you have any game or topic requests, please let me know. It’d be tons of fun to cover games I would have never thought to play otherwise.