About a month ago, I bought Starbound in its beta stage through Steam Early Access. It’s a game that’s been called a Terraria clone, not at all unreasonably: you explore procedurally generated 2D worlds, collect materials, and use them to craft survival gear and build shelters. The central thematic difference is that Starbound’s narrative and aesthetics are distinctly sci-fi, with players traveling from planet to planet. I haven’t played Terraria, so I went into Starbound with an interest in the premise but no idea of whether or not I’d enjoy the gameplay.
It turned out that I did, probably more than was good for me. On several occasions, I tried to play “a little” Starbound at night, and stayed up until morning. I’ve explored the mod forum and downloaded a few mods, giving me a wider range of planet types and craftable objects, but that was after I was already thoroughly hooked.
One evening, though, after I had played about 35 hours of Starbound, I realized I wasn’t really feeling excited or entertained. There’s a turning point that occurs for me, and I suspect for others, after I’ve played a game I love for a long enough period of time. The gameplay I used to find so compelling begins to feel like going through the motions in a joyless series of chores. The only way I’ve ever found to reverse this is to put the game aside and return to it months or even years later, when I’m no longer jaded to it. This is a big problem with games that are designed to be played daily, like the Animal Crossing series or virtual pet websites, because the player is punished for inactivity with negative consequences in the game world. The longer you go without playing, the worse things will be when you decide to play again – which can discourage players from returning at all.
The gameplay genuinely is repetitive, owing to the fact that the player is encouraged to spend a very large amount of time hunting and mining. Like Terraria and Minecraft, Starbound places heavy emphasis on mining the land for mineral resources, depleting them, and moving on to repeat this in a new area. Manifest destiny. Starbound takes this a step further: you can essentially empty out whole planets, and this is presented by the gameplay as an effective strategy. The backstory provided for the human race in Starbound states that the nations of Earth went to war over the limited resources in their solar system, which almost feels like a sneaky criticism of the game’s structural principles. But then the problem was made irrelevant by a giant space tentacle hitting Earth until it blew up. Oh, well. Continue reading On Stopping to Smell the Venomous Alien Roses→
The just-over-8,000 words below contain the full texts of the interviews I conducted with the four people I worked with on Wednesday’s grandiose Tips & Tricks oral history.Though much of it was quoted in that piece, a lot of it just plain didn’t fit. You’re sure to find something new and interesting below. Again, I would like to thank them all from the bottom of my heart.Continue reading Tips & Tricks – The Interview→
A Wikipedia query for Tips & Tricks does not lead to an individual article on the magazine, which ran for one hundred and fifty issues across just about fifteen years, from 1993 to 2007. A spinoff magazine that had been published concurrently, the Tips & Tricks Codebook, continued on a bi-monthly schedule until February of 2011. The query leads here, the “Other magazines” subheading of the article for Larry Flynt Publications. 1)At the time this article was published, this was true. However, T&T now has its own article, here. This article is cited. You’ve got to wade through several NSFW titles before getting to the paragraph dedicated to T&T. Though it is true that LFP published T&T, it’s a magazine that deserves more than to be buried under piles of Hustler.
T&T was and, in all honesty, still is my favorite magazine ever. As someone who deeply appreciated both video games and the work that went into making them from a young age, I held a deep respect for this magazine focused on picking these games apart. Unlike Electronic Gaming Monthly or Game Informer, which typically relegated cheat codes and strategies to a couple of pages in the back of the magazine, Tips & Tricks was all about the codes and strategies. Continue reading A Comprehensive Oral History Of Tips & Tricks – The #1 Video-Game Tips Magazine→
Welcome to Part II of the Big Game Losers Dot Net Mega Man 2 Review-Type Thing Complete With State-Of-The-Art High-Resolution Graphics! If you missed Part I, don’t fret: here you go. Here’s a brief refresher: in this part I’ll be reviewing the four Robot Masters I didn’t already review, assigning them points based on their designs, their stage designs, and their stage music. I’ll also cover the final dungeon at the end of the game, and though I won’t break down the individual music and bosses I’ll still hit all of that. At the end we’ll have the ranking of all the Robot Masters in MM2. Let’s jump right back in!
DWN-013 CRASH MAN
DESIGN: Crash Man, you look like you need to take a monster shit. I don’t think robots have to take shits, but you look like you were designed to take the most monster shit ever. Also, why are your hands drills when your weapon is a bomb? Also, your little pompadour-type headpiece there could be another drill but it’s not, and that sort of pisses me off for some reason. The weapon itself—the Crash Bomber—is a bit of redemption regardless of how it clashes with the rest of the design. A weapon that damages on impact and THEN explodes is pretty neat. But that weird drill-based design for a robot that doesn’t use drills means points off. 4/10
STAGE: Crash Man’s stage is a climbing stage, which I don’t think is a good fit for a Mega Man game. The running and gunning action works best when you can run, not when you’re glued to a ladder and can only fire in two directions. Mega Man games on the NES made the most of the technical limitations but the climbing stages erase a lot of that work. The one thing I do like (a lot) is that the background changes from a blue sky to straight-up space once you climb far enough. It makes sense for a bombing robot to be so high in the sky, plus the stage takes a lot of cues from the Bomb Man and Guts Man stages in the first Mega Man, which makes sense considering Wily designed Crash Man as a sort of amalgamation of those two robots. But still: I hate climbing stages. 3/10
MUSIC: Even if it always takes me fucking forever to finish Crash Man’s stage because one hit from any enemy knocks you off a ladder, I could never get sick of this music. Starts off simple, gets more complex, and stays catchy the whole way through. It’s very bouncy and fun, which I will have to admit doesn’t quite match the stage or the Robot Master tied to it. Crash Man is explosive and the stage is a grind. This, however, is music I would want to wake up and start my day to. In fact, I might actually make this song my alarm. As much as it hurts me, I have to dock it one single point for the mismatch. Sorry, Crash Man. 9/10
DWN-014 FLASH MAN
DESIGN: Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: did you know that Flash Man is bald? He is a bald robot. He hates commercials for wigs, because he is bald. That’s fucking incredible. He is a bald robot and he is self-conscious about his baldness. Even though that’s not immediately evident from his original MM2 art I have to mention it. Said art is thankfully simple. Aside from the monster chin, there’s not much to talk about here, which isn’t always a bad thing. Let’s just be thankful he doesn’t have a clock installed in his chest. It’s also legitimately impressive that his weapon can stop time for short bursts. It lacks a direct offensive capability which I like. His arm cannon handles that. A lot of good stuff and baldness here. 9/10
STAGE: Flash Man’s stage is a slippery mazelike thing with many branching paths and a bunch of doors that can only be broken down using Crash Man’s weapon. There are also some paths that can only be reached using some of the support units. So if you’re taking him on early on in the game, it’s linear. If you’re saving him for later, you can branch out and get some nice stuff. A lot of the stages do this but not to the level Flash Man does. It’s an interesting difference. I also don’t understand why the entire stage is slippery. There’s plenty of questions we can ask here, but at least there aren’t any ladders. 5/10
MUSIC: Maybe I’m just corny, but I’m sort of disappointed this song never references the time-stopping gimmick. I think it’d be cool if it just paused at a certain part and then continued one or two seconds later. That said, it’s a good match for both Flash Man and his stage. It’s not too upbeat and is a very good running and gunning song. It’s very solid as a track. It also has a good rhythm and melody to it—yet again, I ask myself if Kanye would sample it, and, yet again, I can imagine him throwing some 808s on this track and constructing some illegal rhymes on it. Maybe he would do the time-stop thing. 8/10
DWN-015 HEAT MAN
DESIGN: Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: I’m awarding Heat Man’s design a nine out of ten. Is it because I like fire? A little. But look at him. He’s a fucking Zippo with arms, legs, and a head instead of an igniter. That’s fucking great. But the majority of those points come from his weapon, the Atomic Fire. It was the first-ever weapon in any Mega Man game that could be charged up by holding down the fire button before firing. Considering how key-charged shots would show up later on in the Mega Man series, this was a big first step. The reason I had to dock him one point is because without the lighter he would look too much like Mega Man. 9/10
STAGE: Okay. Yeah. I like fire. But not this much. No one likes fire this much. Heat Man’s stage is plagued by the worst thing to happen to Mega Man games: the disappearing platforms. It wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t occur over places where you would fall to your death, but that’s pretty much the entire second half of the level. Mess up one jump and you’re molten robot. Though it makes sense that Heat Man’s stage would have lava flowing throughout it, the platforms are awful and unnecessary, especially when the penalty for missing one jump is certain death. 2/10
MUSIC: This is a really short theme and it’ll have to lose a few points for that. Of course they all loop but this is less than half a minute long while every other song we’ve encountered so far has been around forty-five seconds long. The half-a-minute itself is alright. It’s definitely a song that would play in a level with high temperatures and the melodies are good. But, as already stated, there’s not much to it. Yes, it’s a good match for Heat Man, but if you finish half of a test you can only do so well regardless of how well you did on the half you finished. 5/10
DWN-016 WOOD MAN
DESIGN: Wood Man always reminded me of a sumo wrestler. In his actual art, he looks a little less bulky than in his sprite art, though. I do have to hand it to Dr. Wily for straight-up making a robot out of wood, though, and even having the foresight to coat it with a thin sheet of metal to prevent it breaking down over time. I also like the one single branch coming off of his head. It’s like a cowlick. He also really likes nature and animals. And his weapon is a Leaf Shield. It can be used to protect as long as one stays still and then it can be used as a weapon. All in all this is a well-designed and unique robot, regardless of whether or not it’s horrifically weak to fire. 8/10
STAGE: Jungle Japes! Okay, not really. But you do travel through the floor of a forest, underground, and across the canopy. And there’s only a little bit of climbing! All of the enemies in the stage are animal-based, which contributes to the naturalistic theme of Wood Man. In truth, it’s weird for what’s ostensibly a regular forest (though with Dr. Wily you never know for sure) to be populated entirely with robotic animals, but I don’t doubt Albert Wily one bit. The only place you can fall to your death is the canopy, which makes sense. A lot makes sense here. I like it. 8/10
MUSIC: This is another shorter track, but I personally find it a lot better than Heat Man’s. Plus it’s about a dozen seconds longer, so it’s a lot closer to the average. I know I harp on about how the music should match the stage and the Robot Master but I’m glad Wood Man’s music didn’t (or couldn’t) use drums that are so tiredly jungle and forest-esque. This is more exploration-like, which is a much better choice considering you travel up and down through three areas of the forest. Call me inconsistent, but here I favor the quality over quantity. 9/10
So that’s all the robot masters ranked. The standings are as follows:
Wood Man, 25/30
Quick Man, 23/30
Flash Man, 22/30 (awarded tiebreaker because of baldness)
Metal Man, 22/30
Air Man, 21/30
Bubble Man, 18/30
Heat Man, 16/30 (awarded tiebreaker because of lighter)
Crash Man, 16/30
Wow. As error-prone as this process was bound to be, I would never have expected Wood Man to win and Heat Man to finish tied for last. It just goes to show you that a good design doesn’t do all your work for you. Have fun yelling about this! Anyway, I still have Wily’s Castle to tackle.
The song from the first two stages might be the most famous and popular Mega Man song ever. Similar to the title screen theme, it’s fast, upbeat, and it shoots a sense of urgency right into your spine. Or something. Like I said, I don’t know music, I just say words. The bosses for these two stages are a dragon and some weird blocks. Wily is phoning it in by this point.
Considering the third stage of his castle is just a redux of Bubble Man’s stage for the most part and the third stage boss is a huge-ass Guts Man, yeah, Wily was phoning it in. The music by this point has slowed down from its earlier intensity and is now focused on raising the tension by only using a few different sounds and having those sounds stretch out for longer periods of time than other sounds (hey, at least I’m trying). And then, the fucking. The fucking
Okay, first off, this thing is called the BOOBEAM TRAP. Second, it is the worst thing I have ever experienced in any video game I have ever played and I have played Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) and Bioshock Infinite. Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but I have to emphasize that regardless of how good the rest of Mega Man 2 is, this boss is a staggering example of poor game design. They are only vulnerable to one weapon (Crash Bomber), and said weapon holds seven shots at max level. There are five of these bosses, and two of them are obscured completely by walls that, yet again, can only be destroyed with the Crash Bomber.
In other words, fuck the fucking Boobeam Trap. Jesus Christ.
From here on out, it’s the basic Robot Master rush again followed by the Wily battle, and then he turns into an alien for some reason? Of course, it’s just a projection that can only be damaged by the Bubble Lead (do not know how I feel about the final boss being vulnerable to only one weapon) and Wily begs for his life at the end, and then some cool credits roll. Did anyone actually think Wily was actually an actual alien? I wonder.
Anyway, that wraps this way-too-long and probably-wrong review up! I hope you had as much fun as I did. I’m still shocked Wood Man “won” and I’ve still got about a dozen songs stuck in my head but I’m not complaining. See you next week, everybody!
God, just fucking imagine turning on your NES and seeing this for the first time in 1989. This was decades before games started to get budgeted and structured like movies, but Mega Man 2 had its very own opening cutscene. It filled us in on what happened in the original Mega Man and let us know what was going to happen in this one. And, of course, the music was incredible. As soon as you select your difficulty (where “Normal” means “Impossible” and “Difficult” means “What”) good old Mega Man puts on his helmet and beams away to fight the eight new Robot Masters.
July 11th will be the twenty-fifth anniversary of MM2’s North American release. You don’t need me to tell you the importance of its place in not only the history of Mega Man and CAPCOM but the history of video games as a whole. It’s also one of my personal favorite games of all time. So for this event we here at GL are breaking out a two-week feature that will basically serve as a very, very in-depth review of Mega Man 2. Part I will be this week and Part II will come next week.
Here’s how it’s going to be structured: this week I’ll tackle the opening four of the Robot Masters. For each one of them I’ll review their stage, their music, and their design (which includes the weapon attained from defeating them). Each of those will be graded on a scale of one to ten and they’ll all be added together. By the end we’ll have a definitive ranking of these guys, which is something we really absolutely need in 2014. Next week I’ll review the other four and the final dungeon/boss.
One final thing before we get too into this: for what it’s worth, a lot of what I’ll talk about here is heavily influenced by the excellent webcomic MS Paint Masterpieces. It is, yes, a sprite comic, but it’s an excellent one, and I recommend it to everyone–especially people who already enjoy the Mega Man universe. I’ll be using a few snippets of comics to lend these Robot Masters some personality that was near-impossible to give to them back in 1989. All that said, let’s get started!
I already posted the opening which is, by this point, too iconic for me to bother reviewing. It’s worth noting that the main menu theme, along with one of the themes from Dr. Wily’s castle at the end, was featured in the trailer announcing Mega Man’s presence in the new Super Smash Bros. game. But my review for the opening is pretty much already up there. It was incredible then and it’s still pretty incredible now.
DWN-009 METAL MAN
DESIGN: I never noticed that the part where his arm and shoulder meet is also a Metal Blade. Neat. I think he was sort of a half-hearted attempt at a ninja before they decided to be straight up with a ninja robot with Shadow Man in MM3. (INTERLUDE: Yes, I know they accepted submissions for these designs in MM2 and MM3. But for simplicity’s sake I’m using “they.”) In a comic he refers to himself as the “robot Cut Man should’ve been” which is fair, for better and for worse. Cut Man’s clumpy design is charming in a way, and Metal Man certainly does look like if Dr. Light didn’t have to pull an all-nighter to finish his homework. But there’s nothing too interesting about Metal Man. Plus, he’s weak against his own weapon, a weapon pretty much universally recognized as supremely overpowered anyway. 5/10
STAGE: Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Metal Man’s stage is simple but challenging, with both it and the eventual boss battle using conveyor belts as a mechanic. It has a very factory-like feel to it, aided by the music (which I’ll get to later). The enemies (a jester-type robot rolling around on a giant metal blade and Pokey-from-Mario-like towered robots) are fairly easy to dispose of but fun to fight. Even with the difficulty of the original NES version, it’s still a pretty easy stage to complete, which isn’t always a bad thing. Still, though, nothing stands out aside from the belts. 7/10
MUSIC: I fully acknowledge that it will be supremely difficult for me to not award a perfect ten to every song from the Mega Man 2 soundtrack. But God fucking help me, I’ll try. This is a tough one to start with. I don’t know shit about music so maybe I shouldn’t even be reviewing this but I know this: I like the way this sounds. What I can say about technically isn’t music and if I try I’ll sound stupid. So I’ll try. One of the strength of every NES Mega Man soundtrack is its use of arpeggios and harmonies. This one nails it and even accurately replicates the feeling of fighting in a cold, hard, steel factory. And now to ask ourselves some important questions. Would Lil B sample it? Well, yes. He’d rap over anything. But would Kanye sample it? Maybe. That’s good enough for me. I know I made a promise and I will fulfill it later, but I’m sorry. I have to do what I have to do. 10/10
DWN-010 AIR MAN
DESIGN: I get the feeling Wily is trying to have his cake and eat it too, here. Not only is Air Man equipped with a big-ass fan on his torso, he also has a blaster on his left arm which serves as his weapon, the Air Shooter. The way Air Man uses it and the way Mega Man uses it differ, and it’s a much less useful weapon in Mega Man’s employ. Air Man knows exactly what to do with it, though, to the point where his boss battle is one of the toughest in the game. But his Achilles heel is right there on his chest. The Leaf Shield is his main weakness, due to the fact that the leaves will jam his fan. Though we might be led to believe the fan is his weapon, I’d wager that it’s his heart. A wind-powered robot is ingenious but it’s a woefully glaring weakness right there on his chest. Points off for that, Wily. 3/10
STAGE: Air Man’s stage is tough as hell but I like it a lot. It’s, ostensibly, high up in the sky–so high that at times the clouds obscure your view, which is a very nice touch. It also makes sense that for Air Man to be at maximum power, he should be high up so that he can get as much wind power as possible. It also provides a lot of opportunities for Mega Man to frustratingly fall to his death, especially with these…weird fucking things. The challenge is fair and makes sense. If you want to battle Air Man, you have to get on his level. Just make sure you have that Leaf Shield. 8/10
MUSIC: …Ugh. This song is really fucking good, too. Why am I even trying to rate this music? It’s like trying to go to the Louvre and judge which paintings are the bad ones. That’s probably a shitty analogy but I don’t care. Air Man’s music feels super Sky Battle which is great because that’s what you’re doing while it plays. You’re having a battle, in the sky, and Kanye would probably sample it. 10/10
DWN-011 BUBBLE MAN
DESIGN: God, he looks so fucking unfortunate. That two-tone pattern on his limbs and torso makes it look like he’s wearing a despicably ill-fitting swimsuit. Though that makes sense since he’s an underwater robot, it still looks really bad. And his weapon is bubbles. Not just regular bubbles, too. Bubble Lead. That’s the goddamn name of the weapon he uses. This either means that the bubbles lead you or that they’re made of lead. Buh? Either way, this weapon is the only one that can damage the very final boss of the game, so you get one extra point for that, Bubble Man. You needed it. 3/10
STAGE: I’m going to post a comic that accurately sums up Bubble Man’s stage.
That last panel pretty much sums it up. Bonus points for sticking to the underwater gimmick the whole way through. 7/10
MUSIC: Okay, I don’t think I have to give this one a perfect ten. It starts off a bit slow but the latter half is really good. It doesn’t match the stage it plays during like Metal Man’s or Air Man’s, though. There’s no real underwater feel to it, but then again I say this as someone who plays a lot of Mario games which have a very specific type of music that plays during underwater stages. I’ll go ahead and discount myself on that one but it’s not as good as the rest of the stuff MM2 has to offer. 8/10.
DWN-012 QUICK MAN
DESIGN: A lot of what I love about Quick Man comes from his characterization and design in MSPM (you can see it in that last panel above) so I’ll try to keep this strictly 1989 Mega Man 2. He does very much look like a revamp of Elec Man’s design, which makes sense because that’s exactly what he is. But as someone who also likes Elec Man very much, I hesitate to call it an upgrade. Rather, it’s more of a different take, with a heavier focus on speed. His weapon, the Quick Boomerang, looks like toenails. Points off for that. But—and I love this—his weakness is the Time Stopper, implying that he needs to move in order to live. It’s sort of like Crank, but in robot form. That’s a good design in my book. 8/10
STAGE: You might know Quick Man’s stage as the one with those giant fucking beams that kill you to pieces if you don’t move fast enough. It’s frustrating but, like Air Man, it’s a challenge that makes sense given the Robot Master. If you want to fight Quick Man, you have to move as fast as he does. It’s a rare source of characterization in that original video game. His massive speed and massive ego mean that the only people he deems worthy of a challenge are those who can conquer something only he can best. All that said, it is really fucking frustrating at times. A point off for that. 8/10
MUSIC: I want to again emphasize I know approximately jack shit about music in a technical sense. But it sounds like there’s a bit too much going on here, actually. It could do without that one melody that sounds scratching noises. Everything else is pretty good even if it does sound sort of similar to the opening theme (but what’s wrong with copying a good thing?). You’d think that the tempo would be faster, but that’s probably due to console limitations so I won’t hold it against them. Maybe that’s why they made it busier than the other songs. 7/10
So, as of right now, the ranking is as follows: Quick Man, Metal Man, Air Man, and Bubble Man. We still have Flash Man, Crash Man, Wood Man, and Heat Man left to go. So far on this journey I personally have discovered that it’s really hard to be critical of Mega Man 2 music and that the weird-looking platform enemies in Air Man’s level are called Goblins. You learn something new every day. Be sure to tune in next week for the rest of the game and some more life lessons!