Albums of the Month: September 2015

wtsvAlbum: Welcome to Sky Valley

Artist: Kyuss

Released: June 28th, 1994

Highlights: Gardenia, Space Cadet, Demon Cleaner, Whitewater

“Wretch” and “Blues for the Red Sun” often indicated that Kyuss, the fathers of stoner rock, had a strong propensity to lay down songs of mammoth proportions – sometimes in terms of the epic size exhaled by their heavy instrumentation, and on other occasions due to the sheer length of the numbers. “Welcome to Sky Valley” vindicates that notion, and it targets terrain that is more ambitious, varied, and spectacular than that of its predecessors. Built around a trio of long-running suites made up, respectively, of three, three, and four tracks, “Welcome to Sky Valley” is, undoubtedly, the group’s finest hour and – perhaps – the best work within the genre the Californian quartet helped create.

“Movement I” is the most jam-focused piece on the record, as it begins with the merciless guitar attack of “Gardenia”, goes into the space rock psychedelia with the instrumental “Asteroid”, and concludes with the silly-titled “Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop”, whose guitar-solo-ridden coda is thrilling beyond belief. “Movement II”, meanwhile, is the most distinctive and intriguing effort: it kicks off with the fast-paced (for the genre’s standards) “100º”, which packs an incredible amount of musical content inside its running time; comes to a blissful halt on the seven-minute acoustic and drifting “Space Cadet”; and closes with “Demon Cleaner”, possibly the best song the band ever put out and a stoner rock signature number, for it is the perfect pairing of a heavy slow-to-mid tempo heavy groove and beautifully melodic vocals.

“Movement III” moves away from the generally quiet interlude provided by “Movement II” and wraps it all up with the most aggressive tunes featured in “Welcome to Sky Valley”. “Odyssey” alternates low-key instrumental parts with exploding and violent verse-and-chorus segments; “Conan Troutman” is a simple two-minute composition that would be right at home on a regular heavy metal album, and “N.O.” follows suit. The trip, save for the juvenile and somewhat humorous closing hidden track “Lick Doo”, ends with “Whitewater”: an anthemic eight-minute song that finishes with an impressive jam.

“Welcome to Sky Valley”, then, is able to unite – under one consistent and somehow cohesive umbrella – Kyuss’ metal influences with the band’s strong melodic vein. It punctuates its strongest moments, those when they detach themselves from the frantic and loud rhythms explored by so many other groups, with tracks that – while positively derivative – rock in a proud and reckless way. Whereas “Blues for the Red Sun” was the forge within which stoner rock was made, “Welcome to Sky Valley” made it soar to its apex.

wmAlbum: Wilder Mind

Artist: Mumford & Sons

Released: May 4th, 2015

Highlights: Tompkins Square Park, The Wolf, Wilder Mind

Big shifts in sound are not, by any means, inherently bad. In fact, most – if not all – of the greatest rock bands to ever step on the face of the earth have, at some point, abandoned a niche within which both themselves and their fans were thriving to find new unpredictable waters. “Wilder Minds” is one of those major stylistic leaps, for – as it is accurately broadcasted by its cover art – it leaves the explosive countryside banjo-wielding folk music of both “Sigh No More” and “Babel” behind to embrace tunes that emit an aura that is contemporary, urban, and nocturnal. Mumford & Sons depart from a farm town and head towards a bustling metropolis and – in the process – they fall into a hole.

The issue here is not that the songs are mostly bad; Marcus Mumford’s gifts as a songwriter and his knack for uncovering anthemic melodies that are born to sustain huge choruses would never allow such a result. The problem is that his band hops out of the indie folk bandwagon that was getting a bit too crowded – albeit one whose rise and establishment they were mostly responsible for, and end up climbing aboard a chariot that is even more packed. In the attempt to reinvent themselves, they – instead of breaking into new ground, as great bands will often do – become an indistinguishable blob among the mass of prefabricated bands whose only goal is making it to the of the charts. Popularity is not necessarily negative, but when it is achieved by conforming to the norm, it is rather dull.

There are redeeming moments to be found here and there. Among the electronic pulses, the layers of lush production, and the guitars – which frequently tread the angular line so vastly explored by The Strokes, Interpol, and Franz Ferdinand, some tunes truly soar. “Tompkins Square Park” has a relentless forward motion that peaks when its remarkable chorus kicks in; “The Wolf” features a glorious guitar explosion packed with hooks; “Wilder Mind” is a sad ballad in disguise; and both “Snake Eyes” and “Just Smoke” have strong traces of the catharsis-inducing choruses found in “Sigh No More” and “Babel”.

Other tunes, meanwhile, are not victims only of the production and musical direction; they suffer due to the shockingly generic writing. “Believe”, naturally chosen as the first single, is a showcase of that syndrome: a song so utterly predictable it could be safely placed in numerous records that break into the top of the charts. As disappointing as it may be, “Wilder Minds” will certainly find its crowd, because – at times – it is able to be irresistibly catchy. To those who do not appreciate the terrain it explores, though, the glimpses it gives that the old Mumford & Sons is still there to be found and rescued will work as little drops of hope that the band can come around with an original record in the near future.

tbolaAlbum: The Battle of Los Angeles

Artist: Rage Against the Machine

Released: November 2nd, 1999

Highlights: Testify, Guerrilla Radio, Calm Like a Bomb, Sleep Now in the Fire

From their fantastic self-titled debut, Rage Against the Machine revealed itself to be a one-trick pony, albeit a very original one. The merger between heavy rock and rap had already been done, most notably through the Aerosmith and Run–D.M.C. partnership on “Walk this Way”. However, the joining of the social concerns expressed by hip-hop and the anger of unadulterated heavy metal had never truly happened, especially during the entirety of a full-length record. “The Battle of Los Angeles” is the third installment of that experiment, and even though it carries neither the originality of “Rage Against the Machine” nor the astounding consistency of “Evil Empire”, it still rocks with a high-octane vengeance.

The formula is the same as always. On the verses, Tom Morello, like the guitar wizard he is, extracts from his instrument sounds a turntablist would get out of record scratching; Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk take care of the rhythm; and Zack the la Rocha spills his revolt along with a poignant political agenda. When the choruses come around, Morello unleashes dirty and loud riffs that would be right at home on an Ozzy-era Black Sabbath record – that is, if they were played in a slower tempo – and Zack delivers the tune’s core hook .

The band does, in two instances, step out of that structure. On “Mic Check”, probably one of the group’s purest hip-hop efforts, the result is unimpressive; Rage Against the Machine, as it turns out, loses a lot of its charm when it is supported solely by Zack’s strong lyrics and Morello’s pickup-like guitar. “Born of a Broken Man”, meanwhile, lies in the other end of the spectrum: the whispered verses work beautifully against the explosive chorus, creating a quiet-and-loud dynamic that is both refreshing and thrilling. Ultimately, though, the element that makes Rage Against the Machine invariably gripping in spite of its musical predictability are Zack’s lyrics, and here they are – unsurprisingly – as acid and well-written as ever.

“Testify” is a brutal attack on the media, which is portrayed as serving as a puppet for the government’s policies; “Sleep Now in the Fire” is a powerful, and borderline disturbing, portrait of how greed and pettiness are the fuel to mindless violence, death, and destruction; and “Maria” is a shift on Zack’s usual speech-style lyrics and presents a storytelling tone, painting the picture of a refugee who abandons her homeland, which has been torn apart by American foreign policy. In the end, even though it does not present any stylistic growth or change, “The Battle of Los Angeles” – like its predecessors – is a much-needed rebellious record soaked in defined ideals and messages; here, anger has both a cause and purpose.

afdyAlbum: Anthems for Doomed Youth

Artist: The Libertines

Released: September 11, 2015

Highlights: Barbarians, Gunga Din, Fame and Fortune, Heart of the Matter

Eleven years separate The Libertines’ final record before their inevitable break-up from “Anthems for Doomed Youth”, the album birthed by the mending of the convoluted love between Barât and Doherty. In the mean time, the reckless quartet, once the new century’s ultimate symbol for rock and roll debauchery – the missing link between Keith Richards and the garage rock revival bands, only with much more frequent visits to the tabloids’ front pages – got older (all of them are either close to forty or past that landmark), had children, and – maybe – sobered up. “Anthems for Doomed Youth” is the result of that process; it, nevertheless, finds a way to balance itself between new-found wisdom and the youthful energy of the good old days.

A sense of maturity permeates the whole work, be it on “Barbarians”, an ode to the outcasts of society, a group The Libertines are glad to join; “Gunga Din”, where a reggae-infused verse meets a catchy chorus to comment on the difficulties of the battle against the use of harmful substances, a tale the band knows too well; “You’re My Waterloo”, a piano ballad that had been written more than a decade ago but whose surfacing in 2015 is extremely fitting, given a vulnerable Doherty is obviously singing about his troubled relationship with Barât; the eponymous track, where the composers use their experiences as wild young adults to sing to a new generation that “We’re going nowhere / But nowhere, nowhere’s on our way”; and “The Milkman’s Horse”, a poignant observation about the frailty and dangers of dreams.

Although it never reaches the borderline flawless quality of “Up the Bracket”, given it shows some of the songwriting inconsistencies that marred “The Libertines”, “Anthems for Doomed Youth” is an undeniably strong record by a band that was absent for way too long. The joy of being together again is clear all the way through the album, and it becomes particularly evident on its most rousing numbers, such as “Belly of the Beast”, “Fury of Chonburi”, and “Glasgow Coma Scale Blues”; on how Doherty and Barât are constantly exchanging vocal leads; and on the way its best choruses, despite touching on messy subjects, sound like a cry of victory; a loud shout by four survivors of grand turmoil.

To the disappoint of many, “Anthems for Doomed Youth” replaces the Mick Jones production present on the first two records, on which The Clash’s guitarrist and songwriter famously let the band play live and loose, for something far cleaner and neatly recorded – hence taking away part of the group’s shambolic aura. Yet, even with such restraint, The Libertines still come through as highly energetic, wild, untamed, partially broken, and as men who tread the line between wrong and right with grins stamped on their faces. The old magic has not died, it has just been slightly altered by the battle against father time, who finds – once more – in rock and roll, one of its greatest adversaries. The boys in the band, despite their acquired maturity, are still the doomed youth from the record’s title.

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Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse Review

From its charming presentation to its exquisite design, it is a victory for small developers, long-forgotten properties, and digital distribution

shantaeThanks to the reduced costs and hassles of digital distribution, Shantae – a beloved franchise that had been lying dormant for almost a decade due to the commercial flop its acclaimed first effort ended up being – rose from the ashes with Risky’s Revenge. Four years later, to the delight of fans that had been around since the Gameboy Color days and also to those that had learned to love the purple-haired character through her second adventure, she returned with the spectacular Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, one of the best games available on the 3DS – whether physically or digitally – and a triumphant statement on how beneficial online-distribution platforms are to the industry as a whole and, especially, to gamers.

Shantae, the good-hearted half-genie tasked with protecting her hometown – Scuttle Town – from danger, is approached by her archenemy, Risky Boots, with an odd proposal to form an alliance. As it turns out, Risky’s crew has been hit by a sudden curse, one that she is quick to link to the reawakening of the evil Pirate Master, who – sensing the power of the genies that once sealed him away has been slowly fading – is mounting a counter-attack against the whole world and his former first mate, Risky herself.

Without her men and equipment, now mysteriously stolen, Risky turns to Shantae, who – in turn – gladly accepts to help out not only due to the peril hovering over all the land, but also because she believes there is goodness to be unlocked inside Risky’s heart.

shantae2For most games of the kind (sidescrolling action-platformers), a plot would be a minor element whose only purpose is to get the adventure going. With Shantae, however, things are considerably different. Unquestionably, the storyline is far from being the title’s most remarkable and important asset; at the same time, though, it adds a lot to the overall value of Pirate’s Curse thanks to one simple reason: the fact it serves as the trampoline from which the characters that inhabit this wonderful world jump towards greatness.

There are many factors that make the game stand out among other 2-D platformers, and one of them is how its characters are developed and valued. Shantae is irresistibly likable and adorable in her infinite will to aid people; Risky walks an interesting tightrope between semi-antagonist and troubled buddy; and the two of them are surrounded by a fantastic, big, and varied cast of friends, enemies, random comic reliefs, and – more interestingly – beings that alternate between being obstacles and helping hands.

All of that surprisingly intricate web of interactions exists supported by amazing dialogues that, besides the basic text-boxes, use large-sized, fully-expressive, and gorgeous sprites from the characters, a little detail that infuses a whole lot of heart and personality into the world of Shantae. The writing itself is impressive, reaching its peak on laughter-inducing exchanges whose lighthearted nature goes along perfectly with the title’s usual colorful vibe, which is occasionally smartly swapped for somber tones when the moment requires such darkness.

shantae3The originality of Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, much like that of its predecessors, goes beyond its attention to character development. At first sight, the game looks like a traditional action-centered platformer of the mid-90s, a kind of game where difficulty comes from enemy placement and combat rather than from performing jumps and other precise maneuvers. To a certain point, such assumption would be correct, but the game offers far more than that, as it blends that noticeable influence with cues taken from two Nintendo classics: Metroid and The Legend of Zelda.

Touches of the former are seen on the structure of the world itself and on how the adventure progresses. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse takes place across six differently themed islands that are unlocked one-by-one. Within each, different connected action-platforming segments and environments need to be navigated as the half-genie tries to solve problems presented by the characters she comes across. Like it happens on a Metroid game, the clearing of those issues often entails backtracking through the scenarios, and sometimes to previously visited islands. However, given the overall scope of the title is far smaller than that of a Metroid game, the backtracking itself is, naturally, not as demanding.

As a brilliant touch, even though all islands feature that kind of progression and structure, all of them have exclusive and inventive quirks. In one, for example, Shantae will have to pull off some serious stealth moves after being imprisoned due to a hilarious misunderstanding; another piece of land is infested with enemies to the brim, putting a heavy focus on combat; and on a different island, she will have to defenselessly carry a friend through a wild obstacle course of traps and foes.

shantae4The goal on each of the islands is to track down a Den of Evil, where a portion of the Pirate Master’s power must be found and destroyed; inside those labyrinths, echoes of The Legend of Zelda are blatantly heard. When in those dungeons, the game smartly replaces the action-focused gameplay of its overworld for puzzle-solving challenges that frequently include traditional platforming elements, offering gamers a very pleasant change of pace.

If outside Shantae will spend most of her time using her hair as a whip to beat well-designed enemies while avoiding numerous creative attacks, inside the Dens of Evil she will have to execute accurate jumps, risky moves through tight spaces, and other tricks that will put players’ skills to the test.

True to the Zelda tradition, all mazes have plenty of locked doors that will require a good deal of exploration; a new piece of equipment, such as a pistol for shooting distant objects or a hat to help Shantae hover, that will be extremely useful to overcome the riddles imposed by the dungeon; and a clever boss battle that, in most cases, will pose a considerable threat.

shantae6As it happens on a Metroid title, as Shantae’s arsenal of moves grows, the character will be able to reach previously inaccessible locations. While some of those will be mandatory to beating the game, others hide extra elements such as Heart Squids – whose total of thirty-two can give the half-genie eight new units of health; and Cacklebats, the cursed members of Risky Boots’ crew that must be defeated so that the dark magic that now controls their bodies can be harvested.

In average, beating Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse will take eight hours, a length that suits its asking price. However, those who are looking for more will find it. The search for the aforementioned collectibles, not to mention the purchase of upgrades for the heroine’s pieces of equipment and attacks, can extend the whole experience past the twelve-hour mark. Moreover, different endings and a Pirate Mode, where speed-running is supported by having Shantae fully equipped from the get go, serve as plenty of incentive for extra playthroughs.

The care that was devoted towards the title’s gameplay and content is also clearly perceived on its technical aspects. For starters, the character controls like a dream and the physics are flawless. Besides that, the game’s graphics and music are wondrous works of art that pay homage to the 16-bit era without feeling locked in the past, a quality that is clearly perceived on sensible visual effects that lend impressive resonance to The Pirate’s Curse artistic values.

shantae5Aside from a few points on which the game’s generally pleasant difficulty takes a turn towards the frustrating; rare miscues in checkpoint placement; and punctual occasions when the backtracking is a bit tedious, Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse flirts with sidescrolling perfection. From its overwhelmingly charming presentation to its easy-to-love characters and exquisite design, it is a victory for small developers, long-forgotten properties, and digital distribution. Without the latter, many might have never discovered the wonders of the Shantae franchise and the world might have never known the wonders of The Pirate’s Curse; what a terrible loss it would have been for us gamers.

Shantae and the Pirates Curse

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Shantae: Risky’s Revenge Review

More than giving the Shantae franchise new life after a considerable lull, it proved the quality of the formula that had been built nearly a decade earlier

urlOver eight years separate Shantae’s Gameboy Color debut from Risky’s Revenge, her Nintendo DS outing. To fans of the cult classic, who had to live a good portion of that period wondering whether the half-genie would ever get a second shot at stardom, the wait was positively painful; however, the title’s lengthy incubation period ended by bearing clear dividends. Thanks to a considerable technological leap and a pretty long interval during which WayForward had plenty of time to mull over the first game’s successes and failures, Risky’s Revenge comes out as a drastic improvement on a rough, yet alluring, gem.

After having her plan of dominating Sequin Land put on hold due to Shantae’s interference, the evil pirate Risky Boots hatches a new devilish scheme. Uncle Mimic, Scuttle Town’s relic hunter, unveils his latest discovery – an ordinary-looking stone – in front of the fishing village’s population. Upon hammering the rock to see what treasure might lie within, a golden lamp pops out; clearly affected by the sight of the object, Uncle Mimic tries to call off the demonstration – to the people’s disappointment – but is surprised by the arrival of Risky Boots, who blows the roof of his home open and steals the object away. Naturally, Shantae – despite being faced by her uncle’s unexplained resistance towards allowing her to go after the lamp – takes it upon herself to stop Risky.

Risky’s Revenge works a whole lot like its predecessor: it matches up combat-based platforming on its overworld, which is underlined by a Metroid-like non-linear progression; and dungeons filled with intricate design that offer a pleasant marriage of tight platforming with great puzzle solving. However, perhaps as a condition imposed by the size and budget constraints that surround the development of a DsiWare effort, Risky’s Revenge works within a smaller scope than the one explored by Shantae.

shantaeriskysrevenge2The overworld itself is much tighter: instead of featuring a sprawling conjunction of four towns spread across varied scenarios, the setting here is much more constrained, being centered around Scuttle Town and the areas that surround it. As a consequence of that narrow setup, Risky’s Revenge is far more streamlined, focused, and fluent, giving birth to an experience that is worthy of the slogan “all killer, no filler”, offering players a constant stream of gaming goodness during the six-to-eight hours it should take for one to clear the title with all of its collectibles.

In order to open the doors to each of the adventure’s three dungeons, the character will have to engage in wacky item-collecting tasks that will have her traveling back and forth between the locations that branch out from Scuttle Town: a maze-like forest, a desert that can only be traversed by exploring a relatively complex set of caves, a mermaid-ridden seaside area that is a gauntlet of tough enemies, and a tranquil bay home to some nerve-testing platforming.

The game’s charm steams from an incredible amount of sources. Firstly, there is the silly nature of the characters with whom Shantae will interact, such as a child-like zombie who is bent on eating her brain; and a minor villain who is a walking meme-creating machine. Secondly, there is the 16-bit aura that oozes out of the game with every passing second, a vibe that is solidly supported by great enemy-design, which works wonders towards the creation of engaging, simple, and challenging combats; a precise control scheme; and a good soundtrack that would be right at home on a Sega classic from the early 90s.

The highlights, though, are its dungeons. It is a little frustrating that, out of the three mazes present on Risky’s Revenge, one is a Battle Tower where – as the name obviously implies – the meticulous search for keys is replaced by a series of combats. Given the original game had a few fun mini-games, a feature that did not make the cut, said dungeon could have – instead – been used to replace them as a fun and challenging extra, or as yet another obstacle on the main quest, but not as a main dungeon. Yet, the two that remain are spectacular showcases of creativity and challenge.

rrThe set of skills Shantae possesses to traverse those buildings, go around on the overworld, and unlock the game’s many secrets goes far beyond her signature hair-whip. Like it happened on the first game, she will – along the way – learn to transform into different creatures (three, in the case of Risky’s Revenge) that will allow her to gain access to new areas (some mandatory and some optional), hence creating a Metroid-like progression, one of the features that makes Shantae such a stand-out platforming series.

The scattered extras that can be progressively found thanks to the acquiring of those skills are a couple of heart holders, which give Shantae a much needed HP boost; Magic Jams, which allow her to purchase useful magical abilities on Scuttle Town’s item shop; and three relics that grant new powers to each of the transformations, which – in turn – allow the reaching of previously inaccessible items.

All that scouring for assets, not to mention the general exploration that takes place during the regular adventure, is greatly aided by a useful map – something that the series’ first game did not have. Although it is disappointing to see that dungeons still lack a mapping feature, not to mention the fact that underground passages of the desert area are not mapped, that system – along with abundant warp points – make progressing through the game a far more pleasant experience

277806-ST1When it is all said and done, Risky’s Revenge crushes all of its tiny flaws to deliver one of the most engaging and carefully crafted experiences on both the Nintendo DS and 3DS. It might not have the enormous size of most titles that rank among those systems’ finest, but it matches them with the care it displays – be it on its stunning layered visuals or fantastic level design – and the relentless torrent of untamed joy it produces. More than giving the Shantae franchise new life after an absence that often threatened to leave the series in limbo for good, it proved that – with improvements, optimizations, and tweaks – the concept that was built back in the early 2000s was good enough to compete against any of the current the big guns.

Shantae Risky Revenge

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Shantae Review

Though definitely flawed, Shantae is certainly one of the most impressive and ambitious projects of the Gameboy Color era

shantaeA superficial look at Shantae, the classic 2002 Gameboy Color game that was brought to a whole new generation of fans thanks to the Nintendo 3DS’ virtual console, may lead one to think it is a standard platformer; a fruit of an era where the genre still towered over everything else. All elements of a title of the kind are, after all, evident here: the sidescrolling perspective, the colorful world put together by a collection of outrageous characters and varied landscapes, and a simple storyline to get the ball rolling. Initial impressions, however, can be deceiving, and anyone who is willing to sit down to give the adventure a try is bound to quickly figure out why exactly it is such a well-regarded work.

The starring female figure is a half-genie tasked with protecting Scuttle Town, a small fishing village located on Sequin Land. The peaceful setting is disrupted when a gang of pirates, led by the evil Risky Boots, attacks the place and sails away with the prototype of a steam engine designed by one of its inhabitants. Aware that the theft of the object could only have dark purposes, Shantae sets out to get it back.

As soon as the journey gets going, Shantae’s two major qualities become obvious. The first one is visual; the game’s graphics, created on the hardware of an 8-bit handheld platform, are spectacular. The scenarios are multi-layered beauties whose colors and shapes depict an astounding variety of settings. The software’s biggest technical prowess, however, are its sprites. Characters are portrayed in astonishing explosive details, and both the heroine and her enemies showcase animations whose fluidity borders on unbelievable given the flooring amount of frames each model packs.

shantae2The title’s second, and most important, positive attribute is structural. Instead of, like average platformers of the era, being neatly divided into worlds and levels, Shantae throws that organization out the window and opts to set its adventure on a sprawling overworld filled with the kinds of secrets, caves, shortcuts, and hidden locations one would expect to find on a Metroid game. As a statement on the game’s elevated ambition, Sequin Land is set up as a circular map. In other words, if players choose to walk towards the right for a good amount of time, they will – after dealing with a bunch of enemies, traps, and quirky terrain – find themselves back on the journey’s starting point: Scuttle Town.

Shantae’s world is, then, made up of a number of towns – including a wacky and always-on-the-move zombie caravan – connected by big expanses of enemy-ridden locations. She must, with precise and valuable information given by side-characters, advance through those ordeals – sometimes in a not-so-linear manner – to stop Risky Boots’ evil plan.

The areas in-between villages play like well-designed, and brutal, levels on a combat-based platformer. Although there is a great amount of exploring and jumping, most of the difficulty stems from guiding the half-genie through hordes of varied and carefully placed foes by using her long hair as a whip or via other battle-related abilities that can be optionally acquired from shops within the towns. As an added twist, and as a sign of the game’s complexity and attention to detail, those segments implement a night-and-day system that alters enemy behavior, power, and presence according to each period.

The culmination of that exploration, and the peak of Shantae as a game, comes in the four dungeons that need to be found and cleared. Inside those, players must navigate a series of rooms that strike a flawless balance between tight platforming; a good deal of battling, including nice – albeit a bit too easy – bosses and mini-bosses; and puzzle-solving. In the best Zelda fashion, those mazes have plenty of locked doors and corridors that cannot be accessed until Shantae tracks down the dungeon’s core technique, transforming the act of walking around the place itself into an exercise in reasoning.

shantae5Within each dungeon, Shantae will rescue a genie that will teach her a new dance, hence allowing the character to turn into a specific creature that contains a unique skill (the monkey transformation, for example, can climb walls and perform higher jumps). It is an utterly clever and inventive mechanic whose only minor drawback is the fact that performing the dances in order to transform (something that should take about five seconds or so) breaks the pace of the gameplay a bit.

With those abilities in her power, not only will she be able to advance far into the depths of each building, but also – through a great amount of exploration – obtain well-hidden optional treasures on the overworld, such as heart holders for extra HP; items that give Shantae the power to attack while transformed; and a dozen fireflies, which when collected allow her to learn a health-regenerating special dance.

The dungeons themselves feature their own extra collectible in the shape of Warp Squids. There are five tucked away inside each maze, with one of them usually requiring that players revisit the place with a transformation learned further down the line. By taking four of them to any of the towns, Shantae will gain access to a warp point. It is quite a reward considering how cumbersome and tough it can be to travel between villages; in fact, it is so vital and time-saving that it is questionable if, instead of being an unlockable, the warp points should have been implemented as an automatically granted option once Shantae gets to a new town.

Despite all of its prowesses, Shantae is ultimately an ambitious and creative title held back by simple design issues. For starters, given its marvelously big scope, the lack of a map – either for the dungeons or for the overworld itself – is really troublesome. While neither are impossible to navigate without one, it certainly would not have hurt to have a simple Metroid-like chart displaying all the intricate connections between locations, which can sometimes get a bit confusing to figure out.

shantae3Secondly, perhaps bent on showcasing its graphical fireworks, the camera is heavily focused on Shantae, making her sprite occupy a considerable portion of the screen. Since, as a combat-based platformer, the game often requires a mix of precise jumping and anticipating incoming enemies, it becomes problematic when bottomless pits sometimes appear way too suddenly to be avoided and foes are only seen from a short distance away.

The game’s most fatal mistake, though, is one that is – thankfully – alleviated by the built-in save-state function of the 3DS’ Gameboy emulator. Shantae’s save points are extremely scarce, with each town containing one such location, just a few of them placed out in the overworld, and absolutely none inside the dungeons. Given the game uses a life-system, has a serious amount of one-hit-kill spikes, and possesses a level of difficulty that borders on brutal, the chances of losing considerable progress – like reaching the boss of a dungeon, dying, and having to return all the way back to the town from which your exploration of the region started – is always palpable.

Games of the 8-bit era always compensated their lack of length by forcing players to replay huge segments, or to start from scratch, if they failed a lot. Shantae safely clocks in over the ten-hour mark even if just a few of its collectibles are tracked down, so it certainly did not need to go to such frustrating extents to stretch the duration of its great quest.

shantae4In the end, though definitely flawed, Shantae is certainly one of the most impressive and ambitious projects of the Gameboy Color era. Its mixture of Metroid, Zelda, and combat-based platforming is rather unique, and it is inserted in a world with great characters, a lot of soul, and a dash of humor. Its successors would eventually improve on it by a large margin, but Shantae did one incredible job by putting in place the pillars that would support a great 2-D saga.


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When the Same is Different

mkBoth the Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. franchises – two of the most financially and critically successful series of all time – looked very different in their respective original shapes. Those lines of games, known for infusing established genres with scenarios and characters made iconic through some of Nintendo’s greatest products, shared – during their embryonic states – the characteristic of featuring completely unknown personages and settings.

In hindsight, it is absolutely impossible to conceive that there was a point in time when the wacky go-kart and fighting sagas existed without insane stages bursting with nods to classic games, an armada of fate-changing items, and stars that – more than famous – are symbols whose many efforts helped define gaming as we know it. We unconsciously think of them as having been born as Nintendo-themed ventures into the racing and fighting niches, but the engineering was actually the other way around: first came the naked concepts, and only then was the Nintendo charm added.

Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. would eventually gain their current themes in different ways. The former was almost accidental: occurring when developers – while executing a test – decided to place Mario on a kart, an action that immediately fostered endless ideas of a Mushroom Kingdom racing game. The latter, meanwhile, was an intentional choice made by Sakurai – the game’s creator – who feared his new fighting game, despite its inventive mechanics, would do poorly in commercial terms.

smashIt is hard to predict the fate those two projects would have had if they had not received such blessing, but Sakurai’s fear regarding his brainchild would probably turn out to be correct: they would not have been nearly as successful. Regardless of the differences in how each game eventually got their visual cues (and, most importantly, their very souls), the fact their once generic coat of paint was eventually replaced by an extremely recognizable layer speaks volumes about Nintendo’s strategy in the use of their world-known franchises.

The company is sometimes accused of going overboard in the exploit of its immense array of weapons, and some even go as far as claiming it has been quite a while since the Big N last sent a group of brand new creatures out into the world. However, such a line of thought happens to sail right past Nintendo’s biggest and most impossible-to-replicate gift: the uncanny ability their developers possess of, such as exposed by the examples of Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros, smoothly transport some of their most familiar faces into environments that greatly differ from their game of origin.

It is a skill of very precious value that works in two different ways. Firstly, it turns sometimes unusual formulas that might have had trouble succeeding on their own into products that are extremely appealing and very easy to market. Secondly, it empowers the company’s most important franchises with great degrees of longevity; after all, the fact that the very same universe can be represented in so many unique ways works as a fountain of youth of endless depth.

Numerous are the games that could have easily been the starting point for a brand new franchise, but that, instead – to the delight of many fans – received a well-known facade later on, naturally instilling those works with an irresistible allure.

lmLuigi’s Mansion, for example, is as far from the green plumber’s native grounds as possible. There is no jumping, no stage-to-stage progression, and almost no foes commonly found on the Mushroom Kingdom. Luigi is, alternatively, tasked with investigating a dark and haunted enclosed territory, and using a flashlight and vacuum cleaner combo to bust ghosts. It is a structure that could have been used as the bones to either a serious thriller or a goofy new intellectual property featuring a clumsy ghost hunter, but that ended up being graced by Luigi’s quirkiness.

Inside the very same Mario universe, it is possible to find a pair of titles that also falls far from the nest of the iconic platforming tree. The Paper Mario, and Mario and Luigi lines share the same silly humor, but both their role-playing mechanics and exploration styles are diverging. In battles, while Paper Mario puts a heavy emphasis on the plumber’s cast of unique partners, the Mario and Luigi games are fueled by the interaction between the brothers, which produces attacks of devastating effects. Outside the turn-based goodness, a similar difference is felt, as the former presents puzzles to be solved by the abilities of Mario’s party whereas the latter challenges Mario and Luigi to work together.

mlThose games also serve as great examples of how showing the same universe through different perspectives can end up generating efforts that are so distant from the source material they feel like completely independent franchises. Paper Mario, and Mario and Luigi could have easily been painted with original characters and a new universe; their critically successful fate would not have shifted. However, by presenting the Mushroom Kingdom in a manner that is far deeper than the approach taken on the Mario platformers, these series gain a thick layer of lovely charm and marketability.

Mario’s greedy rival, Wario, has also gone through a metamorphosis of the same kind. His core series is a platforming saga of immense qualities, but when not busy on the exotic journeys of Wario Land, he runs the micro-game producing technology giant WarioWare firm. The originality of the game’s structure, a marathon of fast challenges; and the nature of its five-second activities, which range from trashy to absurd, could have carried the title by themselves regardless of its setting. Yet, the addition of Wario, and the idea that he had decided to earn money not by going on dangerous adventures, but by making games, made WarioWare instantly recognizable to the general public.

Another platforming hero that has starred in experiments that were unlike anything he had ever done before; so disparate – in fact – that they could have been new franchises, is Kirby. Differently from Mario and Wario, though, the pink puffball did not even have to leave his home genre. The character’s calling card has always been his ability to copy the powers of his enemies and use those skills at will to great destructive effects. Two of his most well-received efforts in recent years, however, lacked that very trick, which was the equivalent of making a Mario platformer where he cannot jump.

rainbow_curseThrough evil magic, Kirby is stripped of his greatest trait on Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Kirby Canvas Curse, and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. On the former, trapped inside a world of cloth, he uses a whip made of fiber to down his foes; and on the latter duo, he becomes a limbless pink ball, forcing the hero to rely on the player’s guiding hand in order to fulfill his quest.

While it is known that, for Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros, the concept came before the coat of paint, the same cannot be said for sure about Luigi’s Mansion, Paper Mario, Mario and Luigi, WarioWare, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Kirby Canvas Curse, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, and many other Nintendo games where famous franchises are taken out of their habitat.

Nevertheless, regardless of the process, those are titles that show Nintendo’s failure to deliver a stream of new franchises is, to say the least, very deceiving. The company is constantly pulling off concepts of great originality, but often employing them as creative means to present their well-known characters in never-seen-before ways.

warioIt is a strategy that aids in the longevity of their already long-running characters and guarantees that inventive ideas, which rightfully deserve a great deal of applause, will get their due reward. It is a luxury the Big N has earned after accumulating so many remarkable personages and worlds, and one that is used to the delight of fans and the company’s vaults alike.

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Albums of the Month: August 2015

monsanto_yearsAlbum: The Monsanto Years

Artist: Neil Young & Promise of the Real

Released: June 19th, 2015

Highlights: People Want to Hear About Love, Big Box, A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop, Monsanto Years

Neil Young is not one to step down from a political debate. A man of the protest singer-songwriter era, he has – differently from Bob Dylan, who got tired of being called “the voice of a generation” – never abandoned the fight for what he thinks is right. As he has gotten older, though, the once gifted subtlety he had to approach those themes has disappeared: where once were poetical, yet fierce, tunes like “Ohio” and “After the Gold Rush”; 21st century Neil has, when his will strikes, devoted entire albums to matters that bother him. “Living with War”, from 2006, was written within nine days after Young noticed nobody in the musical business would step up to confront George W. Bush through songwriting; and “Fork in the Road”, released three years later, was a conceptual garage rock work against fossil fuels and in favor of alternative energies.

“The Monsanto Years” is yet another album with that same approach. All of its songs are blatantly aimed towards the same target: the titular agribusiness giant. Through the tracks, Young accuses Monsanto of damaging people’s health (“People Want To Hear About Love”), being perverse to nature (“Wolf Moon”), breaking the law without being punished due to their size and lobbying power (“Big Box”), joining forces with Starbucks to veto a law proposed in the state of Vermont that would force all genetically modified food and derivatives to feature a label indicating their nature (“A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop”), crushing small independent producers in court (“Workin’ Man”), patenting – with the aid of a corrupt judicial system – seeds (“Rules Of Change”), and scheming to monopolize the market (“Monsanto Years”).

As a testament to Neil’s unmatched level as a songwriter, “The Monsanto Years” is great. Backed up by Promise of the Real, a group led by Willie Nelson’s son Lukas, he forges a dirty, angry, distorted, and loose rock sound inside the same furnace from which the guttural wails of Crazy Horse came from. The melodies are catchy, and even though most of the album has a vitriolic vibe, it is clear to see the old man had a blast recording it. Conversely, as a testament to Young’s recent rushed approach to composing, the lyrics are problematic. Some might argue they are purposely obvious so that the issue is clear, but their overly literal nature makes them sound awkward.

There are a few great moments here and there, such as on “Big Box” when – through a Crazy Horse inspired mix of country harmonies over a viciously loud and mean instrumentation – Neil and crew sing “Too big to fail / Too rich for jail” as they point the finger towards every huge company or wealthy businessman who knows they can break the law without consequences thanks to their power. However, despite the fact its lyrics come off as being quickly put together by a marvelous artist who wanted to get his message across as fast and directly as possible, “The Monsanto Years” is worth a listen due to its incredible melodies.

pink_moonAlbum: Pink Moon

Artist: Nick Drake

Released: February 25th, 1972

Highlights: Pink Moon, Place to Be, Which Will, Things Behind the Sun

Nick Drake’s third album, and the last one he would release before his unfortunate death, is far more intimate than anything that preceded it. Here, the folk legend who would only get his due admiration years after his passing chose to replace the lush and elaborate production of both “Five Leaves Left” and “Bryter Layter” with stripped down melancholy. The strings and arrangements that added size to his guitar-and-voice tunes are gone; and, other than a simple piano on the title track, the record’s brief twenty-eight minutes gravitate around Nick’s playing and his remarkable voice.

When stripped off its studio ornaments, weak songs fall to the ground; however, on “Pink Moon”, as proof of Drake’s songwriting, the tracks soar to some blissful landscape. His deep affecting singing is that of a man whose wisdom transcends his young age; he delivers lines with the humility of a folk singer, and with an insightful weight that could only be achieved by a very attentive observer. Nick’s learning, unfortunately, had been painful – a condition derived from the sensitivity that gifted him with an incredible talent, yet placed a heavy emotional burden he had trouble carrying – and his lyrics show it.

“Pink Moon” announces the coming of the satellite as an omen for bad luck; “Place to Be” shows the resignation of a man that had learned to live with the darkness he absorbed from the world around him; “Road” depicts the choosing of a path that will allow survival instead of one that leads to greater things; “Things Behind the Sun” paints, through a web of words, a contrast between honesty and pretending to be someone you are not; “Parasite” is a haunting take on depression, one that could only have been written by someone who had been through it; and “From the Morning” wraps it all up by using the briefness of the day as an allegory for the shortness of life itself.

Like the two works that came before it, “Pink Moon” emits a sinister vibe, and – from a place embedded in gloominess – Nick Drake delivers his sung poetry in an impressively effective and moving way. It is not a perfect record; “Horn” – a short instrumental that goes nowhere, and “Know” – which begins with over a minute of humming before moving on to a average melody are both a bit lackluster. In spite of that, it stands as one of the finest examples of the singer-songwriter genre and it features a foreboding aura of despair that folk music has failed to reach either before or since its release.

marquee_moonAlbum: Marquee Moon

Artist: Television

Released: February 8th, 1977

Highlights: See No Evil, Venus, Marquee Moon, Torn Curtain

Out of the door of the legendary CBGB – the notorious and historic New York club that was partially responsible for ushering in a fantastic musical era – came various shapes and styles of punk artists. The Ramones were basic and straightforward, Patti Smith joined rock with poetry, Blondie bridged the gap between the roughness of punk and a multitude of other styles, and the Talking Heads touched on bouncy rhythms and awkward melodies. Then, there was Television and their debut “Marquee Moon”, the precise point on which the stripped down energetic recordings of punk, not to mention the lovable-outcasts vibe emitted by the genre’s musicians, met arty and avant-garde terrain formerly explored by another mammoth New York act a decade earlier: The Velvet Underground.

“Marquee Moon” is, above all, a guitar record. Although Tom Verlaine’s production and creative control over the album’s sessions do plenty of justice to all instruments, which are homogeneously wonderfully recorded, the guitars reign superior over the soundscape. Their sound is pure, precise, and clean, but that neatness never strips “Marquee Moon” of its punk rock air; the eight numbers contained here are ragged, edgy, and so messy – adjectives that also apply to Verlaine’s singing – one frequently wonders if the quartet will make it unscathed to the end of the song. However, the reason the album is so unique and revolutionary is due to its blend of those rough elements with progressive quirks, jazz-like improvisation, and cryptic lyrics inspired by French Poetry that travel between confusion, stream-of-consciousness thoughts, and enlightenment.

Yet, despite its daring mixture, “Marquee Moon” is utterly accessible. The opener “See No Evil” has a delightful hooky chorus, while “Venus”, which contains the stand-out line “I fell right into the arms of Venus de Milo”, is gorgeous and is constantly accompanied by a beautiful soloing guitar. All of the eight songs present here have plenty of lures to draw listeners in, but what truly takes them to legendary territory is the remarkable omnipresent interplay between Verlaine and Lloyd’s guitars, which ends up culminating on the album’s key tracks: the ten-minute titular song and its long instrumental segment; and “Torn Curtain”, a seven-minute dark and obscure look at traumas of the past with a haunting piano-accompanied chorus and a blistering closing guitar solo that makes the song earn its position as the closer.

“Marquee Moon” wisely separates those two lengthy and more demanding efforts with shorter – but still long for punk standards – tunes that still house plenty of complexity whereas featuring blatant hooks, including the borderline ballad “Guiding Light”; “Friction”, the record’s wildest cut; the menacing “Elevation”; and the detective story of “Prove It”.  With those pieces set in place, “Marquee Moon” stands – easily – as one of the greatest records of all time, and it is no surprise its astounding quality and unique sound make it a mind-blowing musical revelation to most that listen to it.

remain_in_lightAlbum: Remain in Light

Artist: Talking Heads

Released: October 8th, 1980

Highlights: Crosseyed and Painless, The Great Curve, Once in a Lifetime, Listening Wind

Quirky. That’s an adjective that is easy to associate with the Talking Heads; a quality that was ever present in all of their releases. “Remain in Light”, the fourth of their eight studio records, marks the point on which that peculiar unpredictability ran so delightfully rampant it transcended the invisible barriers of the rock genre. Where “Talking Heads: 77”, “More Songs About Buildings and Food”, and “Fear of Music” were mostly centered around punk riffs played to dancing beats and bouncing melodies, “Remain in Light” was guided by the fresh encounter of wild energetic African rhythms and electronic elements.

Considering the Talking Heads were always masters in the craft of coming up with remarkable grooves, that blend does not come too far out from left field; it feels like a natural step forward, as the quartet fully embraces the unrestrained wackiness of their sound. Yet, the fact their musicality has gone through an evolution that comes off as organic does not diminish the brilliancy of the progression; the sound that is found here is absolutely unorthodox, and it would be no absurd to claim that only the Talking Heads could use all the pieces available to put together immediately likable and irresistible numbers.

Some songs, such as “Seen and Not Seen” with its spoken vocals and the beautiful “Listening Wind”, which features one of the album’s best choruses, rely on African percussion and Brian Eno’s beats. “Remain in Light”, however, is at its peak when those items collide with the group’s frantic guitars. “Crosseyed and Painless”, for example, is led by intersecting and highly rhythmical riffs; the urgent six-minute “The Great Curve”, meanwhile, presents shredding solos that divide the song’s chaotic body; and “Once in a Lifetime” reaches for anthemic grounds when its electronic verses culminate in a guitar-based chorus whose melody is downright catchy.

Truthfully, even though it is generally regarded as the Talking Heads’ greatest work, “Remain in Light” falters a bit on its second half, which lacks a bit of the maniacal energy present in the album’s first four tracks. The bottom line, however, is that by turning jams into the fuel for their material and by adding beats and percussion to their propensity to write danceable numbers, the band greatly multiplied their already impressive originality and turned in an absolutely mesmerizing work.

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Rayman Origins Review

Slide to the side, Mario; Rayman just got a piece of your throne

rayman_originsThere are many reasons for which the Wii, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360 generation might be remembered down the line: high definition graphics, the growing significance of online play, and the advent of motion controls. By digging a little deeper, though, it is possible to notice that, on the software side of things and in the midst of an arms race towards ever more realistic graphics, that gaming era saw the rebirth of 2-D platformers as a mainstream genre.

It was a movement that started in the technically limited realm of downloadable games, moved into the Nintendo Wii, and squeezed itself into the HD twins. With Rayman Origins, the widespread sidescrolling fever gained even more force, because in the midst of Mario going back to his roots with New Super Mario Bros.; Donkey Kong reappearing in great shape on Donkey Kong Country Returns; Kirby reaching his cutest level on Kirby’s Epic Yarn; and indie developers being more artsy and creative than ever; Rayman managed to outdo them all.

With this multiplatform release, the limbless hero was crowned the 2-D platforming king of all of that generation’s systems, achieving what is gaming’s version of the unification of a boxing belt.

rayman_origins1The first thing players will notice about Rayman Origins is its immature nature, but that is by no means a negative statement. Rayman Origins is not immature like that young cousin of yours who cries whenever he loses a videogame match; it is immature like a Saturday morning cartoon from the 90s. It is silly and wacky without worrying about consequences or impressions. It will not hesitate in throwing a one-ton anvil on its dearest friend’s head, and, after that, proceed to put an arm around him and laugh it off into the sunset.

The insanity is not restricted to its bright colorful vivid visuals, it is in how the characters move, how they act after clearing a stage, how music seems to pour into the stage design, and how even the mightiest fire blowing monsters have a “let’s go out there and have some fun while slaying a huge angry beast” vibe to them. Rayman Origins is one extravagant party wrapped into platforming goodness.

Like all good Saturday morning cartoons, our beloved heroes get in big trouble quickly and by accident. Rayman, Globox and two Teensies (the four playable characters in this adventure) are relaxing in the friendly Glade of Dreams when their symphony of breathing and snoring gets broadcasted through the inside of a hollow tree into the underground world where a bitter old lady – maddened by their constant loudness – unleashes an army of devilish underground beings into the once peaceful world. With chaos established, Rayman has to go out there beat down some foes and release his friends from cages hidden within the game’s stages.

rayman_origins3True to its insane humor, there is a lot of variety to be found in Rayman Origins, and it all starts with its unique worlds. Sure, one will find the traditional jungle, the dark underwater caves and the sunny shore, but due to the game’s artistic personality, players will never feel like they are being dragged through more-of-the-same platforming scenarios; on the contrary, the colors, lights and lines of the background will more often than not wow even the most experienced gamers.

However, it is not rare to see Rayman Origins step out of the ordinary and venture into new territory with a world centered around musical instruments in the sky, a fiery kitchen filled with pepper and fire-breathing chefs and a factory with delirious machines. There is no shortage of amusement.

Rayman Origins is accessible and, at the same time, it achieves a great degree of challenge. That balance is struck thanks to the alluring Lums, which – aside from the big clueless smile they carry – look pretty much like the fairies from the Zelda series. Each stage has about 400 of them to collect, and depending on the amount of Lums Rayman has by the end of the stage, he will be awarded a certain quantity of pink smiley medals that unlock secret stages.

Ignoring the Lums means stages will be cleared fairly quickly and relatively easily, even if it is done with a certain degree of trouble due to enemies and obstacles. However, attempting to collect as many Lums as possible during a run through a stage will lead to a lot of deaths, because getting all of them requires speed, ridiculously precise jumps, and amazing skills. As worlds go by, the intensity with which those qualities are needed gets higher.

rayman_origins4That constant progression in challenge is closely tied to how Rayman Origins’ gameplay is invariably moving forward and how there is an ever-present feeling that – with every passing second – the game is getting better; Rayman Origins is constantly renewing and reinventing itself. The character starts with the abilities to jump and hit enemies as his sole weapons; even the signature helicopter move is initially absent. However, as each world begins, Rayman releases a fairy that teaches him a new skill – such as swimming, using funnels to grow smaller or bigger, and running on walls.

Consequently, each set of levels focuses on one of those abilities, and – with the support of other previously learned skills – as worlds progress, the way in which the stages are designed changes radically due to the new unlocked possibilities. As a consequence, not only does the game slap players on the face with glorious scenarios as the story progresses, but it also throws new designs on the screen with amazing consistency. All moves, being critical to achieve success in collecting a good amount of Lums, work wonderfully and are very responsive, and the controls are as tight as the room for error found in the hardest parts of the game.

Rayman Origins’ challenge reaches its pinnacle on its ten secret stages, where players must chase a fearful treasure chest through obstacles, tumbling scenarios, and jumps that demand fine accuracy. Everything is done with no checkpoints and without being able to acquire extra hearts, turning the whole stage into a one-hit KO machine that forces players to go as fast as possible because of their collapsing structure. It is as tough as nails, and more rewarding than pretty much all gaming experiences out there.

rayman_origins2In spite of its challenge, Rayman Origins never really gets frustrating, because – due to the abundance of checkpoints – the stages are divided into small segments, making them feel like a series of wacky obstacle courses. Therefore, significant progress is never lost when players try a radical maneuver to catch a trickily placed 25-Lum coin. Even though gathering Lums is optional, the game warmly invites players into the challenge, and the invitation is hard to decline.

As the curtain closes, most players will come to very same conclusion: Rayman Origins is the best 2-D platformer of its generation. It lands in Kirby’s Epic Yarn territory with its stunning art, it pulls off old-school moments that had only been achieved by New Super Mario Bros Wii, it holds as many level design surprises as Donkey Kong Country Returns, it features puzzle elements absent from those titles, and it manages to be more challenging than all of them. The fact that it features the option to play with another 3 friends works as the icing on the cake.

Rayman Origins is beautiful, features a good soundtrack that ranges from catchy to gorgeous, has over fifteen hours of gameplay, tons of extras, ten worlds, many bosses, stages that play like space-shooting arcade games, and much more, all packed into one hard-to-surpass package of platforming goodness. It is absolutely glorious.

Rayman Origins

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