December 31, 2013

Dr. Luigi

Addicited to this medication.

Within the numerous announcements made last Nintendo Direct was one that put a huge smile on my face. The return of Dr. Mario! Well, kind of. In keeping with the spirit of the Year of Luigi, the game has been relabeled as Dr. Luigi. It was produced in conjunction with Arika, which is awesome, because they always have the best adaptions of puzzle games (Tetris: The Grand Master, anyone?). I was excited to see how it was going to turn out.

The classic Dr. Mario mode is included, of course, under the appropriate title of "Retro Remedy." You can choose to use the classic virus colors (red, yellow, blue) or the new colors (yellow, pink, light blue). It's everything you remember, with speed settings, virus levels, etc.

Since it is the Year of Luigi, there is a mode titled "Operation L," in which pills fall two at a time in an "L" shape. It's a rather interesting play mechanic, and I'll have to play it more to fully get a reading on how I feel about it.

There's also an innovative mode called "Virus Buster," where you play on the GamePad and drag the pills to the proper placement via the stylus. I thought it would be rather gimmicky at first, but was pleasantly surprised at how fun it turned out. It also helps that multiple pills will eventually fall simultaneously, ramping up the challenge factor.

And then there's the greatest thing ever. Online Battle! Finally, I can play Dr. Mario against other people in a matter of seconds. You can play either Classic or Operation L mode against an opponent. I was very happy with the speed at which I was able to connect and battle against others. I sat for no more than ten seconds waiting. You can also play with a friend (but that will not affect your online rank). Upon winning/losing, you can choose to play again immediately, or search for a new opponent. Your number of wins are recorded, as well as a ranking score. I assume the score pairs you up with similarly ranked opponents. Naturally, being the first day, it's all over the place. I was destroying some people, but having my head handed to me by others. Time will even that out. You can also play any mode against the CPU, if you so desire.

There's also some new play mechanics that were not in the NES installment, which is the one I played the most. Pressing "Up" will make the current pill fall immediately to its destination. This half-second difference in getting the pill down makes all the difference in Online Battle. You can also have a "ghost image" of where the pill will land if you want.

It's not all sunshines and rainbows though. There were some things I thought could be improved, or just seemed lazy overall. The new virus design seems uninspired. The fact that the classic viruses are selectable shows that maybe even Nintendo knew they couldn't re-capture that magic design. Although even if you select the classic colors, the three large viruses on the left don't change appearance. Lazy.

I also would have appreciated some more music choices than simple re-arrangements of Fever and Chill. Yes, there were two new tracks available, but only if you played Operation L. What about some music from Dr. Mario 64? Hell, why not ask Hirokazu Tanaka if he wanted to do some new music? I know he's all, "I'm the president of Creatures, Inc.," but he is obviously still musically active. How about a story mode, Nintendo? I absolutely loved playing 4-Player Dr. Mario on the Nintendo 64. Why not now? "Virus Buster" from Dr. Mario Online Rx was awesome too, and a great multiplayer experience. Nintendo wants people to come together to play Wii U. Dr. Luigi is a simple, fun concept that everyone can play and understand. Capitalize on that, Nintendo!

I'm sorry, that was a little bit harsh all at once like that.

And since you're obviously not opposed to modifying existing iterations of past games, why not pull something similar to the NES Luigi Bros. stunt?


It seems like every Dr. Mario iteration after the N64 has been a little bit lifeless (Dr. Mario Express immediately comes to mind). However, Dr. Luigi is very pleasant. And while it doesn't quite reach its full potential, it's still a hell of a lot of fun.

[UPDATE: Check it out! Somebody actually made an awesome ROM hack of Dr. Mario!]

December 26, 2013

Wii U - Year One Conclusion

Relieved applause.

The first year of the Wii U was admittedly a slow one. It really didn't pick up much steam until many months after its release. This was a negative in many ways (marketing, sales, media/public impression, etc.). However, at the end of its first year (well, a little bit past a year), it's really made leaps and bounds forwards.

Looking at my Wii U library, I feel pretty good about the investment. Seeing what's on the horizon makes me feel even better. I understand getting a year's head start against your competitors, Nintendo.  But if it's going to take nearly a year to reach a decent launch, then what's the point? You have so much ground to make up. As stated before, the uninformed public is extremely impressionable, and will parrot back what mainstream media tells them. Hopefully this new marketing push will get you back into the spotlight (notwithstanding, of course, the current eShop/Pokemon Bank/Miiverse/etc. debacle). Though at the end of the day, I do trust you, Nintendo.

Favorite games of the year?


eShop (not including Virtual Console):

That was hard. I initially planned to narrow down my top five retail games, but I couldn't manage. There are still some I really want to put on this list, but I have to draw a limit. Every game I've bought has been a thoroughly researched decision. And I really enjoy almost all of them. Sure, I've made a mistake here and there (I'm looking at you, Sonic Lost World, you piece of crap), but no one is perfect. I've really enjoyed this year on Wii U, even if it did take a while to get moving. Hopefully the coming year will still be awesome, but perhaps a little better overall.

I'm also hoping this blog will still be active then, too.

Pixel Painting - Bruce Lee

I am very pleased with the way this came out. It was my first non-game painting, and it took a lot of thought on how I would get things the way I wanted them to come out. It had to be detailed enough, but not too complex to paint. Thankfully, I know quite a bit of Photoshop, and that helped a lot in getting things prepared.

I also had to crank it out before Christmas, as it was a gift for somebody. I did all the prep work in about three hours, and sat down for pretty much the entire next day on the actual painting part. I was relieved that I had already gotten everything else ready for Christmas. This was the last thing on my list.

Commissions are always welcome. Price varies based on the size and complexity of the sprite/scene. I moderate comments, so leave one with your contact email and request.

Pixel Painting - The Elite Four (Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow)

It was only a matter of time before a Pokemon-themed painting came about. The buyer gave me a few ideas to work with, and this is the final result. I did a lot of experimenting in terms of how I wanted to present this one.

Once we had decided on the Elite Four (Kanto Region), I had to decide how exactly they would appear. Some ideas we wrestled with were:

Would I use the map sprites or battle sprites?

Would it stretch over one long canvas, or be split into four separate ones?

Would I use the original Red/Blue sprites, or the updated FireRed/LeafGreen versions?

We eventually decided on Red/Blue sprites, battle mode, one character per canvas. The next step was determining color vs. monochrome. Monochromatic choices were grayscale or pea-green.

Color choices were harder. The default Super Game Boy colors were the best choice (in my opinion), but also pretty bland overall.

The buyer suggested the Yellow version, Game Boy Color versions. He said that was the most vivid memory he had of battling the Elite Four. So I checked those sprites out.

Ugly. As. Hell.

So I guess what happened was due to whatever technical reason (available memory, etc), the "colorization" of the sprites had to be at the lowest possible level. It figures like this:

1) The monochrome sprites have black, white, and two shades of gray.

2) Black stays black, white stays white.

3) The two shades of gray have to stay all the same color, so that leaves us two colors to "colorize" the sprite with.

4) Is everyone in agreement with bright yellow and red? Those seem like realistic colors for people, right? Man, I'm bushed! Coffee break time!

Obviously, there was no way I would use those disgusting-looking sprites, and the buyer agreed after seeing them. Things from your childhood are usually different in reality from what you remember.

I liked the FireRed/LeafGreen color schemes, and I took the challenge of re-coloring the sprites myself, using the GBA versions as a foundation. I also did some edge cleaning, as some pixels stood out as looking sloppy. I think they turned out pretty good.

Last question was background. I have become tired of solid-color backgrounds (unless it really works for the painting), so I opted for something more dynamic. I toyed around with several options before settling on a Mega Man-esque background for each. Each canvas measures 20" x 20".





Now the buyer can wake up every day and be immediately invigorated to take on the day's challenges! Awesome!

Commissions are always welcome. Price varies based on the size and complexity of the sprite/scene. I moderate comments, so leave one with your contact email and request.

December 20, 2013


Fam-tastic? No, that doesn't work. Forget it.

I picked this up a few weeks ago, and I'm pretty pumped about it.

Fami-Complete is a two-book set detailing every Famicom game every released, along with peripherals, accessories, console models, cheat codes, and even an NES game list. Neat-o.

It comes in a superslick slipcover with a bunch of Japanese on it that I can almost read now. It has some tiny corner damage, but I'm not crying over it.

Book One (with a Famicom-fashioned binding) has high-quality, full-color photos of box art, cart/cassette art, and screenshots of almost every Famicom game (completed in Book Two). It also includes basic information, review, developer info, year released, and original price. Very cool. It also includes a huge cheat code section in the back, along with a very detailed index.

Book Two (which has a Disk System binding) finishes up the cart/cassette list, and has the entire Disk Card list (with box art, screenshots, etc.) as well. It also includes a "Gadgets Collection," which includes color photos and information about all (as far as I know) Japanese add-ons and peripherals. There's also a section on limited edition items, such as special games given as prizes and special-model consoles. The last main section is a list of all NES titles, unreleased Famicom games, and alternate/prototype titles. It's followed by several indexes and appendices.

These books are very high-quality, and look and feel as such. The binding looks pretty good, and I imagine the people buying these aren't eight years old, so the books are going to last. The only complaint I have is the lack of strength in the slipcover. Putting these books back in the cover a lot is really going to wear down those outer edges. But it's a small complaint.

I'm glad I picked these up. It's generally way harder to find Famicom-era stuff in the U.S. than it is in Japan.

Someday I shall travel there...