Monday, 15 September 2014

The Koopalings in Twenty Years - A Cautionary Tale

The Koopalings, also known occasionally as the Koopa Kids, have been making somewhat of a resurgence lately. Thinking back to Super Mario World, I always thought these guys were cool bosses, since they actually felt like they had distinct personalities. You would assume that in Bowser’s Autumn years one of them would take over the mantle of King Koopa.
So I got to thinking, since Shigeru Miyamoto has explicitly stated that the Koopalings are not Bowser’s children, and that Bowser Jr. is the rightful heir to the throne, where does it leave this gang of merry misfits in, say, 20 years?

Larry Koopa
“Koopa army’s special attack squad leader.”
Larry was seen as the most likely candidate to replace the head honcho should anything befall Bowser’s heir apparent, displaying the aptitude at an early age for command. He graduated from the Koopa military academy with full honours, and would soon rise to the rank of Koopa Commander. He initially proved himself greatly in the mushroom wars, commanding the Koopa army to near total victory. He would ultimately, however, lose face in a personal duel with Mario in which he was badly burned by a fire flower, causing the morale of the Koopa Troops to plummet and sealing the victory for the Mushroom Kingdom. He suffers from long-term PTSD, and several cosmetic surgeries later you can find him collecting coins for the Koopa veteran society in the local mall.

Morton Koopa Jr.
“Unrivalled / invincible tough guy.”
Morton Koopa Jr. was considered the runt of the litter, but perhaps for that very reason he stood out as a real bruiser. After being expelled from Koopa High for constantly getting into brawls, he spent most of his teenage years at the gym, training to become a professional MMA fighter. Before he could really hit his stride, however, he was then expelled from the league for biting off the snout of Birdo in a qualifying match. Out of desperation, he leveraged his notoriety into a job pro wrestling alongside Wario in the deep south under the name ‘Plumber’s Helper.’ Washed up and prematurely aged by steroids, you can still find him on the wrestling autograph circuit in local hick towns.

Wendy O. Koopa
“Overthrow / beat-down princess.”
The only female Koopaling, Wendy was spoiled rotten by Bowser. At sixteen she had a massive party featured on My Super Sweet 16 in which she freaked out that she was given a Koopa Clown Car instead of a Mercedes. She coasted through high school on her good looks, eventually running off with a rugged Koopa Troopa with a motorcycle in her early twenties and quickly becoming pregnant. She was disowned by Bowser, who saw Wendy’s then husband as scum and their child as a ‘misbegotten halfbreed.’ With nowhere else to turn, Wendy got a job as a cashier in a supermarket, and had several more children before leaving her husband and joining the Koopa Church of Latter Day Saints. She’s now married to an aged congregant and files frivolous lawsuits that so far have amounted to nothing.

Iggy Koopa
“Trickster with the black-framed glasses.”
Ever the ‘misunderstood’ Koopaling and picked on by the rest, Iggy spent most of his adolescence with his nose buried in books, obsessively watching and blogging about anime, and playing erotic Japanese dating sims. His early adversity gave him the drive to succeed however, and he graduated from Koopa U. with an MBA in Koopa Finance. He ran the business end of Bowser’s empire for many years, becoming rich and powerful in a very brief time and was better known by his nickname “The Spiny of Wall Street.” His meteoric rise would eventually be succeeded by an equally portentous downfall as he made some poor investments in the Koopa Clown Car industry and spent the rest on Japanese hookers and blow. He now teaches business seminars to Goombas who want to get rich quick.

Roy Koopa
“Out-of-control turtle heavyweight.”
Growing up, Roy was heavily favoured by Bowser, who would often be heard to say that Roy “reminds me of myself at that age.” Although somewhat slow, he was an ace with a Koopa shell, and despite being a real dullard in school, Bowser would always make time to go out for an ice cream with his favourite ‘son.’ However, once Bowser Jr. was born (who the heck is his mother, anyway?), Roy fell into disfavour and developed a deep, brooding resentment towards life. He started hanging out with the goths and writing dark poetry. Crying and alone in his room, he would eat his problems away, adding many layers of fat to his already chunky frame. Still living at home, working at an office supply store and devastatingly overweight, Roy tends to stand alone in the corner during family reunions.

Lemmy Koopa
“There’s one in every group,” is the way that people talk about Lemmy. From a young age, his interests tended to veer towards the chaotic, including torturing the family cat goomba and violently ripping the masks off of shy guys. He developed a penchant for bob-ombs, constantly blowing up his toys behind his house, and decided to study chemistry at Koopa U. Nobody could say they couldn’t see it coming when one day Lemmy snapped and held the entire city hostage with his new variety of bob-omb of mass destruction. His demands: ten-million coins and a gassed up Koopa Clown Car ready to take him to to Yoshi’s Island. Paratroopa SWAT managed to bring him down and disarm the bomb, however, and Lemmy was incarcerated in the Koopa Asylum for the Mentally Insane. Today you can still find him there, somewhat calmed by his regular electroshock therapy, but still collecting oddments from the laundry room and stashing them for who knows what purpose.

Ludwig Von Koopa
“Showoff villain-hero.”
The child genius, Ludwig’s IQ was off the charts from a very young age, and he grew up resenting Bowser’s bumbling efforts to kidnap Princess Peach and conquer the Mushroom Kingdom. After biding his time for several years, Ludwig ran off during the mushroom wars and created his own underground elite Koopa army, “The Ones Who Knock,” recruiting the best and brightest from Bowser’s ranks slowly over the years via sedition. Utilizing the latest in military psychology, tactics, and hardware, Ludwig created a fighting force unlike the world has ever seen. Not one to suffer competition, he took the fight directly to Bowser and his young spawn, tearing the Koopa Kingdom to pieces in the process while the Mushroom Kingdom looked on and laughed. Bowser Jr. and him have faced off directly many times, but to this day no one has come out on top, and the war rages on…
What do you think other loveable Nintendo mascots will be up to in twenty years time? Let us know in the comments!

Friday, 12 September 2014

"Kill Link!" - The Legend of Neil Top 10

This article was originally published on Gamespresso.

The Legend of Neil is the original NES Legend of Zelda parody webseries that nobody realized they needed and too many are still unaware of. Lasting three seasons from 2008-2010, it was directed by Sandeep Parikh of The Guild fame, who also co-wrote the show with Tony Janning, the actor who plays Neil. The premise of this crude, NSFW show has down-on-his-luck Neil getting drunk playing a game of Zelda, and engaging in an act of auto-erotic asphyxiation (while masturbating to the fairy in the game, because she was kind of hot), and that somehow transports him into the game.

The series is a loving and irreverent tribute to Zelda, and in my books the best video game parody ever created. If you live in the USA you can still view the series online on Comedy Central, and the show is available to purchase on DVD at Amazon.

Without further ado, my Legend of Neil Top 10:

10. Money Making Game:
Legend of Neil Money Making Game
To escape from a moblin, Neil stumbles into the shop of an dubious merchant played by Chris Fairbanks. When Neil doesn't have enough money for the blue candle (or the arrows that use rupees, so you just give all your rupees to the merchant and he'll deduct them, based on what he knows), the merchant suggests Neil try his hand at Money Making Game in his illicit gambling den. After all, "this game is so easy, anyone can play it." Unfortunately for Link, the game is a scam and he ends up 400 rupees in the hole. The thieves are about to take his eyes as payment when the game is broken up by the elf cops. They've had their eyes on the operation for a while, "what kind of store sells three random items? Do you think we're assholes?"

9. Princess Zelda! - You're Black?:

Legend of Neil Zelda Black
Neil is quite the reluctant hero, and gets testy that people keep calling him Link. Of course, if there's one thing that can keep him on his quest, it's the thought that there's a beautiful princess to screw at the end of it (she's about a seven, seven and a half...). After taking an epic beating from some Octorocks, Link gets a vision from Zelda, played by Angie Hill, and the first words out his mouth are about the colour of her skin. "Yeah," she replies, "is that a problem?" "Look I'm totally sorry about the black thing, I used to totally watch Cosby, and Different Strokes, you have no idea what I'm... you ever seen Benson?" Stay classy, Neil.

8. Ganon - Fog Equals Power!:

Legend of Neil Gloffice
It's hard being an evil dictator and also trying be liked - but Ganon knows that the secret to appearing powerful is to turn the fog machines on. Played by Scott Chernoff, Link's nemesis Ganon makes some questionable decisions, often pointed out by lackey Wizzrobe, played by Eric Acosta. Sure, he could have lured Link to a harder level when he was still weak. Sure he left a map of the level in the level, what if the bad guys got lost down there? He left one on every level! If there's one thing Ganon can't stand for though, it's insolent logic, which Wizzrobe discovers often as he gets backhanded or choked (Ganon's reach is amazing). "Have I made some mistakes?" Ganon reflects, "Maybe. Maybe... and now I'm going to have to have you killed for even asking that question."

7. The Musical - There's No Restart!:

Legend of Neil The Musical Mentors
The Legend of Zelda has always been a musical franchise with whistles and ocarinas, but this marks the first time there's ever been a full-on sing-along! The captive fairy is encouraged to sing about the things that makes her happy (such as the dirty sanchez and finger cuffs), Neil sings his way through levels 2 and 3 while wishing he had a beer, and the two Old Men sing about how lucky it is that Link has not just one mentor but two! Wizzrobe then consoles Ganon that Link has already completed three levels while Zelda wistfully pines after her hero, and all of the different character's songs come together in an epic conclusion - There's No Restart!

6. The Three Day Training Course:

Legend of Neil Three Day Training Course
When Neil first arrives in Hyrule, he is woefully unprepared for the trials ahead of him. Old Man (It's pronounced OLD MAN!), played by Mike Rose, encourages him to remember his training. "What training!?" "Oh shit, did we not train you? It's a three day course." Neil manages to stumble through for a while and gets sick of Old Man's condescending advice, but realizes in season 3 that he'll need his help in order to defeat Ganon. So begins the three day training course, an epic Rocky style montage of Neil learning to sashay his way around his enemies before he stabs them, and lots of running on the beach with a close up of his and Old Man's junk. It ends with them frolicking in the ocean - I get teary-eyed thinking of it now.

5. Kill Link!:

Legend of Neil Kill Link
After singing his heart out in the musical, Neil really needs to tie one on. Unfortunately the pub he wanders into happens to be occupied by moblins, but a quick disguise later and Neil reluctantly ingratiates himself into their company. Neil gets a bit unnerved when the moblins keep toasting "Kill Link!" and talking about ways that they'd torture him if they ever got their hands on him, but Schlam, Quiff, and Glorm quickly become his fast friends when Neil comes up with the idea that he'd cut out Link's eyes, and his balls, and switch'em! They then engage in an epic party montage in which they play quarters (with rupees) and do lines of fairy dust ("I have more friends because I use drugs!"). Unfortunately it all falls apart when Neil's disguise falls off while doing a keg stand. He appeals to the moblins, saying they're the only friends he's made since he arrived in Hyrule, and is devastated when he later is forced to take them down.

4. Continue or Quit?:
Legend of Neil Continue or Quit
The cliffhanger at the end of season 2 brought Link back into the real world after admitting his cowardice to Zelda and being slain by Ganon, faced with the classic NES Zelda 'Continue or Quit' screen, thinking the entire quest was a dream - until he looks at his arm and sees his heart meter. He had always been the reluctant hero, and is now forced to think hard about his life. Does he really want to be the assistant-manager to his brother at the gas station in Trenton, New Jersey, boyfriend to an unfaithful and shallow woman? We all knew he'd go back, but this cliffhanger encapsulated everything that Parikh and Janning had built up to this point - the internal transformation from zero to hero.

3. The Fairy's Sexual Healing:

Legend of Neil Fairy Motorboat
Played by the always audacious Felicia Day of Geek & Sundry, this nymphomaniac fairy finds Neil on the verge of death, and uses her 'special talents' to heal him - after she coaxes an "I love you" from him, that is. After all, Elves keep saying they'll stick around, and then they leave, and come back again six months later, wanting her to do it all over - well, she's NOT GOING TO FALL FOR IT AGAIN! Never afraid to bear her 'twins,' or do 'it' in public (even while under attack), the fairy is a force to be reckoned with. In season 3 she had a litter of Neil's kids, and then sacrificed herself to save Neil in his final battle with Ganon - but we'll always remember that time she motorboated Neil's toes.

2. Old (Oold?) Man's Advice:

Legend of Neil Heart Cookie
Probably the best character on the show, Old Man (and to a lesser extent his brother with tourettes, Old Man) act as Link's mentors, providing him advice and shouting out classic NES Zelda old man lines such as "Easternmost peninsula is the secret!" and "Master using this and you can have it." However, it's Old Man's condescending advice and insults that are the star:
  • "Ooh, this creature's throwing rocks at me, my boobies hurt, I'm a young lady - grow a dick, Link."
  • "Ah, the magical heart shaped cookie. Eat up, you deserve it, after committing murder."
  • "Link, I see you met the moblins! And what a surprise, you ran like a little twat. Perhaps you could queef, make yourself go faster, like a power boost."
  • "I used to be all potions and spells, and I never made time for a morning BJ. Do that for yourself, 20 minutes out of the day."
Old Man may be a bit of a jerk, but he cares about Neil and the quest, crying after Link finishes the three day course. To me he represents the very spirit of this crazy and fun-loving series.

1. The Title Song:

Legend of Neil Asphyxiation
The first time you saw this title sequence, you knew you were in for something special. The lyrics of the song spoke for the series itself: "The last thing that Neil remembered he was drunk playing a game of Zelda, when he whipped out his member and he masturbated to the fairy in the game because she was kind of hot, and that somehow transported him into the game!" It's an amazing premise that spawned three wonderful seasons of a wacky Legend of Zelda project with clever humour and a loving attention to detail. Kudos to Sandeep Parikh and Tony Janning!

Agree with this list? Disagree? Something missing? Let us know in the comments!

Friday, 29 August 2014

Miyamoto on Nintendo's Creative Future, Winning Back Core Gamers

The internet is buzzing right now about Nintendo veteran Shigeru Miyamoto's interview in October 2014's edition of Edge magazine in which the iconic game designer and producer states that he is about making games for gamers, rather than cave into investor pressure to court to casual gamers and create free-to-play versions of Nintendo's storied franchises for smartphones. In response to Edge's comment that Miyamoto's upcoming games for Wii U that make extensive use of the Wii U gamepad: Star Fox, Project Guard, and Project Giant Robot, are difficult to play, Miyamoto emphasizes that while using the Wii U gamepad alongside your main view on the television screen does take some getting used to, it represents a new challenge that hardcore gamers will find satisfying once mastered. This is a complete paradigm shift from Nintendo's previous attempt to snag non-gamers with easy to play games like Wii Sports, and Miyamoto's controversial statement regarding the attitude of casual gamers is particularly striking in suggesting that they are completely unengaged with the games they play: "Their attitude is 'OK, I am the customer. You are supposed to entertain me.' It's a kind of passive attitude they're taking, and to me it's kind of a pathetic thing. They do not know how interesting it is if you move one step further and try to challenge yourself." Bold words, but ones that suggest that Nintendo is taking a renewed interest in attending to the hardcore gaming community that many feel have been alienated since the inception of Nintendo Wii.

Which is not to say that Nintendo will be making proprietary Call Of Duty-like games to win back the hardcore gamer element. Miyamoto was unimpressed with the general showing at E3 2014, commenting that there was far too much "bloody shooter software" that demonstrated that the industry is trapped in a state of "creative immaturity" as developers continue to build upon previous successes rather than attempt something brand new. He states in the Edge interview that he hopes "Nintendo will always be a company that aggressively invests in something new - something born from each creator's individual characteristics." His solution to this desire for expression is Nintendo's Garage program, in which Nintendo developers break off into small teams to work on ideas, the most successful of which are then taken on as full-fledged projects. The three aforementioned Wii U projects, along with E3 2014's heavily featured Splatoon, the company's non-violent take on the competitive shooter, are the first games to be realized through this initiative. Miyamoto suggests it's all about staying true to Nintendo's roots: "With the increasing number of developers involved in one project, we need to spend longer simply communicating, so we can feel the same pleasure [as the old days]."

Concepts like Splatoon, a game reminiscent of Super Mario Sunshine in which the object is not to kill your opponents but use paint guns to coat more territory on the map than the other team, represent this revitalized spirit of ingenuity over at Nintendo. In taking the tried and tested FPS genre and turning it on its head, Nintendo is demonstrating that they recognize this important corner of gamer society, while being able to add their own unique spin on it. Splatoon was almost made as a Mario game, but Miyamoto states that "If it were Mario, we wouldn't be able to create any new [Intellectual Property]," which is refreshing to hear from a company that has played it particularly safe in its proprietary software decisions in the past decade. It's no secret that Nintendo has not been doing very well financially, but gambles such as this, along with tried and tested upcoming games like Super Smash Bros. and the as-yet unnamed open-world Zelda title for Wii U, might just help Nintendo reengage with its estranged core gamer audience and regain lost ground as a popular innovator in the games market.

You can read the full interview with Shigeru Miyamoto in Edge Magazine.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

No Objection to Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright Arriving Stateside

Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright Cover

Fans of both the Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright franchises have been waiting a long time to see Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney hit the North American Market, and tomorrow their long wait is over. Combining the point-and-click adventure and puzzle solving of Professor Layton with the visual novel storytelling and courtroom drama of Phoenix Wright, this collaboration between Capcom and Level-5 marks the first time these two studios have ever worked together. The game's original story is written by Phoenix Wright series designer Shu Takumi, and makes use of the beautiful hand-drawn backdrops of the Professor Layton series, as well as the 3D graphics that were present in Phoenix Wright's latest 3DS outing, Dual Destinies. The game also includes anime cutscenes from the Bones animation studio.

The story begins in London, where Professor Layton and his assistant Luke are assisting Espella, a young woman being assaulted by mysterious forces, and encounter a magical book that transports them to a strange medieval city named Labyrinthia. Phoenix Wright and his assistant Maya Fey, in London on business, find the same book and are similarly transported. The four heroes have to combine their talents to solve the mysteries surrounding Labyrinthia, while also defending Espella in court as she is accused of witchcraft.

Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright screen
It is a real treat to see Wright and Layton encroaching upon each other's territories, both being very intelligent (and somewhat arrogant) heroes in their own right. Players unfamiliar with the one or both of the franchises will get a crash course in lateral thinking as they are required to use their stylus to engage with townsfolk, find clues and solve all manner of puzzles (Professor Layton's forte), while also being tasked with rooting out contradictions in courtroom testimony, and presenting evidence at the right time to catch your witnesses off guard and expose their lies (the dominion of Phoenix Wright). Fans of one franchise or the other should find the gameplay stimulating, and those who are fans of both already are in for a real treat as we see Layton and Wright go tête-à-tête, and use their unique abilities to work out the nuances of Labyrinthia's mystery together.

Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney has been out in Europe since March 28, 2014, and has garnered a healthy Metascore of 79 on Metacritic.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Second Chances in Bryan Lee O'Malley's 'Seconds'

Bryan Lee O'Malley Seconds Cover

A Second Chance Awaits.

1. Write your mistake
2. Ingest one mushroom
3. Go to sleep
4. Wake anew


This is the tantalizing offer presented to the main character of Bryan Lee O'Malley's latest graphic novel Seconds. There are times when we all wish we could go back in time and get a do-over, tackle the affairs in our life with the wisdom that hindsight brings. Yet however wise these decisions to alter bits of our past might seem, Seconds reminds us that changing the past in what seems like wise ways will always have unforeseen consequences in the present. Seconds is about second chances, and is O'Malley's second published graphic novel after his New York Times Best Selling Scott Pilgrim series. It's a fun stand-alone story that has as much to say about taking responsibility for your actions as it does about the challenges related to maintaing a relationship and building your dreams, that life is hard but rewarding. It's a solid story that merits a second reading, and beyond.

Bryan Lee O'Malley Seconds Lis
The protagonist of this story is Katie, a 29-going-on-30 year old chef who previously created a very successful restaurant called Seconds and resents that she doesn't own it, even as she lives in an apartment above it. However, after having scrimped and saved for years has finally saved up enough to co-finance her own restaurant which is being constructed in an old building she's always admired. Yet while all of this is happening, she realizes she has few friends, is resented by the staff at Seconds with whom she's always hanging about, is in an unfortunate affair with the new head chef she trained to take over the kitchen at Seconds while still pining over her old flame Max, and the construction on her new restaurant's costs keep mounting. However, she's been having strange dreams about a wispy girl on her dresser who tells her to look there if things go wrong, and when one of Seconds' waiters burns herself with hot oil, Katie searches and finds a mushroom along with instructions to write down her mistake, eat the mushroom, and fall asleep. When it works and Katie uses these mushrooms to reenact many regrets, her world becomes more and more unrecognizable and begins to slip into the unreal.

Bryan Lee O'Malley Seconds Katie
It's been five years since O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim series ended, and Seconds showcases narrative and art that have matured well along with its creator. Those college students who related to Scott Pilgrim when it initially ran will definitely find the 29-going-on-30 angst of Seconds recognizable as well. Gone are the cherished video game references, though O'Malley's story and art in his latest project still have the same sense of fun and fantasy combined with well-written characters that made the Scott Pilgrim franchise so popular. Katie is a well-realized character filled with comic expression who carries the burden of expectation coupled with impatience. She puts on a brave face, but having worked so hard to get where she is, she can't stand the setbacks preventing her dream from becoming a reality, and deeply regrets having to have made many of the sacrifices necessary to get where she is today. This comes across in the various moments when she rocks back and forth between obstinate confidence and utter depression over her decisions, made tangible through O'Malley's beautiful manga-style drawings complete with over the top expressions and literal starry-eyed awe and enthusiasm. Her mania causes her to consume more and more mushrooms, and as each change she makes comes with its own set of problems, the graphic novels builds up to a fever pitch in which she loses control of the changes altogether.

The supernatural side of the story is drawn straight out of folklore through the character Lis, the wispy girl on Katie's dresser, who also happens to be a house spirit that protects Seconds. She is suitably impish, always crouching, wearing an odd assortment of clothing left out for her by Katie's employee Hazel, and speaking in broken English. Lis warns Katie repeatedly that she is only meant to have used the mushroom once, and her rising anger is chilling; she lashes out in one of the only ways she can, by aggressively rearranging Katie's furniture. Hazel, a waitress in Seconds, acts as a foil to story by giving exposition on the nature of house spirits and giving Katie someone to speak with regarding all the changes that she's made by using the mushrooms. She's the dreamer to Katie's realist, saying of house spirits, "we make things good for them... they make things good for us." Only Katie can see Lis, and perhaps meant as an interesting commentary on the power of illustration, it's Hazel's drawings of Lis that influence the house spirit's appearance.

Bryan Lee O'Malley Seconds Cast
The art direction is completely on point. Seconds lacks the frenetic energy of Scott Pilgrim in that there's no zany combat, but as the theme of Seconds is a bit quieter, so too is O'Malley's artwork in which so much of the visual storytelling is achieved through the characters' expressions and body language. His settings are well designed and feel like authentic spaces, and when magical things begin to infuse Katie's world, the overall shape of the world becomes suitably warped and surreal. The colourist Nathan Fairbairn's subdued palette fits the project particularly well, giving the work something of an autumn hue that works well in conjunction of the colour of Katie's hair, emphasizing her close ties to the events taking place and the imminent fall that is gradually progressing as she eats more and more mushrooms.

If Scott Pilgrim was O'Malley's love letter to Japanese action manga and video game culture, Seconds is his successful attempt at creating an atmospheric tale grounded in reality but with elements of a fairy story; he even provides a narrator who Katie can hear and often breaks the fourth wall to engage with. The art is beautiful and on point, the characters are well developed, and no movement of the story is wasted in establishing its message. It's a story about the danger of dwelling in the past, and learning to accept the things you can not change. Katie reminds us that in this hectic world in which we live, the best thing you can do is stay firmly grounded in the present. An excellent read!

You can follow Bryan Lee O'Malley on Tumblr and Twitter.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Review of Cards Against Humanity

Thank you to my blogger pal Mike of The Blog of Thog for this guest post on Cards Against Humanity. I'll be off the blogosphere for a while, catch you all in a few weeks!

Cards Against Humanity
Cards Against Humanity is a horrible game. Anyone in their right mind should not play this game, not for a moment.

If you're not in your right mind, however, read on. It's awesome.

Cards Against Humanity is a card game for three or more players, with a really simple premise. You have two types of cards - black question cards, and white answer cards. Each person takes a turn to be the "Card Czar" and draws a black card. They ask the question on the card, for example "What's the new fad diet?" and the other players have to put forward one of their white cards as an answer to the question. And when everyone has put forward a white card, the Card Czar reads them out, and gives the funniest one the black card. Everyone who put forward a white card draws a new white card (people always have ten white cards) and the next person becomes the Card Czar.

But the game really depends on you and your friends having a, shall we say, questionable sense of humour. If we take the example question, "What's the new fad diet?", some of the questions that come back could include:

"Authentic mexican cuisine"

And I've kept extremely polite in the possible answers above, some of them really do go into being potentially offensive - but that all depends on the people playing it.

Cards Against Humanity is a beautifully simple game. I love came games and board games, but the complexity of them often frustrates me, even supposedly simple games can have so many stages or rules, or exceptions to rules, that it can take some work understanding how to play, and you really can just jump into Cards Against Humanity and within a couple of minutes you're suggesting that your best friend drinks to forget Sean Connery.

If you are of a legal drinking age, then it is fair to say that a drop or two of alcohol won't hurt the game, in fact it'll probably improve it somewhat, but I have played it sober and it is still brilliant fun.

Find out more about the game at - you can buy a set (there are different sets available for US, Canadian, and UK players) or even print it out for free. There are stacks of fan translations into other languages too, even Pirate!

So try Cards Against Humanity.

If you and your friends aren't easily offended, that is!

Mike, when not drinking to forget Sean Connery, blogs over at and produces mediocre quality videos at

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The Emotional Journey of Shovel Knight

WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the story of Shovel Knight.

Shovel Knight Characters
Shovel Knight by Yacht Club Games is one of the best games I've played in ages. A loving homage to the 8-bit NES games of my childhood, it is both nostalgic and fresh, with challenging platforming and boss fights, lots of secrets, an intelligent loot system, and an original epic chiptune score by Jake Kaufman. All of these factors make for an amazing game, and tying it together is a well-told and surprisingly emotional narrative with memorable characters and bosses that really define the world you're playing in. This focus on emotional storytelling raises Shovel Knight above the status of the traditional platformer, in which story is generally less important than action, into the realm of art. The storytelling is achieved primarily through Shovel Knight's conversations with other characters, which are brief so as to not detract from the action, but manage to develop each of the characters' personalities and motivations, making Shovel Knight's quest feel much more personal than the stories from the games in which it draws inspiration. At the crux of the story is Shovel Knight's relationship with Shield Knight and the resulting rivalry with Black Knight. This is developed through Shovel Knight's repeated encounters with his dark counterpart, and Shovel Knight's dreams in which you really sense his deep feelings for Shield Knight, all of which works to make the conclusion of the game all the more satisfying. It's amazing how well the story is defined through such limited interaction, and the story resonated with me so much that it is these memories of the game, more than the action, that will continue to linger with me in the years to come.

Shovel Knight Shield Knight
Shovel Knight is not the mute, two-dimensional character that so many platformers have adopted in the past. He speaks fairly often, giving his actions within the game context, and is given a tragic backstory to augment his shovel-hacking ability. The titular character of the game starts out as a broken man, having lost his partner, Shield Knight, through a dark and powerful magic. He goes into retirement, but when evil confronts the land again, and the Tower of Fate where Shield Knight fell is unsealed, he comes out of retirement to kick some enemy tail. The introduction to the game gives you context for the action, not unlike the old games platformers it was based off of, such as Castlevania and Mega Man. Generally speaking, however, those older games dropped character development beyond the initial story, whereas Shovel Knight continues to develop as a character as the game progresses.

Shovel Knight Black Knight
Rather than just beating people up for the shallow reason that they are bad and he is good, we see through Shovel Knight's interactions that he lives by a code where he tries to avoid conflict when he feels it is unnecessary, often trying to talk his way out of a fight, but never backing down against those who prey on the defenceless. He is a paragon of justice, and his personality is defined to act as a perfect foil for The Order of No Quarter, knights with huge egos who have pledged allegiance for various reasons to the game's primary antagonist, The Enchantress.

Shovel Knight Treasure Knight
In true Mega Man style, each member of The Order of No Quarter has their own stage, with traps and enemies that are reflective of the boss' theme or powers. In Mega Man, these stages work to define the character of the stage's bosses whose motivations were rather shallow, but Shovel Knight takes this a step farther by defining these boss knights' character against Shovel Knight's through conversations between them prior to each fight. The Order of No Quarter are seen to be fighting for various personal reasons related to their own ambition rather than blindly following The Enchantress for the sake of 'evil.' For instance, King Knight gets raised from a lowly servant to become the King, and Treasure Knight is able to take advantage of the chaos sewn by the sorceress to secure all his ill-gotten gains.

Shovel Knight Treasure Knight
The boss conversations are short, and yet manage to turn what would otherwise be straightforward 'good versus evil' boss battles into a battle between righteousness and dishonour. The satisfaction of beating each boss amounts to more than simply being able to learn enemy attack patterns and time attacks; Shovel Knight's conviction is at stake. Rather than each boss feeling merely like just another roadblock towards the game's final encounter, every victory feels significant, as if you are removing a scourge upon the land independent of their service to the larger enemy.

Shovel Knight Black Knight End
A notable exception to the Order of No Quarter is Shovel Knight's rival, Black Knight. You fight with him several times, over which you learn that their feud goes back a ways. His motivations are initially unclear. You see him engaging with The Enchantress, and though he refuses to fight for her, he also continues to impede your path to The Tower of Fate. Eventually it becomes apparent that Black Knight is aware that The Enchantress is actually Shield Knight, who has been transformed by the dark magic. All of a sudden their feud makes sense, they're fighting over a woman. Black Knight has been trying to prevent Shield Knight from hurting, and possibly killing, Shield Knight. This is not mentioned explicitly, but by pacing out the encounters with Black Knight and dropping hints here and there, a portrait of their feud, much larger than what is actually presented in the game, is made apparent. Black Knight admits that he's not strong enough to take The Enchantress down, and this admission plus the knowledge we gain of his love for Shield Knight transform him immediately into a sympathetic character. What's amazing is how all of this character development is accomplished through very limited exposition.

Shovel Knight Dream Shield Knight Fall
Shovel Knight does not escape his battle against The Order of No Quarter unscathed. While he is strong, we see he is not infallible as he requires rest, and slumbers by the fire between stages. This gives the character a distinctly human quality, sets the game's quest within a more realistic timeline, and provides the backdrop for one of Yacht Club Games' most clever methods of character development: Shovel Knight's dreams. In these sequences, Shield Knight is falling from the sky, and after a few moments of fighting off a swarm of enemies, the prompt "catch her" appears on the screen, and in slow motion you must rush over as she falls. The outcome is the same whether or not miss you miss catching her (Shovel Knight wakes up), but does it ever feel horrible if you miss. These sequences are brilliant, as they manage to convey without words Shovel Knight's pain and regret over losing Shield Knight, and in waking up upon catching her you can genuinely feel the loss that one feels when waking up from a pleasant dream.

Shovel Knight Catch
These sequences also turn out to be a form of foreshadowing, as after you defeat The Enchantress and Shield Knight is freed from the power of the dark magic, you must catch her one last time, but this time for real. The game's creators do such a great job of building up emotional expectation through the interrupted dream sequences that the realization of those dreams is made all the more potent. Having Shield Knight then fight alongside Shovel Knight in the final battle is a sweet touch that shows how well they work as a team, and why they were considered a force to be reckoned with. When Shovel Knight is knocked out and Shield Knight stays behind to offer protection while Black Knight carries Shovel Knight away, the worry that she is gone for good after having finally found her again is palpable, and had me clinging to my 3DS during the credits to wait for the final payoff.

Shovel Knight End
Yacht Club games has truly created something special in Shovel Knight. The story elements of the game are quick and never detract from the action, but for all their brevity manage to define a much larger world which is easy to get lost in. The protagonist's personality and motivation become well-established, and his enemies no less so, leading to rewarding, weighty encounters. Most importantly, the player is allowed to take a glimpse into the heart of the character he controls, something which is all too rare in games. 'Rescuing the Princess' is such a common trope in video games, but so rarely do we really get a sense that the hero actually cares for her, or even feels remorse for having lost her in the first place. Shovel Knight takes what we loved about the NES era and combines it with a unique storytelling aesthetic that allows the player to truly resonate with its hero, proving that you can have a fast-paced and action-packed platforming spree without sacrificing story to do so. I dig it.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Treasure Hunting Folly in Studio Crazy Horse's 'Eye of Mubala'

With a story inspired by the likes of Indiana Jones and Tintin, Eye of Mubala is a short animated film that is currently in production. The film is written and directed by Nas Pasha and Matt Bakerdjian, and is being animated by them along with a collection of friends comprising Studio Crazy Horse. It is about a reckless anthropology professor who snatches a forbidden relic, awakening a terrifying guardian named Mubala, and his plucky research assistant Pema, who has to keep her senior's ass out of the fire. The trailer Studio Crazy Horse released for the Toronto Animation Arts Festival showcases the film's three primary characters and its use of traditional hand-drawn animation:

The characters, although silent, demonstrate abundant personality in their animated expression. You really get a sense of The Professor's roguish nature in his treasure hoarding, and the cowardice on his face when he's chased by Mubala. Pema, on the other hand, gives off an air of heroism and determination, and perhaps also her frustration with always having to save The Professor. The use of traditional animation really lends itself well to this story, giving it a somewhat gritty aspect that really appeals to the relic-hunting genre. The environments this team have created are gorgeous, with lush backgrounds and realistic lighting. I caught up with one of the co-directors Nas to ask him about his process on the film and its influences:

Tell us a little bit more about your film and Studio Crazy Horse. How did they come about?

We're a group of likeminded animators, and the film is really just a codified way for us "Crazy Horses" to have some fun. We all love animation, and are pretty unhappy with the state of the industry today. Eye of Mubala is our attempt at taking an idea that we're in love with and sharing it for the only reason that should matter, so that people can enjoy quality hand-drawn animation uninfluenced by money.

In this short trailer I really get a good feel for the character of both The Professor and Pema. How did you first come up with these characters?

It's a funny story! In short, both Matt and I individually came up with two similar stories of a foolish character who steals a gem of sorts from a temple and is chased by a beast. We were dumbfounded that our stories were so similar. As we talked with the team members, we came to agree that there should be two characters in order to express both the desperation and determination of stealing a jewel so precious. So in essence, we have a Jack Sparrow-esque fellow who isn't stupid, but does seem to get himself into terrible situations, and his research assistant Pema, who is the actual brains behind the madness and bails him out of these sticky scenarios.

You have stated that Indiana Jones is a major influence for Eye of Mubala. Are you a big fan of the action-adventure genre? What other stories helped inspire the plot?

Definitely a lifelong fan of Indiana Jones, though I haven't seen the new one with the aliens in it. I love the idea of mysterious tombs and ancient curses, so along with Indiana Jones other influences include Tarzan, Uncharted (the PS3 game), Tomb Raider (though I haven't ever played it), and Mission Impossible. In terms of our film's plot, though there are probably similarities to other stories (since the treasure hunting genre can only be so varied), Matt and I weren't really influenced by any particular source. We just thought it'd be neat to create a treasure chase movie.

I see in your work a combination of both Eastern and Western influences. On your website you have lots of anime-inspired art, but the animation style of Mubala reminds me a lot of the work of Belgian and French comic artists, such as Hergé or Fabien Mense. Which artists and animators would you say most inspire your style and that of the film?

May I first answer this question with a big "Thank you" for regarding my name and that of Fabien Mense in the same sentence. Collectively our team is classically trained and therefore we almost all love the classic Disney animated films, and even though Disney hasn't done anything 2D in a long time, they're definitely in our DNA. That being said, Studio 4C, Ghibli, Bones, and Les Goblins are all major influences. Personally, the works of Fabien Mense, Joel27, BAHI JD, LeSean Thomas, Ki Hyun Ryu, Inseung Choi, and Yutaka Nakamura inspire me in my style of animation. Very snappy, so to speak.

Why did you choose to use traditional hand-drawn animation for Eye of Mubala over computer-aided animation?

Because I like it more, and though unfortunate, many animators these days don't even carry a sketch book - and I'm obsessed with drawing! We have a joke, among us: 3D animation makes all the hard things easy, and all the easy things hard. The skill involved in 2D hand-drawn animation is unmatched and timeless. Classic animation made decades ago still holds up today, The Jungle book is a perfect example.

Who makes up the rest of Studio Crazy Horse, and what are their roles in the film?

We're a team of 11! Here they are:

Mark Conmigo, Matt Bakerdjian, Naseer Pasha

Giuseppe Arabia, Dale Watson, Tenzin Chime, Mark Conmigo

Character Design:
Chris Morin, Dale Watson

BG Paint:
Mike Chung, Julien Nema

Cel Colour: Joseph Ng, John Chan, Matt Bakerdjian, Dale Watson, Naseer Pasha, John Chan, Giuseppe Arabia, Tenzin Chime, Chris Morin

Any idea when we might be able to see the completed product?

This is our first time making something so big from scratch together, so I don't want to speak too ambitiously, but we're hoping to finish it by the end of the year, or early in January.

Anything else you'd like to promote?

I'd like this time to thank my personal mentor, Bruce Lee, for all his - hah! Not really. I guess maybe to let anyone who's interested to check out the studio website, as we will constantly be putting up art, pencil tests, and all sorts of other goodies. Also, you can find me and my buddy Chris at FanExpo 2014, where I'll be selling my graphic novel series, Two Mistakes Two Many. You can find it in print at the show, or online for free on my website.

Thank you for your time!

The pleasure is definitely on this end. I speak on behalf of all the enthusiastic members of Studio Crazy Horse when I say thank you for taking an interest in our independently-produced 2D animation. Expect weird, wild things in the future!

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Video Game Danger in 'When You Broke My Heart'

When You Broke My Heart
Currently up for this week's Awardeo Video of the Week, When You Broke My Heart is a colourful short film by a group of French Animators about a King who loses his Queen when he ignores her for his video games, and then, after being confronted by a physical manifestation of his sadness, embarks upon a quest to win her back. It's a love letter to Japanese kawaii and to video games, with an unexpected ending that reminds us that it is possible to have too much of a good thing:

I was immediately struck by how the characters in the film are quite fluid, and I don't just mean the liquid movements of the amorphous avatar of sadness conjured by the King. Characters' limbs and faces contort and stretch in such amusing ways, imbuing the film with loads of energy, with each grimace and double-take pulled straight out of Japanese anime. The video game references are numerous, from Space Invaders wallpaper and amusing arcade machines in the throne room (PacNyan anyone?), to the authentic-looking late 80s Gameboy, or 'Geekboy' as it is called, that helps the King on his quest. The authentic gaming sounds are nostalgia inducing, and are a fitting backdrop for the King's obsession; Even though the King decides to give up his Geekboy to win back his Queen, he still lives as if he were in a video game, jumping from platform to platform before confronting the final boss.

As someone who plays a lot of video games and also has a special lady in his life, I definitely take the message of this film to heart. I'm not sure whether it was intended or not, but to me this film clearly demonstrates the danger not only of ignoring someone special in your life, but also (in its twisted ending) how easily you can take something which is meant to be a fun, occasional distraction and have it completely dominate your life. A big kudos to the film's directors: Charles Lemor, Lisa Fenoll, Anaïs Gresser, Anna Masquelier and Laura Fleischmann.

You can find lots of behind the scenes concepts and designs on the film's website.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

My Tomodachi Love-Hate Relationship

Every morning when I wake up, one of the first things I absolutely have to do is ask my good friend if he has worked up the courage to ask his sweetheart to marry him, check with all the tenants of my apartment building to see if they need me to fetch them something from the supermarket, and whether or not Scarlett Johansson and Jerry Seinfeld have finally had their baby. If this sounds exhausting, pedantic, and bizarre, it is, but it's also strangely rewarding. I'm glad it's not reality though, rather these are my duties in the wonderfully silly world of Tomodachi Life on Nintendo 3DS. Tomodachi Life is Nintendo's answer to The Sims. It's a game where you design or import Miis to live on an island and watch them live and interact with one another. Your Miis form friendships, get into fights, work in the local shops, fall in love, and eventually even get married and have children. The scenarios they play out are really funny, and it's fun watching which Mii is hanging out with which, and who is falling in love with whom, and what sort of bizarre dreams they've been having. The problem is, the game gets incredibly repetitive. Miis constantly have mundane problems, whether they're sick, or want a new wardrobe, or simply want to show you a silly face, and I can only feed Miis so many times before I feel like hurling my 3DS out the window. Yet, I keep coming back. My friend still hasn't asked his sweetheart to marry him, and there are still babies on the way. I've been trying to maneuver Samus Aran's affections towards a friend of mine, and maybe today is the day. Tomodachi Life is basically a slightly more complex version of a Tamagotchi pet, and is just as addictive.

Part of the game's charm is watching your friends and various celebrities and characters interact with one another. The 3DS makes it very easy to import user created Miis through the use of QR codes, and there's no shortage of Mii databases on the web. As a result, Reggie from Nintendo and Hank Hill are residents of my island, and I'm happy to say that Reggie is very happily married to a good real-life friend of mine, though Hank Hill remains an obstinate bachelor. Daria (from the show of the same name) tried to set Hank up with Samus, but they didn't hit it off. She's married to Tyrion from Game of Thrones. Walter White married another good friend of mine, and I'm thankful that so far he hasn't given her the Skylar treatment. Just another day on Neo Jeo island.

The Miis can all talk by using text-to-speech, and it's pretty fun hearing your friends say the silly catchphrases you come up with for them. You can dress your Miis and change their room style, which has limited appeal, although I do enjoy seeing Reggie in his leatherdaddy outfit with a horse mask over his head. While the problems of the Miis are obnoxious, solving them increases their happiness which allows them to level up, and with every level you can offer your Mii a gift, such as a baseball bat or a 3DS, which you can see them using in their apartments or the various locales of your island, often alongside a friend who has the same item. This gives you the illusion that the Miis are independent, but at the end of the day if they want something, including becoming friends or sweethearts with another Mii, they're going to approach you first. It seems a bit much to me that I can't simply load a Mii's fridge full of food to keep them fed, or give them license to make their own decisions. Helping a Mii get a sneeze out is simply a little too much micromanagement for my tastes.

Another potential gift choice you can also offer your Miis when they level up are one of eight types of songs, which allow them to perform in the island's concert hall solo or with other Miis who know the same type of song. Lyrics of the song are editable, meaning you can create your own song which you can then potentially record with your phone and post to Youtube, if you were so inclined. All these things are fun at first, but get boring pretty fast. The Miis offer to play games with you to keep your attention, but they're pretty lame ones such as "guess whose silhouette this is" and matching tiles. You get various items you can give your Miis, such as music boxes and swings, and while these raise their happiness and give you a variety of ways to interact with the Miis, the resulting scenes too become very repetitive. If this were all Tomodachi Life had to offer, I'd have stopped checking my island long ago. However, there are events that happen on your island to look forward to, even if they're somewhat few and far between.

Events happen at different points of the day. Once in the morning and in the evening the game produces news reports broadcasted by one of your Miis, showcasing still images of your islanders engaging in funny situations, such as enjoying candy that looks like one of your Miis, or helping a beached whale out to sea that turns out to be a whale toy. Miis of the same gender often get together in the local cafe to have a gossip session, chatting about their hopes, ambitions, and the other islanders. The Miis' dreams, which you can check in on while they're sleeping, are definitely highlights, turning them into marionettes, or placing them awkwardly at a table with duchesses speaking around them, or transforming into superheroes shoujo-anime style. Miis have bbqs, hold magic shows, and have rap battles.

Once a day you can play a retro-style RPG game where your Miis, suitably transformed into pixelated sprites, wander through a simple dungeon and do battle with food items and objects from the game. As an RPG nut I had to make sure I gave this a mention, but while nostalgia inducing it is over-simplistic, as each character only has two types of attacks and the enemies similarly only have two. The various events in Tomodachi Life will keep you entertained for a while, but even they eventually run out and start repeating themselves with different Miis. However, as my images suggest, it is definitely fun seeing these events play out with different combinations of Miis, as the context completely changes based on which characters happen to be playing golf or having a pillow fight.

One of the smartest features of Tomodachi Life is the ability to take a screensnap of the top screen at any time by pressing X, and then using 3DS Image Share to post them to Facebook or Twitter. This means that you can capture that bizarre dream where your friend became a snail and send it to them along with Freudian commentary! There is no shortage of fun of taking pictures of your Miis in the Photo Studio, placing them in pairs or as a group using a variety of poses and backgrounds. This is where Tomodachi Life really shines, making it easy to share your island's silliness with friends and other enthusiastic proponents of the game, creating a community around who can provide the wackiest character combinations and scenarios.

What really keeps me coming back, and this surprises even me, is the potential for romantic involvement between my Miis. A heart symbol appears in a Mii's apartment when they want your advice about love, and I always get overly excited to see it. The scenes in the game involving love are the most interesting ones, and frankly, make me feel like I'm actually accomplishing something.

A Mii will develop romantic feelings for another Mii seemingly arbitrarily. A Mii interested in asking another Mii out will ask you where you think they should go on a date, and how they should act. Depending on what you choose and how they feel about one another, they'll either become sweethearts or walk away as friends. Sometimes a Mii will also offer to set up two other Miis, observing them incognito as the two go out on their date, and this too can be hit or miss, but it's pretty funny. As sweethearts you'll see the pairs constantly hanging out with each other, and if their love becomes strong enough, one of them will decide (with your blessing) to propose to the other one. You'll get to observe the proposal, helping out through a silly mini-game, and then see the wedding, in which many of your Miis appear as guests. Once they've settled down long enough, they'll ask if you think it's a good idea to have a baby. The babies are generally ugly as sin, but you can edit them. You then watch the baby grow up over a few days before becoming independent and either moving into an apartment on your island, or being set as a streetpass character who will show up on other people's islands. The baby book you see when a baby Mii grows up is surprisingly touching.

The one issue I had with having the Miis fall in love is that, as a control freak, I was trying to dictate who fell in love with whom, and though you can try to stifle a Mii's feelings for another Mii, there is no way for you to actively suggest which Mii who you think they ought to go for. This adds an element of surprise to the game, but left me feeling a bit defeated when I told a Mii over and over that her crush was a bad match, only to have her continually pine for him anyway.

I have a love-hate relationship with this game. I love it because I care about my Miis and all the shenanigans they (occasionally) get into, and I hate it because despite the fact that these Miis need you to hold their hand every second of the day, I still can't stop checking in to see if something eventful is happening in their lives. Though I often open my 3DS with a groan seeing that my Miis are asking to have their same basic needs met, every so often I'm rewarded with something new and exciting. Tomodachi Life is a game to be savoured, taking your time between check-ups to ensure that there's fresh material waiting for you and that you don't get bored too quickly by the regular requests of your Miis. If you're going to get this game, be aware that it's a bit of a slow burn, but if you enjoy the idea of bringing together people both real and imagined from all walks of life, watching them go about their lives and getting into cheerfully absurd situations, then this is a game for you.