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Pixielated's blog

Should Castlevania praise the sun?
9:36 PM on 04.03.2014
My favorite Metroidvania moments.
10:23 PM on 03.19.2014
Iga Returns?
10:04 PM on 03.16.2014
Snow daze
2:40 PM on 02.12.2014
Another Metroid post: The Zero Missioning!
6:00 PM on 02.09.2014
FACTS! Because I said they are!
10:35 PM on 01.28.2014





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I'm 30-something. I play games and sometimes type things. I summon deities and demons, shoot raiders and wish to settle down with another girl for turn-based battles on the beach, chocobo rides and torchlit dinners in ancient Nordic tombs or mysterious castles that appear at night.

When I'm not slaying dragons or saving the galaxy, I'm probably roaming the open world, rolling into a ball to access secret passages and seeing if my Paragon rating is high enough for discounts at the mall.



For other things and stuff about me you can read here, here and here. You will learn of my origins, my trials and tribulations, how I became a superpixie and what games I really, really like!

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So in the midst of playing Metroidvanias and RPGs so far this year, I took a small detour into the NES "Classic" Castlevania era. This is to say I played the original Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden last month. And yes, Ninja Gaiden pretty much is Castlevania with ninjas, it just replaces Medusa Heads and Axe Knights with jetpack ninjas and heat-seeking hawks with rabies. 



In fact, the Medusa Heads aren't really even pit-focused so much as those damned hawks are. The hawks always, always turn up when Ryu has a small ledge to land on or must make a perilous leap from a wallgrab. The jetpack ninjas and hyperactive Silver Surfer cosplayers with yo-yo axes only had one level, hawks appeared from stage 3 onward.

In both games each step forward is a fight to secure the next safe step forward, really. Vampire Killer and the Dragon Sword - along with your subweapons - are more defensive measures than offensive ones. Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden are platformers at their core and very defensive ones at that.



I guess the key difference between them is that in Castlevania your every action is a commitment of sorts. Everything is fast in Ninja Gaiden, but the classic Castlevanias are more slow and methodical about what they do. You can't tweak your jumps and once you extend the whip you're committed to the strike you're attempting to make, whether its to damage an enemy or bat away a projectile.  This even carries into the later Metroidvanias where weapon swings are concerned, as I could be found cursing myself for choosing Hammers glyphs over Nitesco (that green skeleton laser thing). Any weapon strike or spell would root me to the ground, but an air jump with Nitesco and then landing would let me retreat as I dealt damage more reliably from a distance than other weapons could (crucial if you want to tally up damage quickly on Dracula's face).

And more recently in playing Julius Belmont's mode in Aria of Sorrow, I was again cursing myself for getting a little too snap-happy with the whip as I went up against Death. That whip swing roots you just like it would Simon and a few frames of animation can make all the difference in the world between evading and receiving damage in Castlevania. If you're not watching the attack patterns of your enemies closely, you can prepare to be pummeled, tossed into a pit or destroyed by a boss.

Another small difference is Castlevania liked to throw in occasional booby traps, Ninja Gaiden didn't really bother with them. They were rare in CV games but there just enough to be of note.

All of this got me to thinking - classic Castlevania is a lot like Dark Souls.



Dark Souls is a very methodical game. Its not much for platforming but there is something to be said for watching your step and defending each step forward you've earned. I often found myself stocking up on arrows and pyromancy as early as I could just to make sure I could wear down or take out enemies before I had to move in with my sword. If I didn't watch my step or my enemy's movements getting pummeled or knocked into a pit was often the reward. What it lacked in Medusa Heads and Hawks it made up for in Skeleton Archers and Blight Town mosquitoes. 

I'd actually say Dark Souls amps things up on traps, though. Arrow traps, the odd rolling iron ball, the poison bogs and more. All great fun before you throw in phantom invasions and the magma-vomiting spider witches.

With the Lords of Shadow series and the 2D era of Castlevania likely behind us - the 2D legacy now resting with Igarashi's new studio and indies - that perhaps Dark Souls is something Konami should consider drawing inspiration from for the next Castlevania game. The Dark Souls series definitely has more classic Castlevania in it than the Lords of Shadow games did. 

I'm not saying straight-up copy Dark Souls, either. I don't think CV needs online co-up or player invasions, but there is something to be said for adopting its combat sensibilities and atmosphere, even some of its very light Metroidvania elements.



I'd even argue to throw a little of Order of Ecclesia in there, as it very much realized what Simon's Quest wanted to be and was also the most difficult of the later 2D Castlevania entries. It also bore a strong sense of risk and reward worthy of the Souls series. It was a game that took the player through the countryside and the nightmarish creatures set upon it before taking you to Dracula's doorstep to deal with the vampire himself. 

And if CV is to start anew, rebooted, perhaps we could just bring it all back to Simon Belmont for a bit. While I generally dislike the Lords of Shadow series, I did like how they handled Simon. Maybe I just liked the revised look inspired by Castlevania Chronicles and the Scottish accent, but he had a big oafish charm about him that could be fun to explore again - preferably without Mercury Steam and their "dark, gritty, emotional" storytelling involved. 

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, Konami does with Castlevania in the future. I probably won't like it because it will be none of what I've listed above. They're probably looking to make Contra a Gears of War clone with an emotionally-gripping tale of human loss at he hands of some evil alien empire. 

I'm hoping Castlevania's best days are still ahead of it but for me much of what I liked about the series ended in 2008 and hasn't been back in "classic" or "Metroidvania" flavors since. Though I'm more partial to the entries in the vein of Metroid I'd rather not see either type die off as both have a great deal of merit to them. Gamers clearly want things so grossly incandescent as Dark Souls and Castlevania once had that spark before. Time will tell if Konami gets wise to it.








This is a Metroidvania kind of week and I'm having a Metroidvania year thus far. With Super Metroid's 20th anniversary today, Koji Igarashi leaving Konami to likely make more Metroidvanias and even giving a speech on them this week, I'm pretty much only thinking about Metroidvania games right now.



I've got a few Metroid and Castlevania blogs still in me for a bit, but right now I thought I'd share my favorite Metroidvania moments. These aren't ranked in any order, just some favorites.

Fuck you, Mother Brain!

Watching the Metroid hatchling get killed - pretty much the only friendly being you met in the original Metroid trilogy - was heartbreaking. Your entire mission failed in that moment.



Good thing the hatchling pumped Samus full of Mother Brain's energy before Mother killed it, granting Samus the Fuck You Beam, which knocks Mother Brain around like a ragdoll and destroys her. 

It is quite possibly the biggest deus ex machina in all of gaming, something SOTN would steal later as part of its prologue, but considering Mother Brain killed your baby just moments prior the taste of instant vengeance, well, the death of any other boss just doesn't compare. Not even killing Ganon, Sephiroth, Kefka or Dracula felt this good. And I don't think anything really has since then.

Sequence breaking.

Beating Super Metroid in less that two and a half hours is an accomplishment, but its just the beginning with Super Metroid. Sequence breaking opens up a whole new way to play. Mastering the use of wall jumps, receiving damage, "mockballing" and more can allow you to beat the game more quickly and make it more challenging as well.

Playing faster for lower completion times and low collection rates turns Super Metroid into more of a survivalist experience.

And this isn't accounting for races against friends, the PC hack that randomizes item placement and also "puzzle" runs where you're challenged by friends to complete the game with a very specific set of power-ups.

Sequence breaking more or less takes Super Metroid and teaches you to play it like a sport and that's its own fun. 

The Rebound Stone

The Diamond/Rebound Stone subweapon only appears in Symphony of the Night. I never want to use the others for some reason. I think its because it doesn't cost many hearts to use and it bounces around with a pretty, rainbowy ray-tracing effect. Such a happy little subweapon.

That and it can hit an enemy multiple times if you aim it right. Its like turning the adventure into a game of Pong or a brickbreaker at points.

Jonathan! Charlotte!

Jonathan! Charlotte! Jonathan! Charlotte! Jonathan! Charlotte! Jonathan! Charlotte! Jonathan! Charlotte! Jonathan! Charlotte! Jonathan! Charlotte! Jonathan! Charlotte!



Jonathan!

Charlotte!

Death and Dracula got so sick of players toggling between those two kids they teamed up to try and kill them in the final battle of Portrait of Ruin.

Y can't Guacamelee crawl?

Because Juan doesn't morphball. He's a luchador that becomes a chicken.



Swag denied

While she's an amnesiac who lost her emotions as well, what Shanoa lacks in personality she makes up for in badassery during Order of Ecclesia. Like I said in my prior blog, she kills her enemies with glyph magic called forth from her tattoos. 

She's all about the work of slaying Dracula, too. When she finally confronts him, he tries to put on the swag, to seduce her and she's just not having it. She would not have him even if he sparkled.



Julius Belmont "holds back."

 

Just watch the video. If this man in his late 50s is pulling his punches, I don't want to see him go all out.

Samus is a woman.

This is a hard moment to recapture in the age of the internet, but in the 80s the reactions to the reveal were priceless. I knew kids that seriously felt betrayed by the fact Samus turned out to be female because of reasons. I was surprised, but quickly cool with and happy about it. Suddenly I could relate to Samus as someone that felt they, too, kinda lived behind a mask.



Knowing the truth was empowering in its own way.

I'm Dracula!



Die, monster!

I'll let you finish the rest here :)







Pixielated
10:04 PM on 03.16.2014

Koji Igarashi.

Perhaps he is what Dracula saw in his Mirror of Fate, aside from Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2's Metacritic scores. Perhaps Dracula saw him speaking at GDC 2014 this week specifically about Metroidvanias.



We haven't heard from Igarashi in a while. He has an interesting sense of timing, to say the least. The title of his talk will be "There and Back Again: Koji Igarashi’s Metroidvania Tale."

Now, the title could just be a sly nod to the fact that there's a little backtracking involved with Metroidvania games, but could it also signal a return to form for Castlevania with Iga back at the helm? I certainly don't think its exactly referring a hobbit, perhaps aside from exploring and discovering treasure.



It'll be interesting to see what Igarashi has to say, at the very least, even if the whole talk really is just on the genre rather than a formal announcement of a game. I was kind of sad when it felt like Konami made him abandon the Metroidvania style after Order of Ecclesia to experiment with the series before handing it over to Mercury Steam.

I'm actually bouncing between Ecclesia and Super Metroid right now and I've always felt that Ecclesia was a good compromise between the classic Vania's stage-based progression and the Metroid-style progression of later Castlevania games. That it was the second Castlevania game to ever have a leading lady was just icing on the cake (though in Iga's canon, Shanoa's the first).

Shanoa sucks mystical gylphs into her tattoos to learn to summon weapons and spells from them, then kills her enemies with them. That alone sold me on the game. A Kirby-like female warrior that kills Drac with tats.



I wanted to see Iga and his team expand on the level structure a bit, though, perhaps adding alternate paths through the outdoor stages to take you to new areas and bring his brand of Castlevania closer to the classic structure of the older 2D games. The Castle itself could just do the Metroidvania part and in Ecclesia it mostly did.

I'm also interested to hear what it was about Super Metroid that inspired Symphony of the Night. I've read some interviews, but never saw Igarashi talk in-depth about Metroid and this talk seems to have that in mind. Its pretty clear it has a lot more sway than a pile of Crocomire references.

I'm also hoping he's come around to the idea of doing the game set in 1999 where Julius Belmont finally does Drac in. Not that its necessary, its just that one thing the two Sorrow games love to rub in your face. It doesn't help that Portrait of Ruin and Order of Ecclesia toy with the time periods the Belmonts vanish from history along with Vampire Killer, leaving things to the Morris and Lecarde clans and then Ecclesia folks meddle in these affairs, too.

So yeah, I still want more of those Castlevanias. 

I know David Cox said in February that 2D Castlevania is done for good. Big words. Every time someone says that about anything 2D, more 2D things start happening. In fact, I think the last time an industry head said that about 2D was when Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was released on Playstation and did really well. Talk shit about 2D and it will get its revenge.

Additionally, Iga had a talk back in 2007 outlining why 2D games will never go away. Not that he needed much proof, HD made 3D games skyrocket in terms of production costs. History was on his side.

Cox also said that if Iga was Tim Burton, he was Christopher Nolan. I can actually see Iga as Burton, but based on the last two LoS games, I'd say Cox is Joel Schumacher. He just didn't put nipples on Drac and Alucard's outfits.

Anyway, I'm interested to see what the future brings. I think its undeniable Igarashi has been a strong influence on a generation of developers. The influence of Metroid and Castlevania shows in many indie games right now and even Mercury Stream couldn't resist pilfering lines from Symphony of the Night, so I can't really buy into the notion this a kind of game Konami can't make anymore - particularly since the budget probably wouldn't even be a 20th of what the LoS games cost to make

I'm not really worried about Metroid so much. Nintendo IPs are sometimes prone to a lengthy hiatus and Miyamoto seems to bring up the subject of Metroid once or twice a year. Signs seem to point him wanting Retro Studios back on the job and we have plenty of proof they could pull it of in 2D or 3D. 

Anyway, I have a good feeling more Metroidvania is in the cards. Even without Konami and Nintendo at it we already have the new Strider and the next Shantae game to scratch the itch this year.

In the meantime, its back to the castle for me.








Pixielated
2:40 PM on 02.12.2014

It has begun. The snow, that is. A journey and brief stay in the snow. A snowjourn?



Here in the American southeast - with the exception of the Appalachian portion of the region - people flip out at the slightest hint of frost, ice, snow and lots of things get canceled. We're supposed to get six to eight of inches of snow where I live today, but then, two inches seems enough to qualify as a blizzard for Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Yes, they really see it that way.

The extremely rare tremor is also a HUGE deal here, too



I was actually in Florida once when a real freak blizzard hit in 1989. They didn't raid the grocery store for milk and bread or just buckle down and continue life as usual. I saw people go to the pool and outdoor hot tubs and party because why not? Snow! How often does that even happen there? Its certainly rare in NC, I don't think we've had a serious snow since the 80s and we still treat each instance like the blizzard of '88. We got three feet of snow then, so at least my childhood got massive loads of wintery fun.

I never saw the big deal about snow, at least as far as canceling things goes or it being "bad weather." Maybe its just I have mountain people in my lineage. Maybe I just like cold weather. I know I liked it for more than school or sometimes work cancelations. Plus I went to college in a mountain town, they didn't cancel anything for snow - and it was fun to see the kids from Charlotte complain and have difficulty adapting. Or slip and drop a bag of groceries.

Snowy levels and areas in games seem to be more rare these days. I'm talking more about other genres besides platformers as the ice levels there are predictable. I guess that's why I get happy when there's a snowy area or large portion of a game's world set in the ice and snow. Sure there may be bears, skeletons, werewolves or sheegoths and ice golems in it, but snow is still pretty.



I loved how Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow had a wintery backdrop and how even the main theme of the game itself feels wintery. The initial outdoor area and occasional looks outside never forget it. The again, Dracula's Castle just shows up wherever it likes, doesn't it? At least the setting helped justify Soma Cruz's odd affinity for fur coats.

Its a game coming up in my rotation soon, but I'm tackling Aria of Sorrow first. 



SSX 3 probably remains my favorite game in that series, mostly in how it built its way up in the theme of conquering the mountain. I tend to be averse to trick-based games now because they murder my hands, but the pay-off of riding the mountain from the top to the bottom was worth all of it. I never took well to skiing, snowboarding and the like. I fell down a lot and walking around in the Robocop boots killed my legs. I like the other parts of snow better, but still, rinding the final level of SSX 3 is rather breathtaking. I could never do that kind of thing even without SSX's over-the-top antics. 



Skyrim and Metroid Prime are more my speed for snowy adventuring. Then again, I do love exploration and discovering things in a more isolated way. Unless you're a sexy, friendly vampire named Serana and are voiced by Laura Bailey, then you can come with me.

Phendrana Drifts in Metroid Prime is probably my favorite snowy area of all, but I have little to say about it. Its just a beautifully crafted area and the music for that area suits it perfectly. Electric beats and piano, particularly piano, fit snow so well.



Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey (pictured up top) also takes place in a snowy world, at least at first before things get really, really weird. Most main series SMT games take place in and is about Tokyo and her people. Strange Journey drops the focus on Tokyo and Japanese characters and trades it for Antarctica and an international cast in a game that references a lot of western sci-fi and horror flicks/shows like 2001, Aliens, Star Trek, The Thing and more. Shit gets weird fast and you find shopping malls and red light districts where icy tundra should be.

Still, its got the forces of Law and Chaos at work, so it still falls within the main series

Louis Cypher also decides being an old man is boring and becomes Louisa Ferre just to change things up. She cosplays Lewis Carroll's Alice, too. Notice how this "Lucifer" idea just keeps getting reinforced? IT'S SO SUBTLE!



Anyway, I'm okay with some snow and watching the world panic as I just relax and watch it all fall. I'm hoping we get a bit, particularly since we get three inches or less when we get snow at all. This time we're supposed to get six to eight. Still not quite the three feet I saw as a kid, but its something.

I know it won't last or remain unblemished for long, but I'll still be able to romp around in video game snow any time I need to.








I spent part of this last week playing Metroid Zero Mission, mostly to take a break from Fire Emblem Awakening for a bit but also to celebrate the remake's tenth anniversary today. Zero Mission is a game that hit all the right notes when re-envisioning the NES classic, preserving the spirit of it while embracing much of what came after. It was a celebration of the whole series, a proud little game and it has a right to be.



Rather than labor the obvious elephant in the room, feel free to tack on an "except Other M" to anything nice I say about Metroid from here.

I've always been drawn in by the silence, the loneliness and danger the Metroid series evokes. I enjoy that it's often been a series content to trust me to figure things out on my own - that's the reason Metroid will be referenced when people talk about Dark Souls, I might add.

There are nudges but they're often subtle and thankfully not big boxes of text and pictures that explain every nuance of a mechanic or have giant arrows pointing the way. When you get a new item, there's instantly an application laid out near where you got it. Sometimes a rare, friendly or just frightened creature will hint at the application of a technique or a passage you could get to. Maybe those little bugs leeching on your health can be transferred to that irksome organic blob-coccoon thing blocking your path and take it down. That kind of stuff.

What's really awesome is that sometimes that place you thought you needed to use High Jump boots to get to can be reached with a well-placed wall jump or well-timed use of bombs. While it can be fun to explore and discover new abilities, some of your most basic tools are deceptively versatile and the environment more accommodating to many of them than they might first appear. No tool should be taken for granted, even in some boss fights.



This is a series that trusts the player is smart enough to figure out or discover these things on their own. Kind of a rare thing these days.

And the story is handled in much the same way. Metroid is often willing to assume you're smart enough to piece the events of a game and the series on your own. Your feelings about discoveries, triumphs and events are the story. Your feelings are Samus Aran's. Often its the glimmers of her humanity that add enough about her to the experience anyway.



Finding new ways to tackle and conquer the game is a huge reason I keep coming back to the series and the games it inspired. It doesn't hurt that each world is crafted so well that it does feel like it was once lived in and is now but a lonesome, desolate ruin. 

And here's a thought - where most franchises want you saving worlds Samus has really only saved one in her whole career. If the world isn't dead, its usually blown up by the end of a Metroid game. Aether got lucky in Metroid Prime 2. Samus might save the galaxy over and over, but your world might very well be fucked if she has to show up on it. I'd consider an immediate move if she did.



She just has this way of triggering self-destruct mechanisms.

While this replay was done on the rather sensitive touch interface of my tablet, I did manage to clock in just over three hours. Not my most remarkable run, but not a bad one either. Now I'm eyeballing Metroid II since it just got Miiverse support last week. 

In fact, since I posted the first screenshot after the community went live, I feel kind of obligated to.









Here on the internet we can affirm truths by simply saying "FACT" in all caps. So long as we do this, we can sneer down at our lessers for we are true gamers and they can go play Candyland until King takes legal action against Hasbro for using the word "candy." In FACT, I've just trademarked the word "FACT" so you must pay me each time you use it!

Now only I can have the FACTS and you can't, so you will always be wrong in your wrongness and writhe in your foolingly foolish foolery, you fooly fools! I also trademarked "truth," just to be safe. Bow before my wisdom as you absorb these gaming FACTS and truths!



Simon Belmont is both Trevor Belmont's father and his son. Trevor is also Alucard, Dracula's son, making sworn enemy Dracula Simon's grandpa. This Castlevania FACT makes all Belmont family gatherings really awkward - especially after the Belmonts changed the clan patriarch three times.

This is why the Morris and Belenades families don't visit anymore.

FACT!

Samus Aran loves strip poker and has a terrible pokerface with her helmet off. This is why she's lucky to have just the morphball ability and her Power Suit in each new Metroid game she appears in.



FACT!

Mario is a hallucinogen addict. His girlfriend  works at Disney World portraying various princesses he refers to as Peach (Aurora), Daisy (Belle) and Rosalina (Cinderella). The other girls he just calls Pauline. Bowser Kupas and Donny Chong are two security guards Mario's girlfriend carpools with to work, but Mario thinks they kidnap her every morning.

Mario believes he can grow by eating mushrooms, wield fire after smoking weed and be invincible by putting a star on his tongue. He then treks across Florida to Disney World and gets past security to try and drag his girlfriend back home. He usually gets stopped by Bowser or Donny before he can.



FACT!

The only way to play games is to play how I play them or you are wrong and stupid. The FACT that some people don't play Skyrim or Fallout the way I do angers me and keeps me awake at night. 

The FACT some people are considering the optional Steam controller for gaming worries me to no end! What will I do without dual analog sticks? If it was good enough for the PSX we just shouldn't change it, ever!

And if you play and enjoy a mobile or indie game of any kind you should put your head in a blender because you are ruining gaming with your Super Meat Hexagons, Banner Crush Sagas and Angry Zombie Plantbirds. Why, back in my day we never played color matching puzzlers and we quit 2D gaming the second we had polygons and 3D!

FACT!

[Fighting game] is better than [fighting game]!



FACT!

All your choices in and opinions of games are non-canon unless the creator decides they are. This is what makes George Lucas, Bioware and David Cage peerless visionaries of their craft. 

No, no. Commander Shepard is a man. The box art and CG intros to Mass Effect say so. Chrom marries Sumia according to Fire Emblem Awakening's intro, too -  if you break from that and have him marry your female tactician a rift in reality will open and consume us all. In FACT, damn anyone who ships that to add more intimacy to the plot for their own character! I will stalk them on Tumblr to tell them how wrong that is!

No, it doesn't matter that there's a gate to the multiverse or wibbly-wobbly time stuff in that game. Player choice and the theme of changing your destiny are secondary to the creator's vision, always! Just ask the people that made Terminator 3 and Salvation! They are brilliant!

FACT!

I hope you enjoyed these FACTS, you plebeians! You should thank me for imparting my geniusness unto thine eyes. Now, steal my words so I may sue you, you fooly fools!