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On the wings of death, by the hands of doom;
By the darkest light from the darkest moon;
On the wings of life, by the hands of hope;
By the brightest light from the brightest sun.

And vice versa.

I'm ShadeOfLight.
I'm a Dutch law student who loves to play the vidya. I'm a Nintendo-fanboy at heart, but I don't feel that I'm blinded by that, at least not very often. I am also currently on the Cblog Recaps team for Thursdays, so if for some voyeuristic reason you want to know more about me, check out my weekly Shadeisms.

I'm obsessed with the Monolith Soft RPGs Xenoblade Chronicles and the Baten Kaitos series. I will not pass up the opportunity to mention them, ever, and I consider myself Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean's biggest fan. Finally, as is to be expected I'm super excited for the new WiiU "Xeno-" game!

The Wii is one of my favorite systems of all time, and my favorite games on this system include, but are most certainly not limited to;
Xenoblade Chronicles (see also: Baten Kaitos - Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean for GC)
Zelda: Twilight Princess / Skyward Sword
Smash Bros.
Super Mario Galaxy 2
Muramasa - The Demon Blade
Wario Land: Shake it!
Sonic Colors
and Metroid Prime Trilogy.

I love my WiiU as well, and even though the library still needs expanding, I had tons of fun with:
New Super Mario Bros. U
Darksiders II
Mighty Switch Force: Hyper Drive Edition
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
Pikmin 3
Super Mario 3D World
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Mario Kart 8
Hyrule Warriors
Bayonetta 2
Super Smash Bros. WiiU

And on the Nintendo front, let's not forget the 3DS I've had since early 2014! Like, say:
Super Smash Bros. 3DS
The Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Fire Emblem Awakening
Pokťmon X
Super Mario 3D Land
Bravely Default
Shin Megami Tensei IV
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright
Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies
Crimson Shroud
Code of Princess

Apart from Nintendo, I'm a huge indie game enthousiast. Give me a game like Trine, VVVVVV, Sequence or Recettear, and you've made me a happy camper for sure. You can keep your shooters to yourself.

Favorite indie game round-up:
Trine (+ Trine 2)
Super Meat Boy
The Binding of Isaac
Dungeons of Dredmor
Thomas Was Alone
Mark of the Ninja
Cthulhu Saves the World
Recettear - An Item Shop's Tale
To The Moon
Cave Story
Orcs Must Die! 2
The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom
1001 Spikes
The Swapper
and many, many more!

Besides gaming itself, I like reading up on gaming-related news on my favorite website in the whole wide world: Destructoid. I love all the people here, and I'm glad that I get to be a part of this. Wouldn't know what to do without you!

And it turns out you guys love me too!
I've had some blogs promoted:
- Digital Property: Entering the Third Age
- And posted as The Wombat: 2014: I want to make love to you. Seriously.

MikeyTurvey drew me as an archer:

And Alphadeus wrote me a theme song:
Radiant Umbrae (ShadeOfLight)
Player Profile
Steam ID:http://steamcommunity.com/profiles/76561198005145371/
Wii U code:ShadeOfLight
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Iím liking this recent surge of information on the Cblogs. It's nice to see what kind of little, and not so little, things you can learn about your fellow gamer. So what the hell, time for me to chime in!

Look everyone, it's a phoenix! Oh, and some guy in the background I guess. Not sure what that's about.

1. I donít watch TV, ever.
I donít even have access in either of my regular homes. Thereís simply nothing on TV that I canít watch more easily online and everything else is just crap. The Daily Show, Colbert Report, My Little Pony, I can watch all of those practically in realtime. I donít deal with commercials, godawful people who have gotten famous for literally no reason whatsoever or any of that crap. Instead, I bought a television set to serve as an external monitor for my laptop, and I watch everything I could possibly want on that.

2. I hate giving myself compliments for fear of becoming arrogant
People have told me that this is an ďage thingĒ an ďintelligence thingĒ and even a ďDutch thingĒ. Honestly, Iím starting to think itís just a ďShade thingĒ. My studies are going really well, and Iíve made some nice achievements here and there. I was the top-scoring Law student during my first year (out of about 600 people), and Iím still in the running to graduate Cum Laude at the end of next year. But when people tell me that Iím ďsmartĒ or anything, I just feel like backing down. I feel like an idiot much more often than I feel even remotely smart. I just so happen to like what I do and I work hard for it. That really makes all the difference in the world. Above all though, Iím scared of becoming arrogant. Iíve seen people change once they got it into their heads that they were one step above the rest, and I donít ever want that to happen to me: Iíd absolutely hate myself for it. So while I can fully admit that Iím doing well in my studies, Iím more than a little hesitant to call myself smart or intelligent or whatever. Itís not in my nature to do so, and I donít really want it to be.

I love this shirt. Honestly, I think a little self-deprecating humor is healthy for everyone

3. The word ďflickĒ is awful and should be banned
Yeah, everyone has those one or two words that he just hates with a passion. I hear that ďmoistĒ is a favorite for many. Mine is ďflickĒ, as in the action movies. Damn it. Damn it to punishment and pain eternal. Call it a ďmovieĒ, a ďfilmĒ even, call it ďa series of rapidly changing pictures to give the illusion of movementĒ for all I care, but just for all that is good in this world donít call it a flick. And yes, I know Destructoidís sister site is called Flixist.

4. Hypnosis helps me relax
What can I say? It really does. This will sound weird, but Iíve actually gone through a time where the concept of ďsleepingĒ really bugged me. Trust me on this, you should never think about what actually happens to your body while you sleep. I mean, going into some kind of unconscious state until the morning, and you wonít even know how or when it even happens? Creepy stuff. I have some hypnosis sessions on mp3, however, and itís the most relaxing stuff ever, Iím not even kidding. They can really help me forget about the worries of the day (video games do that to me too, but in a different way somehow) and get me relaxed and ready for sleep in minutes. I donít have any sessions with a manís voice though, because a guy whispering into my ear to lay back and relax creeps me the fuck out.

5. Clumsy is my middle name
And I donít mean clumsy like Bella from Twilight is clumsy. This is not a flaw that is kind of cute when you have finally accepted it. I just break things. Any and all things, everywhere. I canít draw at all and am even worse at arts and crafts. Something, somewhere will always go wrong. Hell, I can barely assemble a piece of Ikea furniture. I trip, I drop things, my balance is terrible, I make even the simplest solutions incredibly convoluted and itís all just completely UGH. If I ever get a job offer as a waiter for December 2012, I'll be sure to turn it down, because I think that is what the Mayans were referring to.
Strangely though, I do consider myself good at video games: Iíve even finished the original Ninja Gaiden and 100%ed Super Meat Boy. So apparently, I am still really skilled with my fingers. (Ladies.)

6. Letís Plays have recently taken up more of my time than actually playing games
Iíve made it a point in #2 that I work hard for my studies. This has been doubly the case in the last few months. Iíve been working on several important essays which really take up quite a bit of time. It doesnít help that academic works often take an half hour of research for writing one sentence. At the end of the day, when Iíve finished all of my work, I just canít bring myself to stay in front of my PC playing a video game. My other option is the Wii, which also isnít all that when youíre tired. So instead, I hook up my laptop to my TV, search through the Letís Play Archive, drop on the couch and watch away.
Iíve actually come into contact with many games that I wish I could play, but canít. I love Muramasa, for example, but I donít have the console to play its predecessor, Odinís Sphere. Letís Plays truly save the day here. Iíve even put a game on my ďmust play before I dieĒ-list, based on what Iíd seen in an LP. Iím hoping that once I have more free time on my hands I can go back to actually playing games again, especially my massive Steam backlog, but for now Iíll settle with a nice night on the couch watching a guy play Super Mario 64 with his feet.

7. When it comes to girls, Iím a walking friend zone
I like girls. That sounds like me trying desperately to convince myself that Iím not gay, but that truly isnít the case. I just so happen to really like talking to girls, more so than guys I would say. I pretty much have more girl-friends than guy-friends too. Only rarely do I meet a woman I dislike, especially if I get a chance to talk to her one-on-one. And it works too: I often get along quite well somehow, despite (or because of?) Iím somewhat overweight and havenít inherited anything like bbainís staggeringly awesome beard. I donít even do anything besides being me and being friendly (both of which I think you should always be regardless) but often it seems to click rather well.
As friends, that is.
For as good as I like to believe I am at generally being friendly and making friends, Iíve never been romantically involved with anyone. Iíve been in love several times for sure, but always ended up in the dreaded friend zone. And as it is written in the story of my life, my gift then instantly becomes my curse.

8. This one is blank
What did I tell you about living by my own rules!?

9. I am currently trying to memorize Edgar Allan Poeís ďThe RavenĒ
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door
ďĎTis some visitorĒ, I muttered, ďtapping at my chamber doorĒ
Only this, and nothing more.

Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

Anyway, you get the point. The first time I read this poem I was absolutely stunned. Iím not much of a guy for literature, and poetry even less so, but I found The Raven to be just completely gorgeous in every way. I can recite the first 9 stanzas (out of 17) pretty consistently. The rest hasnít been that easy yet, since English isnít my first language and there are some pretty obscure words in there. Really now, ďQuaff, oh quaff this kind nepentheĒ? What does that even mean? The point being, I really liked it, and some of Poeís other works as well (be sure to recommend some!). My favorite part is, I think, where the Ravenís name is first asked:

10. Out of all of my friends, only one is a fulltime gamer
Itís true, unfortunately. I have a friend I share all of my gaming-related stuff with. Weíre on Steam together, host co-op sessions, et cetera. All of my other stuff I just saddle onto all of my other friends. They donít seem to mind. A lot of them have played some games in the past, so they can understand what it is that I do. And really, they are getting good at being interested/feigning interest when I talk about ďwhat Iíve been doing all weekĒ.
Still though, I wouldnít trade these guys and girls for the world, but it would be nice if I could get any of them to play Smash Bros with me.

11. Iím actually typing this using Dvorak for the first time
Okay, no Iím not. Thereís some potential in here for sure, but holy crap this is going to take a while to learn.

12. My dream is to become a judge for the European Court of Human Rights (or for a not-even-in-existence-yet Universal Court of Human Rights)
Talk about shooting for the stars, eh?
Nonetheless, Iíve been interested in the law for years and years, but during my actual studies in this field Iíve found that human rights are my true passion. They are, quite simply, the very things that allow us to live the lives that we do, and thatís something very special. Iím writing a thesis right now on whether or not access to the internet should be a human right (my supervisor wouldnít accept ďthe right to visit DestructoidĒ) and stuff like this is what I could see myself doing in god knows how many years. Seeing as how the European Court is the single most successful human rights court in existence that is really what I should be aiming for. I believe I'm getting a feeling for human rights and the law in general, and I'm willing to do all the work it takes, so I don't believe this is impossible in any way. Itís a long ways away, surely, but dreams bring out our full potential, do they not?

Besides, Xenoblade has made it to Europe, so apparently anything is possible.

Yes, that was a set-up just so I could use this picture.
Photo Photo Photo

I've never made it a secret: I love Nintendo. The Legend of Zelda is my favorite series of all time, Mario games are quite simply the best platformers around, and while I don't like the FPS all that much I gladly made an exception for Metroid Prime. I even fondly remember Nintendo's "B-series" such as Star Fox and F-zero. Off course, all of this also means that the Super Smash Bros. series is basically my dream come true, and I have indeed played all three of them to bits.

And yet...
And yet from the very first Smash Bros., there was one character that eluded me. One character I just couldn't quite place.

A character called Ness.

In the following years, I would learn that Ness was from a game called Earthbound, or alternatively, Mother 2. I would keep learning more and more about this character and his game. Earthbound was supposedly an RPG, and the other members of your party were apparently called Paula, Jeff and Poo. Finally, some thing called Giygas was the main antagonist, so I was told.
Until recently, I had left it at that.

However, just a couple of weeks ago I finally managed to find the time to start my own playthrough of Earthbound. I thought that this was way overdue, because based on everything that I had heard throughout the years, Earthbound was going to be right up my alley.

What I got was something that was certainly very interesting, but also one of the most frustrating games I have ever played. Now, before grabbing your pitchfork, please allow me to share my thoughts on this game below, as well as my ideas for simple improvements. Because for all the things wrong with it, there is still a very clever and unique game underneath.

Of Rowdy Mice and Men
The most fundamental shortcoming that this game has absolutely has to be the difficulty. Now, I'm not a person who shies away from difficult games. Throughout my gaming years I've beaten some of the most difficult platformers around, I've beaten Roguelikes with permadeath, and many a Bonus Boss has felt my wrath. Basically, if I tell my friends that I found a game "decently challenging", they interpret it as "this game is hard". When I tell them a game is "unfairly difficult", it translates to them as "avoid like the plague".
Egostroking aside, Earthbound often landed in the latter category for me.

A major example occurs right at the beginning of the game. Ness is tasked with finding the first (of eight) "Your Sanctuary" locations, which in this case is located at the other end of a cave. Unfortunately, this cave just so happens to be crawling with enemies called the Rowdy Mouse. These guys take about two or three hits from Ness' standard attack. This wouldn't be so bad in and of itself, but these mice have a nasty tendency to land critical SMAAAASH!! hits for major damage. In fact, they quite literally land a critical hit almost half the time, while Ness can only survive about three of them. And since you don't have any party members yet, prepare to take massive beating throughout this cave. Luckily, Ness has healing magic, and you can always use items (but will I come back to that later), but even this only gets you so far. You'll be completely worn out by the end of the cave, making you a sitting duck for the boss, who also packs a mean punch.
Really, the only way you can do halfway decently in this dungeon (which I would like to remind you, is the first one in the game), is if the enemies miss a lot, or are kind enough to waste their turns for you.

This man knows what he's talking about

That is not the mark of a good RPG. A good RPG should give you a decent chance to survive if you play it smart and come well prepared. Earthbound doesn't always act like it ever got that memo. To be fair, it gets a little better later on: you have more party members to share the damage, and you are more versatile in your methods of attack.
And yet even then there are still many, many enemies who serve no other purpose than to mess with you. There are lots and lots of creatures who would rather die than let you go without a fresh status ailment. They find it fun to make you "feel strange" (and not in the good way, wink wink nudge nudge) at the beginning of the fight, or make you catch a cold with just about a 100% success rate. Some of these ailments you can heal yourself, but this costs precious PP ("magic") which is relatively limited in this game. Others you can only get healed at a hospital in town, which is even more of a pain. At one point a mushroom-themed foe inflicted an ailment on me that reversed my controls, so I was desperately looking for the hospital while I kept moving in the wrong directions.

Really, there is only one real way to improve upon this, and that is to make the enemies do their regular attacks more often. Any time any enemy uses its special move, people die and controllers are thrown. However, regular attacks are far more survivable. I'm not against status ailments in games, off course not. And many moves in Earthbound fit their delightfully quirky source very well, so it would be a shame to get rid of them completely. But honestly, does that Gigantic Ant really have to poison me every single time I see it? This only serves to make the beginning of the game much harder than it needs to be, and continues to be incredibly annoying throughout the rest. Ness' adventure wouldn't be half as frustrating and twice as fair. So please, can we tone it down just a little? Pretty please?

And while you're at it, can we have more enemies like this?

"Poo, could you carry this for me?"
Another thing that really needs improving is the inventory system. Simply put, your inventory space in this game is much too limited. Earthbound handles its inventory similarly to Golden Sun: every character has a separate inventory which is quite limited in size. In this case however, "quite limited" means that every character can hold a total of 14 items. This includes equipment (four pieces for each character), and key items.
Furthermore, every duplicate item takes up a separate spot in your back-pack. So if you have two hamburgers, instead of one spot which reads "Hamburger x2", each hamburger has its own spot.
Finally, you can buy things like packets of ketchup, which you automatically use when you eat a hamburger or other such food item: they cause you to recover more HP. But off course, these also take up a spot in the inventory. Together, this ensures that your inventory is always full at the worst possible times, and I've had to drop more items than I'm willing to keep track of.

Like I said, this has a very simple solution: simply make the inventory bigger. Making the inventory shared would have my preference, because separate inventories always lead to more trouble than they're worth. This game is absolutely no exception. At the very least install a counter for duplicate items, and allow me to use the packets of ketchup on my hamburgers instead of keeping them around until I eat one.

Silence is golden
Earthbound is known, among others, for its clever and funny dialogue. Rarely will you see a game where talking to random villagers leads to such silly conversations. However, for all its well done NPC's, the main characters rarely say a word. In fact, pretty much all of Poo's dialogue can be summed up as: "Hello Ness, I am joining you." This is really a shame, because it makes you wonder what the developers could've come up with. As it stands, Paula and the others don't have much in the way of characterization, which is unfortunate.

Recent "parody-RPGs" like Cthulhu Saves the World and Penny Arcade Adventures show exactly what you can do when you create funny main characters and have them interact well with each other. With Earthbound being one of the first in this "genre" it is a bit of a missed opportunity here, because it also causes the characters to feel a bit more removed from everything that is happening.
This one is not so easily fixed however, because I can understand that writing good dialogue and create convincing characters can be difficult. However, based on the rest of the story, I think that this dev team could do a really good job.

"Fuzzy Pickles!"
Okay, photograph man? Yeah, you were funny the first time. The first time was 10 hours ago. Please get lost.

Look, if you interrupt my game one more time, I swear I will personally feed you to Pokey

But, the more things (should) change, the more they (should) stay the same
While the above are genuine criticisms that I have while playing Earthbound, I can't help but feel that I'm being a little hard on the game. Sure, less annoying enemies and a better item system would go a long way, but there is much that this game does right.
So the final improvement I would like to suggest for Earthbound 2: stay the way you are. Or become even weirder, if you want. What I'm saying is: "Go all out".

Because honestly, the weirdness and setting are what save this game. They're what's keeping it interesting throughout the experience. While the first part of the game wasn't all that, it quickly picked up after that. So far I've already encountered a hostile circus tent, a religious cult devoted to the color blue, a drug-fuelled version of a major city, a barely functional robot who happens to be a pretty though boss, lethal hieroglyphs, and much more of such silliness. Truth be told, I haven't finished the game yet, and according to word of mouth the ending takes a turn for the creepy (which I love, so bring it on!), but even right now I've already seen enough to justify playing this game.
The NPCs also stand out, from the aforementioned Blue-cult to the perpetually contract-burdened Runaway Five and even just some random people you find around town.
Special mention must also go to Pokey, who I think is actually a pretty effective villain for a game like this. Who better to be a major rival to a child than another child who finds all sorts of creative ways to hurt Ness and his friends?

Pictured: Pokey's biggest fan

So if there is one thing that a (direct) sequel to Earthbound must absolutely keep, it is the quirkiness that made it a cult classic in the first place. If anything, I think gamers could survive an Earthbound 2 that is even sillier than the original. Get some extra meta-jokes in there. Make the main characters funnier. Make me fight guys riding Penny-farthing bicycles who attack by falling on you. Actually, the developers are probably far better at this than I am, but you get the point. It is vital for Mother's survival that the weirdness stay in place, preferably at the center of the experience.
However, we shouldn't go so far as to sacrifice story-telling for being silly. The story that we already have is, at least so far, pretty basic, but it works. It functions as a sort of coat rack for the developers to hang all of their crazy ideas on to. This is something that in my opinion works particularly well and doesn't really need to change either. A little bit more depth might be nice, but nothing else is necessary. There's a nice balance here, and it would be a shame if that got disrupted.
All in all, this game is great at its core, and it would be fantastic of the developers could bring that to the surface even more.

And that sums up my feelings on my first playthrough of Earthbound. There is a great game in here, but unfortunately you have to dig through at times unfair difficulty and several other flaws to get to it. These are all things that I would've liked to see different in Earthbound. But for all the things that have to change, just as many have to stay the way they are, because this is still certainly an interesting and creative game.
Now, I must confess that I don't know if Mother 3 fixed any of these issues: maybe it has, maybe it hasn't. It hasn't been released outside Japan, so I can't really be sure.

Either way, it's safe to say that Earthbound is a game that I won't soon forget. Often for all the right reasons, but sometimes also for the wrong. If there was ever a Mother 2-2, besides breaking the space-time continuum, it could be one of the best RPGs ever made by virtue of its clever setting and story. However, it needs to take the above suggestions to heart to truly become all it can be.

Or alternatively we could just Earthbound-ify Chrono Trigger
Photo Photo Photo

Dear members of the Destructoid community.
As you may or may not recall, about one year ago you purchased your very own ShadeOfLight. The introductory blog dated from the 21st of January 2011, but the ShadeOfLight had already been active for several weeks before that. It had escaped our custody just a while before you actually bought it, and we apologize for any damage it may have caused during this time.
We of SoLcorp believe, based on our continued surveillance of the creature, that you have taken the suggestions we gave back then to heart. It seems that you have done very well in raising it and that it has found it's place here on the site. The ShadeOfLight itself also seems more than content to be here, and since we always have it's best interest in mind, we could not be happier to hear this.
We hope that the feeling is at least partially mutual.
We would like to remind you that the one year warranty is over, so SoLcorp can no longer be held accountable for anything the ShadeOfLight does anyway. It's your problem now, suckers!

But before we go and leave the creature to you permanently, it seems that the ShadeOfLight itself also has some things to say, and we will let it speak below.


So then, enough of that sillyness (that you will only understand if you've read my introduction all the way back in January, and probably not even then).

It seems that just about a year ago, I started visiting this wonderful little site of ours. It doesn't feel as long, that's for sure. I still remember how I came here in the first place. I used to go to IGN to get my gaming news, but they were slowly but surely getting worse. My favorite Nintendo editors left, only to be replaced by people who were just not quite as good. At one point though, IGN decided that I was no longer allowed to visit the US website. It immediately linked me to the UK version (based on my location in Europe, I'd wager), which....sucked. It just sucked. It hardly ever updated, the podcasts were scarce and simply not as good and all in all it just didn't give me the gaming news that I wanted. Surely I shifted sites. I wandered around for a bit, until I noticed at one point that I was increasingly often being linked to Destructoid. I had known for a while that this site existed, but never quite tried to get into it. That was bound to change. I favorited the 'Toid after some time, and quickly came to the conclusion that this site told me everything that I wanted to know. Moreover, it had pretty good original content, a blog section, and a very solid community too boot!
The rest is history. (which is an odd phrase, because everything else I just mentioned is history too....)

Looking back after one year, it is really astounding how much I benefited from becoming a regular toider, in both the material and immaterial sense.

Let's look at the material first. After I had been on the site for just about a month, the Steam Holiday Sale went up. "Wait, what does this have to do with Destructoid?", you ask? Hush, ye impatient one, and let me tell you!
I must admit, I never had any real interest in Steam, so I had previously skipped all news relating to it. I never wanted to take the time to get into it, because I just didn't think it was worth the effort. But here on Destructoid, I saw the error of my ways. When a news article went up showing all of the incredible Holiday deals, I couldn't resist. Super Meat Boy for three bucks, you say? Count me in!
I was an instant convert.
We are now a year later (I'm already psyched for next week), and I now have a Steam account filled with over 50 games (mostly indie ones), all of which I love. I also dragged a friend of mine with me, and we had a tons and tons of fun playing Magicka and Portal 2 together. Seriously though, Steam kicks ass, and I've got the 'Toid to thank for showing me that.

Related to that: Since coming to this site, I've been much better able to keep track of all sorts of interesting games that I wouldn't even have known existed otherwise. This netted me some really cool stuff over time. Again, especially indie games. Let's just take a couple of examples here.
Just last week we saw content related to Dustforce, which seems like a game that was made specifically with me in mind. Nice art, fast platforming gameplay, cute little concept? Done.
The same goes for Owlboy; I'm still keeping track of that too.
Finally, this is a game that I also saw just a little while ago: Of Orcs and Men. I don't know who you are, person who came up with this game, or how you've managed to get into my mind, but I want you to know that I love you. Best concept for a game I've seen in a long time, and I probably would never have heard about it if it wasn't for Destructoid.
And how else but through Destructoid would I have known that there was an RPG out there starring Cthulhu? And that it was coming to Steam (see above) for practically free?

Speaking of free, I can't talk about everything I've gained from Destructoid without mentioning bbain's awesome batches of freeware indie games, can I? From Octodad, which was surprisingly fun(ny), to suteF, which is just all-round amazing, and everything in between, I've downloaded a lot of cool stuff over the past year thanks to that blog series, not to mention those of others.

"Game face" is appropriate in more ways than one

But all of that are just material gains. Ridiculously awesome material gains, but still. I feel that there are other benefits too, which certainly warrant a mention.
I feel like I've become part of a community that, for the most part, is just like I am. Nowhere else have I found a place where the people have such similar interests to mine. For example, when I mention the Baten Kaitos games in any other place, I get blank stares. If I do it here, I'll find at least a couple of people who know and love it too. The same goes for many other titles. I still remember the news story that finally confirmed that I was going to be able to play Xenoblade, just as I remember all the times before it where I couldn't stop mentioning it anywhere I went (and as you can see, I still do).
It's just very nice to be able to be a part of that. Now, I realize that I don't have the name recognition of people like Elsa or Occam's, but that was never the goal. I've earned at least some semblance of a sort of a place among this site and that's just great.
Finding an editor (even though he's not even aware that I exist, story of my life :P) who is both the most likable person ever and often seems to think pretty similar to me (I claim no connection between the two), was a strange thing, but also very welcome.
Holmes is kind of like Kirby; nobody in their right mind could possible hate either one.

I mean, just look at the little guys :D

The community blogs were also a great addition and I frankly didn't really expect that when I first joined the site. There's simply a lot of people here who have interesting stuff to say. And while I don't always agree with everyone, they certainly provide some food for thought. As a law student, my studies encourage me to always form opinions on issues, but only after assessing all of the facts and really thinking carefully about it.Giving your gut feelings is one thing, but really forming your opinion on a matter is quite something else.
That is something that I've often found myself doing while browsing through the blogs, partially to my own surprise. I would sometimes just sit down and say to myself: "Well, what do I think about this?" This could range from simple things like whether or not the FPS is too prevalent nowadays, to much more complex issues like female characterization in games.
I could sit for a long time, staring into nothingness, trying to from my opinion as best I could.
Spoilers: the results of this were mixed. :P

But there are two sides to the Cblogs, the reading part and the writing part. Now, I haven't written all that many blogs here, mostly due to time reasons, but it was nice to see that people seemed to like them when I did write one. They never went frontpage, but I would like to think that that is not the standard by which these things are judged.
What was nice is that several of my blog got topsauced (even the very first one, before I even knew what a 'topsauce' was), and while not the biggest achievement it was nice to see people appreciating what I wrote. It was particularly unexpected that a sappy story about an old strategy guide would resonate with multiple people. Finally, what was very nice was that one of my blogs caught the attention of a 'toider who had just started his own gaming website. He asked me to write original articles (/shameless plug) for his, admittedly new and relatively unknown, site and I've been enjoying that as well.

All in all though, it's amazing what can happen in one year if you find the right place to go, and it seems like Destructoid really is the right place for me. Between a new-found love for Steam, better game-coverage than I ever had and a pretty nice community to boot, 2011 has been pretty alright for me here.
That leaves only this left to say:
Good job and thank you, Destructoid, and I'll be happy to be here for another year (that is, if you'll have me :P).




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For this week's musing, I would like to look beyond a single villain that I liked. Why? Simply because there are too many good ones to name. So instead, I will do things a little different, I'm looking at a certain kind of villain. The Traitor, the one that everybody loves to hate. This blog will obviously contain spoilers, but they are mostly from older games and I will try to warn in advance. Don't worry, I won't stab you in the back on this.

So, mr. Evil McKillington, you have decided to become a villain in a video game. Even though you will most definitely lose in the end, that is a good choice. The villains are usually some of the most memorable characters in the game, and you will surely be remembered fondly. Now then, what type of villain would you like to become? Big Bad? Right hand man of the big bad? Incompetent comic relief underling? Take your pick.
Ah, so you would like to become The Traitor, do you? Interesting.
The Traitor is the character who seems to be helping the heroes throughout most of the game, only to stab them in the back later on. The fact that you build up trust first will ensure that you will be remembered for times to come. Players will hate the Traitor from the depths of their hearts, and they will love doing so. And that is exactly what's so great about this type of villain. Well, mr. McKillington, you have made a wise decision. Become a good Traitor, and your status as a classic villain will be guaranteed.

However, you have to keep in mind that being an effective Traitor is not easy. Slip up once, and the impact may be quickly destroyed. If you don't do it right, you might not be taken seriously, and we wouldn't want that. Fear not though, because as a player of many a story-based game, I can tell you exactly what to do, so that you may be the best Traitor gamers have ever seen.
Here are some guidelines to help you on your way.


1) Shock and awe (and foreshadow)
This is the most basic rule of becoming a memorable Traitor. When it finally turns out that you were evil all along, you want the players to be stunned by the revelation. I know this sounds straightforward, but you would be surprised by how many characters forget this rule. Some characters make it so obviously clear that they are actually evil, that no one will be shocked by it anymore. For example, many characters still believe that they can be a Chancellor or an advisor to the king, and expect it to be a shock when they turn out to be evil. However, gamers have long since realized that there is no such thing as a "good" advisor. It just doesn't work.
But then, look at Chancellor Cole, from The Legend of Zelda Spirit Tracks:

Yeah, he's not fooling anyone

Clearly, that is a guy who could use a healthy dose of subtlety.

However, there is one thing you should remember. Before you bust out your "I'm a friend to all living creatures" T-shirt, you should know that you can in fact be too subtle. How is that?
Quite simple really: if you become too nice and too helpful throughout the entire game, people simple will not believe you anymore when you turn out to be evil. They will feel that this plottwist is conveluted and makes no sense, and that your betrayal simply isn't credible. This will be a major strike against any Traitor, so make sure that you don't fall into this trap. An example of a game that clearly did fall into this trap is Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn. In this game there was a character who was quite literally the nicest guy in the game. He was a monk, and therefore inherently peaceful, and he went out of his way to help you in any way he could. In short, there was no way on earth that he could be evil. So when it turned out that he was, it just fell flat. His betrayal wasn't credible at all. He was just.too.nice.

To avoid this, you should use foreshadowing. In the correct dosage, foreshadowing can greatly help your cause, and it is advised that you invest in this vital aspect of your character.
Mysteriously mutter to yourself and respond "Oh, it's nothing" when your fellow travelers ask you what's up. Disappear without a trace every once in a while (but make sure to come back with useful information for the heroes, to keep their trust up). Have certain clear character flaws. There are many things that you can use, as long as you're creative enough.
Just make sure that your betrayal is believable in any way you can.
Basically, what you want is that it "all falls into place" for the players at the end. Everything just has to make sense all of a sudden. When they replay your game, make sure that they can catch the subtle hints that they missed the first time. That is the mark of a great Traitor.

In short, what you should remember is this: Make sure that your betrayal is credible, but have the shock be incredible.
This is a difficult balance, but if you manage to do it right, you're well on your way to greatness.

2) "Just brainwashed" is a no-go
This will be a brief one, and it ties in to #1. If you're going to be evil, just be evil. The "just brainwashed" clichť is already well known, and it just takes away the impact from your acts. Don't worry, you can still become good again after a while, if you want. Just become good again because you have seen the error of your ways Make it matter! The brainwashing is just an excuse to make you do evil things without the consequences. You don't want that, you want everything you do to have meaning. Only then will you become a memorable Traitor.
I'm looking at you, Kain.

Remember kids: Winners don't use brainwashing!

3) Make it personal
A more or less random person can make a good traitor. But what really makes a betrayal work, is if the Traitor in question is able to make it personal. Are you the best friend of the main character? Have you raised one of the heroes from birth? Or did you simply save the life of the hero's love interest? If so, you are in a fantastic position. Not only will you be one of the last people that gamers will suspect of being evil (see #1), changing sides ensures that you'll really hurt the heroes on an emotional level. They thought that they could trust you, that you would never do something like that, but they were horribly mistaken. Taunt the heroes a bit for good measure, really rub your evilness in their faces.

Evil as you are, you will love the look on their faces once they realize you're not kidding, trust me.

Clearly the work of a true master

But obviously, you're doing all of this to leave a lasting impression on the gamers. Still, this remains a vital piece of advice. The reason is clear.
If the game you're in is any good, then the players should be completely immersed in the story. They will be relating to the heroes very strongly. This can be exploited.
If you hurt the heroes, chances are that the gamers will feel it too. You will instantly become "the guy to kill" to anyone who cares about the game's story, and this is exactly what you want.
If the gamers want you dead beyond all else, you have made it as the Traitor. You have cemented your position in the game, and these people will remember you for years to come. They will hate you, yes, but they will love doing so. That, right there, is exactly what you should be going for. And if you really do it right, even the main antagonist will have to bow before your treacherous ways.
Look at Tales of Symphonia. Who was the best villain in that game? It certainly wasn't the Big Bad, and you know it!

4) Go from great asset to even greater threat
In a way, rule #4 ties into to the previous one. When you become the Traitor, everything is about hurting the player as much as you can. This is the best way to be a memorable villain. Look at Sephiroth, one of the most famous villains ever. How did he become so big? Why, he killed Aeris, off course, and gamers hated him for it. He hurt them on a whole new level.
You, as the Traitor of the game, have this opportunity as well, and there is only one thing that you have to do.

Be an asset to the team while you're still 'good'.
If you are one of the best fighters in the hero party, it will physically hurt to see you go. Not only are the heroes now robbed of one of their most valued people, they have gained a powerful enemy as well. You will deal two strikes at once. If the player thinks "My god, I wish this guy was back on my team" when he's finally fighting you, you have done incredibly well. In contrast, if you were not of any use while you were still good, then the player most likely will not care when you leave. He or she knows that there are much better fighters still on the side of good, and (s)he know that you are going to be incredibly easy to kill. Memorable, this is not.
You can still save it, a little bit, by giving some vital piece of information to the Big Bad, but that will only get you so far. Let's look at someone, a guy from Final Fantasy VII, who made this mistake.

Look at the little guy. Could you ever see him as a credible threat? He's a little cat doll riding a somewhat larger Moogle doll, for crying out loud!
Hardly anyone ever used Cait Sith in their main party, because he was simply outclassed. Even if you desperately wanted a cat in your party, you could always go for Red XIII, who was a lion with a flaming tail, and therefore awesome. So, this guy usually stood on the sidelines during most of the game. It turns out, as should be obvious by now, that he betrays you. But did anyone really care? Not really, because what was Cait Sith going to do? Throw furballs at us? Seymour also failed hilariously in Final Fantasy X, where he would keep coming back over and over again, only to be beaten instantly. Besides that, he barely had more subtlety than Chancellor Cole.

No, you don't want this to happen to you. When you leave, you want both the heroes and player to physically feel it. So buff up, learn magic and just allround kick butt wherever you can. And when the player finally feels like he has a great party with you in it, leave. Just like that, leave the party and watch the player try to fill up that tremendous void that you left. After that, watch them try to fight you and fail hilariously.
They will hate you for this, and again, that is exactly what you want.

And last but not least: 5) Die well
What you do need to understand, however, is that you will not survive. You can't. You want to become the villain in a video game, and that means that inevitably you will die. It might be in this game, or you may get lucky and come back in the sequel. At any rate, at one point you are going to die for real. Yet, this is not a moment for sadness. It is actually quite the opposite, your death is your chance to really hit it home. If you pull off a good death scene, nothing will get the gamer's minds off you for a very long time. If you want gamers to remember your name in 10 years, your death may be vital.

There are a couple of ways to go about this, but first and foremost:
Try to get killed by the one you hurt the most. Were you the main character's best friend? Make sure that it is him who kills you. Did you kill the boyfriend of a sidecharacter? Have her do it. You can come up with many other scenarios yourself. A karmic death can really work wonders.

She may be just a computer, but she betrayed me and she.is.going.DOWN!

You want this because it provides a great deal of closure for everyone involved. Again, if the player is engaged in the story, nothing will feel better than to end you once and for all with the character that has the most reason to do so. All that hatred that you build up towards you over the course of the game, will instantly turn into a sense of victory and satisfaction. Of course, you shouldn't die just like that, you have to die after you provide an epic bossfight. Get yourself a cool location and an incredible boss-theme, and you're ready to go. No one will remember you if you unceremoniously die for no reason, because that is nowhere near as satisfying. So do it right and craft your death carefully.

What you could also do is to turn good again at the very last minute. Although this may be a bit harder to pull off, the rewards for success are more than worth it.
Just before you die, monologue about how blind you have been, about how the heroes were always in the right. Then, at the very last moment, save the heroes by sacrificing yourself. Stay behind to disarm a bomb, tackle the Big Bad into the lava, just be creative about this in any way you can.
The added benefit to this approach is that you will keep the players guessing.
"Was he really that evil?" will be the title of many a topic on the fanforums. Players will be discussing your character long after you have passed, and this is a great way to go. If you really pull this approach off well, people may even start to sympathize with you. They will wonder whether you may have had a good reason to betray them, if you maybe had a point somewhere. You will have both the villain creds, and the hero's. That really is the best that you could ask for. Just be sure that you explain yourself well, and don't turn good again for no reason (remember #2). Your transition has to make sense, just like it did when you turned evil in the first place.

Done well, any death scene can keep you memorable for a long time. So by all means, go all out. You have nothing left to lose, so have your death be the greatest that it can possibly be!


And that's it. These are the most important guidelines that I can give you if you want to become an effective and memorable Traitor. Who wants to be the main antagonist anyway, when your deception can net you just as many fans? Do it well, and you will be the talk of the internet.
You have made an excellent choice, and I wish you all the best. I hope I will be able to love to hate you in whatever game you decide to appear.
You are now ready to join the real world of Traitors. Go out there, and make us proud.

what are you doing with that knife?...

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There are lots of games out there that make you feel like the star of an action movie. In fact, let's not beat around the bush, most games nowadays attempt to make you feel like that. From Uncharted to Modern Warfare to Gears of War, the list is practically endless. All of these games have one thing in common: you are cast as the hero of this actionmovie-like plot.
But what about the action movie underdogs, the guys on the sidelines who make all the heroics possible? Don't they deserve some love too?
Who, you may ask? I am referring, off course, to the hackers. The lovable geeky guys sitting at their computers, disabling security systems, stealing money and just all-round being wizards of technology. What would an action star be without his trusty 'wizzkid' sidekick? Still awesome, yes, but probably much less effective.
I hope that you're asking yourself right now why there isn't a game that puts you in role of one of these amazing people. Because I can answer that right away: there is.

It is called Hacker Evolution, but it seems to be a very niche little game; I've never seen it mentioned on Destructoid, and that's saying something. It's quite good though, if you open up to it.

Like I said, Hacker Evolution (and it's sequels, subtitled Untold and Duality) is a game in which you play an action movie hacker, and I do emphasize the 'action movie' part. This game probably doesn't have anything to do with real life hacking, but more with the hollywood type. Think Swordfish, not Geohotz.
You could also think Ed, but then you'd be way off.

Pictured: hacking

This is also an independent game, made by just a couple of people, so it can come across as a bit of a basic experience. But what it does, it does really well.
At its core, Hacker is a puzzle game, with a hint of strategy. When you start a level you're given several missions that you have to complete in order to progress. These missions range from "retrieve the stolen file", to "find the person who hacked into our system", and you'll even see things like "hack into the core server and disable the security". Before you can do all of this, however, you have to find the right servers. It would be kind of hard to retrieve a file if you don't know which server hosts it. To find out where the servers are that you need, you have to hack into the ones you can already see. Once you've done that, you can look through all the files hosted their to find clues towards your next location.

Let me give a short example. Let's say that someone stole the file 'jimsterling.ai' (because we all know that there is no way that that guy is a real person) from the dtoid.com server. You don't know who has it yet.
So first, you'll have to hack into dtoid.com, either through a password, an exploit program, or by good old-fashioned crack. Once in, you find a activity.log file, which shows who was given access on the day of theft. Sure enough, you find that an incoming connection request was granted just before the file was stolen, and you can see that it came from the dastardly people at the server kotaku.com. Now that you know who stole the file, there is only one thing left to do: you scan for the server in question and you hack the crap out of it!

I find that the basic gameplay in Hacker was original and well done. It's supposedly a bit slower-paced than the more well-known Uplink, but I think the 'detective' elements in this game really have their charm. Progression isn't always as logical as the above example (you'll find some files on servers that have no reason to have them at all), but all in all it was well done. There is a bit of a story, but that really doesn't play a large role and the ending comes absolutely out of nowhere and makes no sense at all. But things like that are quickly forgiven.

It's much more fun than it looks, trust me.

Because what Hacker really does incredibly well, is presentation and immersion. Everything is this game was tailor-made to give you that authentic hollywood hacker feeling. This is something that is really difficult to explain in text, you should really feel this for yourself. The game can be completely controlled by typing everything you need in the command console. "crack", "exec", "scan": these are all commands that you will use a bunch throughout the game. I find that this really helps to get you immersed in what you are doing. Never in any game have you been this close to the game. You're not controlling anyone, you're not clicking on stuff to cause it to move; you're hacking. You, personally, are doing everything throughout the entire game. I've never experienced anything quite like it, and Hacker deserves huge credit for this. You could even be forgiven for forgetting, if just for a moment, that you're playing a game in the first place.
If you can type quickly, it gets even better, because you will instantly feel like the guys you see in the movies.
Take it from me, sitting at your pc and typing "exec shade.exploit dtoid.com 199" feels surprisingly good and completely "legit". Again, if you want to feel what it's like to be the hacker sidekick in any action movie, give this game a spin.

Besides the basic controls, there are many other things that contribute to the great presentation.
- First of all, every time you try to hack something, people will try to trace you. You're given both a timer that shows you how long until your hack is finished, as well as a visual representation of the tracing. It can be very nervewracking as you're watching both of these counters race for the 0.00. Often, your hacks will be complete literally just a fraction of a second before you can be traced, and I've let out more than a few audible sighs because of that fact. It really makes a game which is usually quite slow paced incredibly intense for a little while.
- Secondly, you also have to manage your pc setup in the game. Transferring money from the servers you hack into can buy you some nice equipment. Pimping your setup with extra CPU or a better firewall can make things a lot easier, although money is scarce, so you'll have to make educated choices.
- Finally, the music is exactly like something you'd imagine a hacker to have on while conducting his business. The upbeat electronic music, performed by a guy named DJ Velocity, really sucks you in from the get go, and the fact that there is an in-game mediaplayer which cycles the OST songs just gives it that extra bit authenticity. Again, this is your pc, and you're doing everything in this game personally.

Long story short, Hacker is not at all like this crap.

Unfortunately, it's easy to see why Hacker never really took off. It's just an incredibly hard sell. This is not an actionpacked game and if you just look at screens and videos, it will look like the most boring stuff ever. It's only when you start playing for yourself that you start to see its charm. And charm it has.

I personally got immediately sucked in when I played the demo (oh, yes, there is a demo by the way). The incredibly direct interface, the hollywood hacker feel, playing detective by searching for clues in uncovered files, everything together made it a really memorable experience for me. Obviously, I bought it not long after (in fact, I bought the Hacker Evolution + Hacker Evolution Untold pack for double the hacking goodness). Both games feature extra content in the form of free DLC, and they include mod editors, so you can download levels made by other fans or make your own if you're so inclined.

However, the puzzle elements and the slow pace, i.e. thinking every step through, might turn some people off, while others might be put off by the concept from the very start. If you never wanted a hacking simulator, then this game is obviously not for you. You won't be shooting stuff, let that be clear. But if we take all of the above people out of the equation, how many are left? Not a lot, I fear.
It's clear that this game fills a niche, one that is admittedly not very large. But if you, like me, do belong in that niche, then you would be doing yourself a disservice by not checking this unique but under-appreciated game out.

In this level you hack street lights to turn red while you're speeding away. Other games feature the car chase, this one offers the other perspective.
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(This is a blog to combine two things: my love for indie games and my love for video game soundtracks. Expect to find more than a few examples of both below. Also, I would like to state in advance that I'm in no way an expert on music, as you can probably tell from my selections. I don't know all that much about music, I simply know what I like. Every entry will contain examples from each OST, and I will finish each by listing my personal favorite song, so that you can tell me that I have horrible taste :P)

It is no secret that I love me some video game soundtracks, and I think I'm not alone. Luckily, it's never difficult to find some nice earcandy, since the majority of big-budget AAA-games nowadays feature some really good music. No one will be surprised if I say that Super Mario Galaxy had good music. Or Final Fantasy XIII. Or Mass Effect 2. Or...well, you can go on forever.
That's why I have decided to give some credit to a couple of OSTs you wouldn't normally expect to see in a Top 5 list. With all of the games below, I found myself saying something along the lines of: "Wait....I didn't know the music in this game was this good". In a sense, these soundtracks are just too good for the games that feature them. Now, I don't mean that these games are bad in any way, far from it. What I mean is that most of the OSTs would fit very well in a major full-price release, yet are featured in a much smaller and less mainstream game. They are simply much better than you would expect when you first boot up the game. They make you wonder where the developers found the money to hire these composers. But off course, we're all glad that they did. I hope you will agree with me when you are done with the list.

5) Breath of Death VII / Cthulhu Saves the World - Gordon McNeil (and others for BoD)

We start with a recent (well, sortof) addition. Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World come in a pack, with BoD being a 'bonus' game to the main attraction that is CStW. This also shows in the music. While Breath of Death has some pretty decent music overall (the Battle theme is pretty cool), the music in Cthulhu is just much more polished, varied and, well...better. You will likely never hear the Menu Theme in full, but it's worth a listen. Besides that, there are some great dungeon themes as well. The music for the Factory Dungeon manages to be new and interesting while also paying tribute to that other factory-themed dungeon. One of the towns you visit later in the game sports a really cool jazzy track, and who can forget "Hey there, Cthulhu" from the trailer?
It's really a shame that you'll rarely hear any of the themes in full while playing the game. When you get into a battle, the normal music stops in favor of the battle theme, and when the fight is over the dungeon theme will start over from the beginning. Overall though, a good OST that captures that 16-bit RPG feel quite well. And since Cthulhu Saves the World is a parody RPG of "only" around 10 hours, that's saying something. Considering that both of these games were made by just about two people, you have to wonder why they didn't go for something simpler to save time and money. Instead, we got a soundtrack that an RPG can be proud of.
Oh, and did I mention you can get it for free from the creators' website? Because you totally can.

Shade's favorite track:
Conquer the Fire - Fire Dungeon theme

4) Shatter - Jeramiah Ross AKA Module

This is not the first time I've mentioned the soundtrack of Shatter, nor will it be the last. This OST is about as far removed from the above entry as possible, but I still enjoyed it a lot. Shatter features an electronic rock, almost Chiptune-esque, soundtrack of almost 1,5 hours. The tracks are pretty long, over 6 minutes of original music for every one, unlooped, and there is one for every level. But first and foremost, these songs are just incredibly catchy. Play the game for half an hour, have the songs stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Luckily, they are all enjoyable in their own right. The trailer featured Neon Mines, which in itself influenced me to buy this game. Other than that, basically every song is good in its own special way. Amethyst Caverns, for example is just...weird, but still oddly enjoyable. Kinetic Harvest will have your head bobbing like never before, and the credits are easy to sit through when Homelands is playing.
But the main reason I would describe this OST as too good for its game? Shatter is a Break-out game. Sure, it's one of the most pimped out versions you will ever see, but at the core it's still Break-out. And in this relatively simple game, you are treated to the electronic goodness that is the Shatter OST.

Shade's favorite track:
Krypton Garden

3) Magicka - Johan Lindgren

If you're a cynic, you could describe Magicka's OST as "generically epic". Many tracks are heavy on the chanting, and all the songs simply sound "big". If you're not a cynic, you will find this soundtrack very enjoyable, especially for such a decidedly silly game. In fact, when I was playing co-op with a friend, we had to interrupt our goblin-slaughtering throughout multiple levels to send each other a quick message; "kick-ass theme!". Magicka starts off calm enough, with the cleverly titled menu theme Idle Browsing. It clearly picks up towards the end, possibly as a prelude to the epicness that is yet to come. A couple of levels in, you will come to understand exactly where this game is headed: while riding an airship (and fireballing everything that moves) you are treated to Airship Ride. But after that, they really turn up the epic. Songs like Battle of the Wizards and The King in Yellow tell you in no uncertain terms that what you're doing is huge. And again, this for a parody game made by a small studio.
Finally, while most of the tracks are going the "epic" route, the developers are not above some humor in their songs. Even though it isn't in the game itself, the official song The Gamer and Magicka is a funny selfaware stab at some of the responses to the game. The developers released it at the same time as the spell "Crash to Desktop", which was free DLC to make up for the bugs and crashes in the early builds.
Overall, it may be too standard for some, but I enjoyed this OST a lot.
Oh, and did I mention you can get it for free from the creators' website? Because you totally can.

Shade's favorite track:
At World's End

2) Super Meat Boy - Danny Baranowsky

You know this one. Off course you do. It's been almost impossible to miss Super Meat Boy during the past year, and it's one of the best platformers in a while. Notoriously difficult but rarely unfair, this simple game of run, jump and don't die is something the two developers can be proud of. But you knew all that. Did you also know its soundtrack is actually really good as well?
The main attraction here is that every world as its own distinct theme. Actually though, it goes beyond that. Every world does not just have a unique song, each world has three. One version of the song will play during the "Light" stages, a darker song will play during "Dark" stages and an 8-bit version will play during special retro-themed Warp levels.
For example, compare Forest Funk (light) with Ballad of the Burning Squirrel (dark) with Forest Funk RETRO (warp).
Apart from the level themes, from which I would still like to mention Rocket Rider (world 3, dark), all of the boss themes are well worth a listen. Like Magicka, this OST knows where to find its epic. Carmeaty Burana, the final boss theme, has it in spades. (If you hadn't noticed by now, I'm a sucker for that)
Finally, in a really clever move, all of the level themes are combined in the Credits Theme. I found this to be a great way to create a credits theme, as it subtly reminds you of everything you've been through to get there.
For a game consisting of what I'd almost call "microlevels", about a blob of meat running and jumping to save his girlfriend, this soundtrack goes way beyond the call of duty to deliver us players something memorable. Conclusion? It succeeded.

Shade's favorite track:
The Battle of Lil' Slugger

1) Anything by Ari Pulkkinen - Ari Pulkkinen, obviously

Will you believe me if I say that Ari Pulkkinen is actually one of the single most listened to composers in video games? He is, really. Do you know what he made? He made the OST of Angry Birds.
But that is not what I wanted to talk about, because he has done much more and better work. (although honestly the Angry Birds Halloween Theme is not half bad)
No, Pulkkinen has worked on several other games as well, almost all of them smaller downloadable titles. His most notable work was with Frozenbyte Studios, where he made the soundtracks to Shadowgrounds and Trine.

Shadowgrounds as a game is just about as simple as it gets. Aliens are trying to kill you, but you have a gun. It's an overhead shooter with a few hooks here and there, and certainly fun, but otherwise straightforward. One thing that does stand out, off course, is it's music. The Main Theme, first of all, would not be out of place in a major science fiction movie. For a small part, the OST consists of some atmospheric tunes. But it is only when you enter a major battle that the music really starts to flare up. The volume cranks up, guitars kick in and the whole thing just makes you want to kick some alien butt. Mech the Destroyer is a great example. As is the appropriately titles I Need a Minigun. Even though the quieter stuff is pretty good, tracks like these were the highlight for me.
Fun fact: the guitar parts of these songs were actually performed by Amen, the guitarist of the Finnish heavy metal monster band Lordi. Lordi happens to be one of my favorite bands, so perhaps it's not surprising that I liked the Shadowgrounds soundtrack as much as I did. How such a small dev team, especially back when this game released, managed to score both such a good composer and a famous (well, at least in Finland) guitarist boggles the mind, but it clearly paid off.

However, Trine is the game that you are likely to be more familiar with and is the polar opposite of Shadowgrounds. In stark contrast to that game, the music in Trine is actually quite subtle. It's almost hard to believe that they were made by the same person, and Pulkkinen deserves more than a little credit for that.
While I titled this blog "soundtracks too good for their games", I am hesitant to apply this to Trine, because the music just fits the game so incredibly well. However, I never expected that this entire OST would end up in my list of favorites along the likes of Mario Galaxy and Brawl, so I believe it's justified.
This game was made to give the player that special feeling of wonder, that "wow"-factor of staring at something gorgeous, and you can tell that the music was made to enhance this. The tracks are all quite soothing and blend with the game's environments beautifully. That alone is a great achievement.
But personally, I think these tracks are also very nice to listen to on their own. Special mention goes to Academy Hallways, which is actually one of the first levels you visit. Interestingly, one of the most minimalistic songs from the soundtrack is also one of the most beautiful: Crystal Caverns. Finally, Tower of Sarek stands out from the rest, because it's the only one that is a little faster. In that level you are being chased, and the music reflects that while somehow still keeping that sense of awe.
Overall, the music in Trine can be subtle, even hard to notice while playing the game, but it is definitely worthwhile to take the time to just sit there and listen.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to play the other games Ari Pulkkinen has worked on, such as Super Stardust HD and Outland. However, if tracks such as this and this one are anything to go by, he has not lost his touch, nor his variety. Things are certainly looking good for the upcoming Trine 2 with this man in charge of the OST.

Shade's favorite track:
Final Round (Shadowgrounds)
Main Theme (Trine)
(but honestly? The entirety of the Trine OST)

And I hereby swear that none of the blogs I will ever write from here on out will contain this many links. I just love to share the things I like, is all. :D
I hope you clicked some of them and found something you could enjoy. If I have inspired anyone to look up these soundtracks, bonus points to me. I'm here to pay tribute to those guys who may be overshadowed by big-budget titles. I was pleasantly surprised by all of their work, and I wish to hear more from them in the future.

It's going to be worth it.
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