Scribblenauts, a review (?)

Wednesday, 16 September, 2009
Art from the delightful Scribblenauts

Art from the delightful "Scribblenauts"

I have been following Scribblenauts since I first heard about it some time back.  It was a game with an interesting concept: think of something you need to accomplish your goal, type it in, and voila!, there it was for you to use (or abuse).  It was a big hit at E3 2009!

The game released yesterday, and I knew I had to get it.  It really had been some time since I even bought myself a new game, DS or otherwise.  I picked it up, and happily brought it home to play.

Scribblenauts really is a joy to play.  It’s very hard to even get past the game’s title screen, as it is basically just an open level for you to test words in.  Also, the main character, Maxwell, is invulnerable on that screen.  That means you can summon any number of murderers and monsters to play around with, and there are penalties!

The game itself is comprised of 200 levels.  Ten different worlds have twenty levels each, ten of which are puzzle-based, while the other ten are action-based.  Each sub-level has you competing a certain task to give Maxwell access to the treasure within, a small star called a Starite.

The first of the puzzle levels shows a Starite in a tree, and lets you try to solve how to get it down.  Maxwell could call a lumberjack, and summon him an axe, or even summon a beaver to gnaw the tree down.  You are rewarded merits for the different ways you solve the puzzles.

In one of the action-based levels, you are confronted with a little girl, a house, and a cat on the roof.  You are told to reunite the girl and the cat.  In my case, I used a fire to burn the house to the ground.  The cat got scared when the house started burning, and ran to the girl.

Scribblenauts really allows you to use your imagination.  If you can think of it, you can probably do it.  The game, though great, is not without it’s flaws, though.  One big thing is control.  Maxwell is totally controlled by the stylus.  This means, unless you are controlling an item you summoned, Maxwell will follow the stylus where ever it goes.  This can be problematic in some of the trickier puzzles.

Another (tiny) flaw is the lack of interaction you’d expect out of some items.  That, or they don’t react to one another as you hope they should.  I’ve run across it a few times (thought I can’t remember any specifics, and will update this when I do) and it can be annoying.

All-in-all you can do basically whatever you want, though.  Especially with the sandbox-style title screen.  Want to watch God beat on the Devil?  Done!  Want to fight a Vampire holding a flamethrower riding a giraffe?  Done!  I am completely thrilled that it even has the local Lake Champlain monster “Champ” in it!!  So I definitely recommend the game, even if just for the fun you can have without starting it up!  Though you should!

Advertisements

New Super Mario Bros. Wii

Saturday, 6 June, 2009

NEWSuperMarioBrosWiiTitle

Earlier this week the HUGE gaming conference, E3, took place here in the US.  Among the announcements by Nintendo was a game that is essentially a Wii upgrade of a DS classic: New Super Mario Bros.  For those who don’t know, New Super Mario Bros. is a game that hearkens back to the roots of a Mario side-scrolling adventure.

This new-ish title uses similar graphics, but, on a larger scale.  It also allows for four-player simultaneous play on the Wii.  Mario and Luigi are joined by two toads of different colors–one yellow, and one blue. Yoshis were also added to the game play, something that has been lacking in Mario’s recent adventures.

All four characters enter the stage, and play through at their own pace.  The Wii allows this by scrolling the screen outwards, as the characters separate from each other.  Each player can play to help the others, or for their own ends, by grabbing coins and power-ups before anyone else has a chance.

Two power-ups have been added to the repretoire, including the Propeller Suit, which allows a gain in jumping abilities–and a slowed decent, and the Penguin Suit, which allows the wearer to slide along icy pathways and shoot frozen Ice Balls at foes (similar to how a Fire Flower allows you to throw Fire Balls).

The Propeller Suit in use by the Toads, and Luigi

The Propeller Suit in use by the Toads, and Luigi.

Mario sliding along in the Penguin Suit.  The Yellow Toad is shooting Ice Balls,

Mario sliding along in the Penguin Suit. The Yellow Toad is shooting Ice Balls.

Also, making another return to the series–since appearing in Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga–are, at least two, of Bowser’s Koopalings.  Screenshots exist showing Morton Koopa Jr.  Larry Koopa was mentioned in a report on the game.  Here’s hoping that all seven show up.

This next generation console release of something akin to Mario’s roots is pretty exciting.  Sure, some of the graphics are recycled–but revamped.  It’s a very exciting prospect to be playing a 2D Mario platform game, again.  New Mario Bros. Wii has a vague release date of Holiday 2009!


Drawn from Japanese Myth: Pokémon Edition

Sunday, 5 April, 2009

Being a big fan of Japanese popular culture as I am, it’s hard not to have some aspects of it worm its way into your heart.  In this case, I am talking about Pocket Monsters, known in America as Pokémon–that’s Poke Ay Mon, a very Japanese contraction of two words.  They’ve found a soft spot in me, and burrowed inside.  I just can’t seem to shake them.  Then again, I am not really trying to.

I know that the games, here in the States especially, are seen as something for children.  In Japan, children aren’t the only audience that the game appeals to.  Adults, like myself, play the games and watch the animé as well as children.  I spent a good part of my teen years enjoying the collecting/battling aspects that the games offer.  Even now, as I am pushing 30,  I still enjoy them as much as I did.

This blog isn’t meant to be a rambling about my obsession with Japan’s popular culture.  I have tried many times to write that particular chestnut.  I can’t seem to get it to come out right.  No, this blog is about creatures from Japanese Myth that have made their mark on the roster of Pokémon.  There are 493 of the suckers right now, so this writing will only include those that are better known.

Jynx/Yama-uba

The Human Shape Pokémon

The Human Shape Pokémon

I am starting with a Pokémon that has caused a lot of ruckus here in the US.  When she was originally shown in-game, Jynx had a black face.  This, of course, drew comparison to the infamous black-face characters in our past.  In Japan, though, her black face signified the popular ganguro (literally face black in Japanese)–young girls would tan extensively and dye their hair blonde– style that was popular at the time.  Jynx, ghowever, was based on the spirit 山姥 —Yama-uba (mountain crone in Japanese).  The Yama-uba was said to inhabit the forests and mountains of Japan.  She was clad in a kimono which was often depicted as red, and her hair was said to be golden-white.  As far as similarities go, though, they do end there.  Jynx has a little in common with the 雪女–Yuki-onna (snow woman in Japanese), mostly being that she is of the Ice-type.  There is another Pokémon that shares traits with that spirit, and that will be covered next.

Froslass/Yuki-onna

Froslass the Snow Land Pokémon

Froslass the Snow Land Pokémon

Froslass has more in common with the Yuki-onna than Jynx does.  She (yes, Froslass is female, too) is an Ice/Ghost-type Pokémon.  Since Yuki-onna is a spirit, it is fitting that Froslass has the Ghost-type.  The Yuki-onna legend says that the spirit is someone who perished in the snow, hence the affiliation with snow storms.  Like the Yuki-onna, Froslass floats.  Neither have any feet–or, the Yuki-onna doesn’t in many depections.  As far as behavioral similarities, the Pokémon games cannot have a spirit go around killing, there aren’t many.  Though sometimes the Yuki-onna is depicted as having a child with her.  In Froslass’ case, she evolves from a lower form called Snorunt who is also based on a spirit of legend.

Ninetales/Kitsune

Nintales the Fox Pokémon

Nintales the Fox Pokémon

Nintales is based on the Japanese legend of the 九尾の狐Kyuu o no kitsune (nine-tailed fox in Japanese).  The nine-tailed fox is said to be golden or silver in color due to it’s advanced age.  In Japanese myth, many tailed foxes are said to be able to breathe fire, as Ninetales can do being the Fire-type.  Nine-tailed foxes are supposed to be trickster spirits, as well.  This leads the Ninetails being able to use Ghost-type moves that are generally tricky to it’s foes.  The nine-tailed fox is vengeful, which is reflected in Ninetales’ original Pokédex entry:

Very smart and very vengeful. Grabbing one of its many tails could result in a 1000-year curse.

Mawile/Futakuchi-onna

Mawile the Deceiver Pokémon

Mawile the Deceiver Pokémon

Mawile is one of my favorites on this list.  It is based on the 二口女Futakuchi-onna (two-mouthed woman in Japanese).  Now Mawile isn’t strictly female all the time like Jynx and Froslass.  There are depctions of male Futakuchi-onna like spirits in Japanese myth.  Mawile’s main similarity to the Futakuchi-onna is it’s second mouth on the back of it’s head.  This mouth is remniscent of hair because Futakuchi-onna’s second mouth is located deep within it’s hair on the back of the skull.  In Mawile’s case, though, this mouth is said to have grown from horns.  This “mouth” lets Mawile learn some mouth-based attacks like Bite, Crunch, Ice Fang and Poison Fang.  The Futakuchi-onna’s second mouth was said to have appeared due to how little a woman eats.  That’s what this mouth does.  Eats someone–who was unfortunate enough to marry one without knowing–out of house and home.  It’s also said, though, that this second mouth appears on someone who does not speak their mind, and will do so for them.

Electabuzz/Oni

Electabuzz the Electric Pokémon

Electabuzz the Electric Pokémon

Oni (a Japanese word that has come to mean demon) are classic creatures found in all manner of Japanese folktales.  Comparing Electabuzz to an Oni is fairly easy.  Though most Oni mentioned in stories are blue- or red-skinned, most of them are depicted as wearing a tiger-skin loincloth of some type.  Classic Oni are sometimes shown to have an affiliation with electricity in the form of lightning storms, hence Electabuzz’s Electric-typing.  Like the Oni that it bears a certain resemblence to, Electabuzz can be fierce.  But, as with Oni, Electabuzz can also be protective, as well.

Dunsparce/Tsuchinoko

Dunsparce the Land Snake Pokémon

Dunsparce the Land Snake Pokémon

Dunsparce is an interesting looking creature that is very Japanese in origin.  It is based on the 槌の子Tsuchinoko (Japanese for hitter or striker), a snake-like creature that has a larger central girth than it’s head or tail.  The Tsuchinolo is said to be very poisonous (Dunsparce is not), but, it is also a creature that would rather flee, than fight.  This is evident in one of Dunsparce’s inherent abilities: Run Away.  This allows Dunsparce to flee wild battles.  Tsuchinoko can also roll itself into a ball by biting it’s tail.  Dunsparce isn’t shown doing this, but, it learns the attack Rollout which could be a sign of that ability.  The wings on Dunsparce’s back give it the ability to hover–or fly “just a little” according to recent Pokédex entries.  This mirrors Tsuchinoko’s jumping skill, in a way.

Bronzor and Bronzong

Bronzor the Bronze Pokémon

Bronzor the Bronze Pokémon

Bronzong the Bronze Bell Pokémon

Bronzong the Bronze Bell Pokémon

A big part of the Pokémon series is evolution.  During the training of the Pokémon, when a certain criteria is met–in most cases, a milestone level is reached–the Pokémon will evolve into a (usually) stronger form.  Bronzor and the Pokémon it evolves into, Bronzong, don’t necessarily fall under the normal myths about creatures/spirits the others I have written about do.  Instead, they hearken back to a certain story from Japanese myth.  At a time when mirrors were made of metal, a temple asked women of a village for mirrors because they wished to have a large bell.  A woman, thinking that the mirror was the “Soul of a woman”, soon regretted giving her mirror–an heirloom passed down from her grandmother.  Because she did not give up the mirror with the best of intentions, the mirror would not melt when sent to the foundry.  The woman, ashamed that she had hindered the temple’s work committed suicide, saying that when she was dead, the mirror would melt without issue.  Townspeople thought that, once the bell was cast, that the woman who died in shame  might bestow them with great wealth if they could break the bell.  Many tried by ringing them bell with abandon, but, none could break it.  Preists, fed up with those ringing the bell rolled it into a swamp to be rid of it.  Bronzong’s Pokédex entry claims that it was discovered when workers began excavation on a worksite.

Sneasel/Kamaitachi

Sneasel the Sharp Claw Pokémon

Sneasel the Sharp Claw Pokémon

Sneasel (and it’s evolution, Weavile) seem to be based, if loosely, on the Japanese creature the 鎌鼬Kamaitachi (literally sickle weasel in Japanese).  This creature is usually depicted as one of three–sometimes brothers–who ride on a wind and attack people with a flurry of sickle-swipes.  Sneasel are notably fast, and attack with the sickle-like claws that it’s fingers end in.  Like the Kamaitachi, Sneasel is known to be sly.  It will often distract it’s prey through some means, only to have a second attack.  The Kamaitachi are said to work as a group.  One knocks the victim down, one cuts at the victim and the third uses medicine on the wounds caused by the others.  This leaves a wounded victim with little clue as to what actually happened.

Espeon/Nekomata

Espeon the Sun Pokémon

Espeon the Sun Pokémon

Espeon is based, at least design-wise, on the Japanese 猫叉Neko mata (forked cat in Japanese).  The Neko mata is said to be a normal cat that has reached certain age, been kept a number of years, or allowed to have kept a long tail.  (Japanese people often bob the tails of their cats).  Neko mata sometimes have been said to use psychic abilities.  Espeon is the Psychic-type Pokémon which reflects that.  Not much else is similar between the two, so it might be a bit of a stretch.

Lombre/Kappa

Lombre the Jolly Pokémon

Lombre the Jolly Pokémon

Like the 河童Kappa (literally river child) that it is based in, Lombre is a bit of a trickster.  Lombre look fairly similar to a Kappa.  A Kappa has a depression in it’s head that holds water.  This water contains a Kappa’s strength.  The lily pad on Lombre’s head allow it to collect water with the ability Rain Dish.  This ability heals it’s hit points in rainy weather.  The Kappa and Lombre have other physical similarities.  The face of both the Kappa and Lombre have a turtle-like beak.  Their bodies are also humanoid in shape.

Shiftry/Tengu

Shiftry the Wicked Pokémon

Shiftry the Wicked Pokémon

Based on the Japanese 天狗Tengu (oddly enough, heavenly dogs–though Tengu are generally bird-like), Shiftry shares much with it’s mythical counterpart.  Tengu possess hand fans that can create terrible winds.  Shiftry’s hands are made of fan-like leaves and it has the Razor Wind attack at it’s disposal.  Shiftry’s feet are very similar to a Tengu’s footwear of choice, the single-toothed geta sandal.  They also share the same long nose that defines their look.  Shiftry, like Tengu, live in forests–notably the oldest tree–in mountainous areas.  Though Tengu can be mean-spirited (Shiftry is known as the Wicked Pokémon) they can also be helpful.

Snorunt/Ame-furi-kozo

Snorunt the Snow Hat Pokémon

Snorunt the Snow Hat Pokémon

Snorunt is, at least physically, based on a Japanese spirit known as 雨降り小僧Ame-furi-kozo (literally little rainfall boy).  Both wear the Japanese style of rain hat/coat that is fashioned from an old umbrella.  Though that’s basically where the similarities end, they both have something to do with the weather.  The Ame-furi-kozo is often seen on rainy nights, whereas Snorunt is seen in snowy regions.

Drowzee/Baku

Drowzee the Hypnosis Pokémon

Drowzee the Hypnosis Pokémon

Though Drowzee is based, specifically, on a tapir, it gets this aspect of it’s design from a Japanese creature.  This creature is the chimeric 獏–Baku.  A Baku is a chimera who’s head it actually that of an elephant.  It is known to subsist on the dreams and nightmares of sleepers.  Drowzee puts it’s foes to sleep using Hypnosis and eats it’s dreams to replenish it’s hit points using Dream Eater.  These actions mimic those of the Baku.  Over time the Japanese have morphed the Baku from it’s chimera form to that of a tapir (or sometimes a pig).  This form has stuck in recent popular culture which is evident in Drowzee and it’s evolved form Hypno.

This brings an end to my blog about Japanese myths and Pokémon.  For any more information on Pokémon, it’s not that hard to find.  For information on Japanese yokai (a catch-all term that encompasses monsters and spirits of Japanese myth), head to The Obakemono Project.




Wii? Fit. Me? Fat.

Saturday, 28 February, 2009

My sister and I spend the better part of this week going to every store in Plattsburgh looking for one item: a Wii Fit. Every time we asked no store had one in stock. We even called a Wal-Mart store that was 50 miles away, with no luck. That didn’t seem to stop us from looking, though.

Today, however, our local Wal-Mart had them in stock. My sister excitedly bought one, and brought it home. I didn’t care, either way, about playing around with it, really. She was particularly excited about it, as it seems to be a decent means of exercise in these cold days.

As she was setting it up, I toyed with the idea of creating a profile. I really didn’t needing a video game peripheral to tell me what I already knew about myself. Yes, I am a fat guy. I have no real issues with it, myself. I just didn’t want it to be displayed on the TV screen.

After watching my young nephews set up their profiles–and seeing that it didn’t display your weight unless you opted to see it–I decided to give it a go. Before I even stood on the thing, though, I was sure I wasn’t going to enjoy it.

The balance board that runs with the Wii Fit software measures your center of balance–mine is slightly to the left, if you are wondering–and your body mass index. It plumps up your poor little Mii until it looks like…well…you. It takes these readings, along with your actual age and height, and gives you a Wii Fitness age.

Mine was 41. That’s 13 years older than I am. After being chastised about my balance issues, and Wii Fit Age, I came up here to sulk. I listened, though, as my sister was obviously enjoying herself while playing some of the games (called “training” on the software).

I wandered back down to see what she was doing. She was stepping on and off the balance board in time with a whole group of Miis. This was only the second game she has played (and one that I cannot keep in time with, because I am so uncoordinated–see my Guitar Hero post).

She showed me a game which requires that you hula hoop, and asked me to try. So here I was, standing on a plastic board in the middle of the floor, gyrating my hips like there was no tomorrow. And, you know what? I actually enjoyed myself while doing it.

So, putting aside the horrors of having a video game telling you how unfit you are–I KNOW ALREADY!, and the fact that you might look a fool, gyrating as such, the Wii Fit is actually pretty fun. In the long run if it actually does help shed some pounds, it might just be redeemed as a viable piece of exercise equipment.


I will never be a “Guitar Hero”

Saturday, 13 December, 2008

notguitarhero

Yes, folks, it’s true.  I do NOT have what it takes to be a Guitar Hero.  As much as I enjoy the game, and can pluck out a little of a song, I cannot sit long enough to actually make anything of it.  Seriously.  The whole thing makes my tendonitis act up, too.  That is not a good thing.  Numb hands are not a guitar controller’s friend.

That and I do lack the basic coordination needed to play it.  It makes me feel…well…inadequate.  Plain and simple.  I can mold clay, paint fine lines and draw, but, this it too much for me.  I turn into someone who is coordination-ally impaired.  My fingers fumble for the fret buttons like a Ticonderoga police officer fumbles with an under aged girls bra fasteners.

My sister bought the “Guitar Hero World Tour” band-in-a-box set.  It’s got another guitar (I say ‘another’ as we already have one of the older models from “Guitar Hero: Legends of Rock”), a multicolored drum set, and a microphone.

Upon seeing these things I figured I would be able to pick up, at least, one of the new items and play along.  Wrong-O!  The drums are awkward, especially the “purple button” that is the foot pedal.  I wound up looking stupider playing the drums than I did playing the guitar.

The mic is a pretty cool addition to the game.  It’s fun to play around with, but, my singing voice leaves a lot to be desired.  And some of the songs I didn’t even know.  It’s not that the words don’t show up for you.  They do!  But, you need a magnifying glass to read some of them.  I suppose if we had a bigger TV…

I do, in all honesty, like the game.  I just don’t play it well.  It’s hoot to pick it up, on occasion (read when alone) and pluck at it.  I also like watching others play it.  Maybe I am just fascinated by all the pretty colors?

There really hasn’t been much for me to play, lately.  There are many games I want to try (“Star Wars: The Force Unleashed”) or know that I can play (“Lego Indiana Jones), but, money is tight.  Even for rentals.  My mom is buying me “Animal Crossing: City Folk” for my birthday.  That is a pretty hands-off kind of game.  I guess I’ll just have to wait for that.  And cheer everyone on as they are crowned “Guitar Heroes!”