Astral Breakers Mini-Review

Generally speaking, we are not a competitive gaming couple.  While each of us at GIMMGP has a genre that is our sport of choice (Chip- fighting games, Laura- racing games), these arenas rarely overlap in our play sessions.  However, there is one type of game at which we are both quite skilled and rather aggressive- puzzle games.  

Whether it’s Chip dealing out massive combos in Tetris Attack or Laura devouring piles of tasty creatures in Critter Crunch, the two of us have quite a bit of history with puzzle gaming.  Thanks to the rise of the handheld and mobile markets, we have been able to find plenty of great single-player options on our respective devices.

In spite of these portable offerings, we are always on the lookout for any fun puzzle games for two players on home consoles.  There is something wonderful about sitting side-by-side on the couch and trying to crush your loved one under a pile of brightly colored digital blocks.  Thanks to a recent release on the Wii-U eShop, the joy of puzzle game competition has filled the GIMMGP HQ once more.


Like many puzzle games before it, Astral Breakers focuses on matching objects of like color (in this case, orbs known as Astral Spheres) and keeping your play area clear.  After dropping several spheres from the top of the screen, the cursor will begin to glow, meaning you have the option to make the next sphere an “Astral Breaker” for the current color.  These breakers are used to destroy clusters of like-colored orbs, thus keeping your play area clean while dumping loads of Astral Spheres on your opponent’s side.

Since the option to activate a breaker is within each player’s control, Astral Breakers allows for different play styles.  Some folks may choose to hold onto their breaker option, waiting until a massive pile of like-colored spheres are on the board before wiping them out.  Others will activate the breakers as soon as possible, dropping these little bombs on the board for future use.


These options in play mean once again pitting speed versus cunning in the realm of matching colored spheres.  As Chip would try to set up two- and three-chain combos on the field, Laura would rush along, clearing her board as quickly as possible.  After numerous intense rounds with several close calls, it was Laura’s quick reflexes that won more matches than Chip’s meticulous planning.

Fortunately for Chip, there is more to this puzzler than just competitive play.  Astral Breakers features a cooperative mode called SuperNova, where two players work together to survive increasingly difficult waves of spheres being dumped onto the playing field.  SuperNova feels akin to arcade games of old, where constantly trying to improve your high score is the real goal.


Along with competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes, Astral Breakers has a Story Mode for individual players, hosted by an adorable star named Kira.  The game also features a soundtrack of somber notes and relaxing melodies, perfect for keeping players cool during the more intense challenges.  The whole package is a wonderful puzzle title that is ideal for bringing people together to have some fun and compete for cosmic glory.

Be sure to check this game out, and while you’re at it, hop on over to the developer’s website for the equally adorable and lovely story behind the creation of Astral Breakers.

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Video Game Music Roundup and Podcast Recommendations

Over the 31 days of October, we featured daily posts highlighting ghoulishly great game music.  These spooky songs covered a wide variety of musical styles from several different consoles.  Some of these tracks are classic themes, beloved by fans worldwide.  Other tunes are very obscure and experimental, using the unique technology of a console to create a haunting or ominous mood.  Altogether, these songs showcase the power behind video game music to engage players and instill strong emotions in listeners.

As a final treat for GIMMGP’s Spooky Games Month, we have collected all of the music featured in October into a YouTube playlist for your listening pleasure.  Please enjoy these 46 spectacular and spooky video game songs with the embed below:

Just as there is a wonderful variety of video game music to be enjoyed, there are several excellent podcasts dedicated to the review and reverence of the medium.  We covered a handful of worthwhile series during October, which have been collected below, also for your listening pleasure:


A relatively new series, Pixelated Audio highlights video game music as, “an attempt to bring music, history, awareness and some of the gaming culture to people that share a similar passion.”  Hosts Bryan and James cover a wide variety of game music, including some particularly obscure and underrated tracks.  Each episode is filled with interesting information on the game/topic being covered, along with each host’s obvious enjoyment and enthusiasm for great music.  Also, their website features tons of excellent original artwork based on the games and topics.  Episodes of note: a retrospective on the entire Punch-Out!! series, a showcase of the Pokémon Snap soundtrack and the sound technology of the Nintendo 64, and an exclusive interview with composer Peter McConnell about his work on Grim Fandango.


The Super Marcato Bros. (composers Karl and Will Brueggemann) discuss compositional and technical aspects of game music from all generations.  So far, they have recorded over 180 episodes covering a variety of games, composers, and genres.  These brothers bring a positive demeanor, interesting analysis, and a great selection of music to their podcast.  Some episodes of note: an exclusive interview with Donkey Kong Country composer David Wisea collection of excellent game music remixes, and a showcase of the variety of music from a particularly strong year in video game history, 1991.


VGMpire is a fantastic tribute to video game music of all kinds.  In each episode, host Brett Elston features tons of music from a single title, series, or topic in the wide world of video games.  Joined by a team of hilarious co-hosts, these video game industry veterans bring a fun and informative mood to every episode.  Some episodes of note: a double-header of Parappa the Rapper and Um Jammer Lammy, a retrospective on the music from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video games, and a showcase of composer Masafumi Takada’s work, which includes Killer 7, God Hand, and Danganronpa.

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Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest – Bloody Tears

The time has come, faithful readers of GIMMGP!  That magical day is upon us.  Time to celebrate the spooky holiday of Halloween!


Over the last 30 days, I have shared some fantastically creepy and impressive video game music.  It has all been leading up to this track.  As Halloween is a time to enjoy delicious treats, today’s song is pure indulgence for me.  Not only is this track from an appropriately spooky game, but it is also my favorite music across the whole of video games.  It is none other than Bloody Tears from Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest for the NES.

This fantastic song was composed by Kenichi Matsubara, who would go on to write the music for the arcade version of Castlevania, titled Haunted Castle.  In the context of Castlevania II, this rousing theme plays the moment our hero Simon Belmont leaves the safety of a town.  As the first rolling notes of Bloody Tears hit, the player is immediately accosted by reanimated skeletons, bloodthirsty werewolves, and maniacal mermen.  The song is a perfect match for the macabre action encountered in the forests and swamps of this classic game.


Like so many beloved themes from the NES-era, Bloody Tears became a recurring track in its parent series.  Over the course of the Castlevania lineage, Bloody Tears has been featured in 19 different games.  This song is also considered in the pantheon of excellent NES music, and has been covered in a variety of musical styles, including hard rock, soft jazz, and acapella.

For the final day of our Spooktacular Video Game Music month, I leave you with a showcase of covers and reimaginings of this rousing and spooky track.  Happy Halloween, everyone!

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Banjo-Kazooie – Mad Monster Mansion

Halloween means different things to different age groups.  For older adults, it is a season of decoration and preparation.  Entire neighborhood communities work together to cover their homes in increasingly scary items and fill their candy bowls with all sorts of treats.  For young adults and teenagers, this is a time to wildly celebrate and consume piles of horror media.  House parties full of costumed patrons overindulge in autumn drinks and scary movies.  And for kids, Halloween means costumes, candy, and trick or treating.  The holiday is certainly spooky, but there is a sense of goofiness just behind the scenes.  All of the ghouls and ghosts take on a playful demeanor, as kids dress up and make believe.

Typically, it is the more lighthearted media of the Halloween season that transcends the age groups.  Campy horror movies, fun animated television specials, and spooky platforming video games can be fun for a broad audience.  The Nintendo 64 classic Banjo-Kazooie provides a great example of this with the Mad Monster Mansion.


Mad Monster Mansion is full of traditional horror elements.  The world features spooky locations like a graveyard, a hedge maze, and a creepy old mansion.  The main enemies are ghosts, skeletons, and animated tombstones.  Banjo even gets in on the act, transforming into a little pumpkin to complete certain challenges.  This haunting area also features an appropriately fun track:

Composer Grant Kirkhope crafted a bouncing melody inspired by the film Beetlejuice, and included tons of campy sound effects to enhance the playful mood of the piece.  The track matches the goofy and spooky aesthetic of Mad Monster Mansion, creating an experience that is fun for all ages.

For an episode of their podcast, the Super Marcato Bros. featured an exclusive interview with Grant Kirkhope.  Their talk with the composer is fantastic, giving all sorts of insight on the history of developer Rare and the creative process behind the music of games like GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark, and of course, Banjo-Kazooie.  If you are a fan of the glory days of the Nintendo 64, or just an enthusiast of game music and composition, I highly recommend listening to this episode!

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GIMMGP Pumpkins Return In: Anger of the Gourds

On the very first year of this blog, Chip and Laura compiled a list of pumpkins that appear in video games.  Keeping in the tradition of so many horror movie franchises, GIMMGP has decided to release a remastered post, now with 30% more spooky squash!  We hope you enjoy this gathering of gourds in gaming.


We can start with the NES oddity, Monster Party!  In the first level of the game, our hero Mark comes across a pumpkin-headed ghost who spits smaller pumpkins from its mouth.  Even more odd is the fact that this boss was originally an ape-man riding on horseback.  Since it was a bit risky to feature such a blatant parody of Planet of the Apes, the simian rider was replaced with a pumpkin ghost.  You can read all about the various changes to Monster Party at The Cutting Room Floor.

SMLPumpkinZoneSuper Mario Land 2 featured good ol’ Mario traveling to six different worlds to retrieve coins which will open a door to the palace where his Princess Daisy is being held.  One of these areas is the Pumpkin Zone, which is filled with spirits, slashers, and a wicked witch as the final boss.


Thanks to the efforts of Disney and Hot Topic, The Nightmare Before Christmas saw quite a revival during the early 2000s.  Along with piles of other merchandise flooding stores, a pair of video games was released in 2005.  While there were plenty of pumpkin decorations and sprites in the Game Boy Advance title, it was the PlayStation 2/Xbox game The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie’s Revenge that allowed players to take control of The Pumpkin King.  Developed by Capcom, this game featured combat similar to Devil May Cry, where players could switch between different forms for Jack Skellington: Santa Jack (who battles with booby-trap presents) and The Pumpkin King (who sets his foes aflame with lantern magic).

MM7PumpkinEven robot pumpkins exist!  A mid-boss in Mega Man 7, this cyber-pumpkin (adorably known as Van Pookin) has three gourd-geous layers that protect a tiny seed-spitting pumpkin robot core.  A fun secret in this level, if you only shoot the eyes on the outside of the pumpkin, he will bust through the floor, allowing Mega Man to face his brother, Proto Man.


Mega Man isn’t the only robot fighting mechanical pumpkins.  The 1993 arcade game Ninja Baseball Bat Man features a variety of odd robot ninjas, including some pumpkin-headed foes.  Although this game was extremely popular in Japan during its initial release, Ninja Baseball Bat Man had a rather limited run in North America.  Since then, this strange and wonderful beat ’em up has become a cult hit in emulation circles.

OgreBattlePumpkinOgre Battle was an interesting strategy game for the Super Nintendo.  One of the bosses you fought was the witch Deneb, who commanded pumpkin-men to do her bidding.  After defeating her, Deneb would offer to join your party, providing you with the ability to produce pumpkin soldiers who would gladly throw their gourds at your command.

FFIXPumpkinA bit of a tribute to the attack of the pumpkin-men from Ogre Battle, Quina, the blue mage/weird clown maid in Final Fantasy IX, could learn the attack Pumpkin Head.  This attack was rather strong, but very risky, as the damage it would inflict was equal to the difference in your max health versus your current health.

PersonaPumpkinContinuing with the pumpkins in role-playing games theme, the developers over at Atlus have featured the character of Pyro Jack in several of their series.  This little spectre has shown up in the Persona and Shin Megami Tensei games as an enemy who can be convinced to join your team as a fire-based familiar.  Pyro Jack also starred in his own title…


Jack Brothers on the now (very) defunct Virtual Boy gaming system!  Three goblin brothers Jack Lantern, Jack Frost, and Jack Skelton had to conquer several puzzle based levels on Halloween Night.

SMPumpkinSilhouette Mirage was an obscure Sony PlayStation title from Treasure Games.  In this game, the heroine Shyna has to shoot her way through two equally dangerous races, the Silhouettes and Mirages, with the basic enemy for the Silhouettes being little green pumpkin men.  Like so many other Treasure titles, Silhouette Mirage is cute, fun, and deceptively difficult.

LoMPumpkinThere are several pumpkins to be had in the wonderful PlayStation action-RPG Legend of Mana!  One of the missions in the game culminates with a battle against an evil little doppleganger witch in an enchanted pumpkin patch.  A victory in this fight unlocks a new piece of produce to cultivate in your garden in the game: the Bumpkin!


Even Link has faced his share of orange gourds.  The boss Pumpkin Head appeared in Oracle of Ages for the Game Boy Color.  Link would have to knock his gourd off and then throw the pumpkin at the dungeon walls to smash this poor creature’s head.

ZeldaPumpkinNot all pumpkins in the Zelda series are sinister.  In Twilight Princess for the Wii, Link collects an Ordon Pumpkin as an ingredient for a very tasty looking pumpkin soup.  Be warned, this soup is prepared by a yeti, so expect some stray hairs in the broth.


When Ness and Paula enter the cursed town of Threed, they are accosted by several spooky foes.  Violent ghosts, possessed dolls, and shambling zombies are all wandering the streets, looking for humans to terrorize.  Marching right along with these monsters is the Trick or Treat Kid, a maniacal little ghoul that will spit pumpkin seeds at our heroes, which deal a surprising amount of damage.


Most of Castlevania’s entries into the world of the third dimension have been… lacking.  Castlevania: Lament of Innocence was forgettable, save for a hidden character that unlocked once you beat the game twice: Little Pumpkin!  An enchanted pumpkin toy who decided to join the fight against Dracula, this hero is seemingly harmless, yet…

LoIGrandPumpkinHe can unleash a super-powerful attack known as the Grand Pumpkin, where giant pumpkin spirits rise from the ground and destroy his enemies with seasonal magic.

LBPPumpkinLittle Big Planet is a great reason to own a PlayStation 3, as it provides hours of super fun co-op play.  One of Chip and Laura’s favorite things to do in this game is dress the little Sack Boy (and Girl!) in silly costumes.  Sure enough, a jack o’ lantern mask was provided for Halloween fun!


When Street Fighter II released for home consoles in 1992, a glut of other fighting games soon followed.  Many of these games were pretty basic imitations of the Capcom classic, but there were some titles that stood out, such as Clay Fighter.  This goofy game featured digitized clay characters who were brought to life with the magic of stop motion photography.  The aesthetic of Clay Fighter was appropriately silly, featuring punny characters like the pumpkin ghost Ickybod Clay.

BanjoPumpkinMy friend Grant would be sad if I didn’t include the pumpkin transformation from Banjo-Kazooie for the Nintendo 64.  In the Mad Monster Mansion area, our hero Banjo the Bear is shrunk down into a pumpkin in order to sneak through the hedge maze and small corridors.  He even got to keep his little blue backpack, adorable!

Well, there you have it boils and ghouls!  A list of digital jack o’ lanterns to light your way back home on this Halloween weekend.  Be safe, have fun, and make sure to dress as your favorite video game characters!

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Final Fantasy VIII – Succession of Witches

It’s important for an antagonist to make a powerful entrance.  When a villain first appears on the scene, players should be immediately intimidated and impressed by their presentation.  A vivid costume and strong gait will often strike fear into the hearts of the men and women behind the controller.  The musical themes for such characters are typically just as bold as their appearance.  Heavy percussion, sharp string sections, and even a shrill choir performance are the perfect match for a forceful entrance.  However, an air of mystery can be just as effective when introducing a potential threat.

When Edea Kramer makes her debut in Final Fantasy VIII, she isn’t a conquering marauder or vengeful soldier bent on destruction.  She doesn’t enter with a bold monologue or maniacal laugh.  Edea simply… appears.


Initially described as an ambassador, Edea is known only as The Sorceress when she shows up in the first act of Final Fantasy VIII.  She interrupts an attempt on a corrupt politician’s life, paralyzing the player’s characters with her magic while whisking away another character altogether.  The mood she presents is one of an alluring predator; the tone of a creature that is totally in control of a situation.  The music that accompanies her entrance is equally mysterious and powerful.

The notes of a harpsichord are the first sounds of Succession of Witches.  The sound is equal parts inviting and unsettling, matching the character of The Sorceress.  A soft and ominous melody follows, along with the vocal theme of Final Fantasy VIII.  The song seems so harmless at first, maybe even a bit comforting.  But a heavy bass soon enters, revealing the deadly nature of the theme and Edea at the same time.

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Resident Evil – Peace of Mind

The save rooms in Resident Evil cause a contradiction in player emotions.  On the one hand, these areas serve as a refuge from the monsters that would cause harm to protagonists Chris and Jill.  There is an unspoken rule that zombies cannot cross into these rooms, so the player has some time to collect their thoughts and plan ahead.  There is often ammunition or healing supplies located in the save rooms, as well as item boxes where one can stock up on necessary supplies.  A sort of calm exists in these spaces.


However, Chris and Jill will eventually have to leave these peaceful zones in order to complete the game.  The momentary respite for the player is quickly replaced with the tension of preparing to depart.  It is very common to avoid killing any zombies in the mad dash to a save room, leaving these menacing creatures lurking just beyond the door.  Any tranquil thoughts have to be cleared away in order to psych yourself up for the next battle.

Aptly titled Peace of Mind, the theme for the save rooms in the first Resident Evil matches these conflicting emotions.

A soft string section tries to ease the player’s mind, while otherworldly tones instill a feeling of foreboding.  The music is just off-putting enough to keep folks from relaxing.

The save rooms and their related characteristics continued across most of the Resident Evil series, and each sequel included appropriate music to match.  A recent micro episode of Retronauts presents all of the save room themes in a seamless playback, providing listeners with a chance to hear the musical transition of this classic series in a single sitting.  Be sure to check it out, along with the other fantastic episodes of this retro-gaming podcast!

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Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse – Prelude

Things are often lost in the translation from East to West.  This is certainly true of video games that were ported from the Famicom to the Nintendo Entertainment System.  Usually, it was the story elements and visuals of games that changed the most.  Japanese folklore and phrasing had to be converted for American audiences, along with censoring any sort of religious or potentially frightening content.

There were technological constraints that had to be considered as well.  Unlike its Japanese cousin, the NES could not support most coprocessors that game publishers would use to enhance their titles.  This included external sound chips like Konami’s VRC6.  Co-created by Hidenori Maezawa. this chip added two extra pulse-wave channels and a saw-wave channel to the Famicom’s initial set of five sound channels.  As the sound designer for Castlevania III, Maezawa used the VRC6 chip to create a soundtrack with richer music than many other games on the Famicom.


Unfortunately, the game’s soundtrack had to be downgraded to comply with the standard five sound channels of the NES.  As a result, songs that sounded like this for American audiences:

Originally sounded like this for Japanese audiences:

With the extra channels of the VRC6, Maezawa and his team of composers were able to synthesize a more complex sound.  The original version of Prelude has a stronger reverb than its American counterpart, along with fuller string section further reinforces the ominous opening of this spooky classic.


Konami wasn’t the only company that used special sound chips to enhance the soundtracks of Famicom games.  For some great examples of other composers’ use of these chips, be sure to check out Episode 75 of VGMpire, Fiddlin with the Famicom.  While you’re at it, you should take a listen to the rest of the VGMPire back catalog.  It’s a fantastic podcast that highlights some of the best music across video games.

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Super Mario RPG – The Dungeon is Full of Monsters

There are game releases that we as players could not have dreamed to ask for; those titles that bring together beloved series, creators, and companies to make a product that is greater than the sum of its parts.  For me, that game is Super Mario RPG.

On paper (or on screen, in this case), Super Mario RPG’s pedigree is mind-blowing.  A Squaresoft developed role-playing game, featuring Nintendo characters, written by Kensuke Tanabe (scenario writer of A Link to the Past and director of Super Mario Bros. 2), and produced by Shigeru Miyamoto.  As the delicious cherry on top of this fantastic digital sundae, the soundtrack was composed by the amazing Yoko Shimomura.


Super Mario RPG falls between Shimomura’s work at Capcom, where she wrote music for Final Fight and Street Fighter II, and her work at Square Enix, where she would create the soundtracks for games like Parasite Eve, Legend of Mana, and Kingdom Hearts.

For Super Mario RPG, Shimomura incorporated arrangements of beloved themes by Koji Kondo and Nobuo Uematsu, and wrote a variety of original music across 73 tracks.  For the dungeons of this game, Shimomura crafted a particularly ominous theme called The Dungeon is Full of Monsters.

Somewhere between a Super Mario Ghost House and a Final Fantasy cavern, the influence of Koji Kondo and Nobuo Uematsu can definitely be heard in this track.  Shimomura composed several other haunting tracks for Super Mario RPG, which enhance the moods of locations like the Sunken Ship and Bowser’s Castle.

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Fester’s Quest – Sewers

The music of the NES-era can easily be divided into categories by companies and composers.  For Capcom games, composers like Manami Matsumae and Takashi Tateishi wrote soundtracks that were filled with rolling percussion and inspiring techno ballads.  Regular Konami composers Miki Higashino and Kinuyo Yamashita produced songs with complex solo work and melodies, reminiscent of hard rock and classical music.  And over at Sunsoft, Naoki Kodaka and his team were using the NES sound chip to make music unlike anything else on the console.


Using the channel typically reserved for percussion, Kodaka and other sound designers at Sunsoft decided to run bass samples instead.  The resulting sound was unique to the many licensed games produced at this developer, and was colloquially known as the “Sunsoft Bass.”  A great example of this method can be heard in the rather oppressive Sewers theme from Fester’s Quest.

The heavy Sunsoft bass notes are present right from the start of this track, creating an ominous mood.  While the frustrating controls and absurd difficulty of Fester’s Quest already causes an atmosphere of tension, Kodaka’s soundtrack further enhances this feeling with its dark and constant bass sound.

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