Category Archives: Marvelous Lists

Tales and Spoils from MAGFest 2016

Hail, faithful readers of GIMMGP!  I have returned from the frigid streets of the National Harbor, where the great banners of the Music and Gaming Festival once flew.  The vendors have packed up their wares, the games have been stored for future play, and the final songs have been sung. MAGFest 2016, is over.

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Unlike previous visits to the festival, I did not focus on playing arcade games or witnessing the changes from gatherings passed.  For me, MAGFest 2016 was all about the music.  I had a wonderful time at this year’s festival, where I met some amazing musicians and came home with a small pile of auditory goodies.

Of the many panels held over the MAGFest weekend, the one I HAD to see was the Q&A session with Manami Matsumae.  This fantastic composer has created music for some of the most beloved video game soundtracks, including Mega Man, Shovel Knight, and my personal favorite, U.N. Squadron.  It was a privilege to see such a prolific composer in person, and to hear so much about her impressive career.

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The panel was a great opportunity for fans to ask Matsumae all sorts of questions, including her preferred games to compose for (upbeat action titles), what instruments she can play (“Anything with piano keys”), and plenty about her history in the game industry. Currently, Matsumae is a freelance composer, working very heavily with indie developers and with the music label Brave Wave.  Please be sure to check out her more recent work at Brave Wave’s website!

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At the Q&A session, I ran into some of my other favorite people in video game music.  The Super Marcato Bros., Karl and Will Brueggemann, were also attending the panel!  Upon introducing myself, the brothers immediately threw a big group hug on me, proving that these podcasters are just as kind and positive in person as they are on the microphone. I had a chance to converse with the duo about games, music, and (of course) our mutual appreciation of Manami Matsumae and her work.

The Super Marcato Bros. have been on a roll lately, releasing episodes about game music from 1994the Mario RPG series, and a particularly interesting episode about a recurring melodic technique they dubbed the “Five Finger Fanfare.”  Please be sure to check out the brothers’ podcast, as well as their original music.  It’s great stuff!

In addition to these amazing encounters at MAGFest, I brought home several new albums for my listening pleasure:

Part Seven by The OneUps

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The latest album from The OneUps made its debut at MAGFest 2016.  This collection of jazzy tunes continues the tradition of great video game covers that was started by this awesome band way back at the original MAGFest.  Notable tracks include Saw VIII (Metal Man from Mega Man 2) and Ice, Ice, Cavey (Ice Cave Chant from Donkey Kong Country).

Fireball! and Live at San Pedro Square by Super Soul Bros.

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I discovered a delightful new band at this year’s festival.  The Super Soul Bros. are a collective of San Jose-based musicians who mix jazz, funk, and video games into a fantastic musical experience.  This band expands beyond simply playing music from video games, bringing improvisation and their own funky joy into every track.  I picked up their first studio album Fireball!, which includes a delightful version of Meta Knight’s Revenge, along with their live album from San Pedro Square, which features a whopping 11-minute journey to the Chemical Plant Zone…and beyond!

Smooth McGroove Remixed from GameChops

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This is certainly an interesting mash-up of genres: electronic dance music remixes of vocal covers of classic video game songs.  From their website, “Ten producers collaborated to bring Smooth McGroove’s famous acapella versions of game tunes to the dance floor.”

I’m not gonna lie: this album is not in my wheelhouse.  Since I have only limited experience with EDM, the tracks were very hit-or-miss to me. However, I definitely recognize that the production quality and sheer variety of styles present are quite impressive.  The artists on this album have done an excellent job, and if you are even remotely interested in EDM or game music, be sure to check this out.

Street Fighter II: The Definitive Soundtrack by Yoko Shimomura, Isao Abe, and Syun Nishigaki

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I was extremely pleased to find this album on sale at MAGFest. This comprehensive soundtrack comes from music label Brave Wave, as the first in their Generation Series, which stands for definitive editions of legendary video game soundtracks.  From their website:

“We are working with researchers, consultants and world class engineers to bring you the best possible versions of these soundtracks. We are also working closely with developers, license holders and original sound teams. All of our work will be overseen and approved by the respective composers or the person in charge of the sound team (wherever possible). On top of that, our physical releases will contain extras like interviews, art booklets and more.”

This is EXACTLY the sort of reverence and care that should be given to beloved video game music. Soundtracks from games like Street Fighter II are musical masterpieces that are part of our cultural history. I am so happy to own this soundtrack; to hear meticulously remastered versions of the music from my youth and read insightful notes from composer Yoko Shimomura on her work.  Please, PLEASE support Brave Wave and their endeavors to promote and preserve this amazing music.

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Thus ends my takes and tales from MAGFest 2016.  In addition to these musical misadventures, I was very pleased to see so many cosplayers paying homage to my favorite game of 2015, Undertale.  So as a final treat from MAGFest, please enjoy a small sample of the fantastic costumes from the festival floor!

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Chip’s Picks of 2015

2015 was a year of many challenges.  GIMMGP Headquarters was moved not once, but twice.  Laura and I both started new jobs in addition to our full-time careers.  We encountered heartbreaking losses, massive setbacks, and general frustrations as we tried to maneuver our way through the last 365 days.

But as with every year, the key to overcoming such challenges is to focus on the good moments, taking the time to appreciate and improve your situation.

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2015 was a big year in creative accomplishments for us both at GIMMGP.  Laura became a full-time freelance artist, launching both her professional website and a print storefront on Inprnt.  I launched a new blog that focuses on The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, and I achieved a major life goal of publishing a video game magazine with my friends.

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2015 was also an exciting time for the U-Pick Video Game Marathon for Charity.  The U-Pick Crew started running weekly streams every Sunday at 4pm EST.  We also successfully raised over $8000 across two charity marathons, and 100% of this money will be used for clean water projects in the developing world.

2015 was an odd year of gaming for GIMMGP.  Laura and I both played fewer new games than in previous years; focusing on wonderful co-op experiences and delightful retro darlings.  In spite of playing less new titles than usual, I enjoyed some excellent games over the last year, which are highlighted below.

As always, thank you so much for following GIMMGP in 2015.  We look forward to playing more games and sharing more posts with you in 2016!

Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows

My initial pick may seem like a redux from last year’s list.  At first glance, Plague of Shadows looks like a rather basic expansion to Shovel Knight.  Instead of adding new levels or challenges for the titular hero, Yacht Club games simply took one of the bosses from the main questline and turned him into a playable character.  “How boring and predictable,” some might say.  The same folks may consider Plague of Shadows a shallow cop-out from Yacht Club Games.  Well, these people are utter fools.

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Plague of Shadows plays like a completely different experience from Shovel Knight.  In the original game, players relied on masterfully executed shovel bounces and melee strikes in the vein of classic games like DuckTales and Castlevania.  The action was about planning your movements and well-timed jumps.  For the expansion, Plague Knight throws caution to the wind, focusing on frantic projectile attacks and wild platforming skills.  A world that once seemed dangerous and fraught with peril has become a speed-runner’s playground.  Enemies that were once potent roadblocks in Shovel Knight’s path are turned into just another thing to explode in Plague of Shadows.

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In addition to the changed gameplay style, Plague of Shadows features a new story built around megalomania, alchemy, and love.  The adorable and maniacal Plague Knight’s tale is filled with even more puns and jokes than his digging adversary.  The expansion also features some new and fantastic music from Jake Kaufman.

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All of these additions are given the same level of care and polish from Yacht Club Games, which results in a wonderfully fun experience that is included at no extra cost to the player.  This impressive DLC is provided for free with Shovel Knight, which makes it one of the best gaming experiences and values of 2015.

Yoshi’s Woolly World

How do you follow up on an amazing game like Yoshi’s Island?  Do you try to make the game more accessible, leaning into the cuteness factor and toning down the difficulty?  Do you take the existing formula and aesthetic, only add more playable characters?  How about simply including new functions based on whatever fresh technology is available? Over the last twenty years, Nintendo has tried each of these methods to make five different Yoshi games as successful as their forebear.  Yet every one of these games released with underwhelming results; none of them could match the fun and polish of Yoshi’s Island.

For the latest Yoshi game, Nintendo finally took my constant advice for improving on an beloved classic: add some fantastic couch co-op.

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Woolly World is the game I have wanted for nearly two decades: a multiplayer version of Yoshi’s Island.  With two Yoshis on the screen, this game became an exercise in breaking the rules and going off the rails. Instead of relying on environmental cues and features to acquire hidden items and get to secret areas, my friends and I would use clever jumping and frantic egg-bouncing to carve our own path. Woolly World does not limit or punish such behavior.  This game welcomes all sorts of monkey business.  There is a wealth of secrets and collectibles to be found in this game.  While all of these are available to a single player, they are much easier (read: more fun) to acquire with a pair of goofy dinosaurs.

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Woolly World also provides a new aesthetic of a craft-maker’s world, built out of yarn, felt, and so many other items that one would find at a Michaels store.  Matched with an incredible soundtrack, this game pays homage to the coloring book world of the original Yoshi’s Island, while providing a unique and heartwarming visual style.

Undertale

When Laura and I first launched this blog in 2011, I made a list of potential games to share with her for our official GIMMGP posts.  On this list, at least half of the titles were role-playing games from the 16-bit era.  These games were the cornerstone of my childhood.  I have so many heartfelt memories of playing games like EarthBound and the Final Fantasy VI with my siblings.  I wanted to share these emotions and moments with my wife.

Unfortunately, there is a high barrier of entry for role-playing games from the Super Nintendo era.  The mandatory grinding necessary for so many 16-bit RPGs means that Laura will likely never enjoy these titles in the same way that a kid with nigh-unlimited time would.  The stories and characters to which I was so attached are locked behind 30+ hours of unnecessary grinding and static battle menus.  Fortunately, the indie darling Undertale serves as an ideal surrogate for the warm RPG fuzzies of my youth.

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Undertale manages to capture the essence of classic RPGs without all of the fluff.  Instead of loads of generic enemies and boring grinding, every battle is filled with unique interactions and interesting dialogue.  The typical menu driven combat is upgraded with elements from shoot ’em-up games and dialogue puzzles.  In one encounter, you may have to play fetch with a massive Pomeranian, while another battle will revolve around a date with a skeleton knight.  All of these delightful encounters manage to showcase great variety and don’t overstay their welcome, as the main questline typically takes roughly 5 hours to complete.

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Undertale also features an earnest and heartwarming story that has plenty of surprises, both humorous and shocking along the way (Protip: Avoid ANY spoilers before playing Undertale.  You will be glad you did).  Players have the option of going through the game without killing a single creature along the way, no matter how hostile the monster may seem. Depending on how you approach the game, Undertale’s story will change drastically, without any sort of commentary on which path is truly the “right” one.

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It has been years since I have encountered a game that I enjoyed from start-to-finish like Undertale.  This game has such earnest story with well-written characters that filled my heart with laughter and tears.  The unique battle system and in-game humor made Undertale easy to pick up and share with my loved ones.  The soundtrack also stands out as one the the best of 2015, with a great mix of styles and songs to suit every story beat.  Please check out this fantastic game.

 

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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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Laura’s Picks of 2014

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As with my list from 2013, my top picks of the year aren’t necessarily games that came out in 2014 (technically, I think only one did). These are the three games that I spent the majority of my time playing in 2014. I’m not going into too much detail about them here because I want to do a full write up on each in the future. So let’s jump in, shall we?

Bayonetta 2

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I haven’t finished this game yet. I think I am nearly done and I have loved every minute of it. I can hardly follow the plot and I can barely scrape a passing grade at the end of each chapter, but Bayonetta 2 is such a joy in my life. Even moving around in this game is fun. If you enjoyed Bayonetta, this is more of the same (in a good way). It is still the bombastic, high-energy, firework display that the first one was with some new moves, weapons, and costumes. This is a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I love that.

Gran Turismo 6

This is an odd choice for me. It is not my usual taste in games and I don’t generally don’t care about cars. But one day I was in a mood- I wanted to play a racing game, so I bought Gran Turismo 6 on a whim. I never played any of it’s predecessors, but it was exactly what I was looking for. It’s fun to play (even with no explosions or fancy lights). This game obviously had a lot of love put into it. I actually became mildly obsessed with this game for about a month straight, though I don’t think I play it the way it was intended…

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I don’t play online because I am not polite enough to play online. I buy cars only when I really need them or really want them; I don’t collect them or upgrade them very often. The few cars that I do have in my garage are black, with one exception (a flamboyant, glittery, orange/purple atrocity that I simply needed in my life). I have little patience for stats. As in life, my interest in cars is a purely practical one: Get me from point A to point B. Only now it is a matter of getting from point A to point B fast enough for a gold medal. I play for gold with such ferocious determination. I don’t play to complete a task, I play to conquer it…which might explain why I haven’t actually beaten this game yet.

Hatoful Boyfriend: A School of Hope and White Wings

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I played this game so much since it was released in English this year. For those who don’t know about this delightful little delicacy, it is a visual novel developed by PigeoNation Inc. You play as the only human at a private school for gifted, sapient birds. It is just ridiculous and you should totally play it.

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Chip’s Picks of 2014

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It has been a very full year for the two of us at GIMMGP Headquarters.  The first three months of 2014 were rife with guest posts and collaborations with wonderful bloggers, including Voluntine’s Week and March Mario Madness.

Things slowed down in the summer, as I had many a friend’s wedding to attend.  Fortunately, I managed to read plenty of great graphic novels and excellent non-fiction titles during my frequent travel.

Autumn was a wonderful time, during which we saw another successful U-Pick Marathon for Charity, an amazing documentary series on the history/impact of Japanese video game music, and I achieved one of my big writing goals: getting published on Kill Screen.

Once the spooky season of October had passed, Laura and I settled down for the long, cold, frustrating winter.  Fortunately, we were blessed with a Wii-U at the start of the season.  So many nights were spent huddled together under blankets, with the warmth of the fire and the light of the gamepad keeping us comfortable.

As we look to the new year, Laura and I have many exciting changes on the way.  Most of these plans will have to stay secret for now, but in the meantime, let’s take a look back over the last 12 months and see which games provided particularly pleasurable playthroughs!

As per usual, the beloved games that follow may not have been released during the last 365 days, but each was a fresh experience for me in 2014.  Thanks for reading, and have a safe and happy new year!

Shovel Knight

On paper, Shovel Knight sounds like so many other indie games available on the market: a retro-style platformer that features pixel art and a chiptunes soundtrack.  Instead of simply slapping a coat of 8-bit paint on a modern game, Yacht Club Games uses the constraints of previous technology as a template to make a challenging and fun title.  Shovel Knight stands out from the crowd as an adventure that feels like the culmination of NES design.

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Tight platforming sections and a selection of frantic boss battles recall the glory days of Mega Man, while the respite of a colorful town and satisfying special weapons are classic Castlevania elements.  Shovel Knight manages to pull inspiration from its predecessors and stay fresh by adding its own unique moments, like gambling your treasure based on skill and shovel-style combat.  This experience seems like one I should have encountered right at the end of the NES life-cycle: a well-crafted platformer that is devoid of frustration and poor design, a super-fun game that earns a seat with the master class of the 8-bit era.

Also, La Danse Macabre is easily in the top game tunes of 2014.  Well done, Jake Kaufman.

Threes

It seems like the last few years have seen a glut of puzzle games on mobile platforms.  Many of these titles use the dreaded “freemium” model to entice players into spending seemingly small amounts of money to make progress in a purposefully obtuse system.  Some of these games require less obvious methods of payment, like social media proliferation (read: free advertising from its players) to earn bonus turns and helpful items.  Threes offers a calming alternative to the mainstream puzzle game, where careful thinking and player skill are the only tools necessary to advance.

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Threes is based around a simple goal: swipe your finger combine red and blue tiles to make a numbered tile of 3.  Match like tiles to create tiles of a greater number.  Do this until no more combinations/moves can be made.  There are no obligations to “Like” the game on your social media, no rush to invite your friends to play for an extra turn, and no micro transactions to earn a board-clearing bomb.  Just a soothing soundtrack and a relaxed pace to contemplate your next move.  The gradual difficulty ramp provides a steady climb in challenge, while the high score board encourages players to overcome their previous marks.

I spent several hours in 2014 (spread across 5 to 20 minute intervals) playing Threes, and I am sure I will have many more sessions of calm challenge in 2015.

Super Mario 3D World

In the eighth world of the latest Mario game, there is a stage that introduces a novel challenge.  Most of the ground in this level is invisible, lit only by the impact of solid objects making contact (say, Mario’s steps or an enemy strike).  The player has to use clever footing and precise timing to navigate these pathways.  No other stage in Super Mario 3D World features this mechanic and it is for this reason why I was so enamored with this game.

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There are so many fantastic gameplay ideas spread across this title, each of them fun-to-play and well-executed.  In one stage, you will be using the classic Fire Flower to clear out familiar Goombas, only to have the next stage focus on using a flashlight helmet to ward off menacing ghosts.  A mountain-top climb will require the Cat Suit’s claws to scale vertical walls, and a factory of switch-platforms needs the weight of multiple Marios (achieved thanks to the Double Cherry power-up).  The variety of challenges is well-managed, so each mechanic has a chance to shine without overstaying its welcome.

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Super Mario 3D World offers numerous fun and interesting methods of play without bloated tutorials or frustrating hand-holding.  The drop-in multiplayer option creates opportunities of coordinated teamwork and frantic free-for-alls.  Culminating in a final boss encounter that is more epic in scale than most triple-A titles, Super Mario 3D World kept me surprised and filled with glee from start to finish.

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Required Reading: Halloween Comics Edition

On top of watching scary movies and playing horror games, one of our favorite October activities here at GIMMGP Headquarters is to curl up by a crackling fire and read some fantastic fiction.  Lengthy novels about werewolves and dragons tend to be Laura’s cup of tea, while I prefer pouring over spooky sequential art.  This Halloween season has yielded quite a harvest of creepy comics, so I decided to share the choice crop with you, boils and ghouls!

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

When I was a young man, there was a series of books that every child seemed to have read, yet none of us dared to keep a single copy in our homes.  Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark and it’s two sequels were immensely frightening collections of scary stories and prose.  While the writing was enough to spook the average reader, it was the unsettling black and white illustrations that instilled a lingering unease with anyone who came into contact with these books.

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Since my younger years, nothing has left such a haunting impression as these books…until I came across the work of Emily Carroll.  Her comics are a wonderful combination of spooky prose and beautiful artwork that take full advantage of the webcomic format.  Interesting paneling, extended backgrounds and settings that drag across the computer screen, a clever use of “next page” pauses; all of these elements combine to make some of the best horror work I have read in years.

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Carroll’s website features a wonderful collection of horror and fantasy comics, and just earlier this year she released her first book called Through the Woods.  This anthology of frightful tales features her webcomic, “His Face All Red,” in print for the first time, along with several fresh tales to leave readers entranced and enthralled.  Be sure to pick up this fantastic book for those lonesome October nights where the shadows stretch and anything could be lurking about the corners of reality.

Hellboy: The Midnight Circus by Mike Mignola, Duncan Fegredo, and Dave Stewart

Like so many other folks during the Halloween season, Laura and I will load up on spooky shows and films during the month of October.  Unlike so many other folks, we will generally shy away from slasher flicks and gore-fests, turning instead to watch haunting fantasy films and family-friendly frights.  One pair of movies that we enjoy watching during the autumn is Hellboy and its sequel, The Golden Army.  The impressive practical effects and engaging action-fantasy scripts make for a set of great monster movies that tell an emotional and sometimes bittersweet story.

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As Hellboy’s bright-red mug has been showing up on store shelves since 1993, trying to pick a jumping-off point to begin reading the comics can be rather daunting.  Fortunately, there are plenty of excellent one-shot comics featuring this loveable demon.  So what better place to dive into this world of supernatural creatures than a haunted circus?

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Appropriately released in October 2013, The Midnight Circus tells the story of a young Hellboy who decides to run away from his home at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.  On that fateful night, the little devil encounters a circus of wonders that runs from the dangerous hour of midnight until the fearful crack of dawn.  What follows is a tale of ghosts and demons, monsters and men, and a loving surrogate father, desperately searching for his lost little boy.  If you are looking for a gorgeous comic in the vein of Pinocchio and Something Wicked This Way Comes, please check out The Midnight Circus.

Costume Quest: Invasion of the Candy Snatchers by Zac Gorman

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My third choice for this list of great October comics might seem biased; I have certainly professed my adoration for Costume Quest and Zac Gorman in the past.  But rest assured, you don’t need a history with Double Fine or Magical Game Time to enjoy Invasion of the Candy Snatchers.

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Instead of following the exploits of children on Halloween, this comic’s protagonists are three adolescent Grubbins from the ghoulish world of Repugia.  Pint-sized Klem has hatched a plan to bring sweets from the human world back to his candy-starved homeland in an effort to impress a girl and break the shackles of dorkiness.  But Klem and his friends find that there are bullies at every turn, both human and Grubbin alike!  A colorful adventure filled with candy, costumes, and a little bit of courage await Klem, Sellie, and Brolo on Halloween Night.

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Invasion of the Candy Snatchers is filled with humorous and heartfelt moments that will resonate with trick-or-treaters current and retired.  Neighborhood Halloween parties, the many tones of orange decorating the world, even the menace of older youths who want to take kids’ candy; all of these bits show up in Costume Quest.  Zac Gorman’s cartoon-styled artwork suits the story quite well, with plenty of expressive faces and fun character designs.  For this Halloween, there is no comic I would recommend more than Costume Quest: Invasion of the Candy Snatchers.  Pick it up will ya!

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Chip’s Spooky Demo Round-Up

During the CD-rom boom of the late 90s, most gaming magazines came bundled with demo discs to show off upcoming titles.  Instead of the previous media wars fought with optimal screenshots and early preview coverage, the new weapons were discs loaded with exclusive demos and videos.  I can recall so many issues of Official Playstation Magazine and PC Gamer that were bought solely for the shiny bit of plastic attached to their covers.

Even though most print media has fallen from the shelves, video game demos still persist as a means to sell product.  Nearly all of the games featured on the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network feature trial versions as a tempting gateway to a full purchase.  As a result, my friends and I have made a metagame out of downloading piles of demos and binging on these trial versions for an evening of fun.

For this fantastically frightening month of October, I have gathered a handful of spooky game demos to play on my Xbox 360. Please join me as we take ghoulish glimpses into these terror-filled titles!

Anna: Extended Edition

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At first glance, Anna seems like a unique horror title amongst a sea of zombie massacres and gory shooting sprees.  The game takes place at an pleasant sawmill set in the gorgeous Italian mountains.  Vivid colors, impressive graphics, and generally bright visuals serve as a contrast to the seemingly dark story that the player must uncover.  But beneath this lovely exterior lies a horror beyond any player’s expectations: classic adventure game point-and-click logic.

That’s right folks- Anna is a game all about rubbing every single object you happen to accumulate upon every single interactive surface in the game.  Most of the demo is spent trying to figure out how to get into the sawmill, which is where the really interesting bits of the game (supposedly) happen.  In order to glean even the slightest inkling of the main character’s motivation to enter this rustic building, the player has to slog through a dozen pages of a rather bland journal.  In an older game from the 90s, this sort of gameplay would have been acceptable and heralded as engaging storytelling.  But in our modern world, where games like Bastion manage to enrapture players with a narrative woven into the core gameplay, forcing your player to read a digital journal just to get interested is a cardinal sin.

Anna: Extended Edition is a gorgeous game that should keep players engaged for an interesting story, but instead it sets up roadblocks and stumbling stones right from the start.

Abyss Odyssey

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Whenever I am asked what sort of game I would design, my default answer is always the same: multiplayer Symphony of the Night.  But since Harmony of Dissonance fell short of my hopes and dreams (no story, what gives?!), I have continued to plan for the inevitable day my ideal game would come along.  Fortunately, an absolutely beautiful game by the name of Abyss Odyssey has come along to distract me once more.

From an indie studio based out of Chile, Abyss Odyssey tells the story of a warlock who slumbers at the bottom of a deep chasm.  As this magician sleeps, the dreams that fill his mind become reality, and clamber to the surface to attack the populace of the human world.  Fortunately, the warlock has also dreamt of three heroes who are willing to make their way below to wake their maker.

Much of the game plays like a side-scrolling beat em’ up with some fighting game flair.  Players can upgrade their weapons and armor, unlock magic attacks, and work as a team to uncover new content.  Abyss Odyssey also features roguelike elements, such as randomized dungeons and a mechanic where the moment a hero falls, a human soldier takes their place in a survive-or-permadie circumstance.  What really makes this game stand out is the unique Art Nouveau visuals that suit the play-style so much, it’s a wonder we haven’t seen something like this before.

If you are looking for a lovely and challenging co-op experience, I would recommend Abyss Odyssey.  If nothing else, just hop on their website and admire the beautiful character art.

Slender: The Arrival

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At the start of Slender: The Arrival, there is a opening screen that encourages players to, “approach this game with an open mind.  Make use of your own personal relatable experiences and memories of desolation in the wild.  You’re on your own and your survival is up to you.”  Right from the start, Slender imparts an atmosphere of dread to the foolish player who dared to play this game alone in a darkened room.

Fortunately, this game doesn’t have to rely on an unsettling title screen to maintain a general unease throughout the experience.  Excellent lighting and environment visuals immerse the player into a series of not-so-abandoned locales, the first of which being the house of a longtime friend, deep in the mountains.  As you investigate the artifacts left behind by your virtual pal, little glimpses of a literally faceless monster creep in from the periphery.  The suited antagonist known as Slender Man pops up in scripted moments that may or may not be encountered by the player.  Since these quick shots of the specter are not always seen, the seemingly random experiences keep the scares fresh.

The demo stops just short of a venture into the woods where the Slender Man directly hunts the protagonist, so it’s up to the player to overcome this fear and go forth… or you could be a sissy like me and give up immediately.  Slender: The Arrival is a fantastic and creepy game to play this Halloween, so give it a glare if you’re in for a scare!

 

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Comic Books, At the Library?!

It’s certainly been a while, faithful readers of GIMMGP.  Laura and I have been working the weeks away on some super-secret projects that we hope to unveil soon, so look forward to that day (whenever it may be)!  In the little bit of spare time I manage to scrape up at a day’s end, I have been reading plenty of comic books which I borrowed from the library.

Thanks to the massive catalog at our local branch, I have discovered several superhero one-shots that slipped under my radar during their initial release.  These paneled pages have been a soothing balm for my electronics weary eyes after a long day of technology-filled work and play.  Allow me to share some of my favorite titles from these library excursions.

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Superman: Red Son

Let me be frank at the commencement: I don’t care for Superman comics.  Perhaps it’s the overly good-natured character, or simply the idea that at his power level, no foe should be too great yet the Man of Steel keeps getting subverted by evildoers.  Something about his nigh-invincible abilities laced under the tropes of classic superhero comics has made the character and the stories around him rather uninteresting to me.  In spite of this, there are some titles starring Superman that I find to be genuinely engaging and Red Son is one of these tales.

RedSon2The premise of Red Son is a seemingly simple twist on the classic origin: instead of landing in Kansas, what if Superman happened to land in the Soviet Union?  From this basic idea, an alternate history of the Cold War unfolds with Kal-El going from benevolent Russian super-citizen to paranoid Big Brother-esque dictator.  On the side of the Americans is famed scientist Lex Luthor, whose attempts to balance the power between nations leads to the creation of major villains from the Superman universe.  Just as there are analogues to villains like Brainiac and Bizarro, there are alternate versions of heroes like Batman (a disenfranchised KGB agent) and Hal Jordan (leader of the Green Lantern Marine Corps).  All of these intriguing characters and twists on the traditional Superman story are wrapped up in fantastic artwork, full of highly detailed backgrounds and colorful character redesigns.  I would recommend this comic for anyone who has given up on the Man of Steel, or for those who love the Last Son of Krypton and are looking for their next fix.

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Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil

Before I realized who wrote this title, I had little interest in reading it.  Captain Marvel was never on my radar, save for the occasional shouting of “SHAZAM!” as a sort of pseudo-inside joke.  Then I heard that Jeff Smith, the fantastic author of my beloved Bone comics, penned this superhero tale.  And so began the rapid devouring of The Monster Society of Evil.

Shazam2Mr. Smith’s take on Captain Marvel is a perfect jumping-off point for any novice to the classic superhero.  A fresh look at young Billy Batson’s encounter with the wizard who would tie him to his magical alter-ego provides a proper origin story at the start of this four issue series.  From this not-so-chance meeting, Billy Batson gains the power to utter a magic word and become Captain Marvel, the world’s mightiest mortal!  This comic is chock full of heart, featuring plenty of bombastic superhero moments that frame a touching story of an orphan who finds a new family in the city he dares to protect.  In addition to the great story and emotive artwork, the collected trade of Shazam! features a making of section that glimpses Jeff Smith’s production notes and compares his work to the original comics from the 1940s.  I would recommend this comic to kids and the adults who still have a spark of childhood joy from comic book magic.

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Kingdom Come

Now we come to the biggie, the crème de la crème, the best superhero comic I have read in years.  Kingdom Come is from the DC Elseworlds imprint (read: the fun comics that don’t interfere with their oddball continuity) and details a story from a future universe where a conflict grows between the Justice League and their mostly amoral offspring.  What results is a fascinating tale that unfolds around a seemingly simple character: a sullen minister named Norman McCay.

KingdomCome2At the outset of Kingdom Come, Norman McCay visits a dying Wesley Dodds (the original Sandman) and the passing superhero transfers grisly visions of impending doom to the minister.  Shortly after, Norman is visited by The Spectre, who recruits him to pass judgment at the approaching superhuman apocalypse.  Norman is whisked behind the scenes as the old guard of superheroes (including a mourning Superman, a sullen and aged Batman, and the ever battle-ready Wonder Woman) deals with the destruction and chaos of a new breed of superhumans, many of which are their own children.  An interesting parallel between the scriptures of Revelations and the acts of these titans is made, and Norman (along with the reader) is caught in the background; merely a spectator to the oncoming tragedy.  This comic features the amazing artwork of Alex Ross, whose painted work feels like a glimpse of photographs from another reality.  I would highly recommend this comic to everyone, particularly those who think that superhero comics have become silly and childish, with no message of hope to be had in their overly dark pages.

There you have it, fair readers.  While I have managed to ingest other solid comic books from our library, nothing comes close to these three great stories.  If you are looking for more articles to scratch your comic book itch, be sure to pop over to Geek Force Network, where I have recently highlighted several great indie comics (and video games!).  While you’re at it, why not check out your local library?  It might surprise you to see how much sequential art is nestled right beside the summer reading program lists.

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Laura’s Picks of 2013

LauraNZWineAnother year, another list of games that my wife really enjoyed.  It’s rather interesting that most of the triple-A games we played last year were bought by Laura.  I feel like some sort of video gaming hipster by comparison.  “Oh, you bought games at brick-and-mortar stores?  How plebian.”  Oh well.  At least she managed to keep the two of us in relevant gaming conversations with our peers.  Here are Laura’s Favorite Games of 2013!

Thomas was Alone

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This is just the best game. It is super simple in a way that is utterly beautiful. You would be surprised at how attached you can become a sentient rectangle.

Tomb Raider

TombRaiderZiplineFor as much as I gripe and complain about this game, the fact remains that beneath all of its tedious story and useless weapon-pushing, Tomb Raider was a very good game. I complain mostly at the lost potential of the gameplay. My favorite part of Tomb Raider occurs once the “game” portion is over — when the player is free to explore the island; collecting artifacts and killing/sparing enemies in whatever manner they deem necessary. For all its insistence that the player use guns and rocket launchers, the stealth and bow options are very well executed. It proves there is potential for good alternative stealth options in triple-A games and I’d like to see more of that in 2014.

Bioshock Infinite

bioshockinfinitecointossThis game was probably the one I talked about the most. Probably because it is a game that wants you to talk about it, if for nothing else than the ending is kind of weird and hard to follow. I’ve had a number of discussions with Chip about the ending alone, mostly because you need at least 3 different perspectives in order to get a vague sense of understanding. I loved the artwork though. I even had a huge article that I wrote about the art style of the Bioshock Infinite that I was never able to whittle down to a manageable length, so I never posted it. But I loved the original Bioshock and was not disappointed in the sequel (I mean…maybe a little).

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Chip’s Picks of 2013

ThumbsUpVGAfter a rocky start to 2014, the two of us at GIMMGP HQ can relax and take a moment to reflect on the passing of another year.  2013 was an interesting time for Games I Made My Girlfriend Play.  Laura and I started the year with a visit to MAGFest, where we played a pile of rhythm games and watched fantastic performances by The Protomen and VGO.  Most of our spring and early summer were spent on little trips in the immediate area and playing triple-A releases on our home consoles.  Towards the end of the warmer months, Laura and I fought over control for the 3DS in order to play the onslaught of amazing handheld titles released in 2013.  After a late trip to the west coast, we returned to GIMMGP Headquarters in the winter where our iPad surprisingly became the primary gaming device through the end of the year.

Looking back over all of the new games Laura and I played during the year, it is rather difficult to choose just three titles that I consider the best I encountered.  But since it seems to be all the rage to make lists at the start of the year (whether to look back or plan ahead), here are my Favorite Games of 2013.  Just a reminder, not all of these titles may have released last year, but I certainly played each of them for the first time in 2013.

Fez

FezWaterfallI feel like Fez is the game I have been waiting to play for years.  This statement isn’t meant to be some sort of grand compliment to the game, implying it is the legendary title for which I have longed.  Fez simply took its sweet time to get to my home console.  Not to say that the game did not languish in development hell; the story of Phil Fish and Polytron have become things of gaming tabloids thanks to angry internet mobs and Indie Game: The Movie.  But in spite of all the vitriol and backlash surrounding this game and its creator, Fez was a fantastic game in which I became deeply immersed.  The colorful world that seemed so bright and cheery in screenshots was actually quite serene, filled with moments of mystery and deep reflection.  On the surface, I was simply collecting little geometric shapes in order to repair a giant, golden hexahedron.  But as I continued to search this vast land, I felt like I had become only a tiny part of a grand experience that existed ages before me.  Combined with a soundtrack that is filled with haunting prog-rock styled melodies, Fez was one of the most engaging entertainment experiences I had all year.

As a fun aside, I first played Fez at the Penny Arcade Expo featured in Indie Game: The Movie.  When Laura and I watched the film, I kept expecting to show up as one of the people at the demo kiosk, particularly because I was too tall to stand, so I had to kneel before the machine to play.  Alas, I had no fifteen seconds of fame in 2013.

Tokyo Jungle

TokyoJunglePomI can sell this game with one sentence: Play as a Pomeranian who is trying to survive and make a family of puppies on the post-apocalyptic streets of Tokyo, which is inhabited exclusively by animals of all shapes and sizes.  Okay, so it’s a bit of a run-on, but you get the point.  I knew I would love Tokyo Jungle from the outset, but I had no idea that its arcade-style survival mode would be what kept me playing for weeks on end.  The challenge of trying to win against the forces of nature as all sorts of realistic wildlife makes for a super-fun game.  The map may be rather limited, but random generation of animals and environmental effects kept Tokyo Jungle fresh time and time again.  Top it all off with local co-op and unlockable costumes for every creature, and I am still getting mileage off of this PS3 gem.

Pro-tip: When playing co-op, have one player pick a grazer and another player pick a predator.  That way, the herbivore can kill unsuspecting prey for their carnivore friend to consume!  Isn’t the food chain amazing?

Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

As a yearly tradition around November, Laura and I trade Christmas lists to get gift ideas for one another.  Thanks to the release of a certain 3DS game, my list was rather short this year.  The only must-have item on my list (and my favorite game of 2013), was none other than Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

ALinkBetweenWorldsTektiteWhen I first heard about this direct sequel to the beloved SNES Zelda, I actually scoffed at the notion.  “Nintendo must be pretty desperate to cash in on nostalgia for a 22-year old game,” I remarked.  “Did they think we forgot Skyward Sword was such a letdown?”  Fortunately, it seems all of the issues that plagued the latest Wii Zelda were directly addressed in A Link Between Worlds.  The tight linear path that often restricts the feeling of adventure in Link’s quests was abandoned, allowing the player to tackle the dungeons in any order.  The option of renting items and upgrading each one as a side-quest made the game seem more personal, since I could pick and choose just which tools to keep at my disposal.  The soundtrack was a blend of classic Zelda tunes put to a more folk/medieval sound, which was a joy to hear.  Best of all, the new “wall-painting” mechanic added an entirely different sort of thinking to the game; breaking the usual “lock and key” mold of Zelda puzzles and challenging the player in new ways.  All of these elements were combined in one well-polished package that was wonderful to play and immensely fun.

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