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Albums of the Month: July 2014

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Album: Lazaretto

Artist: Jack White

Released: June 10th, 2014

Highlights: Temporary Ground, Would You Fight For My Love?, Just One Drink, Entitlement

“Lazaretto”, Jack White's second solo record, does not take grand deviations from its predecessor “Blunderbuss”. Jack does not break into any new sonic grounds. He does, however, continue to guide us through the varied hall of influences he has been drinking from since the early point of his career. Where the White Stripes served as an output for his blues love, his solo albums are a mean for him to tackle other sources, and “Lazaretto” is the second step on that journey.

Differently from “Blunderbuss”, here it is harder to find direct links to The White Stripes, which seems to indicate Jack has dived deeper into his country and folk roots. While that record had “Sixteen Saltines”, a riff-centric song that could have been right at home on “Icky Thump”, “Lazaretto” only comes close to that garage vibe on “Three Women”, the album's opener and an inventive Blind Willie McTell cover; "Would You Fight for My Love?", a dynamic quite-and-loud tune; and “High Ball Stepper”, a great quirky instrumental with distorted guitar screams and wacky shifts.

Everywhere else, Jack toys around with a width of instruments and textures that are beyond what he could achieve alongside Meg due to the restrictions the duo imposed upon themselves. The title song and “That Black Bat Licorice”, for example, flirt with funky beats as a mad Jack shouts a quick succession of words over the microphone, while “Just One Drink” drives forward like the Velvet Underground's “I'm Waiting for the Man”.

The album's greatest strengths, though, lie in the incredible melodies White is able to spin, and nowhere do they become more clear than in the acoustic tunes. The unplugged trio of “Temporary Ground”, “Entitlement”, and “Alone in My Home” are among the catchiest songs he has ever written, which goes to show that, aside from being a wonderful entertainer, Jack White remains a stellar and resourceful composer. “Lazaretto” brings that overwhelming prowess to an engaging display.

Album: Turn Blue

Artist: The Black Keys

Released: May 12th 2014

Highlights: Weight of Love, Fever, In Our Prime, Gotta Get Away

Coming on the heels of “Brothers” and “El Camino”, two albums of extreme commercial and critical success, “Turn Blue” marks the fourth straight time on which Danger Mouse takes on the role of producer for The Black Keys. Like it happened on “El Camino”, aside from manning the board he also shares songwriting credits with Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney on all of the album's eleven tunes. Yet, despite presenting the same formula as its successful predecessors, the results here are far more mixed.

“Brothers” and “El Camino” worked well for they achieved a perfect balance between the producer's electronic soulful sound and The Black Keys' pop-infused blues. “Turn Blue” shows that equilibrium shifting into a more digital spectrum, leaving the guitar and drums either absent or buried in a mix of keyboards. Consequently, while “Turn Blue” does take the band to new grounds – an achievement that is always remarkable, the land they find here is not completely beneficial to the duo's compositions.

The record does work quite well in some points. Sometimes it is because the combination just clicks, such as on “Weight of Love”, where The Black Keys reach into lush and psychedelic Pink Floyd territory, with Gilmour-like solos included; or “Fever” and “Turn Blue”. In other occasions, it is because the group abandons the bells and whistles for stripped-down efforts, like the energetic album closer “Gotta Get Away”, and “In Our Prime”, a weary bluesy number filled with angst.

It is hard to determine why “Turn Blue” is not completely satisfying, but the group – maybe due to trusting their producer too much – occasionally comes off as comfortable, as if they were resting on past laurels. Nowhere is it more evident than on the sequence of five songs that begins with “Year in Review” and ends with “10 Lovers”, where the group turns on their musical autopilot. In spite of its enjoyable moments, “Turn Blue” shows that the great partnership between the group and Danger Mouse might have run its course.

Album: Indie Cindy

Artist: Pixies

Released: April 28th, 2014

Highlights: What Goes Boom, Greens and Blues, Indie Cindy

For any band, producing a record some twenty-three years after their last work is a daunting challenge. For a group whose original run was a flawless seven-year period that yielded four classic records and one historic EP, it is even harder. If any rock act was to pull off something of the sort with great success, the Pixies would have to be a safe bet. After all, they achieved notoriety by defying conventions with mind-twisting dynamics and lyrics of intricate symbolism. They could sure do it, right?

“Indie Cindy” is a tough work to assess. After two decades, it is natural to expect that Francis, Santiago, and Lovering have greatly changed both as people and musicians, so expecting a straight follow-up to “Trompe le Monde” would be downright wrong. At the same time, it is impossible not to compare it to the ridiculously high bar set by the group between 1986 and 1993. That is why it warrants two distinct evaluations: in a bubble it is a good fun album, while as a Pixies record it falls flat.

It is fun because Francis knows a great rock hook when he sees it, as it is evident on the pleasant poppy “Greens and Blues”, which includes a signature Santiago wizard guitar, the sunny surfer “Another Toe in the Ocean”, and the beautiful chorus of “Ring the Bell”. At the same time, it lacks those fall-out-of-the-chair punk moments that were generally caused by the early tunes' mad progression and the quick swapping of random shouts for blissful quietness.

Truth be told, Francis does achieve – to some level – that kind of flooring magic. The opener “What Goes Boom”, the title song “Indie Cindy”, and the threatening “Magdalena 318" have that unique Pixies edge. But, at the same, the album falls short of the Pixies greatness on good but pedestrian tunes like “Andro Queen” - which would have been great on a Francis solo record, "Blue Eyed Hexe" – an attempt to rewrite the classic “U-Mass”, and “Bagboy” - whose great chorus is wasted on a song with awkward verses.

Tracking Treasures, Striking Gold

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Aside from Splatoon, the possible first step in the life of a brand new Nintendo franchise, no other E3 announcement made by the company caused as much surprise as Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. The goofy and adventurous character was introduced on the original Super Mario Galaxy as a comic relief whose bravery got him into trouble all around the universe. Although he was one of the most beloved and remarkable side-characters found on that pair of platforming masterpieces, it was hard to imagine he would eventually star in his own game.

When Super Mario 3D World arrived, Nintendo acknowledged his popularity by creating a handful of stages on which the fearless captain set out to find treasure. Those efforts took place in cubic environments that needed to be flipped around so that players could find ways to navigate through the maze-like maps. Those levels ended up working as pleasant puzzle-focused breaks from the platforming and coming off as light-hearted bonus stages that were greatly creative and widely entertaining.

Due to the brilliant simplicity embedded in those brief challenges, a character that had charm gained utility. Fans started claiming for downloadable content centered around that gameplay style, and some went as far as suggesting Nintendo should work on a full digital game packed with a bunch of those inventive levels.

It is unknown whether Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker only came to be due to the positive response it received from the fanbase, or if the Big N already had such a project in its backlog just waiting to be greenlit in case the public opinion feel in love with the levels contained in Super Mario 3D World. Regardless of the cause, one thing is for sure: the consequence – the game's development – was certainly influenced in some way by the overwhelming feedback and pleas from the fans.

Surprisingly, though, upon the announcement of a title that was neither downloadable content nor a package of levels released as an e-shop exclusive, but a full-blown retail game, some began to question if the game's substance could sustain such a large release. In a world filled with sixty-dollar ten-hour shooters that regurgitate the same themes, ideas, worlds, and color palettes, a creative concept that is bound to explore some very unexpected terrain during the course of its adventure is cast into doubt.

The gameplay that backs up Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is indeed blatantly limited. Carrying a backpack of gigantic proportions, the main character cannot jump. Nor is he able to perform any acrobatic jumps and moves one would expected to find in a game that blends platforming and puzzle. He is not a resourceful explorer, and players must guide him through gauntlets with a limited set of alternatives.

However, such strong limitations should not be seen as some sort of weakness that will stop the title from maturing into a great full game. They are, in fact, its most intriguing quality, and if the glorious track record of Nintendo EAD is to be taken into account, then the developers will know how to take advantage of it.

Humanity's brightest ideas come to be in difficult scenarios on which adverse conditions must be surpassed. Necessity is the mother of the finest creations. In a smaller scope, the same can be said about videogames and the teams that produce them. Games that have wider scopes, while great, exist inside one grand sandbox where anything can be achieved without much effort, whereas those that gravitate around strict rules rely on major design breakthroughs in order to deliver a good experience.

Those are exactly the conditions under which Nintendo seems to thrive. Their games rely on imagination rather than brute force; a direct effect of the fact the company started its electronic run during a time of very limited hardware power.

Mario runs and jumps; Donkey Kong's set of skills is equally limited; Fox and his team hop into airwings and blast it all away; Yoshi eats his enemies and turns them into eggs; Kirby swallows foes in order to steal their powers; and Olimar's powers only go as far as his pikmin can take him. And within the tight confines of each of those characters' abilities, Nintendo is able to pull off magnificent games of double-digit length that keep surprising players all the way through.

The key to that chest of gaming goodness is one: creative design. And inside its clever simplicity, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker looks just like the type of game that will foster imaginative solutions and tricks in its developers.

In a few months, we will watch those seeds blossom right in front of our eyes, and Nintendo will have another excellent franchise under its power.

Kirby: Triple Deluxe Review

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Triple Deluxe is a nearly perfect blueprint of what can be creatively done with the 3DS and its visual effects

For the first years of the 3DS' existence, what was once thought to be its key feature – the 3-D effects – remained a nice little extra that was miles away from being a true game-changer. Super Mario 3D Land made a commendable effort in trying to create platforming elements that were affected by the depth present on the system's top screen; however, the game just made use of them occasionally in order to bring some twists to certain stages. The 3DS, in spite of its great library, remained without a flagship title that truly embraced its tridimensional quirks and validated Nintendo's bet on 3-D.

Fast forward to 2014, and such a game has – at last – arrived. Kirby: Triple Deluxe does not require the use of 3-D to be played and enjoyed; a wise choice considering a great part of the pink puffball's audience consists of youngsters that are under six years old and should not be exposed to the system's 3-D effects. However, the game and its mechanics are totally built around the sense of depth provided by the handheld, adding a whole bunch of personality to yet another great entry to the Kirby franchise and creating inventive stage design possibilities that are nicely explored by the folks from HAL Laboratory.

The game's adorable opening shows the cuddly hero having fun around Dream Land and quietly going to bed. In the middle of the night, though, a mysterious gigantic beanstalk sprouts from the ground and lifts both Kirby's house and King Dedede's castle high into the sky. Shocked by what he sees when he wakes up, he heads to the king's castle and, upon witnessing his kidnapping, decides to follow the sinister captor.

The adventure takes place across six floating islands (the game's worlds) each featuring between five and six regular levels and one boss. Although the overworld design of the islands suggests that each focuses on a specific kind of scenario, all of the levels offer pretty unique landscapes that are nicely integrated with the overall geography of where they are. Consequently, not only does Triple Deluxe deliver a pretty good deal of variety in terms of obstacles, it is also visually dynamic, greatly supporting the general freshness that permeates the game.

All of the levels set out with the goal of taking advantage of the system's 3-D. Hence, every single one of them is built around two layers, and Kirby can travel between the foreground and background by using special warp stars. The notion of depth, which is greatly accentuated by turning up the 3-D slider, becomes essential due to the fact numerous enemies, mechanics and traps have been designed to toy around with that perception.

Crazy contraptions will blast projectiles towards the screen, trees that are cut by foes on the background will fall on Kirby, enemies attached to ropes will swing between layers as if they are having fun on a playground, and players will find weapons that can affect both layers at the same time - such as a powerful laser Kirby can carry around for a while or canons that must be used to destroy boulders on the background.

Stages are not the only element of the game designed around 3-D, as the bosses also make fantastic use of those twists. They are, by far, one of the best and most creative set of big baddies to ever appear on a Nintendo game. All of them have more than one form, and the array of moves each of the forms possesses is astonishingly big. While the levels display extremely creative 3-D twists, the bosses often take them to whole new levels of inventiveness. Even the Whispy Woods, one of the series' most simple and traditional bosses, has quite a few tridimensional tricks on its sleeve.

Although it displays an incredible influx of creativity through most of the journey, Triple Deluxe stumbles a little bit when it comes close to the finish line. The last portion of the game, starting with the tail-end of the 5th world, recycles some old ideas a little bit too much – including boss rematches. As a consequence, a part of the adventure that is supposed to be its very peak ends up coming up a little bit short in relation to the rest of the game, which is widely creative from its very first seconds.

Despite all the 3-D novelty, Triple Deluxe remains a Kirby game at heart. Standards of the series – such as a generally forgiving difficulty, and the character's ability to float and suck the power out of his enemies and use them for his own good – are back in full force. Joined by a catchy joyful soundtrack and colorful graphics, they greatly contribute to the feel-good vibe that is present on every installment of the franchise, which makes Kirby come off as this little cute hero who is so awesomely overpowered he quickly disposes of his enemies.

The culmination of that power comes in the shape of Hypernova, Kirby's newest and most hilarious skill. With it, the hero's sucking power is greatly increased, allowing him to swallow pretty much everything that is on screen. Instead of using it as some sort of invincibility aura – which would be rather dull – designers wisely crafted a bunch of varied clever puzzles and even on-stage bosses that require the power, adding Hypernova to the numerous tools Triple Deluxe uses to surprise players.

It is worth noting that the overall challenge increases as the game advances, and some of the levels towards the end can be relatively hard even if they won't cause players to lose many lives. Still, the game packs extra rewards and challenges to the more dedicated gamers. For starters, each level has a few hidden Sun Stones that can usually be acquired by locating and solving very clever puzzles, some of which smartly utilize the 3DS' tilt controls to great effect. Upon collecting all Sun Stones in a world, a wild extra level – usually a fun potpourri of all mechanics introduced in that world – is unlocked.

The game also holds a whopping 250 key-chains. Depicting iconic characters that have appeared across the many years of the franchise, they are cleverly hidden around the stages. Each of the levels contains one specific gold key-chain, and a few blue ones. Sadly, the latter type awards figures that are random. Therefore, those who want to complete their collection will most likely – at some point – have to grind for them so the randomizer eventually hands out the ones that are missing. It would have been far more engaging – and less frustrating – if the blue key-chains, like the gold ones, were level-specific.

Beating the game with all of the collectibles amounts to a total of about fifteen hours of gameplay. However, in the tradition of the franchise, there is a whole lot more to Triple Deluxe. There are two Boss Rush modes, a mini-game that mixes rhythm and platforming, and a wacky time-trial adventure mode on which King Dedede must, with the aid of shortcuts, traverse slightly altered versions of the levels found on the regular adventure.

The peak of the avalanche of extra content, though, is Kirby Fighters. On it, players choose one of the many copy abilities available in order to tackle a series of Smash Bros-like battles – with items and stage hazards included – on which numerous Kirbys try to beat each other into submission. It is ridiculously fun, and the good array of copy abilities to choose from and the adjustable difficulty makes it highly replayable, challenging, and accessible at the same time. Its only downside is that there is no online multiplayer; the only way to fight against friends is through local download play.

The end result, despite a few shortcoming here and there, is one of the brightest moments of the Kirby series. More than that, Triple Deluxe is actually a major landmark on the Nintendo 3DS' life cycle for it shows that 3-D effects can be successfully used to affect and inspire gameplay. Whether or not it will inspire other companies to build more games around the system's key feature is unknown, but one thing is for sure: Triple Deluxe is a nearly perfect blueprint of what can be creatively done with the 3DS. It is an essential item in the collection of all 3DS owners.

Albums of the Month: June 2014

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Album: Daydream Nation

Artist: Sonic Youth

Released: October 1st, 1988

Highlights: Teen Age Riot, 'Cross the Breeze, Candle, Hyperstation

“Daydream Nation” marks the height of Sonic Youth's meteoric evolution through the early stage of their career. Where “EVOL” and “Sister” displayed the band giving structure to the pure noise of their first three records, “Daydream Nation” takes one extra step forward. It abandons the more atmospheric sonic of its predecessors for a nearly incessant vicious rock attack.

Although the guitars remain oddly tunned, hence retaining the signature Sonic Youth spice, they are no longer focused on producing loose soundscapes in which the group's melodies inhabited. That songwriting approach is replaced by riff-driven tracks that bring vocals to the forefront. It makes the group far more accessible – or, at least, as accessible as Sonic Youth can get – but it also brings the spotlight towards the band's irregular lyrics, which alternate moments of brilliancy (such as the whole of “Teen Age Riot”) and nonsense.

At the same time it forsakes part of the band's early identity, the record also brings to the studio – for the first time – one of Sonic Youth's greatest live staples: their gripping jams. The results are stellar. While their first five records were relatively short, “Daydream Nation” is a monster. Five of its fourteen songs float around the seven-minute mark, making the album clock at seventy minutes of a loud and distorted guitar pounding.

And that, right there, might be the record's greatest victory. Whereas most artists that take on the challenge of a double-album opt for stylistic variety, Sonic Youth – as usual – chose to swim against the current. With the exception of “Candle”, an island of beauty in the midst of a sea of chaos, “Daydream Nation” finds its musical focal point right on its opener and runs with it until its final seconds. It works wonderfully, and the group builds the ultimate landmark that proves they are giants within the alternative scene.

Album: Alligator

Artist: The National

Released: April 12nd, 2005

Highlights: Secret Meeting, Lit Up, The Geese of Beverly Road, Mr. November

With “Alligator”, their third record, The National strikes a fantastic balance between their self-titled debut and “Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers”. Where the former was acoustic misery sprinkled with great melodies, the latter went for layered atmospherics that added weight to the sad lyrics coined by Matt Berninger. “Alligator” stands right in the middle of that road and, as a consequence, the group finds a powerful sound on which their songwriting fits like a glove.

The album is quick to announce that discovery through its opener, the gorgeous “Secret Meeting”. A delicate unplugged guitar is backed up by an electric one that beautifully breaks through on the song's soaring chorus, paving the way for numerous numbers on which deep arrangements and instrumentation lend desperation and sorrow to the band's general anguish.

That constant mood gives birth to an album that is extremely cohesive in theme and music. On “Friend of Mine”, Matt longs for a friend who has taken a wrong turn in life; on “Val Jester”, jealousy gets to him and he seems to wish he had overprotected his daughter so she wouldn't have gone away; and on “Karen” he tries to desperately hold onto to a girlfriend who is set on leaving him. His often disconnected wording, which joins images from different times and places into one murky song, gives away a drunk and derailed feel to his characters, making the songs even more powerful.

At the same time, that heavy atmosphere sets the table so that the album's more distinctive compositions can stand out. The main examples of that effect are “Mr. November” and “Lit Up”, whose choruses come off as gloriously celebratory and self-empowering; and “The Geese of Beverly Road, the album's centerpiece and a song that switches miserable sadness for a contemplative sorrow, finding some hope in the carefree and confident demeanor of children, and giving the album some sort of bittersweet conclusion.

Album: On the Beach

Artist: Neil Young

Released: July 16th, 1974

Highlights: See the Sky About to Rain, On the Beach, Ambulance Blues

When one looks at a title like “On the Beach”, it is somehow natural to expect a record filled with hopeful sunny tunes that could accompany people as they head out for some unforgettable summer vacation. For Neil Young, though, the rendezvous of the sand and the ocean seems to be a contemplative place where a man can come to grips with his inner demons.

With lyrics such as “I'm deep inside myself but I'll get out somehow”, “I need a crowd of people, but I can't face them day to day”, and “There ain't nothin' like a friend who can tell you you're just pissin' in the wind”, the record is a bleak journey. It is a trip through the mind of a man who, in addition to never feeling entirely comfortable with the success he had achieved, had to deal with losing friends that fell victim to the rock-star lifestyle.

Young and his band sound downright weary throughout the record, but – here – that is not a bad thing at all. Not only does it give the record the hard-edged, loose, raw, and careless vibe some of Neil's best recordings have, it also plays right into the hands of the style of the songs. Out of the eight songs, three feature the standard 12-bar blues progression, so the performers' state of mind happens to boost the emotional heights of the numbers

The rest of the tunes, with the exception of the relatively light opener “Walk On”, are sorrowful acoustic ballads on which Neil Young stands still in the midst of his turmoil, culminating with “Ambulance Blues” that – on its nine minutes – manages to hold both moments of silent reminiscence and spilled anger. Although it is not as accessible as “Harvest” and “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere”, “On the Beach” is deeper and more rewarding than both, standing tall with “Tonight's the Night” as the best moment of Young's excellent discography.

Album: Love and Theft

Artist: Bob Dylan

Released: September 11th, 2001

Highlights: Mississippi, Summer Days, Floater, High Water

After recording a collection of not-so-stellar hits and terrible misses during the 80s and most of the 90s, Bob Dylan seemed to re-encounter his inner genius on the turn-of-the-century trilogy of “Time Out of Mind”, “Love and Theft”, and “Modern Times”. Out of the three late-career masterpieces, “Love and Theft” is the strongest one, measuring up to his brilliant 60s output, and ranking as one of his best works.

On “Time Out of Mind”, Dylan achieved his creative rebirth in two ways: he contemplated his old-age wisdom and mortality in numerous quiet tunes, and visited his musical roots with great blues numbers. Here, he abandons the former, and fully embraces the latter. “Love and Theft” is not all about blues, though, even if most of the songs do sport the traditional 12-bar structure. The record is a trip through American music, joining folk, country, and Americana into one delightful varied collection.

Lyrically, the album is purely joyful. Its lengthy lyrics are often disconnected, but they are downright funny, unleashing a series of lines that – at their best – are a clash of sagacity and wittiness. It is blatant that Dylan had a blast recording the album, and looseness with which he approached the whole production process leaks into most of the songs. In his misery, his self-deprecating humor shines bright; in his glory, he sounds like he could build an empire; and in his emotions, he spins beautiful and unusual poetry that conveys an unshakable sense of happiness.

It is an album that wears its sources on its sleeve; or better yet, on its title. Dylan drinks straight from the fountain of old American musicians whose contributions have been invaluable to everything that followed them. And, in turn, he creates astonishing works of art to call his own: the foreboding “High Water” and its threatening ambiance that takes one right to the middle to the 1927 Mississippi Flood, the sweet and romantic “Moonlight” with its uplifting imagery, and many others. It's an undeniable tour de force, and it is proof that the grizzled man can still amaze.

Little Flower

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About six months ago, my mother made a nice decision: she decided she would buy the family a pet. Having grown up in a big house with an even bigger yard that was full of animals had made her a pet-lover. However, given how she has lived in an apartment since she married my father, she could never really have one after she reached adulthood.

She, then, struck gold when she discovered cockatiels: caged domestic birds that do not require a lot of space to be raised. I have always hated the notion of caged birds, but when she told me those birds could be kept out of the cage walking around the house I thought it would be a great idea.

My father brought in the bird one day, and my sister was supposed to give her a name. Since she could not choose among all the names that she thought of (most of which were homages to famous pop-culture birds) my mother started calling out cockatiel Little Flower, and the name did stick.

At first she was a little shy around us, but with time – like most pets – she became a full-time member of the family. If we left her alone in a room, she would start chirping loudly until somebody showed up. Whenever someone woke up in the morning, or arrived after work and school, she would excitedly move around and flap her wings. She was constantly trying to stay close to everybody as she ran around the house after us and climbed on chairs, beds, couches and various objects to find a way to be closer.

She took a special liking for me, as when the whole family was home I was usually the target of her wild pursuits and crazy climbs, and she would occasionally shout when I slid the key into the door. When I was home alone with her and went to the bathroom to take a shower, I would always find her right by the door when I was done; she would just stand there waiting for as long as it took me to be finished.

She quickly became the darling of the house. Everybody loved whistling to her. My mother had her as her greatest companion when she cooked on weekends or woke up early in the morning to make breakfast. She chased my father around the house as he organized everything. And my aunt, who used to spend lonely afternoons on the apartment, now had a friend to keep her company. It all lasted until a few weeks ago.

When I was younger, my grandmother used to say that – sometimes – God would come to us through a beautiful white dove. As a wise Portuguese woman who loved to give advice, she turned out to be right about a whole bunch of things she said to our family. However, on that specific case, I think she was wrong about the species of the heavenly bird, for – in our case – God interceded in our lives in the shape of a little white cockatiel.

I have heard many people say that one of the main ways to get through the loss of someone special is to understand the lessons that they left behind. By doing so, it is possible to learn a valuable lesson from their passing and honor their memory by applying it on our day-to-day life. In the case of Little Flower, I already have that quite figured out.

The last time I saw her, I was sitting on the couch getting ready to play something after a tiring day at work. I looked to the side and saw her standing by the living room door taking a peak towards where I was sitting. She probably did not see me, otherwise she would have come running to me while making noises and finding a way to climb up so she could stand closer to where I was.

I thought about calling her with a whistle like I always did, but I chose not to. I had the selfish thought that if I did whistle she would come, like she always did, and try to climb all over me, which would disturb and interrupt my playing given the fact I would have to pay attention to what she was doing. I decided it would be best to leave her in the kitchen with my father and my mother while they had dinner like she often did.

Five minutes later, all I heard was her last desperate shout, as my father and my mother started the most heartbreaking sequence of screaming and crying I have ever witnessed. My father, after all the confusion, calmly said “She is resting now”, and my mother broke down crying for having lost her greatest companion and friend around the house.

I stayed there sitting and paralyzed, looking towards the floor. I was unable to tell whether or not I was in some sort of terrible nightmare. I could not bring myself to crying, as my father and my mother were already desperate enough for having witnessed the whole thing. And I could not muster the courage to go to the kitchen and see what had happened in fear of what I might end up seeing.

In hindsight, especially when compared to the invariably naïve and good-hearted behavior displayed by pretty much all animals, my decision was completely heartless. All she had to give us were chirps of happiness and excited wing flaps whenever she saw a member of the family. She gave us the joy of her presence without asking for much in return. All she wanted to do was stand beside us as constantly as possible.

She wanted it so badly and innocently that it ended up costing her life. I know I am not to blame, and neither are my father and mother. It was all a silly domestic accident that ended up taking a happy and delicate life away in the split of a second. However, as my grandmother had accurately predicted, God did intervene through a white bird, and he taught me a lesson in a hard and tragic way.

I don't consider myself to be an overly selfish person. I am not as generous as a whole lot of giving friends I have, but I often think about the well-being of those around me – even if I do not know them. However, the fact that I was so completely selfish on the very last time I saw Little Flower makes my heart sink. She would have been delighted if I had called her, but I did not.

It made me rethink every single, generally unintentional, selfish act that I have ever had, and it made me want to try to be a better person. We are all aware that it is impossible to tell when we will see a special someone for the last time, but when life shows us the sad reality of that fact in such a strong way, the point is driven home very effectively.

I wish I could have said goodbye, but I could not as my father held her in the kitchen when she gave her last breath. I wish I had let her happily climb all over me more frequently. I wish I had cuddled her more often every morning instead of rushing out the door to work.

Therefore, I promised her and myself that I would try my best not to repeat the same mistakes I made with such a pure creature in my relationships with other people I care for. And I also promised that whenever an instinctive selfish action came to my mind, I would try to avoid letting it materialize. I cannot promise I will succeed in those goals, after all humans are way more flawed than animals and birds, but in her memory I will try my best.

And hopefully, when she is watching from up there alongside other loved ones that have also gone, she will know that her life was not in vain. Thank you, Little Flower.

E3 2014: Thoughts and Words Part II

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As a testament to how many awesome games Nintendo had in display, the list of E3 2014 titles had to be split into two posts. So here is the second part of all the goodness showcased by the company.


In a single E3, Nintendo has given its fans not one, but two new IPs. While Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. will rock the 3DS, Splatoon will bring a unique brand of paintball to the Wii U. It might not be a grand adventure like Zelda or a massive RPG like Xenoblade, but Splatoon makes one thing clear: Nintendo is an extremely flexible developer. Their franchises spread across a great amount of genres, and Splatoon extends that wide coverage by taking on the third-person shooter field.

Its white canvas-like scenarios draw natural comparisons to the Wii's De Blob, and its apparent focus on multiplayer gameplay will probably give Nintendo another online juggernaut to join Mario Kat 8 and Super Smash Bros. Splatoon has that signature Nintendo charm splattered all over it, and based on reactions by the media, its gameplay is also worthy of the Big N's stamp.

Star Fox Wii U

After nearly a decade, the time has finally come. Fox McCloud and his crew are finally embarking on a new adventure, and Shigeru Miyamoto is commanding the ship. The goals here seem to be two. First, Star Fox will, like other Miyamoto projects, make heavy use of the Gamepad to create new gameplay experiences. Secondly, and most importantly, it will try to bring the Star Fox franchise back to its winning days.

For fans, that second objective can be achieved quite easily, and all that it takes is following the recipe of the SNES and Nintendo 64 games, which featured numerous short but sweet missions that formed alternative paths towards the same goal. For developers, the Wii U game will be an opportunity to sprinkle that format with new concepts that will be able to move the series forward. The balance between those tendencies will most likely determine the tone of the reception the game will receive.

Super Smash Bros

With every passing announcement, the upcoming installment on the Super Smash Bros franchise gains in quality and depth. The additions of Pac-Man, Palutena, and Mii were already expected. The first is the signature character for Namco, a company that is heavily involved with the game's development; the second is a fan favorite and a major character of Sakurai's most recent work, Kid Icarus: Uprising; and the third has become the norm on pretty much all of Nintendo's first-party releases.

Instead of being a generic fighter, something that would certainly have spurred an array of negative comments from fans, the Mii will be a highly customizable character, which might make it appealing even when a horde of Nintendo stars are available to be selected. In addition, the flexibility brought to each character's moveset, a brand new addition to the series, will likely up the depth of skill Super Smash Bros can offer.

The Legend of Zelda Wii U

Other than a short trailer, not much has been revealed about The Legend of Zelda. Yet, the shortage of information has not stopped endless threads of speculation to rise all across the web. Eiji Aonuma, the game's director, did confirm that the Wii U game would follow and expand an open-world tendency that was also present on the 3DS' A Link Between Worlds. The game will give players a lot of freedom to explore, and that nature will be incorporated into the title's progression and puzzles.

Outside the realm of gameplay, The Legend of Zelda Wii U reiterates that, in the balanced cell-shaded look of Skyward Sword, Nintendo found the ideal tone for the franchise's eye-candy. It stops Zelda from merging into the onslaught of realistic-looking games that crowd the industry, while suspending it a few inches above reality, and many miles below Wind Waker's beautiful and timeless cartoonish look. The Legend of Zelda Wii U looks absolutely stunning and it will prove that, while not a powerhouse, the Wii U is able to pull off some flooring visuals.

Xenoblade Chronicles X

The formerly titled X has gained a new and more telling title: Xenoblade Chronicles X. Whether it is a simple re-branding in order underline the fact that it follows in the Wii game's footsteps, or the reveal of an actual connection between the two games is still unknown, but based on images and footage it is possible to see Xenoblade Chronicles X will deal with the same man vs. machine, and technology vs. nature theme of its spiritual predecessor.

The unfortunate, but slightly expected news, though, is that the game – just like most of the other Wii U titles announced by Nintendo – will only be released in 2015, leaving Hyrule Warriors, Bayonetta 2, and Super Smash Bros as the only major games that will carry the system and its users through the remaining months of the year. Still, if the title turns out to be at least half as good as Xenoblade, the wait will be more than worth it.

Yoshi's Wooly World

Out of all games that had been previously announced, absolutely none has evolved as much as Yoshi's Wooly World. Its once cute visuals have turned into mind-blowing layers of cloth and yarn filled with hypnotizing details and textures. If Kirby's Epic Yarn was already impressive, Yoshi's Wooly World takes the thread-based gameplay to new gorgeous and inventive levels.

After the disappointing Yoshi's New Island, Wooly World comes as an opportunity for the character to redeem itself, and if the recent track record of the folks at Good-Feel is taken into account, it is very safe to say that the game will deliver. Nearly ten years ago, Super Mario World 2 astonished the world with its crayon-drawn scenarios, producing an art style that has been praised and loved ever since. Yoshi's Wooly World looks to recreate that visual magic and back it up with creative gameplay. Hopefully, when it is all said and done, we can all look at it as the Yoshi's Island of the HD era.

E3 2014: Thoughts and Words Part I

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Following the sales boost Mario Kart 8 gave to the Wii U, this year's E3 was a clear display that Nintendo is fully bent on turning their latest home console into a profitable and appealing machine. During a forty-five minute show, the Big N unleashed a wave of great Wii U titles – some of which were already known to the general public, and others that were complete surprises – to make it clear to everyone that the system will receive a consistent stream of quality first-party titles during the next twelve months.

In that regard, their show was a resounding success, so let's have a look at the pieces that made this year's E3 such a big victory for Nintendo.

Bayonetta 2

Bayonetta 2 is undoubtedly Nintendo's biggest bet to bring gamers from the systems of its rivals into the Wii U. The sequel to the commercially and critically successful Platinum Games' hack and slash, the game only exists due to the company's support of the project and, consequently, on a rare feat for Nintendo, the third-party title will be released exclusively on.

The unexpected masterstroke, and one that will bridge the gap between longtime fans of the franchise and those who have yet to play Bayonetta, is the fact the original game – in a remastered form – will be packed with the retail version of the software. Players will receive two games for the price of one, and that great deal, paired with the likely high quality of the games, will serve as the entry point for numerous gamers who will become a part of the Wii U's install base.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

Captain Toad's full-fledged solo debut can be described in a few of words: glorious fan-service. The cubic levels that seamlessly blended platforming with puzzle-solving were one of the highlights of Super Mario 3D World, and a pleasant break from the traditional Mario levels. In fact, Captain Toad's little adventures were so well-received that many gamers were left hoping Nintendo would create a DLC package or a downloadable game with the jump-less hero as its star.

Realizing the incredible potential of the concept, Nintendo opted to, instead, deliver a complete game. Many question Treasure Tracker's value as a full game, but doing so is both doubting Nintendo's capacity to spring varied and clever ideas from simple scenarios, and overlooking how fun Toad's levels were on Mario's grand Wii U outing. The game will allow developers to focus on the novelty of the cubes to create challenges to a character that cannot jump, and the results will most likely be delightful, charming and creative.

Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.

In the midst of the Wii U extravaganza, S.T.E.A.M. emerges as Nintendo's big 3DS project. As a company that has worked to produce the amazing Fire Emblem and Advance Wars titles, Intelligent Systems knows how to create engaging strategy gameplay. This time around, though, by stepping away from those consolidated franchises, the developers will be able to tweak the traditional recipe.

Set on a steampunk London and powered by cell-shaded visuals inspired by comic books, the game promises to be accessible and deep at the same time. Players will be able to switch between the perspective of numerous characters to get better glimpses into the action or hide from enemies' sight, hence creating an interaction between the scenario and the characters that is rarely seen on the genre.

Hyrule Warriors

Given how pretty much all newly announced Wii U games are set to release in 2015, Hyrule Warriors has solidified its position as one of the biggest releases the system will get on 2014's second half. As if the weight of carrying the Zelda brand were not enough, the game will now hold the added pressure of keeping fans entertained until the 2015 flood of games moves in.

Visually, the game seems to show some improvements since its original unveiling, and the fact Zelda and Midna are playable will definitely appeal to fans of the two strong female characters. In terms of gameplay, it remains to be seen whether the game will fully embrace the Dynasty Warriors style – something that could spell some degree of trouble for it on the West, or if any influences will be extracted from Zelda games.

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse

Since the Nintendo DS had an unbelievable amount of great games that made use of its key functionalities, it is sometimes easy to forget some of its highlights. Kirby: Canvas Curse is one of the system's most overlooked gems, and – aside from being a stellar effort by HAL Laboratory – it was also one of the first games to show how game-changing the touch screen could be.

It could be argued that its sequel, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, would make more sense on the 3DS, but launching it on the Wii U is a wise move by Nintendo. The handheld already has a great Kirby game in the shape of Triple Deluxe, whereas the Wii U is still lacking on that front. Additionally, the title could do wonders to validate the system's poorly used Gamepad and – much like Canvas Curse originally did for the DS – it could serve to inspire other developers to take advantage of the tablet.

Mario Maker

Nintendo is not one to envy the creations of other companies. They, after all, aside from holding an impressive set of franchises, tend to aim for games that are quite distinctive from those produced by other studios. However, if there is one recently created well-regarded franchise that some developers on the EAD department wish they had thought of, it has got to be LittleBigPlanet. Mario Maker is, clearly, the Big N's response to Sackboy's universe.

The idea of being able to easily switch between old-school and modern visuals whilst crafting a level is incredible, and so is the possibility of playing through fan-made Mario gauntlets that will probably range from inventive to downright brutal. Sadly, despite the sheer awesomeness, it is impossible not to wish Nintendo had adopted more unique visuals, especially for the modern look of the game. The New Super Mario Bros assets have already been used in a whopping four games, so a revamped modern look (perhaps one that would highlight the game's do-it-yourself ways) would have given Mario Maker a great deal of personality.

E3 2014 Predictions: Dream a Dream Edition

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The expectations that surround the days leading up to E3 always make the imagination of most gamers go completely wild. The rumor mill spins so frantically that every single existing possibility is thrown out there in order to generate hype and speculation. Sadly, some of the great scenarios that are spilled are either totally far-fetched or not backed up by any solid evidence.

Mario RPG

Ever since the glorious Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, arguably the peak among all Mario RPGs, Nintendo has made a conscious effort to simplify the gameplay of the franchise, leaving only the Mario and Luigi series as the character's sole pure role-playing line of games. That strategy gave birth to the pleasant Super Paper Mario, but it also brought to life the dull Sticker Star.

Regardless of the recent irregular results, Mario RPGs have appeared on every Nintendo console since the SNES and the prospect of a possible Wii U game is inevitably exciting. Even with the recent shift the Paper Mario series took, moving from home consoles to handheld, expecting some sort of Mario RPG game to eventually show up is reasonable. However, there is not much indicating that this will be the E3 on which we will watch its reveal.


It is ridiculous to think that a franchise as well-regarded as F-Zero has been absent for over a decade. Sadly, given Nintendo's flooring number of successful IPs, the disappearing act is something the company can afford. Still, that drought – much like the one the Metroid franchise went through – has got to end eventually, especially when the futuristic and brutal racing provides a nice counterpoint to the easygoing nature of the Mario Kart games.

Nintendo knows that its fans miss Captain Falcon and his peers, and although Miyamoto was not a fan of the approach Sega had on F-Zero GX, the company cannot get away from the overwhelming acclaim that game received. With the Wii U's power and online functionalities, the successor to GX has the potential of being an enormous leap over the impressive Gamecube outing, and – hopefully – that is an opportunity Nintendo will not pass on.

Star Fox

Star Fox's no-show is not as long as F-Zero's, it is about three years shorter; nevertheless, it is a franchise that is sorely missed. It was responsible for one of the technological peaks of the Super Nintendo, and one of the finest games on the Nintendo 64. However, it lost a great deal of steam following those outstanding hits.

Due to its unquestionable legacy, not to mention the clamors of its fanbase, there is always a chance a new Star Fox game is announced. Additionally, with Nintendo's recent, and generally productive, strategy to outsource some of its franchises, the spacial crew has emerged as one of the main candidates to go through that kind of process. Yet, given that are no significant murmurs surrounding the saga, as opposed to all the talk regarding other expected titles, Star Fox remains a long shot for this year's E3.

E3 2014 Predictions: It Could Happen Edition

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There is little to no evidence these games will show up on this year's E3. At the same time, a reasonable argument could be built that it would make a whole lot of sense if they were to make an appearance. On this second edition of E3 2014 predictions, we look at titles whose reveals would not shock anyone.


New Metroid games are overdue for both the handheld and home console lines, and it is the only one of Nintendo's major franchises not to have a release on the current generation. Other M is already four years in the past, whereas Hunters – the last portable Samus adventure – was released a whopping eight years ago. Meanwhile, Metroid Fusion – the most recent sidescrolling installment – took place on the distant year of 2002.

With A Link Between Worlds, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and New Super Mario Bros, the company discovered that old-school renditions of their popular games are quite successful commercially and critically. Consequently, it comes as a shock that Metroid has yet to receive the same treatment. The Wii U and 3DS will probably eventually get their own Metroid titles, but right now the 3DS seems to be the most likely candidate, and a 2-D Metroid would make a whole lot of sense.

Yarn Yoshi

Unveiled in January 2013, Yarn Yoshi was supposed to be second incursion of a Nintendo character into a world of threads, needles, and buttons. Good-Feel, which had already done an absolutely fantastic job with the Wii's Kirby's Epic Yarn, seemed to be hard at work on the title that would bring Yoshi and his charming adventures back to a home console after a bunch of handheld outings.

However, even though Nintendo has done a handful of presentations since the game was originally announced, the title has seemingly disappeared. The doubts surrounding its current status keep it from being an absolute lock for the upcoming E3, but since Nintendo is not one to show games that are not far into development, it is probable the game is still around and its release will occur sooner rather than later.

Advance Wars

Ever since the Gameboy Advance days, the Advance Wars has become a major staple on Nintendo's handhelds. The Intelligent Systems franchise borrows heavily from the book written by Fire Emblem, and dresses it up in an appealing cartoonish coat backed up by brutally challenging missions. Across the previous two portables, the series has given birth to four stellar games, so that run will possibly continue.

Despite a strong first semester that featured Professor Layton, Kirby: Triple Deluxe, Mario Golf, and Bravely Default, the 3DS' second half of the year looks relatively empty even as Smash Bros looms on the horizon. Though the Wii U will end up being the ultimate focal point for Nintendo during the Direct, the little handheld beast will also get some attention and a new Advance Wars could captain the next wave of 3DS releases.


Although he has had an embarrassing showing on the Wii U due to the weak Game & Wario, Mario's rival has experienced a great deal of success in recent years in distinct fields. The WarioWare titles have transformed into a must for every new Nintendo platform, while the Wario Land series was skillfully rebooted by Good-Feel on the Wii's Wario Land: Shake It. Hence, the greedy fellow could end up appearing in many different forms.

Two factors work against his showing, though. Firstly, Game & Wario is fairly recent, and even though it is not a collection of microgames, the Big N might count it as a slightly tweaked WarioWare game. Secondly, given that Good-Feel is busy with Yarn Yoshi, if there is a Wario Land game being developed it is probably on the hands of some other company. Still, the announcement of a new Wario game would not be very surprising.

E3 2014 Predictions: You Know It's Coming Edition

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As Nintendo's online presentation for this year's E3 approaches, it is time to take a quick look at the games that have a chance of showing up. First, we glance at the ones that are an absolute lock to make an appearance.

The Legend of Zelda U

It is completely unknown how far into development the next installment of the Zelda franchise is. However, given that Skyward Sword is nearly three years behind us, not to mention Nintendo's desperate need to produce hardware-selling Wii U titles, it is very likely the world will get its first glimpse into the game when the Direct comes around.

As its release might be more than one year away, the company will probably opt to tease its fans with a short trailer instead of full-blown explosion of details and gameplay videos. Still, an effective and alluring showing – much like the one Twilight Princess got in 2004 – could be key to making the media and the public turn their heads towards the Wii U and look at it as the great gaming machine it actually is.

Super Smash Bros

As far as Nintendo goes, there is no doubt about it: Super Smash Bros will be the star of the show. With the release of its two versions probably happening within the next seven months, E3 2014 comes as the final huge opportunity the company will have to show what Sakurai and his crew have been cooking during the past years.

Expectations are naturally high. Even though the game's director updates the game's website on a daily basis, the fact that just 30 characters – and a relatively small amount of newcomers – have been unveiled leads many to believe the show will be packed with both new and old fighters, inventive battle arenas, and – maybe – one or two exciting modes.


X is by all means Nintendo's greatest Wii U weapon. Xenoblade was regarded by many as last generation's best JRPG. Yet, due to the Big N's reluctance to bring it to the West – something that only happened on the tail end of the Wii's life, its effect was greatly diluted. Now, the bigwigs are looking to avoid repeating the same mistake by putting a grand spotlight over the game and pushing it as a major release, and not an afterthought. As the game is expected to arrive during the next months, it will probably be fully dissected by the company throughout the event.

If Monolith Soft strikes gold once more, X could form – with Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros – a first-rate trio of games that would, together, appeal to a crowd that goes from the most casual gamers to those who have shunned Nintendo's systems during the past few generations. If X is presented just right and given the proper attention, it could garner an expected group of supporters for the system.

Hyrule Warriors

In a way, Hyrule Warriors is a very smart game, because it allows Nintendo to state that the Wii U will soon be home to an exclusive Zelda game without putting any sort of pressure on the development team behind the franchise's next real installment. The game will most likely turn out to be a nice little detour for Link, and even though many are not very excited about the prospect of playing Dynasty Warriors with a Zelda makeover, the title will serve the marketing department quite well.

With August already announced as the month of the game's Japanese release, Hyrule Warriors is either complete or nearing its final stages of development. Hence, the E3 Direct will have the full game at its disposal to be explored, and Nintendo will try its best to get as much gamers aboard as possible.