Nintendo of late have flattered to deceive during their E3 Directs. Last year’s effort, through its 25-minute Smash instruction manual, painted something of a worrying picture for Switch owners. Where were the rest of the games? February’s Nintendo Direct was pretty huge in terms of new announcements and exciting games, so how would Nintendo build on that to keep the hype train rolling into the summer? I’m sure you already bloody well know, so let’s just get to the good, the bad, and the rest.
Nintendo don’t generally tend to do logical. The delivery of their current paid online service (coming in after being free for the first year of the Switch’s life cycle), the online voice chat through a mobile app, the (until yesterday) baffling choice to remove online co-op for Super Mario Maker 2, and cloud saves working on only some Switch games (despite working without issue for the same games on other platforms) — these are just some of their nonsensical missteps on the Switch alone.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is an incredible game, one built around a framework that other open world games have arguably never bettered, and one that would, in most other company’s minds, be ripe to re-use for a quick sequel. But Zelda doesn’t really do sequels. Not since Majora’s Mask back in 2000 has Nintendo realized that the Hylian wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented every time if it’s working more than fine as it is.
In one of the very few actually surprising moments of E3 as a whole — let alone Nintendo’s relatively safe presentation — the sequel to Breath of the Wild was revealed with a cryptic and mysterious teaser. It was the type of saving grace that I can’t believe Nintendo hasn’t done in previous years. Those E3s where so little was expected of Nintendo that an HD port of Mario Sunshine would have been huge news are hopefully dead and gone now. They’ve finally realized that giving people more of something incredibly popular is as efficient as it is obligatory.
We know this game will play brilliantly, and the fact that it’s been set up with Link and Zelda exploring together and coming across spooky evil hopefully means we’ll see even more of a connection to Majora’s Mask if this game focuses on a darker, more narrative-heavy experience. We’ve enjoyed running around fields and dungeons; now it’ll hopefully be even better to care why.
Doug Bowser really isn’t Reggie is he? Can you imagine him kicking ass and taking names? I think I’d prefer actual Bowser as head of NoA, because this guy sucks. His flat, unfunny introduction and nervous screen time was pretty embarrassing, and set the tone for a somewhat drab 45 minutes mostly filled with games we already knew about. The whole thing was very nearly a complete rehash of February’s Direct, but while the games were more unsurprising rather than bad, Bowser was just bad.
Nobody should have been surprised to see Nintendo open their E3 Direct with a new Smash Bros. character. I probably shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was when it was revealed to be The Hero from Dragon Quest. I can hear the sword-haters’ piss boiling from here. While the character is a ‘mainstay’ from one of the most renowned RPG series in the world, it’s hard to see his inclusion (in various guises) as anything other than a way for Nintendo to promote sales of Dragon Quest XI and Builders 2 in the West. Hey, it worked for Fire Emblem.
Luigi’s Mansion 3 will definitely be good. I don’t really need to see any trailers of it to know that and, frankly, I don’t want that much of the content to be revealed over finding it out for myself. It was nice to see some of the new features given a bit of a nod, proving that Nintendo have got plenty more ideas up their sleeves to make a third iteration viable. As good as the game’s going to be, this segment of the Direct was definitely more engrossing for my dog than it was for me…
Will someone please tell me why Switch games have to be quite so damned expensive? Why must I have my nostalgia glands tickled by an announcement of Collection of Mana, and then almost inevitably have them stomped on by a $40 price tag. I will remind you, one of these games is a Game Boy title. Forty sodding dollars.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for Switch had been rumoured, but I never believed it possible. I still don’t, to be honest. That game had a crap ton of issues and wonkiness when it first launched on PS4 and Xbox One — you know, the consoles that are vastly superior to Switch in terms of hardware specs — back in 2015. Having resolved most of them, CD Projekt Red’s masterpiece stands tall as one of the greatest games of this generation, and I’m super annoyed that if it actually ends up miraculously working well on Switch that I’m going to have to buy and play it again.
The Other Mansion
“You could play Resident Evil in a scary abandoned house!” Yes, Nintendo, that’s exactly the type of thing to encourage. This whole segment was almost totally pointless and insultingly cringey. Who, I ask, thought this was good? This managed to actually top the terrible influencers trailer for Life is Strange 2, and I didn’t think that was possible.
It did have a vague point of existence, which was to announce that Resident Evil 5 and 6 — the two worst ones — are coming to Switch, following closely in the wake of REmake, Resident Evil 0, and Resident Evil 4’s release earlier this month. Assuming 5 and 6 are as much of a shameless ripoff as those three games are, we’re basically being given the privilege of paying just $150 to have the majority of the Resident Evil games on Switch.
The Motion Controls
No More Heroes 3 looks like it has motion controls. I’m not sure how I feel about this (no pun intended). To be fair, if anything is going to force me to go all 2008 on my controller and start waggling by myself on the bus (just kidding, I’d never take the bus), then it’s going to be suplexing some fool.
The Speed Limit
What’s going on here? Did my stream slow down? Did someone hit the half speed button? I swear Panzer Dragoon is meant to be faster than this. If this comes anywhere near the fantastic Panzer Dragoon: Orta, we are all in for a bloomin’ good time, but this version needs to pick its heels up and get a move on.
The Return of the Kings
Platinum Games are back, baybee! It may look anime as hell, but Astral Chain can shut up and take my money right now. The eponymous chain mechanic looks all kinds of splendid, even if the premise and story is bound to be mad as a box of frogs. It’s not far off either, which reminds me…
My word, there were a lot of games in this Direct that are coming out really soon. By the time this month is done, we’ll have our hands on Cadence of Hyrule, Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled, Bloodstained, and Super Mario Maker 2, with Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 arriving in July. It’s been a slow year, but the summer bounty, she is plentiful.
I cannot believe Nintendo got us with this again. I absolutely fell for it like the total sucker I am. I kid you not, I punched the air in time with the moment Duck Hunt Duo was unveiled, and then went absolutely radio rental when the real surprise quite literally landed. It’s Banjooooooo! I love the visual style they’ve given the bear and bird for Smash Ultimate, I love the moveset, the stage is perfect, the Jinjo final smash is perfect. Ahhhhhhhh, it feels good to finally get what you want, doesn’t it?
Man, this was a tough thing to decide upon, and I think I’ve actually softened on it in the course of writing this. On the one hand, if you’re not a Smash player then you got one surprise here, and had to wait through over an hour of what was effectively just the same Direct as February’s, only with different trailers. It doesn’t denigrate the excitement for the games Nintendo re-showed off, as there is so much quality heading to Switch for the rest of the year, but there are those constant holes that Nintendo fans hope will be plugged each year, and each year we’re disappointed. At this stage, are we ever going to get another F-Zero game?
Nintendo has, to its credit, hit a ton of high notes on Switch already, but it would have been just glorious to see the next Mario Kart announced here, the unveiling of the long-rumored new Switch models, or something, anything, on Metroid Prime 4. Having said all this, it’s pretty hard to complain about a direct that had a new Luigi’s Mansion, Pokémon, Animal Crossing, Fire Emblem, and two new Zelda titles, but only one of those was a blockbuster surprise announcement we hadn’t heard before. It’s best to think of the whole Direct as a solid confirmation that the Switch is being heavily supported this year — both by Nintendo and third parties — and then dwell on those glorious last few minutes over and over.
Lads and lasses. Banjo. In Smash. Seriously.
7/10 would breathe in the wild again
Kena: Bridge of Spirits Marks A Beautiful New Beginning For Ember Lab
Kena: Bridge of Spirits will mark a beautiful new age for Ember Lab as the company will hopefully continue to pursue the interactive medium.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits Review
Developer: Ember Lab | Publisher: Ember Lab | Genre: Action-Adventure | Platform: PlayStation 4/5, Microsoft Windows | Reviewed on: PlayStation 5
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the culmination of everything Ember Lab has created thus far. After years of presenting masterful shorts, it is only natural that the post-production company’s first video game project would flourish in the same charm its commercials and fan films have boasted since their inception. Despite being their first leap into a different medium of entertainment, Kena: Bridge of Spirits shows that Ember Lab is still on top of its game. The company has intertwined its best efforts into a seamless world of light and darkness that may occasionally appear dated but is absolutely worth visiting.
A Long-Awaited Awakening
Taking place in a world shaped by the presence of forces beyond the living, Kena: Bridge of Spirits‘ narrative absorbs its style and grace from what Ember Lab already succeeded with. While the story may not always explore its loveable protagonist to a deep extent, saying that the storytelling lacks depth would be a disservice to its emotional moments. To keep the premise as simple as possible without going into detail, the titular Kena is a spirit guide who must help lost souls find their way to what lies beyond the land of the living by repelling their darknesses. Her world’s story initially may playoff as generic, yet it grows to be both moving and surprising. Where the game’s focus really lies is in its gameplay and visuals.
As the player explores a lush open world, they will solve puzzles, fight humanoid spirits, upgrade weapons, and go on a collectathon for a handful of rewarding items. For an independent game that lacks the budget of a triple-A experience, Kena: Bridge of Spirits puts its smaller and larger competitions to shame. From its action to its artistic composition, the title knocks it out of the park with so many of its core design aspects. There may be a handful of problems with the gameplay, but its stylization and animated wonderland make it a nearly perfect adventure. Everything intertwines in a fashionable matter that feels effective and never loses focus, but there is certainly a warranted coat of polish behind its many highs.
There is a lot to love about Kena: Bridge of Spirits’ gameplay, but it is unquestionably where all of its shortcomings come from — many of these issues actually tend to go hand-in-hand for the most part as they tie into the player’s growth. While platforming and puzzle-solving are always a blast no matter what point in the narrative the player is at there are some noticeably annoying flaws that could have been easily fixed with connected solutions. Fighting enemies is always exciting and the controls are buttery smooth, but early odd difficulty curves and shallow progression often seep through the grander aspects.
During the first third of the game, the combat can oftentimes feel as if the player has an overwhelming upper hand on their enemies. Most of the hostile forces can be mowed down in less than two or three hits with players’ beginner attacks. These generic enemies may lack any thoughtful weaknesses, but thankfully the later foes require much more attention to overcome. However, getting smarter does not necessarily mean that the player will get to employ more skills. Kena: Bridge of Spirits can quite literally be beaten with the unaltered moves and weapons the player receives at the start of the adventure.
Disappointingly, Kena: Bridge of Spirits has a promising arsenal of abilities that provides no real progression — not because they aren’t hard to earn but due to their lasting worth. With only one melee weapon, a long-ranged bow, bombs, and the ability to dash, the game leaves itself with a small number of upgrades for the player to unlock that do not contribute much. The vast majority of these moves feel rewarding to use, yet they come off as features that could have easily been implemented into the player’s base moveset. They never provide any true variety to the combat or even necessarily skills that are required to finish the game.
It’s not just the weapons that suffer from this problem. They may be fun to collect and utilize, but the Rot creatures present a large growing number that represents little progression in terms of combat and somehow puzzle-solving. Apart from droplets that allow the Rot to take a larger serpent-like form as the player recruits more of them, the number of these spirits to collect can feel a tad insignificant in the long term. Customizing their costumes and seeing how they interact with the world will always put a smile on the player’s face, but nonetheless, it is a shame how the gameplay underutilizes their long-term presence.
Forging Large Hearts and Lovely Souls
During Kena: Bridge of Spirits’ hands-on previews, a lot of users compared the game to titles such as Horizon Zero Dawn, Pikmin, and God Of War. However, the clear inspiration for the game comes from The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and its iconic fan film that Ember Lab helmed. Majora’s Mask — Terrible Fate was a spectacle that further skyrocketed the company to fame. Everything that short succeeded on in terms of both visuals and narrative — along with Ember Lab’s other projects for that matter — was carried over magnificently to Kena: Bridge of Spirits artistic direction.
While the gameplay has its faults, it’s no shocker that Ember Lab’s title would thrive most from its breathtaking visuals, cinematic direction, and audio design. Kena: Bridge of Spirits stands as not only one of the best-looking and sounding PlayStation 4 and 5 titles ever released, but one of the finest in the gaming industry overall. The gameplay may be refined, but the lush world Kena: Bridge of Spirits holds is one of the digital realm’s most beautiful landscapes to ever release on any platform.
On top of gorgeous environments, clean character models, and atmospheric effects, Kena: Bridge of Spirits truthfully thrives in visuals because of its animations. Whether you are watching cutscenes or walking around the world, there are always movements to sit back and admire. The game’s cast and environments never remain still–everything is highly expressive and constantly moving. Not a single spec of Kena’s palpable land feels as if it were forgotten or designed to simply act as something for the player to pass by. This sentiment especially shows itself with the Rot species.
Whereas the Rot may be criticized for their overarching gameplay purpose, it is impossible to deny the fact that they are beautifully animated. The spirits never feel as if they are glued on to Kena or their surrounding environments. They are constantly expressive and characterized by their movements and interactions with the world itself. The Rot are regularly interacting with their surroundings as they jump between locations and engage with structures in unique ways. Kena’s world already feels organic and lively thanks to its therapeutic atmosphere, but the Rot adds another layer of spirit to the game.
Of course, having a visual spectacle in an Ember Lab project means that the audio design was bound to be a knockout too. Kena’s score composed by Jason Gallaty and Dewa Putu Berata is remedial to the soul. It is bursting through the seams with heart and proper articulation as it helps further enhance the player’s immersion with environments and cinematics. On top of fantastical orchestrations and well-pieced sound design, the game boasts an excellent voice cast breathing into its many characters. Berata’s daughter, Dewa Ayu Dewi Larassanti, ended up voicing Kena herself, and you would think she is a veteran of the industry, but this is her first gig. Larassanti does a spectacular job, as does the rest of her fellow actors. All the performances together are just another factor that helps keep players invested.
The only disappointing aspects coming from the look of the game comes from the transitions between gameplay and cinematics. The cutscenes were clearly designed with a moviemaking mindset and sadly do not accommodate for performance mode on PlayStation 5. Rather than adjusting to the smoother sixty-frames look, the pre-rendered cinematics stick to half that rate. They still look unbelievable, but it can feel weird instantly jumping between the two — however, this problem is only for those using performance mode. The brief loading screens that equate to literal seconds do not ruin the fluidity of the presentation either, but hopefully in the future Ember Labs will be able to iron out this nitpick in whatever they choose to pursue next.
A Bridge Between Works
In the coming days, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is going to be compared to the likes of Pixar and Dreamworks for its visuals. Its gameplay will be explained by critics and the public by corresponding it with numerous popular franchises. Ultimately, though, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the culminated work of Ember Lab’s extraordinary history in the entertainment industry. With ten years in the visual effects department, hours of experience filming at real sets, and a whole lot of inspiration from video games at the core of their spirit, the success of Ember Lab’s first independent title was inevitable. Kena: Bridge of Spirits will mark a beautiful new age for Ember Lab as the company will hopefully continue to pursue its latest shining endeavors in gaming. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a beautiful work of art, and Ember Lab has just gotten started.
A Descent into Akira Yamaoka’s Silent Hill 2 Soundtrack
The Music of Silent Hill 2
Silent Hill 2 is something else.
First released in 2002 by Konami (developed by Team Silent) for PlayStation 2 as a follow-up, not sequel, to the original Silent Hill (released in 1999 for PS1), it has since remained a crucial cornerstone in gaming history.
For those who embrace it, connect with it, it becomes an emotional endeavor, accomplishing a level of involvement and investment with the player that I have hardly, if ever, seen in the form of a video game.
You play as James, a troubled man drawn to the mysterious town of Silent Hill at the bequest of his, apparently, dead spouse. What follows is a downward spiral into the inner demons of the body, mind and soul, as Silent Hill comes alive as an amalgamated reflection of the torment James and the townsfolk that he meets have to live with.
In Silent Hill 2, the audio is as integral a part of the whole setup as anything else that contributes to its existence. Composer Akira Yamaoka is often credited as one of the three to four key people behind the creation and formation of the game, holding a status within the development team that is often not granted to a music composer.
The entirety of the soundtrack for Silent Hill 2 can be described as an intentional cacophony of bittersweet melodies, with hip hop beats laid over the darkest, most intimate, yearnings, and harrowing human-like-yet-synthetic sounds staggering out slowly from within the mostly silent environments of the game’s world.
The dark ambient aspects of the score are so simplistic but full of unnerving raw emotions.
While it would be expected for an atmospheric horror game of the time to perhaps include ambient sounds of howling winds and rustling trees, zombies or similar creatures going “uhhgghhh”, and other such things, Yamaoka’s compositions instead sputter radio noise, distorted electric strings and heavy drums that contain themselves within their own reverberations.
Yamaoka himself talks about this in the “making of” documentary, stating that he didn’t want to create the typical, scary sounds done in games like Resident Evil.
Keeping to its ambient nature, aspects of the score blend in with the environments of the game itself, merging the music played for you, the player, with the Otherworld screaming around James. But, in between these instances is often silence, scored with just the sounds of footsteps and faint environmental noises. Without these moments, the score would most likely lose all of its punch.
Considering the personal nature of James’s struggle within the context of the story, and his role in the creation of his own individual Otherworld, this ambiguity of the score plays directly into the narrative.
Also, it all sounds downright scary. That’s important.
Slower moments in the soundtrack, usually those that play in “safe” areas where enemies can’t reach you or in reflective cutscenes that divulge upon James’s thoughts, are pensive, which is in deep contrast with the balls-to-the-wall insanity that happens in the Otherworld. Here, we have somewhat relaxing, downtempo beats that resemble something more out of DJ Shadow’s catalog, or a song on a lo-fi chill playlist, which are popular these days.
Yamaoka counts Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and Angelo Badalamenti (most popular for his work on David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks) as two of his influences, and the chaotic rush of violent sounds that are then followed by melancholic and reflective plateaus seem to, perhaps, combine the best of those influences.
I’m not sure if Yamaoka heard or was in any way inspired by Maurice Jarre’s score for Jacob’s Ladder (the 1990 movie directed by Adrian Lyne served as perhaps the main inspiration behind the visuals and general ideas behind Silent Hill), as it too has the same qualities Yamaoka brings forth.
Unfortunately, Silent Hill 2’s full soundtrack has never been officially released, with the CD releases only containing thirty tracks, most of which are the more traditionally structured pieces.
While these tracks are crucial in bringing together the overall feeling of certain aspects of the game, on their own they simply cannot convey the complete mindset of the game’s experience.
A release that includes every single ambient or other soundtrack-related tracks is not common or even heard of; in the case of Silent Hill 2, however, these oft-disregarded pieces of “mood setting” music are perhaps more crucial to the identity of the game than they are for most other games.
Instead, to listen to the entire score of Silent Hill 2, one has to depend on dedicated fans such as “firebrandx”, who compiled the entire true score into an ultimate edition (tracks from which I featured within this article), and “TokyoBrando“, who has painstakingly compiled 108 or so tracks that amount to 3 hours and 40 minutes or so worth of material to YouTube.
Given that the series lost its identity after Silent Hill 2, meandering in mediocre scares and unimaginative canonical mishaps (not to mention things like the god-awful PS3 “remaster” of this very game), it’s fitting that it’s the fans who would work to preserve what once was.
Great Moments in Gaming: Silent Hill 2, Angela Orosco and the Stairs of Fire
This final meeting in Silent Hill 2 is about giving in to our worst impulses, and the tragic inability to save someone from themselves.
Looking Back at the Most Devastating Moment of Silent Hill 2
Great Moments in Gaming is a column wherein we look back at some of the great gaming moments that have made a significant impact on our view of this medium and how we have come to understand it. Today, we’re looking back at a tense, troubling stand-off between James and Angela in Silent Hill 2.
The Silent Hill series has long been known for its disturbing imagery and psychological knack for terrorizing us with our own worst imaginings. However, it is also known for the many tortured souls which are drawn to the titular town, and how it forces them to pay for their sins.
This is the impetus behind Silent Hill 2. James Sunderland murdered his sick wife. Angela Orosco murdered her abusive father. Both escaped justice, and it is for this reason that the town of Silent Hill calls to them. As James, you meet the troubled Angela several times over the course of your journey, and each time she seems to have descended further into her own personal abyss.
After James finds out the truth about the town, and why he was forced to return there, he meets the suicidal Angela one final time. Suddenly, apropos of nothing, James opens a door in the Lakeview Hotel and goes from a dusty, dilapidated haze to a sudden roar of flames and smoke.
There he sees Angela again. She seems to have resigned herself at last to carry out her suicide, and while James tries to talk her out of it, he soon grows resigned to let her go as well. Broken and disillusioned by the revelations he has been forced to accept about himself, and his own selfish nature, he lacks the strength to talk her down this time.
“It’s hot as hell in here,” he says at last, having nothing left to offer. To this Angela drops the most troubling line in all of Silent Hill 2. “You see it too? For me, it’s always like this.” The revelation that this is how Silent Hill has looked to Angela all this time, as opposed to the empty, foggy town you’ve been seeing, is a jaw dropper in its own right, but the connotations beneath the line are what really dig their fingernails into your psyche.
As a survivor of years of sexual abuse from her father, Angela has suffered for so long that she’s barely able to hold on to her sanity. With the murder of her father still weighing on her, the blame of her mother still tormenting her and the town of Silent Hill forcing her to face her trauma and her sins head on, Angela’s version of hell is truly a horrific place. The above line refers to how she, as a survivor of sexual abuse and trauma, is forced to live in her devastating reality all the time. Even as those around her walk in and out of her private hell, she is unable to leave it.
This is the moment in Silent Hill 2 when she is finally giving up, giving in and letting go of this horrible life. As she walks off into the flames, James is forced to watch, knowing he lacks the courage and compassion to save her. James isn’t even sure he can save himself anymore. And so he watches, as Angela climbs the stairs to her demise, disappearing forever into the flames that have threatened to consume her for so long.
It’s a devastating scene, and maybe the most emotionally evocative moment of the whole franchise. Set to the heart-wrenching “Theme of Laura“, James and Angela’s final meeting is about giving in to our worst impulses, and the tragic inability to save someone from themselves.
Silent Hill has always been about this sort of thing. Tormented fathers, grieving mothers, impetuous daughters, and sinful sons. However, no creature in the series storied past has been as damned or as tortured as Angela Orosco of Silent Hill 2, and as James watches her walk into those flames, we are left with a feeling so raw and empty that the smoke begins to fill our hearts as well.
All these years later, I can still see those flames and smell that smoke. I’ve never forgotten Silent Hill 2’s Angela, and like Aerith Gainsborough in Final Fantasy VII and Sarah Miller in The Last of Us, she lives on even in her death, filling players with horrible regret and transcendent sorrow for the girl we just couldn’t save, no matter how hard we tried.
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