Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again!

The Nintendo DSi was a little bit disappointing for me. I thought it was going to be the next big console in the DS family, but then it ended up getting almost no games – or at least, almost no games which were physically released. There were a fair few downloadable ones, but most of these were quite obscure and forgettable. Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again! is one of the more interesting games from the DSi eshop.

This is the third Mario vs. Donkey Kong game and you may notice that it has a very similar title to Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis and this isn’t a coincidence. While this is a standalone game, it is essentially an expansion to its prequel, so don’t go into it expecting anything particularly mind-blowing or innovative.

Having said that, I don’t want to imply that this game is a boring retread. The previous installment introduced us to the satisfying gameplay of guiding Mini-Marios through hazardous courses so that they could reach their exits unharmed. This game changes things so that instead of doings things to guide the Mini-Marios (like making them stop or making them jump) you’re manipulating the environment around them to keep them safe. It adds an interesting new dynamic to things which, for me, kept it fresh. You actually have no control over the Minis, other than tapping them to get them to start moving and in later levels, they start walking the moment you start the level. Once again, it feels great to get them all safely to the exit door.

It’s a small and simple game, but I enjoy it and since it’s not particularly expensive, I think it’s worth a try – especially if you enjoyed the previous game. The biggest downsides are the fact that the boss battles against Donkey Kong are all recycled almost exactly and the soundtrack is near identical too. On the other hand, the animation and overall presentation has been polished and so is slightly better than the last game. I also really, really liked the characterisation of Donkey Kong and Pauline – the ending made me laugh quite a lot.

So if you’re a fan of Mario, or a fan of Donkey Kong or are just someone looking for a nice, cheap puzzle game, then why not give this a try? I think it’s pretty good, all things considered.

Rating: 8.5/10

(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)

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Crushes and Squishes

I’ve recently been reading a book about asexuality and through it I’ve been introduced to a fairly interesting concept – the “squish.” And what is it? Well, I think it’s best to explain by comparing it against another concept that you’ll (almost certainly) already be familiar with – that of the “crush.”

So, when you have a crush on somebody, you really want to develop a sexual or romantic relationship with them. If you have a squish on somebody, meanwhile, it means that you are very interested having them be a part of your life, but as a best friend.

I’m sure we all know the feeling. When you meet someone new and they seem very cool or charismatic, it’s normal to hope that you’ll be able to become friends and do more with them. It’s nice that someone has come up with a word to describe sensation. There are so many concepts that don’t have specific words assigned to them and I always like to see the language expanded.

It may have come out of the asexual community, but I’m pretty sure that it’s something pretty much anyone can understand. So I just wanted to share that in the hopes of maybe expanding your vocabularies… Although one small downside of the word for me is that it reminds me of the sound of stepping on food, but,  c’est la vie.

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The Many Mes

Today I was catching up on the blog of a good friend of mine. It’s all about her experiences teaching English as a foreign language in China. I’ve mentioned it before. Anyway, in one of the blog posts, she mentions that her friends would probably find it strange to see her as a teacher and her colleagues would probably find it strange to see her enjoying her hobbies with her friends. She then concluded by saying that it did not matter, as they were both still aspects of the real her.

It made me think about the many different groups of friends that I have and the many different contexts I interact with people in. I think some people might be quite surprised to know about some of the experiences I’ve had. These four blog posts all document experiences which were very different from each other. Because of the different feelings that the different parts of my life evoke, it can often be hard to believe that they’re all part of the same continuous chain of events.

Having said that, while people may be surprised by some of the situations I’ve been in, I don’t think people would ever really be surprised by the things that I do or say (other than that time I threw my shoe at someone in anger, which surprised even me.) I think it’s generally because I tend to behave pretty consistently in all situations. Some people do, some people don’t – neither approach is better than the other. Although what I will say is that sometimes new experiences remind me of old ones because I respond to them in the same ways and then it can make things feel a little bittersweet.

It is a bit of a shame when I do something new with a new friend and it reminds me of something I did in the past with an old friend, because it makes me miss the old friend. However, it’s not all bad, because this also means I don’t forget old friends, since all the memories remain close to the surface.

So while there are many mes, they’re all pretty much exactly the same. The only thing which really differentiates them, is the contexts in which they live.

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Batman: Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison

Imagine you’ve been reading a few Batman comics late into the night and then when you go to sleep, you have a nightmare. Since the last thing you read was a Batman story, elements of the comics start bleeding into your dream. When you wake up with your heart pounding, you find that, somehow or another, your dream has all been recorded in graphic novel form – that graphic novel you find upon your awakening is Arkham Asylum.

The story goes that The Joker and the other inmates have taken over Arkham Asylum and have taken the staff hostage. They demand that Batman come and see them, so, of course, he does.

What ensues, is chaos. It’s not so much a story, as an exploration of the psyche of Batman, The Joker, Two Face and several other characters. We also get glimpses of the life of Amadeus Arkham, the founder of the asylum. A lot of it is very grim, to a much greater degree than anything I’ve seen from a Batman comic in the past. It’s rather disturbing.

What really helps to reinforce the dream-like feeling that this graphic novel evokes is the artwork by David McKean. It’s really hard to describe something so visual in words, but it looks very good indeed. It’s often very creepy and it creates a perfect atmosphere for the mental institution. One moment things look very, very realistic and they next they look surreal and bizarre – the contrast is very effective. I do have one small criticism though and that’s that there’s often red text against black (or otherwise very dark) backdrops and I found it quite difficult to read, especially as it was an unusual font.

This is one of my favourite Batman graphic novels and one which I think most people would enjoy. Not only do I really enjoy Batman’s characterisation in it, but it’s also the most frightening interpretation of The Joker that I’ve seen. Plus, the art is so good, that it’s just nice to look at, without the context of the story. I strongly recommend it.

Rating: 9/10

Buy it here.

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Music Suggestions 6

It’s always nice to find new pieces of music to listen to and enjoy. That’s why I’ve made not one, not two, not three or four, but five different blog posts in the past where I recommend music that I like. It is a little sad, looking back, to see how many of those videos are no longer available, however. Anyway, here are a few more songs for you to try:

 

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The Food of the Soul

I have a few friends who I have not seen for extended periods of time, which is sad. However, what’s also sad is the fact that they tend to feel very bad about it and even worry about me holding it against them or something like that. So I thought I would write a blog post with a nice metaphor to explain it. Are you ready? The metaphor is pretty tight.

Imagine you love Nando’s (or porridge, or pizza, or cheese or any delicious food) and, for whatever reason, you end up going a year without eating that food. In that time do you stop liking that food? Absolutely not! In fact, next time you eat it, it will probably taste even better than you remembered it tasting, since you haven’t had that sweet taste in so long. Every person has a unique sense of taste and certain foods taste certain ways to certain people. That won’t change much in their life. Do you see where I’m going with that?

Well, think of the positive energy generated when spending time with friends as the food for the soul. Yes, you may feel sad if you can’t have your favourite food food for a long time, but all that means is that you’ll be even happier when you can finally eat that sweet, sweet soul food once again. Plus, maybe not having it for a while encourages you to try new foods and to have more of a varied. A nice positive.

I think that does a good job of summarising my feelings towards friends who drift away over time.

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A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

I remember a couple of years ago when Game of Thrones first got started as a TV series. I was intrigued. I knew that it was an adaptation of a series of fantasy novels and I’m always looking for new things to read. Since I’m quite a fan of the fantasy genre, it’s only natural that I’d be quite keen to sit down and start reading it.

What was weird, was that a lot of people told me not to read it. In fact, most of my friends told me that I’d hate it. Naturally, this made me even more curious to read it. Maybe I would hate it and I’d be pleased that my friends know my taste in literature so well, or maybe I’d love it and get to enjoy the pleasure of reading a fantastic book. A win-win situation.

It may have taken me a while, but now I finally have read it. I don’t hate it… but I can certainly see why people thought I would hate it and I can see why some people would hate it.  It has two major issues: the first is gratuitous violence, the second is the fact that it can be enormously boring.

First, let’s talk about the violence. This book has more rape scenes than the last ten books I’ve read combined. This book has more rape scenes than Fifty Shades of Grey (yes, Christian Grey is a rapist.) It’s not just the fact that it’s there either, but also the way that it’s handled. Like there’s a fourteen year-old girl who gets raped (it’s horrible) and she ends up falling in love with her rapist. Now, the word ‘problematic’ gets thrown around a lot these days, but that’s some pretty problematic storytelling! To make things extra uncomfortable, several of the main characters are girls aged 10-14 or so and the author seems to enjoy talking about their breasts and genitals a little too much. They always seem to be having baths too (something the men never do.)

Now, the boredom. I don’t think George R. R. Martin has a very engaging writing style. He has a sort of pseudo-historical approach to speech and writing, which is very bland. He’ll also toss in modern words every now and then, which are really out of place. He often reuses the same phrases and words too. I couldn’t count the number of times “manhood” was used to refer to a penis and when it appears about five times on a page, it seems really clunky. It’s the kind of stuff I saw a lot of from fellow students on my Creative Writing course, actually.  The unengaging writing style alone wouldn’t bother me too much, if it weren’t for the fact that the story is pretty uneventful too. Just a lot of fantasy politics (which isn’t particularly thought provoking) and unrelatable characters behaving in uninteresting ways.

But a few things save it. There’s a character named Tyrion Lannister who I quite liked and was fun to read about throughout. Plus, the story actually started to become quite intriguing once I got about 75% of the way in. In fact, there were some genuinely tense and unexpected happenings in that final quarter. It was enough to stop me from thinking the whole book was terrible and to make me want to read the sequel.

If you’ve watched the TV show, perhaps you’ll get more enjoyment out of this book than me. If you’ve not, then proceed with caution. It doesn’t feel like reading a story, it feels like reading a random string of events which eventually just stop and it’s really difficult to become invested in it. As the book is 700 pages long (or something like that) you have to ask yourself whether the slow, dreary build up is going to be worth the final pay off. I’d not really recommend it.

Rating: 5.1/10

Buy it here.

(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)

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A Nice Day Out

Today I was riding in a car along with some good friends. We were on our way to Bristol to meet another friend for an afternoon out. One of them suggested that I write the day up on my blog.

I said “I guess I could. I’d probably just write ‘Today me and my friends had a nice day out together.”

And then me and my friends had a nice day out together.

When he first suggested it, I didn’t really think it was going to be a good idea for a blog post – but then I gave it some thought. In a way, it’s a shame that something like that doesn’t make an interesting blog post. After all, I always write up my strange and unpleasant encounters with strangers on the streets and other things like that. Why is it easier to make negative experiences interesting to others? Why don’t people like to read about a nice evening out? Or moments of fondness and affection?

I’m not sure what the answer to that question is. But I think it’s always worth keeping in mind, that for every awkward or unpleasant situation that I’ve written up on here, there are a hundred very pleasant experiences which I do not write up. One on one meals with friends, amazing Christmas meals with groups of friends, walks in the woods, writing games with friends, collaborative art projects, visits to museums and trips to friend’s home towns. I just thought it was worth acknowledging the good things in life – such as my visit to Bristol, a delicious deli and a suspension bridge today.

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#TheyAreNotHuman

Has anybody heard the latest conspiracy theory? Well, apparently a random internet user was accidentally sent a voicemail which consisted of a computer voice saying random letters from the phonetic alphabet which then spelled out this mysterious message “Danger SOS it is dire for you to evacuate be cautious they are not human SOS danger SOS.” They posted this on Twitter and claim that it keeps getting taken down and that they keep getting sent coded messages. Other people claim that they’ve received messages too and are sharing stories of creepy messages that they’ve received via various electronic devices. It all becomes very convoluted and people think the Earth is going to be invaded by aliens or taken over by AI next month. It’s all a little unnerving. (Have a look here for more info.)

Not that I believe any of it for a moment. I mean, if you just have to apply a little bit of critical thinking to tear the whole thing apart. If the government are really taking down these posts, why are there so many of them? Especially as they’re all readily accessible by a special hashtag, which would make them even easier to find and remove. But reading about it is just so addictive. I enjoy reading through the tweets in the same way that I enjoy reading a horror novel. It’s frightening and very immersive, because it seems real.

It made me realise that the internet has provided a wonderful new platform for storytelling. I’ve never really gotten into anything like this before, but I’m enjoying these tweets as works of fiction. But if it were a book, or a film, or a game, it wouldn’t have the same effect. Being able to discover it yourself and the fact that there are tweets from so many people make it seem so much more thrilling. It makes me think (with excitement) about the future of storytelling.

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Super Castlevania IV

Imagine a field in the middle of the night – it’s quiet and atmospheric with a light mist hanging over everything. It’s quite a beautiful scene, isn’t it? And you may not think that the Super Nintendo would be the best platform on which to present this scene, but you’d be wrong. Super Castlevania IV is one of the most beautiful and ambient games I’ve ever played, which it’s all the more impressive when you consider the technical limitations of the time. There’s one moment in particular, where you can see living horse skeletons in a field in the distance and it endears me so much every time I see them. The little details make all the difference.

Essentially, this is a reimagining of the first game in the series. On the one hand, it does mean that it doesn’t do anything new in terms of story, but on the other, it also means that it’s very accessible. All you need to know is that Simon Belmont is travelling across the lands in order to kill Count Dracula.

This was the first main instalment in the series to not be released on the NES and you can see a pretty significant improvement over the last three games. The others were all very hard, in part due to the fact that you were very limited in your movements. Now you have much more control over your jumps and your whip (which, for those who don’t know, is your primary form of attack) which makes a huge difference. If you’d been put off of playing the series due to these issues in the previous games, know that they have now been resolved.

Honestly, Super Castlevania IV is a real classic. If you love 2D platforming, then you’re sure to have a very good time with it. It may be a little on the hard side in the later levels, but never unreasonably so (except maybe on the final boss, who is much more mobile than you) and I feel as though they’ve really refined the Castlevania formula by this point. Plus, the soundtrack is absolutely sublime – not only do all the tracks perfectly suit the places they’re played in, but I feel like all of the game’s sound effects play a big role in setting the tone just right too.

So if you wanted to get into classic Castlevania, make this the game you try. It’s one of the best games on the SNES and something which holds up to this day.

Rating: 9.4/10

Buy it here.

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