Candles That Burn Twice as Bright

I remember once, as a young child, I was talking to my mother about school friends. She told me how she didn’t see hers anymore and that that was just something that happened as people became adults: they drifted away from their childhood friends. It was a thought that made me quite sad and something which I hoped would never happen to me.

Today that is still a thought that makes me very sad. I am still in touch with my friends from primary school and secondary school and the idea that a time may come where I do drift away from them still makes me quite sad. Thankfully, I have been able to keep in touch with (almost) all of the friends who were most important to me, so the chances of us drifting apart from them now seem pretty low.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that that conversation with my mother is one of the early childhood memories which stuck with me, because the idea of become separated from my friends has always been something that causes me worry and concern – perhaps to an undue or irrational extent.

University was the first big “new start” for me because primary school, secondary school and sixth form had all merged into one another quite seamlessly. It was the first “mass exodus” of people from my life and I remember it being something which I quite dreaded, because I wasn’t sure how I would handle the loss of friends. I remember saying, semi-jokingly, to one or two people, that it would be nice to stay in school forever.

I’d built up strong bonds with quite a lot of people by then. I remember lots of the nice things they said to me; “You’re a good man, Adam. I hope you know it.” “Knowing that there are good people like you in the world makes me cry with happiness.” “Of course I trust you – because it’s you.” Words which still give me confidence to this day. The experiences which I shared with people back then (school trips, visits, long walks etc.) are memories I shall cherish forever.

Knowing that I would soon be separated from all of these people, I intentionally started to isolate myself from them. I reasoned that, if I got used to not seeing them in advance, it wouldn’t be so sad when they were suddenly gone. It’s a decision that I consider unwise and regret as I believe it made it harder to properly get back in touch with certain people later in life – but to the teenage version of me, it seemed perfectly rational.

Thankfully, making new friends was never too difficult for me. Before long I had two new friends at university with whom I was very close. I think, perhaps, that having now experienced friends moving on in their lives, I was keen to make things even better with these new friends. I felt much closer to those two friends than I had done with anyone else in the past (thanks in no small part to being much more emotionally open.) But, naturally, I still missed my old friends a lot and I even wrote about it here on this blog!

Foolishly, I made a little promise to myself that I’d be sure to always keep those two friends in my life. There was a short time, in fact, where I actually considered my life to be perfect. But this attitude of mine was unhealthy and was not compatible with the ever-changing nature of life.

As I had made the effort to become much closer to those two and much more emotionally invested in my friendships, their departures from my life were even more difficult than when I had left sixth form. One of them move out of my life so slowly, that I never really saw it coming and I never really had a proper “goodbye day”, while the other I ended up having a few goodbyes with – at the last of which, I made sure to say “Never forget that I love you and will miss you very much.”

So is my conclusion that deeper connections through friendships are not worth the heartache? Absolutely not. I suppose going to university was a time of emotional development for me and, after having those two very good friends, I decided to be as open and as close with all friends going forward – and backward. I guess loss was important when it came to appreciating people (no matter how much I felt I already did) and so I made the effort to be more open and affectionate with all of my older friends too, which I find very rewarding.

And, of course, there’s the fact that (in most cases) people don’t really disappear from your life. To make a television comparison, it’s the equivalent of a leading character being reduced to an occasional guest star. The transition can be difficult, but the significance and influence that each person carries is never really lessened. That’s the important thing to remember.

This is a subject that has been troubling me recently. I feel as though a lot of my friends are simultaneously making the transition to the “occasional guest star” status. Which is difficult for me, as I always like to see people. Of course, I know, I will make new friends and the cycle will begin anew, the problem is that it sometimes feels a little tiring. I just need to remember that, yes, it is all worth it and, yes, it’s always better to be happy that something happened, rather than sad that it’s over.

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Nintendo Badge Arcade

The Nintendo Badge Arcade is a free downloadable game for Nintendo 3DS consoles. Basically, it’s a set of crane games, where you have to pick out badges (which are all based on various Nintendo characters.) These badges can then be used to decorate the home menu screen on your 3DS. To some people, I am sure that that sounds really boring, but personally, I loved it.

Every time you play the game, you’re greeted by a pink rabbit who’s only ever been called “Arcade Bunny.” Until they stopped adding new badges, he’d have something new to say every week. He’d introduce the latest set of badges, talk about offers and make lots of hilarious jokes about the games the badges were based on. He would also transform into various other forms too – like a realistic rabbit and an enormously muscular version of himself. He was very amusing and he made playing the game regularly quite entertaining.

The badges themselves were pretty great too. Pretty much every major Nintendo franchise was included in some way (but there were one or two exceptions.) I was most pleased whenever completely new artwork was used to make badges. For example, one set had WarioWare characters dressed as characters from The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – needless to say, I loved it! It was also nice to see even obscure things like BOXBOY! getting their own badges.

What’s even more impressive is that some characters even received some level of development through these badges. For example, Nikki. Nikki had previously appeared in the Nintendo Letter Box but had never really done very much. In this game, we get loads of badges showing her doing all kinds of things, like having a day out on the beach with her animal friends or celebrating Christmas. We even got to see a nice sort of friendship blossom between Nikki and Ashley (from the WarioWare games) due to the fact that several of the sets depicted the pair of them having different adventures together.

One set of badges in particular (which had me very excited) was Nikki, Ashley and the Arcade Bunny visiting Inkopolis (from Splatoon.) Another great one had Nikki trying on the hats of several well known characters (like Mario and Link.) I think a lot of it was made to please the fans and I certainly was pleased. It wasn’t just the “cute” Nintendo characters, either. There were several sets made using artwork from Fire Emblem Fates and another using artwork from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Although I do have to admit that I was a little disappointed some weeks. For example, they made badges for every single Pokémon, which is impressive, but it also got repetitive. There were an awful lot of sets which were just items of furniture from Animal Crossing or things from mainline Super Mario games. Meanwhile, there were barely any Donkey Kong badges (Dixie Kong never got one!), not a single Mother badge and no Super Smash Bros. badges.

Also, while the game was free to play, you had to pay if you wanted more than a few tries at catching the badges. This was mostly fine, because I felt like you were given a generous amount of free tries and I barely ever had to spend money. However, some of the badge catchers were laid out in such a way, that you couldn’t hope to get certain badges without paying, which did get frustrating sometimes.

But, overall, I loved Nintendo Badge Arcade and consider it a very nice addition to the 3DS library.  There are some really great, unique pieces of artwork to be unlocked and you can then use it to make your home menu screen a lot more personal – I wouldn’t have been able to turn mine into a little Donkey Kong shrine without it. Be sure to play it while they’re still cycling through the old badges and before the service is discontinued.

Rating: 9/10

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

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Diddy Kong Racing

The Donkey Kong Country series had provided some of the most popular games on the SNES and Diddy Kong was a large part of that series. As a result, Diddy was a popular character of his own and so he got his very own game in the form of Diddy Kong Racing, which acted as a kind or rival to Mario Kart 64.

What’s quite appealing about this game is that even though it’s just a game about cartoon characters racing, it actually has a story to it – although it is quite a weird one. An evil genie space pig comes to Earth and lands on Timber’s Island, threatening to destroy the planet unless he is defeated in a series of races – he also brainwashes several of the island’s inhabitants and turns them into his underlings (who also need to be raced.) Timber the Tiger, who lives on the island (but whose parents are away) calls on his good friend Diddy Kong to help him out with this predicament. Diddy comes (along with some friends) and together they compete in races to save the world!

Although I’m very fond of stories like that, I know that for most people the plot isn’t important for a game like this. So what’s the gameplay like? Well, in the single player mode, you have a hub world to traverse and you travel to different areas to do different races. For winning these races, you are given golden balloons which you use to access more areas, races and vehicles. After winning the races, you’re then given the occasionally difficult task of winning the race again, but collecting several silver coins along the way.

As for the racetracks themselves, I think they’re all pretty amazing. You’ve got a haunted forest, an old castle, a Christmassy village, the inside of a volcano, pirate caves and lots more. I feel like every track has a lot of character to it and having different tracks suited to different vehicles (cars, hovercrafts and planes) as well as allowing multiple vehicles on several of them, means that there’s always a great level of variety. There are also a few bosses (who are giant creatures) who need to be raced on their own special tracks – they can be pretty tough, but also pretty fun.

Another thing worth mentioning is the selection of characters. Aside from Diddy, you’ve also got Krunch, a Kremling who makes his species playable for the first time, Banjo, who went on to start in the amazing Banjo-Kazooie series, Tiptup, a turtle who starred alongside Banjo in Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie, Conker, whose life took a very unexpected direction and several others too. I did originally think that the characters who never really went on to do anything else (Timber, Pipsy the Mouse and Bumper the Badger) were a bit boring, but I’ve grown fond of them over the years. On an even weirder note, Tricky the Triceratops (the game’s first boss) kind of went on to appear in Star Fox Adventures. All these little character connections are very interesting to me and are probably going to be appealing to other fans of Rare too.

One thing that might disappoint some people, is that this game doesn’t really carry over the atmospheric tone that the Donkey Kong games had become known for during the SNES era. There’s the odd moment, but generally it feels quite disconnected to Diddy Kong’s earlier (and later) appearances. It actually feels a lot more like a Banjo-Kazooie prequel, really, in terms of tone. I’m happy with that, but others may not be.

But, really, I’d hate to leave a negative impression, as this is a fun and enjoyable game. There’s a superb soundtrack (and I re-listen to the music from the snowy tracks every December), solid gameplay and you can have lots of fun playing with friends too. It’s a terrible shame that legal difficulties make it hard for this game to be made available digitally. But if you do have an opportunity to play it, you definitely should.

Rating: 8.9/10

Buy it here.

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Yoshi’s Universal Gravitation

This is a game that, in concept, sounded like it could be really good. I love Yoshi games and the idea of merging that formula with gravity-altering gyroscopic controls seemed really exciting. But could such a nice concept really succeed in delivering the wonderful experience it seemed to promise?

The game starts with Bowser invading Yoshi’s Island along with a large number of his minions. As Bowser and his army are deemed to be a significant threat, a strange spirit called Hongo decided to trap the whole of Yoshi’s Island within a “Forbidden Pop-Up Book” to eliminate Bowser’s threat. Yoshi is naturally unhappy about being sealed within a forbidden book and meets another spirit, who gives him the power to tilt the entire world, which he hopes he will be able to use to defeat Bowser, so that Yoshi’s Island can be freed. So far so good: I don’t expect Yoshi games to have much of a story, but I appreciate the effort that went into it.

Sadly, no matter how much I appreciate the story, it can’t make up for sub-par gameplay. The levels are nothing like the levels in other Yoshi games – in the past, you’d have big levels to progress through and explore, but this time you’re making your way through a string of small areas and rooms that all involve some form of tilt-based puzzle. The rooms lack variety and often get boring or frustrating.

In Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, Yoshi can transform into a helicopter (and other vehicles) and it was pretty cool. This game brings back his transformation abilities in a way that’s definitely not cool. Yoshi can, for example, turn into “Ball Yoshi” and then he just turns into a ball and starts bouncing continuously – you need to tilt your Game Boy Advance just right so that he’ll bounce at the right angles and make his way through the room. Usually, these rooms just consist of you bouncing on blocks or enemies to break them. Other times he’ll transform into “Ship Yoshi” and he’ll just sail forward through water while you tilt the console to alter the water level – generally, you’re just avoiding blocks which can kill you because these sections are auto-scrolling.

In order to offer you some variety, different spirits will give you different requirements which need to be met as you get through the level. One, for example, will ask you to collect as many coins as you can. Sounds reasonable, but then when you need to collect coins, you’ll have loads of Ball Yoshi segments where you can’t properly control him and he bounces to the exit and not the coins. Other times you’ll have to get through a level while killing as small a number of enemies as you can – sounds like a pretty cool idea, but then those levels are all built around defeating loads of enemies. Ironically, the levels where you aren’t supposed to hurt enemies have significantly more of them and they’re always the weakest ones and the ones that are easiest to defeat.

The levels all look very bland too and its soundtrack was so uninspired that I can’t actually remember any of the songs from the game at the moment. The tilting ultimately ends up being used in ways that are pretty much just annoying too. As well as the examples I mentioned above, you’ll have to tilt the screen to one side when standing on a ball, so that it can roll over spikes, or back and forth to get a wrecking ball to work. When it’s not used in really pointless and simple ways, it’s used in really complex ways which are difficult to do (like tilting different platforms pointing in different directions as you jump across them to traverse bottomless pits) and there’s no fun middle ground.

One last thing is Yoshi himself. He doesn’t lay eggs when eating enemies anymore and egg throwing (a main part of the other games) is not included at all.  He also seems unable to jump very far, which is quite a contrast to his previous appearances. A part of me almost thinks that he may not have originally been in the game, but that he (and other elements from the series) could have been added to the game during the development to make it more marketable – it would explain the original characters and the lack of similarities to the rest of the series.

Overall, there are parts of it that are okay, but not one aspect of the game is what I would call “really good.”

Rating: 5.6/10

Buy it here.

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

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Castlevania games:

1986: Castlevania
1987: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest
1989: Castlevania: The Adventure
1989: Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse
2006: Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
2011: Scribblenauts ¹

Footnotes:

  1. Alucard can be summoned to help you in the Japanese version of the game.
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Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse

After two games about Simon Belmont’s struggles to defeat Dracula, the third main entry in the Castlevania series took a slightly different approach and showed us the story of Trevor Belmont – an ancestor of Simon’s.

Personally, I see this game as the definitive Castlevania experience on the NES. The graphics are really good for it’s time and it has that high-quality 8-bit look that a lot of people love and feel very nostalgic about. As with all Castlevania games, it has a fantastic soundtrack and for me, the best soundtrack of the series’ NES games. Together, the music and scenery can create an amazing atmosphere. Whether it’s horrifying, hellish caves or serene castles surrounded by water, it gets the feeling just right.

In terms of difficulty, it’s definitely still hard, but I feel like this game is much easier than the other two games (and the second one in particular.) The lessened difficulty means that it’s a lot more enjoyable to play. Even if you’re not good enough to actually complete it, you’ll be able to have fun getting far into it.

This game also introduces two exciting new elements to the series. First of all, there are branching paths to take, which will lead to different levels. If you really hate one level, you could start again and take a different path so that you don’t have to do it next time. It’s not only different levels you’ll encounter by taking different paths, but also different characters. Excitingly, there are three non-Belmont characters you can meet during the game and they are all playable and very different to Trevor (and Simon.) These characters are Sypha, a woman who uses magic, Grant, a man who can climb and has increased jumping skills and, my personal favourite, Alucard – Dracula’s son who can transform into a bat and fly.

The different characters and branching paths give the game a nice level of replayability and I’m really quite impressed with it on the whole. It feels a lot more comprehensive than a lot of NES games, although it does sadly lack the ability to save your progress – this is where modern releases with save states come in handy.

As with most games of this era, the story doesn’t take too much focus, so you shouldn’t worry about playing it without any foreknowledge. If you’d like to try just one Castlevania NES game, I’d say you should make it this one.

Rating: 8.6/10

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Judge

I’m quite a big fan of the Game & Watch series of games and I appreciate the fact that Judge attempts to do something different to the rest of them. Usually Game & Watch games will take a menial task and make it a fun thing you can do to earn points, but Judge requires a lot more thought than the others and can even be enjoyed as a multiplayer game too.

So, basically, two Mr. Game & Watch lookalikes stand facing one another and holding giant hammers with one hand. Eventually they will use their other hand to display a number between 1 and 9. Once you’ve had a time to assess both your own number and the number of your opponent, you need to take action. If they have a lower number than you, it means they’re weaker than you and you need to hit them with your hammer. Doing this will earn you points, but hitting them when you’re weaker will lose you points. If the opponent’s number is higher, you need to dodge and you’ll gain points for a successful dodge, but lose them if you dodge when you’re the strongest. If both the numbers are the same, it’s whoever strikes first who gets the points.

It sounds like a simple premise, but you need to have very quick thinking skills if you want to do well at it. You’ll find that this game has hidden depths. I wouldn’t be surprised if playing it is quite a good form of brain exercise, actually. It’s really quite addictive, too and it could be a great way to pass time with someone (perhaps, on a train or in a car.) Playing against another a human would definitely be best, but the option is there if you’d like to play against a computer player.

If you like simple, but clever games like these, I think you will like Judge.

Rating: 6.5/10

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Yu-Gi-Oh! Volumes 4 – 6 by Kazuki Takahashi

I have to admit, that after reading volume 3 of Yu-Gi-Oh! I was worried that the series might become somewhat formulaic (and here’s my review of the first three volumes, for reference.) To a small extent, that is true, but the series continued to provide me with enough exciting twists and turns throughout the next three volumes, so my fears ultimately turned out to be moderately ungrounded.

The most interesting storyline dealt with the return of Kaiba, who was after revenge against Yugi. This revenge takes the form of a dark and twisted version of an amusement park. Once again, I was shocked by the levels of violence (people die!) that surround the child main characters and the story was really quite gripping. I genuinely feared for their lives. Kaiba also received an interesting backstory, which I appreciated. There’s also a really lovely scene about the enduring power of friendship, which resonated with me on a personal level.

I was also quite pleased with the development of some of the other characters. In the first three volumes, I’d been a little unsure about Jonouchi, but he’d really grown on me by the end of volume 6. Honda was another character who’d appeared previously, but it wasn’t until now that I really started to like him. Yugi and Anzu are, of course, on top form as usual.

While Kaiba’s “Death-T” revenge storyline was the most interesting part of these three volumes, there were other parts I quite liked too. At one point, yo-yos are the next big craze in the school, which entertained me since I am a yo-yo bozo myself. Towards the end, a very interesting new character was introduced and I look forward to seeing more of them in the later volumes (but can’t say anything without spoiling it!)

Overall, I was happy with these three volumes. They had that same mixture of teenage humour and innocence, spliced with horrific violence and death. If you liked the first three, you’ll probably like these three too. Although, I have to say, that I think I enjoyed the first ones just a little bit more.

Rating: 8.7/10

Buy it here.

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

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Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Deadpool

Not too long ago, I watched the movie Deadpool and I decided that I’d like to properly immerse myself in the Marvel Universe. As I had quite enjoyed that film, I thought that a collection of comics featuring the character of Deadpool would be a good place for me to start.

Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Deadpool collects together some of the most significant and highly regarded stories featuring Deadpool and, on the whole, it’s a collection that I really enjoyed. I felt like I had a good idea of the character and his story reading it – and he’s a very likeable character too. He’s funny and entertaining, but that doesn’t mean the stories lack a genuine emotional depth.

The first comic in the collection is Deadpool’s very first appearance. It’s nice to see it, as a sort of historical artifact, but it’s also really hard to enjoy because it’s the middle part of an ongoing story which requires a lot more information. Deadpool just plays a fairly insignificant side character. There were a few other examples, too, where I felt like pre-exisiting knowledge of the universe would be quite helpful. Not a problem for big Marvel fans, but a problem for people like me.

Overall, however, I felt that I was generally given all of the essential information about the character and his ongoing storyline. There are stories about his involvement in the dubious Weapon X project, stories about about his stance in a big civil war (which is explained, don’t worry) and even outlandish stories, like him fighting zombies of past US presidents (which was very good, although I do wish it had that whole arc.) The most recurring (and surreal) plot thread is Deadpool’s ongoing romance with the personification of Death. I love stuff like that.

There are appearance from several other prominent characters in the Marvel Universe and it makes everything feel quite whole and connected. Ultimately, it did what it was designed to do: it left me wanting more. The character was wonderfully developed throughout the different stories (which construct a kind of over-arching story of their own.) I’d recommend it for those who want to get to know the character (or the Marvel Universe in general.) An enjoyable read with broad appeal for comic, sci-fi and superhero fans.

Rating: 8.6/10

Buy it here.

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How Watson Learned the Trick by Arthur Conan Doyle

How Watson Learned the Trick is a very short (and obscure) Sherlock Holmes story. It’s basically a small scene from the lives of Holmes and Watson where Watson decides to have a go at deducing things like Holmes does. But is it really as easy as it seems? I won’t say what happens (to avoid spoiling it) but it’s a fun, enjoyable little story.

What makes this story quite unique, is that it was written to be part of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. This was a very detailed and impressive dolls’ house which was built in the 1920s. It was full of all kinds of things, from miniature paintings, to miniature wine bottles and was used to showcase the talents of artists and manufacturers across Britain.

Normally, I don’t go into the details of the particular edition of a book that I own, but what I have is a replica of the tiny book held in that dolls’ house. It’s a really nice little thing. It’s a nice bright red and the edges of all the pages are gold and shiny. It comes inside a larger “book” so that it’s got some form of protection and can sit on your bookshelf alongside other books. When you open it up, you’ll see that it goes so far as to have Arthur Conan Doyle’s handwriting copied for all the text. It’s really lovely.

It also comes with a small booklet which explains the interesting history behind Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House as well as talking about the history of Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes (for those who need it.) There’s also a complete transcript of the story, which is useful, since the handwriting is a little hard to read.

So, overall, this is a very welcome addition to my book collection. I recommend it to any fan of Sherlock Holmes. I hope that I will get a chance to see Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House in person one day.

Rating: 8.9/10

Buy it here.

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

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