Friday, December 1

Sagittarius Stone

S A G I T T A R I U S

A polished goldstone commissioned for Carla Sutton, representing her zodiac sign, Sagittarius. Selected and carved by Aaron. Designed and hand painted by Claudia.

Thursday, November 30

Art Prints and Originals on Sale for the Holidays

The holidays are just around the corner, and what better gift to give than an art print or an original one-of-a-kind piece of art. These would all make lovely gifts. Of course you can always treat yourself as well!
  
Give them a new home, they need an awesome wall to hang on.

Go take a look:

Please let me know if there's anything you like by emailing me at claudia sutton at gmail dot com ASAP. They're all first come, first serve, including the prints because I will not be reprinting more.

♡ Claudia

Friday, November 10

We're Going to Play Final Fantasy XII

Surprise! Surprise! Well, of course it was only a matter of time: FFXII is one of my favorite games in all of existence, and I'm so very excited to finally be sharing it with Aaron.

It's his first time ever, and it couldn't be more special to us. We're going to start playing it tomorrow on our original anniversary, 11/11 at 11:11am.

Speaking of elevens, it is interesting that Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age came out on July 11th. Even the double IIs in XII look like an 11, and it's also been 11 years since I've first played it when it came out around this time in 2006. That's crazy spooky... us and our elevens!

So, we best be off on our grand adventure, and we'll take our time. I kid you not, my first playthrough took 111 hours (serendipitously), and then throughout the years I added over twice that many hours to my save file.

Happy gaming,
~Claudia

Monday, October 23

Us

"Us"

Shadows may shroud,
Temporary in Time;
True Love is illumination,
Brilliant as our bond.

We will always be,
- Aaron -

Monday, October 9

Metroid Fusion

Last, but not least....

It's been a grand marathon. Claudia and I have traversed the galaxy from one remote region to another, recounting our experiences and the feelings that reflect them. Along our path, our view of the world has been expanded, bringing with it the wisdom to live in finer harmony with ourselves. Life represents itself at different scales simultaneously, granting opportunities to observe from different perspectives and acquire more comprehensive understanding; for that we are truly grateful.

Chronologically the latest chapter in the series, Metroid Fusion depicts the consequences of both Metroid II and Super Metroid; impacting the planet SR388, the Galactic Federation, and Samus herself. This is also the first game released to emphasize the significance of the metroid as an entity.

Having been released following Super Metroid, Fusion employs a similar but improved presentation. Both games have a 2D, scrolling, platforming format; but, thanks to the GBA hardware, Fusion possesses several technical improvements beyond its SNES precursor. Regarding story, Fusion is considerably more narrative in nature, resulting in a more linear adventure than was typical in previous Metroid releases; however, this does have merits, and Claudia was certainly intrigued by what unfolded.

Overall, the classic Metroid conventions remain, so there are opportunities to freely explore and search for items. During these segments, we enjoyed finding an abundance of items; we cleared our mission in 5hrs, 46min; with a comfortable 89% of items acquired.

As discussed in previous marathon entries, the stage set by the Metroid series is analogous to our own current political situation: the Galactic Federation can be considered directly analogous of the motives and activities of governments. Metroid Fusion, Other M, and Prime 3: Corruption are all clear exhibits on how the Federation is willing to follow the path of the Space Pirates in the reckless acquisition of power. The ends to these means are unclear at this point in the saga, but power is always sought with the intent of its eventual use....

Clearing the way for the character development found in Other M, Metroid Fusion is the first release to extensively feature the inner thoughts of Samus Aran, giving the audience an extraordinary glimpse into her character. Written dialogue and events both serve to solidify her as a compassionate human being in addition to a resilient bounty hunter.

This series has captivated me since my first experience with Metroid II on the Game Boy, and now that I've shared this part of my life with my Truelove, we are intrigued about how this epic will unfold further. Until then, an official remake of my first foray awaits us; Metroid: Samus Returns promises to be a remarkable rebirth of what initially called me to these adventures, and Metroid Prime 4 may perhaps bring closure to the questions Corruption left in its wake.


So here are my thoughts about the game:

Pros

- Fusion is a compelling chapter, particularly benefiting its introduction and conclusion. Metroid enters new territory here, creating a path for subsequent releases.

- Advances made in presentation relative to the capabilities of the SNES ensured this handheld title stays exemplary in its genre. Fusion is cinematic; what was accomplished within the 2D format is impressive.

- Intricate details and animations of sprites are outstanding. Special animations and effects help bring Metroid Fusion to life during both gameplay and story elements.

- Environments are beautifully executed. Parts or entire areas will change depending on the scenario, with dramatic effect.

- Sound design in Fusion is excellent. Audio is optimized for the smaller speakers of a handheld system, and effects perfectly identify what's happening on screen.

- Nintendo was quick to improve upon the influential map system of Super Metroid; this is the first game in the series to utilize a system of open and closed dots to mark the detected location and acquisition of items, respectively. Fusion's map displays item tallies during a "game+", aiding the efforts of completionists.

- For speed runners and those moments where text appears slower than is preferred, narration and dialogue can be advanced quickly. Input by the player is required to continue reading, which is most appreciated because this allows one to proceed at their own pace.

- Due to events unforeseen by Samus, her iconic gunship has been replaced; however, the new vessel has an excellent design. There have been numerous ship iterations throughout the series, but Fusion is the first chapter released that explains the switch.

- Samus endures a monumental change at the outset of Metroid Fusion that could be permanent. This is the first instance in a Metroid release where the recovery of abilities is given a reason; one that would prove to be among the most justifiable. It's ironic then that here, in what is currently the latest part of the saga, begins the tradition of creating a situation in which Samus must recover abilities and discover new ones.


Cons

- The unfortunate flaw in Fusion's sound design makes performing a somersault jump blatantly obvious. Stop jumping so loud, Samus.

- Throughout the space-faring galactic epic that is the Metroid series, we were presented ample opportunities to break some glass; our favorite flavor is a walkway or elevator enclosed in a glass tube. Metroid Fusion however provides no such fun: there are indeed glass tubes, but they are impervious to our weaponry!

- Lastly, Metroid Fusion provides nary a legitimate complaint with which to occupy the cons list. This is the principal objection we have with this title, and it should be taken very seriously.


Completing this marathon marks the conclusion of a tremendous introduction for Claudia and a refreshing review for me. May every new voyage into the unknown invigorate the hearts of we adventurers, two! See you next mission.

Happy gaming,
- Aaron -

Thursday, October 5

DIY Beauty: Get Better Sleep with Essential Oils

School is now in full swing and the holidays are upon us. It's a busy time of year, and of course quality sleep is a must! It's important to get to bed on time (ideally 9-10pm) and get enough rest, but that's easier said than done sometimes. However, essential oils can be a big help. Right before bed, choose a favorite essential oil to use for aroma therapy (breathing them in deeply is simple enough or they can be applied directly under the nose or on the upper chest). Rosemary and lavender oils are great for stress reduction and relaxation. Eucalyptus and tea tree oils relieve stuffy nasal passages and help one breathe more clearly. Rose and vanilla oils are aphrodisiacs. There are many wonderful options! Enjoy them and sleep well.

Cheers and here's to happy, healthy living.
~Claudia

Tuesday, September 26

Metroid: Other M

There's a human in there.

During the course of any story, the most memorable of characters evolve as events unfold. These "round" characters are appealing because that ability to grow is within each of us, so that relatable quality tends to make them more memorable. Samus Aran is one such character, and although the beginning of her development was delayed until the release of Super Metroid, she has become possibly the most elaborate character from any of Nintendo's franchises. Every narrative moment in the series exhibits a glimpse from which the player may learn a little more about who Samus is and what motivates her actions. Within Metroid: Other M, unseen facets of her identity are finally disclosed after having only been referenced during the events of Metroid Fusion, released eight years earlier.

Despite all creative intentions, the solidification of Samus' persona has precipitated remarkable controversy among the Metroid audience, because Other M cinematically tells a story that leaves very little room for conjecture regarding its heroine. Samus is better known than ever before, and although there are countless negative viewpoints available elsewhere, offered here are far more understanding, accepting, and respectful observations about the human being beneath the armor.

Yes, Samus Aran is human: she has a background and a personality. It is an unfortunate signature of society when any character might be ridiculed for being more than a mere vehicle through which a player may exercise their own desires for decimation. On the contrary, those unique circumstances, emotions, choices, and vulnerabilities are what create such excellent characters; they're the attributes and virtues that are to be appreciated. Furthermore, the nuances in persona that might be considered weaknesses are often the side of duality that reveals a character to be much stronger than is initially perceived by the audience: to rise through fear or other potential internal obstacles shows far more growth than simply acquiring physical power to defeat adversaries. Indeed, there is the classic tenet of ability advancement in Other M, but the essence of this story focuses on who Samus is beyond what she does.

Being steeped in narrative, Other M is the most cinematic Metroid by a large margin, and is part of why it has earned the distinction of being Claudia's favorite of the series. Storytelling is an important aspect of a game for both her and me, so we highly appreciate what is offered in this chapter. Samus' thoughts are revealed within polished animations that seamlessly segue into excellent play mechanics when it's time for the audience to handle the action. That action is a clever fusion of retro controls and more contemporary art direction. Samus' voice has a solemn tranquility, and is befitting a veteran bounty hunter that still retains a virtuous demeanor. She's been through everything depicted within the timeline to this point and more, yet there remains the strength to exhibit compassion and follow the path she feels is valid.

As an unfortunate result of that path however, Other M incorporates perhaps the least reasonable scenario in the series for the recovery of specific abilities, chiefly involving Samus' movement and armor. The dubious nature of this gameplay mechanic repeatedly makes the exploration element feel forced, and the timing regarding weapons or armor retrieval border on the absurd.

Metroid: Other M has some conceptual flaws; however, the opportunity for improvement is still a part of the human experience, which is what one might appreciate in this story when they are ready for such a message. Consider that life will sometimes provide us undesirable situations, but in the long run we can use these moments to learn about and expand ourselves in different ways. This process is something to appreciate and allow for the tempering of our being, as it continues to be for our protagonist.

Claudia and I immensely enjoyed our time within the halls and spaces of Metroid: Other M, so while acquiring our 100% collection rate was a relatively simple task, we reached that mark with our save file showing 11:26:46 on the mission clock. Great care went into the production of this significant story, so we took the time to see all the sights.


So here are my thoughts about the game:

Pros

- Metroid: Other M is a refined combination of classic and more contemporary gameplay conventions. The game is beautifully represented in 3D, but the controls are reminiscent of the 2D age, with the Wii Remote primarily held like an NES controller.

- Where Other M departs from that retro style of control is with its quicktime events. This is the first Metroid to incorporate such a mechanic. Well-timed inputs will trigger Samus to dodge, counter, and finish off attackers quickly. The action is faster than ever, and the developers made sure the combat fit the experience.

- Samus finally speaks her mind in this chapter, and it's for good reason: this is by far the most transparent Metroid game so far, and it's only natural that the protagonist should have the opportunity to voice herself. Again, Samus speaks as could be expected from a character of her composition.

- So far, there have been limited occurrences of pre-rendered cinematics within the series, but Other M delivers what must be nearly 100% of it. Story is essential here, and in that, this mission is most certainly successful.

- There is so much content that once the game is completed, a Theater Mode avails players with the opportunity to watch a movie version that lasts over two hours. During the actual game however, cutscenes imperceptibly transition into realtime play.

- Samus perfectly tracks the nearest target based on the direction she faces. When coupled with the controls mentioned above, Other M has some of the fastest and smoothest action in the entire series.

- Doors are again the active loading elements, as they often are in Metroid, and they function perfectly this time as well. However, there were some occasions when doors were slow, but these were very rare and only when traversing the terrain was at its quickest.

- As a twist on gathering the classic (but inexplicable) energy balls and weapon ammo from dispatched creatures and machines, navigation rooms provide the only means of fully replenishing Samus' supplies. We found this to be more plausible, and increased the relief we found away from our occasionally precarious path.

- The sound design of Other M is crisp, powerful, and has a unique signature while also sharing a few effects with other chapters. Music seems less prominent than in the rest of the series: besides reprising iconic melodies and offering some great new ones, most musical elements are generally atmospheric and set an overall mood. From start to finish, this mission is a treat for the ears.

- Apparent during play, but seen in true conceptual detail via the gallery, designs for power-up tanks are some of the most unique and intricate in the entire series. Each is instantly identifiable by its specific color and shape, giving them character while sharing unifying elements. Tanks are also actually two-part objects, the core being contained in a matching pod. The way in which Samus interacts with them depends on whether or not the pod is present.

- For the first time in a Metroid game, the Speed Booster has been represented in 3D, and has made a great starting impression. Likewise, the Shinespark is equally successful in this rendition. Both have a simple but powerful design in their animation and sound, effectively conveying the speed and power Samus' suit avails her.


Cons

- Perhaps the single biggest quarrel of Other M regards the circumstances through which Samus regains the use of her arsenal and abilities. Yes, she willingly cooperates with the involved character's stipulations, but the unnecessary way in which Samus does so repeatedly endangers herself and impedes her own mobility. As discussed earlier, the most reasonable scenario would only affect weapons, leaving all her armor and movement systems available.

- Samus often finds herself on planets teeming with life, so it's only natural that when creatures die, others might replace them from elsewhere in the biosphere. Although the recurrence of lifeforms in any given space is a consistency across all of Metroid, it does seem silly that this phenomenon could possibly be infinite within the confines of a ship, regardless of its size.

-  Why do creatures know martial arts? Team Ninja. Indeed, there are an unusual number of species in Other M possessing such frightful proficiencies, and this is the only installment released to date where that is the case. It certainly helps show off the combat system, but it seems a bit outlandish at times. However, it could simply be to illustrate how far the Federation is willing to go....


Perhaps the most underappreciated of all chapters, Metroid: Other M expands upon the series' practices by telling a very different but vital epic in cinematic fashion. Participating with an open mind can help one value the true strength that results from vulnerabilities in any character, including the cast from our very own stories.

Happy gaming,
- Aaron -

Monday, August 28

Super Metroid

Quintessence. It's super.

What could possibly be written that might sufficiently express the immense significance Super Metroid holds for me? The very question also serves as the answer, but may my best words suffice in the lines ahead. It's also with great amusement that I recall the year this game was released, when two copies (each from two different sources) simultaneously arrived in my care. Surely, this was an omen.

For the several weeks that followed, Zebes had me. The brilliance of the series' first opening sequence begins the very moment the game is powered on. Minimalistic music with dissonant intervals conveys tension over cuts of dark imagery of an apparent attack just past; all the while a baby metroid cries out, still in captivity from the end of Metroid II… so what is going on? This is just the title screen. The beginning of the game has Samus recount the first two chapters and interim events that lead up to this point before the player takes control. The title sequence and narrative are presented with a cinematic feel, and gameplay is utilized to include the player in the prologue: from the very outset, Super Metroid is ingenious and groundbreaking.

Such an opening is also the first time in a Metroid release when Samus' character begins to be explored. Indeed, there is a human being under that Chozo armor, and this is when her capacity for compassion is unveiled. Samus' humanity is explored further in Metroid: Other M; however, establishing her nature early in the series' release history makes her relatable and builds a bond with the player, helping drive the interest to complete every epic adventure in the best possible way. It's also part of what connects the story of Metroid to our own world; again, making everything believable and thus appealing.

Of course, these intricacies are levels of thought that were still unconsidered in my youth; adventure was the name of the game. My basic understanding had Samus as the heroine fighting to set things right, with the villains having taken the baby metroid for their own dreadful ends. As I sought deeper significances in following years, the metroids themselves took on a different role as my perspective changed. The early portion of the Metroid storyline (especially the Prime sub-series) shows what's known of the creatures as mysterious, but dangerous entities that pose dangers to all who encounter them; conversely, the latter installments (with Metroid II as the turning point) suggest that the organisms were created for a purpose that had nothing to do with warfare. The behavior of the hatchling distinctly suggests the capacity of the species to form emotional or psychological bonds, but there will be exploration of that in a future chapter.

One thing is for certain: I have the warmest of regards for the infant metroid, and it was instant love for Claudia as well. In fact, we began referring to the hatchling as "Sweet Baby!", and we still do.

Countless hours were logged during my time on Zebes since its reappearance in 1993, and my initial trek spanned over 40 hours. As my skills improved, my path was refined and my clear time fell quickly; eventually, I could see the credits roll in 1:48, after having collected 100% of items. This time, I happily helped Claudia have an experience with a pace more befitting the discovery that defines this series, so our clear time together was 5 hours, 16 minutes; and we acquired 98% of items.

Truly, this game is a masterpiece. There are innumerable nuances comprising this vicarious voyage, leaving very little that would improve upon the virtually perfect blueprint that was established. However, one must have their own experiences to fully appreciate what awaits them, so I encourage anyone interested in the Metroid series to ensure they participate in this quintessential title.


So here are my thoughts about the game:

Pros

- Super Metroid made its debut notable by being the first game released in the series implementing an opening sequence. This included features like animations that also updated the visuals for events from previous games, and the ability of the SNES to allow for recorded voice performance.

- Another first for the series is the map system, the influence of which can still be seen in the newest of games. The map system of Metroid has been perfect from its inception here, but although it's comparatively simplistic to every evolution since then, those core aesthetics and functions are what persist.

- The 16-bit generation was the beginning of beautiful, detailed pixel art, and Metroid 3 is home to some of the very best. Immense care was taken with every background, foreground, animated entity and visual effect. The scope with which this title was produced is still readily apparent: it's as grand as the day it was released.

- A further example of what was pioneered in this era of games took the form of layered graphics. Moving layers of environments relatively, but to different degrees gives a sense of depth, and thus helps immerse players in the experience. There are also places where the background does not move at all, giving the impression of extreme distance.

- The sound designers for this game are experts in their craft. Synthesizers were the primary device used to create sound in games, and the SNES illustrates the pinnacle of what was possible in that earlier time. The masterful manipulation of waveforms all comes together to create a soundscape that equals its visual counterpart in depth, atmosphere, and signature.

- Surviving Samus' ordeal requires a connection to the experience that is fluid, intuitive, and precise; Super Metroid is exemplary in this regard, as its controls represent the apex of exploratory freedom for this series and as a benchmark in gaming history. There even exist some secondary and hidden abilities that come into play under certain settings and circumstances.

- Also unique to the series is a status screen which avails the switching of beams and suit abilities. This is both a curiosity and a convenience: nowhere else in the series does this functionality exist, but it can be useful because the disabling of certain abilities may make navigating specific corridors of Zebes notably easier. For example: my preference is to have the Ice Beam disabled for almost the entire mission.

- Finding hidden items in Super Metroid is reminiscent of the original NES experience, and for good reason: this is the same planet. With certain locales reproduced, and some items placed nearly identically, the intent is clear that Samus has returned to a familiar place that has been rebuilt to thwart her objective. 

- As mentioned above, Samus has some capabilities that are not immediately apparent, but are revealed by various means throughout the game itself. One such method is the inclusion of helpful creatures. These beings demonstrate their own natural prowess, hinting that Samus can also traverse the current obstacle in the same way. While this type of instruction in gaming may have a steeper learning curve than the more contemporary "tutorial", I find that learning through direct discovery is immensely more rewarding and memorable.


Cons

- Ever the expert in colors, Claudia noticed that the palette of Super Metroid is somewhat sour at times. We did however agree that this was an unfortunate limitation of the SNES being a 16-bit machine. Again, this was occasional, but those few instances were fairly obvious.

- "Who built this place?" Space Pirates. But seriously, the puzzle aspect of the Metroid series (or any other games of similar genre) can sometimes have environmental designs that are quite ridiculous when compared to sound architectural principles and practicality. Of course, this point is mostly harmless amusement; the Metroid series has some of the best level design that can be found anywhere.

- With all the innovations that were introduced in Super Metroid, it's surprising that the map does not indicate when items have been collected, as is the case in later-developed installments. There may have been some limitation on the SNES that prevented the potential for this particular function, although the map does mark when main bosses are defeated.


Over the years, Super Metroid has told a story that has changed along with my own perspective of the world. Finally sharing this part of my life with my Truelove is a dream-come-true, and our next adventure expands even further upon where we've been together.

Happy gaming,
- Aaron -

Thursday, July 6

Metroid II: Return of Samus

Metroids, metroids, and more metroids!

We have now arrived at the beginning… of my fascination with Metroid. This was the title that began my affinity for the adventure, and my curiosity about the story of Samus Aran. Because Metroid II was a departure from anything I'd previously played in my few years of games, the learning curve I encountered was a bit steep: memories come to mind of being stuck near the beginning of the game after several failed attempts to push through the game's main obstacle mechanic. Had I simply read the manual before playing, my first foray into what would become one of my favorite series could have involved far less confusion. However, it was that very challenge that forged my appreciation for the Metroid experience, and what enthralled me to follow the story through every new mission.

Returning to the planet SR388 resurges my fond feelings of that time. Similarly, the original presentation even influenced Claudia in the same way, although this chapter was completely new for her. Within those past generations of video games is found a profoundly refreshing charm: although the Metroid Prime Trilogy is exemplary in its genre, Metroid II has the sort of simplicity in controls and aesthetics that continues to be relevant in gaming. The world I held in my hands, although now considered rudimentary by current standards, in that time ignited desires of my own adventures; grand journeys of exploration and mystery.

Although the truth of my memories is powerful for me, it seems the time has come for Metroid II to acquire a power-up of its own: with the announcement of Metroid: Samus Returns, this pivotal chapter in the story will be officially updated. Developed for the Nintendo 3DS, this remake looks to be an action-packed narrative driven by expressive animation, and some fast-paced battle scenarios. It's certainly quite the revision, so let's hope this new direction can effectively add story while preserving the exploratory charm that enthralled me in my novice youth.

So pivotal in the series is this game for me, that I was inspired to create a piece of art based on some of the final moments. For the unfamiliar, it is a bit of a spoiler, but anyone who's played Metroid II and onward will also be privy to its content. This piece marks the moment I feel that Samus' view on metroids begins to change; the spark that calls her to eventually question the motives of the Galactic Federation.

With each of my countless passes through the caverns of SR388, my confidence and finesse grew, granting my thumbs the skill to guide Samus back to her ship with greater efficiency than ever before. Eventually, that mission time would fall to just above an hour; however, I desired a rewarding experience of discovery for Claudia, so our stay for this mission would last 3 hours, 21 minutes. Since the file with my record time is still saved, it was only a few extra minutes to wait for the end credits to roll so she could meet this retro version of Samus, as the Zero Suit is fully expected to appear in the remake.


So here are my thoughts about the game:

Pros

- The simplicity of Metroid II is a breath of fresh air after being steeped in the complex action of the Metroid Prime Trilogy. Feelings of youth are rekindled in me for having returned to this title, just as they have been in Claudia for reminiscing on that generation in gaming.

- What's gathered about the story in the manual also has a refreshing simplicity. As was the model of the time, the stories of games could more appropriately be described as scenarios. In any case, the mission is clear in Return of Samus; we'll see how the plot thickens (or perhaps doesn't) in Samus Returns.

- Retro music is always fun. What I've always appreciated about it is the level of music theory happening in the most memorable tunes; in fact, that's the reason those sound tracks are so iconic. The limitations found in the audio processing capabilities of the time required compensation in the form of more creative compositions.

- The relatively linear nature of Metroid II is again a refreshing respite after the Prime games. Many consider this linearity a mark against the game; however, life has variety, and so too can the situations that comprise it. Regardless, the approaching remake may align this chapter of the story with the rest of the series' conventions.

- The original iteration of the Spider Ball is still the most versatile: having the ability to traverse all terrain is one way the classic 2D gameplay surpasses more recent implementations. However, any 3D environments with open features would require such extensive modeling of the world due to the freedom afforded by the original version of the Spider Ball, so it's reasonable that limitations were placed on the Prime Trilogy version.

- Saving and loading game files is instantaneous, thanks to the tiny data size of Game Boy software. As system and data storage hardware have both improved, solid state software storage has always been a solid advantage for Nintendo's handheld systems.

- Claudia and I both noticed during the Prime Trilogy that nearly every creature we encountered was hostile. This sort of behavior is rare in Nature, and seemed dubious to us. With a few exceptions, the lifeforms of SR388 are simply carrying out their existence aloof to Samus' presence, and is another pleasant leave from the gauntlet the Prime Trilogy can be.

- Items in Metroid II are a fairly regular occurrence when all their locations are known. Because of the intricate nature of the terrain, there are many small spaces and hidden paths to explore and discover, providing plenty of rewarding replay value.

- Again, the final moments of this chapter are pivotal for me, and Claudia thought they were touching ("sweet baby!"). My belief is that it's the beginning of something profound in the series, and to eventually see how it all unfolds beyond Fusion is something that I continue anticipating.


Cons

- One drawback to the simplicity that games of this generation had was repeating tiles in their environments. Despite the many variations of tiles in use, some corridors and caverns appear identical to others, so Metroid II can confuse the unfamiliar player. On the other hand, this may have been an intentional implement meant by the developers to challenge players.

- Not yet included as a feature when this title was released, there is no current mission time available in Return of Samus: only the mission clear time at the end is given. Super Metroid is the first in the series to have been released with such information displayed on the file select screen.

- Finding items has always been part of the reward and puzzle aspect of the entire series; however, despite being a classic tenet of the series, the frequency at which Samus begins missions from scratch actually seems fairly ridiculous, especially in these scenarios, where the opportunity to thoroughly prepare herself seems critical. You simply must improve upon that, Samus!


Revisiting my entry point into the Metroid series has reminded me of my positive past, but with more to share with my Love, we now look forward to my favorite chapter next and to what brilliant new adventures the future has for us.

Happy gaming,
- Aaron -

Thursday, June 22

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption

Three's a charm.

Trilogies come and trilogies go, but it's really nice when they do so near the beginning of an encompassing series. Metroid Prime Trilogy takes place between Metroid: Zero Mission and Metroid II: The Return of Samus, and is an elaboration on why Samus' fate seems so entangled with both the Space Pirates and the creatures after which the series is named.

Specifically, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption takes place shortly after the events of Echoes, and provides an epic finale to the Trilogy by raising every standard that was set along the way. This game is a masterwork; truly a brilliant part of the series as a whole. The title sequence of the original stand alone release insinuates that the situation is quickly escalating, and any veteran of the preceding two chapters will instantly understand the music and visuals of the introduction.

For the Trilogy, the individual Prime games lose their respective title sequences, which were each important to their identities; however, what's gained with the capabilities of the Wii Remote more than compensates for the Trilogy's unified menu. When any of the games are started, each is accompanied by a short, highly detailed transition showing Samus' currently equipped suit in the game selected.

As I've also mentioned in the previous Prime reviews, the controls developed for Corruption are so effective, that every other standard dual analog stick controller setup for a first-person perspective game has been rendered obsolete. It's for this reason that the Trilogy was produced, and why I chose it to help streamline my library. Truly, I can't imagine going back to the GameCube controls.

Moment after moment, as Claudia came with me on this step of the adventure, Corruption impressed us. Indeed, much of this game felt new again for me, but as we made our way, memories of all we'd see and face rushed back to my mind incrementally. The lore of Metroid is deep, and Corruption links games and fills in the spaces for those who've followed the series; for the uninitiated however, the plethora of details provide a sometimes overwhelming level of foreshadowing for both this game and the rest. Such an intricate world in which to find all that information can compound matters, but that simply reflects the vastness of life and m'Love was grateful for my experience and eagerness to elaborate on every appropriate encounter.

As a note to such instances, it's worth mentioning that Metroid Prime 3 is a reflection of current human society, and reinforces my own theories about the overall story of the series. The Galactic Federation takes actions that mirror the imposing behavior that can so easily be observed in government. Often, these actions are executed with a claim of some universal benefit; however, by opening one's mind to researching freely and practicing critical thinking, the truth will be found. Because the series is such a close facsimile, my years of following Metroid have left clues about the true motives of the Galactic Federation that point in one direction, and I am eager to learn what happens after the events of Metroid Fusion. My excitement aside, Claudia and I are here in the present, so as the series unfolds before her, I help connect the dots between what she's quickly gathering on her own.

Switching gears: this post comes at a perfect time, as Nintendo has just announced two new Metroid games: Metroid Prime 4 for the Nintendo Switch, and Metroid: Samus Returns for the 3DS. The Switch looks like a great step forward: it has the power and control versatility of a console with the convenience of a handheld system, so it's something I've been anticipating for a long time. I'm eager to experience it soon, but we have so many adventures awaiting us before we come to that. With the announcement of Prime 4, questions have immediately arisen as to where this game will fall in the timeline: will it take place between Corruption and Metroid II, or will it simply be a first-person adventure at some other time? The teaser presented seems to suggest that the game may be related to the content in the Trilogy however, so the future will reveal all. Interestingly enough, Metroid: Samus Returns is actually a remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus, so it's curious that there's so much focus around this part of the storyline. What's been shown at E3 looks exciting and engaging, and is a major overhaul on the original release. Again, a continuation of the series beyond Fusion is what I anticipate the most, so despite my excitement, I'm patient for what I know will be a sequel well done.

Because Corruption is the last of the Trilogy, I wanted to make sure that we saw the special ending sequence as part of the game this time, as we've had to view the previous two online. Indeed, we reached our goal: our completion rate was 100%, with a mission time of 20:53.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is Claudia's favorite of the three, and while I consider each of them parts of a whole, I feel I had the most fun in this last leg as well. Each game has its quirks, but they've all made monumental changes in the way I see and prefer to play games; so although they're equally important, I'd have to favor Corruption because it was developed for (and to take the most advantage of) the controls that improved upon the other two so greatly. A second point is that story presentation was the biggest that Metroid had ever seen in its release history, and that trend seems to only be growing. To make this a trilogy of virtues, Corruption uses exquisite detail to bridge gaps between the "main" games in the series, to illustrate themes that are found later along the timeline, and to also reinforce statements that I feel the Metroid series makes about our own world.

Absolutely, the conversation on Metroid Prime 3 could continue on, but like our time behind Samus' visor, it's time to move on to the next.


So here are my thoughts about the game:

Pros

- It's nice to get an interior view of Samus' gunship from her perspective. This is the first time for the series. The instrument panels, interaction via motion controls, and even a few encoded secrets involving the communicator, make this unique gunship experience stand out.

- As opposed to characterization, full voice acting is something that Nintendo hadn't utilized much across most their gaming library for some time, but Corruption got the treatment and it truly breathes life into the story's characters with naturally delivered, emotive dialogue. Still, Samus characteristically holds her tongue, but the rest of the cast doesn't seem to mind.

- The interface is the most streamlined it's ever been, and every bit of info it displays is contained in a unified menu system. The Wii Remote again proves itself; as the game's selection method, navigating everything is fluid and intuitively labeled.

- Speaking of navigation, the map has again been improved: it's easily the most versatile version of the series. The ability to freely point to and select any room independently of the center (allowing for a singular zoomed view, and the option to highlight that room), greatly aids in completing objectives and returning for items as appropriate.

- More detail than ever is found throughout this chapter of the Trilogy than the previous two, regarding both polygon count and texture work. The frame rate is solid, and in only a couple instances did the action ever cause an exception. Color usage is again masterful, unifying the entire experience, but letting individual worlds and regions shine with their own identities. Brilliant use of lighting and colorful bloom adds intensity to match every moment of Samus' mission.

- Stellar is a perfect word to describe the environments in Metroid Prime 3. What was tested in Echoes has grown wonderfully: skyboxes paint vast distances, while rendered geometry generates a greater and more detailed sense of local depth. SkyTown is a favorite location of ours, with its structures that reminisce of Art Nouveau and bear intricate surfaces of metallic gold and green.

- Another little detail we both liked is that Samus' missiles are modeled to be physical projectiles. The little things are what create the big things, and the multitude of those very details is part of what makes the third part of the Trilogy the best for us.                                                       

- As always, the music is exceptional. There are of course reprisals of previous Prime themes and more classic fare to connect Corruption with the rest, and the original score sets the tone and feel of each environment, world, and situation in which Samus finds herself.

- As advertised on the back of the case, this is how Metroid Prime is meant to be played. The Wii Remote controls are exemplary: they show how first person gaming should be implemented. As mentioned in past posts regarding this topic, having both speed and accuracy available simultaneously is paramount; thereby representing a zenith in gaming control that has only been perfected by Nintendo.

- The culmination of the Trilogy is marked by a series of epic scenarios and battles. The stakes have certainly escalated by the end of this chapter, and the finale of Corruption provides some grand closure.


Cons

- Those familiar with the more technical aspects of the Metroid series will recall that the doors are essentially real-time loading screens; therefore, to experience such long waits before doors open, and often in some tense situations, is quite a surprising step backward for the series. Let's hope that Corruption keeps the title of "slowest doors", and that things only improve in the future.

- The wonderful worlds that were represented in both Prime and Echoes set a standard that was undoubtedly surpassed this time around. That said, we found ourselves staring at what we expected to never see again: texture seams are everywhere in Corruption, from the depths of space, to some of the most subtle texture details. These anomalies most certainly interrupt the impressions intended by the artists, and we were truly shocked that these sorts of oversights exist in a game that otherwise possesses such polish.

- The Galactic Federation is an appropriate representation of human government: they monitor Samus' activities and even installed equipment into her suit without her consent. While they meant well in this instance, they also implement methods for themselves that mirror Space Pirate activity. This may be an intentional part of the story and depth of the series regarding ethics, but we must be careful not to bring this sort of reality into our experience as a result of the exposure to this content.

- Finding new gameplay mechanics is something that Nintendo expertly explores, so while the inclusion of the Wii Remote Nunchuk motion capabilities in the Metroid Prime 3 experience was quite engaging, its use in dismembering creatures with Samus' grapple abilities is a violent aspect we found particularly distasteful.


With Corruption marking the end of the Metroid Prime Trilogy, we learn that the Trilogy itself will soon end, by becoming a quadrilateral experience. Regardless of what shape the situation takes, we'll always be ready for the adventure. Next stop: SR388!

Happy gaming,
- Aaron -

Wednesday, June 21

DIY Beauty: Don't Sweat It

Summer is finally here, and that means a lot of hot weather (and with this comes sweating). Sweating is a wonderful, natural way to detoxify the body, but ruining beautiful clothing is not ideal. It is easy to stop this from happening though with a single panty liner. Just cut one liner in half, down the center (it can also be cut to shape for a tank top as well), and stick each half to the inside of the shirt under the arms so that they protect the cloth from wetness and yellow staining. This works especially well for expensive garments or ones that are dry clean only. However, make sure that the liners can't be seen under thin fabrics, because that would be very funny! This trick definitely only works for thicker materials.

Cheers and here's to happy, healthy living.
~Claudia

Monday, May 29

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Once again we're off to the high seas for a bit of piratey fun! I'm always so excited about these movies and I've made sure to stay clear of the spoilers before I go, as it provides me with the most sincere experience that I can have without being affected by opinions or plot points. That being said, I unexpectedly went onto YouTube on the morning of the movie release, and an ad for the film was running. I thought nothing of the seemly random explosions and swashbuckling as I browsed, but then out of nowhere they decided to show more than what I was wanting to see! Indeed it was a lesson, and in the future I will be more cautious. Despite that, I was still extremely happy that the day had finally arrived, and it's always so wonderful to have another adventure with our favorite pirates.

Dead Men Tell No Tales was no exception. It was filled with thrilling action and gorgeous CG that's so good that there really isn't anything to nitpick about (most movies these days are like that). The colors were brilliant, and I absolutely adored the turquoise and slate palettes that the artists chose for the promotional artwork as well.

One thing that I did notice about this particular movie was that it seemed a bit darker than the other stories. There was a lot more implied brutality, and even Salazar's rage was quite foreboding. I've admired that, being a Disney franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean has kept it pretty lighthearted up until now, but this movie definitely reminded us about the true nature of those times. It was not an easy life for a pirate. These days I'm not into violence as a form of entertainment, but it's pretty hard to separate the two. Alas, pirates and violence go hand in hand. Perhaps that duality will always exist in our world. Or maybe one day we'll only need that form of expression via a vicarious experience like movies, TV, and games. In the meantime I'll take what I can get, but perhaps in the very near future Aaron and I can just go to the Caribbean and meet our needs directly: awesome clothes, tall ships, freedom, treasure hunting, white sands, and the horizon.

☠ Claudia

Thursday, May 25

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes

What's behind door number two?

Facing darkness is most often a spiritual or philosophical endeavor, but as we navigate the corridors of the planet Aether, we learn that Samus has a far more literal confrontation before her. It would be best to let the events unfold for the player on their own, but suffice it to say that this adventure is steeped in the duality of light and dark. That reality of Nature is a subject that Claudia and I frequent in our conversations, and so the beauty that can be found in both sides of this game can inspire one to think about the same in our own experience.

Echoes turns out to be the longest game in the Metroid series. Scheduling time to reach our 97% completion rate in 23 hours, 40 minutes proved a little tricky; regardless, here we are with one remaining chapter to conclude the Trilogy before we return to the main storyline. Ironically, this review may also be one of the shortest in our marathon.

Metroid Prime: Echoes expands upon everything Prime began for the series. Imagery is detailed and vast: environments are more expansive and organic, boldly offsetting the presence of technology. Color usage is brilliant, and is something that Claudia noted several times. The game's matching soundscape sings of a world revered by those who call it home, or at times pulls at the depths of darkness for something familiar but very different.

Oddly enough, the cinematic nature of Echoes seems a bit lacking compared to my memory. Despite her hardened personality (that was possibly the aim of the developers), Samus seems inhumanly cold and callous during the majority of moments throughout her stay on Aether, regardless of the situation. Although Echoes surpasses Prime in many ways, it would've been refreshing to see Samus act more human. Even through silence, a character can speak volumes, and she didn't create much credit for our species.


So here are my thoughts about the game:

Pros

- The excellence in controls continues with the Trilogy version of Echoes. The Wii motion controls are spot on for every chapter of the Prime series, and this one is just as perfect.

- The story presentation in Prime 2 is deeper, and more elaborate. Save for Other M, every Metroid game to date has very limited interaction with other characters. Echoes is one of the first to break this trend, having a living indigenous ambassador of another species who communicates with Samus. The Luminoth are an intriguing, enlightened people.

- Visuals push the GameCube even more with textures and particles. The ground broken in Metroid Prime was stellar; however, Echoes takes textures, particles and the more elaborate use of polygons further. In certain "rooms" of the map, the terrain opens up to reveal massive expanses, usually placing Samus at the precipice of shear cliffs, to beautiful effect.

- Design work for creatures is very creative, and some enemy behaviors are more complex, providing greater challenges to the player. The guardian battles were an interesting way of recovering Samus' abilities. Yes, again: it's a Metroid thing.

- The menu system is new and more detailed, and shows the current percentages of subcategories within the hierarchy to help visualize how complete the logbook is. The design of the file structure is something I've found unique to Echoes.

- Music and sound design are both as expertly executed as in the first Prime. The overall atmosphere has a more spiritual but ominous feel that compliments the visuals. Speaking of ominous visuals....


Cons

- The atmosphere in Echoes is the darkest yet. While presented with prowess and surreal beauty, that potency has very real spiritual connotations, and can affect the player in underlying ways. Every creation reveals what lives within its creator.

- While the visual presentation in Echoes exudes the same expertise that has become synonymous with Retro Studios, we did notice something very surprising: the skybox used to give Echoes some of the most expansive scenery in the series has two serious flaws in the forms of incredibly low image resolution and a noticeable texture seam near the bottom.

- Although Samus' suit designs in Echoes were striking and unique, her proportions were painfully exaggerated in some cases: I believe "wack" was the term Claudia used.

- Again, Samus' behavior during certain cinematic moments was disappointing. There's a human in there! We would've liked to see her show that more. Corruption does a better job with story, and Metroid: Other M is the most cinematic chapter of the series, so it's nice that future titles will improve upon portraying Samus as a believable, feeling human being.


Light and dark are within all things, and we will expand our consciousness based on each of our experiences with this duality. Our time with Metroid Prime: Echoes has done this for us also, and we have grown as a result.

Happy gaming,
- Aaron -

Monday, May 1

All-One Dream

"All-One Dream"

Where are the walls of the worlds
The surface of one dream to the next
Touch the veil and the waves expand
Step through reflections unfurled

Can the chill reach the third sight
Night visions blur upon the inverse
Creation costs only the truest love
Blinding black embraces white light

When will it see the dreams done
Senses soak the soul in experience
Departure awakens the next realm
Levels dawn toward the All-One

- Aaron -

Wednesday, April 12

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland | Audiobook

Come away with Alice down the rabbit-hole for a grand adventure! Narrated by yours truly, this
 classic story is one of my favorite books of all time, so of course I had to share it with you.

 Alice's Adventures in Wonderland | Audiobook | Chapter I - Down the Rabbit-Hole

For more information, please read the YouTube info box.



Content, editing, and compositing by Claudia Sutton.
Music composed by Alvin Muolic.

Monday, April 3

Metroid Prime Hunters

YO DAWG I HERD YOU LIKE SIDE QUESTS.

Many extensive games in the adventure genre have what has become known as the "side quest". The Metroid series takes a different approach by incorporating one that encompasses an entire game: Metroid Prime Hunters. Interestingly enough, Hunters is considered an aside in the Prime series, which is itself considered an aside in the overall Metroid timeline; a side quest within a side quest. Whoa.

All jokes aside, this chapter actually does qualify as quite the detour for Samus, as it takes our heroine to a completely different galaxy, to quash a menace unrelated to our favorite infamous galactic horde. What havoc will they be harvesting? Please tune in next time!

Hunters is notable for a few reasons, including being the first 3D handheld game in the series, the first to introduce other bounty hunters as prominent (and playable) figures, and is the first time the player traverses the vacuum of space to help Samus complete her mission. This is also the only time in the entire story line where the series' traditional puzzle element of collecting or recovering signature abilities has been altered; instead, the only significant acquisition for the power suit this time is the selection of six weapons wielded by the other hunters. Presumably, this was done to accommodate the (now discontinued) online multiplayer mode, which would be unfavorably affected by the possibility of a square-one Samus facing fully equipped adversaries.

Favoring action far more than exploration and puzzle solving, the game has only minimal depth in story: it's just enough to rationalize the collection of weapons for use during multiplayer, and to maintain some curiosity about the ending. The time was certainly taken to develop the game with intent, but considering how the Prime experience has established itself, Hunters feels shallower, mainly an effective way to demonstrate the unique and versatile capabilities of the Nintendo DS. Despite its attractive attributes, there are a few deficiencies that directly detract from the experience, including errors in the map system, jumping input issues, and occasional hand fatigue during intense action.

Again, this title is primarily a multiplayer experience, with a solo adventure to contribute some replay value and provide an avenue to unlock weapons and maps for use in said versus play. Because that single player mode was so basic, we completed the game with the lowest statistics so far in our marathon; furthermore, those recorded stats are indeed more befitting the interests of frag-fest titles. We cleared this mission in 12hrs, 47min; collected 88% of items; died 12 times; defeated a total of 73 guardians and rival hunters; and emerged from the final battle in 24min, 55sec.

Claudia was happy to see the pre-rendered cut scenes in Hunters and their creative presentation across the dual screens, but feels that storytelling is treated like a side note in the series, which is a critical point for her. After having not played for so long before this marathon and hence gaining a fresh perspective on the series as I share them with her, I must agree that (with the current exception of Zero Mission) most Metroid games leave the primary portion of story to be found in the manuals. This retro methodology may have been an ideal solution when hardware limited what could be conveyed during play, but today those limitations are gone, so that same approach can simply disrupt or even prevent the potential for a deeper connection between player and game. Please rest assured though, m'Love: more narrative missions await us.


So here are my thoughts about the game:

Pros

- Nintendo is a leader of gaming innovation, and so too with the DS came types of controls that were previously impossible in handheld gaming. The touchscreen is a brilliant example of this, and anyone familiar with first-person perspective titles on PC will be instantly familiar with the perfect combination of both speed and accuracy absent in console first-person dual-stick controller interfaces.

- The pre-rendered cut scenes are cleverly presented across the dual screens using independent and even merging camera angles, and are a first for the series. They provide a flavorful way to segue game events.

- Effective color usage was something that was immediately apparent for Claudia. She noted consistency between the interfaces and environments, which she also mentioned during Metroid Prime: colors help communicate in any presentation. Furthermore, each of the other hunters has a distinct color, making them readily identifiable.

- As of this review, Hunters is the second and last Metroid game released where portals have been utilized. These devices provide crucial shortcuts back to Samus' gunship: this is the only place players may save their progress this time.


Cons

- Despite the aforementioned innovations in controls, Hunters does have one significant problem: depending on the version of DS hardware and hand size of each player, there exist varying possibilities of fatigue during long intervals of intense gameplay.

- Another minor shortcoming of the DS is its relatively low screen resolution. The number of pixels is perfectly suitable for virtually all the games developed for the device; however, for applications like Hunters, it can be problematic because the screens have fewer pixels with which to display high detail textures on the polygons of the game models. The resulting visuals can at times increase the difficulty of identifying objects in the distance and at certain angles.

- Timed escapes are a tradition in the Metroid series, much to Claudia's chagrin. Being a veteran myself, I've certainly grown accustomed to them, and have even discarded the stress that I once associated with those precarious scenarios. These things considered, what surprised me was the challenge encountered during those moments in Hunters: discovering that the portals mentioned earlier had been deactivated was predictable for such an ordeal, but errors in the map system presented the majority of problems.

- Maps have been a vital, industry-influencing asset since Super Metroid, so to have Hunters possess the map errors it does is surprising and certainly disappointing. The most notable problem occurs in certain locations, where the marker indicating Samus' position and orientation is incorrect: there was most likely a mistake in marker programming or map modeling. The reasons are irrelevant, but this made navigation a chore, despite the situation. Amusingly, there was even at least one instance of a small room missing completely, with the same "topological view unavailable" message displayed, as is the case during certain boss battles.

- The amount of work put into the development of any form of entertainment is something that we highly appreciate, so when we see that assets are recycled by simply changing colors or behavior patterns, it can arouse suspicions that development was forcibly rushed or even lazily completed without concern for quality. Unfortunately, this was something that spanned this entire experience. There were very few unique creatures, and most mechanism obstacles were presented with version numbers that simply indicated the weapon with which they were equipped. The largest instances of this issue were the bosses guarding the Octoliths, which had a grand total of two different models, and were presented in four different versions for each.


Despite its faults, Metroid Prime Hunters is an experience I was happy to share with my Truelove. Now that this aside has shared its details of Samus' story, we are relieved to return to our own galaxy and get back on track.

Happy gaming,
- Aaron -

Monday, March 20

Beauty and the Beast

I had such mixed feelings when I heard that Disney was remaking this. At first I was completely ecstatic, especially when I heard that Emma Watson was playing Belle. Unfortunately though, the more I saw, the more uncomfortable I became with the look of the adaptation.

For, you see, the original Beauty and Beast is so dear to me. Disney has shaped my life. Whether that's good or bad doesn't matter, but it is true. Most people can relate to this, having grown up with these stories in one way or another, so I wasn't sure if the new movie was going to make me happy or not. I hadn't seen any of the new live-action remakes, so I wasn't sure if I wanted to. After a while I even started nitpicking about stuff, and I wasn't sure if it was going to do my memories any justice.

Oh, but it did, and it exceeded my expectations by leaps and bounds! I was actually quite surprised by how quickly I took to this film. The tale was beautifully retold, wonderfully executed in 3D, and was unique enough to be its own thing. It brought me so much joy and I'm absolutely elated now.

It's funny how cinema has so much power over us. That's actually one of the reasons that I am apposed to seeing much violence on screen, or in any form of media for that matter. I have become so sensitive to it, and I'm not interested in partaking any longer. I believe that we create our world, so it's up to the individual to take responsibility. Beauty and the Beast represents that to me, and was such a refreshing departure from the norm. Sure, there was tension and drama, but for the most part this PG film was such a wonderfully fanciful experience.

When I met Aaron years ago, I told him that I wanted adventure in the great wide somewhere. Those lyrics became his vow, and we decided to spend our lives together happily ever after. Life imitates art after all, and the other way around. So, if the classic version holds a special place in your heart, like it does mine, then go see this masterful rendition. I'm sure just as I did, you'll love it all the same.

Happy movie watching.
~Claudia

Monday, March 6

DIY Beauty: Deep Conditioning Dry Hair with Oil

Winter has almost come to a close, but what better way to pamper hair than with a deep conditioning oil treatment. It's always best to apply your oil (coconut, jojoba, or olive oil) to dry hair, because it soaks in better compared to damp follicles that are already filled with water. I like to do this right after I've oiled my body. When I'm done, I gently massage the leftover oil on my hands into the ends of my hair. It's the perfect amount of oil, and over time your hair will become noticeably softer and silkier.

Cheers and here's to happy, healthy living.
~Claudia

Wednesday, March 1

Metroid Prime

The first door has been opened.

With the perfect introduction completed, Claudia and I traveled to the planet Tallon IV, where we followed Samus Aran on her continuing mission to thwart the Space Pirates' endeavors of dominating the galaxy....

The first of the series to be in first-person perspective, Metroid Prime is a radical departure from the series' traditional gameplay, and it certainly garnered an appropriate amount of attention for that. The 3D environments are immersive, and place the player deeply within the peril of the Space Pirates and the mystery of the Chozo. The conventions that are familiar to veterans translate perfectly in the extra dimension, but while that newfound depth may make for longer adventures than are typical for the series, it is exactly that encouragement of exploration which forms the core of what makes Metroid one of my absolute favorite franchises.

I've chosen to share the series with my Truelove in chronological order, so we come to this chapter second, as it immediately follows the events of the first game. Metroid: Zero Mission has significant improvements over the original, such as illustrative story scenes, so I felt starting with that version would be the best experience for her. In fact, Metroid as a whole was completely unknown to Claudia until seeing Samus in Super Smash Bros.: Melee, so I've been absolutely excited to share this part of my life with her and guide her through all the mysterious details. She had seen material from Prime when it was released, but never personally had the chance to play until now. With that opportunity fulfilled after 14:12 of play time, we can now reflect upon our achievement of 97% with fond memories.

For the Prime games, I will be writing specifically on the Metroid Prime Trilogy versions, as I chose to keep the compilation primarily for the notable adoption of the excellent Wii Remote motion controls that were pioneered in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. That review will be written at the appropriate time, but suffice it to say now that those controls are most assuredly the best I've ever experienced in a first-person game, and is the essence of what makes Trilogy so impressive.

From the beginning of its debut, Metroid Prime astounded me as all the details abounded. Particles impact geometry, such as raindrops on Samus' arm cannon or the projectiles of her weaponry. Certain environmental phenomena that visibly contact Samus' visor are present throughout the game. The different views her visor gives the adventure bring depth and mystery, as they reveal more of what the planet holds than might initially be thought. Gravity simulation was something completely new to me, so to see it being used in a game and in real-time forever changed the way I thought about controlling a sphere, or simply using it to give motion to any freefalling object. Finally having a 3-dimentional representation of Samus and everything so celebrated about the series was a visual treat. Hearing both adaptations of old favorite melodies like never before and beautiful fresh material was an aural treat.

Add to all these virtues what's been improved in Prime Trilogy, and a better understanding of my affinity for this series is a certainty.


So here are my thoughts about the game:

Pros

- Metroid goes 3D! The transition Metroid made to 3D has the same significance as when other games did the same: simple platform navigation has become world exploration, realizing what once may have only been a player's imaginative extrapolation of elements, such as backgrounds, in 2D games.

- Textures, both static and animated, expertly maximize the aesthetics of the low-polygon game models of the time. Physics simulation gives realistic movements to objects, while particle effects bestow life to the environment with details like raindrops.

- Starting with art that shines is always important in game development, and the Prime team at Retro Studios was top-notch. Unlocking the art galleries gives access to the ideas being considered for this masterpiece, regardless of how many ideas might have been implemented. One prevalent design element used throughout the game is the blue-orange compliment color palette: it not only sets the mood at various times, but provides the game with continuity, which is important in storytelling.

- Everything excellent about the map in Super Metroid has returned and has been expanded. Some might recall the area map comprised of hexagon tiles that would display when resuming a file in Super Metroid: this has been included as an active function of the map in the Prime series.

- The beam weaponry system was a clever use of the Gamecube controller, and has been elegantly adapted for the Wii Remote. Speed and simplicity are the virtues of an intuitive, effective control scheme. The individual beams do not stack together as was the case in Super Metroid, but this makes sense for the "beam combos" within the Prime games.

- Just as with the beams, the Wii Remote was given a perfect system for interchanging between what's needed. The very concept of the visors is another radical enhancement for the series, and gaming as a whole: to see the field in such starkly different ways, to solve puzzles and gain the advantage over enemies, changed the fundamentals of what play I thought was possible.

- My preferences for enjoying favorites for longer periods of time finds a welcoming abode in Metroid Prime. Customarily, quick mission clear times are rewarded with the opportunity to meet Samus; however, for Prime, the percentage of items acquired is what determines the ending seen. This is certainly a welcome departure, because thoroughly exploring a 3-dimensional world requires more time than does a flat play field.

- The music in this game is amazing, and sharing its composer with Super Metroid makes that excellence an easy feat. There exist such nuances to the soundtrack, that only later while listening through my Sennheiser headphones were those intricacies revealed. Playing with HD headphones or with a deep, crisp surround system is absolutely recommended.

- Having the fortune of the first two games in the Trilogy being retrofitted with the controls of the last is the core of my determination to keep the compilation version of these games over their individual original releases. Intuitive control is a topic you'll see me discuss regarding every game I experience: being absolutely paramount (more so than visuals, music, or even story), the ability to fluidly interact with a game is as essential as our ability to sense and interact with this physical realm. Transparent controls help us truly experience our virtual adventures.


Cons

- Because of the more developed detail and realism a game of this caliber has over its classic 2D counterparts, what follows is also an increased violent nature in its action. Claudia was quick to voice her surprise with this situation, and we mutually shared how dreadful the deaths of some creatures and enemies could be at the arm of The Hunter, Samus Aran.

- Although Metroid Prime raised the bar for gaming in several ways, including at least those I've mentioned, during our time with the game there was the occasional moment or setting where its age was apparent. The conventions of the day certainly worked perfectly for some types of settings and creatures, but for those times where more organic visuals were appropriate, those softer details were lost in the hard, low-polygon geometry.

- Scanning objects and bioforms was an excellent mechanic and interactive way to tell the story of Metroid Prime, except for those amusing rarities when the computer within Samus' suit would provide incredibly apparent descriptions of what can be clearly gathered with our eyes. Granted, there's a desire to make games more accessible, but when it sacrifices a valid challenge to use one's own deductive abilities, what's lost is what makes an adventure series like Metroid so celebrated. The days of "Nintendo hard" can stay in the past, and we can still have a balanced, rewarding sci-fi adventure that's steeped in mystery.


During the many years between Super Metroid and Metroid Prime, I wondered how there could be nothing on the Nintendo 64, save for a most-appreciated inclusion of Samus in Super Smash Bros.; but eventually, the answer arrived with complete clarity in the form of Metroid Prime. Do acquire the opportunity to quench your own curiosity.

Happy gaming,
- Aaron -

Wednesday, February 15

Working on Closed Captioning Our Videos


This is taking a little longer than we thought, so be patient with
us while we’re working, and we’ll be back soon.
---
Content, editing, and compositing by Claudia Sutton.
Music composed by Alvin Muolic.

Thursday, February 2

Metroid: Zero Mission

It all begins here.

It's been a while, Zebes. These games have been a staple of vicarious action, adventure, and mystery for me throughout the years since my introduction to the series with the release of Metroid II on the original Game Boy; and because it was a vast departure from anything in my young gaming experience to that point, it instantly became a favorite. I was eager to play every chapter to come, and to this day the overall story still has me intrigued.

Before sharing this game with Claudia, I realized it'd been a few years since last playing it and that I'd forgotten some of the many secrets within the subterranean corridors of the planet. Revisiting this world was exciting for me, and my hope was that her first foray into the galaxy of Metroid would be as well. It turns out that it was, and she is excited to continue exploring this part of my life.

For the uninitiated, Metroid: Zero Mission retells and expands upon the events portrayed in the original Metroid on the NES, and completely overhauls the gameplay and art direction with the capabilities of the Game Boy Advance. This was significant to me for one critical reason: the gameplay in the 1986 classic was atrocious. The physics programming was brutal; regaining energy was a tedious, time-consuming task; the signature map system had to wait until 1993 to be born; and for some reason, Metroid (and Kid Icarus) missed out on the save feature that was introduced with The Legend of Zelda that same year… and all this was just for starters.

Had I been introduced to Metroid when it was still the only game in the series, my only choice would have been to adapt if I wanted to play. However, because I'd only made my first attempt with it many years after its debut, it felt more like a punishment than a challenge; hence, I've never finished it.

Zero Mission is a completely different creature. Thanks to the GBA hardware, the development staff recreated the beginning of this series as it may have initially been envisioned. Visually, only a few cues of the old classic remain within the brilliant new design. The music is re-orchestrated and supplemented, and the sound effects are fresh but familiar. The continuity of Samus' abilities is a peculiarity throughout the series because of the chapters chosen to be told on each successive platform, but this game does a great job of explaining how she first acquired the signature capabilities for which she is known.

Classic 2D platforming and shooting action at its best, Metroid: Zero Mission is an excellent introduction for anyone interested in the series, and is why I chose it for Claudia as well. She explained to me that her gaming expertise lies in other genres, so she was most appreciative to have my experience at her disposal. Puzzling obstacles requiring timing and precision await those seeking a 100% item collection rate and fast mission clear times for the customary chance of meeting the heroine inside the suit. For this particular session, our clear time was 7:19:20, and our collection rate was 88%, but I'm thankful the game saves the acquired gallery entries for later viewing, so Claudia still got the opportunity.


So here are my thoughts about the game:

Pros

- The update is immense. Metroid: Zero Mission is a complete recreation of the original in every detail, and it's all for the best. Nintendo started an extraordinary, profound concept in this series, but a little time was needed before reaching its renown.

- The art direction is unique within the series: the high contrast motion-comic cut scenes give the story a style of its own. During gameplay, the pixel art is highly detailed, and the red terrain outlines help the action plane stand out from the atmospheric backgrounds.

- Perfect remixes of classic tunes, entirely new music, and masterful sound effects breathe life into everything on screen. Audio is a bigger factor in presentations of any sort than are the visuals, and this title delivers.

- Taking every advantage of the Game Boy Advance, the game adheres more to the conventions established in the innovative Super Metroid; thus providing intricate, yet intuitive control to the player.

- Storytelling during gameplay has become a bigger part of the series, thanks again to Super Metroid, wherein the transition from simple text narratives to animated cinematics began. Most story details can still be found in the manuals, but the inclusion of more elaborate theater helps immerse the player further.

- Gameplay is paramount for me, and is therefore more fundamental in determining the quality of a game than are its audio and visual properties. Zero Mission not only preserves what makes the series so outstanding, but refines and expands upon previous installments.


Cons

- Collecting some of the more valuable items like energy tanks requires some fairly over-the-top executions of skill by the player. Although I remembered the solution to some of these, multiple attempts (and plenty of patience) were necessary.

- Not exactly a point of objection, but favorite experiences are awesome when they're longer. Understanding, however, that part of the quintessential Metroid experience involves the potential for short clear-times makes this list entry almost moot, as every 2D game in the series encourages and rewards swiftness.


Metroid is one of my absolute favorite game series, so naturally Zero Mission also comes with my utmost accolades and recommendations.

Happy gaming,
- Aaron -

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