Memoirs of a Galaxy

I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately about one of my favorite video games. Could you all please bear with me as I gush like a little kid about it?

. . .

Well, I guess I don’t need to ask you to bear with me. I mean, if you’re not interested in this topic, you have every right to not read it. So . . .

IT’S GUSHING TIME!!!

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NOSTALGIAAAAAAA

Well, then. This is it. Super Mario Galaxy. The first Mario game I ever played.

Okay, technically I had played Mario Kart Wii before I played this, but that doesn’t really count. By “Mario game,” I mean one of the mainline platformers. You know. Super Mario Bros. Super Mario World. Super Mario 64. All of those games.

Anyway. I remember about five years ago when I went to Wal-Mart with my dad, Christmas money in hand — just waiting to be spent on a brand-new Wii game. I stood in the game section trying to decide between 3 titles: Mario Kart Wii, LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga, and Super Mario Galaxy. My dad was a great help in my ultimate decision. The conversation went something like this:

Dad: “Well, let’s do process of elimination. Why do you want the kart game?”
Me: “Well, I’ve played it with my friends before, and it’s really fun.”
Dad: “What about the LEGO game?”
Me: “I played the first two LEGO Star Wars games on the PS2 and I really liked them. This one is both games in one, with some updates.”
Dad: “Hmmm. Well, why don’t you get the game you haven’t played yet? I’ve actually heard some really good things about that one. It’s supposed to be really fun.”
Me (after thinking for a moment): “Okay, that’s probably the best way to go.”

My dad might read this later, so I think I’ll put this here: THANK YOU!!!

I brought the game home, slipped the disc carefully into my Wii, and launched the game. I was greeted by Mario joyfully shouting the title of the game, followed by the main screen that I put further up this post (*points upward*), which was accompanied by some absolutely gorgeous music that instantly grabbed my attention. Here, have a listen!

Eagerly, I started a file and began to play. Not even five minutes into the game, I already knew that I had found an absolute gem. I was hooked, and I would not be let go for weeks and weeks.

It wasn’t just that the game was fun to play, but that was definitely one of the biggest parts of it. I loved moving Mario around, doing triple jumps, shaking the Wii remote to spin, bouncing on enemies, and a myriad of other things. But what really grabbed me about the game was the atmosphere it exuded. Let me give you an example by describing the first few minutes of the game a bit.

You (Mario, that is) start out at this event called the Starbit Festival, on your way to Peach’s castle to receive a gift from her. There’s revelry in the air as you traverse down the road, passing little Toads as they say hello. It’s a beautiful, starry night — take a look!

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But then, when you reach the castle, all hell breaks loose. Bowser and his fleet of ships come along, attempting to kidnap the princess. They don’t just settle for the princess, though — they lift the whole castle into the air and shoot off into space, sending you flying off to who knows where, the princess’s call for help echoing in your ears.

When you wake up, all is quiet. You’re woken by a strange rabbit with stars on its ears, and you’re soon chasing after it on a small planetoid in a quiet, starry galaxy in some far-flung corner of the universe.

Sorry for the so-so picture quality here. It was the best screenshot of this part that I could find. Seriously.

Sorry for the so-so picture quality here. It was the best screenshot of this part that I could find. Seriously.

As you walk all around this thing, a soothing piece of music with prominent piano serenades you. Once you’ve caught the rabbit and its two friends, a coliseum-like structure appears on the planetoid. When you reach the top of it, you’re greeted by a stranger: a mysterious guardian of the galaxies who calls herself Rosalina.

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She’s the one who officially sends you on your quest to save Princess Peach. And you’re off! After the initial level that subtly walks you through how to play the game, you reach the Comet Observatory — Rosalina’s starship that requires Power Stars to get enough fuel to take you to the Center of the Universe, where Bowser is keeping Peach prisoner.

This is where the adventure really begins. One by one, you travel from galaxy to galaxy, completing challenges and collecting Power Stars in tons of different ways.

I can’t even begin to describe how incredible this game looks, sounds, and feels. It’s more than just a game. It’s an experience, and one that sticks with you long after you’ve beaten Bowser. I kid you not, sometimes I would stop playing and just listen to the music, or I would put the camera in first person mode and just stare at the starry backgrounds, also while listening to the music. Just drinking it all in. Super Mario Galaxy really is a beautiful game. I know that might sound weird to people who don’t play games, but it’s true. It’s breathtaking.

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Okay, I think you get the picture.

This game is positively bursting with creativity, atmosphere, and — yes — beauty. The amount of work that was put into the design and appearance of each galaxy is inspiring and gorgeous to look at. The game is a blast to play, and a true challenge at times. The soundtrack is phenomenal and unforgettable, with some truly knockout pieces throughout.

And . . . what’s my point, you ask?

Absolutely nothing. I just adore this game and wanted to gush about it. So there. :P

Anyway. If you have a Wii and you haven’t played this yet, GO GET IT AND PLAY IT. NOW. If you don’t have a Wii, GO BUY A WII AND BUY THIS GAME TOO. Then play it. Seriously.

Okay, fine, I understand that you’re busy. But really, if you ever find that you’d like to play a game you haven’t gotten around to yet, and this game is one you haven’t tried, PLEASE give it a shot. I think you’ll find it quite good.

Actually, that’s an understatement. This game is an absolute must-play. (Don’t forget the sequel, either! It’s just as good! Overall, though, I think I prefer the original for a few reasons, the main one of which is probably sheer nostalgia.)

Oh, quick fun fact: because I first played through this game during the winter, we almost always had this portable heater running in the basement while we were down there playing games. It gave off a particular smell, and to this day whenever I smell that heater, I instantly think of Super Mario Galaxy. Weird, I know.

That’s all. But before you go, have a couple more songs from the game.

Assuming you’re still reading this, see you in two weeks!

“Inside Out” — A Film Review

***THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS. BECAUSE I’M TOO LAZY TO DO A SPOILER-FREE VERSION EVERY TIME I DO A MOVIE REVIEW, YOU SHOULD JUST GO SEE THE MOVIE IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY AND THEN READ MY REVIEW.***

Wow. It’s been far too long since we’ve had a great Pixar movie.

Before this year, in my opinion, the last great Pixar movie was 2010’s Toy Story 3. Since then, we’ve gotten a few Pixar movies that, while good (for the most part), weren’t quite up to scratch:

2011: Cars 2 (widely considered Pixar’s weakest work to date)
2012: Brave (good overall, but definitely not what I would call “great”)
2013: Monsters University (enjoyable and definitely a step up, but again, still not what I would call “great”)
2014: The first year without a Pixar movie since 2005

So it’s been about five years since we last had a truly great Pixar film. When I first heard about Inside Out, I was intrigued by the concept, and had a bit of hope that it might be a return to form for the renowned animation studio. They’d hit a bit of a slump, and I thought that maybe this new film would be their comeback.

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When I saw the first trailer for it, I wasn’t so sure anymore. A few months later, though, I watched a second trailer that came out, and it made me more hopeful again. However, it wasn’t the trailers that ended up making me the most hopeful; it was that the film was shown early (in May) at the Sundance Film Festival, and it received rave reviews from the critics and audience members who attended the showing. In fact, up until its release, it had a consistent rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, indicating that not a single critic had yet given it a negative review.

As of today, on Rotten Tomatoes, Inside Out has a total of 223 critic reviews. 219 of them are positive, and only 4 are negative.

So did I think that this film was truly a return to form for Pixar?

Ummmm . . . YES.

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Now, if you’re reading this review, you’ve either already seen the movie or aren’t afraid of spoilers, so I’ll spare you the summary of what the movie is about. Instead, I’ll keep this fairly brief and give an overview of my observations, things I liked, etc.

First, I must say that the overall story and concept of the film is utterly brilliant, and while some may argue that it’s not original — certainly the concept of visualizing how people think has happened before in movies and TV — I found it to be entirely fresh and exciting all the same, not to mention exceedingly clever. The little orbs with memories contained in them, the islands of personality, the “train of thought,” the production studio where dreams are made . . . everything is visualized so inventively that I couldn’t help but smile (not to mention laugh at certain jokes, especially when the facts and opinions got mixed up — “that happens all the time!”).

Oh yeah, and there’s totally a “the floor is lava” section of Imagination Land.

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Whoever decided to put this in the movie: huge kudos go to you. Or cookies. Whatever you like.

If the world of the movie is fun to watch, though, it’s still got nothing on the characters. Our main focus are the five primary emotions in Riley’s head: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. You might think that because each character personifies one particular emotion that they wouldn’t be very interesting and would play off of stereotypes. On the contrary, each of these characters is done exceptionally well, and each is certainly more than capable of breaking out of the mold you might expect them to stay in.

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Take Fear, for example. You might expect him to simply freak out about stuff all the time. Instead, though, his purpose is more three-dimensional. He watches out for possible hazards, and he analyzes situations to find all possible outcomes (but of course he often finds the worst possible ones, which is quite funny).

In this way, each of the main five characters is more than just their name. Each one is made up of multiple smaller traits that are related to whatever emotion they personify. Take Anger — he doesn’t just blow up for no reason. He’s the voice of justice and tries his best to prevent Riley from being treated unfairly. (This observation didn’t really occur to me until I listened to someone else talk about the film, but since I thought it a good one, I thought I should include it here.)

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So yes, the characters are definitely not one-note, and they’re all great. Even Disgust, who I didn’t expect to like too much, was an interesting and even funny character. Fear was great. Anger was hysterical.

But the real stars of the show are the polar opposites: Joy and Sadness.

INSIDE OUT – Pictured: Joy. ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Joy is, well, a joy to watch. As you’d expect, she’s upbeat, spunky, perky, always looking on the bright side. She’s the girl in charge of Riley’s inner life, responsible for the majority of the emotions Riley has experienced ever since she was an infant. I found it quite interesting that the other emotions understood that Joy was in charge and respected her for that. I was expecting all of the characters to constantly be vying for control, which happened occasionally, but not nearly as much as I was expecting, which made the film more interesting to me.

And then there’s Sadness. Joy doesn’t really understand her, for obvious reasons, and even tries to keep her away from the control board. But when both of them are whisked away on their adventure to recover the core memories, something amazing happens. Well, technically, many amazing things happen, but I’m talking specifically about the overall arc. Because in the end, it’s Sadness who turns out to be the real hero of the story.

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This is the film’s most prominent message, and I thought it was ingenious and beautiful. Riley has lived most of her life quite happily, thanks to Joy. But when her family moves to a different city and a completely different life, Riley’s inner life begins to crumble. Joy tries to keep sadness from ruining everything, but as it turns out, Sadness shouldn’t be pushed away. Sadness is actually essential to Riley’s well-being.

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The scene in which this is made clear is one of the most tear-jerking moments in Pixar history. You know what, scratch that — I’d say it’s THE most tear-jerking moment in Pixar history. I’m serious. I cried more watching this movie than I have watching any other Pixar creation — including Up and Toy Story 3! (#noshame)

I mean, really, though . . . Riley comes home, her parents ask what’s wrong, and Sadness is finally allowed to take the controls. She doesn’t keep them to herself, though. As Riley’s family embraces, Sadness invites Joy to handle the controls alongside her, which creates a new kind of memory. A mixture of sadness and joy. And that, my friends, is one of the best messages Pixar has weaved into its stories. Sadness should not be stifled. It’s vital to our emotional stability. Not only that, but sadness and joy can work together. Sadness can often lead to joy, in fact.

Now that is some darn good writing.

Oh, also . . . Bing Bong.

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When this guy first appeared, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like him. He grew on me, though, even though I still thought his design was a bit strange. And he continued to grow on me.

And then . . . that scene happened.

Oh gosh. The feels. I can’t. I just . . .

Pixar! Why must you do this to me?! You just had me crying already when Joy experienced sadness for the first time, and then you drop that on me? You brilliant, wonderful, evil people. I love your movies.

*cough*

Anyway. I think I should wrap this up.

Inside Out is truly a return to form for Pixar, as many have said, and quite a welcome one at that. Is it perfect? No, there are a few small things I wish were done a little differently. But as it is, the film is outstanding. Wonderful. Creative. Brilliant. Hilarious, heartbreaking, and heartwarming all at once. The visuals are bright and colorful. The voice cast is pitch-perfect. The story is well-written and well-executed. The message is beautiful, and the emotions — fittingly enough for a movie about them — are real and powerfully moving.

In short, it’s one of Pixar’s best. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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I hope you enjoyed my review! What did you think of the film? Leave a comment!

See you in two weeks!