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MAGFEST 2024: Right in the Feels

Scott Wells

27 January 2024


So It Begins


My badge with flair

It feels strange typing the year 2024. The decade is finally starting to solidify. When the pandemic broke out at the beginning of the 20s, it felt like everything was put on hold. So, to me, it seems like we are only a year or so into the decade. Although, having a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old disagrees with that logic.


Before I start my recap of this year’s event, I’d like you to indulge me. I have been writing these blogs for several years, but I never properly introduced myself and why MAGFest is special to me.


I always took to music more than my peers. Sure, almost everyone loves music, but not to the level of obsession that I (and other band nerds) do. I also grew up alongside Nintendo as a brand. Much like pixel art, the limitations of sound hardware in the early days bred a unique style of music. Couple that with the short loop times that cycled endlessly and you get to know these tracks intimately while playing a game. It is very much the reason something like MAGFest exists. We all had this experience and connection to these songs. MAGFest is one giant love letter to this part of our childhood. There is no doubt this is a big reason that I became a composer and music producer. When I tell people that I am classically trained, this is what I really mean.



Of course, I am also classically trained


My high school band days

Apparently, only one person in this photo knew where the camera was


Gaming was how my older brother and I bonded when growing up. Since his passing 18 years ago, I have always felt compelled to live a life big enough for both of us. That’s the reason I built the game collection I have (this collection would have been a dream for us as kids). It’s also a reason I cherish MAGFest, which happens to fall around the time of year he passed. I wish he could be here to experience this awesome event, which is an ode to our childhood. So, I try to enjoy it to the fullest for both of us.


Day 1: The Reverse Hangover


As I mentioned before, I have two young kids who keep me in a state of perpetual sleep deprivation. So, much of Thursday was spent recuperating and preparing my body for what was to come.


88bit perfoming at MAGFest 2024

The obvious bright spot of Thursday was 88bit. He played through some tasty nostalgic gems from RC Pro AM, Marble Madness, and Megaman 2. Every year that I come to MAGFest I fear that eventually I will age out of the event, but this show and the selection of music was tailored specifically for a guy my age. It’s nice to have a reminder that us old folks still belong.



I was lucky to score an atrium room this year. The best thing about them is that even when you head back to your room, you still feel like you are part of the festivities. The atrium is always lively, and it is fun to lord over everyone, people watch, and enjoy the views of double dick fountain. Although, my view was obscured, so it was plain old dick and balls for me.


double dick fountain

Devito Shrine


The shrine to the beloved Danny Devito was alive and well this year.




Day 2: The Children of Nintendo


Slime 64


Slime 64

The advantage of going to bed early and rising early is that the MAGFest Indie Videogame Showcase (MIVS) and arcade rooms are all yours. It was a good time to catch up on what new indie games were on display.


Immediately, Slime 64 caught my eye. Inspired by Mario 64, it felt perhaps more like Banjo Kazooie. Taking clear direction from its influence, you begin in a great hall with different worlds on display for you to choose from. I went into the jungle world, which ended up being more of a giant pond with a great waterfall. The point of the game is to explore the domain and collect various items, some of which are hidden behind puzzles.


This game is full of good vibes. It is very much a virtual zen garden. It’s a low-threat experience where you can simply get lost in another world and let the stress of the real world melt away. And it truly nails the Nintendo 64 aesthetic, triggering all of the nostalgia dopamine.


Earthbound USA


Later in the evening, I went to see the Earthbound USA documentary. I became aware of the project because our old friend Robbie from Super Soul Bros. provided the soundtrack to the film. I had seen the trailer for this documentary and it seemed intriguing, but I had no expectations for it to be as well done as it is. It can easily go toe-to-toe with the best in its class.


It was an incredibly heartwarming tale about the grassroots community that built around what, at the time, was an obscure RPG called Earthbound. The series was popular in Japan and Nintendo USA had high hopes for it when they released it here, but due to various factors, it flopped. Even I, who was very much into RPGs during the SNES golden age missed the boat. I didn’t discover the game until nearly a decade lately, most likely due to the excitement drummed up by these fans at Starmen.net


The bulk of the documentary focuses on the fan’s anticipation and eventual disappointment surrounding Earthbound 64, then the great efforts fans went through to get Nintendo to localize the long-awaited sequel, Mother 3. What I realized while watching the documentary was that back in the mid-90s we were witnessing the first generation of young adults whose formative years were shaped in large part by Nintendo. I don’t think that Nintendo expected or knew how to properly handle this responsibility. When the documentary ends with the creators of Starmen.net meeting the creator of Earthbound, Shigesato Itoi, he even said that these fans felt like his children. It was an incredibly touching moment and I can only imagine what it meant to Reidman.


I really enjoyed the film and cannot recommend it enough. Even if you never cared about Earthbound and never will, this documentary also doubles as an excellent reminder of the way the internet used to be in the mid-to-late nineties.


Bit Brigade


Bit Brigade performing Castlevania at MAGFest 2024

After the screening, there was a Q&A with the creators of the film, but I couldn’t stick around because Bit Brigade was about to hit the stage. HOLY. FUCKING. SHIT! This year they treated us to not one game, not two, but three! They opened with the OG Castlevania, then treated us to a new game in their rotation, Double Dragon. They followed that with DuckTales. What can I say about Bit Brigade that I haven't already said? You just have to experience it for yourself.




Sammus performing at MAGFest 2024

Headlining the stage that evening was another familiar face, SAMMUS. Given the theme of this year’s MAGFest, it was practically her birthright to take the prime spot on the first big night of the festival.


She looked at peace while on stage. Usually, Sammus is up on stage exorcising her demons, which is quite a sight to behold. Her performance this year was every bit as authentic, but I could tell that she has made it to a good mental place. She talked a bit about that on stage and got a little emotional. I simply love her passion and will never get tired of watching her do her thing. It’s really powerful shit. How lucky I am to have witnessed it. Much love, Sammus.


Day 3: Full Send!


MIVS Again


Simon Quest display at MAGFest 2024 MIVS

Another early morning, another chance to explore MIVS. For me, the best in show should easily be awarded to The Transylvania Adventure of Simon Quest, obviously inspired by Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest. Much like Zelda 2, I have always had a fondness for Castlevania 2. They took risks that didn’t pay off, but still resulted in something that showed much promise. Transylvania Adventure is the realization of that promise.


This game has polish out the ass! When I first started the adventure, I was at a scene by a dock where a ferryman had just dropped you off. You are clearly intended to continue to the left, but I went back to the boat and was able to whip the ferryman off the boat and into the water. I presumed he was dead, but he popped back up a few moments later and floated there as if to almost say casually, “thanks, dick.”


When I made it to town, there was a dog and YOU COULD PET THE DOG! That should tell you all you need to know about this game. But, I’ll tell you more. You can run up and down the stairs! Such a small thing that makes a significant quality of life improvement. This game is a proper Metroidvania, with stage design elements that hint “maybe come back later.” They even nailed the annoying bird flight patterns. They will rightly piss you off.


Other highlights from the showcase included a Toxic Crusaders beat 'em up (another Retroware entry) and Risk System, a pretty cool shmup by VGNY.


Thrown Controllers


I headed back to the room to relax a bit and caught the Thrown Controllers panel on MAG TV. It was host by…I wanna say Weird Al? (it was actually The Runaway Guys) Anyway, this was a sorta quizshow where contestants faced off answering various video game trivia to win prizes. One dude was up there crushing it, but then got stumped by the only question I knew the answer to, which involved Deus Ex.


Brandon in the Wild


Speaking of Deus Ex, Alexander Brandon was doing an AMA. This guy has what the kids these days call "the rizz" and is infinitely entertaining. I could listen to him talk about anything. He is known for doing one-man performances of Star Wars, so I asked if he had heard of Backstroke of the West and challenged him to perform that entire film at a future MAG. For the uninitiated, Star War The Third Gathers: The Backstroke of the West is a project where someone took the entire script of Star Wars Episode III, machine translated it to Chinese, then took that translation and retranslated it back into English. A group of voice actors then performed the script and tracked it to the original film. Hopefully, we will get to see Alexander perform this at a future MAG.

 

Metroid Metal


I almost forgot how great Metroid Metal is. And when it came time for their final song, the boss battle theme from Super Metroid, an epic battle broke out. Mother Brain lurched her way on stage, soon to be confronted by Samus and her friends. It would have blown my mind if they had a baby Metroid drop down from the ceiling. Also, I ran into the Angry Video Game Nerd at the concert. It was cool to see him here as just a regular dude, enjoying the festival like the rest of us.



It was cool to see our friend and collaborator, Viking Guitar, getting the respect he deserves.


Stamage from Metroid Metal rocking a Viking Guitar shirt

Triforce Quartet


I had to check out the gazebo performance by the Triforce Quartet. They packed the house.


Triforce Quartet at the Gaylord atrium gazebo

Protomen

 

I went to check out Protomen briefly but had to leave early because social engagements were calling.


Protomen performing at MAGFest 2024

 

Soju Guild


Soju Guild

From our room's balcony we could see all of the party rooms. We did the math and went and knocked on the door of one near us. It turned out to be the Soju Guild's party room. They were super cool and invited us in. This is what I love about MAG, everyone is chill and down for random encounters.


Gwobs Panel


Robbie was back this year with the madness that is the Gwobs Panel. Robbie has a hoarding problem and uses this opportunity to give away random prizes in what can be described as an event that is kind of a mix between Bingo and the overhyped atmosphere of The Price is Right.

 

Day 4: The Actual Hangover


Me, Michael, and Jarrett (left to right)

Ah, Day 4. You bittersweet son-of-a-bitch. It serves to both remind you that you just had an amazing time and to slap you in the face with the reality that all good things must come to an end. The elevators are full of people with all of their belongings packed. The halls are filled with furries making their walk of shame. The good news is that there is still some fun to be had.


I caught two more panels that Sunday afternoon. The first was about video games that go extinct and the importance of preserving them. The GeekNights crew did a good job making what could have been a dry topic something that was quite entertaining. Afterwards, I went to check out the Amazing Brando do his thing making fun animations with pixel art.


-------


Well, sadly all things must come to an end and I had the same feeling I always do, which is that one weekend a year isn't enough of this type of thing. So, after years of promises, I finally made good on my commitment to go to VGMcon this spring! You see, back at MAGFest 2017 I met the founder of VGMcon. I liked his shirt because it was the exact right color for my Wario cosplay. It happened to be the shirt from the previous year's VGMcon and he was cool enough to send me one. I'm super stoked to finally check the event out. I'll be sure to post here after I do.





MAG of Days Gone By


If you missed out on previous years, check out these blogs:






 

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