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New Super Mario Bros. Wii U Trailer [GO/ER]
Sep 14th, 2012 by Dan

It’s a real mouthful to say, but I have to admit that it still looks mega interesting to me. Extra cool is the word that it’s a world map akin to Super Mario World instead of a level line like Yoshi’s Island. Very neat.

Arkham City First Impressions [GO]
Oct 19th, 2011 by Dan

Batman: Arkham City Box

Nifty White Aesthetic For The Box

Arkham City is out! I played it for a few hours last night. Here are some initial thoughts:

– Have a backup game on another console ready. Play that until the free (with non-used purchase) Catwoman DLC finishes downloading (mine was Gears of War 3). I guess Rocksteady Studios was thinking, “If the Catwoman DLC is on-disc DLC people will get mad at us. Let’s split it out and force a 200 MB download so they know we’re not ripping off used game buyers (PS: We’re so ripping them off)”

I have tremendous doubts that the Catwoman stuff wasn’t done simultaneously or that it couldn’t have fit on the disc. Seriously, I’m 98% sure the 200 MB download is largely symbolic.

– Arkham City (the environment) is pretty big. Getting around it is fun! Finish the AR missions ASAP to get a (free) neat traversal upgrade. After you get the upgrade either be like me and be so obsessed with completing the Advanced AR Missions that you repeat them ad nauseum until you get them right (you can fail them within 5 seconds and it takes maybe 10 to get back to the start) or you can be a healthy individual, pace yourself, and just let it be if you fail a few times. Come back later and all that.

– I always forget “payaso” is spelled with an ‘ll’ instead of a ‘y’. Subtitles will help you learn to spell in Spanish!

– Arkham City does not Metroid you. Batman has all his gadgets from the last game. It also does not do a great job of reminding you how to do anything again right off the bat. This could be because I started on Hard, but maybe not. I don’t know.

– Beating on henchmen is still super fun! I think that they regenerate in the overworld, which is a nice departure. If they don’t…well that’s a bummer. Speaking of the overworld: some sections have guys with guns. Don’t hang out in the Penguin section if you’re not prepared to run into like five guys with guns by accident. You can also do what I did and just get shot so much you die. I did that a lot trying to complete the last Advanced AR Training mission.

– Man, crooks be hating on Bruce Wayne. Even the crooks who don’t know he’s Batman! It’s true what they say, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.”

– Ever wanted to apply Super Mario World cape mechanics to a game where you can dive bomb crooks so hard you knock them unconscious? This is the game for you. Seriously, within a second of learning I could dive bomb into a glide and back again I flashed back to SMW and I instantly knew what I was doing. If only they had licensed the bouncy noise from SMW. If only.

– Batman is not afraid to straight up hit a girl. Damn, son. That’s not cool.

– Catwoman is the worst maintainer of a secret identity ever. People call her Selina and Ms. Kyle all game long. Hey Catwoman, you’re terrible at this super villain thing.

– Some reviewers have lamented that Catwoman controls too much like Batman. Remember how awesome it is to control Batman? That’s not a problem, guys.

– Counter indicators even on Hard mode? Not fun, guys. No achievements for beating it on Hard? Lame. Word to the wise: play the game on Normal, at the very least. Can’t unlock New Game+ without doing so.

– If you get this game before Halloween, be sure to explore the basement of the courthouse on Halloween for 1/12 of an achievement. I’m worried about how I’m gonna get the one on Christmas without cheesing the system.

– Everybody should go and apologize to Kotaku. Go ahead, I’ll wait. I love the meta-joke at play there. Cool stuff.

EDIT: This Kotaku story reminded me that Arkham City leans a little too hard on “b***h.” Like, uncomfortably so. I wish that word had a more negative stigma to it to the general public because it is not okay the way we’ve been using it nowadays. It should have way more force and be deployed way less flippantly than Arkham City has been doing it. Makes me super uncomfortable to play the game.

A Life Told Through Media [GO, F, BT]
Aug 6th, 2009 by Dan

The taste of Cuban food, the smell right before a thunderstorm on a summer afternoon, the sound of disco music, the oppressive feel of summer heat, and the sight of a pink building all remind me of my childhood home. Everyone knows that the senses trigger strong memories. It’s also common sense that the media we take in over our lives can have a profound effect on our memories of our past and development. From the simple books of my childhood to the games and music I played and listened to along my 23 years of development, there are certain pieces of media that are just inseparable from the circumstances surrounding their initial consumption. They range from the simple joys of childhood all the way to the angst of high school and the harsh realities of adult life, but I wouldn’t trade these associations for anything.

My earliest conscious memories all come from the modest house in Hialeah we lived in as children. The memories come flooding in as I think about the years I spent growing up in that house, but some of the most vivid come from the John F. Kennedy Memorial library. A giant, two-story behemoth of a building, I spent many a day browsing the books with my parents and in library camp during the summers. In the corners of my mind, I can recall watching a movie about a mouse who had a race car, but I know it wasn’t Stuart Little, it was far too early for that. I remember reading books about a purple monster (El Monstruo?) with my dad to practice Spanish, I remember watching Bob Ross videos (“Happy little trees”!), and I remember the joy of getting my own library card, even though it had a single-digit limit on check-outs, but most of all I remember checking out Three Investigators books. This, initially, Alfred Hitchcock-supported trio of detectives were the main characters in a book series that my father used to read as a kid. Knowing that I enjoyed mystery books, my father recommended them to me and they quickly became a favorite of mine. I can still remember the corner of the library where I used to look for these books. He may not realize it, but those books have stuck with me to this day and they will forever remind me of my father and my time in Hialeah.

While I have plenty of memories of playing the NES in our family room or Eric’s room in Hialeah, the first gaming system that was truly mine was the SNES that lived in my bedroom from 1992 until we moved. The story behind the Christmas I got it is colorful and fun, but Super Mario World sticks out beyond that in my mind for one simple reason. I specifically remember playing that game in the corner of my room, my television sitting atop my dresser, requiring a bash or two to get the colors just right, throughout that year and the next. It was conquered several times in two different parts of my room, with David watching me or playing as Luigi.

Memories of that bedroom are also carried within the bytes of King’s Quest VI. My father brought home the game at someone’s recommendation – this was when my father still played games on occasion – and began to puzzle through its depths at night after completing his homework. His obsession with the game became so great that he would often sneak peeks at strategy guides within computer stores during his breaks or on the way home from work so that he could get unstuck that night. My memories of the game develop from fear to delight as I grew older. You see, the King’s Quest series was not like the adventure games of Lucasarts, you could die at a moment’s notice. The realism and the grisly deaths combined to make me actively fear the game as a small child and I used to cover my ears so as not to hear the inevitable phrase “Tickets Please” uttered by the gate man of Hell itself as my father as Alexander perished yet again.

I would brave the depths of King’s Quest VI years later with Eric when we had moved to Tualatin, a small suburb of Portland, Oregon. With the help of a guidebook so detailed it included a novelization of the game’s events, we easily conquered Alexander’s quest and that of Graham and Roselia in the games immediately preceding and following. Much stronger media memories from my Oregon days come more from my original playthroughs of both Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI. My Chrono Trigger story was already documented pretty well with the 16-bit All-Stars, but what wasn’t as well documented were the days spent sitting on the floor of Eric’s room as we played. Poor David was relegated to spectator status as he watched me trek through the 16-bit time travel saga, but he got his money’s worth as he asked me to read and act the character’s parts aloud as I played, which I happily did for him most of the time.

An epic nine-day rental of Final Fantasy VI will always remind me of the family’s first big screen TV. I fondly remember powering through the game, grinding in the desert as we leveled up each character in our repertoire to prepare for our battle against Kefka. Since FF VI featured a two-player mode, David was more than happy to play along through battles as we forged our way through the epic story of my favorite in the series. I can still picture the position of the television next to the fireplace in our living room. I can still remember the Hollywood Video we used to go to where we rented the game.

After a few short years in Oregon, we found our way back to Florida and I found myself in my freshman year of high school. It was in that last year in Broward county that I have my strongest media-related memories. Eric started reading books by Neal Stephenson when we were living in Oregon and he got a hold of Cryptonomicon around the year 2000. I read the book in the back of my computer programming class during the spring of 2001. My desk was in the back of the room and I finished programming assignments so quickly I always had time to read. I even remember one of the assignments, a tic-tac-toe game coded in Visual Basic.

My memories aren’t completely limited to games of the video variety, the card game Spades, a game I learned also in the spring of 2001, is forever associated with being 15 and playing water polo. Coach Childs worked somewhere else in the district and he had to travel to the high school for practice every day. To pass the time before his arrival and our usual stretching routine, my friend Scott Huntley and other members of the team would play an informal variant of spades where the first to seven books won the game. Those spring afternoons playing cards in the amphitheater on the red mesh lunch tables of our outdoor cafeteria were great. I took the great card game of Spades with me when I switched schools the next year, introducing it to as many as I could and I played at the end of the year almost every year, but it could never beat those afternoons before practice.

We moved that summer up to central Florida, the greater Tampa Bay area, to be specific, much to my chagrin. The prospect of meeting new people and making friends yet again was daunting, but I had the help of aspiring pirate Guybrush Threepwood to get me through the anxiety of that summer and keep me from worrying too much. My first playthroughs of the fantastic games within the Monkey Island series come from that summer. As I type this on the desk I first got when we moved to Tampa, the memories come flooding back to me. The precise positioning of the desk in my bedroom. I can remember David lying on my bed behind me as we worked through the puzzles and my first girlfriend, Daniela, laughing at the ridiculous jokes in the later iterations of the series, brought to life through Dominic Armato’s voice. Lucasarts adventure games dominated that summer, but the Monkey Island games, by far, left the greatest impact on me. The day that I learned about the new iteration in the series and the MI remake I told almost anyone I knew who would care. They could all vouch for how excited I was. I owe this all to that one summer where I learned the art of insult swordfighting as I got ready to enter a brand new high school in a new town.

I listened to oldies music for the first 14 or so years of my life and, while it brought me my great love and appreciation for greats like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, it didn’t factor as much into my life as pop music did during my later high school years. Predictably, most music associations I have are tied to various girlfriends I had throughout high school. Take Sublime’s tribute to the working girl, “Wrong Way.” I discovered that song the summer of my Junior year when I met and was dating a girl named Stephanie I met at my job at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. She happened to live near the park and was definitely from the “wrong side of the tracks,” so to speak. I’m not implying that she was a working girl, but I couldn’t help but think about the more dire economic situation near the amusement park (seriously, it was in a really crummy neighborhood) as I drove out there to see her after work or on the weekends.

Two songs by the Lostprophets, “Last Summer” and “Make a Move,” were weighing pretty heavily on my mind before I went off to university the summer of my senior year. Read the lyrics and you’ll understand why my good friend-turned-girlfriend Ashley is particularly associated with both of those songs in my mind before we went off to separate universities.

Not all song associations have to do with girls, one in particular, “All My Life” by the Foo Fighters, is actually associated with the swim team, my friend Chris, and districts. The slowly building beat was perfect for hyping us up for our races and Chris and I both gave it a listen before lining up on the blocks to get the heart pumping in preparation. I can still almost picture the tent-like structures pitched off to the side of the pool, the smell of chlorine in the air, and the simultaneous excitement and dull boredom that is a district-wide swim meet.

All that’s great, but I want to end where I started, video games. This past summer was a huge period of transition for me. I was graduating, but the job I thought I had was closed off to me through circumstances I’m completely at fault for. Faced with the prospect of heading back home with my tail between my legs or sticking it out and looking for work, I chose to find a job or starve. I was determined to make it out here and I was lucky to have a very understanding roommate allowing me time to get back on my feet. The days were spent working toward finding myself a new job, but the nights were spent finally indulging in something I had to put off for my final semester at school: Metal Gear Solid 4. Any link between the struggles of Solid Snake to stay alive and determinedly finish one last mission despite his clone degeneration and my job hunt would be ridiculous in more ways than can be named here, so I won’t go there, but I will say that playing MGS4 on the floor of my apartment (we had no furniture at that point) on my teeny 25″ television (we have a 65″er now) will always be special to me. It was the first game I completed after completing my education. The first game I finished after I was set free in the world on my own. It was (supposed to be) the end for Solid Snake and a new beginning for me (I couldn’t resist). Beating it was my first victory amidst some pretty terrible losses that brought me to that point throughout the summer and I’ll never forget the mixed emotions I felt once I’d finished Snake’s swan song. On one hand, the MGS story was done (so I thought) and Kojima went all-out to end his landmark series I was thankfully not alone in a new state (glad to have you around Eric, Min, Duffy, and my other local friends). On the other hand, the finale was overwrought, overproduced, and kind of lame and there I was jobless and left with a feeling of “What now?” thanks both to Kojima’s ending and my situation. It been working out for me so far, but I find that I can’t go back and play MGS4 just yet. Something about the experience resonates too much within me to just replay it in these better days.

That was a rather long-winded way for me to talk about memories of my past. Any of my readers (all three or four of you) have any memories of media strongly associated with their past that they’d like to share? Comment away.

Rhythm Heaven Review [Big N]
Jun 11th, 2009 by Dan

I’ve always harbored this delusion belief that I would be pretty good at music if I ever picked up an instrument. I have no evidence to back this up. Back in the fifth grade when I played the recorder I wasn’t an instant pro and I didn’t pick up the drums in Rock Band without some struggles (I still can’t play expert). I just know two things that give me this notion: 1. I can keep a beat down fairly well and 2. Other people don’t seem to be able to.

Logically, this isn’t what separates Jimi Hendrix from the average Joe who picks up a guitar or we’d have unbelievable musicians coming out of our ears, but it seems to me that the most essential skill behind successful musicianship, rhythm, is in short supply among people I know. It would be a gross oversimplification (that’s 144 times as much oversimplification for those keeping score at home) to even presume that skill on the Rock Band drums translates into real, musical talent, but on the other hand, I find it hard to believe that someone who can’t hold a moderately easy beat on easy or medium difficulty in that game has any musical ability at all.

So now we’re back to me and how I think that the only thing keeping me from being a rock star is actually picking up an instrument, a hypothesis based almost exclusively on my ability to play Rhythm Heaven, it seems. Does that mean that people who can’t manage to play the game can’t play music? I think I’m finding more and more flaws in my argument by the minute…

Former-roommate Min Chen tried his hand at some Rhythm Heaven not long after I picked up the game and the esoteric and heavily Japanese-influenced game seemed to mystify him. This is a man who plays the piano, and pretty well, mind you, who can rock pretty hard on the drums in Rock Band (expert difficulty, thank you very much), but he can’t manage to beat the very first level in Rhythm Heaven. It’s not really all that complicated: you hold the stylus on the bottom screen to cock back the bolt launcher and when the two nuts intersect, you flick the stylus to launch the bolt to connect the nuts. The rhythmic catch to this mini-game is that you’ve got to hit the nuts with precise timing. They come in from opposing ends of the screen playing a scale as they come in: Do Re Mi Fa So. You launch at So. Cake, right? I beat it my first attempt and I think I got a perfect on my third. Not one pass from Min. It makes absolutely no sense to me, because I thought he’d be great at the game.

There’s a reason it’s called Rhythm Heaven, you know. The game supplies visual cues all the time, but in 99% of the games you honestly could close your eyes and still play quite effectively. Some games are actually harder if you’re watching what’s going on just because of how trippy and strange the visuals are. The controls seem intuitive enough, you really only ever have three things to do with the stylus and they’re about as fundamental as can be. You either tap, flick, or hold. It seems like child’s play, but if my boy Min can’t do it, I’m almost reluctant to recommend the game to friends of mine who don’t fall squarely into the gaming category. You know what, I’m gonna just say that practice will help you move past most challenges, meaning that even the most unpracticed of gamers can manage to successfully play this game, with a little bit of practice.

Nintendo is actually really keen to this part of the audience. A quick look at the ad-campaign surrounding this game proves that they are actively targeting the novice gamer for this title. Beyoncé Knowles headlines one ad while 16-year old girls are the focus of one of the others. Here’s the hidden genius behind Nintendo’s design, there exists, within the game, a café that the player can enter at any time to “take a break.” Fail a song three times and you’ll see a little speech bubble hovering out of the café. The owner is beckoning you inside. He’s concerned and he doesn’t know how to say it without offending you, but are you having trouble with the song you keep failing? If you want, he can unlock the next one for you and you don’t have to keep bashing your head against the wall. It’s entirely up to you, of course.

The first time you see this, if you’re a long-time gamer with way too much pride, like I am, you’ll scoff and ignore it. Who does the café guy think he is to tell you that you suck at a game and give you a free pass? You go back to the main menu and attempt to tackle that game some more. You probably beat it. You’re quite happy with yourself for your accomplishment. Screw the café guy for thinking that you couldn’t do this on your own. Later on in the game you’ve failed the same game for a half hour. You’re tired of the garbage that they localized the soundtrack with. You realize that, hey, no one will know if you move onto the next one. It’s not like the game is going to call up your Halo-playing buddies to tell them that you needed help. Just like that, you take the free pass, move onto the next challenge, and you’re having fun again. Just. Like. That.

There’s some serious hypocrisy at play here for me. I’m the same guy who was so annoyed with the ease of Super Mario Galaxy that I wrote a whole blog post about how games were too easy. How can I justify, nay, laud a game for easing games through its challenges. I honestly don’t have a good answer to that question. There’s something about rhythm/music games that annoys me when it comes to failure. I admit that it’s mega-frustrating to play the same level ad infinitum until you can master a specific jump or get its timing just right. Just today I was playing Bubble Bobble Plus! with Eric and he clearly reached the limit to his patience when the remake’s ridiculous level design managed to stonewall us at level 72. He was about ready to quit. If I hadn’t looked up the solution online to the busted game mechanics, we wouldn’t have beat the game’s hundredth level and I would have remained a freakish, bubble-blowing dinosaur. It’s not the fate I wanted.

Digressions aside, imagine playing the same goddamn song over and over and over again. Play it some more to really get to where every note in that song makes you want to hurt someone. This is why I don’t mind easy progression in music games. The genre is about listening to new songs and mastering their challenges, but I think music reaches an annoying threshold a lot faster than missing a jump in Super Mario World. When your content revolves solely on progression to experience it, does it make sense to hold the player’s hand and help him along? I admit that this is a question of game design that far exceeds my expertise, but it is much appreciated in this case.

Well, we’ve hit about 1200 words and I haven’t even really explained the game at all, so I’d say we’re about due. Most websites will tell you that Rhythm Heaven features 50 unique mini-games for you to complete. This is something of a lie. There are actually 51 challenges, but only 24 are unique challenges, 10 are remixes composed of compilations of the other mini-games to different music, one is a playable credit sequence, and 15 are harder versions of past stages. Each unique stage has you using the stylus (and one button in one case) in unique ways to the music to earn a passing grade at the level. The remixes are brilliant combinations of the mini-games, the most fantastic of which sometimes interrupt you and transition to the next game with such fantastic flow that you’re already completing the next task. Some of the later ones will play upon this tendency and do the opposite to trick and cause mistakes.

The stages combine to make for the most fantastically random collection of characters and locations ever seen in a non-WarioWare game. One second you’ll be controlling a dog ninja slicing vegetables, bones, tires, and frying pans, the next you’ll be a DJ messing around with a turntable. Word on the nets is that some of the WarioWare folks were actually behind this game and the strength of their design, which allows randomness to mesh into a surprisingly cohesive experience, truly shines through.

When you’re tired of the rhythm games, there are other rhythm toys, basically ideas that didn’t make the cut, for you to mess around with and that’s about it. Most people’s biggest complaint with this game is just that, there’s not a whole lot of game there when you get right down to it. If you’re the type who wants more than ten hours of relatively shallow game from your portable collection, this isn’t the right title for you. If you love music, love intelligent design (not the kind that opposes evolution, the type that means a fine game), and love fun, well this is the game for you. It will have legs because you love the music or the quirky games and there’s always the pursuit of perfect scores to hold your attention.

There are some issues with the game that mostly revolve around its localization. I understand that you can’t really bring a game like this to the states without translating the Japanese, but for some reason the vocal localization seems way lacking in comparison. Uninspired lame English vocals just don’t hold a candle to the Japanese tracks. I’ve said it before, but the Japanese could totally suck too, but my lack of understanding would prevent me from realizing it sucked. Keep it in Japanese.

I can’t really emphasize how truly awesome this game is. It’s hard to think of a DS game I’ve had this much fun with in a long time. The combination of quirky strangeness and razor sharp mechanics make for a well-spent $30.

Game Overview: 16-Bit All-Stars Runner-Ups Part 3 / Sony: MGS4 Launch
Jun 12th, 2008 by Dan

Here we are at the last of the 16-bit era’s all-stars that couldn’t quite crack the top three.

This game is distinctly famous for Shigeru Miyamoto claiming that this game “proves that players will put up with mediocre gameplay as long as the art is good,” which he later apologized for claiming that he was expressing some frustration at Nintendo pressuring him to make changes to Yoshi’s Island to make it look more like this game. Another, more obvious clue, is that I talked about this game in my instruction manual editorial. Our last runner-up is Donkey Kong Country.

Runner-up: Donkey Kong Country

This will be one of the few times that you hear me say this, but Shigeru Miyamoto is wrong. Donkey Kong Country was the much lauded return of Donkey Kong to the video game spotlight and what a job it did. They looked at the aesthetic of the original Donkey Kong and they absolutely brought most of that to this new game. The most obvious transition from original to SNES was the strong use of the barrel. Donkey Kong’s chief weapon in the first level makes a return as one of the most prolific items in the game. You save progress in them, fly around the world map in them, rocket through the levels in them, regain party members from them, and have a projectile attack a la the original game. The mortality of the player characters were even brought over from the arcade game with both Donkey and Diddy dying after one hit, much like Mario (Jumpman) did back in the day.

I love Donkey Kong Country because it took the conventions for how a platformer is done, pulled from Mario 3 and Mario World, and took it to brand new heights. Sure, it didn’t have the branching paths of SMW or the innovative power-up management system of SMB3, but it had pets done way better than Yoshi, tight, almost simultaneous two-player action, secrets hidden around every corner, and that trademark Rare humor (or should I say humour?) that’s long since left the company (probably left when the Stamper brothers left).

DKC was and still remains one of the coolest Christmas presents I ever got. I still have the t-shirt that came with the game as a pre-order bonus (thanks Mom!). If you’ve never played it, you should go back and try it out.

A great Sega-bashing commecial:

The kid in this commercial is wearing the t-shirt I got as a pre-order bonus:

One of my favorite video game intros:

Wow, what a journey the 16-bit era was. My most formative gaming years spanned this generation, setting up my future video game habits and tastes, most notably, my voracious love for RPGs. This era’s a real tough one to follow, I mean a good chunk of my top games of all time came out of this period. Tune in tomorrow to see which console games make my top three in the post-16, pre-current gen time period. I can tell you right now, regular readers of my blog won’t be surprised by the number one game, but can you even come close to guessing what else will be covered in the week to come? Go ahead and leave a comment with your guesses.

I hope you all remember that Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots launches today! Go and buy it. If you don’t have a PS3, go get an 80GB model (backwards compatibility for the win!) and a Dual Shock 3 and then buy MGS4. What are you waiting for?

Embedded Reporter: Super Mario World!
May 12th, 2008 by Dan

Deep from the trenches, it’s time for your Monday video feature: Embedded Reporter.

I know it’s not technically embedded on this page, but you must go and check out this link I got from Kotaku to watch the absolute greatest Super Mario World clip you will ever see. I’m not kidding, this is a MUST WATCH.

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