Archive for December, 2013

January

I’m not good with resolutions. I see no reason to peg the new year as a time to suddenly implement a lifestyle change and, the few times I have done so, it didn’t just seem to go wrong, but seemed to fly in exactly the opposite direction of what I had hoped for. In spite of that, I’ve decided to throw out some gaming resolutions for the new year. At some point, I’ll revisit these and discuss what an abject failure all of them were.

– Stop collecting games –
I’ve known for some time that I really have an issue with buying games just to buy them (I turned into a bit of a collector), but it really jumped out at me a few months ago. Gamestop was having one of their B2G1 sales so I went to see what they had. I found three games that I decided I “needed,” one of which was Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Haven’t played it yet, but it is actually one I’d wanted for a while (as opposed to being an impulse buy). All was well until I got home to put the game up and found that it was already amongst my gaming collection. I had already previously purchased it and forgotten I had it. As a result, my brother got a free game, and I decided to stop buying games on a whim. What’s even sadder is that I don’t have some gigantic game collection. It’s fairly tame. I should have known it was there (to this day I still can’t recall when I bought that first copy).

My resolution is to limit my gaming purchases to one game at a time, and to have thoroughly researched to be sure that (a) I like the game and (b) I don’t already own it. In reality, I should just stop getting games altogether until I…

– Address my backlog –
The issue above has, as you can imagine, caused my backlog of unplayed games to balloon quite a bit. It isn’t that I don’t want to play them, it’s that I don’t have the free time anymore that I used to have. Also, when a new game comes out that I want to play, if I can get it quickly, it moves right to the front of the pack, pushing back other games. A byproduct of this is that I rarely get to replay a game I really loved. It would be great to play through Batman: Arkham Asylum, Dead Space, or the Metroid Prime Trilogy again (okay, I’ve played through Prime at least four times, but not the sequels), but when I start to do so, I feel guilty for not playing one of my newer games. That’s absurd. Games should be fun, not work, and my backlog is running the risk of making me see a play through as a duty instead of a desire.

My resolution here is to give these games a try. If I like them, then that’s great and I’ll finish them, but if I don’t, I have to be ruthless and sell them off. It’s silly to hold onto games that you know you’ll never touch again.

– Focus on the joy –
This is a two pronged thought. The first prong relates to what I wrote above. Why embrace a game that becomes work simply to play through it? That doesn’t mean that if I don’t like it five minutes in, I should ditch it, but after a few hours, you should know if a game appeals to you or not. Yes, this sounds silly, but I am guilty of slogging through a game just so I could say I finished it. Starfox Adventures comes to mind here. As much as I like Starfox, this one bored me, but I couldn’t bring myself to just stop playing. That makes no sense.

The second, and more important aspect of this is related to my Twitter account and social media in general. I don’t think I have a real problem here, but as the Final Fantasy VII fans will tell you, I can sometimes go negative. Of course, what do they know, they like Final Fantasy VII. Am I right? Seriously though, this is more of a reminder to myself to not be drawn into the more visceral arguments that may erupt. This should be easy to do as I don’t follow anyone that has ever done this. Still, it is easy to get frustrated with a game or an opinion, and at those times, I need to remember that gaming is supposed to be about immersion and fun. It’s easy to forget that at times, especially around new console launches.

So there you go. Three resolutions for this year in gaming for me. Not a huge challenge, and fairly unimportant, but this blog is gaming based, so there you have it.

I suspect this will be my last post of the year, so allow me to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to anyone that took the time at some point to read my writings. It’s very appreciated and quite an honor to know that someone would give up time to read my thoughts on a particular topic. Thank you all very much!

Tree

Wii

This was a very, very tough list to compile. It amazes me that so many people still repeat the now tired mantra of the Wii having no “hardcore” or “serious” games. This top 8 was so difficult only because there were so many games I wanted to put on here.

Note: This list originally included both Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition and the Metroid Prime Trilogy, but I decided to take them off as both were essentially improved ports of games I loved on the Gamecube (all three made my Gamecube Top 8 list). In the same vein, the Wii was the first place I experienced Okami, which is why it’s here despite also being a port.

They Just Weren’t Strong Enough: Lost Winds, Master Blaster: Overdrive, de Blob, Super Mario Galaxy, , Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, Mario Kart Wii, Epic Mickey, Deadly Creatures, The Conduit, Elebits, Bit.Trip.Saga, Dead Space Extraction, Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, Pandora’s Tower, Boom Blox, Sin & Punishment

Okami8. Okami
Somehow, I missed Okami on the Playstation 2, but I’m kind of glad I did because given the mechanics of this game, it’s almost like it was made for Wii controls before the Wii actually existed. If you’re unfamiliar with Okami, you control Amaterasu, a god-wolf, and roam around the land in a very Zelda-esque manner. The wrinkle is that you have access to the Celestial Brush and can trigger attacks on your enemies by drawing certain shapes. You do have other basic attacks, but the brush can defeat them more quickly and is required in some cases for both battle and in solving puzzles. This can lead to some frustrations with inputting the correct shape, but for the most part, it works very well. I also must compliment the story as I very much enjoyed it, and it kept me coming back to advance the plot. It must also be pointed out that this is one beautiful game. It’s almost like playing a painting and has a style that can easily stand the test of time, much like Wind Waker.

RE Umbrella Chronicles7. Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles
Of the most well known light-gun/on-rail style games that came to the Wii, most people consider Dead Space: Extraction to be the best, and while I enjoyed it, I felt that Umbrella Chronicles was easily the cream of the crop for this style of game on the Wii. It’s a rehash of the first game and Resident Evil Zero, as well as including new levels that flesh out the story beyond those two games, done from an on-rails, first person perspective. That sounds a bit boring, but the game will often give you choices on which path to take. As the environment was made destructible, shooting up your surroundings became quite fun and often holds items such as ammunition, guns, and secret objects that lead to unlockables. This game also allows you to play as the villainous Albert Wesker, letting you see for the first time exactly what he was doing behind the scenes of the original game. I can see why this genre may turn some people off, but I found this game to be incredibly entertaining and very replayable.

Skyward Sword6. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Right away I have to say that I didn’t enjoy the supposed 1:1 sword controls in this game. Perhaps it was just me, but it seemed that all too often, the game registered a sword strike when I was only trying to put it in the correct position to attack. I also didn’t like having to constantly recenter my pointer in order to use an item such as the bow & arrow or the beetle. All that said, I did still like this game. The gameplay was strong enough to overcome my motion control complaints and the world was varied enough to continuously hold my interest. Surprisingly, given my dislike for Wind Waker’s graphical style, I actually enjoyed the hybrid style they chose for Skyward Sword. Most of all though, I loved the story of this game. It was a joy to see the beginnings of Hyrule, the origination of a villain that plagues the land of Hyrule, and have Princess Zelda play a more involved role. I also love that the game fooled me. I thought I was nearly finished when I’m suddenly forced to track down three dragons and take on yet another dungeon that had been hiding in plain sight. Not the best Zelda, but still a very good game.

DKCR5. Donkey Kong Country Returns
Some time ago, I wrote a post about how some games are difficult while others are annoying and how fine the line between the two can be. DKCR is the perfect example of a game that toes that line, but stays firmly on the difficult side of it without frustrating you as the player. Retro proved they could do fully 3-D games with the Metroid Prime Trilogy. With DCKR, they proved that they were just as adept at designing a side-scrolling platformer. DKCR is a brilliantly designed game that easily rivals it’s namesake on the Super NES. Each new level is a different challenge, but a challenge that will make you smile at its ingenious design. Not only does this game rank on my top Wii games list, it is easily one of the best side-scrolling platformers I’ve ever played. That’s high praise but also shows how much I loved this game.

Twiligh Princess4. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Yes, this is a Gamecube port but it was also the first game I got with the Wii (Day 1!), so I never played it on the Gamecube. Take all of the negatives I had about Skyward Sword, remove them, and you have my feelings on this game. First of all, I much prefer this graphical style versus Wind Waker (and Skyward Sword, for the record). Also, I felt that the dungeons were woven into the game in such a way so as to make it feel as if you weren’t actually entering a dungeon, but simply furthering your exploration of the landscape. The puzzles and gameplay were benefited by having Link transform into a wolf for parts of the game. This design choice allowed Nintendo to innovate a bit as Wolf Link played very differently from Human Link and was more limited in his actions. I was surprised and pleased that the story was as dark as it was. I like strong stories and while Zelda is generally not extremely story intensive, this one bucked that trend at least a bit, much to my happiness.

Prime 33. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
The final entry in the Metroid Prime trilogy had the task of living up to two of the best games on the Nintendo Gamecube. Retro answered this challenge by giving us one of the best games on the Nintendo Wii. While a few games before Prime 3 had tried to incorporate the Wii remote seamlessly into an FPS type game, Prime 3 set the standard for how it should be done. I’ll be the first to admit that shoe-horning in a control gimmick is a bad idea, but Prime 3 avoided that completely. It was used to solve some minor puzzles (such as turning a dial), aiming (of course), and yanking shields off of doors or away from enemies (which feels great), just to name some of the uses of motion controls. Prime 3 also utilized Samus’s ship for the first time for more than just a recharge and/or a save. The ship carries you to different planets as you advance through the game while also, on a couple of occasions, doing a bombing run for you to clear an obstacle or assist with an enemy(s). Returning from the first two Prime games are the scans and lore entries and, again, they let you in on the history and stories of the places you are visiting, painting a picture of what happened on these mostly barren worlds you are now exploring.

Super Mario Galaxy 22. Super Mario Galaxy 2
If DKCR is the near the top of sidescrolling design, then Super Mario Galaxy 2 is near the top of platforming design in a 3-D environment. What amazes me the most is that this game is essentially the leftovers of Super Mario Galaxy, yet I feel it actually exceeds what its predecessor accomplished. This game throws so many ideas and concepts at you that you never have any idea what the next galaxy will hold for you. Even the boss battles are varied and rather ingenious in their design. It is also a plus that Yoshi has been included in this game and isn’t just present as filler, but plays a very large role in many of the levels. Along with Yoshi, Mario is able to take advantage of multiple power-ups, each with their own unique abilities that are, again, used in ways that will surprise you and make you smile. Bonus points go to this game for the fact that once you gather all the stars and finish the game, another set of green stars show up, hidden throughout the levels. You’re only clue to where they are? A humming sound that you’ll hear as you get close to them. This sounds like a hindrance, but the game is so incredibly fun that revisiting the levels to hunt down these stars is simply an extension of the joy this game brings.

Xenoblade1. Xenoblade Chronicles
There is no way I couldn’t put this game at the top of my list. Xenoblade Chronicles is simply an amazing game. Xenoblade is an epic RPG that will run you around 60 hours if you sprint through it. Reaching the level cap and doing virtually everything in the game will extend it to about 130 hours. Personally, I spent 176 hours playing this game, a total unmatched by any story driven game (by which I mean a game that has an ending and isn’t sports based) simply because I enjoyed it so much that I didn’t want to finish it. Xenoblade tasks you with traveling over the Bionis, a dormant giant on which, along with the Mechonis, civilization lives, on a mission of vengeance. As you travel you will gather new party members that can be rotated in and out of your three person party (though all members will receive experience to avoid uneven leveling). Battles are not random as you can see your enemies and approach them to initiate a battle. Once a battle starts, your character will auto-attack while you freely move them about the battlefield, even running away to disengage if you wish. The auto-attacks are supported by special skills that you can select for the character you control (the other two are AI controlled). These range from hard hitting attacks to healing spells and, once used, must cool down before you can use them again. You only have space for six of these, but each character learns more than that, and they can be leveled up via points gained by defeating enemies. Along with what I found to be a unique battle system, the landscapes for this game are breathtaking and are some of the best, if not the best, you will see on the Wii, though the character models admittedly don’t match the landscapes. Finally, the aspect that completely pulled me into this game, and boosts it to this spot is the story. Once the actual story began (about four hours in), I was completely hooked and invested in these characters. The best way I can describe it is as a book that you read until 2:00 a.m. because you simply can’t bear to stop. I will go so far as to say this game has my favorite narrative of any game I’ve played. There are multiple twists to the story, some I expected and others that completely blindsided me. I do realize that I am a story-centric guy, but I can’t imagine anyone that takes the time to experience the story in this game coming away unimpressed, even if they are left cold by other elements of what I consider to be the best game on the Wii.

Console Hate
Video Game fandoms, just like any other, are subject to some very passionate opinions that, among some groups, transform from friendly disagreements into full-on arguments that can be rather personal and visceral. Being a pretty easy going guy, I’ve never understood this mentality and regularly ask why anyone would treat their opinions on the video game medium so seriously. What is gained by trying to force your opinion on others and, alternately, what is lost by having a differing opinion from others?

Basically, there exists a subset of gamers that simply aren’t content to play games they enjoy, they feel that their opinions are superior and, therefore, must be broadcast to other gamers. If other gamers disagree, then they must be ridiculed. It’s comparable to those people that argue on public forums about politics or religion (or lack thereof). It’s not enough that they have their own beliefs, they must also convert everyone else or tell them why they are wrong. Having political and religious beliefs is perfectly fine, but abjectly ridiculing those that disagree with your own beliefs serves absolutely no purpose. I’m not speaking of friendly disagreements or explaining what you believe and why while also discussing the beliefs of others. No, I’m talking about those arguments that are almost vicious, arguments in which there is true anger and malice. Just as they exist in politics or religion, they also exist in the world of video games and seem to focus more on consoles, or the console makers.

We call this intersection "Perfect Harmony"

We call this intersection “Perfect Harmony”

What’s missed by these people is that opinions are, by definition, completely personal and subjective. Based on many of the people we have in prison, not even everyone can agree that murder and theft are bad, much less what video games and consoles are the best. For reasons that escape me, there are those people that refuse to accept this and feel that what they believe is factually and objectively correct and they must therefore subdue and convince those that disagree. I’m always very careful on this blog to state when something I’m arguing is completely my opinion. There are times that I have no evidence whatsoever for what I’m saying, and I own the fact that I could be wrong. It is this latter part that the subset I’m speaking of refuse to accept. While I believe what I’m saying is correct, I not only accept differing thoughts, I want and welcome them because it forces me to defend my thoughts and, on many occasions, means I may even modify what I believe because someone has presented a very valid point that I wouldn’t have otherwise thought of.

Ultimately, what is overlooked by those that want a company or console to fail is that when the current three competitors (Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo) are healthy and successful, it is beneficial to those of us that buy their products. For an example, look at the Nintendo Wii. It has received quite a bit of criticism during its life, despite selling over 100 million units. The success of the Wii and, by extension, its control input, resulted in Sony and Microsoft taking another look at their own consoles. Sony developed the Move (after adding some motion elements to their six axis controller) while Microsoft released the Kinect. While the Move wasn’t a roaring success, Kinect became fairly popular and has been refined for the Xbox One. According to those I know that have purchased an Xbox One, the functions of the Kinect seem to work very well (voice commands, for example) and are quite the positive for the console. Now, I don’t believe these were developed solely because the Wii was such a success (okay, the Move probably was), but I do believe that the Wii caused these new peripherals to be pushed harder towards the market. My point being that Nintendo being successful pushed both Sony and Microsoft to innovate their own products. There is little to no negative from this happening.

I understand when the vibrating function is enabled, the Move doubles as a....nevermind

I understand when the vibrating function is enabled, the Move doubles as a…nevermind

Fine, so you don’t care for motion controls or the Kinect? There are more examples of competition breeding better products. Nintendo was a curmudgeon about games on disc until the Sony Playstation became such an amazing success. Nintendo adapted accordingly with their next system. Online gaming was mostly the realm of the PC until Microsoft incorporated it so well into the Xbox. Now, it’s common place for most consoles. When the Sega Genesis became a serious threat to Nintendo’s dominance of the market, they loosened their draconian restrictions on game developers (such as the presence of blood in Mortal Kombat or the use of the Game Genie). The ultimate example? Nintendo’s NES was so successful it brought other companies (hello Sega!) into the market and brought us a golden age of gaming, only a decade after the disastrous crash of the early 80’s.

The entire mindset of rooting for one console or company while actively wishing for the demise of another is baseless. There is no positive to be gained from doing so. Complete dominance by one company is rarely a positive, simply take a look at Nintendo’s policies for developers on the NES that I mentioned above (limited yearly releases per developer, censorship). It took a threat to their market share to shake them up. In this industry, the success of multiple companies leads to each trying to one-up the other. The true winners when that starts happening? All of us that play and enjoy video games. Too bad that some people can’t just play what they enjoy while letting everyone else do the same.

Coexist

For better or worse, the next generation of consoles is upon us. Still, a funny thing has happened, the older consoles, the Xbox 360 and PS3, have refused to die their nice quiet death and wander off to the console graveyard to let their younger, hipper offspring take their place in the spotlight. As a matter of fact, it appears that, at least for a while, developers are content to either manufacture their games for both generations or even stick to the 360, PS3, and WiiU (no, I’m not calling the WiiU last gen, just not ignoring the fact that it’s more likely to receive games of the same quality as the 360 and PS3 due to it’s capabilities). While this is obviously still very early, there are still quite a few well-known games announced for the last generation of consoles into 2014. I believe this is actually quite understandable, and I can see it continuing for a couple of years at the very least for a few reasons.

Cost of Development
The cost of developing games has increased massively from what it cost just a couple of generations ago. If developers are going to sink a sizable bit of money into a game, they’re going to want to make it as widely available as possible. Right now, there are just under 10 million current generation consoles out there, a touch over 4 million of which are PS4’s and Xbox One’s. Which is more appealing to a developer that has a game that may not be a guaranteed hit (apparently also known as a sequel): releasing to that number of consoles, or including the 80+ million consoles from the last generation as well? This is not a hard question to answer.

A metaphor

A metaphor

Familiarity
As consoles have gotten more advanced, it has taken longer for developers to fully harness what they are capable of and make games that push them to their absolute limits. I think that we were really just getting to that point with the Xbox 360 and PS3. At least one former developer agrees with this:

“The 360 and PS3 are far from tapped out in terms of what a developer could do with them, but the whole world’s gonna move over towards next-gen and high-end PCs and all these other things. Part of me still frets a little bit about that, where just as you fully understand a previous generation, you have to put it away to kind of surf forward on the tidal wave of technology that’s always moving. That’s something that we’ve struggled with in every generation.” – John Carmack, formerly of id Software

If there’s still life to be squeezed out of these machines, technologically speaking, then why would developers not continue to do so? These are the machines they’ve been working on for seven or eight years now. They know how to approach the architecture of these machines and how to design for them efficiently and quickly, relatively speaking. New machines represent a new challenge, which means learning the ins and outs all over again. Obviously, they will work to know the newer consoles better, but going back to my first point, why not downscale a game a bit on a piece of hardware you’re familiar with and squeeze a bit more revenue out of your game.

The Difference isn’t that Great
I may catch some grief for this one, but as of right now, the graphical leap from the seventh generation to the eighth simply isn’t that striking. I do realize that these new machines are more powerful, obviously, but this generation hasn’t seen the visual leap that was seen in previous generations. Frankly, this doesn’t surprise me because visuals on the seventh generation machines were pretty great. How far can you truly push graphics? At some point, they are enough, and I think we’ve hit that point. I feel this is why there are so many media elements or controller alterations going on with newer consoles. There has to be a reason to upgrade. Once, the leap in power and graphics was enough, but that’s not the case anymore.

This is so last gen. Looks like an NES game.

This is so last gen. Looks like an NES game.

Current Consoles are still Popular
Anyone remember the PS2? It was this little system that became the best-selling console of all time. As of November, 2006, it became obsolete with the launch of the PS3. Yes, despite being obsolete, it continued to sell well and was only officially discontinued in the first week of 2013. Yes, that would be this year, the same year the PS4 launched. Also, new games continued to be available up through 2011. Granted, it wasn’t many games, but they were still there.

Now, to state the obvious, the Xbox 360, PS3, and WiiU aren’t the PS2, but they do account for nearly 90 million consoles sold. That is a major install base and there is no guarantee that those owners are going to upgrade in the next year or two. Both the Xbox 360 and PS3 have big name games announced for next year. Games that could drive more people to purchase those consoles. If either the Xbox One or PS4 were backwards compatible, I could see the argument for upgrading, but as they aren’t, some consumers are going to choose the cheaper, older console with the larger game library versus the newer, more expensive console with the relatively small library. Speaking personally, I’d absolutely purchase a PS3 over a PS4 at this point in time. I have to believe there are other gamers out there that feel the same about the current consoles.

The major caveat here is that it is still very early, so this is the one point I’m really making major assumptions about. My opinion is that the older consoles will still continue to sell well alongside their newer brethren, but I have no facts to back up that assertion. I believe I’m right, but most people with opinions do, so this is one that we’ll simply have to wait and see on.

Awwww, thank you!

Awwww, thank you!

Yeah, this is all my opinion and I could be drastically misreading the market, but my gut tells me that the PS4 and Xbox One are going to level off in sales in the new year and won’t match what the Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii were able to do at their launch. There seems to be a certain excitement lacking that I felt when the seventh generation launched. I don’t know why that is, but I do believe it exists, and I believe it will show itself in sales as the early adopters fall away and general consumers begin to make decisions with their dollars.

With the new year heading at us, I thought about doing a top list for 2013 or 2012, but those are pretty common place, so I decided to jump back to 1986 when the NES was really starting to roll in the US. I’m using US release dates as that’s where I live and 1986 is when I would have had access to these games.

Just Didn’t Bring It: Rampage, Dragon Warrior, Life Force

Adventure Island8. Adventure Island
I do realize that this game is also Wonder Boy, but I’m sticking with Adventure Island because I prefer that series. The original Adventure Island was a nifty little platforming game. Instead of a timer, you were forced to constantly pick up fruit as Master Higgin’s life meter depleted at a constant rate and fruit would increase it. This took the place of a timer for each level, but could be nerve wracking if you missed a few pieces or preferred to take your time in a level. This is also a pretty bare bones game, featuring just a couple of power-ups and none of the dinosaurs or such that future sequels would introduce. That isn’t to say that this is a bad game though. It is quite well designed and challenging and has become a classic since its release.

Kid Icarus7. Kid Icarus
Considering that this game series was dormant until just a couple of years ago, it’s quite amazing how popular this title has remained since its release. Built on the Metroid engine, Kid Icarus is primarily a vertical scrolling platformer that puts you in control of Pit. Your weapon is a bow and arrow and you ascend each level, fighting monsters, collecting hearts (currency), and purchasing upgrades and/or supplies. The vertical platforming is interrupted by maze like levels that you traverse one room at a time as you search for the boss. In the final level, you combine the treasures you have collected throughout the game to fly and take on Medusa. This is a difficult game without a doubt, but was designed well enough that it’s still very playable today.

Milon's Secret Castle6. Milon’s Secret Castle
This will be the most controversial entry on this list (as if this list could inspire controversy). Milon’s Secret Castle is a freaking hard game that I picked up on a whim at a rental store (it was for sale). Once I finally figured out the controls and item usage, I began to really love this game. It’s a bit of an open world game as you can enter available levels in the order you wish and revisit them at any time. Each one is entered by going in a door on the Castle referenced in the title. You advance higher on the Castle by defeating boss characters that only appear once you’ve advanced far enough on your current level, otherwise the room is empty. Milon’s Secret Castle is also packed with secret levels and items that really aren’t made obvious at all. This is definitely a flawed game, but it’s always held a special place in my heart.

Legendary Wings5. Legendary Wings
I’m most familiar with the NES port of this game, but it originated as an arcade title. Legendary Wings puts you in control of two warriors, given wings by Ares to take on Dark, a sentient computer that has turned on mankind. The game is split between overhead flying stages that would be perfectly at home in a SHMUP, and side scrolling stages. Like most such flying games, collecting upgrades makes you more powerful and makes dealing with the waves of enemies much easier. While I can’t pick any one thing that stands out about this game, everything it does it does very well and competently. Even years later, I can play the NES port and find a game that has stood the test of time. Finding a friend to play with makes it an even more enjoyable experience.

Bubble Bobble4. Bubble Bobble
It’s amazing that the simple premise behind Bubble Bobble could work so brilliantly. Playing alone or with a friend, you must play through 100+ one screen levels, clearing all the monsters from each screen to advance. This could easily get old fast, yet Bubble Bobble is so well designed that it doesn’t. It helps that the developers threw in special items that could permanently upgrade Bub and Bob (at least, until you died), and special bubbles that had special effects when burst. It’s also important to stay on the ball as enemies will turn red and move faster once a certain amount of time has passed. Linger too long after that happens and an invincible enemy appears that will hound you until it kills you or you clear the stage. Bubble Bobble is also one of the earliest games to feature multiple endings depending on your actions in Stage 100. Yet another game that can still be played today despite its age and technical limitations.

Castlevania3. Castlevania
The roots of one of my favorite series began right here with Castlevania. Taking some lore from Bram Stoker (and, of course, Vlad Tepas), Castlevania put you in the shoes of Simon Belmont and tasked you with taking down the vampire Dracula, as well as a host of other fiends standing between him and you. Castlevania is not without its faults. The difficulty is brutal, as is the realistic but punishing jump mechanic (once you jump, there is no changing direction). Still, the game is extremely well made and while the platforming may be difficult, it doesn’t feel impossible or cheap. In addition to the entertaining gameplay, Castlevania boasts one of the best soundtracks of any NES game, including the now classic Bloody Tears track.

Metroid2. Metroid
While being my favorite gaming franchise, I have to put the original Metroid title behind another game on this list. Metroid broke many conventions upon its release. You were no longer forced to advance from left to right, you explored one large world with no separate stages, and backtracking was a must as your abilities grew. Metroid demanded some expert platforming to traverse the large world and take on the numerous enemies, but it was always well-designed platforming, sparing you from frustration or a sense of being cheated. Metroid also successfully created an atmosphere unlike any seen before. Everything in the game, from the music to the scenery, created an incredible sense of isolation. You were alone in this world and your success or failure was entirely in your hands. No mention of Metroid would be complete without citing the surprise ending, finding out that your adventurer was actually the female bounty hunter, Samus Aran, as opposed to being a man, which is what most players probably assumed. This seems like nothing major now, but in 1986, a heroine was almost unheard of, especially one with the toughness of Samus Aran.

Legend of Zelda1. The Legend of Zelda
The grandfather of all adventure games. Much like Metroid, Zelda abandoned most conventions of gaming that existed upon its release and created its own rules. You controlled Link from an overhead perspective and moved one screen at a time. There were dungeon levels, but you were free to attempt them out of order, so long as you had the required items to reach them. The game also gave you obscure clues about where to go, but they could be very tricky to figure out. While this could be frustrating at times, once you did figure out what to do or where to go, it became a very rewarding experience. Not only is Legend of Zelda my top game of 1986, it is also one of my favorite games for the NES or any other console.

Game Shirt

A few days ago Destructoid ran a story regarding porn searches and usage on a per console basis. The data was compiled by a porn site that I will not link to here, and was based on traffic at their site specifically. You can find the story here, and it’s quite entertaining:

http://www.destructoid.com/the-ps3-is-porn-console-king-360-is-indeed-for-teens-266917.phtml

As much as I’d love to make jokes about the search results, I’m trying to maintain a certain atmosphere at this blog and having fun with hentai and MILF jokes would probably detract from that…though I do find it particularly amusing that porn surfers on the Wii were the only ones to boast a search for a “large endowment” in their top 10 search terms. Yes, I still find Wii/Penis jokes funny.

Oddly, units sold were inversely related to porn usage...I guess there's a positive in that somewhere.

The PS3 sold the least units of last generation, but those users were dedicated in making sure it was the porn king. Congrats!

Seriously though, I bring this up because I feel it ties directly into the use of consoles by non-adults and how there is very little supervision, or even an understanding of the consoles, by many of their parents. Now, I’m not saying all of this porn searching was done by kids or teenagers. I’m certain that a decent percentage of it, possibly even the majority, was by adults, especially give the average age of game players and console owners being in the 20’s or early 30’s on based on many reports. Still, there is a large enough portion of this being done by those that are not yet adults that I feel it warrants this discussion.

To detract just a bit, those of us that play games are used to them being used as scapegoats for violent acts, usually because the person involved might have played a video game once. Not to divert from my main point, but my stance on this is that while the games may serve as some point of influence, a person has to already be broken somewhere to resort to violent acts. The key is identify that and treat it accordingly. Anyway, the scapegoating then leads to an outcry about violence in newer games, be it the latest Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. This outcry almost universally ignores the fact that a rating system is in place to prevent juveniles from buying these games. I myself was carded when buying Resident Evil 6 a few weeks ago, and I’m 32.

If only some kind of game rating system actually existed...

If only some kind of game rating system actually existed…

So, if the rating system is in place, how do they (non-adults, young kids, etc…) get their hands on these games? Easy, their parents buy them. See, far too many parents fail to educate themselves on the video games their kids play. It’s not like a movie where you can watch a preview and know almost immediately if it’s appropriate. No, games require more effort. You have to actually read up on them to be fully educated on their content, and all too often, this isn’t done. Then, the games are cited as a cause of violence and as being too easy for under-aged people to get their hands on. What’s ignored in all of this? The fact that too many parents don’t take the responsibility required to govern what their children are doing on gaming consoles.

This ties right back into the porn usage. Parents might lock their computer or put safety barriers in place to prevent a visit to the more illicit areas of the internet, but many are completely ignorant to the fact that all current consoles and handhelds can visit those same sites. The porn usage isn’t the sickness, so to speak, it’s only a symptom, much like 10 year-olds playing something like GTA V or a game like Manhunt. Again, this is a failure on the parent’s part to fully understand what their children have access to, and it is incumbent on them, as parents, to be educated on such matters. I’m being a bit harsh here because I believe it is this same ignorance that is at the forefront of outcries against violent video games, be it the latest “shocking” revelation that GTA V has violence and prostitutes (seriously, who knew?!), or the latest iteration of Call of Duty or any other game depicting realistic killing of other people.

Family fun for all ages.

Family fun for all ages.

At the end of the day, it’s always easier to find a scapegoat to blame, and that makes me extremely angry. Like I wrote earlier, it’s a case of treating a symptom instead of the root cause. You may eliminate one symptom, but so long as the root cause of that symptom remains, a new symptom will show up. In our current society, it seems that a loud segment has decided on video games as the root cause they wish to target. So long as that’s the focus, the true cause (mental instability?) for people’s actions will have to take a back seat.

I feel it’s important to note that I’m coming at this from experience. I have a seven year old son that adores video games, much like I do. I’m extremely careful about what he plays or sees me play. Since he’s been three or older, I’ve played through Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil: The Umbrella & Darkside Chronicles, Resident Evil 5, Dead Space, Dead Space 2, Bioshock, and Bioshock 2, just to name a few off of the top of my head. He has seen none of the gameplay from any of those, because I only played them while he was asleep or not home. I realize that not all parents have my level of interest in games, but I do the same type of monitoring on the YouTube videos he watches (he loves Let’s Play type videos). Once I hear one swear word, it is either muted or turned off, and he knows that. It’s why he only watches them when my wife or I are present to monitor them to some degree.

I don’t think it’s unfair to ask that other parents exercise the same level of caution with their children when it comes to the medium of video games. I’m sure more are doing so as the systems have advanced and they (the parents) are becoming more familiar with them, but unfortunately, there are still far too many that would pick up GTA V or Dead Space 3 for their 8 year old without blinking an eye.

Mario World 2

I’ve played through Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island before, but finished another play-through just the other night at the urging of my seven year old, who enjoys watching me play through games (that’s a win/win). With it fresh in my mind, I felt this would be a good time to revisit my thoughts on it.

The Set-up:
You take control of various Yoshis as they carry baby Mario through six worlds in search of….okay, this is a Mario title. If you’re looking for a deep story, you’ve got the wrong game. You control Yoshi with baby Mario riding on your back and baby Bowser and Kamek are involved. You’re all caught up.

The Gameplay:
As with all mainstream Mario titles, this game lives and dies on its platforming elements, and it does pretty well in that regard. I don’t feel that it matches what Super Mario Brothers 3 and Super Mario World were able to deliver, but it is still one of the better designed platformers I’ve played. If I had to identify a key element to the platforming, it would be Yoshi’s now famous flutter jump. For this game, this was a new mechanic and allowed Yoshi to stretch his jumps out just a bit further by kicking his legs. This wasn’t a throw-away mechanic as there are many sections of the game that require you to perform this jump in tricky ways to advance, and some collectables that required almost expert use of the mechanic to collect.

The flutter jump was also important because Yoshi’s Island has no power-ups, outside of a star that lets Mario run through enemies, up walls, etc… There are no leafs or fire flowers to be had and, unlike in Super Mario World, eating different colored shells will not give Yoshi new abilities. The lack of power-ups is offset in two ways. First of all, there are a few levels that allow you to transform Yoshi into something different for a limited time. There are about four transformations, but they don’t show up too often and are generally tailored for one particular section of a level. Secondly, Yoshi can carry up to six eggs with him that he can launch at enemies or items anywhere in front of him. Eggs are replenished by eating most enemies or through egg blocks.

Mario World 2 Fuzzy

Speaking of items, Yoshi’s Island has no shortage of collectables. Every single level has five large flowers and twenty red coins. In addition to these, you must also finish the level with your star counter (?) at thirty to get a perfect 100 score. What I’m calling the star counter is a number that will decrease when you get hit and baby Mario is knocked off of your back (cue the crying, easily the most annoying part of this game). It can be replenished by collecting little walking star men or with special items obtained through mini-games. This meter also serves as Yoshi’s life bar in a way, as you will die if the counter hits zero. Earning a 100 score in all levels of a world will unlock a special stage that is also anything but a cakewalk.

Yoshi’s Island has created quite a legacy for itself. Many aspects that have become the norm for Mario games were introduced here. The flutter jump, as I’ve already pointed out, originated here. The use of Kamek to influence and power-up boss battles (which was done with great brilliance and creativity in Yoshi’s Island) was used as recently as New Super Mario Brothers U. Also, baby Mario and baby Luigi have become staples of Nintendo’s character stable, appearing in a Mario & Luigi RPG game as well as numerous sport and kart titles.

The Graphics:
I’m not even close to being a graphics whore, but I have to mention and praise the graphical style of Yoshi’s Island. The world looks as if it’s drawn by crayons, which sounds horrid in theory, but in practice works extremely well. It has also helped the game age very well, not that I’ve ever had an issue with Super NES games aging poorly, but the style does make it seem more current than it really is, much like the graphics of Wind Waker. The style has also carried over to sequels to Yoshi’s Island, including the upcoming 3DS sequel.

Conclusions:
Yoshi’s Island is a well-made game, there is no doubt about that, but it seemed to lack the tightness in the controls and platforming that I’m used to from Mario games. It always seemed to be too easy to fall off of a platform or miss a crucial jump. This doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the game, I did, it’s just not a game I can pick up and play through like I would Super Mario Brothers 3 or Super Mario World. I need to be in the proper mood and when I’m done with it, I’m done. I have no desire to replay it, it just doesn’t have that certain magic some other games do.

Mario World 2 Boss

Ultimately, Yoshi’s Island is a game I enjoy in short bursts and will probably play through again a few years from now, but as I stated above, it still seems to be missing something that brings it to that next level. Maybe it’s because I didn’t get to play it back when I was enjoying other Super NES games, only getting a copy of it about five years ago. Whatever it is, I do recommend it. It’s a fun game with many neat ideas and many well-designed levels, I just don’t have the same praise and reverence for it that many other gamers seem to have.

SONY DSC

Until now, these lists have been fairly easy, but with this generation, cross-platform games became much more prevalent than they had been on past systems. Therefore, I’ve decided to list each game for the console I owned and played it on. Just because you don’t see a game here, doesn’t mean it won’t show up on another list for the PS2 or something.

Stuck in the Shadows: Star Fox: Assault, Super Smash Brothers Melee, Pac-Man World 2, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Mario Party 6, Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee

Luigi's Mansion8. Luigi’s Mansion
The unlikely, and somewhat maligned, launch title for Nintendo’s Gamecube has always been treated a bit unfairly in my mind. Was it a ground-breaking title? No, not particularly, but is is still a well designed game and a nice change-up from the traditional Mario formula, even if those games are top-notch. While it wasn’t the ground-breaking launch game Nintendo has been know for, it has stood the test of time very well and recently received its own sequel on the 3DS. Not a bad legacy at all.

Paper Mario7. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
I’ll admit, when the Paper Mario series first launched, I completely ignored it because I thought it looked odd and simplistic. I didn’t actually try the series until a few years ago when my son downloaded the Nintendo 64 game on the Virtual Console and I gave it a try. I loved it and we purchased this follow-up soon after. The Gamecube sequel improved on the already stellar N64 title in virtually every way. The story was even quirkier and more entertaining. The gameplay was very similar, but somehow seemed smoother in this title. Plus, the cast of sidekicks was back. Reminiscent of the first game’s characters, but different at the same time. I hate that I ignored this series for so long, but am glad I finally discovered it because it is truly a franchise that should not be missed.

Mega Man X6. Mega Man X Collection
I wrestled with this one because ultimately, none of these games originated on the Gamecube, but at the same time, this was released for the system and was a compilation of some of the best platformers ever created, so here it is. The Mega Man X Collection collected Mega Man X through Mega Man X6, as well as offering Mega Man: Battle & Chase as an unlockable. I won’t rank each game here, but will say that the first three Mega Man X games are revered as three of the best 16-bit games ever developed, as well as three of the best games period, all rightfully so. The fact that those, along with the less compelling but still competent sequels that followed are available on one disc is enough to put this game in my top 8.

Metal Gear5. Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes
I never played the MGS game on the Playstation. It just never interested me, but the Gamecube version intrigued me for some reason, so I picked it up and gave it a play through. While the series hasn’t been able to pull me in after this game, Twin Snakes did hook me very quickly. I’m not a stealth fan, but this game was a perfect storm of stealth and action for me because it didn’t force me to necessarily practice stealth at every turn, but gave me some choice in how I approached certain situations. Also, I thought the plot was very well done, if a bit wordy and…involved. I’ve only minimally visited this series since finishing this game, but for me, I think this game set a bar that the sequel couldn’t meet, so I abandoned it.

F-Zero GX4. F-Zero GX
Why do I love F-Zero GX so much? Because it doesn’t baby you at all. There’s no rubber-banding or power-ups to help you out. If you want to win, you have to be good, and even after hours and hours with this game, story-mode can still bend me over and…well, yeah. I love that though. I love being challenged by a game in a fair way, and F-Zero does just that. If you practice and learn the tracks, you can master this game, but it demands time. Also, no other game I’ve played, excepting, perhaps, F-Zero X, gives the sense of speed that this game is capable of. Flying around all manner of tracks with 29 other cars, all fast and jockeying for position is heaven for any racing fan. Not only is this my favorite Gamecube racing game, it is my favorite racing game period. It really is that good.

Prime 23. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes
Whereas Metroid Prime was untested ground for a Metroid game, Prime 2 had expectations placed on it due to the fact that the original Prime was so well received. It did not disappoint. Prime 2 continues Samus’s Phazon encounter on Aether, a world ripped into two dimensions, one of which proves toxic and harmful to Samus if she isn’t standing within the safety of a light beacon. This created some very tense moments and difficult enemy fights as you not only have to dodge your adversaries, but must keep an eye on your constantly dwindling health while not within the safety of the light beacons. Along with this clever mechanic came new power-ups and platforming that is ever bit the equal of Prime. One aspect of this game that I find very appealing is the difficutly. Much like F-Zero GX, Prime 2 refuses to hold your hand. It is a hard game and isn’t shy about letting you know that, but ultimately, that only makes your triumphs within the game that much more meaningful.

RE42. Resident Evil 4
I have a confession to make, I’d never played a Resident Evil game prior to RE4. Yes, I was familiar with the series, but the camera angles and tank controls were a turn off to me, so I avoided them. It was RE4 that drug me into the franchise, and what a trip it was. RE4 abandons most of the existing conventions of the franchise in terms of camera and controls, opting instead for an over-the-shoulder view. While this could have robbed the game of some of its suspense, the developers ensured that wouldn’t happen by packing RE4 with clever enemies and many white-knuckle boss sequences. The sense of being alone and isolated in an unfriendly area is immediate and almost overwhelming throughout most of the game, but that only serves to make you want to keep playing so as to find out what lies ahead. This game also has one of my personal favorite gaming sequences: the cabin siege early on in the game. I don’t think I’ve encountered any moment in a game since as tense as that five minutes.

Prime1. Metroid Prime
Well, this was an easy call. So much could have gone wrong with this game. New developer, new play style, and a franchise that had been dormant for quite a few years. Few would have guessed before its release that it would be the masterpiece it turned out to be. Prime managed to take the isolation and atmosphere of Super Metroid, and recreate it almost perfectly as a first-person adventure in a fully 3-d world. New to the series was the ability to scan enemies, pirate data logs, and chozo lore to learn more about the past of the planet Tallon IV, which you find yourself on in Prime. While the Metroid series has never had intricate plots, if you put in the work to find and read each of the scans in Prime, you’ll find a surprisingly rich story of a once thriving planet that eventually fell. I may be biased towards the Metroid franchise as a whole, but even without that inclination, I can’t imagine putting any other game as the top Gamecube game.

Achievement

For quite some time after I picked up an Xbox 360, I didn’t realize that there was a group of people that loathed achievements (and trophies, but I’m concentrating on the system I own). This is something I only just stumbled across a few years ago and, to be very honest, I don’t fully understand. I’ve also learned that this is one of those topics that seems to bring out the passion in people, so I’m probably asking for it with this post.

Now, to be clear, I’m not passionate about this subject. Not even slightly. I like achievements fine, but I’m not going to cry if they suddenly disappear. To me, they are a way for any of my online friends to see what I’ve been up to in the games I’ve been playing. Almost like a milestone journal of games I’ve played. I like that, and I enjoy perusing my friends’ achievements for this very reason.

The primary argument I hear is that they are unnecessary and are guilty of taking you out of the game world. Well, yes, they are unnecessary. I don’t recall anyone ever saying otherwise. As for them serving as a distraction, this has never bothered me as most are received after a certain milestone in the game, and the notification only appears once that section is complete. Still, if getting a notification during a tense section of Dead Space or Dead Space 2 didn’t take away from the atmosphere for me, I’m guessing I’m immune to this happening.

Maybe people would be less opposed if they were funnier?

Maybe people would be less opposed if they were funnier?

The biggest issue I have with people that actively complain about achievements (and trophies) is that the notifications can be turned off quite easily. That doesn’t mean you won’t score the achievement, just that you won’t be notified when you have done so. Many of the people I’ve encountered want them totally removed, totally disregarding the fact that some people do enjoy them. This is like not only refusing to eat a sandwich because a pickle was served on the side, but then insisting that the restaurant that served it totally stop serving pickles even though they remain popular and most people eat them.

Again, I’m not in love with achievements at all. There are times that I may play a bit differently just to get one, but only if I find the idea of doing so to be fun. I would never trudge through tedium for an achievement. If you don’t believe me, I refused to even attempt a particular gardening achievement in NIER, and if you’ve been reading this blog, you know how much I adore that game. I’m also not a fan of games being required to have achievements. Forcing developers to shoehorn them in seems a bit asinine to me and if you want to complain about that aspect of achievements, I’ll be right there on your side.

Of the current consoles, I think Nintendo may have struck a good balance on this front by allowing posts to Miiverse that points out what you’ve accomplished while also leaving a note for others to read. On the flip-side, this method is also far more jarring than what achievements and trophies do, so if that’s your hang-up, I suspect you would hate this method.

Ultimately, these things do now exist and I doubt there is any going back. If you don’t like them, don’t complain, just cut them off. Just stop trying to take everyone else’s pickle in your unhappiness.