Monday, December 12, 2011

Ten of the Most Obvious Nintendo 64 Games You Have Probably Already Played: Part One

     My Nintendo 64 is never too far from my television, and I keep it even closer to my heart. The only things that have been in my life longer than my Nintendo 64 are my parents, but my parents can't really entertain three of my friends anymore, and my Nintendo 64 doesn't lecture me about the direction of my life.
     I've always wanted to do a list of my favorite Nintendo 64 games, but unfortunately every top ten list for the Nintendo 64 is exactly the same once you get past number 5, the rest being the same titles but in different orders. That's because the Nintendo 64 had a surprisingly dry release schedule, most of it's support coming from first and second parties. In fact, only one title on my list is from a 3rd party! And even then, it's terrible! As such, I really tried to make my list unique; you'll find no Goldeneye 007 here, my friends! So, without further hesitation, I present to you a list of must-play games you're very much aware of:

10: Mario Kart 64 (1997) 

     Mario Kart 64 would be the life of every nostalgia party if Super Smash Bros. didn't exist. The concepts laid out in it's predecessor for the SNES were fine-tuned to near-perfection in this iteration, and have yet to be bested... in my opinion, of course. The insanity of kart racing with four of your friends is an experience unrivaled even today, and mimicked by many. And yet, not even Nintendo has since bested the formula presented in this game. Every character had their own distinct feel, which is now standard for kart racers, and inevitably lead to a lot of arguments over who got to play as Luigi. One thing that really irked me about the game was the pre-rendered graphics used only for the characters. I mean, really, Nintendo? You have this lovely 64-bit machine that's all about polygons, and these beautiful, polygonal courses in which to race through, and yet the characters look like they're ripped right out of Donkey Kong Country for the SNES. Tangents, and stuff.

9: Pokemon Stadium 2 (2000)
      The first Pokemon Stadium was amazing, because you and your friends could have your own adorable, turn-based cock-fights- but on the big screen! Throw in a surprisingly fun assortment of mini-games, and an addicting campaign mode, and you've got yourself Pokemon Stadium... but this one's the second one, and it has oodles more content, and it's based on the best games in the series (this is fact.)!
     The Pokemon Stadium games utilized the transfer pak, a peripheral that plugs in to the bottom of your controller. The transfer pak allows you to insert one of your Pokemon games, and interact on-screen with the data on your Game Boy game. This allowed you to use your actual Pokemon when you played the mini-games, and you could earn coins to use at those old Mohegan Suns in Goldenrod Town and Celadon City. I mean, sure, you could battle with your own Pokemon, as opposed to the default ones already on the N64 cartridge, but the mini-games! They had you controlling your little Pokemon doing all sorts of stuff, and there was a championship mode, so the competitive side you and your friends had would come out in the worst way.
     Of course, the transfer pak allowed you to do other cool stuff, like mystery gift without needing a friend. This was pretty useful for socially awkward trainers like me. Mystery gift was a feature that let you get items for your Pokemon, sometimes really rare elemental stones, or furniture for your house back in New Bark Town! And Pokemon Stadium 2 even let you look at your room in 3D!
     Unfortunately, Pokemon Stadium 2 is probably going to set you back around $50 for some reason, and a release on the Wii's Virtual Console seems unlikely, what with the whole transfer pak issue.

8: San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing (1997)
     I use the word "masochism" in my write-ups a lot, and San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing stands as a monument to my own self-destruction. I love terrible games; complaining about them is what I do best. Wondering what must have gone through a developer's mind when crafting the perfect level of garbage... it's a high for me. If there were ever a game to showcase how not to program physics, one should only look to Rush. 
     And yet, is it precisely everything that is wrong with Rush that makes it so good? When I get the crazed look in my eye, my curled, hare-like upper lip, just moments before musing, "Wanna play some RUSH?!" my friends realize the world of pain they're about to withstand. Rush, by definition is a terrible, terrible game. If anything touches the top of your car, it will explode. If you think you lined up your car in the perfect direction for a successful landing from a ramp, you definitely didn't. If you hit the slightest bump, your car will suddenly get up mid-race, and punch Isaac Newton in the face, because fuck physics. Even though you're speeding at what feels like 60 miles-per-hour, the speedometer will lovingly correct you; you are always going 109 mph. There are no exceptions.
     What Rush might lack in fun, it more than makes up for in it's music. Anyone who has played Rush will fondly remember "What's Your Name?!"  in it's entirety, and let us not forget the iconic "Rave Rush," or better known as, "Wuhhhh, uhhhh, uhhh" (I can't not link it, it's too good. A YouTube commenter remarked that "at 2:10, shit gets serious." I lol'd).
     You might be wondering why would I ever rank this higher than Mario Kart 64 on my list of greatest Nintendo 64 games. Honestly, for all that's terrible about Rush, something about it has had me coming back to it much more than most of my vintage games. It's completely insane, and for being so terrible, it actually doesn't infuriate me- I love it for what it is.

7: Star Fox 64 (1997)

     Star Fox 64 presents itself as a remake of the SNES classic of the same name, sans the "64." I remember playing this, instantly loving it, and then having what I thought was my expertise at the game completely shattered before my eyes when I discovered the alternate route in the first level, Corneria.
     As the science fiction buff I am, Star Fox 64 effortlessly became the Arwing of my eye when I was a wee lad at the age of ten. The game is an on-rails shooter set in a world of anthropomorphic animals flying their super-cool space ships on a mission to stop the evil Andross, an evil, floating monkey head. Strange as it sounds, Star Fox is one of the easiest games to pick up and play, and immerse one's self in.  Your path is predetermined as you blast your way through thousands of enemies throughout the course of the game, but as you destroy more and more, you unlock medals that only the most seasoned of gamers can acquire. I think I've earned, like, five or something.
     The game is probably the most quoted games of all time, thanks to it's superb vocal work. The game wonderfully conveyed a sense of genuine comradery with it's use of context-sensitive, pre-recorded voice tracks; I truly felt a great urge to help my wing-men when they were in need! Coupled with spot-on controls, the choice to play through the story in a variety of directions, and one of the most bizarre final-bosses I've ever encountered, this game sits proudly on my shelf as a full-blooded masterpiece.

6: Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (1998)
       When I was 8-years-old, my parents caved in 'round Christmas time and finally purchased me a Nintendo 64. They couldn't have chosen a better game to compliment my jump to polygonal gaming, with the Star Wars saga being my favorite films of all time. An inter-quel of sorts, Rogue Squadron put you behind the... thing that steers X-Wings, and lets you battle the ever-so-nefarious Empire. On top of the campaign mode, which was quite the healthy challenge, the game had countless cheat codes to further cage one's self in the Star Wars universe, allowing the player to unlock tons of extra ships, play through bonus locales, and catch an early glimpse of the Naboo star-fighter from the much-anticipated Episode I. 
     Rogue Squadron handled amazingly, and has aged aged incredibly well, thanks in large part to it's compatibility to the Expansion Pak. The campaign is just challenging enough to give gaming veterans a reason to give up, what with only having three lives to lose per level, combined with the sheer fragility of your star-craft. Star Wars fans have every reason to pick this masterpiece up, if not for the faithful recreation of famous Star Wars landmarks, then for the fact that Wedge Antilles himself voices Wedge Antilles. However, looked at subjectively, I firmly believe that Rogue Squadron is good enough to warrant a play-through even from gamers who aren't particularly engrossed in the Star Wars films. Although it's hard to imagine a gamer who doesn't like Star Wars. 

     There it is, and just in time the holiday season. The remaining five, which will undoubtedly tout Banjo-Kazooie, will be posted in the near future!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

System Review: Virtual Boy (1995)

     If you're a hardcore fan of Nintendo, there's no doubt that you know who the illustrious Gunpei Yokoi was. The masses associate Nintendo with Shigeru Miyamoto synonymously because of the sheer number of games that Miyamoto has been at the helm of. However, it is arguable that without Gunpei Yokoi's creations, most of what we play today wouldn't be the same. For example, while developing a new Game & Watch game, he created the "control-cross," known today as the "D-Pad." He was the first person to invent such a fundamental industry standard that you can find one on almost every controller post-Game & Watch. 
     After more than a decade of leaving a lasting impression at Nintendo with more ass-kickery than one man should be able to pull off, Nintendo put him behind a project interested in bringing virtual reality to consumers. He tried ideas and developed for more than two years, only to have Nintendo rush the product out unfinished to focus on the upcoming Nintendo 64 (Despite the massive following behind the Virtual Boy, I say "unfinished" because Yokoi has been quoted saying he wasn't happy with the end result). 
     As the tragic end to this tale, the Virtual Boy sank faster than any other endeavor of Nintendo's before or since. Nintendo promptly lost faith in Gunpei Yokoi despite the fact that he didn't even want it on the market yet. Yokoi eventually handed in his resignation to Nintendo, and died in a car accident two years after the release of the Virtual Boy. Fortunately, he left behind a permanent positive mark on the industry, his influence still carrying over to developers today.
     Nintendo hasn't given up completely on 3D gaming just yet, what with the 3DS already in eager gamer's hands. I've heard some really great things about the 3DS from various sources, so the logical reaction to the pre-release buzz would be to spend 95 dollars on a Virtual Boy, a boxed, Japanese copy of Mario's Tennis, and a boxed copy of Wario Land. 
     Upon purchasing the unit, I promptly sent out a mass text to my friends. Not one person was envious, jealous, or intrigued. It's not like my purchase was well educated; the last time I played a Virtual Boy was when I was five-years-old in Sears. I decided to become better acquainted with my little buddy before his arrival, and delved into the background of this so-called "virtual reality" after I bought it. 
     I read up some reviews of the games and the system itself. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the reviews I read were mostly negative. Of course, if you've ever brought the Virtual Boy up in conversation, there's no doubt you've heard the infamous line of, "Dayme, dat Virtual Boy?! It gives you headaches after 10 minutes of playin'!" What I noticed, though, is that all of my friends who said that had never played a Virtual Boy. In fact, the reviews I read online that were negative were prefaced by, "I heard," not, "Dude, I have actually physically played the Virtual Boy, and it burned my retinas to the core. Thank God I learned braille, because the damage that the Virtual Boy has done to me is irrevocable. " This is because people feel biologically confident to boast information they obtained about something with which they have absolutely no experience or knowledge. Thankfully, I just spent a week with my Virtual Boy, and I'm most pleased.
     When I ripped open the box it came in, I was already taken aback by how downright sexy the system was. Back when I saw it as a kid, I thought it was one of the coolest looking gaming devices, and it still takes the cake in my book. The red-black color scheme gives it a unique, classy look, and it certainly takes center stage on my shelf of gaming goodies.
     The headset sits on two legs, and it can be adjusted to better fit the angle you're sitting. I tried the Virtual Boy out in a number of positions, and though the system was touted by Nintendo as "portable", I don't see the practicality in taking the Virtual Boy with you... anywhere. For argument's sake, I legitimately took my Virtual Boy into the bathroom with me. While pooping, I had the Virtual Boy set up with it's legs on my thighs, and my arms wrapped around the "feet" of the stand to better brace it. Even with the headset adjusted for maximum comfort, I still had to hunch over awkwardly like a dog humping a blanket. I was kind of upset because no matter where I sat, all I could come up with were varieties of the blanket-humping kind. It wasn't uncomfortable enough for me to care, but it's a minor qualm I have, as being comfortable while playing is a huge buying-factor for me; that's why the Wii is my least-favorite system. I also tried it out laying down, and that was pretty awesome, but it kept mashing down on my nose or sliding off. Following this, I made angry pirate noises.
  Aesthetically, the controller looks awkward and goofy, boasting the use of two D-Pads (I don't understand, but thanks, Gunpei!), and the unconventional placement of the battery pack/AC adapter on it's back. However, the Virtual Boy's controller is almost as comfortable as the GameCube controller; it's easy to grip and your fingers fall naturally to the button placement. The one issue I could think of deals with the L and R buttons, because they're circular little nubs that don't feel natural or comfy, personally. The shoulder buttons of it's predecessor, the SNES controller, were the pinnacle of comfort, but this doesn't impact game play too much. While playing Wario Land, I actually kept forgetting they were there, thus kept forgetting I could run or swim a little faster. Again, not a huge issue, but I sighed a few times.
    Of course, this wouldn't be a proper system review without assessing what the Virtual Boy has to offer graphically, as that's it's main selling point. To properly emulate what a kid would have experienced in the summer of 1995, ripping into his brand new gateway to virtual reality, I started off with Mario's Tennis. Mario's Tennis came bundled with the American release of the Virtual Boy, which was a great move on Nintendo's part. Unlike it's superior 64-bit brother Mario Tennis, this is essentially tennis with Mario in it. That's it. There aren't any gimmicks or special powers that would set it apart from other tennis simulators, in fact it plays similarly to Tennis for the NES. The 3D effect is pretty cool, and there's a great sense of depth in relation to the characters on the court, and of course the depth of where the ball is in relation to the camera. I often found myself looking off into the background and missing the ball, because the depth was just such a cool feature I had never seen before. I still haven't played a 3DS, so this was a first for me. I played through a tournament with Peach and a few matches with every character, and nothing really blew me away. It's tennis.
     ...But then there's Wario Land. If there's one thing I learned from every review I read, it's that Wario Land is the must-have game for the Virtual Boy. No, that doesn't even scratch the surface of the overwhelming enthusiasm that everyone had to say about Wario Land. I'm prone to skepticism, and thinking something's overrated if everyone's shouting praise, but in all honesty Wario Land delivers. Hardcore. There's nothing else like it, and I'm still blown away every time I play it. The Virtual Boy's selling point is it's 3D, and the depth in Wario Land is insane. After you start up a file, the opening cinematic has Wario napping, and behind him you can see tons of different layers into the woods, with a streaming waterfall the farthest back. It was incredible that I got such a sense of realism out of a pixelated, red-and-black image, and I've erased the same file repeatedly just to show my friends. The game play is tight, and it's a genuinely fun, challenging platformer. If you have a Virtual Boy, or are on the fence about getting one, you need this game. 
     I didn't exactly feel any eye strain and I didn't get a headache in the 45 minute session I had, but I did feel some dull nausea. I felt nauseous basically every time I leaned back from my Virtual Boy into the real world, and for a good half-hour afterward, so that was a bummer.
     It's a shame that the Virtual Boy didn't print money for Nintendo, and didn't succeed past a handful of games released stateside, because it's a really great system. Comfort issues aside, it delivers an experience that I've never had the pleasure of knowing until now, leaving me verbally proclaiming, "Woah, cool!" to my girlfriend when she couldn't see a thing. I think I'm actually going to try to collect the entire Virtual Boy's library of games because virtual reality is awesome and I'm stupid with money. 
     Though the Virtual Boy's final product wasn't the intended vision of Gunpei Yokoi, my hat is off to the man. It's a wonderful little machine. Bravo, Gunpei.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Hardest, Most Noteworthy Achievement I Have Ever Achieved

     Here on Cartridge Gamer, I try to deviate from writing about current-gen games as much as possible. However, this is kind of retro in a sense, but with a modern twist. My purchase of Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection for my XBOX 360 that I wrote about back in January came with a ROM of Sonic 3D Blast. If you're even a casual fan of Sonic the Hedgehog, you've probably heard of this game, and you've already renewed your restraining order on Sonic Team for this catastrophe.
     Sega had a great idea with Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection in that it incorporates achievements into these old games to add a fresh challenge to the package. I like this, a lot. Even though the achievements are limited to one per game, and are obtainable within the first 5 minutes of playing, it's a welcome addition for an achievement whore such as myself.
     But when there's an achievement worth 15G's, and it's for rescuing 20 Flickies in Sonic 3D Blast, and you know full well what you're about to do, you have a serious problem. If you go to, and you look at each synonym for masochism, you will find every word that went through my mind while I questioned the sanity and the intentions of Sonic Team when developing this game, and myself playing this game.
     Sonic 3D Blast is not a game I am unfamiliar with. When I was twelve-years-old, I had my dad pick me up a copy of Sonic Mega Collection for the GameCube, and I enjoyed everything except for Sonic 3D Blast. Even back then I knew that it played dreadfully, with Sonic drunkenly running around, building up so much momentum that he would dash into an enemy who's hit-box covered half the platform. Not only were the physics thoroughly nonsensical, but the fact that this game was developed with a D-pad as it's directional input was but the frosting for this cake of destruction.
     You see, the 3D in the title is referencing the game's semi-top down, isometric view. While I'm sure this was a technological achievement for Sega, pre-rendered computer graphics don't have to be applied to a 3D platforming title developed for a console that simply wasn't prepared for the genre. A four-way D-pad doesn't make sense for this type of game because it doesn't supply the precision of touch that only a joystick can. With a joystick, you can apply a little pressure to make your character tip-toe, or a lot of pressure to make him run the only way Sonic knows how. Rareware knew this, that's why the Donkey Kong Country series is comprised of 2D platformers.
     Because this was a straight port, it didn't matter that I was using the joystick on my 360 controller, because the only thing Sonic was going to do was run. He ran into enemies, off of ledges, and into spikes, and there was not a damn thing I could do about it, all because he couldn't tip-toe. I had to play through several levels to collect all 20 Flickies, which are little birds that have been cruelly trapped inside of robots by the heinous Dr. Robotnik. Through this jaunt I took several pictures of my television to chronicle my frustration.
      What you see to the left is the obligatory floating, moving platform in every platformer to date. The five little boxes on the bottom right are my collected Flickies and my missing ones. At this point, I was about to rescue my 20th Flickie. I was thrilled. Not too fast, me- aren't you forgetting something? Oh, that's right: even gently touching the joystick will make Sonic fly past the platform, because Sonic Team sent Doc Brown and Marty McFly to the future to make sure I wouldn't run out of material for Cartridge Gamer, and developed the single most irritating, teeth-gnashing-iest portion of any game I've ever played. You can't understand the pain I felt from the half hour it took me to complete this jump, because I kept missing the mark and shooting past the platform and having to run back up this mountain of cruelty because this was a moving platform. It only made matters worse. This tiny, insignificant platform in a seemingly enormous adventure game had me in hysterics. Never again, Sonic Team.
      I think the final hammer-to-the-cranium experience I had, upon finally collecting the 20th godforsaken Flickie, was the end of level scoring. Just like every other Sonic game, it gives you various letter grades on the time it took you, and the rings you got, among other things. Unfortunately, I failed to document this screen with a photo, but it said "Time Taken: Too Long."
      ...Seriously, Sega? I'm sorry I couldn't finish the level as fast as you spat the development of this game out onto wasted disk space, reminding every hardcore Sonic fanatic why they hate themselves. I don't even like Sonic that much, and I still cried myself to sleep. But I got that 15G's, though, so I guess it was worth it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Alien Storm (1991)

     I recently purchased Sonic's Genesis Collection for my XBOX 360 for ten dollars. This disc has 40 games on it, and I'm most pleased. You see, I've never owned a Sega console, so there are probably hundreds of games that have fallen under my love-radar, and this collection was quite a find. Especially for someone who doesn't really want to own a Genesis.
     The games featured are pretty predictable; of course, it has your Sonic's, your Streets of Rage trilogy, and then it has some I wasn't expecting, some I've never heard of. So, I began playing in alphabetical order, and Alex Kidd was the first to play. I think I might've gotten to level 2 before politely declining to go any further, for the rage building up inside of me was a little overwhelming.  
     ...And then, there was Alien Storm.  Alien Storm came out in 1991. This means it's a beat-'em-up, with radical music and tubular visuals, but really, it just seems like every other beat-'em that preceded it. This game is clearly emphasizing everything that the '90s embodied, and it's awesome. There's the obligatory tough guy, the girl who probably should've worn more appropriate clothing to an alien invasion, and the third wheel; in this case, a robot. They all handle exactly the same, so it's mostly for aesthetic preferences.  I don't know about you, but I usually like to play with half of an erection, so I chose the robot.
     Apparently, there's an alien invasion, and I'm not sure where our heroes come into place in that respect. All I know is that they somehow equipped themselves with lasers, rocket launchers, flamethrowers, and malignant narcissism, as evidenced by the box art. In other words, everything one needs to make a game from the '90s, and everything awesome. 
     The graphics are pretty good, but I feel like I'm playing a science-fiction Streets of Rage. Except the first Streets of Rage handled terribly, and Alien Storm actually plays decently. I use the word "decently" because there were times when I felt I was playing a 2D fighter à la Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: the Fighting Edition. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is when you play fighting games like me. 
     Let me provide an explanation to this analogy: your weapon in Alien Storm requires energy, displayed in a bar underneath your health. Using your weapon takes up energy, and energy is a limited resource in the Alien Storm world. Therefore, it's best to find an alternative way to curb-stomp aliens rather than blindly firing your weapon, as the depth between where I was in relation to the alien was questionable. The only alternative I found was to throw the robot forward with a roll and hit the attack button, but the accuracy of this method was terrible. Thus, I was left in this limbo of button-mashing and rotating the d-pad. If I was playing the Fighting Edition this would've been awesome, but it doesn't really help here, and made killing aliens a little more tedious than it should have been. It's completely possible that my lack of skill prevented me from not playing like an idiot. 
     Alien Storm taught me that if an alien is a different color than the alien that came before it, it will undoubtedly kick more ass and be harder to kill. I giggled on several occasions, because after introducing some pink slugs, they unleashed the slightly-more-pink slugs, which of course kicked more ass. The giggling happened again when they reverted back to the regular pink slugs afterward, which in regards to level design makes no sense. Overall, the designs of the aliens were pretty interesting, but nothing out of the ordinary for a '90s game. 
     One thing that I thought was pretty cool were the end-of-level challenges. These challenges branched away from the genre and provided some first-person shooting gallery action, in which your character completely tears up an area with their gun in search of hiding aliens. The amount of destruction to the area in such a small amount of time was beautiful, as literally every object was destroyable or burnable. That made me sound a little psychotic.
     Alien Storm was pretty good. There were a few other modes I didn't feel compelled to check out, and I got to level 3 of 6. It was challenging, but after my first death I didn't bother trying again. I've already beaten Streets of Rage, so I pretty much beat this game too. 

Buy Sonic's Genesis Collection on Amazon, because buying the actual cartridge seems a little silly at this point:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Mario Tennis (2000)

When I was a kid, games were reserved for special occasions, or were the end result for an unreasonable amount of chores. The only instance that I was given a game after doing chores resulted in Nicktoons Racing for the Game Boy Color.    
     To avoid anything like that ever happening again, renting games until Christmas or my birthday was just fine. Not so with Mario Tennis. I remember looking up the website of Mario Tennis, getting giddy with it's imminent release of the summer of 2000. I just tried to remember why I was getting giddy about a tennis game, because not only had I never played an actual game of tennis at the time, but I also loathed sports. I think the answer was, and I shit you not, that I thought it was a direct sequel to Super Mario 64.
     ...You have to understand that I was 10 at the time, and the only game with Mario I ever had was Super Mario 64. So, to a boy that thought that this was a sequel to Super Mario 64, coupled with the fact that Super Mario 64 is essentially one of the greatest, most revolutionary games of all time (my 10-year-old self thought so too), one can understand my excitement. Unfortunately, Mario Tennis was released a few weeks after my birthday, forever damning it to rental status in my collection.
     And I rented that game to no end. Initially surprised at the steps back that the developers apparently had taken in Super Mario 64, I took a minute to try to take everything in. At the Player Select screen, I questioned why they would call it "Mario Tennis" if you could play as someone other than Mario. I probably asked this out loud, because I had no friends.
 Speaking of which, why is Bowser in a friendly game of tennis with Mario and Peach? Isn't that taboo?
I mean, the guy just kidnapped Peach, like, four years prior.

    Fan-banter aside, once I really sunk my teeth into the game, absolutely nothing else mattered. I deducted that Mario Tennis was the embodiment of fun, which was odd because it was a sports game. I think the key was in it's accessibility; within a few minutes of picking up the controller, I was already a master of technique. You see, the only real buttons you need are A and B, coupled with the joystick of course. 
   Looking back, its incredible that they only provided two buttons into the control scheme, but there's so much depth to be discerned between playing casually and playing like a boss. Both buttons provided different methods of hitting the tennis ball, and each could be held down for a more powerful shot. You could also hold both of them down for a third type of shot! These shots were all manipulated by pushing the joystick in different directions, which is where the real challenge was, because you had to be mindful that you were controlling the direction where you were running and the direction you planned to hit the ball in. It was a simultaneous effort that I had a hard time with at first. 
     Whatever happened to Mario Tennis, you ask? Unfortunately, nothing. It got lost by the wave of other rentals that summer, the likes of which were Banjo-Tooie and Majora's Mask. By the time Christmas rolled around, it was already too late; I opted for more PlayStation games and Super Smash Bros., with Mario Tennis sorely forgotten.
     However, I picked up Mario Tennis a few days prior to this write-up to re-indulge myself in it's glory, and its amazing the extent that Camelot, the game's developer, went with just how different each character class controls. I started by acquainting myself with Luigi, as my tastes have developed and been refined in the last 10 years, and obviously Luigi is superior to Mario. What I said earlier about it's accessibility couldn't have been more true; within minutes, it was like the last ten years weren't Tennis-less, like I had been playing for ages. My girlfriend, who had never played a tennis game in her life, joined me in some doubles games as well. Of course, there was a learning curve at first, but the rate at which she picked it up was astounding. She even noticed patterns in the game's AI, and began curb-stomping them accordingly. The fact that someone who isn't much of a seasoned gamer, yet was almost at the same level as me says a lot about how much fun the game is.
    What's interesting to note is that as a kid, I didn't understand that each character controlled differently; I stuck with Mario for the majority of my rental so I could maintain that Super Mario 64 authenticity. Really, I thought it boiled down to Nintendo catering to people's different favorite characters and didn't add any layer of technique to the game itself. However, every two or three characters are coupled into different classes of technique, and if you spend a lot of time with one character, switching to another character brings a very noticeable change. For instance, Luigi is more of a balanced character, perfect for beginners. But when I switched to Donkey Kong, his girth made him slower than Luigi, but his powerful hits were ridiculous. At one point, I won an entire game just by serving. On the other hand, Peach was terrible and I didn't win a single game with her. Regardless, there's a different class for everyone, and I'm pretty positive most will be pleased with the added layer of depth in this as well.
     The music isn't anything to write home about. It's mostly sports-y, and I was too concerned with the white-knuckled tension of every game anyway to really notice it. On the Donkey Kong-themed course, it did have a nice medley of the 8-bit theme from the first game, but that's about it. 
     I can't recommend Mario Tennis enough, if you haven't noticed. The controls are superb, the graphics are meh, and the fun is through the roof. I can't believe I just wrote that.
I bought Mario Tennis for around 8 bucks, and you can too on

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Conker's Pocket Tales (1999)

     It would be a grave mistake to confuse Conker's Pocket Tales with Rareware's follow up Conker's Bad Fur Day, because Bad Fur Day is actually a good game. Bad Fur Day plays well, has wonderful voice over work, and gorgeous graphics. Pocket Tales has none of these things.
     To be honest, the Game Boy only had a handful of good games in it's massive library of rubbish, and I would come to Rareware's defense to say that porting a massive action-adventure that isn't a side-scroller probably isn't a good idea. I would say that, but I can't, because Rare did it anyway.
     I didn't come across Pocket Tales until the late summer of 2010, though I was aware it existed when I was 9-years-old. I didn't even want it when I was naive enough to think Toy Story 2 for the Game Boy was a good game. Pocket Tales, what with it's dark, uninviting color palettes and it's top-down view had nothing in it's favor of tricking a child into wanting it. Now, I paid eighteen dollars for this game. Eighteen dollars. I'm a twenty-year-old man. While it's possible that my state of feeling swindled by the box art could explain my animosity towards this game, as I was expecting something both cuddly and sassy (slingshot equals sass). Imagine my surprise when all I got was shit.
     As a side note, shouldn't the prequel to an amazing platformer be at least half as good as it's successor? I would like to think that bad things usually don't get greenlighted for a sequel, but the Crash Bandicoot series leaves me corrected. I digress.
     In Pocket Tales, Conker's girlfriend Berri gets kidnapped by a gigantic acorn. I guess the gigantic acorn really felt like being a dick, because as if kidnapping Conker's girlfriend wasn't enough, the acorn goes ahead and steals all of Conker's birthday presents too because it's Conker's fucking birthday. 

But I mean, seriously, look at this shit.  I don't think his birthday could 
have been any worse, really.

      After the "cut scene" (I dare you), two mind-numbingly frustrating tasks are presented to the player, who at this point is probably reconsidering their dabble into masochism. Conker obviously has to find Berri, but he also has to find any and all presents in the area in order to move on. And this has to be done while looking at this:


     Whenever I buy an old game, it's a self-proclaimed promise of mine to play the game on it's intended format, in this case the Game Boy Color. Do you remember what trying to see what you were doing on the Game Boy Color was like? Squinting my eyes in a whirlwind of blindness and depression now added a third task at hand: attempting to make any type of progress whatsoever towards the two aforementioned tasks, because I can't fucking see what is happening. It is now at the five minute mark since I have turned the game on, and it is now when I must turn the game off before there is any permanent damage done to me or those around me. Eighteen dollars should warrant a good time, and I now know it does not.
     There is now no question as to why Conker became an alcoholic in Bad Fur Day.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Super Mario Bros. (1986)

     Everyone knows Mario, and most everyone is familiar with the heralded Super Mario Bros. So much so, that there's almost no need for an introduction. This year marks the 25th anniversary of Mario's hit on the Famicom, and it feels a little wrong not to celebrate with the rest of the world.
     Super Mario Bros., in it's no-save, tough-as-nails glory, really hasn't phased me as much as it should have. I enjoy it to an extent, but to this day I can only get past world 8-3. I've never saved Peach, nor have I felt the burning desire to try hard enough to get past that. 
     And yet, I own almost every North American release of the game, including the Game Boy Advance re-release, which in comparison to Super Mario Bros. Deluxe for the Game Boy Color was ironically inferior. What has kept not only myself, but millions of other gamers coming back to this 25-year-old game? For me, it couldn't possibly be nostalgia; I didn't grow up with the NES, and my first Mario game was Super Mario 64. 
     No, it would be wrong to chalk up the reason to something as labeled, as ordinary as nostalgia. What we have here can't be expressed in words. Super Mario Bros. has the power to turn children into gamers. When one picks up the controller, they just know what has to be done. It is quite clear in my memory that I had no question of how to play the game, and in a generation where tutorials are long, game play complexities high, and casuals be damned, Super Mario Bros offers no hand-holding. There is no clear explanation as to how to play the game, aside from the manual of course, and yet everyone who picks this game up for the first time knows that they must make Mario move to the right. Of course, there's much more to it than that- I can't make it to the final level, but I digress. To me, this is not only refreshing, but arguably what saved the video game industry.
     When viewed literally, like most games, Super Mario Bros. could have been a failure. Playing as a 40-something plumber shouldn't be fun, yet it was revolutionary. The vibrant, colorful worlds filled with mushrooms and turtles is inviting, and instantly accepted. There is no way to explain how Mario-creator Shigeru Miyamoto managed to single-handedly revive a dying market and revolutionize the way we play games, but he did. 
     The gameplay was flawless; I'm trying to think of anything I can say that could criticize it, but it is impossible. The music was flawless; with just three different tracks, Super Mario Bros.' music has such resonance in our culture today, with the main track subsequently being referenced in every Mario game in some form, and in the media. Humming the tune will most likely generate a feeling of familiarity in the minds of those around you who hear it. The only thing I could criticize is it's difficulty towards the end of the game, but I'm stopped by the fact that it's probably just my own lack of skill. 
     Seemingly the only way to explain the unquestionable fun of Super Mario Bros. would be to call it a miracle- you don't know how it happened, or why, but you accept it and appreciate it for what it is. There are better games to play, sure, but would those games exist had it not been for Super Mario Bros.? Probably not. Happy 25th, Mario.
One more copy of the same game shouldn't hurt, so why not really impress your friends, and get a copy of Super Mario Bros. for the Famicom off of eBay: