Sunday, July 29, 2012

Super Mario 64 and Why It Shouldn't Take Eight Years to Collect 120 Stars

The cartridge that started an obsession.
Let's get personal. Rewind a few years back, to a time before I cared about the clothes I wore or even tried to call myself a gamer. I don't remember the year exactly but let's estimate that it was 1997, shortly after the release of the Nintendo 64.

I was lucky enough to grow up around video games. Everyone in my family played them and played them often. But the Nintendo 64 was the first system that I could call my very own. That grey piece of plastic means so much to me that I still have its original box (But this isn't just me being sentimental; I have a hard time throwing things away). Like a lot of people out there, I have a special attachment to my first game--Super Mario 64--as well, but for a less than normal reason.

It took me about 8 years to complete it.

No, that wasn't a continuous play-through (That would be about 15 stars a year; a ridiculous pace). I actually gave up on it shortly after getting to the "never-ending staircase" before Bowser in the Sky. Let's just say that the game was too much for my young mind to handle. It also gave me nightmares. Recurring ones, where Bowser and a pack Bom-ombs would climb out of my television and chase me around my house...

...Anyways, random childhood phobias aside, it wasn't that I didn't like the game, I just didn't like to play it. I wasn't even good at it. My mother was amazing though and since it was in my room, I just sat on my bed and watched her play for hours. But she never got all 120 stars. Eventually, we both set it aside and moved on to bigger but not necessarily better things. Super Mario 64 was pushed to the back of the collection.

Sometime around 2005, while the world was getting ready for the Wii (and complaining about its "Revolution" name change), I got the urge to take my Nintendo 64 out of its box in the closet. (Still don't know why. Nostalgia, maybe?) Not thinking too much about it, I popped in Super Mario 64 and finally took care of my unfinished business.

It was like a brand new, yet rough and outdated game. I not only got all the stars, but I even took the time to learn all the glitches. I love the game so much, I wrote a final essay about it for one of my college courses. It also covered Shakespeare, swans and Roger Ebert, but that's beside the point...

The point being: I was young and naive in '96. It took me 8 years to appreciate greatness.

Have you ever dropped a game you didn't like only to pick it back up and love it?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Too Old to Wear -- Too Young to Throw Away

Don't catch 'em all when you only need Charmander. 
There's always that one thing that you don't need but can't possibly get rid of. You know, that thing you keep in the back of the drawer for that rainy day when you just might need it because it holds some sort of sentimental value...

For me, its my old Charmander t-shirt.

Fourth grade: a good year. Pokemon was the thing biggest since...the last big thing...and anyone who was anyone had a piece of the licensed merchandise. You had to have the latest game. You needed to have all the cards, especially if they were gold-plated and came in reflective Pokeballs display cases (Remember those? I have five).

Charmander was always my favorite. He always seemed so cute and cuddly, apart from the flaming tail. When I got this shirt as a surprise gift, I wore it to death and back again.

Now, that time has gone. Pokemon is still going strong (though definitely not as strong); my shirt has seen better days. I still love Charmander, but my once favorite article of clothing makes me look foolish. Like I stole it off a kid who didn't realize there was way more than 151 Pokemon now. I just can't part with it, even though it doesn't fit well enough to help if that rainy day I'm waiting ever decides to come.

This screams "DIY" but I'm not as crafty as I should be. Desperately seeking creative inspiration and ideas.

For someone who doesn't like Pokemon games, I talk about the series a lot...
Three Reasons I Don't Like Pokemon Games (And You Do)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

An Umbrella Umbrella? Resident Evil 6 Pre-Order Bonus Protects You From Precipitation

The most practical pre-order bonus EVER.
For the newest installment of the Resident Evil franchise, Capcom has finally decided to cash in on the Umbrella pun that has been hanging over the games for years. Anyone who pre-orders Resident Evil 6 from the Capcom store will be able to block the "splash-back" from their "zombie-dispatching exploits" with their new red and white umbrella (Capcom's words, not mine).

It's lame. It's using an umbrella to promote a video game.

But I love it. I think it's brilliant. I think they should have done it sooner. I really do. 

I doubt anyone who wasn't already planning on getting the game at launch is going to jump on this deal (it's just an umbrella, with a logo stuck on it), but it's a nice bonus for the fans. Right?

And if you're not interested in pre-ordering the game, you could always just buy the umbrella for $16.95. You know, if you like umbrellas that much... 

Isn't it nice of Capcom to worry about you getting caught in the rain without protection?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Virtual to Reality -- Princess Rosalina

Princess Rosalina
Though Princess Rosalina's appearances in the Super Mario series have been limited, they've been notable. Nintendo's newest princess is not just a simple pallet swap, but a fully developed character with a detailed backstory (whether that story was actually interesting is up to you).

Rosalina's image is still a variation of the standard design set by Peach, but the final result is not as faithful to the original model as the concept art created during her development. Perhaps someone on the team realized that they didn't want to create another Daisy (or really, another Peach). Either way, Rosalina lost the puffy frills and bright color scheme and her dress started to reflect her more mysterious personality. It's also worth noting that her nails are tinted purple; a pretty insignificant detail that sets her further apart from the other princesses in the series.

But which one is better: Peach or Rosalina?

Monday, July 23, 2012

"You Don't Look Like A Gamer": Trying to Understand the Gamer Image

If only I got a dollar every time someone asked me "You play video games?"...

I know am not the only one that gets that sort of response when games casually come up in daily conversation. The question itself doesn't bother me; it's a good conversation starter if used innocently. But the suspicious tone or shocked face that sometimes accompanies that question is a whole different story.

That simple question makes me wonder what it really means to be a gamer...

It implies that the person on the receiving end could never know the first thing about gaming. Or that they shouldn't be interested in it to begin with. Assuming that the question is inspired by gender seems too close-minded; it is 2012 after all. But the video game market is dominated by and tailored to the male audience. And that doesn't seem like that's going to change any time soon.

So if someone asks if I play video games, I always try to smile and say yes in the most assertive tone possible. Shake the person's disbelief off with strong confidence. Some people leave it at that. Others might start a conversation about recent releases and personal favorites. But more often than not, the other person will say something I've heard time and time again: "You don't look like a gamer".
What does that even mean? What is a gamer supposed to look like?
Is looking like a gamer a bad thing? Should I be glad that I don't look like what I am?

The only time I got the nerve to ask a person to explain what they meant, they failed miserably. Their answer was unsure, probably because they didn't even know what they were talking about. This image is a stereotype that's so distorted that no one can quite understand it anymore.

That is, if people did once before.

What does a gamer look like?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Three Reasons Why I Don't Like Pokemon Games (And You Do)

What if I don't want to be 
"the very best like no one ever was"?
I feel like I'm stepping on a very thin and lonely ledge, but it must be done. I grew up watching the anime, collecting the cards and watching the movies, but I never owned any of the games. It's not like I never had access to them. Many of my friends would let me borrow their copies, but I could never make it to the end of one. I can't say that I especially dislike or hate Pokemon games; they just never really appealed to me. Honestly, I think they're boring. This doesn't apply to all Pokemon titles...Pokemon Snap is a technically a game in the series and I loved that one. But after getting a copy of Pokemon Pearl and playing it for a couple days, I remembered why I never had the desire to buy any of the main Pokemon Games.

Reason #3: I don't want to "Catch 'em All".
I get it. All the different species of Pokemon are cool and exciting. All of the special abilities and the various designs...The idea of discovering and capturing each and every one is enough to fire up the "completionist" in all of us, including myself sometimes. But when it really comes down to it, I just don't care.

I have no interest in finding and collecting all of the Pokemon. Especially since I stopped keeping track of the different species after #151 (or stopped being able to keep track). I don't even want to fill up my six Pokemon roster. After getting three or four, I'm set. Yes, I understand that you don't have to catch all of them, but I don't think "Gotta Catch 'em All" would be the slogan if Nintendo didn't intend for you to at least try.

Reason #2: I don't like the repetitive storyline.
Sometimes I need a deep story to keep me interested in a game. I can enjoy a shallow save-the-princess/kill-the-monsters plot, but twists and character development are what really draw me in. Even though Pokemon titles do include side events that add a bit of variety, the meat of the story remains the same: catch Pokemon, train Pokemon, win with Pokemon, rinse, repeat as desired. It feels like everything is always the same in every game; just different people, in a different place.

Reason #1: I don't like Pokemon battles.
That's it right there. I like the game mechanic that the entire series is structured on. To be honest, I don't really enjoy turn based gameplay to begin with. The only game that included it and held my attention for an entire playthrough would have to be Super Mario RPG. I can get into a game with a turn based system, but the novelty of it usually wears off at a certain point. And with Pokemon, that doesn't take long. It's also hard to believe that wild Pokemon would wait patiently for you to think and take your turn, but that's a separate pet peeve of mine best saved for another time.

And there you have it. These are my opinions and I am open and willing to listen to anyone who happens to disagree (I know there's a lot of people out there that do. I'm friends with many of them). I understand that the Pokemon series is made up of a lot of great games; there's no argument there. They're just not my style, I guess. However, I am still waiting for the next Pokemon Snap game... that will ever happen.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Virtual to Reality -- Princess Zelda

Updated July 23, 2012
When it comes to character development, Princess Zelda is very different from Nintendo's other star princess, Peach, for one basic reason: she means business. Yes, she still needs a hero to save her, but Zelda can definitely take care of herself better than Mario's number one girl.

However, when it comes to clothes, Zelda's various designs prove that she's not so different from the ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom. In her early appearances, Zelda's artwork showed her in formal pink gowns, similar to Princess Peach's signature look.

Over time, her dresses became more detailed, reflecting the more serious tone of the series. Zelda's clothes also started to display her position of power by including the crest of her royal family in some way (usually on a front sash). Though different shades of pink make up the majority of the princess's color schemes, she has also appeared in blue, white and red.

Many of Zelda's designs seem to be a variation of the same structure that was established in the artwork of A Link to the Past. But the most recognizable look for the princess seems come from her appearance in Twilight Princess. The theme was later reused in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, making it the one image comes to mind when most players think of the wise ruler.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wish List -- Piranha Plant Earrings

Nowhere near as painful as the real thing.
I have seen these everywhere around the internet. I believe it was love at first sight, especially because these bring back so many fantastic memories. Super Mario 64 was the very first game I ever played and I think these earrings are a perfect way to show my love for one of the most iconic enemies in the series (even though they're incredibly annoying and I really can't stand them).

Find them on Etsy.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Wish List -- Song of Storms Tee

The Power of Precipitation
The Song of Storms is my absolute favorite song from the Legend of Zelda franchise. Not Zelda's Lullaby or the Song of Time, but that one weather changing tune that doesn't get enough love nowadays. Maybe that adds to its appeal. Or maybe it just wasn't that important...Either way, this shirt from Busted Tees just proves that everybody's favorite tunic-wearing hero was made it rain way before any rapper did. He's so hipster. (Can't believe I wrote that. Just throwing stuff in...)

I think I'm slowly growing out of my t-shirt and jeans phase, but I wouldn't miss the opportunity to wear this with a jacket or blazer. Because gamers can be classy too, you know. It's all about that "Gaming Sophistication".

Nintendo Made The Wii U Pro Controller for Call of Duty?

Updated with more information on July 22, 2012

Today, EDGE released a story that details claims that Nintendo created the Wii U's Pro Controller specifically to please Activision and secure a Call of Duty installment for the upcoming console. According to analyst Michael Pachter, who is openly critical of both the Wii and its successor, the publisher refused to work with the Wii U's GamePad and forced Nintendo to make a controller with a more common design. However, Pachter's statements suggest that he doesn't have solid evidence to support his claim: "Activision never said anything to me, but I know that [for] big games like Call Of Duty they said, 'No, we're not putting it on there if you don't give us a conventional controller'. So they gave in."

So, could someone explain to me how Pachter can make a claim like that without proof? Yes, Nintendo obviously cares more about third party support with all of the new titles that they have lined up for the Wii U (like Mass Effect and Tekken). But I doubt that the company is so invested in having a Call of Duty game that they would come up for a controller just for that one game. Sure, maybe they created it to please other third party companies, but not just Activision and Activision alone.
It makes much more sense to believe that Nintendo created the secondary peripheral to replace the old Gamecube controller. When compared to the Wii Remote, many players actually prefer its more traditional design (myself not included). Since Gamecube controllers will not be compatible with their next generation console, the Pro Controller can easily fill that gap.

But I'm not an analyst, so what do I know?


In an interview with Games Beat, Pachter elaborated on his claim:

“Nintendo has never done anything altruistically for third parties, so I concluded that they added the Pro Controller because of pressure from third parties. The pressure could have come from anywhere — EA with sports games, Ubisoft with Assassin’s Creed, or Take-Two with GTA — but it seems to me that the ‘prize’ that would make the Wii U legitimate as a console of choice for multiplatform games is Call of Duty.”

My previous thoughts still stand. I don't just want to yell "pictures or it didn't happen", but I think that it's best not to speculate on things like this. Only time will tell if his conclusions are correct.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Chance Encounter at the Thrift Store

The other day I remembered the unfortunate demise of my Nintendo DS Lite, which as been out of commission for a few years now.

My lovely black paperweight with HK skin 
Well, life went on as it normally does after that. I usually spend my free time over the summer volunteering at a thrift store and I went in for my next shift a couple days later. We don't usually get many video game related donations, which is pretty much expected since it's so easy to just sell or trade in old merchandise. However, when I got there I was pleasantly surprised...

Could this be the best donation ever?
During my shift, someone donated a DS loaded with Pokemon Pearl, along with a couple other games. As soon as one of my fellow volunteers showed it to me, I knew it was fate. It was a bit dirty--scratch that, it was pretty filthy. It took an hour, a razor blade (for the dirt in the edges), a handful of cotton swabs and a tiny bit of rubbing alcohol, but I got it as clean as possible. I cannot put into words how excited I was when I charged it up and saw that it works just fine. 

This just goes to show that wonderful things can be found in the most unexpected places. Check out a thrift store near you and see if you can get a good deal. 

Ape Escape -- No One Remembers The Monkeys Anymore

Doesn't that cover just scream "HARDCORE"?

There are great games that everyone talks about, terrible games that nobody mentions and fantastic games that fall into obscurity. Personally, I think the original Playstation game Ape Escape falls under that unfortunate latter category.

Okay, when the game was first introduced to me, I almost wrote it off as a joke. The object of the game is simple: capture monkeys in your net. That in itself is a weird task to build a video game around, but things get really weird when you get into the plot.

You play as a young boy named Spike, who with his friend Jake, travels to meet up with The Professor to check out his new time machine. No, this "Professor" doesn't have a given name. I think that should be a big red flag to the boys right there. Anyway, The Professor has also developed special helmets that increase the intelligence guessed it...monkeys.

Of course, the helmets fall into the hands of a diabolical primate named Specter, who decides to use The Professor's new time machine to send some his brethren into past to rewrite history so that they rule the world. The two boys just so happen to arrive while Specter is activating the machine and they end up being sucked in and are cast into two separate time periods. You then travel through the time space continuum to round up all the monkeys, find Jake and ultimately save the world.

I wasn't kidding when I said it was weird.

But that only adds to it's insane charm. If you can look past the plot, you will be rewarded with some nice gameplay. In fact, Ape Escape was pretty revolutionary for its time for being  the first game that required the use of a Duel Shock Analog controller. One analog stick controlled movement, while other controlled the various gadgets, the most important--as well as the most fun--part of the title. You start off with Time Net to capture the monkeys and a Stun Club to...stun them, but you can't just run up and throw your net over every monkey you see. There is a bit of strategy and stealth involved and the extra gadgets are a big part of that. Bag enough monkeys and you're rewarded with a new toy that could help you solve puzzles, find targets and make catching those wily rascals that much easier.
The best monkey capturing device to date. 
And did I mention that the monkeys have different personalities. Just take another look at that cover. The apes can range from quite docile to downright destructive and you must plan your strategy accordingly when confronting them. In the end, the monkeys are what really makes this game.

But why isn't Ape Escape a household name, or at least a more common one? It received good reviews upon release and even inspired a couple good sequels, with Ape Escape 2 being my favorite (One word: Pipotchi). It goes without saying that is much more popular in its home country of Japan, where the franchise has expanded to include many more games and even an anime series. But despite all of its positive aspects, I guess the storyline is just too much for some in America to handle. I almost didn't give this game the chance it deserves. So if you ever get the chance to play this pretty much forgotten gem, whether in its original format or one of its later ports, do it. The apes will not disappoint you.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Virtual to Reality -- Princess Peach

Updated: July 23, 2012
It's kind of interesting to think about how a fictional character's wardrobe could translate into real life situations (at least to me it is). Just like a superhero's tights wouldn't really help to strike fear into the hearts of evildoers in the real world, an actual princess probably wouldn't walk around in Princess Peach's puffy attire.
Over the years, the princess's standard clothing has been pretty constant in related artwork. The biggest changes made seem to be the size of the dark pink trim along the bottom hem of her skirt and the addition of two big paniers at her waist.

However, the damsel's early in-game appearances were quite different. In the original Super Mario Bros. game, Peach's dress was not pink but white with red/orange accents (not to mention the fact that she was a redhead and noticeably shorter than her hero). She picked up her current color scheme in Super Mario Bros. 2 but the princess's in-game model didn't truly match up with the artwork until Super Mario 64.

Recently, Princess Peach's character has become more of a clothes horse, changing outfits for sports related titles and Super Smash Bros. But her iconic pink dress remains a staple of the Super Mario series.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

First Impressions -- New Super Mario Bros. 2 Gameplay Trailer

Let me start off by saying that it is CRIME that I don't own a 3DS by now. This wouldn't bother me as much if my DS Lite was good for something other than its fantastic paperweight function. Its tragic death broke my heart.

But turning to the topic at hand, this new trailer for New Super Mario Bros. 2 didn't impress me that much.  The main platforming portions were pretty straightforward and not too much different from anything I've seen before. Not that I expected Mario to do something epic like brandish an arm cannon or kill Goombas with laser beams...

...It just didn't grab my attention like I think it should.

Also, the coins? They don't just float around, waiting for you to collect them; they rain down from the sky. Or if the game is feeling a little more generous, it will literally throw them at you. Is the platforming that hard or do the developers seriously think the average player needs that much help? This plus the White Tanooki Suit (entire level invincibility power-up) could equal a really short playthrough.

Still, if I ever get the console, I probably won't count this one out. The graphics seem pretty solid and the classic Mario formula has never let me down before. In the end, it's not like Nintendo has to work hard to get money out of  me anyway.

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