Monday, October 30, 2006


November Hiatus

One thing I've learned this month is that I'm very good at creating words in copious quantities. Some of my posts this month took multiple days to brew, but many of them were pounded out in a single day. And I'm hoping to put some of that momentum to good use by entering National Novel Writing Month in November. I intend to channel all of my free time toward writing a work of fiction totaling over 50,000 words before December 1st.

I'm still catching up with the implications. Updating Electric Dilintia will be put on the back burner, as will a great many of my normal online pursuits. I hope to keep myself out of the loop for video game news for as long as I can stand it. What's more, I hope to not actually play video games during any period of time that I could otherwise spend writing.

And, of course, I plan to miss out on the launch of the Wii.

That's the big question mark in my mind right now. Of course, I've been telling myself for months now that I really don't need to have one of these things on launch day, that it'll still be there if I wait a couple months or even a year. It's just another toy -- and it's not like I have a lack of toys right now. But as I've also said, I'm an addict. I've anticipated this thing for so long that any question of its actual quality is irrelevant. I need it on my game shelf, I need to swing that magic wand around, I need to stuff my brain silly with stupid, arcadey action games. Am I actually going to hold out that long?

Yes. And you know why?

Because I, CPFace, do solemnly swear that if I can finish the NaNoWriMo challenge within the allotted time limit, I will treat myself to a Wii and any games that look even vaguely interesting on December 1st, the total value of which may not exceed $450 before tax. If I fail this challenge, then I will wait until such a time as I am able to complete a comparably heroic task worthy of splurging on a new piece of home entertainment. And if system/software shortages are so bad as to prevent me from getting such a decadent gift for myself, this promise will be fulfilled at the next earliest opportunity.

There. That might just motivate me.

As for Electric Dilintia, I'll be back for it soon enough. There is not yet a shortage of video game thoughts bouncing around in my head. I'm interested in putting up reviews for Mario Party Advance and Hamtaro: Ham-Ham Games in the near future, plus I've been promising myself that I'd get around to explaining why I think save slots have hurt video games, and maybe do a quick expose on terrible video games that I enjoy nonetheless.

If all goes well, I'll see you in December. Happy NaNoWriMo!


Wednesday, October 25, 2006



As I've mentioned in the past, I'm loathe to try and review an entire collection of games at once. So instead of trying to write a comprehensive review of 42 All Time Classics (Clubhouse Games as the Americans call it), I'm just going to focus on the one game in the collection that you will ever, ever need: Billiards.

Pocket Pool

Billiards on the Nintendo DS is just as pure and simple as you'd expect it to be. Instead of abstracting the act of aiming and striking a cue ball with angular selection followed by some sort of power meter action, Billiards is controlled using nothing but the touch screen. Instead of a cue stick, the game puts a little "firing arrow" on the screen. You touch it to take control of it and drag it to any side of the ball. A guideline helps you to line up the balls before you pull the arrow back and give it a good hard slide into the cue ball. Standard 9-ball rules are in effect -- first to pocket the 9 ball wins, but it has to be sunk with a legal shot.

I find it very interesting that, to line up a shot, I'll turn my DS around in my hands until I find the best angle to strike from, much like a real billiards player will walk around the table. I've even gone so far as to consider holding my stylus like a real cue stick. That whole concept just tickles me -- I love it when video games give you a chance to mimic real-world interactions as you play them.

Now, to be fair, this isn't the most realistic Billiards game in the whole world. The table has been kept small to fit the entire playfield on one screen, and the balls have been enlarged to make them easier to play with. The scale of the game is completely out of whack. In fact, the side pockets have been removed from the table because... well, practically half the table would be pockets if they'd been left in. And the physics of the game are just plain off. The balls just don't move or sound like real billiards balls as they clatter around the screen.

In spite of this, the game is completely playable and monstrously addictive. If you know someone else with a DS, you can play together with a single game card. And of course you can play against a CPU with a skill level of your choice. But if you have access to a wireless connection, the only way to play this game is over WiFi Connection.

Friendly Competition

Billiards is probably the quintessential online DS game. You don't need quick wits or a mastery of an unfair gameplay exploit in order to do well at Billiards. It's just a simple game of physics that anyone can pick up and play. And thanks to the wonky scale of the game, you don't have to be especially good at it to win. Not to say that a mastery of the game won't help you to clean house, but even an imbecile like me will sink the 9 ball completely on accident often enough to keep their spirits afloat.

The nicest part of the game is how pleasant chatting is. There's an option to keep the chat window open on the top screen, and you get to watch in real time as another human being shares in your triumphs and commiserates over your defeats. Sure, it probably helps that the default chat messages are all polite, inspiring selections like "Nice!" or "Too bad..." rather than "HA HA YOU SUCK" or "LEARN TO PLAY, NOOB". It's surprising how much it adds to the experience when you have a running dialogue going -- matches typically open with both sides wishing each other luck, then exchanging cries of "Nice!" or "Whoa!" or "Lucky!" as the game progresses. And because of the turn-based nature of the game, you actually have time to spin out a one-liner without feeling like you're holding things up.

When I got Super Monkey Ball on the Gamecube, the vast majority of my time was spent on Monkey Billiards. I guess it's just nice to finally have that experience in a portable game. My WFC matches stretch on for hours, meeting opponent after opponent for pleasant chatter and unpredictable matches. Of course, for those of you who are loathe to purchase an entire $30 cartridge just to play one parlor game, there's 41 other games to choose from on the cartridge, complete with piles and piles of those tacked-on crap features that everyone salivates over. And most of the games are pretty good -- I'll stop for the occasional game of Balance or Solitaire or Escape. But I know the real reason I bought this game.


Saturday, October 21, 2006


The Art and Folly of the Video Game Review

October's been a pretty good month for Electric Dilintia so far. I've written a number of pieces that I've wanted to do for quite some time, and if I say so myself, they turned out to be reasonably entertaining and substantive. My review of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon is probably the best video game review I've ever written, and I'm unusually pleased with it.

So you would think, as much as I seem to love writing about video games -- being completely incapable of suppressing my enthusiasm and opinionated musings about the subject -- that I would have enjoyed being a reviewer for Nintendojo a lot more than I did.

Thing is, the more you worry about video game reviews, the more you come to realize that the entire exercise of playing a video game and reporting your experiences to potential consumers is a giant headfuck.

The Fallacy of Objectivity

The first problem with video game reviews is that there's an expectation of objectivity. The goal of a video game reviewer is not to present his opinion of a video game but to try and guess how well it meets the expectations of the website's (or magazine's) audience. So right off the bat we have a problem -- the writer is expected to create an opinion piece where he must disregard his own opinion in favor of some mythical common denominator, a one-size-fits-all yardstick that's supposed to measure how well the entire gaming community will receive a particular game.

For example, there was much bruhaha in the Nintendo fanboy clique when Game Informer rendered a sub-average review upon Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. Their argument for the poor score was that, even though the game was high-quality fun, they had to base their score on how the gaming community would enjoy it. This mysterious chimera apparently thinks very poorly of anything with cartoon characters in it, so they docked the score accordingly. Never mind that this was easily the darkest adventure Super Mario has ever embarked upon, Paper or not. Cartoony = childish = bad.

My personal experience with this attitude came when I submitted my very first review to Nintendojo. I gave Game & Watch Gallery 4 a perfect 10. It was the biggest and best game in the series, and it stole away hours upon hours of my gaming time. It was the first Game Boy Advance game to really break me away from my Game Boy Color. The chief editor sent me an e-mail questioning my score. Did I really think a Game & Watch collection was worth a 10? Well of course I did. But in the end, he talked me down to a 9.5.

No one batted an eye when I gave Advance Wars 2 a 10.

In a perfect world, we would have a wide range of sources for video game reviews. The internet is capable of creating hundreds of wildly conflicting opinions over video games, a voice for everyone who considers themselves a gamer, no matter how close to or far from the mainstream their opinion lies. Instead, everyone strives to be the single, objective voice of the gaming community, your one-stop location for video game opinions.

Video games are an interactive medium. They have the potential to create a different experience for everyone who touches them. Why, then, do video game reviews often sound so much the same? Why do reviewers all linger on the same details?

Artifice and Deadlines

Another problem with video game reviews -- at least as they appear in most websites and magazines -- is how artificial the circumstances of play have to be. Many of the big websites get their games for free. Reviewers are sometimes paired up with games from series or genres that they're unfamiliar with or which hold no immediate appeal to them. They have a limited amount of time to play and report their experiences. This time isn't spent playing so much as analyzing. Are my readers going to be pleased with these graphics? Is this too easy or too difficult? How does this compare to other games in the same genre? And, of course, there's the race to unlock as much of the content as quickly as possible, the better to report on its quality.

This isn't (or shouldn't be) indicative of how an actual player approaches a game. A player approaches a game because the concept seems interesting. He invests hard-earned (or hard-negotiated) money into the game, which automatically increases its perceived value. (Those games that I had to save months' worth of allowance for when I was little were always much sweeter than the ones I plunk down a fraction of a week's paycheck for today.) And unless they're anal-retentive twits, chances are they aren't going to be analyzing it for quality of craftsmanship so much as playing it. And they'll be doing so at their leisure, as the whim takes them, with no obligation to finish it within a time limit.

This is why I tend to look to "reader reviews" more than the official website reviews. What they lack in journalistic quality, they often make up for with sincere and interesting opinions that could only come from people who chose the game themselves and understand what they're talking about.

Eroding Opinions

Opinions change. Super Mario Sunshine received glowing reviews upon its debut, but it sank in the hearts and minds of many in the years following. My initial impressions of Pokemon Trading Card Game for Game Boy Color were underwhelming. But when I discovered the joy of strategic deck building, I couldn't get enough of replaying the in-game opponents and proceeded to rack up dozens and dozens of hours of play.

So when is the right time to write a video game review? Do you strike after the initial impressions, the better to capture the feeling the reader will get the first time he plays? Or do you prolong it to gauge the lasting appeal? How long should you wait? A month? A year? When can you be certain that a game is a classic or a dud?

I made Electric Dilintia partly so that I could have an outlet for video game reviews without having to worry about annoying details like people reading them. And still, even as I write reviews entirely for my own amusement, I have a hard time telling how long I should go before I write about a game. Pokemon Mystery Dungeon was a rare case -- most of the time, I find myself in a kind of wishy-washy middle ground, unsure if I'm still basking in the initial glow of a video game or if my opinions have sufficiently ripened to the point where I'm ready to commit them to permanent marker on the old 'blog. Just look how I ended my review of New Super Mario Brothers: "I'm still not sure if this game is going to go down as a classic or if it's just going to be remembered as a summertime diversion." I actually care that much about video game reviews that I'm not going to risk calling a game a classic when there's any sort of chance that my mind may change later.

(For the record, it was pretty much a summertime diversion.)

The Crap We Love, The Gold We Hate

Sometimes, the highest quality of production values in the world aren't enough to make me love a game. And sometimes, I'll love a game no matter how crappy it is.

I gave Sitting Ducks for Game Boy Advance a 3 out of 10. The production values were awful. The gameplay was crap. Everything about the game was a joke. I completely recognize that the thing was a cheap cash-in and a disappointment in every way.

Advance Wars 2, on the other hand, was a small masterpiece, a turn-based strategy game that gave you nothing but things to do and incredible gameplay.

I traded Advance Wars 2 in for some store credit at Gamestop, but I still have Sitting Ducks. Why? Because at the end of the day, I like playing a video game with ducks and aligators, but Advance Wars 2 is too similar to the first game to make me feel like I really need to own both.

That's something you will almost never see in a video game review: the intangible things that attract you to an otherwise lousy game or prevent you from completely enjoying a masterpiece. I've sold off many, many games that I recognize as technical achievements because they bored me silly -- Metroid games, Zelda games, Final Fantasies -- yet held onto crappy games just because they make me smile -- Pokemon Channel, Mario Party Advance, Jurassic Park 2 for Game Boy, and so on.

Some games have no reason to exist, but I love them anyway.

Why Are We Still Rating Graphics and Sound?

At least most game reviewers are polite enough to give us headings that allow us to skim past crap like this, but it still annoys me how much attention people give to graphics and sound in video games. I mean, if they're especially cool, fine, you can give them a mention, but these days about the only thing that really makes one game look different from another is a conscious decision about visual style, and it's not like there are all that many games where the developers dare to be different; we don't need to hear about how graphics look for every single damned game on a system.

I guess I've always found discussion of aesthetics to be boring. To me, it's analogous to reading an autobiography of Abraham Lincoln that begins by detailing what he had for breakfast every day of his life. I'm sure that having breakfast was an important part of who he was, but it's not really the part I'm interested in.

What Makes a Good Video Game Review

So what do I want to see in video game reviews?

It's a tough question. Ideally, every game reviewer would have so much passion for every game they reviewed that you could feel their sense of wonder and intrigue as they guide you through every nuance of gameplay, weighing the advantages and disadvantages and drawing comparisons to similar games to help the player decide, based on previous experiences, if this new experience is desirable. These reviews would be rich in personal opinions and experiences, the better to help the player judge how well the reviewer's experiences match his own.

But sometimes, all you really want is what the premise is, how the combat system works, or whether or not this version of Monopoly or Pac-Man supports a save file.

Clearly there's a place for video game reviews as they exist right now. Even if reviewers continue to pile praise on games I hate and chop down games I love, I'm getting good enough at reading between the lines to make my own decisions. And maybe that's the way it should be.


Thursday, October 19, 2006


The Golden Age of Black and White

I remember, when the era of Super NES vs. Genesis was beginning to reach a ripe old age, an article in EGM that rated the various video game systems that were still on the market. I don't remember much about the fanboyism expressed over the various consoles (I have a vague memory of a comment about the Super NES: "If you have to play Super Mario, get Sega's new hockey game"), but one thing did stick with me: their unbridled fury that the Game Boy should even still exist.

In a time when the industry was beginning to swoon over 16-bit processors and fancy graphical effects, Nintendo had the audacity to continue supporting a chunky black and white portable system that was probably best known for Super Marioland (a 12-level, shrunk down homage to Super Mario Brothers) and Tetris. The Game Boy was a ghetto. It became a haven for quick license cash-ins and badly-mangled ports from the NES and SNES. And with the Game Gear available down the same aisle, with its colorful, glow-in-the-dark effects, it was easy for Sega to paint Game Boy fans as hideous, socially deficient morons who were just as easily entertained by bug zappers or hallucinations induced by hitting themselves in the head with petrified squirrels.

Well fuck you too, Sega and EGM. The last half of the era of the black and white Game Boy was marked by some of the most creative and fun video games that Nintendo has ever made. It was like there was a hidden treasure chest of fun lurking down the video game aisle, and all you had to do to open it was to suffer through some black and white graphics. Super Marioland 2 wasn't, ultimately, a classic for the ages, but the technical tricks that made the Game Boy process all of that information and all of those huge (for the system) sprites were put to good use, and Nintendo started dishing out classic games on the system like no one's business.

So here, in no particular order, are ten of the Game Boy's best kept secrets, the games that you play in black and white. If you can still find them today, snatch 'em up.

Warioland: Super Marioland 3

I fell in love with Wario at first sight. The concept of a villain who could turn the tables on Mario and use his super powers against him was just plain flat-out cool. I was reluctant to pick up Warioland though -- I thought they would rely too much on the novelty of playing as the villain from Marioland 2.

Boy was I wrong.

Warioland quickly became one of my favorite platforming games ever. The level design is just as clever and fun as Super Mario Brothers 3. Wario has a total of three different powered-up forms, and unlike in recent Mario games (Super Mario World and Marioland 2), they were all pretty well balanced. And the bosses were terrific -- difficult, imaginative, and fun to battle. And the best part of the game was the treasure hunt. Wario's on a quest to find enough money to buy a castle that'll put Mario to shame, so every coin you get on a run through a level goes into Wario's bank. Much more importantly, you can find treasures hidden away in certain levels, and if you bring them to the end of the game, you can cash them in for thousands of coins apiece. Lots and lots of fun.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

This game, based vaguely on A Link to the Past, was the first Zelda game I ever truly fell in love with, and certainly the first Zelda game I'd ever had the patience to finish. It had puzzles, side quests, secret items to find, a bittersweet story, and lots and lots of humor. I'd never laughed out loud while playing a Zelda game before, but Link's Awakening is a riot. It was the first Zelda game to introduce a button-activated shield, and thanks to the Roc's Feather, it had lots of platforming bits, from both an overhead view and a side view. This was one of the games that was colorized for the release of the Game Boy Color. I still have both versions.

Metroid II

Okay, confession. I'm not a Metroid fan. Still, I can understand why fans of the series appreciate it so much. So here's Metroid II, a perfectly servicable sequel to the original Metroid, notable for having a very secure place in the series' continuity despite only being available in black and white on the Game boy. Enjoy it with my compliments.

Donkey Kong (1994)

To hell with the Super Mariolands -- this was the big Game Boy Mario adventure. It starts with the four levels from the original arcade game, but just as Mario and Pauline are about to ride off into the sunset, Donkey Kong leaps up and snatches her away, leading Mario on a whirlwind chase through forests and deserts, cities and mountains, and even along the back of an airplane in flight. The familiar Donkey Kong gameplay is apparent in the new boss encounters that pop up every four levels, but the meat of the game is in its puzzle levels that borrow elements of Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Junior, Super Mario Brothers 2, and some acrobatic stunts that we wouldn't see again until Super Mario 64. More than just barrel-jumping, this game will challenge you to find a key and bring it to the door to unlock the exit to every level. The quantity and quality of animation packed into the cartridge is unbelievable. And look out when Donkey Kong Junior is added into the mix at the midway point of the game!

Mole Mania

A truly original game, and well-deserving of a sequel on the DS. You're a mole on a quest to save your family from a cabbage farmer. To save them, you have to brave dozens upon dozens of sliding block puzzles -- your progress is blocked by stone walls, and the only way to destroy them is to roll a big black ball into them, but obstacles and enemies block your path. The most interesting part of the game is that, being a mole, you can burrow underground. Naturally, there are some key differences between the layout of the surface and underground that will make traversing one or the other particularly tricky. Strategically placing your holes and burrows is a major part of solving each room.

Mario's Picross

Before there was Sudoku, we had Mario's Picross, a beautifully elegant logic game. It's difficult to describe, but with a little thought and the game's patient tutorial, you can become a Picross master too. The object of the game is to fill in boxes on a grid to create a picture. The boxes that you are allowed to fill in are dictated by numbers that run along the rows and columns. The only way to get the complete picture is to figure out how the numbers relate to each other. Clues are available -- if you're weak.

Game & Watch Gallery

Yes, Game & Watch Gallery. Oh bite me, it's fun. Those little LCD portable games of yore still have a certain goofy charm to them, and the Modern versions help to make things a bit more interesting. Sure, I'd probably prefer the series' best entry to date, Gallery 4, but with Manhole, Fire, and Octopus all on one cartridge, it was a pretty good start to a great series.

Warioland II

And now we come to Warioland II. What can I say except wow. This game struck new ground in so many directions and succeeded so consistently with everything it tried to be that it leaves me in awe.

First of all, the cardinal rule of video games goes out the window. Wario can't die. That's not to say he has unlimited lives or some sort of cop-out like that -- there is literally nothing in the game that can kill him. Sure, he can get smacked around by enemies and hazards a bit, but the consequence is generally that he gets knocked back a bit and some coins drop out of his pockets. Sure, there are the usual assortment of pitfalls, but the pits aren't bottomless -- you'll merely find yourself backtracking to a lower part of the level. This gave the developers license to create some cruel, cruel platforming situations. Very tricky jumps and maneuvers are nearly everywhere in the game, and missing them often means having to redo very long stretches of the game.

Second, Wario's transformations. He's flattened. He's inflated. He's shrunk. He's zombified. He's set on fire. He's frozen solid. He's swallowed whole. Enemies do everything except kill him. Every transformation he undergoes limits his movement and attack options, but also allows him to do something he couldn't ordinarily do. A zombified Wario can't jump and walks very slowly, but he also destroys all enemies on contact and can slide down through certain kinds of floors. Some levels are set up so that you'll want to avoid the transformation. Others are set up to make you take advantage of your special transformed abilities, so you'll have to be clever enough to avoid the cure!

And finally, there's the multiple endings. If you just play straight through the game, you'll get to play 25 different levels. After you beat the last boss, the story map will open up and show you all of the stages you missed. As in most Mario games, there are certain levels that have multiple exits. But if you find a hidden exit in Warioland II, the storyline will actually change to reflect it. For example, the goal in a level set on Captain Syrup's pirate ship is to find the anchor and knock it into the water to stop the ship. If, instead, you find the secret path to the very bottom of the ship, you can smash a cork that'll spring a leak in the ship. Instead of docking, the ship will sink to the bottom of the sea, and you'll open up a world that takes place underwater. Most hidden paths like these lead to alternative endings.

And of course, the treasure hunt from the original game is back. There are a total of fifty treasures waiting to be found, one for each level in the game. If you can get each treasure and all of the puzzle tiles that are available in end-level minigames, you'll unlock the extra-secret, extra-difficult Really Final Chapter and turn the tables on the Brown Sugar Pirates once and for all.

Totally fantastic game. Even better translated into color.

Game Boy Camera

It came out of nowhere, and boy was it fun. You could turn your Game Boy into a digital camera, take pictures, edit them, make animations, make weird minigames, put your face into a Game and Watch, make stickers -- it was a handheld creativity studio. The followup for the Game Boy Advance never materialized, and it's a damned shame.


And the rest, as they say, is history. With Pokemon, the Game Boy was suddenly a contender again. Ironically, the system that everyone else had written off became Nintendo's raison d'etre a generation after it, by all rights, should have been succeeded by something else. It's kind of funny, in a way. Nintendo could have just let the Game Boy peter out to its quiet, natural death, but they kept plugging stubbornly away, making games for it as long as a decade after its release. And when one of them caught fire, it helped to save their company from an ignominious slide into total obsolesence as the Playstation arose to lord over the home console industry.

It makes you wonder. What else are we missing out on in our rush toward the next generation?


Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Not a Bang, But a Whimper

As Nintendo starts shopping around for a nursing home to stick the Gamecube and Game Boy Advance into, ready to pass the baton to a newer, sexier generation of home electronics, I look back on the systems and their respective libraries and try to figure out what defined their existance. Every video game system, I'm sure you'll agree, has its own personality or spark, a feeling that you get when you remember the system. When I think back on the Dreamcast, for example, I think wacky fun (The Typing of the Dead and Samba de Amigo), great music (Shenmue and Sonic Adventure), inspired peripherals (VMUs, fishing controllers, and maracas!), and free, delicious internet connections. When I think of the Super NES, I get that feeling of perfect balance between raw horsepower and old-school fun. Super Mario All-Stars and Sim City. And the RPGs -- Super Mario RPG and Earthbound spring immediately to mind.

So what are my memories of Gamecube and Game Boy Advance like?

The System About Nothing

During the reign of the Nintendo 64, I was a hardcore Nintendo fan. Whether it was simply the indiscretions of my youth or something that Nintendo did differently, I preached the gospel of Nintendo far and wide. They were infallible in my eyes, and I revelled in everything they did, even the stuff that I didn't actually like.

Then... Well, the Gamecube came out. And Nintendo started a long, slippery slide out of the realm of my total undying devotion.

The tone of the system was sort of broken right from the start. Instead of launching the system with a new Super Mario game, they started us with Luigi's Mansion -- a short, somewhat repetitive non-platformer game. It's not really bad per se -- after I sold my copy, I found myself lonely for its ghostbusting action and had to rebuy it -- but it's not a game for the ages like the Super Marios of old.

They persisted for some time with the idea that they needed to create some new intellectual property. Not necessarily a bad idea, but most of the new games they created were essentially flashes in the pan. Where Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda defined new directions for the video game industry and became the center of discussion for players of all ages, experiments like Pikmin, Cubivore, Custom Robo, and Wario World (not to mention third-party offerings like Viewtiful Joe, Geist, and Eternal Darkness) were ultimately forgotten in a generation that was dominated by the likes of Grand Theft Auto and Halo. The only new IP that the Gamecube introduced (to Western markets anyway) that gained any sort of real momentum was Animal Crossing. Though a good game, it's a little disappointing to think that Nintendo's biggest gift to a new generation of gaming is a video doll house where the biggest challenge you face is to deliver a comic book to a penguin.

Then their tried and true blockbusters blew up in their faces. Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda had always been sure things to look forward to on previous Nintendo consoles, but this time around it simply wasn't to be. Mario didn't leave the impact he should have -- he was late on the console, and people balked at his crazy new waterpack contraption. Then The Legend of Zelda arrived, carrying the albatross of a new, cartoonier image. It was a time of unprecedented damage control for Nintendo fans everywhere as they clung to the idea that they loved the new style, like an abused woman who tries to convince herself that she still loves her husband in spite of his drunken beatings. Almost as proof that Nintendo realized their mistake, The Twilight Princess was announced with an edgier tone that would more appeal to the fans, but coming so late in the system's life (the better to convince people to pick up the flashier Wii version), it can't do much to change the tone of the system.

A Bridge to Nowhere

So new ideas were hard coming, and the old tricks weren't working like they used to. Ah, but Nintendo had an ace up their sleeve. They could differentiate themselves from the competition with their Game Boy Advance linkup.

... Yeah.

See. Nintendo designed the Game Boy Connection Pak or whatever they called it for the Nintendo 64 with only one idea in mind -- to allow players to get their Pokemon into a Nintendo 64 game in the hopes that Pokemon fever could give the flailing N64 a boost. Sure, the Mario Sports games made good use of it, and Perfect Dark would have if it weren't for Columbine, but if any other games actually used it (especially as a central part of the gameplay), I haven't heard of it.

So Nintendo launched the Gamecube with the promise that it would link up directly to the Game Boy Advance, opening up unlimited worlds of gaming possibilities.

First of all, no. Second of all, when Sonic Adventure 2: Battle premiered, offering players a chance to bring their Chao Garden with them, the official first-party links were missing in action. Right from the start, it was clear that Nintendo had no plans to actually support this brilliant idea that they came up with. If they built it, so their reasoning went, developers would come.

I remember playing the Pokemon Ruby Version, and a description when you examine a Gamecube notes that it's using a Game Boy Advance as a controller. "Yeah." I thought. "They wish."

The number of Gamecube games that actually used a Game Boy Advance as a controller can be counted on one hand. The number of games that actually made intelligent use of this innovation can be counted on one finger. I mean, sure, when you give a player a GBA, you take away two face buttons, two analog sticks, and you take the analog out of the shoulder buttons, but think of everything you gain! An entire screen for each player!


If there was ever any real reason to have a game where players needed their own screen to play, Nintendo never actually stepped up to the plate to demonstrate it. In the end, if a game required that sort of private display, it just made more sense to release that game for the Game Boy Advance in the first place.

Well, okay, fine, GBA as a controller is a wash. But think of what you can do by transfering data from GBA games to Gamecube games!

Yeah, fine. So we got another generation of Pokemon Stadium and Mario Sports games where you could transfer character stats. Oh, and don't forget all of those really cool and innovative "unlock something in your game by proving that you've purchased a copy of it for both systems" bonuses we got.

But hey, you can download mini-games and play them on the go! Why stick a cartridge in your GBA and play a full-featured game when you can boot up your Gamecube, wait for it to load, find the download section buried in the menu, and spend a minute downloading a tiny sliver of a game that most old NES games can put to shame?

No one cashed in on the full potential of the Gamecube game link. Here it is folks, five years too late. You have some sort of game where building character stats is important. This game is made for the Gamecube, understand. As you're reaching the end of your playtime, you download a mini-game that lets you continue to build those stats up while you're on the road. When you return home, you upload your improved character back into the game. Amazing Island had a system like this. No one else. No one.

In the end, Nintendo had to start bribing developers to use the feature, and what we ended up with was a bunch of stupid, uninspired gimmicks. After hyping up the feature for so long, Nintendo finally, quietly, folded it up and stuck it away. But the ordeal left a bad taste in the mouths of many, many fans.

Mario Does the Weekly Shopping

And then, the final thing that the Gamecube will be remembered for -- it was the console where Mario jumped the shark.

Of course, Mario has been doing cameos and spinoffs practically since his birth. And most of them were pretty good games, deserving of their own series -- Dr. Mario, Mario Paint, Super Mario Kart, Mario Party, Paper Mario, and so on. But this generation, it started to feel a little tired.

We got sequels to the Mario spinoffs that have proven to be most popular in the past -- the Mario Party, the Mario Kart, the Mario Golf and Tennis. Well fine. We got some more Mario sports -- baseball and soccer. Eh. On Game Boy Advance we got Mario Pinball Land. Yuck.

Then we got Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix.

See... Hmmm.

Not that it's a bad game, mind you. It's perfect for a beginning DDR player, someone who's interested in playing the game but not in intense competition. And the first-party dance mat is one of the nicest music game peripherals it has ever been my pleasure to use. But to see the trappings of a DDR game married to the aesthetic of the Mushroom Kingdom is, at best, unnatural. It sends a very clear message: Nintendo is afraid of new things. They're afraid that a game won't sell without their mascot on it. Mario is their face -- people won't associate something with Nintendo if he's not on it.

And let's not even think of the third-party sports games that Nintendo imposed the Mario Brothers upon to attract some attention to them.

So in the end, what was the Gamecube? An experiment in ideas that went nowhere. Evolutionary dead-ends left and right, a weakening of the ideas that used to work so well in the past, and an ever-stronger reliance on the ever-diminishing brand power of Super Mario.

But hey, the Game Boy Advance was a pretty popular system. That must've done better, right?

Super Mario Regress

One of the biggest criticisms about the Game Boy Advance was that it was a port machine. A disappointing number of big-name Nintendo titles that came out for the system were either developed by a different company (Mario & Luigi, The Minish Cap) or recreations of old NES and SNES games (Super Mario Advance, Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland, A Link to the Past). This is to say nothing about the NES e-cards or the Classic NES game series. Nintendo was really phoning it in for this system, and they weren't the only ones. Quicker than you could say "portable SNES", companies started churning out ports from their classic libraries to make a quick buck on the GBA. At least Sega had the guts to authorize (even if they didn't exactly make them themselves) recreations of classic Dreamcast games on the considerably less powerful GBA hardware.

And, of course, we got updates to some of our favorite series. Disappointing updates. Updates that sucked all of the fun out of game series that I used to treasure. First, Warioland 4 failed in every way to live up to the huge and fascinating adventure that was Warioland 3. Then Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire killed off the fun of Pokemon collecting. And then Mario vs. Donkey Kong made a sheepish attempt at the magnificence of 1994's update to Donkey Kong on the original monochrome Game Boy. And Mario Party Advance.


If it hadn't been for the birth of the Wario Ware series, I daresay Nintendo would have dropped the Game Boy Advance as thoroughly as they did the Gamecube. Fortunately, there he was, big burly Wario, with a complete wardrobe makeover and a gaggle of crazy developers, ready to jam a potato up Nintendo's tailpipe and crash the party with the weirdest and coolest collection of video games ever committed to silicon.

And fortunately, he wasn't the only one.

Diamonds in the Rough

The Game Boy Advance wasn't a bad system by any means. If you knew where to look, you could get past all of the rehashed garbage that flooded the system and find some real treasures. Advance Wars was a welcome addition to the list of intellectual properties that Nintendo finally decided the West was ready to enjoy. Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga was a more worthy addition to the Mario RPG series than the completely first-party Paper Mario for Nintendo 64 had been. Rayman 3 quickly became one of my favorite platforming games of all time, 2D or otherwise. Ham Ham Games was an unexpected pleasure. And The Tower SP -- terrific little skyscraper-building sim, if you could find it.

And then there was the terrific selection of anthology packs. Best of all was Activision Anthology, a collection of 56 Atari 2600 games, complete with full online instructions. Nintendo gave us the best Game & Watch Gallery yet, with fully 20 playable Game & Watch classics, including ground-breaking games like Climber, Bombsweeper, and Zelda, not to mention 11 Modern mode games. And Telegames brought us their Ultimate collection cartridges: Ultimate Brain Games, Ultimate Card Games, Ultimate Arcade Games, and Ultimate Puzzle games. There was no lack of games to pick up and play on the Game Boy Advance.

Good Night, Sweet e-Reader

But let's not forget what was lost. The e-Reader could have been so much cooler than it was. There's something marvelous about having a deck of cards that can be used to make video games come to life. It was a case of going only halfway with a good idea -- it was underused both as a platform for game development and as a means of updating existing games with new content. A good idea in the hands of a company that didn't actually want to do anything with it. And that, ultimately, seems to be the story of Nintendo, for the most recent generation of video games anyway.

So those are my personal memories of Nintendo for the Gamecube and the Game Boy Advance. We had a giggle, but for the most part, I look back on both systems as being pretty bland and uninspired. Very little of it stuck with me the way their older classics did.

So why do I remain a Nintendo fan if I was so disappointed by the last generation? Partly it's just blind brand loyalty -- I haven't stopped craving video games, and the other big companies haven't done much to demonstrate that they can be everything that I want Nintendo to be. But partly it's because Nintendo is really redeeming themselves with the lineup on the DS. They're branching out with some decidedly original and welcome new series in the Touch Generations line and attracting the funky third party games that I crave -- Feel the Magic, Cooking Mama, Phoenix Wright, Trauma Center, Pac-Pix, and so on.

I still have my misgivings about the Wii. It has some amazing potential, but it's going to take some very creative minds in the industry to unlock it. And frankly, sometimes I wonder how much creativity is still out there. Still, it's bound to be a change from the last generation. And change is good.


Thursday, October 12, 2006


Five Reasons I Love My DS Lite

I bought my first DS as more of an impulse than for any actual reason. Sure, I was pleased with it and all, but it didn't really have a single killer application that I could point to and say "This is why I had to spend $150 on a new portable video game system."

Coming up on two years of Nintendo DS (and having upgraded to the DS Lite), I love my Nintendo DS even more. I still can't say there's one single, all-encompassing reason for it. But I can think of five:

It's just so damned sexy.

I never thought I'd turn into one of those people who values what something looks like as opposed to what it does, but why not? The DS Lite is beautiful. Folded or opened, it's slick, it's sexy, it's cool. I can appreciate a statue or a painting just for its appearance even if it doesn't do anything, so why not appreciate my portable video game system if it looks like it was carved from ivory by flights of angels?

Free Wireless Online Play

Online isn't important, but at least I don't have to pay anything for it. For all of the nonsense that we have to put up with to connect to other DS gamers around the world (not the least of which are getting a compatible wireless router and dishing out friend codes), it's neat when it comes together. Now people from all over the world can enjoy the thrill of beating me at Tetris. It's not something I use especially much, but it's nice to know it's there when I do.

Game Boy Advance Video

When Majesco first started making Game Boy Advance Video cartridges, I thought it was a neat idea wasted on stupid content. I mean... 45 minutes of animated TV shows? Specifically, the kind that are marketted pointedly to the under 13 set? Eh.

But now they've finally got cartridges large enough to hold a full-length movie. Moreover, they have cartridges that contain movies I'm actually interested in watching. I'm the proud owner of Shrek and Shrek 2 on GBA Video. Yes, I already have the DVDs, yes the quality is crap, yes I should get a portable DVD player if what I actually want is portable movies. You know what, I don't care. I can have a movie hang out in my Slot 2 and switch over to it if I just want to vegetate and watch pretty pictures for a while. And c'mon -- there's something inescapably charming about watching a ridiculously overproduced Dreamworks movie on something with the resolution of a webcam.

Touch Generations

May have mentioned it, but I'm a sucker for the simple, quirky games that find their home on the DS. See, there's a reason I've been more of a portable gamer than a console gamer for the past two generations. Portable systems have gotten to the point where they're capable of delivering an experience that was once only possible on home systems, and yet they're still considered "small" enough that developers will give weird, funky little projects like Brain Age or Nintendogs a go on them.

Five Must-Have Games

And the piece de resistance -- five games that every DS owner should have.

Super Mario 64 DS -- A truly legendary game that's given an update that shows all of the respect and reverence that it should for the original concept. For the first time, Mario explores not levels, but actual worlds. And you can explore important geographical locations like Cool Cool Mountain and Jolly Roger Bay anytime and anywhere.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Blue Rescue Team -- 'Nuff said.

Mario Vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis -- The main quest is okay. The true value of this game, however, comes from its full-featured level editor. Now you can create your very own Mario World and create all of the puzzling platform challenges that your twisted imagination will allow.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney -- An interactive legal drama, filled with delicious twists and turns and masterful story arcs. It's thrilling, it's zany, and it's occasionally bone-chilling. Who cares if there's no challenge once you've figured out the puzzles? It has the replay value of a great television series, and Capcom was even nice enough to give us a made-for-TV-movie in the form of Chapter 5.

Clubhouse Games -- Forty-two classic games. Board games, card games, and even a handful of action games like Billiards, Darts, and Bowling. Play solitaire. Play against friends. Play against the computer. Play against the internet. If you get only one Touch Generations game, make it this one.


Saturday, October 07, 2006


Pokemon Mystery Dungeon

Ah, autumn. It's my favorite time of year. It's traditionally a time of dormancy, for everything to curl up and get ready for a winter snooze. But for me, autumn brings renewal. It's a time for my brain to cool down, to snuggle up with sweatpants and sweatshirts, eat candy apples, watch the leaves turn colors, and enjoy lots of bright, clear days before the sky turns to gray and we all get snowed in. And, inexplicably, my mind turns to thoughts of wandering through underground caverns, slaying monsters, and searching for golden riches. There's something about the feel and the smell of autumn that makes me work up an appetite for a good dungeon crawler.

'Tis the Season

I must have been introduced to Dungeons & Dragons in the fall. A friend of mine showed me the game when I was in middle school and took me through my first adventure. It was brief; the first monster I met handed my ass to me, and I didn't feel much like trying again. Still, something about it stuck with me -- the funny-shaped dice, the miles of charts and graphs and tables and character sheets, it poured like warm water across my geeky brain and seduced me with sinful, dirty thoughts.

I received my own Basic Set shortly thereafter and tried, with no degree of success, to run a game of my own. Still, from time to time, I'd pick up new rule books just to leaf through them, and even today I'll glance through the rules of RPG systems with no intention of ever actually playing them, just enjoying the thought of getting a bunch of nerds around a table and throwing tetrahedrons around.

The major epiphany, of course, was that people were making computer games that mimiced a good dungeon crawl. My first dungeon crawl was, appropriately enough, Moraff's Revenge. Ah, the hours I used to spend in those black and red mazes, carefully plotting my course lest I fall through a trap floor into an area too dangerous for my experience level, hauling out huge troves of precious metals and enchanted weapons. I tried the expanded Moraff's World, but it didn't have that pure simplicity that Revenge had.

There were other games, of course. Hero Quest consumed a lot of my teenage tabletop gaming time. I've dabbled from time to time in Nethack, but found it to be too involved for my tastes. I played Phantasy Star Online for a while, as well as various other real-time dungeon hacks, but I missed the turn-based gameplay and grid-based worlds. I've played some of the Final Fantasy RPGs (and those clearly inspired by it), but they don't quite fill that niche that I'm looking for. And, being a geek, I've programmed countless games myself over the years, some of which I've actually rather enjoyed.

Still, for too long now, I've been looking for something that can give me the feeling I got when I first clicked with Moraff's Revenge.

The Rise and Fall of the Pocket Monsters

I don't watch Japanese culture all that closely, but Pokemon didn't take me by surprise. I knew it was coming.

I had been warned.

Somehow, Nintendo had gotten ahold of my mailing address and deemed it necessary to put a portion of the budget for their enormous marketing blitz toward sending me a promotional video that explained the wonders of Pokemon. I was impressed from the very start. Those were the days of the black and white Game Boy, you see, and new games that promised any degree of depth were few and far between. I have to admit, I was tickled by the idea of a game that was all about catching wild monsters and training them to fight.

I got the red version on launch day and spent the next few weeks engrossed in it, collecting scores and scores of pocket monsters. I appreciated the game partly for its incidental similarities to Earthbound, but mostly because it made me feel like I was in another world, filled with strange and fantastic creatures and a million discoveries waiting to be made. It really did put me in the role of a field researcher, hunting down, categorizing, and recording over a hundred different species. I eventually got the blue version as well, but I never quite managed to catch them all.

After years of weird and sometimes unfathomable spinoffs (Pokemon Snap anyone?), we finally got the true sequel in the Gold and Silver versions. And with a real-time clock, the world of Pokemon became a living, breathing thing like no other game had ever managed to accomplish before. With Kanto and Johto side by side, the game world felt much more complete and "real". The number of things to find and do was just sick. I've reset my red and blue games countless times to play through the adventure again, but I've never reset my Gold version -- I just never felt it was necessary.

With the Game Boy Advance necessarily came a new generation of Pokemon. Somehow, the ball was dropped. Real-time play was missing. The world was shrunk back down to one country. The game got bogged down with a lot of useless, annoying, and undeveloped ideas. The series, I felt, had finally jumped the shark.

No, I'm not interested in the Diamond or Pearl versions. When game developers lose sight of what made their original concept great, they don't easily get it back.

So what happens when a new direction for an aging game series meets the revival of a classic genre that's been all but lost to the ages?

A truly magnificent game. And that's what Pokemon Mystery Dungeon is. (See, took me a while, but I got to the game I'm actually reviewing here.)

Friends in Need

A strong premise makes any game better, and Pokemon Mystery Dungeon -- Red Rescue Team for Game Boy Advance and Blue Rescue Team for DS -- has a doozy. You begin the game as a human being who's been transformed into a Pokemon, and you've lost most of your memories of life as a human. What's more, you find yourself in a world where there's no humans -- just Pokemon living together in unrealistic, idyllic harmony. However, natural disasters are disrupting the balance of the world, and no sooner are you discovered in the woods by another Pokemon (who becomes your inseparable partner for most of the game) than you're recruited to start a Rescue Team. Rescue Teams are bands of Pokemon who team up to save other Pokemon that have been hurt or lost and clobber lots and lots of other Pokemon that have become mean and feral as a result of these natural disasters.

So right off the bat, this game appeals to me on several levels. Yes, I love the idea of being this cute little Mudkip and just cuting the living hell out of everything. But more importantly, the sense of purpose here is terrific. I'm not just a Pokemon -- I'm a Pokemon with a job. And not just any job -- a job I love. I get to wander around mazes, grab cool treasures that are lying around on the ground, and beat the pinecones out of anything that gets near me. It's a much-needed change of pace from previous Pokemon games, with their focus on catching new Pokemon and beating Gym leaders. You can still "catch 'em all" if you really want -- all 386 Pokemon from Red/Blue, Gold/Silver, and Ruby/Saphhire are in the game, and all of them are eligible candidates to join your Rescue Team -- but the real point of the game is all about saving the world one Pokemon at a time.

There's an overall storyline to the game, and plenty of plot-specific events (and to describe them would be to spoil them), but the real value of the game comes from its random missions. The game town has a bulletin board, and different rescue missions are randomly generated and posted to it. Some missions will be delivered to the mailbox outside your house. So if, like me, you're fascinated with the idea of living the life of a Pokemon hero, you'll have an endless supply of missions to attempt -- rescue missions, escort missions, delivery missions, and retrieval missions. What's more, all dungeon floor layouts are randomly generated -- there's always something new waiting to be explored. Forwarding the main story will give you access to new areas with harder opponents, but for the most part, you'll have the freedom to take things as you want to.

And luckily for me, the gameplay behind the premise is just as marvelous.

A Little Bit of Nethack

When I tried to run my Dungeons & Dragons games oh so long ago, I played without miniatures, partly because I couldn't afford the nice ones and partly because it just seemed like too much of a hassle for me. I ran combat more or less like an early Final Fantasy game -- it was assumed that everybody was within striking distance of everybody else, nobody got in each other's way, etc.

But then I made the transition to Hero Quest, and it was like seeing the world for the first time. Planning combat around movement rates and attack ranges gave it such a degree of depth that I began to wonder how I'd managed without it.

Most video game RPGs are a disappointment in that respect. I liked Final Fantasy Tactics Advance until it became clear that the developers loved their gameplay-restricting Law system too much for their own good. My best experience for tactical turn-based combat in an RPG was on the Game Boy Advance version of Dungeons & Dragons: Eye of the Beholder -- excellent for its implementation of D&D movement and combat rules, but disappointing in just about every other way imaginable.

Of course, on the other hand you have RPGs where combat is in real time, or the turn-based combat is hidden under a thick coat of real-time action (as in Neverwinter Nights). While I can applaud developers for making advances in how we play our RPGs, it just doesn't sit quite right with me. Basically, when I get a dungeon crawl, I want a board game, not an action game.

So I was nearly turned off by the people who described Mystery Dungeon as being "nearly real-time", and especially the reviews that mentioned how your other party members were completely AI-controlled. That sounds a bit too much like Final Fantasy Adventure, a game that gives me nightmares to this very day for its unsatisfying battle system, stupid AI companions, and a completely unfair puzzle that made me swear off of it part of the way into the game.

Lucky me, I took the plunge anyway. And what I found was what I'd been missing for so many years.

The gameplay immediately reminded me of Nethack. Every level is essentially a giant gameboard, and your party members (identified by a small circle underneath them) and all of the "wild" Pokemon in the game are pawns on that gameboard. Every action you take -- whether it's an attack, using an item, or moving forward one square -- counts as a turn. You take your turn, the AI takes a turn for the rest of your party members, and then every Pokemon on the level gets to take its turn. Exploration and combat are tactical, with no artificial in-game distinctions between the two.

The similarities to Nethack don't end there. All of the money (poke) and items on a level start out lying around on the ground. Walk over something, and you'll pick it up. Wild Pokemon can also pick up items they find around the level, and some of them can use them too. Food is another important gameplay element. You have to bring (or find!) a sufficient supply of food for your dungeon explorations. Every action you take ticks down on your Belly score, and when it hits zero, you start losing hit points until you collapse from hunger.

And, of course, there's the AI party members. In Nethack, you had an animal companion. In Mystery Dungeon, you can have as many as three different pocket monsters following you around on your adventures. While I was a bit apprehensive about a game that wouldn't let me control every member of my party, I found the AI to be satisfactory. (And I can even see it as being a mark in the game's favor -- having to direct every action for all four Pokemon could have gotten cumbersome after a while.) There are scores of options that you can use to tweak your party members' aggressiveness and behavior, and they can be modified at will, even on a turn-by-turn basis if necessary. For example, as I approach a boss battle, I will tell my Charmander companion to Go After Enemies, to only use his special moves, and to ignore Tackle and just concentrate on the fire-type move Ember that the boss is weak against. This can lead to some minor annoyances -- exploring a dungeon and my Charmander starts wandering away because I forgot to tell him to start ignoring enemies again -- but these are just as easily fixed.

Thankfully, the game isn't as complex as Nethack. It's essentially Nethack Lite -- the game for people who like the dungeon crawling gameplay, but just can't be bothered to learn the nuances of the game. All the fun, none of the over-reaching simulation.

A Little Bit of Pokemon

Of course, the main Pokemon series has always been a turn-based RPG, so it's not too much of a stretch to adapt it to this new gameplay paradigm. As in the original series, Pokemon can learn a total of four moves, and you can add to their repetoire either by leveling them up or using a Technical Machine that you find in a dungeon. Elemental type matchups are still a major part of the game -- every Pokemon has an elemental type or two, with strengths and weaknesses against other types. Evolution is still an option, but it doesn't become available until much later in the game.

And each version of the game has 381 different Pokemon wandering around in the wild. By transfering the 5 Pokemon that are unique to either version (you knew they were going to make you do some trading, didn't you?) you can have a complete roster of 386 different types of Pokemon. And every single one of them can be recruited as a member of your team. Yes, even the legendary Pokemon. Yes, even Mew, Celebi, and Jirachi. Go ahead. Just try and catch them all this time around. Recruiting new Pokemon is as simple as defeating them in the wild, but it's not always easy. There are ways to increase your chances of making a good impression on a wild Pokemon that you just beat the snot out of -- a leader with a high level who deals the last blow at short range is one way -- but some of them will be quite elusive indeed. This game is a Pokemon-catcher's dream come true.

And much to my delight, the developers weren't happy to simply copy and paste Pokemon moves from the original series to this game. Many of the moves work slightly differently in this game thanks to the tactical style of battles. Ability-changing moves like Growl usually affect every opposing Pokemon in a room, and a few moves like Flamethrower and Quick Attack can be used from a distance, affecting any Pokemon in your line of sight. You can also opt to take a weak, non-elemental "basic" attack. Unlike the moves a Pokemon learns, you don't need any PP to do a basic attack -- great if you want to save your strongest moves for the bottom of a 99-floor dungeon. With all of the strategic possibilities, I can't imagine going back to the boring old one-on-one system.

A Little Bit of Animal Crossing

With its emphasis on day-to-day life and finding adventure without an overimposing storyline to guide you, you'll find lots of parallels to the appeal of Animal Crossing in this game. The depth to the game is unmatched. I picked up the Official Strategy Guide and took a glance through its whopping 192 pages. The number of hidden events and side quests you can tease out of this game is absolutely sick. The casual player may never find half the stuff that's packed into this game and still be completely happy with the seemingly bottomless wealth of things to find, tasks to complete, and Pokemon to befriend and evolve.

And it gets better. When Animal Crossing debutted on the Gamecube, an online community sprung up around it even though it couldn't be played over the internet. This is because the game let players generate passwords that would let them trade items with other people from around the world.

It's the same thing all over again with Pokemon Mystery Dungeon.

First of all, every mission that you find in your game -- whether it comes in your mailbox or it's posted on the bulletin board in town -- has a password associated with it called "Wonder Mail". You can post this password online and someone else can pick it up and put it in their game to play the exact same mission with the same objectives and reward.

Now that's fine and all, but what's even better is that players from around the world can help each other out in the main quest. If you're defeated in a dungeon, you normally lose all of your money and quite a few of your carried items. To avoid this fate, the game gives you the option to send out an SOS to other rescue teams from around the world. The game gives you a password. You post it to a website where other players meet. Someone else enters that password into their game, and your party shows up in their game, waiting to be rescued. When they rescue you, they send you an A-OK password. You enter it into your game, and presto! You come back to life exactly where you left off, all of your items intact, and all of your party members completely healed. You should, of course, send them a Thank You password to show your appreciation -- you can even send them an item that you have in storage.

This game gives you options out the wazoo -- you can make a connection with other players of the game like never before. Passwords are interchangable between the Blue and Red versions. If you're playing together locally, two DS versions can exchange information wirelessly with no passwords, and two GBA versions can exchange information through a link. A DS and GBA version can link together by sticking them in either end of a DS. It's surprising how little the feature is played up -- perhaps even more than the original Pokemon games, this is a game that encourages players to get together. Cooperatively, not competitively.

A Rant About Video Game Reviewers Disguised as a Section of My Review

So how does the gaming community in general embrace a game that so inspires me to sing its praises?

"A general dungeon run (which is 95% of the game) is about as painfully boring as can be. My Pokemon often ended up with nicknames like 'ThisSucks' or 'Ugh'." -- Planet Gamecube

"This style of gameplay certainly has its following, as ChunSoft has been doing this type of game for years. But its implementation in Pokemon Mystery Dungeon hasn't evolved a whole lot to provide enough variety that'll sustain its extensive storyline." -- IGN

"Lovers of all things Pokémon are bound to be disappointed by Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, as are those looking for a role-playing game to play on their preferred Nintendo handheld." -- Gamespot

"Like most spin-off titles, Mystery Dungeon fails to capture the spirit and replay incentives that made the core products so irresistible to gamers of all ages." -- Gamepro

Yeah, I know. They're entitled to their opinion. I just wish they weren't so wrong.

But hey, that's what I've got Electric Dilintia for. Finally, the record can be set straight as I carve indelibly in stone the proclamation that Pokemon Mystery Dungeon is, in fact, the bee's knees and radical dude. I will probably never need another dungeon crawl, not ever again for as long as I live. Portable and infinitely replayable, just the way I like it. Thanks Chun Soft!


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