Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Game Boy Lives!

My DS Lite continues to charm me with its smooth and sexy contours, and the games written for it are truly top-notch. The Phoenix Wright series, Cooking Mama, Elite Beat Agents, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, Puzzle Quest, Duck Amuck, Jam Sessions, a funky little web browser, and any number of cool mind-improvement games... there's no lack of new and innovative game designs on the DS.

But now and then, you have to go back for the classics.

I've gone back to my GBA SP lately for three reasons, in order of increasing importance:

1) The button placement on the DS makes it a less than perfect GBA device. Those extra 20 degrees of incline between the B and A buttons just makes the DS feel unnatural to me when I want to play my favorite action games.

2) The DS won't play the original-model Game Boy games. When I want to get my Pokemon Trading Card Game on, I really don't have any other choice. My Game Boy Color still works, but the worn-out buttons and unlit screen makes me rather sad.

3) My SP is colored like an NES, which is nifty.

So, as I am wont to do, I've decided to put together a little list of all the Game Boy games that still hold my attention in this brave new era of complete DS dominance.

Donkey Kong (1994)

Despite being black & white and on Game Boy, Donkey Kong holds up as one of the best-looking Mario games of all time. Stuffed with lively animation and cool moves that would pave the way for Super Mario 64, Donkey Kong is a gem of a game that blows away its arcade counterpart in every conceivable way. There's 100 levels to enjoy here, and you can spend an afternoon munching them down like potato chips. Each one has a cute puzzle to unravel, a cute new take on the original barrel-leaping gameplay, or both.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

I was familiar with the Zelda series prior to this game, but this was the first one I really fell in love with. Being on the Game Boy, it doesn't receive the credit it deserves for the innovations that it brought to the Zelda series, including jumping and a button-activated shield. And, of course, there's the fact that the game does an excellent job of blending absurd humor with heartbreaking plot revelations -- yes, it's the Mother of all Zelda games.

Pokemon Trading Card Game

Picked this game up again the other day, and I've been busying myself with scores of card battles. There's nothing quite like managing to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with a well-timed Scoop Up.


Oh bite me, it's fun. Monopoly is one of the most famous board games of the past century for a good reason -- the mix of strategy and luck makes every match a real nail-biter. And having the luxury of opponents that you can murder simply by turning them off makes losing just a little less painful.

Beauty & The Beast: A Board Game Adventure

Yeah, I'm just as surprised as you are. But every once in a while, I have to dig up this weird little Mario Party wannabe from the dark ages of when Mario Party was still a novelty. All I can say in my own defense is that it's a surprisingly complete package for a licensed Mario Party knockoff on the Game Boy Color.

Harvest Moon GB

I've fallen out of love with the Harvest Moon series primarily because, in its efforts to be realistic, it's just gotten too damned complicated. Give me the first Game Boy version, where all you have to worry about is making sure your vegetables get watered and harvested. Yeah, that feels real good.

Ultimate Card Games

Clubhouse Games was nice and all, but it never ruined my love for Ultimate Card Games. Take the Five Card Draw Poker, for instance, where you play until everyone runs out of money except one player. Or the fifteen exciting flavors of Solitaire. Add a smooth and creamy soundtrack and digital photograph wallpapers, and you've got an unbeatable playing card package.

The Tower SP

Boy am I glad I found this one when I had the chance! Sim Tower is one of my favorite Sim games of all time, and having a portable version of it is bliss. Designing a skyscraper -- with shops, restaurants, office space, hotel rooms, and even movie theaters -- is an awful lot of fun. The sacrifices made in the conversion from PC to GBA are worth it to have the experience everywhere you go.

Hamtaro Ham-Ham Games

It's more than just Track & Field with Hamsters -- it's an adventure game. That revolves around Track & Field events. With hamsters.

Rayman 3

Easily the best platformer designed specifically for the GBA, and quite likely one of the best platformers of all time period. Playing Rayman 3 is like trying to build a rollercoaster while it's rumbling down the tracks -- fast, exhilarating, and fun.

Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga

There's any number of reasons why Superstar Saga is the height of the strange and storied Mario RPG series. You get to play simultaneously as Mario & Luigi. The RPG elements are more traditional than the ones in Paper Mario. The action elements are truer to the Mario universe than The Legend of the Seven Stars. It's easily the funniest game in the lot. It has a twisting storyline that defies the "gather seven powerful things" convention. And it's portable!

Space Channel 5

While it lacks the Dreamcast's next-gen graphic superpower, Space Channel 5 on the Game Boy Advance keeps the heart and soul of the game intact with well-placed voice acting, generally decent visuals, and Mexican Flyer. It's just good enough to be worth playing.

Wario Ware Inc: Mega Micro Game$ and Twisted

A pair of minigame packs that go everywhere with me. The zany pace, unforgettable characters, and irresistible fun make these good games to keep on hand wherever you go.

Activision Anthology

A pack of 56 Atari games on one cartridge? Sounds like a recipe for success to me! From board games to arcade games to a space shuttle flight simulator, this game's got a little something for everyone.

Ultimate Puzzle Games

Because sometimes, it's nice just to kick back and fill in a crossword puzzle. I haven't finished this virtual puzzle book yet, and it's nice to know that when I do, all I have to do is clear out the memory and I'll have a fresh book to do all over again.

Mario Party Advance

Huh. How'd this one get in here?


Sunday, October 14, 2007


Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck

Oh my God. Do you remember Duck Amuck? Yes you do. It was the cartoon where Daffy Duck is being harassed by the animator. Erased, redrawn, put in silly situations... see? See? You remember it.

They made that into a video game.

You play the animator and the object is to drive Daffy crazy.

If that lead-in doesn't tickle you, then turn back now.

Go on.


How to Piss Off a Cartoon Duck

The first time you turn the game on, you're treated to an extended animated sequence. It begins with Daffy Duck starring in a platforming video game, but it isn't long before the background runs out and turns into a Duck Dodgers setting. Surprised, Daffy changes outfits and pulls out a blaster, firing at imaginary video game enemies. The background changes once again, placing Daffy in a disco. Somewhat more annoyed, he changes outfits again and begins dancing. Finally, the background vanishes altogether, and Daffy finally confronts you (in the role of the... programmer?) regarding the fact that this is a handheld video game, and that a little more structure would be appreciated.

Too bad for him.

Okay, let's get this out of the way right now. Duck Amuck the video game can't keep up with the frantic pace and surreal reality breaks that made Duck Amuck the cartoon such a well-loved masterpiece. You're not writing your own cartoon. There's technical limitations. WHAT THE HELL DO YOU PEOPLE WANT FROM ME?!

But it keeps the spirit of the cartoon intact. First of all, through gorgeous animation. There's more cutscenes in this game than in all of the Final Fantasy games combined, and they're fully-animated, fully-scored, and fully-voiced. Things being as they are, you couldn't get any closer to the feeling of a real cartoon without ripping out the interactive aspects.

And second of all, the game is all about screwing with conventions. There's essentially no fourth wall in the game. There's spoofs of classic video games all over the place, usually with Daffy as the player, where your objective is to make him lose. And, of course, the main attraction -- your quest to blow Daffy's top -- is presented in a completely unstructured way.

Let's see if I can explain how it works. The object of the game is to blow Daffy's temper (represented by a thermometer that pops up every time his mood changes). To do this, you engage him in "gags" -- little minigames where you try to blow him up. And you trigger gags by...

Well, the main screen of the game is just Daffy against a white background. If you wait a few seconds, a random cutscene will start to unfurl, sometimes with some sort of interactive element. For example, a switch will appear over Daffy's head, and you can use it to mess with the lights. This will lead to a minigame where Daffy is trying to light a candle, and you have to trick him into picking up a piece of lit dynamite. His rage meter will go up or down depending on your success. Of course, there are also lots of cutscenes that are just there to be amusing. Daffy will count the pixels on the screen, you'll get a chance to sketch an anvil to drop on his head, and so on.

Then there are ways to proactively trigger gags. Poking Daffy, for example, will inspire him to bring out three buckets of paint. One possible outcome is to paint him up as Robin Hood, triggering a minigame where he flings himself through the air like an arrow, and you have to blow into the microphone to affect his trajectory.

If you win enough minigames, Daffy will finally blow his lid, you'll get another cute cutscene, and the credits roll. And then you'll return to Daffy on the white screen, calm and placid once again, ready for another round of abuse.

The whole concept sort of reminds me of Feel the Magic, especially with the bonuses that are on offer.

And Extras!

Several of the cutscenes have "secret spots" that you can poke with your stylus to find Character Coins. Gathering them all is probably the longest activity in the game. For, you know. People who like long things.

Also, if you flick Daffy off the screen, you'll open up a menu where you can access all of the minigames that you've unlocked. A couple of them are amusing outside of the game's larger structure, and all of them feature "advanced levels" that you can only reach if you play them through the menu.

There's a coloring book feature where you can color a picture of any character you have a coin for. There's a few soundboard toys that you can play with. And there are two "bonus reels" with some behind-the-scenes goodies -- one obviously a gag, the other more serious -- about the making of the game.

Hooray For Toys!

The game isn't very long. You can play it start to finish in the space of half an hour. The joy of the game is in its variability. You can get through it any which way you like. You can sit back and watch Daffy entertain you in his own iniminimitable fashion. You can reach the end in one sitting, turn it off, put it away, and pull it out again the next time you feel like engaging in an interactive cartoon.

And that's exactly what this project should be. It's like a Flash cartoon that's stuffed with Easter Eggs. You'll spend a pleasant afternoon finding everything that's in it, and then revisit it just for the joy of watching it again.

And there's an awful lot to do.

Not everyone will want to own this game, but I firmly believe that everyone should try it. In a world where characters licenses usually indicate a lack of ambition, it's refreshing to see a developer go after a license in order to try something new.


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