Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Three Years!

Well, the blog's another year older, and not a day wiser. It's been a pretty good year for video games, eh? I mean, my home console of choice is the Wii, and I still ended the year with more games than I know what to do with.

We got the one-two punch of Wii Fit and Wii Music, that zany, ground-breaking software that only Nintendo would have the balls to put forward as their major productions for the year. Yeah, I know, none of the cool kids got into them, but I am not, nor have I ever been, a cool kid. Despite lapses in my commitment to Wii Fit, it continues to see frequent use in my home, and yes, I do attribute my slimmer waistline to the time that I've spent jogging my character around Wii Fit Island. Wii Music, on the other hand, sits neglected. I'll pick it up now and then, fiddle around with the instrument practice for a bit, and get charmed all over again by the magic of playing this wide assortment of imaginary musical instruments. But when I actually try to start up a song, I just get overwhelmed by all of the creative possibility. It's been a long time since I've finished an entire arrangement. I still hold that it's a fine piece of software, but goodness gosh is it ever hard to get into.

In happier music game news, the Wii's enormous install base finally convinced EA to bring Rock Band to our favorite wagglemote system of joy, and stiff competition from Guitar Hero: World Tour inspired them to also bring us the good version just a couple months later. Rock Band 2 is about the coolest music video game I've ever played, combining the fun of playing three different kinds of rhythm games simultaneously with an actual simulation of rock band management. Hours of fun.

I got the new Animal Crossing for Christmas, and I'm glad I did, because I doubt I would have picked it up for myself. And yeah, while it's very similar to previous entries in the series, there are a lot of little things that add up to make it a unique experience in its own right. It helped me to realize why I didn't like the DS version very much -- Animal Crossing, at its core, is an experience that's meant to be shared with other real people. The DS is my personal system -- I don't pass it around the house, so nobody played Wild World with me. City Folk, on the other hand, has demonstrated how much fun you can get out of a simple premise if you have everyone in your house seeing the same world, placing their own influences on it, and interpreting the events differently. And now there's the option to send mail to another city over the internet, even when your friend isn't on? Really, that's perfection right there -- exactly the way the system should be used.

The Wii got a port of Sam & Max Season One, and now I can see what all the fuss is about. I saw the potential of episodic adventure games the first time I played Phoenix Wright -- little bite-sized adventure scraps that add up to a long, arcing storyline -- but Sam & Max realizes that potential. Each episode is short enough that it can be played through in a single afternoon. Each one feels like a complete, self-contained experience, but contributes to the overall arc of the game. The puzzles and obstacles are very creative and fun to pick apart, but the solutions never degenerate into "rub everything against everything else". Everything can be thought through, and Max can offer a helpful hint here and there. I only got completely stuck twice, and only because I had missed an item I was supposed to pick up. It's a great game, and I look forward to Season Two.

And speaking of Telltale Games making awesome stuff for the Wii, how about that Wii Ware, eh? Tiny, lovely video games that you can buy from your couch. There have been some pretty impressive and ambitious projects in the past year. Lost Winds and Defend Your Castle have really stuck with me, and I continue to play them pretty regularly. The Strong Bad games were, of course, a total surprise. I've been a big Homestar Runner fan for years now, and to see them break into console gaming -- and to see the games turn out so good! -- was fantastic. We've seen staples like Tetris and Dr. Mario. We've seen artsy fartsy projects that video game nerds go nuts over, like World of Goo and bit.trip BEAT (or however you capitalize that). And we've seen plenty of the stupid little tiny games that were specifically designed for my enjoyment because nobody else likes them, like My Pokemon Ranch and Bonsai Barber.

And yes, let us all thank goodness for Nintendo's automated SD transfer thingy. Managing system memory wasn't a huge deal for me, but gosh, isn't it just nicer to just see your whole collection there and say, "I'd like to play that one now" and then it happens?

I've really come to like the Nintendo Channel. Yeah, I know, it's just a marketing tool for Nintendo, but you know what? So was Nintendo Power magazine. At least this you don't have to pay for. And although the primary function of the channel seems to be to get people to buy games, it can also help you to stay excited about games you already own. A lot of the videos are just to watch. And hey, if not for the Nintendo Channel, I totally would have missed out on Order Up!, which is almost the cooking/restaurant management sim that I've always dreamed of.

My DS, on the other hand, has been losing a lot of attention over the last year; I didn't even do my annual "Ten/thirteen games I carry everywhere" thing. Part of it is a lack of exciting new releases, part of it is a desire to dig out my older portables and replay the classics. But thank goodness that we finally got Retro Game Challenge, a collection of unbelievably awesome, unbelievably complete, brand-new retro-style video games, tied together with a premise and a presentation that's just too good to ignore. When I finally got it, I spent a whole month playing nothing but Retro Game Challenge, just playing the whole thing from start to finish a good four or five times. I'm sure I haven't seen the last of it.

And finally, Personal Trainer: Cooking. Wow. Everything about this package screams "class". You can search for recipes by keywords, prep time, calories, country of origin, difficulty. You can put together a shopping list for recipes you want to make. Each recipe has a fully-voiced walkthrough, and you can navigate with voice commands so that you don't have to put down what you're doing. Some steps feature a demonstration video so you can make sure you're getting it right. I've made homemade chocolate mousse, pizza Margherita, caprese salad, and mac and cheese. It's all the fun of Cooking Mama, and you get something nice to eat in the end.

As for the old blog? Well, it hasn't been the most exciting year for talking about video games, has it? My hard-hitting Super Smash Brothers Brawl Characters review was nice to get off my chest. I did a postmortem for that one text adventure I did that one time. I did a cute little spoof of what I had believed, at the time, was unreasonable rumors surrounding an upgrade to the DS Lite. I had a brief moment of insight into why video game nerds are never happy and why Nintendo's gotta be like this. I wrote some very informative reviews of Mario Vs. Sonic: Super Olympic Games Challenge and Wario Ware: Smooth Moves.

All in all, not as excited as I used to be. Missed a couple months of content altogether. But hey, it's probably a good thing if I've got things I'd rather do than sit and write about video games.

I've still got some video game nerd in me.


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