Friday, March 25, 2011


My Favorite Zelda Games

I hate Zelda games.

It took me a while to realize this. After all, how can you be a Nintendo fan if you don't like Zelda? But the first time I played The Ocarina of Time, I began to suspect it. And about three dungeons into The Wind Waker, I was sure of it.

From my experience, Zelda games aren't very good at guiding the player. On the one hand, they have very large, open worlds that lend themselves to lots of exploration and discovery. On the other hand, they impose very narrow, linear progression on the player. You need to solve puzzles in order to progress, but you often need specific items to solve those puzzles. On the other hand, you'll often need to solve puzzles in order to get those items. On top of that, the "puzzles" can sometimes be really unmotivated -- you have to shoot a statue in a dead end with an arrow, or you have to push every gravestone in the cemetery until you find the one with the secret passage underneath. The size of the world combined with the nature of the puzzles results in situations where you get hopelessly stuck, and it's not clear if it's because you're doing a puzzle wrong, you don't have the right item yet, or you're in the wrong place altogether. You could go to the internet at that point, but then you feel like you're cheating.

And god are they ever long! You can play for an hour and not make any useful progress whatsoever. Who the hell has time for this?

But at the same time, there are things I like about the Zelda games. I like the swordplay and the dungeon exploration and the cool items and the whole fantasy world. There is some appeal there.

So here's the short list of Zelda games I enjoy. These are the games that carry the spirit of the series without getting bogged down with all of the nonsense that usually makes me hate them.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

Top of the list is the first Zelda game I ever bothered to finish. Link's Awakening is remarkable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its tone. There's a really strange sense of humor that ties everything together in this game. The first time you meet Papahl, he lets you know that you're going to find him lost in the mountains later in the game. The world is sort of a medieval fantasy setting, and yet there are phone booths around the island that you can use to call for hints. Mushroom Kingdom enemies make appearances in side-scrolling sections, and Princess Toadstool even makes a cameo. There's an even in the game where the Significant Female Protagonist, Marin, follows you around, and she makes snide comments about some of the things you do, like checking the chests in other people's houses or playing your ocarina. It really reminds me of Earthbound -- you get the feeling that the people writing the dialogue were just having fun with it.

But the humor belies the grim nature of the game. Unlike most Zelda games, you're not out to save the world; you're just trying to get Link off this island so he can go home. But around the halfway point, you discover that the only way to leave this island is to destroy it. That was quite a shock for me -- the previous three Zelda games were pretty ethically clear, but this was comparatively pretty dark. The climax of the game is pretty bittersweet.

But enough about the story -- the thing that actually sets this game apart for me are the game mechanics. This game brought a lot of firsts to the Zelda series. This was the first game where you could equip any item you like to any button you like (well, the A and B buttons anyway). This was the first game (besides the black sheep Zelda II) where you had a jump button, which added a slight platforming element to the game. This was the first game where you could press a button to hold up your shield and it would block nearly any enemy you came into contact with. (This is probably the biggest reason why this is the first Zelda game I finished; it's a lot easier to avoid damage from enemies just by walking around with your shield up.) And this was the first game where your magic ocarina could play several different songs, each with a different magical effect. And there's just something about the look and feel of the game that's difficult to describe, like the way things bounce off of each other and the weird font they use for all of the text. There's just something really cute and fun about it.

The game world is also a lot easier to navigate than most Zelda games. This may be partly to do with the fact that it's a Game Boy game and there were limitations -- only one dungeon has a multi-level map, for example. But this is helped along by a hint hotline that will always tell you, generally, what your next move should be; a town library that offers a complete world map, including points of interest like character houses and dungeon entrances; and stone tablets in each dungeon that explain clear up some of the more obtuse puzzles that you'll come across.

Class act all around.

The Legend of Zelda

Yep, the original makes my list. It delights me that this series that invites fanboys to gush over its rich, detailed graphics and Tolkienesque storyline began as this 1986 game with low-res graphics and basically no plot.

Not to say the game looks bad; at its time it looked amazing, and even today I love how videogamey it looks and feels. I love the little animation and sound effect every time Link enters a cave. I love the fact that Link shoots lasers from his sword. I love the way trees look and the way rocky areas look. I love the roaring sound effect when you're close to a boss room. I love Link's death animation; it kind of reminds me of Pac Man. Yeah, there's the element of high fantasy and swordplay and everything, but I love the fact that this is a video game that knows it's a video game. Everything is very abstract and open to interpretation.

But the thing that really stuck with me was the instruction manual. There's not a lot of dialogue in the game, so the manual is what really brings the world to life. There's colorful illustrations of situations in the game to fuel your imagination. And there are little tidbits of text here and there that make your adventure feel a little more meaningful. My favorite is this passage from the section on starting up the game:

Link, the hero of The Legend of Zelda, does not yet exist. You create Link by first registering your player name. You may create a total of three different Link characters.

This is a really small detail, but I really loved it when I was ten. Most video games tell you who you are -- the character is already there, and you're just controlling him. But in The Legend of Zelda, the character doesn't exist yet! You select a slot, type in a name, and presto! A little elf guy appears right there on the screen! You made him! Maybe his name isn't even Link. Maybe he's named after yourself. It doesn't make a big different to the game, but it makes you feel like the game is a bit more your own somehow.

There are other little things. For instance, to explain gameplay in the overworld:

... use the cross button to move Link to the edge of the screen. When you get there, it scrolls right and the screen changes over to the neighboring scene. Do the same again and Link moves on to the next scene. That's how we can keep Link moving on to new scenes and new adventures.

I really liked that description: "new scenes and new adventures". It gives me the feeling that this game contains a multitude of different adventures -- there's one central goal to work toward, but every session you play is like its own little story, a chapter in the legend of your character. And that's certainly the feeling you get as you're playing the game. Though your progress is saved, you always start at "the beginning", so every session is kind of a trek, and you never know what you're going to find.

It's a little weird to complain about the obtuse nature of Zelda puzzles and then to compliment a game that's basically impossible without a strategy guide or a saint's patience for trial and error, but hey -- this game is old enough that I already know all of the solutions to the stupid puzzles, so I can just relax and enjoy the action element, which is pretty excellent. It's a tough game, to be sure, but there's something really pleasant about a Zelda game where your primary challenge on any given screen is simply to defeat all of the enemies rather than figuring out which item and how to use it to open a door.

The really neat thing is that the world is pretty much open right from the start, and your progress can be extremely non-linear. There are few places that are blocked off until you find the correct item, so you can explore and discover pretty much at your own speed. The game rewards exploration rather than requiring it. That makes it a lot more fun -- you can play for just half an hour or so and you'll still find something new that made your session worthwhile.

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures

Oh god. The whining. "You have to buy a Game Boy Advance for every player, EUUHHHGNNN!" You know, at least the Game Cube game had a single-player mode that didn't require a Game Boy Advance. The Game Boy Advance version of Four Swords required not only a system for every player, but a copy of the game!

No, sorry, I'm not getting sucked into that argument. This isn't the place.

What I liked about Four Swords Adventures on the Game Cube is that it was very tight and very linear. Instead of exploring a huge overworld for hours and hours, you had discreet levels with a beginning and an end. Sure, there was some exploration and puzzle-solving and basic dungeon work in the middle, but there weren't a lot of opportunities to get lost. And that's probably because the game was designed to be played with four people at once -- you didn't want to have a lot of squabbling over where to go next bogging down the game.

With more linear progression and a focus on action, the game felt almost like one of those classic four-player arcade beat-em-up games. Everyone was working together to reach the end of the level, but at the same time, everyone was competing to see who could score the most points. There was even the "one held item at a time" limit! And, of course, I appreciated the fact that the items and gameplay recalled the mechanics from Link's Awakening. Pretty great game.

Link's Crossbow Training

I bought the Wii Zapper basically because I wanted all of the stupid controllers that the Wii had to offer. But the pack-in game justified the purchase. It's more than just a Zelda-skinned game of Duck Hunt -- there are all of these scenes and set pieces that you have to fight your way through. Even though the game is kind of short and arcadey, it suggests what would be possible if Zelda was a shooting game. And frankly, I'm disappointed that they're not going in this direction.


Yes, Zelda. The penultimate Game & Watch. I won't repeat myself, but I will say that Nintendo really took the Game & Watch format as far as they could with this one. It brings you the elements of action and adventure that you'd expect from a Zelda game, and executes it in a format that's restricted to very static screens. Give me that over fifty hours of boring puzzles any day.


Friday, March 11, 2011


The Animal Crossing Trap

To hear some people talk about it, Animal Crossing sounds like a work of art. I wish I could see the same game they do when I play it. I enjoy the game well enough -- I've been playing pretty consistently lately -- but I've never had a spark of insight into that whole "this changes the face of games as we know them" mentality that some people have.

The main idea -- a roleplaying game that takes place in a fairly pedestrian setting -- was relatively unexplored, but not really new; when the game first came out in the West, there were lots of comparisons to Harvest Moon, which started on the SNES and made some major cult inroads on the N64. The ideas are pretty similar -- harvest things, sell them, use the money to improve your life. Animal Crossing adds a real-time element, the benefits of which are arguable. Nintendo introduced Animal Crossing as a "communication game", playing up the postal system that allows you to exchange mail with the NPCs, but the NPCs share only six personality templates, and there's no AI whatsoever for engaging them in conversation.

The biggest difference that sets Animal Crossing apart is that your character has no needs. You don't need to eat, you don't need to collect all the bugs, you don't need to make nice with your neighbors, you don't have to plant gardens or pull weeds, you don't have to participate in the fetch quests that come up -- you're completely free to do anything or nothing. The sky's the limit, the world's your oyster, and a third cliched idiom.

Except for the small matter of your mortgage.

Internet gaming humorists were quick to latch on to the fact that Tom Nook is running a racket. It's a classic indentured servitude setup. When you start the game, he sets you up in a house you can't afford, so you begin with a debt. You run errands and do things around town to collect THINGS, which you bring to Tom Nook for money, and then you give the money back to Tom Nook. No sooner do you pay off one debt than you're presented with a steeper one. And most of the goods in town have to be bought through the company store -- if you want to mail a letter or plant a tree or paper your walls, you've gotta go through Nook. He's got you by the balls.

Except that he doesn't.

Animal Crossing is about living in a world with no needs. But when people sit down to play a video game, they sort of instinctively try to figure out the goal, the objective -- how do I win? Paying off your mortgage is the closest the game comes to giving you an officially sanctioned "goal" to work toward, so that's what we do. Our actions in the game become a means toward that end -- we get the tools because they help us get things to sell, we help our neighbors so we get things to sell, we spend half an hour walking up and down the shore looking for shadows in the water that we can catch in order to sell. We spend days, weeks, months chipping away at that number. The game becomes a daily grind for bells, and then we burn out on it.

Why? Why do we do it?

The game suggests that the mortgage should be paid, but it never requires it. There are no penalties for ignoring our debt and few rewards for paying it off. So why do we enslave ourselves to this activity? Is it that the gamer inside us wants to "finish" the game? Are we carrying over the pressure we feel in real life to get our bills paid?

I've been playing Animal Crossing: Wild World on and off since it first came out. I made most of my money through fishing -- I would play for half an hour or an hour daily, walking up and down the river and shore until I'd met whatever daily quota I'd set for myself. Last year, I managed to finish what I had believed at the time to be the last mortgage. In the days leading up to the event, I was elated. Finally! I thought, I would be rid of this annoyance. I'd never have to fish again, and I could do whatever I wanted -- talk to people, make donations to Boondox, maybe work out a tasteful layout for my house.

Finally, the day of my final payment came. I stepped into Nookington's with unwarranted satisfaction -- Nook informed me that he could make one final expansion on my house. I declined, but he wouldn't hear it. I shut down with a heavy heart, dreading what I would find the next day.

Another empty room had opened up in my house. I went to see Nook, bracing myself for a huge bill. The last payment was well over 800,000 bells; surely this last one would be a doozy. Imagine my delighted surprise, then, when I found out that the final bill was just over 9,000 bells. I could finish that in ten minutes! My heart soared. Finally, finally this rotten raccoon was being nice to me. Surely this was the reward for getting this far.

And then he caught himself and apologized for misplacing a decimal. The real bill was over 900,000 bells.

I want to know who thought that would be funny and put their head on a pike. That is a sick joke.

I logged out in disgust, and I stopped playing for quite some time afterward. I thought maybe I'd never play it again.

That was around the time I started going to Gay Gamer, a website that does what it says on the tin. One of their features is Wootini's Weekly Animal Crossing Diary, which is also what it says on the tin. Wootini mentioned in one diary that he had managed to grow pink roses, and for some reason, this stuck with me. I'd heard of the flower cross-breeding mechanic, but I'd never experimented with it myself.


I bought myself some flowers and I played for a few weeks that way. Every morning, first thing when I woke up, I would take my DS from my nightstand, start up Animal Crossing, and water my flowers. Then I went around to say hi to all of the neighbors. Then I saved and quit. I was on strike -- all of my tools were discarded on the floor of my main room except my watering can. For a long time, that was all I did. The flowers didn't reproduce nearly as quickly as I had expected. But with some dedication, I did finally get my own pink roses.

After some time, I got to the point where I was sad to see my daily session coming to an end so soon. I wanted to play more. And I noticed all of the fruit on the trees. I rarely gather the fruit when I play Animal Crossing, mostly because I got used to avoiding it when I played the Gamecube version with my whole family -- I left it for the others because it was their preferred cash flow. But this was my personal game. And I had the time.


I started selling fruit to Tom Nook. The money was better than I remembered it being -- I made at least as many bells per unit time as I did fishing, probably more, and I didn't have to waste as much time reeling in garbage and taking it to the recycling bin. And I didn't burn out on it for two reasons. One is because I couldn't do it every day. The other is that I would only do it if I felt like it.

And as long as I was out and about and hunting and everything, well, it couldn't hurt to bring the shovel along just in case I found a fossil, right?

By the end of the summer, my home was paid off.

But even more importantly, my house was starting to fill up with character portraits.

See, I never paid much attention to my neighbors before last year. Sure, I'd say hi if I passed by someone, but mostly I stuck to my work. There were fish and bugs to catch, after all. Who has time to run errands and have people over and make friends? But now that I sought everyone out every day and I did all of their cute little meet-ups and everything, they were starting to repay my friendship. I started taking a shine to folks I'd never cared much about before, and I was much more interested when they moved in and out. I was starting to find a new way to relate to this game. And that's the way I've continued to play it.

Animal Crossing is a lot like life. You have long-term goals and daily responsibilities. And if that's all you do with your life -- fulfill your obligations and then go back to bed -- your life isn't going to be very fulfilling. Sometimes you have to do something just because you want to do it, whether it's cross-breeding flowers or cooking yourself an interesting meal.

Even with the main goal complete, I'm still adjusting to the idea of relating to Animal Crossing, not as a game where the world needs saving, but as a world where I can do as I like, free of responsibility, and watch it grow and change. Where it's okay if, ultimately, I ended up neglecting my rose garden and it vanished. As long as I enjoyed the time I spent with it, it's worthwhile.

One day, I may just find that game everybody keeps talking about.


Monday, March 07, 2011


Nintendo Downloads Are Underperforming

So there was a Game Developers Conference recently, and Nintendo gave a big presentation, and everyone's really excited about their plans for the 3DS and everything, but one little detail in Joystiq's coverage of the event stuck out for me:

9:33AM "Nintendo can do better" in the world of digital downloads. WiiWare and DSiWare have underperformed. You guys are hearing this for the first time, of course.

No more attention was given to it than that. I'm sure Nintendo were loathe to detail exactly what they consider underperforming, much less suggest reasons why.

But it's given me pause for thought. I mean, I check Nintendo's weekly press releases every Monday to see what's new and downloadable on the services, but it seems like it's been forever and a half since I've sunk any money into a download. So what's the matter?

The Games Don't Look Interesting

Let's start with the big one. I mean, both services started out great, bringing the heavy guns to the table right away. WiiWare launched with Lost Winds and Dr. Mario, the DSi with Brain Age. And both services have gotten some really ambitious projects in their lifetimes -- the Strong Bad games and World of Goo on WiiWare, Flipnote Studio and Dragon Quest Wars on DSiWare, just to drop a couple names.

But for the most part, the services look like a cesspool of shovelware. I mean, no offense to the people who've developed these games, it's not that they look bad or anything, it's just... there's not really much to distinguish them from each other.

Part of the problem is a lack of publicity. I mean, look at this description of Jewel Keepers: Easter Island from Nintendo's press release:

One day, world-renowned Easter Island expert Professor "H" received a strange letter from the capital city of Hanga Roa. It was a cry for help from an unknown person, saying that something bad was happening on the island. Without hesitation, the Professor, his assistant Joel and his granddaughter Ivie rushed to the island, where many puzzles, mysteries and quests awaited them. Can you help him to reveal the greatest secret of Easter Island?

This tells you nothing about the game. There's not a single hook here that makes me want to find out more about it. You read descriptions like this week after week, and it all becomes sort of a blur.

It doesn't help, of course, that Nintendo has been kind of tepid about offering demos. Often, the easiest way to tell if you'll like a game or not is to try it out. And they're sort of doing that on WiiWare, except that the demos are only available for a limited time. It kind of inhibits the benefit when you're restricting what is essentially advertisement to a very constrained time frame.

The Games Cost Too Damned Much

Compare any game that's released cross-platform -- on WiiWare and Steam, or on DSiWare and iTunes -- and you'll see the Nintendo version always costs more. On top of that, there's the fact that Steam and iTunes occasionally put their software on sale and you can sometimes find some great deals, while Nintendo is, this generation, operating on the philosophy that they don't have to reduce prices to reach their audience.

On top of that, there's Nintendo points. See, 1000 Nintendo points cost $10, but a game that costs 800 Nintendo points can't be bought for $8 -- you have to buy your points in 1000 point chunks. So okay, you spend $10 to get the 1000 points you need for your 800 point game, you've got 200 points left. The next game you want is also 800 points, but you only have 200, so you have to spend another $10 for another 1000 points. You could spend $30 to get 2400 points worth of software. The next $10 you spend on an 800 point game would finally leave you with another 800 points to spend, which is great if there actually is a fifth game you want, but you have to spend a minimum of $40 to get to the point where you've reached parity between what you've spent and what you've received in return. So either they're ripping you off, getting you to pay too much for your software, or they're locking you into this state of making repeated purchases in order to get the most from your money. Either way, they win.

The Whole System is Just Barbaric

If I buy a game through Steam, I can use it anywhere, as if it was a thing that I possessed. If I buy a new laptop, I can transfer my software over, no questions asked. Hell, I can even move my software between platforms, from my Mac to a Windows machine, provided the software is available on that platform. Even iTunes, Apple's tiny empire of proprietary devices and content, allows me to carry my stuff to multiple devices, and I can de-register the ones that I've replaced so I can use it again on new ones.

Nintendo only offers one mechanism for transferring software: you send them a new unit and the broken unit that you want to transfer your data from.

It's really ridiculous. On top of overcharging for content, they're not even pretending that you "own" what you're getting. There are two Wiis in my house: one for the family room and one for the rec room. The family room is where we play the games like Rock Band and New Super Mario Brothers, where everyone joins in and has a good time together, the rec room is for personal games played alone so that the television isn't being monopolized. Wii discs, being physical things that I own, can be moved from one room to the other and used in both machines. WiiWare, being fake junk that I don't own, cannot. And the same basic concept applies to my DSi and my DSi XL -- one goes with me everywhere as my portable entertainment device, the other stays at home where it won't get roughed up and the shoulder buttons won't break.

Sure, Nintendo's coming up with this mechanism for people to move from DSi to 3DS, but they're still clearly terrified about letting people use their software the way they want to -- you only get a limited number of transfers.

If that weren't enough, the systems just seem really limited. WiiWare games look like what I would expect from DS games, and DSi games look like cheap cell phone games. The sort of small-scale projects that these systems were meant to foster seem to be going for full retail releases rather than Nintendo's download services. And I'm sure there's lots of reasons for that -- how many customers you can reach, licensing fees, profit per unit sold, and so on -- but it seems like Nintendo themselves are getting in the way. I was really looking forward to Super Meat Boy after all the good press it was getting on the XBox and PC. This could've been a real hit for the service. But Nintendo refused to move the size cap for their games, and now it's gone forever. I mean, I knew going into this generation that the Wii was the technical underdog, but it didn't matter to me because you can still make good games for limited hardware. Now that we've got a real, concrete example of a good game being cancelled due to hardware limitations, I'm starting to feel a little turned off.

And on the DSiWare side of things, there's the story of Intellivision Lives! It's an Intellivision collection created for the DS by the very small-time Intellivision Productions. The game spent years in limbo because they couldn't find a publisher who would get behind a retro pack for the DS. Then Nintendo announced DSiWare, and the Intellivision folks said, aha! Here's our way to get onto the system at last.

And Nintendo said, "No. Your game is an emulator; that's not allowed."

It's kind of sad, all told. I really think downloadable content has a bright future ahead of it -- it has the potential to be cheaper and easier to distribute. I just hope these are minor stumbling blocks on the way to creating a system that's better for developers and consumers alike.


Sunday, March 06, 2011


Setting the Record Straight

The problem with video games is the kind of people who enjoy them. They're idiots. They have no concept of what's fun or worthwhile. Sometimes it gets to the point where I just want to scream. How can people be so wrong?

So today I'm just going to take a moment to correct some of the opinions held by gamers that have really bugged me over the years. Feel free to disagree, there's always room for more idiots.

The Subspace Emissary is Awesome

As I mentioned way back in my Super Smash Brothers Brawl review, The Subspace Emissary was my favorite surprise that the game had to offer. It's a huge platformer beat-em-up kind of game for one or two players co-operatively, featuring every Nintendo character ever in lots of wacky and unlikely partnerships and rivalries, it's loaded with gorgeous cutscenes -- it's basically the adventure game that I had imagined ever since the first Smash Brothers game came out, every Nintendo fan's dream come true. Who could possibly be unhappy with it?

Quite a few people? Apparently?!

The first criticism you hear about The Subspace Emissary is that it's long and repetitive. And, you know, fair enough, it's not exactly New Super Mario Brothers Wii, is it? But the first time I played it, I found it really difficult to stop. It really sucked me in. I loved watching the story unfold and seeing which new character would appear around every turn. Everyone points to The Maze as a total deal-breaker, but I dunno, I kind of liked it. Not that I've ever sat down and played the whole thing in a single sitting, but it reminded me of exploring a dungeon in an RPG. You eventually get a map to show you where all of the boss encounters are, and it's mildly amusing to sort of ferret out the paths that will take you to them.

The next criticism you hear a lot is that the story is just like this huge Nintendo crossover fanfic. I guess the implication is that it's all just Nintendo fan service, but that just raises the question: What did you expect? Complaining about fan service in Super Smash Brothers is like complaining about meat in a hamburger. I mean, are there people who aren't Nintendo fans who bought this game because they were looking for a hard core competitive fighting game? Why would you buy this game if you didn't want to watch Princess Toadstool having a tea party with Sheik and Fox McCloud on the deck of the Halberd?

Wii Music Does Not Play Itself

There are so many perfectly valid reasons not to like Wii Music -- the song selection isn't exciting, the performance venues are bland, the motion controls are wonky -- so why do you insist on hating it for a reason that's demonstrably false?

I mean, in the same review, Matt Casamassina calls Wii Music "a product so unsophisticated that it practically plays itself", and then goes on to provide video proof that the music will sound like shit if you have no fucking clue what you're doing.

I mean, I know you shitheads were upset that this wasn't a Guitar Hero clone, but I'm sure you can wrap your brains around the concept here. Wii Music provides you the notes without the need to understand the exact mechanical nature of whatever instrument you're pretending to play. You still have the freedom and the responsibility to put those notes together in a way that sounds good. That's a far cry from "playing itself".

"EHHHGNHHUUHHN, but the game doesn't score you, you have to score yourself! You can just give yourself 100 points for every song you play, there's no chaaaaaalleeeeenge!"

But this isn't about playing a game or scoring points, it's about making music. If you were playing a guitar -- a real guitar, not one of your toy guitars with the happy colored buttons on the frets -- would you complain because you don't get a score for playing a song you want to play?

Oh, who am I kidding, of course you would. Go fuck yourself.

Jam Sessions is Quite a Dandy Thing

Yeah, as long as we're talking about music, let's talk about Jam Sessions, this cool little program that turns your Nintendo DS into a guitar. It's got recorded samples of all of these different guitar chords. You assign them to directions on the control pad. To play a chord, you hold that direction on the pad and strum the screen.

Whenever I've shown this to people who aren't gamers, there's always been this moment where their faces light up with delight. It's a guitar that goes in your pocket! What a wonderful thing for someone who likes to play music to carry around!

But when I've shown this to a gamer, he didn't understand the concept. "Oh, so it's like Guitar Hero?"

"No," I explained. "It's actually a musical instrument. There's no game to it. You can just play any song you want."

"That sounds stupid," he scoffed in that snobby, hardcore elite gamer sort of way. "I'd rather play a game and be challenged than just play whatever song I wanted."

I thought he might be an outlier, but I've heard the sentiment echoed on the Robotronic Dynamite podcast and on forums and such. What is it about gamers that they're perfectly happy with pressing buttons in time to someone else's song, but they think that making music themselves isn't a valid pursuit?

Retro Game Challenge is Not Repetitive

Retro Game Challenge is magical, top to bottom. It's amazing that such a game was conceived to go along with Game Center CX, it's amazing that it was done so well, and it's super amazing that it was localized so well for a region that had no familiarity with the source material. It's a museum of 80s gaming that goes in your pocket.

But read enough reviews of the game, and you'll get the snobby asshat who has to complain about how two games out of the eight are "copies" of other games in the set. "How lazy," they sneer. "What a waste of space."

For Christ's sake, how do you not understand the point of this game?

The Haggleman series is, among other things, a commentary on the Super Mario Brothers series in Japan. The first game was sort of basic and became wildly popular, the second game used the same basic game engine with harder levels and modest graphic enhancements, and the third game was a total departure with all sorts of new stuff added and RPG elements and everything. If you complain about Haggleman 2 being too similar to Haggleman 1... first of all, you're missing the point, and second of all you're wrong. Play one game after the other -- I mean, play them, as if it were a recreational activity that you were doing to enjoy yourself and not trying to be a nitpicky game critic -- and it's pretty clear that, despite the same mechanics, Haggleman 2 is a much tougher cookie to crack.

And if you're going to complain about Rally King SP... well, obviously you just don't get the joke. Try not to draw too much attention to yourself, it's embarrassing.

Link's Crossbow Training Deserves a Sequel

I really dislike Zelda games. I mean, I appreciate the fantasy setting, and the games do have some interesting ideas, but on the whole you spend too much damned time on puzzles that don't make any sense, looking everywhere for items, and just sort of generally wasting time.

And I really dislike first person shooters. They're all war games or space marines or zombies or whatever, and they're always these dark, dank, dismal, bleak, gritty worlds. I don't want to waste my recreation time getting shot at in a nightmare world.

But there's something about Link's Crossbow Training that just clicks with me. There's the basic shooting gallery stages, but then there's the stages where you have to defend a position as waves of enemies approach, and stages where you actually walk around through an environment trying to find all of the enemies and shoot them. Like, the first time I went through this little goblin camp, dodging flaming arrows and peeking between walls for clear shots, it was like a lightbulb went on in my head. Suddenly I liked Zelda and I liked shooting games. "If only there was an entire game like this!" I thought to myself.

So when I heard that a more developed version of the game had been pitched at Nintendo and turned down in favor of yet another fucking 50-hour borefest, my heart sank a little. What a shame, I thought, that it had been a possibility and now maybe it isn't.

And, of course, the guy who wrote the article for Joystiq has to sneak it at the end, "And to the Nintendo executives who killed a sequel to Link's Crossbow Training, we'd like to personally thank you."

[(Nov 15, 2014) Edit: In light of recent events, I've decided that the end of this rant went too far, and I've removed it.  It was not meant with any actual ill intent toward Ben Gilbert, but even with the over-the-top tone set by the rest of this blog post, it was in poor taste, and I've thought better of it.  This post was written with the intention of venting some general annoyances in a silly, childish way, and singling out and targeting individuals, even as a joke, is in no way appropriate.  I know this blog reaches an audience of approximately 0, but if any harm was done through my thoughtless writing, I sincerely apologize, and if I have such personal disagreements in the future, I will raise them in a more sober and mature way.

I stand by the bit about Matt Casamassina though; dude wrote a dumb review.]


Tuesday, March 01, 2011


We Dare

So the entire Internet has been blushing and giggling about this trailer for We Dare. I mean, it's the joke everyone's been telling for the last five years come to life. How did it take so long for them to make a sex game for the console with the phallic, vibrating controller that's named after the penis?

Well, allow me to offer a dissenting opinion. I think it looks cute, and I would genuinely like to play it.

The thing is, I think a lot of people are mistaking the purpose of a game like this, not the least of which are the people who made that damned trailer. This is not the purpose of a game like this:

MAN: Let's play a video game where I shove a controller down your pants and spank you.

WOMAN: You're getting laid tonight.

I'm sure there are people who will use the game that way, but I expect that's going to be kind of a niche crowd. I think the broader appeal of the game is going to be as a silly, campy party game that you rent for your friends so you can all embarrass yourselves for an evening.

"But look at it!" the Internet whines. "It's just a bunch of stupid minigames! And it's by Ubisoft!"

Well yes. I don't think it's going to be a great video game. I don't think people are going to sit down and play it obsessively for hours a day trying to break their high scores and checking websites for all the secrets and cheats and strategies. People aren't going to be playing this competitively and posting their flawless playthrough videos.

But that's not the point. The point of a game like this isn't to be a game. Maybe there'll be something that you're trying to win, but it's not like victory is going to be something you gloat over and hold over your friends' heads. The point of a game like this is to create sort of a "magic circle" where it's okay to do ludicrous things with other people.

Let's say you're at a party, and you stand up and say, "Hey everyone! Let's all get down on the floor on our hands and knees and crawl all over each other!" People are going to think you're nuts or a pervert or both. But if you say, "Hey everyone! Let's play Twister, the Milton Bradley family game that's fun for all ages!" people still might think you're nuts or a pervert or both, but you might at least get someone else to say, "What a silly idea! Let's do that!"

In the proper frame of mind, among people that you know well enough that they're not going to take advantage of the setting to make you do something you're uncomfortable with, I could see this game being a lot of fun. I mean, that apple-eating game is incredibly tame. That one sexy dancing game could be completely hilarious if everyone's playing it for laughs. The spanking game is probably a harder sell -- you're either going to need very close friends or a lot of alcohol.

And I guess that's the problem with making a game like this. I could see a situation where someone is pressured into doing something they really don't want to. But I don't know, I guess I would hope that you wouldn't hang around with a bunch of dicks like that in the first place.

So yeah. It's kind of a shame it won't be coming to America, but after watching everyone for the past week or so, I can sort of see why. We've got a lot of growing up to do before we can handle something like this.


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