Thursday, October 31, 2013


Eternal Darkness Haunted My Gamecube

I've never been very interested in horror in general or horror games in particular, but I was once the kind of Nintendo fanboy who'd buy any damned thing the internet told me to, so I did end up playing Eternal Darkness when it first came out.

I never got further than about halfway through it, but I did rather like the gimmick; an energy bar measured your character's sanity, and the more horrors you subjected yourself to, the lower the bar would get.  When you didn't have enough sanity, the game would start doing little things to mess with you -- the camera would tilt ever so slightly, blood would drip from the walls, voices and screams would come from the distance.  At the higher levels of sanity loss, the game would even go so far as to simulate television and console malfunctions -- it would make you believe that your save data was deleted or that your TV was adjusting its own tint settings, that sort of thing.  There were ways to recover sanity and end the effects, but the internet assured me that the best way to play the game was to lose your sanity so that you could see all of the cool ways that it could mess with your mind.

What I didn't realize was how far it was prepared to go.

I decided to return to the game one day after forgetting about it for several months, and since I'd forgotten where I was, I started over from the beginning.  The first time I'd played, I had skipped as many insanity effects as I could, so this time I decided that I'd go through without healing my sanity.  I played for several hours and, not really being used to horror, it increasingly put me on edge.  It came to a head when I suffered an instant death from a creepy glowing skeleton creature that had crawled under my character's skin and taken him over when I hadn't shaken it off in time.  I felt physically ill to my stomach and a little twitchy.  I decided to calm down with some Super Smash Brothers Melee.

One of my favorite things to do in the Smash Brothers games is to play around with the options and see what kinds of crazy results I can get.  On this particular day, it occurred to me to see what would happen if I went to the Item options, turned off every individual item, but set the item appearance rate to Very High.  What happened actually makes a lot of sense.  All of the containers -- barrels, crates, capsules -- appeared at a ridiculously high rate, but when they were broken open, nothing came out of them.  So I set up a long one on one battle at the Final Destination stage and amused myself for a while with Mario, chucking crates and things back and forth at an AI Bowser.  I was just starting to zone out from the monotony.  Then it happened.

A crate popped open and a zombie burst out of it.

I screamed.  I dropped the controller.  The zombie latched onto Mario and started sucking out his life force.  My mind did cartwheels.  Somehow -- SOMEHOW -- Eternal Darkness was still there.  Not content to mess with my head only when I was playing it, it had spread into my Gamecube, and now it was attacking me with zombies in a completely unrelated game.  How?  HOW?!!

This can't be happening.

... Of course, the explanation was obvious, and I realized it a moment later.  On rare occasions, enemies from Adventure Mode will come out of the containers when you break them open.  Since I'd set item appearance to Very High, turned off every item except the containers, and started a long match, it was only a matter of time before that rare occasion came up.  And it just happened to be the zombie-like Redeads from Link's stage, and it just happened to be at the perfect moment of vulnerability when the unease was still fresh in my mind but I was starting to feel safe again.

Luckily, no one was around to see how silly I had been.  But I'd had enough video games for one day.

I never played Eternal Darkness again.  And I never forgot just how good it was at testing my sanity.


Saturday, October 12, 2013


All Good Things

I'm not ready for the Wii to be over.

Sure, you can make the argument that no console ever really "ends".  As long as you own it, as long as you're still playing games, it can live on forever.  But it's undeniable that parts of the Wii are gone forever.  No more news and weather.  No more Nintendo Channel.  Nintendo Week, with Gary and Allison and Dark Gary, all of its glorious, corny weirdness -- gone.  Check Mii Out, the channel that gave Wii Sports Resort such flavor with its random celebrity Mii appearances -- gone.  The online shop persists -- sometimes there are even updates -- but you know that even that won't be profitable forever.

The Wii charmed me in a way that very few consoles have managed to do.  Like the NES and the Dreamcast, it made games new for me again.  Say what you will about the motion controls, but wasn't it cool, that first time you played Wii Sports?  Wasn't it great how the fun came out of the TV and into your living room, and it felt like it was all around you?  Our living rooms became playgrounds.  We could jog around Wuhu Island, take in a quick three holes of golf... There was even that obstacle course game in Wii Fit Plus.  We could be a video game character.  All without leaving our homes.

Maybe that couldn't last.  Maybe there are only so many ideas you can wring out of that setup.  That was certainly the impression you got playing the games, wasn't it?  Developers didn't seem to really know what to do with motion controls.  They'd try to use gesture recognition as some sort of fancy replacement for a button press, but the controls weren't really up to the task.  And when a game was really motion-intensive, you got those long breaks in the action where they had to patiently explain to you how you were supposed to hold the controller for this particular part and what motion you were supposed to make.  Eventually they just went with the normal buttons, maybe adding a special function if you shook the controller.

Maybe it was just an idea that was ahead of its time.  Maybe it'll come up again someday when we have a better idea of how to join game space to real space.

Until then, this is it.  If you need me, I'll be on Kawawii Island.


Wednesday, October 09, 2013


The End of Kindle Games

While the original black & white Kindle was never a great platform for games, it's still disheartening to see the link to "Games & Active Content" missing from the Kindle store these days.  Maybe developers are finding that the interest is gone, or maybe Amazon themselves are just de-prioritizing the idea now that they have a really for-real tablet to push, but this looks like the end.

It's sad to me because there were some things the platform could do that higher-end devices just can't get away with.  It remains my favorite platform for Choice of Games and Fighting Fantasy.  There was at least one must-have game in Jungle Juice.  And between EA's Solitaire and Sudoku, I'm never without a time-waster.  I still frequently go camping in the summer, and the low power consumption coupled with the good-in-any-light screen makes it the ideal gadget to take along.

But hey, it had a great run.  Considering that this was a device tuned for displaying text and not much else, it's amazing that they managed to wring anything out of the platform.  We'll always have the good times.  And as long as I need a softer, quieter gaming experience, I'll keep coming back.


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