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Animated Toupee's blog

4:00 PM on 03.01.2010

Mega Man 10 Day! (Spoiler-Free!)

I don't know what it is about me and Mega Man - but I was up as late as 6 AM last night checking the Wii store to see if it was available yet. It wasn't, but at least I took that opportunity to download the latest mandatory system update and replace my batteries. First thing I did this morning - before even making coffee, which is absurd for me - is check the store. Yes!! It's here!!

Mega Man 10 had me skeptical in some ways. Primarily this is based on the fact that I knew I would love Mega Man 9 for the mere novelty of the thing, the fact that it existed at all, and might fuel more sprite-based, 8-bit style games. Well, it has spawned at least one more, and it's a direct sequel. Now we have a pretty good idea of what to expect. The game would have to be fundamentally good, not just passable.

Not that I'm implying Mega Man 9 was merely adequate - even considering it in just the smaller context of 8-bit Mega Man games, I found it to be one of the best. The level designs were very good, the bosses memorable, some of the weapons quite exciting - the Black Hole Bomb, for instance - and a number of new environmental hazards like the swinging platforms in Jewel Man's stage, the rotating platforms in Tornado Man's, the Gravity Jump things in Gravity Man's stage - made for a very enjoyable time. And it was HARD. It took a small group of us more than one day to get past the eight Master Robots.

Granted, there were some moments of faltering. Splash Woman's level was extremely derivative of past water levels - Dive Man's, especially.

Now, keep in mind Mega Man 10 has only clocked me about about two hours of play-time. I've not yet beat all the Master Robots. I'm not even sure of the proper order to beat them. I've used Energy Tanks during the boss fights, and I feel like a cheater for it.

While trying to be as spolier-free as possible, I can confirm the following:
* The game is marvelously fun. The level designs do not feel rehashed or tired in any way. In fact, some of them introduce some very clever obstacles, hazards, and means of transportation.
* That said, on the whole, I think the levels are much easier than 9's. Maybe I've just become much more seasoned at controlling little blue robots in the past year and a half, but I've had very little trouble reaching the Robot Masters.
* The weapons are pretty excellent. Some of them are indeed very reminiscent of weapon's past - I'm sure you can all guess there was going to be a shield-type one - but some of them are quite new indeed. I especially enjoy Commando Man and Nitro Man's.
* The music is downright fantastic. All of it. It has some instant favorites for me. There are no weak tracks.
* The graphics, too, are gorgeous. Charming. The player sprites seem a bit smaller than in game's past, which may subtly make the perspective a bit wider than before - I'm not sure of this, but my gut says so. Familiar enemies return with all-new animations: the hard-hat guys now shudder a bit when your shots are deflected, for instance. The levels all look great. The bosses look great. The menus look great.
* There's a new control feature: you don't have to constantly go to the sub-screen to select weapons anymore. Much like Mega Man X, you can cycle through your weapons in-game - on the Classic Controller, the shoulder buttons do the trick perfectly. Unfortunately, this is a bit of a problem when just using the Wiimote sideways - I started playing this way, but the action is assigned to the B trigger, and I hit it constantly in tight spots. It's terrible placement for it. Your mileage may vary, but I highly suggest using the Classic Controller. (It is a truly nice addition, in my opinion.)
* The Challenges are a bit different. Instead of simply being Achievements that you collect, they are a game mode in and of themselves: you select an objective, and are launched into a short scene to complete it. I haven't messed with this much at all yet, but it looks to add some replay value.
* There's no DLC available yet. You can't play as Bass yet, there's no Endless Level, or Hard Modes (perhaps they're unlockable?). You can, however, pick Protoman or Easy Mode right off the bat. There's Time Trials, too.

That's about all I feel comfortable saying without the risk of spoiling anything. Yes, I'm breezing through it - but I already know I've got my money's worth. The levels are genuinely great, the music and graphics wonderful, the control tight, and there are still plenty of parts that make you go "NO!!" "SHIT!!" and "GODDAMNIT!" It may not reinvent the series, or be as exciting as 9 was, but it's totally worth your ten bucks. Go play it!!!   read

1:35 PM on 01.22.2010

Reminiscing over the Red-Haired Giant (Conan O'Brien)

In the year ... 2000, or '01, or something like that, at the ripe age of 12 or 13, I finally had my own PC in my room to stay up at night with as long as I wanted. And with so many things to do and see on the internet, I needed a friend to spend time with. That friend became Conan O'Brien.

Okay, this got off to a weird start.

But it's true, The Cone-Bone and his Cone-Zone quickly transformed from one of my favorite television shows to pretty much the only television show I watched. I would stay up religiously until at least 1:35 every night, even when I had to wake up at 6:30. (This seems to have expanded into quite a bad habit, as I am now often going to bed around 4:35 and waking up at 6:30...) But the show was so clever, so irreverent, and so damn funny - it always gave me something to talk about with my friends, sleep-deprived as I was, every morning.

After high-school, my Conan watching generally followed a pattern of "Oh my gosh, I haven't seen Conan in a while, it's still so funny!" and watching it for a few weeks, then finding myself and friends otherwise occupied at that hour of night, and then back to watching it for a couple of months, and so on. When Conan came on the air during the writer's strike a couple of years ago with his "Strike Beard", it was like a small party. We were all awestruck at how silly, daring, and downright hilarious he was in his beard-phase. I may have watched every episode in that "era." Likewise were his specials entire house events: not only his various trips around the world, but the claymation episode and the Skeleton-puppet episode (with Larry King!) are masterpieces that will never be forgotten.

Nor will his plethora of incredibly creative recurring skits be forgotten. Possibly the first time I saw Conan he was "driving his desk" around in front of a greenscreen, and I found it so innovative and funny that I kept coming back for more. The annual 'State of the Show' address. Celebrity Survey, In the Year 2000, Pender's singing, Pierre Bernard's Recliner of Rage, Conan O' Brien Hates My Homeland, the Masturbating Bear - and of course Triumph. There's the Horny Manatee. There's his "battle" with Stephen Colbert. There's the time he looked like the prime minister of that country I can't remember right now. There's that time they put a greenscreen on his desk and gave him Katie Couric's legs. The shows writers are downright geniuses.

Sure, lots of sketches are recurring, and lots of jokes re-used and slightly modified throughout the course of a week. But this is an hour-long program produced five days a week for roughly 17 years. The consistent stream of quality is almost incomprehensible.

And Conan really is what makes it work. Sure, he seemed slightly uncomfortable in his first few years, but if you download his very first show, you can see the spark of ingenuity and weirdness going on. You know this should could go places. And boy, it did. As Conan's confidence grew, so did his ability to entertain by doing downright goofy things, or acknowledge when a joke was shitty. In outright breaking the fourth wall of his sketches (so to speak), they become that much funnier. Conan can make shitty jokes work. And he can make brilliant jokes legendary.

I always had a nervous feeling about Conan moving up to the Tonight Show. Yes, he absolutely deserved it. But I was concerned about him appealing to Leno's undoubtedly more conservative, mainstream, rather dumbed-down humor devouring audience. I hoped that he wouldn't have to dumb down his own show, or make it tamer in some way, or have to say good-bye to some of his staff. Astoudingly, the only man left behind was Joel Goddard, my favorite announcer of all time. But snagging Andy Richter instead was a pretty good trade.

Of course, old Leno had to stay on television, and man, did all of this become a shitstorm. I'm sure you've heard the logistics by now. I'll say this: Conan's Tonight Show now is legendary. His TOTAL disregard for the NBC executives these past two weeks has been both heartwarming and heartbreaking. The former because it's so obvious that Conan's clearly got it, man - he's never been sharper, his jokes have never been more irreverent, his guests are five balls high with fury (Robin Williams!). He has totally changed my opinion of NBC from "indifferent" to "they're heartless bastards" in the course of a week, and the fact that he's getting away with giving them such a bad name really gives me a sick sense of glee. (I can't wait to see how much of their money he spends tonight.) Heartbreaking because, obviously, we all have to say farewell to Conan tonight at 11:35.

Here's hoping he's back on another network this September. I don't care what network. I don't care what hour. I can't wait to see you back, buddy.

To NBC: You're a bunch of fucking pricks. Go fuck yourselves with Leno's big chin.

To Conan's crew: I wish you the best of luck in the future and I hope that you'll return to Conan's new show, whatever it may be. Your loyalty is unprecedented. That all of you moved from New York to L.A. in one swift move is just ... something I have never heard of before.

Cheers, Coco!   read

9:00 PM on 01.01.2010

#10's Last Hurrah in 2010.

I'm speaking about Doctor Who, of course. David Tennant has brought an undeniable amount of energy to the long-running series, oftentimes emotionally charged. Never before has The Doctor's relationship to his companions been so fascinating or so poignant. Obviously this is a testament to the capable hands of the writers and directors and other actors as well, but Tennant was the glue that bound everything together like never before.

I'm just going to take a few moments and reflect on some of my favorite moments of the past few years. As I sit here with the final episode torrented and ready to roll, I'm both scared and intrigued of Matt Smith as the new 11th Doctor, and incredibly sad that Tennant will be saying good-bye.

2x03, School Reunion

Rose has finally come to grips with the Doctor's new appearance and the gang is acting upon a request by the finally-coming-into-his-own-as-a-character Mickey Smith to investigate some weird stuff going on at a school. That is, until Sarah Jane Smith comes sauntering in with her tin dog. The whole female jealousy thing starts to brew but my favorite part is when they finally relax and realize that they both have participated in such a weird journey and can't help but share a good laugh at the Doctor's quirks. "What?? Stop it!!"

2x04, The Girl in the Fireplace

Easily one of my favorite episodes ever. We get to see a side of the Doctor that rarely comes out: the capacity to fall in love. The breaking point for me is the Doctor's readiness to give up his life of time-travelling and settle down with this woman and the sadness that ensues when he believes he can find a way to bring her with him, but cannot. Incredibly imaginative stuff courtesy Steven Moffat and superbly executed by cast and crew.

2x12, 13 Army of Ghosts, Doomsday

The first parting of a companion in the new series and it has never been this emotional. I don't really have a lot to say about this epic two-parter except I really missed Rose Tyler and hoped upon hopes that some day she would return. The two made a great team.

3x08, Human Nature

A totally brilliant setup. The Doctor has had to make himself human, and can't remember that he was once The Doctor. Martha continues to play second fiddle, taking on the role of a lowly maid as the man's mind is very much elsewhere. The only bummer is that this brilliant opener is hurt by a slightly weak followup featuring some rather cheesy villains.

3x11, 12, 13, Utopia, The Sound of Drums, The Last of the Time Lords

Still the only three-parter in the new series, it's also up there with the best. The relatively ominous Utopia ends with the shocking reveal of The Master, who is played so well by John Simm. The Doctor and The Master have a brilliant chemistry that was explored in the following two episodes, first with the Doc on the run, and then with him essentially captured and open to The Master's gleeful torture. I get choked up every time I see the part with Tennant holding Simm, handcuffed, dying in his arms, refusing to regenerate.

4x08, 09, Silence in the Library, Forest of the Dead

I really love the entirety of season 4 - Catherine Tate brings a wonderful foil to the Doctor that is much needed after the sexual advances (sort of) of Rose and Martha. But this two-parter, again Moffat's, is so out-of-control terrific it elevates the season to a new level. We've got the discovery of the world's largest library completely abandoned, the entrance of a fun little group of explorers led by River Song, some really neat technologies (the "saving"), and a little girl watching the whole thing unfold on telly. "Spoilers..."

4x10, Midnight

It's sort of like Night of the Living Dead set on a mysterious planet full of diamonds and light that is poisonous to the eyes. The panic of the travellers ends up causing more conflict than the potentially dangerous entity that has stowed away on board. The tight direction by Alice Troughton in what is essentially a one-room setpiece makes for one of the most gripping, and terrifying, episodes ever produced. The "copying" scene has to be seen to be believed: an incredible feat by two actors put on film by any measure.

4x12, 4x13, The Stolen Earth, Journey's End

This probably should have been a three-parter, as the entourage of companions, Torchwood, and UNIT make for a super dense episode. But Colin Teague does a damn fine job of keeping a steady, slowly-building pace. The reuniting of the Doctor and Rose (forever, in a way?) is touching, the return of Davross is wonderful, and the Daleks have never seemed so imposing. The final scene with The Doctor explaining to Wilf that Donna can never remember her journeys with The Doctor is even more saddening than Patrick Troughton as the second Doctor losing Jamie and Zoe - at least they got to retain one memory. Seeing Donna as The Doctor-Donna is both hilarious and heartbreaking.

5x03 (I guess), The Waters of Mars

I was a little worried these one-off episodes in 2009 were going to be a little too self-contained, after the somewhat odd 'The Next Doctor' and entertaining, but not emotionally-taxing 'Planet of the Dead'. Well, this one kicked my ass with a great setting, great characters, great foes, and a focus on the decision-making of The Doctor that has been a long time coming. By the end we see a side of the Doctor like never before: almost arrogant, power-hungry, and relentless. It sets the tone for Tennant's final two-parter, for sure...

I have a lot of hope for the series to come in 2010. Although Matt Smith looks a little douchey and emo, I've been surprised before, and with Steven Moffat at the helm - who delivered some of the best episodes ever - I know I shouldn't be too worried. Here's to a full season!

And now I'm off to watch the end of David Tennant.   read

2:41 PM on 11.21.2009

O Steam! or: The Ways I Love Thee

I've been a Steam user since Half-Life 2 was released in 2004, but back then, I still had bought the game on DVD and thought the mandatory Steam process was silly and unnecessary. Things were different back then. My rural town had just barely began offering broadband in any capacity, but the idea of downloading a game - NOT having a physical copy of it with a snazzy box and handy-dandy instruction booklet - seemed strange and somehow less satisfying to me back then.

Then I discovered a nifty perk of Steam. I could go to a friend's house, install Steam, and download Half-Life 2 on his computer within hours. No penalty. Of course we couldn't play online together, but I simply wanted him to experience the greatness that was HL2. And he could. And he did. And he wasn't the only one. [Ultimately I had to change my password, because one jerk gifted my extra HL copies to some random person.]

When Episode One rolled around, I bit the bullet and pre-ordered it through Steam. I distinctly remember coming home from work on the day it was released, finding it had pre-downloaded and installed itself... and having to do absolutely nothing but launch the freakin' thing. Amazing.

Now, I'm not a major online gamer. I haven't logged hundreds of hours into Team Fortress 2 like my hometown buds did, but I've logged a few. The Friends system and Stats that were implemented around that time made joining games with the people I wanted so easy; it was like the polish of Xbox Live, with the convenience of a keyboard and mouse. And free. Wonderful.

I've insofar neglected to actually purchase a 360 or a PS3, and the Wii's internet capabilities are reprehensible at best. Which is strange for me - since I got the NES for my 4th birthday, I've always considered myself a console gamer who would only occasionally defect to the PC for masterpieces like, oh, Half-Life and Starcraft. But I am hesitant now. Now, many games are multiplatform. Many games are downloadable. Many of these games are excellent.

I have actually put some money on the table for downloadable games on my housemates' consoles. Worms 2, Schizoid, Bomberman Live, Peggle, Braid: these are all amazing games. It's lovely to not have to change physical disc media and wait for extraneous load times.

But what happens when your Xbox dies? Ours have (both of 'em!) and then we're shit outta luck. Or what happens when Microsoft releases the next Xbox? Hopefully we have a few years before that happens, but is there any guarantee that you can play these games on it? The idea of backwards compatibility in consoles has been played with since the PS2's launch, but only in terms of physical media.

In theory, it shouldn't be that hard for the next iteration of consoles to play these games, but it's still an issue in the back of my mind that keeps me from wanting to purchase more downloadable games for the consoles. I'm already going to lose everything I've bought when my housemates move out and take their consoles with them.

But not with Steam. I've upgraded my video card probably three times since HL2 came out - hell, probably overhauled my entire system - and every time, I've had zero problems re-downloading my games and honestly, I can't imagine a situation where I WON'T be able to play them. I don't have to take my PC with me if I feel like playing a little Half-Life at my parent's house over Thanksgiving break. I don't have to bring anything at all. That's amazing. That is a platform I can get behind: a rather intangible one, but the benefits lie in it not being tied down to any specific hardware at all.

I've bought a whole bunch of games on Steam this year: Bioshock, Crysis Warhead, Far Cry 2, Flock, Left 4 Dead 2 -- and I've even rebought games I've already purchased for other systems! Beyond Good & Evil was too tempting to pass up at $10, despite already owning it on Xbox and the disc-based PC version, and Psychonauts will eventually make it to my games list, too. Hell, I downloaded Braid for the 360, too, but ended up re-buying that on Steam as well!

But there are so many more games I would buy in an instant on Steam if I could.

Easily my most-played Wii game of the last year was Mega Man 9. I bought it the day it was released, and the DLC, too, and few games have been able to attract our whole house of seven dudes to the TV for hours on end, taking turns passing around a control. The few and the hardy end up moving to Hard Mode, then Super Hard. There's a game with a lot of replay value. But I find it a pain to use the Wii for the game; in a college sort of house where we're moving consoles back and forth to different rooms all the time, the Wii is a pain in the ass. Making sure the sensor bar is in place, making sure I have AA's on hand, having to use the Wii cursor to select a game, even if the game doesn't use the IR sensor at all -- I personally find this extremely annoying to do to play just one game. That sensor bar is a real pain and requiring it to navigate the main menus could have been avoided; hell, it probably could be with a software update.

I'd buy that game on Steam again in a second. None of that hardware hassle - it's on my PC and ready to roll. I suspect that the game would play well even on computers with lesser graphical prowess. My Bluetoothed, wireless PS3 controller is ready to play this game, CAPCOM!!!

That controller is also ready to play a shit-ton of console games that I absolutely adore from the past - games I love but play because it's hard to justify lugging around all of my past consoles just to play a few games on each. [Actually, my Super Nintendo is hanging around our house; its durability is unprecedented and its library of games has led to a shocking number of hours logged on the thing in 2009.] Seriously: I would put down cold hard (digitally-interfaced) cash immediately for Beetle Adventure Racing, the MGS series, Chrono Trigger, Blaster Master, the Ninja Gaiden trilogy, Little Nemo: Dream Master...

Beetle Adventure Racing, specifically. There is something so awesome about that game: it's hybrid nature of high-speed racing and adventure in finding a mandatory number of points-boxes, its ingenious, multi-path-laden level design, and it's addictive car-combat multiplayer mode. This game doesn't play well with emulators. My N64 controllers don't play well with age. Somebody, somewhere, make this happen!

I guess I've said about all I can about Steam right now. The past 15 hours or so of playing L4D2, easily linking up with friends from that old rural town and having a gay old time, then leisurely poring over my stats afterwards... all from a game that I didn't even have to leave the house to buy and never have to worry about not being able to play. Ever. Steam is awesome.

So, what do you guys like - or dislike - about Steam? Do you prefer the interface of the 360 or PS3? Do you make use of the Wii's delivery service and overpriced ROMs? (Can't say I haven't bought a few.) Are there games, new or old, that you want to see on Steam?


3:27 PM on 11.17.2009

Impressions: Old Super Mario Bros. Wii. Wait. I mean New.

I probably shouldn't be writing this yet - I rented "New Super Mario Bros. Wii" less than 24 hours ago and mostly played it in a stupor of being awake for far more than 24 hours. I've also only completed World 3, and played mostly solo, so I'll try to keep these impressions as humble as I can.

This game pisses me off.

This is a game that, at least in the first three worlds, cannot seem to decide what it wants to be. It has distinctive elements of Super Mario 1, 3, and World; it has appearances by Kamek from Yoshi's Island; it has music from Mario 64; it has the overarching feel of New Super Mario Bros. DS - which is to say, it rips from all of these games without having a unique soul of its own, and expects that the player will find it a masterpiece greater than the sum of its parts.

Yet I find it's "homages" little more than "anti-creativity". Of course I would expect goombas, koopa-troopas, bullet bills, piranha plants, and the usual cast of characters. But the Nintendo of Old wouldn't have been content without expanding that army. Mario 3 introduced Dry-Bones, Boom-Booms, Bob-ombs, Boos, Thwomps, and Lakitus. Super Mario World had tons of new dinosaur enemies. It had koopas that popped out of their shells. It had goombas that got knocked out and could be picked up. It featured again the Koopa Kids as bosses, but their environments were varied and made each fight quite different.

So far I have not found one single "new" enemy in NSMBW, unless you count penguins - which were in Mario 64, anyway.

Mario 3's world map was a revelation at the time, each with an overarching theme, with different available paths, roaming monsters, roaming monsters, barriers that could be destroyed, hidden areas, mushroom houses and mini-games, bridges that would open or close, and an airship that moved if you didn't beat the boss the first time (sometimes forcing you to play levels to access it again, if you skipped on them originally). Mario World ditched the roaming enemies, but unified every "world" into a flowing whole; if the level looked like it took place in a small lake, it was likely a water level; when Mario goes into the base of a mountain for World 3, it makes sense that they are underground, cavernous areas. It actually felt like a Super Mario "World."

And again NSMBW can't decide what direction it wants to go in. Each World is a distinct entity here - no logical links between them. So it's Mario 3-esque, and I don't inherently have a problem with that - it could be argued Mario 3's worlds are at least as interesting as World's. The problem is that none of these worlds - or, at least, the first three - are as good as ANYTHING we've seen before. There are some roaming enemies, but there aren't any destroyable barriers; there are no items that can be used to affect the map. I ran into a Red Switch Palace, except it wasn't a palace at all, and could be switched off, too, so I don't know if it will have an effect on any other future levels - it quite clearly changed something in the level I just completed, and obviously I had to play it again to find the now-accessible exit. Gee, I really had to use my thinking cap there.

Let's talk Power-Ups. I understand that there is less emphasis on "flying" powers - no cape, no raccoon tail - because it would be hard to keep up to four players on screen at once. Sadly, that feeling of building momentum and just lifting off and flying away and not being sure of where you'll be able to land is nowhere to be found. The Propeller power-up sort-of replaces those, allowing for some quick upward blasts. It's better than nothing, but feels just like the launching from stationary platforms in NSMB-DS. (Why couldn't we see the return of the Bee Suit from Galaxy?) The Ice Flower is quite powerful - maybe too powerful - it can even freeze and destroy Dry-Bones. It's a good addition, though, as the ice blocks can be manipulated or used as platforms, which is cool. The Penguin suit is new and pretty cool, too; not only can you shoot ice balls, ice is far less slippery, and you can move into a belly-flop position to slide all over the place and knock out enemies. (It's much less reckless than the Turtle Shell powerup from the DS game, thank god.) And there's one more power-up I haven't come across yet, but it looks like the tiny mushroom from the DS game that shrinks you and makes control weird and floaty as hell.

The power-up selection could be worse, but I feel it's missing that spark of originality that Mario 3 had and the feeling of balance that World had.

The actual gameplay engine is cool. Like the DS game, you can kick off of pretty much any wall, which is awesome. There are lots of rotating platforms, and you can stand on some pletty slanted slopes. There are lots of slopes everywhere, which is fun for butt-sliding and penguin suit usage. Overall control feels tight and responsive.

As for the level design, I've so far found it less than memorable. The general idea seems to be "familiarity" - and boy, they sure succeeded there. I've run into a couple of tricky spots, and one level had a darkness gimmick with light around Mario (and his fireballs). Everything else feels like a blur.

Yoshi is here, and about as powerful as he was in Mario World; he has a bit of a flutter jump for extended air-time, but doesn't poop or throw eggs.

The bosses seem like a joke to me so far. Once again, they are the Koopa Kids, and so far, I've bonked each one on the head three times and then waited for them to spin around in their shells. I guess one did pull a "Wendy Koopa" and kept popping out of pipes like a Whack-a-Mole, and Iggy threw some bouncing balls around, but so far, they just feel boring.

And that's why I'm writing this now. I've only completed World 3, and I'm downright bored. I can pretty much count the number of things that are actually "new" about this game, and the rest has been a bizarre mish-mash of previously-seen Mario elements. It's just unfortunate because none of it seems to be even as good as when it originally appeared.

To state another example, whenever you beat the Koopa Kids, a key falls from the ceiling. In Mario 3, it was a wand, and if you let it hit the ground it bounced, and you could jump right into it - at which point Mario would freeze in mid-air, the background would dissipate, and Mario would begin falling past clouds, eventually landing in the now-human-again king's palace and returning his wand to him. Here, you touch the key and a sliding door opens on the right side of the screen.

It's just shit like that that pisses me off about this game. Where is the creativity of Mario games' past? WHERE IS IT????

I could really go on and on. Each level has three big coins to find. (The definition of filler content, in my mind.) There are some spots where eight red coins appear for a short time; this was done in the DS game. There are lots of "secret" areas accessible via pipe, but they're no different from the myriad areas like this in Mario games' past. The level goal is the flag, exactly like Mario 1 - nothing new like a moving point-scale in World, or the distinctive monochrome zig-zag transition in Mario 3 with a bonus item.

I personally find the graphics less than impressive. The 3D animation is decent, but at times downright bad: jumping off of the finish flag looks awkward and wrong. The backgrounds have little of interest and the foregrounds look like repeated patterns, over and over. I'm still waiting for a new sprite-based 2D Mario.

The music isn't just less than impressive, I find it so awful it's mute-worthy. The memorable melodies from Marios gone by are rearranged here with boring tonality and tons of vocal "bups" and "ba's" to promote some kind of cheery atmosphere that I find just plain annoying. The sound effects sound stale, and the end-level jingle doesn't promote satisfaction like I want it to. The best part, really, is the death sound, because it's ripped directly from Mario 1.

I know it can't all be bad; New Super Mario DS had at least one extremely memorable level (walking on a giant caterpillar!) and hearing that the game becomes quite challenging makes me hopeful. I know writing paragraphs upon paragraphs before completing half of the game might seem rash, but this is really how I feel about it at this point.

Granted, the multiplayer mode, from what I've played of it so far, is probably the game's saving grace, as it puts an entirely different spin on these levels that are so "merely adequate" when playing solo. I'm sure I'll have fun playing like that: accidentally (or not) killing friends, bouncing upon one another's heads, and so on. It's just majorly disappointing when the game, played alone, is not nearly as enticing.

One last thing, and it concerns this game's title. It was bad enough when "New Super Mario Bros" came out for the DS. What kind of a name is that, really? The game isn't going to be "new" at all in a few years' time, but at least it serves as a functional name. Now there's a new 2D Mario, and they call it "New Super Mario Bros. Wii"? Is this "New" thing a franchise now? Is it secretly an oxymoron, because there is in fact very little "new" about it? Is putting "Wii" in the title of your game any better than "64"? Couldn't they come up with something that isn't absolutely cringe-worthy to say in conversation?

I'll leave it at this: When I called Blockbuster to ask if they had the game, it went something like this:
"Um, I was wondering if you guys were carrying this New Super Mario Bros for Wii?"
"Uh, ... [pause] What's the name of the game?"
"Um, it's actually literally called New Super Mario Brothers... Wii."
"Oh. Yeah. We have four copies."

Whoa!! A new enemy? I guess I better finish the game.   read

1:37 PM on 09.13.2009

9/9/99!! I, for one, will not forget ye!

Every year on September 9th, I remember the Dreamcast. It was my ritual, for some years after it's inevitable death, to invite friends over and reminisce and play the thing. And though I didn't do that this year, on catchy 9-9-09, it was certainly in my thoughts.

Some of us speak of it like a dead relative, the uncle we knew for just a couple of years, who would engage us in wonderful talk and play; some of us speak of it like a famous figure who died before his prime, wishing they could have given it support in its pivotal, live-or-die moments.

People are blogging here about how they hardly gave it a second glance until years later and regretted it, or how we're all liars in our 'love' for it. All valid, to be sure, but dammit, I was there for the whole ride.

I remember buying the Official Sega Dreamcast Magazine just before it came out, anxiously reading the review for Sonic Adventure (I think they only gave it an 8! Their honestly only enamored me!), reading interviews with Sega folk in Next Generation, and gushing about the clever memory cards, the potential of the online connection, and oh my god, the launch games!

I didn't have a Playstation at the time, so I wasn't used to quality releases coming out on such a regular basis (something I think Nintendo still needs to figure out - then again, not all of those Playstation releases resembled quality) - I wasn't used to having a loaded demo disc every other month, and I even surprised myself in how much I enjoyed sports games for the first (well, maybe last) time ever.

Being only like 12 at the time, I begged my parents to pre-order one, but I didn't know until Christmas whether that truly happened or not. It did, and in the last week of the previous century, I played the shit out of Sonic Adventure, and then Toy Commander, and then Soul Calibur, and loved every minute of it.

Back in those times we only had 56k internet, and only on weekends (because it was long-distance, and we had free long-distance on weekends), and I will never forget firing up the Dreamcast just before the clock ticked to midnight on Friday nights so I could hop on the net and look at porn in my own room.

But seriously, the games.

Sonic Adventure, though not without its faults - awful side character gameplay, a somewhat buggy camera, an overworld that felt like filler at times - actually made Sonic work in 3D. Its sequel would make the awful mistake of requiring that you play the shitty side character levels to advance to more Sonic ones (damn those Knuckles levels!), but this was a pure adrenaline rush through downright gorgeous levels at break-neck speed.

Soul Calibur, with its challenging and diverse mission mode, added an incredible layer of depth to the already deep gameplay mechanics. Honestly, the Dreamcast had a lot of great fighting games - Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Powerstone (if you count it), and Dead or Alive 2 (which I didn't play for the tits - well, maybe in part) ... never have I found fighting games to be more varied and just plain fun.

I remember very distinctly that following Easter. My sister had played a bit of Crazy Taxi and fell in love with it, and for a girl I could hardly get to play Mario 3 past World 2, she was very persuasive to my parents about WANTING THAT GAME. They got it for her as an Easter present, and I got RE: Code Veronica (how generous of them!) and the Dreamcast kept spinning nonstop all month. Even my mom played Crazy Taxi. I don't know about her enjoying it, but I can't recall her ever being willing to play any other video game. Ever. Before or after.

Then there are the impossibly whacked out games, the ones that somehow got published and actually marketed and were actually good - and of course despite plummeting Dreamcast prices, only those who already had the system gave any sort of damn. Jet Grind Radio - I had an incredible blast with this game, with the fluid rollerskating controls and complimentary level design, totally crazy music, spraypaint mechanics, running from the fuzz, an eclectic cast of characters, and an absolutely gorgeous demonstration of cel shaded graphics - this game is like nothing else, save for its Xbox sequel, which beefed up the level size but toned down the rest of the antics. Shit, I really want to play JGR again, just thinking about it.

And who can forget Seaman? Possibly the most frightening Tamagatchi-esque game ever invented, and one that will creep out your friends and family because you make a point to talk to it. Here is a "nurturing game" that actually got me to wake up ten minutes early to make sure Seaman was fed and his tank was at the proper temperature. Otherwise, he would BITCH! I still remember one of my friends somehow convincing my Seaman that I was gay, and forever after, he kept asking if I was getting along with my "hubby." Damn creepy fish with man-face.

And of course Chu Chu Rocket, the clever and cute and again, just plain weird puzzle game. I spent a lot of hours alone trying to get my mice safely into their rockets and out of cat's mouths, but the true fun was the chaotic free-for-all that was multiplayer mode, slapping directional arrows every-which-way and watching all hell break loose real quick. (This paragraph probably makes no sense if you've never played the game.)

And then, of course, the system died a quick and solemn death. The Official Dreamcast Magazine announced it would be no more, and the list of upcoming games dwindled to almost nothing, Sega exited the hardware business and became a then unthinkable third-party publisher, and people went and sold their Dreamcasts for PS2s. But I didn't. It would be years before I got a PS2 (maybe out of spite?), and I continued trying to get my hands on the rest of the weird catalog that I had missed: Shenmue, Phantasy Star Online, Sega Bass Fishing, and so on.

There was a glimmer of hope in Sega's early development for the Xbox that I wholeheartedly endorsed. Games like GunValkyrie, Jet Set Radio Future, and Panzer Dragoon Orta made me feel like Sega had made the right decision: they could still publish games as a third party, and they got to take advantage of the ever-increasing power of new consoles.

Of course, you fuckers didn't buy those games either, and now we're stuck watching Sega pathetically release 3D Sonics that just don't work.

In any case, this was ten years ago. I hold a grudge no more. But know, Destructoid!!! that at least one of us actually owned, played, and loved the damn thing when it needed support most. The Dreamcast represents Sega's first true step into 3D - with a capable system, but most importantly, games that actually took advantage of the medium and really shined. I hope some day they will return to publishing games in this spirit. Dreamcast forever!

(I realize this is four days late. Sorry!)   read

12:44 AM on 09.10.2009

Browser Tab Bar FAVICONIZED.

I've been using Windows 7 full-time since around December, and I particularly adore the new taskbar - turning the basic concept of it into a much more functional, easy to use, and aesthetically pleasing interface tool. See, I would always have tons and tons of programs open, and hardly make head or tail of what they were, so relying on established icons and sensible grouping of windows instead of long text strings for each program with a tiny icon is a GREAT idea, I think.

(I'm not going to get into whether it's a ripoff of the OSX dock. They are more similar than ever, but still different. I prefer 7's taskbar.)

Anyway, ever since I began using Firefox (back then, Firebird! Remember that?) I've had a problem with having waaay too many tabs in my internet browser for my own good. I still do. It gets really bad when I'm doing a report for school; I would easily have 40, 50, or more tabs open. It just gets out of control.

So after I had been using the Win7 taskbar for, gosh, maybe a week, I got an idea: why not make Firefox group tabs together JUST like that? Tons of sites already have memorable, recognizable favicons, so why not just use them?

I blogged about this (twice, actually) on a site that nobody ever read, and I would have just given up, but in case anybody is still reading, I've managed to use Stylish and an add-on called FaviconizeTab to create something similar to what I proposed nine months ago.

That's actually how many tabs I had open before I fairly innocently decided to take a screenshot and bring this up again. You know what? That's a real pain in the ass to manage when you have to scroll through like three lines to see them all. I know. Granted, right then I was searching for drivers for my new eeePC, but this is the kinda shit I do! I use a lot of tabs at once!

The FaviconizeTab add-on for Firefox will actually do pretty much just what that screenshot shows, especially if you set its filter to a * wildcard to make all tabs do that. You can specify specific sites, or just right-click a tab and faviconize it. Perhaps you consistently have the same six sites open - just faviconize 'em and make sure Firefox reloads your sessions!

If you want to "Windows-7-ize" them a bit (*cough* really just enlarge them *cough*), you can use Stylish with this code. I think I had to tweak the parameters slightly.

Granted, it doesn't really behave like a Windows 7 taskbar; it certainly doesn't group sites or tier them in any similar way, and it actually can be annoying when you have like four Destructoids open. But hey! It's helping me cope.

One step at a time...   read

3:19 PM on 09.04.2009

Resistance 2: Mere Adequacy = AAA Game?

I just don't get it. Granted, there are some pretty cool weapons in Resistance 2, and lots of giant monsters, big levels, and uh, online play. Yet all of these aspects are so hampered by the core gameplay, the lost potential just saddens me.

A forewarning: I didn't play the whole game. Don't kill me. I only have impressions more than complete observations, and mostly from the beginning and end of the game, and co-op. We only got our PlayStation 3 last week, and I can't compare this to its predecessor or any other FPS titles on the system right now.

Now don't get me wrong, the weapons are pretty cool: the sniper rifle with secondary "bullet-time" function, the gun that shoots through walls, the gun that tags an enemy and homes the rest of your clip on it, and the medic gun that gives you energy and recharges your comrades' energy are all nifty and I appreciate that.

But the level design, while attractive at times (particularly the gas station area and the bog/swamp area towards the end) is incredibly deceiving. There's constantly a waypoint marker telling you where to go. You don't really have any other options but to go towards it, and then to another, and another. And along the way there will be enemies that have pretty incredible aim and the balls to charge right at you.

And you will die, a lot, because you can't take much damage, and many areas are just traps waiting to spring. Invisible enemies, bullets that shoot through walls with reckless abandon, melee attacks from aliens that kill you instantly. There are lots of checkpoints, and you will be utilizing them, but it just ... isn't ... fun. What's fun about running into an area, getting slaughtered, going back to the checkpoint and doing it again, with more caution?

It doesn't really help, in my opinion, that there's no health bar. The first game I remember doing this is the game adaptation of Peter Jackson's King Kong, but that game tried to eschew any sense of a HUD to create a more cinematic style experience. (And it actually had Michel Ancel at the helm, and was kind of a neat game.) But this game already has an ammunition display, a waypoint marker, and other information - why the hell NOT a health meter?

Instead it's all peek out from a wall, or place a shield, and shoot as much as you can safely, and retreat, and hope you don't get swamped in creatures. Your teammates suck, and enemies ignore them anyway. And that appears to be the gameplay. Over and over and over. There are no interesting constraints placed upon you; there are no real interesting enemies to fight.

As for the giant monsters, the few that I saw required no more thinking than knowing where to acquire a rocket launcher or other similarly powerful explosive. In contrast with Half-Life 2: Episode 2, you're encouraged to use the Strider killing device (the proper name of which I can't remember) - you know, where you throw it at the Strider's head (a tiny traget), hope it sticks, and then blast it with a pistol and watch as its stilt-like legs fall apart.

Let's compare the final battles of HL2:E2 and R2. (Spoilers!)

Half Life pits you against like, a dozen Striders, on a big-ass forested battlefield, and you have to keep them from reaching a certain point. You have a car, a number of the Strider-killing devices, and that's about it. You have to anticipate from which direction they're coming and not let one breach your line of defense. Maybe you try and round a couple of them up. Maybe you don't. But that's not all. Then there are the reinforcements, the FAST and deadly Hunters, which require a completely different strategy to kill - there's no standing still allowed if you want to live, you're going to have to strafe quickly from side to side and take the fuckers out before they get you, while still not letting the Striders get away. It is hard. But it is engaging, it is fun, it is empowering, and when it is over, it is incredibly satisfying. Then there is some more interactive visual storytelling at the resolution of the game.

Resistance 2: You wander into an EXTREMELY Halo-esque spaceship environment, doing exactly what you've been doing: take cover and kill, take cover and kill, until you finally get into the final chamber, which is basically a linear walkway with some kind of armory-type structures littered along it. Don't worry, you won't get lost, there's waypoints telling you exactly which way to go! And don't worry as the big boss tries to claw at you, because he won't hit you, he's merely tearing apart the bunkers and clearing a path for you to progress. Then you finally get to the last section, and oh! Don't worry about figuring out what to do, or having any creative input, and certainly don't worry about any emergent gameplay, because the waypoint markers point out exactly which glowing orb you need to hit to kill the boss. Just don't get slashed and keep running in a circle.

Seriously. Then you run away from the area with a 4 minute countdown ticking, the base blows up, your character alludes to a sequel, and your teammate shoots you in the head. That's it. The end. Roll credits.

I wish I was kidding but I'll just leave it there. I don't know if you were as shocked or disappointed as me, but I guess that's what you get with merely adequate gameplay.

(P.S. I was going to write about the co-op, but I'm sure it's been written about plenty before; the leveling-up is a neat concept but yet another wasted opportunity because it takes SOOOO long to level-up and the gameplay is just plain monotonous. Fuck this game.)   read

12:40 AM on 07.28.2009

Logic in Cannabis Law? ... Still waiting.

I just need to share the latest in The Man's gung-ho conquest to beat down the little guy who likes to smoke some pot. At whatever level of government, in this case at the state level (New Jersey's, specifically) there continues to be intolerant bastards with an illogical hate for marijuana, in contrast to the rather socially acceptable alcohol.

Guy has 14 marijuana plants in his backyard. Helicopter spots it, tells the state cops. Going on that (and as far as the article tells) nothing else, the fuzz "found well-worn trails leading to the plants, some as tall as 6 feet. Authorities also found Miracle-Gro in a shed and psilocybin mushrooms and bags of processed marijuana in the dwelling, according to court papers."

Okay, lemme get this straight. They have no reason to investigate this guy besides a tip from a peeping tom helicopter. What gives them the right to investigate this further in the first place? If they had no reasonable "leads" that this was the guy fueling the pot economy in NJ, they SHOULDN'T be able to put this guy in court against twenty years.

Twenty years.


That's compounded with the fact that the guy - gee, I forgot to mention - has multiple sclerosis.

New Jersey is currently in line to be the 14th state to implement medical marijuana laws, too. Huh.

As far as the judge is concerned, using a drug commonly known to ease the symptoms of terrible diseases like, say, multiple sclerosis, is absolutely nothing worthy of being cited to a court. OF BEING CITED TO A COURT? A drug that is recently undergoing a well funded study that has high hopes of finding positive benefits to its use.

The judge has this to say:
"If medical marijuana use is to be recognized as an exemption to our criminal law, the legislative process must produce that result. This court will not do so."

If the guy was just a healthy, regular dude, I would still feel bad for him, up against twenty years. Sure, a guy like that would probably sell to close friends and maybe make a little bit of money. But a guy with multiple sclerosis? Growing pot in his backyard with Miracle Grow?

So, will this guy, John Wilson, be processed without a trial that might give the guy a break for, heaven forbid, having a fair reason to break the law? Slipped under the radar a couple of years before NJ breaks into the medical marijuana fold? As easy to forget as his name? Or could he become a poster child for a movement in accepting cannabis and really put politician's feet on the fire and maybe, just maybe, get real lucky?

More people need to know.

And big deal, he had a bag of shrooms.   read

10:46 PM on 07.26.2009

M-Y-O (Make Your Own) Cigarettes

The internet excites me so.

As a kid, I was an avid Nintendo Power fan. One time, when I was probably in sixth grade and in the midst of being a Pokemon fiend (the first kid at my school to introduce Pokemon cards - thanks NP!), my family spent a few days in Maryland with my uncle's family, and I bonded with one cousin I never see often over that and Command & Conquer. Which I had never played before. We rented it, and played the shit out of it. To be honest, I had never really played an RTS like that, and C&C on Nintendo 64 introduced me to a simply fascinating style of gameplay.

I couldn't stop thinking about it, and I remember on the way home I wanted to absorb as much information about that game as I could. My greatest urge was to head straight to my collection of Nintendo Powers and pull out the issue that I knew had Commander & Conquer coverage on. I certainly did that, and then bought the game, and then got sucked into the beauty of StarCraft.

Right. How does this involve cigarettes again?

It's not a great habit, but due to, well, the people I have chosen to surround myself with are smokers. Inevitably, cigarettes made their way to be a daily purchasing habit. Damn interesting people. Damn girls.

I've very recently taken up making my own cigarettes, for a number of reasons: I expected it to be a lot more inexpensive than prepackaged smokes, I didn't really like the feeling of giving so much money to Camel or who be it on a very regular basis, and, well, it sounded kind of fun and exciting.

I headed to a local headshop to see if they had cigarette machines. I was in luck. The girl immediately said, "Nobody comes in here looking for them cause they don't know we sell them. I'll give you 25% off for it."

An offer I couldn't refuse, and I also grabbed a box of 250 Laramie filtered cig tubes for $2.50. The tobacco: "Uh, it's really expensive here... $40 for this can of Bugler." Damn. I'll check Snappy's then.

$40? Seemed a lot higher than what I figured. I got off with the machine, an EXP1000, for just over $20, but I could have sworn cans of tobacco like that were around ten bucks. Turns out there's a new tax on rolling tobacco that just began this summer. It raises the tax from a dollar-something per pound to over twenty!

I got a 6 oz can of Zig Zag's full flavor blend ($32 at Snappy's) but as I made the purchase (still, I assured myself, cheaper than a pack a day for a week) I vowed to immediately go home and get on the internet and research this matter further!

It's funny, because if this had happened and the internet hadn't existed, I wouldn't have found this community of MYO Enthusiasts all swarming together on some forum. I wouldn't have discovered the wide variety of blends available, the uniqueness of filter tubes, or the intricacies of the EXP1000 I bought. I wouldn't have found a 16oz (1 pound!) bag of "The Good Stuff" tobacco for $23! THAT is a fairly significant price difference!

It's actually had an interesting effect on my mentality of smoking. I seem to not be having a constant urge to light a smoke whenever someone else does. It's not hard to make a smoke, and I'm extremely happy with the quality of the final product. But the mere act of putting effort into making one: estimating the proper amount of tobbaco to load, compressing it into a chamber with your fingers, aligning a filter tube and locking the chamber into place, sliding the spoon full well into the tube and then releasing quickly. It's almost cathartic in a way - "At least I made this thing that will make me less healthy!" and it's less enticing to chain-smoke when bored because I actually have to make each one. I think I've moved down from a solid 20 cancer sticks a day to maybe 12 or so, without even trying.

Because I'm waiting on UPS (their $8 shipping sucks ass and all online retailers seem to exclusively use them) for my goods to arrive, and my 6oz can finally went dry (a solid nine days later) I ended up buying a pack of trusty Camel Wides, and I'm really not enjoying them so much. The mere act of them being on my desk does not make me want one all the time. Instead I actually find myself rolling the few tubes I have left with another small package of Zig Zag I picked up to tide myself over instead.

I don't know if there was a point in all of this, just a few observations. All I know is I feel enthusiastic about making my own smokes and I'm glad the internet exists to help me out.

I'm wondering if there are any other MYO or RYO'ers on Dtoid?   read

3:23 PM on 07.25.2009

Memoir of an Ex-"Professional" Reviewer

Sometime in 2002, I became a "professional" video game reviewer.

More specifically, I didn't really get paid, but I did get to keep lots of free games. My reviews were published on websites more popular than my own for a wider audience and my scores influenced aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes and GameRankings. I also got occasional swag like t-shirts and, depending on how generous the editors were feeling come Christmas, maybe a $50 gift card.

Although it wasn't a real income in any way (it certainly didn't displace my minimum wage job), the goods I got to keep were handy for bartering. I reserved the poor trade-in rates of Electronics Boutique for games that absolutely nobody wanted, and was usually able to trade games "other people would want" for games I really wanted. Of course I kept the really good ones, few and far between as they came.

At first, I didn't mind that the vast majority of games were either "total crap," "woefully average," or the somewhat elusive games "other people would want," but at least I could bear through the latter and crank out a review and get rid of the thing for something more worthwhile. The "total crap" was almost fun to play because of the potential for making fun of them in a hearty review.

The "woefully average" games were really the problem. These were games so basic, so merely competent, so uninspired and this-genre-as-usual affairs, that you would begin playing them for possibly twenty minutes, say "I get the idea," and proceed to forget about them for a week. (Expected turnaround was three days; with these, that didn't always happen.) By the time I would start to feel a little guilty about not having my review done, I might google a sampling of reviews, note their observations, play the game for perhaps another twenty minutes, and attempt to write 2,000 words on something I couldn't care less about.

Sometimes obscure games like weren't even recognized by EB, or were worth as little as $1-$3. Since nobody else wanted them - let alone had even heard of most of them - I let them go for whatever I could get.

Sometimes games weren't retail copies at all, especially the PC games. They often came on burnt CD - exactly from where I don't know; sometimes the sharpie on the discs were from my editor, sometimes they had crappy printed CD sized stickers on them. Either way, you couldn't get squat for them. I'm sure many of them I still have.

Take a look at the list of games I reviewed for just before I had had enough: Blitzkrieg 2, Mall Tycoon 3, Marine Park Empire, Pac-Man World 3, Crash Tag Team Racing, America's Army: Rise of a Soldier, TMNT 3: Mutant Nightmare... needless to say, the catalog of games I received did NOT reflect the site's name.

I also had the pleasure of doing previews for the same kind of crap: COPS 2170: The Power of Law, Scrapland, Virtual Skipper 3... as with the PC reviews, I was expected to take an assortment of screenshots for each, often with very uncooperative software.

Terrible games. Yes, I was lucky enough to scoop up Psychonauts, F.E.A.R., Beyond Good & Evil, Panzer Dragoon Orta, Otogi, and a few other gems. Worthplaying put up a list on their FTP server of available titles, which was usually crap, and GameZone (the other site) had a more efficient ranking system of games expected to come out that month, with the most wanted games being rotated by the reviewing crew.

That's not to say I never took advantage of the system. Sometimes I would get the same game from both websites, "return" one game still in shrink wrap to Wal-Mart for full price, and try and come up with two different reviews.

Problem was I was not patient enough to write two different reviews for each site. More often than not when this happened they both got the same exact thing. I feel kind of bad about that. And if I was being particularly late with reviews of some crap, I might keep the editors on my good side by giving them a review I wrote for the other site... "Sorry, I'm still working on Scooby Doo 2: Monster's Unleashed -- but will this review of Mace Griffin Bounty Hunter[i] tide you over? :)"

I do feel bad about that. And surely it was only a matter of time before they figured it out. And they did. But I was sick and tired of the crap selection of games and screenshots and deadlines by then, so it was an easy out.

Since then I've mostly relegated any 'reviewing' to forum posts, unread and soon abandoned blogs, and a shortlived (mostly retro oriented) podcast. But upon digging my way to Destructoid more than once lately, and finding the video content quite compelling, as well as the community surrounding it, I think maybe I have found a catalyst to ... enjoy?!? writing about games again.

Granted, I'm not planning on getting any free things for doing it, but that's okay by me. I have some things to say about games. I have some thoughts on older games, observations of recent games, and hope for games of the future. More to come.   read

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