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8:31 PM on 05.04.2009

Other Worlds Than These: Raccoon City; safe as houses

You can run, but you can't hide.

For as long as I can remember, I've been a claustrophobe--elevators, coffins, closets, all of them send shivers down my spine when I think of being caught in them. The first Resident Evil captured my fears. A mansion surrounded on all sides with yapping zombie dogs at every exit?



I believe I'll take that change of underoos now, if it pleases you.



The year was 1998 and survival horror was a relatively recent development on the scene. It had only been two years since the first installment in the series was released on the Playstation, and most of us were hungry for more (brains). In Resident Evil 2, we were first introduced to the sad tale of Raccoon City. An anonymous city in an anonymous state, presumably somewhere within the vast reaches of middle America. An Everycity for an Everyman character if you will.

When we're first introduced to our soon to be nightmare-atropolis, it's done with a bang--there is a car crash and the subsequent events are to lead our brave heroes on the fight of their lives. Faced with a choice of who to embark on the journey as, you, the player, is in for one hellish ride. Already, fans of the series are familiar with the Wesker mansion and all the horror (previously believed to be) contained therein. Anything to follow, surely will be even more horrifying.

Imagine my joy at realizing that I wouldn't be facing my fear of claustrophobia in this title? The wide stretches of a mid-western city, that I can handle.

Dear God, how wrong can one man be?

Everywhere you turn in RE2, there is rubble in your path. A burning car pile-up stands in your way. A horde of feasting zombies blocks your every move. You get the horrible sinking feeling that you are being led to your certain demise, but the openess--the expansiveness of Raccoon City--tricks you into believing that the choices are your own.



Raccoon City is a place familiar to most of us. The coffeeshop on the corner. A police station. A fast food restaurant. The local public trans. All of this is familiar fair. But in the hands of Capcom, the familiar becomes unfamiliar. That which was a haven, is now the dark, rotting insides of a festering heap of what used to be family and friends.

No place is safe. There is no haven. You will either die, or you will get out.

The scenario is a simple one: a large pharmaceutical company moves into town. It creates new jobs and people are excited about the prospect of working for a big name corporation. The town is booming with new life and people are happy. We're all willing to overlook a few wrongdoings now and again for the sake of everyone's happiness, right? Right?

But then the little oddities become even stranger. And the events that happened at the mansion in the woods will soon pale in comparison to the carnage about to be endured by the residents of Raccoon City.
Having completed RE2 with only minimal soiling of my undergarments, I got a breather for a year. But in November of 1999, the bastards at Capcom decided to reel me back in...and I was hooked.

In RE3 we were back to the familiar, albeit, terrifying landscape of Raccoon City. Except this time, this guy is going to stand in your way.



Prior to starting RE3, I thought there was no way that Capcom could make Raccoon City more horrifying. They had already trapped me like a rat in a cage with so many flesh eating zombies. How could things possibly be worse than that?

Nemesis would be the answer to that ridiculously stupid question.

He's lurking around every corner. He's big and bad and ugly and, for whatever reason, seems particularly keen on rearranging your innards in particular. Already we, the players, have seen every aspect that the City has to offer. But as Nemesis runs down Jill, it quickly become apparent that even the undiscovered nooks and crannies of this hellmouth are inhabited by the most vile variety of evil that the fools at Umbrella Corp can cook up.

What never ceases to amaze me is that the mythology of Resident Evil continues to grow in each spin-off and sequel. We learn more about the events surround the Raccoon City incident. RE-makes have managed to further flesh out the backstory of the city. Sometimes, just before completing one of the games, I'll read through the files just to see the sad stories suffered by each of the inhabitants. There is a pathos to this town. There is a deep pain and suffering and walking in, you know right away that there can be no redemption.



Death might come quickly for some, but undeath is forever. Or, at least until some punk blows your head off with a shotgun blast to the face.

I was thrilled when Capcom brought us back around to Raccoon City in RE0. It was like coming home to an old friend. Sure, an old friend who wanted to take a bite out of my face, but an old friend nevertheless.

  read


9:09 AM on 05.04.2009

Flashback Monday: A Pick and Flick Platformer; He Who Smelt It



Oh, Snotty Ragsdale, you magnificent bastard. So sad that you were nearly completely overshadowed by the inimitable Earthworm Jim. You had a good thing going for you, Snotty, but you couldn’t hold a candle to the awesomeness of EJ. Sure, you were a great play and we had our good times together. Who doesn’t love a good fart joke? A good fart joke that goes on and on for over 20 levels? But what the hell was up with you being a 13+ title when you were first released? Lulz. Released. Like a fart.



Pfft.

When they re-released you on the Virtual Console, you were rated E for Everyone. You’ve lost your edge, Snotty. Why aren’t you out there beating hookers with baseball bats to take back your money?



Shouldn’t you be smothering someone with a plastic bag? How in the hell do you expect me to have fun without massive amounts of carnage and gore?



You were a loveable, albeit stinky, anti-hero. An eccentric millionaire hellbent on saving the world from…just what the hell were you up to anyway? And who has that much mucus in his nostrils on any one occasion? I seriously think you should see a doctor about that. Lactose intolerance is something that can be handled by altering your diet and using certain medications.



Oh, right. Now I remember. You took a crap job at some science lab to see what was going on with Professor Stinkbaum’s plans to transport all the world’s pollution to the X Crement dimension. And when things went awry, you leapt into action, donning your superhero suit and diving into the unknown.



All in all, Boogerman was a fun platformer. I guess I was approximately the target audience at the time of its original release, and the humor was not lost on me. If you were an adolescent male and you got your hands on this game, there is no way you didn’t just pick BM’s (oh, I c waht tehy did thar!) nose to hear him say in his THE TICK-like voice, “BOOGER!”.



Also, he grunts out his farts.

If you are looking for a fun way to pass (lulz) an afternoon, Boogerman is good fun from the guys at Interplay. While not as challenging as Earthworm Jim, it’s a nice alternative to the squeaky clean ways of Mario and the gang.



The game featured some really bizarre areas, that broke with the cannon of lava, water, grass, castle and the combination of weird and gross was a good one.



I’m sure my nostalgia goggles are coloring my view on this one, but if you’re looking for a funny platformer where you can fly around the screen on the steam of your own farts then look no further.

Your prayers have been answered.

  read


10:01 AM on 04.28.2009

GLaDOS: or, How I learned to Stop Hating and Love the Portal

Firstly, I have to give a big thanks to Silverdragon1979, for convincing me to pull my head from my arse and try something new. Seriously, I owe you a six-pack or my first born or something.

So, my first blog on this site was a bit of flamebait, to say the least. In it I espoused the opinion that there is nothing new or great about modern gaming. I may have also insinuated that new games are gimmicky and lame and that the average intelligence of those who enjoy them is equivalent to the average temperature in Alaska during Winter.

Hardcore Science


I was jaded because I’ve played so many games over the years and there have been few highlights in my gaming experiences since I put down the controller after finishing FFVII. If you disagree with me, you are wrong and a bad person for feeling that way.

But Silverdragon told me to pick up Portal and give it a whirl. He said it was short, but worth the price of admission. I had actually picked up Portal some time ago, but never got around to actually playing it. I bought it separate from the Orange Box for $9.99 and figured I’d get around to playing it eventually.

But I put down my classic controller and dusted off my mouse. And hot damn am I glad that I did.



A year and a half after its release, here I am discovering this game for myself for the first time. It was everything I hoped gaming could accomplish now. Humorous, irreverent, challenging, surprising, and most of all—fun. I forced myself to stop playing when I realized I’d already blown through the first 15 chambers in one sitting. This was one of the best gaming experiences I’d had in a long time and I didn’t want to burn through it in less than a day.

So I beat it in two.

Everything from the mechanics and physics, to the graffiti on the walls glued me to my computer. I’d stayed blissfully unaware of the secrets of GLaDOS and the Companion Cube and the Aperture Science center, so everything was new and fresh and awesome.

VG Cats Original

I did get stuck a few times on the upper levels beyond the 19th chamber. But that’s what I want in a game. I want to get stuck and have to puzzle it out for myself. And one of the best things I can say about a game is that I didn’t have to go to a Walkthrough to beat it. All the answers are right there in front of you and if you are willing to tough it out, you will reach the next stage.

Portal was the perfect game. Sure, it didn’t meet my general requirement of taking a long time to beat, but I’d rather read the perfect haiku, then belabor a tiresome novel. I might be the last gamer on earth to have picked up Portal for the first time. But to anyone like me, who thinks that gaming has lost its ability to amaze and entertain in more recent years, you need to pick up Portal.

And now, my top 5 Portal moments (Spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn’t played it. But I highly doubt there are any of you left…)

5) Realizing that GLaDOS is lying to you for the first time. Misdirection in this game kept me enthralled. It made me want to know what was waiting for me at the end of the line. It kept me guessing right up until the end.

4) Finding the first “behind the scenes” chamber filled with graffiti. There was something deeply disturbing when you found the first tin of beans paired with marks on the wall. What happened to the eater of said beans. Why didn’t he or she progress? And, finally—was that one of my predecessors? How many copies of me have been made?

3) Ending credits. If you beat this game, there’s absolutely nothing more I need to elaborate on this point.



2) Incineration of the Companion Cube. In what other game has an inanimate object taken on a life of its own to this degree? Have you ever felt guilty about throwing a switch because it might hurt the switch? Brilliant. Absofuckinglutely brilliant. I actually turned my speakers up thinking that I might have missed the Cube speaking.



1) The final fight with GLaDOS. Rarely in a game have I found a fight so compelling that I didn’t want to complete it as fast as possible. I wanted to hear every last sultry word she had to say. Meanwhile, I’m stressing on how to grab that orb that’s hanging in midair. Absolutely awesome.


I think I’m in denial that it’s already said and done. I’ve gone back and completed the bonus maps and I’m taking my time on the timed trials. I just don’t want it to end.



Thus, I’m open to suggestions. If there are other games as good as this one that are on the next-gen systems, bring them on. I’ve got my gaming face on and I’m hungry for more.   read


10:17 AM on 04.27.2009

Flashback Monday: Action Adventure and Blue Hair; Awesome. Awesome.

18 years later and this title still holds up. I recently rediscovered it on the Virtual Console and it’s just as much fun now as it was back in the day.



In Wonder Boy in Monster World, you play the titular “Wonder Boy” aka Shion. Our protagonist is a rather quiet young man with a penchant for hairbands and sidekicks. Shion’s mission is to save Monster World from the evils of BioMeka, who, until the final boss scene, is never viewed by the player. Suffice it to say, that BioMeka is bad news and it is your mission to destroy it.



WBiMW was the fifth installment in the series and the last one to ever be released on American shores, but it is by far my absolute favorite of the series. The game incorporates RPG elements with side-scrolling action/adventure gameplay. If you only ever had a Genesis, this was the closest thing you were going to get to a Legend of Zelda experience. And, while some gamers dismissed it as a knock-off of LoZ’s epic awesomeness and originality, WBiMW utilizes some new tricks--at that point--not seen before in the LoZ series.



Most notably, you had the opportunity to have a sidekick in most areas. Each zone featured a particular NPC who accompanied Shion as he traversed the treacherous terrain of Monster World. In each case, the leader of each zone will tell you that one of the colorful residents is in grave peril. So your first mission is to save them and then, after doing the whole hero shindig, you get to have them follow you around and help you out.



The first of these sidekicks is Priscilla, a fairy from Alsedo who used her wand to bop enemies on the head. While her attack was the weaksauce, she could heal you by making hearts appear out of thin air.

Hotta was your second sidekick. He’s a dwarf from the village of Lilypad. He busts up walls and can reveal hidden entrances. Good times, lots of fun.



Shabo is by far my favorite of the sidekicks. He lives in the Darkworld village of Childam and has an EFFING FLYING SCYTHE. Badassery not included.

Rotto is the most complicated sidekick to retrieve, but his firebreath is the awesomesauce. He’s the Elder Dragon’s grandson and he accompanies you into the volcano.



Where Wonder Boy shines is in the boss battles. Everyone from the overgrown mushroom to the final battle with BioMeka will test your patience and your reflexes. Be sure to load up on gemstones and potions for the final fight, because you are going to need them if you want to stand toe-to-appendage with BioMeka. And be certain to power up your shield spell. You’re going to need it.



WBiMW utilizes the old dynamic of having you find X item to access Y area. Thankfully, the maps are laid out that you don’t have to do a great deal of backtracking as you progress—warps are littered throughout the countryside, and unless you are using a newly acquired special item to access a previously unreachable area, you won’t find yourself wandering unnecessarily through areas where your strength far outmatches the enemies. Different items and abilities can make your life significantly easier—just try to complete the pyramid level without the aid of the ladder boots. All your favorite areas can be found here: grasslands, jungle, underwater, sea, ice world, volcano and … OUTERFUCKINGSPACE.

That’s right. When has Link ever gotten to go to outer space before? This game was easily overshadowed by the awesomeness that was LoZ: A Link to the Past which came out just 6 months after Wonder Boy hit American shores. But those of us lucky enough to play it when it was first released were treated to a well-balanced, cleverly mapped, fun adventure. It’s easily worth the 8 bucks it costs on the virtual console.   read


10:00 AM on 04.21.2009

Columbine 10 Years Later: An Argument for Video Games

You just watch. There is going to be a Columbine-times-10 incident, and everyone will finally get it. Either that, or some video gamer is going to go Columbine at some video game exec's expense or at E3, and then the industry will begin to realize that there is no place to hide, that it has trained a nation of Manchurian Children.
Jack Thompson, GameCore interview, Feb. 25, 2005

Yesterday marked the 10 year anniversary of the Columbine killings. I found it odd that the event went almost unmarked in the media, as I can recall being horrified at hearing that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had killed 12 of their fellow classmates and one of their teachers, wounded over 20 other students, and then committed suicide. I know very few peers who are unaware as to what happened on April 20, 1999, but I do know that the fallout from that event had far reaching impact.

The journals of the killers indicated that they were fans of Doom, Quake and Duke Nukem, and that they played for hours on end. Nevermind the fact that they also went bowling to “warm up” for what they were about to do—this factoid was exactly what the media latched onto. Video games were warping the minds of our youth.

Jack Thompson was able to use this piece of information and launch an ill-informed smear campaign against gamers and gaming. He argued that games were violent revenge fantasies. In an interview with Netjak in 2006, Thompson reacted to the pending release of Bully:

Game Informer already has published screen shots of the game, and has done a brief write-up of what’s going to be in the game. Nobody can claim that they haven’t gone into the game’s content; it’s already out there. We don’t need to play the game; it’s irrelevant to the subject. It’s going in there, and children shouldn’t be playing it.

(Source: http://www.netjak.com/review.php/1091 )

One needn’t bother playing a game when one leaps to conclusions. And anyone who played through Bully will realize, rather quickly, that this isn’t some vengeance crusade. The protagonist in Bully is a bit of a punk, but he’s an Everyman—and the gore and violence that Thompson assumed would be present in the game was … well, it just wasn’t there. And there are consequences to the actions taken by the player in Bully.

If Thompson thinks that Bully is a violent fantasy, he should try being a misfit in middle school.

That’s not to say that there aren’t extremely violent and disturbing videogames—Manhunt is clearly an exercise in violence for the sake of violence. But if games are warping our minds, then why aren’t there vast armies of plastic-bag wielding madmen rampaging on the streets?

You know what's really exciting about video games is you don't just interact with the game physically -- you're not just moving your hand on a joystick, but you're asked to interact with the game psychologically and emotionally as well. You're not just watching the characters on screen; you're becoming those characters.
Nina Huntemann, Game Over

In Game Over, Nina Huntemann touches on one of the most unique aspects of our favorite pastime. The ability to become someone else. Much of the genre is immersed in being a hero—Super Mario, Sonic, Link, Simon Belmont, Samus Aran and countless others make up a pantheon of great heros whom we, from childhood, have relished and venerated.

Who hasn’t loved the opportunity to stomp a goomba, spin attack a robot, blow up a dodongo, kill a vampire or freeze blast a metroid? But the vast majority of us don’t go about jumping on the skulls of our brothers after a round of Super Smash Brothers. We enjoy the games and are able to separate the fantasy from the reality. In most cases, we’re blowing off steam.

When I have a rough day at work and then take a virtual shotgun to the head of a zombie, who is getting hurt in that scenario?

Rhetorical questions for the win, Alex.

Video games are bad for you? That's what they said about rock and roll.
Shigeru Miyamoto

Mr. Miyamoto’s point is well taken. Each genre and medium is scary to the generation that preceded it. It’s misunderstood and those who fail to try it will never understand it. The bliss of playing the perfect game is lost on many folks—but as gaming and gamers go from fringe element to mainstream, this perception is beginning to shift. As a kid, only a handful of us had in-home gaming systems. I’d probably argue that many of my peers don’t game as adults but the advent of handheld systems and greater accessibility of games has opened the pastime to the masses.

But David Walsh, a child psychologist, was interviewed by CBS in 2005 in regards to the murders committed by Devin Moore—another tool in the crusade by Jack Thompson. Walsh had this to say about the formative years of a gamer:

"…[T]he teenage brain is different from the adult brain. The impulse control center of the brain, the part of the brain that enables us to think ahead, consider consequences, manage urges -- that's the part of the brain right behind our forehead called the prefrontal cortex," says Walsh. "That's under construction during the teenage years. In fact, the wiring of that is not completed until the early 20s."

(Source: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/03/04/60minutes/main678261.shtml)

Which is why these games were not intended for children. GTA, Manhunt, Doom, etc. were all mature titles. And if parents can’t be vested enough to keep these games out of the hands of their children, then why do we blame the game publishers?

Because it’s easy. Because the public wants a villain with deep pockets. And the game development studios make the perfect whipping boy.

What’s new is misunderstood. And what goes un-researched and un-played by the angered parties can be vilified without remorse or consequence. When Charles Manson claimed that the Beatles song, Helter Skelter told him to commit murder, people who didn’t understand rock and roll wanted to run John, Paul, George and Ringo up the flagpole. Now, in retrospect, we see this as ridiculous—but at the time people wanted a rationale for why Manson committed his heinous acts. And it’s easier to hate a band then to think that someone completely mentally unbalanced can go off the edge for no apparent reason.



Not to get all Michael Moore on you, but riddle me this one, Batman:

Japan’s population is 1/3rd that of the United States (127.3 million to 303.8 million) and yet our murder rate is 25 times as high and our rape statistic is 40 times what theirs is. We’re talking about a culture who has Rape Man as a comic book hero. Reading said comic is socially acceptable for businessmen on the way to work on the trains in the morning. And yet, somehow, their rates of murder and rape are a fraction of what our country’s is.

(Source: http://www.nationmaster.com/index.php)

Video games aren’t the problem. I’m not saying that I know exactly what the problem is, but it seems a shame that people like Jack Thompson can twist a tragedy into a political soapbox. Here’s the crux of his slippery slope argument in the wake of the murders committed by Devin Moore:

"There's plenty of blame to go around. The fact is we think Devin Moore is responsible for what he did…but we think that the adults who created these games and in effect programmed Devon Moore and assisted him to kill are responsible at least civilly.”

(Source: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/03/04/60minutes/main678261.shtml)

Moore wasn’t trained by video games and neither were Harris nor Klebold. What those men did was terrible, but the responsibility falls not into the hands of the game developers, but rather into the hands of their parents and our culture. Video games were, and still are, an easy scapegoat.

I don’t think Jack Thompson will ever get his way. I don’t think that the creative voice in video games will be stifled by him nor his lackeys. But I do worry that people give him too much credence. I know by posting this here I’m preaching to the choir—clearly a community of gamers will all agree that Thompson is an idiot—but outside of this community there are those who think what he has to say is worthwhile and valid.

Gaming has always been, for me at least, a form of escapism. Those who seek refuge from their daily lives are going to be drawn into the totally immersive worlds created in games. Who wouldn’t want to feel like a hero every day—even if it is only for an hour or two at a time? The nature of video games—much like comics, movies, novels, music and most other art forms—is to take you into another world. It would be a shame to rob anyone of that joy. What we need to recognize is when a fellow gamer is losing touch with reality. When the fantasy begins to bleed into his or her daily life in unhealthy ways that is where we, as friends and siblings and parents, need to talk to them and get them the help that they need.

The answer isn’t to pull the plug on games. The answer is tapping into the real issues of isolation and distress. Violent games aren’t the cause. But when a gamer begins to obsess over them, they can be a symptom of something that needs to be addressed.   read


11:18 AM on 04.20.2009

Flashback Monday: Survival Horror at its finest

I hate Mondays. And have thusly decided to reflect on more joyous times, when work was mowing the lawn and waking up early was 8:00...

I give you, the first installment, of Flashback Mondays. If it sucks, I'll cease and desist immediately if not sooners...but without further delay, read it and weep.

What game could strike fear and anxiety into the hearts of so many men? What sheer terror did we face when we turned out the lights and played this game for the first time? What is that sticky substance leaking out of the refrigerator?



Okay, it’s just ketchup, but I had you going there for a little bit.



Maniac Mansion was one of the first games of its kind ported to the NES. As a point and click RPG, the style was different and innovative to we lowly types without a PC—yes, imagine that, back in the day not everyone had a PC at home and there were no internets and there were still cassette tapes…lulz. Phantom is an old head—were experiencing something completely new.

If you didn’t figure out how to move the rug at the front door you were pretty much screwed, but getting past that first mechanic opened up a whole world of possibilities.

Most of those possibilities were determined my whom you chose for your rescue party, but I’m getting ahead of myself…let us first consider our predicament.



Twenty years ago today, a huge purple meteor crash landed on the lawn of the Edison family’s home. Dr. Fred, his wife Edna (I still have nightmares) and their special son, Ed were already weirdos, but after the crash landing of the meteor they became even more reclusive.

Nowadays, patients from the town hospital are going missing. A local teen—Sandy Pantz (oh, I c waht they did thar) has gone missing. Little does the kidnapper know that her boyfriend, Dave, saw her being abducted and has formed a team of his buddies to go in and rescue her.

This screen:



Is the beginning of the anxiety attack. Pick wrong and completing the game could become rather tedious if not downright impossible.

Here’s a rundown of your potential options:

Dave: d-bad extraordinaire. Seriously. Dave is the only party member you are locked into using. And I don’t know anybody who didn’t just leave him in the dungeon so that other party members could be let out when he pushed the secret brick. Dave is Sandy’s boyfriend and a complete waste of space.

Syd: “new-wave” musician my ass. This pain in the arse character has the most annoying theme music EVAR. Thank the designers for the option to turn off everyone’s music. He’s useful if you want to help the tentacle get a recording contract.

Michael: our resident photog. He’s good people. And if you want to have a fun time with Ed, totally worth including in your party.

Wendy: writer, editor, geek babe. She’ll help with a manuscript if you ever come across one that needs editing…

Bernard: nerd alert! But most likely you’re going to include Bernard in your party. He can break down the radio, fix the HAM radio and he can fix the phone…making Jeff completely unnecessary.

Razor: the female Syd. Redhead. Temptress. Will nuke a hamster if necessary. Hardcore 8-bit tunes accompany this diva.

Jeff: the surfer dude. Lamesauce. Seriously. All this dumbass can do is fix the phone. You can beat the game including him in the party, but if you’re going for options, Bernard opens the most to you. Jeff is lame. And barefoot. WTF.



The villains in this game are what make it worthwhile for me. That effing Green disembodied tentacle was hysterical. Actually, I think he was probably manic-depressive, but it was funny back in the day. The thing is, if you piss him off bad enough, he’ll actually kill you. Which is weird to think of in a Nintendo game. Because there’s no coming back from that. Seriously—you’ll see a tombstone and everything. Hard. Core. Gaming.

When you first see Edna leave her room and realize that she’s headed right for you, that’s an awesome moment in gaming history. Freaking out so much because you didn’t know the layout of the mansion was par for the course. Throughout the game there will be all sorts of cut scenes when you know that time is of the essence and you’ll have to act fast, otherwise you won’t get another opportunity.

The other thing that makes this a great game is the humor. I don’t think I’ve ever LOLed at Resident Evil, but Maniac Mansion is full of funny moments and bizarre jokes. Just one caveat though—if you do nuke Ed’s hamster, for the love of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, don’t show it to him…


Oddly enough, I didn't have to doctor this photo at all...

Unless you want to get one of these screens…



If you love a good game and don’t care about graphics or dated-ness, find a copy of Maniac Mansion. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.   read


11:51 AM on 04.17.2009

Best. Games. Evar(?)

So, in my unending quest to play all the best games of all time, I thought, what better place to find some decent lists than the vasty reaches of the interwebs. So, through my thorough interweb research, I stumbled across a variety of lists and, since I’m probably not going to get to play every game in the top 100 over the course of 2009, I thought I’d just look at a cross section of the top 10s.

In the week since I’ve joined, I’ve been called out on having a predisposition to hate on new games—not that it isn’t warranted, as all my blogs thus far have taken on subject matters regarding classic gaming. So, I’m taking off the blinders people. I want to enjoy what gaming these days has to offer. Thus, I turned to the warm, welcoming arms of Google and searched for lists of top games of all time.

Oddly enough, my rantings and ravings of the Golden Age of Video Games being past seems to be supported by the gaming community at large. Look at the dates next to most of the titles. All of these lists to which I’ve linked were generated in 2008—near the end of the year.

IGN Readers' Poll (2008)

1 Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Nintendo 1998
2 Chrono Trigger Squaresoft 1995
3 Soul Caliber Namco 1998
4 Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past Nintendo 1992
5 Metal Gear: Solid 3, Snake Eater Nintendo 2004
6 Super Metroid Nintendo 1994
7 Goldeneye 007 Rare 1997
8 Metal Gear: Solid Konami 1998
9 Resident Evil 4 Capcom 2005
10 Shemue II Sega 2001

Stuff magazine [UK] (2008)

1 Half-Life 2 Valve 2004
2 Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Nintendo 1998
3 Final Fantasy VII Squaresoft 1997
4 Goldeneye 007 Rare 1997
5 Super Mario World Nintendo 1991
6 Elite Acornsoft 1984
7 Sonic the Hedgehog Sega 1991
8 DOOM id / GT Interactive 1993
9 Grand Theft Auto 3 Rockstar Games 2001
10 Turrican 2 Amiga 1991

Entertainment Weekly magazine (2008)

1 Tetris Alexey Pajitnov 1987
2 Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Nintendo 1998
3 DOOM id / GT Interactive 1993
4 Super Mario World Nintendo 1991
5 Guitar Hero Harmonix 2005
6 Street Fighter II Capcom 1991
7 Super Mario Kart Nintendo 1992
8 Goldeneye 007 Rare 1997
9 Grand Theft Auto 4 Rockstar Games 2008
10 Metal Gear: Solid Konami 1998

By the very definition, these rankings are based on a popularity contest. But what struck me as odd was how few of the games listed are within the past few years—GTA4, Guitar Hero, and RE4 being the exceptions to that stipulation.

Also, the only game to bridge all three lists, is LoZ:OoT. Which proves that both the Americans and the Brits can at least agree on one very important thing: Link is the awesomesauce.



Now, I’m sure if we only polled PC gamers that we’d get a completely different list. And if we polled JRPG rabid fanboys* it would look completely different. But the populous as a whole tends to think that many of the best games ever came out of the mid nineties.

And, on a personal note, the majority of recent games that I’ve enjoyed have been reiterations/reinventions of previous titles—SSBB, Mario Kart Wii, LoZ: Twilight Princess, MGS4, RE4—all sequels. That’s not to say that there haven’t been one-offs here and there of original titles and franchises that have been good and entertaining. Bioshock leaps to mind in particular.

Are most gamers stuck in a nostalgia loop? By buying so many sequels, are we creating the problem for ourselves? Is it because the pricetag has gotten so steep that we are hesitant to take the $50 plunge on a game franchise yet to prove itself?

I don’t have all the answers, but I also came across this list from Wiki of games that have shipped individually, (not bundled with the original console):

Top 20 selling console games of all time

1. Nintendogs (DS – 21.67 million, all 5 versions combined)
2. Wii Play (Wii – 20.91 million)
3. Pokémon Red, Blue, and Green (Game Boy – 20.08 million approx.: 10.23 million in Japan, 9.85 million in US)
4. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES – 18 million)
5. New Super Mario Bros. (DS – 17.63 million)
6. Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day! (DS – 16.82 million)
7. Pokémon Diamond and Pearl (DS – 16.48 million)
8. Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec (PS2 – 14.89 million shipped)
9. Pokémon Gold and Silver (Game Boy Color – 14.51 million approx.: 7.6 million in US, 6.91 million in Japan)
10. Wii Fit (Wii – 14.01 million)
11. Super Mario Land (Game Boy – 14 million)
12. Mario Kart DS (DS – 13.79 million)
13. Mario Kart Wii (Wii – 13.67 million)
14. Brain Age 2: More Training in Minutes a Day! (DS – 13.27 million)
15. Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire (GBA – 13 million)
16. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2 – 12 million)
17. Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen (GBA – 11.82 million)
18. Super Mario 64 (N64 – 11 million)
19. Gran Turismo (PS1 – 10.85 million shipped)
20. Animal Crossing: Wild World (DS – 10.57 million)



18 of that top twenty were Nintendo franchised games. 7 included Mario in some way. 5 were Pokémon. And who can blame us? If I’ve got to drop my cash for a game, I know what I’m going to get when I pick up something with Mario or Pokémon in the title.

We vote out wallets. If we want games to evolve and grow we need to support indie games and obscure titles. Otherwise, we’ll get another rehash of what’s already proven, tried and true and profitable. Don’t get me wrong—I loves me some goomba stomping action—but I am also frustrated that I don’t have more variety in my gaming diet…but that’s because there’s so many mediocre titles out there.

Lulz at the Catch 22.

Now, if you will excuse me, I believe Mario Party 29 is on pre-order today and I’ve got to be the next in line.



*relax, boys...I'm one of you.   read


9:12 AM on 04.16.2009

All I Ever Needed to Know About Sports I Learned from 8-Bits

Kids these days—no respect for the heart of sports gaming. When I was a kid, we had 8 bits and we liked it. This, was the epitome of all that was awesome and great in the world of football:



If you think I’m wrong, you clearly have the intelligence of an amoeba and probably think that Madden is a “good” game. I scoff in your general direction.



Nobody needs more than 4 plays! Four plays are more than enough for anybody. And 8 bit cheerleaders are hott. (Double “t” intentional.)



Rawrrr...

Don’t try to entice me to next gen gaming with all of your fancy plays and licensed franchises! We had generic teams and 3 buttons and it was good enough for us and it should be good enough for you newbs.

This game:



Is far too complicated. What you need is to keep things simple. Blades of Steel. Pish tosh. More like Blades of Suckage. (Oh hai. Did joo c waht i did ther?).

This is the best hockey game ever made:



Fat guys are slow and powerful. Medium guys are medium. And skinny guys are really fast and get bounced around by big guys. Rock beats paper, paper beats rock, scissors are for sissies and Communists.

If you’ve never played this game:



You’ve never lived. The sheer awesomeness of surfing alone should send shivers up down your spine.



You could make your sprite go up, down AND sideways. It was cool. And the soundtrack for this event has yet to be surpassed in modern gaming history.


Boxing has yet to get better than this:



Seriously. I don’t even have a joke for this one. This is hands down my favorite boxing game of all time. And the infinite number of internet memes it has spawned over the years is worth the price of admission alone.

This game:



Taught me all about the hammer throw.



Don’t ask me what happened to the original Track and Field. In my house we played T&F2 and we liked it. It took me so long to beat that damn hammer throw event that I had a permanent blister on my thumb for an entire summer. And it wasn’t until my neighbor brought home one of these:



That I realized there was an alternative to a D-pad.

But turbo is for cheaters and people who think Carlos Mencia is funny. So I proudly wore my thumb callus all summer and still sport the remnants of it to this day.

This racing game:



Has never been surpassed in terms of innovation, graphics, fun nor gameplay. Heck, you could design your own track! How awesome was that? And your bike could overheat. Which made you have to strategize. And…

Okay, Excitebike was teh suck before teh suck existed. That game probably caused more Nintendo controllers to be flung against a television console back in the early days of gaming, than any other we played.

In summation (tl;dr) the golden age of sports gaming is gone. If you missed it the first time around, too bad, so sad. Nothing you play nowadays can hold a candle to the awesomeness of the aforementioned titles in this blog.

If you disagree with me, you are wrong and a stupidface.


(Author’s note: for anyone insipid enough to take this seriously, what preceded this disclaimer was a bit of parody. If you didn’t read this far and flame me in the comments, you’re going to look like a d-bag of the highest caliber.)   read


8:53 AM on 04.15.2009

It's all downhill from here...

Avast, ye hearties. There be spoilers in these waters.

Albeit, spoilers so old your mom probably wouldn’t be all that surprised, but spoilers nevertheless.

You’ve been warned…


Do you remember the first time this happened:



You jumped. Perhaps arbitrarily. And there was something in the block. How magical was that moment? Where there were only pixilated bricks, now the power to smash and destroy and not get hurt by those little brown wobbly things was in your grasp. And your first Fireflower? You'd never be the same.

Or, how about this:



You probably walked past this one screen a half dozen times while searching for Dungeon 3, and didn’t think twice about it. Sure, it was a funny formation. But do you remember after you found the bracelet and, in an effort to retrieve some major Rupees left behind by the Tektikes, you pushed that rock at the left, only to reveal a warp area?

How awesome was that moment? You earned it. Nobody led you to it. The game was designed for you to stumble across it. And there was something amazing in that moment.

Hell, the simple act of figuring out that you could move this block:



Was tremendous.

But 8-bit days faded away. Which was fine. Time for progress. And progress was made. We discovered this guy for the first time:



And he was great. He was new. He was innovative. He could eat stuff with his massive tongue. Gene Simmons had nothing on this guy.

Progress was good.

From there the world was wide open. And there was still magic in gaming.

Those of us into JRPGs back in the day didn’t know it at the time, but after this moment:



Our lives would never be the same. That simple bump turned into one of the greatest stories ever told in the medium. And if you think I'm wrong you probably hate freedom, and puppies, and Jesus, and sunshine.

Still the systems grew and evolved. Competition generated a need for companies to be innovative and creative.

And just when I though video games would cease to amaze me, this happened:



Holy. Effing. Shitake. Mushrooms.

Sure, it’s a cliché now. But when that moment first happened, I thought, due to the fact that Crono could be brought back to life, that surely, this wonderful character whom I put so much time and effort into leveling and to whom I grew attached, surely we could find the Materia to bring her back.

But it was not to be. (I’m so glad the developers ran out of time when making the U.S. release, because being able to bring Aeris back would have cheapened the eventual victory against Sephiroth.)

...

But, sadly, for me, it’s all been downhill from there.

Games repeatedly rely on the same tricks. I’m not nearly as amazed as I once was. And where the surprises were well placed back in the day, now you need a guidebook or an FAQ to find the hidden item or secret passage. Having just completed FFXII, I was left feeling empty. There was no heart in the game. The soul had left the disc. And that ultimate weapon? There’s no way to know which treasure chests to arbitrarily skip. There’s no hint lying somewhere in the game.

Who doesn’t open a chest when it sits there in front of them? We’ve been trained to do that since the first time Mario found a key lurking behind the end screen of a level. And, if you want me to skip it, give me a reason to do so. In Chrono Trigger, we knew to keep activating the chests and leaving them for the end of time because they reacted to Marle’s pendant.

But now the “secrets” are something you’d have to look up in a guidebook, or online, or be told about in order to find. And that cheapens them for me. And it’s lazy on the part of the developer. I’m not talking about Easter Eggs here—although, if you can lead me to them via gameplay, I do appreciate them more—I’m talking about secrets that are intrinsic to the game itself.

Like jumping in the air where there was nothing, and finding a 1-up for the first time. I want to feel that again.


And it’s not that I’ve stopped gaming or stopped loving games. My library of games and systems continued to grow and expand into all different directions. And there have been highlights. In recent memory, the final boss battle in MGS3…facing off against Andrew Ryan and realizing the big reveal…playing God of War for the first time…GTA3…all of these aforementioned moments have been great. Epic, even. But for me they can’t hold a candle to everything before Sephiroth killed that pretty flower girl.

Admittedly, I’m enticed by new and better graphics. I enjoy casual games and playing with friends, gamers and non-gamers alike. I like the fact that my dad can sit down with us, 20 years after we bought our first family system, and actually enjoy gaming for the first time. It’s amazing that people from across the globe can log on and play against friends on opposite sides of the world. Progress can be a good thing.

But something about getting together on a Saturday morning in my best friend’s basement with all the kids from the neighborhood there and taking Ganon down for the first time, goes unmatched in my books.

And I find that incredibly sad.

</emorant>   read


11:44 AM on 04.14.2009

For those about to die: Lavos



Did you just pee your pants? You should. Go ahead, I can wait.

Now, did you wash your hands and wring out your underoos? Excellent, now lets get on with it. Epic fear should take root in your heart when you hear his name. Lavos. Just the sound of him is evil. And he’s present in every time epoch. And unless you beat him at the right time, in the right place, with the right people, many things could go wrong.

Unless, of course, you enjoy being a lizard. ‘Cause I’m totally cool with that. If you are digging on Lizard-hood, it’s not for me to judge. But, personally, I’d like to see Frog restored to his former self. Or, maybe just get through this thing without destroying our awesome time machine.

But again, I digress.

Why is Lavos so awesome?



Being a seemingly immortal alien from time beyond record and containing the DNA of every living being on the planet, he’s off to a good start. Lavos’ name can be traced back to the language of the really-hot-scantily-clad-cave-people lead by Ayla: “La” meaning “fire” and “Vos” meaning “big”. So, this Big Fire falls from the sky crashing into the Reptites’ Tyrano Liar sometime around 65,000,000 B.C. and biding his time until 1999 A.D. when he emerges to rain down destruction upon all of humanity. Show me one other villain in the history of gaming with patience like that. In the meanwhile, he had influence over all of evolution during that time—aside from how humans played out because of the Frozen Flame…but that’s a story for another day.

So, having established the scope of his eviltude, let’s look at the cold hard facts of fighting this monstrosity.

1) Multiple incarnations: He’s got four different ways of kicking your butt into next week (lulz…time travel joke)--The Mimic version where he morphs into every awe inspiring villain of the game, The Outer Shell, The Inner Shell and ultimately The Core. You might go into this thinking you’ll coast through, but if you don’t strategize and plan out your items and party correctly, you’re liable to get decimated. And there ain’t no use bringing our silent protagonist back to life after that’s all said and done.



2) Endless fight: If you don’t know the real power source that keeps Lavos going, you’re bound to get stuck on the final version of him for some time. I won’t reveal it here, for those discovering the series for the first time on the DS, it’s a potentially hair-pulling, blood-pressure-raising fight. Especially after you’ve worked so hard to defeat him to the point that he’s in the final form. One fell swoop from that dog with the Princess Leia inspired headpiece and you’re toast.



3) Sense of accomplishment: Lavos has screwed over everybody since the dinosaurs roamed the Earth along with scantily clad blonde-bombshell cave women. He’s ruined the chances of a future for the human race and turned one very emo little magical boy, into one of the baddest-assed villains of all time. When you take Lavos down you’re the ultimate hero of all time.

Chew on that Kefka.

But maybe a picture really is worth a thousand words. If so, I’m going to let www.dinosaurswilleatyou.com sum it up for me.

  read


9:47 AM on 04.13.2009

When men were men and games were hard

Do you recognize this image?



If not, you're probably too young to appreciate anything that's about to follow. And/or you have never been
exposed to some of the best games of all time.

I just revisited Contra for the first time in years, and certain things were illucidated for me. Namely, that games
these days lack the challenge of their predecessors.

Try playing Contra and not having your arse handed to you in the first level. Go ahead--I dare you. No save
states, no secret codes for extra lives. Try and make it through as far as you can without dying.

The first time that bridge blows up beneath you and you're swarmed with machine gun fire and disappearing
turrets, I bet you'll go crying to your mama.

This image:



Should send shivers up your spine. Armed with nothing but fireballs with crows and zombies aplenty? You,
my good sir, are effed.

But you probably paid a good $25 for that game. And it's going to take you all summer to beat it. Because
there's only so many continues. And so many extra lives. And if you really want to save your girlfriend, you'd best learn to climb ladders quickly and skip picking up the crap weapons.

Now we've got great graphics and ... what? What do we gain? Very little. Games don't take months to
master. Gimmicks and FAQs have pussified the gaming community to the point that everything is too easy.
Developers used to put out an effort in perfecting a game--balancing challenge and gameplay. Like a fine wine or classic piece of literature, you can't rush perfection. All good things take time.

When you can burn though a game in under 20 hours, do you ever really appreciate it? Does it sit full and
heavy in your belly while you mull over the delicacies and subtleties of its flavor and gameplay? Or do you just let it pass through you, like so much Taco Bell?

Personally, I'd rather go play my old systems. 'Cause I'm sick of sucking down a bottle of Pepto Bismol every
time I pick up the next Next Gen fad.   read





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