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11:18 AM on 02.13.2014

The Past: Who the hell puts Mew under a truck?

Ten year olds are idiots. Let’s face facts – it is a miracle that any of us are sitting here today, instead of having perished during the age where the only thing preventing us from chugging down a gallon of dish detergent was a cartoon frowny face. I mean, how is it possible that I – a rational adult intelligent enough to understand at least half of the pseudo-philosophical nonsense Matthew McConaughey spouts on any given episode of True Detective – was at one point dumb enough to believe that the secret to unlocking Mew in Pokémon Red and Blue was held by an abandoned truck?

Yes, the truck. You know the truck. The truck. The seemingly innocuous automobile sitting outside the S.S. Anne in the first Pokémon games. The harmless scrap of scenery that, through a combination of schoolyard rumors and Internet conspiracy theories, became the key to the most coveted pocket monster in the original 151. The truck that became my white whale, my magic bullet, my singular obsession in my pursuit of catching ‘em all.

If I had to point to a single thing to define my gaming past – something that encapsulates all the wonder, imagination, and childlike stupidity of my earliest videogame memories – then it is without a doubt that godforsaken truck.

On its surface, Pokémon’s infamous truck is just one of gaming’s many silly urban legends. The idea that a player could catch the legendary Mew merely by shoving aside a car is absurd, even by the standards of a series whose central conceit involves magical monster fighting. I mean, think about it. Mew is essentially Pokémon’s Missing Link, an ancient creature whose existence has spanned millennia and whose genetic makeup forms the basis for all Pokémon life. An abandoned truck is an abandoned truck. You’ve probably driven by hundreds of them, left behind on the side of highways with plastic bags hanging out of their windows. The only “mysteries” those things are capable of containing are wasp’s nests and hobos.

But ten year olds aren’t normally ones to consult logic when confronted with ridiculous rumors. They have yet to be spurned by the harsh reality of life, their boundless capacity for hope yet to be ground to dust by the universe’s indifferent cruelty. They don’t know any better, because they are idiots. Which is why when I heard that Mew was hiding underneath that truck, my initial response wasn’t skepticism, but absolute conviction. Of course it was under there. In a game that limited its scenic flourishes to trees, patches of grass, and the occasional fence, that simple pickup stuck out like an extravagant sore thumb. Why else would it be there, other than to hide Pokémon’s most spectacular secret? 

While I can’t recall exactly where and when I learned of Mew’s rumored location, I do remember the knowledge basically transforming me into Russell Crowe’s character from A Beautiful Mind. I was a child possessed, deciphering coded messages in a vast conspiracy of my own creation. This was back in 1998, before you could just hop on an entire digital encyclopedia dedicated to Pokémon and bring up an article that helpfully informed you that the truck theory was a bunch of bullshit. I had to sift through countless seedy message boards, Yahoo! email groups, and eye-searing Angelfire fan sites, chasing down every half-baked lead in search of the truth.

Because, as you may know if your childhood was as consumed by the search for Mew as mine was, testing the rumor wasn’t as easy as swimming over to the truck and giving it the ol’ heave ho. The truck was inaccessible. Players reached the S.S. Anne before they had the Surf and Strength HMs, which were necessary for the swimming and heave ho-ing, respectively. After they set sail on ship, they couldn’t return to that area of the game, as it was forever blocked off by some punk sailor that turned trainers around if they tried to walk past him. Thus, the trick was finding a way to get back to the dock after the S.S. Anne had already left.

I can tell you with the utmost certainty that if I had dedicated the time I spent trying to get back to that dock on my fourth grade school work like I was supposed to, I would not be sitting in a Panera Bread writing my umpteenth blog post about Pokémon. I’d be a Zuckerberg-esque billionaire, swimming in his Scrooge McDuck money pool and smoking cigars made out of poor people’s defaulted bank loans. Learn your geometry, kids. It’s important.

But such is the sacrifice one must make in their quest for rare Pokémon. In hindsight, the whole endeavor smacks of childish ignorance, as I wasted hours testing every crackpot method of accessing that truck. I tried everything shy of defeating the Elite Four 365 times, which even I knew had to be an anonymous jerk’s attempt to screw with a bunch of little kids’ heads. Though, granted, I only reached that conclusion after seeing how many times I could beat the Elite Four in a single Saturday, and falling woefully short of 365.

At the time, however, my efforts didn’t seem trivial. They felt important. As if I were an intrepid sleuth unraveling Kanto’s greatest mysteries. Because if there’s one thing videogames do better than any other form of media, it’s secrets. Sure, books can have hidden meanings and movies can have shadows that look suspiciously like suicidal munchkins, but videogame secrets are more tangible. They’re characters for you to unlock, or bonus stages for you to explore, or all-powerful bosses at the end of back-breaking side quests. And as a kid, before you’ve been burned out on cynicism and knowing better, they take on a greater sense of importance than some measly additional content. They’re a personal discovery, as if you chipped away at a part of the world that no one else has ever seen. They make you feel like motherfucking Magellan, charting new territory in an electronic frontier. 

So when I finally was able to reach the truck – through a convoluted process of saving and rebooting in a specific spot while my trainer walked in a specific direction, which somehow allowed me to surf over the sailor standing guard – I wasn’t crushed by the inevitable lack of Mew. It wasn’t a harsh life lesson in disappointment and lowered expectations. I simply decided the truck was a dead end, while the real secret to finding the mythical Pokémon remained beyond our mortal grasp. My long, arduous journey had been worth the effort, as I wouldn’t have been satisfied until I found out the truth for myself. Besides, finding a way into an inaccessible area of the map was a minor victory in its own right. 

And my failure didn’t prevent me from tackling similarly ludicrous rumors in other games. I spent just as many hours hunting down Mew as I did trying to acquire the Triforce in Ocarina of Time, or figuring out how to collect the Stop ‘n’ Swop items in Banjo-Kazooie, or eventually turning my Pokémon trainer’s sights on how to catch Missingno. I divided my time between actually playing videogames and scouring AOL message boards for ways to reveal their innermost secrets. My Nintendo 64 and Game Boy weren’t just consoles – they were elaborate puzzle boxes, and I was intent on divining their every solution.

As much as I want to write off my grandiose investigations as the work of a dumb kid with too few friends and too much time on his hands, the fact is that nothing has informed my current gaming habits more than that maddening truck. To this day, I adore any game that can make me feel like a ten year old chasing wild Internet myths again. My most-played title on Steam is The Binding of Isaac, a Zelda-inspired labyrinth of steadily unlocking secrets. For me, Dark Souls biggest draw wasn’t its punishing difficulty, but the game’s cryptic mystique, where every new area and boss felt imbued with the sense of a terrible discovery. And for all of its supposed pretentions, I maintain that Fez is one of the best platformers ever made, because it nails an atmosphere of greater meaning, its obtuse puzzles, Tetris-inspired symbols, and strange collectibles hinting that there’s much more to the pixilated universe than the game lets on.

My gaming past is one shrouded in secrecy and stupidity. I still don’t know who the hell puts Mew under a truck, but in a way, I’ve spent my adult gaming life trying to figure out the answer. I’m enamored with the unique ability of videogames to contain hidden rewards for the most dedicated explorers. And as I grow ever more jaded in my later years, it can be nice to remember a time where something as simple as an 8-bit truck could inspire such passionate speculation.
Even if it did coincide with a time where I had to be actively told not to jam toys into electrical sockets.   read

9:54 AM on 01.03.2014

Steam Holiday Sale damage report

The holidays are over, which means it’s time to put away the Christmas lights, stop pretending like you can tolerate your loved ones, and survey the smoking crater the latest Steam sale has left behind in place of your bank account. And like the morning after any seasonal bacchanal, it can be difficult to recall the exact details of all the poor decisions you made, which is why I’ve chosen to compile a list of my Steam Holiday Sale purchases so I can remember exactly what I was thinking when I decided I suddenly needed nine You Don’t Know Jack games in my life.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
Regular Price: $29.99
Paid: $19.99
Rationale for Buying: Having not played Metal Gear Solid 4, I don’t know the story behind Raiden’s magical girl transformation from franchise goat to bad ass cyborg ninja. But I’m fine with whatever convoluted plot point paved the way for me to feed on people’s spinal cords and beat on buffed-up GOP allegories.

Stick it to the Man!
Regular Price: $14.99
Paid: $8.99
Rationale for Buying: Is this game related to Psychonauts? It looks like Psychonauts. It has nothing to do with Psychonauts? Whatever, it reminds me of Psychonauts, so now it has my money.

The Typing of the Dead: Overkill
Regular Price: $19.99
Paid: $9.99
Rationale for Buying: The strange, alchemic brew of Mavis Beacon and an on-rails light gun shooter is the kind of novel combination that simultaneously makes no sense and absolutely perfect sense, like folk covers of Katy Perry songs or ranch dressing and everything.

Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches
Regular Price: $9.99
Paid: $4.99
Rationale for Buying: I picked up Dishonored in this year’s Steam Summer Sale, foolishly doing so before The Brigmore Witches was released and the whole Game of the Year edition was put up for even cheaper than what I originally paid. The $6.67 I wasted will haunt me even more than the main campaign’s unbearably mediocre ending. 

You Don’t Know Jack Classic Pack
Regular Price: $19.99
Paid: $4.99
Rationale for Buying: If you don’t know why I bought nine entries of a multiplayer trivia game that I will only every play by myself, then obviously you don’t know... the symptoms of a severely lonely individual.

King of Fighters XIII
Regular Price: $29.99
Paid: $10.19
Rationale for Buying: Gorgeous 2D fighters are like an irresistible siren song. I’m seduced by their pixilated beauty, only to have my soul crushed by intricate button combinations and move lists that I don’t have the patience to memorize. I essentially purchased a few hours of enthusiastic button mashing and giggling Japanese voice actresses, which sounds less like a videogame and more like the perfect idea for a themed bar in Tokyo.

Regular Price: $49.99
Paid: $12.49
Rationale for Buying: I only ever played the first Devil May Cry, so my love for the franchise is not sacred enough to be ruined by Dante’s radical transformation from cocky half-demon adonis to even cockier half-demon adonis with not white hair. So long as the game allows me to shoot ‘n slice various grotesqueries all while being judged by an arbitrary combo system, I’ll be able to tolerate whatever Gen X ‘tude the game shoves down my throat.

Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons
Regular Price: $14.99
Paid: $4.49
Rationale for Buying: It’s an indie that marries gameplay with emotional storytelling, and I’m the kind of delicate butterfly that cries when he listens to Neko Case, so this one is kind of a no brainer.

Mortal Kombat Komplete Edition
Regular Price: $29.99
Paid: $10.19
Rationale for Buying: Putting aside the insufferable spelling of “Komplete,” the Mortal Kombat reboot allows me to relive my halcyon days of playing obscenely violent video games under my parents’ noses. I’m not sure how thrilling the excessive gore will be now that I’m an adult and nobody gives a damn how much graphic media I consume (ie, a lot), but at least the MRI-quality zooms of multiple bone fractures will be a sobering reminder of the seriousness of shuriken-related facial injuries.

Valdis Story: Abyssal City
Regular Price: $14.99
Paid: $3.74
Rationale for Buying: There will be a day when I don’t have a Pavlovian urge to immediately buy any game described as a Metroidvania. Today is not that day.

Total Regular Price: $234.90
Total Spent: $90.05
Total “Saved”: $144.85
Guilt Level: Oh god what have I done where is my money   read

7:26 AM on 12.11.2013

My big, stupid, honking list of 2013's best videogame... things

Time marches on. A tide sweeping over us in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years. Orchestrating the rise and fall of civilizations. Establishing cities of elaborate wonder before reducing them to dust and ashes. The cruel mistress to which we must all one day succumb. Inescapable. Inexorable. Mortality.

Which means it’s time to tell everyone about the videogames I really liked in 2013!

That’s right! December is “Best Of” season, the magical part of the year when we attempt to capture the essence of the last 365 days by crowning something “Best Cooperative Multiplayer SRPG FPS 3D Soundtrack.” Because how else are we to define the intangible human experience if not by the pop culture we enjoyed? You can’t make a year-end list of the “10 Best Infant’s Smiles” or “Top 20 Sweet Nothings Whispered in the Early Dawn After an Evening of Lovemaking in Which You and Your Lover’s Souls Were One.” I mean, you can try, but unless you spice that dish up with some Nene Leakes GIFs a la BuzzFeed, ain’t nobody clicking.

Thus your good pal UsurpMyProse is here to offer up his own list of favorites, so that you may look upon them and be satisfied in the knowledge that a no-name blogger’s adoration of Grand Theft Auto V has heralded another step closer to your grave.

So without further ado, I give you...


Best Game I Watched a Complete Stranger Play - The Last of Us

I don’t understand the whole “Let’s Play” phenomenon. As someone who barely has enough time to actually play videogames, the notion of devoting a portion of my day to watching someone else have fun doesn't make much sense. But the cavalcades of noble YouTube gamers do have their uses, as I learned after an entire weekend spent watching a playthrough of the not-quite-zombies-but-okay-they’re-totally-zombies classic The Last of Us.

Lacking the bags of Sony bribe money that come with being a “real” videogame journalist, I do not own a PS3, and thus had to resort to experiencing Naughty Dogs’ tragic tale of spores and survival through 15-minute chunks of low quality video. Which was fine, considering The Last of Us is as close to a cinematic experience as a videogame can get, albeit one where a considerable portion of the running time is devoted to watching people scrounge for gauze and rubbing alcohol.

The hours I spent squinting at the trials of Joel and Ellie were worth it, however, as The Last of Us is a beautifully bold spin on the “bleak and unforgiving apocalypse” genre, with the kind of potent moral ambiguity usually reserved for cable network dramas.

Runner-Up: Dota 2: Alliance vs. Na’Vi Championship Game – I don’t understand a single thing about Dota 2, but that didn’t stop me from watching three-plus hours of The International finals for no other reason than the infectious enthusiasm of announcers David “LD” Gorman and David “Luminous” Zhang. The dynamite duo combine the amateur earnestness of college radio DJs with the hyped-up jargon of WWE commentators.

Best Game I Paid to Not Play in 2013 – Armikrog

I arrived a year late to the crowd funding party, as Kickstarter rose to prominence in 2012 when Double Fine raised approximately enough money to secede from the US and start their own secret psychic summer camp (which, by the sound of Broken Age’s development issues, is probably what really happened).

But 2013 saw even more big name Kickstarters, and I was no longer able to resist the allure of playing pretend Shark Tank by having developers vie for my pledge money. I helped fund six projects this year, chief among them Armikrog, the spiritual successor to claymation cult hit The Neverhood. While I’ve expressed some concerns about the involvement of Doug “Icky Homophobic Elf” TenNapel, ultimately my inflated sense of social justice is trumped by my love of talking alien dogs voiced by Yakko Warner.

I mean, come on, we’re getting a pseudo-sequel to The Neverhood. In 2013. Because of the internet. Barring the sudden invention of cancer-curing hoverboards, that’s the best damn proof we’re living in the future that we’re going to get.

Runner-Up: Torment: Tides of NumeneraMighty No. 9Shantae: Half-Genie HeroHyper Light DrifterParadise Lost: First Contact – Officially making 2013 the best year for games from 2014!

Best Non-2013 Game I Played in 2013 - Final Fantasy IX

2013 was a big year for many of my friends and family. I watched as loved ones got engaged, announced pregnancies, were hired for dream jobs, and just generally developed as people. But more importantly, I finally got around to playing the best JRPG of 2000!

I’ve seen many people claim that Final Fantasy IX is their favorite of the series, and it’s easy to see why. The game captures the simple magic of SNES-era Final Fantasys, while benefiting from the striking pre-rendered backgrounds of the PS1-era. Plus, as the last entry before the franchise began to look more and more like a J-pop music video with every new Roman numeral, I can see why FFIX might have a special place in the adolescent memories of some gamers.

Though I did have a few quibbles. Namely, the standard Final Fantasy plot that doesn’t make a lick of sense, the cartoonish one-dimensionality of a few members of the cast, the urge to set fire to my brain every time Zorn and Thorn popped up. But FFIX’s zealous charm covers for any shortcomings, and Vivi’s struggle with identity was the rare instance of me emotionally investing in a Final Fantasy character, easily making it the best JRPG I played all year.

Runner-Up: Dead Rising 2: Off the Record – On a scale from one to seeing Blue is the Warmest Color with my parents, how uncomfortable were the Psychopaths in Dead Rising 2 supposed to make me?

Best Game I’m Going to be Defending in a Comments Section in Five Years – Grand Theft Auto V

I’ve noticed a troubling trend with modern blockbuster releases. These days, big titles will be released with a tremendous deal of fanfare, all the reviewers will whip out their highest grades and their “Masterpiece!” superlatives, and the game in question will have seemingly cemented its coveted spot in the greater videogame canon.

Fast forward a few years, and an inexplicable backlash has festered in the community. Any mention of the game will prompt cries of “Overrated!”, and an unspoken consensus has been reached that the critical darling was actually a towering monument of suck the whole time. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, try striking up a conversation about Skyward Sword, or Skyrim, or the original “next-gen Grand Theft Auto,” GTA IV, and see how quickly you get shouted down by naysayers.

So to the inevitable future detractors I say this: Grand Theft Auto V is an amazing game. Yes, the game has its issues: a writing team apparently comprised of porn-addled fourteen year olds, a plot that’s more wacky caper than thrilling crime epic, and satire that’s as subtle as a Kanye West track. But the sheer scope and the, I don’t know, that thing, that magic of Los Santos cannot be understated. Rockstar crafted one of the most compelling and absurdly detailed videogame worlds in recent memory, and the unpretentious joy of terrorizing a herd of helpless cows with a forklift was unmatched by anything else I played this year. And in Trevor, the GTA series finally gave us an honest-to-god protagonist, a messy, complicated, whirling dervish of chaos and sadness.

Maybe I’m not exactly bold for defending the game when it’s about to be drowned in an avalanche of “Best of the Year” awards, but I assure you I’ll be a hero when the time comes for “Best of the ‘10s” deliberations.

Runner-Up: The Last of Us – Okay, hypothetical future tough guy, you can pretend like those opening ten minutes didn’t make you bawl your eyes out all you want, but that would make you a filthy liar.

Best Insta-Death That Still Haunts Me in Waking Nightmares –Tomb Raider’s Quick Time Tracheotomy


Runner-Up: Spelunky – I’ll just gently ease myself off this cliff edge here aaaaaand an arrow ricocheted by body into a bed of spikes again ffffffffff-

Best New Pokémon - Dark Lord Klefki, Devourer of Souls

Allow me to direct your attention to a little article that was published on this very website shortly before the release of Pokémon X & Y. In this article the reveal of Klefki, one of the new Generation VI Pokémon, was met with disbelief and derision. Many, myself included, wrote off the sentient key ring as definitive proof that Game Freak was scraping the bottom of the monster design barrel. We all laughed Klefki off. Because we didn’t know any better. We didn’t know.

Now, anyone who has faced this eight inch behemoth in battle can tell you that it’s evil incarnate. It is steel forged in hatred. Its keys unlock nothing but madness.

For those of you who are not Pokémon masters, allow me to explain. Klefki is equipped with the Prankster ability, which gives priority to all status moves. Klefki can potentially paralyze and confuse an entire team before they’re able to land a single hit. This turns the finely-tuned chess match of Pokémon battling into a miserable game of luck. Twitching, crippled opponents struggle to attack while Klefki gorges itself on Leftovers and pops off Substitutes like a mogwai after a spritz.

Klefki is basically Rage Quit: the Pokémon.

Some people will tell you that Klefki is just an irritating gimmick that can easily be countered. Those people are hiding the deep scars this malicious, jangly bastard has inflicted on them. When Generation VII rolls around and the series inevitably turns another useless inanimate object into a Pokémon, we should all be prepared for that thing to be Satan made manifest.

Runner-Up: Hawlucha – It’s a luchador bird. Why would I even need to explain the appeal of a luchador bird to you?

Best Blatant GLaDOS Ripoff - The Stanley Parable’s Narrator

If there’s one emerging videogame trend I love even more than cramming Ellen Page or Ellen Page approximations into every major release, it is the inevitable spawning of countless GLaDOS clones. The sardonic narrator is a rich tradition that dates all the way back to the very dawn of time. Or at least, dates back to Monty Python and the Holy Grai. Which, if we’re being honest, is when time only just started to get interesting.

GLaDOS was a legendary addition to the pantheon – half omnipresent color commentator, half classic villain. The droll Brit serving as The Stanley Parable’s Narrator is a worthy successor, and with Portal references sprinkled liberally throughout the game, there’s an explicit acknowledgment that he’s a shameless parody of everyone’s favorite homicidal AI.

What puts The Stanley Parable’s Narrator over the top is how he operates as GLaDOS in his own uniquely meta way. He’s an antagonistic force running the player through obstacles like a rat in a maze, yes, but his primary purpose is to highlight the game’s greater points about narrative limitations. The Narrator’s most chilling moment isn’t when he’s mocking your futile attempts to stop a doomsday countdown. It’s when he’s pleading for you to get back on the one “true” path, showing the seams in The Stanley Parable’s grand design, and revealing that even the gentlemanly voice dictating your every action with effacing British wit is a prisoner to the shackles of story and structure.

Runner-UpBattleBlock Theater Narrator – I’m fairly certain Will Stamper was chosen purely for his exquisite pronunciation of the name “Hatty Hattington.”

Best Ending I Needed a Diagram to Understand - Bioshock Infinite

I’m an intelligent guy. That is to say, I ain’t no dummy. I enjoy the occasional cerebral stimulation, the occasional hoity-toity foreign film, the occasional rumination on the day’s sociopolitical events over a glass of cognac and a pipe packed with flavored tobacco.

But even I – esteemed paragon of sophistication and culture that I am – needed a godforsaken map to navigate the choppy waters that were Bioshock Infinite’s metaphysical mind fuck of an ending. Now, the particulars of the game’s closing minutes weren’t necessarily difficult to discern. Alternate dimensions, yadda yadda yadda, murder myself so I can be murdered by my daughter, blah blah blah, who are we but carbon copies carrying out our predetermined fates across infinite parallel universes, something something ragtime R.E.M.

It was the motivations of the whole sordid affair that eluded me, particularly those of aloof brother and sister comedy duo the Lutece twins. I felt as if I had missed a voxophone or twelve that explained why the cosmic pranksters were setting the whole doomed rescue mission in motion when they, y’know, were mostly responsible for Elizabeth’s role in the “drowning in fire the mountains of man” business in the first place.

Someone eventually explained to me that it was partly because Comstock had the Lutece twins killed, but finding that out just made me want to curl up and watch Duck Dynasty until I fell into a coma.

Runner-Up: The Swapper – So... hive-minded space rocks and disembodied talking brains try to make me have an identity crisis. No thanks, guys, that’s what high school was for.

Best Game I Should Have Played More and Will Probably Lie to People About Finishing to Sound Like More of a Discerning Gamer Than I Really Am - Monaco

Fantastic co-op games are the bane of my existence. It’s not like I don’t have friends. I have plenty of friends. I have more friends than you! But what I don’t have are friends who salivate over the idea of cooperative heists staged in a glorious orgy of color and 2D pixels. I know, I know – any friends who can’t appreciate Pac-Man as filtered through a cool French heist flick aren’t really your friends. But the two-bit boosters I played with in random online games weren’t my friends either, which took some of the excitement out of Monaco’s madcap thievery.

Going it alone was certainly a viable option, as Monaco’s addictively simple mechanics and gorgeous visuals are more than enough to buoy a single-player campaign. But a one-man job almost always ends in disaster. Rather than an intricate clockwork of color-coded archetypes executing a perfect plan, you’re usually reduced to a panicked, painfully unhip dash through multiple tripped alarms and tenacious guard dogs. It’s less The Italian Job and more The Thomas Crown Affair. The lame Pierce Brosnan one.

I’ll still tell everyone I beat the game, and that I didn’t just drop it after the first few levels, because not playing Monaco is a bigger crime than... whatever it is the characters do in Monaco. I don’t know, I didn’t really get that far.

Runner-Up: Don’t Starve – As someone who bursts into apocalyptic hysterics when the Wi-Fi is particularly slow at a Starbucks, the survival genre is a little too stressful for me.

Best Game That Consumed Hours of My Life I Could Have Better Devoted to Literally Anything Else - Cookie Clicker

Cookie Clicker isn’t a game; it’s a state of depression. The amusing thrill of establishing a confectionery empire draws you in, but the novelty lasts for all of five seconds before giving way to an endless slog of gradually rising digits. And just like depression, you find yourself unable to claw your way out of the misery, sinking deeper with each passing second into a morass of numbing banality and unlockable antimatter condensers.

You can interpret Cookie Clicker as a clever deconstruction of the meaningless number games that power most videogames, but to do so is to admit defeat. The compulsive click-a-thon actively mocks the “bigger numbers are better than smaller numbers!” principle that governs our lives as gamers, revealing that the hours you’ve whittled away plumbing for cookie dough in other dimensions is nothing compared to the lifetime you’ve wasted on electronic entertainment. Sure, we connect to the stories and characters and fantastical settings, but Cookie Clicker strips all of that away to reveal the cold, merciless engine running beneath.

“You feel like making cookies. But nobody wants to eat your cookies,” the game tells you before you make your first click, as fitting a tagline for the unfillable void in our lives as any in all of literature.

Runner-Up: Surgeon Simulator 2013 – Time I spent learning how to tear out a man’s kidneys with my bare hands is time I could have spent learning how to better communicate in a relationship.

Best Game I Want to Buy Based Entirely on Hearing 60 Seconds of the Soundtrack - Super Mario World 3D

It is the year 2013. An antiquated Italian stereotype should not still have the power to move consoles. And yet every single second I’ve seen of Super Mario World 3D has made me want to run out and buy a Wii U, a system I spent a solid year thinking was some kind of Sega CD-esque add-on for the original Wii.

I’m not likely to follow through on my impulse anytime soon, but Super Mario World 3D has guaranteed that I will pick up the console at some point, and that every second until that point will be spent in agonizing anticipation. The game just looks fun. Pure, unadulterated, Nintendo-brand fun. The catsuits! The Saturday morning cartoon visuals! A whole gaggle of Marios! (Flock of Marios? Herd of Marios? Murder of Marios? Whatever.)

But more than anything else, it’s the bombastic, jazzy score that has me foaming at the mouth. I’ve seen comparisons made to Studio Ghibli soundtracks, the undisputed kings of highly concentrated, swelling orchestral crack. But no comparison can adequately prepare you for the sheer joy of hearing Super Mario 3D World’s opening cut scene for the first time. It’s like a 1920’s screwball comedy distilled into its purest musical notes.

The game’s aural prowess shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering this is the series that gave us “Swing! Your! Arms! From side to side!” But seeing the old plumber rock a horn section like that is still nothing short of amazing.

Runner-Up: Rayman Legends – Whoever thought to combine '80s power ballads with a desperado-led mariachi band deserves a Nobel Prize in Goddamn Everything.

Best Decision I Made - Writing More Blogs on Destructoid

2013 marked the first time I had a blog post promoted to Destructoid’s front page, a validating achievement that I’ve been trying to recapture ever since. It’s like seeing your work put up on the refrigerators of hundreds of anonymous strangers. Only the refrigerators are computer screens, and all the anonymous strangers call you an idiot for saying Gaping Dragon was a difficult Dark Souls boss.

My first promoted post motivated me to write even more blogs. Some were also promoted, and some weren’t. The important thing is that I wrote them, putting forth the time and effort to bring my opinions squalling into existence in the bright, beautiful ether of the web. And I hope to do even more of that in 2014! Which certainly beats the plan I originally had before getting my first blog post promoted: wandering into the sea never to be seen again.

But I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank the community for providing a word of encouragement here, or some thought-provoking words there, and paying even a modicum of attention to my dumb thoughts. The reason I consider Destructoid to be the best gaming news thing out of all the other gaming news things is due in no small part to all you magnificent bastards who call this place home. You people are the real heroes.

I’m just grateful to play some small part in the madness, and hope to do so until this website is nothing but a shambling shell of its former self, overrun by spyware bots advertising cheap PC parts, eventually returning to the loam as we all one day must. Which, by my calculations, will probably happen sometime... March-ish?

Runner-Up: Seeing 12 Years A Slave – What are you doing reading another useless "Best Of" list? Go see 12 Years A Slave and do something important with your life!   read

8:09 AM on 06.24.2013

Doug TenNapel, I hate you and I hope your game gets funded

Heroes will always disappoint you. I don’t mean to sound like a fourteen year old who just discovered Morrissey, but the sad truth is that no amount of faith in the inherent good of humanity can guard us against inevitable heartbreak by those we look up to. The ones we admire most – the shining paragons of everything we value – will eventually crumble before our eyes like false idols. Elmo will solicit sex from minors, Lance Armstrong will inject tiger blood into his veins, Will Smith will flirt with Scientology, and the world will keep on spinning, some terrible truth about someone we believe in just waiting to come to light.

So I was hardly surprised when I found out two years ago that Doug TenNapel, creator of Earthworm JimThe Neverhood, and some of my most cherished videogame memories, is actually a staunchly religious, homophobic wingnut. Because of course he is. Of course the brilliant imagination behind one of my favorite adventure games is brimming with hatred. Of course the man who gave us Klaymen, Big Robot Bil, Bob the Killer Goldfish, and The Evil Queen Pulsating, Bloated, Festering, Sweaty, Pus-filled, Malformed, Slug-For-A-Butt would deny gays the right to marry, because we can’t ever have nice things.

Yet as much as it pained me to discover that an artist I respected was a bigoted monster, his misguided personal beliefs didn’t retroactively invalidate the joy I had once derived from his work. Maybe the theological undertones of The Neverhood took on a more sinister meaning, but because I had played TenNapel’s games long before the internet gave him a platform to turn into everyone’s overly opinionated uncle at Thanksgiving, I was able to preserve my memories in a hazy bubble of ignorant bliss. Besides, the dude hadn’t been in the gaming business since the ‘90s. I could just go on not buying any of his comics and be satisfied that I wasn’t supporting his bible thumping with any of my money.

But then came Armikrog.

A spiritual successor to The Neverhood. An old school adventure game made entirely out of clay. Classic stop-motion animation. The vocal talents of Yakko Warner and Mike Fuckin’ Nelson. Soundtrack by Terry S. Taylor, the man responsible for the single greatest song ever recorded for a videogame. A talking alien dog named Beak-Beak.

I pledged $45 the second it was announced.

I wish I could tell you that supporting Armikrog was a difficult decision. That I spent days mired in an internal struggle to even consider the idea. That ultimately I stuck to my values and decided having a really cool videogame wasn’t worth supporting a man who likened same-sex marriage to a guy taking a dump in a women’s bathroom, a statement that makes me feel dirty just typing out.

But I can’t. I just told you the exact opposite of that. No matter how I try to rationalize my choice, I’ll have to live knowing that I’m willing to sell out my morals for a few tons of clay.

Though let me try rationalizing it anyway.

At the most basic level of the Armikrog Kickstarter, we have a classic scenario of having to separate the art from the artist. That’s step one, because unless you adhere to TenNapel’s beliefs that roving gangs of commitment-seeking gays are terrorizing our idyllic American towns, every dollar contributed to the campaign requires you to weigh the value of the product against the continued success of a man who would deprive people of their rights because of their sexual orientation.

Now, this is a conflict that’s raged since time immemorial, beginning with the first caveman to scrawl a couple of bison on a wall before declaring bison shouldn't be able to marry other bison. We’re not going to solve the conflict between creations and their creators in one half-baked blog post and a boycotted Kickstarter campaign. Personally, I’ve always been of the opinion that art should be able to stand on its own, viewed independently of any and all outside factors. In terms of videogames, this means ignoring every delusional word that comes out of the mouths of people like David Cage or Phil Fish, and playing their games separate from the influence of their embittered Twitter rants. 

Though the issue with Cage and Fish as examples, besides the combination of their names sounding like a TV show about a pair of crime-solving longshoremen, is that while they’ve said some pretty incendiary things, they haven’t said them out of outright hatred for another group of human beings. Well, except Fish, who seems to have a grudge against the entire nation of Japan. But TenNapel is an entirely different beast. He can gussy up his intolerance as unassailable religious belief all he wants, but the fact remains that he’s trying to impede a basic liberty that should be afforded to everyone. I stand by my argument of always separating art from the artist, but I acknowledge I’ve had to do some serious mental back flips to reconcile my desire for a unique and innovative videogame with my desire to not give money to a raging asshole.

The next stop on this beautiful sightseeing tour through Suspect Reasoningville is the kneejerk argument you’ll see anyone defending Armikrog make, and that is that a videogame is not the work of one person. No artistic endeavor is, except maybe those street performers who pretend to be dancing robots in Times Square, but even those people are the product of years of neglect and abuse by the whole of society. Armikrog is the work of Pencil Test Studios, an independent game and animation company founded by Mike Dietz and Ed Schofield, two people who worked with Doug TenNapel on Earthworm Jim and The Neverhood, but who are very much not Doug TenNapel.

Then there are the previously mentioned voices of Rob Paulsen and Michael Nelson, men I grew up watching on Saturday mornings, and who I’ve idealized to the point where I firmly believe their off hours are spent inoculating sick children and spreading hope and prosperity to the disenfranchised, hopefully through the use of robot puppets. And the entire reason I jumped in on the $45 tier is because that’s the first tier the game’s soundtrack is available on, and I can’t begin to describe the pure, unadulterated pleasure Terry S. Taylor’s honky tonk guitar strumming and charcoal-smoked babbling brings me. Just take a listen to “The Neverhood Theme,” or “The Battle of Robot Bil,” and try to resist the urge to throw money at your screen until this man makes more music.

Yes, it’s possible all of these talented people are part of one big, shadowy cabal who meet every Tuesday to bemoan the loss of “traditional values” and discuss the best way to rid the world of their archnemesis Neil Patrick Harris. Or, more likely, they’re all individuals who are putting forth an immense effort to lovingly craft a work of art that they believe is special and worth their time. Doug TenNapel may be the creative voice driving the project, but he’s a single part of a team, and the money put into Armikrog will go toward helping that team bring a fictional clay space fortress to life, and not toward supporting one man’s awful, myopic bigotry.

All of this isn’t to begrudge anyone for not supporting Armikrog out of principle. I wish I had the strength to stand by my convictions like that, and not sell out like a total consumer whore. Because by the look of countless comment sections, think pieces and, most tellingly, a pledge total that's going to need some kind of Daddy Warbucks miracle to reach its $900,000 goal in two days, it seems there are plenty of people who are much stronger than I am.

I’m simply trying to talk through my own decision in what is unfortunately a complex issue. This should be a no brainer. I mean, we’re talking a full-fledged semi-sequel to The Neverhood, the kind of weird, hyper niche game that could have only been put out by a major studio in the experimental days of the ‘90s. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore. Or if they do, they’re made by an indie developer on a much smaller scale, like The Dream Machine. Which I’m sure is an absolute delight but, no offense, kind of looks like what would happen if Ben Wyatt finally finished Requiem for a Tuesday.

But while Armikrog promises to provide the kind of indelible, imaginative experience that I crave in videogames, it comes at the price of knowingly supporting a man with some reprehensible ideas. I mean, he wrote an article on how Republican women are happier than other women because “they don't mope around like victims or screech about how terrible men are for being men.” Seriously. He wrote that. That awful thought occupied his head, and then he transcribed it for other people to see. Horrible, right? I just gave $45 to that. How do you think I feel? 

I wish this was easier. I want so badly for there to be a correct, clear cut stance on this issue. Armikrog looks like a lush, colorful blip of hope in the endless slog of military shooters and mindless face-stabby murder simulators, but the loathsome qualities of its primary creative mind place the adventures of Tommynaut and Beak-Beak squarely in a moral grey area.

Which, I guess for a videogame made entirely out of clay, is kind of fitting.   read

10:15 AM on 05.08.2013

Why we should never pay $60 for a videogame

I’m cheap.

Frugal. Miserly. A man of generic brands and packed lunches. Of 2-for-1 deals and 10% tips. Someone who feels a twinge of regret over every cent that leaves their bank account. 

Naturally, my penny pinching methodology extends to my gaming habits. I am an unabashed bargain bin gamer. When I patronize one of my three dozen local GameStops, I stride past the shiny new releases and go straight for the pre-owned racks. I even peruse that sad row of misbegotten titles stacked along the floor, where unlovable shovelware and old editions of Madden are banished to languish forever. 

Hell, I admit to actively warranting GameStop, an act that in and of itself is a declaration that I'm willing to throw my scruples to the wind if it means saving a few dollars on someone’s chewed-up copy of Mass Effect 3

But while I acknowledge some trepidation whenever I opt for the sad sack of knockoff Honey Nut Cheerios over the real deal, I'm perfectly at peace with never spending $60 on a new videogame ever again. In fact, I’d argue that being a gamer on the cheap is not only pragmatic, but a lifestyle the entire community should be embracing. 

That’s right. I’m about to get preachy on all y’all. Obnoxious vegan friend preachy.

First and foremost, we can all agree that the monetary value of videogames depreciate at an alarmingly fast rate. The only thing that loses value quicker than a $60 videogame is my stock with women once they find out I look nothing like my JDate profile picture. I won’t pretend to understand the economics behind how videogames are priced, but what I do know is that I could have picked up Tomb Raider on Steam last weekend – a game which came out a little more than two months ago – for a full $35 cheaper than if I had purchased the grungy Lara Croft reboot on its release date. 

What incentives, then, did I have to buy Tomb Raider before its price crashed harder than a boat full of adventurous multiethnic archetypes? Those who pre-ordered had the Sophie's Choice of deciding between a snazzy in-game bomber jacket, a throwaway challenge dungeon, and the option to make Lara Croft look even more like Andy Dufresne after he crawled through a river of shit, minus the redemptive rain storm. I'm not sure any one of those is worth $35 and 60-some days free of the traumatic experience of having to kill my first innocent deer.

In addition to underwhelming pre-order incentives, there's also the increasing sense that the red-blooded consumers who are happy to pay full price for a brand new videogame are spending their money on incomplete products. The debate over downloadable content will rage for millenia, but there's no denying the now common money-grubbing tactic of releasing “Game of the Year” editions is beginning to diminish the base worth of today's popular releases.

From a business standpoint, there’s an understandable need for companies to wring a few extra dollars out of an aging property by dressing it up in a tantalizingly more robust package. “Game of the Year” editions – or “Legendary,” “Prepare to Die,” “Ultimate,” or “Overzealous Superlative of Your Choosing” editions – offer an opportunity to pick up any straggling customers who have been holding out for a sweeter deal. But by releasing a definitive version a year or two down the line, loyal early adopters are being forced to put together their games piecemeal while the jerks who have waited for companies to come crawling to them bearing tribute are the ones being catered to.

For instance, this past month I picked up Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen. I had been waiting for the original game's price to drop and, lo and behold, during that time Capcom announced they’d be releasing an updated version loaded with extra content and a number of technical improvements, all at a respectable $40. What's more is that the expansion would only be available as a standalone retail disc, meaning those players who had helped make the IP a surprise hit in the first place would have to essentially buy the game twice if they wanted to experience any of the new content.

What would I have gained from buying the game at full price when it was first released? The satisfaction of knowing I had bought an inferior Dark Souls with a menu layout more complicated than Building Stories? That warm feeling you get when you know you contributed in some small way to the marble counter tops on a Japanese business man’s luxurious dirigible? The chance to once again enable a company who has turned shameless rereleases into a business model?

No, I would have felt like that schnook who buys his groceries right before the 10,000th customer. The one stuck with a bottle of hand lotion and a stack of Lean Cuisines without an oversized novelty check to show for it.

Besides the obvious quantifiable benefits, there’s the intangible upside of gaining a greater appreciation of games that are cheap by nature. Those who subsist off a diet entirely of triple-A titles may disregard the indie scene as the work of a bunch of art house elitists with severe emotional issues – which, sometimes, yeah – but it’s astounding what smaller developers have accomplished with products they’re going to sell for, at most, $15 and, at least, two ha’pennies as a part of some bundle. 

Many of my favorite games of this current generation have been cooked up by a handful of intrepid DIYers. Fez, Shadow Complex, Super Meat Boy, Binding of Isaac, World of Goo – I spent more on the standard indie gamer turtleneck and scarf than I spent on all those games combined.

But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one niggling downside. As someone who only buys games months after their release, I’m constantly falling out of conversation with the gaming community at large. I would have loved to offer an opinion on why BioShock Infinite was or wasn’t a face-grinding assault on good taste. I would have loved to offer any opinion on BioShock Infinite, seeing as how it apparently touched on every topic from racism to quantum physics to the unappreciated genius of Cyndi Lauper.

But nobody is going to care what I have to say when the game’s price is slashed six months from now and I finally find out what all the ludonarrative think pieces are about. I’m in a perpetual state of being that guy at the office who only just watched The Wire and is trying to explain the “king stay the king” speech to everyone.

I'm aware that money is an expansive and multifaceted subject in videogames. Not everyone is coming from my income situation. There are those who can comfortably afford the latest releases, along with the jewel-encrusted chalices from which I assume they sup the tears of the impoverished. Idealistically, we should allow games to stand on their own merits, never factoring their price tag into how we engage with them. And, yes, I know buying used is not helping matters, as companies are now scrambling to find a way to make the most out of their initial sales.

But with evolving technology and bloated budgets and the advent of DLC, games are only growing more expensive.  And with those rising prices comes an equally rising tide of bullshit. We live in an age where we have to honestly ask ourselves if we should expect videogames to be playable at launch. Where games that ship more than 3.5 million units are considered colossal failures. Where mom and pop developers are creating imaginative and indelible gaming experiences for a fraction of what it costs a major studio to stamp out another generic Assassin’s Creed or Call of Duty

These are the reasons I preach bargain gaming. It’s pure. It’s liberating. It frees you from the toxic expectations you attach to a game you've devoted a sizable chunk of your paycheck to. It allows you to combat the rampant consumer abuse perpetuated by companies who view their customers as rubes to be swindled. A bargain gamer is a better, happier gamer. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a chewed-up copy of Mass Effect 3 to finish. And you won’t see me complaining about the original ending, because I now have like twenty different DLC conclusions to choose from, and one of them has to end in the Shephard and Wrex dream wedding I’ve always wanted.   read

7:33 AM on 04.10.2013

Newtwo: Game Freak's blatant attempt to ruin my childhood

Look Game Freak, we need to talk. I know you’re hard at work on Pokémon X and Y – after all, that umpteenth boulder puzzle isn’t going to lay itself out – but we need to address this past weekend’s, shall we say, events. On this Sunday’s episode of Pokémon Smash, the weekly Pokémon variety show whose existence is apparently still warranted, you revealed what appeared to be a new form of Mewtwo, but what was in actuality a flagrant assault on my childhood.

I like to think of myself as a rational man, Game Freak. Open-minded, even. I consider myself to be someone who does not react to the announcement of a new character in what is ostensibly a children’s game with intense feelings of blind rage. But what the hell am I looking at here? People have been quick to label this offensive monstrosity as some kind of Dragon Ball Z reject, but that’s giving it too much credit. You just slapped Mewtwo’s tail on to its head. Then you added a weird futuristic flesh hood for, what exactly, aerodynamic reasons? Not only do you have the gall to repurpose the titan of the original 151 for your nefarious purposes, but you have the sheer chutzpah to do it in the most half-assed way possible.

Mind you, this is not coming from a fierce Generation I loyalist, either. I actually like Pokémon beyond Red and Blue. You know what my favorite Pokémon is? Garchomp. What’s there not to like about a face-eating land shark that moves at mach speeds? I also have a Milotic that I’ve used to beat the Elite Four in every region. I always make sure a Metagross is a part of my team, I have a Rotom that’s gotten me out of a lot of jams, and I think Victini is downright adorable. I look down on anyone who hasn’t played any of the series beyond its Game Boy days, because they’re missing out on the soul-enriching experience of catching a Bidoof.

But as much as I defend the nearly 500 other entries in the National Dex, there’s no denying that not every one of them is a winner. You made an ice cream cone Pokémon, Game Freak. You made three of them. You just slapped googly eyes on Mr. Tastee and you have to go to bed every night with that on your conscience. And that’s fine, really. You make all the sentient garbage bags you want. What’s not okay is applying the same level of forethought that you put into Stunfisk into an unnecessary update on my cherished childhood memories.

Listen, my frustration isn't entirely your fault. I’m in a very weird place right now. It just seems that recently the entire world is hell bent on stomping all over the things I once held dear. First Devil May Cry gets an Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show-style reboot with a Dante that has black hair and chugs energy drinks and, I don’t know, probably uses Snapchat to defeat Hell's unholy army. Then I learn that David Hayter wasn’t asked to voice Solid Snake for Metal Gear Solid 5, as if anyone could even fathom replacing that gravel-voiced angel. And now Disney is going all “Uncle Owen’s farm” on Lucasarts and torching the place, reminding me that nothing is forever and that everything beautiful in life eventually decays into a husk of its former glory before succumbing to an ignoble death.

Can’t we just have one thing that’s sacred in videogames? One thing that isn’t reimagined or replaced or ruined for the sake of a few easy bucks? I’m not saying Generation I Pokémon are some kind of untouchable ideal. They’re not. You guys made a transvestite in blackface that we all just kind of pretend never happened. And it’s not like updates on the original 151 can’t be done right. Electivire is pretty awesome, and Magmortar is a glorious realization of all the Pokémon I designed in 4th grade that had flaming cannons for hands.

But Mewtwo is different. Mewtwo is untouchable. Mewtwo represents everything I loved about Pokémon. The wonder I felt when I navigated Cerulean Cave’s labyrinthine passageways in search of the hulking genetic experiment lurking miles beneath Kanto. The triumph of capturing the telekinetic behemoth without chumping out and using a Master Ball. The escapist power trip of leveling that attempt-at-playing-God-gone-awry all the way to 100 and repeatedly tearing through the Elite Four to watch Professor Oak disown his grandson and crown me Champion in a delicious Schadenfreude loop.

Sure, maybe this Newtwo nonsense will provide a generation of kids all the same thrills I experienced. And sure, maybe this is all just the insane ramblings of someone who is ascribing too much meaning to a fictional children’s monster as the encroaching tide of adulthood threatens to sweep over them completely. But screw it. Let me have this, Game Freak. Mewtwo was a legendary back when that word still meant something. This abomination is only a reminder that the symbols of our youth – these silly totems that once held such significance – can be manipulated for a cheap nostalgic kick that keeps us chasing a feeling that we can never get back.

Seriously, seventeen years of fire/water/grass starters and this is what you jerks decide to change? I think it’s time you reevaluate your priorities Game Freak, and this is coming from a grown man who just took to the Internet to write a near 1,000 word rant about a new Pokémon.   read

7:26 AM on 03.11.2013

The top ten Steam games I will never play

I can’t be the only one who feels a twinge of guilt every time they open Steam. Playing a game on my laptop means having to search through a sea of grey for a handful of bright spots. I realize that’s true of a lot of things in life, but I don’t need to be reminded of the banality of my existence whenever I want to sink a few hours into Binding of Isaac.

I feel a perpetual sense of buyer’s remorse, the equivalent of waking up the night after a drunken Amazon shopping binge and having to ask myself, “When the hell did I buy Lugaru HD?” Because after years of Steam Sales and Weekend Specials and Crazy Uncle Gabe’s Low, Low Prices, I have amassed a library of videogames that I will never, ever play.

Plenty has already been said about how Steam deviously encourages a compulsion to collect games, which results in a backlog that does nothing but gather dust in the nebulous ether of digital distribution. But while some people may look to their bloated library with pride, I can’t suppress that aforementioned guilt whenever I have to scroll past the likes of Company of Heroes, Dragon Age: Origins, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. People poured their blood and sweat into those games. Untold hours of entertainment lay within those games. I spent money on those games!

So to honor the titles I’ll never touch, I’ve decided to spotlight ten indefinitely uninstalled games in my Steam library. Perhaps in the hopes that acknowledging their existence will relieve me of their haunting presence, or that the infinitely knowledgeable Destructoid commentariat will tell me what I’m missing out on and convince me to give one of these suckers a whirl. Whatever the reason, here’s my therapeutic look at the top ten games in my Steam library that will never feel my sweet embrace.

10. Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3

Tim Curry and tactically deployed armored bears are the peanut butter and chocolate of my fantasies. Combine that with fond memories of my basement-dwelling childhood spent devising military masterstrokes in the original Command and Conquer – I attacked bases from two sides! – and the third Red Alert entry in the classically campy RTS series becomes an irresistible siren song.

But I forgot one crucial fact: I am a Bay of Pigs disaster when it comes to real time strategy games. My chief plan of attack consists of spending hours churning out the equivalent of Russia’s populace in ground units and then sending my forces to overwhelm the opposition by dying meaningless deaths. As a result, countless ore mines go undepleted and I have to sate my Tim Curry lust with YouTube clips of Clue.


The dark period of videogame history during which studios tried to turn first person parkour into a legitimate mechanic will be regarded with the same bemused scorn currently reserved for the NHL’s glowing puck and Hollywood’s miserable attempt to turn Colin Farrell into an action star. Misguided street acrobat gimmicks aside, Brink is at least buoyed by a lively junkyard metropolis and an absurd amount of customization for characters with 30-second life spans.

But all of that is moot, because after dropping a measly few bucks on Brink I discovered the game lacks controller support. “But FPS’s are meant to be played with a mouse and keyboard!” rises the indignant cry of the noble PC gamer. And yes, they probably are, but when you’ve spent your entire life nursing from the teat of console shooters, trying to switch control schemes is like trying to learn how to drive stick. Telepathically. In a car full of angry bees.


Because I wasn’t really of age during id Software’s heyday, Doom and Quake are little more to me than crude cave drawings depicting our earliest grizzled space marine ancestors begin their eternal struggle with low resolution aliens. I can respect the significance of a new IP from the grandfathers of gib, but I was more sold on the idea of being led around a mutant-riddled wasteland by John Goodman. Plus, how could I resist anything endorsed by Jesse Pinkman’s existential angst?

It’s just a shame that Rage had to be so late to the post-apocalyptic party. Releasing after Fallout 3 and Borderlands means I have very little space in my heart for any more arid ruins of civilization. And you’re telling me that the most innovative contribution to first-person shooters that the creators of the genre can muster is a godforsaken boomerang? When they give this generation its Mecha Hitler, we’ll see if I’m willing to play through the hundredth game that thinks the world ends not with a bang, but with dune buggies.

7. Rochard

I have no idea what Rochard is. A puzzle platformer? A run and gun in the Metal Slug vein? A silent foreign film about an impoverished Italian winemaker who must struggle to overcome the loss of his hands? My impression of the game is based entirely on its mystifyingly elegant title and its promotional artwork, which I always think is for Dustforce because of the protagonist’s unmistakable custodian vibe.

Incidentally, Dustforce is the only reason I own Rochard, as the two were lumped together in the underwhelming Humble Indie Bundle 6. That’s the indie grab bag that gave my library such other never-installed classics as Vessel, Space Pirates and Zombies, and Shatter. While those titles may one day engender enough interest for a playthrough, Rochard is the unquestionable complimentary flavor injector of the group, a curiosity to be marveled over but immediately buried in a drawer and forgotten about forever.

6. Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West

My interest in team-based shooters is one of pure vanity. “Look at those Halo and Call of Duty troglodytes with their kindergartener free-for-all antics,” I scoff over my cup of chamomile tea and dog-eared copy of Zarathustra. “Thanks, but I prefer a thinking man’s FPS.”

Except in practice, the very notion of being relied upon to do anything more than spastically spray bullets sends me into a crippling panic. Even if Lead and Gold appeals to my natural love of anything Western and features a class that deals heavily in bear traps, it isn’t enough to get me over the fear that I might have to interact with people in a capacity more cooperative than calling them a homophobic slur.

5. Shank

A 2D beat ‘em up with a Saturday-morning-cartoon-by-way-of-Robert-Rodriguez aesthetic is the kind of stylized reimagining of a classic genre that gets my indie-loving heart throbbing. Yet as happy as I’d be to play a game whose very name conjures the delightful image of a shiv being buried in the kidney of an unsuspecting snitch, I’m hesitant to give Shank a try.

Brawlers have a reputation for getting boring after you’ve taken a lead pipe to the head of your 50th generic baddie, which usually happens around the fifteen-minute mark. As awesome as choking an oversized butcher with his own meat hook sounds, I fear Shank may match a masterpiece like Castle Crashers in terms of sheer personality, but not in depth. I’d rather not deal with all that blood-spattered disappointment.

4. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. gets a pass from my Armageddon exhaustion because it released right before the recent deluge of end-of-the-world games. It also gets points for going with a The Road-style collapse of humanity, which I’ve always found much more believable than any kind of Mad Max badlands imitation. Piece of advice: if you’re bracing for doomsday invest in windbreakers, not dog skull codpieces.

What I’m less eager about is the equally realistic approach to gameplay. Guns that jam, a hunger system, the inability to withstand more than a few bullets? Hey, I get it. Being shot would be a total bummer. I don’t need a videogame that pits players against whatever the hell this meaty ray of sunshine is to try and teach me real world lessons. I’m all up for a challenge, but the reason we don’t have to constantly feed the characters we play is the same reason they never show people going to the bathroom in movies.

3. Amnesia

Amnesia showed major developers that they had learned all the wrong lessons from Resident Evil 4. The plucky Lovecraftian indie reminded us all that survivor horror games aren't about jump scares or quick time events, but rather the unshakable dread that a creature of unfathomable terror is always seconds away from wearing your skin as a lovely Sunday.

Though while I’ll admit that all those reaction videos of people emotionally breaking down more than I did at the end of Silver Linings Playbook sell me on Amnesia’s horror chops, I’ve always thought the game looked like a glorified simulator of that scene in every slasher flick where our teenage hero believes they’ll escape harm by knocking a bunch of furniture over in the path of 200 lbs of lumbering chainsaw-wielding hillbilly cannibal. That, and I kind of spoiled myself by looking up a screenshot of the game’s chief monster. Things are a lot less scary when you realize you spend the entire time being stalked by Oogie Boogie.

2. Greed Corp

I wish I was the kind of person who could play Settlers of Catan without quitting halfway through having the rules explained to me. Unfortunately, any board game that doesn’t strictly adhere to dice-based tile movement or involve an overly complicated Rube Goldberg contraption designed to catch mice is out of my league. Greed Corp may have caught my interest by offering a challenging strategy game doubling as a critique on unchecked capitalism, but I’ll never make it past the game’s tutorial.

Besides, I’ve always found something depressing about playing titles specifically designed for multiplayer by myself. And when the alternative is actually being friends with the kind of person who knows how to play Greed Corp, I’m not sure I want that either.

1. Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale

There was a very dark period of my life where I played Lemonade Tycoon every day for two weeks straight. I once stayed up until 5AM during a marathon session of Game Dev Story. Do you remember RollerCoaster Tycoon? Because I remember. I remember watching loan collectors circle like buzzards as I tried to keep Dr. Moosington’s Funporium Park afloat by courting the fickle needs of a never-ending parade of greedy little monsters.

The business simulator is my heroin, a genre that preys upon my self-destructive compulsion toward turning arbitrary numbers into better numbers. For this reason, a discounted Recettear was at once impossible to pass up and impossible to play. Cutesy item shop economics and a heaping helping of RPG elements are the ingredients for a sim speedball, and the moment I start this game is the moment I disappear down the rabbit hole forever.

Okay you beautiful, opinionated angels: tell me which of the games currently languishing in Steam purgatory deserves a better shake. Or perhaps you have your own shameful list of uninstalled titles you’ll never play? Share ‘em in the comments, and let’s all try to calculate how much money could have been better spent on charity.   read

6:00 AM on 06.25.2012

Why am I excited for the Wii U? Shut the hell up, that's why.

Being a Nintendo fan is a unique brand of insanity. As an owner of a Nintendo system through every generation of consoles, I’m someone who has been playing the same video games over and over again for the last 24 years. I've essentially been buying updated versions of Pokémon Red ever since I was 10, and I don’t know if it’s just some form of arrested development that makes me believe they’ve changed the Legend of Zelda formula in a meaningful enough way to justify shelling out money for Skyward Sword. But there’s no denying there’s some sort of mental deficiency at play whenever I’m excited to see they’ve given Mario a new flying rodent costume.

Though I don’t think anything exemplifies my issues as a Nintendo fan quite like my anticipation for the upcoming Wii U. As a (debatably) fully functioning adult with a (relatively) sound, rational mind, I should be regarding Nintendo’s new console about as seriously as people regard Carly Rae Jepsen as a musician. I mean, you all saw the same E3 I did, right? A useless touch screen add on that makes the Kinect look like the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey? The only noteworthy launch title an overdue sequel to an eight-year-old game about micromanaging sentient plants? A social media system that is some combination of Twitter and the scrawled penises and racial epithets usually found in bathroom stalls? The Wii U isn’t a next-gen console, it’s Nintendo recreating the money burning scene from The Dark Knight.

And yet, despite everything indicating a colossal waste of a future paycheck, I know beyond a doubt I’ll have one sitting in my apartment one day.

I may not be elbowing the throat of some spoiled kid’s grandma to nab a box on release day, but I know somewhere down the line it’ll be sitting there in a Gamestop window, refurbished and significantly slashed in price. And like an alcoholic returning to his sweet boozey mistress, I won’t be able to help myself. I will buy a Wii U, its corresponding iteration of Smash Bros., and whatever steering wheel and inevitable Touch Screen Plus peripherals are needed to make the console semi-functional. Because if there’s one thing every Nintendo system since the Gamecube has taught me, it’s that I will happily fork over cash to wade through the company’s endlessly yawning shit swamp in search of the few gems they produce.

Take the DS, for instance. Touch screens have now become the norm in handheld gaming, but at the time Nintendo was introducing the usurper to the Gameboy line it seemed like they were touting technology that had been used by ATMs for years as revolutionary.The use of dual screens and touch controls really only appealed to Shigeru Miyamoto’s whimsical sense of childlike wonder, while everybody else just wanted games that didn’t try to awkwardly shoehorn them in. And confidence wasn’t exactly instilled by the DS’s starting lineup, which boasted repurposed Nintendo 64 games and a dog simulator that proved a hypo-allergenic alternative for people who could never know the love of a real pet.

Fortunately, as the DS winds its eight-year life to a close, we can now say with certainty that Nintendo’s grand experiment... wasn’t a totally unmitigated crash-and-burn failure? Look, the DS may very well go down as the last great handheld system, but a near decade later and poorly implemented touch controls are still screwing up the likes of Kid Icarus. And out of its bottomless wealth of cheap movie tie-ins and Bratz dress-up games, you’d be hard pressed to find a top 25 of titles that used the DS’s features to their full potential. Only a handful managed to take advantage of the touch screen to create something uniquely satisfying, while the vast majority used it for seemingly no other reason than to serve as evidence in a future class action lawsuit for inducing early onset arthritis. I look forward to my day in court, Geometry Wars: Galaxies.

Those titles that did figure out how to build a game around the DS, however, are unquestionable classics. See, it’s not entirely a sense of self-loathing and resignation that always brings me back to Nintendo. For all they’ve gotten wrong these past few years, the things they get right are the sort of brilliant games that bring you back to the days you spent inseparable from the end of an NES controller. When you weren’t such a jaded, cynical twentysomething, and you didn’t write angry blog posts about how the Zapper was an overblown and ultimately useless piece of hardware.

I’m talking about The World Ends With You, one of the few modern day JRPGs I managed to beat, because the fast paced swipe-and-tap battle system kept me from quitting out of sheer boredom. Elite Beat Agents and its Japense precursor Ouendan, which are still my all time favorite rhythm games and managed to save me a bundle on fake plastic instruments. And, of course, Kirby Canvas Curse, with which I spent more time playing with rainbows than an adult heterosexual male probably should.

And then there were those games that, while mostly shunting the touch controls off to the side, proved Nintendo’s other great strength. That is, as I said, convincing people to buy the same games they’ve played hundreds of times. I honestly can’t tell you what New Super Mario Bros. does differently than Super Mario Bros. 3 did in 1988, but that almost isn’t even the point. Nintendo has distilled the most standard genres – platforming, adventure, roleplaying – into their purest forms. Playing Spirit Tracks or Phantom Hourglass isn’t so much about experiencing something new as it is about getting a fix. The tried and true formula of dungeon crawling, light puzzle solving, and bosses with giant glowing weak points prone to boomerang shots are scientifically proven to hit all the right pleasure sensors. All the developers have to do is slap on a fresh layer of paint and they’ve got a best seller on their hands.

The Wii is an even greater example of this “diamond in the rough” phenomenon because motion control technology is gaming’s greatest monster. In fact, the entire console is an amalgam of short comings and inadequacies, and while I relate to that on a deeply personal level, it does not make for an enjoyable home entertainment system.

While Sony and Microsoft were busying exploring ways to deepen players’ online experiences, Nintendo clung to it archaic Friend Code system that was like the alt newsgroups of online multiplayer. Its library was a veritable breeding ground for low-res cash ins of more popular games that replaced everything fun with segments where you got to realistically turn a doorknob. And Reggie Fils-Aime should publicly shamed for any part he played in convincing the industry that the future of video games resided in virtual bowling.

The Wii’s legacy will forever be that of the puppy every family was excited to get for Christmas, only to be dropped back on to the steps of the SPCA two weeks later when they grew bored of it.

But its gimmicky trappings didn’t stop the system from releasing some seriously essential games. Waggle controls may never have transcended in quite the same way that the DS’s touch screen did, but the Mario Galaxy games are still the closest 3D platforming has come to perfection. Niche titles like Little King’s Story and Zack & Wiki provided the kind of cutesy all-ages fun that’s become rare now that developers are chasing graphic engines that most realistically render Lara Croft getting impaled on a rusty pipe. Donkey Kong Country Returns and Punch-Out!! were nostalgia-soaked security blankets.

And, again, it was Kirby that really figured the system out. Epic Yarn provided one of the rare motion controlled games that didn’t make players want to rend their Wiimote asunder. Why the pink blob has become the company’s chief innovator is beyond me, but it probably has something to do with having no established formula from which the slightest deviation would send fan boys into a frothy rage.

Okay, maybe I don’t have anything other than precedent to explain why I’m excited for the Wii U. Because, yes, dropping blocks into your friends’ Mario game sounds about as fun as jabbing them in the eye while they play, and half as useful. And, yeah, the recent stumbling of the 3DS proves the company can only go so long providing an inadequate package. And, I know, there’s still no denying the company is responsible for paying whatever backwoods ‘90s improv troupe created that Miiverse marketing atrocity.

But none of that matters. There will be a Legend of Zelda game for this system, and I am going to buy it. There will be a Smash Bros. game, and I will buy that. I don’t know what they have in store for Kirby, but it’s going to be revelatory. And I’ve already got my heart dead set on whatever insanity is going on in Project P-100.

So why am I excited for the Wii U? Shut the hell up, that’s why.   read

9:25 AM on 06.17.2012

Digitally Disappointed Dads: Games spent trying to impress your father

It’s Father’s Day today, which means it’s time to give the paternal figure in your life a call, send him a card, or patch over years of festering resentment for failing to live up to his expectations with a gift card to Lowes. To help celebrate the most important men in our lives, I thought I’d take a look at a few video games that are just as much about making your father proud as they are about saving the world.

Sure, this is essentially the same list that has been compiled by video game websites around Father's Day for years, but did those other lists include Norman from Pokemon Emerald? Probably not, so put off talking to your dad for a few more minutes and enjoy!

Bioshock – Andrew Ryan/Frank Fontaine

Father to: Jack

Fathers/Sleeper Assassin Relationship: Like an art deco My Two Dads, Bioshock’s silent protagonist is torn between two terrible fathers at war with one another. There’s his biological pop Andrew Ryan who, while entitling him to the keys to a pretty swanky collapsing utopia, murdered Jack’s exotic dancer mom in cold blood. Then there’s criminal mastermind Frank Fontaine, who bought Jack as an embryo from said exotic dancer, but only to raise him as an artificially-aged killer trained to obey an innocuously polite trigger phrase.

Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad? Disappointed Dads. While Andrew Ryan is able to use his illegitimate son to get brained by a golf club on his own terms – and even manages to impart some fatherly advice on his way out – no healthy parent-child relationship ends with a brainwashed assassination. Nor does it end with a consciously planned one, as Jack also puts down an ADAM-jacked Frank Fontaine in a Feat of Strength that would put even Frank Costanza to shame. But, hey, in a game that’s all about killing Big Daddies, what’s two more to the pile?

Fallout 3 – James

Father to: The Lone Wanderer

Father/Wasteland Messiah Relationship: Now who wouldn’t want Liam Neeson as their dad? In addition to being known to punch wolves in the face and foil Batman, the man once took down the entire Albanian mafia just to rescue his daughter from sex traffickers. James doesn’t initially appear to be a badass in the usual Neeson mold, ditching Vault 101 and his kid just to focus on a science project. But he eventually proves his chops when, in a typical display of Neeson heroics, he locks himself and the colonel of the totalitarian Enclave in a chamber of lethal radiation just to buy his child enough time to escape their clutches.

Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad? Either. Since Fallout 3 is all about moral choice, you can validate everything Daddy Neeson sacrificed by successfully activating the water purification system he was working on. Or you can be a huge jerk and use your father’s work to spread a genetically engineered virus and eradicate all life outside the Wasteland’s vaults. Granted, James dies before he can witness your decision, so any resulting guilt or approval is provided solely by the game’s poorly spliced together ending.

StarFox – James McCloud

Father to: Fox McCloud

Father/Fox Relationship: Despite putting as much effort into naming his kid as people put into naming their goldfish, the elder shades-sporting McCloud had a close relationship with his equally ace offspring. The Arwing pilot and founder of the Star Fox Team heavily influenced his son’s career path, and the two would have torn up the Lylat System like some kind of cosmic Sanford and Son if James hadn’t been tragically shot down by the nefarious monkey scientist Andross first.

Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad? Proud Papa. Though, either James influenced his son a little too much or the Cornerian Army is severely lacking in a half-decent grief counselor. Despite being killed before the events of the first Star Fox game, James has appeared throughout the series as a product of his son’s war-addled psyche. In Star Fox 64, Fox hallucinates his father leading the way out of Andross’s self-destructing base, and in Star Fox Command James shows up to help the team without anybody ever acknowledging that he’s there piloting a military-grade starfighter from beyond the grave. Fox constantly seeking encouragement from his dead dad would be worrisome, but this is a game where the primary antagonist is a giant sentient chimp face, so all bets are off.

Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald – Norman

Father to: Player’s character

Father/Trainer Relationship: In a series that’s notorious for absentee fathers, Norman is the rare exception... sort of. While he is the only dad of a Pokémon trainer we ever get to meet, his job as Petalburg City’s Normal-type Gym Leader means he’s away from home more often than not. So he’s as emotionally distant as any other father in the franchise, and as only the fifth Gym Leader the player faces, he’s kind of small potatoes to boot.

Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad? Proud Papa. Considering it took Pokémon fifteen years to address the ethicality of forcing animals to fight for our amusement, the game’s limited moral spectrum doesn’t allow Norman to be anything other than overbearingly supportive. But no dad is immune to the sting of getting beat by their kid for the first time, and I can’t imagine the number of late night beers in the garage it takes to get over the fact that your ten year old is better at your profession than you are. I’m just surprised Norman doesn’t threaten disownment if the player dares to use a Fighting-type Pokémon against him.

God of War – Zeus

Father to: Kratos

God/Son Relationship: You know how the story goes. Dad has son. Dad is too busy being Olympian god to raise son. Son is tricked into murdering his wife and child and starts down a long, winding path of vengeance that ends in him claiming the throne as an Olympian god just like his dad. And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon...

Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad? Disappointed Dad. Zeus must have not been a fan of theater, because all he had to do was take a look at any Greek tragedy to know that trying to prevent a prophecy is usually the surefire way to fulfill that prophecy. Zeus kills Kratos to keep his son from offing him like he did his own dad, Cronos, but in doing so inadvertently ensures the complete destruction of Olympus and his own demise. Maybe if he hadn’t been too busy banging broads as a swan to notice the small nation’s worth of gods, titans, and mythical creatures his son had already slaughtered, he would have realized that killing Kratos would only make him angry. Remember to always take an interest in your children’s hobbies.

Mega Man series – Dr. Light

Father to: Mega Man

Scientist/Boy Robot Relationship: Dr. Light is like Geppetto, Dr. Frankenstein, and Santa Claus all rolled up into one. He initially created Mega Man to serve as his robot assistant in the year 20XX, when it apparently became socially acceptable to build servile automatons that look like eight-year-old boys. Dr. Light then used his mechanical “son” to combat his rival Dr. Wily’s evil robot army. Some may question the child-rearing abilities of a dad who sends their kid to single-handedly defeat a legion of homicidal machines, but when most people describe their children as “special,” they don’t usually mean he has a laser cannon for an arm.

Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad? Proud Papa. Dr. Light has plenty of reasons to be proud of his precious Blue Bomber, considering he’s been saving the world from total robot annihilation for the past 25 years. And it’s a good thing he has, because the only thing Mega Man has accomplished lately has been getting left out of Marvel vs Capcom 3 and having both his upcoming games cancelled. At least he still has an Archie comic to his name, otherwise Dr. Light might start offering all his equipment upgrades to Roll.

Final Fantasy X – Jecht

Father to: Tidus

Sin Monster/Imaginary Son Relationship: Ahh, Jecht. For a JRPG, there’s something so quintessentially American about Tidus’s washed-up drunk of a father. Like the middle-aged All American who never went pro, Jecht spends the days past his prime taking the frustration over his withered dreams out on his son. He (accurately) nicknames Tidus “crybaby,” and instills him with the kind of barely suppressed inferiority complex that results in a teenager getting his ears pierced and wearing denim overalls in public.

Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad? Disappointed Dad. Sure, there’s a last minute stab at resolution after Tidus and his friends defeat Jecht when he transforms into a Sin-infused demigod sporting an Axel Rose bandana, and the two do get to bond over their mutual nonexistence in the game’s closing cutscene. But I don’t think any of the latest studies suggest that years of emotional abuse and constant belittlement at the hands of an alcoholic father can be worked out with a single bro five. Plus, unless you’re one of those psychotic completionists who actually mastered the arcane rules of Blitzball, Tidus never did become a star player like his old man.

Katamari Damacy – King of All Cosmos

Father to: Prince of All Cosmos

King/Prince Relationship: The King of All Cosmos is that cool dad you were jealous of your friend having as a kid. You know, the one who let your friend stay up late watching blurry Cinemax movies and was lousy with keeping the liquor cabinet locked. But then your friend secretly hated him because he was actually a neglectful alcoholic, and your friend was always the one who had to put him under a cold show after he came home blackout drunk every night. Kind of like that, only as a tall as a planet and wearing a codpiece.

Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad? Neither. To be capable of disappointment or pride the King would first need to acknowledge his diminutively-sized son as anything more than a punching bag. Not that anyone can really blame him for ignoring his son, seeing as how the Prince is one of countless other equally goofy looking star children. But still, you’d think rolling up entire Japanese communities to repopulate the cosmos with stars would earn a slap on the back or a firm handshake or something. That the only way to get the Prince noticed is by making a katamari big enough to roll up the King is as fitting a metaphor for father/child relationships as you can get.   read

6:05 AM on 04.23.2012

10 Terrible Unlockables That Make Me Thankful for DLC

In the golden days before companies realized they could just charge us more money for extra content, unlockables were the best way to squeeze a little bit of replayability out of a game. Whether it was extra characters, secret endings, or ridiculously overpowered weapons, unlockable content rewarded the most skilled and dedicated of gamers. And yet while many of us may now decry a company like Capcom for putting a price tag on something we used to be able to have by just playing their product, I think we’ve lost sight of one very important thing – unlockables are a colossal waste of time.

Now, that’s not to say all unlockables are terrible. I can tell you that the combination of Goldeneye’s Big Head and Paintball modes were responsible for at least half of my happy childhood memories. But a good video game unlockable is entirely dependent on the amount of time and effort it requires to obtain. A video game could have a weapon that turns every enemy into Emma Stone declaring her undying love for me, but if I had to dedicate a month of my life to get it, it’s not worth it.

Yes, you might say that unlockables are beside the point, and what matters for most gamers is simply the fun of overcoming an extra challenge. But I submit to you that the people who use that logic are the same kind of people who think building model ships in glass bottles is a worthwhile pursuit, therefore their opinion doesn’t really matter. So while we all may decry modern gaming’s embrace of DLC, I present the following unlockables as evidence that even though something costs a blood boiling amount of Microsoft moonbucks, it’s something you might not have even missed having in the first place. Here are ten of the most useless, difficult, and time consuming video game unlockables.

10. Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver - Friendship Room

The Pokémon series is no stranger to inane, completely frivolous side quests. Ever since the days of Ruby and Sapphire, Contests and Musicals have forced players to doll up their Pokémon in humiliating outfits and make them strut around on stage in what we can only hope is the closest the world ever gets to a Toddlers & Tiaras game. But while the rewards for completing these useless diversions have always been scant, there is no unlockable as infuriatingly pointless as Heart Gold and Soul Silver’s Friendship Room.

The Friendship Room is unlocked through the Pokéathlon, which is just a collection of minigames that take advantage of the DS’s touch screen. Players can only access the Friendship Room after they beat the first place record of every event, a feat that is in and of itself an act of sad desperation. The Pokéathlon includes so much screen tapping it’s about as fun as an involuntary muscle spasm, and beating the records will inevitably include playing the absurdly difficult “Pennant Capture” so many times you’ll want to hurl your DS directly into Satoshi Tajiri’s face.

Worst of all, the Friendship Room has absolutely nothing to do with friendship. Within its hallowed halls are four statues, one of the player’s character and three of their top Pokeathletes. They’re a shining, permanent testament to the loneliness and isolation of your average Pokémon trainer, whose only “friends” are the pets they make fight to the near death on a daily basis.

9. Dead Rising - Mega Man Outfit

Perhaps more impressive than Dead Rising’s unlockable Mega Man outfit allowing players to live out their secret fantasy of dressing up as a Blue Bomber spin on the Tron Guy is that it turns killing zombies into an absolute chore. Screwing up one of gaming's simplest equations (zombies + things to murder zombies with = money in the bank) takes a pretty concentrated effort, but Dead Rising pulls it off by affixing a big ol' dead zombie price tag to its most sought after unlockable.

The entire outfit is unlocked in three separate pieces. Players can acquire the boots by getting the game’s “true” ending and the tights are unlocked by defeating ten of the “Psychopath” human survivors that serve as bosses. The outfit’s pièce de résistance, however, sorely abuses the whole point of Dead Rising. To unlock the Mega Buster, players have to get the “Zombie Genocider” achievement by splattering the brains of 53,594 undead.

To put that into perspective, I grew up in a town with a population of 2,248 people. I would have to murder my entire hometown nearly 24 times over if I wanted a sweet laser cannon for my arm. I know zombie movies have drilled into our heads that the walking dead are no longer our loved ones, but goddamn, that’s pretty coldblooded for a cosplay.

Moral qualms aside, the real crime is the monotony of it all. Resourceful players have discovered the best way to unlock the Mega Buster is to drive around Willamette Parkview Mall’s zombie clogged maintenance tunnels for two and a half hours, crushing as many shambling flesh eaters beneath your wheels as you can. When players have to find a tedious workaround to unlock a game’s coolest secret feature, you’re doing it wrong.

Though, the fact that I just used the word “tedious” to describe plowing through hordes of the undead in a 4-door deathmobile may be symptomatic of a much, much larger issue with our society.

8. Diablo II: Lord of Destruction - Magically Inscribe Your Name Onto a Weapon

In Diablo II and its redundant expansion pack Lord of Destruction (Really? Lord of Destruction? You already fought Satan in the original, going after his brother Baal is like settling for the ugly best friend) players can acquire all sorts of ridiculous weapons and armor. Balrog Blades, Ghost Wands, Kraken Shells, Succubus Skulls – pretty much every part of a mythical creature’s anatomy can be fashioned into a fancy hat for you to wear.

But there’s something about wearing a dead Kraken that’s just so... impersonal, y’know?

Luckily, there’s a way to make any item in the game truly feel like your own, and all it takes is defeating the game’s deadliest necromancer. By overcoming the incredibly difficult optional boss Nihlathak – who can not only teleport and endlessly spawn bum rushing gangs of minions, but can wipe intrepid adventures out in a single hit with his pretty gruesome Corpse Explosion ability – players earn the glorious opportunity to add their name to the front of any item of their choosing.

And... that’s it. Doing this doesn't grant any stat bonuses or make the item more powerful, it just inflicts the imagination of a basement dwelling fourteen-year-old on the game’s world. The all-powerful Doombringer sword becomes Th3Wanginat0rs Doombringer sword. It’s the gothic fantasy equivalent of your mom writing your name on the back of your underwear.

7. Disgaea series - Land of Carnage

Look, you know what you’re getting into when you buy a Disgaea game. The 9,999 level cap and 100-floor randomly generated Item World dungeons are the closest you can get to a warning label informing you that hours of your life are going to be consumed by a black hole of overzealous anime clichés. Your average Disgaea player is not only going to be completely unfazed by any massive time sink the game throws their way, they’re going to consider it a bonus.

But even by the game’s stringent commitment standards, the method for unlocking the Land of Carnage demands a little too much. Introduced in Disgaea 2, the Land of Carnage is basically New Game+ on steroids. Or, in more user friendly terms, New Game+ gone Super Saiyan. In addition to unlocking three bonus characters and being the only place players can acquire the game’s strongest weapons, the Land of Carnage includes an alternate version of every single stage of the regular game that multiplies enemy levels by 2100% and slaps an extra 200 on for funsies.

Actually getting to the Land of Carnage, however, requires wandering the Item World for 40 years. Players have to collect treasure maps from 16 different pirate enemies, all of which have a chance of spawning during the first three turns of every stage. While there are ways to increase the rate that pirates appear, there's no way of controlling which type shows up. Which means you could have 15 maps, but spend forever waiting for a ship full of ninjas that may never come. The way it tests player's faith would be poetic if it weren't all in the name of unlocking a green penguin to fight at your side.

6. Kingdom Hearts - Secret Endings

Any number of games could be held accountable for the offense of having a secret ending, as it’s difficult to take a narrative seriously when you can miss out on how it’s supposed to end. It’s like if The Great Gatsby stopped before its final chapters because you didn’t collect all of Doctor T.J. Ecklber’s crystal keys.

But even in a medium that includes conclusions featuring corgis and Little Sister harems, the Kingdom Hearts games stand firmly as the worst of the bunch for both the sheer triviality of their endings and the long, terrible task of unlocking them. In the first Kingdom Hearts, one of the requirements is finding all 99 of the Dalmatians hidden throughout the game. Players will spend so much time scouring every corner of the world for puppies that they’ll wish they could just turn them straight over to Cruella de Vil so she can skin them into some sweet new armor.

Kingdom Hearts II is even worse, demanding players complete everything in Jiminy’s Journal, a lengthy collection of tedious objectives that’s less “fun” and more “atonement for every mortal sin you’ve ever committed.” This includes finishing the Poster Duty minigame in 30 seconds, which requires no less than a graduate degree in astrophysics.

The rewards for the players who actually see through every one of the game’s back breaking demands to the end are cut scenes that you could have not only just spent five seconds looking up on YouTube, but that are as chock full of vague, foreboding images as a David Lynch film. They have the production values of one of those awful fan made AMVs, and offer little in the way of conclusion because they were meant to serve as trailers for sequels that weren’t even made yet.

5. Dead Space 2 - "Hand" Cannon

I’ll be upfront with you: the only reason Dead Space 2’s “Hand Cannon” is on this list is pure jealousy. The weapon – which allows players to play through the game like a seven year old with an overactive imagination, decimating enemies with a giant foam finger that makes Isaac Clarke go “Bang! Bang! Pew! Pew!” with each shot – is mind blowingly awesome despite its uselessness.

But the price for greatness is steep. The weapon is a reward for completing the game on its hardcore difficulty setting, and the only way I’d ever be able to do that is by isolating myself and training in a cave for six months. Dead Space 2’s hardcore difficulty limits players to only three saves throughout the entire game and forces them to start over from those saves anytime they die. This means players need to parcel their saves through the twelve hour playtime while dealing with the ratcheted up tension and danger of a game that’s already like the chestburster scene in Alien repeated ad nauseam.

The “Hand Cannon” is unquestionably awesome, but not so much when its price of admission is repeatedly watching Isaac get every orifice in his body violated by all manner of alien claws.

4. Super Mario Galaxy 2 - Rosalina

Super Mario Galaxy 2 represents not only the pinnacle of platforming innovation, but 25 years of honing Mario games into punishing digital nightmares designed to make children cry and reduce adults to crying children. Despite the friendly Italian stereotype façade, Mario games can be brutal in their later stages, and the second half of Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the cartoon equivalent of a Saw movie.

See, once players actually go through and collect each of the game’s 120 Power Stars, they unlock another set of 120 Green Stars, which are hidden throughout each level and are only distinguishable by a distinct green glow and twinkling sound. This is particularly helpful in a game with a color palette as schizophrenic as a painting in a mental hospital art class and where every single object makes a goddamn twinkling sound because it’s fucking space. And after acquiring each of the hidden Green Stars, players unlock the Grandmaster Galaxy, a gauntlet of difficult levels that require the hand-eye coordination of a licensed fighter pilot.

Upon completing that – which will take most players blowing through their lives like a teenage pop star – players will unlock Rosalina, a sort of cosmic Princess Peach. She appears on Mario’s spaceship and just sort of… stands there. When you talk to her, she tells you how thankful she is for you saving the galaxy, but she never quite shows you just how thankful she is. I remember the days when all you had to do to get blue balled by a Mario game princess was jump over Bowser’s head and hit a button.

3. World of Warcraft - What A Long, Strange Trip It's Been

Life for a WoW addict is difficult enough. The King of MMO’s is designed like heroin through an IV drip, where the game’s greatest rewards are directly proportional to the amount of time you put into playing. Raid schedules and rep grinding manage to turn slaying Lich Kings and godlike dragons into about as much fun as punching the clock.

Which is why “What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been” is the achievement equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s not enough that a player dedicates their everyday lives to Azeroth, they’ve got to work holidays, too. The achievement requires players to get every one of the World Event achievements, which are WoW’s non denominational equivalents of real life holidays. Want to spend time with the family for Christmas? You better make sure you threw snowflakes on a blood elf warlock first. Got a special date planned for Valentine’s Day? Of course you don’t, so commemorate your loneliness by making a lovely charm bracelet for the Regent Lord of Quel’Thalas. At least the game reserves dragging an NPC orphan into the middle of a PVP battlefield for one of its made-up holidays.

Players dedicated and/or sad enough to actually spend an entire year working toward the achievement are rewarded with Reins of the Violet Proto-Drake, which is different from the other dime a dozen dragon mounts in that it’s... purple.

Or you could just drop $25 on a magical flying lion and see your loved ones for Easter.

2. Final Fantasy XII - Wyrmhero Blade

Final Fantasy is another series that has mastered the art of the time consuming side quest. The fact that they’re responsible for people using time that could have been spent with their friends and family to breed chocobos is surely a crime on par with all those kids of WoW addicts that Blizzard killed.

Final Fantasy XII’s Wyrmhero Blade, though, is the crown jewel of hollow victories. The only way to unlock Final Fantasy XII’s second most-powerful weapon is to defeat two of the game’s superbosses. One of these is Yiazmat, a dragon that, according to the game’s lore, killed God. Forget for a second the religious quandaries this raises and instead consider the facts. Yiazmat has over 50 million HP. He is not only one of the most powerful enemies in the game, he’s one of the most difficult in the entire series. Taking over two hours to beat, Yiazmat is second only to that FFXI boss that nearly killed a whole bunch of players from exhaustion. It’s only after players have defeated him that they’ve truly beaten the FFXII.

Or, in other words, the Wyrmhero Blade is only unlocked after you have absolutely no use for it.

What does the game expect you to do with it? Show it off to people at parties? Take revenge on that asshole dinosaur that chased you out of the Dalmasca desert? I know the game has to give you something for slaying the God killer, but a sword? Give me a spaceship or giant badass wings or a Square Enix representative personally presenting me with a commemorative plaque. The only way the Wyrmhero Blade would actually be worth anywhere near the amount of effort it takes to acquire it was if it was somehow able to bring Ares back to life.

1. Super Meat Boy - The Kid




9:36 PM on 03.04.2012

Promotions: A Sneak Peek at Pokémon!

When I was a little upper middle class hell spawn, I had a natural inclination toward anything that cost large sums of my parents’ money. I had learned that a person’s love was directly proportional to the amount of money they were willing to spend on someone, which is why I was a sucker for every passing fad I could force my parents to get their hands on. Furbies, Crazy Bones, Pogs. You name it, I had it stuffed in the back of a closet somewhere collecting dust. As a burgeoning nerd though, no money sink was greater than my obsession with video games. I was an avid Nintendo loyalist, owning both a Nintendo 64 and a Game Boy and spending the majority of my formative years playing both. Naturally, I was a Nintendo Power subscriber, and every month I would comb through the magazine with the same kind of solemn reverence an old man reads the Wall Street Journal.

I don’t know if it was because of my subscription to Nintendo Power or because some marketing research firm had been following my obsessive toy buying habits, but one day I received a mysterious VHS in the mail. This video tape offered an exclusive preview of a video game phenomenon that was about to sweep the nation. I had never even heard of what the video was promoting before, but after watching it once, then twice, then approximately a hundred times after, I realized I had just been let in on the ground floor of the hottest gaming craze of my young life.

That VHS was A Sneak Peek at Pokémon, and it is a master class on turning little kids into cash spewing drones.

If you weren’t one of the fortunate few to receive a copy of this thing when it was sent out like some sort of strategically deployed bioweapon, you can check out the first part here and the second here. It’s basically a fifteen-minute -ong commercial for Pokémon, but it’s so much more than that. This is not just some 30-second spot pushing a hot new toy during Saturday morning cartoons. This is a propaganda film. It’s not selling Pokémon the video game, it’s selling Pokémon the lifestyle.

Sure, if you watch it now it’s a painfully obvious ploy to move toys. But consider watching this thing as an unsuspecting child. It literally opens with some kid telling you what you’re about to witness is a cultural phenomenon that’s about to take America by the balls. It’s not just a TV show, it’s not just a Game Boy game, it’s “loads of other cool things.” I was 10. I fucking loved cool things. At that point in my existence, cool things were the only things I’m capable of defining myself by. I was hooked in the first 15 seconds, but then it kicked in with clips of this kid flying with ghosts and fire birds set to some ‘80s power ballad with lyrics like “You’ve got the power right in your hands,” and “A world of magic at your command.” Whatever this video was promising, it was no less than complete dominion over an army of badass monsters. I had no clue what a Pokémon was, but at that point I wanted every last one of them.

The video introduces the game’s core concept through a mix of clips from the cartoon and live-action actors who we can only imagine thought were going to be doing something much better with their lives. We’re told by his “Aunt Hillary” that the star of the TV show is Ash, a firebrand of a 10 year old who dreams of becoming a Pokémon master. And, of course, the only way to become a Pokémon master is to catch all the Pokémon.

First off, no it isn’t. To become a Pokémon master, you have to beat the Elite Four. Nobody is going to think you’re a Pokémon master just because you’ve got Mr. Mime. Second, how did this even get through the FCC? I know the “gotta catch ‘em all” catchphrase has been made fun of to death in that South Park Chinpokomon episode and CollegeHumor video, but seriously consider it for a moment. They won’t let cigarette companies run ads on television, but apparently it was legal in the ‘90s to allow companies to send promotional videos that exist in the moral gray area between advertising and brainwashing directly into children’s homes. In practice, that’s one step above a guy luring kids into his unmarked van with candy.

The most galling thing about this commercial is just how transparent it is. It just straight up tells you to buy everything. The most telling moment comes when we’re introduced to the Team Rocket boss, who we’re told by the veritable Woodward and Bernstein duo of Ash’s cousins “wants to steal Pikachu away from Ash to fulfill their ... diabolical plan for total domination.” How that’s supposed to work isn’t exactly clear, but what’s important is the fact that this menacing shadowy figure informs the viewer in no uncertain terms that unless they give their life entirely over to Pokémon, he’s going to completely destroy that adorable yellow mouse the video just showed a few seconds ago. The same one you see Ash lay his life on the line to save. Whatever a Pikachu is, it’s so important that a massive criminal organization will do everything in its power to have it, and a 10-year-old boy will risk death just to keep it out of harm’s way.

I just imagine there having been a group of Nintendo execs anxiously wringing their hands during a meeting with some ad agency going, “How do we make kids want this thing?” before some smooth Don Draper type proclaims “Make them? No, we tell them.” And then he bangs a secretary and my family loses a quarter of their income feeding my crippling Pokémon addiction.

Needless to say, the video worked. I eagerly tuned in when the anime premiered. I bought Pokémon Blue bright and early when it came out. I loaded up on enough Pokémon cards to fill two huge ass binders, despite not having the first clue about how to play the trading card game. I bought action figures and collectible Burger King gold plated cards. I nearly drove my mother to the verge of tears in my desperate, maddening search for a copy of Pokémon Snap the week it was released. All in all, with the amount of money I spent on Pokémon as a kid I could have probably made a sizable dent in my college loan payments already.

As effective as it was though, the video, and by extension the whole marketing blitzkrieg behind Pokémon, obscured the very thing that was responsible for it – the game. The fact that you played Pokémon almost seemed like an afterthought when compared to all the other ways you could feed the franchise money. After losing interest in Pokémon when all the hype died down, it took me years to rediscover the series as a solid, addicting, and above all else fun RPG. It took playing Emerald on my DS, removed from the “gotta catch ‘em all” fanaticism of my childhood, to genuinely enjoy the video game. A Sneak Peek at Pokémon was my introduction to the ceaseless money making machine that was the Pokémon franchise, and it took forcibly removing the series from its cold blooded claws to actually enjoy the game.   read

11:45 PM on 12.04.2011

Tales from Skyrim: Jazzy D. Funkington Slays a Dragon

"Jazzy D. Funkington suffers no fools, and he sure as hell don't suffer no motherfucking dragons."

The year was 1977. Jimmy Carter was residing in the White House, disco was just beginning its terrible, glittery rein over the heart of the nation’s music scene, and international jewel thief Jazzy D. Funkington was falling through an interdimensional portal after a diamond heist gone awry. For reasons the scientists of the day could only classify as "some real Twilight Zone shit," the world's most prominent playboy/sticky-fingered filcher/Taekwondo expert found himself transported from the swanky streets outside a Paris museum to the cold, harsh woods of a land called Skyrim.

This is his story.

This man made the unfortunate mistake of wearing clothes that Jazzy needed.

Jazzy’s first night in Skyrim would have been considered a tumultuous one by the standards of any mortal man, but for Jazzy a near-execution interrupted by an attack from a mythological reptilian monster was simply business as usual. Uninterested in whatever rebellion threatened to tear the populace apart, Jazzy set out on the first step of his epic journey with only two goals in mind – to acquire riches and bitches. This was not only the title of his bestselling autobiography, but the two longstanding tenements of the Funkington family that were the reason Jazzy was the self-made man who had once made love to a trio of Swedish supermodels after he had swiped their ruby studded mink coats.

After hours spent hunting a wide assortment of Skyrim wildlife in search of the animal best suited for making love on in front of a fire place, Jazzy stumbled upon what one had to be generous to refer to as “civilization.” The town of Whiterun was certainly a town in the strictest sense of the word, but the lack of a respectable night club or an alley to shoot dice in did not bode well for his fortunes there. Nevertheless, Jazzy spent the evening hooking a brother up with the local tavern’s finest hooch, punching a woman in the face until she proclaimed her unyielding service to him, and being assigned dragon slaying duty by Carl Balgruuf, the town’s top turkey.

Jazzy, seen here testing a bear's carcass for form and comfort.

When informed that the “C” in Carl was actually a soft “J,” Jazzy calmly informed the Little Lord Fauntleroy-looking pimp, “The only soft J’s I deal with are the ones immediately preceded by a ‘B.’ Motherfucker, you Carl.”

While Jazzy’s heroic act was simply a front to allow him access to Carl’s highly ransackable castle, the man's single greatest flaw was his vanity. He could not turn down such a tempting feat of badassery. Surely if he were to defeat the draconian beast that threatened Whiterun, the town would erect a statue of his massive balls out of pure gold – which he could then steal and sell at a considerable profit. Already assured of his victory, Jazzy strode confidently into the night, a dispatch of Whiterun guards and Carl’s finest looking elf at his back.

It wasn’t long after reaching the besieged watchtower, the site of the dragon’s attack, that the terrible creature revealed itself. As it took off into the night sky, its wings spread out across the star streaked blackness like twin harbingers of doom, the guards unsheathed their weapons and readied for battle. The dark elf commanded the warriors to begin their assault, crying out for them to claim the dragon’s head.

“Be cool, elf honkey!”

The tremendous beast’s fearsome roar filled the frigid Skyrim air, but it was Jazzy’s words that quieted the rabble. He stepped forward, flexing his muscles hard enough to rip himself completely out of his woefully suede-free outfit. His clothes burst into tatters and scattered in the wind, abs chiseled out of concrete and several generations of racial injustice glistening in the moonlight. “You can’t just kill it. A dragon that fine you got to romance first.”

"Shh, girl, be cool. You about to get Jazzed."

What happened next was an act so indescribable that even a team of the Bards College’s greatest scholars writing every minute of every day for the next five hundred years could not even fathom to capture it in a song. Through the sheer power of his own funk, Jazzy overcame the raging monster using methods that had bedded an endless number of heiresses, air hostesses, foreign dignitaries, and skanks from around the block. The dragon thrashed wildly, but was no match for Jazzy’s soothing touch. It spat fire hot enough to melt the strongest Dwarven metal, but they were no match for the flames of Jazzy’s libido. It stared with eyes full of bloodthirst and malice into the very soul of the man who defied it, but its gaze was no match for Jazzy’s smoldering blue eyes.

Jazzy slayed the dragon not with force or magic or any other such destructive means. He felled the great menace with a power it could never hope to understand – the love of an upstanding black gentleman.

"Was it as good for you as it was for me? No, because there ain't nothing as good as being with me."

As the awestruck guards gathered around the corpse of the slain behemoth, murmurs passed between them about the reappearance of a legend.

“Dragonborn?” Jazzy asked. “More like dragon dead, which is what every one of them scaly motherfuckers are going to be if they step to me again, knowhaimsayin?”

Jazzy lifted his hand for the high five, but received no skin in return, as not a single warrior knew what he was saying.   read

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