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2:53 PM on 12.23.2012

Rock Band: The game (or rather, experience) that keeps on giving

Back in 2007, I was getting pumped for a new game from Harmonix called Rock Band. I had purchased Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero II, and heard that Harmonix was going on to make a game that replicated a full band experience, leaving Guitar Hero in the hands of Activision and its developers. I was most excited for the drums, because it looked like it simulated the real thing pretty closely, rhythm and kick pedal and all. I felt Rock Band was so ambitious and was going to be a great party game to play with my friends. I was so excited for it, that I purchased the whole band box with the game, mic, drums, and guitar for $180, before I even OWNED an XBox 360. My friend could not help me pick it up when I got it at the Gamestop near my school, so I carried it home myself (it took me 30 minutes walking). I had to stare at that box for a while because I was getting a 360 for Christmas, but I had a friend that let me use his just so I could have a taste. I was hooked on Rock Band the second I started playing it, though I failed at the drums miserably my first time. I wanted to conquer them as soon as I could, so you can imagine how eager I was to use them in my own home.

Oh man, I went through an unbelievable amount of Rock Band drums. The 4 pads represented, from left to right, the snare, left tom, right tom, and floor tom, and the pads represented various cymbals in-game, as well, though Harmonix did not designate the difference until Rock Band 3. The pedal attached to the bottom pipes, and had an orange line as an indicator of when to press it. Though playing the drums was a lot of fun and always my primary instrument, there were a lot of issues with Harmonix's hardware; the pads had no rebound, could not register fast hits or rolls, and would eventually stop working altogether the more you used them, the kick pedal could not be pressed fast enough to register quick double kicks or continuous use of the base drum (and it would always slide around and never stay in place), and the guitars broke easily and had sticky buttons. Harmonix offered a warranty and replaced any drum set as long as you sent the broken ones in, and between the Rock Band model and the slightly improved Rock Band 2 model, I went through at least 18 of them, until I got my beloved ION drum set. I tried everything to get my pads to work, too: I wrapped socks around them, opened them up and glued coins into them so they could register hits, etc. I did all this because I loved playing the drums so much, and was getting better every time I played, slowly moving my way up from Easy to Expert.


The greatest strengths of the Rock Band platform in my mind was always its party atmosphere, the DLC, and the way you could import songs from older titles in the series into the next one, with all your DLC carrying over. I have over 1,000 songs and a $300 electronic drum set, and I cry a little at night because I know the money I have spent on Rock Band could have been used to buy a house at this point. As much fun as it is to play the drums or sing alone, Rock Band is always at its funnest as a party game. I've invited friends to play many times over the 5 years the platform has been around, and we always have a good time playing; in fact, I actually felt the first stirrings of love in my heart when I heard my friend sing for the first time (she is now my girlfriend, and she can hit the high notes in "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" like NOBODY'S BUSINESS). Neither me or any of my other friends can really sing, but we still love doing it, because we are having fun. I have so many fond memories of playing with friends; I've collapsed on the floor after drumming "Battery," harmonized the shit out of "Holiday" with 2 other people, gotten a little drunk and called my best friend Steve instead of Dom while singing "The Joker," and had my IONs' entire right side come apart on more than one occasion playing a song, which always led to laughter and screaming.

Rock Band is the game series I have played the longest, thanks to its weekly DLC, and it is truly amazing to say I have played something for over 5 years. I have gotten used to the drums (cymbals AND pads thanks to Rock Band 3), and am itching to buy my own drum set and practice real drums once I have the money to do so. I have bonded with many friends over Rock Band and still have parties so I can play with them and have fun. I have gotten all the instruments, even the limited edition PRO guitar, and want to try to learn it when I have the time (though I hear Rocksmith teaches real guitar better). I always have fun with Rock Band and have never grown tired of it, so fuck the haters that say, "People still play Rock Band? DURH-HURH!" (may or may not be an actual comment said by a fuckface). I always felt it was more than a game, that it was an experience, and it is an experience that I continue to enjoy daily.   read

8:01 PM on 12.15.2012

Reminiscing about golden, Rarer days: An ode to my childhood heroes

I remember a time when I was a young boy, growing up with my SNES, and being truly amazed by the talents of a company I had never heard of before, Rareware. Rare's golden logo was stylish and hypnotizing, and for a while, everything they made seemed to have the Midas touch. Donkey Kong Country and all its sequels and Killer Instinct were the first games that wowed me from Rare, because I had never before seen such amazing graphics, sound, and music come through my SNES to my television screen. I was hooked and wanted to see what the future held for such a talented company, and they made a fan and true believer out of me. When the Nintendo 64 came around, Rare continued to amaze me. Goldeneye, Banjo-Kazooie, Conker's Bad Fur Day, and Perfect Dark were some of my absolute favorites (they still are today). Let me tell you about how this once golden company transfixed me, excited me, and left me with so many great recollections, big and small.

This video was my first introduction to Donkey Kong Country, and I cannot even begin to tell you how much of my young, childlike mind was blown upon viewing all this in-game footage. It was 1994 and I was almost 10 years old, the Playstation wasn't out yet, the Saturn was JUST coming out, and this wonderful game was coming out for my bestest pal, the SNES, AND IT LOOKED LIKE IT WAS FROM THE FUCKING FUTURE. A 32 meg game? I didn't even know what that meant, but it sounded important and impressive and I wanted to play the shit out of it. The backgrounds were unbelievably stunning, especially when they went from day into night or when it rained in the middle of a level. Donkey Kong Country was fucking GORGEOUS, its entire design was revolutionary, and its gameplay was unparallelled. The platforming was so tight, the controls were as smooth as a delicious, impeccable booty, and finding all the secrets and hidden areas spoke to the completionist in my heart. Seeing the 3D models and hearing about how all the technology was on the cartridge, that I didn't need to buy an adapter to play Donkey Kong Country; I couldn't believe it. I used to own the VHS tape where the footage up above is from (thanks, Nintendo Power), and I damn near wore it out watching it so many times. It was cool to get to learn tricks before even owning the game, and I was happy to see that so many people involved with Donkey Kong Country's creation were young guys not too much older than me; I wanted to grow up to be like them one day. Rare made 2 great sequels to Donkey Kong Country on the SNES, with Donkey Kong Country 2 being my personal favorite (I'll probably go into detail about it soon, because it is SO INCREDIBLE, it deserves its own blog post).

Clearly Rare could make exceptional platformers (and Killer Instinct was a fun fighter that made multi-hit combo moves famous), but could they revolutionize again, in a different genre altogether? Yes, they could, and yes, they fucking did. Jesus Christ, Goldeneye, where do you even start?! I saw this game playing in Electronic Boutiques on the first floor of the Kings Plaza mall, thought it was the coolest shit ever, and it was from my good buddies at Rare; how could it fail? It didn't; in fact, Goldeneye surpassed every one of my expectations. The missions themselves were a lot of fun, and I freaking LOVED how the game gave the player more objectives to complete the higher the difficulty level. Goldeneye emphasized stealth on the more difficult settings; James Bond couldn't afford to get shot with so many bullets, so you had to learn to be SNEAKY in order to complete each area. Cheats were awarded to hardened veterans who could complete stages in record time (speedruns DO payoff at times), and you haven't lived unless you have played around with the All Guns cheat and created three-handed James Bond (watch laser + Moonraker laser = PHYSICAL IMPOSSIBILITY). Just PAUSING THE GAME was fun; I'll never get tired of seeing that spy watch (and thinking that James stood frozen in time by accessing the game's inventory and options). The real magic, though, was always the multiplayer. Yes, it's very difficult to go back to it now because of the slowdown, but back in 1997, you can bet your ass my friends and I were in awe. We had 4-player battles to the death with any guns and explosives we wanted (and I was king at exploding remote mines in midair), and it was all on a single screen. My cousin and I invented Russian Bomber Squad with Mishkin and Boris, and we used to run around shooting rockets at my poor younger brother (I hit him with a rocket from across an entire room once; it was my proudest moment). My friends and I would call a friendly meeting at the helipad outside the bunker to discuss non-violent solutions to our problems, and I was always the first one to aim my reticule at someone's face and shoot it. Rare was one of the first; fuck it, THE first company to make a great game out of a movie license, and every single FPS that came after Goldeneye owes its multiplayer formula to its pioneering ways.

Banjo-Kazooie, you wonderful adventure, you. Rare, you never stopped trying to top yourself, and Banjo-Kazooie was one of the best 3D platformers ever created. Sure, Super Mario 64 came first and set the groundwork for how a 3D adventure game should be, but you took that groundwork and expanded on it; truth be told, today's platformers owe more to Banjo than to Mario. Collecting all the various objects in the game was a great time, and there was always an incentive to do so (how else can you even get to the true final boss and experience the best ending?). Exploring the rich world of Banjo-Kazooie and combing its every nook and cranny for every collectible never got boring or felt too much like a fetch quest (which is sadly what Donkey Kong 64 felt like). Gruntilda's rhymes were always fresh and I thought she really could have had a career as an MC. Clanker was fucking terrifying when I first saw him because it looked like flesh had been ripped off a damn ROBOT. I remember slamming Boggy in the stomach with Kazooie's powerful beak and being shocked that it didn't get him to throw-up a Jiggy (don't act like you didn't do the exact same thing!). And having one of the final battles be a game show where you had to remember specific things about the various worlds in order to advance was GENIUS. More than anything else, Banjo-Kazooie's greatest strength was its world, because it felt like it always had more secrets to offer and mysteries to solve. Rare managed to beat Nintendo at its own game with its unique platformer.

Rare, you provided some excellent games in your prime, and you were the company I looked up to the most; you guys were my personal heroes. I know times have been tough ever since you found a new home with Microsoft, and you haven't been able to create the same kind of magic you did when you were with Nintendo. I still believe in you, though. Wherever you end up in the future, I know one day you can achieve greatness again. You provided gamers with fantastic games that we will always love; hopefully one day, you can once again shine like the golden treasure I always thought you were.   read

1:55 PM on 12.09.2012

Going back in time with my teenage turtle friends

"You know, man, whenever you do a review, you are always doing Genesis games! I thought you loved the SNES, and yet you are always going on about ducks and opposums dressed in knight armor. You got some sick fantasies, guy. SICK!" This is the thought that I am sure many of you are thinking whenever you read my blog, and I hear you guys (literally; please stop, because hearing all your thoughts at once is like a vuvuzela blaring endlessly). Listen, I do love the SNES, perhaps even too much. There are too many games that I absolutely adore, and I want to talk about all of them. Then I remembered back to the time of the beat-em-up, and thought about an age-old question: Which is the best one? Games like Streets of Rage 2, Final Fight, Double Dragon, and Scott Pilgrim are all exceptional sidescrolling beat-em-ups, but there was always one brawler that I felt stood above all the rest. I am of course talking about Turtles in Time, featuring your favorite artists-turned-tutles-that Michael Bay is now turning into aliens (he won't stop until all our childhood memories are sullied beyond recognition, my friends).

When you start Turtles in Time, the coolest thing you'll notice (if you can be bothered to go into the options) is that you can change the Turtles' look from their 90's cartoon look to their original comic look, complete with pupil-less eyes and original color scheme! Anyway, start playing and you'll hear the awesome cry of "COWABUNGA!" emanating from your television, and then you can pick your turtle (I call dibs on Raph; god help you if you choose Raph before me). You will begin in New York City, because Krang just stole the Statue of Liberty (for reasons never fully explained; maybe he's just lonely?). Players can run by holding the direction they are facing, and shoulder charge (press Y) or do a fancy slide flip thing (press B + Y). Your shoulder attack is vital to becoming an expert fighter and key to your survival: when you charge, you stun the enemy, and can bash them from left to right for a few seconds if you are right next to them and hit Y, clearing out enemies to your sides in one hit. If you stun them and press the direction you are facing AND Y, you will throw them at the screen like that shot up above, which is not nearly as useful as the happy-smashy-smashy attack (but you will need to use it to kill a certain boss who likes to SHRED. HAHA! *Buries head in shame*).

Gamers will get to the Technodrome by level 4, and ask themselves, "THAT'S IT?!" No, that isn't it; did you even read the title? The level itself is quite fun because it has Tokka and Rahzar from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II as bosses (remember Vanilla Ice and the Ninja Rap? I used to have that on CD and dance to it when I was a kid! *Cries bitter tears*). You get to go on a trip through time after the Technodrome, from dinosaurs to pirates to the distant future. By this time, you will notice that you really can't afford to take too much of a beating; a few hits will bring you close to death, and certain attacks like the robot's electric lasso will drain HALF YOUR LIFE. There are 4 solutions to this dilemma: get better, drop the difficulty down to easy, up the lives in the options, or go out into the real world and make a friend, maybe even just for the sole purpose of beating Turtles in Time (you hollow, hollow person). Beat-em-ups are always more fun with a friend by your side: they are always watching your back, defeating enemies, and stealing the pizza for health even though you CLEARLY had less life than they did; I swear, nobody has any common sense or courtesy. Everyone will have a blast with the two bonus stages (including one that is all vertical and shows off Mode 7 even more than the flying enemies): you get to collect pizza boxes and kill enemies for points, including the dreaded PIZZA MONSTER (which looks like a Xenomorph made entirely out of cheese; god, that sounds creepily delicious).

If you are hankering for some turtlin' brawlin' with or without a friend, make sure to hunt down the SNES port of Turtles in Time. The SNES version has added enemies, levels, and bosses, though they did just up and replace some from the arcade version. I'm sure no one would ever remake the shorter, less impressive arcade version, make it 3D, and replace all the voices with the 2003 cast of the Turtles cartoon(*cough*UBISOFT*cough*). Experience this game: it has wonderful music, sound effects (I love hearing Raph scream "MY TOE!" when he steps on a spiked mine), levels, and even includes a time trial and versus mode for added fun. See if you also think that this is the finest beat-em-up ever made, and always be thankful for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; if it wasn't for them, we never would love pizza as much as we do today.   read

8:17 AM on 12.08.2012

2012: I got a fever for the rhythm and it's heavenly

The hardest part writing about my favorite gaming moment of 2012? Trying to remember what games came out in 2012. I am old and feeble and my memory is hazy, and I can barely remember what happened yesterday, let alone in this past year. The thoughts that ran through my head were borderline senile: "You know what game was fun? Skyward Sword! I had some fun moments with Zelda (2011)." "Oh man, good times playing co-op with my brother in RE5 (2009)." "I LOVED ZACK AND WIKI, AND DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL FOR NOT BUYING IT (2007, and yes, I am still crying over it)." I mean, fuck! Did I play anything this year that CAME OUT THIS YEAR? My backlog of games is immense and I'm trying to go through them as I find time, but I suck with dates. *looks up* Wait, Rhythm Heaven Fever is amazing, and I'd love to talk about that game. When did it come out? February 2012! HAPPY DAY! Now I can invite all of you to read about how I discovered my inner rhythm with this gem, and how playing it will not help you bust moves on the dance floor in any way, shape, or form.

Ok, first off, look at that box art up at the very top. Whoever designed it was clearly thinking, "You know what will attract a consumer's attention? Every single color known to man regurgitated onto the front cover. How can this not sell like hotcakes when we have two shirtless beings literally shitting rainbows and skyrocketing into space?" I commend you, you nameless, faceless, probably shirtless, crazy genius of a man (or woman). So, what kind of game is Rhythm Heaven Fever? It's a rhythm game where you time button presses on your Wiimote to match actions on the screen, but it's like a spastic, deranged squirrel banging into trees with a reckless sense of abandon with the sheer amount of crazy shit you get to do in each unique mini-game. My friend bought this game and brought it over my house and we took turns going through each scenario, hungrily unlocking more and more, always eager to see what was next. By the way, the game is currently in my possession, and my friend will get it back when I either complete the last mini-game or he gives me back my SNES, whichever comes first (both seem highly unlikely).

Yes, this screen was the first mini-game I enjoyed in Rhythm Heaven Fever, and coincidentally how my first date went (everyone should try kicking away a basketball that threatens to squish two weasels who are very much in love with someone they like at least once; it is a lovely couple activity). Being one of the earlier mini-games you play, it isn't too difficult; the soccer ball bounces at a regular beat, the basketball has an off-beat to watch out for, and the football tries to fake you out by bouncing back before bouncing forward again. Timing your A button presses will kick the various balls out of the weasels' way AND impress your date at the same time. What I really liked about this level was the art style and how colorful the stage was, the weasels' jump for joy when you successfully kicked a ball away, and how every time you kicked a football, a random football player in the background would jump to catch it; I actually laughed out loud. These little touches showed me a game that was designed with a lot of heart, and I like moments that bring a smile to my face.

While Rhythm Heaven Fever is INDEED fantabulous, it is evil, evil to its very core. Even before you start playing the real meat of the game, you test your button presses to a visual timer, until some colorful fuckfaces BLOCK YOUR VIEW and you are forced to do the timing in your head. They are trying to teach you this early, because your eyes will not help you later on; in fact, they become a burden. Look at the above video and try to imagine my frustration while doing that particular game. I see the demons coming, and all of a sudden a story pops up about a girl losing her pinwheel toy thing, and I scream and get distracted and lose my flow and start fucking up. Rhythm Heaven Fever is not nice; it WANTS you to fail. If you are like me and love getting medals or some type of reward for doing good (the game randomly picks certain levels you have completed to give you a shot at a medal, but you can't fuck up and only have three tries), then games like Samurai Slice will end you and force you to crawl into the fetal position. What you have to learn is the rhythm is not about the visual; it is about the sound, the FEEL of the beat. There are a number of mini-games you will play that you will have an easier time with if you close your eyes. It might seem crazy at first, but if you give it time, you will learn to go by audio and pulses. While it was maddening at times, I grew to appreciate this approach to teaching rhythm, because in reality, rhythm is all about feeling the beat (and you can always enjoy the game's visuals while watching someone else play, laughing at their attempts to concentrate on getting another perfect run for a medal, and watching them excuse themselves to go to the bathroom so they can hide their shame).

What I like the most about Rhythm Heaven Fever is its lasting appeal and replayability. It's always fun trying to go for every medal in the game, perfecting your rhythm, timing various button presses and holds (and it's always hitting A or A + B or holding A + B; it is never overly complicated and I love its simplicity). I love playing badminton in the sky with a flying cat and dog or flexing for the press as a Mexican wrestler (to this day, I will sometimes randomly look at my friends and shout, "POSE FOR THE FANS!" or "BA BUM BUM BUM!"). I adore the remixes, where you play little snippets of previous mini-games (sometimes to original tunes!); these remixes are the true test of your mastery of the beat, and the final one requires you to use everything you have learned, because it contains pieces of EVERY MINI-GAME. And you can always enjoy trying out the endless games and seeing how far you get, or play the co-op ones with a friend and achieve PERFECT SYNCHRONIZATION (I only wish there were more offered). My favorite gaming moment of 2012 was made up of many small ones, and the variety and pleasure they offered made me more happy than any one, singular, grandiose game ever could.   read

3:37 PM on 12.02.2012

Try desperately to remember who you are in Flashback: The Quest for Identity

Ahhh, good old Flashback, one of my personal favorites from the 16-bit era. If you are wondering what kind of game Flashback is, it is like Out of This World (or Another World as it was originally called) except a bajillion times better; or think Total Recall, with a snazzier-dressed protagonist and no three-breasted escorts (actually, I don't think there are any women in this game. What gives, Flashback?). It is a game with a great story: it weaves a tale that consists of a lost identity, finding out who one is, and a conspiracy that must be stopped in order to save the Earth. This is one of those games I tried out on both the Genesis and the SNES, and my advice to anyone searching for it to play on a console is to get the Genesis one. The Genesis music and sound effects may be godawful, but the slowdown is horrendous on the SNES (YEAH, BLAST PROCESSING). You can always hunt it down for the PC, as well, because that version has great audio for the myriad of amazing sounds you are going to hear throughout your journey.

Before the title screen, you are shown running from some people on a spaceship. You escape and crash-land onto a jungle-like planet called Titan. You wake up and start the game, and you can run around and do long jumps and crouch and roll and draw and shoot your pistol (which is the only weapon in the ENTIRE GAME; and considering all the different types of creatures you kill with it, it's quite magical for such a plain gun). You eventually find a cube and find out who you are, where your memories are, and how they were erased; it's all very cool. On Titan, there are these elf-like enemies with big guns and little robots with antennas you have to shoot that explode. One of the funnest things you can do in the first level is throw a rock to distract an enemy, and then shoot him in the back when he goes to investigate (and giggle uncontrollably, but maybe that is just me). Your pistol has unlimited ammo, but your shield can only take four hits before you die. Luckily, you can recharge your shield at generators throughout the game. There are numerous hazards you will come across, too: little beams along the ground that phase you out of existence, pitfalls, bombs, and this cool green toxic machine that disintegrates your body upon contact, complete with an animation of your bones evaporating!

As you progress, you will receive a fantastic force field that will protect you from enemy shots. When you face any enemy with a gun, you can temporarily create a force field that will protect you from their bullets, but you have to time it right, because it only lasts a second. I think it also protects your back if someone is shooting you from behind, as well. The force field is a godsend because your shield can only take so much before you die, and it adds a level of strategy and quick timing to the game. You will eventually take jobs in order to earn cash to compete on a game show, where the prize is free tickets to Earth, which is where the conspiracy begins to unravel. Players can save the game at certain points in a given level, and will re-spawn there in case of death. However, the Genesis and SNES are cartridge-based systems, so there is a password system used in order to go to a level once you turn the game off. Also, if you are playing on the Genesis, one of the jobs requires you to fix a machine that is about to explode, but you have to insert a missing part in an exact spot. It has to be pixel perfect. And you are timed. It will lead to cursing and thrown controllers. FUN.

Those tiny fuckers in the above shot are going to make you wish you were dead, trust me. Flashback gets really hectic when you get to Earth: enemies will be shocking you, shooting you, and poking your butt with prods, all at the same time. You will scream at the television. If you endure, you will eventually go to outer space and fight aliens. The aliens can hit you with orbs of light, shape-shift into a ball and crawl along the ground, and leap and drop from the ceiling. And they take a lot of bullets to kill. I can already taste your tears. You will get a cool teleporter, though; you can throw the receiver anywhere you want that isn't a bottomless pit and transport there instantly. It is a lot of fun, but the difficulty is crazy by the last level, so you will need to bring your A game in order to complete your quest.

Flashback is a great game with an interesting and unique story that you will want to unravel until the very end. The jumping and platforming is a lot like Prince of Persia, and the gun combat requires quick thinking and planning in order to survive. It starts getting hard by the second level, though, and the difficulty ramps up very quickly, so fair warning. I know the Genesis version contained a Marvel comic that fleshed out some of the story, so E-Bay that shit if you want to learn everything. Also, a sequel was made called Fade to Black, but it is outright shitty garbage that you will want to erase from your memory (get it?! Haha, I'll be here all week). Hopefully some fans will read this and want to reminisce with me!   read

10:16 AM on 12.01.2012

Farewell, Nintendo Power, and thanks for the memories

Oh man, this is so hard. I know you are ending soon, old friend, and I am trying to find the right words to speak. Saying goodbye is never easy. As I reflect back to my childhood, I am remembering all the happy memories you gave to me, all those feelings of excitement, and that sense of wonder I always felt flipping through your pages, always learning something new and interesting. Every month, I was filled with anticipation, waiting for you to hit my front doorstep, and I was always ready to bring you to school, to show off to my friends, with a sense of pride that never dwindled. I was always a Nintendo fan at heart; my NES was the first game system I remember playing and loving, and when the SNES came around, you helped nurtured that love, made it grow. Thank you for that.

This was the first issue of you I received after my grandmother wrote a check out for my subscription, and I remember thinking this was the coolest cover of a book I had ever laid eyes upon. Due to the timing of my subscription, I was mailed issues 55 and 56 concurrently, but as luck would have it, 56 got to me first; its silver hotness the very first issue I owned. I had dabbled with Mega Man when I was a kid, its difficulty always getting the best of me, but it wasn't until I learned about Mega Man X that I got hooked on Capcom's Blue Bomber. After reading through your preview, looking at all the screenshots, seeing how fresh and colorful everything looked, I knew I had to own the game. I remember my parents getting me Mega Man X one holiday season, and it blew away my expectations, becoming not only one of my favorite SNES games, but one of my favorite games of all time. In subsequent issues, you shared some classified information: armor upgrades, heart and sub tank locations, and the hidden hadoken power-up; which was so hidden and secret, I knew I wouldn't have found it without you. Thanks to you, Mega Man X became one of my favorite childhood memories, and it wouldn't have impacted me as much if it hadn't been for that special, shiny issue.

Yes, I remember getting that VHS way back when. One of the coolest things about you was that you always sent your subscribers cool stuff with their subscriptions; be it a video showing upcoming amazing games (I remember the Donkey Kong Country one and having my mind blown with its gorgeous graphics and environments) or a free strategy guide (how else was I going to find all the Gold Skulltulas in Ocarina of Time?). Regarding Star Fox 64, I remember telling my cousin how cutting edge it was to have full voice acting in a game, and his response of the Playstation already being capable of that long before. Nowadays I find the advantages and disadvantages of all the current gen systems, but back then, you kindled a loyalty in me, helped make me a Nintendo fanboy. Thanks to videos like the above, I thought Sega and Sony were the enemy, trying to steal glory and money away from Nintendo. Being a member of your community and learning about everything Nintendo, that really couldn't be helped. Though I became more open-minded when I got older, I enjoyed my time as a fanboy, because you helped me feel special; like I was a part of a special club, filled with like minded individuals. I don't regret it, and to this day, my fondest memories and my favorite games are still Nintendo ones.

Issue 80 was always near and dear to my heart, because it was the first time in my life that I was learning about an upcoming system through you. I already had a NES and a SNES before I started reading you, but hearing about the Ultra 64 stirred feelings in my loins I had never experienced before. 64 bits CLEARLY meant it was better than 16, and the polygons and the newness of 3 dimensions filled me with childlike awe. Everything looked so open-ended, so free, like there was an entire world to explore. I was at my cousin's house when I got the call from home, that there was a surprise waiting for me, way back in September of 1996. When I got home, there it was in a box, the Nintendo 64, and I was filled with all the hype you had given me with your coverage. When I sat down to play Super Mario 64, heard Mario's voice, played with his face on the title screen, and started to explore all the vast worlds in the game, I was in heaven. This was the game that wrote the book on 3D platformers; every game that has come since owes their existence and their general guideline to Super Mario 64. The only game that matched and arguably exceeded Super Mario 64's sense of openness was Ocarina of Time. I remember hitting Hyrule Field and just feeling a tremendous sense of exploration. No game in my mind has ever come close to that feeling; that there was a whole world out there to explore, that it breathed and operated much like ours, going from day into night. Nothing can ever touch that first sunset you see out in the field. Old friend, I am in your debt for introducing me to these amazing games that filled me with joy and provided me with such lasting recollections.

Things are so different nowadays. News is very fast and easy to come by thanks to blogs and the internet, which is exciting in its own, unique way. But nothing will ever take away the feelings you gave me; you were my first magazine, my first mail item that I would always eagerly wait for, and my first real sense of being part of a community, a culture. Whether it was news coverage, letters from fans, tips and secrets, contests, or the occasional freebie for being a member, you were always exciting to read. I still have my old issues downstairs in my drawer; a reminder of a time that was very special to me, that I will always cherish. Goodbye, my friend. Trust me, I am going to miss you.   read

3:56 PM on 09.30.2012

To my best friend: I need my SNES back

I really, really miss my Super Nintendo. It is the greatest system ever invented. I was lucky enough to grow up in a loving home as an only child for ten years, so I had both a Genesis and a SNES, and didn't have to share! BEST OF BOTH WORLDS, HAHAHA (but seriously, I love you, bro)! I remember looking forward to Christmas and figuring out what I wanted for both systems, trying to make it even. As much as I love my Genesis and the many classics that were released for it, I love my SNES more. My SNES library easily trumps my Genesis one, and as time went on, I ended up getting more and more games for my gray box of wonder. I have so many games that I cherish for my Super Nintendo, and many happy memories associated with it.

One of my earliest memories of the SNES is with a little game called Super Mario World. I remember seeing a demo of it playing in my local Macy's, and I was in awe of how colorful it was. I didn't get a Genesis until Sonic came out, so my only point of reference was the original NES. There were so many colors on the screen at once, every color of the rainbow and more (we need more rainbow colored games, in my opinion). The world looked huge; so many levels packed into one game, and it looked even bigger than Super Mario Bros. 3. It was almost too much for my young, child heart to take. I remember being with my dad, taking the controller from the employee who asked me if I wanted to play, my eyes widening as I rode on a dinosaur, long thought to be extinct. The controller, so comfortable and easy to adapt to; it was like a glover's mitt which feels like a second skin to the catcher (and I had never even played baseball before). After my time with Mario, I asked dad to get me a Super Nintendo for Christmas, and I was so excited when I opened my presents that year to find it among them. Little did I know how many years of happiness that box would bring me; that it still does, all these years later.

Here's a shocker: growing up, I never owned one of the greatest platformers to ever grace the SNES, Super Metroid. I used to rent it constantly from the video store around the corner (REMEMBER THOSE) and being mesmerized by it. I think Super Metroid was one of the first games, if not THE first game, where I felt truly alone. When you first touch down on Planet Zebes, and begin exploring the desolate planet, everything is truly lifeless. There are no enemies and there is no power or sense of life until you collect the morph ball. Even when enemies start appearing and the planet opens up a bit, it's just you against everyone else; no one is coming to save or even help you. Super Metroid fills you with an unbelievable sense of dread which I haven't really felt since. I remember being legitimately scared when the Chozo statue came to life and Crocomire's skeleton burst through those spikes, after just watching his FLESH MELT OFF HIS BODY. I got stuck on the pirate ship as a kid, and only managed to complete the game years later, after buying a copy from Funcoland. Finding all the items and the sense of growing ever powerful with power-ups is extremely rewarding. The entire end sequence is absolute magic and is set up so perfectly, is so full of emotion (without even needing cut-scenes or dialogue), that it must be played to be believed. A tear slid down my face upon Super Metroid's completion; one of both happiness and sadness. Everyone deserves to play through it at least once and feel the same emotions I felt.

Again, please don't kill me, but I didn't own A Link to the Past until later on in the console's life cycle. Another constant rent, A Link to the Past is my favorite Zelda game of all time. I don't think any game before or since can match its sense of adventure; when you first exit Sanctuary and the sun is shining and the rain has stopped, your heart swells with a sense of purpose and meaning. You are the hero of Hyrule, and only you can stop Ganon. I had so much fun zipping along everywhere, finding all the items and heart pieces, exploring all the dungeons, finding every last secret (CHRIS HOULIHAN). A Link to the Past and Super Metroid are some of the few games I try to go back to and play again from start to finish every year; they are that fun to play, and I never get tired of them. As a sidenote, was I the only one who always completed the sixth dungeon and had a key left over, forcing me to always return to open it? It was like a side door that didn't have to be opened because the room had multiple entrances. That drove me crazy. A Link to the Past is one of the grandest adventures ever to grace a platform, and I remember being shocked at how long it was. I think that is one of the most important things the SNES had over the Genesis: massive adventures that always seemed like the greatest stories ever told. All three games I mentioned had fantastic scores, as well; something the Genesis struggled with because of its audio limitations.

I could regale you readers with countless stories about the SNES. I could tell you how I perfected the charge shot dance jump in Mega Man X (hold the controller with your thumb over Y and B and curl your index finger to dash with A). I could reminisce about the time my friend slammed the protective case over the top of Earthbound while I was playing in Threed and lost all my saved data (I told him to get out of my house). I could confide to you that yes, I cried when Hamlet the pig sacrificed himself to feed a tribe of hungry villagers in Illusion of Gaia; bawled when Kefka poisoned the water supply in Final Fantasy III (VI); and sobbed when Marle embraced Crono after bringing him back from the dead in Chrono Trigger. I will go into these games more in depth when I actually get my SNES back. So, my bestest friend, whom I can call at anytime and see on a weekly basis but choose to ask in the most asinine and dramatic way possible, please give me back my Super Nintendo. I miss her so.


4:03 PM on 09.22.2012

Whatever happened to my sense of adventure?

I was playing through Metroid Fusion on my 3DS, sans walk-through, and made it to the end and defeated the final boss. I was happy I had vanquished evil, yet I was saddened when I saw I had not achieved 100% item completion. Had I simply not taken enough time to explore? No; Fusion is notorious for being linear and not affording the player much time to explore, especially since you are rushing from one place to the next, having areas close off as soon as you leave them. But then my mind wandered to other games that give you all the time you need to explore, and I am frustrated with them, too. Why? It never used to be like this. Have games changed or have I, so much so that I can never go back to being that young, bright-eyed child who was always so eager to discover every secret and nook and cranny in the adventures in which he loved to take part?

Now let me just say, I love adventure games and platformers. I also have an unhealthy, OCD-like obsession with completing a game fully, leaving no stone unturned. To the uninitiated, those are two deadly combinations. It used to be so fun finding things, though. Before strategy guides and the internet, all we gamers had was ourselves and each other. My cousin taught me where all 96 courses were in Super Mario World, and he learned them from his cousin; it was like passing the torch of game knowledge through generations. I couldn't begin to tell you how awe-struck we were seeing the special part of Star Road, with its nauseatingly 90's names for levels. We were so proud sharing information with each other, and we felt such a sense of accomplishment. When we were apart and had our own games to play, we used to get along fine on our own, too! I remember finding all the items in A Link to the Past, except for one heart piece which I happened to find the location of through Nintendo Power (and my best friend told me about the super secret Good Bee. I laughed in his face because I really thought he was joking, but then I had to eat about 10 pounds of HUMBLE PIE when he showed me). I got 100% on all the levels in Super Mario World 2 on my own, and that was necessary because none of my friends owned it or even liked it (BURN THEM!). Mega Man 7? Please; I found Auto's discount bolt alone, and found all the items he sold for free using Rush Search in various levels. I don't even know how I figured out that you could defeat the pumpkin boss in Shadow Man's stage 2 different ways! I used to have so much free time. When did everything change?

I guess you could say things started going astray with the advent of strategy guides. I remember getting free game guides every time I renewed my subscription to Nintendo Power. All the Donkey Kong Country games, Mario 64, Ocarina of Time; all thoroughly and completely beaten thanks to my advanced knowledge of TEH FUTURE. But what happened to my sense of exploration? Was I obsessed with the power of knowing where everything already was, always being able to help a friend find something he couldn't on his own? Was school becoming more difficult and time consuming, and I simply didn't have the man hours anymore? It is such a strange phenomenon, because I remember going through fetch quests like Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo-Kazooie WITHOUT help, and being able to find everything. Are some games just more frustrating to spend too much time looking for every little secret? Was I becoming old and bitter and impatient? There was still a sense of adventure there, yet it kept fading and coming back, depending on the game I was playing and when I was playing it (maybe I was just able to be more adventurous during the summer).

Nowadays, things are exceptionally difficult. There is work, personal life, and an ever growing pile of unfinished games that make complete play-throughs somewhat impossible. The internet complicates things tenfold; I'm trying to find everything in Donkey Kong Country Returns alone, but when you go through a level 5 times looking for 1 puzzle piece you missed, it is very easy to get frustrated and go find the solution to your problem through your freaking phone. Games like Doom and Duke Nukem give you a sense of accomplishment through their end level percentage screens, yet it takes so much time finding everything without help. RPGs and grand games like Skyward Sword take so long to beat, I can't help but want to complete everything 100% in one go. I am happy to have a save file on Super Metroid with 100% item completion and a play-through of under 3 hours, but I managed to do that because of someone's walk-through on GameFAQs; it isn't really mine to own, because I followed someone's instructions meticulously to achieve it.

I don't know if things can ever go back to the way they were, or ever be the same. There is always going to be another game to play, waiting to be explored fully on my desk. Maybe I will never have the time to explore every one fully the way I want to, but I want to try. Even if I can't, I'd like to play every single one to the end, even without finding everything. I'll always have happy memories of exploration and completeness, including my favorite: tag-teaming with my best friend to beat A Link to the Past in one go, 100%. We did it a couple of years ago, and it took 6 straight hours, but my save file has a 0 under Link's happy face, indicating we never died or saved. I'll always have that, and nothing will ever take away from that accomplishment.   read

11:29 PM on 08.15.2012

Pure platforming bliss from a Rocket Knight

Remember back in 2010, when a little game called Rocket Knight came out on the XBLA/PSN? Of course you don't, because it only sold 10 copies. I hate you people. In all seriousness, though, the game wasn't very good. But for those of us who grew up in the 16-bit era, we desperately wanted it to be good. Why? Because we were waiting for years for the Rocket Knight named Sparkster to make his triumphant return to gaming. While Sparkster did appear in an alright sequel for the Genesis and a pretty cool spinoff for the SNES, it was his original debut on the Sega Genesis that was his bestest adventure; a Rocket Knight adventure, if you will. Let me take you on a little journey, and show you all how awesome of a platformer this game really is (and yes, I love it so much that I own a copy with the box and instruction booklet. SUCH A NERD!).

First of all, look at that bitchin' box art! Sparkster looks like a bad-ass opossum (I looked that word up), and he's fucking flying with goggles and shit! It makes you just wanna say, "Take me in your strong arms and fly me on an epic adventure, you sexy armadillo!" Clearly, my younger self was sexually confused, as well as lacking in animal terminology. One look at the back, and you can already tell this is gonna be a fun, varied adventure! AND WHAT AN ADVENTURE IT IS! You start off and get an opening cinematic with Sparkster on a rock, facing the sky when a shadowy pig emperor materializes and laughs at you (though since this is the Genesis, the laugh sounds more like a series of confused farts). Then you start playing, and already the kingdom is under attack, with a giant robot spider destroying the castle in the background that you just KNOW is gonna be the first level boss. You attack with your sword, and it shoots these cool circles out to destroy your enemies, who are mostly pig knights, who may or may not be operating heavy machinery. You then realize that there is a gauge you can charge with your attack button, which powers up your rocket pack. Release it when fully charged to get an awesome in-place spin attack, or choose a direction to go flying, sword-first, for a short period of time! My personal fave is sending Sparkster straight up, because the look on his face and the way he flails his arms on the way down is just priceless. Sparkster is also cool and looks at you with a thumbs-up if you leave him idle, unlike Mr. Impatient Fuck Face Sonic. Halfway through the first level, you get to experience a side-scrolling shooter, with Sparkster flying to the right, shooting his energy sword beams. There are a few of these, and they help make Rocket Knight Adventures a unique, varied platformer. They remind me of Gradius, and there are some cool little homages to that shoot-em-up (which isn't surprising, since this is a Konami game).

The levels in Rocket Knight Adventures are quite varied and challenging. The game is always throwing you something new; one stage you are climbing on vines with your tail, going between the foreground and background on a waterfall; the next, you are jumping between platforms that are hidden behind crystals, and your only sense of direction is provided by your reflection against a rising pool of red water that will kill you instantly when touched. Every level is fresh, too; you go from castles, to caves, to airships, EVEN TO OUTER SPACE. The bosses; dear God, the bosses in this game! Every single one is challenging and unique; from mechanical fish that eat the various platforms you are standing on at a rapid pace, requiring split second timing on your jumps to survive; to weird, gyrating pig robots that shoot giant lasers at you, and your only chance to do damage is when said laser is about to fry your cute little animal face off. The music is incredible, too, as if you had any doubt. It really sucks you into the experience, and you feel like you are a part of a grand adventure. You believe you can save the day, even though the odds are stacked highly against you.

Everyone that loves platformers, do yourself a favor and hunt this game down. It is one of the tightest, funnest adventure games of any generation. The good folks that designed this game later formed Treasure, who made the awesome Gunstar Heroes, so you know I ain't just shitting out of my mouth when I say this game is amazing. Make sure to play on any difficulty other than Children; otherwise, you'll miss out on the true ending! I leave you with this: ROCK 'EM, SOCK 'EM ROBOTS!


6:39 PM on 06.16.2012

The magic of local co-operative and competitive gameplay

I was watching my younger brother play WWE 12 on the 360 before, and I was a bit saddened. He seemed to be having fun, playing with a friend online, doing all sorts of ridiculous gestures while trying to get a pin, yelling in frustration into his headset. As I saw this, I realized that there is a certain magic about co-operative gameplay (competitive gameplay, as well) that is lost over online play. Sure my brother's friend could hear him just fine, but he couldn't see the outrageous, nervous dances he was doing while going for that 3 count. He could not see that moment occur and bask in its glory; smile and laugh at it as it was happening. Thankfully, wrestling games still have local co-op, so we can still share moments like this with our friends while sitting on a couch. This event got me thinking about why I feel that local co-op and competitive gameplay is so superior to their online counterparts.

When Marvel vs Capcom 2 first came to the XBLA, I had the pleasure of playing against one of my cousin's friends at a party out in Long Island. We both enjoyed fighting games and taunting each other about who was better than who. We had a couple of matches with me usually the victor. I was racking up a pretty impressive win ratio when we had a match on the pirate ship that I will never forget. It was heated: we were trading air combos, playing good defense and offense, ribbing one another while a whole room watched, and we were neck and neck until the timer ran out. As it declared my rival the victor, barely beating me with more health than my character, he looked me in the eyes and said, "That was the best match I ever played in Marvel vs Capcom 2. Thank you." As I shook his hand and congratulated him, I realized I wasn't even mad I lost and ruined my win ratio; I had an epic match with a friend, in front of a supportive crowd. We couldn't get that playing online. The living, breathing environment of a crowd of people, being next to your competitor, seeing each other sweat and calculate each other's moves, the threat of a real, physical fight breaking out based on who was the victor; these are staples of local competitive gaming. We have played Marvel vs Capcom 3 online, and while we had fun and I can appreciate the benefit of being able to play with a friend who lives far away, nothing can compare to that moment I shared with him, together in a room with real, physical human beings.

Resident Evil 5 may suck major goat balls to play alone with a legally declared retarded AI partner, but it is a lot of fun to play with a friend. My brother and I had so much fun playing through Resident Evil 5 together, that we almost disowned each other as relatives after it was completed. By the end of the game, we had heard Wesker say "NATURAL SELECTION" at least 40 times, had died so many times at the hands (tentacles) of our enemy, that we had both been driven insane and hated each other for not hanging on cliffs long enough and not punching through boulders fast enough. The real fun, however, came in the Lost in Nightmares DLC. We were both shocked when we lost our weapons and had to use our wits to defeat the giant, scary monster guy (I know he's called the Guardian of Insanity, but for the purposes of this post, he shall henceforth be called HOLY SHIT, cause that's what we said every time we saw him). Defeating the various HOLY SHITs was quite difficult, and we saw the YOU ARE DEAD screen many times. Usually my brother wouldn't run away from the spike traps fast enough when I set a trap and would get flattened together with HOLY SHIT, which would result in a lot of yelling and screaming and punching. "What are you guys doing up there," we heard mom call from the hallway. "Bonding," I replied. Truer words were never spoken; my brother and I got through Resident Evil 5 and all its DLC together, and our relationship is stronger because of it. It would have been difficult to achieve that level of bonding through online play.

Streets of Rage 2 is widely considered one of the best beat-em-ups of all time, and I had the time of my life playing it with my girlfriend on my Sega Genesis last week. We made it clear that while we were willing to fight through the game together as a team, we were totally trying to get a higher score than each other in each level. Throughout our playthrough together, I heard my beloved call me a "shithead" an abundant amount of times. "Don't you dare go for that treasure," she would tell me as I inched my way towards gold while she dealt with the forces of evil. "Stop stealing all my kills," she would cry as I racked up the points downing another enemy. I'm pretty sure she physically punched me at various points during our adventure. Sadly, she used up all her continues by the next to last level, and my strength wasn't enough to overcome the trials of the final level (literally, since the game still thinks you are in two-player mode and sends 80 enemies per screen after you). But at the end of the day, we had a lot of fun playing in my cramped living room, and I've never loved her more, because I know our relationship can survive a heated playthrough of any game (totes gonna marry her someday secure in this knowledge). If we had played online through XBLA or something, the threat of physical violence would have been lost, and where's the fun in that?

Don't get me wrong, I do like online play. Being able to play with someone, no matter how far the distance, is an amazing technological feat. But I grew up playing Chip 'N' Dale with my cousin on the NES, and he would always throw me into enemies. I played World of Illusion and Gunstar Heroes with my best friend, and he would always shoot that boss with the dice after he threw the fake, exploding gem at us, even though we both knew he would give us the real one if he would just stop pumping him full of lasers. I've seen the laughter and bliss in my friends' and relatives' faces: that is the magic of local co-op and competitive gameplay. Even as games and consoles get more technologically advanced and online play becomes more of the norm, I am hopeful that there will always be games for us players that grew up sitting together on a dusty, old couch.   read

4:55 PM on 06.09.2012

Quackshot: a forgotten Genesis gem?

Quick, when someone asks you to name great games for the Sega Genesis, what is the first thing you say? Sonic 2? Gunstar Heroes? Barbie: Super Model? Sure, everyone knows THOSE games, but what about Quackshot? "Quackshot? What the hell is a Quackshot? Is that a hockey game with the Mighty Ducks, but you play as ACTUAL DUCKS?! Remember that animated TV show? They had laser guns," I hear you say in response, your mind wandering to nonsensical things. No, my imaginary internet friend, Quackshot is basically Indiana Jones with Donald Duck instead of Harrison Ford. And you can plunge the shit out of people's faces. Hearing this, I know your face has properly been melted, and you are ebaying Quackshot and a Genesis this very second. But since I like to talk, let me tell you why Quackshot is so great, and why it is up there with Flashback and Rocket Knight Adventures as one of the Megadrive greats.

I replayed Quackshot today in order to write about it with a non-hazy memory (it doesn't take much longer than an hour and a half if you know what you are doing). After blowing on the game at least twenty times, it finally booted up, and I pumped up the volume to drown out the terrible hum that comes from my lovely Genesis. After a Raiders of the Lost Ark-type opening cinematic, you press start, and are thrust into the DEEP NARRATIVE; which basically equates to Donald coming across a map to a lost treasure that he wants to give to Daisy so he can get some sweet duck sex. You can fly to different areas of the map; though you can't explore certain places without getting tools from another, so you're gonna have to use the old trial and error approach (or Gamefaqs if you are a dirty cheater). There are many fantabulous places to visit, including: Duckburg, Transylvania, the South Pole, Egypt, and a VIKING SHIP OVERRUN BY THE SPIRITS OF THE UNDEAD. The music is quite good for the crappy sound capable Genesis, and each area has a nice, unique theme. Donald has a gun that shoots plungers, that he upgrades to different colors: you start with the yellow plunger, which sucks donkey balls; the red one sticks to walls that you can bounce off of; and the green one sticks to flying bird penises, so Donald can latch onto them for easy flight (the plunger, not the bird penis). Can't ducks fly?

Anyway, Donald can plunge enemies directly in their smug faces, and if they are wearing a pouch, an item pops out. If it is food, Donald gets health, but if it is a chili pepper, and Donald gets five of them, he LOSES HIS SHIT AND THROWS A TEMPER TANTRUM, KILLING EVERYONE IN HIS PATH. Unfortunately, you can only stun enemies with your plunger, so you have to move past them quickly to avoid damage. You can kill them with your other two weapons: popcorn and bubbles. Yay, game logic. Donald can't jump very well, so you have to work on your timing and get used to how far he can go. The game has some tricky platforming, and some mazes and puzzles that will make you think. It isn't too hard, though you might lose some lives with some of the jumping sections.

The great thing about Quackshot is that it is EXACTLY WHAT THE BOX ART SAYS IT IS. It is literally Indiana Jones starring Donald Duck. That was the original title, but lawsuits and licensing forced Sega to change the name to Quackshot at the last second (a proper citation is needed here). There are mine carts and pulleys and megaphones that will kill you with sound effects. There is a great sense of adventure, and nods to Indy throughout (especially a part towards the very end that I won't spoil here). It doesn't overstay its welcome and is fun to pick up and play and beat in one sitting. Donald has an annoyed idle animation where he winks at the player while his butt feathers point to the direction he is facing, HOW COOL IS THAT? Honestly, sentient butt feathers are enough for me to recommend this game to everyone. Hunt it down for the Genesis or the Saturn and give it a try! You might love it just as much as I did when I was six, and as much as I love it now at twenty-seven.   read

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