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About
I am MG Spada, but go right on ahead and call me Mike. I love video games and have since an early age. I currently hold a Bachelor's of Science in Game Art & Design from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh's Online Division. Don't worry, it was totally not a "tighten up the graphics on level 3" kind of school.

Ultimately I would like to write in relation to games somehow. Be it writing the stories of games, writing reviews and editorials, or updating my Facebook status about video games professionally, I just want to write.

My Top 10 Games of All Time

1. Metal Gear Solid 4: Sons of Liberty
2. Portal 2
3. Super Mario Galaxy 2
4. Banjo-Kazooie
5. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
6. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
7. Super Mario World
8. We <3 Katamari
9. ToeJam and Earl 2: Panic on Funkatron
10. Sonic the Hedgehog 2

I'm also a rapper, sketch comedy actor/writer/producer, and I host a wrestling podcast. None of these things are successful.

To the internet!
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For those of you that don't know, which is most of you since I don't post to this lovely community nearly as much as I'd like to, I have a hip-hop comedy act known as MC Wateva. I portray an incredibly ignorant youth who raps and waxes hip-hopic on the world around him. Occasionally I have taken the opportunity to bring MC Wateva off the microphone and onto the, uh, microphone, well, not rapping. Yeah.

Anyhow, my friend Brett McCabe of The Early Show with Niki and Sarah and I got together and interviewed Dan Silvers of Lantana Games, a Boston area indie game developer, about his company, their products, and their future. It's a fun little interview that, while I distract the shit out of him, contains a pretty solid discussion about indie gaming and game development. Check it out!

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Since there is no official Destructoid review of WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 up yet, I’m going to sneak right in there and drop this unofficial review in to whet the appetites of the probably three wrestling fans in the Dtoid community! LET’S DO THIS THING.

I became a wrestling fan fairly late in the game, as far as my age group goes. I first saw the WWE (WWF at the time) with WrestleMania XIV. At the age of 11, my immediate instinct was “GAY,” but within minutes I was hooked on the drama and excitement. While I stayed faithful during the Attitude Era of the late 90s and early 2000s, my interest waned in the middle of the decade, only to skyrocket back up around late 2006. Now a full-fledged adult wrestling fan (I even host my own wrestling podcast!) in a day where wrestling is rated TV-PG and has lost the blood, sex, and profanity that made it so popular with me in the first place, I have in my hands WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011.

Wrestling games were a mixed bag back in the day, but ever since THQ decided to go the yearly installment route that made legitimate s Since there is no official Destructoid review of WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 up yet, I’m going to sneak right in there and drop this unofficial review in to whet the appetites of the probably three wrestling fans in the Dtoid community! LET’S DO THIS THING. I became a wrestling fan fairly late in the game, as far as my age group goes. I first saw the WWE (WWF at the time) with WrestleMania XIV. At the age of 11, my immediate instinct was “GAY,” but within minutes I was hooked on the drama and excitement. While I stayed faithful during the Attitude Era of the late 90s and early 2000s, my interest waned in the middle of the decade, only to skyrocket back up around late 2006. Now a full-fledged adult wrestling fan (I even host my own wrestling podcast!) in a day where wrestling is rated TV-PG and has lost the blood, sex, and profanity that made it so popular with me in the first place, I have in my hands WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011. Wrestling games were a mixed bag back in the day, but ever since THQ decided to go the yearly installment route that made legitimate sports games so popular, starting with 2005’s SmackDown vs. Raw 2006, the series has been mostly solid. While never truly amazing like 2001’s WWF No Mercy for the Nintendo 64, the SmackDown series has remained a respectable, enjoyable series. So just what sets the 2011 edition apart? What is so new it can’t be missed? Well, kids, let’s find out together. WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3, Wii, PlayStation 2, PSP Developer: Yuke’s Publisher: THQ Release Date: October 26, 2010 SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 is everything you would expect from a WWE game. It’s got a massive roster featuring all the superstars and divas that keep the WWE running. As long as they were in the company before WrestleMania 26. Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, the Miz, and the eternally terrible John Cena are all here and all play just like their real-life counterparts, but recent stars like Wade Barrett and the Nexus, Daniel Bryan, and Alberto del Rio are all missing in action due to their recent debuts with the company. This is an unfortunate side effect of the yearly production cycle that happens in every year’s edition. Hell, last year, Sheamus won the WWE title in December, only a month after the 2010 edition, and he wasn’t even in the game. Currently, two superstars holding gold in the WWE are not in the game, but THQ promises to toss in as many recent wrestlers as they can with paid DLC this holiday season. Additionally, many wrestlers in the game are no longer with the company, such as Mike Knox (who?) and Mickie James, who has joined the competing TNA’s roster. The game’s presentation, like every other year, is top notch. The visuals are stunning, with lifelike character models and fancy new muscle-flexing technology bringing every superstar to life. Every entrance, every logo, every camera cut is straight out of WWE programming and truly makes you feel like you’re watching it live on television. The sound is equally impressive, with every wrestler’s theme song blasting clear as day as they make their way to the ring and every boom, crash and thud making an impact on the canvas. My one gripe with the sound, however, is the commentary. Now, wrestling game commentary has never been good (think “THE ROCK… has a great… THE ROCK BOTTOM!”), but this year it’s somehow worse than before. They went from three commentary teams to one (Michael Cole and Jerry “The King” Lawler, for the record), and it’s completely butchered. They’ll call wrong moves, wrong wrestler names, even confuse genders! I don’t know where it went wrong, but it went WRONG. While the presentation has few flaws, the gameplay has even fewer. With all the same match types that 2010 had to offer, plus all of them now playable online, more of the same is definitely a good thing. It’s largely unchanged from 2010, but for those people out there like me who played the most recent title religiously, the little changes are what bug you the most. Changes like pinning being mapped to the B/circle button and lifting your opponent from the ground using up on the right stick can cause some serious confusion for series veterans looking to get into the swing of things right off the bat. The most noticeable change, however, is in the grappling system. While it is still mapped to the right analog stick, you can no longer choose whether to perform a weak grapple or a strong grapple. Instead, the game chooses for you, depending on the situation and the condition of your opponent. The lame part about all of this is that you end up doing weak grapples far more than strong ones, which not only do significantly less damage, but are also limited in variety; every wrestler has four weak grapple moves, as opposed to sixteen strong grapple moves. While that can be a problem, it’s been more than made up for with the addition of being able to change your position with a large amount of moves. Now, when performing moves such as suplexes or powerbombs, you can change the direction of your landing mid-move. That’s right: no more awkward positioning of yourself just right in front of tables before landing moves! And that leads me to one of the two biggest new features in 2011: the physics. Putting opponents through tables or doing battle on ladders has never been better thanks to the implementation (finally) of the Havok physics engine. Before, using weapons was very awkward because they were these bulky obstacles in the ring instead of objects. You could do a chokeslam RIGHT in front of a table, only to have your wrestler slide back and slam the dude just inches away from it. Now, though, the tables react as they would in real life, shattering and splintering upon any impact. And the broken pieces stay! You can slam an opponent onto the steel steps, crush their face on a steel chair on the ground, and German suplex their back through the announce table. The physics have been implemented beautifully, with bodies and weapons bouncing all around the ring just like on television. You can push your opponent off the ladder, outside of the ring, through a stack of two tables because that’s what would actually happen. No more sliding tables or canned animations – everything reacts naturally to the environment and it’s incredible. TLC (tables, ladders, and chairs) matches have improved vastly, and you and your friends will have an absolute blast wrecking each other match after match. The other massive new feature this year is WWE Universe mode. This is a brand new, ever-changing story mode. Instead of having straight exhibition matches, the game actually plans out entire episodes of Raw, Superstars, and SmackDown for you, based on previous matches, assigned allies and enemies, and story sequences. Now instead of just deciding you want to have John Cena take on Sheamus in a submission match, that is a match that happens on Raw that leads to future matches depending on the outcome. Did Sheamus win the title? Rematch at the next pay-per-view. Did Randy Orton interfere? Triple threat match next week. Did Vince McMahon order the match be restarted as an Extreme Rules match? Kick Sheamus’s ass enough and he’ll be rolled out on a stretcher. There are a set of story sequences that come into play in every episode, and the game creates future episodes based on these randomly generated occurrences. And I must say, it’s excellent groundwork for a feature that will certainly be implemented better in the future. As a first iteration, it’s a great idea and well executed, but it’s just not as smart as it should be and doesn’t have nearly as much variety. You’ll often see the same story sequences twice in an episode, or have something happen that makes no sense within the context of previous episodes. It’s all very bare-bones storytelling, and it’s not nearly as cohesive as the Road to WrestleMania mode, but it’s a really fun mode that gives you much more incentive to play continuously. And if you hate it? You can shut it off with the right analog stick! Let’s hope they make it truly outstanding next year so no one wants to shut it off. Speaking of Road to WrestleMania, it’s back and with five new story modes to choose from. You can play as John Cena, Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, Christian, or choose one of five superstars (including a create-a-wrestler) to chase after the Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania. Instead of just skipping around from cutscene to match back to cutscene, this year’s RTWM mode actually puts you backstage at every episode every week. Here, you can interact with other superstars, get into backstage scuffles, see the general manager, level your character up with experience points gained in matches, or get interviewed for that night’s show. It’s an incredibly immersive experience, at least for a wrestling game, and truly makes you feel like you’re a part of the show. Each story mode culminates at WrestleMania 26 in a match that is appropriately but painfully difficult, and truly makes you feel like you’ve made it when you reach the end. They’re short, sweet, surprisingly mostly well-acted, and suck you in much more than previous years’ efforts. Other than that, everything is par for the course. Create-a-wrestler, create-a-story, and create-a-finisher are all here, all with more features than ever before, but are largely unchanged outside of that. All the community features from last year’s game are back and much easier to navigate through, the interface is slicker, load times are reduced, and the presentation is much more refined. Hell, even the online mode is better. Not only are all gameplay modes available, including the Royal Rumble, but the lag is significantly toned down. It’s still definitely there, and has still screwed me out of victories, but THQ has done an excellent job making the online mode playable, something it has certainly never done before. WWE puts out one game a year, usually, and this year it scores big once again. While the commentary and some questionable gameplay decisions drag the experience down a bit, the new improvements more than make up for it. With a new physics system bringing matches closer to reality, WWE Universe mode making every move count, and the small improvements here and there polishing up the experience to the best of their ability, WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 is a solid and enjoyable entry into the series that will keep wrestling fans busy for another year. Score: 8 out of 10 – Great!









Months ago, when I first heard of Double Fine Productions’ Costume Quest, I kind of overlooked it. I don’t know why; it’s something I tend to do from time to hear about an amazing game but completely blow it off, only to randomly get hyped up months later. A few weeks ago, I saw an ad for it on the Xbox 360 dashboard and decided to look into it fo' realsies this time. Once I found out that the game was basically about being a kid on Halloween, I was instantly entranced.

I love Halloween. I loved it as a kid, and somehow, as an adult, I love it more since I’ve gained the ability to construct incredible costumes and show them off in the Halloween mecca of Salem, Massachusetts every year. But Halloween is something that’s never really been featured in any videogames (at least any that I can think of). Which, of course, led me down a wild path that led me to we need more seasonal videogames.

What do I mean by seasonal videogames? I mean games that are meant to be played at a certain time of year, to get you in the mood for a holiday or a season. Movies are one thing that certainly have it. Halloween h Months ago, when I first heard of Double Fine Productions’ Costume Quest, I kind of overlooked it. I don’t know why; it’s something I tend to do from time to time: hear about an amazing game but completely blow it off, only to randomly get hyped up months later. A few weeks ago, I saw an ad for it on the Xbox 360 dashboard and decided to look into it fo' realsies this time. Once I found out that the game was basically about being a kid on Halloween, I was instantly entranced. I love Halloween. I loved it as a kid, and somehow, as an adult, I love it more since I’ve gained the ability to construct incredible costumes and show them off in the Halloween mecca of Salem, Massachusetts every year. But Halloween is something that’s never really been featured in any videogames (at least any that I can think of). Which, of course, led me down a wild path that led me to realize: we need more seasonal videogames. What do I mean by seasonal videogames? I mean games that are meant to be played at a certain time of year, to get you in the mood for a holiday or a season. Movies are one thing that certainly have it. Halloween has (besides any horror movie, of course) classics like Nightmare Before Christmas, Hocus Pocus (shut up), Monster Squad, and of course, the Halloween series. For Christmas, damn, we’ve got Home Alone (my personal favorite), Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, even Die Hard gets me in the Christmas spirit. Hell, even New Years has the legendary Money Train. But what do videogames have? Not too many that I can think of. Sure you can argue that, for Halloween anyways, you can play any number of horror games that evoke that great feeling. The Silent Hill games give off a great fall/Halloween vibe, as does Resident Evil 4, and many, many other classic horror games, but none are really about Halloween. And Christmas? Shit. Besides when you save Santa in Secret of Mana and Christmas Nights Into Dreams (which I have never played but would love to), you’re lucky if you even see Christmas mentioned in a game. There are some really good reasons for it, of course. The primary reason, of course, is that I cannot see too many developers making a game that can only be played at one time a year. Not saying they have to be, but come on, I would never watch Home Alone in May. In today’s gaming climate, games are made to be played any time by anyone. Games are also a lot harder to get out on time. You see games being delayed all the time. I can tell you right now that if Costume Quest had been put off until January I would have been a lot less likely to play it, at least right away. While developers have their reasons, guess who doesn’t care? This dude right here. Play Costume Quest and tell me that there shouldn’t be more games that take place on or around certain times of year. The game takes place on Halloween, with you and your twin sibling (either male or female, depending on which character you choose) setting off to trick or treat. When a monster answers the door to one of the first houses you go to, and spots your sibling in a candy corn outfit, he mistakes your clone for a real piece of candy and sets off to bring him or her to his morbidly obese candy loving overlord, Cadaverous Big Bones. The game puts you and two other friends you meet throughout the course of the game on a quest to save your sibling and still get a ton of candy on Halloween. It’s a classic turn-based RPG that plays like Paper Mario with its timed button presses. But the best part? Your Halloween costumes come to life for battle. Suddenly your cardboard robot outfit turns into a towering mech that fires rockets at monsters. Your black kitty suit turns into a ferocious, lightning-shooting panther. YOU CAN BE A UNICORN. As you fight your way through monsters in your town, mall, and a far-off harvest town, you complete side quests for other trick or treaters, bob for apples, and even compete in a costume contest. It’s all incredibly Halloween themed, and truly makes you feel like a kid on Halloween. And since it’s a Double Fine production, you can count on some incredibly funny dialog and characters from start to finish. The best part? It’s a $15 downloadable title and can be completed in six hours. And that, my friends, is the solution. Developers don’t want to waste their time on a game that people will only play and remember for a few weeks at a certain time of year, maybe only once. They want to create a game you’ll play over and over, all the time. That’s why we see multiplayer tacked on to every game known to man, including ones that don’t need it *cough*BIOSHOCK*cough* and games with tons of desperate attempts to stretch out content and warrant multiple playthroughs using cheap ploys. But the downloadable scene is different. These games have shorter development times (with the exception of incredible indie games put together by teams of like, two dudes), are cheaper to produce, and are typically shorter experiences. I think we could get a good thing going if these smaller developers made these more personal experiences true to the season. Imagine a game playing AS Santa, having to deliver all the toys in time. Or a game playing as a bunch of kids on an adventure during their summer vacation. How amazing would it be to be able to have games that you can pop in once a year, get in the mood for the season, and then happily play next year? Costume Quest made me feel so awesome, like a kid on Halloween, that I would love for more games that give me that vibe for different times of year. I guess it all depends on the success of Costume Quest, not that it’s this high profile title or anything, but success could definitely lead to more games like it. And that would be OUTSTANDING. With that out of the way, let me open this up for discussion. While there aren’t many games designed to evoke that amazing feeling of certain times of year, we all still have games we play around certain times of year. I always play Super Mario Sunshine during the summer, and do my best to crank out a long RPG in the winter time. And it’s looking like Costume Quest is going to be a mainstay for me for Halloweens to come. So do you guys have any games that you love to play at certain times of year? I would love to know.










It’s absolutely ridiculous just how much people talk about Valve’s FPS masterpiece Half-Life 2, especially close to six years after the game’s release. Not in a bad way, of course, but just how it’s basically the standard for so many things in games: storytelling, character development, gameplay, physics, art and design, the list goes on. And, until very very recently, I had only played a small sliver of Half-Life 2, and never touched the episodes. And here I am, six years later, finally typing out my thoughts on this legendary and hugely important game.

While I had played the original Half-Life here or there having been exposed to and subsequently blown away in early 2000, I never truly realized how important the series was until I was first exposed to Half-Life 2 back in late 2004, just a month or so after its release. My friend had bought it for his newly souped-up PC, and I couldn’t wait to see how its visuals looked. It was then that I was blown away by not just the graphics, but everything else. The way the story was told, the way it flowed, the atmosphere of City 17; I was absolutely floored. We stayed up for hours, until he made it to Ravenholm, where we both were absolutely terrified and promptly shut it off, to play another day.

We never did.

Then Half-Life 2 came out for the Xbox in 2005. Since my PC couldn’t handle Half-Life 2, that was my only chance to finally get my hands back on the game that struck such a chord with me a year prior. I received it for Christmas of that year, and played the game that same day. I absolutely loved every second of it and, experiencing it a second time, and on my own, was even more in love than before.

Then I made it to Ravenholm, where I was absolutely terrified and promptly shut it off, to play another day.

I never did.

Then in early 2007 I got a brand new PC for school. Having gone to school for game art and design, I needed a powerful machine to run all the different programs I needed. To celebrate my new purchase, I decided to pick up a game to try out my new machine. The game? The very game I already owned: Half-Life 2. Figuring the graphics and PC controls warranted my restarting of the game, I installed it, played for about 20 minutes, and then realized I had a ton of console games to finish first and would come back to it later.

You know what happened.

Then The Orange Box came out in autumn 2007. Finally, a definitive collection, featuring Episodes One and Two and, of course, Portal, which looked amazing. I plowed through Portal the day I got the game, then started Half-Life 2, this time determined to go through everything. I made it to Ravenholm, where I was absolutely terrified and promptly shut it off, to play another day.

God damn it.

Ravenholm was so terrifying, so absolutely frightening, that the thought of going back to play it scared the hell out of me. So having tried the game so many different times, I came to realize it was never meant to be.

And then I let a coworker and friend of mine borrow the Orange Box a few months ago. Every week he would come in to work and talk about how awesome it was, how amazing it was. That, in addition to months and years about hearing all I let myself miss out on from this site and the podcasts and just the entire gaming world, I realized this time, I had to do it. I had to discipline myself, and not take the Orange Box out of my 360 until I was finished.

I started Half-Life 2 on Christmas Day of 2009, and finished Half-Life 2: Episode Two on February 16, 2010. Yes, it was just a wee bit of peer-pressure that broke me years after the fact. Having gone through almost the entire experience years after these games came out, and having played dozens of games inspired by or blatantly ripping off the game, the following are my thoughts on Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2: Episodes One and Two, really really late.

And it should be pretty obvious that there are going to be full-blown SPOILERS below.



What Blew Me Away

Obviously, a whole lot blew me away, but it really was the storytelling, from beginning to end, that nailed me. I have played a ton of first person games with the silent protagonist, but it is only Half-Life 2 that really made me feel like I was in the shoes of the player. I really felt like I was Gordon Freeman, that I was in that world and that everything I did 100% mattered. And especially during the combat-free, story-heavy segments. Being talked to by these lifelike, expressive characters really made it feel like I was there. Every single person in the opening segment in City 17 set the game up for such an incredible, indescribable atmosphere, full of darkness, depression, and that one small sliver of hope.

The opening, since I’ve experienced it about 900 times, still manages to be incredible every single time. From the slow-paced initial exploration of City 17 and your introduction to Dr. Breen on the giant video screen, all the way until you are chased by the Combine and saved by Alyx, is just little moment after little moment that will stick with me forever. The tic-tac-toe board, the see-saw, tossing televisions and chairs out the window, and of course tossing the can at the Combine soldier, are all these tiny little details that made the game world feel alive.

But once you get into combat and start shooting everything in your way, it’s a whole different level of wonder and excitement. The smart AI of the Combine soldiers, the explosions, the breaking boxes and falling objects, it felt like the whole world was after me and that I had to be pretty damn important if they’re going all out against one man. The very basic but very user-friendly guns provided the perfect generic template for an FPS weapon selection. The assault rifle for when I needed to take down tons of guys, the shotgun for going after the zombies, and the pistol for when things got desperate. Every weapon had a purpose, everything designed with so many specific instances in mind.

And the vehicles made me feel the same way. Controlling unbelievably smoothly whether on water or on land, and providing for some thrilling moments whether you are taking it slow or speeding away from an onslaught of enemies, the vehicular sections in the game were actually something to enjoy and not dread as in most games. That feeling when I first got to start shooting in the airboat was one of pure joy, like things were finally on an even playing field.

That level of power kept coming back throughout the whole game. It was constantly, for me anyways, a complete back and forth of feeling super weak and super powerful. I would always get into a big firefight and waste every single shot, feeling terrified and vulnerable after. No weapons, no health, I treaded with caution every step of the way. Avoiding confrontation, playing it smart, once I finally made it to a stash of weapons and health I was right back on the offensive. The game never let me feel too strong for too long, or too weak. They toyed with my emotions just right.

However, if you want to talk emotion, you’ve got to bring up Alyx Vance. Known to many as one of the strongest characters in any game, Alyx wasn’t someone who I really hit it off with at first. While I thought she was quite friendly and enjoyed her company, especially seeing her interact with her father, Eli, and Dog, I never really got why people praised her so much.

It wasn’t until Episode One, where she and Dog pull me out of the rubble, that I began to feel a real connection. It was then that I felt we were in this together, and we needed to help each other out to make it out alive. And then, of course, she busts out the classic “Zombine” line and I instantly saw her as a real person, a human as vulnerable and alive as I am, that is not just there to make my life easier, but to fight for the same thing as me. From that point on, I always made sure to work WITH her, and not just have her there as a prop. I would even go out of my way to protect her in especially heated firefights, like the Hunter assault on the house in Episode Two.

Which is another great thing about these games: Valve designed the entire game with my own sanity in mind. Very rarely were there moments where I felt like Valve was being a dick to me. Whether it was the crates with unlimited rockets for gunship fights, the replenishing help in the Strider assault in Episode Two, or the constant flow of conveniently placed supply boxes loaded with just what I needed at that point in time, it always seemed like Valve tried to make my life easier without making the game easier.

The best part about all this? The fact that Alyx was with me for huge chunks of the game, and almost always took care of herself. She didn’t have a health meter to worry about, she didn’t have limited ammo, and she never needed a single supply from me. She did her own thing, was completely responsible, never got in my way, and never once in the entire game did I feel like I was in the middle of an escort mission. She held her own, we got each other’s backs, and the entire game was amazing as a result.

I have to say, though, that my favorite parts of the entire experience were whenever I was just hanging out. Even a moment of brief down time in a hangout was a huge relief, and seeing the humble gratitude of every soldier and resistance member along the way actually made me feel like what I was doing made a difference. But I just loved that first meeting with Dr. Kleiner and Eli. Getting to stand there and be a part of the story instead of watching the story really made the game feel like IT was telling the story, not cutscenes. Seeing Alyx interact with Eli, seeing Dr. Kleiner bicker with Dr. Magnusson, or seeing the heart-wrenching and slightly comical interactions of that one resistance couple spread throughout the game always made me feel like I was a part of the world, something very few games can accomplish.

Can I also say just how much I love Vortigaunts? They are the nicest, sweetest, friendliest race ever and I wish they were real. Their charming manner of speech and nonstop barrage of compliments makes me want a real-life alien ego stroker to follow me around all day.

So to wrap up what I absolutely loved, let me just name off a bunch of moments in the game that will stick with me forever: First entering City 17, first getting your HEV suit and crowbar back, driving around in the airboat, playing fetch with Dog, the first time you cut a zombie in half with a sawblade, dropping a car on a group of zombies, lighting a bunch of zombies on fire, avoiding the sand to prevent antlion attacks, having antlions attack all of your enemies, the ride through the Citadel, the pure power of the souped-up gravity gun, getting tossed by Dog in the car into the Citadel, Ravenholm 2.0 in Episode One, the Left 4 Dead-esque elevator wait, seeing Dr. Kleiner on the giant video screens for the first time, dodging the Strider to get to the train, watching the Citadel explode from the train, seeing Alyx use the gravity gun, the fear, horror and sadness of the Hunter’s sudden attack on Alyx, the antlion assault, being chased by the glow-in-the-dark guardian, avoiding the autoguns, watching Dog make the save and destroy the Strider, the first time the G-Man is referenced by Eli, fighting to shut the silo, hearing the references to Aperture Science, the satisfaction of destroying the last Strider, the joy of seeing the rocket launch, and of course, the utter heartbreak of watching Eli die right in front of you and Alyx.



What Pissed Me Off

If you’re still reading this, allow me to break it down into a much smaller section of what pissed me off.

Basically any time I got truly frustrated with the game was because I am a terrible and impatient videogame player. I avoid conflict at all costs, do my best to conserve ammunition and health, and freak out if I get low on either. I am constantly too afraid to just go out there and take an enemy down, so any part of the game involving Striders really made me angry. That bit in Episode One where you’ve got to attack all the Striders while hiding under rubble made me want to blow up the world. It was very frustrating to conserve rocket launcher ammo and take out the Striders without dying when I was low on health. Again, all my fault for letting myself both get my ass kicked and not notice the section with the rocket crate, but I was still pretty miffed.

The massive ending sequence taking on the army of Striders also made me really mad. The sawmill got destroyed almost instantly, so my Magnusson device supply was gone for one of the main areas of the battle. The Hunters were too large in numbers, too fast and vicious, difficult to kill, and always destroyed my Magnussons. Of course this was all the result of my own impatience and desire to just destroy the Striders instantly, but again, it still made me really angry. I eventually just ended up waiting for the Striders to come to me so I could destroy them at the last minute while resistance members hit the Hunters with their rocket launchers, but even then the frustration still stood.

As far as story-related issues, I kind of hated the fact that there were like four voices totals for all the soldiers. I understand it was probably difficult to get a ton of different voices and lines recorded, but I still frequently had a Metal Gear style ? over my head any time I heard a familiar voice or saw a familiar face. Strangely, though, hearing those familiar voices across the game eventually ended up giving me a warm feeling of safety once I heard them enough.

I also hated the amount of people walking backwards while facing me, and I hated the SKIPPING backwards even more. Again, I completely understand the design reasoning behind it as well as the realism reasoning, but it irked me in a weird way.

And finally, I noticed a bit into Episode One that the game started to get a tad on the formulaic side. Namely the formula of 1) Something happens or something is needed, 2) I have to go make the thing not happen or fetch what I need in what seems to be an easy way, 3) The easy way goes horribly wrong and I either fall or get ambushed and end up having to go through an elaborate process to finish my task, and 4) Do what I need to do, and find a second route back that takes me about ten seconds. While I appreciate part 4 for the simplicity and lack of backtracking, there were so many instances where something simple turned into something ridiculous. I understand it wouldn’t be a game and there would be nothing interesting to do without it, but it was getting to a point where I would be told to do something and say to myself, “This is NOT going to be as easy as they make it sound.” I ended up constantly waiting for elevators to crash or soldiers to pop up out of nowhere, and most of the time I would be right.



TL; DR

It’s pretty obvious that there is a LOT more good to say about this game than bad. And it’s pretty obvious that I absolutely loved (almost) every second of this one game/two episode experience. For a game that is, at its youngest, three years old and six years old at its oldest, to hold up and wow me more than most major releases of 2009 and 2010 is a huge testament to the brilliant minds over at Valve. They have crafted a well-paced, well-designed, and absolutely remarkable experience of storytelling, gameplay, and pure excitement that deserves every single shred of critical acclaim.

Finally, after all this time, I completely understand why whenever people discuss storytelling through gameplay, games as art, or just what makes excellent game design, the first game out of anyone’s mouth is Half-Life 2.
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I’ve noticed throughout my years of internetting that a lot of people have a soft, cushy spot in their heart, in the exact shape of ToeJam and Earl for the Sega Genesis. I’ve also noticed that there is no room in these hearts for its sequel, ToeJam and Earl in Panic on Funkotron. And I say BACK OFF. Having been one of my favorite games of the Genesis days, and a game I still play with relative frequency (most recently last week), I am here to let you all know that it is just as good as the original…just different.

The main reason people talk so much smack is that this game is nothing like the awesome original. The first game, released in 1991, featured some very unique gameplay. Randomly generated levels from a top-down viewpoint, funky powerups (rocket skates, Icarus wings, hell yeah.), funny characters, and a fun soundtrack all helped compliment this bizarre Genesis classic. In it, you play as ToeJam and Earl, two aliens from Funkotron that crash land on Earth. All you’ve got to do is avoid the wild Earthlings, grab the ten pieces of your destroyed ship, and head home. To progress through the levels, you must use presents that you find scattered throughout the randomly generated levels, avoid the Earthlings (the only form of combat was through a temporary powerup of tomatoes), grab your ship part, and head up an elevator to the next level. The experience was different every time, even in terms of how many levels you play, as some levels did not feature a ship piece. Plus, it featured two player co-op for the entire experience! It was (and still is) fresh, original, and extraordinarily fun.

The sequel came along two years later (1928, I think. I don’t know. What’s 1991 + 2? Forget it, I’ll figure it out myself), and it was a drastic departure. A side-scrolling action-platformer, this game was nothing like the original. And people today look back on it and scoff. It did take away a lot of what made the original so amazing, but at the same time it was still its own experience and extremely fun and enjoyable in its own right.

Upon returning to Funkotron, ToeJam and Earl discover that many Earthlings managed to stow away on their ship. And the presence of the Earthlings has made the great Funkopotomus, Lamont, lose his, and in return the planet’s, funk. ToeJam and Earl made this mess, they must clean it up: bottle up all the Earthlings and send them back where they came from!

A truly fun, funny, and bizarre story, it is told through a series of 2D levels packed with secrets, great dialogue, and one of my all-time favorite video game soundtracks. Allow me to break down why this game is awesome:



1. It’s super 90s.
Everything from the attitude to the dialogue to the music to the way the characters dress to the friggin’ font, this game screams 90s. Now I may be one who hates decade-specific nostalgia (suck it, VH1), but I’ll be damned if this game doesn’t make me want to return to 1993. Everything’s so laid back, so cool, so Generation X. The color palette especially just gives off that 90s vibe.


2. The soundtrack is funk-tastic.
The soundtrack is just amazing. A very funky, fresh street sound that makes it feel more like you are just hanging out in these levels than rushing through. It’s all very relaxed, but it’s so goddamn catchy that I kind of want to start a ToeJam and Earl cover band. There’s even an eight-song mini-soundtrack featuring full jazz/funk versions of a majority of the game’s tracks. And yes, I listen to it rather frequently. Check out my personal favorite, Lewanda’s Love:






3. The co-op is a blast, especially for a 2D sidescroller
ToeJam and Earl are best friends on an adventure, and playing this game with a friend enforces that even further. Featuring two player co-op (player one is ToeJam, player two is Earl), you and a pal can plow through the whole game together, bottling up Earthlings and sending them back to Ol' Blue and Green. Now, a lot of 2D sidescrollers mess up the co-op (Sonic 2, I am performing a full on death stare in your direction), but ToeJam and Earl 2 does it right. If one of you goes too far or tries to go back, you get smushed up against the side of the screen. You’ve got to stay on screen together, and it works. And if you somehow lose your buddy, just press start and you’ll magically appear with your chum.

There’s a few really great little things that make me love the game’s co-op. One is the bubbles. There are bubbles you can stand on top of and ride to otherwise unreachable areas throughout the game, where you need to keep your balance or slide off. With another player, he gets on your shoulders, and you both need to maintain your balances at the same time. Chaotic fun. There’s also a way to share health. If one of you is running low, you can hit up your buddy and both can press down at the same time. The result? A HIGH FIVE that evens out both partners’ health. A HIGH FIVE. Awesome.

And my favorite bit: at random moments throughout the game, ToeJam and Earl will have very brief conversations. Nothing special, but just a reminder that these two are just hanging out, having a good old fashioned adventure. For example:

Earl: “I have to go to the bathroom.”
ToeJam: “I thought I told you to go before we left.”

Or,

Earl: “Achoo.”
ToeJam: “Gesundheit.”

Again, nothing special, but it appearing at completely random times really just makes the experience that much better.




4. The game is funny and has a great personality.
I don’t mean it has a great personality in that it’s fat and ugly but you’d still bang it because it’s cool, I mean the game has its own identity and personality to it. The writing is awesome. Little interactions between characters, such as ringing someone’s doorbell or encountering one of the many NPCs that litter the game environments (a rarity for a lot of sidescrollers), show that both characters have a definite personality and that Funkotron is alive and well with an array of interesting individuals.

And the Earthlings are a great satire of our own society. There’s a fat rich woman with annoying and vicious poodles that bite you, a buff asshole on a jackhammer that prevents you from moving, a yuppie that takes pictures of you with a blinding and debilitating flash, and THE BOOGEYMAN. A little purple dude that comes in and out of visibility, yelling “HEAP BOOGEY BOOGEY BOOGEY” and scaring the hell out of you, draining some health. Then there’s the nude man in a cardboard box that slings mud at you, the annoying bratty children, the duck on a magic carpet, some little shit floating on balloons and shooting spitballs at you, a fairy that throws laughing dust at you, and a douchebag cow ghost that possesses you and makes you moo. I mean, what the hell is NOT to love about these enemies?


5. It’s just a really good time.
It may not have randomly generated levels, or too many interesting power-ups, but this is a hell of an experience. The level design is outstanding, as the levels are filled with enough secrets to fill up 50 copies of LocoRoco, fighting enemies never gets too frustrating, and there’s even a dancing/memorization mini-game to take part in. But let us not forget the…



6. HYPERFUNK ZONE!
Yes, the greatest bonus stage ever. I want to retire there. Crazy colors, funky patterns, presents galore, you turn into squiggles, and it yells HYPERFUNK ZONE whenever you enter it.


So I suppose I’ll shut up now. For everyone that gave this game a hard time when it came out, or rolls their eyes at how this game isn’t the original with better graphics, go download this bad boy on the Virtual Console. Or not download the ROM. I won’t not tell…no one… … ?

Seriously, play ToeJam and Earl in Panic on Funkotron. Give it one more shot. It’s a really fun game and does not deserve all the hatred. Now it’s time to go pack my bags, I’m off to the HYPERFUNK ZONE!
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So yeah. If you happen to have your preorder bonus code for Banjo-Kazooie on Xbox Live Arcade, you can download that shit RIGHT NOW! Or, if you are me, 2 hours ago.

GameStops have been giving them out for about a week now, and some have run out, so if you preordered Nuts and Bolts and have yet to get your card....well, good luck. You may not get one.

But for those of you with the cards, hit up Xbox Live right this second and you will get your reward!

And yes, the game looks absolutely fantastic in HD.
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