29 May 2010

Persona 3 & 4 - Playstation 2

It was a dark time when I realized Playstation 2 games were slowly starting to die out. Xbox 360 was the superior console and Playstation 3 was trying to climb its way up the ladder of respect in the gaming world. Less was being released on the PS2, and it was the only console I had. I didn’t have the money to buy anything else, so I kept my eyes open for new releases on the PS2 while I still could. The game Persona 3 caught my eye, but I never got around to buying it for myself. I heard positive things about the second game, but never played it myself. Eventually my birthday came around and my boyfriend bought it for me.
My GPA my sophomore year would probably be a lot higher if I never played this game. Gamers are always worried that they’ll buy a game and it won’t be worth the money. Well everyone, Persona 3 is worth the money. I have about 80+ hours invested into this game and I have yet to beat it (I’m at the end of the game though). Everything about this game caught my attention. It kept me playing for many, many hours.
It’s always easier to be interested in something that you can relate to. We play games and realize that we never do the things that our heroes seem to do. We don’t have awesome magical super powers and we can’t wield a blade and smite thousands of enemies. Also, I tend to notice that these heroes never do human things. They never stop to eat, drink, or use the bathroom. They never just live life, everything focuses on the journey and the goal to defeat whatever villain is trying to mess up/conquer/destroy something.
Persona 3 was different. I started the day, named my character, and realized I was controlling a young man who actually was going to high school. The game goes from day to day. There was no way to be confused of the day or time, like in many other games. The date and time of day is listed in the corner of the screen. The characters are introduced and I found myself going to school every day. The teachers were even asking me questions, and I had to pick an answer. I was living the life of an average teenager with a slight twist. They did get the super powers. They did fight to protect their world. They did this but they also continued to live their lives. This alone separates Persona 3 from most other video games.
You were a teenager, and you had to have a social life. This was definitely one of the best parts of the game. Instead of constantly fighting the shadows and ridding the world of the evil that filled the city during the midnight hour, you were able to choose to hang out with friends. The hero would meet a new person and befriend them, causing a new social link to be formed. The social links didn’t just make your character cool though. These links helped your character grow stronger and create more powerful persona’s to help out when it was time to battle. You met lots of people, experienced their stories, and you choose how you were going to act with these friends. No one friend was alike. The hero even had to discover love; and also had to keep it all on the down-low since every female social link eventually became your love interest. He’s quite the stud throughout the game.
Good voice acting, to me, is crucial. I can get through a game with bad voice acting, but I definitely enjoy it a lot less. I feel if the characters are going to speak in a game, they should do it right. Actors for movies and shows are hired because they can be other people while making it look and sound like it really is their life. The actors who portray different characters in games should do the same. Persona 3 goes above and beyond in this category. I would have to say that this game has some of the best voice acting I have ever heard. It all sounds natural. The characters are having conversation and it sounds real. If a person in another room didn’t know that I was playing my PS2, they assumed I was watching TV. This made me fall in love with the game even more. The game had strong characters and strong actors who were able to play their character well. I was able to listen and feel like I was truly a part of the team’s conversation.
I was definitely impressed with what Persona 3 had to offer, but there were still some flaws. You only had control over the hero’s actions even though you could have up to four people in your team. The computer players didn’t always make the smartest choices. This left me frustrated and fixing the mistakes that another character made that could have easily been avoided. Also the characters were in high school, but you never would guess that with the way a lot of them acted. Most of the characters seemed far too mature for their age. Only Junpei acts like a kid his age. Also, the hero lacked any personality. This is hard to accomplish with a mostly silent character, but it is not impossible. Also, most of the fighting happened in one very, very, very large tower. There was very little variety when it came to the fighting environments and it got pretty boring exploring the same kind of place constantly.
As I came to the end of the game and got stuck on the worst boss I’ve ever fought in a video game, Persona 4 was released. Every problem I had with the third game vanished within this next installment of the Persona series. The game starts with a murder mystery and slowly twists into something a little odd, but absolutely amazing. The game is set up in the same way Persona 3 is, you live your life day to day and go through the typical life of a teenage boy. This time though, it was absolutely believable. These were teenagers going through the same things that real teenagers experience every day, minus jumping through a TV into a world that shows a person’s deepest secrets and desires.
Persona 3 was amazing, but Persona 4 was somehow able to be even better. I honestly had not one little problem with this entire game. The plot kept you interested and was never once boring. I always appreciate a game that can get my emotions going. I laughed out loud in reaction to many different parts of the game. I actually broke down into tears during several different parts of the game as well. The characters were amazing and there was a great variety within them. No two characters were even slightly the same. These characters were round and grew into amazing people throughout the course of the 80+ hours devoted to this game.
You are given the option to control the characters on your team, but I rarely did this because the computer seemed to be a lot smarter in this game. Everything I would be upset about in Persona 3 was fixed when I battled in this game. I thought I would have to take advantage of controlling my party, but I was pleasantly surprised when I rarely had to. Every character had their own unique setting and story within the TV world. The hero was silent again, but he had character. I was much more pleased with this hero than the last one I played. The social links were all very unique and kept things interesting between the hero the company he kept. I even befriended an older, sexy nurse who seduces the hero. You also have the option to fool around with her. You can’t get bored when there are those kinds of options within a game. Don’t worry; you can keep the hero innocent as well.
Persona 4 is now one of my favorite games. Persona 3 was great, but I can’t help but give my loyalty to the youngest player in the series. I highly suggest adding these games to your collections. You won't be disappointed.
I think everyone should waste as much of their lives as I did in exchange for two great gaming experiences.
By Heather Aug

27 May 2010

Pokemon Red & Blue – Game Boy

A few days ago I was waiting in line at one of the mediocre food places at my college when I overheard two girls talking. One sounded quite upset while the other one was listening to her woes. I don’t remember what they were saying, but at one point the heated girl said, “He couldn’t come see me because he was busy playing Pokémon or something.” The listener responded, “What, is he, like, 12?” An uncontrollable, stupid grin spread across my face once I heard this part of the conversation. I’m pretty sure they both saw me, since they stopped talking and gave me a nasty look. I kept staring straight ahead as I ordered my food. Once the food was given to me I sat at a table with my boyfriend and told him what I had just heard. We both laughed.
I’m 22 years old and I still play Pokémon quite religiously. I know I’m far from the only older person who plays this game. I know my boyfriend plays; he borrows my DS in order to play Pokémon Pearl. My friend Mike wanted me to buy Pokémon Soul Silver or Heart Gold so we can trade and battle our Pokémon. One day I will buy it, but a cashier’s pay doesn’t let me buy newer games while paying for an apartment.
I was at the appropriate age when Pokémon became a popular hit in the USA. Everyone was buying the Game Boy games, trading the cards and hoping for a shiny rare one, and watching the cartoon. I was sucked into the ever-growing fad. Getting Pokémon Red was probably one of the greatest moments of my childhood. My mom probably went through more batteries that year than any other year so I could keep playing my game.
My Pokémon were awesome. I trained them and made them unbeatable. The final four had nothing on my team of Pokémon. Unfortunately though, Pokémon Red did not have all 150 Pokémon nesting within it. I had to get Blue in order to catch ‘em all. So, of course, it was added to my collection. I was able to catch a Sandshrew finally which made me very happy (it was my favorite Pokémon at the time). I tried to catch as many Pokémon as I could between Red and Blue. I was disappointed to learn that you needed to trade certain Pokémon in order for them to evolve. I had no one in my neighborhood to trade with. It was quite depressing.
I may not have caught them all, but I was very happy with the Pokémon I did have. Once they expanded the original 150 though, I boycotted the new additions. I felt very strongly that the originals should be the only ones to exist. While other kids were playing Gold and Silver, I kept making my Pokémon on Red and Blue stronger than ever. To this day I still have my original Red team from when I was in fifth grade, and I’m still very proud of them. It would be more impressive if I could remember the team I have, but newer consoles have left me forgetting the small details about the older generation games that once ruled my life.
Only recently has my new Pokémon boycott ended. I believe it was the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year that I started playing Pokémon Diamond. I just couldn’t resist anymore. Let’s face it, Pokémon are adorable. I just couldn’t keep myself away. Curiosity got the best of me, and now I’m more educated on the recent Pokémon world. I will never let go of the pride I have over my original game though. My Pokémon from the original Red and Blue games can beat up your current Pokémon.
By Heather Aug

24 May 2010

Cool Spot – Sega Genesis

When I play this game today, I pretty much just laugh the whole time. It’s an entire video game revolving around the 7UP logo. For the entire game you’re a red spot with some pretty rad sunglasses and arms and legs. You run around (snap your fingers to your own beat, play with a yo-yo, and clean your sunglasses when standing still) collecting non-living red spots in order to save other living spots like yourself. I feel kind of bad for the Cool Spot; I think he’s supposed to be on vacation when he has to go save all his spotty little friends. He’s also a tiny little circle, so things like toys and hermit crabs are a big risk to his fragile, flat body.
Let’s face it, this game is pretty lame. You defend yourself with what I believe are soda bubbles. Someone has captured all of the Cool Spot people for some reason, which I don’t believe you ever learn. 7UP is good and all, but they really didn’t need to make a game about the red dot on the bottle. The 8 and 16 bit generation was good at coming up with pretty ridiculous games. Even though these games are jokes compared to the video games that are made today, gamers still can’t help but to play these pointless games.
At one point in my life, I loved this game. Me and my cousin, Jessica, would spend afternoons running around as the little spot bragging about who could collect the most spots before rescuing our spot friends. She was not as big of a fan of video games as I was, but we definitely spent a lot of our younger days together playing this game. It was one of the few games she had for the Sega Genesis, so we spent plenty of time playing it.
I was a huge tomboy when I was a kid, and still pretty much am today. Barbie’s were never a huge thing for me. I had them, but mainly because society seemed to deem it necessary. Jess loved them though, so we would play with them a majority of the time when I spent time at her house. I’m still a girl, so I did enjoy them to a certain extent. I was just one of the girls willing to chop off all the hair on the Barbies so she can have an awesome haircut. I’m sure I’ve made some of my girlfriends cringe in the past when I did this.
When we played Cool Spot though, the tomboy within was able to shine. I didn’t have to be a girly-girl, and Jess was able to enjoy it as well. It definitely was not a great game, but it was one of the few games as a child that I could play with the cousin who was always like a sister to me. We could giggle at the silly noises he made and defeat the mini enemies of the world. We could shoot things all afternoon. We couldn’t do that with Barbie’s.
While writing this, I texted Jess and asked her if she remembered playing this game and her response was “lmao of course.” She remembers it now and hopefully one day in the future we can hook up the Sega Genesis and play Cool Spot at a family get–together and still laugh about the silliness of the game. Some games, like Cool Spot, may pretty much suck as a normal game, but they certainly have a way to create great memories.
By Heather Aug

15 May 2010

Super Pong - Atari/Sears Telegames

Tom is a veteran of the Iraq war who talks too loud, says dumb things when he's drunk and has a variety of tattoos that can only be described as "spontaneous at best." He's also a musician with a love for the blues, an honorable guy who would help you out of a jam and he's expecting his first child in two months. I like Tom, and I always enjoy when we get together to have a bourbon and play some games. Typically, Tom and I play Call of Duty, Gears of War or Halo. You know, the macho shooters that define his generation (he's in his early 20s) and were born in my generation (I'm 37, a child of Wolfenstein and Doom).
So when I hooked up the Super Pong system I got from the mom and pop gaming store the other night he was visibly surprised.
I'd made a batch of seafood stew: Squid, scallops and shrimp simmered in a broth of tomato, white wine and good olive oil. I figured his girlfriend might enjoy something other than pizza or Chinese food - that's all you can get in my neighborhood - so I told him to drop by if he wanted to pick some up for her. He did, and we agreed there was always time for a cocktail and a quick game. Since he had to get back to his long-suffering girlfriend soon, I figured Super Pong would be good for a few laughs and a quick but simple battle. We were both surprised to find it the most challenging and aggressive game of anything we've ever played. The first mode we played was a little like volleyball. Each of us controlled two small blocks on one side of the board. They shadowed each other as they moved up or down. The ball was small and fast. Surrounded by enough video game hardware to launch a satellite, we sat enthralled at the world's simplest game.
And I won.
Then we tried a game variant where you control a long bar that covers the screen save for a tiny opening. The goal is to get the ball through that tiny opening, sort of like Pong in reverse. I think I got as much joy out of scoring a point here as I have when scoring headshots in Halo. The colors on the screen were vibrant and a little trippy (given that this console is over 30 years old, it might just be broken) and the sound coming out of the small console was perfect. Tom and I had a final game that came down to the wire, as intense a gaming session as I've ever had.
And, again, I won. (Nice.)
I've had a nearly complete gaming museum in my basement for years. When people come over, I typically try to impress them with the latest graphical powerhouse from the 360 or PS3. Not anymore. From now on, if someone wants to see what video games are all about, they're playing Super Pong.
By Victor Paul Alvarez

11 May 2010

Alan Wake - Xbox 360

Regular readers of this blog know my wife is not a gamer. She grew up on books and vegan cooking. I had an Atari and pork chops. Together, we are now somewhere in the middle.
If you have a partner who isn't a gamer you know what it feels like to fail at recruiting them into your obsession. Some of you have certainly had success on some level. I'm sure most of you have talked your non-gaming better half into playing Guitar hero or Rock Band, maybe Wii bowling or tennis.
For me, I'm about 0 and 12. I've tried a dozen different games to work my way into her heart. All have failed.
She still loves me, I think, but she couldn't care less about anything relating to video games other than being mildly amused that they make me happy and making sure I don't poison our children with them too early.
And then there's Alan Wake.
You’re going to see and hear a lot of hype about Alan Wake in the coming weeks. It’s one of those games that will get the attention of the mainstream media due to its remarkable qualities and revolutionary approach to old conventions while setting a new standard for successfully mixing storytelling and action.
But the one thing you’re likely not going to hear — from Game Informer to the New York Times — is that playing the game was a watershed moment in my marriage.
My long-suffering wife has put up with my gaming obsession for nearly nine years. She has looked the other way while our basement has become consumed with classic consoles, plastic music instruments and multiple surround-sound devices. She’s even succumbed to my teaching our 2-year-old how to play “Asteroids.” Typically, she tunes out while I’m gaming and she’s in the room. But a few minutes into playing “Alan Wake” she started paying attention.
“Oh, he’s going to be a bad guy,” she said about a radio host I met on the ferry.
This is the sort of foreshadowing typically associated with films and novels. She was watching the game unfold as if it were a piece of fiction from a different medium. She forgot, briefly, that it was a game.
I've spent the last decade preaching about video games and their ability to tell good stories in new ways. Alan Wake is not the first game to get non-gamers to pay attention, but it is the first one to engage my wife.
For that alone, “Alan Wake” is a huge success.
By Victor Paul Alvarez

08 May 2010

Shadow Squadron - Sega 32X

I'm sure to bet on a loser every time. It never fails. Sporting events. Dog track racing. Feats of strength or endurance. You name it, I'll be sure to bet on the one coming in dead last. The same goes for game consoles. No matter how the odds may be stacked against a system, I'm always pulling for it to win.
I clung to my N64 while everyone else was enjoying the Playstation 1.
I then picked the original Xbox over the Playstation 2.
Part of my gaming collection includes such famous disasters as the Atari 5200, Atari 7800 and the Atari Jaguar (I love you, Atari. Why did you stop loving me back?).
Back in the day I rolled the dice on the Sega 32X expansion for the Genesis. Widely considered to be a waste of time and the beginning of the end for a company that would struggle with the Saturn and Dreamcast, the 32X was clunky, difficult to install and boasted only a handful of decent games.
One of them was Shadow Squadron, one of the most undervalued games of all time. Even though I came across it two years after its 1994 release, I was still impressed with its spartan but sharp visuals, huge space battlefields and Star Wars-esque explosions.
Consider some of the features:
1. Some of the enemy ships are large enough that you can fly into them.
2. When you land a particularly good shot some of the ships will change course and explode instantly.
3. You can choose between two ships, one of which offers a rail-shooting experience; the other allows you to fly and shoot at once.
4. An instant replay feature allows you to watch your entire mission from different angles once the mission is completed.
5. The vector-like graphics still look sharp today.
I really can't say enough good things about this game. It's one of the games I played for hours a day while I was recovering from a botched appendectomy. It's worth the price of a 32X and a Sega Genesis just to see how a good that system could have been if more developers unlocked its power.
By Victor Paul Alvarez

06 May 2010

Tales of Vesperia – Xbox 360

My favorite genre of games is role playing games. I have also always been a huge fan of action/adventure games. I never used to like shooters, fighting games (with a few exceptions) and sports games. I wasn’t used to playing from a first person point of view. I had terrible aim in shooters. I’m just bad with the concept of fighting games. I was also never big into sports. I danced for 12 years of my life; sports were the last thing on my mind.
One sunny, not windy day at a bus stop in Buffalo New York, I met Ben. Two weeks later after much flirting, anger over him having a girlfriend, him breaking up with his girlfriend of two years, and a tiny bit of guilt on my part we became a couple. He’s a gamer and so am I. I never really had anyone to game with and he had never had a girlfriend as into games as I am. It was great at first until he wanted to play a game with me and suggested Halo; my response was to scrunch my nose.
He likes shooters and didn’t really like RPGs. I was the opposite. Unfortunately, the world of RPGs doesn’t offer much multiplayer experiences. We found ways around this little obstacle. I would bring my games to his dorm room and I’d play my RPGs on his roommate's PS2 and he’d play his shooters on his Xbox. Secretly, I longed for a game we could both enjoy, and one day at Game Crazy we discovered Tales of Vesperia.
We had found ourselves an RPG that was multiplayer. Despite the fact that it was an RPG, Ben was willing to try it. Something about it seemed to draw him in. I didn’t know what it was and I didn’t question it. He played as the rebellious hero, Yuri, and I played as the sweet, gentle Estelle. He controlled most of the action. He ran around the world map and the towns, while I sat and watched enjoying the story. When battles came into play, it was my time to shine. I was the healer and the supporter as he beat up all the baddies.
Sometimes it bugged me to not be the main person in control, but I was more thrilled that I was playing an RPG with one gamer who had been so against them. We strategized together as we battled and we laughed at the conversations that took place while exploring the world. At one point I never thought that this would happen, but we found something we could both enjoy and took full advantage of Tales of Vesperia.
We’ve both opened up to the different genres that we were once so against. I played Halo even though I was terrible at it. I’m still not a big fan, but I’ve grown to love other shooters. I could spend hours getting some headshots on zombies in Left 4 Dead. Ben still can’t play traditional RPGs, but he has shown interest in games like Eternal Sonata or any game with action/adventure qualities to the fighting system. Borderlands came out and combined the best of both shooters and RPG’s worlds.
We were two gamers who fell in love. Luckily, our gaming interests are no longer as segregated as they used to be. He can even stand to watch me play traditional RPGs. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to stick a classic Final Fantasy game in front of him and he’ll play it with glee. Until that day comes though, we can just replay Tales of Vesperia.
By Heather Aug

04 May 2010

RoadBlasters - Arcade

In the summer of 1987 I was 15 years old. A child of Maryland, I spent as much of my summers as possible at Ocean City. It's a resort town on the beach with a long boardwalk, fried food aplenty and - in the 80s - dozens of arcades.
Geoff was my high school friend and his mom let me come along when they went on their Ocean City vacation. We played D&D in the apartment, tried to score a bottle of booze, and dumped quarters at the arcade. That summer the game for me was RoadBlasters.
1. I'm a sucker for anything Atari makes.
2. I'll take driving and shooting over nearly any other gameplay combination.
3. We never found a bottle of booze, or any girls to hang out with, so the arcade was where we spent most of our time.
RoadBlasters is the kind of game that made Atari arcade cabinets so much fun. You could sit in it like a real car; the gameplay was basic but filled with cool features; it was fun to play but nearly impossible to beat. In the game you try to beat 50 levels of increasing difficulty. Your cool red car can catch new weapons and upgrades as they drop from the sky. An odd, digitized female voice occasionally cheers you on.
And, like SpyHunter, a variety of enemy cars with their own defenses and attacks stand in your way. The game doesn't reward speed as much as it rewards good driving and shooting.
Needless to say, I never beat it. I probably dumped $50 into that thing over the course of a week at the beach without women or booze.
I have absolutely no regrets.
By Victor Paul Alvarez

03 May 2010

Boxing - Atari 2600

While my daughter and I watch Sesame Street something about Elmo has been giving me the creeps. Who does he remind me of? Why is that face so familiar? I don't think Elmo was around when I was a kid. And I was more of an Electric Company kid anyway (they had Spider-Man, after all, and Morgan Freeman - who allegedly once donned the Spidey suit).
I recently found myself looking through my Atari 2600 cartridges on a particularly nostalgic day. I popped in Boxing, and there he was. If you look at the screen quickly, it appears there are a black and white Elmo beating the crap out of each other.
I'm glad I popped this old gem in for a spin, because it reminded me of all that was great about early gaming. Much like other Activision sports titles such as Ice Hockey, Boxing is a spartan but attractive title that uses the wee power of the 2600 to get at the essence of the sport. The 2-minute bouts (against a friend or the computer) are always white-knuckle affairs in which movement and punch timing are critical. Your thumb will get sore with this game, the true hallmark of early gaming. And rivalries will rise and fall.
A guy I knew a long time ago once told me that all other sports are just watered down boxing. I was impressionable at the time and I thought it was a brilliant quote (even thought I'm sure it wasn't his). You could say that Boxing on the Atari 2600 is what's left of the onion when you strip away all the layers on the newer, fancier games. This game is pure in a way that is nearly impossible for new games to be.
By Victor Paul Alvarez