09 June 2010

Evander Holyfield's Real Deal Boxing - Genesis

The house should have been condemned.
In my junior year of college I lived with two other guys in a house that looked like Freddy Krueger's winter cottage. All the pipes leaked. None of the doors locked properly. The basement was infested with rats that would only rarely venture into the living quarters. And it was only one of two houses on a strange little block behind an abandoned shopping center.
Our neighbor, Don, was a kindly fellow who grew tomatoes the size of basketballs. He wore white overalls every day and never complained when we packed 100 drunk college students into our rickety little house. He was also the man who made a positive ID on the thief who stole $700 in cash and two "adult" magazines from our home.
I was walking home from class when I saw Don and one of my roommates, Jason, on the front lawn. The front door was open – it never locked - and they were looking around in disbelief. Apparently someone broke into the house, found our rent money in Jason's sock drawer, and fled on foot. Don caught a glimpse of the guy, but just a glimpse. As we waited for the cops to arrive we checked out the rest of the house.
My Sega Genesis was there, "Evander Holyfield's Real Deal Boxing" sitting safely in its place.
The cops dusted for prints and asked us some questions. They encouraged us to scour the home to make sure nothing else was taken. Then they left.
We scoured the home.
In my bedroom I noticed my mattress was ajar. I looked under it to find my two girlie magazines were gone. (OK, so I used to own some girlie mags. Check under your dude's bed and see what you find.)
The cops called and asked if we noticed anything else missing. I told them about the magazines. They did not snicker or comment. I assume they wrote it down on an incident report.
We spent the next few hours playing boxing on the Genesis. The game was brilliant for its time and was definitely the best boxing game on the Genesis. It looked great – cuts and sweat were done well – and it allowed you to create and train a boxer and take him to the top.
But we soon realized that boxing on TV wasn't going to sooth our anger over being robbed. We walked to the ATM machine and foolishly took out money that we should have put aside for the rent. We were going to party that night. As Jason and I walked back to the house we saw a police car waiting for us. The cop in the driver's side rolled down the window and looked at me.
"Did you say you were missing two magazines?"
"Can you identify the magazines, sir?"
Sure. It was Girls, Girls, Girls and Blonde Bombshells.
And then he opened a blue gym bag filled with cash and the two magazines. The man in the back of the cruiser – I didn't even notice him at first – looked down in shame. Based on Don's description they caught the dude before he boarded a bus. He had our cash on him as well as the girlie mags.
And we got every penny back.
By Victor Paul Alvarez

07 June 2010

Pictochat - Nintendo DS

I've never "chatted" with Pictochat. I am typically a lonely gamer. I play games online from time to time and my friends like to play Rock Band and Warlords when we have parties, but it's usually just me when I'm playing. For this reason, Pictochat has been a useless utility on the multiple iterations of DS handhelds I've owned. I'm not much for chatting in the first place - even with pictures - and I rarely have another DS friend around for a chat.
My daughter, Charlotte, is 2 1/2 and vaguely interested in games. I don't let her see anything violent, but she's already pretty good at Asteroids and Gorf. (She loves Gorf.) The other day I was tooling around with my new DSiXL and she tried to take it away. Finally, I discovered a use for Pictochat. It's not as good as a free-form doodling application (I'm sure one exists somewhere) but it worked just fine. She sat down in front of me and I turned off the lights. Her face was visible by the glow of the screen. I gave her the stylus and showed her where she could draw, which she did - violently at first. I explained to her to be gentle with the DS – just like kitty and her baby brother – and she got it immediately. She drew big circles and then little circles inside them. When she was done with the first pic she lifted the stylus away and admired her work. Then I hit the "button" that sends the message and it slid to the top screen.
She was amazed.
She quickly drew another series of circles and I sent them to the top screen again.
She smiled.
She did it again and I did it again but this time I said "BOOM" when I sent the picture to the top screen.
She burst into laughter.
You never know what a kid is going to find funny, but when you find it you tend to exploit it for all it's worth. We spend 20 minutes (past her bed time) drawing pictures and BOOMing them to the top screen. It never got old. I watched her little eyes light up each time by the soft light of the DS. I wrote her name and we spelled it out together. I drew a little dude with a hat and tie and we BOOMed him away.
It was the best time I've ever had with a DS. It might be the best time I've ever had with any game, ever.
By Victor Paul Alvarez

Final Fantasy XIII - Multiplatform

This game came out on my birthday, March 9. I had been reading up on the game months before. When I learned it came out on my birthday I was excited that Square Enix was giving me an awesome birthday present. By the time March came around though, I was buried in the school routine. I had 23 novels I had to read for the semester. Two of the classes I was taking were intensive writing classes, so I felt I was constantly writing something. Tuesdays were always completely dedicated to the Buffalo State school newspaper. I also had no other time to work but on the weekends, so I always had plenty of hours dedicated to Kohl’s. In the end, the last thing on my mind was video games.
My school life was not always like this. There are several games that probably made my GPA lower than it should have been. I would buy them, play them, and instantly get hooked. I call this the “New Game Itch.” I would be sitting in class thinking about the previous parts of the game I had been playing and anticipating the next adventure within the game. Once I was done with classes I’d quickly go back to my room and ease my constant curiosity of what will happen next within the game.
Lately though, no game I was playing was really giving me this strong itch. I would play a game, but go awhile without playing it again. Nothing caught my attention. So, I thought about Final Fantasy XIII before, but slowly forgot about it.
This turned into a good thing on my birthday. At 11:30 p.m. on March 8, my boyfriend told me it was time to go. I was confused, seeing as I usually left his room around midnight to go to bed and he was walking me out to the parking lot. We drove and I had no idea where we were going. GameStop was the last place on my mind. When it came into view though, I remembered everything and I got excited. Square Enix was finally giving me that present. We waited in a huge line (which luckily we were near the front) and after he bought me my game we left to go back to school. I opened the package and looked over the manual and a familiar feeling came across me. I was excited to play my new game.
I was trying to be a good student though, so I didn’t play it once we got back on campus. I went to bed because I didn’t want to be tired and miserable the entire day. Of course, my birthday was on layout day for the school newspaper. I tried to get everything done as quickly as I could, but I didn’t have much luck. Any time my mind had time to wander I thought about playing the next installment of the popular series. I wasn’t thrilled with XII so I was hoping that this game would make up for my disappointment. Life was stopping me from finding out though. Finally Wednesday came and I finally got the chance to try out my new game.
I was instantly hooked. It was different than XII so I was happy. The characters had great personalities and I wanted to know more about them. The story caught my attention. The itch was back and it was strong. I played as much as I could until I remembered that I was still in school and had lots to read and write. I had to force the itch to subside until I had the time to dedicate to Lightning and the gang. It was hard, but I was able to get back into only playing either games I’ve already played or simple DS games whenever I needed a break from work. The itch was strong, it felt good to have it back, but I had to keep my priorities straight.
Lucky for me, the semester is now over. Once I’m finished moving into my new apartment, I’ll be able to put Final Fantasy XIII into my 360 and soothe the itch once again.
By Heather Aug

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

29 April 2010

Kingdom Hearts – Playstation 2

I love Disney. They were my favorite movies when I was a kid and I still love to watch them today. I have the songs in iTunes, and they are often heard in the office of the school newspaper where I work during layout night. I’ll never get sick of Disney. So yes, I was super excited when the game Kingdom Hearts was announced. It’s a combination of Disney and Final Fantasy. I got to fight alongside my favorite Disney characters. Could life get any better?
I can’t play this game and not be happy. Sora, the main character, is absolutely adorable and you get to play the entire game with Donald and Goofy by your side. They are the most ridiculous yet best choices for a mage and a knight. You fight with a keyblade that can open anything that is locked, including all the different Disney worlds you travel to. If the galaxy was really a bunch of different planets that revolved around the stories of different Disney movies, I’d become an astronaut.
I was a little upset though when I reached the first Disney related world in the game. It was focused on Alice in Wonderland which is one Disney movie I never really got attached to. Despite my lack-of-care attitude towards the Disney movie, fighting through the world was still lots of fun. The Queen of Hearts wanted to chop off Alice’s head once again and we had to rescue her from a terrible fate. She doesn’t get her head axed, but she does disappear. For some reason, she was considered one of the seven princesses in the game. Alice is far from a princess, so that bothered me a bit.
Before I knew it I was being trained by Phil from the movie Hercules to be a hero. Hades doesn’t approve and sends Cerberus to the arena to get rid of the keyblade holder. That is not a fun battle. All the different Disney villains are under the command of Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. The keyblade will ruin her plans of controlling the heartless so she, as well as Jafar, Ursula, Captain Hook, and the Oogie Boogie Man plan to do whatever they have to in order to stop Sora from rescuing all the hearts that are in danger.
I swung through the vines with Tarzan. I grew fins and swam with Ariel through an underwater kingdom. I ran through creepy graveyards with Jack the Pumpkin King. I fought through the alleys of Agra bah with Aladdin and Abu. I flew to the top of Big Ben with the help of Tinker Bell and Peter Pan. I rescued Pinocchio from the belly of Monstro. Whenever I was low on items I had Huey, Dewey and Louie ready and willing to sell me supplies. I traveled the worlds and rescued 101 Dalmatians. When it was time to save the seven princesses, the Beast teamed up with me so he could save his one true love, Belle. Who wouldn’t want to do all of this?
On top of there being many different Disney characters, there were all the greatest Final Fantasy characters involved as well. Aeris is no longer dead; instead she aids you in your journey to stop the heartless. Squall calls himself Leon and tells you about your keyblade. Wakka, Tidus and Selphie are your friends from back at home. Cloud is working for Hades. Sephiroth is still out to get the hero. I’m jealous of Sora, Riku, and Kairi for being able to live in a universe where all of these great characters have been combined into one awesome galaxy.
All of this combined is pretty much the definition of enjoyment. There were funny parts, sad parts, and touching parts. There’s anger, betrayal, and great friendships that form. The voice acting was done beautifully and the characters kept their identities outside of their proper movies. Action RPGs always seem to have great game play, and Kingdom Hearts didn’t fall short in the least bit. The music is catchy and always seems to get stuck in my head after I play it. I did wish there was more Disney involved in the game, but that all gets fixed in Kingdom Hearts 2. We can get into that another day.
Every child that watches a Disney movie at some point in their lives wishes they could live through the great experiences shown to them through the movies. Kingdom Hearts lets every gamer’s inner child come out and play. You get to live part of your life through Sora and hang out with the Disney gang. This is definitely one of my favorite games, and I proudly hang a little keyblade from my car’s rear-view mirror to prove it.
By Heather Aug

27 April 2010

Radical Dreamers – Super Nintendo

I knew Chrono Cross was the sequel to Chrono Trigger, but there was another game that was related to one of my favorite series. It was a side story to the game Chrono Trigger. My curiosity was peaked and was then devastated when I found out that the game, Radical Dreamers, was never released in the United States. Luckily emulators and roms exist, and I know I’m not the only person who would have wanted to play this game in English. I searched the web and found a translated version of the game.
I didn’t know what to expect from the game, and I was very surprised to learn it was a text based game. You didn’t control a little pixel man and you couldn’t swing a sword. There were words; lots of words on a background picture that changed depending on where you told Serge, Kid and Magil to go. I was playing a picture book. I really wasn’t thrilled with what I was playing at first. I didn’t get to run around and talk to people and fight enemies that popped out of nowhere. All I had were choices. I needed to give it a chance though, so I pushed through.
Turns out, choices aren’t so bad after all. I like to read and I’m a sucker for stories. I’m sure parents wouldn’t be upset if their children played more games like this one. It’s a little book on a TV screen. Not as nice on the eyes, but it’s still a good read. As I played, I saw where many different ideas and concepts of Chrono Cross came from. Kid and Serge were together even before they were reborn into El Nido.
Thankfully I’m a patient person, because you need that to play this game. Traveling in this game took a while because it was text based, and you had to read whatever passage appeared in each room. The entire game takes place in one area, Viper Manor. I got lost easily since many areas look the same. I’d get to an intersection of hallways and forget which areas I’ve searched. If you go the wrong way, you have to read your way back to a new area. I was often tempted to keep a notebook with me just to make sure I remembered where I went.
Despite the small frustrations, I enjoyed everything that was happening. The choices made playing this game a different experience every time. Fighting monsters was fun in this game. Since all the action was in words, they didn’t have graphics to hold back the details. The beauty of a book came out in a video game. I got to imagine my own experience instead of having it shown to me. Your choices led to many different outcomes. When I ran into a trap, I had to make sure I figured out how to either escape or disarm the trap or else it was game over. I was often thankful for the emulators save states.
Radical Dreamers is not a typical video game, but it’s games like this that make me appreciate the Chrono series. The main games are great, and this game is just a taste of what made Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross such memorable gaming experiences. It’s a quick but complex game. It’s definitely worth the Internet hunt.
By Heather Aug

26 April 2010

Max Payne - Xbox

This game had me at "Rain Dogs."
"Rain Dogs" is one of the better albums by Tom Waits. People who don't know Tom Waits should look him up; but most people who are going to appreciate him already know his stuff.
In a scene near the middle of the game one of the thugs I was about to murder sings a lyric from the title track of that album. The scene in the game takes place in an alley and it's raining at the time.
I had to pause the game to make sure I heard it correctly. Tom Waits isn't obscure, but he is on the fringe. To hear a lyric from one of his songs in a video game was a shock, even for someone such as myself who had been preaching about the artistic leanings of video games for years. This was likely a throwaway piece of dialogue stitched into the script by a Waits fan on the development team, but it spoke to the kind of people who make video games. People who appreciate art. (Or, to be fair, people who appreciate the art that I appreciate.)
Max Payne continued to wade into unfamiliar territory. My oldest niece, a Manhattan dweller, found it interesting to see how the game interpreted the big city. Friends of mine who aren't into gaming but love film noir were taken in by the over-the-top storyline.
I liked the voice acting and the graphic novel presentation, but what I liked best was unapologetic violence and how it was milked for every drop of cinematic impact possible. The game looks goofy now - Max looks like a paper character pasted onto the background - but it's still a tight shooter with excellent "wow" moments. I remember playing through it when it came out and feeling like I was being let in on something nasty. Rockstar games catch a lot of heat for their violence and anti-social sensibilities, but the one thing nearly every Rockstar game does that almost none other can is allow the player to feel like they're being let in in a secret. Remember how you felt when you first saw Pulp Fiction? Remember that feeling of watching something different, something cool and something a little bit dangerous? No one does that like the people at Rockstar. GTA gets all the press, but Max Payne wrote the book.
By Victor Paul Alvarez

24 April 2010

Medal of Honor: Underground - Playstation

I brought my shiny new PS3 home on a warm day while my wife was still at work. I knew I had at least three hours of interruption-free gaming ahead of me before dinner needed to be cooked and adult life had to resume.
I found the launch titles I had purchased lacking. There I was with my shorts on, a T-shirt hanging comfortably off of my 34-year-old frame. The windows were open and the breeze was calming. Buyer's remorse set in almost immediately. This black box of technological promise cost me near $600. Where was the wow factor? Where were the life-changing graphics and revolutionary technology I had been promised?
After a monumental let down I remembered that the PS3 was capable of playing Playstation 1 games. Wow. A brand new heavy in the electronics world was capable of playing games that could have easily run on the primitive technology that lived in my modest cell phone.
But it was something.
I popped in Medal of Honor: Underground and fell in love all over again. At a time when console FPS games and WWII backdrops were rare, this game excelled in breaking boundaries. It was barely an expansion to the wildly popular Medal of Honor, but the improvements to story and character made this a whole new game. As a female warrior packing weapons and a camera, you were truly embodying a fantastical character in a genre best-known for brutes and bullets.
I played that game for hours and obsessed on it later. I played nothing else for a week until I finished it. My new PS3 could play blu-ray discs and superior shooters such as Resistance: Fall of Man, but all I could think about was Manon and her (my) crusade to avenge her fallen brother.
That's a game, my friends. That's a fine memory.
By Victor Paul Alvarez

22 April 2010

Clock Tower 3 – Playstation 2

I’m not good with anything that is meant to be scary. So, of course, I go and buy games like Silent Hill and Rule of Rose. I’ll be OK the first time I play a horror game, but then the night comes and I hear noises I don’t normally hear and get paranoid that a murderer/ghost/zombie/alien is in my house trying to eat me. I lay in bed wide awake until I get so tired that I can’t keep my eyes open anymore. It’s the silent night that gets to me after putting my emotions in a frenzy by being chased and having grotesque creatures pop out at me. After that experience, I never like to play the games alone. My boyfriend likes to laugh at me for this reason. He also doesn’t find them frightening like I do.
I was not expecting this reaction when I bought the game Clock Tower 3. I liked the pictures on the case and the summary on the back seemed interesting. It was also cheap, so I added it to my collection. It wasn’t bad at first, but when the first chase scene happened I started to have a mini panic attack. All you (Alyssa) can do is run and hide. The only weapon you can use against the enemy is a little bottle full of holy water that you splash in the enemy's face. He stands there writhing in pain for a few seconds, and then he’s chasing you once again. My anxiety is always on edge until I finally escape whatever weapon the current murderer that’s chasing you has. Once he’s gone I pause the game, take a deep breath, and then continue searching for clues about the murder that had occurred.
In high school, I didn’t really have anyone to play video games with. My three best friends at the time, Sara, Tiffany, and Patti, all were interested in other things. I was the odd one out in our little group, but we were still great friends. I don’t know why, but one night I introduced them all to Clock Tower 3. We all sat in Tiffany’s brother’s room in the dark and they all watched while I played. I didn’t have to freak out alone anymore. Sara really didn’t care, but both Patti and Tiffany were on edge while a big brute with a hammer chased after the tiny little blonde girl.
Since they were both screaming and panicking, I was able to be the brave one. I found all the clues that were needed while they were huddled behind me freaking out. The best part was when the mystery of the murder was solved and Alyssa got to kick some creepy murderer butt. I was pumped up from being chased constantly, and I had my friends cheering me on. I got my weird mystical bow and arrows and trapped his evil soul. The spirits of the people he murdered were no longer trapped, and they moved on from their own tragedies. Tiffany, Patti and I rejoiced while Sara was probably sleeping out of boredom.
It felt good to see my friends enjoying a gaming experience, even if they were just watching. Sara is still one of my best friends, Tiffany has moved away to North Carolina and we only get to speak on Facebook, and sadly Patti and I are no longer friends (all over stupid, pointless girl drama). Despite the separation, I will treasure this memory until I’m old and grey.
I still develop anxiety from these games, but whenever I am feeling brave I gather my nerves and bring Clock Tower 3 out of my game case. It helps to remember the excitement my friends had when I played the game for them. As long as I think of the good times we had with this game, me and Alyssa can defeat, or avoid, any dangerous creeper that comes out way.
By Heather Aug

20 April 2010

Gran Turismo - Playstation

The freedom, power and sense of independence is what drew me into wanting my first car. Until I could drive legally, I drove anything I could get my hands on: BMX bikes, ride-on lawnmowers, tractors in the Maine woods. If it had wheels, I wanted in – wicked in. I got my hands on a borrowed moped and didn’t want to give it back. I couldn’t afford my own at the time. A radio-controlled Hornet dune buggy had to tide me over until the very second I was 16.5 years old, the legal driving age at the time. And, of course, there was Pole Position II.
Despite the $500 price tag, my first car was almost prohibitively expensive, with the insurance and gas (no luck getting gas money from my equally destitute friends) tipping those proverbial scales. The car broke down every other month and for a time, I had to use a shoelace from my track shoes to operate the windshield wipers. I loved that car, right up until the day a friend borrowed it totaled it in the same afternoon.
I was carless for months following and used TV to get my fix. Car shows and racing events are what kept me going. I developed a deep lust for racing, for that was the ultimate freedom. Not only were you driving your own car, but you were seemingly breaking every known law in the process. Racing too, was expensive and out of reach for a dude with a high school education, and back then, no desire to go to college. Against my better judgment though, I went to college and graduated with thousands worth of student loans. I couldn’t even dream of getting into racing.
But that’s where the Gran Turismo series saved me. Pick any car, pick the most exotic track you could find and all of a sudden you could blast through time and space in a suped-up rig that you paid for with game dollars. GT-40s, Mitsu Lancers, Lancia Integrales. Could life be any better?
As time went on, my salary rose slightly, situations changed and I found myself on course to buy a car and build it into a race car. A rally car in fact. But I go back to my racing video game setup and I actually use it for cheap practice sessions. I try not to bump into anybody (an accident in a game costs thousands in real life, no matter how light the hit). I practice threshold braking, left-foot braking, clipping apexes and executing Scandinavian Flicks. I turn the music off and the sound effects up. I want to hear my engine bouncing off the rev limiter so I know when to shift.
When I cross the line in a video game race, the adrenaline levels almost match that of being in a real car. Almost.
By Kristian Gove

19 April 2010

Final Fantasy VI – Super Nintendo

I was six years old in 1994 when the game Final Fantasy VI (back then, it was Final Fantasy III in North America) was released for the Super Nintendo. We owned an SNES at home, and my brother had a copy of this game. This, of course, meant that I was not allowed to play it. Despite this, I would still sit next to him and gawk at the screen every time the game was turned on. I didn’t know why, but something about this game just grabbed my brain and would not let go.
My brother is six years older than I am, so we didn’t really have much in common. We never went to the same school together. We never experienced anything new at the same time. We lived in separate universes. He spent his time teasing me because I was his little sister, and I found plenty of ways to annoy him. When he played Final Fantasy VI though, we held a silent truce. When I look back on this time though, I think he still tried to trick me. I don’t know if he really believed this was the pronunciation, but he told me that chocobos were “chickaboos.” So for the longest time, this is what I called them. I still remember the day I realized how very wrong that was. I must admit, I felt very silly for saying something so terribly wrong.
We both liked the game for different reasons. He got to enjoy the actual gameplay, and I enjoyed seeing the chocobos and the moogles. The music was pleasing to my ears. The main protagonist, Terra, had green hair, and that was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen. As time went on, I paid more attention to what was actually happening in the game. The story intrigued me, so I kept watching. When the time came for me to finally play the game on my own, I knew the storyline like the back of my hand.
The game stayed with me even when I wasn’t inside the house watching the action happen. I would go outside and play “superheroes” with my friend Eddy and I would pretend to be the girl with the green hair. I would inform him of Kefka, a major threat to the planet, and we would go fight some evil. When I was alone in my room, the thought of a moogle would keep me company. I wished Shadow’s dog, Interceptor, was my own pet. He would trust no one but me, unless Relm came along. Then we could have all been best friends.
Even though I practically memorized the game before actually playing it, it was still exciting when I first played it when it came out for the Playstation. This game filled me in on the whole reason why Final Fantasy games are so popular. The plot was well thought out, the game play was fun, and the characters had personalities. To this day, I still believe that this is the best Final Fantasy game that has been made, though I must admit that I’m thoroughly enjoying Final Fantasy XIII. I don’t need all the fancy graphics and the complex game play. Give me my turn-based fighting system and my Esper summons and I’m set for some fun times.
Both my brother and I have taken our separate paths in life. Once I went into high school, we grew apart. To this day we still aren’t very close. I’m close to graduating from college and in May I’m moving into my first apartment 400 miles away from home. The day will come though when my brother and I will reconnect. Final Fantasy VI brought us together once, and I’m sure it will have the power to bring us together again in the future.
By Heather Aug

18 April 2010

Chrono Cross – Playstation

I clearly remember the thrill of it. I had my own money, and I was buying my first video game for myself. I worked hard for this moment. I set the table for dinner, cleaned my room, and did other chores that are expected of a twelve year old. As I browsed the shelves for the perfect choice, Chrono Cross caught my eye.
Since “Chrono” was in the title, I figured it was related to the game Chrono Trigger, which was another game I loved. That fact gave me high hopes for this game, so without second-guessing my choice I brought it to the counter and paid. Little did I know that I was buying the game that would have the strongest impression on me and would still be my favorite game today.
The game starts with action and a scene that leaves the player wanting more. You learn right away how to battle and a future goal of the hero and his friends. After the sinister scene of a future murder, the player discovers that it was all a dream. The hero then awakens to his mother calling to him, exactly like how the game Chrono Trigger begins. That was also a good sign that I was in for a great gaming experience.
I fell in love with the hero, Serge, right away even though he was a silent character. The game barely began, and you were getting some of his story. A little old lady reminds you why you have a fear of cats, and you learn of a fond friendship between Serge and his childhood playmate, Leena. I absolutely hate when a gamer does not get to know the characters he/she controls for so many hours. I knew that I would befriend many intriguing characters just by talking to the villagers in the first town.
Everything about the beginning of this game made me glad I bought it. Serge’s hometown, Arni, blew my mind. The music was calming and inviting and the town itself was beautiful. I wished that I grew up in such a quaint, little place. When you go to the docks of the town, you see a vast deep blue sea that spreads over many other breathtaking sights. It made me look forward to visiting the other areas of the El Nido archipelago. I still prefer the sight of this game to the recent ones that have much better graphics. The colors were so vibrant, everything in that game was pleasing to the eyes. Even things that were meant to be ugly had a beauty to it that is hard to find in many other games. You can tell that the creators of this game cared about what the product of their time and talent would be.
I was also introduced to my favorite video game character of all time, Kid, as well. She was feisty and full of life, and added a glee to all the different situations of the game. The first time she told an enemy that she would “kick your arse so hard, you’ll kiss the moons,” I was glad she was on my team. Without Kid, this game would not be what it is. Her involvement is a big part of what makes me replay this game over and over again. I was heartbroken when the beginning scene of this game came true, and Kid was taken away from Serge and I.
The story of this game kept me interested and always wanting to know more. It was complex, and it made the player actually have to think about the events that were occurring. If a story is bad, I will not enjoy the game. I’ll suffer through it and regret wasting my time on it. With Chrono Cross, I had no regrets. The themes were deep and meaningful. The game brings up the importance of choice, and the “what ifs” that everyone wonders if they chose differently in a part of their life. The game even brings up the issues of race and prejudice. Granted it was demi humans that were suffering instead of people of different colors, but it still reminds the player of the behavior of people today. You will never get bored of this story. To this day, ten years later, I still learn something new about the plot every time I replay the game.
The game itself wasn’t enough for me. I ended up taking the soundtrack from my brother. None of the music bothered me in this game. Usually, I’ll like a few songs from the game and not really care for the others, but it was different in Chrono Cross. I listen to this soundtrack when I do homework. It helps me think straight. Even my dad found a song in this game that he loved, and he will play his bass guitar to it. He was pleased to see me playing this game during my last Spring Break when I was home. He didn’t even play the game and he still found something to enjoy about it.
I’ve played plenty of great games, but I still prefer Chrono Cross over all the others. A few weeks ago I thought that my game wasn’t working anymore, and I was genuinely upset. Turns out my PS2 is just starting to reject original Playstation games, but I can handle that. I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a proper funeral for those discs when they stop working. It will be a sad day. Until then though, I will cherish every moment of the game and reluctantly buy a new copy when it does stop working.
By Heather Aug

17 April 2010

Pro Wrestling - NES

Not only do I write for this blog, but I read it too. Yes, it's true. I'm always interested in reading what others have to say about their memorable moments in video games and how they compare to my thoughts. Recently I had the pleasure of reading an essay from a buddy of mine, Victor Alvarez. I'm sure you have heard of him and quite possibly even read his work. He's quite good and has a way with words. So I woke up before work the other morning and pulled up the blog he had just written. In little time did I realize that I was the primary focus. I was shocked. In no way did I think I would be waking up to the kind words from Victor expressing his feelings towards myself and my new fiancé. I was flattered. I quickly called my girl and told her to read the blog that morning because it was about us. It really made both of our days. It also reminded me what a lucky guy I am. I have a beautiful fiancé, a daughter who is the light of my life, a loving family and great friends. What more could a guy ask for? Right after that a funny thing happened. I began to think about my life growing up. There was a time where I could never have imagined having a girlfriend, a family of my own or even talk to a girl.
You see, growing up I was the trademark overweight kid that use to get teased all the time in school. I hated school. Kids were mean, and they still are if you're not what they consider cool or popular. I was a geek. We're talking from way back to third grade until early high school. I was a chubby, quiet, glasses-wearing geek who played video games. Not only did I play video games but I loved comics, Dungeon & Dragons and anything else that you could think of that would put me on the other side of the spectrum as far as girls were concerned. I would come home from school and do my homework - I was a good student - and then I would play my video games. I had many different systems as generations changed ranging from Atari, Commodore 64, the NES and onward. Probably one of the most highly played games for myself was Pro Wrestling on the NES. Oh, I didn't tell you, I loved professional wrestling. I could never get enough of it. The problem with that was that there was never really any good games (if at all) that captured the body slamming love I had for wrestling. I don't know why I love wrestling so much but I did. A fat kid watching all these big muscular guys beating on each other and wishing I looked like any of them. Of course, one of my idols was the immortal Hulk Hogan. He was everything. I said my prayers, took my vitamins and each day I still woke up as the fat kid that people picked on. But I had my video games and that made me happy.
When I bought my NES, besides Super Mario Brothers, I ran out and bought Pro Wrestling. It was amazing. It was so life-like. There were only about five wrestlers you could choose from but each of them were unique and that was so huge for me. Each wrestler had a finishing move just like the gladiators I watched in the ring and I would make my way up the rankings for a shot for the championship belt. Man, did I play that game a lot. It even had a referee. That was unheard of for any wrestling game. The graphics were superb and it even came equipped with all of the pro wrestling rules and regulations. I do remember one of my favorite wrestlers was Starman.
Starman was the equivalent to one of today's high flying superstars. He could soar off the top rope, fly across the ring and was lightning fast. He was the man who was going to make me a champion. I remember playing for hours on end until I finally defeated King Slender for the VWA Championship of the World. What an accomplishment. I did it! But it wasn't even close to over. The game was so great that it allowed me to defend my title. I took on all takers. I was a people's champion; no one would be refused. So as I battled opponent after opponent I retained my title. I was a true champion until it happened; I had to wrestle The Great Puma. The Great Puma was the champion of the Video Wrestling Federation. This was the real deal and I wasn't about to disappoint my fans. If you have never picked up Pro Wrestling on the NES - and I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't -the Great Puma is one of the toughest bosses in quite possibly the history of NES games. I'm not kidding you. He was awful, mean and nasty. I'll be honest, I couldn't beat him straight up. I had to go for the count out. I know it's not the way of a true champion but it's the only way I could beat him; and I did it. I took him outside the ring and I pounded on him. I pounded on him just enough that he was down and then I quickly rolled back into the ring before the 10 count and got the cheap victory. Ok, for anyone who knows professional wrestling you can't win the title on a count out, but hey, it's the NES.
The bottom line is that I loved that game and that's all that mattered to me. Looking back, at that time and long after I never dreamed I would find a girl who would ever be interested in me. Why would they? I was the walking definition of any geek in any 80s movie trying to build their own girl because they couldn't get one. It looked like it was me and my video games forever, but you know what? Things change. Boy, do they change. Everything I thought was going to be reality couldn't have been farther from the truth. I found one of the most beautiful girls ever and she loves me. I questioned her thought process on this but she said she was serious so who was I to argue. I'm 6'4" tall, about 250lbs and ironically no one picks on me anymore. Maybe saying my prayers and taking my vitamins paid off? Either way, I'm one of the happiest guys in the world. I'm still a geek and that will never change but it's funny to look back on how things were and how they are today. So did I really need Victor to write a blog about me to remind me how lucky of a guy I was? No, not even close. But it did give me a great excuse to write about a game that I loved growing up and a girl who I love even more.
By Stephen O'Blenis

16 April 2010

Shaq Fu - SNES, Genesis

There are video games and then there are VIDEO GAMES. Some of them just transcend an entire generation of gamers. Street Fighter is one of those titles. For some reason people flock to it as if it were the Holy Grail of fighting games. On the other side of the coin though sits a little gem known as Shaq Fu. While all the cool kids were over hanging out at the arcade showing off their Street Fighter skills, I was kicking anyone’s ass who would throw down with me in Shaq Fu.
Yes, Shaq Fu is a classic. It maintains a special place in my heart because I never saw the lore of Street Fighter, but Shaq was a different story. I loved the way the man played his chosen profession of basketball (since his days at LSU) and the way he capitalized on this to pursue his other passions. I think he gets a bad rap for milking things, but really, he has such genuine enthusiasm for everything he does. I’ll watch his movies, listen to his music, he even introduced me to one of the greatest culinary advancements during my lifetime – The Double Decker Taco (seriously, has there been a better food invention in the past 20 years?!). So the least I could do was check out his video game. And it wasn’t bad.
I may take some heat for this, but my main takeaway from Street Fighter is the d-pad/joystick + button combos, and, you know what, Shaq Fu has them too! That was enough for me. I’m all for the underdog. I was in college when Shaq Fu came out so there was always non-stop gaming going on in our dorm. The Shaq Fu challenge
consumed months of ‘study’ time for us.
It was absolute fun and Shaq was a character everyone either loved or hated. Some of his in-game adversaries were a bit strange but at the end of the day they all packed a little something special so you could easily have a favorite. And the thing was the game was easy to pick up and play and with a little time you could find some
glitches to exploit and strategies to use.
So when I was thinking about what games really made an impression on me, about what I’ve personally played and its impact, Shaq Fu was one of the first to come to mind. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but it was an iconic game for me. Prior to that only a few fighting games really stood out (like Killer Instinct) but due to time and circumstances Shaq Fu happened when there were always lots of people around and when there was nothing we’d rather be doing (for the most part). And I know my fellow floor mates all felt the same way.
What does this really say about the game? Not too much I suppose. But it definitely proves that regardless of how technically good a game may be, it can still be an absolute blast – in those days it came down to how much fun can you make it. Shaq Fu was the ultimate in cashing in by wrapping a persona around an established gameplay mechanics but for me, it was something more. It occupied months in my SNES and great memories and, at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing in the world. Long live Shaq Fu!
By Rob Fleischer

15 April 2010

Super Star Wars – SNES

My favorite holiday has to be Christmas. I just love the feeling of the season, the lights, the music and just being together as family. When I was younger I would always find a new video game and a big box of Swedish fish for myself under the tree. It was so exciting. It was a time where we would open all our presents and I would search for that special shaped box and would just tear into it. I usually asked for a specific game for Christmas and the anticipation of that morning would kill me. It seemed like forever and as far as I was concerned Christmas Eve was the longest day ever. One of the things that made it a special day was that I knew after our big dinner all my friends would come over to my house and we would play for hours on end. It was a tradition. My house always seemed to be the place everyone wanted to hang out. It was just a fun and relaxing place. My friends loved my parents and my parents didn't mind everyone piling over during the holiday. It just made the day even better with a household full of people.
There is one specific Christmas that I remember very well. It was 1992 and I asked for Super Star Wars for my Super Nintendo. At the time, this was a highly anticipated title for the system and for myself. I really wanted this game. The thing you have to realize is that I was a geek and I loved games; ok, I still am so when I asked for Super Star Wars for Christmas I had really hopes that I would wake up Christmas morning and have the opportunity to begin my Jedi training. My parents would always tease me and tell me that they didn't know if I would get the game or maybe they couldn't find it just to push me over the edge. That was just wrong and I didn't find it funny but it just made Christmas morning even more exciting when I finally found the package under the tree. I tore open the wrapping paper as my eyes opened wide and I just stared at that black box with Luke, Han and Leia on the cover. It felt like I waited forever for this moment. I couldn't wait to run to my room and pop it in the system and fire it up but before I did that I had to find my box of Swedish fish. Traditionally I would find it in my stocking but sometimes I would score the really big box and it would be wrapped somewhere underneath the tree.
Then the time came when I finally got to go to my room and play. Wow. The game was amazing; it was everything I expected. This was the first time that you were able to play as Luke, Han and even Chewy. You couldn't do this in any other Star Wars game so this was something special. Oh, and if you haven't figured it out I'm a huge Star Wars fan so it didn't get much better than this. I had to foil the plans of an evil empire and that was exactly what I was going to do. Normally I would last about an hour if I was lucky before I picked up the phone and called my friends and tell them that I got the game. The graphics, the sound, the characters - it was everything straight from my favorite movie and I couldn't wait to share it with everyone. When I called my friends, the first thing I would ask is what time were they coming by because I knew we would be playing late into the night.
Even now I still remember jumping around as Luke Skywalker on a huge sandcrawler and working my way to the top in hopes to find C3P0 and R2D2. These were the droids I was looking for! I started out with my blaster taking Jawas out along the way leaping from conveyor belt to conveyor. It was a while before I could finally use my lightsaber and that's when things really picked up. Nothing was cooler than doing somersaults in the air with my lightsaber and landing on a helpless Jawa. Impressive, most impressive. I played this game for hours and I enjoyed every minute of it. It took some time to make my way to certain points in the game that allowed me to play as the other characters. I have to be honest, I couldn't wait to play as Chewbacca. This was the first game that ever allowed you to play as the famous Wookie and I wanted to shoot his crossbow more than anything. When I finally made it to the cantina in Mos Eisley my dream finally came true. I was Chewbecca. He may have been slower than Luke and Han but he was big and he meant business. His crossbow was awesome. I made my way threw the cantina letting out the occasional howl as I made my way to the Falcon before the Empire found me. She was the fastest ship in the galaxy, ever heard of her?
By this time my friends had finally showed up and we piled on my bed and began to play. We past the controller around so everyone had a chance to experience the goodness but it was really hard to give up your turn. This game was awesome but as unfortunate as it was not to be able to play it gave us the opportunity to head out to the kitchen to the candy dish and grab a handful of Swedish fish. Then we rushed back to the bedroom to make sure we didn't miss anything during the game and that we didn't drop and fish along the way. This is what gaming was all about. Old school gaming that raised the bar of video games to something that had never been experienced before. I loved it and when it was time for my friends to leave I stayed up and continued playing by myself. It was a perfect day.
Time really goes by so fast. I remember this day so well it really seems like it was yesterday but unfortunately that isn't true. I'm 36 years old now and I have a beautiful 8 year old daughter who makes Christmas a whole new experience for me. Those were the times that I look back on and remember how easy life seemed to be. Christmas was a special time in my house - and still is today. It wasn't because of the gifts or the food but because of the fond memories of my friends and family and how we all treated each other. It was a great way to grow up. Christmas is different now that I have my daughter and it's special in a whole new way but the funny thing is that even now when I look under the tree I find a video game and a box of Swedish fish. Thanks, mom and dad.
By Stephen O'Blenis

14 April 2010

Chrono Trigger - SNES

There’s been at least a couple of times in this blog I’ve written about a guy named Joe Q. The “Q” is short for Quattrucci and “Joe” is short for Joseph. Among those who know Joe, almost any would agree that he can be loud and like most of us, occasionally obnoxious.
He’s also a complete and total, one-in-a-million kind of character. I’ll put it this way: A lot of people out there know Jamie Silva, a Riverside native who took the Townie football team to a state championship before having a fantastic athletic career at Boston College. Today, he plays for the Indianapolis Colts. I never knew Jamie that well, we played on a couple youth sports teams together when we were young, but I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about him and from all reports he is one of the most revered Townies in recent memory.
Before he played in The Super Bowl, however, Jamie was Prom King runner-up his senior year of high school. The winner? Joe Q.
More important than any of this, however, Joe Q is one of the most loyal people you will ever meet and one of the best friends a guy like me could ever ask for. We first met when I was 12 or 13, I don’t remember, but I was young. His grandmother (the late, famous and absolutely fantastic ‘Mamar’) and aunt had moved in next door to us a few months earlier.
For a couple days a week, Joe Q would spend the afternoons at his grandma’s until his mom picked him up from work. We both liked basketball and video games. We also both liked Little Caesar’s pizza.
We hit it off instantly.
For the remainder of my adolescent years there were few people, if any, I was closer to than Joe Q. Though he would only come by the neighborhood a couple times a week during the school year, he was around every day in the summer, long before either of us had jobs or other responsibilities. We played plenty of basketball down at “The Gully,” and we went to two national duckpin bowling championships together, coming in second one year as a doubles team.
For the record, Joe Q was a much, much better bowler than I.
Between all of this, we played a lot of Chrono Trigger. For those who don’t know, Chrono Trigger was an RPG released for Super Nintendo in the late 90s. The game has since developed an extremely devout cult following due in no small part to the fact it was incredibly well made. Just think about this: Chrono Trigger was a SNES game that had more than 10 different endings.
Fallout 3 can’t even say that.
I can’t tell you how many times Joe Q and I beat the game together. I don’t think we saw every ending, but we saw a whole lot of ‘em. We would spend hours going through the game time and time again, drinking Fresca and laughing about a whole series of inside jokes that wouldn’t make sense to anyone except us no matter how I tried explaining it. (If Joe Q happens to be reading this though, I have one word – Frog.)
Anyway, around our freshmen years of college, Joe Q and I had a brief falling out over the stupidest thing in the world (a girl) but that’s long behind both of us. Nowadays, I see Joe Q once in a blue moon, usually stopping by next door (his mom and his aunt live there now, two wonderful people who are good friends to my entire family) or at the occasional function, like a graduation party.
Maybe it’s odd, maybe it’s not, but it’s never awkward to see Joe Q. I think when you spend the kind of time together at the ages we were, it doesn’t matter how long you go without seeing each other, you pick up where you left off. Like riding a bike or something.
Whenever we do see each other, we go over work schedules and try a find a day we could get together for a drink. We usually leave things with an “I’ll call you Wednesday” or “Next week looks good,” then Wednesday or next week comes and the phone doesn’t ring on either end because there are jobs and girlfriends and all the other things that make adult-life different from childhood.
I may not see Joe Q as much as most other people in my life, but he’s a great guy and I know that no matter what type of path this life leads me down, there will always be those days every so often where me and my old friend get to kick back for a few minutes and remember kicking the crap out of Lavos with Luminaire.
By George Morse

13 April 2010

House of the Dead 2 - WII

Stone Cold Steve O'Blenis is everything you could want in a friend.
Big enough to handle himself if we get into a bar fight.
He's a good guy trying to make his way in the world while raising a great daughter and trying his best to enjoy the things he enjoyed as a child: Star Wars, professional wrestling, sports and video games. It's no surprise he and I became fast friends when we worked together at the same newspaper more than 10 years ago. Back then he had a fiance and I had a rotating door situation with women, which is to say I had nothing and no one. The fiance became a wife who became an ex-wife. Out of this relationship he got a fine daughter and a clear head. He spent the next few years of his life working hard, getting to know his little girl and, I believe, getting to know himself again. And at the right time, when he least expected it, a girl named Diane walked into his life.
I met Diane one night and liked her immediately. She's a good girl with a good heart who isn't afraid to be generous and caring to anyone. She's like Steve: Honest, solid, and extremely good looking. (She really is. Steve aint so bad himself.)
So I was relieved when he said he was going to marry her. Part of me thought the big guy got burned too bad to go back. It happens. But he's a strong dude and she's the right woman and I couldn't be happier for him.
And this is what we talk about these days when we finally carve out some time for cocktails at the local pizza joint down the street. Last night we celebrated his upcoming marriage and did a few shots of tequila. We ended the night by watching the Hulk Hogan scene in Rocky III and then blasting some zombies in House of the Dead 2. For all the press the Wii gets for being a party games machine, few of my friends are interested in anything more than bowling or light gun games. Bowling is good enough to warrant buying the system in the first place. When you play, you might as well be in a bowling alley. You've got beers and a couch and everyone gets up and takes their turn and then cheers for the next guy. It's social.
Demented and said, but social. (With apologies to John Hughes.)
House of the Dead 2 - and all quality light gun games for that matter - offer the perfect mindless backdrop for two grown men to talk about their love of certain women and Hulk Hogan. The zombies keep coming - if you're good enough, because the game is hard - and the violence and story are so ridiculous that you feel compelled to either shout at the screen or lay back and ignore it while you discuss something important.
And that's just what we did.
Big Steve and I may not get as many Monday night play dates as we do now once he gets married, but I know I'll cherish them all just the same.
Good luck, brother.
By Victor Paul Alvarez

12 April 2010

Jet Set Radio - Xbox

In Jonathan Franzen's collection of essays, "How to be Alone," the author who gained fame for shunning Oprah with his superb novel "The Corrections" talks a lot less about being alone than his titles suggests. I already knew how to be alone, but I figured a collection of essays on the subject would be a good read anyway. Plus, I dug the his other work.
He touches on the sex-advice industry and supermax prisons, among other things. When I read this collection I was A) not alone; B) doing just fine sexually, thank you; and C) not doing anything that would land me in a supermax prison. (Regular prison, maybe.)
It was 2002 and my wife (then girlfriend) and I were living in Philadelphia. We moved there from Baltimore after a brief and passionate courtship so she could pursue graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania. I left behind a profitable gig tending bar, my family and most of my friends. I was in love and feared nothing. I assumed I'd find a decent bar job quickly.
That didn't happen.
The first gig I found was at an Outback Steakhouse knock-off where they train you for every front-of-the-house position before they let you behind the bar. It was the worst 3 weeks of my life. I wore a uniform and was trained by a nice kid whose mom picked him up every day. The food was lousy, the atmosphere disgusting and the cleanliness was questionable. I once worked a joint in Baltimore where every cook behind the line was on work release from prison. Those guys were spotless and worked hard. These hacks in Philly sent plates out of the kitchen with bugs in the rice and burned the bacon nearly every time.
Meanwhile, my wife spent her days walking the halls of knowledge in one of the world's greatest cities. She worked hard and made friends. An academic at heart, she loved it.
I struggled.
With $18 in tip money in my pocket I would hit the cheapest dive bar I could find for a few drafts before coming home, defeated. Annie was often asleep by the time I got in the door. I would either read or play a game on the Xbox. When I read, it was Franzen's collection of essays. Despite the love I had for my wife, I felt as alone as ever. Franzen offered nothing.
The Xbox, on the other hand, was just the mind-candy I needed to forget about the fact that I was a grown man with a writing career behind him who was currently upselling diners on fried onion appetizers in the world's worst chain restaurant.
This is when I turned to Jet Set Radio. Imagine a cell-shaded city in the future where odd-looking characters on Rollerblades tear through the landscape spreading counter-propaganda and graffiti of their own design. The game was beautifully rendered – the world it conjured as unique as Blade Runner and as imaginative as Oz. Easy to play, hard to master (the hallmark of gaming greatness) Jet Set Radio took me out of the hellhole for long enough for me to remember I was not defined by the place that issued me a paycheck. I was a young man in love who had the opportunity to write freely, meet new people and explore a new city. I eventually did all of those things, and have come to look back on my time in Philadelphia as a second college experience of learning and good times. (It helped that I soon got a better job in a better bar.)
Most of the entries in this blog are of fond memories of the good times in our lives and the games that helped to shape them. Jet Set Radio was a fine game that came to me in a terrible time. When I play it now, I remember everything I gave up in that time and all the wonderful blessings I've received since.
By Victor Paul Alvarez