Monday, April 30, 2007

Beaten : Super Paper Mario

I finished Super Paper Mario for the Wii the other night. The game took me roughly 23 hours to beat the final boss and save the worlds. Like the previous Paper Mario game I had beaten, the Thousand Year Door for the Gamecube, Super Paper Mario allows the player to continue playing after the world is saved. I can still gain levels, collect cards, buy and use treasure maps, and so on.

One thing I tried to complete after finishing the main game was the pit, also seen in the previous Paper Mario, an endurance run of 100 levels with no saves. Every tenth level has a card, and sometimes a salesman who sells items to keep you going. I ran out of life in the sixties and everything I had done so far was lost.

I'm not sure if I will continue with Super Paper Mario much more. I still have a lot to do in The Legend of Zelda : Twilight Princess, which I have not played since getting Super Paper Mario. I needed a break, and Super Paper Mario was perfect for this purpose. With no other Wii games on the immediate horizon that I really want, it's good to know that I still have lots to do in Super Paper Mario when I have the time.

But first, back to Zelda. I think I left off in some sort of sky - dungeon.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Birth of The Video Game Fanboy

These days it's all Nintendo this and Sony that and XBox Live and World of Warcraft, and a bunch of people on the internet going round and round trying to justify their own personal tastes and interests the only way they know how - by attacking those of other gamers. These are the fanboys, who exist in videogaming just as they have in comic books and other geeky genres.

But where did the videogame fanboy first emerge? Were there Fairchild Channel F owners mocking those who owned RCA Studio 2 consoles? No, it came later, when videogames reached a wider audience and there was more money to be made. Specifically, when Atari was king and Mattel wanted to take them down with some superior hardware and advertising featuring renaissance man George Plimpton.

Plimpton appeared in television and magazine ads showing the much better graphics of the Intellivision side-by-side against Atari. And he was right, the Intellivision version of baseball looked a lot better. However, it was silly - Atari had a lot of clear advantages at the time that Intellivision couldn't touch.

One such ad appeared in the March 1982 issue of Electronic Games magazine, in a two-page center spread. My good friend John Henry took offense and edited the ad a bit:

It says "Intellivision gives head. Get an Atari #1". There is also some visible armpit odor there. This was the first expression of videogame fanboyism I ever witnessed. John was one of three friends who owned Ataris, while I had an Odyssey. I suspect, behind my back, they expressed similar contempt for the Odyssey even though I had to admit Atari was superior and I wished that I had one, too. At least they didn't write it in any of my magazines.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Back From Amish Country, Back on eBay

Monique and I spent a very relaxing weekend in Berlin, Ohio, staying at an amazing bed and breakfast called the Lamplight Inn. We got to see the local shops and sights and get away from the usual city stresses. She got me a digital camera for my birthday, and also Wii Play for the Wii (more on that in an upcoming entry). Here's some pictures I took with the camera:

Back in town Sunday afternoon, I spent a few hours getting some eBay auctions up. I have 5 Commodore 64 games and 3 Commodore Vic 20 games up to start out. A half hour into it, Space Taxi has one watcher and Miner 2049er has three. This is a good sign.
Check out all my auctions at the link to the right.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Learning To Let Go

I haven't had much free time to update lately, due to real life accellerating to December - level chaos. I just worked 15 out of the last 17 days, with one of the days off being Easter (dinner with fiancee' and her mom), and the other bringing a trip to my hometown to pick through family items that I wanted.

Long story short - my mother passed away back in 2003, and my father has been living alone in the home my family has lived in since 1975. Dad has a lady friend - a wonderful woman who has also lost her spouse in recent years - and has decided to sell the house and move in with her. Hence, he is dividing the items that made that house our home among myself, my siblings, and my niece.

When I was up there, some of the items were already gone, and the impact of what he was doing really sunk in. Furniture, decorative items, books - all these items were pieces of my past, and as long as Dad was living there with them, they existed as sort of a museum of my own past. Seeing them gone and being divided up made me realize, once and for all, that you can never go back. All you have are memories.

So I took my few pieces of that museum and now they decorate my apartment. They don't make me sad, but rather give me a sense of continuity. Now these items are a part of the home my fiancee' and I are building together, a link to the past in a time when we are enjoying the present and creating a future together.

So, here's the part that connects this all to videogames. Thanks for your patience.

As someone who once collected and kept every game and system he ever bought, letting go has been hard. In 2005 and 2006 I decided to finally let go of some of that collection, making a nice sum on eBay as a result. Testing each old game and reliving the memories of when it was new and cool was the toughest part. I would often pause just before I dropped the packages I was shipping into the slot at the post office and sigh.

As hard as it was, though, I felt good about it. I had just accumulated too much and was reaching a point where it was inconvenient to try to store it all in my apartment, and where I simply would never have time to really enjoy all those games again.

So I sold off my old pong consoles, and systems and software for RCA Studio 2, Fairchild Channel F, Astrocade, Atari 2600, Intellivision, Colecovision, Atari 5200, NES, Sega Master System, Atari 7800, Turbografx 16, Sega Genesis / CD, SNES, Atari Jaguar, Sega Saturn, Playstation, and N64. I also sold hundreds of videogame magazines and other items such as controllers.

At the time, I declared some things sacrosanct : My Odyssey 2 collection, my twin Vectrex units, my Commodore VIC 20 and my Commodore 64 and its vast library of games. Also, my nearly-complete run of the original Electronic Games magazine from the 1980s. These items, I decided, I would never sell.

At last we come to the core of this essay. Again, thanks for your indulgence as I rambled on back there. I am now ready to let go of all but a few pieces of my videogame past. All I'm going to keep are a few favorite old school handhelds, one of my Vectrex units and its software, the GameBoy / GameBoy Advance stuff, and the current generation stuff.

I set up my Commodore again months ago, but other than the few Sword of Fargoal sessions I blogged about, I simply haven't had the time to enjoy it. The classics are great games, and a BIG part of my past, but I really can't bring myself to sit down for hours with Bard's Tale or Wasteland when the latest Wii titles are beckoning.

It will break my heart, to a degree, to let them all go, but the time has come. Plus, when I see a copy of Space Taxi going for over $500, I feel a little better. I have that game complete, too. Cha - ching!

I plan on setting up the first wave of new auctions on Monday. I'll be out of town for the weekend going to a nice country bed and breakfast with my fiancee' to get away from it all and clear my head.

Oh, I'm also letting go of any hope of returning to Ultima Online or its community. Even with the upcoming Kingdom Reborn client upgrade, it's another classic case of something you can never go back to. Like my old family home, like the years I spent gaming on the Commodore 64, it's a era of my past that is not coming back. Time to look forward now.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Super Paper Mario

To be honest, I was really done with the standard 2D side scrolling platformer games after Super Mario 3 for the NES. To me, it was the final word on the genre. Sure, I enjoyed the hell out of Super Mario World for the SNES, and more recently New Super Mario Brothers on the DS, but neither of these titles represented any sort of leap forward.

Today, I found out that that dormant genre still had a lot of potential, and that potnetial is realized in Super Paper Mario for the Wii. Unlike the previous Paper Mario games, the only one of which I had played previously being Paper Mario : The Thousand Year Door on the Gamecube, Super Paper Mario merges the classic side - scrolling gameplay of those previous Mario games with RPG elements from the Paper Mario series, and tosses them in a blender with a remarkable 2D to 3D switching mechanism.

Combat is no longer turn-based, which is an improvement in my opinion. It occurs just like any classic Mario game, with jumping on opponents being the main form of attack. There are many power-up items that you can pick up or buy in shops that can also be used in combat, although accessing them means digging through some menus. I wish they were a little easier to access.

Going back and forth from 2D to 3D is an amazing experience and essential to discovering all sorts of weird secrets and paths forward. The group of blocks in 2D might reveal a hidden pipe behind them when switched to 3D. Those rotating flame things from previous Mario games that required precise timing to jump past can now be avoided entirely by switching to 3D.

In about two hours of play tonight I made it past the first boss, and of course the battle required switching between 2D and 3D. It was a great battle, but easy to win once I figured out what to do.

The story is standard but the presentation is charming without being syrupy and in many of the scenes that come up, laugh-out-loud humorous. The designers of this game are to be commended not just for thier innovative 2D to 3D design, but their use of the mechanic to poke fun at the whole idea while mesmerizing players with it.

Super Paper Mario is visually stunning with an addictive play mechanic that offers the character development of an RPG, the action of a platformer, and the exploration elements found in both genres. It's so good that I fear that I'm going to blow through it in a few days and be left wanting more.

Monday, April 9, 2007

10 Things I Want For My Nintendo Wii

I'm having a blast with my Nintendo Wii, logging over 40 hours into Zelda as of this writing. However, I'm getting to the point where I'm starting to think "What's next?". Here's 10 things I want for my Wii:

1. Rechargeable Wii Remote controllers. Each Wii Remote requires two AA batteries. The one I got with my Wii in March and the extra one I'd had since Christmas have both used up their stock batteries in about 40 hours of gameplay.

In my house we have a recharging station - a place on the kitchen counter top where there are several outlets nearby and where we keep all our recharging cords. On any given night there will be two cell phones there, a Bluetooth headset, a beard trimmer, a Nintendo DS, and / or a Nintendo GBA. It's the Age of Recharging, yet I'm going to burn through the batteries for my Wii? Come on, Nintendo.

2. TurboGrafx 16 Devil's Crush for the Virtual Console. Alien Crush is okay, but nothing, nothing, compares to the glory of video pinball that is Devil's Crush.

3. A GameBoy / GameBoy Advance / DS Player. So I can put away my Gamecube and free up some space in my living room.

4. Online Play without Friend Codes. I don't have many friends. None of them have a Wii. Only one other person I know in real life has one - a co-worker who I rarely see because we work different hours - and so far we have yet to exchange friend codes.

I'm not even sure how it works anyway. Do we exchange codes and then input the numbers into our Wiis and then are able to play Wii Sports against each other? My point is, Nintendo needs to make some sort of accessable online component like that XBox Live stuff I keep hearing about.

5. Wii Mario Kart with an easily - accessable online component and NO SNAKING. Mario Kart DS owners know what I'm talking about here. Oh, and make the Virtual Console Mario Kart 64 online multiplayer somehow.

6. A Wireless Keyboard Controller so that I don't have to use that point-and-click onscreen keyboard anymore.

7. Wii / DS Interactivity. They both speak Wi-Fi, why not? There should be some innovative gameplay potential there, right?

8. More use for Miis. I made Miis for myself and my fiancee'. We use them in Wii Sports. Now what? There should be some sort of MySpace equivalent for Miis so that all these Wii owners can connect. Or, when they make that Mario Kart for the Wii, use our Miis for the racers. Maybe even Mii Karts, where we also design our own karts! That would rule.

9. A Really Good First Person Shooter. I keep reading bad reviews of the ones released so far - Red Steel, Farcry, Medal of Honor Vanguard. We need a Goldeneye for the Wii, and of course it needs to be online, too.

10. A Modern Castelvania Game. Whip plus Wii Remote sounds like a formula for success to me.

Monday, April 2, 2007

We've Got Movie Sign !

The most hilarious television show ever made - perhaps the funniest thing ever created by humans in the history of comedy - was a show called Mystery Science Theater 3000. It ran for 10 years, from 1989 until its cancellation in 1999. It was the ultimate form of recycling in that they took and old, bad movie and made fun of it while it was showing, turning it into comedy gold.

I got the honor of meeting the show's head writer and star, Michael J. Nelson, back in 2005 after a live sketch show he did at the Shadowbox Cabaret here in Columbus, Ohio. I pleaded with him to bring the show back, since Hollywood was still churning out bad movies at an unprecedented rate. He told me that they can't bring it back because of rights issues, but that there was something very similar in the works with his fromer MST3K buddies in The Film Crew.

Fast forward to recently, when Mr. Nelson hooked up with Rifftrax, where he adds commentary tracks to movies, very similar to MST3K. Here's a sample of their commentary for Star Trek VI:

Spock! Spock! Spock!

Anyway, while this was all good, the real return of MST3K was yet to come. The Film Crew has announced that they are releasing DVDs of riffed movies, all in a very MST3k-ish premise, with entertainment mogul Bob Honcho sending movies to the three of them in their basement to comment on. There will even be sketches, too, just like MST3K. The first movie they are releasing, Hollywood After Dark, is set to come out in July, with three other ones following later this year.

The price is a bit steep - almost twenty dollars an episode - but if their skills are still as sharp as they were before, it'll be worth it. I never thought I'd see the return of MST3K in any form, so for myself and thousands of fans all over the world, this is great news.

Now, if only Joss Whedon would find someone to fund new episodes of Firefly, my life would be complete.

Wii Update

I haven't updated lately becuase I'm enjoying the Nintendo Wii so much. Here's a quick update on what I'm playing:

The Legend of Zelda : Twilight Princess - I've gotten about 26 hours into it so far. I just made it to the desert. As usual, there is a lot of hidden things all over the huge world of Hyrule to find, including bugs and ghosts for collection quests, as seen in previous Zeldas. In fact, while I am enjoying this game immensely, it is very much like Ocarina of Time in many respects. Only the stuff with the wolf form seems very fresh, although the howling part is similar to previous Zelda musical mini-games.

Wii Sports - My fiancee' and I spend a few hours a week playing this. We play bowling and baseball mostly, but last night tried a few holes of golf. The thing I really don't like about baseball is the fact that the game is only three innings. Golf is strange because you don't want to hit the ball as hard as you can - doing so causes a hook or a slice. Perhaps some more time is needed to get used to the controls.

Virtual Console Games - What's cool about the VC games is that the Wii saves your progress when you quit. In Alien Crush, it saves your high scores. In Bonk's Adventure, it allows you to pick up where you leave off. Alien Crush is a pretty good pinball game, and the only reason I got it was because Devil's Crush, its vastly superior successor, wasn't available yet. Still, Alien Crush is good enough for now. Chew Man Fu, the other VC game I got, is also fun. However, my fiancee' and I tried out the kickball mode in it, and it was kind of disappointing.

All in all, the Wii is a lot of fun. I'm starting to get that itch for a new game, though. Something that really shows off what the system is good for. There just don't seem to be that many good titles out for it yet, though.