Sunday, December 28, 2008

My Christmas Loot

I hope everyone had a good gaming Christmas. I sure did. Here's a rundown of what I got:

Metroid Prime 3 : Corruption (Wii) - The final installment in the Metroid Prime series. Long-time readers of this site may remember my frustration with the first game in this series - the bosses were insanely hard, and I never got past the Omega Pirate - but damn, I wanted another first person shooter for the Wii with good controls.

There are reportedly only 2 such shooters for the Wii - this Metroid installment and Medal of Honor Heroes 2, which I'd enjoyed very much last year. With the release date of The Conduit still only listed as "Spring 2009", it was Metroid Prime 3 : Corruption or nothing. I will play as far as I can into Corruption and when it gets too hard, just abandon it. Sounds like a plan!

Okami (Wii) - I played a demo of this game on the Playstation 2 a few years back, and have wanted the Wii version since it came out last spring. I can't wait to get into it.

Castlevania : Dawn of Sorrows (DS) - I've wanted a modern DS Castlevania for some time, and this one certainly fits the bill. Although I've yet to find a whip to use as a weapon, the gameplay is classic, and is mixed in with some great RPG elements. The graphics are superb and the music is epic. The monsters are also well-designed and fun to battle. There's a lot of gameplay here, I suspect.

Castlevania : Portrait of Ruin (DS) - Another one! I'll try this one out after I beat Dawn of Sorrows.

Those first four games were all gifts from my wonderful and understanding wife. Among her gifts from me were two games she wanted - Wario Land : Shake It for the Wii, and Midnight Party Pack for the DS, so I may try those games out, too, when time permits.

The fifth game I got for Christmas was generated from a Gamestop gift card:

Farcry 2 (XBox 360) - An open-world first person shooter with stunning graphics and a huge map to explore. I got an hour or so into it yesterday and was very impressed. The story is cool so far, and the character one plays is sticken with malaria! That's right, you're prone to pass out from time to time as you play. Also, if a gun you picked up from a fallen foe looks rusty, it might just be crap and jam up on you in the middle of a fight!

There's an interesting story about how I acquired Farcry 2 from my local Gamestop. Anyone who went to one of their stores the day after Christmas probably experienced what I did - wall to wall crowds, an obviously overworked and stressed-out staff, and utter chaos everywhere.

I went into the store looking for Farcry 2, and there was no box for it on either the used or new shelves. Without a wandering sales associate to pester about it, I decided to stand in line and take my chances that there were copies behind the register. To their credit, the staff at that store kept things moving along quick, and the line that looked very long translated into a mere ten minute wait for me.

At the register, I asked the clerk about the game, and he looked around behind the counter for it. He failed to find it, and looked on his computer for it too, and it seemed that they were indeed sold out. "What about that copy?", I asked, pointing to a single copy of the game sitting in a stack of other games.

It took him a second to see where I was pointing, but then he took the game from the pile and examined it. There was a small tag attached to the back of it, and he noted "It's being held for someone."

Crestfallen, I began to think if I wanted another game, but before I could finish that thought, the sales associate noted "But he was supposed to be here five hours ago".

"You snooze, you lose", I said.

He agreed, and rang up the game. It got better. The game was on sale for $40, down from its normal $60 price tag. In addition, it was a Gamestop-exclusive pre-order copy with 6 Bonus levels. I thanked the guy behind the counter, hoping that the person who had held the game would never show up and get angry with the staff there.

So, I've gotten five new games for Christmas, which should keep me busy for some time. I'll write full reviews as I delve more deeply into those games.

Beaten in 2008

I'm pretty sure with only a few days left in this year, that I've beaten every game that I'm going to beat. So it's time to look back and see what I've accomplished. I've surprisingly finished more games this year than I normally do, something I suspect is because my gaming habits are changing.

With less time and money to devote to gaming, which I'm sure most middle-aged gamers also experience, I've been buying better games and trying to get the most out of them, rather than buying every new game and skimming through it. It helps that the internet provides an unprecedented level of information about new games these days, with professional and less-than-professional reviews everywhere you look, allowing more cautious purchases than in the past.

So here's what I beat this year:

Super Mario Galaxy (119 Stars) - Wii
Medal of Honor Heroes 2 - Wii
Phoenix Wright : Ace Attorney Justice For All - DS
Phoenix Wright : Ace Attorney Trials and Tribulations - DS
Apollo Justice : Ace Attorney - DS
Bully : Scholarship Edition - Wii
Portal (on The Orange Box) - XBox 360
Call of Duty 4 - XBox 360
Half Life 2 (on The Orange Box) - XBox 360
Half Life 2 Episode 1 (on The Orange Box) - XBox 360
Half Life 2 Episode 2 (on The Orange Box) - XBox 360
Fable 2 - XBox 360
Portal : Still Alive - XBox 360
Grand Theft Auto IV - XBox 360
Dead Space - XBox 360
Left 4 Dead (survived all 4 campaigns) - XBox 360

Some other games that I beat to varying degrees, but the nature of these games makes it hard to define "beaten" : Super Smash Brothers Brawl, Mario Kart Wii, and Boom Blox.

It was a very good year for gaming, and my own perseverance, coupled with great gameplay, made it a more accomplished year than previous ones. Will these changes continue into 2009? Time will tell.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Welcome, Canadians!

I've been interviewed by reporter Christopher Poon for a cool article about middle-aged gamers in the Georgia Straight, "Canada's largest urban weekly", published in Vancouver.

There's a link to this blog in there, so I want to wish a warm welcome to all my Canadian visitors. I hope you enjoy the site. Stick around after Christmas for some year-end articles, including my personal selection for Videogame of the Year.

Thanks to Christopher Poon for the shout-out, and I've got to say - Vancouver looks like one really great city. My wife and I have added it to our list of places to take a vacation as soon as we're out of enough debt.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Goodbye To An Old Friend

I was saddened the other day to learn of the closing of a Toys-R-Us store here in town. There are several locations of that chain here in Columbus, Ohio, but that particular one held some special sentimentality for me. It had been my longest running supplier of videogame software, and I had been purchasing games there for the last six generations, more or less.

I'm from a small town north of Columbus, which had slim pickings in terms of game stores back in the 1980s. So on a road trip to the city on March 28, 1986, I scanned the one part of town I knew for shopping - Morse Road - for software stores, and found that Toys-R-Us.

I was blown away by the sheer selection offered there. They had the games displayed behind glass, with a system where you take a paper ticket to the front to get the game. The game I choose that night was one of the greatest games I had ever played - The Bard's Tale for the Commodore 64. That was the first game I purchased at that store. A few weeks later, I returned on a second road trip (both of these trips were not just for games, but also to party with friends) and got Neutral Zone and another classic game called Sword of Kadash, both again for the C 64.

In late 1986 I moved down to Columbus for good, and continued to build my Commodore 64 collection with more games from that Toys-R-Us store. They always had a selection of the newest games, and obscure titles that I had only seen before in magazines. In addition to the previusly mentioned Sword of Kadash, I picked up the classic Penguin Software games The Crimson Crown and The Quest there, as well as Skyfox 2 : The Cygnus Conflict and Alternate Reality : The City.

After I got my Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989, I picked up games for it at that store. After that, in 1990, I purchased my Turbografx 16 console there, and several games for it. My purchases began to wane after that because of closer locations with more varied product, but I know I got some of my SNES, Genesis, Sega CD, and Playstation 1 games there.

My last videogame purchase at that store was on March 8, 2007, when I got Archer Maclean's 3D Pool for the Game Boy Advance, when I had stopped there to look for a Wii during my Wiiquest. The coolest thing about my last visit there was the sales associate who was kind enough to fill me in on how to get a Wii (show up at any Toys-R-Us early on a Sunday).

So many game stores in my time have come and gone, along with the memories of purchasing great games at those places. I wonder if I'm the only gamer who gets sentiemtnal about those sorts of things.

Oddly enough, the demise of this one Toys-R-Us location makes one of the other ones, the one closest to my current home, the oldest still-existing game store I visit. I've been going to that Toys-R-Us and buying games since August of 1987. Maybe I'll stop there after Christmas and see what's in the clearance bins - for old time's sake.