Archive for May, 2008


My old school gaming wishlist

Just the other day I was talking to a friend of mine about how many hours we lost to the original Mario Kart on the SNES. The conversation obviously devolved into a who-was-better-than-who argument, which of course I won- but not before we brought up an endless list of other games that served as adolescent battlefields. After I got off the phone with a certain smug sense of superiority, I started to wonder when some of these games would resurface on current systems.

Sure, many of those games have been reimagined or “revised” for the newer generation, but how many truly live up to the muse? Think about it. Can Monster Madness really ever replace Zombies Ate My Neighbors? Can Twisted Metal ever really replace Rock’n’Roll Racing? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Monster Madness and nearly every installment of the Twisted Metal series (with special attention paid to Twisted Metal Black. Man that was an awesome game!). But the nostalgia factor alone is more than enough to put the other two games atop my must-play list.

There is still hope, of course. I can sit here and hope that one day, maybe, just maybe Rock’n’Roll Racing, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, and some other old school gems will find their way to Nintendo’s store front. Maybe some Xbox Live Arcade love? PSN download anyone?

So far, I’ve gotten a good dose of old school love. I’ve relived my Gunstar Heroes triumphs, beaten Castlevania: Symphony of the Night numerous times, explored Hyrule’s light and dark realms, blown up ton of Bombermen, and even sheep-bombed a few hundred Worms.

Who knows? If I’m a good gamer, maybe the old school gods will bestow upon me the following titles for download.

  • Star Wars saga
  • Super Mario RPG
  • Chrono Trigger
  • Zombies Ate My Neighbors
  • Rock’n’Roll Racing

Until then, I’ll keep my fingers crossed.



Four.point.two of Five

4.2 Phantasy Star II

I was going to move on to number three, but then I remembered this saucy little cartridge who got her fingers into me and wouldn’t let me go for almost a year.

When Sega ruled the world and the Genesis was as ubiquitous as M.C. Hammer explaining how none of us were worthy of fondling “this” I was in college and had nothing of value save my gaming console and D&D books. I could have gotten along just fine without anything else, up to and including food, as long as my plastic molded master was hooked up to the giant 14″ color TV. (And the D&D books, I needed them to a degree that’s embarassing to recall.)

Into this strange bubble of self-sustaining geekery came Phantasy Star II. My very first RPG of note and the first long-term relationship of depth and constant exploration. With a game. The wiles of that electronic entertainment were many.

Fistfulls of characters to level up. Specialized weapons with specific strategic uses. Huge dungeons, unending monster encounters, and the need to farm mobs for cash in order to afford the best gear. Sensing familar themes? Days upon days were spent with the rounded black controller in my hands, wandering the lands of Mota and delving into its mysteries with my expanding group of adventurers. It was hard to choose between them but we could only be a party of four at a time. I would actually feel bad for a character if I hadn’t had them in the party for a while. They were my friends and I was…going a bit crazy, I suppose, but damn it was fun.

The odd thing is that this love of Phantasy Star II ruined me for RPGs. I was so enamored of her that nothing else could hold up to my ideal. When I found Phantasy Star III I was flush with excitment. But I couldn’t play more than a third of it before it was too painful to continue. They had attempted to improve the mechanics but instead ended up with a hulking mess. In comparison to II’s sleek and polished gameplay, PSIII was the ugly sister with a gladular disorder and club feet.

I was crushed and turned my back on not just Phantasy Star but on all RPGs. Because of PSIII I avoided Final Fantasy. Seriously. I still have only played one installment of that venerable series because my heart belonged to Phantasy Star and it had turned out to be a video-game-genetics dead end.

I have loved again (thank you Shadow Hearts: From the New World) but never as wholly or innocently. I no longer weep tears of sweet remembrance when thinking of my time with Phantasy Star II but I do get misty whenever I see the Genesis logo.


loreology: giants

If you’ve got a memory like an elephant, the old saying goes, then your noggin’s in good shape. Mine, when challenged under the gun, tends to shoot blanks. I’m a research kind of guy, not a living, breathing almanac…. Each week “Loreology” will unravel the mysteries behind something in gaming that I may have known once and completely forgot, or something that I should probably know and cram up into my nearly full brain cavity.

This Week: Big shoes to fill

Yesterday as I read The Hobbit to my kids, I discovered a new creature in Middle-earth. Okay, not exactly new, but it’s been 20-something years since I last read J.R.R. Tolkien’s first masterpiece, and I had forgotten that giants frequented The Hobbit. So when Gandalf, the dwarves and Bilbo rush into a cave to escape hill giants playing bowling boulders, only to end up later that night captured by sneaky goblins, you can blame it on Middle-earth’s tallest residents, not a fearsome downpour as I originally remembered.

Side note: I’ve been playing the Lord of the Rings Online MMO now for over a year. Giants have been kicking my Hunter tail in the wilds outside of Rivendell as long as I’ve learned to string a bow. You don’t mess with those big guys without fellowship backup, so I can vouch for Gandalf and crew that they made a good call that stormy evening, even if it ended in a long series of ill-timed events that saw Bilbo bounced down cave rocks and land in Gollum’s lap.

Stories about giants have been around for as long as David met Goliath, and longer. Whether it’s tales about Jack and the Beanstalk or Paul Bunyan, we have a fascination with creatures of grander stature than ourselves. The word derives from the Greek Gigantes, a group of super-powerful beings that rose up against the Olympian gods and tried to overthrow them. According to legend, the Greek gods buried the defeated Gigantes beneath the earth and their struggles to escape are what cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. In Bulfinch’s Mythology, the ancient giant war against the Roman gods proved formidable and even scared the Olympians into flight, where Apollo became a crow and Bacchus became a goat as they hid in Egypt. In the end, the giants were beaten when Minerva invented thunderbolts for Jupiter to toss down from the heavens.

Ironic, huh, that a little hobbit started me thinking about big giants.


Mario Kart Wii: Ten More Top Tips!

Sure, you’ve gone and bought the Mario Kart Wii Guide, and you’ve figured out the craziest shortcuts for all 32 tracks thanks to the guide’s officially-approved content. You may have also memorized the dozens of tips scattered throughout the strategy guide to help you speed to pole position, or dodge the deadly Blue Shell. But have you driven each course to distraction, and put together a top ten list of tips when you should be writing a guide to Spore? I have, and here goes:

1. Maple Treeway: Everyone knows there’s a shortcut to the right, just after the start. But have you used this to your advantage in online games? Get the Turbo start, then skid through the gap in the fence. When you reach the Item Boxes, you’ll be in last place, and snag a really cool (and powerful) item. Then, as you rejoin at the barrel cannon, you’ll be in first or second position; but with an item you’d usually have at the back of the pack!

2. Turbo Drop: You should already have figured out how to begin every course with a Turbo start (and wheelie if you’re a biker). But make sure you also Turbo after Lakitu drops you back on the track after you fall off. Press Accelerate just before you’re dropped, and you instantly boost back up to speed.

3. Online Course Selection: When you’re choosing a track, don’t pick the “?”; choose the course you’re best at, as this is better than letting your rivals pick the track!

4. Online Course Selection #2: We haven’t checked this as a fact yet, but it appears to work some of the time: When the cursor cycles through each player’s course selection, tap the Accelerate precisely at the time your chosen track is highlighted; there’s a better chance your track is selected; but you’ll need lightning-fast reactions!

5. Points Stealing: Are you playing with a “whale” (a player with a massive points total in the 7000s, 8000s, or 9000s range)? Do you need some masses of points, and quickly? Then choose the shorter, compact tracks like Luigi Circuit. It literally doesn’t matter if you’re an insanely good, or simply moderate gamer; this track favors the newbie, as a veteran can’t get too far ahead.

Luigi Circuit: Victory is more luck than skill-based.


6. Points Keeping: Conversely, if you’ve gathered points up, and don’t want to lose loads of them, make sure your track is long, and features numerous corners, like the GBA or N64 Bowser Castle stages. Yes, you’ll be struck by Blue Shells, but if you speed around corners with expertise, those newbs will never catch you!

N64: Bowser’s Castle: Victory = crazed cornering, and mad skills!


7. Ultimate Defense: When you’re in the lead, you’re the target of shells from the scrubs behind you. So, make sure you keep a Banana or Shell on you, and when you hear the Wiimote alarm of an incoming attack, keep your item behind you, but don’t let it go; let the attacker’s item hit it, while you concentrate on the cornering!

8. Ultimate Defense #2: The second plan to maintain a lead is to utilize as many items as possible. Between the set of Item Boxes you just passed through, and the set you’re approaching, figure out the best place to leave the item you picked up; usually around a blind corner or in among the Item Boxes.

9. POW Player: The bane of your existence is the POW Block and the Blue Shell, and it’s very tricky to avoid them. However, if you can be in the air when a POW Block detonates, you won’t lose speed; so drive up a ramp, or “bounce” just at the right time!

10. Blue Shell Avoidance: You can’t, most of the time. However, if you’re in the lead, cycle through items, until you’re given a Mushroom. This is the only way to outfox a blue shell; make a Mushroom Turbo the millisecond before the Blue Shell dives into your vehicle, and you’ll avoid it. This works infrequently, but it can make the difference between 1st and last!


Next week: We complete our Mario Kart Wii blog with the third and final part of our visit to Nintendo.  





dropped loot

Over the last week I’ve been digging deeper into the Norse-inspired world of Too Human, familiarizing myself with the gameplay and character classes. While the story is compelling and the action is incredibly addictive, for some reason I’ve been totally transfixed by the equipment menu. In fact, I think I’m spending as much time tweaking my character as I am carving through swarms of mechanical goblins, trolls, and elves. Almost every time a new piece of loot is dropped, I quickly access the equipment screen to see how it may benefit my character. This isn’t a first. I found myself doing the same thing in games like WoW and Mass Effect. But this obsession with character customization and maximizing efficiency goes back much further. Perhaps it was Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy I (on the NES) where I got my first taste of this. Then Diablo came along and I was hooked for good.

Loot was a very precious commodity in the treacherous dungeons below the quaint (and somewhat creepy) village of Tristam, especially when playing on While working on the Diablo guide (one of my earliest Prima projects) I was part of a 4-man team charged with conducting nightly raids. Having teammates was essential too, because if you died, you dropped all your equipment…very, very brutal. So we promised to pick-up the gear of our fallen comrades and return it to them once they were resurrected topside. But on one unfortunate night our warrior (Deth) decided to go solo, logging in before our scheduled start time. Without the support of Thudgun, Hogarth, and Xena (my awesome rogue), Deth was quickly overwhelmed by some hellish horde…the specifics of his tragic demise were never discussed and remain a mystery to this day. Suddenly Deth was staring down at his lifeless body. But even more alarming was the sight of his equipment (including several unique items) scattered across the dungeon floor with nobody around to retrieve it for him. This called for an urgent rescue mission, but the logistics weren’t easy. He couldn’t call us because his modem was using the phone line and if he disconnected everything would be lost; and in 1997 cell phones weren’t as ubiquitous as they are now. So he did the next best thing. He grabbed his car keys and drove to the nearest phone booth…in the rain! One by one he dialed our numbers, but alas, nobody was home. Accepting his fate, he eventually returned home and logged off, instantly deleting all of his hard-earned equipment from the game world. We eventually helped Deth build up his inventory again, donating warrior-specific items as we cleared each level. But every item we donated was one less item we could sell for our own profit, so this loss affected the whole team. Plus, he was never able to find some of the unique items again.

Playing Too Human has brought back a lot of fond Diablo memories. Fortunately, Too Human, and most modern games, have a much more forgiving death and loot systems, allowing fallen players to retain their gear. Given the amount of time I spend tweaking my character’s specs, I’m glad that’s the case.


Fourth of Five

4. Space Quest


In 1986 there was a chain of stores called Egghead Software. Boxes the size of dictionaries contained fistfuls of floppy discs that held the code for games that today could be played on a cell phone. A cell phone that had been dropped through a washing machine and been picked up by an electromagnet. It was a primitive era but there were at least four colors on the screen at one time and in that era such prismatic bounty was mind-blowing for a home computer game.


Sierra ruled the PC gaming world through Adventure Games. King’s Quest, Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, et al. Not quite RPGs, not at all side-scroller action games, Adventure Games involved collecting random items and using them in bizarre ways to make progress. Often these items would languish in your inventory for days before a use for them was found. Most nefariously, failure to use an item might not have blocked your progress but would cause major problems or even death later in the game.


Need to get past the laser grid? I hope you picked up the view shield glass from the spaceship crash. Want to get past the leprechaun guards? You’d better know how to play the fiddle you found in the woodcutter’s house. And if Larry is to avoid dying of a social disease his player must remember to make him use a condom with that escort (Seriously. If you didn’t wrap it Larry would wither and die several hours later. Be safe).


My friend Erik and I finagled my mom into buying Space Quest from Egghead on a Saturday afternoon. At two in the morning I gave up trying to get past Orat, the lizard beast. At four in the morning Erik woke me up to reveal that throwing the dehydrated water at the creature would make him blow up, clearing the way. By Sunday evening we still hadn’t gone back to sleep.


That was my first all-night gaming experience, often repeated in the years to come. And like my first girlfriend (Shannon? Anna?…hmmm…) I’ll never forget it.


I pine for new Quest-style games. They were odd-ball intellectual entertainment, puzzle solving with a twisted, Monty Python-esque logic that suited me. When I heard there was a new Leisure Suit Larry game coming out in 2004 I nearly wept with joy and cried hosannas to the Sierra gods. Unfortunately it wasn’t a quest game, just a bunch of twitch mini-games. I would have been crushed but for the fact that it is one of the most involved, funny, and amazingly well-written scripts ever created for a video game. The sheer volume of story and dialogue is staggering. But you didn’t collect debris in hopes that it would come in handy later.


Anyway. Space Quest. Totally rad.


And if you want to experience the fun of an adventure game, check out Peasant’s Quest. These guys created a nearly perfect Sierra Adv. Game satire.


loreology: assassin

If you’ve got a memory like an elephant, the old saying goes, then your noggin’s in good shape. Mine, when challenged under the gun, tends to shoot blanks. I’m a research kind of guy, not a living, breathing almanac…. Each week “Loreology” will unravel the mysteries behind something in gaming that I may have known once and completely forgot, or something that I should probably know and cram up into my nearly full brain cavity.

This Week: A deadly enemy might have a deadlier origin

I might be getting up there in years, but I wasn’t alive in 1191. Thankfully. It was a time of rough lives, superstition over science and unsanitary conditions by most commonsense standards–people scraped their teeth clean with twigs or dirty fingernails, if at all. The Third Crusade cut through the Holy Land like a bloody Spear of Destiny, and you could walk out your front door and greet death as easily as a smiling neighbor. No wonder you could find loads of secret societies and any number of mysterious organizations, including a merchants’ guild or even brotherhood of assassins.

Yeah, you got me…I’ve been immersed in Assassin’s Creed recently, and that got me thinking where the term “assassin” originally came from. As with a lot of words, we can’t be sure how it fully came into the vernacular. The earliest literary use of the word “assassination” was by our friend the Bard, William Shakespeare, back in 1605’s The Tragedy of Macbeth. The true origin, however, probably goes back 900 years earlier to the Hashshashin militant sect. You can hear the word’s sound in the sect’s name, though a corruption of the tongue over time has changed its spelling.

The Hashshashin carried out political and religious assassinations in the Middle East from the 8th to 14th centuries, and it’s speculated that the drug hashish (hence the name) played a part in their rites of initiation or killing sprees. Now, I’ve gotta think this made the Hashshashin wildly unpredictable during those party times, and how many of these guys dropped dead before an enemy’s sword even came close to their necks? I’d also hazard a guess that their planning, accuracy and cunning went to hell. It sure doesn’t sound like any of the assassin’s guilds I knew from my D&D days.

So, they’re no Altair Ibn La-Ahad, battling enemies with discipline, focus and “grace under pressure” in 12th century Jerusalem. Still, they lasted 700 years so they must have done something right, or should I say, something artfully wrong.


Mario Kart Wii: Guide Creation Blog 2 of 3

As my time tearing through Mario Kart Wii continued, I began to experiment with the five different control types in the game. All of them offer excellent maneuvering for your kart and characters, and first in my hands was the all-new wheel, in which you slot the Wiimote. Although this gets tiring (perhaps due to my daily 12-hour marathon karting sessions), it’s also arguably the most fun, as you steer using the wheel as expected, and use the Wiimote’s d-pad to throw items back or forward. This is important, as accurate banana trajectories can win or lose a race! As I continued to test out the different gameplay modes, I also noticed that my Ghost times (which are saved after you complete a Time Trial race) were accompanied by a wheel icon; showing all your rivals just how hardcore you are!


Also hardcore? This INSANE shortcut through the craziest Rainbow Road course ever seen!


Although the Wii Wheel was one of the most novel ways to steer around the twisting turns of the 32 different courses, there were other options that were just as entertaining. My personal favorite was the good old Nunchuk and Wiimote combo, with the Nunchuk responsible for steering, and a quick flick of the Wiimote when you wanted to perform a Trick. Tricks are another all-new feature to this game, and you’re able to attempt one as soon as you hit the air from a ramp or other jump. Execute a Trick, and your character tries a stylish flip, or does the splits, before you land with a quick turbo boost of speed. This is another great way to gain the edge on your opponents! I also enjoyed the classic GameCube controller, which really allows you to enjoy a control scheme you’ll be familiar with if you played Double Dash.


As my time at Nintendo continued, I sped through and memorized more and more of the tracks. To ensure there’s more than enough choices for everyone, Nintendo has incorporated 16 “retro” courses; tracks like the classic Ghost Valley 2 from the Super Nintendo, or Peach Beach from the Gamecube, and mixed them into different cups. This allows you to retry pre-existing courses that usually have less in the way of jumps and bumps, or select the newer courses with more undulation. Of course, there are 16 brand new tracks to figure out as well, and all of them offer a ludicrously large amount of fun. Some are truly frightening too; try completing the all-new Rainbow Road without a major twinge of vertigo! As I continued to play the game, I began to unlock some truly spectacular secrets….


Next time: I finally get to grips with the real racing lines, and burst some balloons in the frantic Battle Mode!


Purchase the only Official Mario Kart Strategy Guide HERE!




A few weeks ago I read something on the interwebs about some Hollywood analysts who were concerned about the release of Grand Theft Auto IV and its potential to siphon attention (and ticket sales) away from the Summer’s first blockbuster, Iron Man. Could a video game really pose that big of a threat to a major motion picture?

This isn’t the first time movie studios have wrung their hands over the release of a video game. The disappointing opening of last Fall’s Heartbreak Kid was partially blamed on the release of Halo 3. While I fail to see the connection there, this time the analysts’ concerns made a lot of sense. After all, both GTA IV and Iron Man were shooting for the same core demographic. Think of those guys waiting outside the Gamestop last Monday night. There’s a good chance you’d see the same crowd lining up for Iron Man on Thursday or Friday night. But would they dutifully show up and plunk down hard cash for tickets when the allure of Liberty City was still so fresh?

Apparently they did…or at least some of them. Iron Man did just fine, clearing more than $100 million(domestically) over the weekend. Could it have done better? Perhaps. Spiderman 3 is still the king of the openers, raking in over $150 million last year on the same weekend. Publicly, the studio will be pleased with Iron Man’s strong opening. But going forward, I’m sure many studios will pay more attention to future juggernaut video game releases.

So what did I do? I bought GTA IV on Tuesday and still managed to see Iron Man on Friday. While I’m not a huge fan of the Iron Man comics, I thought the movie was very good, thanks in large part to Robert Downey Jr. spot-on portrayal of Tony Stark. Really, this is probably the most faithful superhero casting ever…even edging out Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. As for GTA IV, I’m still savoring it. So how did you spend your weekend?


Mario Kart, motorcycles, and Mii (blog quickie)

Finally. After several long years of waiting, Nintendo released its Wii-teration of Mario Kart. On a sidenote, is anyone else sick of all the Wii-isms yet? I just used one, but still, I think I’ve reached my limit on Wii-isms. Anyhow, let’s get back on track (pun intended).

I was pleasently surprised at how well the motorcycles perform. Initially I was expecting it to perform like a smaller version of the lighter karts, but after a few powerslides and wheelies, I found that the ‘cycles were their own little beasts.  I wasn’t surprised to see my newfound appreciation for the motorcycles were a worldwide phenomenon too. Just go online in any vs. race and you’ll see the majority of people speeding about on two wheels instead of four. After defeating all CCs with both karts and bikes, I’ve come to the conclusion that bikes are definitely the way to go. You may get bumped around a bit more it seems, but the wheelies on straight-aways are totally worth it.

I’m not sure which bike I like the most yet. The “motorcross” bike  (1st on the list) or the surprisingly maneuverable “Amercian Chopper” style hog (3rd on the list)…



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