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A big lover of all types of media, from Movies to Video Games, Books to Music, Television to Stage.

February 17, 2011

Sega Genesis, How I Loved You

Not too long ago, I wrote about the fact that I grew up owning the original NES and how a lot of the games that came from that system hold a cherished place in my heart, beating out current titles in many ways.  I would be totally remiss if I didn't do at least a write-up of the only real competition that Nintendo had during those early years, especially since there are titles for which I have a soft spot from Sega as well.  So, let's take a look at what the Genesis offered back in the day.

First of all, I want it known that I'm not a videogame idiot, and I am perfectly aware that the Genesis was a next generation system from the original NES.  I put the two of them together in my mind due to the fact that these two systems were my first owned by these companies, even though Sega didn't get the Genesis going until the Super NES was on the market.  I only ever played the original Sega Master System when my current housemate Scott loaned it to me so as to provide a bit of variety one summer, while he tooled with Mario and friends on my NES.  As a result, I fell in love with exactly one SMS title back then in the summer of 1989, that being "Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap," now available as a Virtual Console downloadable title on the Nintendo Wii.  The gameplay still holds up; I suggest that if you own a Wii you grab the game and tell me it isn't still a fun title (except for trying to kill the pirate boss - he can be a real bitch to figure out where his weak spot is).

The Genesis itself had quite a few good titles, and often there were titles made for both the Genesis and the Super NES where the title shone brighter on the Genesis.  Anyone remember the original "Mortal Kombat" release debacle?  See, back then, this title in arcades was the most violent and realistic portrayal of blood in a videogame, and Nintendo simply refused to make the blood appear, so they changed the colour and made it resemble sweat.  Genesis owners weren't considered as young and family-based, so Sega gave them the blood as blood, and MK sold many more copies on the Genesis than on the SNES.  In fact, that might be considered Sega's first win over the more staid Nintendo.  This game, whether considering the arcade originals or the console versions, has stayed so popular over the years that games are still being made (the one at the side there is scheduled for an April 11th release this year), movies have been spawned, and a whole generation of adults still say 'Get over here' in Scorpion's gravelly bass.

However, there are two franchises that the Genesis really spawned, one that got a little too big for the confines of the original titles and as a result languished and died in later incarnations, another which is currently still producing new titles and remakes of older ones.  I'm talking about "Shining In The Darkness" and "Sonic The Hedgehog."  Just to be different, I'm going to cover the lesser-known franchise first, so there.

"Shining In The Darkness" was a great title, very similar in it's basic function as a little-known bare-bones minuscule title on a system I have yet to discuss, the TRS-80.  Now, the 'Trash 80," as those of us who owned it lovingly called it, was what is considered a second generation gaming system, like the Colecovision and the Atari 2600.  It came out in the early 80s, and was also sold as the Tandy Colour Computer, known as the CoCo.  The TRS-80 was sold in Radio Shack stores, and had a few features other consoles didn't.  First, it was also a living, breathing computer.  Okay, maybe not living and breathing, but whatever.  Second, and most odd for people born in 1990 or later, this system came with a cassette tape player that allowed you to take games off of CASSETTE TAPES and play them on your television.  I kid you not, go look it up if you don't believe me.  Anyway, this system predated the NES and SMS by one game system generation, yet one of the best titles that came out of this system was emulated in part by the Genesis nine years later.

The TRS-80 had an arcade title that came out, a real hot property called "Zaxxon."  Those who don't know of it would never consider playing it now; those who remember it recall it fondly.  yes, this system got a very popular arcade title added to the roster, and might even have had a second popular arcade title in it's fist with "Q-Bert," but that I'm not certain of.  Regardless, there was a hidden gem that was available back then, a simple dungeon-crawler titled "Dungeons Of Daggorath."  Using the most basic line drawings to simulate tunnels and creatures, DoD comprised 5 levels of quite intense gaming, with incredible glory for anyone who managed to survive to the end and incant the final wizard ring.  In fact, many a gamer never got further than the sudden shocking transition to the fourth level, and the daunting fact that one game, played in it's entirety from beginning to end without the ability to pause, could take as much as four to five hours depending upon how lucky you were with luring your needed drops to you successfully on the earlier levels.  DoD was not a game for the faint of heart, nor the ADD-riddled youth of today.  Patience, inventory management, and a spot of imagination were all necessary in order to successfully navigate and succeed in what I still consider one of the very best games I've ever played.  How good?  I currently own a rebuilt TRS-80 and a working copy of DoD, and have played the system within the last five years.  That's how good.  If the Wii Virtual Console ever released this title, gamers everywhere would learn what it really took to play old school titles.

"Shining In The Darkness" for the most part is a remake of DoD with better graphics.  There are differences: the creatures in SITD don't come to you, you have to go to them.  You can also leave the dungeon in order to buy items to help you on your quest, including (if I remember correctly) armor and weapons.  DoD started you with one torch, one sword, and you had to kill to get anything else, that's it.  The other major difference, the only other one worth mentioning, is that DoD was freaking HARD.  SITD was less so, and didn't require a dedication that few games expect of a player these days.

Now, the interesting thing that happened with SITD is that it spawned two sequels that played 100% unlike the original.  "Shining Force" and "Shining Force 2" were turn-based strategy battle titles, and could not have been more different than the franchise's original title.  This isn't to say they were bad titles, quite the contrary, but the dungeon-crawling days were certainly in the past.  TBS (Turn-Based Strategy) fights sprawling over ruins of cities or across huge outdoor battlefields were the focus of SF and it's sequel, with periods between fights to explore towns, purchase items, and find hidden characters in order to add them to your interchangeable roster of ass-kickery.  While being so different from what spawned it, the game was incredibly fun, had a lot of humour, and was a pleasure to play.  The fact that RPG elements were added to the mix as well aided any challenges by giving your characters experience that they kept even if the current battle was lost.  Additionally, after achieving a certain character level, you could change the profession of the person or creature in order to give them new abilities and higher stats, so that ultimately the entire game could be successfully completed with perseverance.

"Shining Force 2" was the same kind of deal, but the problem was that the original game was very much on rails, which works for this particular genre.  SF2 made the environments so big, the world so large to explore, that the continuity between battles was completely lost and the title was more of a failure than a success in comparison to the preceding title.  However, 20 years after SITD was released, all three of this franchise's titles are in the top ten games list on GameFaqs for the Genesis system.

Then there was Sonic.  "Sonic The Hedgehog" was created for one reason and one reason only: to counter Mario's hold on the videogame frontier.  Mario was obviously a mascot for Nintendo, and Sega decided that in order to really compete they needed one of their own.  Hence, in 1991 Sonic was born.  Featuring speeds that previously just weren't seen in a platform-style game, Sonic soon begat multiple sequels and a following all his own.  There isn't really much needed to be said about this series of titles.  The popularity of the character, just like Mario, has never faded - even when the parent company dropped out of the console-making business as a result of later hardware missteps, rendering the little blue guy's raison d'etre non-existent.

The fact that as of this writing the first episode of what is being called the 4th title of the franchise (though there were five titles featuring him on the Genesis alone) has only recently been released across multiple current generation consoles as a downloadable game proves that old-school titles still have an influence, even after two decades.  While ultimately Sega lost out big time to Nintendo, the iconic mascot keeps the memory of cartridge-based consoles alive and well, and should continue to do so for quite some time.  I loved the NES, I loved the SNES, and I loved my Genesis.  Guess that's why I still own working versions of all these systems.  When it comes right down to it, whether you believe it or not, today's games owe everything to us older gamers who remember when fun was ALL it was about.  No matter what genre the current game is from, there was an original title that percolated an idea that spawned it, and more than likely that original title came from the 1980s-1990s.

For example, I give you Exhibit A:

Now, I'm going to go play CoD and attain Prestige level 5.  Gamerscore ho!

February 8, 2011

Top Ten Irritating Habits Of Multiplayer Twits

Okay, the heading could be a little less harsh, but if it were, the casual reader wouldn't understand the depth to which my hatred extends.  In order to be fair and not make this a post full of anger and negativity, I'll present my points in the form of helpful advice.  Oh, and this post is going to be a bit long-winded, I'm sure, but there is good reason for it, so to begin let me set the scene.

I am a lover of FPS gaming (First Person Shooter), with one specific franchise that I doggedly pursue the titles of.  That franchise, it should be no surprise, is "Call Of Duty."  Now, I have been playing the multiplayer games of these titles since the first "Modern Warfare" came out, and I have had complaints about the gameplay, glitches, fairness and matchmaking/connectivity of each and every title.  Some I've had more to bitch about than others, it is true, but the one thing that has remained consistent is the idiocy I have witnessed during the matches.  I have finally decided to address these complaints, and explain my deep irritation and frustration when these problems cost me a challenge, a level up, or a match win.  Some are game-type specific, and I will point that out as I go.  For the most part, however, I am referring solely to team-based gameplay, not one on one.

10.  Don't play Deathmatch games while in an objective-based lobby.  This sounds obvious, but might need a little more flesh to explain.  Deathmatch games are all about killing the enemy team and racking up the score before the other team does.  It is all about the kills.  Objective-based games, to put it mildly, aren't.  Whether it is a game of Domination (own the three capture points in order to gain score every five seconds), Capture The Flag (get the enemy team's flag to your base while your flag is still there), or Demolition (plant a bomb on the enemy team's two target crates while they attempt to stop you in a timed game), the objective remains to complete a winning match you must achieve your goal.  This does NOT mean find a place to kill anyone who comes near while not actually attempting to assist your team reach that goal.  I've been in games of Domination where the only person on my team even attempting to gain flag points in order to move toward a win has been me...on a team of six players!  Which leads me to my next item on the list...

9.  If in an objective-based game, try to achieve the objective yourself.  Again, this should be a damn no-brainer!  The game is Capture The Flag...how about doing something freaking crazy, like attempting to CAPTURE THE FLAG!!!  You know, it's only the reason you're in this game, it's only the title of the match, some people may consider it to be important enough to try and do it.  Oh, and keeping an eye on our team's flag is a great idea too, admittedly, but when camping on an objective it might help if you...

8.  Stay close to the objective you are defending.  What?  You mean that defending the objective a good sniper-distance away when armed with an SMG isn't a good idea?  Really?  Yes, you waste of a slot on our team roster, if you are so far away from the flag that when someone tries to grab it they get off-screen before you can get a shot off, you just might be too stupid to live.  This happens most frequently during CTF games, and the fact is it burns me up to see that the entire team is depending on the guy who chose to hang back to defend the flag, and the guy is so well-concealed in his little hidey spot that he can't actually do any defending.  This is also caused by the simplicity of the following rule:

7.  Know your gun's capabilities and use one that suits your strengths.  If you've never used a sniper rifle before, don't be in a CTF game volunteering to hang back and hold the flag with one.  Conversely to the prior point, I have seen sniper rifle equipped players covering the flag who, when the enemy comes in to grab it, fire a shot that goes so wildly off the mark that all they do is alert the entire enemy team that our side has a really crappy sniper.  The word 'crappy' is not the word I wanted to use there, I mean it REALLY isn't the word I want to use there, but since this is not marked as an adult-only blog, I'm trying to keep it clean.  We'll see how I do as we continue.

6.  Know the map.  Again, this one should be a no-brainer.  This affects ALL objective-based games, and even Team Deathmatch as well.  If you are unaware of a path that can lead the enemy directly to the centre of your defences, you are handing them a win over your team with your lack of knowledge.  Every CoD title has had the ability to start an offline game on each and every map, in order to allow full exploration and discovery of quick/hidden routes to and fro, and players who have trouble with retaining map imagery in their minds when playing should be using this feature to ensure they know where they are going and how best to get there.  Epic fail for those who don't, especially with the latest title in the franchise, "Black Ops," because they actually included a 'Combat Training' mode expressly for the purposes of fending off player complaints about my points 6 and 7.  My personal offline player is levelled up to max, with every weapon unlocked, enough CoD points to open each and every attachment for any gun I choose to practice with, every perk unlocked, every item of equipment at my disposal.  I did not do this to say "Hey, look at my offline guy, he can use anything."  No, I did it so that I can compare weapons, test the strengths of suggestions from other gamers regarding loadout usefulness, and ensure that I equip myself against other players with the best weapons for my personal gameplay style.  Oh, and that gameplay style?  It's called WANTING TO WIN.

5.  Aid your team in obtaining your objective.  Now, it would seem I already covered this in point 9 above and only worded it a bit differently, but I want to really make sure you understand the importance of this specific point.  I have sat on a flag in Domination, in the midst of the most open area of the map (usually, the flag in this location would be the 'B' flag), tethered due to my intent to capture said flag to a tiny area about 3 paces large.  Around me are the enemy, who may or may not have noticed me physically, but who could, if paying attention, see that their icon for their precious capture-point was flashing slowly to indicate that someone is indeed taking the point away from them.  Knowing me, I generally try to get on points of this nature during a game announcement (a voice in-game tells all players when something of some moment is in the offing, such as an enemy care package, a napalm strike, or an enemy taking a capture point), since at the very least the voice notifying our teams that a capture point is being taken will be delayed if not totally ignored by the game itself.  In fact, the best time to grab a seat at a capture point is when another member of your team is just starting to grab another capture point - oftentimes, the enemy team will hear that announcement and go after the one announced, not even noticing the other icon slowly flashing the warning that a cap is about to go off.  The thing I need to stress here is that the more people on a capture point, the faster it caps.  So, back to my scenario:  I'm on 'B', in the middle of nowhere, no cover, surrounded by enemy gunfire, and hoping desperately that I can get the cap done before anyone pays attention - and here comes some goofball idiot into the area, running and gunning, not even attempting to be quiet and certainly not attempting to help me cap the flag.  Result?  They kill him, spot me, and shoot me too, just as the cap is about to go off.  Aftermath?  No cap, no extra points for me, no gain for the team, hatred of useless loser costing our team a possible victory.  DON'T BE THAT GUY.

Another part of this comes from playing Demolition games.  When a guy is planting the bomb, COVER HIM!!!  Don't go running off to another part of the map to see if you can spot a good angle to shoot some random guy giving you grief, your bomb-planter is right where the enemy knows he is, especially if one of the targets has already been destroyed, so watch his back!  This goes double for the other team if they are trying to defuse the already planted bomb.  You know where your guy has to be to defuse it, you know that the entire enemy team is going to be trying to stop him (usually with grenades and grenade-like equipment), so get these enemies out of the way before they ruin your chances to save the level.  This advice shouldn't need to be typed out, but apparently it does.

4.  Don't draw attention to players in concealment.  Again, this should be a no-brainer.  I'm hiding.  I have camouflage to make it less apparent that I am where I am.  I am in bushes, overlooking the enemy objective.  Our team has the enemy flag, and once they get it to our base and capture it, it will respawn right where I am hidden.  I have placed a tactical insertion in this bush.  It will allow me to respawn right at their flag if I am killed in my attempt to run their flag to my base.  It gives off a bit of light that flashes to show the enemy that it exists, therefore I have hidden it away in this bush with me so that it is harder to see.  I am stealthy, I am like the wind.  So, do me a favour:  DON'T WALK UP TO ME IN PLAIN SIGHT OF ANYONE IN THE AREA TO INSPECT WHAT I'M DOING HIDING IN A BUSH!  I swear to God, this happened to me on a level named Array during a CTF game.  Anyone who is familiar with the game and this map in particular will understand when I state that one of the flags is in a little depression covered on one side by some rocks and the other side by the aforementioned tree overlooking the flag spot.  The one area that offers any concealment whatsoever, in the middle of the one area that the enemy will be watching with their snipers, who hopefully suck (see point 7 above), but I can't assume that piece of information...and the guy waltzes up to me, directly to me, and kind of just stands there inspecting my person.  Needless to say, we both got sniped immediately after that useless waste of space announced my presence to the enemy team covering the spot.  My tactical insertion was destroyed in the process, meaning my stealthy approach was totally and utterly wasted by this nimrod.  If you have no idea what you are doing, go practice, but don't ruin my game with your ineptitude.

3.  Help your teammates.  This doesn't necessarily follow the 'you are in an objective match - aim for the objective' idea.  This is more a 'you just watched your teammate throw down smoke for a care package, how about making sure he survives long enough to claim it' type of note.  Obviously, there are times when you can aim for getting a package drop in a remote corner of the map, so far away from the action that the odds that someone is in the vicinity are quite low...but there are times when someone is being sneaky, and there are times when you don't have the luxury of suddenly running off to a corner of the map to drop the smoke.  In these instances, it would be nice if someone who is helping hold an area, or someone who just happened to spawn near you, could pay attention to what someone other than themselves is doing and actually try to back you up in obtaining what could turn out to be a major game-changer in a box.  Chopper Gunners come in those boxes sometimes people, as do Napalm Strikes, Sentry Guns and other non-killstreak perks like the Death Machine and the Grim Reaper.  A game can swing wildly in the other direction with a good player controlling a Chopper Gunner, keeping the other team indoors while your mates grab all the flag points or run a flag to your base for a capture.  These players have earned the ability to possibly aid your team to win the game from a losing tide, and you just run off and hope he survives?  Is one 50 point kill that necessary?  Do you have such a strong grudge against the guy who killed you a second ago that you have to abandon your objective just to kill him, leaving your team effectively one useful player down?  Think before you act, you aren't playing Free For All.

2.  Don't hold grudges.  I just mentioned this above, but it requires it's own point of validation.  Yes, a guy just killed you, and yes, he did it from a spot that you might not have known about, and you were about to capture a point, and you were so close to getting where you wanted to go, and you almost stopped them from taking that location, and you were so close to that killstreak reward...etc., etc., etc...but here's the thing about multiplayer games:  If you are hell-bent on killing one particular dude who ruined your momentum, you are going to lower your team's effectiveness by one player if you go on a vendetta to get the guy back.  You are not playing alone, you are playing on a team.  Aid your team.  Yes, you want to climb the leaderboards, I get that, and there are game modes specifically to allow you to do just that.  This isn't that mode, this is for being a team, and going off half-cocked because someone stole your care package just isn't helpful to achieve a win.  You are in a team-based game, play with the team.

1.  Most importantly, use your brain.  There are three paths in Havana.  One goes through the buildings on the left.  One goes through the buildings on the right.  One goes straight down the centre of the street.  The enemy, perched on the second stories of the buildings at either end of the street as well as on the buildings on each side, are shooting everything that moves the entire length of the street.  You are at capture point 'C' at one end of the street and around a corner, and want to get to capture point 'A' which is at the other end of the street around a corner.  Do you A) Go through the buildings on the left, B) Go through the buildings on the right, or C) Go up the middle of the street where only tumbleweeds have a chance of surviving.  I am not joking when I say a vast majority of people, and I mean about 4 out of 6 on teams I have played on, will choose option C and get themselves killed.  Now, here is the part that gets my goat, here is the sticking point that makes me throw the controller, stomp around the house, and make me wish I hated playing multiplayer so I could avoid this idiocy:  After dying following option C, most players will attempt it again.  And again.  And again.  I kid you not.  I didn't want to use 'kid' there, I wanted to use a much stronger word, but this isn't an adult blog, as I mentioned before.  I am keeping it together pretty well so far, I must say.

When playing the CoD titles, I have repeatedly come across scenarios like the one I've just mentioned.  Regardless of how many alternate routes there are, people will still follow one in particular, even if it means handing someone multiple killstreaks for no good reason.  It is simply ludicrous.  When simply going to the left or right can provide cover enough to allow you to ambush the enemy or achieve the goal they are trying so hard to keep you away from, more often than not the brain-dead lemmings will continue to run to their slaughter.  It takes two to three times for me to attempt to dislodge someone from a spot before I choose an alternate route, and while that may still be excessive to some (and I might even concur that anything more than 2 is too many), I will then attempt to find another route while my teammates mindlessly follow their same death walk and rack up the enemy score.  I wish I was kidding, but I'm so very much am not.

It gets worse.  Another well-known aspect of multiplayer games of this type is the simple need for someone who gets killed to return to the scene of the crime to, at least once, attempt to get the guy back.  Hardly from being the vendetta-type activity I mentioned in point 2 above, this hearkens back to how people are hardwired to exhibit certain types of behaviour in certain situations if not consciously given thought.  Being killed a second time from the same person in the same area and then continuing to pursue it is the problem in point 2, but here I am speaking of the person doing the killing.  You kill someone, you know the likelihood of them attempting to get you back, especially in a Deathmatch game, is going to be pretty high...so do your team a favour:  Move.  Simple.  Not out of the area, not at all, just move to a different vantage point from which they won't spot you when they are looking at where you were.  I can't count how many times I have gotten the drop on someone by simply moving to the left or right of where I was so that they come charging in guns blazing, only to fall at my feet because I'm no longer behind that pipe, I'm over behind that box instead.  And now I'm not behind that box anymore, I'm up on the top of this crate.  Whoops!  Now I'm back behind the pipe, you've died three times in a row, and now you've left the game in frustration and sent me an angry letter about how I'm not playing fairly.  Yes, this actually happened.

It's not as good as another letter I got as a result of a kill achieved in the previous title in the series, "Modern Warfare 2."  Someone complained to me about not playing fairly because he killed me while lying on the floor in a wooden shack, and I figured that I'd come up to a side wall and shoot him through it relying on my target indicator to tell me if I was hitting him.  He whined about how I couldn't beat him fairly by using the doorway he was covering, and how that wasn't right.  All I know is that our team won, he stayed still and was killed by his own stupidity, and whining about it later made him look like a fool.  I killed you through the wall because I used my brain and as a result I am a better player than you are.  Deal with it.  I told him that he was killed by my being aware that he didn't move, and that to blame me for not considering the possibility that he could be shot through a wall by anyone he had killed in that position was ridiculous.  He never wrote back.  I wonder if he ever got a brain.  Loser.

Sorry, but I happen to be a good player of these titles.  Not spectacular, not the top of the heap, and I know when I'm up against better.  I am, however, good enough to get to the top of the prestige heap (currently approaching Prestige 5, 1/3 of the way to 15), and my gamertag, Timbuctu, is in the top 200000 on the Prestige Leaderboards for the current title in Domination, top 120000 for CTF.  Those are all-time stats, not weekly or monthly, and on the 360 as of last night.  I'm not trying to toot my own horn, but I am trying to say that I play a LOT of CoD (going on 125 hours for this title alone) and know enough to give this advice.

So there you have it, 10 helpful tips for multiplayer twits, so that they don't get in the way of my levelling up and winning my matches.  If you find yourself doing ANY of the above to people in your games, you are the problem and you need to smarten up.  Whether you are 9 or 90, and the age ranges of people in the multiplayer lobbies does indeed encompass those ages, you shouldn't be playing objective-based games without these simple truths.  There are other modes for you if you want to be the lone hero, the person with the highest kills, or the person looking out for themselves only.  Domination, CTF and Demolition are not for you.  They require team support, even if you are not using a headset (I don't).  Knowing the objective and how to accomplish it is the only thing a team needs in order to work together.  Well, that, and the desire to do so.  That might be point 11, but I only planned for 10, so tough luck.  I'm going to go slaughter some more twits who don't know the first thing about objective-based multiplayer gameplay, and enjoy watching my kills shoot higher and higher at their expense.  Oh, and bear in mind that CoD games are the only titles I play so constantly without any hope of getting any achievement score out of them.

After all, I'm a Gamerscore Ho!

February 3, 2011

Growing Up On Nintendo - Part Three, What Has Kept These Titles Alive For A Quarter-Century?

That is really a long title.  Maybe I should shorten it, but it certainly asks the right question:  What is it exactly about the titles I've been mentioning over the last two days that makes the older titles classics, and the franchises continue to add more games to current systems?  I'm going to try and answer that today, and we'll see if I'm right.

First off, every game that I mentioned has at least one musical theme that is instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever played the games I've listed.  This is going to be a video-heavy posting, so be ready to open YouTube videos as go along here, so that you too can hear and see what I'm on about.  First we have the Mario franchise.  The music from the original game has been used so frequently throughout our society that even a recent (within the last 6 months) episode of "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" had The Roots playing it for someone coming onstage for an interview.  Here's the original music:
Brings back a lot of memories, and every title in the Mario series up to and including the "Super Mario Galaxy" titles include at least one location where the original music, maybe with a full orchestration, can be heard.  Other samples from the original game can usually be found at various locations in the later titles.  Additionally, since the introduction of water- and air-level music in "Super Mario World," any level in games released since have added that theme to any 'swimming' or 'up in the clouds' type levels.
As you can see by the title, that was the swimming world music, and the air level music follows:
Mario isn't the only franchise that has music that is exceptionally recognizable to gamers.  "The Legend Of Zelda" and "Final Fantasy" both have music that is considered for inclusion in one form or another in each and every new title in their respective franchises.
The music from this Overworld area is considered the main Zelda theme, important enough to be played majestically at the end of "A Link To The Past" almost as a gift to the gamers so in love with the series.  The next clip is long, but the theme will be recognizable when reached, at 1:53.
The "Final Fantasy" theme, to my knowledge, doesn't actually appear in any of the games, except perhaps in menus.  The theme itself, titled 'Prelude,' is gorgeous, an endless loop that repeats, and is generally found at the beginning of the games when starting a new character.
The music featured above for these three titles have so saturated the public awareness that I would be completely surprised to meet someone in a developed country that hasn't heard at least one of the themes placed above.  Even the titles I have not included videos for, most notably "Metroid" and "Dragon Warrior" have themes and musical cues that have carried over from title to title over the years, and it is these aspects that endear them to the followers of these franchises.

Another aspect that all these games share is rich storylines that do not require cutting edge graphics to relate.  This is especially true for the first Zelda and Final Fantasy titles.  Let's be totally honest, you were controlling little squares and rectangles conjoined in such a way that if you squinted you could suggest they resembled something akin to a human being.  A green circle was a bush; a black curve was a boomerang.  These titles left more to the imagination than do the titles of current systems, and that may have been the entire point.

The games were also heavily text-based.  Not as much as "Zork," mind you, but they had a lot of text included in the title as a way of conveying all manner of information and humour to the player.  Nowadays, voice acting with subtitles is the norm, but it is a knife that can cut both ways.  What may be arguably the best 2D side-scrolling game ever made for any console, "Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night," is marred by exactly one glaring problem, and that is the voice acting.  It is terrible, it is ridiculous, it actually refers to an item as 'The jewel of Open' because it opens doors, it has been the butt of jokes for years...and it isn't the only one.  "Resident Evil," a game that has inspired tons of sequels as well as a movie franchise, contains a voice-over in the popular re-make of the original game that required someone to say the line 'I am the master of unlocking.'  These two titles are also considered classics, but we're talking the first two Nintendo systems, so we'll get to those in later posts.  The point is, today's games follow the line from Jeff Goldblum's character in "Jurassic Park:"  '[The developers] were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should.'  Just because you can make a game look pretty or sound better doesn't mean you should, especially at the expense of gameplay.

Which leads me to the third and most obvious loss in games today: solid playability.  This is not to say that the games today are unplayable, far from it, but it is strongly advising that except for a few stand-out titles the games of today are either way too easy to master or are deliberately convoluted and purposefully challenging with no real basis for it.  There are way too many examples to be laid out here, especially due to the fact that this post is not meant to bash any particular system on the flaws inherent in the parent company's attempt to screw over the consumer, but suffice it to say that old games were more fun overall.  They had more ingenuity, more thought put into them.  Name a game that has you having to learn an operatic score in order to progress.  Can't do it?  You haven't played "Final Fantasy 3."  Name a game where music being played correctly to bring a girl's memories back to herself is the only way to successfully defeat the title's final boss.  No?  Then you've never played "Lunar."  Like the Castlevania title I mentioned earlier, these are on another system, but the point remains: Innovation in today's games is more about the cool controls, the neat-o graphics and the wonderful special effects and booming bass.  They forget to add fun.

This is not true of all titles, of course it isn't.  However, I can honestly say that in comparison to today's multitude of titles, very few strike me as direct descendants of the incredible adventures of old.  Sure, they made you work for 100% completion, but they didn't take 80 hours, they didn't take doing things that you would never have considered doing through the course of a normal game, and they didn't come with flashy guidebooks to tell you how to do things.  Hell, I remember playing the original "Solomon's Key" on the NES, easily the hardest game I have EVER come across, and having to call the Nintendo Hotline in order to sort out how to get through many of the levels to the good ending.  There was no GameFaqs, there were no strategy guides, and the controls only consisted of two abilities: jumping and creating/destroying magic blocks.  That was it, the entire game's controls.  Two buttons.  One, actually, since in order to jump you pressed up on the control pad.  A one-button game that is easily the hardest one I've ever come across, and yet each and every puzzle within the 50 odd levels was also fun.  Graphics sucked, sound sucked, controls only the basics, and I remember that title better than most.  Why?  The storyline, the music, and the fun.  Three ingredients.  Tell the developers to get cooking again.

Until next time, when we start to look at Nintendo's only competitor in those early days, Gamerscore ho!

February 2, 2011

Growing Up On Nintendo - Part Two, The Super NES

The Super Nintendo system was a great step forward in the video game history books, taking gaming to places we never thought possible considering the humble beginnings from whence we came.  Since the systems pre-dating the original NES looked so bush league in comparison, when the NES took things forward gamers were treated to attractive graphics and more lush environments.  The SNES changed that even further with what was called Mode-7 graphics.

Mode-7 allowed for things to rotate.  Doesn't sound like much, does it?  Nowadays, games like CoD allow you to turn your head and see the world spin around you - but back in the early 90s, this was a huge innovation.  Add to that the fact that developers, both at Nintendo and from 3rd party companies, were starting to really get creative with their storylines and game interactions, and you can see why so many classic titles that are talked about with reverence came from this system.

The first title, shipped with the SNES when I purchased it, was "Super Mario World."  Look at that price over there, in the Amazon box.  $299.99.  No joke.  That is for a brand-spanking new copy of a game that came out in 1991.  See, this is what I'm on about:  Here is a classic example of a game being so cherished that the actual RETAIL price has more than quadrupled since it released 20 YEARS AGO!!!  What else need be said?  The game is truly revolutionary as far as the Mario series is concerned, and while the more recent "Super Mario Galaxy" titles are much deeper in terms of level development and controller use, SMW remains one of the very best 2D side-scrolling game titles ever created.

The biggest challenger to the 2D side-scrolling title was also a series made by Nintendo, towards the end of the system's lifespan.  "Donkey Kong Country," released Holiday 1994, showed just how detailed a videogame could be.  It came out when the next generation of gaming systems were getting poised to be released, with only a year left in the system's expected retail span, but it was early enough to spawn two sequels, which lead directly to the most recent release in the series coming out in Holiday 2010 with "Donkey Kong Country Returns."  As you can see, a new copy of the original title sells for less than the copy of "Super Mario World," but not by much when considering how much they originally sold for.  Again, it is because this is a title which spawned a ton of followers, allowing the SNES to get a bit more life out of itself before being shoved over by what was for many a step backward with the N64.  Yes, the N64 had better graphics and larger games, but there was a problem with the system and we'll get to that another time.

The SNES had a slight problem in the marketing of their game titles.  It seemed as though a few developers couldn't quite wrap their heads around the 'super' in the title.  This is a new "Castlevania" game, let's slap 'super' on the title, so people know it's all better than the last one and stuff.  Great.  One title, however, deserved the exact moniker they gave it, and it even lived up to the 'super' tacked on to the name.  That title was "Super Metroid."  Now, it is true that the original "Metroid" introduced us to the first really strong female avatar in a videogame back on the NES, but there were a few things that the first game didn't have that were fixed for this semi-sequel.  Number one, the ability to save the game at multiple locations was absent from the original title; number two is that we didn't know Samus, our lead character, was in fact a woman.  Other than that, and the main reason I call this game a semi-sequel, this title was a prettier re-hash of the original title, but the thing is it worked!  It was "Metroid" on a grander scale, or so it felt, and with the ability to really improve upon your character as you progressed through the multiple zones of Planet Zebes (which was present in the first game, but much less than in this title) it became pretty much the first science fiction based RPG out there.

But, of course, I had to go and mention RPGs, and the RPG at the top of the SNES list has to be the hands-down best 2D RPG ever made, "The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past."  Again, you see the price of the original title new in box listed as $300 over there in the Amazon box.  I know that people who really know gaming will argue that "Chrono Trigger" was bigger, more immersive, and maybe even longer - however, I stand by my words and simply state that I personally have played through this title so many times that I can't even begin to count.  The Amazon selling price alone backs up my opinion.  This title took RPGs to the most accessible level they have ever been, with graphics pleasing the eye and a story that remains classic to the series.  Many titles have followed this one in the course of the Zelda series, but this one stands out, for reasons we'll get to in the next post.  Suffice it to say right now that without this title, Zelda games wouldn't have become the driving force they are now for today's newest Nintendo's systems, the Wii and the 3DS.

There have certainly been other titles worthy of mention here in this post, some of which may never be played on a next generation system.  Titles like "The Secret Of Mana," "EarthBound," or "Soul Blazer."  One title in particular, that lives on in my heart as being the best of a particular series that has gone on to multiple incarnations, is "Final Fantasy 3," but the discussion of that title is going to wait until the third part of this posting series, What Has Kept These Titles Alive For A Quarter-Century?  For now, I leave you with some links to these classic titles.  If you have a SNES hiding away in a closet somewhere, grab these up.  The batteries will give you about four years of quality retro gaming, and you'll thank me for the suggestion.  Until next time, Gamerscore ho!

February 1, 2011

Growing Up On Nintendo - Part One, The NES

The first video game system I owned was the Nintendo Entertainment System.  It was the one with wide and flat games that you had to blow into sometimes in order to get them to work when you pushed them into the console.  The Super Nintendo followed in the same footsteps, including the blowing on the short, fat cartridges that slid into the top of that particular system.  The NES and SNES might have been the best gaming systems Nintendo ever made, including the Wii and the DS, simply because more classic titles that led to a lifetime of gaming started out on those systems. Let's take a trip down memory lane and see what I'm talking about.

Keeping in mind that we're discussing North American titles and releases, you can certainly start off with the first three Super Mario games.  The beginning of the most recognized gaming character was on the original NES, all three titles, and no matter how dated they look now, or how 'old school' they play on their second "Super Mario All-Stars" remakes for the Wii, nothing could beat the anticipation I felt for the release of the third title in that series.  The first game was all over arcades and malls; hell, my first spotting of Super Mario was at a Country Style donuts near a Becker's Milk I went to regularly when our dryer had broken down and we had to dry our clothes at a nearby laundromat.  The second game took the series in a completely different direction, but which added to the style of gaming that Mario represented.  See, Mario wasn't against Bowser in the second game, and the game itself took place in a dream.  As a result, Mario didn't just jump and stomp on enemies, he was granted the ability to pick stuff up and throw things.  No biggie, but revolutionary at the time.

No, the third title is the one that I had excitement for.  This is the first Nintendo game that got heavy advertising, and as a result I had a jones for that thing long before it got to store shelves.  Keep in mind, this was long before the internet, the competition between systems hadn't gotten going yet, Sony hadn't entered the gaming ring at this point, and nobody had heard of either Microsoft or Windows.  Word of mouth and TV and radio spots were the only way to circulate buzz, mainly due to kids not being newspaper types.  But that is a discussion for another blog; "Super Mario Bros. 3" made a huge splash when it released, and Mario's notoriety was cemented in a way it hadn't been since his austere start as a plumber and gorilla hater.

Beyond Mario, the first three "Dragon Warrior" titles also debuted on the NES.  The first game I ever bought for myself was the original "Dragon Warrior," and by the time the third came out all my friends were as excited as I was about the title.  A buddy of mine even went so far as to pick me up at my house, with my television set in hand, take me to a friend's house to set up my TV side-by-side with his, and then surprise me with having bought me a copy of "Dragon Warrior 3," which we then explored on our single player games while raving to each other how great it was, in a room full of people watching both screens and following our progress just as eagerly as we were playing.  That is what I call an early LAN party, right?  The "Dragon Warrior" series was released in Japan as "Dragon Quest," and had a rabid following in its home country as well, but again we knew nought of that at the time.  It was sword and sorcery, hack and slash adventuring with a great soundtrack and hilarious one-liners.

Great soundtracks leads me to perhaps arguably the biggest series ever released on the original NES aside from the Mario titles.  That would be the original "The Legend Of Zelda."  Another hugely popular title in Japan, Link's first adventure to save Princess Zelda was unique in that it was actually the first title, to my recollection, that actually had two games within the cartridge.  Saving Zelda and defeating Ganon once just didn't cut it...if you wanted to be a true hero, and have songs sung about you down through the ages, you needed to go back in and start from scratch on the second, and much more difficult, playthrough.  The hidden objects were moved, the stores sold quite different inventory, and most notably all the dungeons had been moved about AND had completely new maps!  Creatures you met were a level harder than the first time around too, and overall the game was a huge amount of content for the cost.  Zelda begat a sequel on this system, but it was a blip in comparison.  Hardcore RPGs had come to North America, and we were thrilled.

There were other big titles that hit the original NES and still have their followings, games like "Mega Man" or the original arcade conversions of "Donkey Kong" or "Gauntlet," but except for one other enormous title, none of these have the loyal following like the ones I've already mentioned.  That other enormous title, which stands right beside Zelda and Mario as a recognizable brand, is "Final Fantasy."  Yes, pixel-based characters trying to save the world one last time before it is destroyed have been questing repeatedly since the days of the NES.  Never mind the fact that we're now discussing a sequel/add-on to the thirteenth in the series, the "Final Fantasy" saga is quite simply the first deep action/RPG series that crossed from Japan.  it was the first title with a ridiculously huge map, the first to offer class progression, and with over 60 castable spells it was quite simply the most complex title of that era.

Of course, nowadays the "Final Fantasy" series are released on every major system on the market, but back when it first released it was a Nintendo exclusive, and that was before there was real meaning to that statement.  The only other real competitor out there for Nintendo's bucks was the Sega Master System, and while we will certainly touch upon that particular console in a future post, I never owned a Sega product until the middle of the Sega Genesis days.  Nope, I grew up on Nintendo, and except for owning a TRS-80 from Radio Shack, it was my first venture into home arcade gaming.  While the shine has faded in recent years from the Nintendo star, I was and always will be a Nintendo kid.

The next two instalments of this series will come out over the course of the week.  Part 2 - The Super Nintendo System will be followed by a discussion of what kept these titles alive for a quarter century in Part 3 - What Kept These Titles Alive For A Quarter Century?  Pretty original title, huh?  Until then, Gamerscore, ho!