Music Select

In today’s age of the remix, some artists are putting their own touches and takes on some familiar classic works. No, not Shakespeare, but rather the classics of our generation: video games.

There are a ton of covers out there for video game music and plenty of awesome sites like OC Remix to find them. But few actually expand on those pieces and make them into something bigger and better.

I’ve recently come across two albums that have struck my fancy.

The first album that I can’t stop listening to is History Repeating: Blue from The Megas, a Mega Man cover band. This album is based on the music from Mega Man 3. Each track is from the perspective of either Mega Man or one of the Robot Masters. The Megas take each track and take elements of each stage song, and work it into something more lyrical and dynamic, and it works better than any other Mega Man cover I’ve heard. The first two tracks are especially awesome as part one leads into the title theme for part two. If you like Mega Man, you can’t miss this album.

The second album I recently discovered is Metroid Cinematica by Sam Dillard. This album takes tracks spanning nearly all of the Metroid games and weaves them into an epic film score. It reprises motifs and mixes tracks from all the games into an cinematic tale. It really makes me wish that Nintendo would evolve Metroid into the sci-fi universe it wants to be. It’s sad that Metroid Other M was meant to expand and build Samus’ character. This album does that more than that game ever will. Listen to this, and close your eyes. Imagine the Metroid movie that will never be.

That’s all from me. Let me know in the comments if you like the albums, and throw some money at these artists who truly love and appreciate the originals as you can hear it in their hard work.

Collecting Memories

I’ve been a Nintendo fan as long as I can remember.

My first memories of Nintendo were playing the NES at the barbershop my Dad took my brother and I when we were kids. The earliest games I remember are Duck Hunt, Gyromite, Top Gun, and of course Super Mario Bros.

My memories are inherently tied to video games, specifically Nintendo games. I don’t remember what my first kiss felt like but I can tell you what the first time playing Super Mario 64 in a local game store felt like: dreamy bliss. It’s confounding how my brain is wired.

When I started collecting video games, systems, and accessories a few years ago, it was spurred by finding my original Game Boy in a box of old items. That was the spark but I’m not certain what has kept that flame bright. Was it my sled named Rosebud? Was it to add to my geek cred? My precious antique cans? I think I am finally realizing what it is. It’s my link to the past (see what I did there? no?) Maybe that’s just my way of justifying material possessions. I understand people who want to eschew keeping all but the necessary physical objects. I just have never been able to do it myself. I like having things that other people have created, and things I can use to create.

Now I’ve moved into the realm of “collector” complete with a “collection.” It’s weird for me to think about. I don’t have items just to have them; they all mean something to me. They are part of me. Games differ from movies and books. Movies and books are easily rented or purchased regardless of publication date. Games on the other hand can often fade into the time they were created. Some will be remembered or even rereleased. But some will live on only on the system they were created for. Take Earthbound for example. It was a Nintendo game released for the Super Nintendo. It is actually fairly rare, and until 2013 never rereleased or available again for purchase. It’s a quirky RPG without a real equivalent. Maybe games like these will never fade and some library will exist for them to be played by anyone in the future, or maybe they will eventually die. Video games are a very young medium.

I don’t have anything in particular to achieve with my collection. I hope to share my memories with others, for them to share their memories with me. To share my experiences if I ever have a child. If I do I’ll raise them right.

Honestly I can’t imagine where this will end up. Maybe in ten years I’ll be selling everything for drugs and guns thanks to Armageddon (Thanks Armageddon!). I do know one thing that I keep coming back to: these games, toys, time wasters, playable stories, experiences, or whatever else to call them – they are a part of me. They are part of how my brain works. I’m collecting my own memories.

Happy 25th Anniversary Game Boy

The Game Boy turned 25 years old today. I thought I’d take some time to share some thoughts and memories about the best mobile gaming device.

I loved my Game Boy. I probably didn’t receive mine until maybe 1990 or 1991. When I was a child it seemed like everything took forever so it could have been the same year it came out. I received mine for Christmas, complete with an AC adapter and Tetris and the less than stellar Yoshi. I enjoyed Tetris to a degree, but since I wasn’t nearly as skilled as I am now it wasn’t fun to play. The first great game I remember playing for the Game Boy was Super Mario Land 2: The Golden Coins. It was a great Mario platformer that let you turn into a bunny with flapping ears! It also introduced Wario for the first time, and he wasn’t nearly as comical as he is today.

I remember before owning my Game Boy some boy in fourth grade had one, and I distinctly remember playing a game where you were a spaceship that had to form rectangles. It’s as exciting as it sounds. I would later discover the name of that game after years of search was Quarth.

The Game Boy was around all the way into High School. I remember lending my girlfriend at the time my Game Boy pocket which she promptly broke. But she replaced it. I was distraught until she did. I remember absolutely loving Wario Land, and Wario Land II for their shear oddity, and developing Wario into the weird (very weird) character he is today.

I remember getting Pokémon, and discovering that I wanted, no, I needed to “Catch ’Em All”.

The Game Boy was always there for those long band bus trips. I have a vivid memory of playing two player Tetris on a bus in Northeast Ohio during autumn. I always can remember where I was when playing certain games. It’s a uncannily tied to my memories.

The Game Boy Camera (and Printer) was my first foray into digital photography in all its 1-bit glory which planted the seeds for my other non-gaming hobby.

I have more wonderful memories about Game Boy games than I do for the NES. The thing was wherever I was. It was always a more intimate experience as I didn’t have to share the TV when I played Link’s Awakening discovering Koholint, or spending hours trying to find the legendary Pokémon.

Over the years I’ve heard people say they aren’t interested in handheld games, but today people play all kinds of crappy games on their phones (ripe with microtransactions). Nintendo is still creating great experiences on their handhelds that you can’t find on consoles (Luigi’s Mansion, Pushmo, Fire Emblem Awakening, etc.). There is something for everyone.

So here’s to the one, the only , the original Game Boy. Thanks for all the memories, and thanks for always being there for me.

My Games of 2013

This is a little late, but I wanted to post about my favorite games of 2013. I didn’t have a chance to play everything that came out. I really want to check out Gone Home when I have a chance. These are the games that stuck with me as I played them throughout 2013. They are presented in no particular order.

 

The Wonderful 101

The Wonderful 101

This game was something that I anticipated since it showed up briefly at E3 when the Wii U was debuted. There was something about the art style that just said “fun” on it. When I played the demo, I knew this was a game I would spend hours with. The Wonderful 101 was developed by Platinum Games who are known for their crazy over the top action with games like Bayonetta, Vanquish, and Metal Gear Rising: Revengence. If you have never played a game from Platinum, you’re missing out on how crazy an action game can get. They make God of War look tame.

The Wonderful 101 is hard to explain to anyone. It’s an action game, where you control up to 100 miniscule heroes that act as one unit to form giant hands, swords, guns, whips, and a hammer to defeat an invading alien race. At first it looks like Pikmin, but the looks are deceiving. This game requires you to draw shapes on the Wii U gamepad or the right analog stick that will then transform your team into the weapons you’ll need to defeat bad guys. The drawing has a hint of Okami in it, which should make sense due to the director being the same on both games.

Match the action elements with a sort of superhero Power Rangers vibe, humor, an action packed score, and a plot that never takes itself too seriously, with tons of unlockables and depth, and this game doesn’t want you to stop playing it.

I had a lot of fun with this game, and it made me smile and laugh. Just imagine  a bunch of giant robots becoming an enormous robot to save the day and you’ve got the gist of this game. It’s brutally hard in pure Platinum Games fashion which requires you to learn techniques instead of button mashing your way to the end. There isn’t much like this game, and it’s a shame not many people will play it.

Super Mario 3D WorldSuper Mario 3D World

Super Mario 3D Land was one of the best Mario games ever created. You’ve never played it have you? It debuted on the 3DS a few years ago. To me, it was the best 3D Mario game ever. I enjoyed Super Mario 64,  Galaxy, and I’m probably one of the few people that really enjoyed Sunshine. But Super Mario 3D Land was more Mario than any of those games. Run, jump, get power ups, get to the end within the time limit. Each level is different from the last.

Super Mario 3D World trumps everything 3D Land did and then some. We’ve received a lot of Mario games in the past few years, but if I told you to play one, this would be it. It’s fun, it lasts forever, there’s an appropriate blend of nostalgia and new stuff. It boasts a less stressful multiplayer than the 2D games did. I’ll end with this: Cat Mario!

 

Brothers: A Tale of Two SonsBrothers: A Tale of Two Sons

This is an indie game that is more focused on story than gameplay. However, the gameplay has a quirk that works in a novel way. You control two brothers simultaneously. I’ll wait while you catch your breath. Each brother is controlled with one of the analog sticks, and you have one action button designated to the corresponding trigger button.

The story is a sad one. It starts off with a father who is sick and dying. You play as his two sons and are tasked with retrieving the only thing that will save his life, the water of life found from a tree far away. With that you set off on your quest.

There are puzzles you’ll have to figure out using each of the brothers. The older brother is stronger and taller and can lift the younger brother to heights unreachable. The younger brother is smaller and more nimble. As you interact with characters you’ll find that the older brother is serious and stays on task, while the younger brother is a joker and likes to laugh. None of the characters speak any dialogue, but conversations are carried out in a sort of weird type of Simish which properly conveys the tone of each character. It’s simply amazing that you know what these characters are feeling without a word spoken.

Without ruining the story for you, be prepared to cry. I cried at the end of this game. The game world is beautiful, but you always get a hint of despair in this world as you move forward. The music always hits the right notes.

Even if you don’t game that often, play this game. It needs to be experienced.

 

Bioshock: InfiniteBioshock Infinite

One of the most anticipated games of the past year, Bioshock: Infinite is a game that I have a hard time figuring out why I enjoyed it so much. The gameplay is left pretty much unchanged from other Bioshock games, and frankly is the most grinding part of the experience as it never really changes or grows. I ended up using the same guns and powers for the majority of this game. The fighting almost felt like filler until the last battle.

The world and story, however, are on a whole different level. This is a world that you could never experience in film or a novel to the degree you would in a game. The worlds lets you absorb it at your own pace. Several of my favorite parts were just taking in the scenery and atmosphere.

The game is set in a city floating high above the United States of America in 1912. This floating paradise, called Columbia, is a place where the founding fathers are worshipped like gods, and has a sense of Americana only found in those old timey 1000 piece puzzles.

I love the story of this game and I can’t describe it fully in a way it deserves. This is a world that felt lived in and believeable. The characters felt believable. This game deserves to be scoured over and over for all kinds of details. The art design and score were top notch. And kudos to Irrational Games for developing a companion character that helps you and has a huge part in the story without ever feeling like you’re on an escort mission.

The ending was fantastic, surprising, and best left unspoiled.

 

The Last of UsThe Last of Us

The trend in the past few years has been “put some zombies in it.” I think that was one of the things that detracted people from this game initially. Post-apocalyptic stories are a dime a dozen these days. But this one tells a story that always has you trudging forward with some sense of hope, and a thread of humanity lingering in the distance.

This game pulls you in within the first 30 minutes. Then it flashes forward twenty years in the bat of an eye. The world has been ravaged by a killer fungus. There are infected in this game that take the role of zombies, and of course they’re always found in dark places, and terrifying. I’ll say this: the infected are not the scariest part of this game. It’s the survivors. This game is graphic and violent, but in a way that is brutally honest due to the world everyone lives in now. You either survive, or you don’t.

The characters in this game are some of the most human I’ve ever seen in a game. You see them evolve over the full playthrough. It’s also a game that makes most of the characters gray in their sense of morality. You don’t know whether you should be cheering for them or not.

But the gameplay is not sacrificed for story, which made me enjoy this game more than Bioshock: Infinite. This game could be classified as survivor horror. Supplies will be limited, you will need to be cautious to survive. I never felt that the game was unfair. Not once. Sure I died, but the gameplay blends seamlessly into the story. You catch your breath before you move forward.

This game also leads you to think you’ll be safe, and then you fall down an elevator shaft, and have to climb your way back to the top, in the dark, with everyone alerted to your presence. Several moments like this one appear. This world is always reminding you: nothing is safe.

If you like resolution in your stories, the ending may leave you upset, but for me it fit the game perfectly.

 

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past has a very dear place in my heart.  It was the game that made me look at games more seriously. It had a story unlike anything I had experienced at the time. It had fun gameplay, a sense of exploration, and music that fit every location perfectly.

A Link Between Worlds

A Link Between Worlds revives all my favorite qualities of a Zelda game.  It never tells you what to do, or how to do it. The best part is that they’ve evolved the gameplay a bit, and they let you tackle the game in any order you’d like. The dungeons are streamlined and fun, and I never felt like I was backtracking.The best part of that game was that it never told you what to do, where to go, or how to do anything. It required some old fashioned problem solving. Due to the freedom the game gave you, the world felt enormous. To this day, it’s still my favorite Zelda game no matter how many people tell me Ocarina of Time was better.

The world is taken from A Link to the Past, almost exactly. A few things have changed, but you’ll feel like you’re revisiting the home you grew up with if you’ve played ALTTP. If you haven’t, that’s fine and I would recommend you play this game anyways, but there are several homages paid to ALTTP that are always welcome.

The music features reprisals from A Link to the Past with more detail and nuances than the originals. In the last dungeon, the music mounted and grew as parts were added, and as the volume increased, you sensed that the final battle was about to occur.

This is the best thing to happen to a Zelda game in years. I am glad this game came out on a handheld after Spirit Tracks, which I consider to be a low point for the series.

The other favorite part of this game was that there were no gimmicks. No waggling a controller, no using a stylus to control something, no blowing into a microphone to simulate a pan flute. I seriously spent 15 minutes trying to blow notes into that stupid pan flute in Spirit Tracks, and I almost threw my DS across the room. I should mention that I finished Spirit Tracks just a month or two before A Link Between Worlds came out, which made this game so much sweeter seeing the series restored to such great heights.

Final Words

Well that’s it. It’s not hard to notice that three of my games are only found on Nintendo consoles. But these games are great examples of why Nintendo is hard to beat, and it’s great they came out in 2013 when scrutiny against Nintendo has been higher than ever. 2014 will prove an interesting year with the new consoles in play, and Nintendo hasn’t revealed anything new in awhile. I think 2014 will be a great year for gaming.

The Console Wars 2013

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It’s too early to determine which console will be superior this next generation. There’s only so much take so much away from all the marketing each company has pumped out. I don’t think the XBOX One will be a bad product, but I think the higher price point, and inconsistent messaging will hurt them at launch. Microsoft has changed several policies and plans, but only after tremendous outcry from gamers. That’s good for consumers, but as a company they played it off like they didn’t know any of these issues were going to be such a big deal even though everyone had been speculating it well before the announcement. Basically Microsoft hasn’t managed their core audience’s desires with pushing the console for a broader appeal.

Both systems are actually incredibly similar. The only thing in my mind that separates the two is that Microsoft has the Kinect and more content providers. On the other hand Sony has done a better job promoting indie developers.

It’s all up in the air, and I don’t think anyone can say one will be better than the other at this point in the game. Consumers will decide that.

As for me, I haven’t decided if I’m getting one at launch. It’s going to be a pretty Nintendo heavy year this holiday ({cricket sounds} that’s another story) and I should have plenty to play.

If I do get a system at launch, it will be the PS4. Plus Sony has announced that digitally downloaded games will be available for a cross-discount (from PS3 to PS4) which is all I was ever really concerned about. I don’t want to buy all my pinball tables over again at full price. Cross-buy with the Vita doesn’t hurt either. But that’s just me.

Old School Gaming Slapdown

Four Score and Seven Pongs Ago

Arcade games are a sorely forgotten point in gaming history. Before you were “fragging” “newbs” in an ongoing warfare conflict , even before you were eating mushrooms to embiggen yourself, you faced the ultimate enemy. One that learned every move you made, and used it against you. Yourself. The high score.

Old school arcade games were sort of before my time. I didn’t discover my love until Robotron, dare I say in 2005. Sure I played my share of Pac-Man, and Centipede, and Asteroids but I never got hooked. But fortunately for us, downloadable games don’t have to be AAA multi million dollar, over marketed, cut scene ridden “experiences”. They can be a simple goal. A score. XBox Live Arcade has brought some AWESOME modern takes on the arcade game.

Four Score and Seven Pongs Ago

That’s why a simple tweet I made turned into (hopefully) a gaming tradition. On December 30th, 2011 I’ll be facing off against one of the most old school gamers I know. So join us, and follow @4score7pongs on Twitter. We’ll be facing off for at least 8 hours, battling for the highest score of the day on some of the best arcade games available.  We’ll have a live webcam and tweeting all day. So you can root for team @jarbochov or team @morningtoast.

Check out http://morningtoast.com/fourscore for more deets.

Thoughts on Handheld Gaming

Handheld gaming. Gamers are pretty decisive on the subject. Either you like it or you don’t. One criticism I often hear is “I don’t like playing games on a screen that small”. I’ve never really thought that was the reason though. I’ve always believed that people see handheld gaming as something more childish or simplified than their console brethren. I think a true fan of games plays great games regardless of platform.

 

When the iPhone game out, I don’t know how many articles I read that were predicting a huge rivalry between Nintendo’s DS and the iPhone. I can assure you that’s not close at all nor will it be anytime soon. A friend of mine wrote a very good article on smartphone games that you should definitely read. Now don’t get me wrong, I love me some Angry Birds. It’s a good time killer but it doesn’t have the depth of some truly wonderful handheld games.  There are some great games that are transitioning over to a smartphone platform that I recommend. Infinity Blade, and Superbrothers Sword & Sorcery are amazing and original.

Graphics are also cited as another reason that people don’t like handheld games. And I think that all goes back to when the Wii came out and people complained that it wasn’t in HD and didn’t have a chance. If it’s a good game, you won’t notice as much, and there are some Wii games that are much more artfully inspired than the other consoles (Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, the Bit Trip Series to name a few.)  The PSP has tremendously better graphics than the DS, but hasn’t sold nearly as well. The PSP also offers a large number of ports or interquels of console games in lieu of original concepts.

 

If you like games but cite the reasons above for why you don’t play handheld games, give it another shot. With the 3DS out DS prices should drop more and more as time goes on, and there is a wealth of awesome games that you won’t find counterparts on consoles.

 

Now, I’ll go back to playing Pokemon White. Gotta catch ’em all as they say.