Posts Tagged ‘ Nintendo ’

Counterview from a Wide-Eyed Video Game Industry Fool

In a recent pre-E3 post at Scholarly Gamers, video game advocate Patrick Scott Patterson detailed his precarious position on the precipice of cynicism for the industry he loves. I’ve followed PSP for a while on social media, I’ve even had dinner at WingStop with the guy once, and I’ve agreed with a lot of his opinions and efforts, but I’ve disagreed from time to time as well. Where he’s peering into the pit of cynicism, hoping E3 2017 will deliver a swinging vine with which to grab and swing over, I feel quite different about the state of the industry right now.

PSP Pitfall

Totally professional artist’s rendition of Patrick Scott Patterson’s E3 2017 goal.

I think PSP’s lamentation of a time in the 90s where hardware was the focal point of discussion rather than games is fair. He specifically states: “…this time period seemed to focus too much on technology and not enough on games. All I wanted out of the industry – all my friends wanted out of the industry – were games.

I think that’s a fair statement and one that holds true for most gamers today. We saw that in the push back to X-Box One’s announcement focusing on television, television partnerships, a Halo television series with Steven Spielberg, and the multimedia capabilities of the system, to which gamers replied “where are the games?”

In fact, Sony “won” E3 that year and has been “winning” the latest battle for the living room by their message of being for gamers and putting the focus squarely on games at their presentations. Sure, they still had Netflix, were still working on a more a la carte TV offering, and were still a multimedia system too, but they knew that gamers want games and made that their focus.

Where Scott and I first diverge is on the opinion of delivering on this desire. I’ve talked with Scott via social media posts before have the impression he feels the PS4 doesn’t have the library to draw him in. I, on the other hand, have an ever growing library of games for the system that I can’t keep up with (as a typical gamer, my backlog doth floweth over), but I’ll touch on that a bit more later.

Hardware or Software? Who Gets the Spotlight?

GameInformer Issue 289

But is hardware overtaking the spotlight when it comes to games? Overall, I don’t think so. Let’s start by the fairest comparison we can have to the 90s with a print magazine. May’s Issue 289 of Game Informer dedicates four pages to VR hardware technology, but four pages to games coming out that will take advantage of VR headsets. Two pages discuss the Nintendo Switch, which is arguably a look at hardware.

A feature on indie games at GDC 2017 covers 12 different games with quick looks. 12 more games are given quick hit blurbs, then a page each for an afterwards look at Horizon: Zero Dawn and For Honor. Halfway through the issue, we’re on to reviews for Hellblade, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, Injustice 2, Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Perception, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Sonic Forces, Kingsway, Hob, Tacoma, Into the Breach, Quake Champions, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III, Perception, Escape from Tarkov, Tokyo Xanadu, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Ghost Recon Wildlands, Yooka-Laylee, Persona 5, The Elderscrolls Legends, and Tumbleweek Park. That’s 6 pages for hardware with 47 games getting attention in the issue.

Moving beyond print media and looking at the online landscape of games sites, where does hardware fall?

What is Real? – Virtual Reality

Honestly, things are pretty sparse on VR coverage. Many are concerned Sony has already given the PSVR the same vaulted position next to the Vita and PSP under a rug. Where Scott wasn’t impressed with its presence at E3, many are worried about a lack of it this year, myself included.

Specifically speaking, Virtual Reality is another point I disagree with PSP on in general. Or at least, I’m hopefully disagreeing while fearful he’s right, but here’s where wide eyed fool meets at-risk cynic with more matured observational experience. I’m a firm believer that we can look to our actual future by looking to the science fiction of our past. Whatever we imagine, we eventually find a way to bring to life. From Star Trek automatic doors and communicators to modern day….well automatic doors was on the nose, but surpassing the science fiction with Smart Phones, we’ve made science fiction reality. Self driving cars have long been a staple of science fiction and we’re on the verge of reaching for that goal in the next decade.

Likewise, we’ve long imagined virtual reality, where we can be fully immersed in another world, transported through some form of technology, dreaming of a day when the virtual is near indistinguishable from the real. While I don’t think we’re on the verge of that, I actually am excited by the modern adoption and interest in virtual reality and want it to be pushed. I want games exploring the possibilities. I want the clunky headsets of today because they’ll become the sleek visor/ear covers of tomorrow. I want the groundwork laid out now to be deep diving into VR when I’m in a retirement home.

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Obligatory Morpheus pic while talking about Virtual Reality…check!

I’ve never liked first person games, but based on my experience with Arkham VR, I look forward to an Elder Scrolls game in VR and am fully hoping next week’s E3 includes the announcement of Star Wars Battlefront 2 being fully playable in VR.  I haven’t played it myself yet, but most reviewers and commenters seem to agree Resident Evil 7 is a whole different experience in VR, and far more terrifying than it is without.

State of the Consoles Address

I somewhat agree with Scott’s view on the state of the consoles, though not completely. Nintendo needed to bring out the Switch to replace the Wii U. While the Wii U had some fantastic games and I agree will likely be seen as an under-appreciate system in the future, this fall will mark 5 years since its release. That’s only 1.5 years less than the Wii’s lifecycle. If the sales-struggling Wii U managed to reach that close to its juggernaut predecessor’s life, I consider that pretty good longevity.

The PS4 Pro and Project Scorpio, however, I agree are a bit unnecessary and I’m not crazy about the idea of half step generations becoming the standard, especially depending on how much more they start to offer in the future over their “lesser” versions. Right now, however, they haven’t seemed to be that much of a game changer. If Scorpio proves to be more of a true next-gen step with Microsoft stepping into a staggered cycle, that’ll be a bit different, but it remains to be seen.

However, going back to hardware overshadowing software, I’m not sure that spec comparisons of PS4 to PS4 Pro and XB1 to Scorpio, as well as PS4 Pro to Scorpio, are really overshadowing the games. Searching “IGN + E3” gives you IGN’s page featuring 29 articles on game expectations with only 2 on Scorpio. Searching for “Game Informer + E3” yields articles primarily about games. Similar results are found at GameSpot’s E3 page.

Obviously, Scorpio and its specs will be a big part of Microsoft’s presentation with them feeling they’re in a similar position as Nintendo and need to get back in the race. I’ll agree a stronger, more horsepower, console isn’t how I’d expect them to win gamers back, though. Scalebound and more exclusive first and second party titles would have done more than a beefier processor in a new system replacing what people already own. But that’s the course Microsoft is taking for E3, so…

Where’s the Beef Games?

When Scott says “I hope I can see an industry that is once again focused on providing wonderful and groundbreaking game play experiences, rather than continuing to hype the boxes that are supposed to run those experiences,” I think that’s a valid desire, one which I think is going to be delivered from Sony and Nintendo this year. Their boxes are out and they’ve said what they do, so now they can focus on the software for them.

He goes on to say, “If anything else, it’s a case of clarity as to where we need to put our hard earned money. There is a clarity and confidence in knowing that you have invested in a video game console that you know is going to give you joy for years to come. There’s a warm, fuzzy feeling in seeing a game library grow and grow on hardware you know will be the focus for quite a while yet, rather than this look-over-your-shoulder feeling the marketplace has created for itself now.

I really feel like here’s where we stop walking on different sides of the path and diverge in two different directions. I got a day one PS4 and I’ve not been disappointed with the first 3.5 years and I expect plenty more games in the next 2 or 3 years as well. I own 59 titles for the system (not including about 50 more from Limited Run games) and have completed less than half of them. And there’s no evidence to suggest PS4 is slowing down with God of War, Spider-Man, The Last of Us 2, Days Gone, Death Stranding and more on the way (though I suspect Death Stranding will be the system’s swan song at the end of its life cycle), not to mention third party titles that will be available on multiple platforms.

I jumped on the Switch at launch as well and I thoroughly enjoyed Breath of the Wild and look forward to Cave Story+ next (even though that’s not new, per se) and have heard ARMS is surprising people with how fun and challenging it is. I think Nintendo has something hot on their hands that isn’t going to cool off for a while still and hopefully that will be reflected in the software down the road for the next 5 or 6 years as well. Since this little device is so unique apart from XB1 and PS4, I don’t see it having to sweat the advance of technology as much for a good while still.

Khajit Has Wares, But Are They Worth Coin?

Sony and Microsoft need to show me something jaw dropping for me to trust them enough to buy their shiny new hardware.

I think Sony’s already made their position clear regarding PS4 Pro. It’s the console enthusiast version of the PS4. Much like a good $800 PC will play most games on high settings and you’ll thoroughly enjoy those games without missing out, there are going to be people with $1800+ PCs that play everything on extreme settings while running 100 resource hog addons at the same time without a hitch. PS4 Pro is merely that higher end one, but nothing demanding PS4 owners to plop down another stack of cash to replace their PS4. Sony’s not trying to convince you otherwise, and if you don’t have a 4K television, it’s a moot point to begin with.

Now, will Microsoft treat consumers the same? Will they assure customers that their X-Box One is just as valid and just as much a focus this holiday season as the Scorpio system? One can hope. I would certainly hope Microsoft wouldn’t be arrogant enough to think they can put all their efforts to the new system and expect everyone to jump on it, especially after so many X-Box fans jumped ship to PS4 at the start of this generation and even more are seeing the PC as the best option for the X-Box exclusives. An X-Box isn’t an Apple product, after all.

In Conclusion

I’ve been gaming for around 26 years, give or take, just about a decade (little more, little less) than PSP has been drawn to the industry and its offerings. Perhaps it’s that decade difference of experience and observation that still has me wide eyed and bushy tailed where he’s resisting what I expect will be a temporary threat of cynicism.

It could also be a shift in tastes. I know Scott’s voiced preference for shorter play times and quick plays with his kids, over the sprawling narratives and vast open world games while I remain single and afforded the free time to explore a large Hyrule or take in the story of games like Uncharted or the mix of both with Horizon: Zero Dawn. I think there’s definitely a difference in approach to games for a husband and father who is self employed versus a single bachelor with time on his hands.

I really hope this happens. For almost 36 years now, I have been one of the loudest advocates for the video game industry, save for that one confusing period in the 90s. I hate that I have been starting to feel like that again, but there it is. Just give me something fun to play, folks. Show me some focus.

Please.

I just feel if further rests on tastes and what you’re looking for. There are a ton of great looking games coming out and while some look similar to one another (yes, I noted the Assassin’s Creed similarities while playing Horizon: Zero Dawn), that doesn’t make them the same ol’ same ol’ either. Each definitely have their own flavor to offer.

I don’t platinum games often, but I try to finish every game I pick up. Even when games don’t hit the mark, I still find them enjoyable in some way and appreciate the different things many try to accomplish, even if they don’t quite get there.

I’d be curious to know what Patrick Scott Patterson’s top 15 games (total, not each) from 360 / PS3 / Wii (and Wii U) are. It would definitely be interesting when watching E3 to speculate what, if anything, catches his eye.

For me, I’m looking forward to all of it. I’ve never been burned by my own E3 excitement. Honestly, and seriously, not once. Bring on the games so I can start budgeting the rest of my year. I’m sure October’s going to hurt, as always.

Growing Up Gaming – PS2 & GameCube

We now reach a milestone in my gaming experience as I entered a new phase of my life. The majority of my experiences with both GameCube and Playstation 2 is set at college where I had both consoles and continued to play EverQuest. I spent the first two years of college going to a 2 year (or junior or community) college and saved money by continuing to live with my parents. I don’t have any stark memories of these consoles during these 2 years as I still spent most of my time on the PC.

As I detailed previously, I was deeply into EverQuest, so a lot of my time was spent on that. I also played a fair bit of Diablo, but the bulk of my time was EverQuest with a little still spent on Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II. My console time started up again the latter half of my college career when I went to a university. I lived in a technically on campus apartment complex with four small bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a living area with kitchen.

I was fortunate enough to share the apartment with three guys I knew from high school. One hooked up his Dreamcast in the living room and I provided the GameCube as these two were designed with four player hook ups. The Playstation 2 was in my bedroom. I remember two of the first games I got for PS2 were Dark Cloud and Ephemeral Fantasia. I didn’t get too far in Dark Cloud and although I really enjoyed Ephemeral Fantasia, I never finished it. I didn’t like the ticking clock mechanic for Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, but found it acceptable here for some reason.

The coolest part of Ephemeral Fantasia was, like Ocarina of Time, playing music. It was more challenging than the ocarina music and I seem to recall there was a free form option as well, but I may be wrong on that.

I had to use an online guide to get pointed in the right direction at times, but the game was fun. It is probably the one PS2 game I would most like to revisit and play through fully that I didn’t complete in the past. Even though it wasn’t reviewed terribly favorably, and is probably fairly average at best, I enjoyed it.

The next memorable game I’d note would be the first Spider-Man game based on the Sam Raimi film. The game itself was a decent game, and I played through it on normal, then on the harder difficulty and had a lot of fun… until a level chasing Green Goblin through the city. Oh the profanities that came from my room were of great entertainment to my roommates (one of whom equally entertained us with the same playing Dreamcast fighting games).

Spider-Man 2, however, was leaps and bounds above the first with the first open world New York City and actual web swinging physics. If there was no building for a web to theoretically attach to, you could shoot a web in the direction. Combined with button combinations to pull off acrobatics while web swinging, the game was fun to just swing around the city being the wall crawler. Speed was based on releasing your web at the right time, you dived off buildings rather than just jumped off, there was a lot of intricacies put into web swinging. Honestly, after they simplified web swinging in the next game, I don’t feel any have matched the feel of it since this one.

Of course I picked up Final Fantasy X, the first fully voice acted Final Fantasy game. I remember particularly liking the Sphere Grid leveling progression system and I never really felt the voice acting was terrible. Looking back, even Tidus’ horrid laugh doesn’t bother me too much. I feel in the context of the scene, it’s supposed to be cringeworthy and awkward. It’s a forced laugh, that’s the whole point of that scene. Nothing’s funny, nothing amusing has happened, he’s forcing a laugh for Yuna’s sake. But that’s just me, I suppose! To Zanarkand is also one of my favorite pieces of music from Final Fantasy as a series.

While people were getting their violence kicks in Grand Theft Auto games, I opted to be violent on The Punisher instead. Not the best game ever made, but still fairly solid and it had the over the top “execution” kills if you had an enemy at the right place when they were almost finished off.

Over on the GameCube, there are a few games I particularly enjoyed, but possibly not the first one would venture to guess. First and foremost is probably Hunter: The Reckoning. Based on the tabletop RPG by White Wolf, the video game was a four player isometric game akin to Diablo and with the four of us in the apartment, it was a lot of fun. We played through it a few times and I believe we beat it as a group on the hardest difficulty. An amusing memory was being surrounded by enemies everywhere and telling our friend playing the biker character to use the cleave ability to which he yelled back “What’s a cleave?!”

Similar to Hunter: The Reckoning, a one of the roommates and I played the GameCube Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. Hours upon hours were sunk into that game, playing late into the night, much to our roomate’s chagrin. Put away the torhces and pitchforks, though, as the same friend and I also played Baldur’s Gate on PC (though we never finished it….we got so close to the end and never knew it).

Continuing the trend of these isometric RPGs, X-Men Legends and X-Men Legends II were a huge draw for the same friend that joined me on Baldur’s Gate. Playing as the X-Men and actually building a team that you could play off each other with combos was great. While Marvel: Ultimate Alliance came in the next generation, I’d love to see a new X-Men Legends game.

Similarly, there’s Champions of Norrath, a game set in EverQuest’s world of Norrath. While the game made absolutely no geographical sense for those who knew the world from the MMO, it was fun enough to play. With Daybreak Games shuttering EverQuest Next, I’d honestly love to see a new single player EverQuest game set in Norrath akin to the Champions titles or more like Dragon Age, The Witcher Series, Kingdoms of Amalur, or in an Elder Scrolls style.

I loyally continued with the Star Fox franchise as well, picking up both Star Fox Adventures and Star Fox Assault. Surprising enough, I think I actually enjoyed Adventures more. I would have liked Krystal to have been a more active partner in the story rather than trapped in a crystal (har har), but having enjoyed Ocarina of Time, I liked Legend of Star Fox: Adventures in Time well enough as the game basically blended Zelda concepts and put Fox McCloud in place as the protagonist.

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“YOU STOLE MY GAME, FOX!”

Knowing the history of the game, even setting it in Star Fox universe, I’ll agree I’d have preferred Krystal to be the protagonist, perhaps rescuing the Star Fox team after being forced to land on Dinosaur Planet after a battle or the like. Star Fox Assault, on the other hand, seemed like a less than superb attempt to recapture Star Fox 64’s polish, but the dog fights never felt as hectic as they did on N64. The graphics were certainly a nice step up from N64, though.

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As always, Slippy. As always.

I had been thrilled with Resident Evil 2 through Code Veronica, so when the original was remade on GameCube, I picked it up. I believe I may have played only part of Playstation’s version and after finishing GameCube, I went back to play it again fully. I also enjoyed Resident Evil 0. Does anyone ever wonder what happened to Billy after all these years? In the same vein as Resident Evil, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem was a great game as well.

Another game I can’t recall which I played first, spanning both consoles, is Metal Gear Solid. I don’t recall if I played the original on Playstation or if I went back to play it after Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes on GameCube. Meanwhile, Playstation 2 had Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and later Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, all of which I played as they released and thoroughly enjoyed. Well, maybe less so on Metal Gear Solid 2. Sorry, Raiden, but I’m not a fan of yours.

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I don’t remember all the details, but I was a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer prior to college, so I did pick up the game “Chaos Bleeds” on GameCube to play. Though I don’t remember much of the game, I remember I did like it overall both in story and gameplay. I seem to remember the combat wasn’t too bad.

Lastly for these consoles, I’d note The Lord of the Rings movie tie ins, The Two Towers and Return of the King, the latter of which improved greatly over the former. For some reason, I played Two Towers on PS2 and Return of the King on GameCube, but I don’t think there’s much difference between the two to really warrant suggesting one system over the other. A bit of a smaller scale Dynasty Warriors combat with RPG character progression, the games followed the general story and were fun to play.

A few honorable mentions would probably be Okami on PS2, Enter the Matrix on GameCube (I liked it at the time), Star Wars: Rogue Leader & Rebel Strike in the Rogue Squadron series on GameCube while Jedi Starfighter was on PS2, Onimusha series on PS2, True Crime: Street of LA on PS2, and Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone on PS2 (why Wizards of the Coast hasn’t done a full Drizzt or Elminster game is beyond me).

I played Smash Bros. Melee a little, but we overall preferred the original on N64 more than the GameCube version in the apartment. I never did play Twilight Princess, though I’ve since picked it up and hope to eventually, though I’ll likely play the HD version on Wii U.

Moving on from college, though made for Playstation 2 it was brought to PC, where I played it. That game would be Final Fantasy XI. I had stopped playing EverQuest by this point and a friend of mine was excited for the Final Fantasy MMO finally coming to America. Three of us signed up and started it, but I didn’t last nearly as long as others did.

The Vana’diel March is still one of the most memorable pieces for me.

There were a few problems from the start, such as randomized server placement making us delete and recreate characters until luck put us on the same server. The only other option was a ridiculously cost prohibitive friend invite pass to bring another player to your server. I want to say it was 100,000 if not 1 million gil, which might have been reasonable for the Japanese players who had a year of economy going, but American players were started on the same servers with no gil and an economy already rife with inflation.

I fell behind my friends as they played up to 12 hours a day for a couple weeks when they were between jobs and eventually found myself spending more time shouting “Looking for group” to find a party than actually playing the game. Thus ended my stint in Final Fantasy XI. Now that the PS2 servers are down and I presume the PC servers will follow one day, it would be nice to see Square Enix create a single player version to keep the game alive in some form for the future. Perhaps the mobile edition they’ve mentioned is their intent to do so in a different format.

The last game I played on PS2 was Final Fantasy XII. I enjoyed it to some extent, but wasn’t a fan of the MMO grind in a single player game, perhaps partially because of my distaste for grinding after Final Fantasy XI. Still, I had every intention of continuing to play the game through to completion, but when the Playstation 3 came out, I sold my PS2 when I got a first gen PS3. The problem was the PS3 wanted to pump Final Fantasy XII through in 1080p and the game looked more pixelated and messy than a Playstation 1 game. As such, I’m eagerly looking forward to another chance with this title with the forthcoming HD remake.

Final Fantasy: Star Wars on Ivalice

That’s all for my trip down memory lane with the Playstation 2 and GameCube. I’d estimate there are only three posts left in this series and the next one will bring us right back to the world of MMOs with the one that changed the landscape forever: World of Warcraft.

Growing Up Gaming – Nintendo 64

I don’t recall the details of buying the Nintendo N64 as vividly as the prior systems and certainly didn’t get as many games for it. After all, the only console I can think of with a smaller library is the ill conceived Virtual Boy. I didn’t even play Super Mario 64 on the system, but there were some games I certainly did enjoy.

I got my first real FPS experience on the system with Goldeneye 007, aside from a bit of prior experience with Wolfenstein 3D on a friend’s PC. Despite that bit of experience, Goldeneye was the first I really played through and enjoyed, both for the single player campaign and the multiplayer experience. My friends and I played the 4 player battles enough that we invented our own games, such as 3 on 1 battles of “capture the base” (where in one level, the “base” was the restroom). While I still like Goldeneye, and had fun with Perfect Dark as well, I never really got into the FPS genre as a result of playing it.

Another shooter on N64 I liked was Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, and I still prefer 3rd person shooters over FPS. Although the game was probably fairly ranked as an average game, it wasn’t bad and it did offer a chance to play in the Star Wars galaxy. I particularly liked the Hoth level and the final level with the chance to do some space battles.

But if we want to talk about “Star Wars” + “Space Battles” then Star Wars Rogue Squadron was the game to get. The entire game was excellent, from its own Hoth battle to the more on rails levels. IF any series needs a current gen entry, even a VR entry, it’s Rogue Squadron. An entire game in an X-Wing sounds much more intriguing than just a bit of DLC in Star Wars Battlefront.

But for the N64, even Star Wars has to step aside when it comes to space battles as my favorite game on the system is Star Fox 64. Essentially a remake of the game on SNES, Star Fox 64 feels like it is the presentation of what the initial game was intended to be. With more complete shapes and graphics, superior music, and a bit of actual voice acting, the game was truly a masterpiece that has sadly not been matched since (unless you count Star Fox 64 3D for Nintendo 3DS).

Of all this era’s games, Star Fox 64’s graphics still hold comparatively well.

The only other big game I have strong nostalgia for is Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The first game to let us explore Hyrule freely in 3D, but more importantly to let us do so on horseback! Truly, Epona was the real breakthrough for the Zelda series here. The other unique aspect I liked was utilizying four arrow buttons for the ocarina music. However, aside from these new additions, it was just an excellent game that brought everything great from the series to the still budding world of 3D graphics.

Seriously, even the opening & title screen said “It’s all about Epona.”

As is obvious by the shortness of the list, I didn’t play too many games for the N64 and while the small library is partially to blame, it’s really the diversity of Playstation’s line up that really reduced my gaming with Nintendo this generation. I did miss some good games, like Banjo Kazooie and Banjo Tooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, and a few others.

I will give an honorable mention to Mischief Makers, which was a pretty darn good side scroller I remember quite enjoying. I was particularly happy to add it back to my library a couple years ago.

That’s pretty much it for my N64 experience. Next up, I’ll take a step away from consoles and head over to the PC that dominated the next few years of my gaming with a little game a few people may have heard of called EverQuest.

Growing Up Gaming – SNES

The Super Nintendo is definitely my favorite system. I enjoyed the NES, but Super Nintendo is where things really took off for me.Similar to the NES, I saved up the money to buy the system myself. I remember purchasing it in Houston, TX when we were visiting family.

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Buying just the system, I started with Super Mario World and was blown away. Granted, in my last post I did mention Super Mario Bros 3 introduced more new concepts that Super Mario World iterated on, but it did that so darn well. Flying moved from a raccoon tail to a yellow cape, but now able to glide along and even dive bomb with it. The big addition so many, including me, loved was Yoshi. I also really liked the music, which had some nice variety to it.

Super Nintendo also had some great beat ’em up games. While NES had Double Dragon, River City Ransom, and Battletoads, plus TMNT2 and 3, the SNES continued these with Super Double Dragon from Technos, Battletoads & Double Dragon and Battletoads in Battlemaniacs from Rare. The Super Nintendo also brought us Final Fight from Capcom.

Looking back, though, all my favorite SNES beat-em-ups have comic book origins. Of course, the first an foremost that has to be noted is TMNT IV: Turtles in Time from Konami. The game has smooth animations and great music and felt like the original arcade game had finally come to consoles (at the time, I didn’t realize there was a Turtles in Time arcade game). Just like many NES titles, it was a lot of fun with friends. We played the game fully through more than once, each as our favorite turtle.

The next I particularly liked was Spider-Man & Venom: Maximum Carnage from Software Creations & Acclaim, which was really hard. Perhaps not the best game (okay, it’s definitely not the best game, even for a beat ’em up), I still liked it. Playing as Spidey or Venom and playing through the story from the comics crossover was a awesome and the first time I felt a game started to capture the feel of being Spider-Man to some extent (previous titles didn’t do it for me). It would have been cool to have more of the characters playable instead of cameos for special attacks, but I still liked the game and there are certainly other comic book games that fared much worse.

Next would be what I feel is one of the best beat-em-ups and one of the best X-Men games for its time, X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse from Capcom. You played as Beast, Cyclops, Gambit, Psylocke, and Wolverine, each with their own stages, with basic beat ’em up levels, but some moves used more Street Fighter style controls to execute. The animations were fluid, the controls were responsive, and the story was fairly well done. Capcom took the gameplay of this game and went forward to be use it in another fun game late in the SNES lifecycle, Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems. Wolverine returned for this one, but instead of X-Men, you had Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Hulk.

I also really liked Capcom’s Street Fighter II on the SNES, despite being horrible at it in the arcades. Street Fighter II Turbo and Super Street Fighter II were also favorites to play. I was never particularly good on the console either, but still enjoyed playing the world tour at least. At the time, the big fighting game rivalry was Street Fighter and Midway Games’ Mortal Kombat. I never cared for Mortal Kombat, though. I preferred holding back to block more than having a block button and I thought Mortal Kombat was ridiculous with the blood spatter. A single punch seemed to send a liter of blood flying from your opponent. However, like many, I did find the fatalities ridiculously amusing just because of how over the top they were.

Continuing the exploration into genres I never got into on NES, we come to Nintendo’s new first party IP, Star Fox. I never played any sort of flight simulator or flight combat except perhaps a brief attempt at NES’ Top Gun that failed miserably. I think it’s safe to say Nintendo Power had a lot to do with drawing me into this one. I was 12 years old at the time and still on the tail end of TMNT-mania and had liked the space adventure of Bucky O’Hare (the NES game is an underrated gem – too bad I sold my copy and it skyrocketed in price since), so the Nintendo Power comic presented a good story basis to get excited for the game. I played Star Fox multiple times to explore each path. The Nintendo Power comic turned out to have little connection to the game’s story, but that didn’t matter. I still loved the game.

Just look at those cutting edge graphics that blew our minds:

Still continuing the exploration of genres I hadn’t tried with NES, I also loved another new one from Nintendo: F-Zero, despite never really caring to try racing games. The music went a long way for me and the health of your car being depleted and restored during the races added something fun. The other racing game I liked from Nintendo on SNES would be Super Mario Kart, particularly the four player battle matches. I still don’t think any of the sequels have matched the fun of the original simple balloon busting battle matches.

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And now we come to the real meat of my love for Super Nintendo. Roleplaying Games. Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy II (really IV) was my first Final Fantasy game and I believe the first roleplaying game I played other than a little of of Quest for Glory on PC. While I agree other entries may be objectively better, I still put this one as my favorite. I was completely engrossed with the story as Cecil gained and lost allies, fought monsters, and went through dungeons from dark knight to becoming a paladin. The combat of controlling the party, each character with their own class of skills and abilities, magic, and Rydia’s summons were all so great. I played through the game twice shortly after one another and was eager for more games like it.

Then it was Final Fantasy III (really VI). My friend recalls I was skeptical of it since it wasn’t a sequel to Cecil’s party. At the time I didn’t realize it was actually the sixth in the series with each being a new story. I quickly warmed up to it, though, and was once again fully immersed in the story. Overall, I do still feel like the cast could have been trimmed back a bit and that story driven games can easily suffer from “here’s a dozen characters…choose four” as you need certain characters in certain places to get more of their backstory or see their personalities come out and their character growth as certain events unfold. Still, I loved Final Fantasy III and never got rid of my original copy, the box, manual, or map.

Opening credits scene is near obligatory when talking about Final Fantasy VI

And finally there’s the winner of most “Best SNES RPG” lists as well as many “favorite SNES game” lists: Chrono Trigger, also from Squaresoft. I loved this game as well. So many great tracks on the soundtrack and a different take on combat from the other RPGs I had played. Chrono Trigger nailed almost everything for me. Characters were interesting, music was great, animations pushed the capabilities of the SNES, especially with facial expressions. Then on top of all that, it turned out to have multiple ways to beat the game for variations on the ending. This is another I’ve kept complete in box all these years.

A few honorable mentions for me with the SNES RPG line up would be ActRaiser from Enix, Breath of Fire from Capcom (but published in the US by Squaresoft), Illusion of Gaia by Quintet and published by Enix & Nintendo, and definitely the Lufia games by Neverland. Squaresoft also really hit a home run for me with Secret of Mana, which has one of my favorite pieces of music on the SNES.

Mega Man took a huge leap from NES to SNES with Mega Man X from Capcom, another favorite of mine. I only played the first, but have since picked up the second, which two of my friends feel is the best in the series. Eventually I’ll play it and someday find a copy of Mega Man X3 as well.

Similarly, I only played the first Donkey Kong Country. I’ve since gotten all three and am also told by friends the second is once again the best banana in the bunch, so someday I’ll have to get through all of them too. Donkey Kong Country was so cool because of how unique and impressive the graphics style was at the time. It was also just a fantastic platformer.

To wrap up this post, though not my favorite game on the system, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past introduced me to the Zelda franchise and is among my top games of all time. The charm of sprite based games holds up to time better than early polygon games.

One last honorable mention would have to be The Lion King from Virgin Interactive. One of my favorite animated Disney films, I got the game and was amazed at how smooth the animations were. I was also amazed, but not pleased, by how hard some of the later levels were. It also had some pretty good music adaptations from the movie that were impressive for the time.

Next I’ll talk about my memorable games from the other side of the console war: Sega.

 

 

Thoughts on Nintendo Switch

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Nintendo unveiled their new console, the Nintendo Switch, this week and the Internet has all sorts of reaction, as expected. Some are proclaiming the death of Nintendo (again). Unfortunately, investors are not convinced with the console either as stocks dropped after the system’s reveal event. Many are voicing worry that it will be a repeat of the Wii U’s underperformance and, to some extent, I am too.

A lot were thinking $250 was the smart, and likely, price point for the Switch. Instead, $300 gets the Switch console unit with dock, AC adapter, the Joy Con controllers and charging grip. However, once you add a game for $60 you’re looking at $360 to get started and $430 if you want to add a Pro Controller. What’s more, it’s a weaker system than Playstation 4 or XBox One. This could have still been appealing if it was released head to head with PS4 or XB1 at launch, but with those consoles currently priced around $250 with a game included, it’s a lot to justify. When the competition has a more powerful, current gen system, having one of the cheapest release prices in console history (when adjusted for inflation) doesn’t mean much.

On top of that, the accessories seem extremely steep. $70 for the Pro controller, $80 for extra Joy Con controllers, $30 for the charging grip, $90 for an extra charging dock set (if you want a second TV set up with one). If there’s a reason for the Pro Controller costing $20 more than the Wii U Pro controller (and a Dualshock 4), such as motion control or the advanced haptic rumble feedback like the Joy Cons, Nintendo needs to make it clear to make it seem like the value is worth the price.

Many are also marking a lack of games as a strike against it. 1-2 Switch seems like it should be the Wii Sports equivalent, packed in with the system, but it is a launch day game. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Just Dance 2017, Skylanders: Imaginators, and Super Bomberman R are all launch day titles. It does strike me as odd that Nintendo didn’t make more of a showing of Bomberman R, though I’ve seen complaints that it has micro-transactions tied up in it.

Within the release month, Has-Been-Heroes, Snipperclips: Cut It Out Together, and I Am Setsuna are also releasing for the Switch. While I Am Setsuna is available on other systems, I’d be interested if Nintendo and Square Enix offered a physical release here. Still, that’s 8 games available in the first month where Playstation 4 had 26 and XBox One had 21 launch day titles.

There was a Wii vibe from some of the titles presentations, but I’ll admit with the high prices, the game line up, and the presentation, there is a Wii U performance vibe here.

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The fact that Nintendo didn’t come up with this themselves is also disappointing.

However, with the information provided, I heard some real excitement at work the next day from fathers who loved the idea of the games for family nights and the ability to go from TV to handheld. The battery life didn’t remotely phase them as they expected portable charger options to be available. If that spreads, the Switch could actually be more of a Wii, adopted by families and less of the “core gamer” crowd, than a Wii U.

But here is my opinion on what Nintendo needs to do to get some interest in Switch, as equally irrelevant as everyone else’s opinion!

Indie Games – Court them!
I thought this about the Wii U and I feel the same about the Switch. Since the console is less powerful than the other two on the market, Nintendo should make a strong effort to court the indie games that don’t need as much power. If Nintendo made themselves into the key console for indie devs, they could build a library that’s unique to them. Seriously, Nintendo should have secured a Wii U console exclusive of Undertale.

And even if it’s not a Switch exclusive, Nintendo could stand out by putting in the extra effort to of releasing those indie games in a physical release that are otherwise digital only. This may seem like a minor differentiating factor, but Limited Run Games has been showing there is a demand for physical releases of indie games.

Imagine if Nintendo had picked up Mighty No. 9 rather than it being a Kickstarter project. If the project had been developed with Nintendo involved, their quality requirements having to be met, would we have gotten a better product? After all, since Mega Man was a staple on the NES and SNES, I felt Nintendo should have been involved in getting Mighty No. 9 up to snuff and securing it as an exclusive.

Or how about another NES staple with Castlevania? Would it increase interest in the Switch if Nintendo had picked up Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night as an exclusive rather than that being a Kickstarter project?

In the same vein as indie developers, Nintendo needs to re-evaluate their handling of fan projects. While I understand the legal necessity to protect their IPs, they could take a look at these projects they’ve shut down and work out a deal with the creators to complete the project for Nintendo. Moreso, they could start a program allowing fan’s to submit passion projects to Nintendo for approval and release. If Nintendo could bring these creators on board and officially release the fan made Mario 64 HD  or the recent fan remake of Metroid 2: The Return of Samus, it could offer relatively cheap exclusives for Nintendo.

There has to be some middle ground for fan projects to meet with Nintendo. Just look at Sonic Mania, a passion project including team members who were working on a fan project high-definition remake of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Having a program that encourages fans to submit their examples of levels or game work might find Nintendo new talent to bring on board.

Nostalgia & 3rd Party
One of the criticisms leveled at the Wii U is now being leveled at the Switch: lack of third party support. Some of the multi-platform games announced for the Switch are reportedly ports of last gen versions of the games due to the weaker power of the Switch. If the Switch doesn’t have the power to handle current gen games, they need to establish a unique niche that becomes a “must have” apart from what PS4 and XB1 offers.

The greatest strength Nintendo has is nostalgia, as recently demonstrated by the high demand for the NES Classic. They should capitalize on this with their new console as well. Not only do they have the nostalgia in their favor, but retro games are definitely in favor right now.

Rather than highlighting a lack of power, Nintendo could pursue third party developers to make exclusives, even if timed, that are lower cost and retro inspired. A perfect example is the XBox One’s upcoming Cuphead. Pursuing developers for these types of games while reaching back into their past library for inspiration could give them a good line up of new games. And if these games are cheaper to develop, a lower price tag on them could increase appeal. If Nintendo’s system costs as much or more than the competition, but the games were, on average $10 to $20 cheaper at retail, that could balance out the cost perception a bit.

Here are some Nintendo heyday series Nintendo could pursue convincing developers to bring back:

Adventure Island – Last seen as WiiWare, converting the original game to a 3D approach, Konami could come back to this series either as a classic style side scroller or keeping the 3D approach.

Adventures of Lolo – Another series that’s been forgotten, HAL Laboratory made Kirby and the Rainbow Curse on Wii U, so they still have a relationship with Nintendo. Lolo was a maze puzzler that would fit pretty well with Nintendo’s modern offerings.

Ghosts n’ Goblins – Though the original 8-bit and arcade versions have been re-released, a complete remake would be a solid exclusive. Staying true to the original difficulty, this could be Nintendo’s side scrolling “Dark Souls” of difficulty.

Ikari Warriors – SNK hasn’t done anything with this series since the NES. They were originally 2 player, but adding more enemies and really making the game chaotic could lend itself well to the Switch supporting 4 players, either on 4 Switch units for local co-op, or 4-way split screen could be loads of fun.

Capcom – Yes, we could long for Capcom to make another classic Mega Man that outshines Mighty No. 9, but no. Well, okay, if Nintendo could convince Capcom to make them an exclusive by the name of Mega Man Legends 3, that would get some attention for sure. But no, my thought was more towards a few remasters. Following the success of DuckTales Remastered, let’s get Rescue Rangers, Darkwing Duck, and TailSpin Remasters out.

TMNT – It’s been a while since the turtles had a good game and Mutants in Manhattan didn’t hit a home run. Either as a 3D approach or a classic side scrolling beat ’em up, Nintendo’s family gaming image might be a good fit to partner up with Nickelodeon for an approach at the four brothers.

Sparkster – Another longshot since it’s stuck in the depths of Konami, but perhaps Nintendo could pry it from their cold hearted fingers. I loved Rocket Knight Adventures and Sparkster and I don’t know why they never took off (pun intended). I’d love to see Sparkster brought back as a modern side scroller or as Nintendo’s contemporary to Ratchet & Clank.

Earthworm Jim 3 – Another title that hasn’t seen much attention other than a 2009 remake, Nintendo could do worse than to clench a new Earthworm Jim as an exclusive.

Samurai Jack – Ol’ Jack is on his way back to Toonami on Cartoon Network. Another potential partner for Nintendo to pursue, if they could land a deal to publish games based on this IP, it would be a decent win. With the new show said to be darker, it could offer a less “for kids” game for the Switch.

??? – This one will be a little difficult as it has the problem of no current developer or publisher, but Nintendo could go a long way if they could get a partnership deal with Disney now that Disney Interactive is defunct. Remember Aladdin and The Lion King on SNES? Smooth animation, tight controls, great music. Yet where was the game for Zootopia or Moana last year?

Staying in Disney’s court, where are the Marvel games? There hasn’t been anything in the MCU area since Captain America: Super Soldier from Sega. Aside from Lego Marvel Super Heroes, anyway. Where is X-Men Legends 3 or Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3? While these likely wouldn’t be Switch exclusives, having them on the system, if it was made, would be great fits for the multi-player that Switch promotes.

Mother Collection – Simply stated, if Nintendo would make a Mother Collection release for the Nintendo Switch, it would swell. At least to its fan base. If they’re that worried about it, they could do a limited first print run to gauge interest in the US with a 2nd print planned if the demand was there.

Nintendo’s Missing IPs
Nintendo has Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at launch and Mario Odyssey slated for holiday 2017, but there are still a number of Nintendo IPs that need games lined up for Nintendo Switch.

Kirby – Almost a guarantee a Kirby game will release on Switch at some point.
Donkey Kong – Donkey Kong Country is on SNES, N64, Wii, & Wii U. It’ll happen.
Pokemon – With Switch’s portability, I’m sure it will get a Pokemon game. They may not want to step on Sun & Moon’s foot on 3DS just yet.

Metroid – I can’t really imagine Nintendo isn’t finally planning a new game in this series, likely in the Metroid Prime series. I have to think Nintendo will want to do one with the Joy Con controllers. If they are planning one, it would be wise to announce sooner rather than later.

Kid Icarus – Similar to Metroid, I think it might be interesting to see what the Joy Con controllers can do to emulate archery with the haptic rumble feedback. When was the last time Pit had a console game, after all?

F-Zero – Mario Kart has taken all the attention as Nintendo’s racer, but I’d like to see F-Zero come back on Switch.

Star Fox – Star Fox fans are still eager for a good Star Fox game whereas Star Fox Zero was really a Star Fox game built from testing the Wii U capabilities. Fake leaks suggested Star Fox 64 HD remake and that might actually be all Nintendo has to offer to satisfy fans. Personally, I’d like to see Star Fox move forward with a new story after Command. Pick an ending to make canon and go foward. I’d also like to see a little more depth brought to the story. Have Fox, Falco, Slippy, and Krystal piloting with Peppy as tactical advisor. Play up the mercenary basis and have them framed as traitors having to prove their innocence & bring down a new threat. Bring in supporting cast characters and implement cut scenes to actually make a story. Honestly, I’d even be okay with Star Fox Adventures coming back if that series went more towards Ratchet & Clank meets Zelda with more of a Star Wars style story. Or go 3rd person shooter mixed with flying levels like N64’s Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire.

Bravely Switch – Since Square Enix is developing for the Switch, I’d love to see I Am Setsuna get a physical release on the system and Bravely Third developed for it instead of 3DS. For that matter, Square Enix could bring Breath of Fire back to console.

The Big Deal – Super Mario RPG or…

Paper Mario has taken the place of Super Mario RPG, but I’d love to see Square Enix do another true Super Mario RPG sequel to Secret of the Seven Stars.

But going a step beyond that, I’d like to see Nintendo and Square Enix do a spiritual sequel: Super Smash Bros. RPG. Taking the page from Kingdom Hearts and mixing Smash Bros. cast with Final Fantasy characters for an RPG. If they come up with a good story, having these casts interacting could be fun. And they could negotiate to give us an entire line of Final Fantasy amiibos. Even splitting profits on those, I think the volume might make up for it.

The Nintendo Switch is never going to compete with the Playstation 4 nor XBox One and Nintendo shouldn’t try to. Their best bet is to establish themselves with a solid line up of games that make themselves unique and worth having. First party games alone aren’t going to be enough, as the Wii U showed. They need to get third party developers offering games as well, but not just ports that aren’t on par with the competition. If they can carve out some unique offerings, though, the Switch could still be an appealing console and with a price drop to $250, it could become an easy choice. Most gamers today are willing to drop the money for two consoles if both are offering enough unique experiences the other isn’t.

And also…cut the artificial scarcity nonsense. People want your product. Get into as many homes as you can before they get frustrated and decide to just pick up your cheaper competition.

What do you think Nintendo could do to make Switch a must have console apart and separate from the competition?

 

 

Growing Up Gaming – NES

In the last post, I mentioned not being certain about specifics of my gaming roots, but my memories are more clear as we proceed to the arrival of the Nintendo Entertainment System. I didn’t get one at release, but I certainly wanted one.

I was in elementary school and we had a fund raiser selling raffle tickets with the grand prize for who could sell the most being $100. While my parents took me door to door in the neighborhood or out to the local golf course, and my grandparents around their neighborhood, I had to give the sales pitch myself. Ultimately, I did sell the most tickets and got my $100 prize, which I opted to spend on buying myself the Nintendo Entertainment System.

This set me on a path that I grew rather proud of, having bought every console I’ve ever owned through the years myself rather than asking for one from my parents. While they bought me games at birthdays and Christmas, I always bought my own consoles. I think it was a good lesson in responsibility for young me.

I got the Action set with the console, controller, grey zapper, and Super Mario Bros./ Duck Hunt.

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Note: I pronounce it as N-E-S, not “ness” which is just silly.

My first game, of course, was Super Mario Bros., and my father and I started playing it together. Now, my father certainly has never had much interest in video games prior to this, nor since, but at the start of the NES era, we did play together some. In fact, he played enough that I remember him picking me up from school one day with a big grin on his face. When I asked why, he told me he had beaten Super Mario Bros. My father beat Super Mario Bros. before I did. I beat it not long after, and with the Fire Flower’s power, which he hadn’t.

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I tried to claim he cheated because I was at school, but I knew the truth…

The other game I got early was also because of my father: Golf. My dad has always been a golfer and I imagine he hoped playing the game together might spur an interest in the actual sport, but the game did no such thing. It wasn’t all that great of a game either, but it still holds a special place in my memory because of that time playing it with him.

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Mario played the gentleman’s sport of golf.

Now, there are plenty of other games I will be talking about in this post, but only one other with a connection to family for me. I had my tonsils removed when I was young and after surgery, I got The Adventures of Lolo as a get well gift. I seem to recall beating the game, but never played the sequels.

While I didn’t have a lot of familial connections in gaming, I did have friends. All my close friends had gotten an NES and we would play whenever we visited one another’s house. One friend and I played through Bubble Bobble on 2 player together. I played DuckTales at another friend’s house, but never owned it. I borrowed Mega Man 2 from a friend to play through.

DuckTales The Moon Theme may be my favorite NES tune.

And that social aspect, the trading games, led to exploring other games. I got Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers because I liked DuckTales. I got Mega Man 3 because I liked Mega Man 2. I went back to the original Mega Man via rental because I liked Mega Man 2 (but never beat it.. darn rock monster in Wily’s castle).

Rentals. Ah yes, before our town even had a Blockbuster, we had a local family owned rental store. I remember renting Dragon Warrior, which I didn’t care for at the time, Dick Tracy, Robocop, Yo! Noid, and Ninja Gaiden games. My friend and I would play Ikari Warriors for hours each rental. I also remember loving Wolverine on NES after the disappointing offering of Uncanny X-Men. Unfortunately, I owned (and still own the same copy of) Uncanny X-Men and only rented Wolverine, though I’ve rectified that now.

Like almost every young boy in the USA, I was wrapped up in turtlemania, so of course I got the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game. I don’t recall how I got it, but I’d be willing to be it was a birthday or Christmas present one year. While many had trouble with the underwater level diffusing bombs, I never had too much trouble and with some practice, I was able to ace that level every time with minimal damage. It was the level afterwards that always got me, with so many places to go and not knowing where the correct path was. I’d waste too much health going to dead ends or in circles and lose lives. Without YouTube and the Internet, the best we had was whatever Nintendo Power had to offer (which I was subscribed to starting with July/August 1989, Volume 7). We watched my friend’s older brother get to Shredder once, but he didn’t manage to beat him.

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Some of the covers were pretty amazing.

By the time TMNT 2: The Arcade Game was out, we all knew the arcade game (which I would love to own one day) and though not as good, the NES version was still a blast. We still went over to each other’s houses to play it and we’d replay the full game again and again after beating it.

Another curiosity of the NES era is the movie games. Today, and for a few generations now, it is generally expected that movie tie-in games tend to be fairly lackluster, though there are some exceptions. This wasn’t the case with the NES, possibly due to the more simplistic game designs. Still, the NES had some decent movie tie-in games. The 1989 Batman movie game was a pretty good side scrolling platformer for its time.

I also still love the Who Framed Roger Rabbit game with the ability to drive around in Benny the Cab and outrun the weasels being one of my favorite parts. The game had some puzzle solving, amusing items to employ (exploding cigars and cartoon holes to cause enemies to fall through), collecting pieces of Acme’s will, some joke telling mini games, and a little bit of fisticuffs for combat. I remember spending a lot of time on that game, and a lot of frustration against Judge Doom.

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Seriously, it was a hard fight.

Other movie tie ins I remember being pretty good include the Robocop games, Dick Tracy, and particularly Gremlins 2 was a lot of fun. I think Back to the Future is supposed to be pretty good, though I don’t recall playing it. I also liked both Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, despite what anyone else says. Of course, not all were great, like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but the ratio of good to bad movie tie in games is definitely in the system’s favor.

I also played Super Mario Bros. 2 at my friend’s, or borrowed it, yet never owned it. Once again, it spurred me to get Super Mario Bros. 3 and eventually went through every level (though I definitely prefer wise use of warp whistles). The third is definitely my favorite on NES, though Super Mario World on SNES may edge out as my favorite of the series. Still, Super Mario World made polishing touches where Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced so many new things. Flying with the raccoon tail, saved games (correction, this was not on NES’ SMB3), the different suits with different abilities were all impressive and stunning new additions.

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In hindsight, I actually missed a lot of great titles that set the standard in their categories and launched both their own franchises as well as imitators since. I only briefly played, or watched friends play, Legend of Zelda and Adventure of Link. The same goes for Metroid and Kid Icarus. I never played Kirby either, though a friend of mine had the GameBoy game.

Bomberman.
Metal Gear.
Castlevania.
Even Final Fantasy!

All games I never played as a child and still haven’t played through yet in some cases. I’ve got them in my library now, added to the ever monolithic backlog, but haven’t played through them.

Honorable mentions of other games I did love: Contra, Bucky O’Hare, Tiny Toon Adventures, Little Nemo, Battletoads, Godzilla: Monster of Monsters, Double Dragon, and Shadowgate.

As a bit of a sidenote to the NES, I never really got into hand held games. I never had a GameBoy, but later got a GameBoy Pocket and then GameBoy Color, but I pretty much only got in on the Pokemon craze with Blue and then later Yellow. Otherwise, I didn’t really play GameBoy through its iterations.

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Back when he was a pudgy Pikachu.

To me, the Nintendo was all about fun. Well designed games with solid gameplay. Often light on plot, they were still a lot of fun. And some did have decent plots within their constraints. But Nintendo, the NES, was also about fun with friends and sharing your experiences and your knowledge with each other.

Playing video games at my friends, trading games to borrow, and talking about how to beat them pulled me deeper into loving video games. They weren’t just for introverted kids (even though to some extent I am an introvert), there was always a social aspect to them, even to single player games.

And though I may have missed some great games, I still had great experiences with the ones I did play. Experiences I hope to share.

In the next entry, I’ll talk about my favorite games from the Super Nintendo, where I fell fully into RPGs.

National Videogame Museum Opens Its Doors

The National Videogame Museum (NVM) opened in Frisco, TX on April 2, 2016. It was a bright, sunny Saturday morning. 10:00 AM, to be precise, was the opening of the doors. I was there and I was excited. Obviously, it’s taken a while for me to get to writing my thoughts on the grand opening of the nation’s, the world’s, first museum dedicated to the history of video games (I use “video game” though the museum officially uses “videogame”).

I had arrived at the Frisco Discovery Center, where the NVM is located, at 10:05 with a bit of a hurried step. I wanted to get in with plenty of time to look around as I was meeting someone in 3 hours to hand over some video games I had accumulated that weren’t going into my collection. I knew the doors opened at 10, so I went right in. And found the line. I followed the line outside again and saw just how many had arrived to see the history of their hobby.

There were a lot. The Museum holds about 240 people and the line was well out of the building and along the sidewalk, starting to curl around the build like a human formation of Nibbles.

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One or two people showed up

I stood in line with a mother whose 7 year old son was running around playing with other kids while they waited. Preston was here to see more about video game history, particularly Pac-Man and Galaga. I learned something from Preston’s mother in the hour we waited outside.

Pixels was a good movie. That’s right, Pixels.

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Yes, THAT Pixels.

Preston saw Pixels more than once in theaters and probably a dozen times at home since it released on blu-ray and DVD. Pixels introduced this young boy to Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Q*bert, and made him want to learn more. He went to Google and began reading about these games and these characters and when they came out. He grew interested not only in the games themselves, but their history.

If a 7 year old boy loves a movie about video game characters, and that movie drives him to pursue the history of the industry, then I have to say the movie did something right. Adults and critics may not like it, but if it stirred the interest and curiosity of children, then it’s a good movie by my measure.

And so, there we were, at the first museum in the nation that would let him explore more of that history. TekForce was present and volunteered to provide music and MC the waiting room that we reached at 11 o’clock. I was able to speak with him a moment and learned that the museum was expecting 1,500 visitors for the grand opening day. In the first hour, they were adjusting expectations to 4,000. They underestimated how many people would come out for the grand opening.

As we waited for our ticket groups to be called there were pictures available to color, music played, and a couch set up with a Wii U and Super Mario Bros. available to play. Kids were having a great time. There was also trivia to win prizes – the question I was present for was regarding Pac-Man’s original name (The answer is Puck Man).

At 11:35, our ticket group was called up and we finally went into the NVM lobby to pay for our tickets to the museum proper. Tickets are $12 for adults, but include $1 worth of tokens for the arcade at the end of the museum. By noon, 2 hours after arrival, I finally set foot inside.

The Museum is divided into 16 stages, all of which cover a different portion of video game history.

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But first, you’re greeted by Mario

 

Stage 1, “Begin” covers the early days of video game history. In fact, with Ralph Baer’s “Brown Box Prototype” on display, it might be safe to say this touches on video game pre-history and then advances through history from there.

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An important aspect of the NVM is that it’s not just exhibits to look at and read. There are a lot of interactive features at the museum, mostly in the form of playable games in the exhibits. Almost every Stage has something you can play.

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Just like the one you grew up with, right?

Stage 2, “Timeline” is the most time consuming interactive option. With screens set up above oversized Super Nintendo controllers, this allows visitors to browse every single video game console ever released to get some information about them. Release year, MSRP, some highlighted games, as well as notorious games, and some of the most valuable on the system can be reviewed. There are 53 different consoles to read about, all of which are on display on the wall.

Stage 3, “Third Party” showcases a number of the third party titles that helped consoles excel with the public. Pitfall, which is playable in the exhibit, Stampede, Megamania, River Raid are on display in their original boxes in a display case while some notable Nintendo entries from Activision share the bottom shelf of the display with Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, Rampage, and more.

Stage 4, “Control” is, quite simply, a full wall with a history of controllers through the years. Multiple controllers from each system are displayed, as well as a disassembled Atari 5200 controller.

Stage 5, “Portable” explores portable games. Game n’ Watch is on display, along with others that pre-dated the Game Boy most think of when “portable gaming” is mentioned.

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Again, there are playable games set up here as well. However, one of the most notable items features in this display is the Barbie Edition Game Boy, which is an unreleased prototype Game Boy Pocket. Supposedly the deal never went through and only two of the systems, along with a gaudy carry case, were made.

Stage 6, “Crash” is ironically my favorite exhibit, despite its dark days in gaming history. It deals with the video game crash of 1983. The first thing I liked was the introduction plaque does detail that the cause of the crash is much more complicated than the simple examples often cited, but not without being self aware of these rumors. Poor E.T. still appears in the stage’s image, even though it’s acknowledged the game was not the cause.

What I really liked about this exhibit, though, was the “going out of business” store front. With various 80s items such as Pac Man trading cards and bubble gum under the glass, a Top 5 sign for the week’s hottest games (which includes E.T., I might add), and a sign indicating the store is going out of business, it’s a very nicely done presentation.

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I promise I was also NOT the cause of the crash.

Stage 7, “Rise” presents the return of video games, stronger than ever, on both computer and with the Nintendo Entertainment System. A lot, and I do mean a lot, of set ups are here to play and interact with.

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At this point, as you venture through the museum, you’ll find the bathrooms. Not exactly something you’d think worth mentioning, but this is the NATIONAL VIDEOGAME MUSEUM, so of course the bathroom entries are worth mentioning with their clever indication of “Men’s” and “Women’s” signs.

 

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Women’s

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Men’s

Stage 8, “Create” presents games moving from just being games and actually involving the user in the creative process. Games like Mario Paint are on display, but I wasn’t able to spend much time hands on (there were a lot of people here, remember?).

Stage 9, “Invent” presents a theoretical game studio’s office. Games adorn the shelves, a PC and work station are present, various articles and news clippings are framed on the walls.

Stage 10, “Transmit” discusses the rise of online gaming with various Blizzard entries, Quake, and two terminals that visitors can use to communicate and send a webcam image to each other on either side of the exhibit with.

Stage 11, “Listen” details music coming into games more with entries such as Parappa the Rapper and, of course, Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution.

Stage 12, “Unplugged” is likely to surprise many visitors with the various board games that were released based on video game properties. Frogger, Q*bert, Pac-Man, Legend of Zelda, and more are all on display.

Across from “Unplugged” is an exhibit showcasing various items. Systems, the Pokemon series, rare and valuable games, this section is an eclectic mix of things that didn’t belong to a single exhibit, but are definitely fun to look at.

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Before venturing to the next stage, there’s also an exhibit with various pieces of merchandise, including the wearable Mega Man helmet.

Stage 13, “Family” accurately portrays a family living room from the 1980s, with a console hooked up for play on the television, a fake plant, wood panel walls, and a Dogs Playing Poker painting on the wall! There are even family photos on display.

Stage 14, “Sanctuary” depicts a teen’s bedroom. Bear in mind, the NVM is in Frisco, Tx, so if you aren’t a Cowboys and Rangers fan, forgive the decor!

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A Pac-Man throw pillow, 80s movie posters, a record playing 80s music, and a Mario phone. It’s worth noting that the visitor I caught in this picture….still had trouble with the NES Zapper hitting the ducks in Duck Hunt.

Stage 15, “Respect” isn’t an exhibit so much as an art display. A cube art mural of Ralph Baer hangs near the conclusion of the museum tour.

Stage 16, “Bonus” is a collection of framed posters, displays, arcade machines, and a life size statue of Gabriel Belmont. Along the wall next to Stage 16 are a line of consoles, all of which had someone playing them. I did get to finally play a bit of Bonk’s Adventure on Turbo Grafx-16, though. Above the consoles is a mural with a number of recognizable video game characters.

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Stage 16 leads to an 80s style arcade to conclude the tour of the National Videogame Museum. The lights are dark and lit more by the neon marquees and the screens of video games than overhead light and it was packed with a person on just about every cabinet. A machine is in the arcade to give tokens for dollar bills in case your 4 tokens from entry aren’t enough to get your gaming fix.

Finally, you exit the arcade to find yourself in the gift shop. I didn’t look at everything, but overall they had some cool items in there. Some books particularly caught my eye and they were all priced reasonably compared to Amazon.

I’ve gone on for over 1700 words about this museum and don’t think I’ve scratched describing it. I was hopeful for this endeavor after visiting the “History of Videogames” exhibit at the Experience Music Project museum in Seattle, WA, but this is far beyond what was presented there.

The one thing I’d like to see NVM add if they are ever able to expand in size is to build a display library for every system. The curators, I believe, have only brought out a small part of their overall collection. I would love to see a glass display shelving every Atari or NES title in their boxes. In time, seeing every video game on every system lined up on shelves, their spines facing out would be truly a sight to see.

If conclusion, if you’re in the DFW area in Texas and have time to get to Frisco, the National Videogame Museum is well worth your time. I only had a couple of hours available and don’t feel like it was remotely enough time. I’m looking forward to going back with friends when they come into town, but I might have to sneak an extra trip before they make it.

My only hope is that they get repeat business and are able to stay open for a long time to come. Video games have become a huge part of our culture, both in America and across the globe, and it’s great to see a museum preserving and sharing their history.