Arcade and Pinball Machines in the Wild

This weekend I took a trip to West Virginia to do some white water rafting. It was a lot of fun but it's not the point of this post. The campground that ran the river tours had a recreation room of sorts. Tables, chairs, air conditioning, and stuff like that. In the far back was a game room. It's a small area not much bigger than a walk in closet, but it had a whole bunch of interesting arcade machines and one lonely pinball machine. I wasn't exactly in the middle of nowhere (insert West Virginia jokes here), but I thought it was funny to see video games out in the middle of the woods.
 
The arcade machines consisted of Ms. Pac Man, Soul Blade, Area 51, and a non-functional San Francisco Rush. However, the highlight was a totally unexpected Johnny Mnemonic Pinball Machine. You know, that computer movie with Keanu Reeves. I think it had a dolphin in it.
 
None of them were on free play but I had a few quarters in my car I put to good use. I played a decent game of Mrs. Pac Man. The high score was 92000-something so I didn't even get close. Then I took a crack at the pinball machine. That was a short game. I haven't played a pinball machine in a long time but I still wanted to try because I had recently watched all of Giant Bomb's California Extreme footage. The best part was the fact it had a Johnny Mnemonic theme and re-enforces my idea that everything has a pinball machine based on it somewhere in the world no matter how obscure it is.
 
I didn't have a lot of money or time so I wasn't able to play the others. It's no big deal though, because I had played the other games in malls and stuff. Still, it was funny to get in a game of Ms. Pac Man while camping out in the woods.

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Past Expiration: Mischief Makers

Past expiration is my clever term for talking about a game that is way past its prime. In this case, a shake-em'-up from 1997 that came out on the N64. Topical!
 

Mischief Makers (Shake Shake: The Game)

Back in the late 90's, when video rental stores were still relevant, I rented quite a few games for the N64 when I was growing up. One of them happened to be a game called Mischief Makers. I remembered seeing a tiny article about it in a Nintendo Power but didn't know much else. The only reason I ended up giving it a chance was because all the good games were gone so it was practically my only choice. I didn't know what to expect but as I started playing it I got to know one of the craziest games ever released on the N64. I get the impression that this is one of the more obscure games, which is a damn shame considering how awesome it is. It comes from the insane people at Treasure where you play as a super powered robot maid named Marina Liteyears as she tries to save her creator Professor Theo over and over again.
 
Planet Clancer = Creepy Faces Everywhere
Now, the most important thing to know is how crazy Mischief Makers is on all fronts. Unlike most games where you stomp, shoot, or shoryuken your way to victory- you grab, shake, and throw in this game. You can grab damn near anything from giant knuckles, missiles, or freaking laser beams. Part of the fun of this game is figuring out what you can grab and turn into an unconventional weapons. Most of this will involve shaking that will trigger Marina's catchphrase "shake, shake." There's also quite a bit of platforming which is navigated with Marina's rocket boosters she can use to dash and fly around. It's definitely not an easy game to adjust to. I had a very long warming up period to the play mechanics (especially the dash jump) but the pay off is the ability to enjoy plenty of crazy action. Especially boss battles.
 
 
The art style is a mix of 3D objects and sprites that gives it a rough appearance (even when the game first came out). Treasure has been known to play around with all sorts of perspectives like bosses in the background or objects that fly at the screen. Even with the graphics, things get pretty hectic and add a lot to the general insanity going on. The story is also nuts mostly because it plays on a lot of Japanese style and sensibilities. Characters have no respect for the fourth wall and will call out things like boss battles on a regular basis. Plot takes a backseat to the action and I guess it helps that the characters don't take it too seriously. I know games that are too Japanese can wear thin on some people, but I think it really helps with the oddball character design and pacing of challenges.
 
You Ride that Tryke, Girl
Levels, and the game itself, can be quite short. But in that small amount of time they try to get a lot done. There are standard "fight your way through all these dudes" but then there are stages where you ride a tricycle for no reason whatsoever. You'll fight a bee in a volcano, explore amusement parks, surf on a cruise missile, climb up a volcano shaft as it sways back and forth, and play punch out with a giant lizard creature by catching his fists and throwing them back in his face. The game does a good job of mixing things up from area to area. And it probably comes at no surprise that the boss battles in this game are amazing considering this game is made by Treasure.
 
 
For instance, one of my favorite boss battles involves riding a cat while battling a motorcycle that fires missiles. As you
Marina riding a cat, while riding a missile
ride on the cat, you can jump on a missile and ride it around. While this is going on you can still grab and throw things back at the boss. It's pretty incredible to pull off. Another battle involves mercilessly body slamming a boss with his own giant mech. If any of this sounds like it could be tricky, you'd be right. For the most part these are not easy fights. Most of the challenge involves figuring out what you're supposed to grab and where you're supposed to throw it. The bosses will not make this easy as they fill up the screen with projectiles or constantly jump in your face to beat you senseless.
 
 
I hate you 100m, 200m, and 400m Dash!
The downside of this game, as mentioned before, is the difficulty. If you're jumping in cold there's a lot to adjust to. Sometimes the way to beat a boss or overcome a challenge isn't immediately obvious. The game has a hint system in place, but it's not always helpful. When I first played through Mischief Makers, I was almost forever stuck at a part of the game where you suddenly participate in a Track and Field-esque mini-game collection. I could not beat a series of meter dash events no matter how hard I tried. The idea was simple enough to outrun your opponents using Marina's dash, but it never seemed enough. I just about wrote off Mischief Makers as a broken piece of garbage until accidentally figuring out how to win.
 
The trick was that the C-Buttons are mapped to Marina's dash. But you can also use the D-Pad to dash faster by double tapping it. Using the D-Pad, you can easily smoke the competition with enough button presses. It really pissed me off, but I'm glad I got past it because the upcoming boss battles were totally worth it. Apparently there's a hint in the very beginning of the game that outlines the D-Pad dash abilities. But the Track and Field events are two worlds later. Plenty of time to forget.
 
I think that Mischief Makers is absolutely awesome. If I had to compare it to a recent game, I'd probably say Bayonetta without the overt sexual themes. However, I can totally understand if someone has a problem with this game because it's certainly different. Unique can be awesome, but it can be hard to handle sometimes. This game is also pretty short if you're not going for 100 percent completion. The only way to see the full ending is by collecting gold gems scattered throughout every level. Getting them from bosses often involve beating them without getting hit. This can be insanely hard to pull off, especially on fights like Cerberus Alpha and Phoenix Gamma
 
Still, I'm glad Mischief Makers got made. It's another one of those N64 games I wouldn't mind seeing a sequel on another console if just so I can shake, shake or grab lasers out of the air.
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Uncharted 2, Joe Danger, and MAG

Over the July 4th weekend I was able to hang out with a friend and play some PS3. I don't own a PS3 so it was nice to have the opportunity to put in time with a bunch of games I haven't tried before. The two big ones would be Uncharted 2 and MAG, with a little Joe Danger on the side.
 

Joe Danger

 Joe D-d-d-d-danger!
Joe Danger is a pretty sweet little game that looks simplistic at first. Of course, the longer I played it the harder it got to quit. It doesn't take long before all sorts of objectives are getting thrown at you. I'd say it's something like Excitebike and Trials rolled into a platforming stunt game. The best part I found is attempting to keep a combo going throughout the entire stage. It's not too difficult since you can pop a wheelie and save yourself at any time. The trick is not getting carried away and wrecking at a bad time. I have a problem of trying to pull off too many flips with not enough height and driving Joe Danger's skull into the ground.
 
The music can get a little annoying after playing for too long. There's probably a total of three actual songs that like to loop over and over again. And some of the stages get obnoxiously long. Like they keep going on forever and ever. Still, it's a damn solid game. One of the best parts of it was all the little nods to older games in level titles. One stage is called " The Klobb" for no reason whatsoever. Another stage is called " Green Shell" and there are a couple others too. I didn't get into the level editor but I can imagine all the insanity you could get into after playing around with it for awhile.
 

Uncharted 2

 Trains are fun, Drake! You'll love it!
Unsurprisingly, this is a bad ass game. I played a little of the first Uncharted and though it was okay, but after trying the first two stages in Among Thieves I ended up playing through the whole game until I beat it. Nolan North and Claudia Black have never been so entertaining before. My favorite part of this game would be the train stages. This game has one of the best train levels I've ever played. It's a real Indiana Jones vibe jumping from car to car, fighting on top inside and making use of vehicles on flatbeds. The voice acting only makes it better especially with Drake's laughter after he scrapes by an insane set piece to fight another day. I was surprised to find that fist fights were fun instead of something you'd never rely on unless the game forces it on you.
 
One of the best parts is the optional stealth sections that pop up here and there. My friend told me about areas of the game where you can get by sneaking around and killing dudes ninja style without being seen. After he demonstrated, I was pretty set on playing through as Ninja Drake as much as I could. The animations for grabbing a guy Splinter Cell style and tossing him from moving trains, ruins, or buildings never got old. Choking a guy out or dragging him over a box to punch him stupid is as much fun as getting into a huge gun fight. It helps that this game does blind fire better than Gears of War did and you can actually kill a guy with enough spray in the right direction.
 
I've never seriously considered buying a PS3 until playing this game. I don't know if I ever will, but Uncharted 2 is a serious argument in favor of it.
 

MAG

 Got killed here a lot
The massive action game FPS where you sign up for a faction and do dirt across the world. I've probably put in way too much time with Modern Warfare 2 to ever get into this, but my friend was having a blast. The main draw seems to be leading squads against certain objectives with team chatter and so on and so forth. But that seems to be the main problem of MAG. Even when a dude was doing his CO thing and telling guys what to go after, all he got was a load of backtalk and crude one liners from the rest of the team. I don't think the majority of FPS players are mature enough to take advantage of the scale in this game, or understand that the guy who has played enough to get a leadership position probably knows more about what's going on than a fresh recruit.
 
My friend picked the Valor PMC to roll with. I'm not sure which faction I would have gone with. They're all okay I guess. Probably S.E.V.R. if I had to choose because I have a fondness for Russian weapons. The shooting is a lot to adjust to since it takes a lot more than a few shots to kill a guy. Even with a Light Machine Gun, you really have to dump bullets into a target to kill one. We rotated after two deaths, and the majority of my EXP gained was assists. I'd start killing someone, and someone else on the team would finish it. It seems like a really slow burn to gain enough EXP for points to get new guns and attachments... but that's probably because I didn't put in a lot of time with it and played pretty awful. I wish we could have played the game type where you hijack vehicles, that sounded interesting.
 
Also, I don't know about you guys, but the Comms Market is pretty hot property in MAG.
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What I'm Playing: Tough as Nails Edition

I've been working on a pair of games recently. Kirby: Canvas Curse and Call of Duty 4. They're pretty far apart in some respects but share one thing in common. They're god damn unforgiving.
 

Kirby: Paint Panic (feat. Canvas Curse)

 Paint Roller is a Jerk
Kirby: Canvas Curse was a fairly gimmicky launch title for the DS where Kirby is turned into a helpless ball that you have to guide by drawing lines with the stylus. It's not a terrible game and it's not your standard Kirby adventure, but the real draw for me is a mini-game called Paint Panic. It's basically connect-the-dots on speed (as my friend put it) where you face off against Paint Roller. There's a pattern of dots on the screen that he'll trace a line through that you have to match. Of course, Paint Roller's lines don't stay up so it's a memory game too. All while this is going on, Kirby is rolling through a pipe at the top of the screen. Each mistake you make brings a parade of walking bombs closer to Kirby. Screw up four times and it's game over.
 
Paint Panic has one of those dick scoring methods (like the Trauma Center series) where even if you do fairly well, you'll get the lowest score ever because you weren't absolutely flawless. The scoring on Paint Panic is brutal. To give you an idea, they have a G rank. Below F. The highest I ever got (on the easiest setting) was an AA rank probably because I managed to get through ten easy pictures without messing up but I can't be sure. Combine this with a medium and hard setting and Paint Panic becomes an epic quest for high scores. Each difficulty increases the number of pictures you have to beat, how complicated they are, and lowers the number of mistakes you can make before the bombs catch up with Kirby.
 
Paint Roller can be a real jerk and use pictures that have several phases to it, like you draw the body, then he adds a face, or an accessory. One of the hardest pictures I've never been able to beat is the last boss of Kirby's Adventure on the NES. There's like five goddamn steps to drawing it and they have tons of dots... Still, I want to see if I can swing an AA rank on medium or hard. Draw fast, draw pretty, draw to win.

YouTube Visual Aide: Paint Roller in Story Mode
 

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (on Veteran)

 My health in Veteran
I went crazy a few weeks ago and decided to play through Call of Duty 4 on Veteran. I had a lot of fun on Hardened and decided that I wasn't going to touch Veteran because of a few key levels that I couldn't imagine myself beating under any circumstances. Somehow all the Ferris Wheels and Nuclear Bombs in the world wasn't enough to keep me from giving it a try.
 
For starters, Veteran is not fun. Not in the traditional way. Every enemy in this mode is equipped with a Soap-detecting radar so they can shoot you at a thousand yards with a pistol through heavy brush and a broken window. There have been points in this game where I was literally shot halfway across the map by enemies I couldn't even see. And they're infinite too. They will keep coming unless you make suicidal charges to move up the front line. Very quickly, I learned that Veteran is about crouching every second of every fight, hugging corners and making full runs across open ground hoping that I wouldn't get shot to death. It does a good job of making you feel like the only reason you beat a level is because you got lucky instead of being a good player. 
 
 Oh God! Oh God!
It's safe to say I totally chickened out on the "One Shot, One Kill" level and cowered in the corner of a building while MacMillan fended for himself. Of course, once the evac chopper arrives you still have to pick up your paraplegic CO and get on board. Still died a million times before I actually beat it. One time I was jumped by a dog for some reason. And it's a shame too, because "All Ghillied Up" is such a bad ass level that going out at that stupid Ferris Wheel is a crime. If Price doesn't have night terrors about carnivals and infinite angry Russians, he damn well should.
 
I'm almost done with the game on Veteran at this point. There are three or four levels left. Basically the nuclear silo. I don't expect those will be any more painful than "One Shot, One Kill" so it shouldn't take too long. I don't know about the Mile High Club plane mission because I've heard tons of awful stuff about that and it's an optional stage. The high point of Veteran so far has been the "Crew Expendable" cargo ship mission and the untouchable "Death From Above". I'm pretty sure that an AC-130 can save anything at this point. They make everything great.
 
Perks I'd bring from Modern Warfare 2 to Call of Duty 4's Veteran mode.
- Marathon Pro
- Danger Close Pro
- SitRep Pro
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Past Expiration: ICO

Past Expiration is my clever term for talking about a game that is way past its prime. In this case, a whole game based around an escort mission that came out in 2001. Topical!

ICO (Escort Mission: The Game)

ICO is one of those games that I always heard about but never played. I had only played Shadow of the Colossus after my roommate bought it because he loved ICO and convinced me to try it out. A few weeks ago, one of my friends started talking about ICO (running high on anticipation for The Last Guardian) and decided that I should play through it to right the wrong in my life that I had not played it yet. I admit, I was a little uneasy. Even with the praise ICO gets... it's essentially an entire game based around escorting a helpless mystical princess through a castle full of puzzles and shadowy dudes trying to brush up on their kidnapping skills. I almost didn't finish it, but I'm glad that I did.

This game starts out pretty damned frustrating. It's really inconvenient if you're trying to play through in small bits. There are practically no checkpoints and save points are few and far in between. If you mess up on a series of complicated jumping puzzles you die and have to play from your last save. There are no halfway points. You do it right or you don't do it at all. I accidentally played a marathon to the finale of the game because I was desperately looking for a save point so I could stop playing. Next thing I know I was fighting the last boss. Leading up to that is a whole carnival of tough-as-nails jumping puzzles that I did not want to play through again. I considered the game couldn't possibly have such a long stretch without save points and maybe it was quick saving behind the scenes... but there's no way to tell.

Most Annoying Enemies Ever

Combat is rough too. I appreciate the idea that whacking shadows with a stick wouldn't do that much damage but these guys take a million goddamn hits. They usually operate in mobs and when you're done fighting them off, another wave spawns and you're back to hammering one button as they jump back to avoid you and waste your time. There is literally one area in the game where a bunch of shadows spawn that can't kill you, can't kidnap Yorda, have no bearing on the story, so they're only there to harass you. That's a dick move of the highest caliber. The little spider shadows have a few places in the game where they can stun lock you by repeatedly knocking you down as you try to get up.

Drop her! Drop her!

All these problems are probably exacerbated with the fact that I didn't care about Yorda at all. To give you an idea, I pushed her off a ledge once because it was a whole lot faster than dragging her down a ladder and helping her up several platforms. I would leave her if I could but she opens up all the doors. She's a useless load and pretty damn particular when it comes to the assist moves. She has to line up in just the right way before she does anything like climbing or jumping or saving the damn game. I once sat on a save couch and watched as she stumbled around trying to sit next to me for five minutes. However, it's a lot of fun to grab her hand and drag her around. That was probably the best animation from the game. Dragging around Yorda is great to watch.

So this game has a rough start. Things got a little easier when I learned that opening Idol Doors nukes all the shadows in the area. It becomes the best policy just to ignore the shadow guys and run for it. Then you get the sword and combat becomes almost bearable. Then you get to this area under the castle and the game gets awesome.

Totally Going There

The thing I like most about ICO is the level design. This game has some of the greatest level design I have ever seen. I love any game where they give you this big crazy place and you can see other areas you'll visit later. Or as you play through the game, see old areas from another angle just to remind you how far you've come. Under the castle you can see this crazy series of water wheels that looks really complicated and I was like "Dude, I'm totally going there". And I got there eventually, just not when I thought I would and that was great. While jumping around can be touchy at times I like most of the platforming puzzles. It seems totally natural that the game designers would come up with Shadow of Colossus like "What if you climbed something that was moving, and it didn't want you to climb it?"

Running around the castle is the greatest part of this game, and I wish that was the only thing you did. If they dropped the annoying combat with enemies that take eight billion hits to kill (and maybe drop Yorda too) ICO would be better off. I know that you're supposed to make some connection with Yorda as you try to escape but she speaks in a language you can't understand and causes the lions share of frustration. It's really hard to care for her. By the seventh time she's standing directly next to the dark pit the shadows are trying to suck her down, or bumping into a wall when I'm trying to help her up a ledge, she's more like a necessary evil. I suppose she gets hers at the end of the game. But the story is so vague that it allows a lot of interpretation. That's a good thing I think, so you can make of it what you want.

Glad I played ICO. It has it's fair share of rough spots but once you learn how things work it becomes an enjoyable adventure. Those shadow guys can die in a fire though.

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10 Better Ways to Handle the Avatar: The Last Airbender License

The Avatar: Last Airbender series has so much potential to have some great (or bearable) games. The main attraction involves the use of various martial arts styles to manipulate the four elements in an East Asian inspired world with plenty of opportunities to invoke every kung fu trope in the book. However, with it aimed primarily at a younger audience (and airing on Nickelodeon), THQ wasted no time creating terrible games for a quick cash in on a popular animated series. Nothing quite shows a complete disinterest in a product like creating an X-Box game where you can get 1000 Gamer Points in the first level by putting together a combo with one goddamn button.
 
With the upcoming live action film directed by M. Night Shyamalan, a new wave of terrible movie related games is inevitable
 
Instead of making terrible games that regurgitate the story of the animated series without any of the style or effort that makes it entertaining, or hammering out a movie game tie-in, I have a few ideas that might work pretty well at creating a solid experience.
 
Oh, but they all have easy as hell Gamer Points because it's tradition (and the only way anyone would ever play these games).



10. Sim Ba Sing Se

Oppressing the world's largest city ain't easy, and no one knows that better than the Grand Secretariat. You play as Long Feng (voiced by the ever awesome Clancy Brown) as you rule over the Earth Kingdom metropolis, Ba Sing Se, while the real king is too young and too stupid to exercise any real power. You'll have the command of the Dai Li secret police force and order kidnappings, extortion, and executions. Bribe the upper class! Drown the lower class in fear! Brainwash suspicious kid heroes! Running a fake utopia requires a lot of ruthlessness and cunning, but controlling everything behind the scenes is just too awesome to give up.
 Ba Sing Se: It's safer here!


 
 
 
 
 
 
Achievement Points:
Effective Villain (500g): As Long Feng, kill a teenager on-screen by causing fatal internal bleeding. Gloating is optional.
Cool Hats (500g): Equip all agents of the Dai Li with some sweet-ass hats.

9. Tea Shop Panic!

You've might have played Diner Dash or Fast Food Panic!, but you've seen nothing until you played Tea Shop Panic! Make the finest hot leaf juice in the Earth Kingdom as you work your way from a cave in the wilderness to the finest tea shop in Ba Sing Se. You'll have to manage all kinds of techniques like sun tea and more as you try to win over every NPC who enters your shop. Higher levels require management skills as you hire greeters, tea servers, and try to control your crazy reckless nephew. Do well enough and you might find the cheat code that turns tea into alcohol. Good times!
 Yellow 1? Get out.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Achievement Points:
Sick of Breathing (1000g): Quit out of a game after starting it up.

8. Hybrid Animal Racing

You know a franchise has made it when they start cranking out cart racers. The Avatar: The Last Airbender series is no different, but instead of motorized go-karts, you'll race crazy hybrid mix-and-match animals. Flying Bison vs. Komodo Rhino! Platypus Bear vs. Ostrich Horse! Turtleduck vs. Wolfbat! You wish I just made those up off the top of my head. Race with friends on tons of circular tracks. Avoid poachers and traps as you try to reach the finish line. Winner eats all!
 Go for the Hole!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Achievement Points:
Cabbages (1000g): Reference a running gag from the show by tearing through a cart full of cabbages.

7. Sociopath Princess Maker

Picking a random guy off the street to be your most valuable minion in a 100 year old war is always risky. Make a safe bet by using family, or in this case, your only daughter! Train her to be a ruthless emotionless killing machine that would kill her only brother just cause it's something to do. Isolate her from friends and family and teach her that fear is the only reliable way to interact with people. Nurture her natural skills with Firebending to make her a prodigy that can destroy anything she damn well sets her sights on. If you're lucky, she might even kill the series hero (for a little while anyway). Oh, but be sure to ditch her at the most convenient moment 'cause when she snaps it won't be pretty.
 Your Ending: Batshit Crazy

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Achievements:
Genre Savvy (500g): The princess is smart enough to shoot lightning at the main protagonist during a transformation sequence.
Haircut (500g): The princess becomes crazy enough that she butchers her own hair to look even more insane than she already is.

6. Fire Nation Airship Simulator

If a series has elements of steampunk, the airship is not far behind. Why not get well acquainted with the inner and outer workings of the coolest way to travel through the air? Find out which levers does what as you gain air superiority and drop bombs on unsuspecting peasants. Gain altitude on valleys, ruins, and towns. Deploy soldiers on your catwalks so they can shoot fire at targets below. When you're tired of flying around you can attempt the holy grail of any simulator... landing without crashing! Or you can just crash. Whatever's cool.
 Airship Simulators have never been so much fun!

 
 
 
 
 

 
 
Achievements:
Birthday Party (1000g): Drop your entire crew out of the bomb bay during a birthday celebration.

5. Avatar: Bounty Hunter

Since the Avatar series has a bounty hunter character it's only natural that they get their own game. In this case, you play as June the Bounty Hunter who tracks her targets with a large fearsome animal known as a Shirshu. It's a cross between a star-nosed mole, a wolf, an anteater, and someone's nightmares. Oh, and its tongue paralyzes things. Roll open world style across the land tracking down all sorts of unsavory characters. Con artists, runaways, pirates, salesmen, blue spirits, Avatars, and more. Get hit on by a retired general three times your age as he watches over his jerkass nephew. All sorts of adventures wait in Avatar: Bounty Hunter!
 You Get More Money if they're Alive

 
 
 
 
 

 
 
Achievements:
Monochrome (500g): June only wears black
No Peripheral Vision (500g): June wears her hair over one eye and gets by just fine (somehow)

4. Pai Sho Deluxe

Play the ancient Avatar game Pai Sho in the style of however this game is played. It might be backgammon, or checkers, or a fictional East Asian version of chess. Your guess is as good as mine.
 Pro Tip: White Lotus Tile is an Instant Win

 
 
 
 
 

 
 
Achievements:
Pai Sho Master (1000g): Figured out how to play Pai Sho and won

3. Advance Wars: The Last Airbender

Turn based cartoonish military combat gets an Avatar style in Advance Wars: The Last Airbender! Play as one of the four nations as you fight your way to total world domination. Will it be the homicidal industrial Fire Nation? The huge uncoordinated Earth Kingdom? The isolated Water Tribes? Or the pacifist Air Nomads? Actually, this game only has three playable armies, because no one wants to play as a pacifist. Get your grid combat on and command a wide arrange of units in tons of battles. Don't forget to activate your CO power and swing the balance in your favor!
 CO Power: Incinerate Continent!

 
 
 
 
 

 
Achievements:
What's a Continent? (500g): Found the dumbest character in the game that the player is supposed to identify with.
Genocide (500g): Played as the Air Nomads and got wiped out by the Fire Nation.

2. Steel Cog Substance (Tactical Ninja Action)

The stealth game comes to the Avatar series in Steel Cog Substance! You play as the ninja-like Blue Spirit (complete with awesome mask) to infiltrate a Fire Nation fortress in order to investigate rumors of a giant drill machine. Use twin Dao swords to take out guards and sneak your way to your next objective. You're pretty much a ninja in every way but name, so you know what you're in for. What starts out as a simple mission snowballs into conspiracy! Betrayal! Exposition! Quirky bosses! Tons of dialogue! It could only get sneakier if you were completely invisible.
 Uh oh! The cart have started to move!


 
 
 
 

 
 
Achievements:
Bloodless Violence (500g): Tossed a dude from a tall height, never to be seen again.
Ninja the Ninja (500g): Become so sneaky, enemies don't even know what to call you.

1. Street Bender II: Four Nations Tournament Edition

If your franchise features martial arts, it's a dead ringer for a fighting game. The fact that a fighting game hasn't come out for this series yet is beyond amazing, but this will fix that. In Street Bender II: Four Nations Tournament Edition, you'll go head to head with the greatest fighters from all over the world. Become the greatest bender in the tournament and fight a whole host of eighty year old masters. Age equals strength in this world, although there are plenty of young guns trying to make a name. Get your combos down. Hone your half circles. Cancel into Lightningbending. Defeat everyone!
 Quarter circle, quarter circle, beat up on 14 year old girl
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Achievements: 
Only One Right Choice (1000g): Picked Toph Bei Fong because she's clearly the best character.
 

Closing

That wasn't so hard. Ten ideas that would probably make a better Avatar video game experience. Oh, also to cover the required quick time event...
 
 Press X to defeat the character voiced by Mark Hamill
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Past Expiration: Steambot Chronicles

Past expiration is my clever term for talking about a game that is way past its prime. In this case, an action RPG involving mechs and music that came out on the PS2 in 2006. Topical!
 

Steambot Chronicles (or Customization: The Game)

I first learned about Steambot Chronicles from a Jampack Demo Disk Vol.12 I bought specifically to play Okami way back in 2005. After wringing out the short bits of Okami as much as I could, I checked out the other games out of boredom. One of them was a game where you played as a kid named Vanilla as he wakes up on a beach, meets a girl named Coriander and rides an abandoned mech called the Earl Grey II. It was also pretty short, the but the personality test in the beginning coupled with the promise of hot mech-on-mech action in an RPG format piqued my interest enough to buy the full game when it came out. It turned out to be a pretty solid experience (but with plenty of rough edges) with one of the greatest instruction manuals ever printed. It also lets you customize the shit out of damn near everything related to your character.
 
First off, spoilers. I'm not holding back on anything. There's probably a handful of people who actually played this game, and a smaller amount still who actually beat it. If you have any interest in this game or bought it and never finished it but might be planning to at a later date- you should probably stop reading. You know, if you care about that kind of thing.
 
 User created Jack Frost cameo, ho!
Steambot Chronicles is an RPG published by Atlus about a world that has built up around what are essentially bipedal automobiles. The short hand for this is Trotmobiles. You'll run into plenty during the adventure since they do everything from haul lumber to wage wars. You only control one through the game, but since you can change almost everything about it from the color to the body to the license plate, that doesn't stop you from making the most badass Trotmobile on the block. You can even change your Trot's name from Earl Grey II to something like Widowmaker. Or Metal Gear. Of course most of the parts and junk I had to buy after doing jobs to earn money, but Trot materials trickle in like any old RPG. The best parts are won from boss battles like elephant tusks. I went through the whole game with elephant tusks on the front of my robot like I just got back from a safari.
 
There's also an option to custom edit license plates at garages. Leading to scenarios like the above where you have a popular mascot showing up on the bumper of your Trotmobile. Provided you have the skill and the patience, of course. I didn't have any of that so the height of my creativity was a Bomb-omb. Cause it was easy to make.

 
Mech Cars aren't the only thing you control though. The main character is a kid named Vanilla. His name is appropriate because he's essentially a blank slate ready to be filled player behavior. That doesn't mean he's a heroic mute. Vanilla has plenty of voice acting and plays the Commander Shepard-esque style of saying something along the lines of the dialogue option you chose. You can be straight laced hero of the day, or a dude so mean he can overthrow the main villain of the game and take over as a criminal overlord extraordinaire. The game has a pretty linear plot at the end of the day, but it allows a handful of impressive choices along the way. To give you an idea how the public at large handles your attitude, they have a title and reputation that updates as you save the game and go from one day to the next. At one point I was the Snobbish Hitman because I wore a white suit all the time and won battles fast.
 

Get Your Tank On

 Desert Rumble with a Dumb Jerk
I'd say the catch of this whole experience is controls. Trotmobiles move like tanks. You have two analogue sticks and you'll use them. Pushing up on both of them is forward movement. Pulling back on one while pushing forward on the other will turn you around. It takes some serious adjusting to get used to Trotmobiles, especially in battle since the cheating AI bastard is omnipotent and can jump around while firing heat seeking missiles, no problem. Since mech adventure and combat is one of the biggest selling points of this game, not adjusting means a long road of frustration. Most battles you don't have to win. Losing means you miss out on cool parts for your Trot, but there are only a handful encounters where you absolutely have to win. In Steambot Chronicles, failure is always an option and the story adjusts to how good you are putting down greedy jerks or rowdy gangs that get in the way. I was so-so at the end of the game. I had to reload a lot of battles because I really didn't want to miss out on special parts.
 
 I wanna be a Cowboy, baby
Since this game is an RPG it requires a lot of management of various stats like fuel and food. Fuel can easily be recovered by wasting enemy mech, buying fuel cans, or hitting up a garage. Ammunition is a little tougher to come by. Outside combat and travel, Vanilla handles like any blond, upbeat RPG hero but with an appetite. If he goes hungry he starts limping everywhere at a snails pace. This really only becomes an issue when I was trying to buy new clothes and items for my house. I decided to dress my Vanilla up in a turban and a British Empire looking military outfit. It worked pretty well. It was really easy to spot Vanilla in cut-scenes.
 
 
So Bad it's Good
My favorite parts of this game are a lot of little things. Gameplay wise, you can do a ton of stuff around the world. Fight trots, play pool with most of the major cast, dig up fossils for the local museum, play music on the street for cash, etc. Most open world games have this down to a science nowadays. But Steambot Chronicles isn't really open world. A lot of these jobs open up as you go through the story. But that's okay, because the main story has plenty of little quirks that I've come to love.

For instance, the last boss in the game is a dude named Dandelion. A lot of characters are named after food or flowers, but Dandelion takes the cake because he's the final boss. I couldn't name many games where the ultimate antagonist turns out to be a mild mannered musician turned revenge craving gang lord named Dandelion. I guess because Steambot Chronicles hits a family-friendly edge of a world where no one is really all that evil. Just angry people who make bad choices. There's a gang called the Killer Elephants that's ultimate goal is to travel to the moon (well the boss does anyway). The Bloody Mantis crew is a little more military but still hit a vibe of being unscrupulous businessmen who hike oil prices for profit. Major conflicts in this game invoke a lot of bloodless carnage where nothing really changes around the world, probably because it would take too much code.
 

Tone Deaf

The worst part of this game has to be the music. Yes, Vanilla joins a band of roving musicians. Playing gigs involve a lot of timed button presses with various instruments... but no matter how well someone performs you get a lot of awful music. Actually, it's a lot of the same awful music. For a traveling band, they have a really small set list what with inspiration for all across the land. At one point I worked with an ex-band member to pioneer the first electric guitar in the Steambot universe and... was sorely let down by an even more awful song. The worst part is that these band sets are required to move the story along. So I had to sit through a lot of crappy music. It's probably best if you mute the game, play a better song and pretend you're doing that. Another option is to go evil as soon as you possibly can and that way you don't have to do any more music sets since you're too busy taking over the world and spiking oil prices.
 
Steambot Chronicles is a pretty impressive game that goes up and down like a roller coaster due to pacing, music, controls, and funky difficulty. The one thing it had on me was customization. The quickest way for any game to reach my heart is give me an option to customize my character in as many ways as possible, and Steambot has that in spades. It didn't take long before I was rolling around in a blue Trotmobile with a drill arm and elephant tusks while wearing a white suit and fedora that would fit right in with any smooth criminal. I hear that they're working on a sequel that's coming out on the PS3... but that was such a long time ago that I don't know if it holds any truth. Not to mention it's on the PS3 and I don't have one of those yet. Still, it was an interesting and quirky game that would probably land somewhere on the Deadly Premonition scale of "it might be trash, awesome, or maybe both".
 
 The Game's Villains
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Past Expiration: Blast Corps.

Past expiration is my clever term for talking about a game that is way past its prime. In this case, a high tension puzzle game involving demolition and runaway nukes that came out on the N64 in 1997. Topical! 
 

Blast Corps

Blast Corps is a crazy little game from Rare that scratches every itch for blowing things up in creative ways. The story involves a truck carrying nuclear warheads that have begun to leak radiation. The drivers have bailed so the truck is on cruise control with no regard for what's in front of it. One tiny bump will set off the warheads and cause a nuclear explosion. The titular Blast Corps is a demolition crew that have been contracted to clear the way by any means necessary and save the day. However, they aren't your average demo crew. They have access to your standard fare of construction vehicles like bulldozers and dump trucks, but they also use mechs with jet packs, missile launching motorcycles, and rocket powered cars that can belly flop into buildings with catastrophic results. The kind of stuff that would put modern militaries to shame.
 
But hey, you're here to save the world, not take it over.
 
 Let's Wreck this Town!
Standard levels involve driving a vehicle (or sometimes combination of vehicles) and destroying every structure that's in the path of the warhead carrier truck. You'll get a helpful arrow that changes colors based on how screwed you are and how fast you should move. Early stages are simple pleasures like demolishing a town with a bulldozer. Or dive bombing office towers with the J-Bomb flying mech. Blast Corps vehicles are all pretty sweet and fun to use with the exception of one bastard truck known as Backlash. Backlash is a dump truck that destroys things by drifting into targets with its pointy back end. The mechanics for pulling this off are so totally wonky that nearly every Blast Corps player hates it with no end. Myself included. Of course, it's no wonder that the hardest levels in the game have you exclusively use the Backlash through the whole stage.
 
One notorious example is Diamond Sands. One of the hardest goddamn levels in video game history. I don't consider myself an emotional video game player. I've never cried due to a player character's death or tragedy in a game. However, Diamond Sands is so totally frustrating that I broke down in tears when failing the stage at the very last second. Of course, I was twelve or so when I played Blast Corps on my N64. But the feeling of absolute hatred and terror for Backlash and Diamond Sands have never left me to this day. 
 
Fucking Diamond Sands!
Unless you have some familiarity with how Blast Corps handles, explaining the level might not have the same effect as actually seeing in action. You drive Backlash around raised train tracks that you can't cross. There are buildings on the tracks that can only be destroyed by hitting them from both sides of the track. To get from one side to the other, you have to use inconveniently placed tunnels. The warhead carrier truck starts so close to the first obstacle that you almost lose immediately unless you're the master of using Backlash. I found a YouTube video of one player doing a speed run of Diamond Sands. I salute anyone who managed to beat that stage, and in awe of anyone who can beat it on a regular basis. Now that I'm rolling up on near two paragraphs talking about one stage, I guess it's a good time to point out that Blast Corps can be murderously hard.
 
 Weeee!
It's not all bad, though. The simple fun of destroying buildings because you're supposed to is great. Using crazy vehicles like somersaulting mech suits to rip through a refinery is followed with all kinds of neat explosions and collapsing effects. Plus, beating the later Blast Corps stages is fist pump inducing for how satisfying it feels to succeed. A few levels have hidden vehicles to make things easier, and I haven't even gotten into the side stages. Racing, obstacle courses, Pac-Man simulations, playing pool with a Bulldozer... this game has some amusing diversions from the carrier stages. It also has the A-Team van you can drive and a knock-off of the Duke Boys' General Lee (complete with awesome sounding horn). You'll also have plenty of stages to hate the Backlash some more. And last but not least, Blast Corps... ON THE MOON!
 
Blast Corps also has some of my most favorite music. Obsidian Mile is possibly the most upbeat song included in a game about demolition I've ever heard. Although, most people seem to know Blast Corps for Simian Acres. You know the one. The country hillbilly-esque song that plays in the first level. That's one pretty good too. Graeme Norgate does great work in this game. And it's good that he does, because you'll hear songs over and over on harder stages where you're losing every other attempt. If Diamond Sands had Obsidian Mile playing, I think it would have been a much more tolerable stage.
 
I'm always a little bummed that Blast Corps never caught on and didn't get a sequel or follow up or something. I'd love to see more intricate levels where blowing up buildings takes a little more thought. Maybe how they collapse and such. Some more crazy construction vehicles to roll around in. More awesome music. A new system so Backlash doesn't totally suck. The game was in on the crazy story so getting a sequel up wouldn't take a whole lot of work. Hell. Just reboot the whole game and do it over. The idea of a game playing as a demolition crew working for the betterment of mankind is definitely one of the more original concepts for a video game. And I'd love to see it again.
 

 Damn you, Backlash! Damn you!



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My Red Dead Redemption Song

Tryin' to be a Cowboy (Set to the tune of Kid Rock's "Cowboy")

I bought a new game, it takes place out west,

where all the ladies come equipped with scripts and great quests,

Locate a gang in the hills, kill em' like Clint,

Find an old hot spot to play cards with gents,

Ima John Wayne it up and down the road,

lookin' out for gold, till the day grows old,

Then go find a killer killin' the most,

and shoot that sum-bitch until he's toast.

Sombreros in the sun, outlaws on the run,

Kill a dozen deer so I can buy a gun,

Get into some trouble,

I planned to steal a train until the game burst my bubble,

Rob a stagecoach driver cause I accidentally pressed Y,

And can't escape the law no matter how hard I try,

John Marston, he's the real McCoy,

But only in the cutscenes, cause I'm trying to be a cowboy, maybe.

-Chorus-

(With the six shooter shootin' and the hot lead flyin')

Cowboy, maybe.

(Spend all my time in and out of crime)

I'm trying to be a cowboy, maybe.

(Fightin' all right when the Dead Eye meter's gaining)

Cowboy, maybe.

(I can get shot from a mile away!)

I bet you can't hear my horse when I ride on in,

It goes quiet like, cause it's shot dead once again,

Mean cops, mean gangs, mean around town all the time,

It once was bad luck, and now it's just mine,

Trains and plains, wild hogs and fights,

Far from the cities and the pity, forget dead to rights,

And if the slice is right, don't forget my knife toy,

It''ll be going multiplayer today cause I'm trying to be a Cowboy, maybe.

-Chorus-

-Piano Break-

Yeah, cannon fodder you can call me dead,

Rollin' non stop into bullets aimed right at my head,

See me, holed up, in a corner reloading like molasses,

Going "Holy shit, faster!" I'll end up dead in Manassas,

Shotguns sing it, just wing it, buckshot filling the wall,

Call me slow, in the show, with speed set at crawl,

No remorse for other players, cause they ain't nice,

They're shoot your ass once, and rape your horse twice, boom!

Curses fear, no good will found here!

It ain't an online match till someone calls you a queer.

Slick like West Dickens, ride like Slim Pickens,

They tell me to run but, hey, I ain't chicken!

Why they gotta pick on me?

Shoot me up, steal all my EXP?

I ain't no jerk, just a regular player,

I pull like a Brad, but win like failure,

Curse like sailor? Talk like you're sick?

I bet half of these lines probably end with a dick.

Spend my half my time getting called out online,

But I'll be back to single player in a matter of time!

-Chorus-

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Past Expiration: Saiyuki Journey West

Past Expiration is my clever term for talking about a game few or no people will ever have a chance to play or see. In this case, a game that came out on the PlayStation in 2001. Topical!
 
My roommate first introduced Saiyuki: Journey West to me in college. He was taking an East Asian Studies class and the Chinese text "Journey to the West" inevitably came up. So as he was planning to show this game in class, it first made an appearance in our dorm room. I have a passing familiarity with the Journey West story. A monk from China travels to India in order to update their texts and traditions on Buddhism. There's a lot of mythology that gets packed in there like the monkey king and demons. Anyways. He showed me the first chapter of this game. Time moved on, a trailer was released for Enslaved and it reminded me of this game. I decided to go back and check it out. I have this bad habit where people show me something neat and I don't usually pay attention until years later. 



 
Saiyuki: Journey West is basically Final Fantasy Tactics goes to China before going to India. It was published by Koei, which isn't that surprising because Koei has this plan to monopolize every piece of East Asian story / war / period / mythology and turn it into a game. It's turn based strategy on a grid with height, movement range, etc. You take a small party and dominate the world! Well, dominate random monsters and thugs in China and India at least. This game is a whole lot easier than Final Fantasy Tactics. As long as you don't attack or cast a spell you can hit back as many times to try out different positions and test out spell ranges. If you accidentally hit X on the wrong spot, no problem. Hit triangle until you're back to the beginning and try again. It's so damn handy, I don't know how I played FFT without it. 


The trade off is that this game has a lot less depth than Final Fantasy Tactics. When you get a character, the only customization you'll have access to is changing around their armor and spells. Weapons are upgraded, so you won't be shopping for swords or guns or ninja knives. It's not that bad though, your second party member runs up on dudes and hits them with a rake. It's a lot more entertaining than it sounds. Killing a giant golem thing with a rake is pretty awesome. You can train at dojos and take jobs from cities but it ends up repeating a lot of battles over and over again at places you've already seen. Also, attack bonuses are boiled down to superior ground. There's no evil random number generator screwing you when you aren't looking. There's no percentages of how successful an attack will be. You either hit the guy or miss because you tried to hit them head on or from lower ground.
 
This game is also pretty linear with a handful of branching paths... But hey, you're going to India. Journey west. One direction. That's how you get there.
 
This game isn't great on exposition. It lingers on somethings while glossing over others. You'll get the gist of the story, why things are going on and what you're doing, but if you're wondering why or how one of your characters can turn into a giant fish monster... sorry. Who is Kannon Bodhisattva? I don't know, but you better do what she says because she works for Buddha or something. Where are all these mean freaks that look like various animals coming from? China (and India) in this game are just dangerous like that I guess. Still, I love the character design and any game where you can choose to be male or female is a nice aesthetic option. And curiously, this game keeps track of tons of random battle stats. At any time, you can find out who does the most damage in your group. Who got hit with the most punishment. Who had to pull out of the battle the most. Stupid stats are my favorite. Like Resident Evil 5 tells you how many shots you fired from every single weapon in the game.
 
Saiyuki: Journey West is no historical text. I'm sure this game takes as much liberties with the Journey West story as Hollywood does with any historic movie. Still, it's a lot of fun.
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