Sparky's Update shatters into a million little pieces


It's time to crank up the tuneage to 11, throw on One Night in Bangkok, and ready your mind to be stunned once again by the sheer magnificence of the words I lay down.  After last week's soul-draining 50 game rundown, I've got one correction and addition to make to that list, as well as some quick updates on what exactly I've actually been playing and watching. 
 
Crap, another one? 
 
I left off a game last week that I consider to be so bone-headed, I had to add it here.  Fable 2, now and when it was released, is an treasure of a game that really hearkens back to some of my favorite series of old, namely King's Quest and Quest for Glory.  It belonged very high on my list, and somehow I managed to overlook it when I was compiling lists of games on a year by year basis about a week and a half ago.  If I were to go back and add it in, it would fall in line somewhere around 5th or 6th place, so maybe consider it game #5.5 on that list o' mine. 
 
Tactful Tactician's Tactics 
 
Hey, good puns are hard.  Piss off.  I downloaded a few games via PSN this week.  Most of them are old favorites from the PS1 era, including Final Fantasy VII, Wild Arms 2, and Final Fantasy Tactics.  While my love for FF7 is unabashed (I think it's the finest turn-based RPG out there, rivaled only by its own competitor, Final Fantasy X), I've not really talked much about the Wild ARMS or Tactics series in this blog.  Let's remedy that really quick. 
 
Wild ARMS, for its part, was a relatively quiet release here in the West, but it marked an important part of my evolution as a gamer.  FF7 was my first true JRPG, and coming from that game, I was hungry for more.  Wild ARMS was that all-important second helping.  It had some solid RPG mechanics, light puzzle elements, and some fun sidequests and upgradeable items.  It certainly wasn't going to win any game of the year awards, but it was a hell of a good game, and I purchased each of its sequels (on the Playstation systems, anyways).  Actually, I should mention that all these games are double-dippers.  I have them all on PS1 discs, but I like owning them digitally for various reasons, primarily that I don't have to worry about disc scratching for resale if I ever go that route. 
 
Final Fantasy Tactics on the PS1 is near the top of my "most played" list on the PS1.  I sank a lot of hours into the Final Fantasy games, but none so much as this one.  I was mostly hooked on its addictive turn-based strategy elements, and I'm really pleased to say that I still am.  The PS3 makes PSN classic gaming easy - all you have to do is create a virtual memory card, and bam, you're ready to download and play some PS1 classics.  The simpler, the better for this twenty-something old fogey. 
 
During my breaks from Final Fantasy Tactics, I've been playing Final Fantasy Tactics A2 on the DS to compare the two.  I'm pleased to say that both hold up admirably well against the other.  The gameplay mechanics, while basically the same, offer enough variation in the job skill routes to warrant seperate playthroughs.  I'm also very pleased to see that the original's graphics still look pretty darn pleasing.  Sure, they're simple, and the animations are short, but it keeps it simple, somewhat cartoony, and has a certain unique quality. 
 
I'll also be picking up Suikoden soon, which is another long-time favorite (see my list from last week for brief blurbs on entries III and V in the series). 
 
I Play Breako... errr... Shatter! 
 
I've said a lot of great things about Shatter on the boards lately, and I mean every blessed word.  This is a superb example of arcade-like gaming brought into the modern world, and I dig every crazy second of it.  It's addictive, it's got a basic backbone, and it has a fantastic original score.  My only complaint with the game is that when things become hectic and you've got a bunch of floating items, it can be hard sometimes to track your ball - which is sort of the point, so it's not much of a complaint at all. 
 
This is the sort of game I love to have on a system, because it's great to play for just a few minutes to chill out or to kill some time.  It never tries to be grandiose or to set shocking new standards.  The developers knew exactly what sort of game they wanted, and they built the frills around it.  Kudos to them for keeping it simple, pleasant, and a whole hell of a lot of fun. 
 
Popcorn TV 
 
This week, I've been watching a ton of TV, courtesy of Netflix.  On the menu were two shows I'd never watched before - Breaking Bad and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  I'm pleased as punch (how the hell can punch be pleased?) to say that both TV shows are excellent.  Breaking Bad's premise is brilliant and its acting top-notch.  I'm surprised at the consistent quality of the show.  Almost every minute is worth watching, not because I'm afraid I'll miss something, but because I'm genuinely invested into these characters, which is a hard stunt to pull off in television. 
 
It's Always Sunny is like a mash-up of the best parts of Mamet, South Park, and Stella.  It's shocking and hilarious, and the rapid-fire succession of jokes and dialogue works really well with this particular group of characters.  I'm hoping that the show will explore each character just a touch more to seperate out the males a bit from each other, but honestly, that's some serious nitpicking.  Danny DeVito's work in the second season is nothing short of awesome.  I can't wait to get the rest of the DVD's in the mail. 
 
Question of the Week

What are your favorite holiday movies or shows?

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Sparky's Update - 50 Best Games of the Decade

Keep in mind that this list is games I've played.  It is not my comprehensive list of what everyone and the world should view as the top games of the last decade - this is only my personal favorites. 
 

50.  Titan Quest (PC) - Titan Quest took the Diablo 2 formula, upgraded it with better graphics, and then promptly dropped off the radar.  Sadly, support for this game only lasted through one expansion pack. 
 
49. Psychonauts (various platforms) - Tim Schafer crafted a gem of an adventure/platformer with Psychonauts.  Some cleverly designed levels, a great sense of humor, and a fantastic art style helped cement this game's quality. 
 
48. Pirates! Live the Life (various) - This is a great example of how you can take a classic game and make it relevant in today's gaming marketplace without sacrificing any of the original gameplay.  Pirates is thoroughly addictive and loads of fun. 
 
47.  Half-Life 2 (PC) - Great shooter with an interesting setting and environment. 
 
46.  Final Fantasy 12 (PS2) - I greatly enjoyed the combat mechanics of this deep RPG, but I wish the characters and story had been slightly more interesting.  Still a classic RPG in its own right. 
 
45. Animal Crossing (Gamecube) - I think this game truly marked a revolution in Nintendo's approach to gaming.  It would certainly feature some original gaming, and was highly addictive. 
 
46.  Borderlands (various) - Simply a fantastic first game in what will hopefully be a long-running IP.  Great art style, fantastic shooter gameplay crossed with RPG elements, and a trippy sense of humor that I absolutely adore. 
 
44. Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (PS3) - Bright, colorful gameplay, an insane selection of weapons, and just a joy to play.  I really enjoy this one, and hope to play its sequel and predecessors in short order. 
 
43.  Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii) - I enjoyed Wind Waker, but I thought TP was a bit more polished and fun to play.  Although I'm not a huge fan of the Wii controls, the game is also available on Gamecube and can be played with a Gamecube controller, making it a moot point. 
 
42.  Modern Warfare/Modern Warfare 2 - These games would have placed a lot higher on this list, were my vision not so crappy.  As it is, I can enjoy the single player campaign, but have never been able to get into the multiplayer. 
 
41.  Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox) - A groundbreaking game for Microsoft and Bungie, and a fantastic game still today, Halo has become a benchmark of gaming. 
 
40.  Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Xbox) - A stunning RPG from Bioware, who have gone on to become one of the top names in RPG's today.  Knights of the Old Republic manages to surpass its sequel on this list due to its slightly better ending and more interesting characters. 
 
39.  Suikoden III (PS2) - An often overlooked RPG from one of the best series of games out there, Suikoden III did a lot of innovative things with the series, including three main characters, new cartoonish graphics, and.... ducks? 
 
38.  Lord of the Rings Online - Oh, LOTRO, how many hours have you sucked out of my life?  This well-designed MMORPG has some gorgeous graphics, an easy pick-up-and-play attitude (for an MMORPG, that is), and a keen eye to Tolkien lore. 
 
37.  Rogue Galaxy - It was hard to choose between Dark Cloud 2 and Rogue Galaxy, as they share a great many similarities, but in the end, the massive Rogue Galaxy wins out.  The charming visual design, the endless hours of gameplay, and the sheer amount of sidequests and time-sucking activities make this one of those "if you were on a desert island" games. 
 
36.  Rock Band (various) - Talk about a game changer.  Guitar Hero was great - Rock Band was amazing.  Either game could easily make this list, but for my money, Rock Band is where it's at. 
 
35.  Disgaea 3 - Any of the Disgaea games could go here, but as Disgaea 3 is the newest and most complete addition to the series, it's got my vote.  This game has sucked hundreds of hours of my time, and I keep coming back for more. 
 
34.  Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (PS3) - Again, another series where just about any entry will do, but MGS4 is an amazing experience both cinematically and gameplay-wise.  If it wasn't for the horrible "sneak and follow the civilian" mission, this would be much, much higher. 
 
33.  Final Fantasy IX - Another fine entry in the FF series, this one had a classic throwback feel to it and a whole hell of a lot of charm.  It was one of the finest RPG's for the PS1. 
 
32.  Tekken Tag Tournament - I don't think I've sunk more hours into a fighting game series than the Tekken ones, and Tekken Tag Tournament was certainly a high point in the series.  Later iterations are just fine, but this one had an excellent cast, rock solid gameplay, and gave my friends and I hours of fun. 
 
31.  Tiger Woods 10 (various) - One of the most consistently entertaining series of sports games out there, Tiger Woods 10 proves to be the best in the series with its revamped putting controls, excellent motion controls on the Wii, and some fun new additions. 
 
30.  Wii Sports (Wii) - Games are meant to be fun, and as such, Nintendo knew they had a smash hit on their hands, because Wii Sports is a freakin' blast.  Bowling with friends and family never gets boring, and there's nothing quite like taking out some frustration in boxing or baseball. 
 
29.  Twisted Metal Black (PS2) - I love me some Twisted Metal, and there's no game in the series that stands up to its biggest, meanest edition to date.  Twisted Metal Black is wicked, damn good fun, and the characters are the best to date.  Sweet Tooth and Axel, come back to us!
 
28.  Grand Theft Auto San Andreas - San Andreas nailed the GTA best - it had all the classic open-world elements, an insane cast, and a hell of a lot more to do in its world than GTA IV.  It would surprisingly be passed by a rival in... 
 
27.  Saint's Row 2 - Saint's Row 2 took everything that made the GTA series so amazing, threw on twice the craziness, cleaned up its gameplay, and added a boatload of mini-games.  This is open-world perfection.  Plus, you can customize cars, which a certain modern competitor can't boast. 
 
26.  Forza 3 - Forza 3 is quite simply the king of simulation style racers at the moment.  It's a blast to play, even for a legally blind guy like myself, and its selection of cars is admirable.  If only it had more muscle cars... maybe in the future, huh? 
 
25.  Silent Storm - SS takes the established Jagged Alliance formula, updates it with some nicer graphics and destructible environments, and lets the player loose.  If it had the charming characters and interactions of Jagged Alliance 2, this game would be at the very top of this list. 
 
24. Bioshock - One of the best shooters I've ever played, and an absolute treat from start to finish.  This is a game I'll be revisiting years from now. 
 
23.  Shenmue 2 - The saddest part about Shenmue 2 is that it doesn't end on a proper note, and we may never get a sequel.  That being said, the gameplay is still ridiculously fun, and it holds up impressively well. 
 
22.  Portal - Without question, the most important puzzle game release of the decade, and a damn fine game on its own merits.  I still haven't figured out a disturbing amount of its puzzles on my own.  Yes, I know, the shame, it mocks me, it mocks me... 
 
21.  Final Fantasy Tacics A2 - Final Fantasy Tactics might rip a page or three straight from its predecessors, but that doesn't make it any less entertaining or fantastic in every possible way.  This is strategy gaming 101, ladies and gents, and listen up, because teacher's talking. 
 
20.  Super Smash Brothers Wii - With a huge roster, a surprising amount of depth, and a meaty story to play through, SSB is one heck of a fighter. 
 
19.  Civilization Revolution - What an utterly astounding mix of intelligent tactical gameplay and pick-up-and-play gameplay!  This is a rare gem of a game, one that I believe can be enjoyed pretty universally. 
 
18.  Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Morrowind was simply a stunning game, one I was transfixed by for months on end.  Stepping out of the ship for the first time, I knew I was in for something special.  Years later, I still hold firm to that belief.  This is a superb RPG, and not to be missed. 
 
17.  Sam and Max (new episodes) - With the new Sam and Max episodes, we old PC gamers saw the rebirth of a genre many of us thought dead.  This is a straight-up infusion of gaming goodness, with classic adventure elements and some fantastic writing. 
 
16.  Left 4 Dead 2 - This is a prime example of how gaming has shifted away from single-player to multiplayer with astounding results.  This is also, unfortunately, a game I can't play alone.  Brrrrr. 
 
15.  SSX 3 - OK, I had a hell of a hard time deciding between Tricky and 3 to put in this slot ("That's what she said,"  Thanks, The Office).  But SSX 3's huge mountains, excellent soundtrack, and superb gameplay just barely eked out a win.  Consider buying both, as the crazy characters from Tricky are definitely worth a look. 
 
14.  Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 - Although by now the series has become stale and redundant, there was a time with THPS was amazing, and this is definitely where the series got its true start.   I'd say Undergroung 1 & 2 were probably the best of the series, but this one deserves the nod for its groundbreaking gameplay and fun.
 
13.   WWF Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 - It's hard to pick a single S v. R game for this list, but I'd say the ability to download created wrestlers and content edges out Here Comes the Pain.  This is an amazing series of games that, while it definitely needs a serious tune-up, has become a staple at my house. 
 
12.  Super Paper Mario - This is a superb blend between classic gameplay and modern inventiveness, with a dash of humor and some light RPG elements.  I adore this game, and frequently come back to it. 
 
11.  Valkyria Chronicles - Tought as nails, but the gameplay is addictive and rewarding.  The plot is intriguing, as are the characters. 
 
10.  Super Mario Galaxy - No one does platforming like Nintendo, and Mario Galaxy is the best of the decade.  I
 
9.  The Witcher - Straight out of the box, The Witcher is pretty buggy and flawed, but once you've patched it, settle into a chair for the next few days.  You won't be going anywhere.  The gameplay is incredibly fun, the story is fantastic, and the dialogue is without peer.  This is an incredible PC RPG. 
 
8.  Halo 3 - I can't compete in Halo.  It's sad, but true.  That doesn't stop this from being my all-time favorite shooter, a game in a class all by itself.  Halo's not technically complicated, but the gameplay is fast, fun, and addictive.  And there's still not any game on the market that can compete with its matchmaking capabilities. 
 
7.  Diablo 2 - One of the OG's, Diablo 2 originated a lot of hack-and-slash gameplay elements, and it's still yet to be rivaled in that department. 
 
6.  Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - Oblivion took everything that was amazing in Morrowind, made it more accessible, and ran with the ball in every conceivable way.  It is a fantastic game from start to finish. 
 
5.  Arcanum - Perhaps the last great hurrah of the eagle-eye turn based RPG's, Arcanum was a fantastic game that followed in the tradition of games like Fallout 2.  Not surprising, since it was made by the same developers.  Arcanum still plays well today, especially with the homemade patches out there.  It's not for everyone, but the steampunk envornment and classic dialogue makes this a no-brainer for an RPG nut like myself.
 
4.  Suikoden 5 - This was a throwback in the series, a cry to fans of the original two in the series, and it worked on every conceivable level.  Suikoden 5 has a fantastic story, an army of likable characters, and enough side-quests to keep most gamers going for dozens of hours beyond just the main story. 
 
3.  Mario Kart Wii - These last three took hours of deliberation (and a few beers) to help sort out which belonged where.  Any single one of them could be in the top slot, but we start the last three with Mario Kart Wii.  Mario Kart Wii is classic gaming at its very, very best.   The traditional colorful cast of characters is mated with the same great gameplay of its predecessors with the additional spot-on Wii controls.  This is a riot to play with friends, online, or solo. 
 
2.  Fallout 3 - My apprehension at the thought of a new Fallout game was quickly allieved within the first ten minutes of playing it.  Fallout 3 is one of the best games ever released - period.  With a lengthier main quest, it could have nabbed the number one position, but as it is, Fallout 3 is well worthy of all the praise I've heaped on it since its release. 
 
1.  Final Fantasy X - This is it, the big kahuna of the 2000's.  Final Fantasy X was the reason I purchased a PS2 when it was released, and it's still the best game on that system.  I adore every crazy minute of this game, and I still think it's the pinnacle of RPG gaming, turn-based or otherwise, to date as well as one of the finest games ever created.
 
Whew.  That does it for this week, folks.  I'll give you all a full update next week, including my most recent 360 woes as well as some classic PS1 gaming on the PS3. 
 
In the meantime, here's your questions of the week.  Yes, you get two this week.  First, what are your favorite Christmas (or holiday) traditions?  Second, what are your top three, five, or ten picks for games of the decade?

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Sparky's Update grabs its spandex and shield yet again!


Here's hoping you all are still feeling as stuffed and full as I am after a wonderful Thanksgiving.  The dreaded Black Friday has come and gone, and with it, many a great deal was to be found - and lost, for that matter.  This week, I'm suiting up in my tights and spandex once again for Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, Black Friday deals, and my thoughts on the superb Where the Wild Things Are.  The film, that is, not the inevitably crappy spin-off game.
 
I Love My Spandex 
 
I know a lot of people felt that Marvel UA 2 was dumbed down quite a bit, but I don't look at it that way after having played it now for about twelve to fifteen hours.  It felt like the developers were trying to bring it back to the essentials, and though it ditches some of the fun loot collecting of the earlier games, there is still plenty here to enjoy.  The graphical overhaul looks great for the most part, though character faces are shockingly devoid of detail, especially given how much detail goes into their actual costumes.  The gameplay is rock-solid and familiar - if you've played a prior X-Men Legends or the original UA, you've got the basics pretty well covered.  The much-touted (by its publishers) Fusion system is actually fairly basic, but shows room for improvement and growth once the team can develop more animations and tinker a bit with unique team-ups.  The story is the most intriguing bit about the game, and definitely the highlight of the series as it covers the Civil War/Secret Invasion very, very well while throwing in its own little charms and moments. 
 
One thing that I'd still like to see is an even larger roster of characters.  The decision to not include some former characters is a head-scratcher, and there are some well-designed character models that make appearances without being selectable characters.  Really, the choices are just odd in spots, too - you can play as Songbird, but not Bishop or War Machine - what the hell?  The downloadable characters are well-designed and vary from the pre-existing characters, though they are light on unique dialogue, which is a bit of a disappointment.  Still want to see Wonder Man, Quasar, Havoc, and many, many others become selectable characters.  Eh, I can hope, anyways. 
 
Oh, and Psylocke as a downloadable character?  Mmmm mmmm mmmm. 
 
Man, I Hate Black Friday 
 
I really despise the entire idea of Black Friday.  It's taking a holiday that should be about good cheer and togetherness, and smashing you over the head with consumerism and shopping madness.  People have actually committed violence against one another and KILLED for discounts.  Can you fully comprehend the very madness of that sentence?  I think about it, and it's like my mind is teetering on the edge of some great black sociological abyss.  It's one of the most depressing statements about mankind I can make, so it horrifies me a bit that I take part in it and am generally just as grumpy as the next guy. 
 
What's sad is that I was basically along for the ride.  I had almost all my shopping done and needed to pick up only one item that wasn't even on sale that day.  Yep, I went along for no good reason, and boy, do I regret it.  It wasn't my first time at the rodeo, but it'll almost certainly be my last. 
 
That being said, I found some fantastic deals on games - ironically enough, all through Amazon.  I picked up Tekken 6, Tales of Vesperia, and Wolfenstein, as well as a couple of deals for my brother's Christmas present (not listing them here on the odd chance he actually might read this).  I held off on purchasing Dragon Age Origins in the hope that I might get it for X-mas from a loved one - I don't mean that to sound selfish at all, and I never expect gifts.  It's just the one game I'm hoping I might get. 
 
Beyond video games, I picked up some hunting gear for my dad, as well as some bruises from a beefcake woman who thought by ramming me with her cart, she'd get to the deals on flashlights and drills at Home Depot just that much faster.  Black Friday, I love your smokin' deals, but next year, my ass is staying in my house and I'm buying online. 
 
Where the Wild Things Were

Only one real other note this week.  Where the Wild Things Are is one of the most fantastic films I've seen this decade, right alongside the LOTR and Pirates movies.  It is simply excellent storytelling.   I'm man enough to admit that I was on the verge of tears at several points throughout the movie because I've been dealing with a lot of personal issues this year, and seeing something that brought me back so much to my childhood just did it to me.  It's a bit unfocused in parts, and the ending really could have used an extra five or ten minutes for some closure between a couple of characters, but overall, it's one of the best movies I've seen. 
 
Question of the Week, and Notes on a Future Installment

 I'm going to be putting together a huge wall 'o text for an upcoming installment.  I'm tentatively planning on talking about my favorite games of the 2000's, with highlights from each year for consoles and PC's.  It's a huge undertaking, but it should be ready by Christmas.  Until that time, I'll probably be posting shorter updates with quicker looks at games - yeah, I know, they're already pretty short. 
 
With Christmas almost upon us, I figure I'm going to shy away from games for just a few weeks and ask some fun Christmas-related questions.  This week, we'll start with an easy one.  What are your favorite Christmas treats or candies?  Any family or home-cooked treats you particularly love?

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Sparky's Update causes some vehicular mayhem and rules the world!


Grab yourself a turkey leg, some yams, a slice of pie, and a bottle of 'shine.  It's time again for Sparky's Update, brought to you this week by Weird Al Yankovic!  Remember, folks, this holiday season, just eat it! 
 
This week, I'm examining three superb games - Civilization Revolution, Forza 3, and Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia.  I'll also give my thoughts on the movies The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard and Zombieland.  Time to undo that extra notch on your belt, kids, because you're about to be fed some delicious morsels even before Thanksgiving hits. 
 
Everybody Wants to Rule the World

When you talk names in games, Sid Meier's name is one of my most respected, right there with Al Lowe, Will Wright, and Ken and Roberta Williams.  If any of these folks' name is on a game's box, I'm immediately intrigued.  Sid Meier's Pirates was, is, and will probably always be one of my favorite games of all time, and I can safely say that I can add Civilization Revolution right next to its name. 
 
This is not the first time I've visited this rodeo.  I played through a session of Civ Rev at my brother's house when it first came out, but never had enough freedom to really explore the innate charm and quality of the game.  This time around, I'm hooked.  The varying difficulty levels feel just right, the gameplay is smooth as silk, and it's immensely easy to pick up and play, yet hard to master on its higher difficulty levels.  Definitely not impossible, but a struggle, which is about how I like my difficulty. 
 
The graphics are charming as all hell, and the Sim-like speak of the advisors and various characters is amusing, if a bit overplayed by your fifth or sixth game.  There is a fair bit of DLC for Civ Rev.  The prices vary from, "Hey, that's a steal," to "Really?  They're charging that much for a few items and buildings?"  If a good sale comes along, I'll pick up the last few items, but until then, I've satisfied myself with some new maps and freebies. 
 
And now I really want to pick up the complete Civ 4 package.  Hah! 
 
I Vant to Suck Your Blood... and Your Time!

Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is a fine Metroid-vania.  I have really only just scratched the surface, but I'm enjoying the characters, the settings, and the gameplay.  It's classic Metroid-style gameplay, with a tinge of RPG elements.  It can be frustratingly difficult at times (getting through the levels is often way harder than the mini-bosses), though the leveling system and the relatively frequent save points keep me from abandoning this one to the depths. 
 
One thing I'm enjoying is the visuals and the sound.  Both match the setting and the environments perfectly.  The backgrounds are stunningly well-drawn at times, the bosses creative, and the character portraits are the right blend between cartoony and realistic.  It looks like an adult-themed anime of sorts, which works well in this case.   The music is pretty darned good and unobtrusive, and I'm enjoying the varied sound effects. 
 
I'll let you all know more of my thoughts when I get a bit deeper into this one. 
 
The Best Damn Racing Game I've Played That Doesn't Rhyme with Shario Mart!

Forza 3 is without a doubt the best racing sim I've had the joy of playing, and do you know how I know that?  I actually want to play, as opposed to just sit around, let the hired drivers do the work, and collect cars.  Forza 3 has made racing accessible even to a legally blind man like myself.  Between the auto-brake system, the varying levels of difficulty, the "rewind" button, and the many adjustable options for difficulty settings, Forza 3 is as good as it gets for a guy who can't get behind the wheel himself. 
 
I say that only half-jokingly, but here it is.  Forza 3 allows me to enjoy driving.  That's as high of a recommendation as I can ever give a game, and it just about brings me to tears saying it.  It's been seven long and frustrating years since my eyesight forced me to stop driving, and it's games like this one that allow me a small taste of what that joy once was.  That's the highest bit of praise I have ever given a game. 
 
Forza 3 does many other things right too.  The season mode play is a riot, there are lots more online shopping options (love being able to buy some vinyls from other gamers), and the cars look and feel fantastic.  I love the way a Challenger will roast its tires for a few seconds, almost slipping sideways, and then roar forward as it gains traction.  It's a brilliantly designed game on every level. 
 
I have only two complaints.  One, the text size is tiny.  Two, it just doesn't feel like there are as many cars as there should be.  I want to see more years and models of classic muscle cars, old show cars, and more modern racers.  I think the introduction of cars from the 50's and 40's would be an awesome thing - even if they aren't exactly made for racing, these cars would still be a hell of a lot of fun to customize or use in a Classics showdown series. 
 
My Name si Sparky, and I've Got the Goods.

I love The Goods.  It's a movie that feels like it was made for me and my shotgun-style sense of humor.  The cast is brilliant, the jokes mostly hilarious, and the continual one-two punch of the timing is awesome.  It's not necessarily a well-composed movie, but it's not really supposed to be.  It's pretty much a long series of jokes, weaving in and out of each other, and it really works for me. 
 
Saw Zombieland this weekend, too, and it stands alongside the likes of Shaun of the Dead.  This is an amazing bit of film-making, where everything seems to come together in just the right way.  There are the usual faults of a zombie movie - some of the characters make some insanely dumb decisions - but overall, it's one hell of a ride. 
 
Giving Thanks, Sparky-Style, and Your Question of the Week

 Gaming-wise, this year, I have a ton to be grateful for.  We've seen the release of the aforementioned Forza 3, Borderlands, Left 4 Dead 2, Tiger Woods 10, and so many other games.  It's hard to keep track of them all at this point, so look for a special list sometime closer to Christmas.  I'm thankful for the brilliant advertising of Borderlands, and that the game's release saw it become one of the best games of this year.  I'm grateful for the chainsaw in Left 4 Dead 2, which makes me feel like a super badass.  I'm grateful for Fallout 3 content, which has provided me with dozens of hours more gameplay.  I'm grateful to discover the joy of older games like Ratchet and Clank Future, Civilization Rev, and Rock Band. 
 
It's an amazing time to be a gamer, and for that, I'm most grateful.  May this next year see as many quality moments as this last.  So my question of the week is simple - what are you thankful for this year? 
 
May you and yours have a fantastic Thanksgiving.  May you know happiness and joy throughout this coming year, and may your gaming bliss be multiplied.  Have a great holiday, folks!

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What's the worst game you've played this year (Forum Question)


I haven't played many games released this year that I'd call terrible or even bad.  But as far as games I've picked up, Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires is just awful.  It's incomprehensible without extensive online guides, buggy, plays terribly, and looks awful.  I'd rather have paid someone the ten bucks and had them punch me in the face repeatedly while humming The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round over and over again.  It's that terrible.
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Sparky's Update gets shot. Repeatedly.


Spread the holiday cheer!  Get out the rolls, the stuffing, the turkey, and the gravy, baby, because Sparky's in yo' house.  This week, Gaming Update is one sad little puppy, because I've been playing Modern Warfare 2 and, well, I suck.  I also talk about Smackdown vs. Raw 2010, my new 120 gig hard drive (so many dirty jokes involving the term "hard drive" that I don't even bother anymore), and I'll briefly touch upon movies and such.  I'm also changing the name (probably temporarily) of the blog to Sparky's Update, since I"m no longer limiting myself to games.  Hey, I might get crazy on here and review root beer barrels, which are without a doubt proof that God exists and loves me very, very much. 
 
Modern Get Shot Repeatedly-fare, Part Deux!
 
Let me get something absolutely clear first off.  The single player campaign (what I've played of it) is absolutely freaking amazing in Modern Warfare 2.  There are "holy shit" moments beyond just every bend, and I've really just started on the fourth or fiftth mission.  Although I disagree with Fox News' tactics in bashing the game, I can definitely see why the media and parents would be concerned about the content of this game.  One level in particular almost had me offended - that's damn near impossible to do in a video game.  That being said, I think this game is definitely at least worth a rental if not the price of admission for its superb single player. 
 
However, as has been the case in most Call of Duty and Battlefield games, I'm coming to dread my inevitable forays into multiplayer.  I tried out about an hour's worth of multiplayer today, and yes, my craptacular vision problems are still a terrible factor.  Let me put it to you this way - enemies 50, Sparky 0.  I have NO kills to my name, simply because I cannot see the enemies.  Ever.  Even on free-for-all, it's damn near impossible for me to score a kill, let alone get enough of them to make it seem like I might ever have a chance.  I do give a big Sparky seal of approval to IW's ideas on deathstreak perks, which are a fantastic idea for those of us armed only with major suckage. 
 
Overall, I want to really like Modern Warfare 2, and I do for the most part.  But until my eye specialists can figure out a surgery for my eyes, I simply cannot play the multiplayer.  Damn. 
 
Know Your Damn Role 
 
The Sparky Buzzsaw wants to know one thing.  What's your opinion on Smackdown vs. Raw?  Wait... it doesn't matter what your opinion is!  OK, I'm done with Rock quotes for the moment. 
 
Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 is probably the best in the series to date.  Bear with me for a second.  The Road to Wrestlemania modes are a riot, with surprisingly decent voicework by the wrestlers involved.  Having the career mode take a "back to basics" approach is greatly appreciated, as I wasn't ever really a fan of the General Manager modes.  But the crowning jewel of this year's game is the user created content.  Having such a basic, yet extensive, tool at my hands just makes the inner wrestling fan in my geek right the hell out.  Sure, the game might be light on Legends (and it is - Bob Orton?  Really?), but you can download just about any number of created legends from other players.  I've had no trouble finding any wrestler I want, save for Raven, and even that's just a matter of time.  This is a FANTASTIC addition to the game, and justifies the price tag entirely to me. 
 
However, it's still not without its flaws.  S v. R still needs a serious overhaul, both graphically and engine-wise.  I think the core wrestling mechanics are fine, and I'd keep most of the control scheme as is.  But the same collision, hit detection, random graphic quirks, and animations that you've seen in the last seven games are still here, and there's just not any excuse for it.  It's laziness on the part of developers and publishers alike.  There should be no excuse for the odd sudden jumps in animation in this day and age, and there definitely needs to be some AI work done under the hood.  
 
So check out SvR 2010 if you enjoy having user created content at your fingertips, but beware - this is still Smackdown vs. Raw.  If ya smell what the Sparky is cookin'.
 
A Hard Drive Down to Center Field 
 
See?  I really am being good about the hard drive jokes.  Nary a dirty one to be find in this week's blog.  I can do this.  I can refrain myself from making jokes like, "Oh, baby, your-"  Ahhhhh, you almost got me there, sneaky blog reader. 
 
As mentioned, I purchased a new 120 gig hard drive for the 360.  Besides the insane price, I have absolutely no complaints.  It was a thing of necessity, as my old one was obviously on the verge of failing after three years of loyalty.  The file transfer was easy as pie (mmmm... pie, and soon I shall have a veritable shit ton of it).  I guess that's really all there is to say about the thing, except that I'm glad I've got more room for demos and Xbox Originals.  Might even try purchasing a full-size game on there, though I've got plenty to keep me entertained. 
 
It's the Giggle Loop! 
 
I'm not one of those people who obsesses over the TV shows from another nation, nor do I consider one nation's product to be the absolute end-all be-all (I'm looking at you, Japan-o-nerds).  I consider myself pretty open-minded and easily entertained when it comes to ALL television.  I don't consider British humor any more or less funny than our own - it's just different styles, different laughs, and a different mindset.  That being said, two of my all-time favorite shows are Father Ted and Coupling.  If you've never had a chance to watch either, give at least season 3 of Father Ted a go and start from the beginning with Coupling.  Both are pretty widely available on DVD, and Coupling is available on Netflix's streaming services. 
 
I bring that up because I've been rewatching Coupling lately, and it's just as funny as the first time I went through it.  It's a Friends-style format (full disclosure - I actually enjoyed Friends), but with much raunchier comedic bits.  The casting is spot-on, and the actors and actresses are quite good.  Fans of V for Vendetta will no doubt recognize Patrick from that film, and the rest have had minor roles in a few major movies or other TV shows. 
 
Question of the Week 
 
Has there been a game where you love the single player but can't stand the multiplayer?  How about vice versa? 
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Gaming Update shakes down Tony Hawk for his spare change


When there's panic in the streets, who're you gonna rely on, babycakes?  That's right - the Sleazy One, the Godzilla Killa, your eternal hero Sparky!  This week brings us some thoughts on Tony Hawk Proving Grounds and the state of the Tony Hawk franchise in general.  I also will bring you thoughts on The Gathering Storm, a more in-depth look at Diana Francis's Bitter Night, and my thoughts on the rom-com Couples Retreat. 
 
Kick(flip), Punch, It's All in the Mind 
 
I've put about, oh, eight or so hours into Tony Hawk Proving Ground.  It's easy and correct to just dismiss this as the latest in a tired franchise.  Really, it feels just the same as the last Tony Hawk I played thoroughly (Underground), except with far less personality, charm, and a few added buttons and gimmicks with a much higher difficulty level.  It's that difficulty level that initially turned me off the game, and it's still something I'm struggling with.  The game developers assume a great level of familiarity with the series, which is annoying and at times almost game-breaking.  If it weren't for the Internet, I doubt I'd have bothered getting past many of the initial challenges and chalked this up to a waste of cash. 
 
However, once I'd unlocked a few different areas and figured out a basic grasp of the newer concepts, I'm not entirely ready to cast the game away quite yet.  The core basics that made Tony Hawk so much fun years ago are still in place.  It can be infuriatingly difficult at times, and I definitely wouldn't recommend it to those new to Tony Hawk.  But it does have a certain sort of pick-up-and-play appeal for short periods of time, and it's not fundamentally flawed except in its stale asthetics and gameplay. 
 
Really, there's no excuse for just ramping up the difficulty of a game and sucking the soul out of it.  I don't honestly understand the shift towards realism, but I suppose it's a trend supported by gamers through games like Skate.  I'm just not for it.  I play games for escapism, and if that escapism is a little goofy, then I'm generally for it.  If I really wanted this level of difficulty in skateboarding, I'd go out and actually try to do it, broken bones and all. 
 
And that's sort of the problem with a lot of long-time established games of this sort.  I'm thinking specifically of Smackdown vs. Raw and Need for Speed.  At this point, both series are trying to introduce new games with less to push that $60 purchase point and new-ish gimmicks to keep gamers coming back year after year without really reinventing the foundation problems plaguing the series. 
 
To really move forward, I think developers and publishers NEED to get away from that "pump out a game every year" attitude.  I'd like to see Tony Hawk return to its goofy past, along with the idea that gamers new and old will be coming to this game expecting a fun game from the ground up.  It shouldn't be just a mere update with increased difficulty.  The graphics engine in TH is obviously in need of a massive overhaul, and with it, I'd like to see overhauls made to the customization options, clunky menus, and HUD markers.  But overall, Tony Hawk just needs to be fun again. 
 
Books - The Forgotten Frontier!

Diana Francis's Bitter Night ends as spectacularly as it starts, with a climactic sequence spanning several chapters and ending with the promise of more novels in the series.  I like the fact that Francis keeps most of her stories self-contained within one novel, while stretching overall plots through a few novels (Path of Fate, The Black Ship, etc.).  Though her main characters are good, it's really the minor characters in this novel I want to read more about.  She has some creative ideas on warrior castes of angels, vampires, and witches.  Quite a fantastic read. 
 
Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson's Gathering Storm is pretty hit-and-miss.  Sanderson has a firm grasp on certain characters and plots, such as Egwene, Mat, and Faile.  But with other plots and characters, there is little advancement.  Rand comes across as even more of a whiny emo bitch, Perrin has sadly become a one-dimensional character, and most of the subplots are pretty much fillers.  I'm still excited to finish this novel and the series in general, though I'm not nearly the fan I was when the series was relatively new and fresh. 
 
Question of the Week

 What is an old favorite series of games that you think needs a fresh face, and what would you recommend changing or adding to make it a favorite once again?

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Gaming Update has shot a lot of skags. I mean, a LOT.


Put on your blue suede shoes and board the plane, boys and girls, because your sideburned, peanut-butter-and-banana-sandwich eating hero Sparky has returned with yet another Gaming Update.  No, I'm not the ghost of Elvis.  I just rock, and I rock hard! 
 
Dancin' Robots, Rednecks Galore, and a Fistful of Boomstick 
 
It's fair to say that Borderlands is my new flavor of the moment.  I just finished up my first playthrough last night, and holy crap, what a game.  Look, I know all the haters claim it's unpolished or buggy, but I'm here to tell you that other than (very) occasionally getting my buggy stuck in the odd corner or crevice, I've encountered no serious bugs or problems.  This is not a game to be missed simply because BobGizmoGrizFan390 tells you not to check it out.  This is a gamer's game, damn it, and you owe it to yourself, your country, and the universe in general to check it out. 
 
If I had one complaint about the game, it's that the quests get sort of repetitive.  A greater enemy variety would also go a long ways towards increasing the replay value.  Regardless, these issues are trivial and hardly deal-breakers.  Gearbox, keep this general formula going with any sequels you have planned, and you'll have one giant, rabid, slightly stinky fanboy on your hands. 
 
A Priest, a Rabbi, and a DS Walk Into a Bar 
 
Since I was on the road for most of this last week, my DS got some sweet, sweet gamer lovin'.  I packed up a few classics, and mostly played some meatier RPG efforts.  Mostly, I worked on leveling in Final Fantasy IV up until the "magnetic cave" level, which annoys me to no end.  Clever idea, terrible thing to fight as a gamer.  Eh, I'll plow through it on my next trip.  I also delved a bit deeper into the excellent Chrono Trigger, which I'm still thoroughly enjoying.  I'd love to see new Chrono games either on the Wii or DS, as I've enjoyed both immensely. 
 
Those Things With Pages.  You Know, Books? 
 
Since my Gaming Update is a little light on padding these days, I thought I'd expand out to write about any noteworthy books I've read or movies I've seen recently. 
 
Picked up a ton of books in St. Louis.  Started with C.S. Lewis's Abolition of Man, which I'd read back in college and want to re-read.  I also decided to pick up a collection of the Narnia books, since I'm working on the backbone of a fantasy world and I want to revisit all my old favorites. 
 
Also picked up Diana Pharoah Francis's newest, "Bitter Night."  I'm not normally a fan of contemporary fantasy, but Francis's other novels have all been superb, so I picked this one up and read most of it on the plane home.  It's one hell of a page turner, and I highly recommend checking it out. 
 
Also picked up but have not delved into - Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn and The Gathering Storm, Andy Remic's War Machine (Remic's a guilty pleasure - fun pulp sci-fi), and a couple of Terry Pratchett novels. 
 
In the dollar theater, I watched The Hangover.  Holy hell, I laughed hard.  I watched this several hours after the hardest moment of my life, and if it could pull me out of that funk so well, you know it's gotta be good.  The casting choices are excellent, and the comedic timing is just spot-on. 
 
Question of the Week 
 
Since Borderlands advertizes itself as having "gazillions" of guns, I figure a gun-related question is in order.  What are your favorite guns in video games, fictional or otherwise?
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St. Louis and St. Charles


Hey folks- 
 
I'm going to be traveling to St. Louis tomorrow.  Although my business there is a funeral, unfortunately, I'll be spending a few extra days there to visit friends and take in the city.  If any of you are St. Louis-ites and know of some excellent areas to visit, I'd greatly appreciate the tips.  I'm looking for just about anything - tourist spots, great restaurants unique to the area, shopping areas, and other fun and random stuff.  I'll be staying near St. Charles, and keep in mind that I'll be traveling primarily by taxi, so if there are any spots where I can visit multiple things at once, that would be ideal.  Fire away your thoughts, and thanks in advance.
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Gaming Update


Sorry, guys.  Gaming Update is going to be brief today.  I lost one of my best friends on Sunday, and I'm just not all that enthused about games right now. 
 
BORDERLANDS

 Awesome game, slick multiplayer, and a hell of a start for what I hope will be a series of games.  Gearbox knocked this one out of the park.  Color me addicted. 
 
Other games I picked up during the Amazon/Toys R Us sale

 Lego Star Wars & Lego Indiana Jones (only going to keep one and use the other as a birthday present to a friend - any suggestions on which one to keep or give?) 
Burnout Paradise (another birthday present) 
Tony Hawk Underground (sadly, no Project 8 was available) 
The Bigs 2 (a gift for a family member) 
 
Question of the Week

What are your interests outside of video games?  Got any fun hobbies or the like?

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