Used/Rented Games Battery Saves

Here is my Cain of a Legend of Zelda cartridge, why did you kill my character? He was so young!
Back in the good old days before the invention of the memory cards, we old timers were forced to lived with either crazy convoluted password systems or special batteries to save our cartridge based game data. The great thing about those batteries were their were a time save, passwords in in games like Mega Man 2 weren't that big of a deal but in games like Metroid or Legacy of the Wizard where their could be so many variations in how much items, powers and progress in the game that those passwords started approaching novella sizes, passwords became quite a headache. The game I am specifically referring to today is the Legend of Zelda, which I just bought from the used game store in my town for the old famicom. The battery save system is occasionally temperamental but not having to put miles of password digits into a game is something that never grows old. The other sider benefit is that when you buy a used game or rent a used game with a battery save in it you get to see the progress of the previous owners and either stand in awe, mock or abuse their progress in the game. I know that I would never have beat Super Mario RPG the legend of the seven star thingamajigs in one rental if not for the fact that some kind person had played through 3/4th of the game for me. Was it a low down dirty trick that would corrupt that persons experience of the game if they ever rented that copy again, especially because I saved over his old data? Yes, and I'd do it again, because fucking with people you don't know and without any chance of consequences is just plain old fun, especially when your 11.

Iphone photos of TV's are messy and blurry
In my recent play through on Zelda there were two names registered, Hideo and Zelda. While Zelda had had died a respectable 27 times (considering some people don't know the 2nd controller trick to save the game without dying and how tough that second quest can be) but Hideo... not quite as skillful. So although I have never met and will never meet Hideo I will forever know his crapitude at playing the Legend of Zelda, and will Lord it over his head till my final days (or at least until the day I forget.)

Epilogue: Naturally to make this a better post I had decided that I should take some pictures of the before mentioned suckatude of one Hideo. Apparently the Video Game Gods were not amused by numerous acts of Jack Assery in writing this post and thought it necessary to wipe my save off the face of the Earth. Karma is a mighty rough bitch but you got to live with the bad I guess. Oh well, sorry Zelda looks like I'm starting from where you left off. Also I love the fact that to erase a character you have to go to "KILL MODE" which makes it much harder to decide when to delete a character.

Help! I need Somebody: Mike Tyson's Punch-Out

Before the Internet ran wild and free, before Gamefaqs, wikipedia or Giantbomb could generate the answer to any video game related problem you could have, the world sat cold in a fallow of knowledge. To get past the baddest of the bad bosses. To get past the most hellish of platforming puzzles, you had to actually *gulp* interact with other people, you know, like with actual words and conversation.

Growing up, my family would never pay the dough to use the nintendo hotline or game guides so I was stuck with only having my friends and family as a resource to solving my NES and SNES based conundrums. Like many a lad, I got my first NES in the Christmas of 1988. Unlike most of those boys though, the gift was not meant for me in the slightest. I had only just turned 3 years old when my family bought our NES for my older brother. They were certain in their fortitude that I was far too young to do anything productive on the game system, that at most it would be something that could emit flashing lights I would find somewhat interesting but was years away from comprehension. Needless to say, I straight up jacked that NES. Though I could barely put together a coherent sentence, in some strange twist of fate I was some sort of Rain Man-esk idiot-savant when it came to playing platformers and memorization based games. As a kid I hated to quit anything I started so I'd just keep on bashing my head into a Super Mario Bros. game or the like until I was better then my Dad, my brother and my friends at it.

As you might well know, the logical centers of the brain when you are between 3-5 years old aren't particularly developed. While my reaction time and pattern memorization skills were well developed, I couldn't really think my way out of a problem. Problem solving was more of a joust of wills, me simply repeating a level or a boss ad nauseam until I stumbled on an effective method, so trial and error with a distinct lack of trailing other then with solutions bungled upon by happenstance or blind dumb luck. When I was 5 one of my favorite games was Mike Tyson's Punch-Out! I drained hours and hours of my life I could have spent making friends or learning a useful skill to memorize the rhythm and patterns Mr. Sandman, King Hippo and all of the other vaguely offensive boxing challengers that obscured Little Mac's path to Mike Tyson. It was always a thrill when I figured out the secret to beating the 1st Don Flamenco fight and that you could knock Piston Honda down during his Piston Charge.

But the one boxer that would always rain on my boxing for me was Great Tiger. For some strange reason I simply could not get it through my adolescent skull that pressing down button allowed you to block a punch. The other reason for my ineptitude at knocking out Great Tiger was simply that his special spirit punch knock down technique absolutely terrified me. That bastard disappears like magic and only returns after a series of the crazy *beep* and *boop* sounds emanated from my TV box. All my previously learned skills would be crushed into shambles whenever I had to face him down.

My panacea for finally knocking down that big pussy cat was my Father. This was the last video game that my Dad would help me out with in my life. Punch-Out!, Super Mario Bros. and the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle game were the only games he had any experience with, until Wii bowling that is, but he was always my savior when I got to Great Tiger. I would call him in and he would quickly dispatch my turban wearing torturer, and I could continue on playing the game happily.

Oddly, I did not  beat that Great Tiger on my own until I had gotten past the likes of Super Macho Man and had lost a few fights to Mike Tyson himself. That bastard even came back to haunt me in college when I signed up for a game tournament that was going on on my campus. The challenge for this Mike Tyson's Punch-Out! Tournament was to see how far you could go without being knocked down. I went in confident, having seen Bald Bull's Bull Charge take down most of my competition. I had that charge memorized thrice over in my head so I sat down ready to put on an impressive showing. But, that damn Great Tiger managed to place my world on its head again. While blocking his spirit punches I was leaning soooooo far forward in my seat that my feet slipped a little bit, an infinitesimal distraction to make me stop pressing the down button for a millisecond. As soon as I heard that little punching *bloop* noise that Great Tiger makes whenever he lands a spirit punch I knew it was over. I could only look on feebly as he smacked me again and again until I hit the floor. I sadly handed the controller the the player and made my exit. As I walked away I thought "I guess I still need to call my Dad when ever I face that SOB Great Tiger."

How about you? Which games in your life made you cry out for the help of a friend or family member to get past

Most Maddening Boss Battles: Ninja Gaiden

Ninja Gaiden was the game I really cut my gaming teeth on. In a very literal sense I'm afraid, in fact. The original Ninja Gaiden is the equivalent of a bully that routinely pulls down your pants in front of all of the girls during gym. Oh, you thought you knew how to play an action platformer after finishing Castlevania, but Castlevania doesn't really prepare you for the pain that is Rocket Pack ninja's zooming back and forth throwing shurikans at your face. Ninja Gaiden was that emasculating bully that I was able to conquer. The one I was able to eventually sock in the face after days and hours of abuse.

What made Ninja Gaiden so great was its tight controls. What made it so maddening was in spite having great controls the game found billions of ways to knock your hero into pit after pit. That cruelty was then multiplied a thousand fold by the final three bosses that the game threw at the player. While all of these bosses had patterns and sure fire strategies for quick and easy victories, such assurances fall on deaf ears when the stakes are so high. After spending hours, days trudging through these viper pits, a singular loss to one of these tripartite terrors jettisons poor Ryu back to the beginning of 6-1, forcing him to once again trudge knee deep in Bird/Rocket Ninja shurikan hell to get back to the threesome. And that is what made those fights so meaningful, so epic, so painfully memorable.

During each boss battle I was on the edge of my seat, the price of failure was high. Every step had to be taken gingerly, lest one be forced to endure Rocket Ninja/Bird Hades once more. The Masked Devil, Jaquio and the Demon were all interesting and tough battle, but the tenseness and sheer terror at having to face the gauntlet of level 6-2 made these battles special. I also enjoyed that the game was at least kind enough to acknowledge your previous accomplishments. If you defeated the first boss of the sequence you could skip ahead to the next boss on your next play through, as long as you didn't reset the game. It was tough, grueling and slightly cruel but with time you could come through somehow. This was my maddening boss battle that I love/hate, how about you?

Wolverine could have been the next Eraser (A Bad Movie I Love)

Just watched the Wolverine movie. I have to say that I left the movie feeling pretty meh. I didn't really have any strong feelings for or against this prequel. I guess my biggest complaint is that it stayed in the middle in between being an actually good action comic book movie and being an awesomely clichéd Arnold-esk explosion spectacular. My favorite action movie of all time is "True Lies" which always knew that its premise was pure ridiculous so they just went with it and made it a crazy expodey comedy filled with some of the best contrived one liners ever to grace the silver screen. I was hoping that the Wolverine movie would turn more toward that once he blew up a helicopter by lighting a gasoline trail with his claws with the force of friction. Once he did that and said some smart-ass remark I started to get excited, but the movie decided to stay in that strange nexus between a well made thoughtful action flick and a Michael Bay or Arnold insanity fest. So average and boring.

Even Gambit being in the movie didn't really do anything for me, which is pretty bad since Gambit was my favorite character from the TV show. I mean I would suffer through numerous Jubilee heavy episodes just for a few seconds of Gambit awesomeness. Anyone who has ever watched the show knows that it takes quite a bit of fortitude to watch an entire Jubilee centric episode of the cartoon, thats how much of a Gambit fan I was back in the day. I always liked him more then Wolverine because while Wolverine was always a bad ass, he was also a team player. He was alway taking orders from that douchey prep-boy Cyclopes, sure he would grumble and say something smart allicky but he'd end up doing what Cyclopes wanted. Gambit on the other hand did what ever the fuck he wanted. He'd join a mission when ever he felt like it. The worlds in danger? Fuck that, I need to go hit on chicks, eat some gumbo and explode some people with a deck of cards. I think that is what the movie missed. It needed Gambit exploding more things, I mean that was his job in the cartoon, he'd show up and shit would explode for crazy kinetics that were contrived but awesome. In the movie Gambit can just accelerate the relative speed of objects, which is nice but where is the pizazz, where is the style? Seeing someone push somebody through a brick wall with a deck of cards is pretty cool, but wouldn't it be more better if Wolverine was exploding while flying through a brick wall? This movie missed its chance at being an amazingly bad movie, something that would be infinitely quotable and would be perfect to bust out at a birthday party in like ten years. Something dumb, but exciting with a whole bunch of awesome one liners that your waiting to hear. Eraser? Terrible movie, plot makes not sense, premise is pretty dumb but it is all kinds of crazy awesome because the director, producers and actors knew that it was a popcorn flick and that the crazier, explosion ridden and nonsensical they made the production the more entertaining it would be. I feel like with Wolverine and Gambit both being rebellious bad asses that if they had gone into the movie with the thought that it should be produced like a latter day Arnold film and that it would my favorite movie ever.

It's kind of sad because X-men is one of the two comic book movies that I give a damn about. As a kid X-men was my second string afternoon hero cartoon after Batman the Animated series. While the Dark Knight satiated my need for an honestly well made, brilliantly acted and produced Hollywood film, the Wolverine movie was unable to achieve the right type of foil to the brilliance of the Batman movie. I knew from the start that with Brian Singer that the movie couldn't possibly be "good" good. That ship clearly sailed after X-Men II was followed up by X-Men III. Sure, X-Men is one of the most complicated and best allegories in the comic book world for the darkness that exists in the human soul, of the challenges the world has with racism and dealing with minorities. But the Wolverine movie was the perfect chance for the producers to just say "fuck story, drama and angst, we don't have to weighed down by all the crap from the previous three movies so lets go absolutely crazy nuts with explosions and terrible/awesome one liners." The movie could have been the Predator of comic book movies but ended up being the Alien vs Predator of the X-Men series. That may be a harsh assessment but that is the closest Arnold series parallel that I can pull out of my ass right now.

To reiterate I don't hate the Wolverine movie, I was just disappointed that the movie seemed like it could have joined the pantheon of good/bad action movies that I could watch dozens of times in the future. The movie is just too smutzy, too stuck in its own pathos, too damn talky to be that kind of movie. Its a movie that trying hard to be smart and deep but at its core is just a dumb action movie that lives and dies by its crazy action and CG magic.

Most Intense Boss Battles: Twilight Princess

This was an excellently designed game, but I wish the first ten hours were better paced
The Legend of Zelda for me has always represented the pinnacle in gaming boss battles. Each games bosses build on the experiences and weapons you gain from the playing of the game. Each one is bigger and badder then the last. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is my favorite game in the series, and every boss battle was well made and enjoyable, even if the makers seemed to be obsessed with making evil eye-ball creatures.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was a game that I had to rush through. I was playing a borrowed copy on a borrowed Wii. The game started out a bit too slow for my tastes, too much bumbling around digging up Twilight bugs. I wanted to finish this game, but it was plodding, I actually wasn't having all that much fun because of the time limit I had placed on myself. It took me a good 20 hours before I really felt like it was a great game, before I was having a lot of fun (about when I reached the Snowpeak Ruins) and the charm of the characters and the setting of the game started to sink in. If the game had ended there I would have been happy, but would have still considered Ocarina of Time a better experience. That is until I reached Argorok, the Twilit Dragon in the City of in Sky.

This was the best picture I could find?
The arena for the boss battle was humongous. You had to use the dual hookshot at least 3-4 times before you were even high enough to take on the massive Dragon. My heart was beating like crazy and my eyes were beaming with anticipation as I hookshoted my way through the sky like fucking Spider Man, slinging from one platform to the next. The music for the battle was belting, epic in its tone and perfectly caught the tenor of the fight, as a thunder storm raged in the background and I was fighting a huge freaking Dragon thousands of feet in the air. Everything about that battle, the magnitude, the awesome use and reinvention of the Hookshot and the sheer variety made that game for me. After finally knocking that bastard out of the sky I was breathing hard and had a big small on my face. This game was better then OoT, that boss made it so for me.

The last ten hours of the Twilight Princess is one of the best games I have ever played. From Argorok on, every boss battle, every set piece was execellent and did an amazing job of referencing experiences I had earlier in the game and in the series. I'm hoping to make this a kind of a blog feature, just doing some talking time on the most intense boss battles in video games, that I have played. The theme for this one was game changer, the intensity of the battle made me look at the whole of the game differently. It made me love that game. What games have you played that was so intense, such a pleasant heart palpitating situation that it made you change your mind on a game.

How "Smells Like Teen Spirit" Got into an 8-bit Game

Here we are now, entertain us!
Once again I have gone off in search on the Internet for the forgotten history of Video Games! To boldly traverse into the unknown, to uncover the truths that almost no one will find interesting. My search brought me to the one place I didn't expect, to a system I had never known nor played. It brought me to South Korean Popular culture!

The Dinosaur Dooley is, according to the always correct *cough* Wikipedia, was a cartoon dinosaur who, like all beloved cartoon characters, became the star of his own absurd video game. The Dinosaur Dooley was a game that was made for the Sega Master System round abouts 1991 and 1992. In spite of the complete lack of the SMS popularity in the States, the Korean devloper of the game was excited and serious about bringing its creation to the West. The Korean team tried to break into the US market by asking their dubious American distributor for some help on creating the music. They wanted to appeal to the American public, but did not know what kind of music that American's like. They asked for and recieved mixed tape that was jam packed with current big hits in America for inspiration.

When I loaded up this game I was struck with a certain sense of nostalgia. "I've heard this song before, it wasn't this shitty, but I know the song." Yes, wanting to create game music that would appeal to the West the developer had outright copied the music for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" into a 8-bit midi diddy. The experience is made worse by the absolute horridness that is the Sega Master System sound chip. The Sega Genesis was no sound producing powerhouse but it was a freaking prodigy when compared to the utter metallic robust the SMS emitted. The team didn't stop there, such "great" songs like "Two Princes" by the Spin Doctors, and numerous other pop hits from 1991 that you are now embarrassed you liked, played prominently in the background of Dooley's so-so shooter adventure.

The tiny shades let you know he means business
Suffice to say, the game was never released in America and has lay fallow for the last 17 years, its copyright infringement becoming just a distant Internet murmur. With the powers of the Internets, don't ask me how, it is possible to experience this lost gem." The gameplay is nothing to earth shattering, but I found the playing the game worthwhile if only for the novelty of trying to substantiate which musical hit of 1991-1992 is blaring somewhat incoherently in the background. The history of The Dinosaur Dooley is an interesting look into a simpler time in gaming. A time before Korea had transformed Starcraft into a national sport and began clogging the Internets with free MMO's. We've come a long way baby.    

Sonic needs a Divorce from Sonic Team

The Internet does not approve
Sonic the Hedgehog is a battered wife, Sonic Team has beaten the life, the will out of the poor little guy. Some websites are already lamenting the lack of gameplay and vision in the latest episode of the now tragic tale of the once beloved Hedgehog (some might say too beloved). In the late nineties only Mario and Sonic emerged from the 16-bit era as platform mascots that could survive in a 3D world, the two biggest and baddest franchises of their respective companies who each had earned a certain amount of respect from gamers for their gameplay quality.

 Nintendo has been very careful, very conservative about when they release a core Mario game. A Mario game is typically released once or maybe twice a generation cycle and every single one of those games has had a minimum level of quality. Each one could be described as being one of the best, one of the most important games of that generation. They have long tails and the quality of Mario as a product assures that Mario's name will have cache when his name is placed on less stellar franchises, like when Mario throws a party or decides to play a game of baseball with his friends. Mario has a stable and happy relationship with Nintendo, Sonic...not so much.

No! Bad Sonic Team! *Hits with Morning paper*
Ever since the death of the Dreamcast, the reorganization of all of Sega's internal parties and Sega being bought out by Sammy, Sonic has been lost and listless. The Sonic Adventure games may not have been the most inspired games in the world, but they were generally fun. Games like Phantasy Star Online and it's iterations also showed that Sonic Team was a quality studio that could produce games from multiple genres. I think that ever since the fallout that followed the death of the Dreamcast Sega has been bereft of leadership, of vision. Producing consoles gave Sega an identity, it allowed them to be creative and proactive as any game they produced internally that was unique would help diversify the market for their console. Sega has since lost that creative spark, their Pachinko producing overlords have led them into a strategy that has made them too dependent on licensed products and has sent them from being one of the biggest game producers in the world to a middling company. Sega is going through one hell of a mid-life crisis, it doesn't know what its purpose or what its strong points are any more, and Sonic games have suffered as a result.

Sonic has been Sega's trump card, their ace in the hole. He is the one character in their line-up who has enough cultural cache to naturally
No! Put Sonic back in!
create sales, no matter the gameplay. Unfortunately, this means that Sonic is overexposed, that the lack of innovation in his games over the last decade or so has been made woefully apparent. Sega does not know how to evolve Sonic, they just know that their bottom line requires them to release a main line series game featuring his name. So they keep on handing Sonic back to his torturers, back to the people who have been unable to find a working formula for Sonic since the Dreamcast apocalypse, Sonic Team.

Sonic Team honestly thought I wanted to play as Big the cat?
Rather than attempting to move the series forward, Sonic Team has tried to tart up sonic, to patch him up with gimmicks. Sonic Team has so overloaded the franchise with unnecessary mythos, with new "Focus Test approved" friends and nemesis' that I struggle to see him appealing to anyone over the age of ten. Sonic has the worst friends imaginable, the kinds of friends who gum up the gameplay and make the story sickeningly juvenile. Whether their giving him a sword, turning him into a Warehog, having Shadow shoot a gun, have him kissing a realistically made woman, forcing us to use his shitty friends rather then Sonic, every last one of these things is just gaffer tape applied to the Sonic brand to cover up their lack of creativity. And this is from the company that gave us the Dreamcast! That gave us Samba de Amigo, Space Channel 5, Seaman, Phantasy Star Online, Sega gaga and Jet Grind Radio, the most off the wall creative games of their day. And now Sega and Sonic team are just a drunk with no direction, life has been cruel to them and in return they have taken their frustrations out on Sonic. They've made Sonic games no fun to play.

Now, I may not be a huge fan of Sonic over the year, but I always loved to play Sonic games when I was a kid. I loved the speed, the rocking music and the awesome casino levels in the Genesis era. I don't know if it's possible to represent those levels, those feelings that people had when they were playing those Genesis games on current generation hardware, but it would be worth a shot. Good platformers are hard to find these days and I'm always looking for an excuse to buy one, but Sonic Team's efforts have sickened me so much to the point that I don't even know if I am even going to pay attention any more.

Please License Sonic to someone else, they know how to treat him right
The Best Sonic game in the last five years has been an rpg made by Bioware. Bioware! Sega needs to realize that the visionaries and engineers that they have working at Sonic Team are just not up to snuff, that those who still life Sonic games deserve better then what Sonic Team is making. The most successful and popular franchise in the history of Japan is Dragon Quest, that Enix produced RPG that is almost always the highest selling title in a major consoles sales life in Japan. Since the SNES Enix has not been afraid to give their most important product to other development houses, DQVIII and DQIX are both games that have been or are being produced by Level 5, a separate entity to Square-Enix. If the most important games of the last 5 years in Japan can be produced by outside developers, why not Sonic? It would allow a plucky developer to give Sonic fresh legs, to come in with new and different ideas. Sega could also use this as an opportunity to treat their brand better, Enix has never been afraid to delay their games until they are immaculate, until they have distilled that special Dragon Quest essence into a playable experience. Frankly, Sonic deserves better then Sonic Team. Sonic needs to pack his bags and move in with a developer who will treat him right, and give the world the kind of game we've been expecting from a name that big for a decade.

Note: will further edit for grammar and syntax when I feel like it :)

What games broke your Spirit because of a Hardware Failure?

Why? Why was I so devoted to beat this game in one seating!
When I came back home from college a few years ago for Winter Break I was low on funds and trapped in my nice sleepy little beach town, lovely but a tad dull. I figured it was a good time to finish the old backlog, to put my gaming fingers to the grindstone and finally actually finish the games I had started many years before and had forgotten about. That winter the game that was on my mind the most was Final Fantasy IX, I had gotten to the beginning of the third disc a few years before but had never finished this nice nostalgic rpg from the mind of Sakaguchi. In my years of game lethargy I had lost my original PlayStation memory card and could not start from my last save point! Having not played the game in quite some time I figured I might as well use the loss of my memory card as an excuse to start from the very beginning of the game and get the whole experience.

I wanted to get Final Fantasy IX out of the way, there were a lot of games that I needed to plow through during the break, or so I convinced myself. So I decided that the best way to beat the game was to do it in one seating, to challenge myself to a endurance match of old, when I was so excited about games like Mega Man 4 that I would just not quit the game until I had finished. My friend also somehow convinced me that this idea was somehow awesome, that it actually made a little bit of sense. So I began my moronic quest at my friends hous
Final Fantasy IX had some pretty epic moments
e. I rushed through the first discs of the game fairly easily, it was a breeze! Using my patchy peripheral memory of the game I plowed through the adventure at a nice clip, arriving at my previous spot in the game in 16 hours. This is when the game changed, the combination of the now unfamiliar with my growing tiredness made the next sixteen hours a different story, a tragic dorky tale. 

When I reached the Desert Palace, the unholy union of me choosing a terrible party, the various puzzle elements and my growing schizophrenia from sleep deprivation, led to me wandering around that palace like a lost child in the Mall of America. Everything that followed was just as hard, my mind was being reduced to a pile of gelatenous gooy substance as I continuously stared at my TV screen. Only sheer insanity drove me to finish out my lofty but ill-concieved goal.

The game actually started looking like this at hour twenty-five
Finally at the thirty-two hour mark I somehow had gotten through Pandemonium and its last series of boss battles. I was almost there, just two hours in the final dungeon Memoria I thought to myself. Kuja was going down, I had been born under the proper star and the end was nigh! "God I'm going crazy, I muttered to myself one eye lazily gazing at the ever present Television screen, I better finish this up so I can get some damn sleep!"

I put in the fourth disc with heavy anticipation. I had decided by this point that my eyes no longer had the will to pick up the dialog. My solution for this was to just keep beating down upon the X button to get through the a story that had become insufferable in my depraved state. Then, the game went black, omnipotently black, treacherously black! The game refused to go to the next scene, to show the heroes playing out the story I had long ago abandoned. My PlayStation sat there, a maleficence beast, making click and whistle sounds that signified that it was trying to load my game. But I knew, of how I knew, that it never would work. The disk was mysteriously scratched to all fucking hell, the game was dead and all my effort was for naught. The world had turned its back on me, my world was crumbling, I was haggard, confused, befuddled mess of a human being who was depressed, and a little hungry. I was not in the kind of state to come up with a solution for my unresponsive FFIX fourth disc, so I gave up on my quest, the dream was dead!

This is what I felt after playing this game for so God Damn long! Idiot!
At least that is how I felt at the time, watching a television screen for thirty-two straight hours will fuck with your mind and transform the smallest slights by the gaming gods into a grand scheme to crush my spirit. Is there anyone else who has a similar story of woe, of a game or piece of hardware that failed on you when you needed it the most? Lets all share a beer, take a seat and lament on the woes of the gaming life.  


Girl Games Are Tougher Than You Think

Mission: Save Mario, and grow plants with your tears?
Games that have been made for and marketed to girls have gotten a fairly dire rap from the video game enthusiast media. Hell, Sean Baby has made a career out of playing Mary Kate and Ashly Olson games and transforming their terrible gameplay into Jean-Claude Van Damme jokes. Recently I've been feeling the itch for some platforming goodness, and since the DS is the only modern console that I have easy access to I decided to hop on the highway to the masculine Danger Zone by purchasing Super Princess Peach. I trust Nintendo in the platforming genre, they rarely make stinkers and even their baby easy games like Kirby are always fun and engaging. I tried to go into Super Princess Peach without any preconceptions, I was just going to soak in its pastel pinks and overlook its conceivably sexist emotion based power up system and just enjoy the experience.

Super Princess Peach is a game that is marketed and made for 8-14 year old girls, duh. Nintendo is very comfortable with this market as games like Pokemon and many of their lesser more shovelwarey titles for the handhelds have appeal to female gamers, especially from that subgroup. The game seems appropriately casual gazing at its surface. There are no game overs, there is no lives system, falling down pits takes away only a small bit of health and the health system and special meter are kind and easily filled. So based upon my years of video game experience this game was going to be cake, a baby easy game of Kirby proportions. But that's not the game that I played. The game is casual in how it mitigates against the player failing, but the level structure belies a harder core experience.

I'm pouting and on FIRE!
Whilst I was idiotically anticipating in my subconscious that the levels would be like Super Mario Bros. 3, meaning short tight chocolaty covered level nuggets full of secrets and things to do but can be rushed through in less then a minute, the levels in Super Princess Peach are more like levels in Super Mario Bros. 2. The levels are huge and have a lot of different and varying challenges. But whilst SMB2 was a game that was relatively linear, Super Princess Peach is dependent more upon set pieces, smaller chucks of levels interconnected with warp pipes and that grow in their labyrinthine structure as you progress through the game. The game isn't difficult, but it requires a fair amount of thought and observation to complete a level. The biggest shock of the game for me was that to unlock the final boss fight I had to go back through the earlier levels and find every single captured Toad. I repeat, to finish the game a player has to comb through every level to find the hidden boxes that hold Toad's that have been captured by the nebulous evil that has befallen the Mushroom Kingdom. Super Princess Peach may not be a "hard" game, but it's one that you have to have skill and determination to finish. This isn't your Mom's Mary Kate and Ashly Olson adventure platformer to be sure.

The Most besparkled title for a game ever
The other game that I have played recently is the game My World, My Way. This is a game that has a lot of appeal to female gamers, but is a game that is meant for Dungeon Crawler hardcore fans and is purposefully tedious and difficult. Huh? I think that My World, My Way is one of those rare games that successfully transformed creepy Japanese Moe Otaku culture into something that would be palatable for younger female gamers. It's a game with a very "girly" color scheme rife with pinks and stars, a female lead who is a wealthy Princess spurned by her "destined" love and has decided to have an "adventure," a cute blobby pet character, a pout mechanic, a title in both Japanese and English that would play to all the girls around the world who wish they were spoiled princesses and a story arc that shows that girls can become powerful and rock out hardcore. And all of this is wrapped up in a genre which is almost impenetrable for the typical gamer and has a character whose express purpose is to make your experience harsher and more tedious. I've been a bit pessimistic about younger female gamers getting into gamers like My World, My Way in the past, but what the hell do I know. Even whilst attempting to remove prejudice from my mind while playing Super Princess Peach, I found myself surprised at its depth and the amount of effort I had to put into the game. Super Princess Peach could be that secret gateway drug that is leading girls into the sin, into harder and harder core drugs... I mean games. Perhaps it's the Harry Potter vibrating broom of games, boldly leading the young women of today into hardcore gaming adulthood but, you know, just less dirty

The names of the abilities may be pandering, but they are adorable
Maybe girl games are all tougher then many of us originally thought, may be my ten year old neighbor is playing My World, My Way right now and is much better at its grindy mechanics! I'm lost inside of my own male dominated video game thought bubble and have almost no pulse on the scene at all, but the games I have recently played have showed me that perhaps I'm not giving "girl games" the props they deserve. That's is why it's always important to never judge a book by its cover, or a girl by the games she plays, because maybe just maybe those games are more hardcore then you suspected.


The Best Soundtrack Ever: Secret of Mana

The tree and the music, both were important
The Sony produced Super Nintendo sound chip was the power house of its day. The Sega Genesis had numerous beautiful, innovative tracks and soundtracks throughout its history, but the actual sound that it produced a grating and grinding hum that hurt the fidelity of the sound. The SNES had its limitations, but like the NES sound chip, it had a clear enough production of sound and the chutzpah to recreate almost any instrument. Squaresoft was the one company that came into its own in the SNES era musically. Under the guidance of Nobuo Uematsu the company was producing high quality sound tracks that were impeccably engineered for the SNES. For me Final Fantasy IV illustrated that video game music could recreate Danny Elfman, Final Fantasy VI then proved that epic thematic movie style music could be seen on a console and lastly Secret of Mana was the first game I thought that gave video games a unique sound, a musical voice that could be stronger than anything I had ever heard in a movie.

Hiroki Kikuta contemplating upon the brilliance of Secret of Mana, or just squinting while having his photo taken, one of the two
The lead composer of Secret of Mana for the SNES was Hiroki Kikuta. Squaresoft at the time allowed their programmers a lot of free rein in producing music and sound effects, gave them the ability to work individually to create cool sounds and then eventually chose the best works to put in their game. This allowed Kikuta to be incredibly innovative, to produce an eclectic soundtrack that pushed the limits of the SNES sound chip and gave Secret of Mana a uniquely distinctive sound. From the whale call the player hears when loading up the game to the brash Electro-techotronic percussion melody of "The Oracle" played during the Dark Lich battle, Kikuta was constantly trying to produce a different sound, to produce almost a "world" kind of sound. He was not afraid to utilize sounds and instruments from alln over the world, to make use of non-traditonal modalities to create his sound. For my money, the best track in this game and possibly any game was in the crazy cultish temple in Pandora. The track "Ceremony" featured chiming bells and a haunting flute melody is a great track because it fit that moment in the game so well, it was a musical choice that I would have never conceived and yet fit the background, the tone and the tenor of the game. It's a track so brilliant that I don't even know if I really like it or not, it was a bold and crazy choice who that I totally respect and loved when I heard it in the game but wouldn't really want to listen to on my iPod.

I find it interesting as well that Kikuta really knew how to work within the limits of his medium. Tracks like "Ceremony" and "The Oracle" were great because Kikuta discovered that the SNES struggled with cymbal instruments in hi-fi sound but could produce great fidelity while using a small amount of memory with percussion instruments. That's what makes a lot of the tracks so unique and memorable, they used percussion as the basis for the melody because that was the strongest suit of the hardware.

I enjoy listening to video game music. I love to listen to The Black Mages or Final Fantasy OST albums and perhaps the occasional metal rock rendition of Contra while driving in my car, but I don't think that any other games music really matched that of Secret of Mana. The sound track for Secret of Mana is the best contextual music I have ever heard in a video game.

This is an awesome interview of Hiroki Kikuta that was done a couple years ago that I got some info from