Revenge of the Sparky's Update!

Trumpeteers, sound your horns.  Bartender, get out the cognac and serve 'em up.  Sparky's Update is back, baby, and I'm ready to teabag the minds of all my readers once again.  Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, bloggin' time is here.       

Just Dropped in to See What Condition My Condition Was In 
Here's the skinny.  Last we spoke, I was lamenting the fact that my 360 was broken and I couldn't repair it.  Well, guess who's still broke and still hasn't bought a new Arcade to replace his old system?  That's right - this dude!  My 360 is still shelved, and the DS has taken some nasty bumps, leading to a broken set of shoulder buttons.  Thankfully, the contact points still work some of the time, so it's not a dire situation for most of the turn-based games I play.  I've been gaming primarily on my PS3 and laptop, thanks to massive amounts of Steam purchases over the holidays.

On the PS3 front, I've primarily been replaying classic PS1 games like Wild ARMs 1 & 2, Final Fantasy Tactics, and a taste of Suikoden.  I've also been power leveling like one crazy foo' on Disgaea 3, acting as a bullet magnet in Resistance 2, and mopping the floor with dragons and scummy bandits in Dragon Age.  Much of these games will be covered in the coming weeks, so if there's anything in particular you want me to bullshit about, just drop a comment and I'll cover it. 
Thanks to Steam's incredible run of holiday, weekend, and midweek sales, I've not been short on PC games for quite some time.  I've been knocking out most of the Telltale titles, including the first season of Sam and Max and Tales of Monkey Island.  I've also been fighting frustration with the buggy Morrowind, crackin' that whip in the two LucasArts Indiana Jones adventure games, collecting mad amounts of loot in Torchlight, and fighting down impossible odds in Red Alert 3.  It's been a slow couple of months personally, so gaming has been sucking up a lot of free time. 

Writing 101, or How to Turn Your Average Game Into Something Memorable 

One of the things we've seen time and time again is an otherwise fantastic game dragged down by one hell of a crummy story.  Take Resistance 2 - the game mechanics are fine, and some of the battles are damn awesome.  But the story isn't about to win its writers any awards.  At best, it's a serviceable story that serves to link its set pieces.  At worst, it's laughably cliched macho bullshit ripped straight from the pages of a bad sci-fi action novel.  Based solely on the story alone, I'd have thrown the game aside a year ago and never looked back.  But solid combat mechanics, hectic multiplayer, and visible enemies turn this into one of my favorite shooters. 
But we've heard that story a thousand times - games with craptacular stories make for a pretty overdone topic.  What we don't often talk about are the opposites - games with poor gameplay transformed into great games because of fantastic writing.  We're going to stick to some of my perennial favorites and games bound for that status.  Let's use the classic Monkey Island games as a prime example.  Strip the first couple of Monkey Island games down to their essential gameplay mechanics without the writing, and you'd have nothing more than overly short exercises in pixel hunting.  Some adventure games can stand on the merits of their puzzles (Myst), but honestly, without the clever and witty writing found in the Monkey Island games, they wouldn't have two legs to stand on.   Other adventure games that I'd consider classics run into the same category of "great writing, crappy gameplay," like the Sierra adventure series Police Quest (which had a tendency to rely heavily upon proper police procedure due to its intended use as a potential training game), Space Quest, and yes, even the beloved first few entries in King's Quest.  Without their decent writing, all these games would have been pretty darned terrible. 
Tales of Monkey Island is a bit of a throwback in this regard.  Whereas I really didn't have many qualms with the gameplay in the Sam and Max episodes, I thought Tales of Monkey Island had some atrocious mechanics.  Most glaring is its most basic - walking.  What is it with this game and Heavy Rain in that something so basic as walking gets so thouroughly butchered?  Second, there are certain repeated puzzle elements, namely involving maps and secret forest paths, repeated far too often for its own good.  A great deal of depth could have been introduced just with a few more variants on its puzzle elements.  But Tales of Monkey Island is a true classic in my mind, regardless of these problems, thanks to clever writing, spot-on voice acting, and memorable characters like Guybrush's first mate. 
What I'm driving at here is that gameplay mechanics can sometimes play second-fiddle.  It's ideal that all games should have equal parts writing and gameplay, but we all know that until games evolve a great deal, we won't see this consistently for a good long time.  Hell, Hollywood has been around for over a century, and we're still getting crap thrust down our gullets every day.  But sometimes, try looking beyond shaky gameplay for those hidden gems.  At the very least, with Tales of Monkey Island, you'll get a few hours of solid laughs. 

Movies, Books, and Da Rockwilder 

I'm a long-time fan of Stephen King, though I've been highly critical of his work since his last fantastic novel, Bag of Bones.  His writing over the bulk of the last decade has defined the phrase "phoning it in," but with his newest novel Under the Dome, I can see a glint of the old writer that I know and admire so much.  It's certainly not a perfect novel by any means, with a pretty flat protagonist and a shoddy deus ex machina, but he does enough right to turn this into one of his better novels.  It's certainly his finest effort since the afore-mentioned Bag of Bones, and the concept alone warrants a read by any fans of some of King's less horror-centered works. 
I've watched many, many movies since we last spoke, O Reader of Mine, so I think we'll just run through the last few movies and shows I've watched.  Boondock Saints 2 is horrible, save for a decent final third and a dream-speech by Rocco.  It feels like it was directed by an seizure-addled homophobic child with tendencies towards ADD, and given Troy Duffy's commentary, I'm inclined to think that I'm not far off in that regard.  Duffy comes across as a self-important douche, and he frequently points out directing decisions that prove his incompetence as a director and a writer.  It's an atrocious movie in almost every regard, which is a shame, because I loved the first. 
Californication continues to prove itself to be one of the finer shows on television, with sharp dialogue and a fine blend between tender-heartedness and occasional caustic wit.  Duchovny's work is consistently brilliant in the show, and I'd love to shake the hands of the writers.  I don't always agree with its existential nature, but that's a minor nitpicking detail to a show with real balls and miles of talent. 
You're Welcome, America proves to me once and for all that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay have oceans of talent.  For every silly, brainless project that they release, they come up with something almost slyly intelligent like this (and that's not to say that I don't love their less brainy projects - the men can no just about no wrong together).  Mixed in between lowball comedy bits are true little facts that drive home just how hilarious Bush's terms in office truly were.  And Ferrell even sneaks in a very poignant moment reflecting on the pain Bush must have to feel whenever he contemplates the number of dead soldiers and civilians.  It's stand-up comedy at its finest. 

What You Should Be Reading Rather Than This 

This is a new section to Sparky's Update, but in honor of all the long-term and new friends I've made on this site, I'm devoting it to some of my GB friends' blogs.  First and foremost, each week I'll be giving out the I'm-Not-Worthy Award to one blog or blogger in particular who I think has really done some outstanding work, either in the week or in the past few months.  These bloggers are top-notch writers, and you'd be doing yourself a disservice to be reading this and not their work. 
This week's inaugural I'm-Not-Worth-Worthy Award goes to Dankempster.  Dan's writing is consistently top-notch, and he has quickly become one of the finest writers on Giant Bomb.  His superb look at Final Fantasy 7 takes a serious look at an old favorite, offering both praise and criticism in fair measure with a keen eye towards what worked years ago and what works now.  So long as he keeps writing them, I'll keep on reading them, and you should too. 
Other shout-outs this week - Giant Bomb's favorite prodigal son Sweep is consistently funny, sharp, and occasionally controversial.  Concurrent to Dan's look at Final Fantasy VII, check out SamStrife's look at Final Fantasy IX.  Dalai's blog is pretty random and entertaining.  Emilio has been providing lists of great games for gamers on a budget - your wallet will thank you for this one.  One of the chieftains of the Wii Defense Force and a long-time blog supporter, Claude provides some pretty awesome content.  And finally, we come to GamerGeek360, with his semi-weekly installments of his achievement updates. 
Thank you all so much for your support of the old Sparky's Update, and here's hoping for years more of continued friendship, good times, and happy gaming.  Kick ass, ladies and gentlemen, and always remember where your towel is.  Until next time, I'm out!

Update on Sparky's Update

After mulling it over for a couple of months (well, sporadically), I've decided that the basic format of Sparky's Update will basically remain unchanged, but with some small changes.  I'm probably going to concentrate less on describing in detail what I'm playing and instead go with a few topics of conversation related to what I'm playing and possible relevance today.  So, for example, if I'm playing Tales of Monkey Island, I'll discuss how great writing and style can transform an otherwise pretty standard adventure game into something more. 
I'd also like to introduce sections devoted to noteworthy blogs or forum discussions that I feel deserve more attention.  While I'm sure GB's notorious blog writers like Sweep will get a mention now and again, I'd like to devote this section to finding out lesser known blogs and giving them some love.  No matter how small my blog readership might be, I still feel like there are many writers out there who deserve more attention, and I'd like to introduce them to the world.  Please feel free to list some of your favorite bloggers, reviews, or other user content that you think deserves a shout-out and I'll give it a read to see if I want to throw it on in the next update. 
Until then, always know where your towel is.

A few quick notes on what I'm up to

  1. OK, strange, the unordered and ordered lists aren't working all of a sudden, so this is going to look kind of ugly.

-- Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3 is unusually difficult for me.  I've been able to worm my way through all the C&C and Red Alert games without too much trouble, so it genuinely surprises and annoys me to find that I'm having such a difficult time with this one.  Part of it is the resource gathering - ore mines feel like they deplete too damn quickly.  The AI can be almost brutally mechanical, too, and there is almost no way for me to keep up with it on the harder settings.  All in all, though, the game is worth a look purely for the always-great Tim Curry. 
-- Polished off Wild ARMs and am now working on the second one.  The original held up better than I had anticipated.  The battle graphics were never beautiful to begin with, but if you can get past some ugly 3D, there's a hell of a lot to like for the bargain price.  The 2nd holds up even better, and I'm ripping through it at a pretty fast rate.  Neither will really challenge you, but the games are definitely mechanically sound and offer a lot of hidden goodies and collectibles for those of you looking for a lengthy RPG. 
-- Still working on every last little side-quest and job class in both Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics A2.  Yeah, I know, taking my sweet ass time with 'em. 
-- Played the Uncharted 2 demo, finally, and am very pleased to report that the baddies are MUCH easier to spot this time around.  The Heavy Rain demo is shockingly well done, although it's a game I won't be able to play to the best of my abilities, thanks to the miniscule button flashes for QTE.  Damn you, QTE - you are the bane of my gaming existence. 
-- Thinking of digging out Disgaea 3 and finishing up all the little side missions.  The thought of the grinding necessary to do it kinda makes me cringe, but it would certainly kill a lot of time.   I'll also be returning to Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and Suikoden once I've finished my run on Wild ARMs 2. 

-- Thank you all for the DS recommendations.  I was hoping to pick up a few DS games, but it won't happen for another month or two.  Hopefully soon.  I think the first games I'll be buying will be the Dragon Quest games.  I liked the PS2 Dragon Quest - wasn't my favorite RPG, but it was certainly entertaining. 
If you haven't done so, check out Dankempster's blog on his return to Final Fantasy VII.  Also, be sure to check out SamStrife's blog on Final Fantasy IX.  Great blogs.


General update, questions, and the like.

Hey gang!  Been really kind of busy here.  I had to move back into my parents' house due to my job situation, and so have been sporadic in keeping up with things.  My move is now over, so you should see some sort of return of the Sparky's Update - but it won't be under that name, and it'll be in a different format.  I really haven't decided what form it will take yet, so if you have anything you particularly liked or disliked about the old format, please feel free to share.  Trust me, you're not going to hurt this rhino's feelings. 
I have several generic and dumb questions for the hive mind. 
1)  Is it possible to hook up the PS3 to a wireless network, and if so, what will I need?  I've obviously hooked up through a wired connection before, but I've yet to try it wirelessly.  Situation demands that any Internet access I have is through wireless. 
2) Got any great recommendations for DS games?  I asked specifically for lesser-known RPG's in my status update, and I'm still leaning in that direction.  But if you've been playing anything fantastic (and dankempster, I promise I will pick up Chinatown Wars soon), please feel free to throw them down too. 
3)  if you own multiple consoles hooked up to one TV, how do YOU keep your wires from getting too cluttered?  I unhooked my consoles last week, and it was a horrific mess.  Just looking for some general advice. 
All right folks, that's it for now.  Keep it gangsta, keep it hoodsta, until the next episode.  Hope you are all doing great and having fun!

Activision games on GOG

Fans of Arcanum and Gabriel Knight will be pleased to know that GOG now has those games available.  This is an amazing time to be a gamer, and a terrible time to be flat broke.

Sparky's Update chases the dragon

Come on, feel the noise.  Gamers, rock your toys.  Cause I want more, more, more... of my blog writing!  Yessir, bad puns in tow, it's me, Sparky, bringing you the Macho Bloggo Combo Burrito special, baby, and I'm servin' it up all day, every day.  Well, okay, how about once a week or so, just like usual?   This week, I talk about the awesome Dragon Age Origins, and discuss my one caveat with the game.  I'll also discuss my immediate future as a gamer and a blogger.  Other than that, it's going to be a short blog.  You see, I was without heat for nearly a week and a half, leaving me stranded at my parents' house with only my trusty DS and Final Fantasy Tactics A2. 
A Dragon Just Flew In, and Boy, Are His Arms Tired 
Good Lord, Dragon Age Origins is one hell of a fantastic RPG.  You've all probably read great reviews and everyone's opinion on the game, so I'm going to only say this - if I review it here on Giant Bomb, it will get 5 out of 5 stars, if simply for the fact that ten hours into it, I knew I was going to be playing it over and over again. 
There is one issue that I'd like to take up with the game.  Well, it's really more of a challenge.  Given today's gaming technology, one advance I'd like to see implemented to a much larger degree is seeing the consequences of your actions.  I don't just mean random NPC quotes, a few different loot items, or different branching options for dialogue trees.  What I'm talking about is something visual, something physical.  Dragon Age does a good job with this, but it's something I'd like to see developed further in future games. 
I guess what I'm looking for is more of a real change to environments over a gradual period of time.  I want to have the ability to do great things in a town, come back in months or years of game-time, and see the area slowly develop with that passing time period.  This has been done before in games - Fable 2 comes immediately to mind - but I don't think anyone's done it with a great deal of subtlety and that sense of small but rippling changes. 
This is also pretty nitpicky, but I'd like to see more custom party interactions based on dialogue trees and your actions in game.  Again, Bioware does this to an extent, but it still feels slightly stilted at times and sometimes canned.  If I commit an atrocity, I want to hear my party members discussing it amongst themselves, or even better, perhaps huddling together at the camp in hushed whispers that dissipate as my character approaches.  Little touches like that would just about make my jaw hit the floor. 

This will come with time, I'm absolutely certain.  In the meantime, it's a stunning game and I highly recommend it. 
We're Going Back... To the Future! 
With the Steam sale having drained me of my last bit of "play" money, it's going to be quite a while before I can afford to buy another game.  Therefore, while the basic structure of this blog will remain the same, I'd like to start introducing more intellectual thought and less "Here's what I'm playing" nonsense that no one really gives a shit about anyways.  Since I'm not exactly an intellectual thinker, we'll see how that goes, but ultimately, you be the judges and feel free to criticize and comment on what you'd like to see. 
I believe next week I'll discuss the impact Al Lowe had on me as a gamer, and what kind of difference quality writing can make in a series of games.  Sound interesting?  Maybe? 

Merry Christmas!

No updatery this week, folks.  Just want to wish you all a very merry Christmas!  Please feel free to post what your plans are, if you get anything fun, or if you're doing any gaming over the holidays.  Have a blast, be kind to one another, and God bless!

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?


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?


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?