Archive for March, 2010

Remembering Nintendo 64

Still in a news slump, so I will take this opportunity to continue my old to classic consoles that have been a huge part of my life, and many, many others’ lives.

If I had to choose one console to claim the title as my favorite of all time, it’d have to be the Nintendo 64.

As I’ve said previously, I can’t remember a time when video games were not a part of my life. OK, maybe that’s a bit of a lie, I have one memory-my earliest memory-that dates back to before I was able to play video games. Other than that, they’ve always been there for me.

Though the NES and Sega Genesis are responsible for introducing me to the joys of gaming, the N64 offered so many deeper and longer adventures that changed the way I viewed video games forever. Experiences I had on the N64 transformed me from viewing video games as just a fun activity to do during free time to viewing them as a huge part of my life, and as medium that has, in a lot of ways, shaped my personality.

It’s impossible to think of the N64 without thinking of Super Mario 64. This game really got the wheels in my head turning. Mario’s first adventure in a fully 3D world offered so many new experiences with 15 courses and 120 stars to collect. This may be the game that I have completed the most times out of any, and that’s partly because this game doesn’t appeal to just one age group, it appeals to all ages. I enjoyed it when I was 7 years old and lost tons of lives trying to beat Bowser, and I still enjoy it as a 21 year old who’s mastered wall kicks over the years. The graphics and soundtrack are still quite appealing today as well as the control scheme. The only negative point I have to say about SM 64 is that there are a lot of glitches in the game, but some of those are actually really fun to play with, too.

A brief list of just a few of the dozens of amazing games this system had to offer: Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, StarFox 64, Super Smash Bros., Pokemon Snap!, San Francisco Rush, Mario Kart 64, GoldenEye 007, Gex 64, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, Perfect Dark, Diddy Kong Racing, Mario Party and so many more.

Today you can download N64 games via the Wii’s Virtual Console, or you can play them online via the Project 64 Emulator.

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Remembering Sega Genesis

With no real news to report in the gaming world currently, I thought I’d take this opportunity to honor one of the consoles that’s been with me ever since I can remember: the 16-bit Sega Genesis.

I remember the Christmas when my older brother, Mike, opened his Sega Genesis from our parents well. I remember him tearing off the paper and then excitedly jumping up and begging our parents to allow him to be excused so that he could run downstairs and start hooking it up.

The version of the Genesis that Mike got came packaged with Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic and Miles AKA Tails. That game claimed many hours of my childhood. Mike would always make me be Tails when we played two player, and most of the time he won. Over the years I got better and better at the game, and today he refuses to play against me for fear of losing.

Another great game on the Genesis is the original Mortal Kombat. This is another one Mike typically beat me at, but it didn’t stop me from loving it. This was my first experience with a fighting game, and my introduction to the genre, and what a great one it was. At the time, the craziest thing I’d ever seen in a video game were the fatality moves Mike would mash a button combo to achieve. Today there are obviously far more graphic and explicit games, but at the time this game was quite scandalous. You even had to enter a code when the code screen before the  title screen was up to get blood to show during your game. Still to this day, there is nothing cooler in a fighting game than hearing Scorpion say, “GET OVER HERE!” as he pulls in his victim from across the screen.

This system offered so many other great games: Earthworm Jim, Ms. Pac Man, Aladdin, Golden Axe, Combat Cars, the original Sonic and Sonic Spinball, and many more.

Today, the Genesis belongs to me, and it sits proudly on top of my entertainment center in my room, still hooked up, ready to power up and send me back into all those amazing worlds from my past.

You can play a wide range of Genesis games online today via SEGA’s official website.

An ode to survival horror part 2

Now it’s time to talk about Resident Evil, the series that can be credited with popularizing the survival horror genre, and making “survival horror” a household term. I will just be discussing the main series (the numbered games) in my analysis today.

Though the stories of the Resident Evil games are grim, they come nowhere near the twisted stories of the Silent Hill series. Instead, Resident Evil cashes in on the “dogs jumping through windows” type of horror. The presence of more startling aspects, such as zombies appear out from behind a door, made it unnecessary to have extremely in-depth storylines that require a lot from that player’s imagination.

The original RE game was released in 1996 for the PlayStation and Sega Saturn. Today, the game both appears and sounds laughingly awful. The graphics are extremely primitive, and the voice acting has got to be some of the worst in gaming history. The game is not that scary to play today, either, save for a few moments that make you jump. When played today, this game resembles less of a Resident Evil game than it does a House of the Dead game. The game follows STARS (Special Tactics and Rescue Squad) members Jill Valentine and Barry Burton as they explore a mansion infested with zombies and investigate the man responsible for creating the T virus, which turned the humans into zombies.

A remake was made of the original game for GameCube a few years later, and it was a complete makeover. The graphics, soundtrack, and even the voice acting were redone to meet amazing standards, and because of this remake, the original Resident Evil adventure is able to live in a world of next-gen consoles. The gameplay was even extended, making the adventure longer and better than before.

The action in the Resident Evil series is more pervasive than the Silent Hill series. There are far more enemies in the RE games. There is a lot more “running and gunning.” Though there are puzzles to be solved in all of the games, they tend to be more straight forward and less ridiculous than those of SH.

The controls in the first couple of games are pretty horrible and are often referred to as “tank-like.” Luckily this problem was rectified, but as I said in my SH discussion, this factor should not discourage anyone from giving the original games a chance. Just have a little patience.

Resident Evil 4 and 5, the two most recent entries in the main series, completely revamped the series. The games are amazing as action titles, but the series is starting to break away from its survival horror roots. But as long as there are enemies infected by a deadly virus to be “killed,” the games will still belong to the series in every way. Who knows what’s in store for the next game, after the in-depth, epic battle with series’ long-term villain Albert Wesker in Resident Evil 5. I’m sure there are still plenty of scenarios left for Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield, Leon S. Kennedy, and possibly even other members of the STARS.

As far as recommending individual games, I can’t say that there’s a game in the numbered series that I wouldn’t recommend. RE 2 and 3 should be played if you want to experience the oldschool feel of the series. RE 4 and 5 should be played if you want to experience the new direction the series is moving in, and want more action with super strong protagonists. RE Zero is good to play if you want to learn some background story from before the STARS ever entered the Spencer Estate. I would recommend the true original game only if you want a good laugh, but I would highly recommend playing the remake of the original game for GameCube or for the Wii. The remake is definitely one that should not be missed by any gamer.

Now to say which series I prefer overall: Resident Evil. As much as I truly love the amazing stories and characters in the Silent Hill series, when it comes down to it, I want to have fun when I’m playing a game. All of the Resident Evil games in the numbered series are fun to play, and I don’t have to stop and mentally prepare myself for a few minutes before advancing around a dark corner. Though the character development is not as involved in the RE series, the characters are still loveable. Bottom line: when recommending one survival horror series to a friend, or any gamer interested, I’d suggest Resident Evil every time.

If you don’t believe me about just how impressive the remake of the original RE is, check out what IGN had to say about it.

An ode to survival horror

Looking back at my top ten games from the past decade, I thought I’d dedicate my posts this week to a genre that was mentioned a few times: survival horror. The two most popular series belonging to this genre are of course Silent Hill and Resident Evil. I’ll start out with Silent Hill; I’ll say what I like and what I dislike about the series. Next time I’ll discuss Resident Evil, and at the end I’ll reveal which series I prefer.

The original Silent Hill game was released for the PlayStation more than ten years ago now, in 1999. The graphics are way outdated today, and I can’t lie, they look pretty terrible. That only adds to how impressive the fear aspect is in this game. To this day, playing the original SH still gives me a strong sensation of uneasiness as I advance, and oftentimes I find myself hesitating to go through the next door, or around the next corner.

That’s because Silent Hill has never been known for relying on the sort of “things jumping out at you” approach to horror. This series forces players to think, and you’ll do plenty of that, and when you’re done you still won’t be able to understand absolutely everything. Konami knows how to create chilling stories that really grip you. This series plays on your imagination, and you almost always have an extremely limited field of vision, with only a flashlight to illuminate the darkness.

The original game focuses on the story of protagonist Harry Mason, a widower, who is searching for his lost adopted daughter, Cheryl. Harry awakens after crashing his car in Silent Hill. During his journey through the demented town, Harry learns of a dark secret about Cheryl, whom he and his wife found on the side of the rode. Though there are monsters (which are really personifications of Harry’s own fear, you’ll later learn) to fight, the real monsters of the game are members of the terrifying cult The Order. The story of The Order unfolds throughout the game, and later on in other games in the series. The character development in this series is one of its strongest qualities.

Silent Hill is also famous for its puzzles, which at times can be frustratingly difficult. Often times, frivolous item collecting is also necessary to complete these puzzles. Solving one puzzle can require several trips back and forth between different rooms. The puzzles can certainly be tedious, and the reward often feels not worth all of the effort.

The earlier games in the series have hair-pullingly awful control schemes. This aspect of the gameplay much outweighs the graphical limitations when considering elements that may defer players from giving the originals a chance these days. Understandably, though, this aspect also adds to the terror experienced while navigating Silent Hill. The thought of not being able to maneuver the character sufficiently when faced with danger is a brilliant tool to instill fear in the player (though probably unintentional at the time). The controls do become easier to deal with after the first couple of hours, though, and it’s worth gritting your teeth for a while to continue the game, because the stories are so well done.

This series is also known for its wonderful soundtracks. The voice acting in the first and second games is pretty god awful, but the music of this series has always been genius.

As far as recommending individual games, I would definitely suggest beginning with the original, to get the feel for the series from its start, and also to learn the story. I would then recommend going on to play Silent Hill 3, which is my personal favorite game of the series. This game also continues the story line of the first game (Silent Hill 2 is a completely separate story). After that I would recommend the new Silent Hill: Shattered Memories for the Wii. This game is meant to be taken as a completely separate entry from the rest of the series, but it is still very much a SH title, and definitely worth playing and replaying. Homecoming for the PS3/XBOX 360 is also a good game, and it really goes in depth with the story of The Order. I would recommend Silent Hill 2 for people who are already fans of the series, because I honestly feel it’s one of the weaker entries (even though other fans will argue endlessly with me on this). In SH2 you are introduced to Pyramid Head, the series’ most famous antagonist. I would not recommend playing Silent Hill 4, but rather reading the story somewhere or watching a playthrough online. The gameplay is really just a pain and poorly developed, but the story is really interesting. I’d also recommend playing Origins last; the gameplay’s not so great, but it does provide a great background story and is worth one playthrough.

All in all, any fan of survival horror needs to check this series out. Just keep in mind that Silent Hill has its strong points and also some really weak points.

I would suggest checking out IGN’s review of the original Silent Hill for more information about the series’ starting point.

Best Nintendo game of the previous decade!

The time has finally come, folks! The time for me to announce my personal favorite Nintendo game from the last decade. There were some great competitors up for the grand prize, and it wasn’t easy, but there is one game that sticks out in my mind and captured my heart above and beyond the others. Though all of the games that made it to my top ten list truly deserve to be there, this title just wouldn’t belong at any position other than first.

So, here it is…the award goes to…

1. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (Nintendo 64)
This game just barely qualifies for the competition with its 2000 release, but I’m glad it made the cut. There is so much to say about this addition to the Zelda series. First of all, this game required the expansion pack for the N64 because of the detailed graphics, which still look awesome today. When I think of the look of Majora’s Mask, I think of an overall mysterious atmosphere, with tons of beautiful colors in all of the areas the young hero explores. After saving the land of Hyrule and becoming known as the Hero of Time in the previous game, Link travels to the much more mysterious land of Termina, with the central hub of the action taking place in Clock Town.

While MM only has four major dungeons to conquer, it offers many more side quests than its predecessor, Ocarina of Time. One of the most enjoyable side quests is the trading of the land title deeds with the Deku scrubs. Each trade allows Link access to something useful, for example a piece of heart.

Along the journey, Link must collect masks to return to the (very scary) Happy Mask Salesman. Link must collect all masks within the game before he is allowed access to the legendary Majora’s Mask, which was stolen by the Skull Kid. The Happy Mask Salesman informs Link that, when in the wrong hands, Majora’s Mask is capable of great destruction and chaos. Link must return the mask the the salesman before Skull Kid succeeds in destroying the entire land of Termina. Some masks are collected during the main story, and others are more side quest-ish. There are also four transformational masks that change Link into different forms (Deku Scrub, Goron, Zora, and Fierce Deity), that are collected whilest completing dungeons (except for Fierce Deity, which is attained only after having collected all other masks).

Some masks have extensive stories to complete before you earn them. For example, the Couples Mask has certain tasks to complete on each of the three days. 

The game takes place within a recurring three day time cycle. On midnight of the third day, Skull Kid pulls the moon down, crushing all of Termina, if Link is unable to stop him. Obviously, the game is much too extensive to be completed within the first three day cycle, and therefore Link is forced to complete as much as he can (or as much as the player wants to) within three days, and then time must be reset. During a reset, various items and amounts of progress are lost. Side quests, for example, should be started when enough time is allowed to complete them before the cycle needs to be reset. Link does learn an ocarina song that allows him to slow the flow of time, which helps tremendously. The time cycle in this game definitely adds a large amount of difficulty, which is much appreciated considering there are only four major temples.

Another thing I love about the three day time frame is that the game has its own schedule. For example, standing in a certain area of town on the first day at a specific time, you’ll see various characters completing certain routine activities. There are also specific time frames (a couple of specified hours on a certain day) in which you are allowed access to various places, for example the Stock Pot Inn – which has a small window of opportunity in which you can get a room reservation.

All Zelda fans, in my opinion, NEED to play this game through at least once. If the time cycle annoys you, just be patient, it doesn’t take long to learn the Inverted Song of Time, which allows you to slow the time flow. The updated graphics are really impressive for the N64 still to this day. The soundtrack is awesome. The game gives you plenty to do in between completing dungeons-mainly the collecting of the masks, among other things. The time scheduling is probably the most impressive element of this game. I love being able to see the same events happening at the same time upon a reset of the cycle. I also can’t stress highly enough how much FUN this game is to play. In today’s world of video games competing to have the best graphics or the best online modes, it makes a look back at these classic, fun games necessary every once in a while.

Check out some great details of this game on Zelda Universe. You’ll find plot summary, characters, maps, ocarina songs, strategies, cheats and more.

So now it’s your turn. I want to know what you consider the best game from the previous decade. Go!

Top 10 games (#4, 3, 2…)

I’m almost to the end of the countdown! These are the Nintendo titles of the previous decade that are truly worth owning, because besides being great upon first play, they also have longevity. These are the games that you’ll be popping in between releases of upcoming titles.

Without further ado…

4. Soul Calibur 2 (GameCube)
I can’t tell you how many hours of my life this game claimed during its prime, and continues to take to this day. If you’re a fan of fighting games, you’d be foolish to not give this one a shot. The Soul Calibur series is among the best of the genre. SC 2 offered an astonishing improvement from the original, which was available for Sega Dreamcast. Tons of new characters were added to the fighter roster, including a special character that depended on the platform you bought the game for. In the GCN’s case, this special character was none other than Link! SC2 also featured many new levels, an expansive solo quest, and the ability to choose from an arsenal of weapons before starting battle.

3. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (GCN, Wii)
This game was worth waiting for the Wii release due to the impressive motion controls, which forever changed the way Link’s sword was handled. The game also offered a more extensive journey for Link, with an average file taking about 25 hours to finish with a reasonable amount of side quests completed. TP offers more dungeons and a much larger version of Hyrule to explore. As always, the soundtrack is nothing less than beautiful, but I found the biggest gems to be the remixes of the classic Zelda songs (such as the Fairy’s Fountain theme). This is the Zelda game that’ll leave you wondering where all of the hours disappeared to since you sat down to begin playing. 

2. Resident Evil 4 (GCN, Wii)
Another game worth waiting for the Wii release to experience the motion controls. RE 4 was a complete revamp of the series, which allowed for the ease of controlling the protagonist, Leon. Resident Evil series veterans know the paradox of the protagonist and smooth, painless controls in past titles. Not only are the basic controls impressive, but the interactive features of the game are a superb addition. For example, when Leon has to outrun something from a cutscene, the player will have to respond by shaking the Wii remote back and forth rapidly, and then help Leon to dodge by performing a combination button press indicated on the screen. Although many RE veterans argue that this game is not as scary as past titles, the horror element still clearly remains. RE4 doesn’t allow players to have a break even during a cutscene, as many of them are brief and are immediately followed by a necessary instant response from the player. The game is also pleasingly on the long end, with plenty of action and suspense to keep players working toward the ultimate goal: to rescue the president’s daughter…while not becoming a snack for the Ganados or Cultists.

Got an iPhone? Check out Resident Evil 4 mobile edition.

Interested in buying one of these awesome Nintendo titles, but can’t find them at your local game retailer? Check out eStarland for a wide variety of video games, both old and new.

My #1 Nintendo game from the last decade to come later this week! Stay tuned, folks! Also please feel free to comment with your favorite games from 2000-2009!

Top 10 games (cont’d)

I’ll pick up my countdown where I left off:

7. Luigi’s Mansion (GameCube)
This game was among the top reasons to own a GameCube back in the day. Finally, an adventure featuring Luigi instead of his brother. The game’s story followed a gullible Luigi who was convinced that he’d won a contest and received a free mansion. Luigi later finds out that Mario has been kidnapped by the Boos and that he’ll have to dispose of them all if he wants to rescue his long lost brother. Equipped with only a vacuum, the player guides Luigi through the haunted mansion searching for Boos to vacuum up. Each main room has its own unique boss fight tailored to fit the personality of that particular ghost. The player also performs various tasks such as watering plants and searching through cabinets throughout the game to gather money. After completing the game, Luigi is rewarded a real mansion built by Professor E. Gadd using the money that Luigi collected throughout his journey (obviously, the more money gathered, the better the mansion turns out). The game has attractive graphics and the mansion is fun to explore even while not hunting ghosts. It was such a successful story that I’ve found myself playing through this title a few times over the years.

6. Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GameCube)
This is the Zelda title that divided long-term fans of the series. The cell-shaded graphics were a big topic of debate and unfortunately a huge receiver of negative criticism. Putting the change in appearance aside, this game felt as much a Zelda title as all others in the series upon play-through. All the right elements are there: great story, exploration, dungeon battles, gradually acquired skills and weapons, boss fights, side quests, and of course, a kidnapped princess. When entering this game with an open mind, the graphics actually become quite pleasing after a while. The amount of detail for the style is incredible, and it gives the game an artsy, intriguing feel. My only complaint about the gameplay is the amount of time spent sailing. Once learning a specific song that allows Link to transport to various spots on the map without having to sail the entire distance between points, however, it becomes more bearable. Still, the amount of sailing feels a bit excessive even then. The most rewarding part of the game, for me, was the journey beneath the ocean to see Hyrule, and a statue of the Hero of Time from past Zelda games. This is not a title to be missed, tedious sailing or no.

5. Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)
The Super Smash Bros. series has yet to release a game that is anything less than awesome. This title had a huge response from eager fans, with long lines forming at various retail chains for a midnight release. The anticipation was certainly justified by yet another great addition to the series. The same great cast of characters returned with some new faces, including Sonic, cartoon Link, Solid Snake from the Metal Gear Solid series, and many others, some unlockable and some available from the beginning. The stages were all well done and enjoyable, and the new adventure mode, Subspace Emissary, provided for a great co-op journey with a friend in between regular battles.
Still haven’t unlocked all the characters? Check out the guide to unlocking all 16 extra characters on Super Smash Bros. World. 

The real best games of the past decade to come later this week! Stay tuned!

My top 10 games of the decade

Alright, as promised, I’m counting down what I feel are the top ten games from the past decade. Since just counting down the best video games in general would be chaos, I’m going to stick with what Nintendo Power did and simplify my countdown to include just games that were released for Nintendo (a couple of them may have also appeared on other platforms).

Here are the first few:

10. Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles (Wii)
RE: DC is a rail shooter that retells the events of RE 2 and RE: Code: Veronica, which, first of all, are two of my favorite RE games. The graphics in this game are beautiful, and extremely impressive for the Wii. The main protagonists are Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield, naturally.  The levels are expertly crafted and the voice acting is done very well. The game is a great time whether you’re playing solo or co-op with a friend. If you’re in the mood for some mindless zombie blasting without the hassle of navigating, this is the game for you.

9. Super Mario Galaxy
Though I enjoyed Super Mario Sunshine, this game is clearly the superior title. The level designs are phenomenal and the graphics are breath taking for a Mario game. On top of the fun basic story line, the game has tons of replay value (you can play through again as Luigi and explore new experiences) and encourages you to keep playing until you collect all of the stars once you’ve finished the game with the minimum requirement. 

8. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
I was so thrilled to see a Silent Hill title come to the Wii, but I never could’ve imagined just what an amazing use of the Wii remote it would have. The speaker on the remote acts as Harry Mason’s cell phone, and holding the remote up to your ear when accepting a call is a great way to make the player feel immersed in the game. In fact, there is plenty of interactivity between the player and the game in this title, which is what makes it so impressive.  When you turn the game on there is a psychology warning that the game will psychologically profile you as you play. I have never seen something like this before. You begin the game by filling out a survey, and based on your answers, many different aspects in the game will be altered to fit with your responses. As a result of your answers, characters will have specific personalities, monsters will appear a certain way and so on. Because of this feature, the game has almost unlimited replay value. You can alter all or a couple of the answers on your survey the next time you begin a file and experience a much different game. Throughout the game there are also subsequent sessions with Dr. Kaufmann, where you’ll be asked to answer more personal questions, which in turn will also affect your game and ultimately the ending you receive. This is a really interesting new adventure for Harry and long-time fans of the series will really appreciate the new title, as long as it is interpreted separately from the rest of the games rather than as canon. The use of the Wii remote and nunchuck to shake off enemies in an appropriate direction also makes the player feel more a part of the story. Check out screen shots, descriptions, and more at Konami’s official website for the game.

More of my countdown to come later! =)