Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Legend of Zelda

This will be the first of a few posts about 'Legend of Zelda' games. That's because I've played a handful of them. As far as gaming goes for me, this series is a holdover from childhood.

A link to the past. Ha!

Bad puns aside, the old one still holds strong, happy memories of sitting up late at night in my room, sitting cross-legged in front of my tiny TV, playing NES games into the wee hour of the morning during summer vacation.

Thanks to that, I still get "cravings" to play video games into the wee hours of the morning when the weather turns warm.

The Legend of Zelda--the original, in that deviant gold casing--was one of the games I played the most. Over and over. I'm not sure why; nothing ever changed. You always killed monsters, stabbed the crap out of Ganon, and saved the princess. It is like many, many other games, and a myriad of folktales.

And yet this game was exceptionally fun. There was a challenge in killing the monsters; you could shoot projectile swords; the elderly hang out in caves and dungeons to dispense advice, hand out weaponry, and oversee gambling games.

Originally, when I made the up-top graphic for this entry, I thought that I would be musing about the fact that you could shoot with the sword, because the sword is obviously not a projectile weapon unless you have the strength to chuck it at someone--and hit them. But this is all easily explained away by the fact that there is magic all over the game, and the sword must therefore be magic. End of story.

I am more interested, at the moment, in the old people who are scattered about the game. Now, when I worked in West Branch, my coworkers and I would sometimes go to a fast food restaurant. At this restaurant, there was always a nasty old woman behind the counter, and I would joke that the restaurant used an "enslave the elderly" program to recruit staff members.

I believe the Powers that Be of Hyrule use the same program.

Think about it: You've lived well beyond everyone you've ever known. I make this assumption because there's a medieval feeling attached to everything, what with it being a fantasy game and all. And in the medieval era, people made it to about 30 and died somehow. So these old people, they're something special just by virtue of their ability to remain alive.

And here we find them hanging around in dank caves and dark rooms, always between two bonfires. And it would seem their only purpose is to hang around, waiting for some plucky adolescent in a ridiculous green hat to show up, waving a sword and various other magical/sacred artifacts around like they're nothing.

That has got to suck.

How would the posting for that job ad read? Well, here's my idea:

"WANT TO SERVE YOUR KINGDOM? No manual labor, plenty of cooking fire. Training provided. Must have ability to wait long periods of time. Send inquiries by carrier pigeon to GUY IN CAVE, S.E. HYRULE. Great position for retirees!"

And, of course, Hyrule's few elderly folk fell for the trap. Only a couple of old women had the foresight to make any kind of profit from the deal. One of them sells red and blue liquids which she claims are potions, but I personally think they're some kind of energy drink that makes the little green gelfling on screen so hyper that he only thinks his life energy has been restored, but really he's just hopped up on guarana and caffeine and berserking on squirrels that he thinks are peahats.

Imagine that sight for the old guy's who's waiting for some kid to arrive so he can tell said kid that Dodongo hates smoke, but finds some little turd hopped up on roofies (here to mean, guarana and caffeine) who, as previously mentioned, is swinging a sword around.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Sims 2

If you haven't read my entry on The Sims, take a minute to do so. It'll set the tone. The mood. The climate. The, er, background stuff.

So anyway. You already know that when it comes to playing the Sims, I'm a sick, sick, sadistic freak. Doubly so with The Sims 2.

Of course I looked up the cheat codes right away. I didn't want to waste any time with making my Sim get a job, saving up money, and earning a cool house. That's for schmucks. I want free money!

And yes, my fascination with the undead continued. I created a Sim just to kill in the pool, so that there would be a haunted house.

Then I removed the ladder and watched the poor, be-mulletted bastard paddle around in the pool for days.

"Why are you watching this?" my fiance asked me more than once. I don't think I had any kind of satisfactory answer.

Now, when I found out there were vampires in The Sims 2, I was intrigued. Okay, maybe "geeked" is a better word. At first, I thought that making a vampire was just making a gothy-looking Sim. Oh, no no no. They can be an actual blood-sucking undead, bat-transforming freak.

But to make your Sim a vampire, you have to go to a community lot, find a vampire, befriend said vampire, and then MAYBE they will bite you and turn you into a vampire.

Well, fuck that. My fiance found a cheat code, and behold--there were vampires in Strangeville. Or Strange Town. Or whatever it's called.

We started with a vampire teenager. His dad was a man whose wife had left him for a vampire, was afraid of vampires, and had to live with his damn vampire son and mother. So we had some fun, and found out that our vampire teenager--transformed by the magic of a cheat code--could turn into a bat, stalk about the house, and smoke when he flew outside into the sun.

We also discovered that, when he was hungry, the vampire would make a sandwich, not eat it, and pantomime that he was hungry.

Later, we used the vampire cheat on the dad. Turns out that in The Sims 2, when all of a Sim's fears are realized, they go bat-shit crazy. As in, a psychiatrist appears to treat the Sim.

I declared this "cool."

On another vampire adventure, we decided to create a whole vampire family. A vampire mom, a vampire dad, and an adorable vampire toddler dressed in a black suit.

Well, we were able to turn the adults into vampires, but sadly, the toddler had to remain human. Even the cheat code creators have limits.

I do not.

So we build a house for this vampire family, and by some glitch I level the terrain incorrectly and make it so the family can't go inside the house. We watched as the couple burned to death in the sun, unable to figure out why they just didn't go inside the damn house, and each turned into a pile of ashes, leaving behind their infant son. The kid then crawled around outside the house for a little while, happily splashing around in a puddle of what I presume was his own urine.

Don't worry about the tot, though; a social worker came and picked him up.

Throughout the whole thing, my fiance looked on in horror. I, however, thought it was hilarious.

I'm very sick. Sick, sick, sick.

The Sims

Let me say this right now: The Sims is no fun without using cheat codes. If you do not use cheats to give yourself all the money in the world, then it's like playing Pretend Real Life. And Real Life sucks enough without being reminded of it by some stupid little simulated human who just babbles at you and pees on the floor, no matter how many times you click on the damn toilet.

Also in playing this game, I discovered that I am sick. Sick, sick, sick. I mean, I got the cheat codes, learned how to play the game, tried playing it the real way a few times, and then decided I wanted to see what else this thing could do.

I think, in the end, I broke up about 40 marriages, created 18 neighborhood feuds (insofar as that is possible, anyway), turned several people into frogs with the Makin' Magic expansion, and killed countless Sims just so that there would be a few haunted houses on the block. And I cackled the whole way.

I'm sick. Sick, sick, sick.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

River City Ransom

This was, for a while, my favorite game to play after a bad day at work. Because all you do in this game is beat the ever-loving snot out of people.

Now, they have it coming--they're all punk-ass gang members. Not quite as hardcore as, say, the Bloods or Crips, but certainly as angry and lethal as the ones in West Side Story, but, sadly, without all the dancing and catchy tunes.

The whole plot here is you control some dude who has to save his girlfriend and fight his way to the high school through hordes of different gangs. And I do mean hordes. By sheer numbers alone, you would have to assume that the city's entire male youth population is taken up by gang membership.

As you go through the game, you can either punch your opponents and take any weapons they have, or you can sometimes find them just laying around on the ground. You have a choice of 2x4s, lead pipes, brass knuckles, crates, trash cans, and chains.

The chain was always my favorite, because it's the closest thing the game has to a projectile weapon. Some punk-ass comes running at you, and you can just whip the chain and whack him in the head before he even comes close to you. And these guys will always say something. Sometimes it's "Mommy!", and sometimes it's the more cryptic "Barf!"

This is also the only game I have every played where, among the various items you can use to restore your life energy, CDs work. You go to the malls--which are teeming with what must be the girlfriends of all these gang members, but they don't care that you're the only guy running around there--buy a CD, somehow listen to it in the heat of battle, and find your energy restored.

Once soothed by the sounds of classical/rock/R&B/country music, you can go back to whipping the shit out people with the awesome, fantastic chain.

Black and White

The Penny Arcade guys said that the only remarkable thing about this game is the creatures, and they were right.

There's nothing quite as fun as having a 20-foot tall pet/minion who can pick up a whole cow (or human, for that matter) and just pop it into his mouth like a friggin' bonbon. Or a pet that can destroy a house just by pooing against it.

Now, here's the odd thing that always, ALWAYS happened when I played this game. I would end up with a creature who was aligned on the side of good, because I don't take any of that backtalk shit from a giant monkey. He acted bad, he got bitch slapped. But, if you as a deity don't always follow the strictest of moral rules, your hand icon gets veiny and sprouts claws. So I'd end up an evil deity with a very ethical minion.

Then again, I never had any trouble picking up people who were badmouthing me and just flinging them toward the horizon.

Wii Sports

It had been a long time since a game had brought out such an intense competitive streak in my personality, but there was just something about playing sports through those little Miis that just made me want blood.

It started with the boxing game, where you get to beat the tar out of your opponent. And at the start, I was pretty good at it--trouncing over almost anyone who dared challenge me. (Don't worry, I did eventually get my ass kicked.)

It all just kept rolling downhill from there, and now I can't really even get my fiance to play Wii Sports with me. So now I'm left to just scream, "I WILL DESTROY YOU!" at whoever the computer will pit me against.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Illusion of Gaia

Again, we have a Japanese game where the main character is a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy. Again with the yin-yang universe crap. But here's the fun part: You bludgeon your enemies to death with a flute.

You're an adolescent bad-ass with a flute and psychic powers! Hellz yeah!!!

I'm not going to go too much into the plot here. This game was made by the same folks who brought us Terranigma, so there are some similarities. (Okay, a LOT.) The main character's name here is Will, he's telekinetic, and he has a bunch of useless friends who tag along with him as he explores various ruins looking for his dad or something. You really don't care.

There's a princess involved, but the unique twist with this game is that she has a pet pig who, late in the game, throws itself on a fire to feed some hungry villagers in Cambodia. This totally makes the game worth playing, just to see that moment. You can almost smell the sizzling pork. Actually, as I write this, it's making me a little hungry.

So what I'd really like to focus on here is just how useless buddies can be in video games. I know that in a lot of games, when the controlled character is paired up with someone, that partner plays some sort of function like, I don't know, carrying all of the shit you accumulate on your journey. They must have access to some magic portal that leads to a dimension containing the most organized closet ever. But not Will. Nope. His stuff just hangs out somewhere, presumably the Dark Space that they keep babbling about in the game. And his friends just tag along, two girls fight over him.

As the game goes on, Will's buddies reunite with him on some legendary Incan ship, and one of them falls into the ocean and gets swallowed by something called a Riverson. I'm thinking it's a big fish or something. Then they just get picked off one by one by various things and annoy you, the player, along the way. Will, onscreen, seems to take this all in stride, probably because he's essentially just an amalgamation of pixels.

After getting your ship destroyed by some monster that ate your buddy, you end up floating on a chunk of wood with the princess, eating raw fish, and getting scurvy. You drift into a town, reunite with all your buddies (except the dead one, of course), and have to get one of your buddies' memory back.

Then there's an adventure involving going through a vampire couples' underwater palace. What they're doing underwater, I don't know. But when you make your escape through some tunnels, someone starts banging on the damn walls from the outside. Turns out it's your dead buddy, who has been reincarnated into the Riverson somehow. I'm still not sure how that works out.

You do that, then wander over to another town, where another buddy finds his papa. Two buddies stay behind. But always tagging along is the damn princess.

I can't even remember how the last buddy drops off. Maybe you just leave him somewhere in the desert.

Luckily, though, you generally only have to babysit the buds between levels. You don't have to herd them about while whacking the shit out monsters with your damn flute.

And speaking of the damn flute, every time Will has to use his telekinetic abilities, he twirls it. He twirls it two-fisted like he's at the head of the most bizarre parade ever.

Maybe I'm obsessing about the flute a little too much. As the game goes on, Will can change shapes into some kind of pupil-less knight and plasmic being, so the flute will not be your only weapon. But it's all Will's got in his normal form. He's got telekinesis and a flute.

Can you imagine what happened when those monsters went to their afterlife?

Monster 1: "I got stabbed by a sword. What happened to you?"

Monster 2: "Oh, burnt to a crisp by a fireball spell. What about you, Mr. Skeleton?"

Monster 3: "Some damn kid bludgeoned me to death with his purple flute."


And so Monster 3 is teased for eternity. Hope you're happy, Mr. Bludgeons-Everything-With-A-Flute.

Friday, July 24, 2009


So you battle your way through monsters galore, face down communists, and revive and develop the worlds major cities, sit through Buddhism 101 and all for what--to face a gigantic, satanic Mothra at the very end?

That's kind of what happens in Terranigma. Here's the basic plot: Your name, inexplicably, is Ark. (I've tried to figure out if there's some kind of significance to this, but as far as I know Ark doesn't get coated in gold leaf and house any holy commandments.) Old guy in your village sends you on a journey which will ultimately revive the world. But the journey starts out with a trip around the five towers outside of your village, where you will encounter a guy who's just a few spikes shy of looking like Shredder. You kill a gigantic insect monster. And this means that you're ready to revive the world above with the help of a weird little pink ball with wings named Yomi.

Now, to get to the upper world, you have to say goodbye to your girlfriend and jump into a giant crevasse. As it turns out, you've been living underneath the surface of Earth, just hanging out there, and not getting burned alive by magma.

Despite the way I've been writing here, I actually enjoy this game. Like most RPG games, the plot is a little ridiculous. There's romance in the air. There's drama. There's killing lots of monsters, which is the entire point of most video games.

So when you get up to the surface, you first have to revive all the plants, which you do by killing a giant parasitic monster choking some kind of giant tree that talks to you. And the plants talk to you, too. And one of the flowers even sings you a song. Now, the appearance of the plants is kind of a mystery, but this happens throughout each of these revival missions: you kill the boss, emerge from wherever you where, and everything's suddenly, conveniently revived. One minute the earth's surface is a volcanic wasteland; the next, it's covered in green.

The next mission: Revive the world's birds. Here, I just want to not that the state boss is two giant birds, and one of them uses its poo as a weapon. You got it: lethal bird shit.

Then you revive the animals, which is followed up by a mini-mission in which you help a lion cub become king. (No, the cub's name is not Simba.)

And now for reviving the human race. You get to climb through the Himalayas, talk to Yetis, and eat a dead, frozen goat after being urged to do so by its surviving mate.

And then you revive the human race, fall into a deep sleep, and wake up in a town called Lhasa. This begins the main adventure. You get to make friends with a Buddhist monk, save a girl from a village full of her zombie playmates, wander around the world a bit, get killed, get reincarnated, and then go kill Satanic Mothra.

I'm not kidding. The final boss is a big flying moth-man, and all you have to kill him with is a big stick. Is it any wonder I was using cheat codes?

So enough with the plot layout. And there is quite a plot attached to this game. But here, you do see some themes that are going to pop up in Japanese games: yin-yang duality, blond-haired blue-eyed youths, and general f***ed-upedness.

Now, when I played the game for the first time and encountered several world cultures through the game, as written up by Japanese game developers, I learned that they saw the world like this: 1. Paris is awesome; 2. Buddhism is awesome; 3. Tourism is awesome; 4. Americans do nothing but work; and 5. Ridiculing the Chinese is A-okay!

I'm going to elaborate on point 5 here. Now, as Ark makes his way around the world, every world culture and even the plants and animals are more articulate than the people you meet in the game's equivalent of Beijing. The buildings are squat an unattractive; there are flies circling bare light bulbs hanging from the ceilings. The doctor uses traditional medicines and has weird things in jars in his office. And the Chinese characters speak in broken English. Now, in the game, the French don't do that, the Portuguese and Spaniards and Japanese speak perfectly. Only the Chinese people's dialogue has been translated as all broken up.

Not cool, Japan. Not cool.

But the Japanese get their comeuppance: Not too long after it appears on the map, Tokyo is destroyed. I suppose that just happens from time to time, and the residents there are quite used to it by now.

Other little gems you get to see: a sassy '90's black kid on a skate board, communists that look like KKK members, a chicken race, an Aussie zoo, and Christopher Columbus.

If you're looking for an old game to play and relive the SNES days, I'd recommend checking this one out. It's pretty big, world-wise, for an SNES game, and lots of fun little missions to go on. And, in pre-destroyed Tokyo, you can find where the software company has actually written itself into the game, and is staffed by (if I remember correctly) a bunch of chickens.

As you develop the world, you also get to explore the US. There are two major cities to visit in the game's version of the US: Freedom, roughly where Washington DC is and seems to be more like NYC; and Nirlake, which is roughly where Chicago is and seems to be a cross (pre-development, anyway) between Crossroads Village and, well, Nebraska.

And, at the very end, you face Satanic Mothra.