Better Red Than Dead

24 05 2010

So, last week, a little game came out. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Goes by Red Dead Redemption. Being the wide-eyed, ever-eager-for-more vidja games hog that I am, I snatched up a copy of the game pronto-like. If you’ve watched or read any gaming news recently, you probably know about the game. Made by Rockstar (the same folks what made Grand Theft Auto), it’s an open-world game in much the same vein.

However, one thing that greatly separates RDR is its setting. RDR is set in America, 1911. It makes for a very interesting setting as the western states (such as Texas or New Mexico) were still mostly lawless entities that upheld the ideals and lifestyle of the wild west. However, industry was pushing west and the life of the cowboy was coming to an end. You play an outlaw in this setting, a former cowboy and gangster that has reformed his life in hopes of moving on. He has a wife and kids and a past that continues to haunt him into the game’s start. The story is incredibly cliche to start out, but it doesn’t hold the game back from what I’ve played of it.

The setting is one of RDR’s biggest strengths. While there have been plenty of games set in the west, some even set in an open-world western setting, but RDR does it best. Perhaps even the best of any open-world setting I’ve seen so far, and I’m a pretty damn big fan of open-world games like this. For starters, it’s incredibly open. Many games would shy away from this, preferring to make their game seem fuller or more involved. GTA IV, for instance, had very, very few open areas (aside from the water) where you could just stand and see emptiness around you. RDR uses the setting to its advantage, with several instances where you’ll be in the open with a little town on the horizon, perhaps a gang hideout and that’s about it.

It certainly captures the spirit of the west, the spirit of the time before everything became industrialized and populated. Out in the wild, you’ll see plenty of cacti, desert bushes and more. Wildlife was also not forgotten to be included. At any time, you can see birds flying by, deer galloping around, wild horses running by and other critters scampering about. All the critters have their own behaviors and all can be hunted and skinned. That’s right, PETA won’t be very happy to see a cowboy running around shooting horses in the face and skinning them, but dammit is it fun.

Once I set foot into one of the game’s towns, I was pretty surprised by the life shown. Sure, GTA IV had citizens that had their own schedules and mannerisms, but RDR takes it one step further. People in the town will buy things from the shop, order drinks from the saloon, do chores at the ranch, check their horses and more. And of course, being that it’s the lawless west, you’ll see plenty of random acts of violence. One time I walked out of the saloon and heard a woman scream. I glanced to my left to see her chased by a drunken yokel. He yelled at her to calm down, brandishing his knife at her. I was given a moral choice, the game did nothing to warn me about this. I could shoot this drunken man and protect the woman, or simply walk on by and go about my business. Being the nice guy I am, I chose to save her. I shot the man dead and people jumped, some cowered in fear, but the woman was only too happy to thank me. I received a bonus in honor and about $5 or so as thanks.

There’s been some flack about the main character, how he doesn’t really have a personality, and I can see where they come from. John Marston is comparable to Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven or The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (or just about any western) but he’s easy to sympathize with. He’s not a bad guy, but he’s done bad things in his past and he knows it. He simply wants to do what’s right, but if someone messed with him, they’ll regret it. Of course, the bad thing about this is since it’s an open-world game, the player is free to make him a complete jackass. That’s a problem I have with this sort of thing. The character, John Marston, is a nice guy, overall, but if the player wishes, he can be downright dastardly. The game allows you to lasso and hogtie innocents, allows you to blow innocents away and rob banks, which just isn’t something Marston does, at least anymore. You can even approach whores who may hit on Marston, but he simply shakes his head, saying “Sorry miss, I’m not that kind of man anymore.”  I know they want to give the player the freedom to do what they want, but when in one cutscene, Marston can talk about how he’s not a violent man anymore that only hurts those that deserve it, the player can murder an entire town and throw a hogtied woman in front of the train if they wish. Maybe it only bugs me, but it just seems weird that a player can do that.

However, one of the randomized events that really stuck with me happened as I rode through the wilderness. A man approached me, shouting about how his friend was being hanged for something he didn’t do. I rode with the man and saw a tree surrounded by thugs with a man being hanged, kicking and screaming for help. I pulled out my gun and began to shoot the thugs, but one ran behind the hanged man. It should be noted that not all guns are pinpoint accurate, and I found this out in the worst way. I aimed a bit closer to try and get a shot on this man, by the bullet veered to the left, hitting the hanged man and killing him. The man who called for my help fell to his knees and began sobbing that his friend had died. There was still a thug left, who immediately shot the crying man in the head. I shot the thug and was left there with seven or so dead people around me. Now, I’m not really one to get emotional around games, and I can kill an NPC in a game without mercy, but this made me pause. I actually felt bad that I shot the wrong man and felt bad that his friend was quickly shot in a moment of pause. Rockstar should be commended for its efforts in making the world seem alive and making me care, at least momentarily, about one of its fake inhabitants.

In case you forgot this is a Rockstar game, you’re reminded constantly. They invented the open-world game as we know with GTA III, and the formula still works today. You see icons on your map where you get missions, you do your mission, advance the story and so on. Sure, it’s a formula, sure, it may be tired, but it works. The setting and characters in RDR are so impressive and interesting, you won’t really care.

Ok, I’m going to cut this short here. There’s still MUCH more to be said about Red Dead Redemption, but for the sake of your sanity, dear reader, I’ll stop it here. Stay tuned for an entry about the game’s incredible multiplayer mode(s) and a bit more about the game itself.


Headin’ on down to South Park

14 05 2010

Greetings, intelligent and well-coifed reader. *glances at calender* It’s been a while, hasn’t it? While I could make an excuse about how school, finals and my upcoming graduation have held me back, it’d be a lie. I’ve been busy playing Monster Hunter. You forgive me, right? Oh reader, you always know the quickest way to my heart.

So, if you can’t tell from the title, this entry is going to be about South Park. I can say without an ounce (or gram for anyone using the metric system. Can’t say I’m not open to new ideas!) of hyperbole that this is easily one of the smartest, most intelligent shows out there.

This man probably just fainted after hearing that.

Now, I’m not going to dive into the story behind South Park, its history or anything like that. But just sit back and imagine for a moment that a show that started out being made with cardboard could become one of the most powerful and influential pieces of media today. It’s pretty shocking. The show is infamous and best known by most older people for its derivative, child-like sense of humor; often with fart jokes, curse words and so on. However, underneath the child-like (at times) humor, there is often a deeper message. You see, one reason South Park is so controversial and hated by many is because it’s not afraid to tackle large, often intimidating issues like racism, sexism, the war in Iraq, religious matters and much, much more.

The best thing I can think of when I think of South Park is this: they don’t pick sides. It’s easy for someone watching who’s offended by what they say about the Catholic Church to say they’re anti-Catholic, or their infamous Scientology episode, it’s easy for people to say, “Oh, they just hate Scientology and think everyone who believes in it is dumb!” That’s not the point. The genius and beauty behind South Park is the show doesn’t take sides. What the show does instead is say, “Look, we’re all human, we’re all the same. We have flaws, we have beliefs, let’s have some fun with them.” I think that’s one of the most intelligent beliefs in the world today, and wish more people would think that way.

Like I said, it’s very easy to look at a rather infamous episode, “Red Hot Catholic Love” and say they’re anti-Catholic. The episode centers around the idea that the Catholic Church has lost its way, the Priests are all obsessed with having sex with boys and people start food with their butts, crapping out their mouth. So yeah, the crazy and infantile humor stands, but when you look deeper, you’ll see their point. At the end of nearly every episode, the cast will say some lesson they’ve learned. In this case, it has to do with people taking the word of the Bible too seriously. People think too much on it, they take these stories about how to live your life well seriously, and in the end, they start just spewing a bunch of crap out of their mouth. One of the Priests in the show, the Priest in South Park even realizes this and tries to stop it, having to consult the great Queen Spider of Catholicism to try and change the rules. The episode isn’t anti-Catholic, it’s anti-hardcore religion. It’s against the people that take those quotes and passages as absolute truth and end up ruining their lives because of it.

Recently, South Park had its 200th episode, which caused one of the biggest controversies the show has ever faced. The episode (a two-parter) began with them bashing on Tom Cruise, calling him a fudge packer (he was literally working in a fudge factory, packaging fudge into boxes). He gets outraged and threatens to sue the town, calling in all the other celebrities the show has made fun of in the past. Their ultimate plan was to get South Park (the town) to get the Muslim Prophet Muhammad to arrive. Now, obviously the town couldn’t do that, as showing Muhammad is forbidden by the Muslim way of life, so they were forced to come up with a plan to save their town from being sued, but also prevent themselves from possibly being bombed.

The show's way of showing Muhammad safely.

They did end up showing Muhammad, but behind a large censor bar for their own safety. In 2001, South Park aired an episode called “The Super Best Friends!” which mocked the Super Friends of DC fame. The Super Best Friends consisted of Muhammad, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Joseph Smith, Lao Tzu and Seaman (a joke on Aquaman, everyone calls him Seamen. I’ll let you figure out the joke. He even has a pet bird named Swallow!). This episode aired in July, 2001, a few months before the 9/11 tragedy. In this episode, the Prophet Muhammad was shown completely. He spoke, he flew around, he even shot fire to help defeat a giant John Wilkes Booth and the evil Blaintologists (see the episode, it’ll make more sense). While Muslim culture and religion has always been anti-symbolism and imagery, there was no backlash against this episode, at least nothing that amounted to anything serious.

Cut to the present day, where the creators of South Park had received numerous death threats for threatening to show Muhammad. What they were trying to do was not poke the proverbial bear or stir controversy as much as they were sending a message against censorship, against violence against others. Like I said before, we’re all human. One person may find something offensive, others may not. The show is great for showing this, but in this instance, they were unable to show their vision for fear of being killed. The network censored Muhammad for their own safety, and a major blow was dealt not only to free speech, but to freedom in general.

I know that sounds flag-waving, anti-Muslim, but I don’t mean it to be. I’m a huge fan of the show not only because it’s often quite hilarious, but because I truly support its message and what it tries to say. For every serious episode with a deep meaning and social commentary, there’s an episode that simply focuses on humor and being entertaining. A classic episode, “Scott Tenorman Must Die” is a prime example. There’s no commentary, just the story of Cartman getting his revenge on someone who wronged him.

This entry isn’t to persuade people to believe what South Park says, nor is it to slander any group of people. I simply support the idea that we’re all human and we should all relax and have a joke at one another’s (or your own) expense once in a while. It’s good for you, really.

Monster Hunter

30 04 2010

I’m gonna start this post off like this – you, reader. What is the matter with you!? Do you not like good, in-depth, hardcore games!? I guess not, considering why I’m doing this post.

How can you not be interested in this?

So, now that that’s out of the way, lets get down to business. Monster Hunter is a game from Capcom that has yet to find an audience here in America. For those who are uninitiated, Monster Hunter is a game in the truest sense of the word.  You go around, fight monsters, use their parts to make armor and weapons so you can fight more and bigger monsters. If it sounds familiar it’s because it is. Monster Hunter is an RPG, but unlike pretty much any other RPG out there, and it’s basically bigger than God in its native country of Japan.

Why is it that Monster Hunter can’t find a home among the pantheon of awesome action-RPG’s here in the West? For many, the game’s camera was an issue. In the first outing on PS2, the second analog stick didn’t control the camera, but your attacks. For a fixed-camera game, that’s fine, but unfortunately Monster Hunter is fast-paced and you often need control of the camera to see what’s happening, so it required your hand to form some weird claw to be able to move and manipulate the camera at will. The second, but by far the loudest gripe from would-be fans is the lack of lock-on targeting. As mentioned, this is a fast-paced game where player skill makes all the difference between life and death. For Western gamers weened on games where you can easily lock onto an enemy and see them at all times, not being able to felt like going into battle naked.

The latest entry, Monster Hunter Tri (3) fixes one of the problems. Using a Wii Classic Controller (or Pro), the second analog stick can be made to move the camera around. This simple addition makes the game infinitely more playable and easier to comprehend.

That’s not to say the game is simple. By no means. Remember when I said the path of the game? Kill monster, get its loot, make weapons and armor, kill bigger monster? While this is true, know this: Monster Hunter is one of the deepest games you will ever play. Yes, you go out there, find a beast and kill it. You can carve its carcass with your trusting knife, finding some meat, a bone, maybe a hide or tooth. You keep these on you and then, when you return from your hunt, these items are put to use. Bones and teeth can be used for armor and weapons, while meat can be roasted on your own portable barbecue spit to create stamina-restoring steaks. On top of all this, you can harvest herbs, mushrooms, bugs, ore and more from the areas you hunt in, which are used for even more item creation. If you ever played a game like Oblivion, it’s somewhat similar to that.

So ok, you can wrap your head around that. Hold on a minute, Buster Brown. There’s more. Monster Hunter is a HARD game, in true Capcom fashion. When you go out on your first hunt, simple sword and shield in hand, you can expect to encounter at least one aggressive enemy that’s sure to give you a good wallop if you aren’t careful. “No biggie,” says you, “I’ll simply kill weaker enemies and level up!” Wrong! In Monster Hunter, there is no leveling up. Kill all the poor, defenseless herbivores you want, all you’ll get is more meat and bones. The way you progress in Monster Hunter is by killing the stronger monsters, taking their parts and forging new equipment. Oh, and player skill, obviously.

And the monsters… My goodness, the monsters. Monster Hunter has never been a terribly “pretty” game, in that its graphics were never cutting edge, nor have they ever been in HD. But, like in my Chrono Cross entry, the art design in the game is incredible. When you kill a dragon and find his spines, put them on a weapon, you can often see those parts in there. Your armor will often have bits of teeth or scales on it as well, making it show that you really are a hunter and you really do use your kill to the fullest extent. Every time a monster hunter dons a new set of armor from a deceased monster’s body, a native American sheds a tear.

Poor Monster gave his beak so you could beat up other monsters.

This poor fish surrended his fins upon defeat so you could kill more of his friends.

You see, one thing Monster Hunter does better than most games is give the player a real sense of progression. You may face a truly fearsome beast, but you know that when you finally manage to fell it, you will find scales, hides, bones and more from it which are used to create more powerful items. In each game, the monsters look truly terrifying and you know when you face them that you will fight for every attack.

An example of four well-prepared hunters fighting one of the series’ most iconic monsters – The Rathalos.

It’s easy to spout on and on about this game, but what it really boils down to is this, what would make the game more interesting to Westerners? Obviously, Capcom is trying. They put it on the Wii as a sort of test. Many, MANY people out there (myself included) whine and moan about what a dumb idea it was to put such a hardcore game on what is easily the most casual system. The truth of the matter is, Capcom is testing the market. The previous Monster Hunter games (PSP versions included) were never the hits they deserved to be. Since it was released here, Monster Hunter has found a very devoted niche audience, but it’s just that- a niche audience.

With Tri, Capcom is making it as available to the public as possible. So to all you out there that wish they would release a “true” Monster Hunter for the 360 or PS3, remember that the only reason Capcom made it on the Wii (it was originally a PS3 game) was because development costs would be too high. Capcom doesn’t want to gamble on spending millions and millions for a game they don’t know will sell.

What it comes down to is the only way to ensure the West sees more of this amazing franchise is to show Capcom you are interested. Give it a shot, you may be pleasantly surprised if you try it out for more than 20 minutes.

Chrono Crossin’ the streams

18 04 2010

In the spirit of last week’s update, here’s another fellation of a game I love. (Shut up, the term makes me laugh)

Let me temper this post first by saying I wasn’t really an RPG gamer in 2000. I played Pokemon Gold and that was about it, as far as RPG’s go. I didn’t own a PS1, nor did I ever own a SNES. Yes, hiss and boo at me, call me a fake gamer. I accept it. One of my good friends has always claimed Chrono Cross to be her favorite game of all time. I never played it once until a few years ago. When I did, I never understood why it was her favorite. The graphics are your typical PS1 polygonal nightmare and the combat seemed far too different from what I was used to to handle. However, it took me another year or so to finally get into the game.

Now, I know to many out there, the argument over what game in the Chrono series (a whole two games!) is the best is, well, nonexistent. Ask your typical gamer friend and they’ll immediately say Chrono Trigger, the SNES classic. Now, I have more of a history with Chrono Trigger than I do with Cross. I first played Trigger in high school on an emulator, and I liked the idea, I liked the characters (or at least the ones I saw) but I just couldn’t play it all that much. I’ve never really been too big a fan of the active time battle system so popular in Final Fantasy and other RPG’s. So I never played through that whole game until last year. Same with Chrono Cross.

I’ve known Ashe for about six years, and despite constant requests for me to play the game, I refused. Until last summer. School was out, I wanted a game to play, so I picked it up, thanks to my girlfriend owning a copy. My ass was blown off.

It really will blow your ass off.

What at first struck me as an ugly, rather dull game opened up to be one of the most amazing experiences in gaming I’ve had in my life. The game starts out very simple: You play Serge (that’s the one in the blue hair), a normal boy in a sleepy fishing village. Your girlfriend (of sorts) asks you to go and fetch her some komodo scales to make a necklace. The game immediately takes a major jump. Something happens and Serge is tossed to a separate dimension, one where he died 10 years earlier. The game goes from there, never quite explaining what or why this happened until the later stages, but suffice to say it’s very engrossing.

To anyone who played Trigger, they know the “hook,” if you will, is time travel. In Cross, it’s inter-dimensional travel. You later get the ability to freely travel between Dimension A, where Serge is alive, and Dimension B, where Serge is dead. While it may seem sad that there are only two main “overworlds” in the game compared to Trigger’s five or six, but let me assure you, it’s plenty. For starters, the world seems much more realized, since there are only two facets to it. Yes, the game looks rather ugly thanks to PS1’s horrible polygons, but artistically speaking, it’s rather pretty. I don’t even really like tropical settings and this game’s vistas were breathtaking, even in 2009.

A lovely beach scene from the game's beginning

So yeah, if you can look past the rather ugly polygons and instead that art design in the game, it’s amazingly pretty, no matter how many triangles Serge may be made up of. However, even if you still can’t find yourself admitting that the game has beauty in its visuals, the storyline may very well keep you hooked. Like any good RPG, the story is what really drives the experience in the game, and boy is it a doozy. Given the nature of the two dimensions, it seems existentialism would be a natural theme, and it is. Serge is a typical silent protagonist, but the chatter between the other characters over what happened drives the story. You never quite know what’s happening in the game until the end, and even then it can be confusing. If anyone played Chrono Trigger, they know exactly what to expect.

Speaking of Trigger, yes, this game is a sequel. Sure, it has none of the same characters, but they all do appear. There is even one very pivotal scene about halfway through the game that takes place in a very familiar location to any fan of Chrono Trigger. On top of that, the events from that game’s plot are carried along here, so the final boss may or may not surprise fans of the series. I would tell more, but spoiling this game’s story would be a crime. There are simply so many moments that will always stick with me, not only as a gamer, but as telling a narrative, all of which this game has created.

So ok, storyline is solid and graphics are great (yes, they are). This game’s music is in an entirely different league. Whether you’re a complete music snob or someone who simply idly listens to the music as it plays, this game has one of the best soundtracks of any game ever. EVER. The game’s tropical theme carries into the music, with several tracks sounding very uplifting, happy and fast. For example:

Of course, the game doesn’t skimp on other types of music. You have your share of epic-sounding violins and other instruments, but some of the game’s songs carry an immense deal of sadness and sorrow, playing perfectly with what happens. One of my all-time favorite video game songs, for instance:

Beautiful, isn’t it?

The game’s music is all like that. Every track stands out on its own and it could easily be placed with a movie soundtrack or even on a CD shelf and no one would bat an eye. Sure, it may carry that stupid stigma that, “It’s just video game music, wah!” but even the snobbiest musician has to admit it’s at least decent.

Despite all these amazing things, the game is still overshadowed by its predecessor, Chrono Trigger. After I beat Cross I immediately went to play Chrono Trigger, this time actually playing the whole thing and beating it. Now, call me spoiled by time, spoiled by hype, whatever you prefer. I say I was spoiled by Cross, but Trigger simply didn’t wow me as much. Sure, it was a great game, had an amazing story (especially for 1996) and plenty of memorable moments, but I just wasn’t as amazed as I wanted to be.

Chrono Cross unfortunately never got the respect it deserved. It sold well enough, but not enough to warrant a sequel. The Chrono games are amazing examples of games that simply do not appeal enough to the masses to garner the sales they so deserve *coughunlikeFF7cough*. Fans have wanted a continuation of the game, but until the game sells more copies, it will likely never happen. Chrono Trigger saw new life as a DS remake, but even that didn’t sell well enough to make Square-Enix consider a sequel. Chrono Cross isn’t even available in the U.S. PlayStation Network Store, so the only option to play the game is on PS1.

In my opinion, everyone who dislikes Chrono Cross simply didn’t play it enough. Of course the game isn’t perfect, of course it has its flaws. Like any game, however, it is to be taken in as an experience, and given the complexity of the story (which even gave me headaches at times), the beautiful scenery and the ear-meltingly good soundtrack, Chrono Cross is a game that should be experienced by everyone. Even if you don’t like video games, even if you don’t like RPG’s, there is simply no excuse to pass up this wonderful piece of media, and there is no excuse for why it isn’t as (or even more) fondly recalled than Final Fantasy 7 or Chrono Trigger.

Fellating the Raccoon

9 04 2010

Bet you didn’t expect to hear that, did you?

In contrast to this week’s earlier hate-filled rant, I felt like writing a b-b-b-bonus entry in this here blag, this time about something that makes me happy. This time, I’ll be writing about one of my favorite games of all time, Sly 2: Band of Thieves.

The PlayStation 2 was a haven for video games. Fondly recalled as one of the best gaming consoles (typically right after the SNES), it had its fill of just about every genre under the sun: RPG, Sports, Strategy, Racing, Fighting, Platforming, you name it, the PS2 had it. It was also home to some of the most memorable games, characters and experiences of any console. For me, one of the best games I ever played was found in this neat little system, and that game was Sly 2: Band of Thieves.

Now, I know it’s a sequel. No, when I first played it, I had not played the first game. I went into it armed with research and reading a rather glowing review from EGM, so I knew what I was getting into. The game’s graphics were mesmerizing to me, the style was great and the characters seemed to jump out of the screens. I marched down to my local game store and picked it up sometime in September 2004, the month it came out. I was blown away. Now, the game wasn’t without its criticisms, despite a very good Metacritic average . Most who looked at the game had one of two complaints: It looked kiddy, or it looked like it was for furries.

The game's cover. OHGODFURRIES!

For starters, sure, the game is “kiddy.” I’ll admit that in some respects, it could be. It has an E rating and it doesn’t exactly push the envelope of what you’d expect from this sort of game. It’s got your typical cartoon violence (that is, no blood, enemies simply vanish when defeated) but this game just oozes style. As you can tell from the cover, the game very smartly chose to use cel-shading for its graphics. I say smartly because this game will forever look pretty, it will forever be stylish. A game like Ratchet and Clank or Jak and Daxter (two comparable platformers for the PS2) may have had their own styles, but they chose “real” graphics instead, and look pretty ugly by today’s standards.

Seriously, how can you not love this?

But enough about the graphics of the game, those should speak for themselves for anyone who’s at least seen the game in motion. The gameplay is as solid as… something solid. A lug nut? I don’t know. It’s a 3-D platformer, as was the style of the time, and it played like a dream. In the first game, you were only allowed to play as the titular Sly (Cooper), who controls like one would expect a raccoon to. He was quick, he was agile, and he used his shepherd’s crook to bash enemies when he needed to. What set 2 apart from the first game though was its structure. 2 opted for a more open-world structure, divided into eight distinct worlds. Each world was filled to the brim with enemies, each had 30 collectible bottles (if you found all 30 in the level you would unlock a new move for Sly) and little waypoints were located on the map that you would go to to start a mission.

However, perhaps the biggest difference between the first game and this was allowing players to control Sly’s cohorts, Bentley the turtle and Murray the hippo. In the first game, these two were simply supporting characters, stuck in the Cooper Van to instruct Sly on when and where to go, helping only in the cutscenes. In 2, they become fully controllable with their own distinct sets of strengths and weaknesses. For instance, Murray, the muscle of the group, was slower and less agile than Sly, but he was far tougher, able to defeat even the strongest enemies with ease.

Murray in action.

Playing as Murray felt like something of a treat when compared to playing as the weaker Sly and Bentley. You felt powerful, and his slowness was never really a handicap.

However, the most interesting character to play as was easily Bentley, the brains of the operation. At first, it’s easy to dismiss Bentley as a typical, clichéd geek type character. He’s meek, he’s shy, he’s weak and he’s always the first to complain in any situation.  However, halfway through the game, Bentley goes through a rather large character arc. Sly and Murray are captured, and it’s up to Bentley to conquer his fears, fight his demons and rescue his pals (all after learning to drive a stick shift, which is no easy task!).

The game’s story revolves around the KLAW gang, a sinister group of evil-doers that are diametrically opposed to the Cooper family. The Cooper family has a rich history of thievery, dating back about as far as history goes, and they have always been opposed by these adversaries. In the end of the first game, the Cooper gang defeat Clockwerk, a gigantic owl kept immortal by its burning hatred of the Cooper lineage. They manage to defeat it and scatter its mechanical parts throughout the world.

Enter the second game, where the Cooper gang must track down and destroy these parts once and for all. The game starts out in Paris, takes you to the deep jungles of India, the wilds of Canada, the spooky castles of Transylvania and finally, a blimp floating high above Paris. The enemies in this game are all memorable and distinct, and rarely act out of malice, instead acting out of greed. You see, the Clockwerk parts are great for business. The razor-sharp tail feathers are perfect for cutting counterfeit money, while the mechanical heart makes the perfect pump for spice, and so on.

Adding to the game’s style is its incredible sense of humor. The characters talk back and forth during the missions, and it’s in this that you get some of the best dialog in the game. Sly is an incredibly suave, confident thief, just as you’d expect. Murray chooses to act as “The Murray,” a superhero-esque identity he thought up himself, and Bentley begins as a very meek and frankly annoying individual that blossoms into his own strong character later on. The game’s intro. Sorry again, WordPress is being lame and not embedding the video.

Anyway, I could go on for hours, literal hours, talking about how much this game means to me and how great I think it is. It’s not the best game in the world, not by a long shot. It has its share of flaws, and yes, the game is pretty easy, especially for someone who has played one or two platformers before. But you know what, none of that holds it back in my book. The easiness just allows the game to be played leisurely without the player getting frustrated. The style and humor never cease to amaze and crack me up and the game is just fun to play, through and through. It’s always a treat, it’s a diamond in the rough, forgotten gem, whatever you want to call it. I recommend absolutely everyone at least give it a shot, because who knows, you may love it too.

Talkin’ Stigma

5 04 2010

I’d like to be serious here, if that’s allowed. There are two things about this huge passion O’mine that really annoy me, both having to do with the way society perceives vidja games. Earlier this morning I gave a little elevator pitch about myself to practice for when I go for job interviews. That aside, I mentioned that video games were a huge passion of mine, and I heard a few people laugh. Why?

A year or so ago, I said something similar in class, that being a video game journalist is my biggest dream, and people laughed. Why is it that vidja games are so stigmatized in our society? If someone mentions video games, they are immediately thought of as a socially inept nerd with no life. While some of that may be true… That’s not the point. Each year, the video game industry grows. Since 2006, the video game industry has outgrossed the movie industry and will likely continue to do so from now on. It should be clear that video games are here to stay, and the introduction of the Wii, iPhone and others have made video games more and more casual. And I’m fine with that.

What really upsets me is, for example, sports fans are able to talk about sports, stats, players and all that bullshit and no one bats an eye. Your average sports fan is as BIG a nerd as a video game player, only instead of knowing game facts, he knows sports. Someone who can spout out a football player’s average score or whatever is fine to be in society, but someone who can talk about a video game, like knowing what year a game came out, the intricacies of its plot and everything is looked at like they’re a freak. WHY?!

Another thing is the way video games are perceived in the media. Someone who sits at home for hours and plays vidja games is wasting their life away, but someone who sits in their room reading books for hours on end is EXPANDING THEIR MIND AND TOTALLY FINE. How the hell are they not considered a cloistered sack of a human that is somehow better than someone that plays video games?

If someone says they want to be a sports journalist people cheer them on, if someone says they want to be a video game journalist, they get looked at like they’re wasting their life, and I just don’t understand that. It seems the biggest problem is society is run by older people, the same people who believe video games make people into killers, see them as a kid’s hobby (despite the average age of people playing video games to be 32) or that they’re a complete waste of time and money. Fuck that. Until the people running the media die out and today’s video game players replace them, video games will always be a stigma in America. I’m envious of Japan, where not only is video gaming not a stigma, it’s celebrated regularly. America is taking some steps toward changing, but it’s not enough and won’t happen for another decade or so.

Anyway, that’s my piece, I could go on but it only makes me madder, and it should upset other people that play video games too. Just remember: It’s fine to be passionate about something that society deems fine, but not OK to be passionate about video games.

The Pokemanz

29 03 2010

I’ll go right ahead and admit it, as if you didn’t know already. I’m a huge nerd. I play vidja games a lot, watch videos on Web sites, talk about them, read about them, all that. It shouldn’t really be a surprise. One of my favorite game series may surprise some people, though. I love Pokemon.

When Pokemon first came out in 1997, I was 10. I had no real idea what I was getting in to, I just remember reading about it in Nintendo Power and thinking, “That sounds like fun.” I saw Pokemon Blue at a store and decided to buy it. Another fun fact: Pokemon was my very first RPG, or at least traditional JRPG. I… Never owned an NES or SNES and before this, mostly just played platformers or sports games (I was into sports back then, go figure.)

Anyway, I enjoyed the game. The critters were fun, I liked leveling them up, the idea of traveling the world as a young boy (I was the same age as Ash in the TV show!) and fighting with these little creatures really connected with me. The first game I ever pre-ordered was Pokemon Gold in 1999. I was hooked for life. Since then, I’ve bought pretty much every main game in the series. I bought Pokemon Yellow when it came out (chalk that up to my being a fan of the TV show) and I can’t tell you how excited I was when Pokemon Gold came out. I was 12 and Pokemon was still sorta cool, but not by as much. Especially for someone my age. I had to hide it from the public, but I would still play it all the time. Some of my best memories from middle school come from playing Pokemon Gold with my friends before class.

The other games came and went, but my friends seemed to lose interest after Pokemon Gold. Maybe they felt they outgrew it, maybe they got bored, I’m not sure. I remember being the only one of my friends to buy Pokemon Sapphire (2003) and not telling them, because I knew they would mock me, or at the very least not buy it. I managed to get the same friend I would always play Gold with to buy Emerald in 2005, but at that point I was graduating, so we never really got to go back to the glory days of Gold and Silver.

Some time around FireRed and LeafGreen’s release, I found just how deep Pokemon could go. It’s very easy for someone who knows nothing about the game to look at it and laugh at its dated graphics, simplistic mechanics and cutesy creatures (not to mention the story, but really, who plays Pokemon for story?). Let me tell you, Pokemon is deep.

While it’s true the battles are (and likely will always be) a turn-based affair, it’s easy to overlook things like Natures, stats, types and so on. Pokemon uses a sort of rock-paper-scissors mechanic on its battles. Grass beats water, water beats fire, fire beats grass, and so on. But that’s just the beginning. Playing the game will let you know what type works against what, but there is so much working under the hood, it’s a bit mind-boggling.

I didn’t learn about EV’s or natures until FireRed. You see, Pokemon, when trained, get these things called EV’s (Effort Value) from every opponent they get experience in. These EV’s bolster a Pokemon’s stat, and each Pokemon can receive no more than 510 EV’s total. It’s a bit hard to grasp, but this means you can dramatically increase your Pokemon’s effectiveness in battle. An example: a Charizard raised in Special Attack and Speed will have significantly higher points in those skills than one trained in, say, HP and Defense. Then there’s the natures. There are 25 total, with 5 being inert. These natures further boost and hinder a Pokemon’s stats, adding more depth. Oh, I almost forgot abilities. Abilities were added in Sapphire and Ruby and appear on every Pokemon to further augment skills.

It’s a lot to wrap your head around, and that’s just the beginning. I won’t touch IV’s (every single Pokemon has a set of these, ranging from 0-31 that will further affect their attributes), breeding, egg moves or anything like that. Sites such as Serebii, Smogon and Bulbapedia are all dedicated to Pokemon, with Smogon focusing entirely on the competitive battle circuit of this “kiddy” series. While Pokemon will never take the place of Street Fighter or Madden or Call of Duty, it’s hard to deny there is a definite market out there for people who take Pokemon seriously. Just one glance at these sites shows you how much information and how much depth is crammed into these games.

For a series that many people gave up on (or never even bothered with) it’s very daunting to look at Pokemon and want to play. The game is as deep as you want it to be, and that’s what’s great about it. Kids love the game because they love the sense of adventure, they love the cute critters that fight for them, but older people love it for the strategy involved in the battles. While the main game itself will probably never bring things fans have been asking for from the start (a way to see and count EV’s, a way to see IV’s, easier and faster battles) it will always bring an insane amount of depth masked under a very shallow premise: Gotta Catch ‘Em All.

I’ve never once caught ’em all, but dammit if I don’t get excited when I hear a new Pokemon game is coming out.