Gateway Games: Racing

For 2015, we are debuting a new column here at Games I Made My Girlfriend Play: Gateway Games. Written by Laura, these posts will highlight different genres of video games and recommend specific franchises or titles to get folks playing.  To kick off this new series of articles, we are taking the next few weeks to discuss one of Laura’s preferred gaming genres- racing games!


Racing is a pretty broad genre of video games. The title of “racing game” can be applied to pretty much any type of game where the player engages in some sort of competition from point A to point B (using anything from snowboards to jet skis to dragons). In this case, we’re going to talk specifically about racing games with cars.

OutRunRacingGames

I particularly love car racing games because their challenges can easily be completed in under 20 minutes. This makes racing a great introduction for new players, as well as a fun pastime for casual gamers or enthusiasts with limited time.

Generally speaking, most car racing games fall in a spectrum between arcade style and various degrees of racing simulations.

Arcade style games are more approachable to the casual gamer, particularly if they have no interest in cars or racing. The focus is less on a realistic experience and more on a fun and exciting one. The physics can be …inventive, the tracks…creative, and proper racing technique more or less irrelevant.

Semi-simulation games fall in the middle of the arcade-simulation spectrum. They push realism and physics, but still remain approachable to the average player. There is more emphasis on proper technique, but there are also aids in place (automatic transmission, anti-lock brakes, not blowing up when your car careens into a wall at 200 mph) that allow the player to focus on the race instead of micromanaging rpms.

True racing simulators focus heavily on vehicular behavior physics and proper technique. Games like the NASCAR or Formula One series, or iRacing are technical and more difficult to master. I don’t particularly enjoy this sort of game, so I wouldn’t advocate them to beginners or people are not into real life racing.

Also, for this purpose of this guide, I’m going to focus on game franchises rather than individual games. Most of the games listed below are available across multiple platforms in one form or another. The pros, the cons, and the spirit of each game remains constant across the series.

Here are five series that can pave the way to the world of racing games.

Beginner

While Mario Kart is not technically a “car” racer (it’s a “kart” racer, if you want to get specific) let’s crawl before we walk, shall we? This is by far the most approachable racing game I’ve played. Mario Kart was designed for all ages so it’s aesthetically interesting, technically manageable, and not the least bit concerned with the proper physics of a dinosaur riding a motorcycle.

GIMMGPMK8-1

There are power-ups that imbue a player with temporary abilities that make it easier for less experienced players to place higher than they might based on technique alone. They also ensure that experience is not a guarantee of success (the blue shell humbles all). There are a number of challenges and little games that take the focus off of winning races and allow you to work as a team. Mario Kart is also great for parties. If you can get a group over for a party, you can apply the persuasive leverage of peer pressure to turn it into a full blown Mario Kart-y.

Also consider Burnout
The Burnout series is way less concerned with a player actually winning races and more about causing as much damage as possible by the laws of whatever physics engine the game employs. If your loved one needs a way to vent their suppressed road rage, this might be the ticket. If Mario Kart is go-karts, Burnout is bumper cars on fire.

Intermediate

Need for Speed an open-world racer which allows for a freedom of movement you don’t get in many other games. The missions are fun and face-paced and the cars are highly customizable, which adds an extra layer of fun. If you want to get your loved one invested in your Need for Speed game, let them design a car for you. Even if they don’t want to play, they may be more willing to watch you play with the gorgeous machine they made with their own two thumbsticks.

NeedforSpeedScreen1

Also consider Forza
Forza and Need for Speed are compared heavily to one another. They are both open world racing games with amazing graphics, but each satisfies different markets. Need for Speed is for the arcade crowd, Forza is more a simulator.  

Enthusiast

Gran Turismo might not classify as a “true” racing simulator (I don’t know enough about cars or racing to tell you why), but it is a solid choice for casual gamers and enthusiasts.

GranTurismo6Track

Gran Turismo allows you to experience high speed racing without the guilt of potentially denting a $1.2 million automobile or careening off the side of a mountain in a ball of fire. A great deal of attention is paid to the appearance and performance of each vehicle, as well as the general feeling of each car. It is a very big game, placing high importance on proper racing technique with the largest collection of cars in a racing game to date.

These things may be intimidating beginners, but I can still recommend Gran Turismo to people with little experience. The game does a very good job of preparing the player for difficult races with its license-testing system, which barricades the player from progressing to higher levels without proving they have mastered the necessary techniques. That might sound menacing, but the learning curve is actually very gentle.

Additional Tips

  • Let loved ones watch you play. I started playing racing games after watching an old boyfriend play them. Sometimes, people will be willing to investigate something you like simply because they want to connect with you.
  • It’s easier to approach something new when you are with other novices. Invite a small group over for a Mario Kart party. People tend warm up to new experiences (and each other) quickly when they are all equally terrible at something.
  • Be nice and be patient. One disadvantage of co-op racing games is that you are usually in direct competition with one another, rather than working toward the same goal. I cannot stress enough the importance of being a good sport. Being terrible at something is only fun for so long, and that length of time has a direct negative correlation with how crappy a winner you are. Don’t gloat. Be encouraging. Cheer them on. We all like to have someone in our corner.

These are just friendly guidelines. Your loved one may love Mario Kart, but he might be completely disinterested in the other games on our list. She may have a particular affinity for the technical precision of racing simulators. She might love Need for Speed, but steer away from Mario Kart. This entire genre might not be to their taste.

Burnout3Screen1

These games are just good starting points for you to test the waters. The key is to be receptive. Ask what they like about a game and what they don’t like. Are arcade style games too fast-paced? Are racing simulators too technical? Do they like customizing cars? The side challenges? You can use these responses to tailor your recommendations for them and find a common ground to enjoy together in the fast lane.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Achievement Unlocked: Published Gaming Magazine

Component is the realization of a dream: to make a gaming publication that celebrates the joy of a beloved pastime.  The goal of this magazine is to bridge the gap between players. To share personal experiences and individual viewpoints with the rest of the gaming world. To encourage others to forge their own connections, and share the joy that our collective hobby can provide.

MuseumHeader

Each issue will have a central theme, and features a collection of essays and artwork on the subject of video games. Component is available as a print-on-demand magazine through Blurb and as an instant PDF, sold directly through the Component website. The editor and contributors of Component thoroughly believe in gaming for good causes, so 100% of the profits from Component will be donated to the U-Pick Video Game Marathon for Charity.

The first issue is filled with stories about our most cherished games. Some are first encounters where a lasting bond was established. Others are tales of transition, where these beloved games have stood by our side as a supportive medium. All of them reflect the wonder that can be found in moments of play and through them we share the happiness of a cherished hobby.

CoverIssue1

Games highlighted in the articles and artwork of Issue One include Mega Man 2, Super Mario 64, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Metal Gear Solid, Spyro the Dragon, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Pokémon: Yellow Version, Halo: Combat Evolved, and Okami.

Component will be released semi-annually, and the second issue has a tentative release of December 2015.  Please be sure to follow Chip, the editor of Component, on Twitter (@gimmgp) for news about the magazine and related video game musings.  You can also check our Blog page for updates and other works from our brilliant and creative contributors.

Thank you for reading and please be sure to check out Issue One: Our Games for all sorts of gaming goodness.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Visiting Mario’s World in Weekly U-Pick Broadcasts

Keeping with our New Year’s resolution, the U-Pick Crew has been streaming fresh batches of games every week. These casual broadcasts are rehearsals for the bigger charity event on June 12th-14th.  Every Sunday at 4pm EDT (8pm UTC), we play hours of interesting and enjoyable games for our beloved viewers.

This week, U-Pick will be playing some of the big hitters from the hallowed halls of gaming.  We will explore the remote reaches of the galaxy with Samus in Super Metroid, join forces with Disney and Square-Enix to battle the Heartless in Kingdom Hearts, and take a nice vacation to Dinosaur Land in Super Mario World.

SuperMarioWorldUPick

To prepare for our journey with the Mario Brothers, the U-Pick Crew has been enjoying videos like the one covered in this article from February 2014.  Please be sure to check our Watch Now page today at 4pm EDT for some gaming goodness!


My earliest experiences with the Mario Brothers were not spent playing, but reading the instruction manual while my younger brother rushed through the very first game on our Nintendo Entertainment System.  As I scoured over the game controls and characters, my brother would enjoy this relatively new experience with the ease of a much older player.  All of Mario’s moves seemed natural to him, as if he had traveled these fantastic worlds for years.  The reality of the situation is that my brother has better eye-to-hand coordination than I do, but the level design of Super Mario Brothers had something to do with his genius as well.

Think back to that very first level, World 1-1.  There was no tutorial, no overt guidance for the player; only a stubby little plumber standing on the far left side of a screen.  Any attempt to travel further left would result in the player hitting a wall, so to the right we must go.  Oh no, there’s an angry mushroom heading your way.  Quick, try one of those red buttons on the controller.  Okay, ‘B’ doesn’t do anything… what about ‘A?’  Ooh, you made Mario jump!  Try to stomp that mean looking guy.  Hey, you squished him, good job.  No time to celebrate though; there is a timer counting down up there.  Let’s get going.

The design of these early Mario games provided levels that taught players the rules without beating them over the head with exposition and hand-holding.  Almost all of the necessary skills could be communicated through visuals and the experience of play.  To sweeten the deal, these games had a reliably steady difficulty curve.  Each concurrent stage added new challenges, but they hardly ever put the player in a situation without the resources to learn and grow.  This trend of difficult but fair level design has continued in the Mario Brothers series to this day.

Over the years, I have enjoyed many titles in the Mario series.  I would consider myself a rather advanced player; not a genius like my brother, but someone who has played enough of these games to acquire skills beyond the average level.  I have put in the hours, completed dozens of stages, and stomped many a koopa troopa.  In other words, I am pretty damn good at Mario.  However, I recently witnessed a charity event that humbled me to my very nerdy core.

Awesome Games Done Quick 2014 started on January 5th and featured some of the most amazing speed-runners playing games and accepting donations for the Prevent Cancer Foundation.  Over the course of seven days, 115+ games were played continuously for charity, including a hearty block of titles from the Super Mario series.  I just happened to tune in right at the start of a race between two players in the SNES classic, Super Mario World.  What I saw in that livestream blew me away:

Just look at these guys- they never seem to stop running!  They are using tricks within the game design that I have never seen before.  It seems like every level is not merely a slog from left-to-right, but a challenge to discover new and inventive ways to speed through the game.  While they do exploit some glitches over the course of play, the meat of their performance comes from intentional secrets and layouts within the level design.  This is particularly noticeable in the stages made up of platforms or mushrooms suspended above bottomless pits.  It looks like the placement of enemies was designed to be vaulted upon for a quick trip through difficult levels.  It’s as if the designers wanted to reward dedicated players with the means to bypass the usual routes and discover entirely new ways for Mario to travel.  This intention from the designers is made even more clear through the Super Play videos included in the more recent Mario titles.

That is the lesson I have come to realize in between the moments of actually playing games with the Mario Brothers.  There is an amazing balance in the design of these levels so any player can pick up the controller and have a worthwhile experience.  The novice players can discover a new hobby that eases them into the game with intuitive controls and a steady difficulty curve.  World 1 will prepare them for World 2, which will prepare them for World 3 and so on.  Behind the scenes, these levels have expert routes carved into the background; perfect paths with a hidden time limit that provides a challenge to the expert who is looking for something new in a beloved game.  For every level that made good use of my instruction manual studies, there is a stage that provided a seamless flow of play for my brother.  It seems that across the long list of games in the Mario Universe, there is a level for every player.

For the record, the level for me is World 1-7 from Yoshi’s Island: Touch Fuzzy, Get Dizzy.  But that’s just because I am a sucker for trippin’ dinosaurs.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Charity Marathon Incoming! UPickVG IV – June 12th-14th 2015

UPickIVBanner

The time has come, my friends.  Our beloved streaming crew has returned.  The latest U-Pick Video Game Marathon for Charity will be broadcast live on the interwebs June 12th-14th, 2015!

During the 48-hour-long continuous livestream, we’ll play the video games you pick to raise money for charity:water, to bring clean water access to people who need it in the developing world.

Starting the evening of June 12th and going for the following 48 straight hours, we’ll play the games you choose when making a donation to our charity fundraiser. We’ll switch games each hour (on the hour), as determined by a spin on the Wheel of Destiny – a magical rotating device with all of the top games that have received donations.

UPickWheel

Got ideas for what games should be on the list? GOOD. You can request games for UPickVG IV right now on our Request Games page. The sky’s the limit: name any game you can think of that you would pay money (to charity) to see played!

We’ll be taking suggestions for UPickVG IV on the Request Games page up until May 1st. At that point, the “Voting Period” begins, and we’ll throw everything that’s been suggested into a big ol’ internet poll – and you’ll be able to vote for your favorites! Don’t worry, you’ll be able to vote for more than one game, and we’ll let you vote more than once, too.

Once the votes are in, we’ll put together the ultimate list of video games available for UPickVG IV – and we’ll open the donation floodgates so that you can get the games of your choice up on that Wheel of Destiny.

But what should you be doing between now and then?

We’ve got some ideas!

  1. Get those video game title requests in! Request Games here.
  2. Add the marathon to your calendar so you don’t forget to tune in!
  3. Tell everyone you know about UPickVG and how awesome it’s going to be. Use the graphic up top, and share this post with the sharing buttons down below.
  4. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and LinkedIn. We regularly post cool video game stuff and updates about UPickVG IV.
  5. Visit our Watch Now page every Sunday at 4pm EDT (8pm UTC) – we do live rehearsal broadcasts every week! Tune in, heckle us in the chat, and get hyped for the big marathon on June 12th!

Get Hyped!!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Favorite Comic Book Games, Pre-2000

Lately, most of my gaming time has been spent swinging through the pixelated byways of New York City. This is due to the latest title featured on my blog Games From the Box– Spider-Man for the original PlayStation.  I have excavated this gem from the treasure trove of games given to me by a good friend, doing whatever it is a spider can.

SpiderManBox1

For the next two weeks, I will upload photos of the packaging, scans of the instruction manual, and some thoughts on the experience of playing as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.  So please be sure to follow Games From the Box for all of the superhero antics!  In the meantime, enjoy this article from June 2014, where I highlight some choice comic book games from the past.


Excelsior, faithful readers of Geek Force Network!  I am taking a bit of a break from the usual analysis of comic book adaptations of video games to glimpse some of the better video game adaptations of comic books.

Like most of the writers here on GFN, I have played quite a few video games over the course of my life.  Many of these glorious digital distractions have been related to the sequential art I so enjoy.  So for the next three posts, I would like to take a selfish diversion and cover my favorite video games based on comic book properties.

For the first of these articles, let’s take a short jump back in time to the last millennium.  A place where video games were just starting to exist on compact discs and major comic book publishers had not made the leap to a digital medium.  An era of licensed video games that didn’t suck super-hard was in full swing, and we the players reaped the benefits.  Obvious classics like the X-Men arcade game and Marvel vs. Capcom were the top dogs of the virtual battlefield.  But this grizzled gamer would like to highlight some great comic book games that made his day back in the 20th century.

BatmanReturns1

Batman Returns- Super Nintendo Entertainment System

The years have not been kind to the beat ‘em-up genre.  A once great style of games has fallen thanks to a shift to the third-dimension; relegated to emulators and the occasional XBLA/PSN release.  Even worse, all of the licensed beat ‘em-ups of the 1990s have fallen off the map because of legal matters (hence why the Simpsons and X-Men are no longer on XBLA).  But once upon a time, the home consoles caught up to their superior arcade cousins and amazing games were made as a result.

BatmanReturns2

Like so many comic book movies of the 1990s, Batman Returns had several different video game adaptations.  The version I remember most was on the Super Nintendo.  A traditional left-to-right beat ‘em-up, Batman Returns stood out due to its gorgeous artwork and an excellent soundtrack.  Highly detailed sprites of each member of the Red Triangle Gang battled with the Dark Knight, while photogenic cut scenes fleshed out the story in-between missions.  Top it all off with vehicle levels where the player takes control of the Batmobile, and you have an excellent comic book game.

TMNT1

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time- SNES and Arcade

Years of television, movies, toys, and kids’ cereals have been the identity for Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo. and Donatello.  The fearsome foursome have made their mark on so many forms of media that the average person forgets that these turtles started as comic book vigilantes.  So when it comes to the numerous video games featuring these warrior reptiles, all of the titles are technically comic book adaptations.

TMNT2

If it isn’t obvious by now, I grew up as a fanatic of TMNT.  So when the Super Nintendo came to our house, it was only a matter of time until the Turtles came home too.  My brother and I became experts at Turtles in Time; playing through every level on maximum difficulty, never losing a life.  But it wasn’t until our local Putt-Putt Golf received their Turtles in Time machine that we were truly challenged.  I had no idea that arcade games could provide a wholly different experience from their home console cousins until I encountered this game.  Many quarters were spent and a lesson was learned on that day.

SpiderMan1

Spider-Man – Sony PlayStation

I fully admit that picking a game from the year 2000 is cheating for this list, but I simply can’t leave this one out.  While this title didn’t evoke the same open-world web-swinging of later games, Spider-Man and his comic book ilk had their time to shine on the original PlayStation.

Using the same engine as Tony Hawk Pro Skater, this game features our friendly neighborhood web-slinger battling the bulk of his rogues gallery across New York.  There are tons of hidden costumes and trivia bits to unlock over the course of play, and Stan Lee himself narrates the entire experience.  Even though numerous Spider-Man games had come and gone before the year 2000, this one felt like the first to really tap into the vein of comic book fun.

SpiderMan2

And there you have it, my favorite comic book games from the last millennium.  While this list certainly isn’t comprehensive (looking at you Cap’n and the Avengers), it at least covers the titles for which I am most nostalgic.  I would love to recommend some legitimate means to play these games, but thanks to aggressive licensing agreements, most of them will never see a re-release.  So my best advice is to scour pawn shops and yard sales for the actual games, and when all else fails, seek out more creative means *cough-cough-emulators-cough*.

In the meantime, please leave your favorite pre-2000 comic book games in the comments!  I look forward to seeing all the joyful nostalgia that extends beyond the printed page to the digital age.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

First-Person Painting

Whenever highbrow video game enthusiasts want to chastise the state of their preferred hobby, the easiest target for their ire is first-person shooters.  This genre is the low-hanging fruit of the industry, thanks to annual releases that often do little to innovate and a multiplayer community with a rather loathsome reputation.  Too often, I hear my peers use the Call of Duty series as shorthand for sort of low quality cash-in that works against progress in video games.

Even though I have enjoyed many multiplayer sessions with my friends in the past, I tend to join in on using first-person shooters as a punch line for my video game snobbery.  As my free time becomes more precious with age, I don’t want to spend my time playing yet another iteration of a floating gun barrel, presumably attached to a grizzled male protagonist with a crew cut.  My general assumption is that if it’s a first-person shooter, then the game must be disposable and easily forgotten.

So it’s funny that many of the more interesting and memorable gaming experiences of the last decade have been derivations of first-person shooters.  In 2007, I was blown away by the narrative experience and puzzle mechanics of Portal.  Later, I was immersed in games that focused on exploration to tell engaging and emotional stories, like Gone Home and Among the Sleep. Most recently, I have enjoyed the interesting gameplay and storybook atmosphere of The Unfinished Swan.

UnfinishedSwan1

Like Portal before it, The Unfinished Swan replaces the traditional arsenal of death-dealing firearms with a single unique tool; in this case, water balloons filled with paint.  The protagonist of The Unfinished Swan is a young boy name Monroe, who finds himself in a completely white space after chasing a swan that has escaped from his mother’s painting.

When the game begins, the player is given control of Monroe, with no direction of how to proceed.  The first area to explore is pristine white; a world where objects cast no shadow and solid borders are practically invisible.  When presented with this space, I fumbled at the controller, mashing buttons to affect the environment while Monroe knocked his shins against phantom park benches and large stones.

UnfinishedSwan2

As my finger grazed the shoulder button, Monroe lobbed an inky black balloon, which left a splatter of paint in its wake. I hit the button again, throwing another paint balloon nearby its predecessor. Soon, I was hurling balloons left and right, covering the world around Monroe in a gloopy, ebon mess.  The core mechanic dawned on me- my projectiles were not meant for defense, they were meant for navigation.

The Unfinished Swan expands on this initial painting as the game progresses.  Later, there are temporary paint balloons, water balloons to manipulate growing vines, and even balloons that work like 3D printers, creating platforms for Monroe to traverse.  These mechanics reflect the theme of artistic creation and completion that is presented during the story.  Monroe chases after his late mother’s unfinished art while building on a world made up of the incomplete projects of the resident monarch.  By reinforcing a key aesthetic through gameplay and narrative, The Unfinished Swan further immerses players in an unique experience.

UnfinishedSwan3

The Unfinished Swan may not technically be a first-person shooter.  It certainly lacks many of the tropes and attributes of titles like Halo or Battlefield, making the game closer to the adventure genre.  But it is this sort of categorization that often causes consumers to overlook potentially exciting games because of trendy misconceptions and assumed public opinion.  The perspective, controls, and mechanics of The Unfinished Swan are not so far removed from Call of Duty, and they most certainly share a similar ancestor in the first-person games of the past.  The key as a player is to seek out and support interesting and fun experiences, so others will be encouraged to do the same.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

Game: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Released: Nintendo EAD, March 24th, 2003
System: Nintendo GameCube
Game started: February 15th, 2015
Amount completed: Defeated Kalle Demos in the Forbidden Woods, explored a handful of random islands, picked up so many pigs.

Chip’s Thoughts

Wind Waker did not make a great first impression in 2001.  When a demo reel debuted at Nintendo’s Space World trade show, the internet-at-large took the game to task for its cartoon visuals.  Most of the complaints lodged against Wind Waker were based on a sense of deception.  After all, it was only one year prior at the same trade show that Nintendo unveiled a demo video of a mature-looking Link engaged in an epic sword fight with his nemesis, Ganondorf.  Instead of this gritty and realistic Legend of Zelda game, fans were outraged to see a childish Link parading around in a goofy cartoon world.

WindWaker1

Of course, this feeling of betrayal was no more than a bloated sense of entitlement.  The cel shaded art of Wind Waker turned out to be a fresh change of pace and an intelligent design choice. Whereas other Zelda titles need to be remastered from the ground up to compete with the current market’s hyper-realistic graphics, Wind Waker’s aesthetic needs only a slight bump to HD to impress.  The cartoon visuals are timeless in the same way that classic Disney animated features are; bright colors and simple lines used to their fullest to craft a wondrous world full of fun characters.

WindWaker2

The wide range of expressions that can cross Link’s goofball face still delight me to this day. Additionally, the exaggerated facial changes serve a second function as intuitive clues for the player.  When Link’s large eyes glanced somewhere off-screen and his mouth narrowed into an inquisitive pucker, we knew to look around the room for hidden switches or objects. This sort of interaction with the player is much more engaging than interrupting gameplay to have a nagging fairy explicitly explain where to look for a solution.

Unfortunately, no amount of timeless visuals can make up for poor design choices.  Wind Waker opens with a quaint island village to explore, the potential of a legend to be fulfilled, and a quest with lovable pirates to save your sister.  Then, the story screeches to a halt and all fun is temporarily sucked out of the game, thanks to a dungeon filled with crumby stealth sections.

WindWaker3

Stealth is a gameplay mechanic that should NEVER be included in a game where stealth is not the focus.  It is already a challenge to pull off sneaking and silence as the central mechanic of a game, so adding it as an extra feature is a fool’s errand. Since Link made the transition to 3D, every game seems to feature some sort of frustrating stealth section that betrays the core concepts of Zelda gameplay.  Instead of learning to master his sword and delve into complex dungeons, Link has to slink unarmed in the shadows.  The penalty for being caught is equally frustrating- forcing the player back to the start of the dungeon as Link is automatically thrown into a jail cell every time he gets spotted.

Fortunately, this narrow stealth-based dungeon gives way to a huge ocean world covered in mysterious islands.  Exploring the waters of Wind Waker is a interesting alternative to the traditional Zelda adventure.  It’s easy to feel a sense of excitement as the wind picks up and Link hoists his sail.  The vast number of islands and environments to visit makes this seafaring journey seem epic in scale.  The game uses its cartoon visuals to reinforce a storybook aesthetic, providing the player with numerous colorful characters and scenarios with which to interact.

WindWaker4

Wind Waker did not make a great first impression on us in 2015.  An initially fun game filled with potential quickly gave way to one of the most frustrating moments in Laura and my collective gaming history.  But once we powered through this stealth-based slump, Wind Waker proved that its cartoon visuals and vast ocean journey have stood the test of time.  The vibrant and expressive characters were a delight to see, encouraging us to raise the sails and take to the seas for adventure.

Laura’s Thoughts

My time with Wind Waker can be summarized with the following:

GIMMGPWindWaker

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Super Metroid is Worth the Hype

Hype is an odd beast.  Too much or too little praise can push a piece of media into the realm of total avoidance.  This trend doesn’t simply apply to public opinion at large.  If my friends dramatically recommend a certain movie or book, a part of me will assume their admiration is exaggerated; as if their enjoyment of an experience simply cannot be as wondrous as they say. I know this notion is particularly foolish.  My peers are intelligent people who enjoy things for apt reasons.  But there is some media I have completely avoided due to an excess of hype.

SuperMetroidTitle

When it comes to video games, a solid example is Super Metroid.  This Super Nintendo classic is considered a masterpiece which has yet to be topped by other entries in its series.  Every one of my friends who played Super Metroid enjoyed it from beginning-to-end, often replaying it more than once.  This title even serves as the progenitor of some of my preferred games, forming one half of the “Metroidvania” sub-genre (the other half being my favorite game of all time).  In spite of this resounding resume (and numerous eShop offerings), I did not make any effort to track down and play Super Metroid until this year.

Since Nintendo announced they are closing their rewards program, the publisher has thrown up over 100 games that can be redeemed using coins on Club Nintendo.  I had a healthy wallet full of the virtual currency, so I decided to invest in the Wii-U version of Super Metroid.  I figured since the game was practically free (and I hadn’t heard any hype in ages), it was a fine time to sit down and see if the years of praise heaped on this title were well-deserved.  Sure enough, they were.

MetroidGlass

Super Metroid is one of the finest examples of environmental storytelling in video games.  Where so many other titles rely on overwrought dialogue and lengthy cutscenes to tell a story, Super Metroid uses gameplay cues and understated details to present its narrative.  The game rarely wrests control from the player, allowing exploration of the haunting planet of Zebes at their own pace.  When the protagonist Samus comes across the corpse of a scientist, there is no break in the gameplay for a tight camera focus to reinforce the current situation.  The player can take in all of the plot details organically, without being hit over the head with exposition.

The flow of gameplay is also fantastic.  Since there are no forced tutorials for the items Samus acquires, the player is free to experiment with abilities at their leisure.  This did cause a bit of a problem during my playthrough, particularly due to my lack of expertise with the Wall Jump and Space Jump.  To my credit, the controls for these techniques are rather precise and take a bit of practice to become proficient.  However, since I didn’t have to complete a preliminary test of skill to use these abilities (a common and frustrating trope of modern gaming), I could deal with challenges as they arrived.

MetroidBoss

In spite of excellent narrative structure and solid flow of play, Super Metroid is far from perfect.  The third act of the game drags quite a bit, featuring frequent use of the game’s trickier moves and quite a bit of aimless wandering.  There are several areas that punish the player for even the slightest mistake, leading to a dragged out death for Samus.  These high risk zones are alleviated with the use of save states in the Wii-U version, but I can imagine being severely frustrated if I had to start from an in-game save point after a cheap death.  Many of the bosses can be defeated using individual strategies, but I often found myself resorting to simply tanking through each encounter- relying on being able to take more hits than my foe to ensure victory.

Putting these minor complaints aside, Super Metroid definitely holds up 21 years after its initial release.  The detailed sprites and moody soundtrack have aged quite well, remaining crisp and impressive compared to later polygonal offerings.  The somber and well-integrated narrative expresses an interesting science fiction tale with more power than most modern titles.  A lack of forced tutorials or cluttered interfaces means players can enjoy excellent play without interruption.  At the risk of further hyping this game into the realm of total avoidance, I would highly recommend Super Metroid.  After all, some experiences are truly worth the praise they are given.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Lost Moments of Cartridges

I have just finished playing through Super Metroid for the first time.  I had dabbled in this title during its original release on the Super Nintendo in 1994, but I didn’t make it past the first minutes of play until now.  I chalk it up to never owning a physical copy of the game.  During the recent boon of downloadable offerings from Club Nintendo, I picked up a digital copy of Super Metroid for the Wii-U.  While I do enjoy being able to play anywhere in GIMMGP Headquarters thanks to the Wii-U GamePad, there are certain qualities of the Super Nintendo version that I miss.

supermetroidwiiu

For example, I will never be able to loan this game to a friend.  If someone wants to play the copy of Super Metroid I own, they would have to borrow my console or come over to play.  This also means that the remnants of other people’s play will not show up in my game.  So I will not get to experience interesting moments like this one I previously shared in November 2011.


LinkSwordsmiths

Back in my day, my brother and I used to walk fifteen miles in the snow to buy our video games.  We would work 26 hours a day in the steel mill, save our pennies for months on end while only eating old newspapers soaked in rainwater as food.  Eventually, we would earn enough money be able to afford our precious Super Nintendo games.   We also used to save our games on the cartridges themselves, and we were grateful, dag’nabit!

LinkController

That is how I feel going into this story.  Old and senile towards todays video game youth (who definitely don’t know how good they’ve got it).  In reality, my brother and I were rather fortunate to have a father who also enjoyed video games for a time.  After the Super Nintendo came out, my Dad’s interest in playing games declined sharply (I think it was the addition of the X, Y, L, and R buttons that he found to be frustrating).  But his love for his children meant we were spoiled by getting a new video game on each of our birthdays.  One year, my brother and I had our little hearts set on the Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

LinkMemory

At this point, a little explanation of how memory on video games has evolved over the years might be necessary.  You see, modern games utilize a hard drive that is built into the system for saving your game progression.  Most of them even save the game automatically as you play, just to make sure you don’t lose any progress due to a freak power outage (or glitchy game design).  But back in the days of the Super Nintendo, there was no hard drive built into the system itself.  We didn’t even use the memory cards that became common with the advent of the Sony PlayStation.

The cartridges that Nintendo produced would actually contain your game progresssion.  This way, whenever you would rent a game from Blockbuster (a store that used to exist where one could rent movies and video games), you often got to see the previous saved games of those who had rented before you.  This left me with a feeling of seeing history laid out before me or gave me a sort of digital rival to work against.

LinkSelect

As my brother and I placed the third tale of Link into the Super Nintendo, we discovered something odd.  This brand new game our Dad had just given to us already had saved data on it.  It was like something out of a horror story, as if the game was cursed or haunted by a malevolent spirit who adventured before us.  Not only were there games in progress on our cartridge, but one of them had already completed the entire game and collected all the heart pieces!  Needless to say, my brother and I were perplexed by this mystery.  These were before the days of buying games used, where the titles you purchased may have several owners before you, thus explaining any previous game saves.

LinkTitle

To this day, we have not figured out exactly how phantom data made its way onto our copy of A Link to the Past.  Maybe we somehow got a test copy from Nintendo.  Maybe the employees of Toys R Us repackaged this game after taking it home to play.  I still think it may have been ghosts.  Some spectre who had completed our game before us, and needed us to beat her legacy to lay his soul to rest.  The game data has been long since deleted, in order to make room for each of our own saves, but the story still lingers; a secret never quite resolved.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

On Save States

I recently completed a no-death run on Super Castlevania IV.  To a younger version of myself, this would be a bold accomplishment.  The Castlevania series is notoriously challenging, so the idea that I could so nonchalantly plow through the cursed walls of Dracula’s palace seems preposterous.  In a way, my flawless run is deservedly unbelievable, since I was using save states to ensure my immortality.

CastlevaniaIVEnding

Most of the classic titles being ported to modern consoles through Nintendo’s eShop or Sony’s PlayStation Network feature the option of save states.  At any point while playing through an old game, I can pull up the system’s pause menu and bookmark my current progress.  This feature was pretty much nonexistent on these games’ parent consoles.  When playing difficult titles on the Super Nintendo, it was pure skill (and sometimes passwords) that affected a player’s success.  With my Wii-U version of Castlevania IV, I can throw down a save state before a difficult moment.  This is a perfect failsafe for when a Medusa Head inevitably collides with Simon Belmont, sending my avatar to his doom in a bottomless pit.  As a kid, controllers would be thrown.  As an adult, I simply pull up the pause menu and reload my save, erasing my previous misstep and preserving the flawless run.

CastlevaniaIVWiiU

The idea of save states is certainly not a novel one.  Unlicensed emulators have featured this time-saving hack since their inception.  Before Nintendo and Sony started selling emulators of their own, using save states was just another form of breaking the system to play classic games on my computer.  Now that this option is built into the Virtual Console on the Wii-U, the use of save states could be considered a mental gray area.

You see, my inner child condemns save states, mocking my aged reflexes and inability to play like I used to.  I shouldn’t need to use these tricks to play through Castlevania IV; the game should be encoded into my muscle memory.  But my youthful side always forgets that adults have far more responsibilities and way less time to invest long sessions of gaming.  Why should I be chained to the console for hours, slaving away at the grueling difficulty and time commitment of a classic when I can break the experience into delicious, bite-sized morsels of 10-20 minutes?

So I will continue to use save states and relish the option of avoiding frustrating failure.  After all, I’m not trying to become an expert or set a speed-running record.  I want to enjoy the games from my past at my discretion and on my terms.  If that means small subconscious pouting from my inner child, then let him whine.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 213 other followers