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Tag: gaming memories

Holiday Break Gaming

This past Thanksgiving break, as was expected, I dropped a bit of minor cash on all the great sales digital distribution providers were offering. Between some indie pack sales on Steam and some discounts on Xbox Live, I probably acquired a dozen new games over the last week. Some of them will end up like many others in my Steam list and never get downloaded, but others will undoubtedly end up being discussed on whatever end-of-year podcast we end up doing around these parts.

I ended up playing a fair amount of different types of games over the last week. I figured I would break them down for my own sanity (and see what you all were up to):

Dragon Quest IX (DS): $33.62 via Amazon

I almost cannot bring myself to finish the main quest. I really do not know why; perhaps it is due to this part of the story not being particularly interesting (unlike the early, town-by-town stories which I found absurdly endearing)… but I really should just go and get it done. If I want to come back and do some maps, I can do so — nothing is preventing me from doing it. C’mon, Mike! Finish a game! Instead of beating it, though, I just fought some liquid metal slimes for a bit…

DragonBall: Raging Blast 2 (PS3): $34.99 via Amazon

I finally finished unlocking the last couple of characters. While this was more of a “for work” type of game, I was having a good time with it, nonetheless. As you will read, I have been enjoying the heck out of “Galaxy Mode” and its constant stream of dangled carrots. There are still a few characters I want to get back to and learn a little more in-depth, so it may be one of the first DBZ games in a long while that I actually return to after completing its review.

Super DragonBall Z (JP PS2): $64.90 via Play-Asia

On a whim, I tossed this goodie back in. After a couple rounds of reacquainting myself to the controls, I was back in the groove. It is no secret how much I love this game and how much of a crime I feel it is that these darn kids today do not respect it. I played a good amount of rounds as my custom Mecha Freeza (whom is simply named “Mecha”), spamming all sorts of wonderful projectiles before rushing in with quick combos. “Crack Bomb” and “Freeza Cutter” have re-entered my daily lexicon. Consider yourselves warned. I note the Japanese version specifically because that is the one I originally purchased — the American release does not feature the original Japanese voice cast, a deal-breaker for me.

VVVVVV (PC): $5 via official website, Steam, etc.

I had been waiting on some type of sale or bundle before picking it up, since it was almost guaranteed to hit that point sometime soon in Steam. That being said, it is a steal at the regular $5 price point. The simple and limited controls of “left or right” and “change gravity direction” are brilliant and right at home in today’s world of platforming’s glorious return. The music is also fantastic and will have you tapping and thumping along. Much like the recent Super Meat Boy (which I will probably grab on Steam rather than Xbox Live, the only reason I do not already own it), the ability to instantly pick up where you left off after dying is exactly what these types of punishing games need to do to keep it fun and satisfying. I am most curious about playing the game without a controller in the later levels, as it seems so counter-intuitive to do any amount of progressively-difficult run-and-jump maneuvers on a keyboard, alone. Then again, some people say similar things about FPS games and equality of dual-analog sticks to mouse+keyboard… and those people are wrong… so who knows? I could be wrong about this control judgment.

And Yet It Moves (PC): $9.99 via official website, Steam, WiiWare, etc.

Part of another indie bundle on Steam, I had been hearing about it for a few weeks and blindly purchased it when the sale kicked in… and I could not be more happy with a purchase. The art direction is jaw-dropping, and the twisty-world mechanics also fit in as a perfect complement to something like VVVVVV. Much like the aforementioned game as well, the checkpoint and instant-restart system in place is perfect for that “just one more level” tug. Everything about this game screams “quality” from the art to the haunting music to the puzzle design, and you owe it to yourself to check it out. A WiiWare version was recently released, though I have not checked out the demo to see how it plays on the console.

Mega Man II (NES): $5 via Virtual Console

I have never been particularly “good” at any game in the series, but its extraordinary music and difficult-yet-fair level design always brings me back around. While I rented III more than any other as a kid, I recognize the quality of II just as much. My session with Mega Man II was just filler in between some other obligations, so all I did was breeze through Metalman’s level… but it was enough to get those memories flooding back.

Game Dev Story (iPhone): $3.99 via iTunes Store

Sure, I am a couple weeks late on this one by the blogosphere’s watch, but who cares? It is an absolute blast. I have been playing in bits and pieces and am still only on my first run through (I am about twelve years in and have completed 32 games and done a few contract jobs), but I cannot wait to play through again. Having now learned all the ins-and-outs of which systems will come when (which should have been obvious, but I was not expecting pun-erific accuracy down to the Bandai Playdia), what the benefits are of training and hiring certain employees, what the best types of game and genre combinations are… what is essentially “Let’s Play Game Management Company!: The Game” could not possibly be more fun. Certain aspects are a little rough around the edges, but its cute factor and attention to detail are overwhelming.

So many other games were acquired and not-yet-touched (‘Splosion Man, Trials HD, Gish, Recettear) that it simultaneously fills me with both joy and dread!

This all got me thinking, though: what are your “holiday trends” with regard to gaming? Do you dive into one specific game and not move onward to the next one until that first one is complete? Are you like me and cruise from parts of one game to parts of another game, making slow bits of progress along the way? Also, did you snag any great deals over the last week?

Ye Olden “Proud Of Myself” Story

As you can probably tell from the various podcast episodes I have done (including here on vgconvos), while I love topical discussions, I also adore old stories. Anything filled to the brim with reminiscence is right up my alley. I love hearing how people grew up with games, how those games affected their lives, and any little vignettes they care to relay.

This is one of those quick, old stories.

I have spoken before at length about Zelda II and whether or not I actually like the game. I shared how I have never actually beaten the game myself, but a childhood friend has the personal glory of owning a save slot on my cartridge with a completed game (and amazingly enough, my game’s battery still has not croaked):

Rewind to the previous game: the original Legend of Zelda.

Mike C. was always a slightly-better gamer than I was — not significantly so, but enough to impress me just enough without leaving me scornfully jealous. It was definitely fun times. We both played the Hell out of the first game, sitting down for long nights in front of the TV (long after our parents thought we were asleep) and trading the controller back and forth on levels and save slots. Mike C. beat the first quest before I did, and the two of us turned our attention toward the rumored-yet-true second quest.

Anyone who has played the original Zelda knows how completely arbitrary some of its discoveries can be. Burn a random tree here, and you found a cheap store. Bomb a random area of wall here, and you found an old man who steals your money. In the second quest specifically, walk through this random wall that cannot be bombed and shows no signs of passage in any way, and you found a hidden passage. Once you realized that only one “secret” would be present on any single screen, things fell into place a little more…  but it still felt very “random”, even with the amazing feeling of accomplishment.

It is that combination of “randomness” and “accomplishment” that gave me one of my only one-ups on Mike C. with the second quest. We roamed the map for days looking for level six, but could not find it. Level seven was a tree burn, sure, and we found that one ahead of time no problem… but where the Hell was level six…?!

Its original location held no clues, but I was convinced that it would still be around the graveyard in some capacity. We pushed every grave stone. We bombed every wall. Nothing…

… nothing, that is, until one night by myself when I decided to blow the whistle/recorder on each of the six graveyard screens:

Words can not describe how proud I was of my child self, and how devilish it felt to be the one to share the information with my buddy.

“Rocket Knight Adventures”: Genius Level Design?

You are going to get a little bit of meta-material and genuine game analysis in a single post. That is awesome.

A few years back when I first pitched the idea of “vgconvos” to Andrew and Jeff, one of the first show concepts was to give the other person a somewhat-obscure game from your youth that was played extensively, allow them to play this game they otherwise had never heard of for somewhere between two weeks and a month, and then get back together to talk about it later on. This concept semi-evolved into the “Record Exchange” every nine-or-so episodes over on Lo-Fidelity, but it just never happened with video games. The main reason was that we are all simply at a point in our lives where we cannot guarantee that we will have the time to get together every month to do a podcast, never mind dedicate a couple weeks to a video game and then come back to also talk about it…!

It is still an incredibly worthwhile idea for a show, and one that has somewhat been done in a couple different ways, such as the “Backlog” or “Game Club” sessions on things like Rebel FM. I really wish it was something we could do on a regular basis, but it just cannot happen. Andrew and I even had a few games that we would have used to toss at each other (Boomer’s Adventure in ASMIK World from me, and Rocket Knight Adventures from Andrew). I just absolutely adore the idea of giving something (a video game, an album, whatever) that has such a deep meaning to you… or at least just some rose-tinted memories… over to someone else with zero familiarity and seeing how it holds up.

I have always kept the idea in the back of my head just in case something came along that would work out for the website. You know from reading our posts and listening to our shows that we are no strangers to diving back into older games, either just for the heck of it, or to legitimately see where this modern era of gaming all came from if we happened to miss a step along the way. You have seen me write about FPS games from ten years ago, and most recently, what many consider (myself among them now!) the best 16-bit Japanese RPG ever created. Sure, Andrew and Jeff may or may not have played some of those, but it was more a conversation with myself that you all happened to be able to peer in on.

This one is a little different. Not entirely, but a little bit.

I stumbled across a new store called Game Trader at the Quakerbridge Mall here in New Jersey. If you did not stop to look at some of the cases, it looked like any other generic GameStop-esque store… but then I saw the old video games! There was a splattering of the standard, big NES games and such, but one particular game caught my eye, and I walked out of the store pretty content with myself!

About $7 scored me a copy of Rocket Knight Adventures, a cartridge I have not seen sitting around on any retro-store shelves in quite some time. Remembering that it was a game Andrew would have potentially tossed my way, and also knowing it will soon be seeing another sequel/revival for modern download services, I snatched it up.

I am fairly sure I had never played the game before last weekend. Andrew and the rest of the Internet always spoke highly of it, so I settled in with the ol’ SDTV in the loft for some old-school gaming action. I would like to go on record as saying that my Genesis controller extension cable was one of the best purchases I ever made in the 1990s, and it was a nice help in getting my rear-end reaching to the couch instead of the floor.

I was expecting something like a cross between Sonic the Hedgehog with some of the other typical 1990s mascot platforming action all mixed in nicely with some Contra shootin’ and slashin’ (courtesy of Nobuya Nakazato)… and that is exactly what I got.

The enemies seemed a little sparse in some of the levels I reached, but there was a really nice balance of standard enemies, terrain obstacles, boss fights, and more. In fact, it seemed rather spastic in how often it would toss those different elements at me, and I could never really be sure how “far” I was into a level. I would be swimming and attacking enemies that shot scattering, blue lasers at me… only to find myself wading through a single screen of a terrain obstacle before I was then on another to the next area.

It felt as if the level designers all came up with interesting little ideas completely independent of one another and then hastily had to stick them all together toward the end of the design process. “Hey, you… you worked on a water level, right? Me, too. Let’s just put them next to each other! Oh, and put that mine cart level right after us.

The obligatory 1990s platformer mine cart level should have been obnoxious, but I found myself both cursing and laughing at it — much like a Mega Man game where part of the fun and challenge is remembering all of the nuances to avoid and jump over, I had a genuinely good time dying, instantly repeating the level, and getting just a tad bit further each time.

What really blew me away, and what I will talk about with anyone who will listen, was — yet again — another obligatory stage for a 1990s platformer: the lava stage. The only enemy is the lava that continuously rises and falls, giving you ample opportunity to run across to the next ledge that places you just out of reach. If you are paying attention, the game gives you an immediate hint at where this level is going… but for first-time players who are not being particularly observant (like me!), a tiny bout of confusion followed by the “Aaaaaaaaa-HAH!” light bulb moment is what follows.

You soon reach a point in the level where the overhang begins to obscure your vision of the ledges in front of you, eventually blinding you completely. How on Earth are you supposed to get across?! Impatient players may charge up Sparkster’s flying attack, used on prior levels to bounce around and over top high ledges. If you simply take a moment to analyze what the game presents to you, its genius soon makes itself apparent.

It seems so simple, but I cannot think of a way to describe it other than it “blew me away”. Much like Andrew and I have discussed about Sonic games (specifically Sonic 2), you are forced to slow your ass down and actually analyze your surroundings. Without paying attention to the reflections in the lava, which is shown as soon as you start the level (there is that genius game design at work), it would be impossible to progress through the level.

You have all the tools at your disposal, and the game hands them to you in bits and pieces as you need them — it is the platformer equivalent of something like the typical Zelda game design, where with each new weapon or tool you think back to areas that were previously inaccessible.

Kudos to Rocket Knight Adventures for impressing me seventeen years after its original release. Now if only there were more tunes in the game… goodness, does that music get repetitive and over-used…

Yes, one little aspect of one stage in an old video game prompted me to write a blog entry. That is just how I roll, folks. Fun little things that I notice and care not if anyone else gives a rat’s ass about is what drives my Internet content creation. I cannot be the only one, though, right…?

How about you all? Is Rocket Knight Adventures a game you also hold in high regard? Was this a game worthy of our original podcast idea as Andrew suggested? Am I crazy for wanting to write about it just because of a silly lava level?

Conversation 009: Shooting the Shit and E-mails

It may take us six months, but we eventually hit you back with a show…!

When we realized (upon gorging on pizza and beer) that the core group was actually all together at the same time and had a free evening, we decided we may as well just go ahead and record a show! Episode nine of the podcast is the embodiment of everything the show aims to be — a bunch of friends sitting around pontificating about video games. Sometimes we say stupid things and sometimes we say brilliant things, but the end result is a good time, and hopefully with a few guys you want to hear from.

Andrew told us about playing everything from DJ Hero and Civilization IV. Jeff has been playing everything from Angry Birds to Boom Blox. Mike has been playing everything from Heavenly Sword to Final Fantasy 1. You all had e-mails with some top ten lists, and questions about everything ranging from English translation ambivalence to relationship advice.

For your amazing convenience, here are some of the iPhone and PC games we spoke about during the show, as well as one article:

Special thanks to all the folks who hung out with us the other night during the live recording of the episode! After you listen to the show to let us know what you think (and chime in on any of the opinions or questions), let us know how you best want to be notified about new posts and live recordings. Does the site warrant its own Twitter feed? A Facebook fan page? What do you think?

Enjoy! Hopefully we’ll see you again sooner than six months’ time! Expect some blog posts from all of us in the meantime, of course!

Seven Things That Have Blown Me Away In The Second 10 Hours Of “Chrono Trigger”

I was very concerned as I crossed the 10-hour mark in Chrono Trigger. Those first ten hours were amazingly good on so many different levels. The game had actually managed to deliver everything I wanted and anticipated. I loved the characters, the story, and all of the artistic elements that brought the package together. I commented that after sequences like the raiding of the Fiendlord’s Keep, I was afraid it had blown its proverbial load already, and while the rest of the game would probably be “good”… it would whimper on to the end like many RPGs of the day, hindered by an ever-growing cast of characters, poor pacing, and extraneous side-quests.

Thankfully, my fears were completely unjustified.

(OK, minus this “Inner Sanctum” area which was apparently new for the DS version. That’s pretty awful.)

To be fair, the second ten hours are not as good as the first ten. The game introduces so many of its iconic styles and mannerisms that even when variations on them are introduced with perfect execution later on, they do not have the same impact as the first go ’round. Do not misunderstand — like I said, the game has been amazing, and a “Not Jaw-Droppingly Amazing Chrono Trigger Sequence” is still leaps and bounds above most of the other garbage I have tried before.

It is with this game that I continue to question my gaming habits and supposed preferences. I have dabbled into so many different genres and play styles in the last two years that I no longer feel like I have any particular allegiance to a type of game, or even specific franchises. I joke to the wife how there was a monkey bridge in Link’s Awakening… lo and behold, monkeys come to the rescue as I watch her replay Twilight Princess. I look around in shock, wondering if I’m the crazy one that does not love the play style of New Super Mario Bros. with its floaty-controls. I compare the two above examples, coming down harshly on one series for recycling an old trope, while simultaneously criticizing another for not being familiar enough, and wonder how I can be so hypocritical.

That may be the subject matter for another article in the future, though. For now, Chrono Trigger is the sole subject of my attention.  I sit wide-eyed on the train, during lunch, and on the couch at home as I clutch my DS. A game from 15 years ago — a game that I should have played and yet continuously overlooked — is one of the reasons I have been questioning my supposed gaming affiliations. With 20 hours now sunk into the game, here is a list of things that have blown me away in those second 10 hours. Spoilers are in full effect.

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Seven Things That Have Blown Me Away In The First 10 Hours Of “Chrono Trigger”

Longtime Akira Toriyama fan. Playing Chrono Trigger fifteen years late. Check. In theory, I like Japanese role-playing games, but ultimately do not finish the vast majority of ones that I actually start. Gotcha. All caught up? Let’s talk about the game, now!

The following discussion will be filed under “Video Game Club” and placed behind a cut to prevent inadvertently spoiling the game for those who have not yet played it. You would think there would have to be a statute of limitations for games this old and discussions like this, but since someone like me is only just now getting to the game, I will be kind to the others who also hold their heads in shame!

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