Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow to Reboot Series with Star Fleet Captain and Man Who Hides in Boxes

When I woke up this morning (okay, afternoon), the first thing I thought was that the next Castlevania game would be awesome if it starred Professor Xavier from the X-Men movies and Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation. That’s why I was so happy to see that Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, due out Oct. 5 for the PS3 and the Xbox 360, will feature the voice talent of everyone’s favorite Shakespearean actor turned nerd magnet, Patrick Stewart! It’s not quite as awesome as Xavier fighting alongside Picard, but it’s exciting nonetheless.

Apparently, Lords of Shadow is being worked on in some capacity by Hideo Kojima of Metal Gear Solid fame. That means the cut scenes will probably be excessively long and confusing, and since this game is supposed to reboot the series, the main character will likely be called Solid Belmont and hide in a lot of crates during gameplay.

Speaking of reboots, the only reason to do away with all the Castlevania lore of the past 24 years is that sadsack Wii game, Castlevania Judgement. But even that headache wasn’t awful enough to erase great characters like Simon, Trevor and Richter Belmont, Alucard, Eric Lecarde and Soma Cruz. After Lords of Shadow, I’m afraid the coming years will bring us sissy reimaginings of all those legendary Castlevania protagonists – well, except for Soma Cruz; he already looks like a wienie.

I’ll give this game the chance it deserves, but I can’t shake the nagging feeling that after a few games in the Lords of Shadow timeline, Konami will suddenly start back up with the old one. In the mean time, go watch the E3 ’09 trailer for the 19th time.

Watch E3 '09 Lords of Shadow Trailer at YouTube

Monday, August 30, 2010

Earthbound Zero: Know Your Roots

It’s hard for many of us to not get caught up in the excitement of the recent MOTHER 3 Fanfest, hosted by Starmen.net. If you’re reading this, either you enjoy MOTHER games enough to read essays about them, or something went horribly wrong while you were surfing the net, and you crashed-landed, cold and confused, on my virtual doorstep. (For the latter – keep reading anyway; it’ll make me feel loved.) I’m assuming you’re here because you just finished MOTHER 3 along with the fanfest and are rabidly soaking up any and all MOTHER information as a sort of conclusion to the fun. But let me ask you what might sound like an odd question, given the circumstances: What did you think of MOTHER 1 or as some know it, Earthbound Zero? Have you finished it? Have you ever played it?

Buried deep within the abyss that is my closet, I have a T-shirt that I wore so much, the stitching started to unravel and one could see my armpit through the sizable hole it left. On the front was an 8-bit Nintendo controller, with the words “Know your Roots!” scrawled across the bottom. MOTHER 2 might have been the only installment of the series we’ve officially seen (and probably ever will see) in English, but MOTHER 1 has been available, just as Nintendo was planning to release it in the United States, for more than a decade now. There’s nothing wrong with being excited about MOTHER 3 – especially after the fanfest – but if you still haven’t played the original, you’re missing out on an indispensable part of the MOTHER trilogy.

Every summer, devoted MOTHER fans everywhere break out their copies Earthbound and their likely-decaying Super NES control decks to participate in Starmen.net’s Earthbound Funktastic Gameplay Event, with MOTHER 3 getting the limelight this year with its own fanfest. Yet, no one has never had a playthrough event for the title that started it all, MOTHER 1. So ponder this: Wouldn’t it be awesome if everyone banded together for the first ever Earthbound Zero Fanfest? We could call it the “Know Your Roots Campaign.” Like previous fanfests, we would only need about 30 days of gameplay points for the event, so hopefully it wouldn’t be as much work to set up as one might think.

But like I’ve said before on this blog, you don’t have to wait for Starmen.net to have a gameplay event before you can enjoy the MOTHER series. If you’ve never played MOTHER 1 much (or at all), give it a whirl – I think you’ll like what you find. And even if you’ve finished MOTHER 1 before, load it up and walk around for an hour; take in the sights and sounds of a surreal adventure that smacks of a childhood you once knew.

It’s time to know your roots.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Silent Hill Sunday #4: “Time Heals Most Wounds with Silent Hill 3”

In retrospect, Silent Hill 3 is a pretty decent game and an acceptable addition to the SH series. But when it was released in 2003, I utterly despised it.

The problem certainly didn’t lie in the gameplay. The original Silent Hill formula still had some life at this point, and just like games the game before it, SH3 features your main character running around, bashing or shooting horrifying monsters and solving crazy puzzles. Anemic amounts of ammo create tense and often frustrating situations, and as a result, this game is a little shorter, but much harder than Silent Hill 2.

There’s a lot of evil eye candy in this game, starting with the smooth and disturbing textures. In fact, sometimes Silent Hill 3 feels like a demented Pixar movie – think Toy Story as directed by Tim Burton and Stanley Kubric. The trademark Silent Hill blood and iron motif returns, along with a healthy dose of “who turned out the lights?” The character models are no less impressive: For example, the main character, Heather, looks and acts like a typical teenage girl. She’s not overly attractive and the game doesn’t focus on her chest, which adds a bit of realism and believability to the mix.

In a surprising move, Konami bundled the North American version of the game with a special soundtrack CD. You might be wondering why they did it, and the answer is simple: The music of Silent Hill 3 rules. The rockin’ intro tune retains that classic Silent Hill vibe and pumps you up before you play, and the in-game music is as creepy as ever. The ending theme, “Hometown,” is a remix of the original Silent Hill theme, and it’s apparently performed by a cross between a drunken David Bowie and the guy who sits next to you every week at church who can’t quite sing, but belts out all the hymns regardless. That must seem awful to anyone reading this – and it is – but somehow it grows on you, I promise. In the same vein, the only real problem with the sound effects is the silly, annoying noises the monsters make. Instead of scaring you, they simply get on your nerves – especially the teeth-grinding buzz of bug monsters.

Silent Hill 3 suffers from a bit of what I call “Symphony of the Night Syndrome” in the voice department. Heather and Vincent sound fine, but Douglas and everyone else are another story all together. Apparently Douglas owes much of his performance to the Silent Hill cue card company, but they didn’t do a good job directing him, because it sounds like he’s reading his lines from signs that are positioned several miles away and written in yellow crayon: That is to day, one… word… at… a… time.

The same tank-like survival horror control scheme that had been in place since the first Resident Evil makes yet another appearance in Silent Hill 3, and it can be a handful for those who have never played a Silent Hill title before. Sometimes it’s hard to turn around to attack an enemy, accounting for a few otherwise unnecessary deaths and an easy to perform, but fairly useless blocking maneuver will be ignored by all but the most seasoned gamers. Perhaps most frustrating is the fact that several thousand hours of your life will be wasted trying to pick up an object that’s right in front of you.

So if the graphics and sound are both stellar and control is workable, what made my younger self want to toss Silent Hill 3 down the nearest swear grate? As a stand alone experience it’s fine, but when compared to the rest of the series up to that point, the third Silent Hill game feels like a pale rehash of what we’ve already seen in the first two games. The original Silent Hill is a masterpiece of blood and terror. The second in the series loses much of that fear factor, but the masterful storyline is rich in symbolism and intrigue. Silent Hill 3 is neither. Some monsters are scary, but the others are just laughable, like the marshmallow-like “Insane Cancers” that chill the player to the bone with their horrific ability to look like clowns. The storyline takes a major hit as well, eschewing the Silent Hill tradition of forcing the player to complete the game at least one more time to fully grasp the narrative. Much of the fun of the Silent Hill series is trying to crack the unanswered questions, but Silent Hill 3 gives you everything you could have wondered on a silver platter at the end, while simultaneously cheapening the creepy mythos established by the first game.

If you’re a rabid Silent Hill fan, no doubt you’ve already finished Silent Hill 3 about 35 times since its release in 2003. You’ve already formed you opinions and put the game back on your shelf to rot. Like me you might have been upset with the comparatively simplistic story, and also like me, you might have gotten over it in the last half decade or so. But those of us who aren’t obsessed fanboys and have never played the game before will find a fun and somewhat scary adventure in Silent Hill 3.

"Okay, but only if you push me next."

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Vaguely Homoerotic Fun with Rival Turf!

If there’s one important lesson that I learned from the 1992 SNES game Rival Turf!, it’s that I probably shouldn’t have spent money on the 1992 SNES game Rival Turf! But the other important lesson I learned is that nothing says justice quite like the cop from The Village People wrapping himself in hundreds of strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups and punching the heck out of tactless criminals across two continents. 

After the success of fist-fueled fiestas like Double Dragon and the original Final Fight in the late 1980s, side scrolling beat ‘em ups flooded the arcade and home markets, slugging it out for everyone’s fighting dollars. The craze spawned a few truly memorable titles like Sega’s Streets of Rage trilogy for the Genesis/Mega Drive, and plenty of other games destined to be reviled and forgotten, like Burning Fight, Guardians of the ‘Hood and David Robinson’s Supreme Court.

Rival Turf! is one of those games in the latter category that so bad it’s still bad, but at least it serves that function in a bland and uninteresting way. What it does add to the genre, however, are vague homosexual undertones, which make any video game worth playing.

The ambiguously gay fun begins when our two fashion unconscious heroes, Oozie Nelson and Jack Flak, decide to clean up the streets of Los Angeles by pounding the crap out of everyone from the local biker population, sans-motorcycles, to the glam rockers/transvestites that live in the local Rival Turf! homeless shelters. You might be thinking that these are the kind of people the police are supposed to be helping, but Nelson and Flak have it all figured out: Everyone knows that to make an omelet, you’ve got to break a few eggs – or in the case of Rival Turf!, assault hundreds of mentally challenged thugs while wearing a red leather police officer outfit. And this game certainly makes a lot of omelets.

At least there are no women in Rival Turf! to get in the way of the undertones. Err, action. I meant action. Wait, no, I mean... Never mind.

There’s not much about Jack Flak that separates him from Axel, Cody, David Robinson or any other regular joe found in these kinds of games, except that his jacket kind of makes him look like Marty McFly from Back to the Future 2 or perhaps even Aries from Final Fantasy VII. It’s the unfortunately named Oozie Nelson, the Mexican wrestler turned male stripper/cop, who takes center stage. An enigma: If Nelson is supposed to be Hispanic, why does he look like a black guy in the character select screen and a white guy in the ending? The world may never know.

These character designs are totally rad!

You know how real gangs have specific colors and styles that they wear to show that they’re gang members? You’ll see none of that tripe in Rival Turf! I learned a long time ago from games like this that for gang members in the early ‘90s, anything went as far as fashion. You want to wear a motorcycle helmet and a pair of MC Hammer pants? Go for it! An eye patch, bicycle shorts and wrestling boots? Sure! A Saran wrap t-shirt, a cockring and a hat made of breadsticks? Hell yeah! Not one to break from tradition, Rival Turf! dives right on to the “randomly dressed from Hot Topic and grandma’s attic” bandwagon.

The game itself is was pretty standard punch and kick fare. The first few levels offer action that was stale even when Rival Turf! was released and it really didn’t age well from there. But after lots of uncomfortable grabbing and an end-of-level celebration that got a little out of hand, I came across these two guys trying to hide their, um, activities behind a barrel.

Aye carumba! The last time I saw something like that in a video game, Gen. Custer was getting his revenge! I’m not sure why, but Nelson flew into Angry Mode at that point and savagely suplexed both men’s backs into Jell-o. Maybe he knew them somehow and didn’t approve of their behavior.

I guess I should explain Angry Mode, which sounds like what happened to all the children who paid $50 for this game when it was new. Angry Mode makes your character invincible for a short amount of time, as indicated by his flashing white, like this:

Note: Angry Mode does NOT affect your gloves.

Later on I found this guy, who looked like he was more into fighting the demons in his head than our two suspiciously flamboyant police officers. But I had a duty to uphold the peace, so I dragged him out of his hiding spot and bludgeoned him to death with a rusty steal pipe. There was also this dude who was out for a stroll with this most triumphant boombox in the local car garage at 4 a.m. So like the good cops they are, Nelson and Flak pummeled him mercilessly.

Then it was off to South America after hitching a ride on a nearby enemy military chopper for three more rounds of… rounds! Did you know that gangs in Brazil are basically the same as the gangs in America, only with more green in their wardrobes? Forget social studies; why aren’t children all across the world playing Rival Turf! in school to drink deeply of its vast educational value?

After fighting my way through some kind of factory instead of just walking around it to get to the final stage, the gang leader, Big (gay?) Al, decided I had slaughtered enough of his poorly dressed, unarmed henchmen and attempted to kill me by wearing white after Labor Day. Of course, this threw Nelson into Angry Mode and you can guess what happened from there. Then I watched the credits, secure in the knowledge that not one of the billions of gang members that I ruthlessly executed was smart enough to bring a gun to the battle and put and end to Nelson and Flak’s brutal love and/or friendship.

So remember kids, crime doesn’t pay. The next time you decide to steal some candy or cigarettes or kill a man, think about this: When the cops catch you, the last thing you’re likely to see before blinking out of existence is the heavy, possibly homosexual boots of justice stomping you and your friends’ skulls into a fine powder.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mafia II: A Standard Shooter in a Pretty Package?

After a four year wait, Mafia II  hit the shelves Tuesday, Aug. 24 with a bang. If you're a fan of Grand Theft Auto style games, the first Mafia title or both, you probabbly want to sink your teeth into this seedy sequal right now. But there's a few things you should know first! Check out my "Game of the Month" Mafia II review at Gaming Life!

Or, if links just ain't your bag, here's the full text:

It’s just after Christmastime in the Big Apple and the Second Great War rages across Europe. Near a rundown alley in Little Italy, an elderly woman speaks to a homebound soldier about his family and the changes that have taken place since he was deployed; a group of young men try to lure their reluctant friend out for a beer; and a war plane buzzes overhead, on its way to defend the Stars and Stripes against the tyranny of Hitler and his Nazis. It’s not the typical video game setting – and at first, you’ll think that Mafia II isn’t going to be a typical video game.

It’s hard not to be jazzed after such an impressive introduction to the game’s world and characters, but underneath all the painstaking period research and the dazzling atmosphere, Mafia II is just a standard Grand Theft Auto clone. It’s an enjoyable way to spend a few of your gaming hours, but there’s not much here that hasn’t been done before.

Mafia II tells the squalid story of Vito Scaletta, an immigrant from Sicily and a WWII veteran who goes from decorated war hero to cold-blooded mobster. Over the course of the game, Vito and his lifelong buddy Joe Barbaro – voiced by Robert Costanzo, who also played Detective Harvey Bullock in Batman the Animated Series – try to live the good life by pulling odd jobs for dangerous people. Petty thefts and illicit trades escalate and soon the blood flows deep freely. In this game more than any other that I’ve played, there’s something intensely profound and disturbing about watching an otherwise good man throw his life away and, via your own controller, you are the driving force behind it all.

A moderately compelling narrative is enough to keep players interested beyond just the gameplay, but sometimes the storyline gets sloppy. Towards the end, it seems like nearly everyone in the game is somehow responsible for the despicable deed that has Vito suddenly out for revenge, and with no real main antagonist, the final fight utilizes “the ol’ switcharoo” that’s become common in Grand Theft Auto style games over the years. Your efforts will earn you a cliché but suitable conclusion and the final, potent line will stay with you for quite awhile. I just wish the ending were more than two minutes long.

A word of warning: Some players might find the dialogue and subject matter of this game offensive, and for good reason. Vito and his mostly Italian compatriots drop f-bombs more than actual explosives, racial slurs are part of everyday conversation, and judging from the actions of Joe and his buddies, drunken sex is always the order of the day. Though potentially offensive, Mafia II just manages to be less distasteful than some other games that come to mind.

Stunning skylines and sunsets are enough to make any graphics hound happy, and Mafia II has some of the best water effects I’ve ever seen, this generation or last. The cut scenes are near movie quality and Gearheads will appreciate the level of detail in the cars as well as the inclusion of a “carcyclopedia” accessible from the main menu. It’s a shame that Mafia II’s highest available resolution is 720p, because this game would look spectacular in full 1080p HD glory.

Mafia II’s soundtrack is nothing short of awe-inspiring. In addition to excellently crafted symphonic suites, period accurate tunes like “Let It Snow” by Dean Martin, “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” by Kay Kyser and “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets help create a realistic and vastly immersive atmosphere unmatched by any other video game up to now. The plethora of licensed tunes also lend themselves the game’s cruel sense of humor: “Straighten Up and Fly Right” by the Andrews Sisters suddenly pops on the radio as you speed away from the police in a freshly-stolen car, and as you’re trying to unload illegal goods on a strict time limit, a bunch of cops burst into the shop as the radio blares “Held for Questioning” by Rusty Dapper.

If you’re familiar with action games at all, it won’t be long before you’re ripping off cars and taking down mobsters like pro. Mafia II’s run ‘n gun controls are similar to Grand Theft Auto IV and don’t take much to get used to, but they can also be strangely unresponsive. For example, when the fuzz is on your tail and you’re trying to jack a set of wheels as quickly as possible, sometimes Vito simply refuses to get in until you ram the button 15 times. By then you’ve either been captured or cut down by a volley of unrelenting gunfire, so it’s a bit annoying to say the least.

The action is focused mainly on gunplay, so there are no melee weapons available beyond your own bare hands. Just like in the demo, the player cannot engage another character in hand to hand combat unless that character is willing to come to blows. So unlike other sandbox games, stalking around the city and pounding random innocents into the ground like some kind of reverse Spider-man is basically out of the question. However, this sacrifice is made in the name of a simple but satisfying unarmed combat system, consisting of light and heavy punches, a dodge button and a few easy combos. You’ll be coming back to this over and over again, so it’s best to master the fighting controls early.

While it’s a fun play to be sure, Mafia II’s biggest problem is that it’s too linear. Other sandbox games have multiple missions you can chose to deal with at you leisure; this one wants to keep the player on a specific path, as evidenced by the fact that the game is broken up into chapters. The action drags a little near the middle of the game, and it’s at this point when Mafia II is at its most “business as usual.” A truly explosive finale is coming, replete with betrayals and blazing guns, so hang in there until the end – you’ll be happy you did.

There’s not much in the way of side quests. Collectable wanted posters and Playboy magazines litter Mafia II’s landscape, but that’s about it. The retro erotica has a certain naive charm and it adds to the game’s seedy atmosphere, but it’s mostly pointless in terms of gameplay. It’s just another fetch quest, this time with a little nudity thrown in. If you’re not a teenage boy, you probably won’t be spending too much time with these sensuous centerfolds.

Unless you’re a huge fan of the original Mafia or a GTA action junkie, there’s not much reason to rush out to the store and drop 60 of your hard earned dollars on Mafia II. This game has a lot going for it and I urge you to play it, but it’s probably to your advantage to wait until the price drops a bit. It’s a shame, too: The game’s elegant ambiance is almost enough to make me recommend Mafia II to the masses, but an occasionally stagnant storyline, a several uncreative missions and strictly linear gameplay knock this one down a peg. Say it ain’t so, Joe!

Score: 7.7 out of 10

Collector’s Edition Information

With its sleek metal packaging and sweet cover art, the $80 Mafia II Collector’s Edition looks like a no-brainer, but should you really shell out the extra cash for it? The 100 page art book proves to be mildly appealing and is packed with concept art, a pin-up girl gallery and even some Mafia II “movie posters,” but as a whole, it’s probably not going to be that interesting to the average gamer. Likewise, if you can’t see yourself cruising around in your ride while pumping gripping, orchestral beats, the included CD soundtrack probably won’t persuade you to blow another 20 bones on the game.

What really separates the Collector’s Edition from the standard release of Mafia II is the bonus downloadable content. Those who take the Collector’s Edition plunge will have immediate access to the Made Man pack, which includes two stylin’ suits and a couple of new autos for your in-game garage. My Mafia II: Collectors Edition from Best Buy came with a “preorder” bonus of the Greaser pack, even through I didn’t reserve a copy. (The Greaser pack is very similar to the Made Man pack in that it grants the player two new outfits and a few extra cars.) I can’t guarantee that you’ll luck out and get the Greaser pack if you shop at Best Buy, but that little tidbit might make a difference in your choice of stores. Finally, the PS3 Collector’s Edition has a one-up on the Xbox version: It comes with the Sony exclusive mini-game The Betrayal of Jimmy, an arcade style take on Mafia II’s brutal brand of action. While it’s not fantastic, this add-on is just enough to make the PS3 version more desirable than its 360 cousin.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Crazy Game Collection

Over the course of my life, I've amassed a few video games. Okay, make that a lot of games. Since I started playing 24 years go, I never sold any carts back to the store and every Christmas, birthday and Easter, all I asked for were more games.

By my last count, I had about 1200 titles, dating back as far as 1982. Because Mafia II hurt my hands and stole my will to write, I figured I'd do the typical photo-blog idea today. Hope you enjoy me tooting my own horn.

PS1, PS2, Game Boy and others
Games of Note: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Dragon Warrior VII (two copies, one sealed) and Final Fantasy XII Collector's Edition

Current Gen Systems, PSX, NES
Games of Note: Dragon Warrior IV, Final Fantasy 1, Tekken 1, Darkstalkers, Sneak King, Street Fighter IV Collector's Editon, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes

Saturn and SNES Earthbound for some reason
Games of Note: Guardian Heroes, Fighting Vipers, Sonic Jam, boxed SNES Earthbound

Games of Note: Ducktails, Castlevania 2 and 3, Megaman 2, Maniac Mansion, Mario 3

Genesis (Mega Drive), 32X, Master System and Xbox
Games of Note: Kolibri, Streets of Rage series, Beggar Prince, Legend of Wukong, Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams

Not pictured: SNES, Sega CD, Jaguar, 3DO

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

First Original Genesis Title in 12 Years Nearing Release?

Pier Solar, the first original Sega Genesis (Mega Drive) game in more than a decade, might soon be captivating retro gamers in America, Japan and Europe. Read my post at Gaming Life for more details. I must say, I'm excited!

Or if links scare you, here's the full text:

Pier Solar, the first original Sega Genesis\Mega Drive game coded from scratch in at least a decade, is apparently nearing release.

About two years after Water Melon Development, the team behind Pier Solar, began taking preorders, those who reserved the game received an e-mail Monday asking them to confirm their shipping address. Though no official word has come from the game’s developers, the e-mail hints at a release date in the near future.

Pier Solar began life more than five years ago as “Tavern RPG,” a pet project of the Sega fansite, Eidolon’s Inn. What was meant to be a small undertaking blossomed into a full-fledged, 64 MEG role playing game for the Genesis, complete with “asynchronous turn-based battles,” an enhanced CD soundtrack for Sega CD owners, and at least five selectable languages, including English and Japanese.

“We hope all those who purchase Pier Solar will gain the very same feeling of excitement [and] joy they had from playing the Sega Mega Drive/Sega Genesis for the very first time,” write the developers on the Pier Solar web page. “We want people who play Pier Solar to experience the same level of enjoyment and pleasure [that] we did from creating it.”

Though Water Mellon Development stopped taking preorders for Pier Solar last month – they claim that they sold out of the North American, European and Japanese versions of the cartridge – the game may again be made available in small quantities via the Pier Solar website shortly after all reservations are filled.

Pier Solar shares its initials with the Phantasy Star series, which is often considered the premier RPG franchise on the Genesis.

In addition to Pier Solar, two other role playing games have been released for the Sega Genesis in the last five years by the company Super Fighter Team: Beggar Prince in 2006 and Legend of Wukong in 2008. Both games were translations of existing Taiwanese cartridges released in the territory during the Genesis’s heyday in the ‘90s.

Below is a video of Pier Solar in action, including the Genesis cart accessing the Sega CD for the soundtrack:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Batman Forever: Soulless Silicon

I could have baited you with a catchy opening sentence questioning whether Acclaim did justice to the Batman Forever license with this game but I’m not going to lie to you or waste your time. The Batman Forever video game for Sega Genesis (Mega Drive) and Super Nintendo just plain sucks.

Ignoring the warning label that many bad video games have – the Acclaim logo – I recently took Batman Forever out of my stack of Genesis games, dusted it off, and plugged it into my system. After being greeted with a lackluster title screen, hearing Two-Face annoyingly exclaim, “If the Bat wants to play, we’ll play!” and skimming over a confusing weapon select screen, someone who looks kind of like Batman appears, surrounded by brown, grainy bricks, ugly gray columns and the occasional steel door. With him is another guy dressed like Robin, but he looks more like your eccentric neighbor wearing his ballet tights. Suddenly, an Arkham Asylum inmate shambles over and, after doing his victory pose a few times, eventually gets around to attacking! Sensing danger, “Robin” pulls out his staff, just like he never did in the film, and whacks the now flipping and kicking villain. But the Dynamic Duo isn’t out of the woods yet! A door to one of the other cells explodes open (huh?) and out pops the same guy Robin just floored. I guess crazy acrobatic ninja inmates never learn!

Wave after wave of the same few digitized villains battle our heroes’ stunt doubles, performing the same few attacks over and over. Acclaim/Probe didn’t even have the decency to change their pallets, so the only difference between enemies of the same type is their woefully dim-witted names. (My favorites are a guy named “Bad Gazz” and a clown named “Bio-Man.”) There are only five normal enemies and four boss-like characters, so the player is likely to grow bored of his or her competition at light speed.

Try as I may, I can’t remember a single tune from this game. I’m holding the box in my hands right now touching it, smelling it and practically begging it to jog my memory – but the only song that comes to mind is from Phantasy Star II. That’s not to say Batman Forever’s music is bad, it just proves that it’s entirely forgettable. (And that Phantasy Star II had some wicked tuneage, but I digress.) Don’t worry, you’ll be able to remember the melodies by the end of the game, because later levels reuse themes from the earlier ones. If that doesn’t say “rush job,” I don’t know what does.

Every time your character grabs one of the Riddler’s question marks, you’re subjected to a tooth grinding “Riddle me this, riddle me that” sound clip. The enemies’ comments aren’t much better: “Forgeddabout it!” yells the stereotypical mobster in a not-so-stereotypical yellow suit. Yet, the player never hears a peep out of the Caped Crusader or the Boy Wonder, aside from a generic “I got knocked over” grunt that every character shares. Throw in a few nonspecific punching noises, and you’ve got the Batman Forever soundtrack.

Holy unresponsive D-pad, Batman! These controls stink! Seeing as how Batman Forever passed through both Acclaim and Probe’s inept hands, it’s not surprising that this game plays a lot like Mortal Kombat. Actually, let me rephrase: This game wants to BE Mortal Kombat. With high and low punches and kicks, a block button, foot sweeps and even the trademark MK uppercut, Batman Forever is the video equivalent of a kid who tries to emulate his older, cooler sibling and fails miserably. Punches and kicks come off without a hitch, but using the grappling hook is a chore and I’m still not sure how to make my character jump down a level. Jump and tap up on the controller and Batman will float across the screen on leather wings. Robin kind of sticks his bum out and starts levitating, though I’ve never quite been able to get that to work in real life. Both moves work about 50 percent of the time and are occasionally paramount to progressing through the game. The result? Lots of senseless falling and backtracking.

Hey, remember that awesome part in the movie where Batman and Robin had to jump over all those exciting crates? Yeah, neither do I, but it’s in this game. There are eight tough stages to slog through, but each one has little to do with the movie. Levels begin in one nondescript location and end in another, so good luck trying to figure out what triggers the onset of the next stage.

Even on easy mode, the game is unforgiving. Locating and disarming a bomb in the circus stage is a confusing process, with enemies appearing randomly and a quick-moving timer working against you. If you’re not lucky, the bomb explodes and you lose a much-need life. (Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb, I guess.) There are some ridiculous jumps in the fifth level an you’ll often find yourself running all the way back to the spot where you fell, only to fall again. So, what’s your reward for sticking out this entire hard, frustrating game? Let me save you some time: “Congratulations! Game complete.”

All of this could have been overlooked if Batman Forever had managed to be fun, but it’s not: The gameplay isn’t just laughable, it’s this game’s killing joke. To be fair, any game where you get to beat up clowns can’t be all bad, and uppercutting and roundhouse kicking your enemies can be fun, especially when you knock them into some sort of environmental trap or off the side of a building. Yet you never feel like you’re doing much damage. Even a bone-shattering blast of Robin’s stealthy staff steals but a fragment of the foe’s life gauge.

To help remedy the monotony of the limited combat system, the programmers added plenty of special weapons to the fighting formula. However, it’s always easier to just kick and punch your adversaries into submission, because trying to use a bat-gadget will get you bat-killed. There are 20 of the little buggers in all, but most of them just freeze enemies for a few seconds. Each gadget is activated with a Street Fighter-like button combination, but the player shouldn’t have to do a Yoga Flame motion to fling a weak gimmick weapon at some schmoe across the screen.

You can drag someone else along with you into this lunacy, but why would you? The controls are so broken in the main game that you’ll find yourself explaining to the other player how to use the grappling hook more often than pounding on the bad guys. It’s a shame too, because there was some real potential for fun here. Instead, it’s just as frustrating – if not more so – as the rest of the game. The versus mode fares better though, because it allows two players to choose any character in the game and mix it up mano a mano. It kind of plays like a crippled Mortal Kombat and offers players a respite from the tedium of the main game.

Some games seem to have a soul – a soul of silicon, but a soul nonetheless. This is not one of them. Batman Forever has tried my patience, and the only reason it didn’t receive a lower score is because the game can actually be completed if the player can deal with the masses of uninteresting villains and the tiresome gameplay. Avoid Batman Forever if you come across it, but if you simply must see what all the fuss is about, don’t spend more than $2 on it. Save yourself three hours of aggravation and watch the lackluster movie instead; at least when that starts to suck, you can go to sleep and when you wake up, it’ll be over. Better still, dig up some episodes of Batman: The Animated Series for your Dark Knight fix – the worst installment of that show is at least twice as good as this piece of garbage.

I am vengence! I am the night! The Batman Forever game stinks!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Forever Funktastic: It’s Never Too Late for Earthbound

Regular patrons of Starmen.net are no doubt familiar with the Earthbound Funktastic Gameplay event, in which participants play through Earthbound over the course of a month. Many of us wait with bated breath for the summer to roll around so we can be given the opportunity (or as some would see it, the excuse) to experience one of our favorite games again. This summer, MOTHER 3 was given the spotlight, and Earthbounders will have to wait until October to get their fanfest on. But if you’ve still got the itch to see good ol’ Ness in action this summer, you’ve still got a few options.

Even in an age when you can pay bills, have tomatoes sent to your grandfather, and get married without ever leaving your comfortable, most likely stinky computer chair, you don’t always have to do what the web tells you. (Well, not yet, anyway. It’s only a matter of time before they send out the robots.) For a healthy punch of nostalgia, go to classic starmen.net at http://ebfgp.starmen.net/ebfgps03/ and play along with the 2003 fanfest. Just start at Day One and follow along with the original calendar.

That’s all fine and good, but what if you don’t have the time to play every day? This is especially true with classes about to resume and precious few days of summer left. “I never got a chance to wax my goat or protest the cancellation of Diff’rent Strokes by shaving off my eyebrows!” I can hear you yelling. “I need the rest of the summer to do those other things!” And I agree with you. Never one to advocate missing out on summer or even, God forbid, truancy from classes, I’ve got the solution for you: Play Earthbound at your own pace. It encourages exploration and discovery at one’s own discretion.

“That makes sense, but what if I hate pants?” I can hear some of your saying. “I can’t play Earthbound in my skivvies!” Don’t worry, fellow Earthbounder! If your eye offends you, pluck it out! And if your pants offend you, take them off! I too hate those accursed pants, and have sworn to only wear them when I must. In doing so, I’ve discovered something: Earthbound is an equal opportunity video game. It doesn’t care if you’re black or white, Asian or Jewish, pantsed or pantless. Earthbound, my friend, is for everyone – adults, kids, and young women, too.

Even if you don’t have time to run through the entire Earthbound storyline, do yourself a favor – just go back and play the game a little bit. You know that save file you never finished that’s been on your cartridge since 2001? It doesn’t matter where you last saved. Plug it in and give it a whirl. Or maybe you’d just like to start a new game and walk around Onett for a bit. Hey, that’s cool. Just grab the controller and reminisce for a while.

Don’t miss this opportunity to relive your childhood and remember what makes Earthbound so great. Whether you play it every other Sunday or have regular Earthbound marathons, like the sign post in Threed says, “just play it!”

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Silent Hill Sunday #3: Stay Locked in Your Room with Silent Hill 4?

Have you ever wondered what a skinless dog with a snake tongue or a two-headed baby with no legs would look like? If you’re mostly sane, the answer is probably no. But if you’re Konami, the creators of Silent Hill 4: The Room for PS2 and XBox, the answer is a resounding “of course!” Normally I’d suggest psychological evaluations for every member of Team Silent, but with all their talent, this is one group of crazies I’d rather have walking free.

When it was released in 2004, the fourth Silent Hill was promoted as a very different experience from the first three games which still remained true to the series’ roots. But how well did Silent Hill 4: The Room live up to expectations? Frankly, it depends on what you were expecting.

Although not the surreal mind-rape that Silent Hill 2 is, SH4: The Room has a deep and engaging plot. Henry Townshend’s apartment is average as can be, with photos on the walls, a TV and radio, and even a kitchen… that is, until the haunting starts. After being trapped in his apartment for five days, a strange hole appears in Henry’s bathroom. He has no choice but to crawl through the portal to unknown horrors and, perhaps if he’s lucky, salvation.

Though Silent Hill 4’s graphics are as gritty and ambient as the previous three entries into the series, gone are the flashlights and buzzing radios of old, and the game is heavy on the action and light on the puzzles. It’s fun for a while, but the brutal, plentiful enemies eventually grind down the player’s patience into a fine dust. New also is the 3-D perspective of Henry’s apartment, which you’ll be returning to over and over and over again. The apartment is explored in first person, similar to Doom and Half-Life. It looks cool, but adding a first person perspective to only one area makes the player wonder if the programmers were just trying to get a little mileage out of a failed Silent Hill first person shooter-style engine.

Melissa Williams reprises her role as the Silent Hill series’ singer, so this game’s music is libel to make your ears bleed with joy. In the same vein, the sound effects fit the action nicely; for example, the clank of the baseball bat as your character swings it into an unsuspecting demon is priceless.

The wacky controls are likely to put some players right off the game. The run function has inexplicably changed positions from the square to the circle button, frustrating veterans of the older titles to no end. Instead of breaking out into a full gallop away from some grotesque monster, you wind up opening your menu and getting torn to shreds as you fumble to close it. Otherwise, this game controls just like the first three: stiff, but workable.

Unfortunately, if you’ve played through any of the other games in the series, especially the original Silent Hill, SH4: The Room offers nothing new in the way of scares. Little things to creep the player out, like when Henry receives a call on a broken phone, are few and far between. Trouser-soiling scares are what helped the series gain a place in horror gaming history, so it’s a shame Silent Hill 4 didn’t try harder in that department.

The last of the PlayStation 2 era Silent Hill games, SH4: The Room is proof that the original survival horror formula was starting to go stale and doubling up on the action just wasn’t the move that would save the series. Cleaning up Henry’s haunted apartment offers players a fun but flawed excursion to the freakiest town on earth, but don’t expect the entertainment to last for more than a single trip through. Play it, enjoy it and then squirrel SH4 away in your room in favor of one of the better Silent Hill games.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Inexplicable Audio of Battle Arena Toshinden Remix

It’s common knowledge among Sega Saturn aficionados, video game collectors and masochists that Battle Arena Toshinden Remix pales in comparison to the original PS1 offering, so I’m not going to waste time telling you that for your own sanity, you should set the game to one round; that Gaia will obliterate unwary players with fire from his tentacles unless you ring him out; or even that the game follows established cannon, with story mode referring to Kayin’s child, Eiji’s White Tiger sword and a bunch of other crap that only fanboys and video game historians care about. Instead, I’m going to talk about the one thing that keeps the aging Battle Arena Toshinden series relevant in the ever-changing gaming landscape: The audio.

Anyone who jumped onto the PlayStation bandwagon in the early day likely has fond memories of tearing into Toshinden’s cast of freaky fighters with his or her speakers a’blazing. Thankfully, the music in Toshinden Remix is the same old soundtrack from the original American cut of BAT, which is to say it’s face-meltingly awesome at best and merely catchy at worst. There’s also a single new tune for the fighter introduced (and promptly forgotten) in this game, and it fits nicely into the rest of the soundtrack. Basically, if you find BAT Remix laying around someplace, you’re probably better off putting it in your CD player than your Saturn.

Those who ignore my warning and venture into the world of Toshinden Remix are in for a world of aural addling. At first all seems well: The in-game grunts and yells are the same as the American version of PS1 Toshinden. The character’s voices are consistent with their nationalities for the most part, so not everyone is jumping around screaming in Japanese like most other fighting games of the era.

Things start going awry in story mode, but it has little to do with the gameplay. Before and after every fight, the player is treated to a horrifying dialogue exchange between the two fighters up at bat (ha, pun). The voiceovers sound kind of like something a group of drunken fratboys would come up with if they turned the sound down on some crappy anime and started doing their own dialogue. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize that this actually might be the technique employed to “translate” BAT Remix. Worse – or better, depending on your disposition – is that the clip played when the player chooses Kayin sounds like it was ripped from a ‘70s porno flick, which might explain what Kayin says after losing to Ellis in story mode: “How could I be so soft?” Despite it all, I love Kayin’s accent, but that’s probably because I find Uncle Scrooge of Ducktails fame irresistible.

Aside from the rockin’ tunes and hilariously bad voiceovers, the only reason anyone would play Battle Arena Toshinden Remix is for a history lesson or to compare this game to the PS1 original. Either that or you’re some sort of raging Toshinden fan, but I’m pretty sure both of you already have this game. In any event, as Uncle Scrooge would say, “Bless me bagpipes!” which makes no sense in this context, but it is slightly racist, just like BAT Remix’s voiceovers. Hooray!

Thanks Uncle Scrooge!

HEY KIDS! Listen to Eiji's Theme from Battle Arena Toshinden Remix

Listen to the theme of Cupido, the Battle Arena Toshinden Remix exclusive character

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Have a Viewtiful Day in Your Neighborhood

I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me: One minute, I’m sitting in a movie theater with a girl, and the next, she’s getting sucked into the screen and I have to go in to save her. That’s why I was so excited to play Capcom’s Viewtiful Joe for the GameCube, because this is exactly what happens to the game’s main character. I feel your pain, Joe. I feel your pain.

Though it’s excellent all around, where Viewtiful Joe really excels is gameplay. Joe’s world is in vibrant 2D, something old-school gamers (like me) welcome with open arms. The player jumps right into the fray without 67 hours of examining the surroundings, like in many 3D action games.

Viewtiful Joe plays like Streets of Rage or Final Fight on crack. Hoards of enemies fly out of nowhere and it’s up to Joe to beat them into submission with his feet and fists. As the game progresses, Joe gains extra powers that allow him to manipulate time. He can slow it down, allowing him to dodge bullets like in the first “Matrix” movie, speed it up to attack so fast that his arms and legs burst into flames, or zoom in on the enemy to do super powerful attacks. This ain’t not gimmick – it’s truly the crux of the gameplay, because Joe’s mastery of time is essential to defeating the game. Really, beating people senseless in slow-mo never gets old.

Viewtiful Joe’s stylish graphics are a treat for those of use who long for the good ol’ days of simple 2D righteousness. The game looks and feels like a cross between a comic book and an old monster flick, with vibrant colors and cheesy-yet-endearing character designs. While our hero begins the game as just another schmoe, he’s soon transformed into Viewtiful Joe, a red-clad, power ranger-like superhero. Anytime Viewtiful Joe reverts back to just an average Joe, the game returns to a grainy, old film stock look. This, in addition to excellent character animations and scrolling backgrounds, make the game a joy to watch.

Capcom did the best possible job assigning a button layout to Viewtiful Joe as they could, but the weird design of the ‘Cube-troller sometimes gets in the way. For example, the punch and kick buttons are too close to each other and there are separate buttons for jumping and dodging, so for the first half hour or so of play, it’s easy to confuse the two. But after a little time, you’ll get used to it and be busting heads like there’s no tomorrow.

Viewtiful Joe is a great effort from Capcom. The later stages are tough as nails and as frustrating as being the only liberal in Texas, but anyone with a GameCube who appreciates good old fashioned action should give Viewtiful Joe a gogo.

(It should be noted that this game was also released for the PlayStation 2, but I haven’t played that version and therefore can’t speak to its quality. But I’m guessing the controls are a wee bit better.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Worthsmith vs. The Sports Games #1: "David Robinson’s Supreme Court"

From soccer to hockey and even the national pastime, professional wrestling, I know next to nothing about sports. I had video games when I was growing up, so why do unimportant things like play baseball or interact with other kids or go to school? But the other day while I was walking my dog, a disheveled man with a Red Sox cap and a jug of moonshine stumbled over to me and asked, “Whose yer fav-rite team, nerd!?” When I replied that I don’t watch football, he had a very compelling argument for me to get into sports: 57 stitches in my left eye socket.

The best way for me to appreciate anything is with video games, so I dug through my collection looking for sports titles and started tearing up the basketgolf field! This is the first article of a monthly column that chronicles my clueless foray into the world of sports via video entertainment, aptly titled “Wordsmith vs. The Sports Games.” I hope you’re ready for some football, because I sure am excited! Let’s go Yankmets! Win the Super Brawl!

Game Title: David Robinson’s Supreme Court

Console: Sega Genesis (Mega Drive)

Year: 1990

Genre: Beat ‘em up, possibly basketball

What I Would Have Called It: Net-Crazed Tank Top Men Ram a Large Orange into a Very Tall Hole

David Robinson’s Supreme Court is the worst fighting game ever. Someone once told me it might be basketball game, but you’d never know that by reading the back of the box: “Twenty-four different shots from jumpers to slams, unbelievable speed and rim rattling sound effects… Robinson proves his case with two handed monster slams and awesome net attacks.” These “attacks,” according to the box, include “Monster Slam,” “Reverse Slam,” “Sky Hook Slam,” and “Pile Driver,” which is a move Zangief uses in Street Fighter II to dole out the pain to unsuspecting fireball spammers.

I clearly remember standing in a Toys ‘R Us store one summer day about 18 years ago trying to pick out a new Genesis game. After reading the box, I though David Robinson’s Supreme Court was some sort of justice-system based Double Dragon clone, and Robinson was a dog catching lawyer\street brawler, what with his “net attacks” and all. Now before you tell me that a karate lawyer is too stupid even for a ‘90s video game, need I point out Final Fight’s “mayor and former street fighter,” Mike Haggar? And last time I checked, Arnold Schwarzenegger was still the governor of California, so score one more for incongruent career choices.

Like any dedicated gamer, I tore off the plastic and began reading the David Robinson’s Supreme Court manual on the way home from the store, and it only reinforced the idea that the title character is a street fighter: “Monster slams and awesome net attacks are only part of David Robinson’s ‘TIP’ – Total Individual Performance. Now it’s your turn to get on the court and face ‘The Admiral.’”

“The Admiral must be the final boss of the game,” I thought. I kept reading. “You’ll Dazzle ‘em with 24 incredible moves, including fast breaks and tomahawk slams.”

Compare this with the description on the box of Sega’s classic beat ‘em up, Streets of Rage: “This is the ultimate in street combat. These city fighters are martial arts maniacs with 40 individually controllable attacks – including jabs, head butts, overhead kicks and awesome net attacks.”

Okay, so I added the net attacks thing, but otherwise these passages are strikingly – and violently – similar.

As soon as we got home, my young self slammed the cartridge into my Genesis system much like I thought I would soon be slamming bad guys on my way to taking down The Admiral. Soon however, joy turned to horror, but I tried to give David Robinson’s Supreme Court a chance. For hours at a time I attempted to catch a glimpse of The Admiral, suspecting the gameplay might switch to a Mortal Kombat-like, one-on-one perspective when I met him and actually be fun, but to no avail. With the torment that is only felt by a child who spent all his money on a putrid video game, I put David Robinson’s Supreme Court back in the box and left it to gather dust on my Sega shelf.

Cut to a few weeks ago, as an older and negligiblely wiser Matt was looking to educate himself about all this sports stuff everyone’s been talking about. “Hey, didn’t some kid once try to tell me that David Robinson’s Supreme Court is a basketball game?” I thought. Obviously I laughed at him before punching him in the crotch and stealing his insulin, but what if he had been telling the truth? I whipped out the game and, after I stopped sneezing from all the dust and cobwebs I disturbed in the process, court was in session once more!

David Robinson’s Supreme Court offers a whopping four teams to choose from, including favorites like New York, L.A. and Chicago. And Detroit is there too. They’re really good at stealing for some reason. Also setting cars on fire.

Once you pick a team and start the combat, there’re enough guys on screen to make for a good fighting game. But every time someone throws an elbow smash, the action stops and everyone crowds around one of the two netted holes on big sticks. The guy who got punched is allowed to throw a big bouncy orange at the hole before the fighting starts again. Since the hits in this game are so infrequent, I’ve never been able to score a single knockout.

When you’re jockeying for possession of the orange, the action shifts from a 45 degree angle to a 135 degree angle at the half supreme court line, which makes for a jarring transition. I like to have the big orange stolen from me in a place where I can see it happen, as opposed to awkwardly switching views and suddenly getting my fruit pilfered during the confusion. To be honest, I’m not sure what the significance of the big orange is, but I’m assuming it’s some sort of power-up that The Admiral would love to get his despicable hands on. In fact, I get the feeling that the fate of the supreme court and maybe even the entire American legal system depends on that big orange. Maybe it’s like the Matrix of Leadership from the 1986 Transformers movie and David Robinson is trying to take over for Optimus Prime before The Admiral does.

Even after almost two decades, I still hate David Robinson’s Supreme Court. Worse yet, I didn’t learn anything about sports. I don’t know how, but this must be the work of that sinister Admiral. One day I’ll defeat you, The Admiral, and then the secrets of the basketball will be conferred upon me.

Until then, it’s back to the drawing board for my sports quest.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Old School Gaming Bliss with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game

I can't tell you how great this game is, especially for all those NES gamers out there who miss classics like Double Dragon and River City Ransom. Actually, I CAN tell you: Head on over to Gaming Life and read my review!

Or, if you're too lazy to click the link, here's the full text:

If you’re old enough or cool enough to remember the hard punching, tire throwing, gut busting NES cult classic River City Ransom, there’s seriously no reason to keep reading this review. Log into PSN and start downloading Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game right now, or barricade yourself in your house until Aug. 25 and get it from Xbox Live. Either way, you’re in for the best 2D arcade experience since Megaman 9 and Super Street Fighter II HD Remix.

Based on a comic I never read and a movie I haven’t seen yet, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is equal parts side-scrolling fighter and gushy love letter to the 8-bit era. After selecting one of four heroes (and getting flashbacks to Super Mario Bros. 2), it’s the player’s job to pound wave after wave of bad guys into the pavement, a la Final Fight or Streets of Rage, with the ultimate goal of defeating all seven of Scott’s lover’s ex-boyfriends. Up to four people can join the fight at once, watching each other’s backs simultaneously.

There are two attack buttons: The square button initiates a quick flurry of attacks and the triangle button produces a slower and stronger “heavy attack” combo. Special attacks are learned along the way and range from highly useful to barely sufficient. In addition, everything the player finds lying around can be used as a weapon, from baseball bats to plastic buckets, and they can either be thrown at or used to bludgeon nearby baddies. Even enemies themselves can be picked up and used in the same fashion, just the River City Ransom.

And speaking of River City Ransom, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World clearly owes much of its existence to this and many other old school NES games. It may look like a well-drawn PlayStation 1 title, but this download sounds and plays like something straight out of the ‘80s. There’s a secret shop in the first stage in EXACTLY the same area as in River City Ransom, a hit point system reminiscent of Final Fantasy 1 and even a reference to Clash at Demonhead, a bizarre NES platformer lost to the annals of time. The music is half chip tune, half punk rock, with guitar solos and awesome drum riffs that sneak up on you as you progress through the well-designed stages. As a seasoned gamer (read: old man), the title screen music nearly made me cry. I knew the game I was about to play encompasses everything great we’ve had to sacrifice in the name of progress over the last two decades of gaming evolution.

You don’t even have to appreciate old school gaming to enjoy Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game and it’s a steal at the $10 price of admission. With the exception of somewhat slow moving player characters and the occasional control problem, it’s no wonder this game snagged a nod for the “Best Downloadable Game of E3.” There’s no clearer way to say this: I want to have this game’s babies.

Take THAT, the world!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Amber Dreams: Memories of the SNES Classic Earthbound

I’ll never forget the first time I played it. So new, so very different, so distinct. One couldn’t help but fall in love with the wacky characters. Their personalities were as individual and varied as the man who created them. Obviously, I speak of the best RPG, nay, the best *game* ever created: Final Fantasy VI. …Earthbound. I said Earthbound. Final Fantasy VI and Earthbound sound alike, that’s all.

Earthbound has changed my life in countless ways, from giving me a keen mutant healing ability and a nice Adimantium skeleton to helping me achieve the highest level of awareness in every form of martial arts known to man. However, all of that pales in comparison to the minutes of sheer bliss I was plunged into from the second I turned the game on to the instant I got done naming the main character, Ness, “Gargamel.”

But I assure you, even though I found the game too difficult and turned it off relatively early, (“Please select text speed?” Who do they think I am, Superman?) I love the game more than anyone with a second grade reading level or below can fathom. In fact, if Earthbound were a person, I’d kiss her. Or him. Whatever.

Deep in the recesses of my mind, to the left of the frontal lobe and next to the spot I was planning to rent out to microscopic elves as low cost housing, I have a memory. A memory so precious, so vital to my being, that I wouldn’t give it up for all the rice in Pakistan. Even if I was attacked by a Spinnin’ Robo-Ninja Death Squad, I would defend this memory over all else. It is, in fact, the memory of my deceased great uncle. Next to that, in a small cardboard box, is the memory of the first time I played Earthbound.

It was a snowy July day, the 42nd I believe, and I was busy swabbing the decks of my father’s pirate ship, The Free Willy. I never actually knew how to “swab” something, so I basically just covered the floors with some sort of food item, like ketchup, until someone yelled at me and gave me something else to do. Anyway, after discovering that first mates don’t float, my father suggested that perhaps instead of throwing is poorly paid yet strangely loyal crewmen overboard, I could go mow the lawn.

“But Daddy, we’re on a pirate ship,” I protested. “There’s no grass for miles. With the added weight of the lawnmower, I’d just fall off the ship and sink to a watery, yet dementedly comical death.”

“That’s the point, boy,” Dad returned. “But first, I want to you play Earthbound.”

“What?” I stuttered confusedly. “That has nothing to do with mowing the-”

“Just do it, boy. And take Randy Savage with you.”

“Oh yeah!” Savage yelled savagely.

So Randy and I walked into my room and turned on the Super Nintendo, which was easy for us, with all the electricity available on a pirate ship in the middle of the ocean. And there it was, Earthbound. Shigesato Itoi’s vision spilled vibrantly across the glassy screen as I stared in awe. I sat there for hours, basking in its glory. It was grand – profound – beyond anything I had ever seen.

“Do you think we should plug in a controller and actually play the game now?” I inquired after about three days.

“Oh yeah!” Randy affirmatively returned.

So, for the next two minutes or so, Randy and I sat there as the game grilled us like an unfortunate shrimp in an Australian restaurant.

“What’s you’re favorite thing?!” the game demanded, threatening to take hostages if I didn’t answer.

“I… I don’t know!”

“Where were you on the night of December 7th, 1941?!” the game bellowed. “You weren’t, say, bombing Pearl Harbor, where you?”

“I wasn’t even born yet!” I replied. At that point, I handed the controller to Randy and left to get a Coke.

By the time I got back, everyone and everything in the game was named “Oh yeah!” Well, at least we were done with the naming part. So, we began playing, and eventually came upon an enemy.

“You engage the Spiteful Crow,” informed the game. Seconds later, we had beaten it up and stolen its cookie.

“Wow! I must be good at this game. It’s strangely satisfying stealing cookies from defenseless, spiteful wildlife,” I said, grinning.

“Oh yeah!” Savage yelled predictably.

Two steps later, another battle ensued. “You engage the Giygas,” informed the game. “SMAAAAASH!”

“I just lost 22,000,000,000 hit points,” I coughed.

“Oh… yeah…”

At that point, the continue screen pulled up, depicting Ness (or, in my case, “Gargamel”) as an angel. “I see dead people,” I said.

“Oh yeah?”

It was quiet for a moment as he and I stared blankly at the screen. “So, wanna go throw bottle caps at old men?” I finally suggested.

“Oh yeah!” Savage returned.

Well, there you have it; my very first (and very last) encounter with the game that would change my life forever. From its unusual towns to its goofy enemies, Earthbound (probably) delivers unadulterated enjoyment. Who could ever forget characters like that lovable Ness, his dad who’s apparently stuck inside a telephone, that school girl turned super-heroine, Sailor Mo-, er, Paula, that fun lovin’ underdog boxer, Rocky Balboa, or even that wacky “treasure hunter,” Locke Cole?

Earthbound has it all. In fact, the only thing it’s missing is Final Fantasy VI. But, this slight oversight is easily forgivable, given Earthbound’s super-awesome-o-matic game play and its funktastic story line. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, while Earthbound is a fun game with inserted into a Super Nintendo, it loses much of its charm when inserted into a wall socket.

Congratulation, Earthbound. A winner is you!