Does this look familiar to anyone? If it does, we can totally be palsies and claim that we really aren’t that old over shots of tequila . (If it doesn’t we can still be friends and I won’t hold your youth against you.)
This Donkey Kong Jr. Game & Watch might just be my first true gaming memory, like from grade school. Like from my TRS-80 days before we got our cobbled-together Atari 7800. It arrived in one of those magical Christmas packages from my uncle, the ones that contained any number of unusual tech toys along with things like hairbrushes, socks, and bins of caramel popcorn. So when I saw that shrink-wrapped, teal blue Game & Watch fall out of that package Christmas morning, I knew it was meant for me! (And my siblings were pretty young at the time so, definitely, it was for me!)
Game & Watch’s were early portable games made by Nintendo throughout the 1980s. (Up until they came up with something called the Game…Child? Little Kid? Something like that.) Game & Watch’s featured black and white LCD screens with static, colored overlays. And they each played a single game; though some had two variations of that game (“Game A” and “Game B”). They were kind of a big deal in my school, and I remember seeing plenty of other kids with them. Some had single screens. Others had two screens and looked much like the DS (history repeating). Still others were configured like tabletop “arcade” games. But no matter the size or type, Donkey Kong Jr. Game & Watch was my Game & Watch.
From YouTube user FuzzyMemoriesTV.
Donkey Kong Jr., the arcade game, told the simple and heartfelt story of an imprisoned ape and his son who was determined to set him free. And who was the dastardly villain responsible for the capture of Donkey Kong? Why none other than that supposedly loveable scamp of a plumber — Mario! (Hmm. I guess we all have a few skeletons in the closet, no?) And mean ol’ Mario did not make it easy for Donkey Kong Jr. to save his father. Between DK Jr. and the keys that opened DK Sr.’s cage lied a series stages that involved vines. DK Jr. had to maneuver up and down a series of vines in different configurations. While on and around the vines were power-ups and such, they also contained Snapjaws — awful trap-like creatures with deadly bites. While some simply traversed down vines and fell into oblivion, others viciously guarded their vines. There were other enemies also, like an erratic bird that made DK Jr.’s life perfectly miserable.
The Game & Watch version of DK Jr. essentially told the same story except, obviously, without all the bells and whistles of a full-scale arcade game. There were still vines and Snapjaws and stupid birds and powers-up, none of which were terribly dynamic on the little LCD screen. As you moved DK Jr. across the screen, he appeared in any set number of configurations. The enemies sped up with each new level, making the game more difficult as it went on.
I didn’t go into Game & Watch DK Jr. with any grand ambitions of defeating all (how many?) levels, but I did play the game…a lot. Like my phone and iPod are now, this little game was my tether to mobile entertainment. I played it at home when I should have been doing homework. I begged my Mom to carry it to our dentist’s office so I could play it while waiting. I snuck it over to family dinners and quietly crept away during dessert to play. I even brought it to church…once…and then had the thing taken away for for a week. (That was a sucky week.) And of course I took it to school and played it on the bus and during recess. Even had a kid offer to trade me his Snoopy Tennis Game & Watch for DK Jr., and I was like “aw, hells no!” but probably more like “ew, go away you stupid, gross boy!”
My love of the Game & Watch quickly faded once I really got into computers and the Atari, but I kept the little device nonetheless. Years later, I dug it out of my closet during a house-wide spring cleaning/yard sale event. Safely stashed away in a little box, it was still bright teal with its static colors when I found it, though its batteries were long dead. I didn’t really want it, but I couldn’t help scrounging up some new batteries (or rather, pilfering them from my school calculator) to see if the thing still worked. Sure enough, with fresh batteries, it bleeped to life. A few of the pixels had died, so DK Jr. was a tad incomplete, but he still scampered across the screen. I managed to make it through a couple levels before calling it quits. It was a fun if brief moment of nostalgia. And maybe, I thought, it’d make some (little) kid (with no knowledge of Nintendo) really happy. It ended up in the yard sale, with the batteries that I had forgotten to take out. Made the next day’s algebra class pretty difficult.
Despite my love of fighting games, there are plenty of series that I’ve never touched. Fatal Fury and Bushido Blade come to mind. I’ve dabble a little in Super Smash Bros. territory but, much to my shame, not enough to really enjoy the games. We recently got World Heroes through the Wii Shop, and it’s…okay…for a 90s fighting game. And if it weren’t for a single game, I would have been able to count Tekken among these. Actually, no…two games. I remember playing a Tekken game on the original Xbox years ago, but I don’t recall which one. In any event, the game I have in mind, one of the few PS2 games and the only Tekken game we still have, is Tekken Tag Tournament (2000).
So yes. Fighting games. I enjoy them immensely despite the fact that I’m not very good at them. But with most fighting games, I feel like I’m able to get into something of a groove after playing for a little while. I’m able to find the characters that fit my play style. I’m able to learn the controls without too much button mashing.
But Tekken…man, oh man.
Tekken is a the fighting man’s fighting game series as much as it’s the thinking man’s fighting game series. The games are hard and intimidating…for me, anyway. And Tekken Tag Tournament repeatedly, repeatedly, handed me my ass like no other fighting game before (or since). It deliberately commanded my attention and had no qualms about kicking me in the face when I was down.
On the exterior, Tekken Tag Tournament was visual playground that fully displayed the PS2′s graphical capabilities. The backgrounds were very dimensional and dynamic, and the character renderings were quite detailed (though I’m pretty sure all the men had the same evil-eye and frowny-face look). And once you opened up all the characters in the game, it was a generous smorgasbord of all the goodness the series had to offer up to that point. I don’t recall there being any story to the game; you just picked characters and fought until your thumbs were raw.
At this point, you’re probably expecting some sort of rundown about the characters I enjoyed, or maybe my thoughts about the controls. Or maybe some sort of comparison to other fighting games. But…
I got zilch.
Call me an insincere gamer, but I never once sat down to play Tekken by myself (mistake #1). I always played it in the company of others, and always in the company of other Tekken players (mistake #2). Because I never took time to get to know the game on my own, I never fully embraced the controls or the willful gameplay. Other games, Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom, though they weren’t easy, were a little more forgiving for the novice player. Sure, defeat (and the occasional win) came fast and furious, but the process was not as ponderous as in Tekken. In Tekken Tag Tournament, the matches felt almost torturous as it was so easy for the computer or other players to slowly mash my character into pulp. And each time I got back up, I was quickly bashed down again. (However, the slower-paced Tekken games are very enjoyable to watch, when played well, because they aren’t as frenetic as other fighting games.)
So no, I don’t remember any characters except King and Nina and that one samurai-robot guy-thing with a sword — he was alright. I don’t remember the controls, except that they were very tap-heavy like with Mortal Kombat. And I couldn’t even compare the experience to any other fighting games, except to say that Tekken Tag Tournament was just not my game. I mean, I’ll give it a go these days for the nostalgia factor, and because Tekken is worth it. Tekken games make you want to win, even if you know there’s no chance in hell that you’ll live through most of any given round. If I had the time and patience to really get into Tekken Tag Tournament, or any Tekken game, I know the things that I’d learn would help me in just about any fighting game. But, for now, I’d rather drop into a few ridiculous rounds of Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Not much thinking required there. Just go, go, GO…as Sonia Blade would (maybe) say.
One day, you’re rolling around on the time-suck that is Twitter with some of your fellow Twitterers thinking up cool
gang group names, and the next…BAM! Geek Force Network is born! Cause that’s how babies are made…kinda.
Newly open for business, Geek Force Network is an umbrella under which rests the best of the best content from this original group of Tweetsters and others that became part of the GFN community over time. This wonderful group of people is made up of bloggers, video producers, and podcasters, who generally tend towards all that is geeky in life — video games, movies, music, comics, cosplay, anime, manga, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, math, writing, and whatever else lies in between. The GFN, of which I’m proud to be a part, consists of a very diverse group of folks, some of whom you may already know and some you’ve yet to meet. And the GFN is not some creepy, Eyes Wide Shut cult. (Eww. At least it better not be…and get that goat away from me!) Once the site is allowed to rise and rest (like great bread…ooo, now I’m hungry), we’ll be looking for new folks to join in the fun. And again, that’s writing and producing fun, not cloaks and blood pacts “fun.” You have my word. …then again, I’m just a GFN blogger so…take that as you will.
Anyhoo, new content will be posted daily to the site, so you should totally, like, bookmark or follow it so you don’t miss anything! And believe me, you don’t want to miss anything on the GFN.
Speaking following, where can you find the Geek Force Network? E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E!
You’ll find me there on Fridays, and I certainly hope to see you there as well!
The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things. Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and SUBMITTING STUFF TO UNITED WE GAME!! What?? Whaddya mean that’s not how the rhyme goes?
The Walrus and the Carpenter aside, the time has come, my friends — for as of today, United We Game will begin accepting submissions! You may recall UWG as this little side project that I’ve been promoting for, oh, over a month now. (Really, where have you been?!) Me and my cohorts, Hatm0nster from My Two Caps and The Duck of Indeed have written plenty of articles for it; and now, we want to invite YOU to write for UWG as well! This is just one more step in our
plans for world domination hopes to bring video game bloggers together. United We Game is a place where you can express your gaming opinions, whether they’re ones you’ve written down already or ones that are still stuck in your head. If you have a blog, you can share your own posts or write new ones specifically for UWG. If you don’t have a blog but still want to join UWG, no worries! All you need is an email address and a desire to write about something video game-related. UWG seeks to build a community of video game bloggers who want to gain visibility, meet other gamers and new bloggers, and collaborate on ideas and projects. For more information, email us at email@example.com or send us a message through Twitter (@UnitedWeGame) or Facebook (facebook.com/WeGameUnited). And be sure to check out the FAQs and Rules section on the site for further guidelines.
It’s time to #getunited and #shareandunite over on United We Game!
Hello nice followers and lovely people of the Internet. I’m popping in with a couple quick updates… (Yes, I know I’ve been popping in, and out, a lot lately. Last time for awhile — promise.)
–Over the next week or so, you’ll notice some visual changes to the site. I’ve been theme-hopping a bit and have been considering changing to a different look. But in the end, I decided that really like my current theme. So instead of giving the site a complete overhaul, I’ll be customizing it with a new header, new gravatars, and maybe a color change. (This new blue background is just a start.) As much as I love my Super Metroid Header and my Mario star gravatar, I think I’ve established myself enough that I no longer need to rely on those visual clues. So I’m making some new graphics. Yes, non-artistic me is creating something from thin air. Crazy! My Photoshop skills are minimal at best, and I hardly claim to have an eye for design, so the new stuff is pretty simple. Clean but colorful. Or, untrained and rustic. Let’s call it internet folk art.
–Have you visited United We Game lately? If not, you totally should. (And this time, I’m not asking… Ahem.) We (me, Hatm0nster, and The Duck of Indeed) have been hard at work over the past month creating new content and making the site look presentable. Like, meet-your-parents presentable. And we’re now on the heels of another announcement…and announcement that will bring UWG’s rasion d’être to fruition! The announcement will be made on UWG (and Twitter and Facebook) this Saturday, 5/4/13, so stay tuned…!!! @UnitedWeGame #shareandunite
–And I thought April was busy! The Land of Real Life couldn’t be more hectic right now! I’m doing my best to keep up with new posts here, but things are probably going to be slow through May and, more than likely, into the summer. (At least until it get too damn hot to actually do stuff outside.) Hearts to you all for the comments and Tweets!
–Finally….::whispers:: GFN. What’s that? ::whispers:: Exactly. GFN. You have been warned.
Friends don’t let friends download illegal games, right? Well, a dear friend of mine sent me a link to this little story of piracy and irony from Greenheart Games involving their release of Game Dev Tycoon. It’s a fascinating tale that’s more than worth learning from and sharing. Click the link above and pass it on!
iTunes Diaries, entry #4: “Greatest American Hero (Believe it or Not)” by Mike Post and Stephen Geyer
I was once a little…um, okay, terribly obsessed with iTunes. I got my first iPod in 2004 and became immediately entranced by Apple’s seeming infinite lists of music for sale. Over the years, I spent way too much time on iTunes and spent way too much money on music, some of which was great, and some of which was not. In 2011, for the sake of my sanity and my bank account, I went cold turkey. I suspended my iTunes activities and completely stopped visiting site. With the iTunes Diaries, I take a look back, highlighting the good, the bad, and the ugly in music that I just had to have in the moment.
Blame it on my parents, I guess. Although they’d hardly call themselves sci-fi geeks, they certainly were (and still are) fans of science-fiction/fantasy/adventure TV shows and movies. During the late 70s and early 80s, particularly with the release of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, sci-fi was all the rage. (Along with this came the first video game boom [and bust], the rise of comic books, and the general if somewhat reluctance acceptance of all things geekery.) During my formative years, we all watched shows like the original Star Trek, Battlestar Galatica, and Buck Rogers. And once I saw the likes of Return of the Jedi and The Dark Crystal, I was summarily hooked on the genre myself.
Fitting snugly within the sci-fi world was the superhero subgenre. My folks were not comic book readers and neither was I. However, during this same time period, a slew of shows and movies were made that fit well alongside the more traditional sci-fi fare, such as Wonder Women, The Incredible Hulk, and Superman. (And god, in the 80s, I could not get enough Superman. From the original with Christopher Reeve to the what-the-shit-is-going-on-here movie Supergirl, which I heartily adored.)
But with success comes parody, right? Enter The Greatest American Hero; a show with a simple premise. Guy gets special suit from aliens. Special suit gives guy super powers that he doesn’t know how to use and can’t really control. Guy joins FBI agent to fight crime. Throw in a pretty girl. Hilarity ensues.
You want to talk about a show that I watched religiously as a kid? Man, I tuned into channel 6 every week to watch The Greatest American Hero because it was damn near the funniest night time show on TV! (Ahem, that we were allowed to watch, ahem.) And because it had the most AWESOME theme song of any TV show ever in the history of TV shows, probably:
From YouTube user sdh1230.
“Believe it or Not” is, truly, a classic theme song from the 80s. And it’s one of many that made it onto popular radio….well, adult contemporary radio, which is what was often on in our car. So even when I wasn’t at home glued to the TV set, I still occasionally heard this song over the airwaves, and it always made me smile. (And I bet it made, and still makes the vocalist. Joey Scarbury, a whole lotta money.)
But as with all memories, The Greatest American Hero and “Believe It or Not”eventually faded into the backdrop of my mind. But then we hit the 1990s, and along came this:
From YouTube user UPRC.
Seinfeld was always good for a laugh, but I distinctly remember guffawing more than a bit to this scene. That song! OMFG! That was The Greatest American Hero song!! Needless to say, “Believe It or Not” once again became imbedded in my memory, this time, for good. It seemed only right that the song would end up on my iPod. Hearing it brings forth silly memories of that funny guy clad in red, flying into billboards, using his “x-ray” vision to see things he shouldn’t, and not so much catching as impeding criminals with his antics. So chances are pretty good that if you see me on the subway today wearing my earbuds and very a goofy smile, I’m probably listening to “Believe it or Not.”
***Hold on there pardner…I detect a whole lotta of SPOILERS in the distance. Those who don’t know would do best to tread lightly…***
As I neared the end of Red Dead Redemption, I couldn’t help but be a little sad. Sad not because of the story (it certainly tugged at my heartstrings) but because of Jack’s turn — or rather the way Red Dead’s writers turned Jack Marston’s story almost in that of his father’s.
And now you’re looking at me funny. Is that cause you’ve beaten it or because you haven’t? Well, if you haven’t, please go play this game. Please, please, pretty please with sugar on top! Anyhoo, whether you’ve chosen to stick around or not, I need to back up a bit.
After something of a delay, I finally completed Red Dead Redemption’s main story. Let me just say right off the bat that I was thoroughly impressed with the ending. Hell, I was thoroughly impressed with the whole damn game – the scenery, the music, the story, the characters, the gameplay. Though I did run into a few teeth-gritting glitches and never quite got the hang of horse breaking, these minor problems hardly colored the overall experience. Red Dead has firmly earned its place among my most favorite current gen games. But the ending. Yes, I was impressed with it, but that doesn’t mean I was happy with it. And now let’s back up a bit further.
As many know, Red Dead Redemption (2010) tells the story of John Marston, an outlaw turned not-quite-lawman who wants to escape his past, get a little revenge, and save his family. Part of the genius behind the game is the way the story unfolds, like a really great book, chapter by chapter. True, not all chapters are winners as more than a few were little more than looting, escort, and racing missions; but the ones that built upon Marston’s story were damn near riveting. The horrible things he had done and had to do are masterfully revealed piece by piece. (And it really all does make sense once the final piece falls in place, though it’s not the most complicated puzzle.)
It’s easy to become immersed in Marston’s story, especially since Rockstar offers such a vivid environment. Bravo! to them for also including a fair share of history in the mix. Players are transported to the “Western border states” of 1911. (Or, in my mind, Arizona/New Mexico since their dates of statehood and the turmoil of those territories vs. the federal government somewhat matches the timeline.) Trains snake around and through the landscapes, “auto-mobiles” are the newest of fangled contraptions that will surely destroy the lands, and some sort of flying machine is schedule to be debuted at a point in the near future. Meanwhile, Marston holds fast to the “cowboy” ideals of a bygone era where horses and guns are one’s only true friends. His runnings with the “wrong” crowd, which are alluded to throughout the game, get him mixed up with the local government, the federal government, and the Mexican government, as well as the locals from both U. S. and Mexico. You traverse brilliantly rendered American and Mexican territories – from red desert to white snow – and can stop in any number of towns for supplies and rest. Money is not easy to come by, but jobs and looting help pay the bills. And there are minor chances to forge relationships with people, but those relationships are mostly mission based, and most people eventually fade into the backdrop of the main story.
It bears mentioning that Red Dead is not a game of moral choices. There are different ways one can approach some missions, but they all turn out the same in the end. Marston’s path is fixed, but there are plenty of different ways to reach the end. Red Dead’s not an “infinite” open-world game. It’s easy enough to get lost in side quests, but the main story always welcomes you back (even if you’ve gotten little too off track with the side quests.)
So yes, I love this game, almost to a fault…almost. The one…no, two things that are holding me back from proclaiming the awesomeness of this game from the mountaintops are the epilogue and the ending. And not really the end of the ending, but the…the…oh, just read on and you’ll see what I mean.
Once Marston has completed his primary mission and saved his family, the epilogue begins. To be blunt, I did not like this part of the game. The reunion of Marston, Abigail his wife, and Jack his son brought a tear to my eye, and I would have been more than happy to have had the credits roll after that. Marston’s story reached a suitable and (mostly) happy resolution at that point and the game had closure. But no. The game did not end. Instead Marston’s story continued on his farm, and this is where things got really dicey for me. Maybe I’m just being nit-picky, but the storytelling really faltered here, especially in building the relationship between Marston and Jack.
As the story starts with Marston and Jack, it’s clear that Jack is a gentler soul and that there’s a good bit of disconnect between them. Jack enjoys reading, but Marston is not a “literary man” and doesn’t quite know how to encourage him. Marston enjoys hunting, but Jack expresses a dislike of it; yet this dislike never once plays out during any of the hunting scenes (Jack whoops and hollers along with his father). Jack keeps up with the times while Marston is stuck in the past. Jack wants to be his father but he doesn’t. Sure the Marston’s love each other as a family, and sure there’s going to be some tension between Marston and Abigail and Jack after what happened to the two them, but the story feels so disjointed that it was very hard for me accept Marston as a “father” and Jack as his “son.” When Marston’s past catches up with him in a barrage of bullets, his death is unfortunate, as is the discovery of his body by Abigail and Jack. But the idea of Jack seeking revenge some 3 years later just didn’t sit well with me. I mean, the act of revenge makes sense in the grand scheme of this type of story, but Jack’s fragmented character wasn’t nearly fleshed out enough for me to believe that he’d turn killer, even after the death of his mother left him an orphan. (Ahem, kinda like John Marston, ahem.)
So no, I don’t like Jack, and I don’t like the fact that he’s the only playable character now that the main story is over. I don’t want to complete Marston’s side quests with him. Those missions are not his – Jack Marston is not John Marston. Hell, I’d almost rather play as Abigail. But what I’ll probably do is go back to the save point just prior to the finale, and I’ll keep playing as Marston; the John Marston who does not yet know his fate or what his son will become. And then I’ll go ahead with the “ending”…maybe.
Red Dead Redemption is a near-perfect game, and I only disliked the end of the game in principle not in fact. There’s no three-level boss battle, no 15 minute gun fight, no long speeches or meetings of the minds. The final scenes are as easy to handle as the rest of the game. The ending is wonderful in its disquiet and quietness. It’s a cleansing, deep breath in what’s otherwise an emotionally heavy and heady game. And though it didn’t make me happy, I can live with the ending, and I’ll tolerate Jack Marston as I continue to play. But he’s not his father.