Tuesday, March 3, 2009

And Now, For Something Completely Different

I started this a week or so ago in the hopes of somehow cataloging my video game experience, and I'm not sure if it came out the way I wanted it to. It reads more like "My Summer Vacation" than my typical reviews. But anyway, here it is: the somewhat complete history of my video gaming.

Enjoy :)

Since before the days of elementary school, I found myself drawn to video games. I played Centipede in arcades, standing on crates my mom would lug over so I could reach the buttons. Later, I spent all my pocket money playing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game between bowling matches. I got a Nintendo and played Marble Madness, Paperboy, Tetris, Zelda II: the Adventures of Link, Gauntlet, Gradius, Contra, and Battle of Olympus to exhaustion. When the Super Nintendo came out, my stepfather surprised me by buying me a pile of on-sale Nintendo games, including Ultima III: Exodus, The Immortal, Milon’s Secret Castle, Wizards and Warriors, Solstice, and Legacy of the Wizard. I borrowed – and beat – the first Final Fantasy game, as well as Shadowgate and the first Legend of Zelda. I had fewer games for Super Nintendo – Paperboy 2, Road Runner’s Death Valley Rally, Final Fantasy II & Mystic Quest, The Secret of Mana, and The Seventh Saga – all except the last of which I beat. I also delighted in the Super Mario series of games, as well as the Castlevania games – beating all except the fourth, which never ceased to frustrate me. And let’s not forget Megaman – I can’t remember how many there were, but I know I beat all the ones I could get my hands on. So, I would have to say that, initially, I was mostly into side-scrolling games that were considered platformers, and a handful of RPGs.

Once I got to high school, I started playing sports and joining clubs, and stopped playing video games almost completely. This changed when I got to college – my roommate’s boyfriend had a Playstation, and I started playing the first three of the Crash Bandicoot series – another set of platformers – constantly. The third, “Warped,” was my all-time favorite. After that, it was on-again, off-again with video games – I got heavily into both Grand Theft Auto III and Final Fantasy VII during my winter break my senior year of college, and then put it down when classes started again. In 2003, I started playing again – mainly Diablo II on my PC, my first time playing any game at all on a computer. I owned my first computer at age 8, but it was a Tandy 3000, which wasn’t amenable to much other than word processing and making my own music. On my new computer, I also played some Quake 2, Doom 3, and even a little Tribes. I collected a pile of games I never played – Enter the Matrix, God of War, Kingdom Hearts, Castlevania: Lament of Sorrow, Jak and Daxter: the Precursor Legacy, and Ratchet and Clank, all for the PS2. The reason I never played these could be attributed to two more major addictions – the first was Mario Kart: Double Dash, which brought me to a new level of cursing with the introduction of blue shells into my life. The second was Katamari Damacy and We <3 Katamari, both of which I beat within a month of owning them. But things really changed for me in 2005, when I got my first hand-held gaming system.

It started with a Game Boy Advance, and simple games, like ports of Zelda II and Mario 2. Then I got a DS, and mostly played Mario Kart (and later, New Super Mario Brothers, Speed Racer, and Ninjatown – the last of which being the only one I’ve beaten). In March of 2006, I got a PSP, which changed my view of handheld gaming completely. I was playing Me and My Katamari (the only game I’ve beaten on the PSP so far) and Death, Jr. – the two main reasons I got the system – and later got N+ and Loco Roco. But the real treat came at the end of 2008 – in August, I went to the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle; in October, I got my PS3; and in November, I met the love of my life, who I ended up taking to the Video Game Expo in Philly later that very month.

The Penny Arcade Expo was incredible, as I’ve mentioned previously in this blog. It was overwhelming and amazing to really feel like I was around a bunch of people who were like me. It felt like home. I get the same feeling whenever I’m around Mike – that I’ve found someone who finally gets me, who I can be myself around and not hide any aspects of my inner geek. The Playstation 3 has been a ton of fun and has been instrumental in getting me into the new world of gaming, in which games can be downloaded as well as played online, something I’d never done with a console. The first game I got for it was Little Big Planet – I scored a post-recall clean copy a week before it was supposed to come out – and Dead Space. I went back and forth between the two games, playing Little Big Planet for hours until I felt like changing it up a bit, and then playing Dead Space until I felt I needed to change my pants. It was just before this time that Mike and I met, and we started discussing video games all the time – I got him interested in Fallout 3, and he got me into Resistance 2, both of which I bought after we started dating. Resistance 2 was so amazing that, on black Friday, I got a copy of Resistance: Fall of Man. I mostly played Little Big Planet until I beat it, and then I started in on Resistance. When Mike got me F.E.A.R. 2 for Valentine’s Day, that was all I played for a week or so, and then I went back to Resistance, because he had started playing Resistance 2 online again and I wanted to get to where he was. (I should mention I’ve got an annoying habit of wanting to play games in order, and read books in order, and see tv shows and movies in order, etc; however, in this case, it was also that I wanted to beat Resistance and Resistance 2 because I felt like those were good places to start in order to get better at playing first person shooters). Since Friday, though, the main thing that’s been in the PS3 has been Killzone 2, which was my Valentine’s Day gift to Mike, and which is SO insane and intimidating that I haven’t played it for more than 20 minutes or so. I’ll get there, though…I will make it to Helghan!

So, there it is – everything I can remember about my video game history. I’m sure I’ve missed a handful here and there, especially with Nintendo and Super Nintendo games. I tried to make it sound creative, though it seems more matter-of-fact than imaginative. Hopefully it’s not too pedantic, and gives my faithful readers a little more background into this side of me.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Video Game Review: Ninjatown

I did, in fact, take that mythical trip to Oz, not this morning, but starting last night. I am definitely pleased with the gameplay of Resistance 2, but holy FUCK, it is nigh impossible. The guns are far more effective (especially the Auger), but the enemies are harder. The colors make everything more beautiful, but sometimes, I find myself regretting asking for more color – specifically running through the town of Orick, being chased by Grims, which exploded from cocoons all over the damn town and scared the shit out of me. GOOD TIMES!

Really, the game is great, but I need to take a break from it to do some homework and laundry, and to let Mike play more Killzone 2. Now that I’m full of dinner and I don’t quite feel like finishing up my homework, I thought I’d write another review of a game I beat about 2 months ago, Ninjatown.

The characters in Ninjatown come from the mind, palette, and soul of Shawn Smith, the creative genius behind Shawnimals (www.shawnimals.com). I had the pleasure of meeting Shawn at the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle in September of 2008, after seeing Wee Ninjas and Wee Devils running around the convention center (I even got my picture taken with them, as you can see). I was intrigued, and decided to check out the game. I was interested in the pins as well, scattered across a table with a sign begging people to be honest and take only one – which, in addition to the fact that they were the cutest pins I had ever seen, made me want a pocketful. My evil plot was thwarted by the appearance of Shawn himself, who explained how the game was played on the demo that had been set up next to the pins, and also recognized my Patrick the Wolfboy shirt and commented on it. It turns out that Art and Franco had worked on his Ninjatown comic! It was a righteous coincidence.

Ninjatown itself is a painfully adorable tower defense game for the DS. You help Ol’ Master Ninja defend Ninjatown by strategically defending it from Mr. Demon and his angry hordes. A variety of ninjas can be called upon to help, starting with Wee Ninjas and later getting volunteer Business Ninjas and even Lava Ninjas. Each Ninja has specific powers and is ideal against certain devils – I find the Anti-Ninja to be the best defense against the Chubby Devil, and the Business Devil is best defeated by his swift Ninja counterpart. Each level requires another area to be defended, and you can choose which Ninja Houses you want to build – depending on how many Ninja Cookies you have. Yes, that’s right, I said Ninja Cookies – that is the monetary value you’re dealing with here in Ninjatown, and Mr. Demon is trying to steal the recipe.

Not cute enough for you? What if I were to tell you that you can gain tokens with each level beaten, and that the tokens include Baby Ninjas, who are so cute the Devils must slow down, as well as Ninja Droppings, which…well…that one’s obvious, now isn’t it? You can also enlist the direct aid of Master Ninja, who flies above you in a hot-air balloon. You can unlock various powers for him to help you in your defense of your beloved town.

On top of being cute, it’s also addictive. I found myself playing levels again and again, trying to best mixes of Ninjas to defeat the onslaught of Devils, addicted to seeing that grade of “A” after each one was finished.

So, the gameplay is fun, the characters are fun and lovable, and it’s a level of challenging I found quite satisfying – it wasn’t so easy I beat it in a day, but it also wasn’t so hard that I got frustrated with it. All in all, I would say Ninjatown is definitely a game I heartily recommend to everyone.