Monday, September 28, 2015

Thing of Interest!: Armada by Ernest Cline Complete!

I finished Ernest Cline's Armada last week. Here are some quick thoughts:

  • I really enjoyed Cline's first novel, Ready Player One. I liked Armada but found it to be a little bit of a sophomore slump.
  • The concept, video games+space+conspiracy, is pretty nifty and not too similar to other stories with a similar concept like The Last Starfighter.
  • The pacing was a little off putting. There was a lengthy exposition, and there wasn't much in the way of resolution after a succinct climax. There were some big revelations in the last 10 pages and not too much in the way of actually discussing it.
  • Unending references doesn't make for the wittiest dialogue, and I think they could have used some more subtlety.
  • Based on the ending, I wouldn't be surprised if Cline writes a sequel, but I think Ready Player One has a better world for exploring in  sequels.
  • I hope the eventual Ready Player One movie is good.
  • Review over, 3/5 stars.

Critically yours,


On a Nerd to Know Basis: Anxiety and Completing Games

I have a long held problem with completing video games. It stems from what may seem like an odd source, my own anxieties. While games are generally considered to be a pastime that is about enjoyment and relaxation, I have always found certain aspects to be major sources of stress in my life. I remember being terrified that the sharks in Banjo Kazooie were going to get me. The sin spawn battles in Final Fantasy X made my heart race faster than any nine year old's should. Fighting Master Hand in any Super Smash Bros. can give me an ulcer. And, even in Mario Kart, if I am in front of the pack at the last leg of the race, I am doing a hail Mary, hoping I don't get hit with a shell.

Stress and emotion are part of the fun in most games. Enjoyment is an emotion, the happiness of beating a challenge is incredible,  and I don't want games that lack those feelings. However, for my entire life, to this day, certain mundane challenges have a very strong effect on me. That effect has prevented me from completing numerous games that I ha
ve wanted to finish and it stops me from trying certain games I would probably like.

In an attempt to break down what sets me off, I thought back to popular games that I was familiar with, but didn't play through. A common theme is a 3D environment that is typically some kind of adventure. In my childhood it was games like Banjo Kazooie, and in recent times it's games like the Arkham Asylum Series and Bioshock. These games give little in the way of safe spaces in game that give my video game brain a break to recuperate from the last thing I just faced. I will often avoid games that look like they'll have this effect on me, and on the occasion that I begin one of these games, I routinely find myself dropping out early and never trying it again.

In more open world 3D games, like Skyrim or Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, I have fewer problems with getting stressed out. I have more control over what I do in the game. I can backtrack to easier spots and complete everything in an area I  am comfortable with before moving on. While I play them for long chunks of time, I can stop at any small task without this push forward by the game. These games have acted as a bit of a gateway to me playing through more intimidating looking games, as I have inched my way into more stressful situations.

2D platformers and things of that nature have never given me any issues. The action seems so distant that it doesn't seem to trigger any real emotion from me other than fun and challenge. Additionally, turn based games have worked out pretty well. While I got stuck in FFX, I never had problems with the early Final Fantasy games, Pokemon, or Civilization. Any anxiety I feel seems to stem from a realistic-ish environment with problems that must be faced head on.

While certain moments in games will still stress me out beyond comfortable levels, I have gotten better and have enjoyed playing through some older games I couldn't handle when I was younger. I don't think I would ever enjoy a survival/horror game, but if I ever do, I'll be ecstatic, and probably pretty scared.

White Knucklingly yours,


Friday, September 25, 2015

Thing of Interest!: Plague of Shadows Complete!

I completed the Plague of Shadows DLC last night. Here are some quick thoughts on the pseudo-sequel to Yacht Club Game's first game.

It's a really cool take on the world of Shovel Knight. It takes place at the same time as Shovel Knight's journey to defeat the Order Of No Quarter and the Sorceress. Plague Knight has ulterior motives and in many ways turns against the order while sticking to the story of Shovel Knight.

The platforming in this adventure is a very different take on the game. Plague Knight, when used effectively can jump through large areas using jumps, explosions and a couple extra tricks he has. Additionally, combat is much more customizable with multiple effects to choose from, once purchased. The downside to that gameplay is learning to jump in and out of the pause menu, but it is a small bump in the long run.

The overworld is identical to the previous adventure, but interacting with certain places is vastly different since you are this loathed little weirdo who likes bombs. Finding armor, shops, etc. is all different.

Overall, this was a great expansion, especially for the $0 price tag. It reminds me of the second quest idea from The Legend of Zelda where players were treated to extra adventure content if they input a certain character name. Considering the very retro feel of Shovel Knight this callback is not a surprise.

Check out Plague of Shadows on your copy of Shovel Knight or go get it! It's a good value.

Plague-ingly Yours

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Video Game History Editorial: Is Kingdom Hearts Good?

Short answer: It's pretty good.

Long Answer: It is a interesting concept with fairly playable gameplay and a story so convoluted that after multiple hours of research, I am not entirely sure who is good, bad, and what anybody's intentions are. Now, there are plenty of wonderful games that have a similar situation. Are the ghosts really that bad in Pac-Man? Why must these brothers smash each other? But, a game with a very involved RPG style plot should hopefully be a little coherent. I have played a couple of KH games, read wiki articles, and watched three youtube videos with minimum 45 minute length about the story. I am lost. There are to many X names, nobodies make no sense and i'm not even sure what the situation is going into the much awaited KH3. However I still like the game series overall. The battles are a little chaotic at times. The way to improve your character changes some between games and doesn't always make the most sense, but I have fun when I play them and I like the weird JRPG+Disney idea. It may be my favorite way to consume Disney schtick.

My real problem with KH stems from how much I will put up with before I decide I don't like a game. I like the concept of Kingdom Hearts, I like the battles for the most part, and I like the idea of a weird overarching plot connecting Disney movies and Japanese video games. But, the lack of a coherent plot, awful side features, and really shitty movement I find myself questioning when I draw the line on a game or games. If KH games were something else, I may put it down and consider it crap forever, but I can' bring myself to hate on the KH series. I probably am this way with so many other games too. It's created a bit of an existential crisis for me. What if all the games I like have major flaws but they caught my interest enough to ignore the problems. Perhaps most games are like that and it just comes down to preference.

I choose to end the thought here before all games are ruined for me, by me. None of this matters. The end.

Incoherently yours,

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Semi-Creative Thought: Mario Maker 3DS

Surely I can't be the first to think this would be cool. Since the release of Super Mario Maker on the the eleventh of September, there have been over 1 million levels created, surely this could be done on the go. I think the 3DS would be a happy home for a version of the sandbox create your own Mario game.

But, what would be the point, the Wii U has everything you want?

Not quite. If you were looking for a full line up of Mario history, ignoring his many jaunts on handheld consoles would be a sorry mistake. While these may not compare in popularity to games like Super Mario Bros. 3, Games like Super Mario Land and its sequel SML: 6 Golden Coins are important to Mario-dom and pretty fun if not a little weird.

Who knows about these games? that sounds like a dumb idea that wouldn't sell.

Maybe not, but how many 10 year olds are familiar with the old Mario games enough to get a kick out of making those levels. A lot more now that Super Mario Maker is out.

Still sounds far fetched.

Fair enough, but what about this. a 3DS game that allows you to work on levels on the go? even if it didn't have everything, having the main stuff and a couple of the generations would allow people to put stuff together on the go, upload it for the 3DS version, or transfer it over to the Wii U where you can finish them up an upload them for Wii U. You could even share the older generations between the two, if that's possible. Either way, I want to be able to Mario-make on the go, as unlikely as it is that Nintendo would do something like this.

Don't stay too attached to that Wii U/3DS, there are patents out for the new system so they are just pushing games to that.

If those designs closely resemble a final product for the NX, I will eat a (medium-sized) raw onion and post the video. I think people like to jump the gun on this type of speculation because console sneak peaks are the only spoilers generally liked by anyone. It sounds like NX will drop in 2016, but until Nintendo officially shows it off, I wouldn't trust the speculation. Even when they show it off it'll probably change some before we actually get to go buy it.

You just wanted the ant enemies from SML: 6 Golden Coins didn't you?

Pretty much, I think they're cute.

Handheldidly yours,

Monday, September 21, 2015

On A Nerd To Know Basis: Dungeons and Dragons

I started a new campaign of D&D this Saturday. I am the DM, there is no module, it's all from my head and the decisions of the players. The players are my lovely girlfriend, and several of her friends from seminary where she is getting her masters. It was a fun beginner session. The players are all newish to D&D and I have limited experience as a DM. I haven't played the fifth edition as much as I would have liked, but we all had a good time and I look forward to our next session. Thus, I wanted to take this occasion to post about my short, but meaningful relationship with D&D.

I first played D&D during my sophomore year at Hendrix College, spring of 2012. I wish I had played it earlier in my life as I think it would have been good for me in high school. I've always been interested in nerdy things, but in childhood and adolescence it can be hard to learn how to embrace that. I took the defensive route, placing myself in the middle, putting down certain activities as dumb, despite how fun they looked. D&D was one of these activities and I had no context for my distaste other than the handful of nerd stereotypes I saw on TV.

This view on tabletop RPGs led to some dumb situations down the road. When I contacted my freshmen roommate for college we had a brief Skype chat to introduce ourselves. I described myself as fairly nerdy but not "Too Nerdy" my justification being that I didn't play D&D or anything like that. My roommate, who went on to become one of my best friends chuckled and didn't reveal at that time that he played D&D fairly regularly. When I got settled in at college, I found that many of my friends had either played before or were very interested in trying it out. By fall of sophomore year, my friends had a campaign going and once week for a few hours I found that my closest friends were having fun with an activity that I had avoided for the most juvenile reason.

During Spring semester I was able to finagle my way into the campaign, it took a little convince-begging since the group was already pretty large, but they let me in. I had no prior experience with tabletop games, we were playing 3.5E, and the DM basically had to hand-hold me through all of the character creation and game mechanics. I was in, and I was obnoxious. After repressing my desire to play something like this, I got a little overeager and ended up making a character who everyone hated because of his personality (Read: I tried to be too funny). I got better though and during junior year I switched up characters and made one that fit a bit better and I became less abrasive as a player.

D&D helped me come to terms with a lot of my misgivings about being a nerd. I felt more relaxed when identifying with my hobbies, and it helped me realize that nerd archetypes are silly. I could play myself as a half-orc pirate, think that it's a little silly, then not care and have a good time. I kept playing with the same group for the rest of college, and I miss our Sunday night sessions all the time. I think I have a lot more D&D in me, and whether or not I'm playing with those folks, I owe them a lot.

Gratefully yours,

Friday, September 18, 2015

Critique The Week: Friday, September 18, 2015

This week:
  • A complete week with "Mario Maker"!
  • The announcement of a new president of Nintendo (Tatsumi Kimishima).
  • "Destiny: The Taken King" came out.
  • The release of "Plague of Shadows" a new free DLC for "Shovel Knight".

But no matter your thoughts on those happenings, all this shit is still going on:
  • The refugee crisis continues in Europe and the middle east.
  • Ahmed Mohamed, a 14 year-old, was arrested for making a clock and bringing it to school. 
  • The GOP had another debate sparking this type of response:
    • No but for real, explaining Ansem, Organization XIII, and the concept of Nobodies provides greater narrative clarity than this debate.— Satchell Drakes (@SatchellDrakes) September 17, 2015
  • Global uncertainties led the federal reserve to keep interest rates incredibly low, where they have been for about 7 years now.
  • Flash-floods and wildfires hit different parts of the American West.
  • and many more!
On a personal level, here's what happened with me:

  • I replayed the story mode of "Tony Hawk's American Wasteland", no horrible regrets there.
  • I struggled with my own design abilities when confronted with Mario Maker.
  • I started playing both Super "Mario Land 2" and "Wario Land II".
  • I downloaded and started "Plague of Shadows", the "Shovel Knight" DLC.
  • I didn't purchase any of the new amiibo, not that I had the chance.
  • I posed my little squid in many tacky Instagram photos, I regret nothing
  • I got my wonderful girlfriend to start playing "Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon"

Final review, the week stinks! But hey, fall shows are starting up soon. so there's that.

Womp wompingly yours,


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Thing of Interest!: Shovel Knight free DLC Drops Today

The Plague of Shadows Adventure DLC is out! The story puts you in the role of Plague Knight, one of the bosses from the original Shovel Knight adventure. This DLC is both free and a whole new story to play in the Shovel Knight world. I'm stoked to download it as Shovel Knight is easily one of my favorite games from the past couple of years and I have been waiting for a good excuse to revisit it. Check the trailer below. Download it if you own Shovel Knight, or go buy it now for $15 because it is even better now.

Shovelingly yours,

Video Game History Editorial: Wario, Villain or Asshole

Look at his dumb face.
I made a perler of Wario giving a thumbs up last week. I chose this sprite from Wario Land II, a favorite gameboy game from my childhood and the first game I played that had Wario in it. In WL2 Wario's castle is burgled by some pirates and he goes on a quest to kick their collective butts and reclaim his treasure. He's getting old fashioned video game vengeance. He's the good guy, a crass, dickish good guy. This brings me to the problem I have with Wario. He fits very poorly into the Mario good-bad dichotomy. He is essentially a VINO, Villain In Name Only. He isn't even much of an anti-hero, he's just unlikeable. Most of his modern game appearances are party games and WarioWare. I decided to go through his game history to prove the point that Wario is just an asshole.

Before going game by game, let's briefly discuss Wario's appearance. He's just a chubby elf-like Mario. If he were portrayed in a live-action film, I would suggest Luis Guzman to play him. He's villainous, but generally likable, not frightening. Wario is no boss like Bowser, Ganon, Mother Brain, or even Donkey Kong, he's just a fat guy.

On to the games! (I had to cherry pick and group some since Wario has been in a number of titles.)

Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (GB): Wario started out as the actual boss! He takes over Mario's castle and makes Mario go through some of the more unusual levels on a pretty good gameboy title. In the final boss battle, Mario has to beat Wario 3 times while he's shifts powers. But, in classic Mario fashion, Mario only has to jump on Wario's head three times in each form to beat him. When defeated, Wario runs off like a chump after throwing his shoe at Mario.
Villain Rating: 7
Anti-hero: 0
Asshole: 10

Wario's Woods: Wario is the villain in a puzzle game, which is the most important character role ever. He takes over some woods and gets beaten by Toad. If you can be defeated by Toad, you don't deserve a bad guy membership card.
Villain Rating: 5
Anti-hero: 0
Asshole: 10

Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3: Wario goes looking for treasure after getting his butt kicked by Mario in SML2. He fights some pirates to steal their gold and gets a castle from a genie in the end. A tale of greed, definitely a more anti-hero role for Wario
Villain Rating: 2 (He's basically just stealing)
Anti-hero: 8
Asshole: 6 (is stealing from pirates that bad?)

Wario Land II: Wario gets his gold stolen from the previously mentioned pirates. He fights them to get it back. Doing odd side quests such as chicken saving.
Villain Rating: 0
Anti-hero: 5
Asshole: 5

Wario Land 3: Wario goes looking for treasure. Releases a demon clown, and defeats a demon clown.
Villain Rating: 0
Anti-hero: 6
Asshole: 7

Wario Land 4: Wario goes looking for treasure in a pyramid. He gets trapped in a pyramid. Fights an ancient spirit and frees another.
Villain Rating: 0
Anti-hero: 4
Asshole: 6

Mario Kart: No story, no villain. He doesn't even get the blue shell more than others. Perhaps Mario is just keeping his enemies close?
Villain Rating: 0
Anti-hero: 0
Asshole: (Depends on who is playing)

Mario Sports: Watch out, Wario's gonna ruin the golf! Oh, never mind he just wants to hang on the golf course, at the tennis court, or on the baseball diamond.
Villain Rating: 0
Anti-hero: 0
Asshole: 0

Mario Party: Who doesn't get invited to these parties? A lot of very nice Toads and other friendly Mario characters. Somehow, Wario finds his way onto the guest list. He's probably a gatecrasher. What. A. Dick.
Villain Rating: 7
Anti-hero: 0
Asshole: 10

Wario World:  An evil gem awakens in Wario's treasure hoard. Turning his money, you guessed it, into monsters.
Villain Rating: 0
Anti-hero: 0
Asshole: 5 (He's just always a dick)

Super Smash Bros.: In 'Brawl' Wario makes his debut in the "Subspace Emissary" as a villainous character collecting collecting trophies of characters while seemingly ignoring actual orders from the evil peeps. He joins the good guys in the end. His smash character is dressed like the WarioWare version and uses such classy moves as farting on his opponents and riding a chopper motorcycle.
Villain Rating: 6
Anti-hero: 0
Asshole: 10

DDR: Mario Mix: Oh no! you have to out-dance Wario on a ferris wheel. What will you do? Like Wario's Woods, who takes this kind of boss seriously when they can be defeated by stepping on floor mat.
Villain Rating: 3
Anti-hero: 0
Asshole: 5

WarioWare: Probably some of the better known games where Wario is the lead. Wario is a opportunistic programmer who makes mini games to earn a quick buck.
Villain Rating: 0
Anti-hero: 0
Asshole: 6

Wario Land: Shake It!: Wario's goes to great lengths to acquire gold coins from a strange world hidden in a globe. He just keeps getting sucked in places after looking for money. No wonder nobody wants to hang out with him.
Villain Rating: 0
Anti-hero: 6
Asshole: 9

As my highly objective and not-random numbers show, Wario is just an asshole in villain's clothing. He is rarely used as an actual antagonist and any time he has his own game, it's about getting screwed over in the pursuit of treasure. He's no hero, he's no villain, he's an unlikable cock.

Greedily yours,