Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

Tiny Death Star iPad Game Review: The Force Is Small With This One

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

 

Kinda looks to me like the "Globe of Death" from the circus.

The Empire’s ultimate weapon, in handy diagram form. Doubles as a cute hamster ball!

Tiny Death Star , I think, is an amusing game for the iPad that combines the premise and basic game mechanics of Tiny Tower, another hit iPad game, with the vast interstellar possibilities of the Star Wars universe.  Instead of Tiny Tower‘s premise of contstructing a massive skyscraper in which virtual “bitizens” can live and work, the player for Tiny Death Star  instead takes on the role of a teeny-tiny Darth Vader and builds a massive portion of the infamous Death Star space station.  At the start of the game, a miniscule Emperor Palpatine informs Vader that the building of the Empire’s ultimate weapon requires a great deal of funding.  To obtain the necessary galactic credits, he assigns Vader (alias, you the player) to the job of Imperial Landlord, moving various denizens of the Star Wars galaxy into apartments on the Death Star, putting those new residents to work in various restaurants, gift shops, and other stores, and extracting secrets from captured Rebel forces.  Will Vader prove himself capable of managing the galaxy’s most terrifying “ant farm,” or will it all blow up in his dark helmet-covered face?

I’ve played a bit of Tiny Tower before, but I stopped playing it and took it off my iPad.  I am not quite sure why: I think it was either because I found the basic game play a bit bland or I was not fond of its presentation of a combination apartment/office building.  Weirdly enough, Tiny Death Star is the exact same game as Tiny Tower with a Star Wars coat of paint, but I find this version much more compelling.  It is probably just due to the material being used, but let’s face it, watching small Stormtroopers and droids go about their daily routines isn’t something you see every day.  In addition, there is also a steady stream of miniature bounty hunters, aliens, X-Wing pilots, Han Solo lookalikes, and a host of other familiar faces among the itsy-bitsy crowd.  If you play long enough, you’ll even see a few of the really big players in the Star Wars  saga drop by.  Early in the game, I received a visit from Jar Jar Binks who used his long tongue to snag a sandwich from a high shelf in my cafe; unfortunately, he also caused a portion of the ceiling to collapse.  (Don’t worry, this was only in an in-game movie and everything was fine once the movie finished playing.  I’d still like to know why Jabba the Hutt fell through the ceiling, though; just how did he get onto the Death Star, anyway?)  If these special character cameos keep coming, I will be one happy Padawan (junior Jedi Knight; Yeah, it’s not my favorite Star Wars terminology either, but if I was eight years old again and able to swing a lightsaber around with Yoda as my teacher, I’d put up with any terrible name I was given!)

Seeing new characters is great, and keeping the Death Star up and running for them to enjoy is almost as fun to me.  My main duty as Imperial Landlord consists of managing my growing collection of residents and making sure they are in positions where they are able to generate the most credits.  Each of them has a series of numerical ratings attached to them indicating which type of work they perform best (retail, service, manufacturing, etc.).  A worker with a high retail rating placed in a retail job will, of course, generate considerably more income than someone with a low retail number.  Each resident also has a “dream job,” a particular place they would especially like to work.  If they are placed in that location, they generate a bit of a bonus income on top of their regular contributions.  I only have a few stores open on my Death Star at the moment, so my work force is not as productive as they could be.  I’ll need a bit of time to get things up to lightspeed, but once they are perfectly aligned, I will no doubt have one of the best sales groups in the cosmos!

What is really pushing me forward, though, is the potential for the game to tell a compelling story.  The building of a structure as huge as the Death Star is an interesting situation to play with, and Star Wars is fairly famous for game-changing plot twists (Vader being Luke’s father, for instance).  I can only imagine what might happen with an apartment complex smack dab in the middle of a gigantic space battle.  What happens if Rebel X-Wings take a few shots at the Death Star and ruin my new balcony?  What if the Wookiees (Chewbacca and his family and friends) and the Mon Calamari (Admiral “It’s a trap!” Ackbar and the rest of his kind) don’t like each other and want to be kept as far away from each other as possible?  Just when in the Star Wars timeline does this game take place?  I don’t want no stinkin’ trench run ruining my well-intentioned apartment-empire!

The combination of Star Wars and real estate development has made for an exciting combination so far.  I think I will be sticking with this game for far longer than I did Tiny Tower.  I just hope that the experience lasts longer than the real Death Star did in the movies!

What are your feelings on Star Wars?  Would you be willing to play Tiny Death Star, and if you have, what do you think of it so far?  Do you think the Rebels would notice a bunch of apartment towers jutting outward from the surface of the Death Star (just seems like a huge security risk to me, is all)?  Let me know in the comments, and I’ll get back to you faster than it takes Han Solo to make the Kessel run (12 parsecs is a long time, you know!).

Pop Culture Haikus: Batman Arkham Origins Edition

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013
I could've sworn I saw Superman wearing this one time...

The Batman logo: because even mysterious, shadowy vigilantes need an easily identifiable corporate symbol.

Batman Arkham Origins is the third in a series of highly successful video games starring one of the most famous comic book superheroes.  The game depicts a young Bruce Wayne only two years into his crime-fighting career.  Gotham City is celebrating Christmas Eve, but the Dark Knight will not be able to celebrate a “silent night” for very long.  Gang leader Black Mask has placed a fifty million dollar bounty on Batman’s head and eight of the world’s deadliest assasins have come to Gotham to try to collect.  Even worse, the corrupt Gotham City police, viewing Batman as a vigilante and threat to the common good, will not hesitate to fire upon the Caped Crusader.  I purchased a copy of the game recently and have had a lot of fun exploring the world of Batman’s early days.  So, once again, I feel it is appropriate to pay tribute to some of the game’s characters, settings, and important objects in the form of Japan’s signature “five, seven, five” poem style.  They are probably the closest thing Gotham is going to get to actual Christmas carols this holiday season, so feel free to hum along.

Batman

Gotham’s darkest knight/Young, inexperienced man/Must become fearsome.

Gotham City

The night rules this town./Crime and corruption touch all./Who turned out the lights?

Black Mask

Mob boss hides his face/Owns criminals and police/Yet he’s just human…

Enigma

Mysterious foe/Challenges Bat to find clues/He’ll be Riddler soon.

Penguin

Likes gangs and gambling/Dresses henchmen in parkas/Prefers small sardines.

Batwing

Batmobile as plane/Takes Bruce from point A to B/Without turbulence.

Final Offer

Penguin’s gambling sub/Home to secret “fight club” brawls/”Bird” keeps all the bets.

Batcave

Bats’ hero HQ/Not much to look at just yet/Still, home to cool bats.

Batmobile

Sits in cave corner/Just chassis, still being built/Can I drive it soon?

Blackgate Prison

Houses criminals/Just ordinary bad guys/Arkham holds supers.

Captain Jim Gordon

Commissioner?  No./Fights his own bosses a lot/May work with Bats soon…

Crime Scene Reconstruction

 Bruce scans clues, solves crimes/Digital recreations/Computer sees all.

Alfred

Batman’s only friend/Sidekick way before Robin/Lot funnier, too.

Bruce Wayne

Came back from exile/Has a small, slight social life/Keeps mostly to himself…

Batman Arkham Origins provides a great portrayal of a period in Batman’s history which, while explored almost to exhaustion in the comics, has not really been featured very prominently in other media.  I am looking forward to exploring every inch of this early version of Gotham City and seeing what other surprises await me.  If you’ve played through Arkham Origins, what do you think of the game?  Would you like to see more of this particular part of the Bat-mythos?  Let me know in the comments, and keep tuning in for more Pop Cultures Haikus and other cool stuff, same Bat-time, same Bat-blog!

“Disney’s Think Fast”: A Magical Time with Trivia

Monday, September 30th, 2013
Who's the leader of the club?

Darn, this mouse’s head is everywhere!

You never know what you might find when you go off the beaten path.  For instance, I recently went on a garage sale trip with my parents and came back with a highly unusual game, a trivia extravaganza known as Disney’s Think Fast.  I remember reading about this game on Wikipedia and watching a handful of YouTube videos of other people playing, and wondered if I would like playing it if I ever got my hands on a copy.  Well, I have finally gotten my chance to do so, and I am pleased to report that it is indeed a rapid, fun, magical trivia tussle.

Disney’s Think Fast is a 2008 game for the Wii and PlayStation 2 (I played my version on the latter system) from Disney Interactive Studios in which players get to play through a question-filled game show themed after the wide world of Disney movies.  The set on which the game is played is shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head, the Genie from Aladdin  is your host, and your selection of contestants includes Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Scrooge McDuck, and even some relatively obscure characters such as Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, and even Magica DeSpell (one of Scrooge’s rivals from the old Ducktales TV show, and she’s voiced by her signature voice actress, June “Rocky the Flying Squirrel” Foray!).  One to four players use special game show buzzer-shaped controllers to battle their way through five to seven rounds of regular trivia, Pictionary-type drawings, and quirky mini-games.  Highest score at the end of the game wins!

For my first time playing, I played a seven-round solo game as Goofy and the setting was at London’s Regents Park from 101 Dalmations (you can pick different backgrounds as well including Hawaii from Lilo and Stitch, Ariel’s grotto from The Little Mermaid, and the Pride Lands from The Lion King).  Most of the game was made up of trivia questions as one might expect: a question would pop up with various pictures representing the possible answers.  I picked answers by pressing the corresponding colored button on my controller.  If I chose the right answer, I got points, but if I got the wrong answer, I lost points.  I knew some of the answers, but not all of them.  It was a nice mix of questions, some of it based on Disney, and some based on real-world analogues to Disney characters and locations (Which of these animals is most similar to Lady from Lady and the Tramp?  Choose the picture of the dog for the win!).  The Pictionary drawing round was surprisingly similar to the straight-up trivia rounds: identify the character or place being drawn from a field of choices. 

Things got a bit strange when I  got to the “special guest” round.  I did not expect Lucky from 101 Dalmations to read questions about his movie, but then I thought, “Wow, it’s awesome that there are other characters here I didn’t know about!”  Apparently, other “guests” can appear based on the location you play in, so if you’re in the Pride Lands for instance, Simba will stop by, or if you’re playing in Hawaii, Stitch becomes the guest.  I can’t wait to see what Stitch might be like; he’s one of my favorite Disney characters from recent times, so I think it’ll be pretty cool to see him again!

One mini-game showed up during my solo play.  It involved spotting the differences between a group of Grecian urns featuring the muses from Hercules.  The instructions for this game stated it would get harder as time ticked away, but I did not notice any particular increase in difficulty.  The only major change I noticed was that the muses started wearing sunglasses, which did make them look quite silly to me!  I think the only way that an increase in the level of difficulty might be a major factor is if a young person was playing this game, but, with a little help,  they might do well because the differences are usually very obvious.

Overall, my first time playing Disney’s Think Fast left a very favorable impression on me.  The questions were a nice mix of easy and obscure stuff with a few stumpers that threw me off guard.  The presentation is top-notch with some great shout-outs to different Disney properties, and the Genie makes for a great, if somewhat hyperactive, game show host.  I think this game might be a big winner with my family and friends at parties.  There’s room for up to four players with everyone having their own buzzer controller, so I would not mind having three more human opponents to share the magic with me.  This game gets a big thumbs up from me!

How good are you at trivia games?  What’s the most obscure piece of trivia you have ever heard of?  Let me know in the comments.  Until next time, keep wishing on those stars and always let your conscience be your guide!  (Pinochio is still cool with the kids, right?)

Random Top Three: Neat Little Details In the “The Incredibles” Portion of “Disney Infinity”

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

 

The Dash likes!

The official symbol of Pixar’s superhero family. Really is an “i”-ful (eyeful)!

Disney Infinity is one of the coolest video games that I have played in a long time.  The concept behind it is one that I instantly liked when I first heard about it: play as all of my favorite Disney characters in worlds inspired by the films they star in, then play around in a “Toy Box” where I can create my very own Disney-inspired world using a variety of chatacters, settings, and props.  What more can a Disney fan ask for??!!  I’ve only froliced in this virtual playground for a short time, but I’m finding it to be very fun and endlessly surprising so far.  I am particularly impressed with one of the movie worlds the game’s developers put together; the city of Metroville from The Incredibles (which reminds me of Jimmy Neutron‘s Retroville, if only in name).  I am amazed by some of the details the developers put into this city that make it very vibrant to me.  Here’s a small laundry list of details concerning life in the city I especially like.

1. There’s always a need for a hero.

In the world of The Incredibles, superheroes are everywhere, so it would stand to reason that there would be plenty of trials and tribulations for them to address.  Fortunately for Disney Infinity players, the city is full of peril with new problems popping up all the time.  For instance, as soon as I (playing as Mr. Incredible) had finished smashing all the evil Omnidroid robots and putting out the fires they had started in nearby buildings (Thank goodness the city invested in all of those rooftop water towers!), a supervillainess had swooped down from the skies and dropped some sleep-inducing spores onto the streets that I had to get rid of.  Every minute I am in the city there is always some new act of superheroic derring-do that needs doing.  As you can well imagine, boredom is in decidedly short supply in Metroville.

2. All of the evil robots run on batteries.

One of Disney Infinity‘s main ideas is that everything in the game is actually a bunch of toys that magically come to life.  The characters you play as are lifelike action figures; the worlds you play in are referred to as “play sets”; seemingly everything that is not nailed down or part of the landscape is made out of shiny plastic.  I think this makes just about everything in the game look adorable, even the enemies I battle against.  The Incredibles world’s primary bad guys are Omnidroids who like to play around with flamethrowers, missiles, and laser beams.  Normally, these things would be incredibly dangerous, but in toy form, they can be defeated with just a few simple punches.  I feel sort of bad about beating them up, though, because they look so super-cute.  Not to mention that I recently discovered a tiny battery compartment on their backsides.  So that’s how all of their fantastic weaponry is powered!  Now all I need to do is find a tiny screwdriver, open their battery packs, remove the source of their power, and they’ll never bother me again!  (I’m probably not going to find a screwdriver in this game, am I, guys?  Oh well, one can dream, I guess…)

3. Edna Mode is in this game!!!

Another one of my favorite parts of Disney Infinity so far is seeing all of the different characters that have been put into the game.  In addition to characters the player directly controls (in the case of The Incredibles, you can play as all four members of the title family, Mr. Incredible’s friend Frozone, and in a bizzarre twist, the movie’s main villain Syndrome), there are a number of other individuals who populate the game’s worlds.  Seeing who made it in has been a fun pastime for me, sort of like a game of Where’s Waldo but with Disney characters instead of the stripe-shirted guy.  Some of these characters have been an absolute delight for me to find.  One particular surprise (although given the material being used, I really shouldn’t be surprised, but I digress) has been Edna Mode, the fashion designer for the super set.  She doesn’t seem to be making any new super suits (yet), but she has found a cushy new calling as a mission coordinator.  I often hear her wonderfully raspy, shockingly shrill voice barking at me over my character’s radio (Which makes me wonder…where would he/she carry a radio?  They must all be wearing hidden earpieces and microphones.), and I always follow her instructions to the letter.  I’m quite happy to do so, lest I suffer her wrath and be forced to wear something completely tacky, and with a cape to boot (Anyone who’s watched the movie knows those things are walking deathtraps, but I think they’re pretty cool.  What’s wrong with taking a calculated risk?)!

Disney Infinity still has plenty of surprises up its sleeve, and the day isn’t quite saved in The Incredibles just yet.  I can’t wait to see what else is in store, and if I can make a few Metroville citizens (and Edna) happy, then it’s all worth it to me.  Up, up, and away!

What Disney characters (or any other characters if you don’t like Disney) would you like to meet in real life?  If you’re playing Disney Infinity, what’s the most surprising thing you’ve seen in the game?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team- Perfect Dream Logic

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

It seems to me that whenever I play a game starring Mario, Nintendo’s iconic plumber mascot, it is always an almost completely flawless experience.  The settings are vibrant and fun to look at, the running, jumping, and collecting action is engaging, and the characters, music, power-ups, and just about everything else blend into a formula that is very satisfying.  I most recently got this feeling while I was playing through Mario’s newest adventure on the Nintendo 3DS, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, in which this perfect gaming concoction takes on a dreamlike quality that is quite palatable to me.

Dream Team‘s story starts with Mario, his brother Luigi, Princess Peach, and a whole castle’s worth of Toads (the little mushroom guys with the red-and-white spotted hats) arriving on Pi’illo Island for a relaxing vacation.  The island has recently become a famous tourist attraction with large cities and towns, mysterious ancient ruins, and, most interestingly, a rich cultural heritage involving the island’s original inhabitants, the Pi’illo Folk.  It seems the Pi’illos found a way to enter the realm of dreams and used this knowledge to build an impressive kingdom.  The kingdom came crashing down, though, due to the evil activities of the “king of bats,” Antasma, who used his powers to trap the Pi’illos in the form of rocklike  pillows (someone at Nintendo must really love wordplay).  It is up to Mario and Luigi to free the Pi’illos from their imprisonment and defeat a revived Antasma so everyone on the island can go back to sleep in peace.

To save the island, you must take Mario and Luigi and jump, spin, smash enemies over the head with comically oversized hammers (Thank you, Donkey Kong!), sleep on the imprisoned Pi’illos (I’m serious, this is a prominent part of the game; I’ll explain in a moment), travel through the strange, exotic landscapes of the dream world, and do all sorts of other surprising things.  To the game’s credit, all of these different actions provide a decent bit of variety to the adventure which keeps introducing new moves and ideas while building upon previously established concepts.  In a recent play session, I smashed boulders and enemies with my hammers; a fairly routine event.  I also journeyed into one of Luigi’s dreams, built a tower of Luigi clones which I used to jump really high and grab a pile of coins, learned how to change a tower of Luigis into a cone of Luigis, and used that cone to float gently down from a high platform to my goal below.  Definitely not events you would normally see in a Mario game, but par for the course here and one of the ways I love being routinely surprised by this game.

The whole game feels like an endless dream to me.  The situations Mario and Luigi find themselves in are typically ridiculous but strangely make a lot of sense at the time.  For instance, I am currently following a pair of Russian-accented strongmen up a mountain while fending off attacks from flying dumbells and blue spike-headed bees.  Whenever I can find a pillow for Luigi to sleep on (he’s a big insomniac in this game for some reason), I have him lay down on it, and then travel into his dreams so I can free two gigantic Pi’illos.  When they are freed, they open huge gates blocking my path to the Russians.  I have never seen these creatures in a Mario game before and the ways I have interacted with them have been quite unusual, but I now think of them in the same way I normally think of the turtles, walking chestnuts, living bullets, and cloud men dropping spike-covered walking shells that are my old friends from the old Mario games.  They may be strange, but they do make sense in a world of dreams, and I can accept them for what they are.

The whole experience has felt light and floaty to me, just as if I was in an actual dream.  The game, so far, is not particularly difficult for me.  Sure, I might have lost a battle or two because I misread the attack patterns of an enemy, but I have been able to try again and again until I got it right.  Even if I cannot get the timing exactly right on an attack, there is always the “Easy Mode” option; making nearly every fight in the game a potential cakewalk.  I am largely free to explore the game at my leisure without worrying about a permanent “game over,”  just as if the game was an acutal dream whose menaces won’t give me trouble when I wake up.

Perhaps the most bizarre moment in Dream Team came during my most recent playthrough and reminded me why this game is so special.  I had discovered a magical fountain in the mountains, something I had not encountered in the game before.  Usually if I find a fountain like this in other games, it either restores all of my health or strength or does something bad to me.  Both Mario and Luigi were pretty banged up from a constant barrage of tough battles, and I did not want to use any more items to heal them than I had already used (which was a lot, unfortunately).  So I decided to have them take a drink from the fountain in the hope that it might be the type of fountain that would fully heal them.  What immediately followed was one of the strangest things I have ever experienced in a Mario game, or any game for that matter.  A long piece of scrolling text appeared on the screen, relating the story of a dream that Mario and Luigi were apparently sharing.  They woke up in a field of mushrooms and began devouring them gleefully, subsequently learning how to fly over the whole island.  The mushrooms had a nasty after-effect, however: the plumber brothers soon grew larger and larger until they became too large to fly and plummeted back down to earth.  After I read this, a “Game Over” screen popped up in front of me.  “Great!” I thought to myself.  “Now I’ve got to climb back up the mountain again and remember not to drink from the fountain!  Thanks for invoking the same gimmick that caused misery for so many readers of the book series, Choose Your Own Adventure, Nintendo!”  Much to my shock and delight, however, this was merely a “fakeout.”  The characters woke up from their nightmare to find that the fountain had completely healed them.  Thankful that this wondrous act of serendipity had happened, I continued on my merry way.

Mario and Luigi: Dream Team is a game which evokes the best aspects of dreams.  It is fun, friendly, and full of clever ideas that make a weird kind of sense.  Even better, it is a dream populated by some very fun people, places, and things and starring two of my favorite video game characters.  I hope this is one of those dreams I never want to wake up from.

Have there ever been any dreams that you wanted to stay in forever?  Let me know what they are in the comments section.  Pleasant dreams…

Watching Things Grow in “Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity”

Monday, August 5th, 2013
William Shatner looks out the window and shouts, "There's a gremlin on the wing! Oh, wait, it's just Pikachu..."

There are currently over 649 known Pokemon species. I wonder how many of them you could cram into this cool-looking plane. Love the Pokeball designs on the turbines!

I love seeing things grow and prosper.  There is just something about seeing an individual, group, or other entity grow to maturity and thrive that I find endlessly fascinating.  The Nintendo 3DS video game Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity has allowed me to indulge in this pastime in many different ways.  I have developed a distinct level of admiration and care for the characters within the game, and I wish to see them doing well, especially after I spent so much time getting to know them in the first place.

Like a good soap opera, my time in Gates to Infinity has revolved around the denizens of Post Town, an outpost of life in a world filled with chaos, or “mysteriosity” as the game refers to it.  I first discovered this town through the eyes of Wottson the Oshawott, a Pokemon who looks like an otter crossed with a beaver.  Wottson is actually a human transformed through unknown circumstances.  Already, the game was making me ask questions about the situation I found myself in.  Who was I before I became an Oshawott?  Would I ever be able to turn back into a human, and what did I look like before?  What was I thinking when I gave this character a name invoking both the type of Pokemon he is and the name of Sherlock Holmes’ assistant?

There was little time to ponder these questions, however, as I soon gained a new friend, partner, and “man Friday” in the form of Arxie the dinosaur-like Axew (again, not too clever a nickname, I know, but trust me, there is great value in a dopey sidekick name: Captain America has Bucky, the Golden Age Sandman from DC Comics has Sandy, Indiana Jones has Short Round, etc.).  Arxie told me that the world I was now in was full of strange happenings, with shifting landscapes, magical items and artifacts, and most importantly, Pokemon in desperate need of help.  I soon formed a “rescue team” with him, recruiting other Pokemon to support our cause and help us to clear “dungeons,” places with randomly generated pathways full of enemy Pokemon to fight and items to collect.  Exploring these places started out as just a hobby for me, but soon I became emotionally invested in the way my team moved through them, cheering on all of my teammates as they got stronger and learned new skills.  I have a very strong team now, and I view it as a “band of brothers” like in the army; all of the team members support each other for the good of all, and I try my best to not leave a single member behind when we are out on an exploration mission.

I am surprised I care so deeply about the other members because in terms of basic game play, they amount to little more than an arsenal of different power types to clear different types of dungeons (for instance, fire works well in ice environments, light turns back dark, etc.).  In little movies that play between adventures, though, I came to know these characters better and became interested in their motivations for joining my group.  Emolga, a flying squirrel-type Pokemon, was one of my first major recruits (as in, a character who actually played a vital part in the overall story); at the start I was slightly annoyed with his overenthusiastic mannerisms, but he soon proved to have a big caring heart and quickly became one of my favorite partners to explore with.  Dunsparce, a bumblebee with the wings cut off who crawls along on the ground like a slug, was afraid to walk into danger because he thought of himself as being much weaker than the other members.  This may have been true in the beginning (astonishingly low defense stats stick out in my mind), but as I took him along with me, he became a much more capable Pokemon; if only he could now recognize his own true greatness instead of wallowing in self-pity.  Dunsparce has also struck up a romantic relationship with Virizion, a large green deerlike Pokemon who was strangely aloof before but has more recently shown a tender side.  She has another exploration partner who has gone missing which caused her to lose her passion for adventure for a bit until my team came along and revived her hopes.  I do hope Dunsparce and Virizion stay together for a long time; they make for a very cute couple and have become two of my group’s strongest members.

In addition to watching my team increase in membership, I have seen Pokemon Paradise and Post Town grow larger and larger.  When I first came to the area where Paradise currently stands, it was a barren patch of land with virtually nothing to show for it.  As time passed and my team’s reputation grew, it slowly became filled with Pokemon who wanted a home, which I was more than happy to provide.  They, in turn, have opened up shops, training grounds, and other facilities which my team uses to keep healthy and limber in their spare time.  It makes me proud whenever I see a new shop open and another Pokemon move in because it is a real, visible sign of my team’s growth.  The nearby Post Town has grown slightly as well; it was already well-populated before my team was established, but its citizens were glum concerning the fate of the world.  As hope springs anew in the area, they have become noticeably happier but still seem, to me, to be excercising caution lest their new hopes become dashed.  I want to justify their hopes.

In the world of Gates to Infinity, growth is a sign that things are getting better.  With each piece of wasteland that becomes home to a new part of Paradise, with each Post Town Pokemon who gains a positive outlook, with every new level of experience my team partners and I reach, the world starts to look a little brighter.  Everywhere I look in this game, I see a constant state of growth.  I cannot wait to see what continued prosperity in the area will look like.

Have you ever watched something grow before your very eyes?  How did you feel about its growth?  Let me know in the comments and watch our conversation grow.

“Bizarro Worlds” in WWE Video Games

Friday, July 26th, 2013

Paragon Fantasy Wrestling ArenaThe new WWE 2K14 video game is scheduled for release October 29, 2013, and I am waiting with great anticipation to sink my teeth into it.  The announcements so far, from the slight tweaks in the way the game plays to the inclusion of surprising new characters like the Ultimate Warrior, are exciting enough to me.  However, I am most curious about one particular detail the game’s developers have not fully revealed yet: what the story mode will be like.  For me, WWE games provide an escape from the worries of the real world; the over-the-top superstars and storylines of the wrestling world are exaggerated even more when viewed through the prism of a video game.  Of course, sometimes those exaggerations end up creating “bizarro worlds” where the most illogical things can, and often do, happen.  Here are a few of the more outrageous events I have seen go down in WWE games of the past which have made me love to play them even more.  Here’s hoping 2K14 can somehow manage to top them in sheer absurdity and fun while creating its own “bizarro world.”

The “Great One” comes to WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2007… just not that “Great One.”

One night in late 2006/early 2007  – (I cannot quite remember when), I was going through a portion of the absurdly long “24/7” mode in the latest WWE game when all of a sudden one of the game’s announcers proclaimed that a very special guest would be coming back to the world of wrestling soon.  They said he was a former WWE star who had gone on to star in several successful movies.  He had an “electrifying” presence, knew how to raise eyebrows, and most importantly, often called himself “The Great One” (which was, in fact, the name of the storyline I was playing through).  If you were to ask an average wrestling fan what all of those clues might be pointing to, they would likely say that Dwayne Johnson, better known to WWE viewers as The Rock, would be making a once-in-a-lifetime appearance, an event which would indeed happen in a few years in real life, but which was an outcome nearly unthinkable in a 2007 video game!  Alas, it really was too good to be true, for the guy who pulled up in the limosine in the arena parking lot and greeted my character was not the Rock, but he was a movie star and former wrestling great.  Yes, folks, it was none other than star of They Live and Hell Comes to Frogtown, the self-proclaimed master of kicking behind and chewing bubblegum (while at the same time lamenting the sad lack of bubblegum in the near-vicinity), a truly “bizarro” person if there ever was one, the legendary “Rowdy” Roddy Piper!    The following hours of game play were filled with me becoming friends and eventually rivals with the kilted warrior, all the while leaving me stunned that his virtual likeness and signature Scottish/Canadian accent could become a featured part of a video game a full two decades after his 1980s heyday.  Sure, I wouldn’t have minded the Rock doing the near-impossible and showing up unannounced in a video game, but the “Hot Rod” was just as cool and certainly memorable in his own right.

A time machine could lead you back…to the future in WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011.

This one concerns a feature in a recent WWE game I never even knew about until I read the strategy guide for it, and even then, I have never actually tried it for myself, but if you have a copy of the game, try it out and tell me what you think of it!  It seems that, in the “bizarro world” of this game at least, the tag team of Edge and Christian used to have a time machine (well, they always did say they “reeked of awesomeness,” so why wouldn’t they have one of the most totally awesome scientific achievements ever?)  This video explains how Christian puts the machine back together using an old phone booth, a flux capacitor (because those things surely exist in real life, right?) and a couple of wrestling action figures.  Once he’s got the thing built, he gains the ability to bend space and time and travel back and forth to any point of any storyline in the game.  It’s probably a good thing that this type of technology isn’t available to WWE stars in real life.  Who knows what would happen if someone as powerful as WWE Chairman Vince McMahon gained the power to influence history in any way they saw fit?  No, I think this power should stay out of humanity’s hands for the good of all, even if it would be better to have Mickie James side with her friend Natalya instead of her boyfriend Dolph Ziggler (just one example of many, many choices you can make in the game, by the way).

In WWE ’12, Jacob Cass is, to quote from the Dave the Barbarian theme song, “a hero but a wimp.”

When the WWE video game series dropped the Smackdown vs. Raw name from the box cover, I took that as a signal that a lot of changes were coming, and boy was I right!  The game play received a huge overhaul and the graphics for the wrestlers and arenas looked even nicer than they had ever been before.  Even the story got a big boost as it was greatly expanded and divided into three huge parts.  The first two parts displayed some solid storytelling, but the third part was very disappointing to me.  In this last leg of the journey, you get to create your own version of a character written especially for the game named Jacob Cass, a wrestler who graduates from the WWE NXT show for developing wrestlers and competes on the main branded shows, Raw and SmackDown, for roughly a year of game time.  Along the way, he becomes subject to a surprising number of ambushes and unfair situations, first from fellow rookies and veteran stars who want a piece of his hide before he has even had a chance to step out of the blocks, then from a group of returning stars who want to revive the old WWE competitor World Championship Wrestling (WCW) but have to get rid of Cass first to accomplish their goal. 

Like any good hero, Cass is more than capable of handling these situations, especially since you, the player, have direct control over him and have to win to survive.  The story, however, makes a lot of your efforts seem useless.  Whenever you win a match, the story somehow turns it into something of a loss by adding more guys to the opposition or jumping to a cutscene where Cass is bamboozled by the bad guys and loses the match.  This happens with astonishing regularity and often Cass does not have any friends or allies who could help him to turn the tide, making things feel even more unfair.  I don’t have any complaints about this kind of story because setting up overwhelming odds and finding ways to overcome them are the whole point of wrestling storylines in the first place, but the constant barrage of such obstacles that Cass is confronted with and the amazing lack of defense the main story imbues him with seem just ridiculous to me.  I’m playing a good guy the game doesn’t even trust with saving his own life.  He’s beaten up like a pinata up until the very last cutscene when he finally wins a match fair and square and celebrates with all of his new “friends” in the ring with a new title belt.  This last vingette plays for all of 20 seconds before it cuts away to the developers’ credits.  Definitely not worth the near-month I put into it, but darn it if I didn’t enjoy the game anyway.

There’s plenty of other bizarro moments I could think of in these games, but those three stick out the most in my mind whenever I think of WWE and video games.  Ever had a strange moment happen during a movie or TV show that made you think twice?  Tell me about it in the comments, even if it is a bit too bizzarre for belief.

Rebuilding Riverdale In “Archie: Betty or Veronica?”

Friday, July 19th, 2013

One of the earliest comic books I can remember reading was an old dog-eared copy of something called Archie’s Jokes.  It was filled with page after page of short comic strip-type gags all centered around a group of small-town teenagers.  I had no idea who these kids were, and I didn’t think the gags were very funny, but for some inexplicable reason, I found myself strangely attracted to the title.  It struck just the right combination of hokey and homey that I never even knew I wanted.  After a few years, I discovered that Archie and his gang were also featured in many other comic books which I started collecting.  Once I got started all those years ago, I just could not stop.  I have amassed quite the collection now.  I’ve grown to love the small town of Riverdale and all of its inhabitants.  In fact, there’s a part of me that’s always wanted to live in that kind of town (well, I already live in a small town, but still, Riverdale is an idealized small town).  I now have my chance to do just that with the release of the new interactive iPad game “Archie: Betty or Veronica?”

The storyline behind the game borrows a lot from another game, “The Simpsons: Tapped Out,” which I did try out for a few days before I lost interest in it for many different reasons.  In both games, the small town at the center of the franchise (Riverdale for Archie, Springfield for The Simpsons) is devastated by a huge disaster (a tornado hits Springfield, but the source of Riverdale’s destruction has not yet  been revealed to me).  The town mayor, for some strange reason, doesn’t want to take responsibility for the cleanup effort and runs away, along with most of the rest of the town’s residents.  It’s up to the few remaining citizens to clean up the mess, rebuild all of the town’s structures, and bring everyone else back so life can go back to normal (or unusual depending on your point of view).

The primary task you carry out is to send Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, Ms. Grundy, (the homeroom teacher), Mr. Weatherbee (the principal of Riverdale High), Pop Tate (the malt shop owner…say, how come Riverdale still has a malt shop in 2013?), and the other Riverdale citizens off to perform various tasks ranging from cleaning up trash to restoring buildings, along with a few oddball jobs for good measure such as getting Moose Mason (the muscular strong guy) to perform an eight-hour shift at the malt shop.  All of these tasks take various amounts of real-world time to complete, anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.  You can either wait for all of the timers to tick away on their own, or you can use the game’s “premium” currency, “kisses,” to “speed up” the timers and finish tasks immediately.  (You can also spend a few real-world dollars on kisses if you want to, but I don’t think I’ll be spending my hard-earned cash on this!)  I have spent the majority of my time with the game thus far simply waiting while doing more productive things including writing, visiting with family and friends, and, of course, reading Archie comics. 

The game helps immensely in this department with the inclusion of a “comic shop” which contains the short comic strips used to tell the game’s story as well as reproductions of the first appearances of Archie, Betty, Veronica, and the rest of the game’s characters.  I read some of these origin stories while I was waiting for one of the timers, and I found it fascinating to compare the early versions of these teenagers with their modern counterparts in the game.  They certainly have changed a lot over the years!

I like the graphic style the game uses to portray the characters and their town.  It looks very much like the Archie comics come to life, a touch I greatly appreciate.  The tasks are also fairly entertaining in their own way, considering they are mostly limited to just descriptions of what is going on.  I just think there’s a bit of charm to sending Archie and Betty off to have date number 157 at the malt shop (Only 157?  Surely you jest, game!).  There’s also a bit of strategy involved in determining which characters you want to do different tasks.  All of the characters are divided into different types (Moose is a jock, Betty’s an artist, Dilton’s a geek, etc.) and using certain types with particular tasks can slightly reduce the amount of time it takes to complete them.  So far, my experience with this system has been a bit limited, but hopefully as I unlock more characters, its nuances will become more apparent.

The only thing I don’t particularly care for about this game is the parts of the story where you need to make arbitrary choices between two different tasks offered to you by two different characters.  The title of the game, “Betty or Veronica,” also hints at one of these choices.  You have to first choose between restoring Betty’s house or Veronica’s mansion.  I don’t really see the point, considering I ended up doing both tasks in the end.  It’s not like there’s some tangible reward for picking one choice over the other.  They both ended up rewarding me with a relatively useless decoration for your town, and it doesn’t feel to me like they have much of an emotional or narrative impact on the overall story, so they end up feeling as meaningless as Archie’s inevitable choice of which girl he wants to spend the rest of his life with, a choice which he’ll most likely never be able to make (at least in the mainstream comics, anyway; there is a series called “Life with Archie” which looks into alternate universes in which he marries either Betty or Veronica, so if you want to explore those possibilities and are in the mood for some great, thought-provoking comics, I say go right ahead!).  Will the choices even matter in the end?  Only time will tell.

So far, my experience with “Archie: Betty or Veronica?” has been extremely similar to my time reading Archie’s Jokes.  The jokes the game has presented so far are a bit hokey to me, but together with the small-town atmosphere and the timeless characters, it becomes a satisfying blend of classic visuals with modern technology.  I want to see the quest to rebuild Riverdale to completion while also seeing what other characters or locations pop up along the way.  Just like Archie’s teenage life, every new day with this game brings some new discovery and there’s some decent variety.  The only thing this game’s missing is a cup of “Sugar Sugar,” but so far, so good.  It certainly does make my heart go “Bang Shang a Lang!”

Do you like Archie comics?  If so, who are your favorite Archie characters?  Any fond memories of reading Archie comics?  Let me know in the comments.

Pop Culture Questions: Pest Control Edition

Friday, July 5th, 2013
Say "cheese," Ronald! See what I did there?

This little rat was thankfully spared during the most recent dungeon raid. He is currently enjoying a steady recovery at Dr. Rodent’s Rat Rehab, home of the world-famous “Vermin Swimmin’ Spa,” in Reno, Nevada.

Welcome to another installment of my series, Pop Culture Questions.  This time, I’m going to tackle two conundrums involving things that I find annoying, irritating, or just a big old pest.  Get out the DDT and mousetraps because it’s time for some long-overdue extermination.

How come medieval dungeons are always filled with giant rats and spiders?

I have been playing a new game, Warhammer Quest, on my iPad and am repeatedly running into dungeons filled to the brim with orcs, goblins, and all sorts of other nasty creatures.  The most revolting creatures I’ve come up against so far, however, have been some grossly oversized rats and spiders.  It seems to me that in every castle dungeon I have ever seen, whether in movies, TV shows, or, lately, video games, I have always seen a healthy (or is that unhealthy?) assortment of jumbo-sized rats, spiders, bats, and other humongous vermin.  What compelled these critters to reside in such dark, dank, miserable places?  I think it’s probably due to the cold, moist environments and the steady supply of fresh meat in the form of traveling adventurers hapless enough to walk into the next random cave entrance only to find it’s a den of starving creatures waiting for a human feast.  The real question on my mind, though, as stated above, is: How come the majority of these rats, spiders, etc. are always of the “Triple Deluxe Whopper” variety?  From whence did these rodents and their disgusting friends gain the ability to grow to such a large size?  Someone must have left a magical potion lying around or been dumping something especially powerful into the sewage, because it looks like these huge monsters are here to stay, especially if they keep breeding like, well, rats.

What is “The Most Annoying Song in the World?”

A little while back, I came across a video for a song from the Disney TV show Phineas and Ferb called, “This Is the Most Annoying Song in the World (Woop Woop).”  Despite the claims of Dr. Doofenshmirtz, the show’s resident mad scientist and the lead singer here, that  his creation is the most mind-numbingly annoying song ever, I find that a bit hard to believe.  I think the song is actually quite catchy and pleasing to the ear.  In fact, I can come up with much more annoying songs than this pathetic attempt.  For instance, I personally don’t mind Barney the Dinosaur’s “I Love You, You Love Me,” but apparently there’s many other people who, if they don’t have any preschool-aged children around, set up bunkers and call civil defense authorities once this song starts playing on their TVs.  How about “The Song That Doesn’t End,” the classic that’s great for ending an episode of Lamb Chop’s Play Along  but turns into sheer torture when you’re forced to listen to it for 10 hours straight?  On that note, there’s also a lot of YouTube videos of annoying songs played on near-infinite loops, or at least as long as the person making the video can stand before finding something better to do with their time.  For example, have a taste of the “Nom Nom” song accompanied by 10 hours of hamsters and gerbils eating food, or for something a bit shorter, Pac-Man eating  dots for 58 seconds or one minute of some bizarrely cute Photoshops

I think I’ll pass this question on to you now, too.  Are there any songs that drive you up the wall any time you hear them?  Leave your songs in the comments, and if possible, give links to videos or sound files of the songs in question so I can hear them as well.  Hope you don’t find my request too annoying! 🙂

Taking It To the “Monopoly Streets” With My Cousins

Monday, July 1st, 2013

A few of my cousins visited us this past week, so I took a brief “vacation” from this blog to catch up with them.  We had a simply sublime time together every day they were here.  We spent the most time bonding over games of Monopoly Streets (love the use of “Rock This Town” in the trailer, by the way!) on the PlayStation 3.  It was through my time with them that I came to look at this virtual version of the classic game of land management in a new light.

In terms of the game, I discovered, after playing this version of Monopoly mostly by myself for the majority of the time I’ve had it, that it’s even better when played with other people.  “Of course it’s better with others!  Thanks a lot, Captain Obvious,” most of you smart-aleck type commenters are thinking right about now (and if you are, allow me to introduce to you my new crime-fighting partner, Lt. Redundant).  The thing is, however, that I’ve played the PS3 version with mostly computer opponents up until now.  I’ve played it with other people, too, but those games have never lasted very long.  I spent days roaming around different themed boards and trading properties with pretend players.  The tokens were all represented by human characters (little boy for the top hat, maid for the iron, dog walker for the little terrier puppy, etc.) and they were pretty cute, but at the end of the day, they were just tokens.  It was fun seeing all of the different boards and game types, but what I really wanted was someone to share playing the game with. 

I had an opportunity to do just that when my cousins expressed a desire to play the game from among my collection.  We played two rounds of Monopoly Streets, both on the classic board.  I remember distinctly that a heated topic of conversation was a certain pink property that one of my cousins kept attempting to broker a trade with me for.  Looking back on it, I think it turned into one of those moments where you end up arguing with someone you know and love over a small, meaningless thing.  True, it would have given him complete control of the pinks, and I wasn’t about to let him have that, but his trade attempts went on so long and became so extravagant that we ended up talking about them every day for the rest of the week.  By the way, I never did trade away the pink property.  We finished one game (one of my cousins won) while the other one, the pink property game, is, to the best of my knowledge, saved onto my cousin’s PS3 hard drive waiting for the day when we will either finish playing or delete it.

My cousins and I made many memories all week long, playing a few other games (Disney Universe and Apples to Apples, anyone?) and watching some TV shows and movies together.  For my money, though, the real highlight was our Monopoly Streets matches.  They were competitive, engaging, and suspenseful because you didn’t know who was going to win (I’m still curious as to how that “pink” game will turn out).  I love games because I feel they have a natural tendency to bring people closer together, and that certainly happened in this case.

Have you ever had a bonding moment with your family or friends while playing a board game?  Share your stories in the comments.  Avoid jail.  Avoid indirectly contacting jail.  Please pass go.  Please collect 200 dollars.