Ever studied really hard for a huge exam? Like with over-nighters, late night coffee pots, highlighters, and practice exams? That’s what Soul Calibur 2 was for me. I studied this game. I studied players. I studied move sets. I Bill Belichick’ed arcade players in the basement of San Jose State University, and examined their tendencies and learned their special air juggles, timings, and ring out techniques. Frame count after frame count, kick after kick, I spent hours perfecting frame buffering to pull of the deadliest throw in the game, Ivy’s deadly Calamity Symphony. The game always rewarded ingenuity and improvisation within the inner workings of it’s fighting system. Soul Calibur 2 balanced the rock-paper-scissor-style fighting mechanics so well that inevitably rivalries would emerge. Tactics had to change on the fly and if your opponent was competent enough to pull off a throw interrupt or Guard-Impact, the brilliant dance cycled all over again.
Playing against my best friend without talking for hours on end are some of my best memories ever tied to a videogame. His writhing unpredictable Voldo was equaled by my offensively distracting Ivy. After hours of long matches, playing the game eventually boiled down to what was essentially psychological warfare. I knew how my friend works, what makes him tick, how he likes to strike first, what kind of women he likes, how he likes his coffees and he knew the same about me. Trying to trick each other was where the game reached a whole other level. The exquisite graphics and fluidity of the animated movements were just the window dressing to what is actually a chess match played at 60 frames per second.
I soon realized my obsession with this game one night while dreaming. I dreamt of this crazy standing combo I could maybe pull off with a bit of practice. I woke up and practiced in-game until I had it committed it to memory. At 6am I stopped because the right side of my brain finally woke up and asked itself what are you doing with your life. How much time and money have you lost? Those moments don’t come around too often in life. Trust me.
As far as FPS’s go I would say that Goldeneye would be my first girlfriend. But Halo is the one I would eventually settle down and have kids with. Halo single-handedly willed the Xbox platform into existence and was worthy of it’s Combat Evolved sub title. Today’s modern FPS’ have Halo to thank for their control schemes, recharging shield/health, and limited weapon carrying ability. Master Chief and Cortana are the blueprint for protagonist-sidekick combos that everyone still gets jealous about.
Halo completely delivered on the promise of huge environments (like Blood Gulch & Silent Cartographer!), a fun sandbox, vehicular mayhem, and intelligent enemies. No longer was the A.I. a bullet sponge restricted to awkward thinking and animations. Halo utilized the perfect killing trifecta of gun, grenades, and melee to down foes and it was pure symphonic genius. Taking those movements into the game’s multiplayer was gamemaker Bungie’s opus. I hooked up many college dorms and tournaments at my work with Xbox LAN parties. The multiplayer in Halo:CE was so good that for the sequel Halo 2, Microsoft had to start building the infrastructure for what would become Xbox’s watershed moment with Xbox Live. Talk about a muse.
My sister who had never played an FPS title in her life, played Halo with me cooperatively. I can’t describe how fun it was just driving around in warthogs in the Silent Cartographer level, pulling off flips, driving into the ocean, and grenading the hell out of everything. We beat corpses on the beaches and bloodied the ground so much that the frame-rate for the games’ engine started to drop. We had a hoot staying alive against the flood and just trying different ways to encounter a valley full of Covenant enemies with just a few weapons on Legendary difficulty. The experiences we had were absolutely priceless. In the summer of 2001, at least to me, the Co-op & Multiplayer bar was raised so high that no game has been able to touch it since.
Vincent Van Gogh was never appreciated in his own time. He died never knowing his extraordinary works of art would be hailed as a crowning achievement of the human endeavor; a zeitgeist of humanity. Now, to compare Shenmue to a Vincent Van Gogh painting is most definitely an insult, but hear me out. Much like Van Gogh in the 1890’s, Sega was on it’s last leg during the late 1990’s. The Sega Saturn was so terrible that many people rumored Sega was in an uncontrollable tailspin. Developers started to jump ship to other platforms, but in a small window of lucidness Sega regrouped, hiked up their coding pants, and got to work. They restructured their internal development teams into creative houses that would provide the foundation for the launch of the Dreamcast in 1999 – games like NBA2K, Crazy Taxi, Jet Grind Radio, MSR (which would become Project Gotham Racing), House of the Dead 2, Sega Rally, Virtua Fighter 3tb, and Sonic Adventure. The gameplay and graphical fidelity of these titles were so good and the hardware so developer friendly, that 3rd-Party developers, like Capcom, Namco, Konami, Ubisoft, Activision, eventually took notice and supported the Dreamcast with greats like Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Street Fighter 3: Third Strike, MDK2, Tony Hawk 2, Rayman 2, Legacy of Cain: Soul Reaver, Ikaruga, Quake 3, Power Stone, Resident Evil: Code Veronica, Grandia II, Soul Calibur and Dead or Alive 2.
Overall the crowning jewel in my eyes was the in-house developed Shenmue. This to me was when Sega was at it’s best creatively. Unfortunately, the hardships of the Saturn platform combined with the burgeoning rise of the Playstation 2 would rain down on Sega’s Year 2000 Millennium party. Like Van Gogh, a large amount of the population didn’t support the creator’s dream. And again like Van Gogh, more than 10 years after the Dreamcast’s untimely death, classics like Shenmue are finally getting appreciation where appreciation is due. If you look at the Dreamcast’s catalog of games on eBay, you’ll find some of the most rare, highly dollar appreciating games from 2 console generations ago. Cannon Spike for example is nearly $150 (used) and most RPGs have held close to 90% of their value over the last 10 years. That’s amazing. Unlike Van Gogh, Sega is actually getting to see some appreciation of it’s turn of the century gaming brain childs. Even if Sega isn’t the same company it was in the 90’s I still hold hope they can someday steer their way out of the doldrums and find a second wind for their sails.
Anyway back to Shenmue. In the early 2000’s, the term ‘open-world’ was a nicely bloated buzz word the industry threw around for every game. It came with the bittersweet realization that the power the consoles could muster at the time was extremely limiting. No consoles until the Xbox (Nov 2001) had hard-drives to stream worlds, so developers had to get clever. You either thought ‘big but generic’ and did it like how Grand Theft Auto 3 did, or you thought ‘small but specific’ like how the AM2-team did with Shenmue. Yu Suzuki’s team parceled out a digital Japanese town from the 80’s across 3 GD-Rom discs and filled it with a sushi-boat worth of detail. All the tiny minutiae that comprised Ryo Hazuki’s world is what made many fall in love with it. Japanese gardens were lushly green, one in particular came with a memorable bamboo fountain noise. Trees had individual leaves, and newspapers would swirl around busy streets. From collecting capsule toys to an actual working arcade with Sega arcade games, the world was rife with living characters waiting to play football or have a cat saved. The game pioneered Quick Time Events (QTE’s), had it’s fighting system borrowed from Virtua Fighter, and even included a real time weather system that pulled data from real meteorological records in 1986 Yokosuka, Japan. You can even call a person on the phone (just like in GTAIV which came out 5 years later). But you hated it when a phone number had too many zeroes because rotary phones took forever to dial 0 back then. That attention to detail, though difficult, was memorable because I would eventually get really good at it. Something that this new generation of entitled gamers don’t understand. I can remember calling Niko’s girlfriend in Grand Theft Auto IV dozens of times for a mission, but I know Ryo’s girlfriend’s phone number by heart. 0468-22-5508.
Exploring the towns and following the digital denizens as their life unfolded was unheard of at that time. One time my sister and I were playing and we just decided to follow a girl through the streets like a creepy New Yorker, just to see what she was about. From load screen to load screen we stalked her as she shopped a at market, went into a glitzy shop and finally home. An entire 12-hr sequence written for this tertiary at-best character whose only recorded lines were, “Leave me alone” when spoken to. Shenmue may have ultimately crippled Sega, but it’s definitely enjoying a renaissance now that it’s being appreciated with it’s eventual resurrection of Shenmue III on the PS4. This is a feat that rarely happens in the entertainment world *cough* Firefly *cough*. My hope is that Yu Suzuki will create a progressive gaming experience with loving attention to detail like the first Shenmue had. And hopefully the gaming world can reciprocate. That’s something I know many painters wish their works could transcend.
Noticed I like Sega? Well it started with Sonic. With Sonic the Hedgehog 1 already beaten and Sonic CD a year and $200 dollars away, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was what filled my time in the summer of 1992. Before school was out I drew Sonic levels and kept them in my trapper keeper for later musings. I couldn’t wait for one of my friends to come over and play the game with me. I would even grudgingly play as Tails so they would stay over longer. I constantly begged my mom take me to McDonald’s so I could collect all the toys from the Happy Meals. I loved Sonic more than any TV mascot. Still kinda do. Even though Sonic’s recent titles equate to hedgehog droppings, I still hold faith that Sonic Team will get it right in every iteration. You guys were so close with Sonic Generations!!! Mark my words. Sonic will rise again!!!
I’ve spent many words and time convincing people that this game was something special. It only took the studio’s second effort, Shadow of the Colossus, for gamers to take notice. Ico evokes emotions that are as ethereal as the world it exists in is. Many recent indie and ‘minimalist’ games owe their spiritual identity to Ico. It almost created it’s own genre. It’s a game that relaxes instead of fuels. A mystical castle support the bones of the game while an enchanting setting, mysterious girl, and clever macro puzzles supply it’s aura. The game is simple and brilliant for doing so. Less is always more in Ico. The exclusion of a HUD for example contributes to the games’ dream like atmosphere. All of it’s components are greater than the sum of it’s parts. Near the end of the game, holding the hand of Yorda has meaning and purpose. Very few games could pull off disguising a 6 hour escort mission as well as Team Ico did. Or at least make it a memorable one.
Pro-tip: Play this game to any Enya CD. They all work brilliantly.
Like Ico, I have written many words about Snake Eater. The origin story of the Metal Gear Solid franchise is a better overall rounded game than the ones that preceded it. The first Metal Gear Solid was ground breaking for its time and the sequel was kinda of disappointing, maybe a lot disappointing, but Hideo Kojima bounced back from the sophomore slump and knocked out this gem. It introduced CQC and ditched the soliton radar cones. The camo and curing systems were a little gimmicky, but the plot and gameplay more than made up for it. They took the best parts of MGS1 and MGS2, and they hard formed Snake Eater. It was extremely clever. For instance, the food that you catch in the game utilized the PS2’s internal game clock to check when the food goes bad. The Boss fights especially the fight with ‘The End’ still have yet to be matched by any modern games. Don’t want to spoil it, but it’s badass. And get ready to cry by the end of this game with ‘The Boss’ fight, whew doggy, who’s cutting onions right now?
This game also has a funny history with me. Going to college is expensive. So in order to make some cash I would resell text books on eBay after I was done with them for the semester. I also sold a couple of games to pay for tuition. Unknowingly, I was selling an international version of a physics book. So any lots I was listing for sale were void and I was banned. I wasn’t able to collect my earning from my sales. But the listing that hurt the most losing was my Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence Limited Edition. I sold it for $90 at the time. They’re now selling for $300. After that I vowed to never let go of special edition of games I loved.
Killer 7 is very bizarre. Grotesque. Surreal. Repugnant. Vulgar. Off-putting. Irregular. It’s part Twin Peaks, part Salvador Dalí painting, part Quentin Tarantino movie. If you appreciate videogames for what they could be, if you appreciate art for what it represents, then you owe yourself to play this art-house romp.
What makes it hard to describe the game in words is also makes it incredible. When the game came out it was highly polarizing. Reviewers either really loved it or hated it, but that’s what made Killer 7 so interesting. The game’s controls are overly simple and the cel-shaded art style are minimalist and timeless. Both starkly contrast the games’ alt-reality plot and characters. If it weren’t for the standard definition resolution you couldn’t tell that this game came out over 10 years ago. But what’s weird is that the SD format works in its favor. If Suda 51 ever decides to remake Killer 7 he may just leave the game in Standard Def to keep in toe with the games’ surreal motif.
Killer 7 handles very taboo themes clumsily but the game as a whole leaves an unforgettable impact in your brain. I’ve never played a videogame that earned a Mature rating the way that Killer 7 does. Nudity and violence play a smaller part of the ratings equation here. Included in Killer 7 are suicide bombings, nuclear terrorism, human trafficking, black market organs, child kidnappings, schizophrenia, bondage, geriatric abuse, multiple beheadings, and savage executions.
The hyper stylized reality of the games’ 7 contract killers enhances the story’s labyrinthian plot. Each member of the Killer 7 has their own flamboyant personalities with strengths and weaknesses. For instance, Kevin Smith is an albino who doesn’t talk, KAEDE Smith slits her wrists to open secret passageways while never wearing shoes, and Mask De Smith literally mexican wrestles the zombie-like Heaven Smile enemies. The rest of the team are just as weird. The terms eccentric and eclectic aren’t strong enough to describe this band of miscreants.
And for all it’s absurdity, I love Killer 7. It irreverently raises a middle finger in its left hand while holding a champagne glass in its right, declaring a ‘fuck you’ to the general establishment of videogame culture. It’s a little cheeky and smug while doing so but it knows it is, in a Leonardo DiCaprio kind of way. Even with all the overtly serious themes being tackled here the game has a uniquely dark humor, style, and presentation all its own. When it’s all said and done, the game will leave an acerbic taste in your mouth for sure. It’s meant to. It’s a total mind-fuck of a game, and it cleverly knows it.
Forza 4 was the sweetspot for the respected series. Forza 1 was groundbreaking. 2 and 3 were incrementally better. Forza 5 lacked features due to the new Xbox One console development cycle and Forza 6 was great but it tread on familiar grounds that Forza 4 and 5 already paved. Also, to date, Forza 4 holds the distinction for most tracks and cars among the franchise. When the game debuted it felt ultra fresh. The graphics were slick and the gameplay slicker. Now you may say, it’s just driving, how can gameplay get better? Wellll, in order to create depth in racing simulation games, you’d have to further explore physics to the best of your computational abilities. With Xbox 360 entering its golden years Turn 10 pulled off some nifty tricks. The studio partnered with Pirelli Tires to data mine their years of track racing experience and modeled their tire physics after Pirelli’s data. In the game, tires realistically warp, heat up, and deteriorate similar to real life. This changes the entire dynamic of every car in the game. It creates an extra layer of tension and drama. Pulling off the perfect turn while maintaining speed, power, grip, and stability, creates a rewarding experience that only great sims demand. You earn every corner, fight for every position, and skill your way to 1st place. And the game rewards your heroics. For every driving aid you turn off you gain money and experience multipliers – the croutons and bacos of this exquisite driving salad.
Of course if that sounds awfully difficult, an arcade version of the game exists too. Just turn on all the driving aids to max. The great thing about Forza is that it was built from the ground up for everyone, a feature that the online component uses to great effect. Car clubs with members of different skill levels can still have fun doing the hundreds of crazy community made gametypes and races; while also sharing car customizations and competing for leaderboard supremacy.
Community is absolutely the strongest artery pumping through Forza’s heart. Users have created insane intricate car liveries, produced beautiful photo-real images from the in game engine, created tuning maps, and fun clubs and races to wastes hours in. The depth of user made content is so enormous, that you don’t ever have to race in the game to enjoy it.
The community fights like real car clubs between which rally cars are better Evo’s or Sti’s. This is also truly an international game. I’ve met players from The Americas, Europe, Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Australia. It still amazes me that the common thread when arguing which is the greatest Porsche 911 generation in a forum is this damn game.
I’ve played all other sims that have hit the market since 2011. But I still play this game regularly. My OCD brain can’t handle this endless grid of challenges the game has. Plus when I play with my steering wheel setup, it’s sublime. Leave me alone it’s Deo-Time.
I haven’t even touched upon all the other things that make this the ultimate racing sim -Autovista Mode, 60 fps, great sounds, perfect roster of cars, perfect selection of tracks, handling, AI, RPG elements, Rivals mode, payouts and difficulties, Car Rewards, Top Gear host integration, Multi-monitor support, celebrity races, customization, online, car clubs, ‘Endangered Species’ trailer for the game. Like the perfect Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, it just goes on and on.
TMNT: The Arcade Game | Arcade (1989) | Konami\Ultra Games – Konami
Chuck ‘E’ Cheese, this game, and me – sheer unadulterated joy. Take the iconic TMNT series, put it arcades where they have children’s birthday parties, and have 3 of your best friends play with you. How could this NOT fail?? I remember trading Chuck ‘E’ Cheese tickets for quarters to play this game. Didn’t even care if it was an equal trade. Sorry mom no time for the animatronic birthday song, we’re almost at the Technodrome. Sorry best friend, the ball pit is full of farts, I’m gonna fight Bebop and Rocksteady instead. I spent more quarters on that arcade machine than any other. Ever. Each time I pass by that San Jose Chuck’E’Cheese, (you know the one off of Hwy 101, the good one) I get the itch to save April O’Neil all over again. And I have, on Xbox, Playstation, Android, and iPhone. Thanks technology for being nice to me!!!!