Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Super Mario Brothers 3 vs. Super Mario World

Usually when someone talks about the greatest of the Mario games, either Super Mario Brothers 3 or Super Mario World are argued for.

Sure, there is the occasional person that throws Mario 64 or the original Super Mario Bros into the mix, but generally I think Mario 3 and World are the two best of the pre-2000 core-Mario games.

If I took an official vote, my bet would be that Mario 3 is the overall favorite.

It was the first game with the diverging paths world map, insane amounts of secrets, memorable boss battles, and that ridiculous combo of the maze like world 7 and difficult world 8.

I sat cross legged, challenging myself to beat the game without using whistles and saving that P-wing until the flying fortress level for several years.

Mario was fine tuned and indeed, Mario 3 is probably the best game on the NES, but I always tend to have a soft spot for Super Mario World.

It's partly because I didn't actually own a SNES and didn't get as much time with Super Mario World. There was a point where I did have some Mario 3 fatigue.

Super Mario World has its own bullet-ed list of features that could go bullet for bullet with Mario 3, like an even larger world map, more secrets, the introduction of Yoshi in a Mario game, and a diverse set of levels.

But I think it's more about the social aspects of the game. I remember setting up a 27" standard definition television on the bottom bunk of my cousin's bunk bed, his window open allowing the crisp autumn air to blow against our shirtless bodies, and draping sheets over the outside to give us a cave to fully escape into this other world. (It sounds like some pre-teen, homoerotic adventure now that I've typed it out)

We would scream, laugh, talk about small world's issues, discuss what we were going to blow our allowance on, and beg his mom to order us pizza.

It was a game that couldn't be beat in one weekend. We grew with the game. Sure, we might have beat Bowser after just a couple weekends, but that 55% completion on the save screen mocked us. We spent months finding all of the secrets we could, until we were forever stuck on the 5th Special level.

Eventually we noticed girls and more adult oriented video games like Resident Evil took over our Friday-post-roller-skating-game-nights. Super Mario World was packed into a box and largely forgotten about. It wasn't until last fall when I was given a family member's SNES and about 15 games that I remembered the magic.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Demon Sword - NES

This was one of those games (much like Megaman) where the box art didn't really show you a great representation of the game. 

In Demon Sword, you play as a pale, skinny man in a kimono. The cover would have you believe that you were in charge of a shirtless Arnold Schwarzenegger fighting hawk dragons.

The actual goal of the game was to put this mythical tree branch looking sword back together and banish the demons. As you beat levels, your sword got longer until it was larger than the character. Link's buster sword had nothing on this one. 

I would describe this game as Super Ninja Mario Gaiden. 

The combat and boss fights reminded me of Ninja Gaiden. It was a chess match of dodging and slashing with some magic and ninja stars thrown in.

The actual platforming was more like Mario where you could fly through the level just based on muscle memory. 

And that speed was the thing that mesmerized me. 

Up to this point, I owned Mario, Zelda, the Adventures of Bayou Billy and Fester's Quest. Mario had a nice pace to it, but if any of you played any of Bayou Billy or Fester's Quest, you realized how much the developers actually hate you as a consumer. Much of your time was spent moving your character slowly across the screen. 

So when I got my hands on Demon's Sword and was able to fly through the trees with almost no frame rate issues, I felt free. The only other time I had a similar sensation was the first time I drove a car without my parents in it. 

I played this game so often that the contacts started wearing out and the first level was played as a mess of busted pixels. But by then, my muscle memory was so great, I could literally do it blind.

I checked on eBay and this treasure was going for $.99 on several auctions. If you have an NES and skipped this game before, drop a dollar on it and let me know what you thought.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Editorial: How Did You Get Your Nintendo to Work?

There was nothing worse than seeing two flashing colors on your TV screen when you should be seeing that glorious NES game title screen.

A un-countable number of comedians have already covered the subject of how everyone had their special way of getting their Nintendo to work and how you could only get your own NES working.

My cousin Ryan would lick the game and then press the game down as hard as he could. In desperation, I once licked a particularly troublesome game and remember tasting a dusty battery.

One of my best friend's in high-school had to use a Game Genie even if they weren't putting in codes. Without the Genie, the console wouldn't recognize a game was inserted.

My neighbor across the street would discard the warnings about only using the official Nintendo cleaning kit and would dab rubbing alcohol on a Q-tip and rub it in the games.

My wife's family would do a combo of blowing into the game, rubbing it down with a dry Q-tip, and in some cases shoving a Popsicle stick into the system to hold the games at the perfect height to make contact with the terminals. 

I would blow into a game for exactly 30 seconds. I'd then push the game all the way into the system and then pull the game out just a pinch. And I could never push the game down into the system. If I pushed it down how you were supposed to, blinking color screens all day long. 

You don't get these great stories anymore. 

Telling the heroic tale of putting your red-ringed 360 into the official Microsoft casket and waiting two to six weeks for a refurbished console to make its way back just doesn't have the same comedic feel of laying in your pajamas on the floor at 6:00 a.m. getting dizzy from blowing into a game for too long. 

So how did you get your NES to work?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Editorial: Inverted Axis and Inverted Choices

My wife humors me and plays video games with me sometimes. She's pretty good at them. But there's one setting she always needs to change immediately, and that's to turn on the inverted Y axis.

It's not often you meet someone that prefers the inverted axis. I know only three people that prefer the inverted axis, and two of them are in my wife's family. It seems to be a relic of the Flight Simulator days, or at least that's where my wife traces it back to.

There are times where she plays as the first player, saves the inverted setting, and the next time I pick up the controller I find I can't hit the side of a barn. And sometimes its not immediately apparent what is wrong. I'll play ten minutes just thinking I'm having a really off day before I remember that my wife had the controller last.

It's just strange how some settings are just assumed now and when a developer does them differently, it can really mess up your life.

Remember during the Playstation 1 era where many Japanese developed games had "O" as the select option in menus and "X" as the cancel option. (I'm looking at you Konami and Square)

I can't tell you how many times I spent five minutes stuck on the title screen of Metal Gear Solid because I would press "X" to load the game.

Or when you try to play Halo and end up throwing grenade when you really just want to aim down the sites.

Things that seem to have been ingrained into our gaming DNA by large adoption of standard settings. Call of Duty and Battlefield have taught us that the left trigger should aim down the site and the joystick-less games of the present just about shun the inverted axis.

I wonder if research and development studied the best way to handle these settings or if a few guys on the development team picked up a controller and found their preference, forcing it on the masses.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Hunter Hunted

One of my favorite childhood computer games was a Sierra platformer adventure game called Hunter Hunted.

My best friend from 4th-6th grade was his wealthy grandparents favorite grandchild.

We would get to spend weekends at their high-end, lake front condo, playing on their ultra powerful PC, powered by the ultra fast Pentium 2 processor. And since he was their favorite, they were always buying whatever the new PC game at Wal Mart was just for our pleasure.

Most of these games were installed and forgotten, but Hunter Hunted was one that stuck. It quickly earned a spot in our regular rotation.

It was a side scrolling game where you played as the strongest human on the planet, Jake, where you have to run from a beast hunting you, rebuild your car, and dodge the security bots on each level.

It was such a simple game, but addictive. Each level was a new puzzle.  Each weapon had its own weight. And for a computer platformer, it was incredibly polished.

And the graphics, my were they beautiful. The art design looked like Killer Instinct or Donkey Kong Country with a steam punk twist.

And being a 90s computer game, the soundtrack was mostly Metal. It was everything you could want in a game from 1996.

The best part of the game was the local multiplayer. My buddy would plug in his joystick and I would jam on the keyboard as we played an incredibly frantic game of cat and mouse.

Jake and the beast, Garathe Den, each had their own stats and unique weapons. Jake had the more powerful weapons whereas Garathe had a few more hit points and could navigate the levels with greater speed. As always, there were ways to cheese the game, certain areas where the opponent's weapons couldn't touch you but you were free to rain grenades down on them.

Unfortunately, this was one of those games that never got much traction on the playground. No matter how many times Spencer or I brought up how great it was, we just couldn't get anyone else to bite. In a way, I'm happy. It's my own private little game that not many people have heard of.

Around 1997,  Spencer moved away and thus my way to play Hunter Hunted.

I begged my dad to get a copy of Hunter Hunted for our own computer. He delivered a copy only weeks later (thanks to a buddy at work) on a burned CD. (Way ahead of our time, I know) Unfortunately, our computer was only half the power of Spencer's grandparents. The frame rate came to a crawl anytime anyone attacked. The game would simply crash if my brother and I tried to boot up the multiplayer.

A few years ago I purchased a copy of Hunter Hunted off of eBay. Surprisingly, it worked without much prodding on my current generation hardware. I played through the 65 single player missions with a smile on my face, eventually giving the CD ROM its home on my permanent game shelf.