The Hall of Greatness, Visited: Video Game Style

MARCH 24, 2007

Quote of the Day, 3/24/07:

“The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.”

-Albert Einstein

So you see….even Albert Einstein didn’t understand taxes. So in this time of taxes…don’t fret!

Hey Everyone,

I have a couple things to get off my chest. About a week ago, I wrote that it was pretty cool that Hanes had the ads with Michael Jordan and Kevin Bacon. I really didn’t write much….just said it brought me back to 1992, and I posted a video with Jordan (I couldn’t find one with Bacon, too.)

Well, one of my favorite writers is Bill Simmons, who writes on ESPN.com’s Page Two: he’s like the most popular writer on the whole site. I hadn’t checked out his stuff in awhile, and happened to take a look this week. And it turns out, he wrote about the same thing a couple days before (I’m not sure if he wrote about it first or if I did). I didn’t actually read what he had to say, I just read some emails that were sent regarding what he had written.

At first, I felt pretty damn cool; I was like, “Wow, I wrote about the same thing Simmons wrote about; cool!” Then I instantly had a second thought: “Wait a minute, what if people think I’m just writing about this because Simmons is. What if people think I’m just copying his ideas.”

When I started my blog a couple months ago, I was telling people about it at a bar, and someone said, “Ohh, you mean you’re gonna start a new ‘Sports Guy’ blog?” (‘The Sports Guy’ is Simmons nickname). And I was like, “No.” And I don’t think I have. Until this questionable situation.

To cement the whole deal, I talked to my friend who reads my blog and Simmons a couple nights ago, and I brought up the fact that Simmons wrote about the Hanes ad too, and he was like, “Ohh, yah, I just thought you were writing about ’cause you saw it on Simmons.” That was it. I had to get it straight.

So for anyone who reads this blog, and Bill Simmons on ESPN (and you should read Simmons, even if you’re not a sports fan), I have the following statement:

I did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, did not, get my idea from Simmons. Honest. I hope you’re convinced.

Moving on…

I went to see a show last night at the Avalon: the Decembrists. Now, I didn’t really know anything about the band; I have an album of theirs on my iPod, but thats just because I burned it off some dude from my work. I never listened to them before.

Well, I got a call from a friend this week saying there was an extra ticket, did I want to go? And ofcourse I said…YES. So I decided to listen to them this week, just to aquaint myself. And honestly, I wasn’t too impressed. It sort of made me want to go to sleep. I heard an accordian in the background; the lead singer had a European sounding voice (turns out….they’re from Portland, Oregon)….but there was nothing in the music that jumped out at me. I was like, “Ohh, wow….another Indie Rock Band. Coooool. (Sarcasm employed).

The one shimmer of hope: someone told me they were great in concert. So I went in with an open mind…although I didn’t think I’d like them.

And what happened….they were one of the best bands I’ve seen in concert, ever. They were absolutely superb. I couldn’t see them for most of the night (we showed up a little late, and got stuck behind tall people), but that didn’t matter…the music was off the hook. They didn’t sound even remotely the same live….I have to say, I am now a Decembrists fan. I might not listen to their studio stuff, but the next time they’re around, I will see them in concert. And I just need to mention…I gave their show an A+ up to the encore, but the encore performance was so simply unbelievable (I can’t even put it into words, but it was without question, one of the best encores I’ve ever seen), that it pushed them to an A++. Honestly…their encore was unbelievable. So if you like really good music, I highly, highly recommend the Decembrists.

Moving on…

IF I WAS STRANDED ON A TROPICAL ISLAND WITH ONE VIDEO GAME SYSTEM, AND COULD ONLY HAVE TWO GAMES TO PLAY FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE, WHAT WOULD THEY BE?

Okay…this title is a little misleading. It should be, “If I could choose one video game system to have for the rest of my life, and two games, and everything else would be destroyed, what would they be?” But I wanted to throw in the tropical island bit. So live with it.

Well, there’s a lot of choices out there. You have the following systems:

Atari, Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Gameboy, Super Nintendo, Sega Dreamcast, Nintendo 64, Sony Playstation, Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo Gamecube, Sony Playstation 2, Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, and Sony Playstation 3, among others.

And you have an absolutely endless list of games.

Let’s break down some games before we get going:

1-player games: These are games that are not nessecarily limited to one player formats, but only one person can play at one time. For instance, the old Super Mario Brothers games could be played by two players, but only one person could play at a time (Mario and Luigi). One player games are often pretty intense, and can lead to prolonged amounts of time sitting in the same spot, focused on the goal (some kid in China died about a month ago from playing video games for twenty straight hours; this is an extreme example).

2-player games: There are different types of two player games: those where two players play together to defeat the game, and those where two players play together to defeat each other.

An example of a two-player game where two players play together to defeat a game is Double Dragon, where two ninjas run through a town fighting about 400 bad guys. There are many different versions of these types of two player games, although in the end they are all very similar.

As for two-player games where two opponents face each other, off the top of my head I can think of three catorgories: sports games (Madden, Double Dribble), fighting games (Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat), and puzzle games (Dr. Mario).

For sports games, Madden is the ultimate. Its been around since 1989; before that, it was Tecmo Bowl that ruled the world of football video games. Madden may just be the greatest achievement in video game history. Tecmo Bowl and Super Tecmo Bowl, played on Nintendo, which was pretty limited graphics-wise, showed the football game as we view on it TV; from the side. This is great for watching a real live game, and for Nintendo it served its purpose, but it limited the way viewers saw the action.

Madden (named after announcer John Madden) showed the game from birds-eye view: its as if the viewer is sitting in a blimp ten feet above the players. Its actually fairly brillant; to watch a football play unfold, there is no better seat in the house. Madden offered a number of defensive and offensive play choices for players, and as the years went, it evolved into something of a phenomena: its not even really considered a video game by some; it is simply, “Madden.” A different crowd is attracted to Madden: whereas hardcore video-gamers are often seen as nerdy, some serious jocks, including about 85% of NFL players (pretty much everyone except quarterbacks [execption: Michael Vick], offensive lineman, and coaches), are fiercely competitive Madden players. In this way, Madden sort of created a sub-genre of video games: games that are acceptable to jocks, and anyone who likes sports.

As for other sports games: nothing comes close to Madden in enjoyability (although hockey and soccer games can be incredibly enjoyable), but they all share the same general theme: beat the other guy with whichever team you want.

Moving on, fighting games, despite what some may think, are not sports games. The mentality in fighting games is usually different than sporting games: whereas sports games usually last awhile, fighting games are faster and over quicker, leading to more matches. There is much more fantasy involved in fighting games: monsters, magic, strange locations….fighting games take us away from the jock scene and back to the typical video game scene. Fighting games are also, to be expected, more violent.

The most notorius violent fighting game hit arcades in 1992: Mortal Kombat. Street Fighter II had taken aracdes by storm in 1991, and was a great fighting game with great characters. Mortal Kombat, looking to steal a little success from Street Fighter II, figured they had to get noticed. So what did they do? They made it as violent and gory as possible: everytime a character was hit, a huge splotch of blood would fly through the air. It was almost funny how fake it looked. Ofcourse, what got parents the most upset were the submision moves: at the end of each match, if you knew the right combination of buttons, you could finish your opponent with your fighter’s signature move: my favorite player, Scorpion, removed his ninja mask to reveal that he was a skeleton, and breathed fire onto the dying opponent. Ofcourse, the most ridicioulous moved belonged to Sub-Zero, another ninja in the game: he simply ripped off the head of his opponent and held it up in the air, with the spine still attached. For a ten year old: this was pretty damn cool.

What made these fighting games so great were the characters, and how they all had advantages and disadvantages: some were slow and strong, others fast and nimble, some right down the middle. Most people had favorite characters: for instance, most SF2 players chose either Ken or Ryu, although my favorite was Blanka, a monster from Brazil. (Okay…side note: I remembered this guy’s name as being Baraka, but on Wikipedia its listed as Blanka. Maybe my memories’ just going…but I really thought this guy’s name was Baraka.)

Anyway, fighting games were really just a more intense version of sports games.

[A couple side points here: In all this talk about sports games and fight games, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out simply can’t be ignored. It was one of the finest games of our times, and has aged like fine wine. The only problem: its essentially a one-player game like Super Mario, with Mack working his way to the top through the likes of King Hippo, the magic dude with the tiger, and the Japanese guy (I was playing this about a year ago with some friends, and we were shocked at the blatantly ridicoulous remarks made by the Japanese guy: “Sushi, sushi, Kamikaze, Honda.” I know Nintendo’s a Japanese company and everything, and it was 1987, but still…). In fact, its even more of a one player game, because only one person can be Mack. I just wanted to bring it up because it deserves its space.

Also, I just want to say, while I’m on the subject, how crazy it drives me when people talk about sports games as being too violent. Now look…even I knew at the age of 11 that Mortal Kombat was a little over the top. But when people talk about violent Madden is, and how kids under 10 shouldn’t play it, well, I get a little flabbergasted. Its no more violent than the actual game! Does this mean that 10 year olds shouldn’t be allowed to watch a football game; should it be rated PG-13? C’mon…give me a break. Okay…I’ve said my piece.]

The final sub-genre of the two-player game: the puzzle game. Now I haven’t done much research, but off the top of my head, I can only come up Dr. Mario. It doesn’t matter….Dr. Mario is one of the 10 Greatest Video Games Ever Created, so we really don’t need to discuss anything else.

I can’t really describe Dr. Mario for you hear: I guess its a cooler version of Tetris, although Tetris enthusiasts would probably have me tarred, feathered, and stoned to death on the spot for uttering such blasphemy. But hey, hear me out: Dr. Mario is truly two player, with two screens being used at once: usually, Tetris is one player. Dr. Mario has one of the top ten video game tunes of all time (specifically, “Chill”). Not knocking the music on Tetris, but it can’t compete with “Chill”. And overall, I have way more fun when I’m playing Dr. Mario. You can play with a bunch of people and have a tournament: its a blast. With Tetris….not so much. Anyway, of all the above games discussed, this is really the only “mind game.” It’s really a puzzle, and a little thinking needs to be done to win.

Now….moving on…..we finally reach the Next Frontier in video game types….Multi-Player. No longer are we limited to two players….with enough controllers, as many as thirty people can play in one game.

The concept of multi-player games started out simple enough, but in the last few years it has reached new heights, due to mainly to the internet. Military style games are very popular in this genre: as many as twelve people can play in the same game and communicate with each through head-sets. To put it lightly: its pretty intense. The most well-known of these multi-player games are Halo and Halo 2, played on Microsoft’s Xbox system. In this game, you are a military officer who has been stranded on a space ship with a bunch of evil aliens running around. It’s pretty cool. The multi-player options include two-on-two battles that can be held in a valley surrounded by mountains; I once ruined a pretty high quality two-on-two battle, for three reasons: I had been drinking; I didn’t give a crap; and, in general, I suck at video games. But if you are a good Halo player, the quality of the game allows the player a mulitude of options and strategies.

And this sums up our discussion of video game types, as decided by number of players:

Now, without further ado,

MY VERDICT:

The System: N64 (Nintendo 64)

The two-games: Goldeneye 007 and Mario Kart 64

THE TWO MOST INDESPENSIBLE GAMES EVER:

Don’t get me wrong….they’re probably not considered by most to be the best video games ever made; but they’re damn near universal. If you are a serious video gamer and don’t own a N64, along with these two games, well, you’re as good as a toolkit without a Phillips head screwdriver, or a fruit basket without the fake hay at the bottom. To sum it up: you’re incomplete. You may have the nessecities: but you lack the essentials.

Let’s start with Goldeneye: Released in 1997, its named for the 1995 Bond movie starring Pierce Brosnan, which, like all Brosnan Bond movies, wasn’t really a Bond movie at all: it just another ’90s style action movie. Don’t let the studio fool ya. Anyway, the game has nothing to do with the movie, which is a good thing. In a brilliant move Rareware, the game’s producer, included characters from every Bond film going back to the old days in the game.

Goldeneye has been credited with helping to create the first person shooter genre (meaning you walk, and hold a gun, seeing everything from the eyes of you’re character [I’m not sure, but I think Doom may have introduced this concept before Goldeneye]). The importance of Goldeneye, however, lies in the multi-player game.

Up to four people can play in the every man for himself competitions.

Let me tell you….there isn’t a better video gaming experience if you have four people who really enjoy playing Bond (I’m calling it Bond from here on out).

For those of you who haven’t played, there are four screens, one for each player. Any number of villians can be chosen (my personal favorite is Oddjob, although its agreed in many circles that Oddjob is an “illegal” character; he’s so short that its hard to aim for him. The only reason I was allowed to use him: I suck at video games.)

Once characters are chosen, there are numerous levels and weapon choices to be made:

There are a lot of levels, and I will not go into those here, as they would be difficult to differeniate and discuss.

As for weapons….well, it depends on style of play. For instance, the winner on a game usually picked level and weapons: if it was someone who was very good at aiming guns at close range, he might take pistols (one of my least favorites). The weapons most frequently picked when I played: Power Weapons (an assortment of crazy power guns), Grenade Launchers (always gets a little crazy), Rocket Launchers (one of my sleeper weapon choices), Lasers (highly underrated), and my personal favorite, Proximity Mines (Proximity Mines usually gave me a good chance to win, since I was so awful. I’d just throw mines around everywhere and hope that I’d win).

The interesting thing about Bond: its played differently depending on the group you play with. I had a set group of guys that I played with in college: now, if I sit in with a random group, it can be a little disconcerting. Levels that were never played in my old group might be selected: this always throws me off, because then I don’t know any of the secrets, or how to get around. Also, there’s a chance you could get shouted down if you try to use a certain weapon (like, say, Proximity Mines). (One thing I have noticed: in all the my times playing Bond, nobody likes the Remote Mines).

Anyway, the point to this discussion is that Bond, without question, is one of the greatest video games ever, and if you have four or five guys who really like to play, you can literally waste like 14 hours.

As for Mario Kart…well, its sort of the same thing as I just said in the last sentence.

Funny story: when I went to college, I had group of guys that I played Bond with, usually while sober, and without many girls around. Then I had another group of friends who I played Mario Kart with, usually while in the presence of females and alchohol. The moral of the story…I have no idea.

But funny stories aside….Mario Kart is an equally fantastic game, in many different ways, and in many similar ways.

First off, similarities: four players can play; there are different levels, just like Bond; and there are different characters, just like Bond.

But besides those important similarities….they’re very different from each other.

In Mario Kart, a number of characters, ranging from Mario (the man), Wario (an asshole), Luigi (umm…whatever), Princess (small and fast), Yoshi (my boy), Donkey Kong (big and slow), can be chosen to race with.

There are also levels of varying difficulties. Again, the winner of the race chooses the track.

Each course has its own wrinkles: on the ice, you have to look out for giant penguins; on the snow, you have to look out for snowmen; in the tropical one, if you go off the course, you get attacked by killer coconuts (the most annoying, aggravating thing ever); in Wario’s castle, there’s lava and stuff around, and big boulders with faces on them. Pretty much…its a good time.

My personal favorite course: the racetrack on dirt, with all of the jumps. I don’t know why, but I always do well on this one.

There are also strategies concerning little tidbits left out on the course: if you get one banana, do you hold onto it, or drop it? If you happen to grab a purple shell, do you fire it immediatly, or wait until the right moment? What about lightning? (For those of you who have never played this….it probably sounds like I’m talking jibberish right now).

One more note about Mario Kart: it seems like whoever I play with, the rainbow is the least favorite course of all (mainly because it takes too long and makes people sick). Since I hardly ever won, I always got a kick out of picking the rainbow….people get absolutely enraged when you pick the rainbow. I actually think its kind of cool…it just doesn’t bother me. But if you’re a first time player in a new group….I’d be careful about picking the rainbow.

On that note, I’m wrapping it up. If I was ever stuck on a tropical island, with three or four friends who liked to play video games, and we had electricity, well folks, I would have an N64 with Mario Kart and Bond by my side.

Until Next Time,

Greg

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