Sunday, May 30, 2010

NES #2 Super Mario Bros. 3

Mario 3 stands as a land mark of my gaming history due to it being the first NES game I ever owned or played. I was a little late getting into gaming, but will never forget one Christmas morning unwrapping the Nintendo Entertainment System that came with a copy of Super Mario Bros. 3. So I started with 3, then played 1, and finally managed to play 2 later down the line. All three are classics and amazing NES games, but 3 will always be special to me as that first game I ever owned.

The story of Mario 3 is nearly the same as every installment of the series, and will most likely continue to do so. The Princess has been captured, and it is up to our favorite mustachioed plumber to rescue her from the clutches of the evil Koopa King himself, Bowser. However in 3 Mario doesn't just have to deal with Bowser, but his children as well. The Koopa Kids act as the final bosses for each world, seven in total with Bowser himself waiting at the end of the eighth.

Game play follows Mario as he scrolls sideways through the stage, jumping on platforms and enemies and occasionally sliding down pipes into hidden areas. Power ups have always been a staple of the franchise starting with the Fire-ball Mario from game 1. The Fire Flower returns, and is joined by the Super Leaf which grants Mario a raccoon eared cap and tail that allows him to fly short distances and slow his falls. The tail can also be used in a spinning attack to strike blocks and certain enemies. A Frog Suit helps Mario navigate through water levels much easier, and the hard to come by Hammer Suit puts Mario in the duds of a Hammer Bros. giving him the ability to chuck hammers at bad guys.

Aspects of Mario 3 have continued to influence later installments in the series over the years all the way to the present. The overworld map with each stage placed upon the path with branching trails has been used in a number of Mario games including the recently released Super Mario Galaxy 2.

My most fond memories of Mario 3 involve the use of the Game Genie. For those of you who may not know what a Game Genie is, it was a device you attached your NES cart onto before inserting it into the system. It allowed you to hack the game and enable cheat codes. Yes, it was cheating, but who cares if you're having fun? I was just a kid who wanted to mess around with Mario and make him do even more crazy things. The best cheat to use was known as the "Sky Walker" code that allowed Mario to infinitely jump through the air. Most stages could be completely bypassed by flying over the entire stage from start to finish. Sure it was cheap, but as a kid I enjoyed playing with the Game Genie. I have sense moved on from using cheating devices on my games as I grew up and developed more skill as a gamer.

Super Mario Bros. 3 is not the last time Mario will make it onto one of my lists, but for the NES he ranks at number two. Second place isn't to bad, but what could possibly claim the top spot as my all time favorite NES game? Keep a look out cause it's coming soon!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Prince of Persia Review

Films based off video games have a bit of a bad reputation, and for mostly good reason. When put in the same category as Blood Rayne, Mario Brothers, Double Dragon, Street Fighter, and Doom it's difficult to be very enthusiastic toward the concept of video game adaptations. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is definitely better than the films previously listed, but it does not escape unscathed.

Having played a bit of the Sands of Time game I'll start off with how the story differs from the source material. Other than both having a dagger with the power to turn back time to its wielder the movie's plot is completely different. In the movie the title character is a street rat ripped straight from Aladdin who is adopted by the King and becomes a Prince of Persia. Events occur that end with the Prince coming into possession of the magic dagger which thrusts him on an adventure. This isn't ground breaking story telling, but it manages to carry the film along.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays the lead role and while he doesn't exactly look Persian, he does manage to capture the appearance and personality of the character from the game. The rest of the cast is also comprised of mostly non Persian actors, but seem to fit well in their roles.

The film's major problems do not rest on the shoulders of the actors, but in how it is all presented. Awkward moments of slow motion break up of the flow of scenes, and prove to be utterly unnecessary. Shots of what are clearly computer generated sand dunes are glaring obvious among fairly well crafted set pieces. Portions of the film feel completely pointless and fail to move the plot forward at all. A number of other flaws keep The Prince of Persia from being truly great, but they aren't enough to make it terrible.

Final Score: B

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

NES #3 Metroid

Look at how awesome Samus looks on that cover, now imagine you are a ten year old boy looking at it for the first time and how bad ass it must have looked. However this is not the original box art, but the reissue. I'm using this one because it's the one I owned, plus the original was very bland with in game graphics instead of artwork.

Little did I know that the slick looking bounty hunter on the cover that I admired so much was actually female. Hell the instruction booklet even calls Samus a "he" but if you were able to beat the game within a certain time limit you were rewarded with an image of Samus outside of her armor revealing she was in fact a woman. This makes Samus the first major female character I can remember playing as in video games. You would have thought as a young boy I would have been crushed by the revelation cause girls are stupid and can't be awesome bounty hunters, but instead I embraced the character. So what if Samus was a chick? She still had sweet armor and kicked a lot of ass.

Now onto the story of Metroid. Samus Aran is a bounty hunter sent to the Planet Zebes to stop a group of Space Pirates from using the lifeforms known as Metroids as biological weapons. It's a rather complex plot for an NES era game, though nearly all of that is told through the booklet and not the game itself. Samus must face the space pirates Ridley, Kraid, and their leader Mother Brain.

Metroid plays as a side to side platformer with a single large world, instead of being broken up into stages that must be defeated in succession you are given freedom to explore the planet's various zones as you like. Each zone has a primary color and design to identify it from the others, but this can also lead to confusion as portions of each zone begin to look alike. This can leave you lost and wandering for hours. With no in game map how do you manage to navigate this world? Do what I did as a kid, make your own maps! Grab some paper and a pencil and get to drawing.

With no option to save, and an awkward password system that barely seemed to work, this was another game that required an all nighter to defeat. I remember staying up with a friend until the crack of dawn fighting our way through Ridley, Kraid, and finally defeating Mother Brain. So we beat the game right? Wrong! After killing Mother Brain the planet is set to explode and you must escape through a vertical shaft of platforms. This was our downfall. All that hard work and we couldn't make it out in time before the planet blew up. The fact that I still remember that moment of defeat proves Metroid is worthy of my number three spot. A great game that I'll never forget.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

NES #4 Blaster Master

NES games had become so popular that other companies wanted to cash in on the trend. One such company was Scholastic Inc. best known for publishing children's book series. They released a series of books called "Worlds of Power" that were novelizations of popular video games. I own one and only one of these books, and that of course is Blaster Master. To this day it sits upon my book shelf in all its yellow paged glory. My love for Blaster Master began while spending the weekend at a cousin's house who happened to own it. I had never heard of the game until that point, but was sucked in from the first play through.

Blaster Master's plot revolves around a young boy named Jason who chases after Fred, his pet frog, down a hole. The frog had been exposed to what appear to be radioactive chemicals that cause the frog to grow to a large size as it disappeared underground. Jason follows and discovers a four wheeled tank named SOPHIA 3rd in a cave beneath the earth. So Jason does what any young boy would, he hops in the tank and takes off on an adventure to find Fred. You have to admire Jason's determination and loyalty to his pet. I had a number of pets growing up and I loved them all so I can see where Jason is coming from.

Game play is split between two sections. A majority of the time is spent in SOPHIA 3rd hopping to shooting through areas from a side scrolling point of view. Doorways are located in these areas which are to small for your tank and require Jason to go on foot. These portions take on a top down view as you maneuver Jason through maze like stages with a blaster gun in hand. At the end of the stage you will often be faced with a boss battle, either a giant floating brain, crab, lobster, or even your mutated pet frog.

Like a lot of NES games one of Blaster Master's biggest strength's is the music. With different themes playing for each area of the game ranging from good, great, and freaking amazing.

I rediscovered Blaster Masters years later after my first encounter, and fell in love with it all over again while playing through it with one of my best friends. Blaster Master will always be a part of my gaming history, and now thanks to the Nintendo Wii's Virtual Console anyone can learn to love it as much as I do. So if you have a Wii go download Blaster Master now, do it! You won't regret it.

NES #5 Kickle Cubicle

Never judge a game by its cover, and no game hits that point home better than Kickle Cubicle. From just glancing at the box it appears as nothing but candy colored kiddy fluff, but inside is a fun little puzzle and adventure game. The most fun I can remember having on the NES originates with Kickle Cubicle. Again this involved long nights of playing with one of my best friends, you know who you are!

So what is Kickle Cubicle about? Well from what I can remember an evil chicken wearing an eye patch, frosty the snowman, and a creepy clown have taken over the land of vegetable people and its up to Kickle with his freezing breath to save the day! Seriously that is the plot in a nutshell. The offical story may be slightly different, but who cares when the game involves kicking ice blocks into a clown's face? Movies like IT and Killer Klowns from Outer Space forever scarred me as a child, so any game that allows me to exact revenge on the evil bastards has to be on the list. Clowns are EVIL!

You control Kickle, a big headed child with freezing breath which he uses to turn enemies into ice blocks that he then kicks into water and form bridges to navigate his way through the area. Stages are simple at fist with few enemies and easy to reach goals, but it becomes more complex as you reach higher levels. Plus the addition of boss fights with said evil chicken and company can prove to be a challenge.

While most prolly have never heard of the game, my fond memories of it have at my number five spot. Keep on kicking Kickle!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

MacGruber Review

It's been awhile since a Saturday Night Live skit moved to the big screen, and for good reason. While not all SNL films are bad their track record has been hit or miss. So how does MacGruber fit with the rest? It lands in a strange middle ground, not terrible but not exactly great either. MacGruber is stupid funny, relying on raunchy jokes and gags to get the laughs. It just happens to do so decently well, and benefits from its R rating.

The cast all play their roles well, with Will Forte as the title character being as goofy as he should. Fellow SNL cast member Kristen Wiig does a decent job as the slightly awkward female side kick. Then we have the non SNL actors like Ryan Phillippe and Val Kilmer who surprisingly do not just phone it in. Phillippe's character is the opposite of MacGruber, being grounded more in reality and the contrast helps sell most of the jokes. While Val Kilmer as the film's villain seems to be enjoying himself and having fun playing the part.

MacGruber is not for everyone, but those looking for a bit of fun who aren't afraid of a few dirty jokes and 80's cheese then it will certainly deliver.

Final Score: B-

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

NES #6 Life Force

This will be the last space shooter on the list, I promise! When you are dealing with NES games you are bound to have a few of them in the mix. Out of all the space shooters for the NES, Life Force is by far my favorite and has the most memories attached to it.

Life Force is a spin off of the Gradius series, but with the addition of a second player joining your flight through space. This is the major reason why it holds such a high position on my list over the other space shooters. I remember to this day staying up all night with one of my friends playing together as we made our way to victory. One of the few star fighter games I can remember actually beating, but it was only thanks to the help of a co-pilot.

Similar to Gradius the game plays as a side scrolling space shooter, and like Abadox would switch up with up to down view. Another Abadox comparison involves entering the body of a giant creature, in the case of Life Force that would be the giant snake on the cover of the box.

So that is the last of the space fighters on my list, rejoice! Now lets move on to the top five, these have got to be good right? Right?!?

Monday, May 17, 2010

NES #7 Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda is ... well legendary, so why is it so low on my list? In all honesty I did not really get into the series until much later. I did play the original though, but never owned the shiny gold cart. My time spent playing was at a neighbor's house, so I was never able to fully experience the game in my youth.

Even with the little time I spent actually playing the game I could understand why everyone loved it so much. It started a formula that has become a classic staple in gaming, one that many have replicated but never mastered as well as the Zelda series has.

Zelda plays out as adventure across the land of Hyrule's various landscapes and dungeons seeking out the shattered piece of the Tri-Force. With so many different types of areas, weapons and equipment the game had a lot to offer the player. It also contains some of the most memorable music in gaming. The game stands as one of the greats, but sadly it did not play a very big part of my gaming history.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

NES #8: Abadox

Abadox: The Deadly Inner War is one of many space shooters on the NES, but Abadox sets itself apart from the others by sending the player inside the body of a giant alien and fighting its organs. The stages and enemies were all rather disturbing looking even for NES pixels. Even the box art was a bit graphic with the title appearing to be dripping with blood. If Abadox was remade today it would be slapped with an M rating for sure.

The game play was your standard side scrolling space shooter, but with the player controlling a little man in space armor rather than a ship. As always you collect power ups for your gun, giving it different forms of attacking. A few stages would switch out the side scrolling for downward scrolling segments.

Abadox is another game I spent sitting on the living room floor watching my Dad play, but I was able to get pretty far in this one. I'll still always remember one of the early bosses being a grotesque face with eyeballs dangling from their sockets as they swirled around firing shots at you. Good times.

NES #9: Battletoads

Battletoads! Hell yea! Anthropomorphic animals were very popular in the 80's and 90's with the most famous being the Ninja Turtles. So what animal did Rare turn to when they hoped to take on the Turtle's games? Toads, but not just any toads these are Battletoads! Rare also managed to create one of the hardest games in history, in my opinion at least.

My earliest memories of Battletoads are playing in my cousin's den one Saturday evening, and never getting any further than the first stage because we could never figure out how to beat the laser canon boss. We were just kids, how were we supposed to know to throw rocks at the screen? I have sense gotten further than the first stage, but have never been able to beat the entire game.

Battletoads plays like any side-scrolling beat'em up, that is at first glance. As you advance further in the game it changes things up a bit. One stage you might be propelling down a shaft by a long stretchy line, then you might find yourself riding a high speed bike as it rockets forward. It is the high speed bike stages that always proved to be my downfall, requiring fast twitch reflexes and a good deal of memorization of the track.

The Toads may have never gained the popularity of the Turtles, but they did give us one thing and that was some kick-ass pause music. Battletoads, the only game to make pausing awesome.

NES #10: Magmax

This game along with a few others on the list stems from the majority of time I spent playing NES games with my Dad. Magmax is one those games I was never very good at as a kid, but would instead sit and watch my Dad try and beat the next level. I enjoyed watching him play almost more than playing it myself, plus I was able to learn where the enemies and power ups were located from watching.

Even though I wasn't the greatest at the game I couldn't resist it as a child. I mean look at the box art, it's a giant robot warrior fighting a three headed robot dragon. The robot also appears to be firing a beam from its crotch which destroys one of the dragon heads. What more could a kid ask for? Who cares if the actual game might not have represented such a confrontation in the same epic manner of the cover. As a side note, for the longest time I always called the game Mad Max, having mistaken the G with a lightning bolt through it for a D. This only raised further questions as a child when I began to ask myself why Mel Gibson wasn't in the game.

It was a basic side scrolling style shooter but instead of being in space you were on land. You start out as sort of a hovering tank like vehicle, but after finding upgrades through the game would take on a more human shape. A shape that was supposed to represent the robot from the cover, but sadly does not share the same awesomeness.

As for the story .... well I couldn't tell you a single thing about it. That was the problem with NES games, most of their plot lines were written on the back of the box or in the instructions. When you're a kid who has time to read? It has robots and robot dragons, nuff said, now lets play!

Countdown: NES

Over the next couple of days I will be counting down my favorite Nintendo Entertainment System titles starting from 10 and working my way up to my favorite NES game of them all. This will be a trip back through my youth, and to my early years as a gamer. My goal is to follow my journey as a gaming nerd, and see how I have evolved with each new system over the years leading up to the present day. It should be a fun ride, so stay tuned as it all begins with the first system I ever owned, the NES.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Robin Hood Review

Robin Hood has had his fair share of adventures on the silver screen, and at least three of them left an impression on me. Starting with the Disney animated tale of a Fox and his Jungle Book sidekick, to the Kevin Costner's Prince of Thieves, and finally the musical styling of Men in Tights. Now a new version of Robin Hood arrives in theatres this weekend. So is it a tale worth telling again? Well this is not the same Robin Hood of legend we are familiar with.

Robin Hood stars Russel Crowe as the title character, and follows the origin of the famous thief. Starting with his time as a Crusader and ending with him declare an outlaw. However the problem with this is that it presents itself almost as historic fact rather than lore. The plot is not very gripping or even interesting, and could have been any other tale without the Robin Hood mythos shoe horned in. It's as if the story was meant for an entirely different movie, but the names of the characters were changed to Robin Hood, Marian, Little John, and Friar Tuck.

The cast all perform well, but none really owned their role to stand out above the rest. Cate Blanchett is an acceptable Marian, but I have a problem with one part of the movie that involves Marian donning a suit of armor and charging into battle. I have nothing against strong female characters, and Blanchett had done a great job of presenting a strong willed Marian up to that point. Having her in chain mail and swinging a sword was entirely unnecessary.

This may not be your typical Robin Hood tale, but don't expect any surprises. It follows the same formula of many films before it, and you may feel as though you have already seen it. Robin Hood is average in nearly every aspect.

Final Score: C+

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Planet of the CG Apes

Fox plans to revive the Planet of the Apes series with a prequel currently under the title "Rise of the Apes" however the catch is the movie will be computer animated. Why they feel the need to bring back the franchise is beyond me, after the failed and flawed Burton remake from 2001.

The idea of a prequel seems pointless, and it being computer animated doesn't exactly boost my confidence of interest. Sometimes all you can do is ask ... WHY ?!? There is no need for this. What makes it even worst is that its happening to such a classic movie franchise. I still remember watching all of the originals when the Sci-Fi Channel would have Planet of the Ape marathons.

Dear Hollywood, please quit wrecking everything that I love from childhood! That is all.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Iron Man 2 Review

Iron Man surprised everyone in 2008 with its whit, charm, and brief moments of heroic action. It helped launch Marvel Studios and began their adventure into what could become the most ambitious event in cinema history. Now we are in 2010 with the next piece of the puzzle, Iron Man 2. Does it surpass the original? Not exactly, but then again it doesn't have to. If something works then why try and change it?

Picking up where the first left off it continues with the adventures of Tony Stark, after publicly admitting to being Iron Man. There are new enemies, allies, and issues Tony must face both as Iron Man and himself.

The biggest strength of the series for me is the cast, and how well they play off of one another. At the front of them all is Robert Downey Jr. who continues to own the role of Stark as if he was born to play it. Downey also seems to have the odd gift of elevating the performances of the actors around him. Everyone feels right in their respected roles, with the exception of Gwyneth Paltrow. I thought she played the part well in 2008, but this time things didn't seem to fit as well. The chemistry between her and Downey felt off, but perhaps that is how it was meant to feel? The addition of Scarlett Johansson's character as the strong female role may have also affected Gwyneth's, forcing Pepper Potts to appear more subdued.

The role which might draw the most attention belongs to James Rhodes mostly due to the subtraction of Terrance Howard, and the addition of Don Cheadle as the actor portraying said character. Howard never left much of an impression on me from the first film, so replacing him never felt like much of a big deal for me. I did however enjoy Cheadle's performance and thought he and Downey worked well together.

Lastly we have Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell, playing Ivan Vanko and Justin Hammer the villains of the film. All I can say is that I loved these guys, and every moment they were on the screen together. Rourke and Rockwell spend the majority of their scenes together and it just worked so well for me. Watching these two play off of one another was the biggest treat of the film.

I want to touch on the visual effects briefly because I never felt they were the center of the film, but played a necessary role none the less. The computer animation ranged from average to spectacular, but manages to mesh well in the end. I believe it has to do with scenes that involved someone physically wearing a suit were CGI was used to fill in the gaps to make it all appear real. Versus the scenes using an entirely computer animated armored hero with no human stand-in involved in the process. At times these two processes may have clashed, but it never pulled me out of the experience enough to ruin it.

Though some have already claimed the movie suffers from Spider-Man 3 syndrome, with a jam packed cast and multiple plot points, but I have to disagree. The final product proves to be more well paced and balanced than the web slinger's third film. Iron Man 2 is a stepping stone in Marvel's grand scheme, but it's one hell of a fun step to take.

Final Grade: A-

Monday, May 3, 2010

Get on the bus!

Seen above giving the thumbs up is Bendway the heroic leader of Project Robobuz. What is Project Robobuz? Well its a German toy line of transforming robot buses. Seriously Hasbro how did you not think of this already? Years of making transforming robots and you never thought of making a bus?

The most intriguing thing about this is that it appears Robobuz will be an entire line of buses. Bendway himself is a shiny articulated bus, but imagine what other transforming buses will come out of the line. A yellow school bus? A Greyhound? A Tour bus? I only hope there is a red double decker bus named Big Ben.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

We need Dragonzord power, now!

I happened to catch "Green With Evil" on ABC Kids this morning. This of course is the first episode of Power Rangers to feature the Green Ranger, and it brought back a lot of fond childhood memories.

However the episode was slightly different from what I watched as a kid, this being the re-airing of the original series by Disney with added effects put over old footage. This amounts to nothing more than add sound effects on the screen reminiscent of the Adam West Batman series. Needless to say the added effects were hilariously bad, but I still enjoyed watching the episode regardless.

To anyone who grew up during the Mighty Morphing era like me, and might be looking for a bit of nostalgia, be sure to check out ABC Kids on Saturday mornings over the next few weeks to watch the Green Ranger saga unfold all over again.

On a side note, how does the Green Ranger use the Dragon Dagger as a flute through his helmet? I can only assume there is a small slit in the plastic lips for the sole purpose of blowing on the flute.