Survival of the Fleetest: Mario vs Sonic

One of the biggest playground debates of the 90’s was Sonic versus Mario. The old plumber had finally met his match. Even though Sonic games were buggy as all hell, they were fresh, fast-paced, and on the cutting edge of graphics and sound. It didn’t help that Mario looked like somebody’s fuddy-duddy old uncle, while Sonic’s outfit, attitude and spiky hair channeled Michael Jackson or Bart Simpson.

Although Bart himself was more into Bonestorm.

Although Bart himself was more into Bonestorm.

Granted, this argument usually boiled down to whether the kid owned a Sega or a SNES. But nonetheless, for the first time Mario was losing his monopoly on quality platforming. The times kept a changin’, and soon enough the march of technology forced a clear winner to emerge.

The technology I speak of is the advent of 3D platforming. Sure, both had isometric games – Sonic 3D Blast and Super Mario RPG – but those are only pseudo-3D. I’m talking about the real deal. Fully 3D platformer action, with sprawling stages and a rotating camera. Continue reading

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From P.S. to Plz – The Modern Epistolary

There’s something especially effective about embedding letters into works of fiction. We get to hear directly from a character, a sort-of first-hand source, as opposed to a narrator’s second-hand impression. Moreover, it can give voyeuristic enjoyment; to read what was not written for us (though it was), to peer directly into the life of a character. Telling stories through letters and journals even forms a whole genre of literature, the epistolary, with classics like Stoker’s Dracula being comprised entirely of first-hand documents.

Dear diary, you won't believe what happened today...

Dear diary, you won’t believe what happened today…

But who writes letters anymore? E-mail, IM and text messaging have taken over our lines of communicae. Some books and movies have modernized, inserting the occasion email or IM conversation. Novels like Lynn Coady’s The Antagonist have even gone the distance, using such documents exclusively. But what about a modern medium to go with the methods? Could a video game employ the same strategy as novelists from centuries prior? Look no further than Bandai’s .Hack (pronounced Dot-Hack). Continue reading

Is Bigger Better? On Size and Scale

Today I intend to tackle that age old question: Does size matter? But I’m not talking about the volume of your junk drawer, I talking about numbers, baby. Big ones.

To the uninitiated, a battle in a role-playing game may look like a convoluted blur of random numbers. After a few hours of play, however, you begin to see method in the madness, like Cypher reading the Matrix. White damage numbers cascade in throngs, green healing numbers twinkle and fade, yellow crits pop up in bold, demanding attention. There is something satisfying about getting these numbers as big as you can, but sometimes games take it a bit too far.

Though for games like Disgaea, taking it too far is sort of the point.

Though for games like Disgaea, taking it too far is sort of the point.

The latest offline installment in the Final Fantasy franchise was numero 13. I won’t be touching on the game’s quality, only its use of numbers. Simply put, the numbers are too damn high. Continue reading

Bad Games People Still Play: Truth or Dare

“Truth or Dare.”

“…Truth.”

“How come you never pick Dare?”

“Because if I pick Dare I will either be actually dared to do something, or be dared to answer a particular question truthfully. Essentially by picking Dare you’re allowing your darer to pick either Truth or Dare for you, depending on their motive. ”

The first problem with Truth or Dare, is that after playing once or twice, nobody picks Dare. Both because of smart-ass dares like mentioned above, and because anytime an actual dare is made it’s intended to be as dangerous or embarrassing as can be, while still remaining within the realm of possibility. The intent of a dare is seldom for group amusement, rather they seem to focus on forcing players to either lose their pride (backing down) or their dignity (performing a humiliating dare).

And let's not forget the havoc which may be wreaked by a triple-dog dare.

And let’s not forget the havoc which may be wreaked by a triple-dog dare.

Granted, for the purposes of hormonal-ravaged teens, the game may be well suited. Probing for crushes and making your friends look like morons or cowards probably serves some purpose in the social growth of an individual. But can Truth or Dare be salvaged for those of us without middle-school secrets or cracking voices? Continue reading

Harry Pottermon and the Massive Waste of Potential

If you were born or raised in the 90’s, then it’s nigh-certain that you are intimately acquainted with either Pokemon, Harry Potter or both. Even if you aren’t, there’s no way you haven’t at least heard of them. So other than their popularity and timing, what do these two multi-media multi-billion-dollar franchises have in common? And what is the secret to their success?

Other than that JK Rowling is a Legilimens and split her soul into 7 Horcruxes, of course.

Other than that J.K. Rowling is a Legilimens who split her soul into 7 Horcruxes, of course.

Beginning with the obvious, they both began with the same demographic. Kids aged 6-12, with a slant towards males but not exclusively so. The Harry Potter books attempted to grow up with their readership, ending with material more suitable for 14-20 year-olds. On the other hand, Pokemon has kept its kiddie tone. Despite this, many aged Pokefans maintain an interest in the franchise. Continue reading

Grab-bag of Tag Part Three: TV Tag

Lastly in this 3-parter on Tag, I want to discuss TV Tag. The game is similar to freeze tag, in that being tagged causes a player stop moving and be ‘out’. The difference is in the method of thawing. In TV tag players, once frozen, may unfreeze themselves by shouting out the name of a TV show (Some people play that you can name a TV character instead).

However, each show/character may only be used once per game, so players must listen to what shows their compatriots are employing. Eventually, all players are frozen and every TV show ever aired has been named.

Kids today, however, play "iPad Tag" instead.

Kids today, however, play “iPad Tag” instead.

If this last variant sounds dumb to you, good. It is the strangest, most awful and arbitrary version of tag I’ve ever played. TV tag gives an advantage to players with knowledge of television, which could be considered an added factor of skill. Except, that what does knowing TV shows have to do with playing tag? Continue reading

Grab-bag of Tag Part Two: Variations

Yesterday I discussed the animalistic appeal of Tag, but dismissed it as an unbalanced game in its most pure form. So how can Tag be improved as a game, while still maintaining the simple thrills of flight and pursuit?

How about Blob Tag? When a player is tagged, instead of it-hood transferring to them, they link arms with their tagger, and continue chasing free players as a single entity. Every time a player is tagged, they join with the ‘blob’, until there is a massive wall of globular flesh roaming the field for the final survivors. Now rather than a vague misanthrope, being it has its own aspect of group identity.

We are the Blob. You will be assimilated

We are the Blob. You will be assimilated

Blob Tag (also known as Amoebae Tag)  provides rising action, a climax and a conclusion to the game. It doesn’t single out any winners or losers either, but becomes almost a simulation. A demonstration of how a single virus or idea can spread, perhaps. Continue reading