30 Days of Gaming – Day 10: Best gameplay

Portal 2

Portal 2

Falling behind again. I’m so awesome!

This one is a little tricky. There’s plenty of games where the gameplay is somewhat clunky, but many other aspects keep you coming back. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion wasn’t the most polished game ever, but its open world had me sink over 100 hours into it. Grand Theft Auto IV is another one that had me turning the game on just to mess around. I don’t even know how many hours I’ve spent messing around in the Half-Life 2 mod, Gary’s Mod. Don’t get me started on Minecraft.

Minecraft

My cave-house in Minecraft. Is the game fun? Yes. Polished? Well, it's a beta!

It seems like open-ended sandbox gameplay is something that’s very appealing to me, but I don’t think I’d say any of those games have the “best” gameplay. Sure, it’s easy to get lost in an open-world for hours on end, but the freedom tends to make the gameplay a little rough around the edges.

Since the title of this isn’t “most addictive games” or “games I always come back to” or “biggest waste of time (in a good way),” my choice is something a bit (a lot) more linear.

Now, a dislaimer: I don’t feel super strongly about my choice. I think games are usually the sum of their parts, and having the “best gameplay” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re having the best experience. I’m picking this not only because the game is damn fun to play, but it is also well polished and mechanically impressive.

I know my friend Corey Motley would disagree with me, but I think the game with the best gameplay is Portal 2. While I don’t think the game would be nearly as memorable without the witty writing by Erik Wolpaw, Jay Pinkerton and Chet Faliszek, nor without the stellar voice performances by Ellen McLain, Stephen Merchant and J.K. Simmons, the game proves to be a blast up until the very end. Especially since the final moments of the game uses its main gameplay concept in such an amazing way. The achievement that pops up, “That just happened,” describes the moment perfectly.

Then again, the crazy story within the original Portal that made it so memorable was a complete surprise. The main draw of the game was its clever concept: You have a gun that shoots portals. What could have been a fun, yet forgettable, puzzle game turned into a cult phenomenon with a fair share for quotable jokes destined for internet meme infamy. Early previews for the game revolved around the different uses for Portals, not the robotic narrator who ultimately becomes your nemesis and is responsible for the majority of the humor in the game.

Just look at the original trailer for the game.

The trailer alone got me really excited for the game. The concept seemed so cool, original, and fun I just had to play it. Even without GLaDOS, I feel I still would have played through it multiple times, just to mess around with the portal gun.

Turret from portal.

Portal 2 gives you a new, clever defense against this infamous enemy.

Portal 2 adds a few new twists to the gameplay which work really well. One of my favorites is easily the light bridges. They’re beams of light you can walk on, and place a portal where one ends will make it continue wherever you place the second. You can even use it as a shield from lasers or the infamous turrets.

I think these additions make the gameplay even more interesting than it was in the original game. That being said, I don’t think the game would stand alone as the first one would without its story. This isn’t a knock against it; Portal 2 was a game built around a story. Portal was a story built around a game. These extra bits are essential in taking the story to the next level, something that had to be done for a sequel to a game made famous because of the story. Cut those extra bits out, remove the story, and I think you’d still have one of the most fun-to-play and polished games out there.

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30 Days of Gaming – Day 9: Saddest game scene

Mother 3

Mother 3

EarthBound for the SNES is one of the most up-beat games of all time. It’s a bit surprising that its sequel, Mother 3 for the Gameboy Advance, is one of the saddest. While it maintains the colorful visuals and the crazy enemies and characters of its predecessor, the game is ultimately a tragedy.

Its ending, the final battle in particular, is my pick for saddest gaming moment.

The original Mother game was never released in North America. Mother 2, however, did make it here and was renamed EarthBound, probably to avoid confusion about what the “2” meant while making a somewhat more appealing title to American audiences.

Like the original game, Mother 3 never made it to North America, but thanks to the cult following spawned by EarthBound, the game was given a very well-done fan translation.

The story of Mother 3 centers around a family: The father and mother, Flint and Hinawa, the sons, Lucas and Claus, and the grandfather, Alec.

Some major Mother 3 spoilers ahead.

While the game starts off very lighthearted, it takes a sharp turn in the first chapter when Hinawa, Lucas and Claus go missing. Hinawa is found murdered by a normally docile Drago (imagine a friendly tyrannosaurus), but the children are found alive.

Claus runs away to avenge his mother, and Flint and Alec chase after him. They eventually find Claus’s shoes being played with by a baby Drago; an ominous sign. Upon finding the mother Drago, who has been reconstructed by a mysterious group of soldiers wearing pig-like masks, Claus is nowhere to be found.

After many years Lucas and friends embark on an adventure that has them battling against the mysterious Pigmasks, including a few encounters with a strange, silent masked man.

The final battle.

The Masked Man makes his final stand.

Save for a few vague hints, the masked man’s true identity isn’t revealed until the final battle. He is Claus, the missing son, but has undergone a Vader-esque transformation; he’s more machine than man.

The final battle of the game begins when the Masked Man uses a powerful lightning attack, disabling everyone in the party except for Lucas, who carries the Franklin Badge, which is capable

of reflecting lightning. He quickly learns lightning will get him nowhere.

The battle begins.

The battle begins.

You control Lucas by himself in this battle. Try to attack, and Lucas cannot bring himself to do it. The only way to survive is to guard, healing when necessary.

A voice speaks over the battle, trying to reach what may be left of Claus within the Masked Man. As the battle rages on, Claus becomes more and more frantic and unleashes more powerful attacks.

Flint tries to intervene, but is thwarted. Lucas, seeing his father fall, begins to attack, but the voice speaking over the battle reasons with him as Claus becomes more violent.

Lucas and Claus then have a vision, brought on by their mother’s voice. Their attacks become weak and half-hearted.

Clause remembers who he is, removes his helmet, and attacks Lucas with lightning, which is reflected by the Franklin Badge, killing Claus.

He kills himself so Lucas can save the world.

The Masked Man falls.

After the battle.

The build-up to this final confrontation is emotional. I remember playing it, staying up late just so I could finish it. My heart was racing as I made my way through the final area. All aspects of the game came together emphasizing the end was near—terrible things were about to happen.

The entire game has been building to this point, but the moment everyone has longed for is not what they expected. The tragedy from the first chapter happens again in the last; the family is reunited just in time to be torn apart again.

It’s heartbreaking, and one of the saddest moments in gaming.

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30 Days of Gaming – Day 8: Best soundtrack

Mega Man 2

Awful box art, amazing soundtrack.

I started writing this one yesterday, but got distracted and forgot to finish.

Onward!

Like my last entry, this is also a tough one. However, this one is tough for the the complete opposite reason; video games have some pretty kick-ass soundtracks. Even in the NES days we got some pretty cool music out of them.

Without ignoring my 8-bit roots, my pick for best video game soundtrack is Mega Man 2.

I visited Japan three years ago and met my friend Hitomi’s cousin, Masahiko, who knew very little English. To make things worse, I didn’t know much Japanese either, so communication should have been difficult. Luckily, we were both nerds; otaku, as they’d call us there. We were able to communicate through video games.

We started talking about the different video games we loved. I brought up Mega Man, and to my surprise and disappointment, he had no idea what I was talking about. Eventually, I realized (or he realized) the name was changed from Rock Man to Mega Man in America.

This is something I knew, but had slipped my mind. Mega Man just seemed like a more accurate description given the other names in the game.

Characters in Mega Man are named after their abilities. Heat Man shoots flames, Bubble Man shoots bubbles, Hard Man shoots fists (wait, what?), etc.

Rock Man does not shoot rocks. Okay, he does in Mega Man 5 after defeating Stone Man and absorbing his power, but still. You get my point.

Mega Man

Mega Man

Why would you call this little blue guy, “Rock Man”?

Well, his sister is named “Roll.”

As in, rock and roll.

Now we’re getting somewhere!

Rock and roll is a perfect way to describe the soundtrack of most Mega Man games, especially Mega Man 2.

Often hailed as the best of the series, Mega Man 2 is accompanied by a rock and roll inspired soundtrack composed by Takashi Tateishi.

While the bleeps and bloops of the NES’s sound chip are a bit primitive, is still inspiring music. Many popular songs will straight-up sample or mimic sounds produced by the NES. Even with the limitations, some amazing music was made for it.

The Super Mario Bros. theme is certainly the most popular song to come off the platform, but Mega Man 2 really showed what the NES could do.

Here’s an example, and one of the most beloved tracks from the game:

Sure, my opinion might just be from childhood nostalgia, but this song just gets me pumped. When it plays in the game, you’ve just defeated the eight bosses and have begun your assault on Dr. Wily’s compound. It’s on like Donkey Kong, and the music illustrates it.

While I’d love to keep posting different songs from the game, I leave you with a Mega Man 2 medley, performed by the NES-inspired indie rock group, Minibosses. Enjoy.

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30 Days of Gaming – Day 7: Favorite game couple

Mario and Princess Peach

Too easy.

Oh hello there summer break! How are you?

So, ignoring my hiatus: let’s blog!

This is a tough one, and not because there are so many good choices out there. Most video game romances are awful.

I could make it easy by picking Mario and Princess Peach. Sure, the heroic plumber braving a dangerous land and fighting some weird turtle-dinosaur hybrid to rescue his beloved princess is pretty romantic, but it’s pretty cliche and doesn’t have much depth to it.

I think the major issue is stories in video games normally aren’t very good. You’ll find better stories in books and movies or on TV.

Shion Uzuki

Shion Uzuki

KOS-MOS

KOS-MOS

I think I’m going to have to go out on a limb here and pick a couple that isn’t really a couple at all. Their relationship is something that is only loosely implied, and that was probably unintentional. So, without further ado, my favorite game couple is Shion Uzuki and KOS-MOS from Xenosaga.

Of course, the main overtones of their relationship are more of a mother-daughter thing, but seeing as how they appear roughly the same age, it has more of a lesbian vibe.

KOS-MOS is an android super weapon designed to destroy the Gnosis, the creepy alien race thingy terrorizing the galaxy. Shion and her boyfriend, Kevin Winnicot, work together with Vector Industries to create KOS-MOS. Everything is sunshine and butterflies until KOS-MOS awakens early, goes berserk and murders a bunch of Vector employees, including Kevin.

After that, Shion takes the lead on the project and when KOS-MOS is reawakened, this time without killing every person it sight, Shion assumes the maternal role, lecturing KOS-MOS on morality and the value of human life. We also see her worry about and embrace KOS-MOS as a mother would her child.

Shion and KOS-MOS

Mother and daughter, or lesbian lovers?

We see Shion give KOS-MOS all of her attention, while she ignores her coworker, Allen Ridgeley, who is obviously pining for her affection.

Momo

Momo — A Raelian

KOS-MOS is the result of Shion and Kevin’s work together. They created her, so she’s pretty much their child. The problem with the mother-daughter relationship is that KOS-MOS is modeled to be an adult, not a child. I think this choice could have been a deliberate one, given most of the other androids in the game, called Raelians, are modeled after children. All the interaction between Shion and KOS-MOS is between two women, and not a mother and child. Plus, there’s the impression that Shion’s love for Kevin lives on through KOS-MOS.

The fact you can question their relationship like this makes it a bit deeper than some plumber and a princess.

Of course, the whole lesbian thing could have been completely unintentional. The writers of Xenosaga might have seen this relationship as purely mother-daughter, and not some strange lesbian thing destined for crazed fan-fiction.

Then again, there’s always the logo for the anime version:

Xenosaga Anime

Lesbian lovers, or mother and daughter?

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Curse you reality!

Well, right now I have too much “real” stuff to write to have time to continue my 30 days of gaming.

Maybe when the semester is over?

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30 Days of Gaming – Day 6: Most annoying character

Wallmaster from The Legend of Zelda

A wallmaster from The Legend of Zelda.

I had to think about this for a while. There are a ton of annoying characters in video games, and most of them are pretty infamous. Half the cast of The Legend of Zelda comes to mind.

I decided it might be more fun to think about the most annoying enemy in games. I almost picked the wallmaster from The Legend of Zelda, the disembodied hands that will take you back to the beginning of a dungeon if they get a hold of you, but then I thought of a game with a similar mechanic–Minecraft.

Any time you die in Minecraft, you’re sent back to your original spawn point. Well, a recent patch allows you to reset your spawn point so it’s a bit different now, but that doesn’t change my answer. Perhaps the even bigger annoyance is that you drop all your items any time you die, leaving you to travel all the way to where your character fell to pick up the items that were scattered around the area.

Creeper

Sssss!

Most enemies in the game are easy to deal with except for one, the creeper. Creepers are completely silent. They can sneak up on you without you even knowing. The only warning you get is the quick “sssss” sound, like a lit fuse, seconds before they explode, taking you and a large chunk of the surrounding world with them.

Not only are they annoying, they’re possibly one of the most terrifying enemies in any game. Enemies in Minecraft can spawn in any darkened area, be it in a cave you’re exploring, a tunnel you just dug, or the surface world during the night. You’re taught to fear darkness in the game, and if you’re our exploring in the darkness you can start feeling pretty uneasy.

Get too careless and it’s, “Sssss!” Game over.

I’m just glad I haven’t started having nightmares about it. I’ll leave you with this comic:

That's a very nice EVERYTHING you have there.

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30 Days of Gaming – Day 5: Game character you feel you are most like (or wish you were)

Level 80 Gnome Warlock

The easy answer.

Okay, this is a tough one. In a lot of games, you’re filling the role of a character. So, the fact that you’re playing it kind of already says you want to be that character.

I’m not really like any video game characters, which is kind of the draw of them. I get to fulfill a role that I would otherwise not be able to fill. Plus, in most games, some terrible things happen to the characters. Why would I wish that on myself?

Really, the only answer I can think of is kind of a cop out. The character I’m most like is Zohar, my main character in World of Warcraft. While physically we’re pretty different, except for being relatively short, our personalities are exactly the same. Of course, the same goes for most players and their characters in World of Warcraft, unless they’re heavily involved on a role playing server.

Sure, it’s a lame answer, but it’s all I’ve got.

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