Friday, April 13, 2018

Let's Get Stressed: The Most Nerve-Racking Things In Games

A phobia is defined as "an extreme or irrational fear or aversion to something." Even though we may not readily recognize it, I believe we all have something in our lives that the very thought of causes us to have a mini panic attack. For me, it is heights. While it may be one of the more common phobias, that doesn't settle my nerves one iota. Seeing a picture of someone at the top of a building with or without a safety harness is cause enough to make my heart to skip a single beat.

I'm also not a fan of wooded areas during the nighttime. This is mainly caused by my utmost certainty that every serial killer in the United States is currently waiting in those woods to turn my skin into a mask at that very moment. That's not irrational. That's fact.

But the same could be said of me and video games. Certain scenarios and situations raise my heart rate a dangerous degree. The typical jump scares found in survival horror games are the easy whipping boy for an article such as this, but this is supposed to be about irrational fears, and I have a few.


I'm not a particularly big fan of swimming in large bodies of water; I've always preferred swimming in pools. The reason for this is simple: God put all of the monsters in the ocean. Ever heard of Leviathan? Sea monster. The Kraken? Also a sea monster. Jason Voorhees? They should play The Toadie's "I Come From the Water" when he shows up. Have you ever seen all of the crazy things that wash up on shore after a tsunami? It's like staring directly into the Underworld.

Being forced to go underwater in a game is probably the absolute most stressful thing that it could make me do. I skipped several missions in The Witcher 3 because it wanted me to dive underwater. I don't care if I need that treasure to complete a mission, whatever it is in isn't worth the gray hair it's going to give me.

Even less serious fare like fighting Kingfin in Super Mario Galaxy is enough for me to question if I truly love that game as much as I think I do.

I've often wondered why I've had this aversion to video game water, and the best conclusion I can come up with is that usually swimming is such a minor portion of the game but still requires you to learn a new control scheme that never feels immediately intuitive. I constantly feel like I'm wrestling with the controls, even in games that I've played several times.

Water also makes you move slower, causing me to live my recurring nightmare of trying to escape from something but unable to move at full speed.

Conclusion: Ecco the Dolphin is scarier than Dead Space.


One of the most diabolical things someone can do is make a short level in Super Mario Maker with a 005 time limit. They give you just enough time to beat the level with no room for error. Many games will give you a limited time frame to beat a section or boss, only exacerbating the tension of the battle. The Resident Evil team was particularly bad about this. All three of the PSone trilogy games had a countdown during the climactic battle; it practically became a staple of the series. Evil corporation? Check. Zombies? Check. Time limit to beat the final boss? You better believe it.

What's even more frustrating is when games place hidden collectibles or treasures in sections like these, and while you usually are given more than enough time to find what you're looking for and still escape/proceed, the simple addition of a ticking clock can add a whole new dimension of panic.

For me, however, I could be given ten minutes to run fifty feet with no enemies between me and the goal, and I'll run straight for the exit. Take no chances, I say. The most notable experience I've had with this is with the finale of The Secret Armory of General Knoxx DLC from the original Borderlands. You've already defeated the big bad and gained access to his titular secret armory, so why limit my looting? Just let me grab all the guns and I'll be on my way. This was hectic because you aren't given enough time to open the insane amount of loot chests available, and you're frantically scurrying to try and open another one in hopes of finding new and better gear.

Timers are a pointless gaming device. Not once have they ever added to the enjoyment of a game's overall experience.

Escort Missions

No one likes escort missions. Literally no one. If you say you do, I will call you a liar to your face and then pray for you because you're a sinner. I hate the cult classic, Ico, because that's all the game is. However, let me contradict myself by saying that Resident Evil 4 is in my top 3 all-time games, which also relies heavily on escorting another character. What's the difference, you ask? Nothing really, I'm just being a bit of a hypocrite on this one. At the very least, RE4 allows you to stuff Ashley into a dumpster during major encounters, negating the need to protect her.

While typically only found in action or survival horror games, one of the greatest offender in this category is Yoshi's Island. For the completionist, Yoshi's Island can be one of the most frustrating games you can play. One hit causes Baby Mario to drift away from you, making you go on the chase. It doesn't sound that bad on paper, but that one hit has the potential to ruin your perfect run of a level, requiring a restart.

The only games that do the escort mission right are games like Bioshock Infinite and the 2008 Prince of Persia, where the person you're "escorting" is incapable of being hurt, which, at that point, prevents it from being an escort mission in the traditional sense.

Choices With No Good Outcome

I remember watching a movie called Escape From Sobibor in junior high school. It's based on the true story of a group of Jewish refugees who stage an escape from the titular concentration camp. There's a scene where a group of Jews are about to be executed and forced to choose another person to be executed alongside them. If they refused, the Nazis overseeing the camp would kill even more people. That movie--and that scene specifically--have stayed with me for twenty years now.

I'm certainly not trying to equate meaningless video game decisions to the real life horrors that took place during World War II, but whenever a game forces me into a decision with no possibility of a positive outcome, I always think about that scene.

Story-heavy games like Until Dawn, Heavy Rain, Mass Effect, and the various Telltale adventure titles often force you into making decisions you're not particularly fond of. Do I want to kill this deplorable member of my team, or do I want to kill this other utterly reprehensible person? Flip a coin, I guess.

I'm not crying. You're crying!

Not all decisions are of the life-or-death variety, though. Sometimes, death is an inevitability. Take the final decision in Telltale's The Walking Dead Season One for example. Lee is going to die regardless of what you choose, your only real choice is if he comes back to life as part of the undead. In hindsight, the decision doesn't matter, and in a real-life scenario, the smarter decision would be to just walk away. One bullet could be the difference between life and death in this world, and a loud gunshot could attract a horde to shamble your direction. But after how much I had grown to love Lee and the relationship between he and Clementine, I simply couldn't allow such a good man to turn into one of those things. Lee had been absolved of his past crimes in my eyes, and deserved peace in the next life.

The Worst of the Worst

Despite its shortcomings, I really love Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I enjoy about 98% of that game from a strictly gameplay perspective. The other 2% is an underwater escort mission with a timer. That covers three of the four scenarios I discussed.

Again, the swimming controls are mangled, and I've never been able to nail them down in over a dozen playthroughs. Now combine that with Raiden's O2 meter, which acts as a de facto timer. Lastly, rescue Otacon's annoying little sister, who can't walk because of an injection given to her by the enemy, now swim back with Emma Emmerich holding on to you. Oh, by the way, her O2 meter is half as long as Raiden's, so have fun with that.

In my eyes, Hideo Kojima is a genius, and I like to look at MGS2 as the greatest trolling in video game history. You think this tanker section with Solid Snake is amazing? Well, screw you, now you're a pretty boy with an annoying girlfriend! 

I've forgiven Mr. Kojima because he gave us MGS3 a few years later, and while I applaud the ballsy-ness of it all, this ten minute section of Sons of Liberty will serve as a reminder that those you love the most are the ones that have the ability to hurt you the worst.

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Thursday, April 5, 2018

Top 5 Backwards Compatible Xbox 360 Games

The real title of this article is "The Top 5 Best Backwards Compatible Xbox 360 Games You Should Play If You Never Have" but that seemed a little long-winded. It's actually pretty rare for me to take advantage of the Xbox One's backwards compatibility feature, as I always find myself buying more current games and don't have much desire to return to older ones. But, to me, these are the five games that are more than worthy to get a playthrough on your more current and fancy console.

There are some rules for this list, however. First, if a backwards compatible game has received a remaster or port to the current home consoles, it's out. So that means you won't see games like Bioshock, Borderlands 2, and Assassin's Creed Brotherhood. All are great games, but they have more current versions available. Secondly, the game had to have been originally released on the Xbox 360/PS3/Wii generation of consoles, so early XBLA classics like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Contra are also eliminated since they appeared on systems prior to that generation.

As always, let's start with a few games that were in contention but just barely missed the final list.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

There are better fast-paced action games than this one, the parrying mechanic isn't always easy to pull off, and the controls for any weapon other than the sword are wonky, but the frenetic action and trademark Metal Gear insanity make this compact game (about 4 hours) a blast to play. Also, nanomachines, son!

Portal 2

I loved Portal. Like everyone else, I'm sick of "the cake is a lie" jokes. Also like everyone else, I was curious how they were going to take Portal and turn it into a full-fledged, $60 release. The mind-bending puzzles combined with amazing writing, a separate co-op campaign, and secrets that are very fun to find make for one of the best puzzle games of all-time.

Dead Space series

Dead Space picked up the ball that Resident Evil had dropped in the latter half of the generation (before Dead Space dropped it and Resident Evil picked it back up again). Dead Space 3 suffered from EA's intervention of trying to shoehorn in microtransactions (though I still enjoyed it), but the first two entries are survival horror royalty. The first game took everyone by surprise, delivering claustrophobic corridors, scarce ammo pickups, and a twist to the combat that made the genuinely scary enemies even more of a threat.

Dead Space 2 leaned more toward action, but still had plenty of scares, and is my personal favorite of the series. I liked how the story had a heavier emphasis on the Unitology cult, and the game starts with one of the best opening sequences ever. As of this writing, Dead Space 2 is currently a free via Xbox Live Games With Gold, so go get it!

SPOILER ALERT: One thing that I wish they would have done is went with what appeared to be the ending, with Isaac Clarke having completed his mission, but realizing that there's no hope of survival. The moment where he sits there with his head in his hands was a really powerful one, but I feel they ruined it with the last minute rescue.

Now, on to the top 5.

5. Split/Second

Unless it features a gorilla throwing a turtle shell at a ghost, I'm not usually into racing games. I took a chance on Split/Second because I had a genuine interest and managed to pick it up for only $20 the week of release thanks to an Amazon sale combined with a coupon. Split/Second is a different type of racing combat. Rather than weapon pick ups, you fill a meter through various means, such as drifting, drafting, or narrowly missing debris, and use the meter to trigger events in the world to attempt to crash your opponents. There are different levels of things to trigger, and some tracks even feature course-altering actions that will change the course layout on the next lap.

The story is set up like a reality show and there are several types of events outside of normal races. One event sees you dodging missiles from an overhead helicopter while another continually eliminates the car in last place until there's only one car left standing. The game's ending set up a sequel, but unfortunately the developer, Black Rock Studios, was shut down before that could ever happen, which is a shame, because I would gladly tune in for a second season of Split/Second.

This one just recently became backwards compatible and is very affordable, so check it out if you want a different spin on the racing combat genre.

4. Ghostbusters

Being in my 30s now, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Ghostbusters is one of my all-time favorite films. I grew up with the these movies, and it was practically an inevitability that Ghostbusters 2 was playing on a basic cable channel at all times in the 90s. I was also huge into The Real Ghostbusters cartoon series, and I wanted nothing more than a third Ghostbusters movie. We never got it, but this game is the canonical continuation of the series, and even Dan Aykroyd stated "This is essentially the third movie."

The game has you playing as an unnamed rookie working with the Ghostbusters, featuring the voices of all of the original actors, and has so many throwbacks to the original movies that it'll bring a smile to the face of anyone who is a fan of the property. The fact that you can crack jokes with Vigo the Carpathian in your downtime is just one example of the attention to detail that was lavished on this game. It's obvious that the developers were big Ghostbusters fans.

As far as the game goes, it plays and controls like Gears of War, and it does a great job of mixing comedy and horror. There are some parts in the game where you'll need to use a PKE meter, and it feels much like a survival horror game a la Dead Space. This game has managed to hold its value pretty well, so I say pick it up if you find it for under $30.

3. Deadly Premonition

If you've ever played Deadly Premonition, you have one of two minds about it. It's either a shoddy, bargain bin, wannabe ripoff of Resident Evil 4, or it's one of the most bizarre yet incredibly enjoyable games you've ever played. I'm the latter.

It was Jim Sterling's infamous 10/10 review on Destructoid that made me take notice, and when I realized that it was released at only $20, I figured I didn't have much to lose and picked it up. The first chapter is very much an RE4 knockoff, but the rest of the game is Twin Peaks. Literally. It takes quite liberally from David Lynch's bizarre supernatural comedy-drama television series: an FBI agent that gives exposition to an absent second party, a small town traumatized by the death of a young girl, a cast of weird but strangely lovable characters, and a protagonist that really likes coffee. Not surprisingly, the game was directed by Hidetaka Suehiro, better known by his alias SWERY, who also has a penchant for the bizarre and outlandish.

What makes Deadly Premonition so interesting is that it's not just a third-person shooter, it's a weird hybrid of shooter and life simulator. Your character needs to eat, he needs to sleep, he needs to shave (unless you want a wicked beard, and who doesn't?), if he doesn't shower flies will begin to swarm around him, when you're driving you need to stop and get gas. It sounds tedious but somehow it works. Even if you don't want to play it, I really do suggest watching someone else play it. Everyone needs to experience this game.

2. Borderlands

I talk about the Borderlands franchise a lot, and that's because there are a lot of good things to say about it. The game was such a pleasant surprise back in 2009, as the Game Informer cover story did nothing for me. It looked like any other generic shooter that was coming out at the time. Fallout 3 had just released the year prior, Rage was also in the works, and it looked very similar to both of those games. But once they changed to the cel shaded art style, I suddenly became interested. It gained personality. Combine that with some coworkers that were really into the game, and I decided to give it a go.

I had never played a western RPG prior to Borderlands. I shied away from anything that had leveling up, stats, and perks, which is funny now considering how much I love the genre. This was my first taste, and I was very befuddled about what I was supposed to be doing, but luckily I had friends to play with to help me along. I immediately fell in love with the people and locations of Pandora. The game was full of design problems and bugs that somehow added to the wackiness and charm. Before I knew it I had logged over 100 hours into the game, and that was before any of the season pass content was released.

Speaking of which, with the exception of Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot, all of the DLC for Borderlands is top notch. The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned was a fun diversion while The Secret Armory of General Knoxx and Claptrap's New Robot Revolution felt like natural extensions and brought the story full circle (quite literally). It's not as great as Borderlands 2, but the original is still a great game that any fan of shooters or western RPGs can appreciate.

This game also has the distinction of being the thing that made me start liking that stupid Cage the Elephant song.

1. Alan Wake

I think Alan Wake is one of the most underrated and underappreciated games of all-time. If there is any game that I want to get a sequel, it's Alan Wake. Though there was a follow up in the form of Alan Wake's American Nightmare, developer Remedy stated that it's more of an "in universe spin-off" rather than a true sequel.

The game follows acclaimed thriller novelist Alan Wake as he tries to solve the mystery behind his wife's disappearance while vacationing in the pacific northwest. Over the course of the game, you discover pages from Wake's latest novel (which he doesn't remember writing) that predict the events that soon take place. I think it's such a great premise for a story, but not only that, I loved the twist to the combat we see in most third-person shooters. Rather than just pumping your enemies full of bullets, all of the enemies are covered in "darkness," and you must remove the darkness before you can damage them by shining your flashlight on them, at which point only a couple of shots will take them down.

The game is laid out like a television show, with six episodes that start with a "Previously on Alan Wake" segment, as well as a "Next time on Alan Wake" at each episode's conclusion. It pays homage to things like Twin Peaks, The Twilight Zone, Stephen King, Alfred Hitchcock, The Shining, etc. If there's one gripe I have, it's that each episode begins with the "Previously on Alan Wake" cutscene and uses it as a way to take your weapons away from you. You do get the weapons back over the course of the episode, but I just hate when games do this. In horror games, you usually hold on to your more powerful weapons for bigger enemies, but in this case, you may as well use them because they'll just be taken away from you.

There are many memorable sequences in Alan Wake, though none more so than the battle at the Old Gods of Asgard concert stage. The game also has a great soundtrack with many songs from European band Poets of the Fall, who I wouldn't normally listen to but their music fits so well with the tone of the game. Sometimes I listen to them just because it reminds me of Alan Wake. They're kind of like the band HIM, only less terrible and less affiliation with Bam Margera.

The greatest tragedy in all this is that the planned sequel was scrapped and turned into Quantum Break. I want my Alan Wake 2! #AlanWake2

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Monday, March 26, 2018

Top 5 NES Games

I've been writing these blogs for several years now, and it just hit me that I've done top 5 games lists for several consoles, but not my favorite console of all-time: the NES. It's time to change that. The only problem is that there are so many NES games in contention for this that I can't possibly make a top 5 list without also listing several honorable mentions.

For some of these games, nostalgia plays a large role, as I'm sure they don't hold up as well as I think they do, but that's what is so great about nostalgia. I don't want to revisit certain games that I loved as a kid and find that "oh hey, this game is actually kind of terrible." I'm sorry Monster Party, you will forever hold a special place in my heart, and I appreciate that quirky humor of yours, but you're not actually a very good game.

Alright, I take it back. You're pretty great.

The games on this list aren't going to shock anyone as it's going to be very similar to what you would find on any top 5 NES games list, it just goes to show that in the early generations of console gaming, the best games stood out from the pack. Let's begin.

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)


Of all the games that just barely missed the top spots, this is the one that I shocked myself with the most. Usually when I make these lists, the top 5 starts off with the games that my gut instinct tells me, then I evaluate the other contenders and try to be as objective as possible.

Castlevania is an all-time favorite series for me, but when it comes right down to it, the original game, as much as I still love the music and tone, the gameplay doesn't hold up quite as well as five-year-old Dustin remembers. When I'm in the mood to play a Castlevania game, there are probably five or more other games I would choose ahead of this one. Still a great game, and another that holds a very sentimental place in my heart, just not up to snuff to make it to the top 5.

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!

The game that's so exciting that it required not one, but TWO exclamation points!! Or maybe those exclamation points represent the two seconds that it takes to realize that I'll never beat Mike Tyson. Regardless, this classic still holds up very well today. They improved on the formula in Super Punch-Out!! and then perfected it in Punch-Out!! on the Wii, but this one is still worth popping in every once in a while.

And if you're that guy who says things like "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! is classic Nintendo racism at its finest," then I will kindly ask you to not be that guy.

Bubble Bobble

I'm not good at Bubble Bobble, which is why it's good that it has a lot of other things that work in its favor. The songs...well, song, is catchy, it's a great co-op experience, and the characters are super adorable. One hundred unique levels of bubble-popping fun with no need to go to a level screen or map, and infinite continues for those of us that don't want something as trivial as death to impede our progress.


This might still be the gold standard of movie-licensed tie-in games. It captures the tone of Tim Burton's iconic 1989 Batman film perfectly. It may not capture anything else about the film aside from a few cutscenes, but the tone? Nailed it.

This is a tough game, with Joker being so unfair that he's nearly impossible, but the dark visuals and moody music add so much to the experience that the difficulty can be overlooked, showing that Sunsoft had mastered the NES architecture. I did an entire video on this game, which you can watch here.

Felix The Cat

Another one that I did a video on, Felix the Cat is a game that I hadn't played prior to making that video, but it instantly became one of my favorite games on the system. I have no ties to the Felix the Cat character, and this game didn't make me suddenly want to learn more about Felix, but you can't argue with quality, and that's what you get in this package.

The game has a ton of personality with fun power-ups, good music, and it changes up the level design often by giving you standard platforming, flying, and swimming levels. Buying the actual cartridge these days is going to set you back a pretty penny, so get this one on an emulator and give it a whirl, it shouldn't take you more than an hour.

Super Spike V'Ball

I feel like this one stands out from the rest. I've never been a big volleyball guy, but Super Spike V'Ball is a game I played a lot as a kid and was delighted to find that it's still quite a fun game today. It's just a two-on-two beach volleyball game developed by Technos (most notable for developing Double Dragon) and its simplicity is its genius. One button to jump, one button to hit the ball, it doesn't get much simpler than that. It's arcade sports action done right.

And now, let's get on to the top 5 and what I consider to be the cream of the NES crop.

5. DuckTales

When I got married, I walked down the aisle with the "Moon Theme" playing, that's how great that song is. And yes, I had my own entrance, it's my day too! But the same can be said of every song in DuckTales. They're all memorable, including a stellar rendition of the show's theme song that plays on the title screen. You can't just hit "Start." You have to let that song play in its entirety before you begin playing.

It's well-known that Capcom made great games out of many Disney licenses, but DuckTales was their finest work on the NES. All five levels have their own personality, with (as already mentioned) a great accompanying musical number, hidden treasures, unique enemies and bosses, and characters from the show.

Using Scrooge McDuck to golf club rocks or various debris into enemies is fun, but the pogo bounce is what everyone remembers about the game. Not only is it fun to see how many enemies you can bounce off of in a row, but it gives the game an increased sense of speed and variety to ensure that you never get bored.

One thing that always bothered me, though, was that Scrooge lets Huey, Dewey, and Louie seemingly fall to their death in a mine cart.

4. Contra

When I started whittling down my list, I thought to myself "is Contra actually that good or is nostalgia playing too large of a role on this pick?" Like I said, I'm trying to be as objective as possible, but when it comes right down to it, Contra really is that good. Even today, it's still that good. It's opening level and accompanying track are so iconic not just for the NES, but for video games as a whole.

Talk to anyone who grew up with an NES, and they almost certainly have memories tied to Contra. The iconic "Konami Code" was used for several games, but everyone associates it with getting you 30 lives in Contra, which is why many refer to it as the "Contra Code" instead. It's simple run-and-gun action, but no one made it happen as smoothly and fluidly as Konami did here. Even though I think Contra III: The Alien Wars is a better game, it's the original game that everyone associates with the series.

It has one of the most immediately recognizable cover arts of all-time, borrowing quite heavily from Predator, Alien, and Rambo. I remember being amazed at the giant boss encounters, having never seen enemies that big before. Contra is pure, unadulterated machismo. Rip off your shirt, slap a headband on, and shoot some aliens, it doesn't get any more manly than that. You'll go in a boy (or a girl) and come out a man (or a man...that's not a typo).

3. Tecmo Super Bowl

The Raiders are banned. Bo Jackson is the Oddjob of Tecmo Super Bowl. If you choose the Raiders, your win is deemed illegitimate and will be rescinded faster than Louisville's national championship. By today's standard of football games, it looks inferior in every way, but I would still rather play this game than the latest Madden...or any Madden...or any other football game for that matter. Sometimes, less is more.

As someone who has always been more of a casual football fan, I appreciate that Tecmo Super Bowl doesn't expect me to know different types of offensive and defensive schemes. It's a step up from its predecessor, and what it adds is more than enough but not too much. They doubled the amount of plays to choose from, received the NFL team license (which the original did not have), making it the first NFL game on the NES to feature both real players and all 28 NFL teams.

Gameplay wise, both this game and the original are very similar, though Tecmo Super Bowl does have a more zoomed out camera, allowing you to survey more of the field at once, and the cutscenes during touchdowns, interceptions, field goal attempts, etc. are more intricate and look more like actual cutscenes rather than a slideshow. There's a reason that Tecmo Super Bowl still has a rabid fan base that updates the game every year to feature current rosters and teams, and it's because this classic has never gone out of style. It still plays, sounds, and feels as good as it did when I was small lad.

2. Mega Man II

The original Mega Man is a flawed but satisfactory game. It has its annoying moments, like the several disappearing block sections and certain areas where I swear its impossible to not take a hit, but it was still a pretty good game by 1987 standards. The home console industry was just starting to climb its way back into the public consciousness after the crash of 1983, and Mega Man played a large role in that endeavor.

Mega Man didn't break any sales records, but the team behind its development knew they could improve on their formula, and Capcom agreed to let them create a sequel on their own time as long as it didn't interfere with other games they were developing for the company, and we can all be glad that they did, because Mega Man II is one of the premier games on the NES and still one of the best games in the entire franchise.

When you think of the iconic heroes associated with the NES, your first thoughts are naturally of Mario and Link, but there's a good chance that the next one you think of is the Blue Bomber, and Mega Man II is what truly put him on the map. It certainly wasn't the box art that did it.

It featured one of the best soundtracks on the system, improved level and boss design, new items and abilities that allow Mega Man to reach previously inaccessible areas, just about every aspect of the first game was given a facelift or overhaul, and it all came together in a masterful way.

1. Super Mario Bros. 3

Is this the most obvious number one pick I could have given? Absolutely. This does not surprise anyone, but my reasoning is simple: This game changed my life. I don't think I can say that about any other video game I've ever played. Even though Super Mario World is my favorite game of all-time, it didn't do to me what SMB3 did.

I was already well on the hype train after the release of the cinematic masterpiece that is The Wizard, and I'll never forget that Christmas when I tore through the wrapping paper to see the bright yellow box art adorned with Raccoon Mario staring back at me. This was the first game I ever looked forward to. I had rented and played other great games, but the anticipation I had for SMB3 was unlike anything I had ever experienced.

My family and I had put a lot of miles onto our Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt cartridge, and Super Mario Bros. 2 was probably the game we rented more than any other, but the first time I took flight as Raccoon Mario in Level 1-1, it completely changed the way I saw video games. Secrets could now--quite literally--be anywhere. Mario could be contained no longer. Cue Queen's "I Want To Break Free" right here.

It helps that SMB3 plays amazingly, but what I remember most is how weird I thought the game was. What's up with the Tanooki suit? What even is a Tanooki? What's up with that card matching minigame you get every few levels? What's up with Kuribo's shoe? What's up with the weird "Boo Bars" in that one Fortress level? What's up with that castle in World 5 that takes you up into the clouds where the rest of the levels are? I don't know what's up with any of it. But what I do know is that it's all awesome!

Each world had its own distinct theme (like the Water World, the Giant World, etc.), an inventory system was added so you can hold on to all of those awesome new ability suits for the proper occasion, the airship's snail's-crawl pace and foreboding score made it feel like you were on your way to a legitimately dangerous encounter. I feel like I could go on and on and never fully capture everything that made SMB3 one of the most revered games of all time.

When it comes to video games, there aren't many that I have as many fond memories with as I do with Super Mario Bros. 3.

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Internal Struggle of the "Retired" Professional Wrestler

I'm not exactly sure why I'm deciding to write this. I guess, if anything, it'll be cathartic for me. I've found myself thinking more and more about a chapter of my life that has been closed for almost four and a half years. I find myself not thinking about what my career was, but rather, what it could have been. What it should have been.

While the great majority of the reason I decided to hang up my boots in terms of being an active professional wrestler is due to an ever-present back injury that continued to worsen over the years, there were certainly other reasons that played a role in that decision. Chief among those reasons was bitterness. For the final couple of years of my career, I worked so hard to get into the best shape of my life. If you knew me at the time, trust me, you knew I was in great shape, because I made sure everyone knew it. But it just seemed like no matter what I did, I just couldn't get that big break.

I worked hard to improve my in-ring ability, my look, my promos, etc. I was constantly thinking of new angles, new characters, spots I wanted to try. Unfortunately, those angles and characters I thought up, for one reason or another, never came to fruition. I always knew my in-ring work was solid, and I had a few times where I thought it was going to lead to a bigger stage. They didn't, but I was always encouraged by those possibilities. I would send tapes and 8x10s to every major wrestling company I could think of, but after months of no response, that encouragement waned and bitterness began to set in.

Many men and women that I came up in the business with have had their fair share of success, and I would find myself envious. It wasn't out of dislike for anyone, but more of a "I'm just as good as them" kind of thing. Looking back, I definitely wasn't as good as them, but that's what my mentality was as a brash, young professional wrestler.

In late 2011, I had a high profile match (at least locally) with a very well-known wrestling star. After the match was over, he told me that our match was his favorite that he had had in years. I'm sure he was being slightly hyperbolic, but he was very complimentary of my work and our match. Another man (who I respect to no end) who spent some time in developmental for WWE said in an interview that he thought I had what it took to go to the next level. At that time I felt like there was nothing that could stop me.

Just over a year later, another well-known wrestling star essentially told me that I was a garbage wrestler and that he saw nothing in me. I shouldn't have let that one negative voice be so loud when so many other voices were still encouraging me, but by that time my back was already affecting my day-to-day life, I had just gotten married, and other things in my life were becoming more important to me. I still wrestled for about another 7 months, but that day was the day I officially checked out.

I stopped caring about wrestling. I stopped watching it. I stopped following it. I think I've watched a total of three wrestling shows since that day. My entire exposure to the business now is the few friends I follow on social media and occasionally opening the Bleacher Report app on my phone. I've wrestled a handful of matches for the NWF since then, but that's been it.

But here's the crazy thing about professional wrestling: I still think about it every single day of my life. I cut promos in my head all the time. I hear a song and think about what kind of character would use it as entrance music. I still come up with new gimmicks and envision the ring gear to go along with it. I may not recognize it as part of my life anymore, but I can't escape it. It's like the crazy ex-girlfriend that keeps trying to weasel her way back into your life.

Back in 2014, I made it far enough in WWE's Tough Enough to get a Skype interview with a casting agent for the show. Obviously, I didn't make it, but in my head I constantly wonder what if I did? What would have happened? I've always found it ironic that I made it closer to WWE after I "retired" than I ever did while actively pursuing it.

I'll read interviews or listen to podcasts from wrestlers that say they didn't catch their big break until they were in their mid-to-late 30s, and I think "I'm only 32, maybe something could happen if I returned for one more run." Then I lean forward in my chair and my back goes out, then reality sets back in.

Again, I don't know why I felt the need to write these thoughts down. It's not to get compliments from people saying that I should have made it, nor is it me throwing myself a pity party because it didn't work out. In the grand scheme of things, my career was a million times better than what I ever expected it to be, and better than what most people in the wrestling business get to experience. I had matches with Hall of Famers, WWE champions, wrestlers that are worldwide superstars, and some of the best friends I have are ones that I only know because of the insane theater that is professional wrestling. In all honesty, I owe the much better place in my life that I am right now to the wrestling business. Had it not been for professional wrestling (and a tattooed viking), I wouldn't have met my wife.

So what do I do with all of these thoughts? Do I just keep them pent up and occasionally cry on my little blog here? The last month's worth of matches during my active career were some of my favorites, mainly because I just didn't care anymore. I just wanted to go out there and have fun with my friends. Is that what I do then? Do I return to wrestling or maybe just wrestle occasionally with the mentality that it doesn't matter anymore and just go have fun? I've always loved performing and being in front of a camera, so do I try to wrestle again just to occasionally get that fix? I've always had the mindset that it's better to burn out than fade away. I never wanted to be the type of wrestler that couldn't leave it behind. Perhaps I feel like I still have something to prove, as I do sometimes feel like I never had the opportunity to truly showcase what I was capable of.

I honestly don't know what to do with all of this, and I think that's perhaps the real reason I'm writing this today. I have all of these thoughts and I have no idea what to do with them. This, my friends, is the internal struggle of at least this "retired" professional wrestler.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Let's Remember The Time Chris Redfield Punched That Boulder

Chris Redfield has had quite the character arc over the past 20 years, and I just blew my own mind with the realization that Resident Evil is now over 20 years old. In the beginning, Chris was the character I knew little about, because I was very bad at the original Resident Evil and he had fewer inventory slots than Jill Valentine. The extra inventory space didn't help me, but Chris seemed like the character you chose only if you were an elite RE player.

Chris is perhaps the most prominent character in the entire franchise, being playable in Resident Evil, Code Veronica, RE5, RE6, Revelations, and RE7 Biohazard's "Not a Hero" DLC (this is not including his appearances in spin offs like Umbrella/Darkside Chronicles and the Mercenaries modes in various games). In the beginning, Chris didn't stand out any more than any other grizzled cop. He smoked. He had a flat top haircut, the whole nine yards. He was a cop in every way you could imagine.

Over time, as we all do, Chris Redfield changed. Such is life. I'm certainly not the same person I was 20 years ago. I don't listen to Korn anymore. I'm not as socially awkward. I have slightly more gray hair. A lot can happen in that span of time. At some point, though, Chris Redfield drifted over to the dark side...

I spent ten years in the professional wrestling business, and I know a user when I see one. People you see regularly suddenly bulk up at an inhuman rate, and you know something is up. They're angry. They're more aggressive. They start criticizing your skinny calves. You know what's going on. That person is on the juice. They're on the gas. They're taking the Arnolds. Gym candy. Pumpers. The 'roids. PERFORMANCE. ENHANCING. DRUGS!

How do I know this? Let's look at the evidence. Chris spends so much of his time traveling the world with the BSSA protecting it from men like Albert Wesker, how exactly is he going to find time to hit the gym? Arms don't get that big from doing a few push-ups. Also consider that in order to pack on muscle mass, one needs to eat an incredible amount of calories, as well as keeping a close eye on their fat, carbohydrate, and protein consumption. Not once in any of the Resident Evil games have I ever seen Chris Redfield eat food. Lastly, let's compare his before and after photos.

A subtle change.

However, I can not condemn Christopher Redfield for his doping. I get it. I, myself, was once tempted to use steroids. I understand the feeling of wanting a more impressive physique and being able to bench press more weight. For me, however, it ultimately wasn't worth the moral guilt.

Perhaps Chris had those same feelings, but I have no doubt that those feelings quickly went away when he met his greatest adversary. A boulder. But not just any boulder. That boulder. You know the one. The one that was somehow conveniently placed on the edge of a precipice, ready for a good punching. The one that got to that spot without any prior human intervention. The one that would serve as a bridge between Chris and Sheva. That's the one. You remember that boulder.


Chris's performance enhanced strength proved to be ineffective at budging this boulder that only Jesus could have moved (though if I may critique his form, Chris should have been using more of his leg and core strength). But what that boulder didn't know was that there was an onslaught of pain coming its way... onslaught, named Chris Redfield.

Chris noticed that this boulder was going to play dirty, and that's when he got mad. A few body shots thrown in to weaken his opponent, and then BAM! A right hook and that boulder went down faster than Glenn Danzig in Tuba City, Arizona.

Had it not been for Chris's sudden explosion of roid rage, there may never have been a Resident Evil 6, which, honestly, wouldn't have been a very bad thing, but there also wouldn't have been a Resident Evil 7, which definitely would have been a bad thing.

As someone who has been a fan of the series since the very beginning, I can say that I really like Resident Evil 5. I think it gets unnecessarily written off as a bad game because it followed one of the best games ever made and people didn't like the increased ratio of action to horror. I will say, though, that that's only when played in co-op. As a single player game, it's terrible, but with a co-op buddy, it becomes one of the better cooperative experiences of the PS3/Xbox 360 generation.

With Resident Evil 4, the decision was made to change the series from "survival horror" to "survival action." It worked well with RE4, as it's one of the highest rated games every made and received several game of the year awards, but for whatever reason, people didn't lavish the same type of praise on RE5 despite the fact that they're essentially the same game. With the increased emphasis on action, we started to see more firepower, more QTE action sequences, and more explosions to the point that Resident Evil 6 may as well have been directed by Michael Bay.

Pictured: 70% of gameplay in RE6.

But even in a game where we had already been through several escape sequences, battled giant monsters, and survived a plane crash, this one moment of sheer stupidity was the moment where the series officially lost any and all sense of reality. In a section of RE5 where you've just crash landed inside of an active volcano while the Matrix-enhanced version of Albert Wesker punches through a metal canister containing the Uroboros virus and becomes a hulking-armed mutation, the most ridiculous and unbelievable thing Capcom asked me to believe was that Chris Redfield can punch a boulder so hard that it rolls out of the way.

We often hear of television shows "jumping the shark," and this is the moment that it happened for Resident Evil. In my opinion, this is the most notorious example of a video game series jumping the shark in history, and I'm a Metal Gear fan.