Monday, September 1, 2014

Weekly Top 5: Favorite Pieces of My Gaming Collection

I've been a collector for as long as I can remember. It wasn't always games and gaming memorabilia, as a kid it began with baseball cards. As I got older, I got really into metal music and action figures. Then in my late-teens and early-twenties, I got serious about building my gaming collection, and while I'm far from being one of those guys who have made themselves Internet famous for being collectors, I've managed to get some pretty fun stuff.

While I do have a pretty good retro game collection, you won't find anything too rare in there outside of a few NES and SNES games that go for $80-$100, things like Contra Force and Demon's Crest. But I do have some things that I think are pretty cool, and I just wanted to share them with you.

Honorable Mention: Steelbooks and Limited Editions

I'm a sucker for a good limited edition, I just love all the little knickknacks that come with them. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with a necklace in the shape of Africa that came with Resident Evil 5, but I'll take it. I've spent a lot of extra money on limited editions simply because they had one item I wanted. The Killzone 3 Helghast Edition maybe wasn't worth the money I dropped, but I really wanted that Helghast helmet.

I also have a thing for steelbook cases. While I don't have a lot of them, if there's a game that I want on day one and it has a steelbook (which usually comes as part of a limited edition), I'll always drop the extra $10-$20 for it. They just look nice and they're hard to damage unless you're actually trying to ruin it.

5. Resident Evil 4 Chainsaw Controller

I feel like I mention Resident Evil 4 in my blogs more than I mention any other game, but there's a perfectly good reason for that: it's an incredible game, one of my personal top 5 of all-time. You may have noticed from the earlier picture that I picked up the limited edition with the steelbook case, I love that thing; it also came with a t-shirt that wouldn't even fit my 7 year old nephew. Anyway, back when RE4 came out, I was a big proponent of trading in games. I traded in a bunch of PS2 titles and came away with a decent amount of credit. I had intended to buy a new game or two, but then I saw the chainsaw controller and knew I had to have it in my life. I thought to myself "It costs more than a full-price game, I should just pass on it and get some new games." But that internal debate lasted all of 7 seconds before I convinced myself by saying "But it's so cool!"

The only bad part about the controller? Well, it's not really conducive to actually playing videogames with, it's actually very uncomfortable on your hands. Also, it's supposed to have some sort of motion technology in it, because it claims that if you raise or lower the controller while Leon has his gun drawn that it'll cause him to aim upward or downward, and that's just not true. Not once did I ever get it to work that way. So, as a controller, it's not that good, but as a collector's item, it's great.

4. Borderlands 2 Loot Chest

You know what? I was wrong earlier. I've written about the Borderlands series more than any other games. Here, read about why the original Borderlands is a contributing factor to my wife and I getting married. When Gearbox announced the Ultimate Loot Chest Edition of Borderlands 2, I already planned on picking it up, but when they said that it was actually going to be limited to a small amount, I went the next day to pre-order it. Yes, it cost $149.99, and yes, I got the seasons pass for an extra $29.99, but I still feel as though I've gotten my moneys worth from the game. This is how you do a special edition. I mean, just look at everything that came with this thing:

For someone that loves the Borderlands series as much as I do, the asking price was well worth it. If there were a similar edition for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, I would be picking that one up as well.

3. Superman 64 Signed by AVGN

This is going to sound very hipster of me, but I've been a fan of AVGN since before he got hugely popular. Back in 2006, a coworker of mine told me about him and I went home that night and basically watched his entire catalog, which only consisted of about 10 videos. It seems as though his popularity has subsided somewhat over the past couple of years or so, but I still get excited any time I see that he releases a new episode.

Back in 2008, I attended the first Screwattack Gaming Convention, which of course featured the Nerd as a guest. Most people have heard that James Rolfe is nothing like his Nerd character, and it's very true, he's genuinely one of the nicest dudes I've ever met. Being the big Rocky fan that I am, I stood and chatted with him about the Rocky films for about 10 minutes before he had to leave for a panel, he genuinely enjoys just talking to his fans. While the whole convention was a blast, I'd be lying if I said the Nerd wasn't the main reason I wanted to go. So when it came time for his autograph signing, and I realized I didn't have anything for him to sign, I went to the room containing all the game sellers. I knew immediately which game I wanted to get for him to sign, so I went to the N64 section, and there it was: Superman 64. Now that it's signed by a pseudo-celebrity, that ups its value from $0 to about $3.75.

2. Paintings by My Wife

My lovely wife is very artistic, and she enjoys making me things for special occasions like Christmas and my birthday. She did our wedding invitations in 8-bit designs, and she's even made me a kitchen table painted to look like an NES controller.

8-bit Dustin comes complete with 8-bit lumberjack beard.

It really is true that it means more when someone takes the time to make you something rather than just buying you something. Don't get me wrong, I like when she buys me stuff, but the paintings she's done for me mean so much more. The first one she did was for our first Valentine's Day together, and it was this 1-Up mushroom.

Then for Christmas that year, she did a portrait of my favorite character from The Simpsons.

And finally, for my birthday, she did my favorite character from my all-time favorite game.

Yes, that's Blargg from Super Mario World. The enemy that appears in one level in one game. Blargg is the absolute best. Bring back the Blargg, Nintendo.

1. NECA Retro Figures

I mentioned at the beginning of this blog that I started collecting action figures in my teens, and that's never stopped. I kind of go in spurts and collect one kind of figure at a time. It started with Hasbro WWF figures, then moved to the World of Springfield figures, then the Jakks Pacific Rocky and WWE Legends figures, then I started getting into gaming figures when NECA brought out their Player Select series. They eventually started bringing out entire series based on specific games. Resident Evil 4 (there it is again), Gears of War, God of War, Castlevania, Resident Evil 10th Anniversary, and I collected them all. I just recently sold off my entire collection of NECA gaming figures with the exception of my favorites (I just can't part with the Big Daddy figure from BioShock 2).

But last year, they started releasing figures based on NES games, the first of which was Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th game. Remember how it was really weird that Jason was dressed in purple? Well, he looks great in purple as an action figure:

At this point, they've only released four: Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street (which I unfortunately don't have yet), RoboCop, and Predator, with a Rocky figure (from the Sega Master System game) and NES Batman soon to be released. These figures are absolutely great. They come in packaging designed to look like the NES box art, they're even complete with fake wear and tear on the packaging.

There you have it, my five favorite pieces of my gaming collection. Not the greatest stuff in the world, or the rarest, but pretty cool if I do say so myself. What's your favorite part of your collection?

Don't forget you can follow me on Twitter @TheDustinThomas. Also, listen to the most recent episode of my podcast, this one is about old Nickelodeon sitcoms.

Thanks for reading,

-Dustin

Friday, August 29, 2014

Weekly Top 5: Favorite Last-Gen Handheld Games

A few weeks ago I counted down my personal favorite console games of the previous generation. This week, I decided to downsize, and count down my favorite games that appeared exclusively on handheld systems, meaning the PlayStation Portable and the Nintendo DS. Last generation was the first generation where I really got into handheld gaming, and now, most of the gaming I do is on my 3DS or PlayStation Vita. Not a whole lot more to explain, so lets get going.

Honorable Mentions:

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Probably my favorite GTA game, period. I was amazed how great it felt driving around a scaled down Liberty City, and the drug-dealing side game was strangely satisfying. I would love to see a downloadable version made available on the consoles, I would gladly double-dip for that.

God of War: Ghost of Sparta

I just felt like I had to list a PSP game on this list, and even though it letter got a console release, I'm still counting it because it's my list.. It was a late PSP title, and the first PSP entry in the franchise, Chains of Olympus, proved you could have huge, console-like experiences on Sony's handheld, but Ghost of Sparta took it and ran with it, and created an entry superior to its console brethren.

5. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia

The Nintendo DS had three different Castlevania titles done in the 'metroidvania' style, and all of them are superb. Sure, the stylus implementation in Dawn of Sorrow was a bit wonky, but it was still a great game. Portrait of Ruin was an even better game, giving you two protagonists that you can switch to on the fly, and going into different worlds via portraits gave them the freedom to get creative with the level design. But Order of Ecclesia is still my favorite of the DS trilogy. It's actually somewhat similar to Castlevania II: Simon's Quest on the NES, in that you travel to several different locations before being able to finally tackle Dracula's castle.

The game gives us a strong female lead, Shanoa, who is part of the Order of Ecclesia, a group of people who have taken up the battle against Dracula and do their best to try to prevent his return. Through the use of different glyphs, Shanoa can alter the abilities of her weapons, which was a breath of fresh air from the traditional swords, axes, and magic found in most action-RPGs. The game was a bit longer than it needed to be, because if you want to reach Dracula and get the true ending, you need to do a lot of backtracking.

4. 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors

I love a good story in my games. I don't enjoy games that only have good stories, but I count it as a bonus when it does, as long as the gameplay is still solid. Never before have I been as engrossed in a game's story as I was with 999. The funny thing here, however, is that there really isn't much gameplay at all. It's an interactive story, and the interactive bits are just puzzle-solving, choosing which of the remaining survivors you wish to continue into the next room with, and choosing your dialogue branch when prompted. Other than that, it's a lot of reading, but at least they gave us the option to skip the dialogue rather quickly on subsequent playthroughs.

The game has 6 different endings, and the craziest part about that is that the true ending gives explanations of how all the other endings are true and actually happened. It has a lot to do with alternate realities and timelines, and can get a little confusing. It was fun trying to figure out who you could trust and who you couldn't, and some of the story revelations will blow your mind. Think of 999 kind of like a Saw movie, but with a story worth paying attention to.

Also, the game has a pretty great sequel called Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward that appears on both the 3DS and Vita.

3. Professor Layton and the Unwound Future

It seems as though the Professor Layton series lost something after this particular entry in the franchise, but I still clamor for more each and every time. Much like 999, the puzzles and wandering that constitute the gameplay are just window-dressing for a fantastic story, they're there to give you something to do, otherwise you just dropped $35 to watch an animated movie on a small screen. Regardless of how you feel about the puzzles in the series--I couldn't tell you which game had which puzzle, also, way too much math--you can't deny that the stories run the gamut of emotions, and none more heart-wrenching than this one.

All the games are very cleverly written, and the titular professor always reminds you of a younger version of your wise grandfather. In this entry we get to see a more personal side of the professor, as the overarching story involves a lost love of his. It also has a lot of time travel, and the twist at the end, albeit implausible, was very good.

2. Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story

I've never been a fan of turn-based combat. In my entire life, I've only finished four games that have it, and all four of them have Mario in the title. Bowser's Inside Story was the first of the four, and it was a monumental accomplishment for me. With JRPGs, the combat just wears on me after a while and I just put the game down and never come back to it. That's the reason I never finished games like Final Fantasy III/VI and Chrono Trigger. I'm aware that that's borderline blasphemy for someone as into retro gaming as myself, but I can't help what my tastes are. The important thing is that I tried, right?

Anyway, I took a chance on Bowser's Inside Story. I knew going it that it was turn-based, but I thought the idea of Mario and Luigi controlling Bowser from inside his body was fun enough to take the risk, and I certainly wasn't disappointed. They switch control from the Bros to Bowser and vice versa often enough to where it never got monotonous, and the humor--which is a staple of the series--kept me interested in the story throughout. This entry is my favorite in the Mario RPG/Mario & Luigi series.

1. Picross 3D

I've never had $20 go as far for me as it did with Picross 3D. I've spent more time twisting and turning these 3D puzzles than I have in Skyrim, and that's no small feat, because, like most gamers, I played a lot of Skyrim. This game is now over four years now and I still play it with consistency.

Most people don't expect this coming from me, but puzzle games are one of my favorite genres (perhaps that's the reason I never grow tired of Professor Layton), however, I had never played a Picross game before this one. I've spoken with a buddy of mine on several occasions who has a particular affinity for Picross DS, so I decided to give it a shot, and I still disagree and think Picross 3D is the superior game.

It's the perfect time-waster, it's the perfect pre-bed time game, it's a near-perfect puzzle game. Picross 3D gets nothing but my highest recommendation. If you have a Nintendo DS or 3DS, this is an essential item for your collection.

That's it for this week's top 5, but don't forget to follow me on Twitter @TheDustinThomas and listen to my buddies and I muse about videogames on our podcast.

Thanks for reading.

-Dustin

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Weekly Top 5: Best Moments From The Wizard

I'm one of the few people you'll ever meet who loves the movie The Wizard in a non-ironic way. It's legitimately one of my favorite movies of all time. It's purely based on nostalgia, and I readily acknowledge and admit that. I've written an entire blog about why I love the film so much, and this week I'm counting down my favorite scenes (I couldn't find any clips for a few of the scenes, so I'll post pictures and describe them as best I can).

5. Tobey McGuire

If you pay attention to gaming at all, you probably already knew that the former Spider-Man's first film role was as a nameless lackey to the The Wizard's teenage antagonist, Lucas. Or, maybe you didn't know that, because it's a really obscure thing to know. The reason I love this scene is because it still blows my mind every time I watch it. When I first heard about this, I thought there was no possible way it was true, but when you look at the above picture and watch the scene in action, there's no question that it's him. Despise not the days of small beginnings.

4. Speedo Man

Imagine yourself as a small boy, watching a movie with the kid from The Wonder Years that's all about Nintendo games. Everything is going awesome, and then, oh hey, I can see that girl's underwear OHMYGODOLDMANSPEEDO!

Why did this happen? This old man in a teal speedo couldn't possibly have been a hired actor for the film, which means that the director saw this scene after the shot and thought "That's a keeper." How could the director, the editor, the producer, and everyone else involved in the film's creation let this slip through in post-production? I mean, it's not like it was easy to miss, like a cameraman being seen in a mirror's reflection. That old man is right in the middle of the shot, and you mean to tell me that nobody said anything to him? My only thought is that every take before this one was so bad that the director just said "screw it" and gave it a pass.

3. Arcade Montage

Being a fan of action films and sports films must most certainly mean that I'm a fan of a good, old-fashioned montage, and The Wizard has no shortage of them. In fact, it has the same amount of montages as Rocky IV, which is four. Four montages are in this movie about a traumatized kid who is really good at videogames. But the arcade montage is by far the best, in order to describe it, I'll use an excerpt that I wrote in the previous blog that I linked to above:

That montage reminds me of everything that was great about my childhood. Granted, I never saw a Play Choice 10 machine in my life, and I never went to a glamorous Reno arcade, but looking at footage of Metroid, Mega Man 2 and TMNT, combined with that infectious 80s groove and Rick showing us all how awesome our dream job as Nintendo Hotline receptionists was, I can't think of any combination of images that better encapsulates what the year of 1990 was for me.

2. Cinema's Greatest Heel/It's So Bad

Lucas Barton is the late 80s/early 90s equivalent of that racist, sexist, homophobic slur-slinging 15-year-old that "rapes" me in Call of Duty whenever I get a wild hair up my butt and decide that playing multiplayer would be a good idea (it never is). Also, where are they? Does Lucas live in an abandoned convenient store? That is so...cool! Do Lucas and his gang of street toughs run the territory, hustling fools out of their lunch money by beating them at Rad Racer? But you want to know the real reason I hated Lucas as a kid? It wasn't because he punked out Jimmy, or that he vaguely hit on Haley, or that the actor who played him later went on to become a pedophile, it's because he had 97 games. Seriously, 97? I didn't even know that many videogames existed when I was a kid. I never owned more than, like, five. I'm pretty sure my local rental shop didn't even have 97 titles to choose from. I hate Lucas. I hate him. The 5-year-old Dustin is so jealous of him.

1. The Reveal

Unless you were there, it's really hard to convey just how huge of a deal this was. Yes, they show some footage of Super Mario Bros. 3 in the trailer, and we knew that we were going to have to wait until the finale of the movie before we got to see more, but that didn't negate the excitement of every child that saw this movie. When they finally pull the curtain back and unleash the game, it was seriously one of the most epic events I've ever experienced in my gaming life. And what game is more fitting for such an amazing unveiling than the NES' cream of the crop? Even to this day, this 25 year old game is considered an all-time great. This is something that could only have happened in the age before the internet. If someone were planning to unveil a new game in a feature film, that information would be leaked almost immediately, and the surprise would be ruined.

There you have it, my five favorite moments from one of my favorite movies. There were lots of other scenes that were close to making the cut, but I'm very happy with this list. What are your thoughts on the movie?

Thanks for reading,

-Dustin

Don't forget that you can follow me on Twitter @TheDustinThomas, and you can listen to my videogames podcast on iTunes.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Weekly Top 5: People I'd Like To Have Dinner With

I don't really have a fancy introduction this week, the title kind of says it all, so let's just get to the list.

5. Pete Rose

Say what you will about Pete Rose, he may be banned from baseball, but he isn't banned from my heart! In my opinion, Pete Rose is the greatest baseball player that has ever played the game. You don't earn a name like "Charlie Hustle" for no reason. He ran every base as hard as he could, he took every at-bat like the game was on the line, and played every game like it was his last. These days, some players purposefully choose not to play in the All-Star Game, and the ones that do, don't take it seriously. In Rose's era, the All-Star Game was an honor, and he played to win, which is why he wound up ruining Ray Fosse's career in a collision at home plate during the 1970 mid-summer classic, which left Fosse with a separated shoulder that never healed correctly. Again, say what you will about Pete Rose, but he showed us that every game is worth winning, and you don't compromise for anyone. I know it's played out, but Rose needs to be in the Hall of Fame.

4. Matt Groening

Being the die hard Simpsons fan that I am, it should come as no surprise that I have the man that created the series on this list. I realize that producer James L. Brooks and the some of the writers are the ones that had more to do with making the show what it was, but it was still Mr. Groening who created the characters (I mean, they are named after his family members). The Simpsons played a pivotal role in my life in terms of forming my sense of humor, and I'm sure the same goes for lots of people my age. The show is an institution at this point, that's why it's still going strong today despite the fact that it hasn't really been that great of a show since the late 90s (still better than Family Guy, though).

3. Sylvester Stallone

He is Rocky. He is Rambo. That's kind of all that needs to be said. Four movies have made me cry in my life, and all of them are Rocky films (I, II, IV, and Balboa, in case you were wondering). I still listen to Rocky soundtracks when I'm at the gym, with images of Stallone running up the steps and doing one-armed push ups. If anything I would just like to sit down at a table with the guy to let him know how much inspiration his work has given me (minus his early porn days). He's still going strong, too. I love the Expendables films, and the latest installments of the two aforementioned franchises are some of his best work, despite being in his 60s at the time. And when you've done as much reading on the man as I have, and you realize the kind of things he did in order to get to where he is, like selling his dog because he couldn't afford to feed him and then buying the dog back after the success of Rocky, it makes you admire him even more.

2. The Undertaker

If you say you're a fan of pro wrestling, but you don't know who the Undertaker is, then you're probably the girlfriend of a backyard wrestler, and that's no way to live your life. The Undertaker is one of the immortals of professional wrestling. No one commands the type of respect that he does, not even Vince McMachon. To do what he has done, for as long as he has, at the level that he has, is something that even the best of the best can't say that they've done. His last couple of years haven't been his best, between the lackluster WrestleMania matches and constant injuries, but you have to remember that this was a guy whose wrestling career began in 1984 and was still winning "Match of the Year" awards from Pro Wrestling Illustrated as recently as 2012 at age 47, an age where most wrestlers have already retired or faded into obscurity. He was one of the last generation of wrestlers to emerge from the territories, and he witnessed first-hand the rise of the WWE empire, the Attitude Era/Monday Night Wars, the Montreal Screwjob, as well as other monumental moments in wrestling history. Just imagine all the stories he has to share.

1. Arnold Schwarzenegger

A lot of people don't realize that Arnold Schwarzenegger was more than the world's greatest action movie hero, or the former governor of California. Most people don't realize or remember that Arnold Schwarzenegger was the greatest bodybuilder who has ever lived. Sure, guys like Ronnie Coleman and Lee Haney each have one more Olympia title than Arnold, but Arnold is still the youngest to ever win the title (age 23), and then, after deciding to retire, he was persuaded to return in the 1975 competition to have his training filmed in the documentary Pumping Iron. He only had 3 months to prepare, and was still able to win, making it his 6th in a row. Then, after officially retiring to pursue his acting career, he returned to win his 7th title in 1980. For those of you who aren't into bodybuilding, let me explain why he was the best: No bodybuilder since Arnold has stood over 6 feet tall, Arnold is 6'4". No bodybuilder before or since has had the perfect combination of size and leanness. No one trained harder, or dieted better. Say what you will about steroid use in bodybuilding. Yes, they all use, but just because all of your peers are using steroids doesn't mean that you can't still be the best at what you do. Bodybuilding still requires an incredible amount of discipline.

I haven't even started on his acting career. He isn't going to win an Oscar for Best Actor, but there will never be a better action star than Arnold (sorry, Rock). He also has a great knack for comedy, though some of that may be due to his thick Austrian accent. Think of your favorite action movies, and there's a good chance he is in one, if not all, of them. Terminator, Predator, Commando, Total Recall, True Lies, and the list goes on.

Whatever the man says he's going to accomplish, he accomplishes, that's what makes him great.

Thanks for reading. And don't forget you can follow me on Twitter @TheDustinThomas, and you can also subscribe you my podcast, the Error Machine Podcast, here.

-Dustin

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Weekly Top 5: Ridiculous Ending Theme Songs in Gaming

Some people are snobs when it comes to videogame music and scores. I'm not one of them, however. In fact, I'm pretty much the exact opposite. In most cases, I don't care if a game has a huge, epic score with with a two-hundred piece orchestra. That's not to say that I don't have my favorite game soundtracks, because I certainly do, and the music they play during the ending credits can change the way you feel about what you've just experienced. Being serious with your music is fine, but I prefer ending themes that are self-aware and poke fun at the game itself. That's why this week's top five are my favorite ridiculous ending themes in gaming.

5. Aliens: Infestation

The part that makes this particular entry so funny is the fact that the game itself actually has a bit of a horror vibe to it. Aliens jump out at you from all sides without warning, and even with the motion detector, it's still a bit unnerving. Then you beat the game, and this song begins. At first it sounds like it's your standard, moody song, completely fit for the tone of the game. Then the lyrics come in, and then you start listening to the lyrics, you start laughing, then the song turns into a power ballad. The best part about the lyrics is that they basically just retell the game's story. Also, I should mention that this game is one of the most underrated games of the past few years, if you have a DS you should give it a shot.

4. Double Dragon Neon

Okay, first things first, you have to actually watch the video before I can comment on it.

Okay, now that you've watched the video, what did you think? Pretty incredible, right? I haven't played Double Dragon Neon, but just based on the humor that it has with this song, I probably should, it seems to be right up my alley. Plus, it was developed by WayForward, who are one of my absolute favorite studios. I always love when an enemy makes himself out to be the victim, and the fact that he does a sing along while falling from a mountaintop makes it all the better. It goes from upbeat, to a love song, back to being upbeat. Then he gets punched right in the gonads.

3. Plants vs. Zombies

If you haven't played Plants vs. Zombies (and no, not the lame free-to-play mobile sequel), first of all, why not? Secondly, go play Plants vs. Zombies. The game already has a great sense of humor, which is what you come to expect from developer PopCap, but then the end credits roll out this gem, which is without question the catchiest song you'll hear today, and it's got a pretty amusing music video to go along with it. It sounds like it could be a chart topper in Europe, because Europe is weird.

2. Portal 2

Even if you don't play videogames, you've certainly heard the tiresome memes that came from Portal. Yeah, the cake is a lie, we get it. It was actually really funny before the internet got a hold of it. The ending theme from the original, "Still Alive," was a great way to end the game, with series antagonist GlaDos singing a song about how she wasn't really dead (in case you didn't catch that from the song title). I'll admit, that song is actually more catchy than this one, but I like the lyrics much better in this instance, as GlaDos is basically admitting defeat and wants you out of her face, while continuing to hurl insults your way. The internet took "Still Alive" and ruined it, luckily that didn't happen with this song, or maybe I was just lucky enough to have avoided it. Anyway, enjoy.

1. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

I've written before about how much I love this game, and I still feel that way. It's the best example of a 'modern retro' game there is. Rather than making a game that looks and plays retro, Ubisoft made a game identical in play to their fantastic Far Cry 3, and then twisted it up a bit and turned it into an homage of 80s action movies. I mean, you carry RoboCop's gun, you have a shotgun called the Galleria (Terminator 2 reference), and you use a flamethrower to burn unhatched blood dragon eggs (Aliens). They weren't shy about what they were going for. The entire soundtrack of this game is great--I actually have it on my iPod and listen to it regularly--and sounds like it's ripped straight from the era it's portraying. After the final sequence (which I'll discuss in a later blog), I didn't know how the game could get worse, and then this song starts playing.

That song could have been in Rocky IV and no one would have batted an eye. It sounds like something The Zack Attack would have made before that blonde hussy came along and Yoko'ed the group. I know this list is for ridiculous songs, and while this song is very ridiculous, it's also one of my favorite songs to ever appear in a game, it fits the game so perfectly.

That's all for this week, thanks for reading...and listening.

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @TheDustinThomas and check out my podcast, The Error Machine Podcast.

-Dustin

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Weekly Top 5: Last Generation Console Games

We've officially been in the "new-gen" of videogame consoles for about 9 months now, and even though many games are still coming out for the last generation, it's more or less finished, as most new games come to both new and last gen consoles. So I decided that this week is the perfect week to give my highest accolades to some games that made this past generation one of the best. I don't own a gaming PC, so this list is limited to games I played on either Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, or Nintendo Wii. But first, an honorable mention:

Honorable Mention: Gears of War (series)

I can't get into competitive shooters. I do play Call of Duty games, however. I buy the game used from GameStop, play the four hour campaign in a night, and return the game the next day for all my money back. Don't judge me. But what I'm saying is that I play as many games as I can, and I just don't have the fortitude to dedicate as much time as I need to in order to become good at Call of Duty multiplayer. Which is why I like the Gears of War series. They have campaigns that last several hours longer than your typical, modern day shooters. In addition to that, while they do have competitive multiplayer, it's the cooperative modes of the game that put this at the top of my shooter list. Not only can you play every campaign cooperatively with a buddy, but then you add in the Horde mode that became a standard for future shooters. CoD Zombies, you owe your success to the Gears of War Horde mode, also, you're not nearly as good. I was really bummed when they decided to exclude my favorite mode from Gears of War Judgment, but considering that game was basically a cash grab, it's not surprising. Gears of War is the series that I will eventually buy an Xbox One for.

5. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

The holiday season of 2011 was basically just a blur of work and Skyrim for me, because that's all I did. I woke up, played Skyrim for a few hours, went to work, came home and slept, repeat. Weekends were spent playing the game all day, going to wherever my wrestling show was that day, coming home and playing until I fell asleep with the controller in my hand. I explored every inch of that world.

The funny thing is that I had never played an Elder Scrolls game before. I was actually hesitant to even play Skyrim to begin with, as it was a Bethesda Game and I despised Fallout 3, so when someone described Skyrim as "Fallout 3 with dragons" to me, that didn't exactly whet my appetite. By the way, that description is completely inaccurate. Fallout 3 is just walking around the color brown, not being able to defeat anything, and constantly discarding things from your inventory because, guess what, you're carrying too much weight again. Skyrim is a lush, beautiful world full of orcs, giant beasts, bards, dungeons, wielding humongous axes, magic, putting buckets on shopkeepers heads and stealing from them, cheese wheels, arrows in the knee, and yes, fighting dragons. That's what I want out of my videogames. I never felt bored playing Skyrim, and always found myself saying "I'll just do this one thing and then I'll stop" and then wound up playing for another three hours. I don't normally like super-long, open-world games, but I eagerly anticipate the next Elder Scrolls.

4. The Last of Us

The Last of Us set a new standard for storytelling in videogames. Seriously, I've never had a game mess with my emotions on such high levels with such consistency. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons had the most emotional ending I've ever played, but The Last of Us was doing stuff like that throughout the entire game. I experienced an entire range of feelings: shock, sorrow, terror, anger, confusion, and so on. At the end of the game, I sat there for a few minutes trying to decide how I felt about it. When it came to looking at the big picture, it wasn't the right decision, but the human side of me said that it was. The Last of Us also put a different spin on the global pandemic, post-apocalyptic world, going with a fungus rather than, oh hey, another zombie apocalypse, we never see those. Sorry, Walking Dead fans, The Last of Us blows that show out of the water.

The game itself brings a perfect mix of action, stealth, and survival horror. And yes, I do mean survival horror and not action horror like the current Resident Evil games. You're not given a ton of ammo, and some enemies can't even be killed with bullets, causing you to approach encounters differently than the typical "guns blazing" approach. Enemies are actually dangerous in this world, but at the same time, Naughty Dog did a great job improving upon their Uncharted series, where enemies go down in a couple shots, rather than just being bullet sponges (seriously, 6 bullets to kill one guy?).

The game is being re-released on the PlayStation 4, and even though this game is already beyond gorgeous, there's a good chance I'll double dip when I eventually purchase a PS4 just to see how it could get any better. You see the evolution of Joel and Ellie's friendship over the course of the year, and at times you'll love and hate them both. The Last of Us is a 5-star game if there ever was one.

3. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

These days, I refuse to buy a system until there are at least five games on it that I definitely want to play. Back in 2008, however, I didn't have that policy, which is why I bought a PS3 for the sole reason of being able to play Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. I actually bought the system a few months before the game was released, I remember the night very vividly: I had just received my tax return check, and I had said for weeks prior that as soon as that check came in, I was going to use it to purchase a PlayStation 3 immediately. Well, the day that it came in, we just happened to have a blizzard in Dayton, and it was advised not to leave your home unless absolutely necessary. Let me tell you, buying my PS3 was absolutely necessary. So I hopped into my parents car (because mine was on the fritz), drove to Best Buy, which was stupid because there was a Wal-Mart literally right down the road, walked in, grabbed by console and a copy of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune--because I needed something to hold me over until MGS4 was released--and headed home. I remember my purchase causing a fight between my girlfriend at the time and I because she was all like "You need to be responsible and use that money to fix your car" and I was all like "Shut up, because PS3."

I should first explain to you that I'm a diehard Metal Gear fan, I love everything about it. I know the story is insane and makes absolutely no sense, and it's this weird juxtaposition of real-life, modern day weapons and completely over-the-top enemies and outrageous scenarios, with some real and totally not real military tech thrown in for good measure. It's sort of like if someone was frozen in the mid-80s until today, then was asked to make an action movie about the future.

It's also well-known for the ludicrous amount of cutscenes that are put into the game. The series has always been a cinematic front runner on whatever console it's appearing on, but even I must admit that they went a little overboard with MGS4. There are at least two cutscenes in this game that push near the 90-minute mark. That's as long as an actual movie, and it's only covering a section of the game. At the time I was finished, I had spent 12 hours watching cutscenes and only 8 hours actually playing the game.

And you know what? I don't care. I still loved every single second of it. I played (and watched) those 20 hours of game in a span of 32 hours. It was literally the only thing that I did other than sleep in that time frame. The amount of polish and options given to you in the game was well worth the five-year wait from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. It actually gave you the option to use an iPod and choose the song you wanted to play from the soundtrack. The camouflage system from MGS3 was altered a bit, rather than having to navigate the menus in order to select what type of camo you wanted, it was streamlined into the "Octocamo" system, where Snake's bodysuit adjusts its color to match whatever surface he was on or against, like a chameleon. It was different and more practical from a gameplay perspective, but caused us to miss out on opportunities to see Snake in a cutscene wearing the weird oyama makeup.

The final battle with Liquid Ocelot atop Outer Haven was reminiscent of the original Metal Gear Solid battle on top of Metal Gear Rex, and while the actual fighting mechanics of that battle weren't as fleshed out or intuitive as I would have liked, it still made for one of my favorite moments I've ever experienced in gaming. If you've never played the game before, I recommend it, but make sure to grab a snack and a drink for those cutscenes.

2. Borderlands 2

I've written this story so many times that I'm sure some people are starting to get sick of it, but I owe my marriage in large part to the original Borderlands. When my wife and I first met, we discovered that we were both huge fans of the game, and wound up replaying the game together every night. The moment I got text from her saying "I just hope I can find another Combustible Hellfire SMG" I knew I was going to marry her.

The original Borderlands was already one of my favorite games of the generation, having played through it three times with two different characters. Fun fact: Borderlands and its sequel are two of the few games I've ever felt compelled to get all 1000+ achievement points on, I've spent a lot of time on the planet of Pandora. So when the sequel hit store shelves, both my wife and I were there on day one, it was the last game that I spent a full $60 on, I just couldn't wait for it to go down in price. Once again, between playthroughs with my wife, my buddy Chris, and my brother-in-law, I've played through the main story at least four times. Not to mention all of the add-on campaigns that they've released.

Our living room the night of release. It was beautiful.

Speaking of the add-ons, I must say that the four released for Borderlands 2 pale in comparison to the four released for the original. However, between Mr. Torgue's Campaign of Carnage and Tiny Tina's Assault on Dungeon Keep, they more than makes up for the other two lackluster additions. People can say bad things about the villain, Handsome Jack, but I personally find him to be hilarious. Between his megalomania, his humor, and trying to convince you that he's a sympathetic anti-hero, I find him to be a nice change of pace from the typical videogame villain.

Borderlands 2 improves upon an already fantastic game. It's the perfect blend of shooter, RPG, action, frenzy, and humor. And say what you will about the story, but I found it to be perfectly serviceable, with some legitimate sad moments, especially with Assault on Dungeon Keep. Even after they released the Game of the Year Edition of the game, they continued to release small pieces of content. I understand why that upset people, but how many companies do you know that continue to support their game almost two years after it was released? The next entry will be coming out in just under three months, and even though it's not made by Gearbox, and will likely be a smaller game than the other two, I'll still be there on day one.

1. Super Mario Galaxy

You see that? You see that picture? You know what that is? That's called fun, I found it. I'm showing you the definition of fun. I don't care that I'm 28 years old, I still get just as excited for a Mario game today as I did as a kid.

This game is everything that is good about videogames. It's beautiful despite not being in HD, the music is whimsical, the planets are all unique and offer different enemies and visuals, there's a decent challenge for those who want it. After the disappointment of Super Mario Sunshine (critical disappointment, not my own, I love that game), this was the best possible way for Nintendo to come back. It was new, it was different, it was incredible. The usage of gravity--or lack thereof--to complete levels was done perfectly. You can tell that Nintendo had a blast making this game, so much so that they made a sequel, which was the first time there was a direct sequel to a Mario platformer since the NES. Yes, I know Yoshi's Island is technically a sequel to Super Mario World based on the title, and I do count it as an entry in the Mario platformer pantheon, but it's too atypical for me to be considered a direct sequel.

The only real problem with Super Mario Galaxy 2 is that they discarded the overworld hub and the really interesting story stuff with Rosalina. At the end of the day, gameplay is king, which is why the game is still outstanding, but with the original Galaxy, everything was new and original. The new suits were a welcome addition as well. Bee Mario, Boo Mario, and Ice Mario were all very welcome additions and made for some fantastic moments. They almost batted a perfect 1.000 with the new suits, but Spring Mario was a bit too difficult to control, especially when trying to attack enemies.

The boss battles were all great, even if they did have a giant sea creature and required me to be in water. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate water in games? Granted, every boss basically just consists of hitting the giant, glowing "Hit Me Here" section of their body three times, but just look at the designs of some of these guys:

Then you have the battles with Bowser himself, which all play the same, but get a bit more challenging throughout the game. But after you've completed the main game, you've only scratched the surface of Super Mario Galaxy. You have hidden stars to find, you have the purple coin time challenges, you can even replay the entire game with Luigi, who is more than just a palette swap of Mario like in years past, he controls differently, and that adds an extra dimension of challenge. Speaking of controls, Mario controls as perfect as you have come to expect.

There's nothing bad about this game. It's almost perfect. If you want to have fun playing a videogame, bust out your Nintendo Wii again and pop in Super Mario Galaxy.

Thanks for reading.

-Dustin

You can follow me on Twitter @TheDustinThomas. I also have a videogames based podcast, you can subscribe to it on iTunes here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Weekly Top 5: NES Box Art

Being a gamer of the late 80s/early 90s was much different than it is today. We didn't have to wait for the game to update because we hadn't played it in a while, we didn't have to pay to unlock extra levels, instead we...wait for it...actually played the freaking game to unlock everything. We also didn't have hundreds of videogame websites and news outlets telling us how we should feel about a certain game. I've never played a Halo game, but I can tell you exactly what that entire series is about, because I've had the series shoved down my throat for the past decade. I know everything about a game before it even hits store shelves, and that takes away so much wonder and amazement that makes the gaming medium so fantastic. For the most part, the only thing we had to go off of to determine if a game was worth playing was a small blurb in Nintendo Power, or going down to the local rental shop and poring over the wall of box art that stood before us. I have so many memories of just standing in the rental section of our local Marsh Supermarket while my mom went about and got our groceries, carefully grabbing each box, turning it over to see screenshots, and placing it back on the shelf. This was a tough decision, renting a bad game would ruin the entire weekend. I had to choose wisely.

These memories are the reason that I have such a fondness for retro videogame box art. Box art used to be such a huge part of a game's appeal, and let's face it, box art these days usually just consists of 'white guy holding a gun with game title'. It doesn't even matter what kind of game it is. It could be a dating simulator or a puzzle game, and as long as someone from the United States designs the cover art, it's going to have a gun on it somewhere. So I figured this week's top 5 would be my favorite box art from my favorite system, the NES.

Note: I would just like to say this was one of the hardest lists I've ever written. I looked through the box art of every licensed NES game released in North America. When it was all said and done, I had to narrow a list of 50 down to 5. Actually, I narrowed it down to 3, because I already knew what my number 1 and 2 were.

Honorable Mentions:

Ninja Gaiden II

Monster Party

Batman: Return of the Joker

Abadox

Now let's get on to the games that made the cut!

5. Double Dragon II

I'm not sure if the Double Dragon series is supposed to be set in the era that it was released (late 80s), or if it's supposed to take place in the far flung future of 1997-ish. Based on the box art, I'm inclined to believe it's the latter. The world of Double Dragon certainly has a problem with gangs, and this art reminds me of movies of the same era like The Running Man and Escape from New York, a futuristic dystopia ravaged by criminals. Also, it shows that you'll be able to live the ultimate power fantasy of saving a blonde damsel, being chased by a helicopter and wrapping a whip around the neck of a...mohawked...woman? Sure, why not?

4. T & C Surf Design 2: Thrilla's Surfari

Is that gorilla riding a wave of lava? He is, isn't he? That. Is. Awesome! There's also an Elvis impersonator, a cat wearing a tux, a witch doctor burning a woman at the stake, a two-headed rhino-griffin (a grifno? a rhiffin?), and a shored shark that is apparently chasing all of these things, despite not having legs. That shark is showing you that you can live your dreams, even if the world says it's impossible. This art is why my childhood was better than yours, unless we're the same age, in which case, high five! You're rad.

3. Friday the 13th

I only owned a handful of games NES games as a kid, since renting was all the rage and way cheaper, but Friday the 13th was one of the games that stayed perched on my shelf. That right there is proof that this was a completely different time in gaming. My parents had no qualms with their young son playing a game about a violent killer from a slasher film franchise, but I wasn't allowed to watch Beavis and Butt-Head. I was allowed to play Mortal Kombat, but not allowed to watch The Simpsons, which obviously didn't work out the way they had intended. Anyway, when you think of Jason Voorhees, what colors come to mind? Hot pink? Neon green? A literal rainbow? I get that the rainbow was LJNs logo, but it stands out so much when pictured with a psychotic serial murderer from the pits of hell. This is the one entry that makes it on the list for being so bad that it's good.

2. Super Mario Bros. 3

There is no cover art that takes me back to my childhood like Super Mario Bros. 3. It's not outlandish. It's not full of radical 90s neon (see above). It's very simple, almost minimalist, and that's what makes it great. A plain yellow background with our mustachioed, raccoon-ed hero soaring through the air with his huge, vibrant smile. This is the videogame definition of happiness, folks. There it is. I found it. We don't need to look anymore, because I know you were all looking.

1. CastleVania

This isn't just my favorite NES box art, it's my favorite videogame box art, period. As a kid (and even now), one of my favorite movies was The Monster Squad. I've always had this love of the classic horror movie monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, The Mummy, etc. So when I saw this art, with the titular castle there on top of the mountain, looking all foreboding and junk, with Dracula's face looking over you, dripping with blood and laughing at you, I knew I had to play it. Then you see him, Simon Belmont, with the legendary Vampire Killer in his hands, and you knew, you just knew, that you were in for the fight of your life. It also helps that the game is one of the best games on the entire console.

Thanks for reading,

-Dustin

All covers courtesy of thecoverproject.net.