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, Tanookied 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.

Monday, July 7, 2014

You Should Listen To My Podcast

Hey everybody, you may have found my blog from some outside source, and by 'outside source' I mean anything that's not my Facebook or Twitter (@TheDustinThomas) account. Anyway, if you didn't know, two of my best friends and I started a podcast earlier this year, and as a way to get more listeners, I'm going to start posting all new episodes on this blog to try and reach those who may not have heard of it before. It's called the Error Machine Podcast, it's a videogame podcast, but it's coming at you from three guys who aren't in the gaming industry, and just like to play videogames and talk about them with each other, so there won't be any biases from big companies telling us we can't talk bad about something if we don't like it.

Even though it's videogame centered, we do break out and talk about other things too, like pro wrestling, being parents, Goosebumps books, and other fun things. We don't keep it focused on current games as well, we try to cover all eras and all genres, and the three of us have a pretty diverse taste in gaming.

So anyway, here's our latest episode, where my co-host Luke and I (Chris was unavailable due to the birth of his first child) took it upon ourselves to discuss the differences between our gaming lives as children as opposed to now as grown ups.

If you'd like to download our past episodes, you can find them all here.

Lastly, if you'd like to get our podcasts sent to you automatically, you can subscribe to us on iTunes here.

We hope you enjoy the show! And if you do, spread the word to your friends and have them give us a listen.

-Dustin

Weekly Top 5: Underrated Simpsons Characters

The Simpsons are an institution. You be hard-pressed to find anyone that hasn't seen at least one episode of the show. What else would you expect from an animated sitcom that's still going strong after 25 years? I've been a diehard fan since the mid-90s, and even for people like me who grew up on the show but have stopped watching in recent years, the show still does gangbuster numbers. So for this week's top 5, I wanted to pay tribute to those characters that don't get as much love as they should. The show may be called The Simpsons, but for a long time the show has been more about the community of Springfield and the citizens therein. The only criteria for the list is that they have to be a regular character to the show, so no one-timers like Frank Grimes or Hank Scorpio, and trust me, there were dozens of other characters I thought about putting on this list, so this was not easy for me to do. So without further Apu, let's get started.

5. Kirk Van Houten

I could just sit here and tell you to go watch the episode "A Milhouse Divided" and that would explain what makes Kirk so funny. He usually only pops up once or twice a season, but when he does he almost certainly brings a laugh with him. You almost feel bad about laughing at him because the thing that makes him funny is the fact that he's just so pitiful, constantly on the receiving end his ex-wife's insults and never able to dig himself out of his hole.

4. Dr. Hibbert

One of Springfield's resident medical practitioners, and likely the only one who actually went to med school. He somehow finds humor in even the grimmest of situations, and a lot of the comedy he delivers come from his trademark laugh shortly after delivering some horribly bad news to his patients. It's likely that he was created as a tribute (or insult) to Bill Cosby, as the show was in competition with The Cosby Show at the time, and Dr. Hibbert (sort of like Dr. Huxtable) is a family man who occasionally wears outlandish sweaters.

3. Kent Brockman

Springfield's Channel 6 news anchor's humor is mostly brought on by him trying to buff up the news story ("The President dyes...his hair") to be more impressive than it is. But he's also a parody on the superstardom that comes with being a television personality. Brockman and Arnie Pie always play off of each other fantastically, and you can sense their disdain for each other. Kent's funniest moment is without question when he welcomes to the new alien ant overlords after some miscommunication with the space shuttle.

2. Ned Flanders

Ned and the rest of the Flanders clan may be a parody of the ultra-conservative, sheltered Christian family, but Ned is one of those characters that has grown on me as I've gotten older, and not just because of my faith. He's the perfect foil to his loud, obnoxious, overbearing neighbor, Homer Simpson. I think everyone has that person in their life like Ned Flanders, that person where no matter how much you try to dislike them, at the end of the day, you're glad you have them in your life.

1. Marge Simpson

Poor Marge, always having to clean up her husband's messes. The thing about Marge is that your heart really does go out to her, and you just wonder why exactly she hasn't left Homer yet. But at the same time, she can be really funny. Any time an episode is centered around Marge, it's almost always good, like the time joined the Springfield Police Force or when she decided to start lifting weights and started abusing steroids (note: I don't find steroid abuse funny...except in this case). Marge is the glue that holds the family together, and without her, the dynamic of the family, and essentially, the show itself, just wouldn't have held up for all these years.

So, do you think I missed someone? Yeah, I probably did. I wanted to put other characters like Disco Stu, Otto, Groundkeeper Willie, and Kearney on the list, but I found them to not be so underrated as the characters I listed.

Thanks for reading.

-Dustin

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Weekly Top 5: Videogame Consoles

I really need to get back into the swing of writing again. I honestly just haven't felt like it recently. But I thought to myself "I like writing top 5 lists, they're easy to write, and there are topics aplenty." So my goal is to write at least one top 5 list a week, and if I miss a week, don't cry about it. And what better way to get this new venture underway than by ranking my favorite videogame consoles of all-time? Let's get started!

5. Xbox 360

Despite the Red Ring of Death, the atrocious Xbox One launch, and my complete and utter indifference to the original Xbox, somehow Microsoft managed to make my favorite (home) system of the last generation. Let me preface by saying that I don't really care about having apps on my gaming console, even though I spend more time on my Xbox 360 using apps than I do gaming, I can get all of those apps in several different ways. I'll also say that when it comes to console exclusive games, I think the PS3 far exceeds the 360 with games like Metal Gear Solid 4, 3D Dot Game Heroes, Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds, The Last of Us, the Uncharted series, and other classic Sony exclusive franchises. So how did the Xbox 360 get the victory? Simply put, it was cheaper, and all of my friends bought a 360 first, so I got it so I could play games with them.

I'll also admit that the Achievement system on the 360 sucked me in, and caused me to play a lot of games I never would have, as well as causing me to play games long after I had stopped having fun with them.

4. Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)

It was really hard for me to choose between the SNES and the original PlayStation here, but ultimately the SNES won because my all-time favorite game, Super Mario World, is on it. You may be asking "But if you were debating between the SNES and PSone for number 4, then why wouldn't the PSone be number 5?" Because this is my list, so shut up.

In addition to all the classic Nintendo titles like Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, Super Metroid, Link to the Past, and Super Mario RPG, there are tons of amazing third-party titles like NBA Jam, Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, etc. I feel the SNES is the pinnacle of Nintendo's home console machines. That's not to say that I don't love the N64, GameCube, Wii, or Wii U, but they haven't reached the caliber of titles again since the SNES.

3. Nintendo DS

The Nintendo DS was the first handheld system I ever owned, and it's home to some of the best games I've played in the past ten years. Normally when you think of handheld systems, you think of games that are more bite-sized and are smaller versions of their home console counterparts, but the Nintendo DS has some legitimately huge (and great) games. The dual screen design seemed like a weird gimmick to me at first, but once developers finally figured out how to use it properly, it lead to games like Picross 3D, Kirby's Canvas Curse, and Elite Beat Agents that used the touch screen to its full potential.

It also became a hotbed for JRPGs and Metroid-style games (one of my favorite types of games): Bowser's Inside Story, Radiant Historia, a port of Chrono Trigger, as well as three CastleVania titles that are all outstanding, just to name a few of each. It was host to a lot of story-based titles as well, like the Professor Layton series, Phoenix Wright, and 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors. It's safe to say that I probably spent more time playing my Nintendo DS than I did my Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii. The DS was my go-to console of the last generation.

2. PlayStation 2 (PS2)

There's a reason the PS2 is the best selling console of all-time, and it's because the system is full of amazing games at every turn...the ability to play DVDs was also a pretty big deal, I guess. The PS2 gave developers the power they needed to create groundbreaking titles like Grand Theft Auto III (and Vice City and San Andreas), Resident Evil 4, and Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3.

It also brought titles like Devil May Cry and God of War, which set a new standard for action games. It's really easy to forget just how many other great series began on the PS2: Splinter Cell, Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, Sly Cooper. Then you have games that just go beyond words like Shadow of the Colossus and Okami. The survival horror genre ran rampant, but games like Silent Hill 2 and 3 and the Fatal Frame series set the bar high for all future horror games.

I don't play many sports games, but the PS2 allowed EA and other companies to bring sports games to a new level of realism. Without the PS2, games wouldn't be where they are now, as I believe it was the first console to show people that games are no longer a niche market and anyone can be a gamer.

1. Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

It was the first console I ever owned, or even played for that matter. To this day, nothing reminds me of my childhood more than firing up an NES with a classic like Mega Man or DuckTales. Back when there weren't several games being released every week, back when you couldn't go to the internet to get a walkthrough, back when games didn't hold your freaking hand at all times, the NES ruled the world. While the Atari 2600 certainly has its place in history, the Nintendo Entertainment System is the reason videogames exist today. It showed us that you didn't have to go to arcades to have legitimate gaming experiences, and while Super Mario Bros. doesn't seem like anything special by the standards of today, at the time, that game was huge, and it only got better from there.

There is no shortage of classics, all-time greats, and hidden gems on the NES. There's a laundry list of games I could spit out right now that are required playing for any gamer. The controller was simple, yet perfect, the VCR design was a bit odd compared to its Japanese originator, but at the time, videogames weren't on people's minds, so the design made it look much more high-tech. Best part about it? You can still find 30 year old NES systems that work great today, and I have a feeling you won't be able to say that for some systems of the recent generations.

The NES was a landmark piece of hardware, and while some games don't hold up, a lot of them still do. Also, they made a Hollywood movie with legitimate Hollywood actors to promote Super Mario Bros. 3, and that hasn't been done since.

Thanks for reading.

-Dustin

Thursday, April 17, 2014

His Blood Is Sufficient

4 John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; 5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, 6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. - Revelation 1:4-6 (KJV)

I've been thinking a lot lately about what Jesus' final hours must have been like. Perhaps it's because it's Holy Week, or perhaps because I play Jesus is Faith Chapel's current drama production, but nevertheless, that's what has been on my mind during my prayer time recently.

When we say "Jesus took on the sins of the world," what do we mean? One thing we mean is that because of Jesus' sacrifice, we no longer have to be bound by the enemy. But one way it's also described is that Jesus "bore the weight" of our sin. I can't help but feel like that's literal. During a sermon, I heard Pastor James Taylor describe that when Jesus hung on the cross in those final moments, he was doing more than just taking on the sins, He became the sin. This may be controversial to some, but he went on to say that Jesus became every sin. Jesus became an adulterer, He became a murderer, He became a rapist. This doesn't just apply to the sins of the time, it applies to the sins of all time, which means He also became the man addicted to pornography, He became an alcoholic, and so on. There is literally no sin too great that can't be repented of. God loves us that much, and Jesus' blood was sufficient to protect us from any and every sin.

To put it into perspective, if Charles Manson, the most infamous serial killer in American history, were to show true repentance for his actions, then I would see Charles Manson in Heaven one day. That's still a hard thing for me to wrap my head around, which goes to show why God's love is beyond our understanding. Jesus loved those who spat in His face. Jesus prayed for those who persecuted Him. Jesus appealed to Heaven for the salvation of the men who drove the nails through His hands and feet, and yet we let someone cutting us off in traffic ruin our morning. We alone are not capable of loving those who have wronged us, but when we allow Holy Spirit to enter in, we can do anything.

Another thing that's really been impressed upon me recently is the amount of pain Jesus went through. It's an easy thing to forget. Yes, Jesus is the Son of God, but it wasn't until after His resurrection that He referred to Himself this way. Before His death, Jesus referred to Himself as the "Son of Man." This means that prior to coming down from the cross, Jesus was a mortal man. The opening scene in our Easter production, It Is Finished, is of Jesus at the whipping post. It does a good job or showing people the brutality of what Jesus suffered through. But we take precautions to make sure that nothing actually happens to me during this scene, Jesus didn't have that luxury. He felt every lash from the whips, He felt the crown of thorns being placed and driven into His head, He felt it every time the hammer met the nails, He felt everything.

It's the single greatest act of love the world has ever seen or will ever see. I wouldn't have been able to survive a fraction of the punishment our King went through. He died for us when we had nothing to offer Him. I deserve Hell, and there's nothing I could ever do to change that, but Jesus insured that I'll never have to experience that eternal torment. His blood was sufficient. If He wanted to, God could have made it to where Jesus could have taken a needle, poked his finger, squeezed out a single drop of blood, and that would have been enough to save us. But God had something so much greater in mind for all of us. That's why Jesus didn't give a drop of blood, He gave every drop of blood. He poured out every fiber of His being for us.

This Sunday, we celebrate the resurrection of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. When He came out of the tomb, that was our proof that we no longer have to remain slaves to death, Hell, and the grave. Jesus kicked down the gates of Hell, got right up in Satan's face, snatched the keys to death out of his hands, and said "I'm taking these, and there's nothing you can do to stop me!" What's the best part about this? The fact that when we accept Christ, we gain the authority to do the exact same thing. We don't have to put up with Hell's harassment anymore, friends. When we say that we're going to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, that's what it means to me.