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.


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! 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,


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.