Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Weekly Top 5: Playstation 2 Games

There's a reason the Playstation 2 is the best selling videogame console of all-time (and by a rather wide margin), and it's because it was the first videogame console that felt like it was for everybody. The fact that it doubled as a DVD player certainly helped, and I would wager that it was probably the first DVD player that many of us owned, because it certainly was for me. The system did have a very weak launch lineup, so the DVD player may have been its saving grace, but after it was given the time to warm up and dig its heels in a bit, it wound up as one of the most beloved pieces of hardware in the world.
The PS2 was the first system I ever bought with my own money, so it holds a special place in my heart for that reason, among several others, which I'm going to talk about now.

Honorable Mentions

Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy

If memory serves me correctly, the original Jak may have been the first game in the era of memory cards that I ever beat in less than one day, I was just captivated by it. I didn't play it when it was originally released, but when I saw a preview on G4 for Jak II, that motivated me to go back and play the original.
While they went more of the Ratchet & Clank route for the subsequent titles, The Precursor Legacy had a greater emphasis on lightheartedness and platforming, and for those reasons it remains my favorite game in the series, and I would love nothing more than for Naughty Dog to return to Jak after the release of Uncharted 4. It likely won't happen, but a man can dream.

Guitar Hero II

I was obsessed with the Guitar Hero series for the better part of three years. I still hold the first three entries in the series in high esteem, though I think the series was never better than it was with Guitar Hero II. I was good at the games, too. Darn good. I took great satisfaction in knowing that I was undoubtedly better than my Error Machine cohort, Luke Roberts. For those of you who don't know, I'm not better than Luke at many games, but he had no chance against me when we were holding fake, plastic guitars.
GHII also had my favorite soundtrack of the series, with songs ranging from classics like "War Pigs" and "The Trooper" to modern rock with songs from Foo Fighters and Stone Temple Pilots to straight-up current-day metal with Lamb of God and The Sword. And I spent almost two weeks trying to beat "Free Bird" on expert before I finally managed to pull it off. That was a definite fist-pump moment for me in gaming if there ever was one.

5. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

If ever there were a game tailored specifically for a gamer like me, it's this one. I remember picking it up used for about $15 back when I worked at Blockbuster after hearing the glowing reviews. The Sands of Time rekindled the long dormant love I have for platformers, and I haven't looked back ever since.
While I didn't find the combat to be anything to write home about, it was still serviceable, and there were certainly some fun enemy encounters, but what made the game so memorable for me (and likely everyone else) were the time manipulation aspects and the way the story was told. The ability to rewind time was such a great tool for helping you get through those long, difficult platforming sections, enabling you to give it another go if your timing was off.

And since I'm pretty sure the spoiler grace period is over, I loved the way the prince would back the story up if you happened to die, saying things like "No no, that's not the way it happened." The reveal at the end was also a nice little touch that I appreciated. The game is still worth playing today if you've never tried it, and if you don't want to go back to the PS2, you can buy the Sands of Time trilogy on PS3.

4. God of War

God of War wastes no time getting the action started, a trend that has continued throughout the series. I'm not sure if this would be a compliment or an insult, but the opening Hydra sequence in this game is still probably my favorite thing in the entire God of War series. That's not to say that I don't love the other games, because I certainly do, and I even liked Ascension, as unnecessary as it was.
If there's anything negative I can say about God of War, it's that there aren't enough boss battles. Outside of the Hydra, there's only the temple guardian and the final sequence of battles with Ares. I was big into Greek mythology back then, and I was hoping I would have seen other characters like the Kraken, Apollo, or a chimera, all of which would appear in later games, but I didn't realize it was going to be a series at the time.

The combat is very satisfying, and I love mixing the Blades of Chaos combos with the magic abilities you gain on your quest. The game has a fixed camera, and for the most part you'll never have much to complain about, but sometimes it does get a bit annoying while confined in close quarters. Many people consider the sequel to be the high-water mark of the series, but I still prefer the original.

3. Shadow of the Colossus

Oh, Shadow of the Colossus, my only regret with you is that I waited so long to realize your majesty. Despite the love that this game commanded, I didn't play it until the Ico & Shadow of the Colossus HD Collection became free on Playstation Plus a couple of years ago. I decided to play Ico first, and I wound up playing for about an hour before I got stuck and gave up. That wasn't a great first impression, but I went ahead and started SotC anyway, and was absolutely hooked from the beginning. It became one of those games I wasn't allowed to play unless my wife was watching, and she fell in love with the game as hard as I did.
The word "epic" gets thrown around a lot in videogames, but if I was going to attach it to only one game, it would be Shadow of the Colossus. The fact that there are no enemies in the game outside of the titular colossi leads you to feeling so very insignificant while also making you feel like the world's only hope. While I'm not the kind of person to explore in a game without a good reason, it's a credit to Team Ico that they crafted an entire world that very few people are going to take the time to search through.

Taking down each colossus is a puzzle and sometimes requires you to think outside the box, and one wrong move could result in you doing several more minutes of setup for another golden opportunity. It can be frustrating, but the thrill of victory is much greater than the agony of defeat. Despite the fact that I knew the twist at the end, I couldn't help but feel a significant amount of rage after what happened to my equestrian companion near the end of the game.

2. Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence

I say this with zero hyperbole, I've never been more impatient about a game's launch than I was with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. I consumed every single bit of coverage I could possibly find on that game and would constantly search for more. A single screenshot, an article that had one sentence from Hideo Kojima revealing more about the game, a small piece about a new character, anything, just hook it into my veins! On release day, I went to the local GameStop I had the game pre-ordered at as soon as they opened...and they didn't have the game yet. I sat at the Dayton Mall waiting for two hours before the UPS guy finally showed up. So, was the wait worth it?
To me, the answer is a resounding yes, and I played the game nonstop for several months straight. There were so many different ways to play the game, and I wanted to see every little thing it had to offer. Defeat the bosses by knocking them out rather than killing them? I did it. Killed The End before you're supposed to fight him? I did it. Cause The End to die of old age? Did it. Scared enemies with trapped animals? Yes, sir. Shot enemy radios so they couldn't call for back up? You better believe it.

A while down the road, they released the updated Subsistence version of the game, which gave you full control of the camera as well as the MSX versions of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. The game may have been too great of a change from the previous two MGS games, but I welcomed the camouflage and healing systems, immersion-breaking as they may be at times. Despite the recent announcement that series mastermind and all-around crazy person, Hideo Kojima, won't be involved in future installments after The Phantom Pain, I may be just as hyped for that game as I was for this one.

1. Resident Evil 4

Resident Evil 4 may not have been a PS2 exclusive, nor was it originally intended to be on the system at all, but it's the system that I played it on and was without question the game that saw the most play time on my Playstation 2. It was a game that Luke and I would spend every evening playing, and would trade the controller back and forth for hours on end, eventually turning every stone in the game. There was nothing in the game that we didn't get/find/do. Every unlockable, every shooting gallery trophy, S ranks with every character on every map in Mercenaries, you name it, and we did it.
Resident Evil 4, love it or hate it, changed the way we play survival horror games, giving us plentiful ammo (or adequate ammo, at least) while still giving us reasons to sweat. It finally got away from Raccoon City and the Umbrella corporation, though it certainly has its ties to those earlier titles. It's really quite amazing that the game turned out as well as it did when you consider just how many times the game changed. The fact that Devil May Cry originally began life as an early version of Resident Evil 4 is something that's still hard to wrap my head around, and even watching early footage of the more paranormal version of the game is hard to watch when you compare it to the finished product.

Even though a great deal of the game is an escort mission, it's a sin that can be easily forgiven after all the narrow escapes, white-knuckle enemy encounters, and various other memorable moments you find throughout Resident Evil 4.
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Friday, March 13, 2015

Weekly Top 5: Sports Games

Most of you probably aren't all that into sports games, or sports in general, for that matter. I, however, grew up playing sports and continued to participate in athletics up until I retired from wrestling (and yes, professional wrestling is a sport). I don't play many sports games these days, but growing up they were my absolute favorites. But I'm not going to limit this list to sports-simulation games, this will be all inclusive. And even though I just made the argument that professional wrestling is a sport, I'm not going to have them on this list, because I'm working on a top 5 wrestling games list as well, so we'll just save those for that list.

For variety purposes, I'm only including one game per sport, now let's get started with a couple honorable mentions.

Wii Sports

Don't even sit there and try to say that you didn't have a blast with Wii Sports. Even today it's a great party game. The Nintendo Wii and it's pack-in game revolutionized the videogame industry and made the system one of the most sought after pieces of hardware in history, two years after it was released it was still hard to find.

I knew a lot of people that bought the system and never bought another game for it because Wii Sports was all they needed, and there's nothing wrong with that. I would also like to point out that I'm undefeated in Wii Sports Tennis, and I'll take on all comers.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2

Few franchises have suffered from the annual release schedule worse than Tony Hawk. I was with the series all the way up to American Wasteland, which is a lot longer than most people that I knew. I remember getting a Playstation demo disc from Pizza Hut that featured the Warehouse stage from the original THPS, and that was enough to convince me to buy the game. Then the sequel came out and made the game even better.

My best friend and podcast co-host, Christopher Craig Cramer, actually wound up getting third place in the world at the game in the official tournament run by Activision, so he's my go-to source when it comes to the early Tony Hawk games, and he says THPS2 is the best in the franchise, and I agree with him wholeheartedly.

5. NBA Jam: Tournament Edition

I prefer my sports games to be over-the-top in a lot of cases. I'm much more likely to play a sequel in The Bigs franchise than I am MLB 15. Though there were definitely arcade titles that made their sports seem larger than life before this, NBA Jam was the first one I remember seeing first. It pulled it off incredibly well, also, and is one of my favorite arcade games ever. It did eventually find itself ported to the home consoles.

When the sequel came out, you better believe I put every last quarter into it. I had to have the SNES version, and I played it to death. The addition of the tournament mode gave us something to do other than just play exhibition games. Here, you pick a team and try your best to beat every other team in the league (which is not how tournaments work). It was pretty difficult, but I managed to do it thanks to the fact that I was a sore loser and would turn the game off if I lost before it had a chance to save my shame.

4. Tecmo Super Bowl

Compared to the Madden series, Tecmo Super Bowl seems like small potatoes, but to this day I still think it's the best football game ever. It improved on the original Tecmo Bowl, but it's didn't do so much to make it feel like it strayed from the gameplay that we loved. Anyone can pick this up, play it for a few minutes, and understand it completely. At least, that's what I thought. I had a couple teenagers in my youth group play it and they were complaining that they couldn't understand how to play. I wasn't sure whether to laugh, cry, or hit them.

Tecmo Super Bowl is famous for also including one of the most broken characters in videogame history, Bo Jackson of the Los Angeles Raiders. But let's be honest, Bo Jackson isn't broken in the game. If you're old enough to have been around for his heydey, you'll remember that the dude really was unstoppable. If it weren't for a hip injury suffered during a game against my Cincinnati Bengals, Bo Jackson would probably be recognized as the greatest running back of all-time. But that's the way the cookie crumbles sometimes...

...okay, Bo Jackson is definitely broken.

3. Punch-Out!! (Wii)

While the original Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! is the one most closely tied to my nostalgia, the Wii update added so much more personality to a game already bursting through the seams with it and decided to let you play with the exact same control scheme from the original if you so chose. This version of the game is a prime example of a true remake of a classic title. It also added a new last ditch effort for Little Mac if you take too much damage in a round. This was a nice surprise the first time I encountered it, I had already put the controller down because I thought I had lost. We at Error Machine love this so much that we made an entire video expressing our affection.

It provides a tough but fair challenge, and the difficulty ramp is never so much that you feel outclassed, which is exactly what you want in a game like this. I would like to see another sequel on the Wii U, but only as long as they don't call it Punch U Out!! Which they definitely will.

2. Hot Shots Golf Fore!

I don't even like golf, but I'm completely enthralled by the Hot Shots Golf series. I've owned every single one of them and they're always one of my most played games on whichever Sony console they appear on. The latest installment, World Invitational, was the sole reason I wanted a Vita, and to this day is the only game I've spent money on for the system. When I decided to get one of the current-gen systems, even though I know I'll own both eventually, I decided on the PS4 first because I like Sony exclusives more, and that's due in large part to Hot Shots.

Hot Shots Golf Fore! (which is one of the best puns in videogame title history) kept the cartoony look and comedic feel from all the previous games and added more golfers, more caddies, more courses, more unlockables, and even threw in Jak, Daxter, Ratchet, and Clank as unlockable characters. And the actual golf is still top notch. As we've already established, give me an over-the-top representation of a sport rather than a straight simulation any day of the week, and the same goes for golf.

1. Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball

I've frothed over KGJPMLB (which is what I'm going to forever refer to it as now) in several past blogs. Baseball has always been my favorite sport, and Ken Griffey Jr. is my second favorite player of all-time, trailing slightly behind Pete Rose. There's no denying who the best baseball player of the 90s was, Junior is the unanimous winner. Then he came home to Cincinnati, and all the Reds fans like myself rejoiced because we finally had the player that was going to lead us to the Promised Land...then he spent the next 8 years injured 75% of the time. Nevertheless, he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer and a legend in the sport.

His videogame is pretty good, too, I guess.

Seriously, though, the game is 20 years old and I still play the game semi regularly. I'm in the middle of a season on the game right now, and as soon as I finish one season, I start up another one. The game doesn't get old to me. One of the things I really like is that you can finish a game in under 10 minutes, but it's still an accurate portrayal of the sport. It's a simulation of the on-field play only, and cuts out all the boring stuff like warming up for relief pitchers, mid-inning transitions, and the twenty seconds it takes between pitches.

KGJPMLB is easily my favorite sports game ever made, definitely worth picking up if you enjoy the sport at all.

Thanks for reading everybody, I promise not to make you read about sports games again.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Weekly Top 5: Open World Games

Whenever I make a top 5, I always do it the same way: I choose a topic, create a list of games that I think may make the final cut, whittle it down to the five (plus an honorable mention), rank them as I see fit, and then write the short blurbs that go along with them. That's how I've always done it, and that's how I did it here. I knew from the get-go what my top 3 were going to be, so I thought this was going to be easy.
Au contraire, my friends. After getting 60% of the list done, filling in the other 40% was a tall task. I was left with 15 games that I love and only 2 spots available. I felt like if I left out a certain game that I discrediting it as a fantastic game. But then I remembered that these lists aren't really a life-or-death kind of deal and I could just make all of the games that didn't make the cut an honorable mention.
So, here are the 13 honorable mentions that I have for this list, in no particular order (sorry, Jim, no Goat SImulator here):

Honorable Mentions

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood

Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars

Grand Theft Auto Vice City

Sleeping Dogs

Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon

Far Cry 4

3D Dot Game Heroes

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

Batman Arkham Asylum


Red Faction Guerrilla

Shadow of Mordor

Based on what games didn't make the list, you can probably infer a few games that did make it, but I think there will still be a couple surprises. So let's get to it.
(And for those wondering, Red Faction Guerrilla was the last game to get cut.)

5. Crackdown

Ultimately, when it came down to choosing between Crackdown and Red Faction Guerrilla, I asked myself one question: Did I enjoy the destruction of Red Faction or the superhero-like empowerment of Crackdown more? And you obviously already know the answer. I picked up Crackdown on a whim, I just wanted something new to play. This was early 2007, and I had only had my Xbox 360 for about a month at the time. After the thrills of Dead Rising wore off, I headed to the local GameStop and grabbed Crackdown with very little prior knowledge about the game, kind of like how I did in the NES days. The only difference here was that this was going to be a much greater monetary investment. Luckily, the game turned out better than most had anticipated, myself included.

I'm not a Halo guy, so the added bonus of the Halo 3 demo did nothing for me, I just wanted a fun action game, and I definitely got that. The game reminded me a lot of RoboCop in that it felt futuristic, but not too futuristic. And Pacific City was so ravaged by crime and gang activity that I felt a genuine need to rid the streets of these hoodlums.

Throughout my playthrough, I very rarely drove a car. I loved going around on foot, traversing the rooftops, grabbing every agility orb I could find to level up my Agent's abilities. I could go on and on about Crackdown, but one of the things that really stood out to be was that it has great achievements. Rather than just giving you achievements for simply completing tasks, they also encouraged you to play the game in different ways and try new things in order to show you just how much fun you could have in this world. And I must say, climbing to the top of the agency building and jumping off into the pond below was ten times more exhilarating than any jump I ever made in an Assassin's Creed game.

4. Far Cry 3

I was cautious when it came to Far Cry 3. I had never played any other games in the series up to the point, and from what I heard about Far Cry 2, it was the type of game that you either really loved or really hated (I did eventually play it, and it wasn't my cup of tea), and that kind of reaction isn't exactly the kind that'll make you want to go out and guy the next installment of a series. But after the reviews for Far Cry 3 were a resounding "woot!," I decided to pick it up, and I had nothing less than an amazing experience. By the time I was done with the game, there was literally nothing left for me to do. Seriously, nothing. I had done everything. Well, everything except get that achievement that requires you to win at poker.

I decided to go with Far Cry 3 over its successor for a few different reasons. For one, even though I liked Pagan Min better as a character, I thought Vaas was a better villain. Two, I like the tropical island setting more than the Himalayas. I thought the weird tribal stuff in 3 was better than the weird tribal stuff in 4. And lastly, even though Far Cry 4 was one of my favorite games of last year, it's hard to argue that it isn't just an updated Far Cry 3.

The story is ridiculous (most videogame stories are), but there are still several moments from FC3 that stand out, like your numerous encounters with Vaas, destroying a marijuana field with a flamethrower while a Skrillex song plays, Sam's death, and many more. I would tell people interested in the series to go with Far Cry 3. I also considered Blood Dragon, but the only thing that held that game back for me was because it wasn't as large, and the game is rather dark. Not in setting or tone, I'm talking about the graphics. I spent a lot of time squinting at the screen. But Ubisoft has stated that they're looking into doing something different with Far Cry 5, but I say instead of doing something different, give me Blood Dragon 2 and make it the same size as a regular Far Cry game (with less squinting).

3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

No surprises here, I'm sure a lot of you expected an Elder Scrolls game to make it on the list somewhere, and here it is. While Skyrim hasn't turned out to be the type of game that I go back to periodically (even though I still haven't played the add-ons), it was basically the only game that I played for the entire winter of 2011. For roughly three months, every free moment was spent leveling up my Wood Elf, roaming the countryside, slaying dragons and trolls, and all the awesomeness that came in this vast package (which is what I call my junk).

I found the world of Skyrim so engrossing that I did something that I don't normally do in games, I played without purpose. I very rarely fast traveled unless I was doing a mission. I would spend hours at a time just walking around seeing what I could find. Oh, a new dungeon, better go in and kill everybody. What's this? A coven of witches? Better go in and kill everybody. The Stormcloaks need me to go kill a bunch of people? Better go in and--you get the idea.

The game wasn't without its flaws, but that's to be expected with such a large game. I actually wound up having to start a new game because something I had done had caused a bug that prevented me from progressing in the story (which has since been patched). But no amount of glitches or bugs were able to deter me stalking my enemies from the shadows, finding the exact right moment to let my arrows fly directly into their skulls. One of these days, I promise I'm going to go play the DLC packs.

2. Borderlands 2

Oh hey, Dustin put a Borderlands game on a list, go figure. Yeah, I know, I talk about the Borderlands series a lot. The series holds a special place in my heart for many reasons that I've explained in depth in previous blogs, so I'll spare you all from having to hear them again. Borderlands 2 took everything that I loved about the original and made it better. More humor, bigger and more diverse areas, more weapons and elemental types, more enemies, more, more, and did I mention more?

Perhaps that's the word that best describes Borderlands 2. It's Borderlands, but more, and that's perfectly alright with me. I need more than one hand to count how many times my wife and I played through the game. The add-ons weren't quite on par with the ones from the original, but they were still quite good, and Assault on Dungeon Keep is basically an entirely new game. It's the best DLC the series has seen thus far, despite how much I hate Tiny Tina.

Even though I hate the swerve that Gearbox pulled by telling us The Pre-Sequel was only one last generation consoles (I should have known better), I'll still pick up the Handsome Collection when I eventually buy an Xbox One (gotta get my characters carried over), and I'll have just as much fun playing through Borderlands 2 for the umpteenth time as I did the first. But screw The Pre-Sequel, I won't touch it. Okay, that's not true...Dustin's a stinkin' liar.

1. The Simpsons: Hit & Run

About a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote a week-long series of blogs wherein I explained why I felt that The Simpsons: Hit & Run was the best. Licensed game. Ever. Admittedly, I'm biased, being as big of a fan of the show that I am. The game is basically Grand Theft Auto: Springfield, and that couldn't have been a better idea than it turned out to be. At the time, the show had 13 seasons worth of material to work with, and you'll see references from every single one of them. If you know as much about the show as I do, you'll be smiling the entire time you play, because at every corner is a clever little nod to the show.

What's interesting is that the game doesn't really have combat. You have flying cameras in the shape of wasps that you can destroy, but other than that, your attack button is nothing more than a way to break things to gain more coins. Your character can't die, either, so in some ways it's not like GTA at all, but the mission structure and vehicular mayhem is identical. They split the town of Springfield into three separate levels, so it's not open-world in the sense of Skyrim where you can walk from one end of the world to the other, but I choose to look at this the same way I did old GTA games. You had to progress a certain amount before you can see the rest of the world, which is what they did here.

I think even non-fans would find Hit & Run to be a one of the better open-world games out there. It's just as good now as it was in 2003, and I still revisit it every few years or so, and I continue to notice little things I either never noticed before or had forgotten about. The Simpsons: Hit & Run, I feel, deserves more credit than just being a great licensed game or great Simpsons game, it's just a great game, period.
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