Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Happy Belated Birthday, NES

During the most recent episode of my podcast, we spoke a little bit about the 30th anniversary of the Nintendo Entertainment System. I also happened to have a 30th birthday this year, so it's safe to assume that the NES is very near and dear to my heart. It was the first system I ever owned, and to this day is still my favorite console ever. So, being the retro gamer/collector that I am, I decided that I should break my non-writing streak by going back into the recesses of my nostalgia and bringing you some of my childhood memories, as well as talking about some of the games I treasured the most as a child.

I remember getting the NES when I was three years old. I had no idea what it was, I was too young to be reading about it in any sort of catalog, and I'm almost certain that up to that point, I had never even heard of a "videogame." The only thing that I can think of as to why it became a staple in our living room was that my older brother (who was six at the time) must have heard about it from his friends at school or that a coworker of one of my parents suggested it to them. Either way, it doesn't matter, all I know is that it was a glorious day in my life when we opened up that box.

Being 1988, the system we got, of course, came packed with Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt. I want you all to take a look at this picture:

There it is, the Nintendo Entertainment System Action Set. Take careful notice that in addition to the system itself and the packed-in game, you also received the NES Zapper and two controllers. Let me repeat: TWO CONTROLLERS! If there's one thing that annoys me about modern videogame consoles, it's the fact that if you get them on day one, you also have to buy a game and an additional controller if you intend to play anything cooperatively. And honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if the next round of consoles came without controllers or power cables. My beloved Nintendo already began that trend with the removal of AC chargers from New 3DS systems.

Old-timers like me always like to speak about our local rental shops, and I'm no different. We had two in our home town. The place we frequented the most was the local Marsh Supermarket, because renting games (and WWF Royal Rumble videos) from a supermarket was something that, for whatever reason, made sense in the late 80s and early 90s. In that same plaza, we had Dub'l Take Video, and it wasn't until I wrote that name out that I realized why it was spelled the way it was. We didn't go to Dub'l Take too often, as they were "too expensive" according to my mother, but in the rare occasion we could afford the extra dollar, we would head over there. I remember their selection being gigantic compared to Marsh, and I spent lots of time stargazing over the NES cover boxes.

Cover art and the pixely screenshots on the back of the box were usually all we had to go off of, and we made some rather poor rental decisions throughout the course of the system. The thing about the NES, though, is that even the bad games were notable. There were few games that just had absolutely nothing interesting about them. So, the following games, whether they were rentals or games I owned, are all ones that still hold a very special place in my heart.

A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia

To this day, A Boy and His Blob is an enigma to me. I never knew what to do, but I knew that I wanted to play it all the time. I specifically remember one night when my cousin was babysitting my brother and I, and I threw a tantrum because I wanted to play Blob, but she wouldn't let me because she was playing Tetris.

All I knew was that the blob was cute. I looked at him like he was my friend, and I just wanted to hang out with him and feed him jelly beans. My four-year-old dumb mind couldn't make the correlation that certain jelly bean flavors caused the blob to turn into a specific tool, so most of the time I would just feed the blob a bean and say "Oh, hey, he's a trampoline now. That's awesome!"

I never got too far in Blob. I do remember turning him into a rocket and riding him to a distant planet and dying pretty much immediately, and my brother getting into a cave area, but other than that, the rest of the game is a mystery. Naturally, speed runs on YouTube show people beating the game in mere minutes, but I kind of like my memories better. There's a part of me that never wants to know how to play the game.

Super Mario Bros. 2

When it comes to Super Mario Bros. 2, you're in one of two camps: the "it's not the real Super Mario Bros. 2" camp, or you're on the correct side, which is the "this is way better than the 'real' Super Mario Bros. 2" side of the equation. I never owned the game as a kid, but it was the one that we probably rented more than any other. Back then, I didn't realize that this was a rehash of a Japanese game, but I definitely knew there was something weird going on. Where were the familiar enemies? Or King Koopa? The recognizable tunes? Why am I playing as the princess instead of saving her?

It's cool to see how many aspects of SMB2 have become staples of the franchise, like Shy Guys, Birdo, Luigi's superior jumping ability, and so on. The game has certainly left behind a legacy. But the thing that I remember about the game the most is what is perhaps the most traumatizing enemy in my young gaming life: Phanto. Phanto is like the Terminator, he just doesn't stop until you're dead.

Did I forget to mention that at one point you pull a vegetable out of the ground only to discover that it's actually rocket ship that flies you to the next level? Because that happens. It's true what they say, they don't make games the way they used to.

Friday the 13th

Looking back on my childhood, my parents had some weird double standards. I wasn't allowed to watch Beavis and Butt-Head, but they bought my brother and I Mortal Kombat on the Sega Genesis for Christmas. I wasn't allowed to watch Friday the 13th movies, but we owned the NES game. Perhaps they were okay with that because videogames were still considered children's toys at the time, and as we all know, all toys are completely harmless.

Despite the negative connotation that's usually associated with Friday the 13th on NES, I actually have fond memories of the game. It legitimately has one of my favorite box arts of all-time (pictured above). Not even an unstoppable killing machine like Jason Voorhees is exempt from the neons and hot pinks that were so prevalent in the late 80s.

Even though this game was released well before the survival horror explosion a decade later, I would qualify it as an early horror game. I don't remember actually being scared while playing it, but looking back, it certainly has a creepy vibe. The music that plays in the cabins has always given me a sense of tension, and Jason pops up often enough to keep you on edge. Speaking from nostalgia, Friday the 13th isn't a bad game, but it's brutally and sometimes unfairly difficult in certain spots, which I think prevents it from being remembered as fondly by others as it is for me.

Monster Party

Monster Party is weird. Like, really weird. Legendary weird. But I played it, and I loved it. It appealed for me for two very specific reasons. First, one of my all-time favorite movies is The Monster Squad, and Monster Party's cover art reminded me of the movie because it featured so many of the classic movie monsters. Secondly, the story is about a kid coming home from a baseball game, having an anthropomorphic bird crash land in front of him, getting abducted by said bird in order to help him fight monsters on his home planet, and then merging with one another somehow. Why does that part appeal to me so much? Because baseball was my first love, and I often daydreamed about how awesome it would be if that actually happened to me.

Not weird enough? Let me continue. Each level features several monster rooms which usually require you to hit projectiles back at the enemies. It's like batting practice! The first one you come to is a phallic-shaped plant that starts the battle by saying "Hello! Baby!" Why does it say that? I DON'T KNOW! Why is the next monster room completely empty? I DON'T KNOW! Why is there a monster room with a giant dead insect that says "Sorry, I'm dead"? I DON'T FREAKING KNOW!

Actually, after doing research (and by that, I mean the Monster Party Wikipedia page), I found out that a lot of the weirdness was due to the fact that the game was heavily edited from what the original version was intended to be. It also may have had something to do with copyright issues. I mean, that plant on the box art does look almost identical to Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors.

I would suggest watching a longplay of the game on YouTube so you can experience just how much weird the game has to offer.

Pro Wrestling

This really shouldn't come as a surprise to any of you when you remember who it is writing this blog. I have a very weird, vivid memory pertaining to Pro Wrestling. I was at a friends house and their mother was playing Castlevania. She was at the game's climax, taking on Dracula's second form, when she got a phone call. Not realizing how big of a deal this was, I turned the game off and put in Pro Wrestling, because I just wanted to see Star Man on the wrestler select screen. When she returned, she was understandably furious. She spanked me, and I sobbed all the way up the road to my grandmother's house. If that were to happen today, she would have gotten 3-5 years in prison. But this was the 90s, and we weren't all a bunch of politically correct crybabies back then.

Anyway, Star Man! Star Man was my dude. My memories of my actual skill level with the game are hazy at best. After going back a couple decades later, I realized that it's actually a very deep game. There are so many moves when you compare it to the WWF games of the day. WWF Wrestlemania is basically Urban Champion with the inclusion of a y-axis and a cartwheel move for Bam Bam Bigelow. But Pro Wrestling was the closest thing to a professional wrestling sim that you could get on the NES. It had an in-ring referee, a ringside cameraman, and a story mode, complete with your winning of the Video Wrestling Association Championship.

And, if nothing else, Pro Wrestling gave us the phrase "A Winner is You!"

Super Mario Bros. 3

Few games have left such an impression on me that I actually remember where I was when I opened it up. My brother and I have birthdays that are only 15 days apart, and even though we always had separate parties and presents, I remember Super Mario Bros. 3 being a joint present in 1990. I remember being in the weird front room in the house we lived in at the time (I guess it would have been considered a den), and the moment my brother tore open that wrapping paper, and I saw that vibrant yellow that has since become unmistakable, I knew what we had on our hands.

I had already become obsessed with the movie The Wizard by this point, so my brother and I were well aware of Super Mario Bros. 3. Up until then, I had never asked my parents to buy me a specific game, but after seeing The Wizard, it was the only thing that I asked for for months. There's really nothing I can say about the game that you haven't already heard hundreds of times. It's a classic. Some people, including myself, consider it the best game on the NES.

I just wanted to share my memories of getting the game rather than talking about the game itself. It's one of the most vivid memories I have from early in my life, and still one that I cherish greatly.

It's a little late for celebrating the NES' 30th birthday, but in my opinion, the NES should be celebrated on more than just special occasions. It's my favorite console of all-time, and I'll go to my grave proclaiming its greatness.

Here's all the places you can find me on the internet.

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes - MGS Month

I've played Ground Zeroes several times this year, so it's still very fresh in my mind. Before I talk about the game, however, I want to discuss the controversy that surrounded the game. Now, it's not controversial in the same way that Metal Gear Solid 2 was, not by a long shot. No one was complaining about the character you played as, or lengthy cutscenes, or tedious mechanics.

They also complained about Kiefer Sutherland doing the voice of Big Boss, but that's understandable.

No, people complained about the length of the game. Despite knowing that this was not a full-price game and that Kojima himself said this game is meant to be a prologue to The Phantom Pain, the internet (in typical internet fashion) raised all kinds of complaints at the fact that the game was being sold for $30-$40 (depending on which version you purchased) and could be completed in under an hour. It was such a hot topic that we even did an episode about it on the Error Machine Podcast.

In theory, that sounds like a horrible deal. Yes, you can beat the main story of the game in under an hour (and some people are good enough to beat it in less than half that time), but you also have several unlockable missions, including secret ones. But what people overlooked in the amount of replay value the game has. You're given a fairly substantial area, the size of which is comparable to an area in MGS3 or MGS4, and are given free reign to do what you wish.

This game is all about exploring. If you take your time and search through all the nooks and crannies, you'll find that there's a lot more content packed into the game than what readily meets the eye. Most buildings can be unlocked and searched, and you have more interrogation options than you did in MGS4, which brings me to the controls. To put it simply, the controls have never felt better or more intuitive for a Metal Gear Solid game than they do in Ground Zeroes. MGS4 made great strides in improving the controls and making it feel more like a modern day shooter, and Ground Zeroes takes it even further.

No longer are the shoulder buttons used to cycle through weapons and inventory. You now carry four weapons at a time, conveniently mapped to the directional pad on the controller. Since this game is a prologue, it's safe to assume that there aren't nearly as many options as The Phantom Pain will ultimately have.

There aren't any bosses or huge cinematic moments, but there's a cool little story here. Ground Zeroes is a sequel to Peace Walker, which is still the only MGS game that I can't bring myself to play again. I genuinely disliked it and never finished it. Honestly, I feel I'm better off just reading the story synopsis online to bring me up to speed. But that little story I alluded to is enough to make me want more.

Yes, it is kind of ridiculous to pay the amount of money Konami expected for what amounts to an extended demo, but now you can find the game fairly cheap, and is absolutely worth playing for any Metal Gear Solid fan.

That'll do it for the blogs for Metal Gear Solid month. I hope you guys enjoyed reading and watching as much as I enjoyed writing and playing.

Now let's get pumped for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots - MGS Month

I've started off every one of these pre-play reviews by exclaiming about how excited I was for that particular game. This won't be any different. So, how excited was I for Metal Gear Solid 4? Excited enough to buy a Playstation 3 for the sole purpose of playing it. No, that's not an exaggeration. After Sony announced the ludicrous price point for the PS3, I had it in my mind that that's what I needed to save so I could play MGS4. Luckily for me, however, the game wasn't released until almost two years after the launch of the system, and at that point it had received new models and price cuts. I opted for the $400, 40gb system, which I was able to pay for with my income tax that year.

I bought the system a few months prior to the release of the game, so after blazing through the original Uncharted in one day, the system itself collected a lot of dust. To this day, I still don't love the PS3, but I don't regret my purchase at all, because Metal Gear Solid 4 was worth both the money and the wait.

The longplay should be pretty interesting, as Guns of the Patriots is the only MGS game that I've only played all the way through once. It's not because I didn't love the game, I just got caught up with other things every time I tried revisiting it. But that's not what this blog is for. This blog is to give you my recollections about the game prior to playing it.

Honestly, because it's been so long, I don't remember a whole lot about the gameplay. I remember the Octocamo system, I remember Snake having some new options as far as traversing the world, I remember having an iPod for some reason, and so on. But the thing that this game has over every other game in the series are the moments. No game pulls off the incredible moments, epic encounters, and memorable sequences better than Metal Gear Solid 4.

The return to Shadow Moses, the Rex versus Ray Metal Gear battle, the revelations about Big Boss, the microwave room, and who can forget the final battle? They're all crafted so perfectly.

What little I do remember about the gameplay is that they overhauled the shooting, making it play like more of a, well, shooter. It was a welcome change. The previous three games were all products of their times and consoles, but MGS4 definitely needed to be updated in order to coexist with the ever-expanding shooter landscape that included games like Gears of War and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Out with the old and in with the new, as the old saying goes.

One aspect that was welcome even more than the updated mechanics was the ability to use certain weapons at any point in the game. Typically, in a Metal Gear game, you don't acquire any sort of rocket launcher until late in the game, as it's usually locked behind a door with a higher number than the key card you're holding. But not anymore, baby! Now, you can find or buy a plethora of weapons from the get-go. And the amount of weapons in the game is just mind-blowing. No longer are you relegated to a tranquilizer gun, a pistol, a machine gun or two, a sniper rifle or two, and a rocket launcher. In MGS4, you have dozens of weapons at your disposal, including multiple guns of each type and a bunch that had never appeared in the series up to that point. I don't know why there are 8 different rocket launchers in the game, but I know I need all of them.

The Beauty and the Beast Corps (or BB Corps) are this game's mandatory collection of crazy people. Their names all share a common animal with the members of Foxhound from the original.

There's Laughing Octopus (Decoy Octopus from MGS1), the stealth expert. Next is Raging Raven (Vulcan Raven), who soars above you with her robotic wings. Then we have Crying Wolf (Sniper Wolf) who offers up this games sniper battle. It's not as good as the battle with The End from MGS3, but still a very cool battle and my favorite one in this game. And rounding out the BB Corps is Screaming Mantis (Psycho Mantis), who is able to control both the living and the dead by controlling the nanomachine in their bodies. All in all, the BB Corps is a solid group of bad guys--er, gals.

The last 20 minutes of gameplay and the ending cinematic are so good that I don't even want to go into details. There aren't any words that can properly describe these moments to you, they demand to be experienced.

Unless Konami decides to revive the series after The Phantom Pain, or Solid Snake makes an appearance, this is the last time we get to play as one of gaming's most iconic heroes. If this is the final trip around the block, then it was a heck of a note to go out on. It's a very fitting end for the old man.

Up next is the longplay on the Error Machine YouTube channel. Don't forget to subscribe to it so you don't miss out on any more MGS Month content, as well as any future videos. I'll be back with the final blog of the month in a few day when I cover Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater - MGS Month

When writing about the original MGS, I said that it's my favorite in the series and in my top 3 games of all-time. But with that said, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a very, very close second. The hype was a little bit subdued from the fiasco that was the MGS2 launch, but I was still on board from day one. I remember the game getting delayed over and over again. Every time I would mark a date down on my calendar, it would inevitably get changed.

Every screenshot that I saw reminded me of the Rambo films, which I'm also a huge fan of. I loved everything that I saw about the camouflage system, the bosses, the setting, and I loved that we were finally getting to play as Big Boss. If memory serves me correctly, I remember a trailer they played on the very first edition of Spike TV's Video Game Awards, and that was the one that completely blew it out of the water for me. There was no way this game was going to let me down like MGS2. Right?

Absolutely right! The game is just simply outstanding. Even things that a lot of people complained about like the camouflage and healing systems were some of the aspects about the game that I loved the most. Camouflage is the truest form of stealth, and I loved watching enemies walk right by me while standing in plain sight.

The setting for the game is one of my favorite in all of gaming. It was great to be playing an MGS game out in the wilderness rather than being confined to a nuclear weapons disposal facility and the Big Shell. As much as I love Shadow Moses, I think I enjoy the Russian wildlife more, and even though it wasn't technically open-world, it was open enough to feel enormous. It's a pretty linear game, but there's so much to do and see that you never feel confined. The setting also changes enough to always feel fresh. You spend a lot of time in the wilderness, but it's broken up by also allowing you to traverse caves, enemy bases, mountains, and more.

Then the game turns into Pulp Fiction.

Metal Gear Solid 2 felt like Kojima's way of trolling his fans, and luckily he got it all out of his system in that game, because MGS3 felt like a true sequel and a return to form for the series. The Boss' Cobra Unit is right up there with Foxhound in terms of enemies and bosses. The Cobra Unit is just as absurd as any other bosses from the series:

The Fear: wih abilities similar to a spider.
The Fury: a former cosmonaut who desires to see the world burn.
The Sorrow: appears in ghost form and makes for a very interesting "battle."
The End: an elderly sniper who refuses to die unless it's in battle.
The Pain: has...bee powers. Literally turns into a Simpsons joke in the second half of the fight.
Then, of course, we have The Boss, who is arguably the best character in the entire series.

There are so many tricks that can be used against enemies. For instance, you can lay out spoiled food for The Fear, which will then make him sick and cause him to become an easy target. Fighting The End was the first time that I felt like I was the one being hunted, and I remember the battle taking two-and-a-half hours the first time I played it. But what's great about that is the fact that you can actually kill him earlier in the game if you act fast enough and can avoid the battle altogether. Not to mention that you have the option of fast-forwarding the clock on your PS2 two weeks ahead when the battle starts, and when you return he's died of old age. And that's only scratching the surface on that one battle, there are several other options for how to tackle that particular encounter.

You can either kill wildlife and use it as food to keep up your stamina or capture it alive and use it to scare enemies. You can shoot enemy radios so they can't call for backup. You can even go as far as destroying their food supplies and causing them to become hungry and weak. It really does feel like Kojima left no possibility off the table when developing Snake Eater. It's that extreme attention to detail that makes the MGS games a cut above the rest for me.

They also change the way you have to play the game. During one part of the game you can take on the disguise of a scientist and "hide in plain sight," so to speak. If someone questions you, you can take actions to either convince them you're a legitimate scientist (apparently adjusting your eyeglasses is something only scientists can do) or take them out with a cigars that emit knockout gas. Later in the game you have to don the disguise of General Raikov, as well as taking on the role of a maintenance worker in order to sabotage the Shagohod, this game's version of Metal Gear.

The interrogation options have been much improved from Metal Gear Solid 2. Whereas originally you did interrogations mainly to acquire dog tags as a collectible bonus, this time you get items and special information from guards. Some will tell you where the armory is located, or what forces oppose you up ahead, and some even give you radio frequencies that you can then call for a little Easter egg.

I can't talk about the game without mentioning the final battle with The Boss. It's the perfect amalgamation of everything you learned during the game. It combines the camo system, stealth, and CQC all into one amazing sequence. Fighting in a field of flowers is both beautiful and oxymoronic. And what has to take place afterwards is bittersweet but at the same time the perfect way to end it.

When Konami released an updated version of the game (Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence), I again was there on day one. The free reign you had over the camera was something the game was begging for. It wasn't a problem in the previous games with their smaller areas, but in a game like this one, it desperately needed full 3D camera control, and it was a welcome update.

Snake Eater is probably the entry in the series I was most looking forward to replaying, I'm just hoping it holds up for me as well as it does in my mind.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is up next, and it should be interesting, as this is the one MGS game I've never returned to after the initial playthrough. But I'll talk more about that in the next blog. The longplay and afterthoughts videos will be coming up shortly on the Error Machine YouTube channel, so be on the lookout for those, and you can subscribe to the channel so you can make sure you don't miss them.

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty - MGS Month

As hyped as I was for Metal Gear Solid, I was just as excited (if not more so) for the sequel. However, there was one road block that stood in my way and prevented me from playing it on release day: the PS2. At the time of the game's release, I had yet to adequately convince my parents that buying me a Playstation 2 was something that they needed to do.

Eventually, though, Christmas does come around and I become the proud owner of both the system and the game, which I began playing immediately. I had kept track of all the pre-game hype even though I knew I wouldn't be able to play the game for a while, and I managed to get by spoiler-free for the most part. I did have the big twist ruined, although all that I was told was that you don't play as Solid Snake in the game. I wondered how that could be since I had seen gameplay of the tanker mission and that's definitely Solid Snake on the screen.

Speaking of the tanker mission, isn't that tanker mission amazing? To this day, the first hour of Metal Gear Solid 2 is one of my favorite parts about the entire series. At the time, it pushed the limits of what the PS2 was capable of. MGS changed my opinion as to what I thought videogames were capable of, and MGS2 took it even further. Being able to sneak up on an enemy soldier and interrogate them was such a great addition, especially with the stubborn soldiers that need a little more coercing to spill information or to hand over their dog tags. A bullet through the hand usually did the trick.

The tanker section of the game is some of the purest stealth gameplay we've ever seen. In most instances in the original game, you had plenty of room to freely roam around to avoid trouble, but here, you're confined to tight corridors, requiring you to act fast and think outside the (cardboard) box. Hiding in side rooms, lockers, and causing diversions are absolutely crucial for anyone trying to get through the game unnoticed.

I also liked the way the battle with Olga required you to use the new FPS mode. While the first game had a first-person view, you couldn't use it for combat. They did a nice job of introducing this new feature early on in the game. Overall, the tanker in a very minute section of the game (once you know what you're doing, you can get through it in under 30 minutes), but also the game's highest point.

After the reveal of Metal Gear Ray, you get a cutscene showing the game's true villain: Revolver Ocelot. Or rather, Liquid Ocelot. Yeah, after Ocelot gets his hand cut off in the first game, they attach Liquid Snake's hand to Ocelot's arm and what ensues in a split personality battle with both sides fighting for supremacy, just like the movie Body Parts. This is where the series took a wide turn into weird. Don't get me wrong, the original had some weird stuff in it like all of Psycho Mantis' psychokinetic mumbo jumbo, but now we're dealing with supernatural possession. They're taking cues from a movie that The Simpsons parodied.

Pictured: Snake's (and everyone else's) contempt.

Anyway, after a cutscene that insinuates that Snake has died, you come to the big twist and take control of the game's main protagonist and wussy-baby, Raiden. This is nothing new, and I've already written about my feelings on Raiden, so I'll spare you those thoughts here. I'll just say that it was disappointing then, and it's disappointing now. Another disappointment is the setting for the game. The Big Shell has two main buildings, with six hexagonal sub-buildings connected via bridges. Despite each building being different from one another, the whole backdrop for the game is very bland. Shadow Moses had personality, the Big Shell doesn't.

I also don't feel that Dead Cell is nearly as good as Foxhound. Foxhound had an expert revolver marksman, the world's greatest sniper, a master of disguise, a commando with a (literal) barrell of bullets on his back, a dude that could read your mind, and a great antagonist overseeing it all. Dead Cell has a woman you can't shoot, a fat guy on rollerblades, a bisexual vampire, and the third clone of Big Boss calling the shots. And the battles themselves aren't all that interesting either. The battle with Fortune requires no skill on your part, just dodge her horribly telegraphed attacks. Fatman just skates around trying to plant bombs, but for the most part it's a regular battle. Vamp is also just your typical battle. He'll descend below the water and occasionally pop back up for you to take an easy shot at him.

It's not until your sword fight with Solidus that you finally feel any sort of satisfaction from a boss fight. Sons of Liberty definitely has the weakest boss fights in the entire series.

I know that I've done almost nothing but bash the game thus far, but despite that, I do still really enjoy it as a game. It's still plays like Metal Gear Solid, and in the end, that's what matters.

Oh, let me tell you something else I hate about the game: the swimming section. Why can't any 3D games get swimming right? This part of the game is infuriating, and it's even worse when you have to go back through the water with Otacon's tween sister, who can only hold her breath for about 6 seconds and can only walk if you hold her hand because you needed more than one reason to hate Emma Emmerich.

Then she dies, and now I feel like a bad person for all the mean things I said about her.

Sorry, I just...I can't get past all the things about the game that annoy me. The gameplay is pretty much the only redeeming quality. I really do love the increased sneaking and interrogation options, the graphics are beautiful, and once again, Hideo Kojima added tons of little Easter eggs for you to find.

Of course, I can't talk about MGS2 without talking about the final hour of the game. So, the easiest way to put it is that Kojima basically said to his fellow developers "Alright gang, let's get weird." And get weird, they did. There are so many betrayals and double agents and people actually turning out to be AIs and shadow agencies that I don't think I've ever quite understood what's going on no matter how many times I play the game or how many articles I read explaining it to me.

The machines have become self-aware!

In true Metal Gear fashion, the game ends on a giant cliffhanger, and it wouldn't be for another two main series entries that we finally get to continue this part of the story.

Despite my complaints, I still like the game very much. It improved on lots of gameplay elements from the original and laid the groundwork for future revisions and improvements. Regardless of how you feel about the twists and turns or the insane directions the story goes, I have very fond memories of the game. I still prefer the original, however, but the next entry is the one that I'm perhaps the most excited about writing about.

Thanks for reading, and don't forget that you can subscribe to the Error Machine YouTube channel so you don't miss out on the MGS2 longplay and afterthoughts videos that will be coming up in the next few days.


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Metal Gear Solid - MGS Month

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is now just one month away, and as a way to celebrate, I'll be looking back at what is quite possibly my all-time favorite videogame series. I'll be starting with Metal Gear Solid on the original Playstation. While I am very familiar with Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake due to reading, writing, and playing the series for quite some time now, Metal Gear Solid was my entryway into the franchise, and to this day I would rank in my top 3 games of all-time.

I'll be going through and reviewing all the main story titles beginning with MGS, though I'm still debating if I want to try and play Peace Walker again. So without further ado, let's start with an incredible tune and get right into Metal Gear Solid month!

I speak a lot about the way things used to be; it's no secret that retro gaming is where my heart lies. One of the things I miss most in this age of ever-increasing technology and convenience is the videogame magazine. I was never a subscriber to any magazines growing up, but any time one caught my eye, I would beg my mom to buy it for me at the local supermarket, and I would spend hours each and every day reading about how awesome Mortal Kombat II was going to be, looking at the bloody fatalities in all of their 16-bit gory glory.

What was even better about these magazines is that once CD-based home consoles started hitting the market (but before the boom in the Internet), companies would often include a demo disc with your purchase. That's how I discovered Metal Gear Solid.

Not exactly the most creative cover art in the world.

I didn't buy the magazine myself. In fact, I don't even know which magazine it came from, all I knew is that my friend David Griffin wouldn't shut up about this bite-sized demo of a game coming later that year. It wasn't until I actually got my hands on it myself that I understood why he was so excited. The demo itself was still in Japanese, so we didn't understand a bit of what was going on in the story, and it was a section of the game that could be completed in about five minutes if you wanted to do it that way, as it only consisted of the dock and heliport sections of the game.

But once I finally started playing, I understood. I got it!

Even though I had played other 3D games on my Playstation by that point, and had seen Super Mario 64, 3D games just didn't interest me all that much. They seemed like a lot to take in. Why couldn't Super Mario 64 just give me a map screen? That's what they've done for 10 years now, why change it? But once I started playing Metal Gear Solid, I saw the light.

That five minute demo that I died several times on and couldn't understand a word of what was being said is what finally converted me to 3D videogames. This was more than just a game, this was an adventure. This was a story. I convinced my mom to let me do extra chores in exchange for picking the game up for me on release day.

It was irregular for gamers to go through a game trying to avoid conflict. I played Resident Evil the previous year, and while the best strategy in Resident Evil is to avoid combat at all costs, you really don't have a choice. If you try to kill every enemy in Resident Evil, you'll find yourself without enough ammo to take down a boss, meaning you've essentially locked yourself out of the rest of the game. When you open doors, you have no chance of not alerting enemies. The moment you walk through a door, every monster in that room knows you're there, and they're coming after you.

Metal Gear Solid was different. As Solid Snake, I was tasked to actually think and act like a stealth operative. I had to watch enemy patterns and keep an eye out for security cameras. Granted, you were mostly doing that through use of an on-screen map, but it didn't detract from the overall experience for me.

I fired the game up on release day, quickly making my way through the air ducts on the heliport and eagerly anticipating what the game had in store. That first night I spent a lot of time on the phone with David. This game was still a bit hard for me to grasp, and once I finally made it to Floor B2 and found myself in a gas-filled area and an electrified floor, I knew I needed help. Luckily David has also picked up the strategy guide.

After I followed David's instructions on where to find the gas mask and Nikita launcher, I guided a missile to take out the electric breakers and made my way to the next area, which stopped me with a rather bloody cutscene.

After watching this scene, I decided that that was my stopping point for the day. The best thing about this scene--and really the best part about the game in general--is what it doesn't show you. While you do get quick flashback cuts, you're not shown in great detail what exactly the ninja (Gray Fox, a former friend to Solid Snake) did to these soldiers in that room. You're forced to fill in the blanks, and that's why I still prefer this version of the game over the graphically superior GameCube remake, The Twin Snakes. Twin Snakes shows you exactly what happens from the start of that encounter to the end, leaving no room for your imagination. When I first saw this cutscene on the original, I legitimately thought "What am I about to go up against? How can I possibly beat whatever that thing was?"

Most people who played Twin Snakes probably played the original, and at that point wouldn't be shocked by what happened next, but that scene does such a great job of setting up a sense of fear before the fight and getting your adrenaline pumping. Even with the brief glimpses of Gray Fox, you never get a good shot of him, and that's what made it so great, the uncertainty of the unknown.

It took me a few tries to figure out how I was supposed to approach this fight. Chaff grenades followed by a quick burst from the Famas machine gun seemed to work, but you only have so many chaff grenades and he deflects your bullets otherwise. I didn't want to go anywhere near this guy, there's no doubt he would cut me up with that sword the same way he did those soldiers in the hallway. But after I had exhausted all other options, I tried hand-to-hand combat, and found that to be exactly what Gray Fox wanted.

After the fight was over, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted, but then I realized I was still very early on in the game, and likely had tougher battles awaiting me.

The game has tons of iconic moments, and some of the tricks needed to proceed in the game, including real-world instances like getting Meryl's codec frequency from the game's cd case and in-game examples like altering a shape-shifting key card, were all expertly crafted. But if we're going to choose only one moment that stands out from the pack, it's the Psycho Mantis battle.

Dude can read your memory card, which still kind of blows my mind.

The fight with Psycho Mantis has gone down as videogaming legend. Whenever you come across a casual Metal Gear fan, Psycho Mantis is the one thing they remember in great detail. I remember playing this as a 13-year-old and racking my brain trying to figure out how to beat him. Much like the Gray Fox fight, I exhausted every weapon and expended several lives, I was completely bumfuzzled. Some weapons seemed to work, and I was able to chip away his life, but not at any acceptable rate. How do you beat someone that can read your mind and anticipates your every move?

It wasn't until I was so frustrated that it carried over into boredom that I decided to use my codec to call random people. In those codec calls, the Colonel and Naomi seemed to be alluding to something, and after a bit of probing and prodding, they finally revealed the secret: switching the controller into the second controller port. This. Was. Genius.

There are other boss battles that I enjoy more than Psycho Mantis, but this one is still the most memorable for how it required real-world actions on the part of the player. Suddenly, Mantis can no longer read your mind and the battle becomes a cakewalk.

After Mantis gives you his sob story (because every Metal Gear boss has a sob story), you come to the scariest part of the game: the cave.

I have no idea why this section scared me. Perhaps it was the requirement of the night-vision goggles obscuring my vision or the fact that you couldn't read your map and find out where the wolves where prowling, but I used to dread this section as a kid. It wasn't until after I beat the game the first time that I discovered that there are several tricks to use to your advantage. The obvious trick is equipping Sniper Wolf's handkerchief on your second time through. With Sniper Wolf being one of their trusted handlers, they won't attack you. But did you know that you could lie under Snake's trademark cardboard box, have the dogs pee on the box, and from there on they won't attack you because you bear their scent? Kind of weird (and I could never get it to work), but amazing the kind of tricks that Kojima put into this game, a theme that you will see throughout the series.

As I mentioned before when talking about the Gray Fox cutscene prior to the battle, it's what this game alluded to but didn't show that made it so great. In cutscenes throughout the game, you get small glimpses of the titular Metal Gear, a walking nuclear tank. But in these scenes, the view is obscured and the shots are quick. Having not had the experience of the original NES/MSX games, this was all a new thing for me.

After I bested Psycho Mantis, took down Sniper Wolf, outlasted Revolver Ocelot in the torture device, outsmarted the hapless guard and escaped from the holding cell (with the use of some cleverly placed ketchup), took down a Hind D helicopter, beat Sniper Wolf again, and survived a thrilling battle with the hulking Vulcan Raven, I finally made my way to Metal Gear Rex's holding area.

This was overwhelming. I knew that eventually I was going to have to face this thing, but how could I possibly do that?

Wait, what's this? There's a way to shut down Metal Gear? Yeah, let's do that!

After discovering that the key card you have will change shape in different temperatures, you have to go through possibly the only bad part of the game. Actually, it's not so much bad as it is tedious. Climb all the way up to the control room, insert key card one. Climb all the way back down and make your way to the freezer room where you fought Vulcan Raven. Wait a few minutes until the key card changes, make your way back, climb up to the control room, use second card. Climb back down, make your way back to the blast furnace, wait a few minutes for the key card to change again, go back to Metal Gear's holding area, climb back up to the control room, finally insert third key.

Well, that certainly padded the game out about another half hour, but at least now Metal Gear is...wait, why is that computer saying the Metal Gear has been activated? Why is Master Miller calling me? WHAT? It was Liquid Snake the whole time?!?

At this point I know better than to trust anyone in the Metal Gear franchise, but back then, this was the biggest switcheroo I'd ever been a part of. The game's primary antagonist, Liquid Snake, was impersonating Master Miller this whole time? And now he's inside Metal Gear and trying to kill me? Ohhhhhh, good.

The fight with Metal Gear actually isn't all that difficult. Just continue to run through its legs and lock the stinger missile on him at opportune times and you're golden, but it's the post-fight that's truly great. After you take Metal Gear down, you're treated to some exposition, and then engage in true, mano-e-mano, hand-to-hand combat with Liquid Snake atop Metal Gear Rex. It's truly epic. As much as I love the ending chase sequence with Liquid, I actually wish the game would have ended here, or at least had the chase sequence and kept Liquid out of it. I understand why they did it that way, it was a much more dramatic ending, but after defeating him inside Metal Gear, then knocking him off of Metal Gear, only to have him return one last time, it began to feel like a Friday the 13th movie, he just won't die.

You don't even get the satisfaction of killing Liquid Snake yourself, as he dies to the Foxdie virus moments before putting a bullet in Snake's head. Like I said, I understand the choice to end it this way, but it would have been more satisfying for the player if you got to deliver the final blow, which is something Snake wouldn't be able to finally do to Liquid until Metal Gear Solid 4, but we'll get to that in a few weeks.

Metal Gear Solid is still a masterpiece of videogame design and storytelling today, 17 years after its release. It really has stood the test of time, and like I said before, is one of my favorite games of all time. The only games that outrank it in my eyes are Super Mario World and Resident Evil 4, in that order. MGS took everything that I knew videogames were capable of and made it look like child's play. It opened my eyes to a new world, one that I was fully on board with.

I didn't find the old-school controls or the fixed camera angles to be difficult to return to, as some people like to complain about these days. It's like the people that complain about tank controls in early Resident Evil and Silent Hill games. That's how the game controls, get used to it. Yes, technology has evolved and made things easier to control in 3D games, but that doesn't mean that you should retroactively dislike something about a game. If it was perfect then, then it's still perfect now, and that's how I feel about Metal Gear Solid.

The abstractedness of the graphics, along with a muted color palette fits the tone of the game perfectly. The game takes place in Alaska, so you want colors that make the game feel cold, and the grays, blues, and greens of MGS are perfect for what they wanted to convey about the world. The story is bleak, so the colors are bleak.

I waited with frothing anticipation for a sequel, which we eventually got to much controversy. Tune in next week for the next blog, and don't forget to watch the longplays and afterthoughts videos on the Error Machine YouTube channel.

Thanks for reading.