Review: Super Mario Bros.

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Working on this blog and waxing nostalgic about old games really got me hankering to play some. So tonight I decided to have a little quality time with my son by breaking out some old school Mario. A couple years ago, I picked up the Mario 25th Anniversary disc on Wii. This is essentially nothing more than Super Mario All-Stars on a disc, but having the updated version or the first four Mario games all in one collection is a really a great value. If you can still find a copy, I definitely recommend it.

Re-living this old classic was a lot of fun. My son and I played old-fashioned 2-player mode for an hour or more. I’m proud to admit, I still remember all the old tips and tricks, hidden blocks, etc. I’ve still got it!

Playing this game again gave me a brilliant idea; a playthrough/review of the entire Mario series. Why not? It could be fun… So after everyone went to bed, I settled back down in my armchair with the lights down low, slid the disc in the Wii and started my journey.

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Before I begin, I’d like to note that while I do have the actual 8-bit virtual-console version, I decided to go ahead and go with the All-Stars update. I did so simply for the better graphics and upgraded audio. Since the gameplay is exactly the same, I don’t feel like I’m really compromising the experience.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last twenty-five years, Super Mario Bros. is the story of Mario and Luigi, two Italian plumbers who find themselves in the weird fantasy world of “The Mushroom Kingdom”. Their goal is rescue a kidnapped princess from the evil turtle-bully, Bowser. The game is a side-scrolling platformer consisting of eight, four-level worlds. The fourth level of each world features a castle that might potentially house the missing princess. Of course, you don’t actually find her until you’ve reached the very last castle.

I decided to play through the entire game without warping and I’m glad I did. Over the years I had forgotten just how quirky and wonderful many of the levels were. Giant colorful toadstools, flying fish, sneaky swimming squids…  I even enjoyed how grumpy some of the later levels could be. Remember the little “mazes” in some of the later castles? I’m referring to the levels where you must travel in a certain pattern (bottom of the screen, or top of the screen) in order to progress, otherwise the level just continues with no end until the timer runs out. Good stuff.

Sitting down and playing through this title again was a lot of fun, and I’m very glad I did it. Despite the age of the game, there’s still something satisfying about finally rescuing the princess and getting that kiss on the cheek.

Below is my breakdown of the game. Please understand it is simply my opinion.

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Difficulty: Hard – Some levels can be quite challenging even today, but tricks and enemy placement stays the same. There’s nothing that you cannot overcome after several attempts and using good memorization.

Story: Little to no real story. Evil Bowser, the King Koopa kidnaps Princess Peach. Mario and Luigi come to the rescue… Kind of shallow I suppose, but on the other hand, do we really need much of a story for a game like this?

Originality: At the time of release there was nothing like it. Imaginative worlds, fresh ideas for the time.

Soundtrack: Despite the limited resources of the NES and SNES, the music in this game is timeless. SMB contains what is arguably some of the most recognizable game tunes around.

Fun: I had a BLAST playing this with my son. The game is a bit dated nowadays, but that does not detract from it in any way.

Graphics: This is true for both the NES version and SNES. At the time of release everything about this game looked state of the art. Today, both versions still carry the cartoon vibe extremely well.

Playcontrol: Perfect on the original version. The Wii version of the games suffers a bit in the play control area. The classic controller and classic controller pro are great, but the cross pad and control stick feel a little loose. I had several character deaths that were the direct result of the control not responding the way they would have on the original hardware. It’s not horrid, but it is noticeable.

Overall Rating (out of four stars):  4 Stars

Available today on: Wii, Virtual Console, eShop

Other Reviews In This Series:

SMB   –   SMB Lost Levels  –  SMB 2  –  SMB 3  –  SM World – SM World 2-  SM Land  –  SM Land 2  – SM Land 3 –  Mario 64 – Mario Sunshine – New SMB – Galaxy – Galaxy 2 – New SMB Wii – Mario 3D Land – New SMB 2 – New SMB U – SMB 3D World

Paper Mario – Thousand Year Door – Super Paper Mario – Sticker Star

Wario Land 2 – Wario Land 3 – Wario Land 4 – Master of Disguise – Wario Land Shake It

Luigi’s Mansion – Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon – Super Princess Peach

Evolution

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So far I’ve written about my experiences growing up with the original 8-bit NES. But naturally, like many other kids who came of age in the 80’s and 90’s, I was also the proud owner of its successor the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

The SNES was a thing of glory to behold. It boasted better graphics and better sound… I mean you could actually hear real speech. (Maybe only in 10 second fragments, but still!) This was a big deal. It also had a lineup of games that were a force to be reckoned with; Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Zelda: A Link to the Past…. It was enough to make your head pop. It’s hard to make a statement like this, but I daresay that the Super Nintendo was just as important to legacy gaming as the original NES. I look at the NES as the seed/root and the SNES as the vine/blossom of Nintendo’s success.

Some of the greatest RPGs of all time saw the light of day on this box of 16-bit goodness. In fact, the SNES has been hailed by many as the pinnacle RPG platform. Not only did Nintendo’s first-party titles and various RPGs flourish on this new system, but the early 90’s saw the rise of two-player fighting games, these also soared to popularity thanks largely in part to the Super Nintendo. Games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II owe a debit of gratitude to the SNES.

As I mentioned in another post, around the mid-90’s my attention waned a bit from console gaming. I became more interested in social activities. Any gaming I did during this period was in front of a PC. My consoles sat on a shelf collecting dust while I learned the ways of new games like DOOM, Quake, and Diablo.

In 1996, the Nintendo 64 was released. By this point Nintendo was so far off my radar I barely noticed. I vaguely remember seeing an ad for Mario 64 and I thought to myself “Wow. Would ya look at that!” To date, the N64 is probably my most neglected era of gaming. I have since gone back and experienced many of these great games on the Wii, but I feel like I missed being in the middle of all the action. It is a pox on my gaming record to be sure.

Around the same time, Nintendo faced it’s first serious competitor: The Sony Playstation. Sony’s console made the move from cartridge-based games to CD-ROM. My old roomate had one and after seeing it for the first time, I remember wondering if Nintendo’s days of dominance were over. It certainly seemed that way. The N64 fell in popularity over time and the Playstation earned a much larger audience. Third-party developers jumped ship in record numbers. The Final Fantasy series moved exclusively to Sony’s console. As did many games from Capcom and Konami.

Sony followed up their success in 2000 with the release of the Playstation 2. This console changed everything. It was leaps about bounds above anything seen before. Many PC defectors, like myself, were lured back to the living room thanks to the PS2. In attempt to strike back, Nintendo released the GameCube. It was a cute looking device that accepted odd little mini-discs. The GameCube was responsible for some good titles, but by this point it seemed that Nintendo has officially lost the battle and the home console scene now belonged to Sony. Thankfully, Nintendo was able to weather the storm due to the popularity of their handheld gaming devices.

It was around this time that Microsoft decided to enter the scene. They brought the Xbox to the table and for the first time ever the console battlefield included 3 main competitors. It was during this time that I stepped back on the console scene. I had been recently married, and my love for Final Fantasy had been rekindled. I purchased a PS2 and caught up on many of great games I missed over the years. Then one day, my wife came home with a GameCube. This enabled me to get reacquainted with Nintendo and their offerings at the time. I was slowly on my way back to being a full-fledged gamer again.

2005 was the year that console gaming came back full force. Microsoft unveiled the Xbox 360. For the first time a modern game console was combined with the power of the Internet. Sales surged and Sony’s dominance took a hit. To retaliate, Sony struck back with the powerful but pricey Playstation 3. I believe that price alone is what kept many people away from the PS3 initially. Due to this, the Xbox retained the top spot in many households for a time. (Mine included.)

By this time, I was fully back in my gamer persona. Nostalgia had worked it’s magic on me and I watched Nintendo’s next move with baited breath. Rumors had been flying around the Internet of Nintendo’s new project; codenamed “Revolution”. Everyone was talking. I remember the guy at my local Gamestop almost salivating as he claimed to have the inside scoop:

“I’ve been told by a very reliable source that it looks like a pyramid. On each facet is a slot for a different cartridge!! There’s one side for Nintendo, one for Super Nintendo, N64, Gamecube, and then the last side takes the new discs!”

Naturally, I had to point out that pyramids only had four sides, but that didn’t seem to matter to him.

What Nintendo actually did produce was the now famous Wii. Like many others, I was put off by the name. “Play with my Wii” jokes flew around the office. But I was intrigued by the new motion controls. I remember thinking it would either be revolutionary or a complete bomb.

The Wii was a smash-hit, outselling everything else. The secret to its success was its appeal to all audiences. Heck, even my parents bought one! Through the Virtual Console feature, new gamers were able to experience classic NES and SNES games that they had never seen before. Nintendo had returned!

That brings us to today. The three-way console race is still on and it’s hard to say who dominates. The beautiful thing is, it doesn’t matter anymore. Games are released across multiple platforms and these days and it makes little difference which you choose. I personally own all three systems and I enjoy each of them.

Now that we are all caught up, the main focus of this blog can finally begin. It is in this world that the modern gamer finds themselves. If you’re like me, you work full time job. You have a family to raise and life away from the computer or television screen. Time is limited. You love games, and you still want to experience them all, what do you do? I mean think about it. There’s new great titles being released every day. Now with things like Xbox Live, Playstation Network and the Virtual Console almost any legacy title you want is only a download away. It can be frustrating.

The answer is time management and focus. I’ve learned this the hard way. I also find a lot of my free time sucked away by MMO games. It is easy to fall behind. This blog is going to be a chronicle of my journey through the world of gaming. I’m going to be reliving the games of my youth as well as tackling the games of today. This site will serve as motivation to finally tackle that backlog. I hope you stay tuned.

J-Pop

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J-Pop. AKA: Japanese pop music is another interest of mine that just won’t die. In Japan, young female Japanese singers are often called “idols”. They are often made up and dressed in a completely over-the-top fashion. I’m ashamed to admit, there’s something about these magical singing/dancing pixie-girls that enthralls me. The first time I was exposed to J-pop was days after moving to Japan with my family. I turned on the radio and searched the dial for the military network, upon finding it I heard about twenty seconds of Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler and immediately turned it off. It dawned on me that the top 40 hits I had become accustomed to enjoying were likely to be in short supply for the duration of my stay. I sat there for a moment, pissed at realization that my days of being entertained by the radio were probably on hold for the next three years. I flipped it back on and decided to see what type of nonsense was being broadcast over the local airwaves….

What I found intrigued me. I stumbled upon what must have been some type of in-studio concert. Two Japanese men were talking back and forth for a few moments then all went silent and a guitar was heard. The intro consisted of some pretty elaborate and speedy fingerpicking, I waited for the first verse to begin, and I waited, and waited, and waited…. It seemed like 10 minutes before the song actually started. But that couldn’t be right. Could it? Finally, an older sounding man in a raspy voice began to sing. In fact he began to croon the same lyric over and over again. To my young American ears, it sounded like he saying “English! Didi-la-la Didi-la-la”. Who knows what he was really saying, but he went on repeating this for nearly another 10 minutes, over and over and over. I turned of the radio and silently wondered what I getting myself into.

That was the extent of my interest in Japanese music until maybe a year later. As part of a culture exchange program, we had a teenage Japanese girl stay with my family over the Christmas holiday. Among her personal belongings was a tape of an all-girl Japanese rock band “Princess Princess”.  She was eager to share this cassette with me and a quick listen revealed that this was MUCH DIFFERENT from “Didi-la-la”. Before leaving, she let me make a copy and I found myself listening to it often. Despite not being able to understand the lyrics, it ended up being one of my favorites. I kept the tape for many years until finally it simply wore out and quit playing.

After returning to the States, the years went by and I became involved in the whole 90’s Alternative scene. It wasn’t until many years later, after I got married, that my love for J-Pop was rekindled. I had taken a hiatus from video games for most of the mid to late 90’s. After marrying and settling down a bit, my wife and I bought a brand new PlayStation 2. One of the first games we purchased was Kingdom Hearts. This game was a strange blend of both Disney characters and icons from the Final Fantasy universe. It featured a theme sung by the J-pop idol Hikaru Utada. I found the song to be quite catchy and thanks to the Internet I got my hands on some of her other works.

utada-hikaru   Hikaru Utada

Fast forward a few more years, I find myself living in Tennessee working the graveyard shift for a bank. I discover a streaming J-pop station on the Internet called J-Fan Radio. This station opened my ears to even more Japanese artists. I fell in love with idols or bands with names like:  Tommy February6, Dragon Ash, Balzac, Ayumi Hamasaki, Koda Kumi, and Gackt.

In recent years, Japanese culture has entered the American mainstream thanks to video games and various anime. With them has come many original soundtracks featuring J-pop artists. Due to this, it’s very easy these days to get your hands on the latest music from our friends in Japan. If you’ve never experienced it, I recommend giving a listen. They make great soundtracks to late-night video game marathons. I take a bit of pride in being able to say “J-pop? Oh yeah, I was listening to that twenty years ago.” But honestly, I didn’t learn to appreciate it until many years later.

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Gilgamesh’s Tavern

**UPDATE**
Due to my general dissatisfaction with the game, I cancelled the podcast several months after the initial launch.

As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been a lifelong fan of the Wizardry franchise. In fact, writing that post had me pining for the glory days of Wizardry again. So much so, that I began researching the upcoming Wizardry Online game rather heavily. I must say, I’m very impressed with what I’m seeing. My love for Japan has been established on this site. So has my love for the fantasy genre and dungeon-crawling type adventure games. The old Wizardry games were rooted very much in the classic Dungeons & Dragons vein of “fantasy gaming”. Which is perhaps why I found them so appealing.

As time went on and Wizardry declined in popularity, Final Fantasy seemed to quench my thirst for fantasy games well enough. Between the Japanese style art-direction and a swords and sorcery element.I was hooked. But, over time, Final Fantasy evolved into it’s own genre. I’d call it high-fantasy. While I still love the series, it’s easy to say that it is no longer rooted in the classic “knights and dragons” western ideal of fantasy gaming. In short, there is little to no Dungeons & Dragons left in Final Fantasy.

The Japanese takeover of Wizardry did not mirror  this trend. If anything, the Japanese developers of Wizardry are very careful to stay true to the material that inspired the original games, and from what I’ve seen, this has carried over to Wizardry Online.

This excitement has lead me to undertake a new project. I’d like to announce the beginning of both my first-ever podcast, and the first English language Wizardry Online podcast: Gilgamesh’s Tavern.

The first episode is already available on iTunes, with new episodes coming bi-weekly. I felt that, being a first-time podcaster, I needed something big to give myself a little credibility. Therefore, I sought out one of the original creators of Wizardry, Robert Woodhead and conducted a 30 minute interview about the origins of the game, and his thoughts and memories of Wizardry over the years.

I hope that over time, as Wizardry Online is released and grows in popularity, my podcast becomes one of the first places Wiz Online fans turn for news and community.

Links to the show in iTunes are provided below:

 

With that being said, now that the podcast project has been launched, I will again be able to update this blog with much for frequency and begin building a nice site for those you out there that share my passions.

Final Fantasy

If Wizardry is considered the grandfather of western-style fantasy games. Than Final Fantasy is its far-eastern cousin. While Wizardry was rooted in classic Tolkien-style swords and sorcery, Final Fantasy can be summed up as more exotic techno-fantasy type of genre. I was introduced to the series while living in Japan. I had noticed the game in the collection of several of my Japanese friends, and I knew that it was off limits. “No play!” They would tell me any time I pointed to the game. I assume they feared I would accidentally delete their character data due to my inability to read the Japanese menus. Even though I wasn’t allowed behind the controls, I enjoyed watching them play the child-like characters, as they explored weird underwater shrines and did battle with goblins or vampires.

Eventually, the game was translated to English and made available to the western audience. I snapped it up immediately and never looked back. The summer of my post-6th grade year was spent exploring the game to the fullest. I created characters of every class, snooped through every nook and cranny of the dungeons, and defeated the final monster countless times.

I knew that Final Fantasy II and III were already available to my Japanese friends, and I was more than upset to learn that Nintendo of America intended to skip these tiles and repackage the upcoming Final Fantasy IV as “Final Fantasy 2” for the American audience. The original Final Fantasy II and III would not be made available in the west for many years.

As time went by, I consumed every Final Fantasy title made available to me. Eventually, even the elusive 2nd and 3rd games in the series were released in North America. To date, I have played and completed nearly every single-player entry in the series (except for the newly released XIII-2). As far as the online titles go, I was active in Final Fantasy XI from 2003 until the spring of 2011. I have been a supporter of Final Fantasy XIV ever since.

While Wizardry, nurtures the purest part of my dungeon crawling, spell casting, classing D&D spirit, Final Fantasy appeals of me in other ways. The art direction reminds me of my years living in Japan, while the settings and in-depth stories cater to the classic fantasy elements that make Wizardry so appealing.

A few years ago, I thought it might be interesting to play through various game franchises and post reviews of each game, noting how they have matured and developed over time. I did this with the Final Fantasy series.

In the coming months, I’ll be posting these reviews.

Wizardry

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One fateful summer night in 1989, my friend James suggested we play a computer game on his dad’s old black and white Macintosh. After a few rounds of Chess, I spotted an interesting looking icon in the games folder and pointed it out to James. “Oh no. That’s Wizardry,” he said. “It’s not very good. It’s too hard.”

Despite his protests, I kept bugging him and eventually he relented and let me play it. What I discovered was a mysterious labyrinth filled with dangerous monsters at every turn, cryptic messages scrawled on the walls left by less fortunate adventurers, traps, hidden doors and dead-ends. I was enamored.

“Hurry! Cast a healing spell!” I screamed as a band of Kobolds nearly killed the Fighter leading our party.

“I don’t know which spell is what!” James screamed. “They are all written in Latin or something!”

Moments later, the entire party was defeated.

“Oh no! My dad is going to kill me. This was his group, and I’m not supposed to play it. He’ll be so mad!” James gasped.

There was only one thing to do. I had to save James from what was sure to be a WHOLE WEEKEND of lawn mowing and car washing. We had to find a way to bring his Dad’s characters back to life. To accomplish that, we needed to create our own characters, send them into the dungeon to find and return the corpses of his father’s fallen party to the city where they could be resurrected.

It was truly a slumber party of epic proportions.

As I mentioned above, the game was Wizardry, and at the time it was the most fantastic thing I had ever played. It was the first game that really opened my eyes to world of swords and sorcery. If it wasn’t for Wizardry, I would have probably never taken an interest in other fantasy role playing games or even tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons. In Wizardry, you create and control a party of six characters. Their mission is travel to the bottom of a ten-level maze to recover a magical amulet stolen by a powerful wizard. There is no in-game map, so it’s wise to chart every step you take on graph paper. If you don’t, eventually, you WILL get lost – and that was bad. Very bad.

For a time, I could only enjoy the game when I’ve visit James. But a year or so later, I was able to get my hands on a copy of Wizardry for the Nintendo. The NES version was an upgrade of sorts, instead of being monochrome, the maze was colored a muddy orange. And there was actual music that played in town and on the title screen. Thanks to this port of the original classic, I was finally able to complete my quest to recover the amulet, thus completing the game.

When the sequel was ported to the NES, I purchased it and loved it just as much.

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I knew that three more games existed in the series, but until the release of Wizardry V for the Super Nintendo, I was left out of the loop (my parents did not own a personal computer at the time).

Eventually, the information age hit my household and with the purchase of an IBM compatible PC by my mother, I saved my allowance and ran to the software store at the local mall. Sadly, too much time has passed and the older Wizardry titles were nowhere to be found. But the latest entry; Wizardry VI -Bane of the Cosmic Forge, sat shrink-wrapped on the shelf ready for me to take home. Even though it was now over a year old, this game was still a hot seller.

This was first title in a new direction for the Wizardry series. Released in 1990, the game features detailed graphics and outdoor environments. Bane was actually that start of a three game trilogy that wouldn’t come to a conclusion until 2001, with the release of Wizardry 8.

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Bane of the Cosmic Forge

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With the release of Wizardry 8 on the horizon, there was a enough renewed buzz around the series that a compilation was released of the first seven titles. The Ultimate Wizardry Archives. Finally, I was able to sit down and play all the games of the series that I had missed. It was delightful to watch the games progress in quality from title to title. Plus, finally being able to get my hands on the PC versions, I now had the ability to import characters from game to game.

As I dove into the series, I was surprised by the lack of information on the Internet available for Wizardry at the time, so I decided to create my own Wizardry fanpage. From 2001 to 2003, Kyler’s Wizardry Den was the largest source of Wizardry information on the net. I can boastfully say that my contributions to the Wizardry community live on this day. Even though my website is no more, the exclusive maps that I created can still be found floating around the web. At one point, I even boldly elaborated on the original background plot for Wizardry I, adding some colorful commentary and ideas to the scant three-line background found in the original manual. Before going bankrupt, Sir-Tech soft included my rendition of the Wizardry story on their website, officially making my ideas canon. I was honored.

Since the release of Wizardry 8 and the bankruptcy of the founding company, things here in the west have been quiet. Many young gamers have never even heard of the series. This, however, is not true for Japan.

Once Wizardry was released on the NES, the Japanese audience went wild. The first 7 games were made available on the Famicom, Super Famicom, and Sony Playstation (Japan only of course). At some point, a Japanese publisher bought the rights to the franchise and number of Japanese-exclusive games were made for handheld systems as well. To date, most of these Wizardry: Gaiden and Wizardry Empire titles have yet to see release in the US.

One exception was the release of Wizardry: Tales of the Forsaken Land. This title, known as Busin: Wizardry Alternative in Japan, did see a North American release on the PS2. While it did not sell very well at the time, it is long sought after by gamers like myself, and I highly recommended it. I have to admit, the Japanese “get it”. They understand what Wizardry is really about. If I may be so bold as to suggest, Tales of the Forsaken Land actually makes a better sequel to Wizardry V than Bane does. To me, it seems to be more of a natural progression. Sadly, the direct sequel  to Tales of the Forsaken Land never saw the light of day outside of Japan.

Wiz 6, 7, and 8, while great games, often times feel like RPGs from some other franchise. The Japanese titles, seem to stay very true to the roots of the series.

Tales of the Forsaken Land, was the our last taste of the Japanese Wizardry series until the recent release of Wizardy: Labyrinth of Lost Souls on the Playstation Network.

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What a surprise this was! I am in love with this title. It is classic Wizardry with a nice modern polish to it. All of the original elements that made Wizardry unique are there. Yes, the Japanese have certainly put their own spin on the art-direction of the series. But, being a fan of Japanese art and culture, you will not hear any complaints from me.

I’m taking my time with this title, not wanting to finish it too fast because, believe it or not, the next chapter in the history of Wizardry is about to manifest here in the US with the release of Wizardry Online.

Yes! You read that right. Imagine, an MMO with the look and feel of the classic Wizardry… A maze crawler that features permanent character death, friendly fire, and always-on pvp. Brutal! The mere idea of it is an instant turn off for most western players. In games these days, if you die, no big deal. Just run out to your body in spirit form and resurrect with little to no penalty. Not with Wizardry Online. No sir! And we’re actually going to see a release here in the US. I still can’t believe it.

Just thinking about it, I am reminded of that night in ’89. Crawling through the uncharted dungeon trying to find Jame’s father’s characters…  I can’t wait to relive that magic moment again.

Japan

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As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, I grew up as a military brat. As a result, my family relocated numerous times during my youth. Shortly after starting my 4th grade year, my family moved to Okinawa, Japan.

Living in Japan was one of the most defining experiences of my life. I still remember the shock of exiting the doorway of the climate controlled airplane after a 22 hour flight and stepping into the humid sub-tropical air for the first time. It was was like a slap in the face. It was just like walking into a steamy sauna, only with the smell of salt water and foreign foliage in the air.

The jet lag had really taken a toll on me, and I found myself unable to sleep in the hotel room that first day. So, I flipped on the TV only to find three channels. One English speaking station operated by the US government and two local Japanese channels. Watching Japanese television for the first time was a wake up call like I’ve never had… A cheesy samurai soap opera, followed by a children’s show featuring an octopus farting into a Jello mold made one thing abundantly clear; I was now in a completely different world.

3772349310_7b9de77e47 A bottle of Sake featuring the corpse of a venomous Habu snake in the bottle

Living inside the confines of a military base in a foreign country can be a bit deceiving. Inside the barbed wire fence, you could almost believe you never left the normalcy of the USA. But step outside, and there’s no question… things are very different. One of the first things I learned to enjoy about Okinawa was the food. You can’t take five steps without encountering some kind of noodle dish. They are everywhere. Cold noodles, hot noodles, sweet, spicy, savory – you name it. Over my three-year stay in Japan, I became quite fond of the various flavors the orient had to offer. It’s an obsession that lasts to this day.

The first time you taste something like Miso, or some other foreign spice or sauce, it can be a little off-putting. But once you break thru the defensive concept of “I’m not used to this”, you might just surprise yourself! There’s often a whole world of good food out there that you never knew existed..

One thing I will say about the Japanese people, they certainly like their candy. Japanese snacks and confectioneries are like no other. The variety of flavors seems endless. For example, over here in the US, we have three flavors of Kit Kats. Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, and White Chocolate. That’s it. In Japan, that’s not the case. Over there, on the shelf of any random convenience store, you might find Kit Kats in such exotic flavors as: Wasabi, Orange, Banana, Cheese, Sweet Potato, Basked Potato, Key Lime, Green Tea, etc.

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In the short three years I lived there, I was never able to get a firm grasp on the Japanese language.  But I did have many encounters with local kids my age. One thing that we both understood, regardless of our language barrier were video games. The Nintendo Entertainment System, or as it was called in the Japan, the “Famicom”, was extremely popular with the youth in Japan at the time.The two system shared a number of titles as well. This gave both American kids and Japanese kids a common interest. Games like Mario and Zelda didn’t rely heavily on words, so there was no real need to to be concerned with a language barrier when playing one of these games with local who couldn’t speak English. Occasionally,  a Japanese friend would lend me a Famicom game to take home and play. However, the shape of Famicom carts were different than those made for the NES. This initially led to a compatibility problem. But, thanks to the thriving Asian black market, there was an easy solution… Meet the “HoneyBee”:

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This beautiful piece of engineering made it possible to fit a Famicom game into a standard North American NES. Oh, the fun times that were had thanks to this little devil.

But Japanese video games were not the only media that kids like myself enjoyed. The longer I lived there, the more I became absorbed with Japanese pop-culture. I viewed anime and crazy game shows, I read manga, I collected wacky Japanese pencils, I listened to local pop music. There’s so much I could write about when it comes to my experiences in Okinawa. And perhaps I will do so in future posts. For now, let this serve an introduction into my obsession all things Japan.

I consider myself to be a “Japanophile” of the most distinguished degree. Just don’t call me a “weeaboo”…

The Nintendo Era

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The world of gaming changed forever in October of 1985. That is the month that the Nintendo Entertainment System was released in North America.

I still remember getting mine. It was Christmas morning, at my grandmother’s house. I tore the wrapping paper from the corner and my eyes caught sight of the golden Nintendo Seal. I knew immediately what it was before the rest of the paper was even off the box. I had stared at the NES boxes on the shelf at Toys ‘R Us long enough that even a little peek of what lie underneath the wrapping gave it away.

The NES came with a copy of Super Mario Bros., but I also received a copy of Metroid that year. Metroid sat on the shelf for a few weeks, however. I was completely hooked on SMB… I clearly remember sitting in front of the TV for the next two days playing Mario almost non-stop. It was snowing outside and much too cold to go out and play (thankfully), so I had a convenient excuse.

As time went on, my game collection grew and grew. I had most of the classic titles:

SMB, Kid Icarus, Zelda, Mike Tyson’s Punchout, Mega Man, Contra, Castlevania, Final Fantasy, Double Dragon, Skate or Die…  You name it. And what I didn’t own, I rented from the video store.

At one point, I subscribed to the official Nintendo magazine: The Nintendo Fun Club Newsletter.

The first issue I received featured the newly released Mike Tyson’s Punchout. The next issue was the intro for The Legend of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. The following one featured some hockey game, I don’t recall which. There were no further issues of the newsletter, because that next month, it was changed into the magazine we all know and love: Nintendo Power.

The first issue of Nintendo Power was a real jaw-dropper. On the cover, they premiered Super Mario Bros. 2. Seeing those words in print, virtually caused time to stop.

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I was a total fanboy, as were most of my fellow third-grade classmates. Not only did we collect games, but we had various controllers, the NES MAX, the NES Advantage… years later I was even the owner of the notorious Power Glove. If it wasn’t accessories we were buying, it was literature. Hint guides and code books were all the rage. Our school book fair sold them in droves. It was easy money for publishers.

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But even the mighty fall to some extent. Nintendo has had many competitors since the NES debuted in the 80’s. I think it’s fair to say that as time has gone by, Nintendo has lost a bit of their audience to competitors like Sony and Microsoft. These days, Nintendo seems to focus more on casual and family gaming, leaving them as a bit of a niche taste. Perhaps this will change with the release of the new console the Wii U, who knows. But I will say this, I still don’t think that any future console will ever cause the revolution that the original NES started. I would probably not be a gamer if it wasn’t for this big grey toaster.

Keep puffing on those carts.

About Me

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I’ve now made a few posts about the games that make me tick and why I find video games so appealing. This post is going to serve as a more formal introduction. First, let’s talk a bit about my moniker (and the name of this blog itself): Retro Sensei

“Retro” refers to my love of old school gaming. But of course I don’t limit myself, nor the content of this site to games of the past. I have a love of video games both old and new, but I do think it’s important for any gamer to “know their roots” so to speak. Not to mention, as a child of the 80’s and 90’s, I suffer from frequent bouts of nostalgia – all of which I plan to share with the readers of this blog.

The “Sensei” part? Well, this is a bit more complicated. As an older gamer who loves to share my passion for retro games, I suppose you could consider this blog my way of teaching these youngsters about the games of yesteryear. On top of that, I actually spent several years as a child living in the country of Japan. My time there, gave me a deep appreciation and love for Japanese culture. So… RetroSensei.

Originally, I ran this blog under the name of “8bitwizard”  (So yes, you’re reading an edited post).

I conceived the 8bit Wizard name a few years ago when posting on some old video game newsgroups back in the early days of the Internet. The name came to mind again when I decided to create a blog. I knew I wanted to make a blog with a strong focus on video games, but occasionally I like to ramble about other topics that interest me. Most of which are subjects that would also appeal to the geek-culture that seems to have blossomed with the advent of the Internet. In a nutshell, I decided it was time to change the name when I moved the blog to its own domain. Apparently, there’s a webcomic called 8-bit Wizard. (even if it only has one issue..)

Now, to get a bit personal. As I’ve said before, as of 2012, I’m a 33 year old adult, but I’m obviously still nothing more than a big kid who wears the skin of responsibility quite comfortably.  I was the only child in a military household. This means that every three years or so, my father would be reassigned to a different location and my family had to move. Moving so often makes it a bit difficult to make friends. Not only are you always confronted with new people, but there’s the whole social awkwardness of being in a strange place and not knowing how things work in a new school, etc. Often times, due to variances in education standards from state to state, you find yourself playing catch up or sometimes you’ll move to a new school and you’ll actually be further ahead and BORED TO DEATH!

I had a rough go of it as a kid. I was skinny, a bit awkward, and I usually talked different from everyone else. (Born in New England but lived in placed like Arkansas and Louisiana). I was always the “nerd” that everyone picked on. I was never good at sports, I had nothing in common with most of the other kids, you get the picture. So I retreated to safe confines of my bedroom where countless worlds awaited me thanks to both my large library of books and my NES.

I finally broke free of my nerd label as a teenager. I became interested in music and taught myself to play the guitar. Around the age of 14, I put away my games and focused my attention on starting a band. Playing rock music helped me build confidence to the point where I learned how to develop my social skills and overcame all the nonsense that plagued my early childhood. Over the years, I learned how to take care of myself and not to be pushed around. Regardless, I never forgot where I came from and I’ve made it a personal goal never to be like the bullies that once harassed me.

I got married in my early twenties and shortly after, my interest in video games returned. My wife and I bought a Playstation 2 and a Gamecube. I slowly started to rebuild my library and catch up on all the great games I missed over the years. That brings us to now. I worked a fulltime job, raise my family, and pursue a variety of interests. But my love of games remains.

As tempting as it is to claim that this is going to be a retro-gaming blog, I can’t really promise that. I’m also going to be talking about newer games. Actually, I’ll pretty much be posting about anything that interests me. Movies, comics, novels, whatever. Another large focus of this blog will probably be my video game interactions with my kids. My oldest son is eight, and his interest in games is at an all time high. If nothing else, I hope this site will make a nice bank of memories for them to look back on. But in the meantime, I hope anyone who stumbles across it has fun. If nothing else, this blog is a diary of sorts for whatever nerdy passion consumes me at the moment. Please feel free to participate and comment.