Review: Super Mario Bros 3

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Oh, Super Mario Bros. 3. How I longed to get my hands on this game as a child… I remember my first encounter with this title. I was at an arcade machine in a Japanese shopping mall and immediately became re-obsessed (Is that even a word?). It was Mario as I’d never seen him before. This time instead of just stomping turtles and mushrooms, Mario could fly! He could throw hammers, swim like a frog, it was glorious for a young child like me. But alas, I did not get to spend the time I wanted with the machine before being torn away by my parents. The travesty!

A few months later, the game was officially unveiled to the western audience thanks two a 2 hour long Nintendo commercial – err… motion picture – called The Wizard. When the game was unveiled in that movie, there was an audible gasp heard across the theater. It sent kids into a fever pitch. Of course, I had encountered the game in the wilds of Japan, but I cannot described how excited I was to know I would finally get my hands on this game at home.

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Mario 3 was the game to have at the time. It represented Nintendo at their finest. Everything that was loved and cherished by Mario fans was cranked up a notch with this this title. Exotic locales, strange and quirky power ups. The new overhead map system, complete with secret areas was an innovative and welcome touch. It was, and still is, a magical title.

This time, Bowser and his children had turned the various rulers of the Mushroom World into animals and stolen the throne from under them. It is up to Mario to defeat them and transform the mushroom royalty back into their proper form!

Playing through this game again as part of  the Mario 25th Anniversary collection reminded what a classic title this was. This cartridge is a fine example of the what the original NES was capable of. Its hard to say this, because the first two entries in the series are classics in their own right, but if you had to choose one of the original 8-bit Mario titles as best representative of the original trilogy, I’d have to give this one the honor.

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Difficulty: Medium– Probably the most difficult of the original trilogy (not counting Lost Levels). Some of those floating ship levels can be a real pain. But nothing too difficult without a little practice.

Story: Same old basic plot, but with a few new twists. But hey, it’s Mario.

Originality: While it’s obvious to see the progression of the series, there’s enough original ideas here to really make the game shine on it’s own. The mini games, map system, and diverse levels really make this game a breath of fresh air for the series.

Soundtrack: More fun, silly tunes! A classic soundtrack. Nothing else to say.

Fun: This is a great buddy game. The two player system makes for a lot of fun more so than in SMB 1. The color level design and quirky enemies add a lot of fun to this game.

Graphics: This is pretty much the original 8 bit Nintendo at it’s best. Nothing was on par with this at the time it was released.

Playcontrol : By this stage in it’s development, Nintendo had perfected the control scheme. On the original hardware, it’s a nearly flawless execution. The Virtual Console versions suffers many of the same issues that often come up with VC games. You’re playing on a control not originally designed for the game. There are some minor quirks, but nothing too bad.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 Stars –  If somehow you’ve missed this title. You owe it to yourself to check it out. This is classic Mario at it’s prime.

Available today on: Wii, Virtual Console

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

Review: Super Mario Bros. 2

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I still remember the day I got my first issue of Nintendo Power magazine. Not only was it MY first issue, but it was also THE first issue. Featured on the front cover was a colorful clay sculpture of Mario and the words “Super Mario Bros. 2“. I had never been more excited.

When I finally got my hands on the game, I was a bit perplexed. Something didn’t feel right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Little did I know at the time, but our Super Mario Bros. 2 was actually another game changed up and turned into a sequel for American audiences. (Well, actually it was a Mario game, turned into another game, turned BACK into a Mario game… but that’s another story..) Instead of Gombas and Koopas, there were little midgets wearing masks, and strange bird-ladies shooting eggs out of their noses…  HUH? Also, jumping on an enemy does not kill them. WHAT?! We we not in the Mushroom Kingdom anymore, that much is for certain….

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Once again, for the sake of this playthrough, I chose to play the All-Stars version of the game, due to the improved graphics. In Mario 2, you get to choose your character at the beginning of every level. You can pick from Mario, Luigi, Toad, or Princess Toadstool. Each character has their own advantages. So the common strategy for me is to choose whichever person is best suited for the level you’re about to play.

This time playing through, I actually found the game to be a lot more likable than I remember as a kid. This was another one of those titles that everybody and their grandmother owned, so I had played through it countless times and eventually it got bored with it. I guess all the years away from it have done some good, because I actually had a blast playing it again.

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I was pleased with my ability to remember many of the secret rooms and power-ups even after all these years. One ability I seem to have lost with time, however, is the bonus game at the end of each level. In Mario 2, after each level is completed, you get to spend any coins that you’ve earned on a slot machine style mini-game that rewards extra lives. Back in the day I had a knack for scoring triple cherries almost every time, thus earning a ton of 1ups. It seems I have lost my touch.

In an odd turn of events, this title does not feature Bowser, instead the final boss is an evil frog wizard known as Wart. Upon completion of the title, you discover that the whole thing was dream created by a sleeping Mario. Well gee… that always seemed a like a cop-out to me. However, looking back in retrospect, I am able to forgive this silliness.

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Difficulty: Medium –  Overall, I find this game to be much easier than the first two titles in the series. Most the really tough spots don’t manifest until the later levels. Some of the boss fights are tricky, especially when you have to catch projectiles in mid-air and toss them at the monsters.

Story: Completely different than the original, Mario finds a door that takes him to a strange land filled with odd creatures. No rescuing the princess this time! Still sparse on the plot line, but definitely fresher than we’ve seen in the series.

Originality: I have to give this title a pretty good score here. This is very different from it’s predecessors. It’s quirky and fun, and was unlike anything us Mario fans were expecting at the time.

Soundtrack: Fun, silly tunes! Who could forget that opening theme for world 1-1? Good stuff here.

Fun:  I find this game to be one I recommend often for family game nights. It’s just right children around age 8+. My family has a lot of fun passing the controller back and forth between levels and turns. Despite the challenge in later levels, it never gets exceeding frustrating.

Graphics: Colorful, fun. An improvement over the original in terms of graphics. Again, this is based on the game at the time of release. I apply the same rating to both the original 8bit and the 16bit remake.

Playcontrol: The Wii version of the games suffers the same issues as many NES platformers do. Sometimes the controls feel a bit laggy, or imprecise. However, it seems to be a bit better than Super Mario or The Lost Levels. No sure why.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 Stars –  Another classic from my youth. It doesn’t matter which version you might play. This is a must have for any video game collection.

Available today on: Wii, Virtual Console

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

Operation Rainfall – Why It Is Important

It is August 22nd, 2012. Yesterday, I received in the mail, my copy of The Last Story. I couldn’t be happier.

The Last Story is a Wii title that was released in Japan some time ago, but is only just now seeing the light of day here in the United States. This wouldn’t have happened without an online movement known as Operation Rainfall.

A while back, three great games were introduced in Japan. These games are: Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower.  Later, these games were introduced to the European audience. However, Nintendo of America showed little to no interest in bringing these games to the American audience. All these of these titles have received rave reviews and many gamers in the US eagerly awaited their release.

Initially, Nintendo made it clear that for a variety of reasons they had no intention of localizing these titles. Once it became obvious that their minds would not be easily swayed, the Operation Rainfall movement was born. What started a group of IGN forum users soon became a much bigger phenomenon. Operation Rainfall began a social media blitz, that is still ongoing to this day.

OP Rainfall had it’s first success with the announcement that Xenoblade Chronicles would in fact be released in the US as a Gamestop-exclusive title. Finally, after almost two years the American audience received what is considered by many to be one of the best RPGs in a decade. The game rocketed to the top of the charts. Outselling even the expectations of its fanbase. Pre-orders for the title came with a breathtaking book of original artwork for the game.

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I purchased Xenoblade upon it’s release and I have been nothing but pleased. This game has sucked me in completely. Everything from the environment, to the characters have me hooked. The music composed for the title is some of the best I’ve heard. I listen to it on my iPod when I’m at work. It’s magical. I’ve been playing it almost exclusively since its release and there is so much content packed into this title that I’m still only about 3/4ths of the way through.

Not long after Xenoblade’s success, it was announced that Xseed Software would distribute the North American release of The Last Story. This is a title that holds a special place in my heart. It was created by the original inventor a Final Fantasy, a series that I have cherished for more than half of my life. I have high hopes for it, and once I’ve finished my time with Xenoblade, this will be my next focus. Like Xenoblade, the first run of this title comes with an artbook and a limited edition game soundtrack. My only complaint is the soundtrack only features seven tracks, it is not the complete game score.

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That brings up to Pandora’s Tower. As of today there is still no official North American release planned for this game. Operation Rainfall is preparing a final-effort pitch to Nintendo of America. Beginning on August 31st, a three-day blitz with be launched. Supporters are urged to email, message and call Nintendo to politely ask that this title be brought to the USA. With sales of the previous two titles doing better than expected, it is our hope that Nintendo will finally see the light and give gamers what they are asking for.

This campaign is important because aside from these three titles, there are a number of great games that may never see the light of day in the US for a variety of reasons. I’ve recently reviewed Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels, this is a prime example of a game that was held back because it was assumed American audiences would not find it favorable. For many years, North American gamers went without Final Fantasy II and III for the same reasons.

As a fan of the Wizardry series, I would love nothing more than to sink my teeth into those mysterious Wizardry Gaiden and Neo Wizardry titles that have so far been exclusive to Japan.

I would urge you to read the following post from Operation Rainfall and participate. I’ll be all three days. If the campaign is sucessfull, Op Rainfall will distribute a special collectors sleeve designed to hold all three titles.

Operation Rainfall: The Final Push

 

Review: Super Mario Bros – The Lost Levels

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Continuing on with my Super Mario series playthrough, I’m brought to the next installment in the series, Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels.  This title was released in Japan as Super Mario Bros 2 – For Super Players. It was the original sequel to SMB and was designed with a much higher degree of difficulty.

This game is hardcore beyond all human reasoning. The premise is the same as the original Super Mario Bros, but with the added option of playing either Mario or Luigi  in single-player mode. (Luigi has different jump physics, thus making the experience drastically different). The levels in this game are extremely difficult. Sometimes laughably-so. There are pits the span 1/4th of the entire stage that can only be crossed by bouncing off the backs of flying turtles. If you manage that, you’re likely to find an arm of fireballs waiting for you on the other side. One of more popular upgrades to the game is the introduction the poisonous mushroom, a trap disguised as a power up. Touching it will either weaken Super Mario or kill regular Mario. There are also trampolines that will launch Mario completely off of the screen leaving the player to guess where he might land. It is sheer terror, but in a good way.

I did it once back in 2003 and I said I would never do it again. But, yesterday, I played through this title all the way to the end, and I managed to do so without warping. World 1-9 and A-D. If you’ve ever played this title, you’ll probably agree that that is quite a feat.

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The game was rejected for release in the US by Nintendo of America due to high degree of difficulty. It didn’t see a  western-release until the Super Mario All-Stars collection, many years later. That being said, the All-Stars version is actually EASIER than the original 8-bit release. In the original release, you must play through the game a total of EIGHT TIMES to unlock the secret “A-D” levels. In the re-release, playing through it once without warping is enough. The JP audience also had the slap-in-the-face of starting back on the first level of whichever world they were on if they had to use a “continue”. The updated version allows players continue on the same level in which they die. If you are a Mario fan, and you have the patience, I do recommend playing through this title at least once in your life. There’s a lot of cute Easter egg-type of content in the game if you have the willingness to play all the way through.

Other than the ramped up difficulty, and the new challenges listed above, it’s very similar to the original classic. After clearing this game, I felt like I could handle just about anything Nintendo could throw at me. Finishing this game was a proud accomplishment.

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Difficulty: ExtremeThis game makes the original SMB look like a cake walk. I’m not exaggerating this one bit. As far as twitch/platformers go, this is probably the most difficult I have ever played.

Story: The exact same plot as the original. But If you look at this as a harder version of the first title, it’s easy to forgive.

Originality: While this title really doesn’t bring anything original to the series, its intention was to be nothing more than a challenge for people who fancied themselves to be SMB experts. While many aspects of the game are the same, there are several new twists and tricks that will throw many veteran players off.

Soundtrack: Identical soundtrack to the first release, but classic tunes nonetheless.

Fun: This game is so difficult that after a certain point, playing it is almost a chore. Many points in the game make you ask yourself “Why am I doing this? This is not fun.” However, finally finishing the game, does seem to make it all worth it. Again, it is what it is, an extreme challenge.

Graphics: Both 8bit and 16bit versions were pretty much state of the art at the time of release. The original NES version actually offers a slight improvement over the original.

Playcontrol : The Wii version of the games suffers the same issues as many NES platformers do on the virtual console; sometimes the controls feel a bit laggy, or imprecise.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 Stars – This is a classic title, and I do recommend it to any Mario fan. However, due to the extreme level of difficulty and the lack of any real innovation, I cannot rate it as high as the original SMB. This is not a title for a the casual player. Young children will more than likely be turned off by it. But if you’re wanting to prove to the world that you are a Mario Master, than look no further.

Available today on: Wii, Virtual Console

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

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.

004392w9   Gackt

 

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.