Thursday, February 28, 2013

Funday Times 2/12/13: Facts again?!

at 1:00 PM
More facts for you to learn, for me and for you.

As with last time, here's the Google Docs link. Even if it fucked up the typesetting beyond belief, it at least shows you what I was going for with the pictures.


Editor-in-Chief: Greg Gentry

Ever wonder how Aliens evolved the necessity for a human host in their maturation process? Maybe Ridley Scott was simply using the film to express his creationist worldview.

Doctor Whaaaaaaaaaaat?
While British adults are world-renowned for their unusual cowardice, recent scientific studies indicate this tendency may originate as early as childhood.
Exhibit A: Ruled terrifying for children
Finding sparsely lighted rubbish bins - known as "Daleks" on the Doctor Who television serial - petrifying, young children would hide behind the sofa when watching the programme. As such, "behind the sofa" has become a common expression in the Queen's English to denote a nostalgic feeling of utter, paralysing terror. ☺

Upon its release, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner received mixed reviews from critics, and Coleridge was once told by the publisher that most of the book's sales were to sailors who thought it was a naval songbook. William Wordsworth believed the poem to be a great deterrent to Coleridge's work by virtue of its strangeness and the lack of distinction of the eponymous character. ☺

The Streisand effect is a primarily online phenomenon in which an attempt to hide or remove a piece of information has the unintended consequence of causing the information to be publicized widely and to a greater extent than would have occurred if no contrary action had been attempted. It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, following a 2003 incident in which her attempts to suppress photographs of her residence inadvertently generated further publicity and an episode of South Park. ☺

The period extending from the late 1940s until 1961 is known in the U.S. as television’s “Golden Age”. During this era, anthology dramas were most popular, almost all of which were broadcast live. Programs were known as “teleplays”, often starring stage actors and occasionally adapting classic works such as Macbeth. It wasn’t until the popularity of filmed shows like The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents that this practice began to evolve, and thus came the Golden Age to an end. ☺

American History 000h
At its peak around 1920 (before women's suffrage), the KKK encompassed nearly 15% of the voting population of the U.S.! Talk about the good ol' days! ☺
Pictured: The joy of racial equality
Al Jolson, America's favorite employer of blackface, was actually one of the foremost promoters of racial equality on Broadway. He was widely considered a primary advocate of the cause and was seen as a hero by African-Americans of his day. He is also credited as one of the key individuals in spreading jazz to white America. ☻

Splatterpunk was a movement in the eighties and early nineties in written horror fiction, characterized by the type of explicit graphic violence which exceeds even what we now refer to as “torture porn”. Imagine novelizations of Doom 2 (with corny names almost all including the words “meat” and “splatter”) and you’ll get the idea. It has gone down in history as the worst and most unnecessary usage of the “punk” suffix. ☺

English majors may already know that in the Middle Ages, it was common for authors to include retractions at the end of their works, begging for forgiveness for vulgar or simply unsatisfactory content. These apologies are known as palinodes, the most famous of which is Chaucer’s retraction of The Canterbury Tales. ☺

The author of the previous segment would like to apologize for any inaccuracies, misconstruction, or offensive content contained therein. He would further like to beseech for Mercy on his soul the Lord God on High. ☺

The author of the previous segment would like to apologize for the predictable joke and unwarranted sacrilege that he unwisely saw fit to convey. ☺

New Feature: Letter(s)!
Dear Abby,
I am, as they say, on the lam. I've fled to a new town and am currently staying under the roof of a kindly old couple. The rent they ask is meager, and I'm enjoying my new job at the local filling station.
    However, there have been reports of my crime, and crude depictions of my face have been posted in the news.
    I fear the old couple may grow suspicious. So far, they seem unaware. Do I have nothing to worry about?

-Concerned Criminal

Well C.C., it’s a tough issue you’ve brought up, but that’s what I’m here for. Before we get too wrapped up in activities of questionable legality, let’s take a minute to remember that my name is not Abby, it’s Greg. There. Doesn’t that feel better? We’re halfway there.
    Now, on to the issue of the concealed identity. For situations like yours, seasoned criminals rely on what they like to call “the three M’s”: the mustache, the murder, and the male-to-female sex change operation. That’s all well and good, but we don’t want you to end up as a bearded lady on trial for two counts of homicide! The trick is to choose the correct “M” for the situation.
    The major factors you need to take into consideration are the severity of your crime, the limits of your public exposure, and your attachment to your penis. For instance: if you’re on the run for a series of unpaid parking tickets, you’re probably only making things worse by slaughtering every individual who recognizes your face. On the other hand, if you’re wanted for getting a little too personal with the kids down at the grade school, murder might be a good idea, both to decrease the odds of arrest, and to buff up your image before the inevitable jail stint.
    Luckily, you seem to have found a temporary room and board situation, so you probably won’t be having casual run-ins with the men in blue. That in addition to your currently limited income would lead me against recommending the sex change operation. If anything, the procedure would probably just rouse the suspicion of your landlords! The elderly generally rely on major facial characteristics for identification, such as scars, makeup, and hair. I think you know what that means!
    And one last piece of advice, C.C. Lose that job at the filling station! Think of how many people see your face when they stop in for gas!
    Best of luck with your time outside the law. Hope I don’t see you on the news anytime soon!

-Abby (real name: Greg)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Some words on Super Ghouls'n Ghosts

at 12:32 PM
Since I've covered the two subseries recently (Demons Crest/Gargoyle's Quest and Maximo), might as well talk about mainline GnG.

Super Ghouls'n Ghosts. For all the superfluous "super"s that are thrown around throughout the SNES library, Super Ghouls'n Ghosts is the one that best earns it. The arcane tome known as provides this definition: "super: of an extreme or excessive degree". How better could one possibly describe the antagonistic forces - the eponymous ghouls and ghosts - of Super GnG? Severe, punishing, unforgiving, exorbitant, obnoxious, take it away, Mr. Thesaurus! The very nature of the game is its wildly skewed balance, pitting a very ordinary hero against an extraordinary threat. So I can't think of a more fitting title - besides perhaps You're Gonna Super Lose, which didn't test well with focus groups.
Goddamn these fuckers
It is an ass game. It is so stupid, pisses me off in every way possible, and there is no way that anyone should ever want to play it. It's random as shit, wildly unbalanced, controls beyond unintuitively and some ASSHOLES claim it's one of the greatest platformers of all time. Nothing pisses me off more than a bunch of ASSHOLES declaring something to be one of the greatest somethings of something. Look at the Grammy. The Oscar. There could literally be nothing worse for a work than in its time to be declared the best of its time. WHY would you like Super Ghouls in Ghosts? I've never heard any legitimate answer or explanation. But I know the secret. It's hard. And any game that is hard (proper hard) immediately develops a following, because there is that handful of assholes (ASSHOLES) who manages to stomach it all the way through to the end just so they can say "I beat it". And then comes that most scoundrelous of questions: "who fucking cares?". Well, now that they've wasted the time and made the claim, Asshole Group A needs to justify it somehow, so they condescendingly say "it's an amazing game and you'll never get to experience that because you SUCK too much to win". It's always going to be subjective whether anyone liked the game, but now there's that ulterior motive: that elite distinguishing earned because claiming that they like it means they're "good enough" to like it.

Still though, who cares?

Well, for all its unpleasantness, Super GnG does have a strange charm, an enthralling character that always seems to drag you back for one more try. I don't think it deserves dismissal among the elitist ranks of Gradius V, Metal Slug 3, or Battletoads. The people who are speed-running or 1CC-ing this game have totally missed the point.  It manages to be captivating because you don't actually have to win, and you can accept that making it to the end is hardly even the goal anymore. You just want to make it one more second, survive a tiny bit longer. The game laughs in the face of the notion that there is an end; when you do finally defeat the boss at the climax of the last stage, you're informed: "Actually, Sir Lonely, you have to do it again. You don't rescue the princess this time. Go back to the beginning, which is now set to a higher difficulty, retrieve this bracelet that wasn't available the first time around, and then come back here." It's not like a "bad ending" or a Second Quest (Legend of Zelda), it's literally that you have to beat all of the stages two times through to reach the end. What a dick move.
The fuck is going on here
Yet it reminds us of the purgatorial nature of Super Ghouls'n Ghosts. We aren't really supposed to be enjoying ourselves. We aren't supposed to grasp for the light at the end of the tunnel. We're beating our heads against a ridiculous wall, laughing at the futility, lamenting every squandered opportunity. Yet somehow it isn't soul-crushing, but invigorating. Everything is so well-crafted, so technically impressive (slanting, shaking, and morphing environments) and artistically detailed (everything has a face?) JUST to fuck you over, that you can't help but delight in the hours spent wasting your life.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Ezio's 3 -est Protagonist Awards

at 12:44 PM
Most Unintentionally Horrifying- The King (Sneak King)

Yep, no rape here.
When the Xbox360 was initially released, I passed on it because I was not really into FPSes, and I had deluded myself into thinking that was all that it had to offer. My brother got one a few years after launch, though, and with some reluctance I began to play it. Unfortunately, the only game he had purchased was the newly launched Halo 3, confirming my beliefs about the system. Then, one fateful day, he decided on a whim to buy all three 360 games featuring the I-am-pretty-sure-is-defunct mascot of Burger King from said establishment. The bumper car one was alright, and I think there was a motorbike one, but that was pretty forgettable. The highlight of the set was Sneak King, a game in which you, as the creepy mascot, had to sneak up behind a person and shove your burgers (definitely not penises) into their mouth. It's pretty rapey in tone. The BK people making this game had to have realized this, right? Then again, making the message of the game, "you literally have to force someone to eat our products, otherwise no one will," does not suggest the developers were competent in any way....

Most Obviously A Marketing Scheme- Cool Spot (Cool Spot)
The Burger King trio of games was probably intended to be promotional, but I cannot imagine any rational person going to Burger King for the express purpose of getting these games. It is not exactly going to bring in customers. Therefore, I nominate the also defunct mascot of 7Up to the lofty throne of advertisement protagonists. For those of you not in the know of all of the late 80's/early 90's mascots with "attitude," Cool Spot was the red dot that is on 7Up bottles. But with sunglasses. That's how you know he is cool, after all. The people at 7UP decided well if we are not going to put any time in designing the face of our company, we better make a video game about him. They must have read some data that kids like sugary drinks and video games, and thought that brainwashing children into drinking their product was a great scheme. Considering how much 7UP I started drinking after playing this game, it assuredly was. 

Best Disguised- Octodad (Octodad)
In Octodad, you play as an octopus, who is pretending to be human. Octodad's loving human family becomes suspicious of him if he acts strangely, so you are required to do household chores as normally as possible to preserve your secret identity. The game's plot makes way too much sense, I know. His perfect integration into human society warrants a spot on this list. Just watch:

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Video Games: The Most Dangerous...Games

at 8:46 PM
While Yourself is recovering from his tonsils being extracted from a back-alley doctor in Tijuana, who also removed his kidneys free of charge(!), I thought I would reflect on some of my injuries. Specifically, the ones caused by playing video games. Because, y'know, that is kinda what this blog is about. Sometimes.

One of my earliest injuries caused by video games is one of the more famous ones: Mario Party Stigmata. For those unaware, in the first entry of the Mario Party series, a few mini-games revolved around revolving the joystick around. Rapidly. Think spinning Bowser around in Mario 64 for 30 seconds at a time. It was more effective to use the palm of your hand for spinning the joystick around. That did not always end well.
I mean unless your definition of well is this happening to you and taking months to fully heal
I felt my hand hurting as I was playing the mini-game, but damn if I was going to let Wario win those ten coins. Screw that guy. So I fought through the pain and...still lost. Man, the N64 controller really blew, didn't it?

The next big injury that I got from playing video games was again at the hands of a Nintendo system. I camped out in line in order to get a Wii, but I, still being a youngster, was not permitted to play any of the games that my parents' credit card bought on launch day because they wanted us to wait until Christmas. So for a little over a month, my family had a Wii, but could only play Wii Sports on it. And guess what, I got tennis elbow from playing Wii Tennis. THE SWING HAD TO BE A REALISTIC TENNIS SWING! A simple flick of the wrist was not dramatic enough. I was not very active when I was in high school.

My most hilarious malady occurred during my playthrough of Mass Effect 3. I wanted to play it on the Xbox at my parents' house, so that my Mass Effect 1 and 2 files could be transferred over. Unfortunately, this placed time restraints on my completion of the game. I decided to head home from college on a long weekend and beat the entire game, because otherwise I would have to wait a substantial amount of time before I was free to go home and revisit the game. On the first day, I played 7 hours straight. On the second day, I played 8 hours straight. When I woke up the next morning my index finger was hurting pretty badly. I did not think very hard about why it hurt so badly, because time thinking was time spent NOT saving the galaxy from Reapers. That third day, I played ten hours straight and beat the game. After I turned off the game my only two thoughts were, "wow, that ending was kind of disappointing," and "WHY IS ALL I KNOW PAIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNN?!?!!" 

I played through Mass Effect 3 as whatever class name they assigned to the sniper dude. This meant that every time I wanted to shoot a badnik, I had to manually squeeze the 360 shoulder button. Over those three days, I shot a lot of aliens. I mean A LOT of aliens. The overuse of my index finger over such a short period of time gave me a minor case of Trigger Finger. Trigger finger, according to the Mayo Clinic, is, "one of your fingers or your thumb gets stuck in a bent position and then straightens with a snap — like a trigger being pulled and released. If trigger finger is severe, your finger may become locked in a bent position. 
Often painful, trigger finger is caused by a narrowing of the sheath that surrounds the tendon in the affected finger." I had to perform stretching exercises for a long time, basically physical freaking therapy, in order to get it back to normal working condition. So next time you claim that you are a die-hard gamer, ask yourself if you are really willing to put your body on the line.
Worth it...?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Treatise on the power of positivity or something

at 6:33 PM
Here at GNG we delve pretty deep into rabbit holes of subjectivity and, for lack of a better term, taste.  Yourself has mentioned at least once his ambition to spend more time considering the things he enjoys about games rather than brooding over faults, and essentially nitpicking games to death as so many other reviewers of media are wont to do.  I have much respect for this particular goal; too often people looking to assess a particular thing come to see it as their responsibility to exploit fault or error.  Some of this, I think, can be blamed on a culture of what I'll call ironic cynicism in media.  We can point blame at post-modernism for finally seeping into our collective conscious; so much of our art claims self-reference as its key principle, and our criticism follows in its need to deconstruct rather than appreciate.  There is a sort of snarkiness with which we dismiss sincerity of idea in art.  I see it as a sort of defensive mechanism: if we appreciate, respect, or, god forbid, claim to be inspired by something, then we leave ourselves open to attack from others who have found a flaw, or worse yet, already found the next best thing.  Value judgement claims, in my mind, are much more easily made if negative, rather than positive.  
But, like, what IS art, man?
What I'm saying may not seem applicable to you.  In fact, odds are that it doesn't, at least not fully.  But, as someone who spends some time on Reddit, but more time reading news outlets like SalonSlateThe New Yorker, and The Daily Beast, these are merely observations of what I perceive as all too common currents in cultural criticism.

Let's take my phrased posit of subjectivity, previously commented on the blog, as a given:  "I dig Wagner, but it's all just music. None of it exists on some higher plane of art than any other, and to pretend it does is another attempt to impose the subjective values with which you judge music on the entire medium."

The purpose of this rant isn't to argue the point above.  If you happen to disagree than that's fine (you idiot), but the issue I want to raise is more normative.  Here is we delve deep into my mind and explore the inane pseudo-observations within.

People take this ironic cynicism to an extreme I find unnerving.  It's as if there is more pleasure to be gained from hating something that is *subjectively* unpleasant than there is loving something *subjectively* pleasant.  The vitriolic criticism flung at so-and-so pop musician is often an emotional step above praising, I don't know, Mumford and Sons or something else people consider hip.  That's if some such praise is ever expressed.  And so not only are these criticisms harmful because they're often supposedly situated objectively, but they fail to satisfy the part of us that should be filled actually enjoying and considering enjoyable things.  
Baby, baby, baby, ohhhhh
This isn't to say people shouldn't acquire taste.  Personal preference will always play a part in artistic consumption, as it should.  But if one tendency of these ironic cynics is to focus on the negative, another is to be hyper-selective.  Some approach new music, art, games, and movies with a "this is awful and merit-less until its quality is validated by the approval of *insert online publication or forum*" attitude that blends well with the need to deeply criticize items exogenous of our comfortable consumption.  And what this does is limit our artistic purview.
I only engage with video games stamped with the iconic gng symbol of approval, for example.
Maybe more troubling is that hyper-criticism in its often ironic mode spirals out towards a deeper cultural insensitivity.  Falling into the trap of rote negative perception becomes habitual and counterproductive. Using an argument that is, admittedly, implying a slippery slope, the cynic reserves his cultural stock due to their fear of commitment to an artistic work. And because we are uncomfortable with connection to something serious and meaningful we go on to forfeit our ability to make value claims in criticism, or even as an artist.  

There's probably more to be said here.  Maybe I foolishly yearn for the pre-internet world, where the majority had less-ready access to other people's opinions, en masse.  Sure, for video game consumption, you could get an EGM subscription and be brain washed just a bit.  But the crowd mentality of the internet and worse, internet communities, had not yet taken hold of us.  I suffer symptoms as much as the next man; relying on NYtimes book review for much of what I read or scrolling through Rotten Tomatoes for reviewers I judge as having "valid" taste.  And lord knows there's more than a hint of distaste, mentally, when the movie is panned for whatever reason.  What on earth could a movie rated "rotten" have to offer me?  There's never been a work of art originally panned by critics that had cultural significance, right?

TL;DR: You should try to approach media from a position of positive reception rather than an ironically cynical one, because otherwise you might slowly forfeit your ability to truly enjoy something, say, a video game.

Man this was a weird little foray into my worldview, huh?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Funday Times 2/11/13: A true facts newspaper

at 1:00 PM
This was a weird thing I did about two years ago for two months (three editions) that has nothing to do with video games. I stumbled across the docs today and figured maybe it'd be fun to publish. The original is formatted like a newspaper with columns and all, but Google docs butchered it to the point where copy/paste was just as good (see below). I doubt I'll write any more of these - far too time-consuming - so enjoy it while it lasts. And yes, these facts are as true as they are fun - most are simply block quotes from Wikipedia.

Google Docs version:


A joke dated circa A.D. 400, recently translated from Greek, shows similarities to the Parrot sketch. It was written by Hierocles and Philagrius and was included in a compilation of 265 jokes titled Philogelos: The Laugh Addict. In the Greek version, a man complains to a slave-merchant that his new slave has died. The slave-merchant replies, "When he was with me, he never did any such thing!"

A cause of concern for the censors was that Marion was shown flushing a toilet, with its contents (torn-up note paper!) fully visible. Up until that time in mainstream film and television in the U.S., a toilet flushing was never heard, let alone seen.

In the early 1960s, after Beatles guitarist George Harrison revealed in an interview that he liked jelly babies, audiences showered him and the rest of the band with the sweets at live concerts and fans sent boxes of them as gifts. Unfortunately, American fans could not obtain this soft British confection, replacing them with harder jelly beans instead. To the group's discomfort, they were frequently pelted with jelly beans during concerts while in America.

Monty Python's late Graham Chapman was actually a faggot! He had a life partner named David Sherlock. After Chapman publicly "came out", a member of the television audience wrote to the Pythons to complain that she had heard a member of the team was gay, adding that the Bible said any man who lies with a man should be taken out and stoned. With fellow Pythons already aware of his sexual orientation, Eric Idle replied, "We've found out who it was and we've had him shot."

The predecessor to the MPAA's content rating system was a universally adopted protocol known as the Hays Code. This code, enforced throughout Hollywood from 1934 until the 1960's, forbids such ideas as sympathetic criminals, justified revenge, negative depictions of religious faith, and miscegenation, in addition to profanity (including the second Commandment) and implied sexual perversion or dance.

Bizarre niche Gamecube title Cubivore is actually a production of Nintendo second-party developer Intelligent Systems, famed for their Fire Emblem and Advance "It's not Famicom" Wars series. The game was published by Nintendo as Animal Leader in Japan, a sister title to Animal Crossing! Atlus decided to pick up the localization rights to the work and renamed it Cubivore for its Western debut. As part of the deal, Nintendo agreed not to bring the competing Doshin the Giant to the States, and we continue to rue that day.

The original Mask comic book on which the Jim Carrey film was based is considerably darker and more violent, concerning itself with the psychological effects of a tool granting ultimate power while destroying social inhibition. Stanley Ipkiss kills dozens of police officers who are investigating Big Head (the superhero he becomes when wearing the mask) and is eventually shot and killed by his girlfriend. Before the casting of Carrey, the film had been envisioned as a horror picture.

Tired of blaming the U.S. military for countless wars and loss of life? Well try your hand at blaming them for Sonic - Sega was founded in the 1940s by American servicemen stationed in Japan, with the purpose of creating coin-op games to place around military bases. The name is shortened from "SErvice GAmes of Japan". The only title still known today from this early era is Zaxxon. After the video game crash of the early '80s, ownership of the company shifted to native Japanese - and the rest, as they say, is a very sad tale of woe, despair, and some of the worst games anyone has ever put to market.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Super Mario War: A history of The Mushroom Kingdom

at 1:00 PM
I love this because of how much everyone else hates it. Anyway, let me fill you in on some Mario canon that may be unfamiliar to you, which will hopefully help you come to understand the strange ongoing relationship between Mario, Peach, Bowser, and friends. Everything I say here is taken straight from the games. I'm not relying on supplemental material like instruction booklets or spinoffs like Turtles in Time.
The first game allowing playable Koopas
For the sake of sanity, we're going to say that Super Mario Bros. is the first Mario game. It's the first one with any sense of a plot, the first clearly set in the Mushroom Kingdom, the first appearance of Toadstool/Peach, King Koopa/Bowser, so forth. It's the first non-Donkey Kong Mario that you can really give a skiff about. This first chapter of the story I'm about to relate pertains to Super Mario Bros. and its first true follow-up, Super Mario Bros. 3. I can't even say I remember where things go from there, but I'm sure it gets pretty hairy. Some sort of Jurassic Park situation IIRC.

So here's the deal. Super Mario Bros. is clearly set during a war, presumably between the Mushroom Kingdom and whatever Kingdom Bowser is in charge of (remember, his name at the time was King Koopa). We'll call it the Koopa Kingdom. Mario might be a Mushroom soldier, but his uniform certainly isn't regulation. Most likely he's a commando on a one-man crusade to rescue the princess and topple Bowser's reign. That said, it could also be interpreted that Mario is a revolutionary, trying to end a cruel monarchy, and that the entire game is set in only one kingdom - that is, Bowser is the King of the same country where Toadstool is Princess. It remains unclear, but I prefer the latter theory, if only because there is no apparent delineation between levels supposedly set in different kingdoms.

A particular narrative delight is 6-3, which gives us a glimpse at the pre-war Mushroom Kingdom. You may remember 6-3 as the black-and-white level, at the opening of which Mario softly utters "I remember now...". The black-and-white imagery is a common visual trope, indicating that this scene takes place years in the past. 6-3 is idiosyncratic in that it is the only one of the 32 stages that is completely devoid of the standard Koopa armies. No Koopers, Goombas, or even Fishy-Bloos, just a few solitary Bullet Bills foreshadowing the onslaught to come. Some have suggested that this is the first day of the Koopa invasion, a D-Day of sorts, which Mario is now recalling, remembering how far he's come.

The game is spread over the course of eight "worlds", each culminating in a castle infiltration. It seems clear from this that Mario is embarking on eight different military campaigns, each targeted at one of Bowser's strongholds. The post-boss dialogue - "our princess is in another castle" - makes explicit that Mario takes down each of these fortresses with the expectation that the princess is held within. Considering the span of his conquest and the effort it would realistically take for one man to overcome an army, it seems natural that each of these "worlds" may take place over a span of time closer to a year than the few minutes it takes to play through in the game.

This is where things get controversial. As I see it, it seems a surety based on Mario's extensive spy/informant network that he does indeed have the correct castle each time, but King Koopa manages to evacuate the princess just in time to move to his next stronghold and leave Mario fighting a Replicant and rescuing a Toad.  This explains how Toadstool was able to give birth to eight Koopa children in the span of the first game (the third being an immediate sequel). She was trapped in each castle for a year and had no choice but to... well, you've been to the Internet, I don't need to explain it to you. As Koopa has never had another romantic interest (nor do there appear to be adult females of his species), this is the only provable origin on the Koopa Kids. Also, The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 pretty heavy-handedly hints that's what happened. Plus Peach is openly Bowser Jr.'s mother, so it's not like the two are... strangers to intimacy.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

3est Protagonists - Greg Edition

at 1:00 PM
Do I call myself Greg or Golem? I don't know. What I do know is that I've got three top-notch protagonists here.

Most Enigmatic: Snoopy
Protoman. Shadow the Hedgehog. Meta Knight. The most memorable video game characters are certainly the ones whose motives are never clearly stated. By making themselves scarce and never revealing when or why they'll act next, they inspire in us speculation. We feel the need to completely understand each character we come across.
Which makes Snoopy a perfect candidate. In Snoopy Concert, Snoopy invites the whole Peanuts gang to his concert. “I wonder if everyone will show up,” he thinks in the opening. “I hope so...” You would reasonably assume this dashes any sense of intrigue that Snoopy might raise. Yet here you can see him launching an attack on Rerun on his way to the concert.
What's Snoopy got against Rerun? Why can he fly with his ears? Were his thoughts in the opening but a ruse? These questions turn Schulz's innocent Peanuts universe on its head.

Most Likely to be Played by Sting in the Movie: Ranger X
Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, better known as Sting, is a man of many talents. Wikipedia tells us that he is no stranger to “incorporating distinct elements of jazz, reggae, classical, New Age, and worldbeat into his music.” Yet, from Every Breath You Take to Synchronicity II, Sting's vocals and bassistry kept us snapping our fingers.
In a similar manner, Ranger X provides a variety of missions and locales while keeping the action fierce. In the first stage, you'll engage in a desert shootout against hordes of enemies, while the second stage tasks you with some explosive spelunking. Add that to Sting's action chops (just take a look at Dune*), and what you have is a formula for the best guy-in-a-robot film since Robocop.
But wait... let's not forget Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers. Yes, Sting's solo career is impressive, but it's hard to deny the magic that The Police created as a well-oiled machine. That's why Stewart Copeland will be brought on board to voice Indra, the badass bike thing that provides Ranger X a base to stand on as solid as a good drum beat. Likewise, Andy Summers will take the helm of Eos, an airship that provides aerial support to Ranger X like any good guitarist.

Above: Sting and Stewart Copeland fighting alongside one another.
Yes, Ranger X will be the first film to fully utilize the talents of The Police.

Most Shoe Endorsements: Sonic

Go back to the year 2000. The Dreamcast is a roaring success. Sonic Adventure and the recently released Sonic Shuffle are rocking the nation. And Soap Shoes is looking for the right mammal to market their wares.
Soap shoes are more than just a tool for grinding; they're a way of life. See, handrails are intended to be used for safety. If you're walking down some steps, why don't you grab hold of a nearby railing? Soap shoes challenge the establishment by taking handrails and creating an opportunity for reckless and dangerous fun. Don't grip the rail with your hands... grip it with your shoes.
In Sonic Adventure 2, Soap ads are cleverly placed around Station Square.
This is a spirit that Sonic has embodied in all his games. Rather than report Robotnik to the authorities, Sonic always attacks the megalomaniac directly. Forsooth, Sonic even eggs him on by calling him Eggman. Time and again, Sonic pulls off irresponsible and brash stunts in a devil-may-care attitude that preteens can only dream of one day attaining. Within the Sonic mythos, this is what makes him the ultimate life form.

"Fakeout" ads are also used so that you don't think Soap is a real company. But no, it's just that some of the ads are real and some aren't.
As you can see, Sonic was a shoe-in for the Soap company. When Soap's marketing team saw Sonic, they saw a blue runny thing that said, "I'll play with you some other time!" after each and every boss fight. There is nary a better line for expressing the Soap philosophy.

* I've never seen Dune.

Monday, February 18, 2013

This week and next: Scheduling for recovery

at 1:27 PM
Do you realize how much it sucks to have tonsils? It's great if you enjoy such activities as:
-Having a three-day sore throat every month
-Not being able to breathe properly when sleeping
-And I guess that's it, I thought I had more to complain about.

Seriously though, you underestimate how unfun sleep apnea is. It's like every night, you get the joy of going to sleep knowing that you're about to waste six to eight hours on an activity that will make you absolutely no less tired. I've always just assumed that everyone feels awful waking up. Even on days when I can sleep in until my body wakes me naturally, I still don't manage to get any rest. I'm not saying it doesn't feel good to lie in bed, but it seems like my life would be maybe a million times happier if I was able to spend even 1% of the day feeling well-rested and awake.

There's a reason that around age 20 I just said fuck it all and started skipping nights of sleep. And guess what? Other than one or two nadir-hours, I was rarely any tireder than I am now. Just weirder, probably. I think in retrospect I probably got a pretty high ratio of confused looks during that portion of my life, but also, I didn't care. I still don't really, but for reasons of life circumstances I now have to observe some kind of 'normal' schedule. You'd think, based on how heavily people sell it, that getting eight hours of sleep every night would be a revelation. Instead it just feels like a huge waste of time.

I'm rolling the dice and hoping that a tonsillectomy will knock out my slapnea and introduce me to a new era of sleepability, but even if it doesn't, at least I get two weeks off work. Two bed-ridden weeks of probable misery.

What that means to you, the reader!, is that I'm gonna schedule two weeks of posts so we don't have another dead period like when I had mono (which - coincidentally! - I got because of my bad tonsils). Mostly so I can get rid of some old drafts and catch the blog up to my ideas. I'll schedule the posts to go up at noon, and hopefully get around to posting them on Facebook daily. Look forward to:
Our schedule for the next two weeks.
Or this.
Week 1
-The Thing You Just Read (See Above)
-Greg L.'s 3est Protagonists
-A Canonical History of Mario Canon
-The Funday Times: A True Facts Newspaper
-Treatise on the Power of Positivity: An Andrew M Production

Week 2
-A Theatrical Tribute to Super Ghouls'n Ghosts
-Ezio's 3est Protagonists
-Hulk Smash: Games with Smashables
-The Funday Times Issue 2: More Facts
-Star Fox Command, or How Not To Ruin a Legend

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Happy 9999

at 11:31 AM
I hate making a post for every blogmark, because lord knows it's sad. But we had exactly 9999 views when I signed in today, and YOU'VE just ruined it by viewing this post! You fucking ASSHOLE! FUCK YOU

Friday, February 15, 2013

Back in the Back in the CCCR: Lazer Invasion

at 5:03 PM

Looks like this feature is back by request, just in time for the holidays! Toady I've got quite a treat for you: a game about lazers!

Apparently though, in this case "lazers" means helicopters... armed with machine guns and missiles. Why the fucky-cake is it called Lazer Invasion? Well, it's not, it's called Laser* Invasion, but I choose not to observe that spelling. It's a ridiculous name to start with, conjuring images of extraterrestrial UFOs firing lazerbeams - while piloted by lazerbeams - taking over the world. XCOM, with the grey aliens replaced by lazers, is what I was seeing in my head. Even if that image was low on the make-sense-o-meter, I felt that two things were for sure: this game will have lazers, and this game will have invasion, be it alien or wartime. I guess maybe in some tiny sense it delivers on Mister 2 there (army not aliens), but as for the lazer action, I'm still looking.
Check out all three gameplay styles.

This was a '91 Konami NES game, leading one to expect high production value. Remember, late-period NES was COMPETING with SNES (not to mention Sega's Genesis), so the games had to look and smell good. Lazervasion does not disappoint. It switches between a first-person arcade flight shooter (like After Burner or Star Fox), an Operation Wolf-style shooting gallery, and Eye of the Beholder style labyrinths.  What is this, Getsu Fuuma Den? Anyone? Jesus, read the blog. It was also released with its very own peripheral, the LazerScope. Don't think that zany proprietary one-game-only controllers were an invention of Wii developers.
The scope sits over your eye and you yell "Fiiiire!" to shoot. It's as if Konami knew that in a scant two decades, every game would be controlled by yelling the word "Fire!".
Since neither I nor anyone gives a shit about the weird-ass LazerScope that presumably worked about as effectively as a skeleton flyin' off a hot tin roof, the game also supported the Zapper, or for those disinterested in light guns altogether (or running on an emulator - certainly NOT me), the standard NES controller. I don't fully understand how the flying or maze portions could control with a light gun, so the gamepad was probably necessary for 2/3 of the game anyway. Invasion of the Lazers gets a gentle pat on the back right away for offering three totally different controllers - a lesser game would be completely bound to its peripheral (Duck Hunt, I'm looking at you). As we relearned with Wii, a successful game needs to support as many control styles as possible - many didn't, and I'd love to say they failed as a result, but who fucking knows. The point is, the fan-pleasingest were those that supported Wiimote, Classic Controller, Mote/Nunchuk, GCN controller, et al. So Invasion earns cujos for being ahead of its time, setting a standard that many games even in 2013 don't observe.

The second control customization option that leads me to highlight Lazer Invasion shocked me so thoroughly that I was able to power the entire Eastern Seaboard for the subsequent three weeks. That's how Electro got made, right? When he played Lazer Invasion and said "holy dear mother of God - you can invert the controls?! In a Japanese NES game made in 1991?"? It's a fair reaction. Even in the PS2 era there were games still omitting this option. It's the main reason I invented this feature, so that I would have a place to bitch about games not offering proper axis inversion. As a matter of fact, I was so positive that LazVas wouldn't offer inversion that I didn't even check! When I started playing the first flight level, I was all "weakkkkkkkkkkk, non-inverted controls", then started dealing with it because I still wanted to play the game. After running out of continues and being sent back to the main menu, I checked out the options, and to my surprise, Barack Obama is black!

The verdict? Lazer Invasion gets an even Doc Brown wasn't this ahead of his time out of 10
Find the lazer in this image

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Is violence necessary to every game? Destructoid says yes.

at 8:24 PM
I posit that the writer of said declaration has an IQ less than 100 and/or is at least somewhat autistic.

What a smashingly adult way to start an argument!

Let me try this again. Destructoid published a piece called "David Cage is Wrong: Violence Is Essential". Based on the title alone (forget who David Cage is for a second), I immediately conclude that both the author of the article and the editor of the site are patently retarded. Wait... gay? Is that a more mature personal attack? Okay. They're fairies.

I don't give a shit who David Cage is. I don't really know, except that I just Wikipedia'd, but it doesn't matter. I've never cared for industry talking heads; if you can't say your ideas in a game (or if I can't figure out what games you ever made), you aren't succeeding as a developer. See Peter Molyneux or Warren Spector. Miyamoto too, just so you don't think I'm being racis'. People who cite lofty ideas despite being totally disconnected from the current state of the medium - and likely far past their prime (I'm certainly not saying Miyamoto isn't like, one of the most important figures in gaming history, just that I don't really give a shit what he has to say in an interview in 2013). Anyway, Cage was at some conference that I also don't give a shit about, making some speech about violence being unnecessary to the gaming medium and how there are more stories to tell beyond that. Destructoid writer Allistair Pinsof objected.

Violence in games has been a major media talking point in the last few months (even more so than it's been for the past two decades) due to outrage over violence in reality. Certain factions are pointing their guns at guns, others are pointing their guns at video games. I'm not gonna "go there" on this blog, because I don't like politics or the need to have an opinion on everything. However, the discussion typically provokes a (violently!) defensive reaction from gamers about how something something something I don't care. I'm as (violently!) opposed to censorship as the next man, but that doesn't mean I have to like gaming's obsession with murder. But it's important not to blur this line: my dissatisfaction with death-obsession in games is purely from an artistic standpoint. Nothing I say on the subject is motivated by political stances or real-world consequences.
ChexQuest was banned in over thirty-two countries for its brutally realistic portrayal of cereal-on-blob violence
I don't know why I even have to say it (I don't), but violence is not essential to making an effective game.  I like plenty of violent games and think they can be both excellent and emotionally/cognitively evocative (Dishonored). I just don't think that every game has to be violent. Mr. Pinsof makes an argument to the contrary, revolving around the notion that games derive their purpose (among artistic media) from immersion, and that immersion is enhanced to its maximum potential by violence. What I've just done I call dividing. Now allow me to conquer.

It's nice that games are immersive. Truly, genuinely nice. It's one of the nicest things about them. Pinsir's unstated definition of immersion seems to incorporate interactivity, so, okay, I'll give 'em that. And I'll even agree that games do it best (to date), although I don't think it necessarily makes them an evolution of film/literature any more so than football is an evolution of theatre. Here's what gets me. Immersion is a tool, not an end. It's a technique that can be executed to various degrees in order to convey a story. That story may be in the hands of the player or it may unfold around them; it may be dictated or emergent. But the story (or the thematic content, or the idea, if you will) is what drives the presentation and the interactivity. You don't play a game to be immersed in something stupid or that you don't like. That is to say, a successfully believable and fully interactive game can still be a complete failure if it's hollow at the core.

As for the second claim, that violence enhances immersion to a degree unreachable through any other means? That's just plain yikes. I guess maybe if you define reality by whether or not you can shoot things (Pinsof's introduction actually does imply that he uses this definition), fine. You're absurdly removed from any productive discussion of the issue if that's the stance you're going to take. It's utterly subjective. What if I define my reality by whether or not I can fuck everything? Or whether I can make it into a sandwich? There are just no bounds on this. Without jumping to the completely ridiculous conclusion that violence is the most engaging action possible, I don't even know how you can start down the road of believing it's "essential" to games. I don't have a definition or scale or test of immersion factor, nor does Pinsof present one in his article, so the argument basically swirls away down the drain at this point.
Splatterhouse, according to Destructoid, achieves a level of immersion unavailable to such paltry works as Portal and The Longest Journey
Expounding on the connection between violence and immersion, Pinsof occasionally stumbles through the same galaxy as a good idea, but immediately uses his conclusion to prove his argument. He claims that pressure, tension, and threats enhance immersion, and this can be exceptionally true (see horror games like Amnesia). He then jumps straight on through to associate these things inseparably with violence. Again I feel like I'm countering a child here because this is such a shallow and short-sighted argument. What about threats like time? Making a wrong decision? Destroying a relationship? The threat of insignificance and obscurity? The false equivalence of threat==violence simply speaks of an individual who hasn't put even the slightest amount of thought into what makes a game work - or, very likely, someone who hasn't played very many games.

The closest thing he has to an interesting point, which he never leaps on, is that the potential for violence can unequivocally contribute to interactivity. A game that lets you do anything is more immersive, right? Actually, I'm not buying that one either. Not even for a dollar. Control without limitations is liberating, but can easily destroy the fragile suspension of disbelief that allows us to enter a game world. Mario shouldn't be allowed to pick up a machine gun. I don't believe he would. If he did (or could), I'd quickly lose my investment in whichever game I was playing. To experience a work, we have to allow it to be created, and in creation inherently develop rules. In the previous sentence inherently develops a grossly unnatural grammatical formulation.

You know what was always my least favorite part of essays? Conclusions. The funniest part of the aftermath on Destructoid itself (where few-to-no readers came to Pinsof's defense) was that Pinsy claimed "duh guys it's just an opinion piece!" Someone's never heard of a thesis.

Oh, and I didn't provide a link to the article because honestly, it's too stupid for you to waste your time. The writing is vapid and there's no attempt whatsoever to provide an analytic argument. So, in short, the same as every other article published by the mainstream gaming press.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Looking for an Osmos HD to play on your Android device? Try Osmos HD!

at 12:00 PM
Let me introduce myself. My name is Elesia, aka Neko/Kat/anything as long as you don’t mispronounce my name. I am a casual gamer. At one point in my life, I was very into Final Fantasy and the like, and even beat one game almost sorta kinda not really who cares. Anyway, puzzle games have always been my favorite.

I have been searching for a good game to play on my Acer A500 tablet or Droid X2 phone. Turns out, there is a lot of crap out there. Android apps are just not put under the same scrutiny as Apple’s apps receive. This can be both good and bad; it just means there’s a whole lot more of everything on Android. Therefore, the process has been a lot of trial and error.

One of the best I have found so far (aside from reiterations of already-awesome games such as Bit.Trip Beat and World of Goo), is Osmos HD. The visuals are stunning, first of all. I have not yet tried it on my phone, but on my tablet, it’s beautiful. Sometimes it’s nice to just watch all the pretty bubbles glide around.

woah duuuude
The music is also fantastic. Ambient and pretty, more than background noise but not so much that it’s overpowering. It changes pace when you speed up or slow down the action, which I find to be a nice touch. The best part in my mind, though, is that the name and title of each song is displayed inconspicuously as it starts playing.

As for the game play, this ends up being one of those fun, addictive, but fucking frustrating games, at least for me. It starts you off slow. You play the part of a light blue blob that just wants to absorb all his friends (as long as they’re smaller than you). As you get bigger, the blobs around you change color to show how close they are to being small enough for you to absorb. Red blobs are too big, and will just suck you up. Propelling yourself expends energy, and makes you smaller.

It’s pretty simple, but it gets hectic and complicated quickly as other sorts of blobs are added. Some actively try to move away from you, some try to chase you, and some are like planets, orbits and all. Then you add the ability to slow down or speed up, which changes everything.

Despite my need to BEAT ALL THE LEVELS, I doubt I will get to that point with this particular game. And that’s okay with me. It’s a lot of fun, and the soundtrack really keeps me in the game. I highly recommend playing it, for those of you who enjoy puzzle games.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The 3est Protagonists

at 1:36 PM
Did you see how it looks kinda like "Best" but actually is going to be about the 3 ___est (superlative) protagonists? Eh you'll get it in a second. Then you'll laugh, and laugh, and laugh, and cry, then laugh again, then cry again, by which point the slow-acting poison I've injected into your lunch will have taken effect and you'll be lifeless on the floor. Did you know that last year, over thirty-five blog-readers were killed by slow-acting poisons? Not readers of this blog, of course. I assure you, you're perfectly safe here. Nowhere on the Internet could be as safe as We even have built-in airbags!

So this is a silly idea I had that developed from what I now look back and realize was a better idea, to list my ten funnest protagonists. Instead, I've outsourced the work to the other bloggers, each of us bringing you a list of three protags adorned with appropriate superlatives. I'm gonna kick us off - stay tuned for the (probably better) lists from Greg, Ezio, Andrew, and Elesia, comin' atcha each Tuesday for the next monthish.

Villainousest: Max Payne / Kirby (tie)
It'd be nice if we could take a step back to days when a hero could be pacifistic (or at least a bit toned down), but while the most popular genre of game remains "First Person Shooter", I don't think it's going to happen. So let's fuck it all and just admit it: our protagonists are often villains. Not antiheroes - full-blown villains. Marcus Fenix (Gears of War), Nathan Drake (Uncharted), Optimus Prime (Fall of Cybertron), Wei Shen (Sleeping Dogs) - regardless of supposed values and platitudes, they're thieves, warmongers, and murderers. Kain (Blood Omen) is in fact one of my favorites simply because he is openly so. Of this vast selection of evil protagonists, however, two in particular stand out.

Max Payne is basically a complete shithead. And whoever wrote his dialogue probably shares that trait. I've talked before about how much I hate this character. Max whines and whinges on about what a sorry state his life is in, how he drinks to forget and doesn't have any reason to keep going. In fact, his entire character can be summed up in a short scene:
This is supposed to be "existential" or something, because someone at Rockstar saw a film noir movie, read one paragraph on Wikipedia about the subject, then tried to base this character around it. In fact, it's kinda humorous, and if you gave Max a maniacal laugh, he'd essentially be a more brutal Joker. He kills an endless stream of people (hundreds, if not thousands, by the time Max Payne 3 has closed) because he can't figure out a reason not to. His mantra: "I'll kill until I can figure out why I'm killing".

Kirby isn't particularly more murderous than the traditional platforming head-bopper (though his modus operandi of devouring foes makes his quest a bit more gruesome); like Max, what makes him particularly evil is his purpose, or lack thereof. Kirby has occasionally accomplished something like saving Dreamland (I think? did Adventure even have a story? 64?), and in these cases he can probably be cut some slack (even though he appears to be genociding the inhabitants of the very world he is supposedly preserving). But let's take for example Kirby's Squeak Squad. In this instance, a gang of mice (get it? Squeak Squad?) has run off with... a slice of shortcake Kirby was about to eat. Kirby could get another slice at whatever his local bakery situation may be, but he wants justice. Fair enough. The question this game begs, however, is whether wantonly slaughtering an entire population who likely had nothing to do with the theft is "justice". I have to wonder - is Kirby just indulging his murderous tendencies in the facade of being wronged, or is he delusionally imagining that every person/creature/monster he meets is part of some vast conspiracy to steal his cake?

Loneliest: Sir Lonely (Ghosts'n Goblins series)
Here's the deal with Sir Lonely:
If that doesn't touch your heart, I don't know what will. A hero propelled by his own loneliness through one of the most frustrating, hostile quests of all time. Like five times. As Youtube commenter gentrygh (?!) writes: "I feel Sir A. Lone indeed!" Thanks, gentrygh, for putting into words what I never could!

On a side note, I really wish there was a way to change my Youtube username.

Least OP'd: The Master/God (ActRaiser and ActRaiser II)
There's a little word we use around my home that often comes in handy for situations like this: OP'd (oh-peed). OP'd is long for OP, which is short for Over-Powered. Yes, occasionally a game contains some character, unit, or move that is so unbalanced that the only word to describe it is "OP'd". But that isn't the correct usage of the term. Like many terms of art, the meaning has become a bit removed from the etymology; from a gamer's perspective, the meaning of OP'd is simple: anything used to defeat me. If I lose a match of Marvel vs. Capcom 3, the opposing character is clearly OP'd. So OP'd. That special attack he used to defeat me is even more OP'd. It's just bullshit. That Dragonite that defeated my entire Pokemon team is totally OP'd. So on.
Let's ignore that paragraph. Pretend it never happened, like that time in childhood when your... well, sometimes it's better to forget. In a game where the player takes the role of God (called The Master in the NA release), he would probably expect to feel a little OP'd. As a matter of fact, OP'd = OP = OverPowered < OmniPotent = OP = God = holyshiiiiiiiiiit! But the ActRaiser games completely twist your expectations, providing a substantial platforming challenge (particularly II). After a short time with the game, the player might actually arrive at just the opposite conclusion - that every single fucking enemy is utterly OP'd. We're talking about a game where God (yes, the Christian God, Lord Almighty, Praise His Name on High, Shalom) can be defeated by a dragonfly. A large dragonfly, sure, but a dragonfly nonetheless. Maybe this is the reason for it, but I don't remember any parts of the Bible where Jesus hides behind a bush to trick a bug into passing him over. Or, wait, is that what that Passover nonsense is all about?

Monday, February 11, 2013

On Zelda: A Duologue

at 1:13 PM
Most of the time, I try to direct my spew of pointless babble onto this blog, but occasionally I have a comment so inane or inside-jokey that it lands in Greg L.'s inbox instead. Last week, a particular instance of this kicked off a Zelda conversation of enough depth that I'd hate to see it go to waste. Not to mention it makes a great follow-up to my recent ode to Twilight Princess. So enjoy our conversation, presented in its original email finery.

Yourself: NintendoLife had a pretty hilarious list of improvements they want from Wind Waker HD. Hilarious in the "you know none of this is going to happen, right?" way. They annoyed me by saying the game needed more dungeons and that the Triforce-pieces-quest needed to be reworked, then annoyed me even more by providing quotes from Aonuma that agreed with those sentiments. I have to say, the more I read about him, the more it sounds like he just completely caves to whatever public opinion is. Get some artistic integrity, man! Pass that on next time you see him.

Golem: Sure, I definitely will.

Aonuma struggles with that too much. I liked Skyward Sword a lot, but I wouldn't say it's a return to form (for him as a director, at least--I enjoyed it more than MM and WW, but it doesn't match their creativity). At least the handhelds have gotten some more out-there ideas. It is sad to see him say those things, like he doesn't respect his own team's work.
That said, I wouldn't mind bonus dungeons or something like that. Not sure how you'd rework the quest for Triforce pieces, though I'll admit I never got why they made it so difficult to pinpoint underwater treasure. Why does the glowy bit go away when you get close to it?

YourselfAgree with you about grappling treasure, but the one thing I would hope that even lazy-ass Nintendo will do is move the charts to the GamePad (is that the official name? So generic). It would make navigating the open seas more fluid (no pausing to check the ocean chart) and treasure-hunting would be a snap (you could take the glowy circles away altogether if you just showed the treasure chart on the GamePad). Can't remember how Phantom H. handled treasure - if that game didn't have that stupid central dungeon, I'd be a lot more likely to replay it.

Do you consider the handhelds to really show more out-there ideas? As I mentioned in my blog post about TP, they seem to me to be perfunctory exist-because-they-have-to iterations. They're fun, but that's because the whole Zelda thingy is fun. I can't say they inspired in me much reflection. PH? What did that do new? And the whole train thing from Spirit Tracks... eh. I've said before that it's functionally identical to every other Zelda overworld, except that it can get more annoying if you make a wrong turn or don't know where you're going. 

Guess I never gave the Capcom games a fair shot but... should I have?

I guess I didn't realize you had played Sky-Swo. Thoughts (other than what you just said, that you found it funner than precursors)?

GolemIt's been forever since I've touched Minish Cap, and I never tried Oracle of Seasons, but Ages played as much like Link's Awakening 2 as you'd expect. Fun times, nothing new, but the bosses are actually pretty cool.

A map on the gamepad would be awesome. Aside from practicality, it would be cool to say that you have in your hands the map that Link himself is holding.

The handhelds may not have necessarily had good ideas, but I'd say they had ideas. The fact that Spirit Tracks' overworld is functionally identical to every other Zelda overworld inspires thought, since it plays so differently. (It serves the same purpose and provides just as many options.) Like Hylia Field, you're really only interested in the destinations, but you're stuck on a track. It dashes the illusion of freedom and exploration some Zelda titles have, I think. There's also something a little cool about getting to pilot (conduct? I forget) a train in the same sense that sailing a boat is cool in Wind Waker. You get to do stuff like plan routes and throw switches and toot your horn. Can't say I ever appreciated having to appease passengers.

As for Phantom Hourglass, I don't have any experience with it, but it seems like the central dungeon would have to mix up the structure somehow. It's at least some kind of riff on how you have to retraverse parts of the overworld time and time again over the course of the game. Is "riff" the word I want?

YourselfThough Link's map probably doesn't have an indicator of his location....

To me, being on rails is a gimmick. Perhaps to someone out there it dispelled the illusion of a broad, open world, making them reflect on the reality of Hyrule Field (Hylia is the lake), but it didn't offer anything compelling A.) outside of the Zelda architecture or B.) to those already disabused of that notion.

I can't say there's enough interaction with the train for me to get any appreciation of conducting it. Most of the travel time is spent shooting stuff with the cannon, which is an abstract enough pastime that it fit equally well on a boat. Mapping out routes and throwing switches made me feel no more like an engineer than commanding a jet across the terrain of StarCraft makes me feel like a pilot. I have the same comment for the sailing - the experience of boating isn't what made me enjoy the open seas segments. Especially because the whole wind/sail not working like it does in reality was an annoying niggle. 

As for Phantom Hourglass - are you sure about that? If they wanted to "riff" (yeah that word is fine) on the idea of retraversal, wouldn't the entire game be set in a dungeon? As is, you have to retraverse the overworld in order to retraverse a dungeon... they've doubled the displeasure there. Anyway, the entire value of revisiting locations on a map is discovery - finding new things along the way. The repeat-dungeon doesn't offer any such luxury, as anything "new" you discover is just a quicker way to solve a puzzle or avoid an obstacle - you end in the same place after seeing the same sights. Your "reward" is that it didn't suck as much this time.

I didn't like the Spirit Tracks central dungeon for much the same reason - I felt like I was seeing the same thing over and over, repeating the same style of puzzles just gradually getting harder. Too much.

GolemTrains: I can agree that it doesn't offer anything interesting outside of Zelda architecture--it's kind of a companion piece, in that sense? As for someone already disabused, I don't think the effect is totally lost, but that seems a little more subjective. In other words, it's easier to say, "this approach doesn't make sense unless you know Zelda," than it is to say, "this approach won't interest you unless you have thought about Zelda in a particular way."

As for sailing, yeah, the mechanics weren't really part of the fun now that I think about it, so it wouldn't be "in the same way." What I should've said is that they both made you feel like you were at the helm of a vehicle: Wind Waker for its vast oceans and Spirit Tracks for the mechanisms. I also can't deny that a lot of my train time in Spirit Tracks was spent bombing stuff. I dunno if there's any great way around that, since the alternative is shoveling coal or something like that. Now that I think about it, I also spent a fair bit of time just looking around with the camera, which I also did on the King of the Red Lions.

Hey, if Spirit Tracks took place on the Metro, the train could've been called the King of the Red Line.

On Phantom Hourglass, I have to take your word on that. I was under the impression there wasn't much of an overworld outside of the central dungeon.

Skyward Sword: There's a lot I could mention liking, but as a dungeons man, the dungeons struck me as particularly strong. I enjoy Wind Waker and Twilight Princess dungeons, but they lacked the structural direction of Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. If we understand Zelda dungeons as mazes, anyway. Skyward Sword played like a precursor to Ocarina of Time and stuck to that idea, developing various basic aspects of Zelda mazes over the course of the game from one dungeon to the next. I kind of hate that Skyward Sword comes before Ocarina of Time in the timeline, because then it sounds like my reading of the dungeons is me trying to shoehorn the game based on its story. But no, Ocarina of Time was all about keys, and Skyward Sword was like a layup to keys. If uh, that makes any sense.

Favorite Skyward Sword dungeon moment: on the pirate ship, you stand outside in a lifeboat and shoot an eyeball above deck. Zelda mazes are all about effects carrying over from one room to the next, and I think that's a great example; you occupy one room and hit a switch in another.

Yourself"Companion piece" is a good description. The handheld games ask us to ruminate on the nature of Zelda, rather than introducing any particularly high concepts.

You may want to be mindful around whom you call yourself a "dungeons man". Someone might take that the wrong way. I found that TwiP contained the highs and lows of series dungeons: Snowpeak Ruins was a gorgeous mystery and Arbiter's Grounds was a literal roller coaster, while the Temple of Time was everything that is wrong with the series, a linear, overlong, gimmicky trudge. Coming off that, I was expecting mediocrity from SkySwo. I can't honestly say it defied my expectations - I actually could only remember one without Googling "Skyward Sword dungeons". I've waxed on before about my love for Skyward's intermediate surface world - a return to the extra-dungeon interactivity that has been missed from the 3D series. That semi-open world full of battles and obstacles brings challenge back to exploration. A side effect of this is that it makes dungeons less unique - we get a spectrum of gameplay instead of the traditional (OoT) black and white.

Final thoughts? This might not go up til Monday, since tomorrow is gonna be all about Cyborg Justice.