A Little Perspective From Tom Church

Posts tagged ‘play’

A Pokemon Post

Only a few days ago, Pokemon X and Y version were released in America. And even under all of the college schoolwork and studying, even while I sleep and exercise and eat and try keeping up with my TV shows (which are all back in season), I still haven’t been able to escape the ripples it’s made in the gaming community. If I think too long about how I don’t have X or Y, I get a little anxious.

I’m curious as hell, and I’ve decided to look more into it recently; I’ll detail my finds in this post, and hopefully inform some of you guys on why this is so exciting for me. I started by watching “Pokemon: The Origin” which was a miniseries aired on Tokyo TV on October 2nd. It was a back-to-back broadcast of four episodes of never-before-seen Pokemon adventures. Except this time it wasn’t Ash and Pikachu, it was Red and Charmander.

Image

For those of you familiar with the Pokemon TV show that played in the 90s (and apparently the 2000s but I didn’t keep up with it), you’ll know about Ash, Pikachu, Misty, and Brock. And as cool as they were, “Pokemon: The Origin” instead chooses to focus the story on the exact events of the very first video games ever released in the Pokemon series: Red and Blue Version. Therefore, the characters are Red (the main character, the Ash equivalent), and Green (his rival, the Gary equivalent). Ash chooses Charmander, and Green chooses Squirtle.

This series was released to commemorate the beginnings of the Pokemon video game franchise and was aired only in Japan, and therefore you’ll only find it online with subtitles. However, it was absolutely worth the watch, and made me nostalgic as hell. Its notable aspects include a detailed account of the Cubone story in which its mother died and became a ghost; a look into snippets of Giovanni’s past; and even a surprise ending to the series tying it into the new X and Y series developments, a surprise which I will not spoil for any of you readers.

Okay, so getting back to X and Y: what makes them special? I’m sure that’s what everyone’s asking, and it’s certainly what I’ve been wondering. Trust me, I’ve passed up recent Pokemon DS installments without much of a second thought: Pokemon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum Versions all looked strange to me, and I did not ever bother completing them. I never purchased my own copy of any. I bought Heartgold Version and thoroughly enjoyed it, but have not played it much since beating it. And I did not play any of Pokemon Black, White, or Black 2 / White 2. I’ve tried articulating my reasoning before, but haven’t been successful; mostly, I just thought they were slower-paced, had strange Pokemon I was not willing to take to heart, and were not familiar to me.

Pokemon X and Y developers have spent a lot of time and money trying to induce nostalgia and draw its old audience back in with the new. “Pokemon: The Origin” brought everyone back to the 90s, when they’d first started playing Pokemon. In X and Y, it was revealed before the game was even released that the player would receive a new starter Pokemon, and then shortly after, have a choice of Squirtle, Bulbusaur, or Charmander as a “second starter” option. I see it as a direct appeal to people who’ve been playing for a long time, and honestly that’s pretty badass.

(quick sidenote: if you need to get caught up or have your memory jogged on how to actually play the games, I’ve done my best to describe the gameplay involved in Pokemon here, and subsequently here)

All the Pokemon hype has had me playing Platinum religiously. I’ve got a copy now and I’m trying like hell to create a balanced team of Pokemon I’ve never used before, and to beat the game so I can move on to White version. Once I’ve caught up, maybe I’ll be in a position to play X and Y. That’s a bit aside from the point I’m trying to make.

Here’s what makes X and Y special:

1) X and Y have received the highest Metacritic score for any handheld Pokemon game in recent years. Metacritic has kept tabs on the handheld Pokemon game franchise since 2003, or since the release of Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire Versions; they both scored an overall critique of 82. Since then, the highest score given to a handheld Pokemon game has been an 87, which was given to Heartgold and Soulsilver; Pokemon X and Y officially received an 88 and an 89, respectively, with user scores slightly higher, making them the best-critiqued handheld Pokemon games to date, according to Metacritic. Gamespot’s user reviews are funneling in, and Y’s average score of 8.8 is lagging behind X’s, which has so far teetered at 9.3.

2) In the past, Pokemon games have differed mostly cosmetically. After the new types (dark and steel) were introduced in Generation II of Pokemon (Gold, Silver, Crystal), there haven’t been many additions to the Pokemon formula. Berries can be grown, the Vs. Seeker allows trainer rematches, the bicycle has two gears instead of one, etc. Ultimately, aside from the addition of one hundred plus Pokemon every generation, the games aren’t too different all the time, if you think about it. They’re still fun, but they tend to bank on success with minimal addition.

X and Y are the most major upset to this trend I think I’ve seen so far. First off, there’s the fact that this game truly belongs on the 3DS because it allows free, 3D overworld movement. You don’t walk on a 2D grid anymore, you can move in any direction the joystick can command. You get roller skates as well, a small and rather basic change, but with some neat uses. This is the first Generation to introduce a new Pokemon type since Generation II: the Fairy type is now in play, some of its more notable members being Mawile, Sylveon (new Eevee evolution), and lots of those “pink” dudes we think are cute. Fairy is super-effective against Dragon. Think about that.

The option to receive a second starter (Squirtle, Bulbusaur, Charmander) eliminates some of that ever-present fear that your rival will kick your ass. The 3D battle animations are much more enthralling and thrilling. The new Pokemon are abundant and presumably fun to raise. And there is an entirely new territory to explore, the Kalos region, which I don’t know much about and don’t want to until I experience it for myself.

A last paragraph about some other innovative features introduce for X and Y: there’s Pokemon Amie, which is a function of the game allowing you to play with, pet, and feed your Pokemon in order to get more accustomed to them. The benefits range from increased experience in battle to a better chance they’ll survive a normally-lethal hit. Also, the Pokemon Bank is a paid service (price not yet revealed) that allows you to maintain virtual boxes full of Pokemon. It allows for the transfer of Pokemon from previous games to the boxes via Wi-Fi, so that the awesome teams you end up getting at the ends of playthroughs are more tangible and not so forgettable. The Internet compatibility of Pokemon games seems to only be expanding nowadays, and some people argue that this is “as close as Pokemon will ever be to a massively multiplayer online game.”

Pokemon-X-and-Y

3) These last two additions are significant enough to mention on their own. The first of which, Super Training, is a new way to level up Pokemon statistics. This seems like more of a competitive-edge type function, for people who tend to level-grind their Pokemon to battle gym leaders or friends. Personally, I appreciate that the option is there, because there were definitely games in the past where your only training options became wild Pokemon or the Elite Four. This function allows you to basically take on the role of a personal exercise trainer, and raise your team’s stats individually (not their levels). It functions like Protein, Iron, and the rest of the Pokemon “vitamin” items that were utilized in the past.

The other new thing is Mega Evolution. This means that many Pokemon in their final form will be able to surpass their final stage of evolution temporarily to look badass and deal some major damage. Mega Charizard, Mega Alakazam, Mega Gengar, and others have been officially released. This adds a brand new battling dynamic and aesthetic to the game. Pretty damn cool. Not only that, but their forms differ between versions X and Y. That means that stats and appearance are completely divergent depending on what game you got.

List of Mega Evolutions documented thus far

So there you have it. That’s about a complete a list of things I can tell you guys without spoiling the hell out of the best parts of the game. I’m sure fans of the series will love it, and from what I’ve heard, even newcomers will find it fun and welcoming (and perhaps a little overwhelming). Happy playing!

-Thom
aestheism, not atheism.

The Top 10 GBA Games I’ve Ever Played

Hey all! It’s been ages since we’ve last written and the universe hasn’t imploded, so we’re all okay. Lately I’ve had another hobby shift. I go through these often, Erin can tell you all about it. In any case, ever since the Summer began I’ve been playing games. I’ve been working too, certainly, but in my off time I play games. Old games and new ones, on any console I manage to dig up.

I have a DS and a wide variety of old Gameboy Advance games at my disposal. I’ve found a lot of old favorites that I’m super relieved not to have sold like an idiot when I was twelve. And playing these things has only jogged my memory and made me remember which games were the best, and which ones were clearly the worst. Right now, I’m gonna go ahead and list the absolute best ones I’ve played–and that means played in their entirety, not a halfass thirty minute hit-and-quit. I mean I spent lots of my precious time kicking these games’ ass. I’ll save the best for last.

10) HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN 

A lot of knowledgeable gamers tend to avoid video games based off of movies. Before I myself developed this (unfair) movie-to-game prejudice, I liked this game. A lot. I didn’t really realize it at the time, but I was essentially playing Final Fantasy, but with Harry Potter protagonists, items, etc. Another FF-clone game I had was Eragon, but it was nowhere near as good as Prisoner of Azkaban was.

Image

Playing through this game the first time was challenging, almost overly so for a preteen boy. But strangely, playing through a second time allowed you to stay the same level you were when you last completed the game. The first time I beat the game, I was something like level 20, and the Whomping Willow was the hardest sonofamother in the whole game. After beating the game five times, I was level 70-something and the tree was my bitch.

9) POKEMON FIRE RED / LEAF GREEN

These games were great for many reasons. Opinions differ on Pokemon games these days, and that’s okay. But I enjoyed the Kanto region of Pokemon much more than I did the Hoenn. Pokemon Leaf Green (my own personal cartridge) offered the Vs. Seeker, which solved the stupid problem of not being able to rebattle trainers whenever I damn well pleased. As a result, the game was easier and lighthearted. I felt that the only way for me to beat Hoenn games was to choose Torchic and power raise him to level 70, leaving no experience for the other Pokemon in my party (they were all HM slaves).

Image

Pokemon was our favorite RPG before we knew what the acronym stood for. These games got tiresome after a while, but I will say that I’d never anticipated a handheld game so much as I did with Pokemon. While they’ve lost a lot of their magic (old and new games alike, to me), I’m still overcome with weird, tingly senses of nerdy nostalgia just thinking about these games.

8) ADVANCE WARS 2: BLACK HOLE RISING

Here’s a bit of a disclaimer to start us off: I’ve never beaten Advance Wars 2. But in terms of gameplay hours spent chipping away at this stubborn game’s story mode? It’s on par with some Pokemon games. Oh my jeezors, is this a tough game. Lots of Internet fans like to announce that this game’s easy, and that it’s their favorite and they’ve beaten it loads of times. Well it’s not. It’s tough, buddy. So shaddup.

Image

From the get-go, you just kinda know this game is gonna take all of your smarts. Like, all of it. Because the tutorial levels themselves are a little bit rough around the edges. There are ways to screw the tutorials up, and they’re not at all obvious. Once you get into the main game, though, no one’s helping you anymore. The strategy is not predetermined; it’s up to you to create and assign your units, and if you do it wrong, you suck and you die. It’s a killer turn-based-strategy game that makes eight-year-olds cry. Regardless of its difficulty, it is still a very impressive game and deserves its place on this list. It is one of the few brilliant games that brought me into the world of thoughtful, decision-based gaming.

7) POKEMON MYSTERY DUNGEON: RED RESCUE TEAM

This game was as unique a Pokemon game as ever. It was released alongside Blue Rescue Team, which was for the DS. Because all I had was a GBA, I bought Red Rescue Team, curious to see what kinds of weird changes in gameplay I’d see. In all honesty, there were some things I like more about this game than all of the other Pokemon “version” games. Rescue Team, Conquest, Gale of Darkness, Colosseum, Ranger — all of these are Pokemon titles that have experimented in other facilities than same-old, battle-to-battle gameplay. And in my opinion, Red Rescue Team did a very good job in its own right.

Image

This game was a new take on Pokemon, with an entirely new formula. It incorporated side quests, dungeon crawling, unique bosses, and limited Pokemon access until much later in the game. I enjoyed being a Pokemon (the story goes that you are an amnesiac human in the body of a Pokemon… hmm…), and having a partner who helped balance out your battling dynamic was definitely a good choice on the developers’ part. It was a great game with great franchise potential, but I don’t think we’ll be hearing any more from it. Recent Mystery Dungeon titles on the DS have scored very poor ratings with critics, the main problem being that people tend to label it a shameless copy of ChunSoft’s “Mystery Dungeon” series, just with Pokemon. While that may be true, the gameplay didn’t hurt a bit.

6) KIRBY’S NIGHTMARE IN DREAMLAND

The Kirby series gets an absurd amount of praise, and I’m not complaining. People seem to like the fact that Kirby, who can copy other monsters’ abilities by swallowing and digesting them, can pretty much do whatever the hell he wants. You can beat a level by swallowing a sword guy and slashing dudes to death; you can finish a level by breathing fire on dudes; you can finish a level by jumping repeatedly, floating up by the ceiling over all the enemies’ heads, straight to the door that exits the level without ever killing anybody. No one effs with Kirby.

Image

Kirby is a lovable-as-hell, one-of-a-kind platformer that is chock full of bosses, fun powerups, and creativity. The music was great, the combat was great, and the story was… interesting. Might I mention that the myriad of bosses you fight are typically easy as shit, while the final boss is unbearably difficult? It’s like playing Pong, and then suddenly getting dumped into a Mega Man boss fight. Wow!

5) DRAGON BALL Z: THE LEGACY OF GOKU II

This game improved upon many of the obvious flaws in the first Legacy of Goku. And to be honest, the first game was still pretty cool. But it needed work. The second game was awesome. In the first game, you could only play as Goku. The second game gave you five characters, four of which eventually became Super Saiyan badasses that destroyed evil ass. Saving was made much easier; the clunky item system was revised by pretty much removing it entirely; the storyline was better (the first followed Freeza’s story roughly, the second covered Cell); and a great level system was implemented which let you polish the characters you liked best.

Image

The ass-kickery was noteworthy and the casualties (theirs, not yours) were many. This game was good enough to draw you into the series; I learned much of what I know about Dragon Ball from playing this game.

4) MEGA MAN & BASS

Here’s another one of those “I ain’t beat that shit yet” games. The key word is “yet,” because I still play it… but honestly the phrase that comes to mind when considering Mega Man & Bass is “I ain’t gonna beat that shit ever.” This game is hard. The first tier of bosses is hard. No matter how many damn lives you have, this game is hard.

Image

But if this game gets any awards from me, it gets the “Most Time Spent Playing in Vain” game award. I played this game to death, and even though I rarely ever beat the levels I was stuck on, it was still somehow fun and fulfilling. Nowadays, I spend my time on Youtube watching “Mega Man ‘Perfect’ Runs” — people beating whole levels of Mega Man & Bass without taking any damage at all. And here I am, getting my ass handed to me. Son of a–

3) SUPER MARIO ADVANCE 4: SUPER MARIO BROS. 3

Super Mario Advance is a line of GBA games that are basically old games that are put into GBA cartridges and sold all over again. If any old Mario game deserved to be resold, that’d be Super Mario Bros. 3.

Image

This game starts out fun as hell, and then becomes frustrating as hell. But all the while, I think, I enjoyed it. The reason is because when I die, I know it’s my fault. The physics of this game are pretty much flawless. They’re like set-in-stone laws that dictate your exact movements, especially so later in the game. Timing gets to be very crucial, unless of course you wear Tanuki suits all the time in which case you can do whatever the hell you please. You’re a freaking Tanuki. This game is one of my favorites.

2) FIRE EMBLEM: THE SACRED STONES

Somewhere, at this very moment, someone is holding a GBA, playing this game for the very first time. “Holy shit!” they exclaim. “What a compelling story!” That assertion is correct. Fire Emblem is the mafia mob boss of compelling stories. Interesting and commonly known fact: Advance Wars and Fire Emblem are developed by the same group, Intelligent Systems. There are similarities between the two: both are turn-based strategy games. Both typically portray their protagonists in anime-style. Both game series deal with battles between good and evil.

The similarities pretty much end there. While Advance Wars is the more strategic of the two, Fire Emblem retains a lesser level of difficulty that is offset by its myriad of characters, always-interesting plotline, and crucial tweaks in gameplay mechanics. In Advance Wars, you gain resources which you use to churn out new military units. In Fire Emblem, each unit is special. You can’t create them, they just join forces with you; if they die, they’re gone forever. There’s no replacing them.

Image

Of the two Fire Emblems to ever come out in the US for GBA, I like Sacred Stones the best. The reasons are as follows: because it’s a bit easier (no shame); because I like the characters better; because of the system of characters choosing their classes. As an example for the latter, Amelia the Trainee can choose to become a cavalier or a knight. Your choice in the matter is both pleasing and strategically advantageous. It’s a damn near flawless game.

1) THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: THE MINISH CAP

It’s a wonder that more people don’t stop to appreciate this game. The fact that Capcom, the developer of Mega Man, was the first team to step in and make a brand new GBA Zelda game–and make it correctly–baffles me. But the music was brilliant, the playing was familiar, the bosses were awesome, the items were both old and familiar / new and innovative… I mean seriously! How in the hell did people forget this so quickly?

Image

Nintendo rarely ever lets third-party developers goof around with their golden adventure series, and when they have, it’s usually ended in disaster (like that weird-as-shit Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon CD-i game that Nintendo is trying to forget about). But Capcom did so, so well. The story itself was new and innovative–none of that Ganon shit, in Minish Cap there’s Vaati, a wizard jerk who sucks. It was the first handheld Zelda game that actually made me feel compelled to advance in the story because I wanted to know what happened.

And the overhead gameplay? Finally done correctly. It felt awesome. It almost makes me feel like the original game–The Legend of Zelda–deserves an updated, HD remake with better storytelling and graphics and all that snazzy stuff.

Almost.

RESPONSES

Thanks so much for reading my opinions. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you own a GBA, or you’ve owned one before. Here’s a little secret: I have in no way, shape, or form played all of the games available for GBA. If you believe that there are games that easily outrank some of the ones on my list, please list them in the comments and I’ll be happy to try playing them. I may have even played them a little before, but I haven’t beaten them or gotten the full experience!

-Thom
aestheism, not atheism.

%d bloggers like this: