Guest Review: Madden 2008 (XBox 360)

Guest Review! Kyle from notthegame.com weighs in on Madden 2008.

Madden 2008 is a bit of an enigma. In the last few years, on the new systems, Madden has been a sub par football game. This is typical for sports games on a new system as it takes game developers a few years to revamp the game engine, as well as improve graphics and features. The third year is typically the year when progress starts to be made. Take the PS2 versions, for example, in 2002 and 2003 the game redefined the way football games look but they didn’t play that well, in 2004 the game took on a life of its own, and by year four in 2005, Madden reached its pinnacle. That lines the 360 version up for 2009 as the pinnacle of its success on the new systems.

Madden 2008, however, is a serious step in the right direction. This year, Madden has perfected the game play, improved already stellar animations, and added the features and options we have come to expect from the Madden franchise. If by next year, EA Sports can improve the presentation, get rid of the god awful radio announcer, and add some innovation to franchise mode, the game will reach a level never before seen.

That being said, here is a break down of this years game.

Graphics:

Madden has never really been known for its graphics and animation, but this year that is starting to change. Animations are now much more natural, as players will reach for balls and drag their feet on the sideline. EA Sports uses what it calls a “branching” system. Essentially, this allows the movements to transfer from one to another seamlessly. In 60 frames per second, the game runs beautifully, but since everything is so smooth, the occasional jump in animation between say, standing and falling, seems very out of place. All in all the graphics are very good, next year EA Sports needs to add some more presentation elements.

Sound:

The radio announcer sucks. It sounded like a good idea, but really he is just annoying and makes the game feel outdated (think Joe Montana Sports Talk Football), there is no reason why the biggest selling sports game of all time shouldn’t have real announcers. The hits and the players yelling make the on field experience great, but the crowd is just “ok”.

Gameplay:

Extremely fun and fast. The game plays with a ferocity that Madden hasn’t seen in years. The hits, running, and catches are truly fun to accomplish, and the realism is outstanding. It is one of the few games where neither the defense or the offense dominates. Some games are commanded by defense, while others are controlled by electric offensive players.

The new superstar abilities is well implemented and really gives stars individuality on the field. If you try to tackle Lindell White high, forget about it. For big backs, you need to hit them low utilizing the new Hit-Stick 2.0. It is these little idiosyncrasies that really make the game shine. The gameplay is tight, but it does feel a little tired, as the plays have been the same for years now.

Features:

Franchise mode has some added options, most specifically the ability to relocate your team. Superstar mode has playable camera angles, but during the season there is not much to do other than play games, practice, and bitch to your agent. Its fun, but its not a fulfilling experience as you only get to play the plays with your player, so you don’t development an emotional connection to your team.

Overall:

Madden plays great, looks good, and sounds horrible. In all, it is a good game, but there are times where I feel like I’m left wanting more. This years game is shaping up to be the penultimate game, with a little tweaking, next years will reign supreme.

8 K’s out of 10. A Brett Myers.

KKKKKKKK

Dan: Uh, 8 “K’s” out of 10? A “Brett Myers?” These aren’t star ratings! How are we supposed to make sense of this? Let me do some math…

****

NES Games: BigNose The Caveman


Ah yes, taking advantage of all 8 bits of excitement. You wonder how the people from “Prehistoric Park” feel about the discovery of the mini-stegosaur.

The best way to make a video game accessible to lots of people is this: make the first few levels pretty simple, and then have them get exponentially harder. Sure, you say, most video games follow this pattern. Mario, Tetris. Sonic the Hedgehog” Ducktales is pretty easy throughout, but that’s mostly because the levels are built more as challenging mazes, and you can choose the order in which you want to play them. Don’t get me started on Legacy of the Wizard… I’ve already written 2000 words about that.

I can’t think of a better example of this than the little-known game, BigNose the caveman, which came as a gold-colored cartridge. The main focus of the game was to walk from left to right on the screen and beat up dinosaurs. I really can’t remember if there was a story or not, mostly because I never got very far. I mean, the first two levels are exceptionally easy, to lure you in. They were actually pretty similar to the Mario model, with bad guys coming at you that you had to hit as you walked on the horizon line and jumped over random cliffs. That was something I always wondered about in the Mario world. How can there be so many cliffs on a piece of developed land that don’t have bridges built over them? The Princess’ father must not have been doing a good job in the public works sector. As far as BigNose, well, they barely had the technology to build a wheel, so I’m going to assume that bridges are way out of their league. ( And for all you cavemen out there, I’m not trying to insult you” the last thing I need are commercials disparaging our fine little rarely-updated enterprise)

Strangely enough, though, most of the dinosaurs BigNose encounters are pygmy dinos, with stegosauruseses and triceratopseses no bigger than the eponymous caveman himself. Sure there are giant dinos that appear at the end of major levels, as bosses, but most of them, from as far as I got, were usually seen as just two legs or something. They were way too big. Someone obviously didn’t consult the AMNH before designing this stuff.
If you think about it even more, you realize that there’s no reason for a stegosaur to attack a caveman anyway, unless he was intruding on its nest. Maybe it’s different with mini-stegosaurs though.

The simple attack was using your club to hit the bad guy, and if you picked up some stones you could use them like the fireflower power in Mario, only lamer, cause the stones don’t bounce, and if you miss, they kinda just magically fell through the ground. The hard part is getting the timing right. If you swing too soon, you miss, and too late, you’re hit by the dinosaur, which is why stones are the best option, especially since there are some dinos that need to be hit twice. Jumping over them is always an option, but you can’t jump very high, so sometimes you’ll miss. There are also potions you can buy at some stores that you can use to regain life or kill everything in the frame, making it easy to beat a boss.

Really though, the biggest challenge to this game was actually getting it to work. Maybe it was my system, or just the cheapness of the people who made the cartridge, but it never worked right. I had to do the blowing on the game, then blowing in the Nintendo thing that every kid my age was quite accomplished at. You’d think we’d all be harmonica players. At some point, even that began to not work, and the game would only work if I used the game genie as a buffer.

The music was actually really catchy, even though I can’t remember any of it now.

Overall, the first few levels are moderately enjoyable. The next few are too frustrating. And there’s no continue or save option, so once you lose, you start all over again. I’d say the same thing about Mario, except there’s plenty of opportunity for extra lives and level-skipping in that game. That, and you had some sort of goal to achieve in Mario. If you really want to play a game about cavemen, I’d settle for a Turbo Graphx-16, or an emulator for its games, and Bonk’s Adventure.

*½

One and a half stars for making me feel like I was good at video games, and then tearing that dream away from me. Relatively good music, but a premise that was pretty much just a terrible rip-off of Bonk’s Adventure.

Empty Bookshelf’s First 100 Reviews


Oh, those kids. Always at it. You guys really shouldn’t’ve.

So here we are at the first of what may be a few reviews of our first milestone, 100 reviews. Not only is this the first review of this milestone, but of what could be very many milestones. We here at the Bookshelf like the word “milestone“, and don’t believe in Thesauruses. So here we go, our first hundred in a nutshell.

The first actual review happened way back in October of 2005… remember that time before the Steelers won the superbowl, before “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” movie, before Dick Cheny accidentally shot his friend while hunting, and before Bristol, United Kingdom celebrated the 200th birthday of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (actually April 9) by relighting the Clifton Suspension Bridge?

Dan’s first review was aimed at complaining about post-game hype surrounding an extremely long baseball game. Of course our readers probably care about boring Astros-Braves baseball games as much as they seemed to care about my terrible review of the dictionary. Even though that picture was good, it was nowhere near the five star quality of this image. I too tried my hand at reviewing food, but it was an utter failure. On the plus side, my review of the letter to the editor is one of my favorites, and my first review actually got eight comments, including this link. The few following that grilled chese review focused mostly on music, my opinion of “Good Night, and Good Luck”, a particular episode of Trading Spouses, and Dan’s opinion of My opinion of “Good Night, and Good Luck”. Dan also said that the Colbert report wouldn’t last, which seems to have been proven false.

October seemed to be us finding our footing.
***

November saw Dan’s Cleveland Trifecta, a diatribe against horses, a road that he liked, an episode of “Coach“, and his complaints about how much he aches, now that he’s an old man. I started the month strong with the Beth review, but struggled through the rest of it, with lame reviews like Thursday, a type of tooth”paste” that doesn’t work for me, and an insightful, yet completely unnecessary complaint about my nosebleeds. My FAO Schwarz review kinda made up for them, but the highlight of the month involved Dan and I sparring about how Christmas is coming earlier every year, and something about me being a time-traveling sheep.

November didn’t see much improvement over October, but the Christmas stuff was entertaining.
***½

December got a bit better, even with a few less reviews. I busted out the old NES games, for a few reviews that I swear are not trying to copy off of XE, another personal favorite, Christmas Cards, Adam’s first review, Dan throwing the hate down on Pitchfork media, and a suprising amount of people commenting on Roger Ebert’s take on video games. The biggest advance in December was the pop-ins, that added added some clarity to our parentheses-obsessed-writing.

December was a highly engaging and entertaining month, even with only nine reviews.
****½

2006 rolled around, and January saw Dan get political, review half of a book, not like warm winters a lot. I only contributed three of ten reviews that month, but all three of them were relatively alright, mostly because “Where In Time is Carmen Sandiego“, and “The Simpsons” after season 9 is so easy to complain about.

January’s topics fell off a little.
***½

February, while being the shortest month, was also a monster for us, as far as number goes. A whopping twenty-one reviews. To be fair, 17 of them came in our envelope-pushing live superbowl reviews, the biggest stunt pulled in the history of reviewing anything and everything on a five star scale. The only other reviews of any substance were my Gauntlet Review of the Beatles albums, and Dan’s digging up of our one-issue underground high-school newspaper.

Despite the big stunt, and two good reviews, February was kinda lacking.
**½

March just plain sucked. Four reviews total. One by me. Three megareviews by Dan.

½

April was slightly better, with another of my top five of my reviews, Legacy of the Wizard. The other four I would give an average of 3 stars to, but since there were only four during the month, that’s going to cancel out the Legacy of the Wizard bonus and take it down a half star.

**½

For my money, May was our best month yet. Dan’s contribution was the lengthy three-part TV landscape review. I threw out quality stuff with my Songs for Silverman, and Degree Navigator reviews. The shorter American Dreamz and Davinci Code video game reviews were serviceable, but my immense LOST season 2 review tops everything.

*****

June fell off a bit. Four reviews total. Split two and two. Mine were based on a ridiculous news story, and anger at other people for coincidentally coming up with the same ideas as me. Dan tried to put everything into perspective by seeing how well the entire history of human ingenuity and artistry stacked up in the interstellar community, and complained a little about how the national geography of roadways isn’t designed to suit his needs.

**

July was filled with the (I gotta admit my ignorance as to the relevance of this phrase… and wikipedia does nothing to help) Navel Gazing set. I was had for a few minutes by a Jimmy Kimmel hoax, and I thought the critics were a little too harsh on Shayamalan. Despite the mediocre numbers for the month, I’d give it a 3.5

***½

This gives us a per-month average of 3 stars, which isn’t too shabby.

In my first ever review, I reviewed the concept of this website. I claimed that we wouldn’t be able to keep it fresh, that we’d run out of ideas, and that we wouldn’t be able to stay somewhat funny at least. I believe my exact quote was “It has the potential to provide hours of entertainment for readers, and shape their lives for years to come. However, the downside is that it could get old real soon, and provide us with nothing but an excuse not to get real jobs.”

Well, I think we’ve significantly proven wrong every single point that I just brought up. We have 29 categories, 19 subcategories, and even two sub-sub categories. We’re still writing about reasonably different things, and while we may have slacked on the funny in recent months, we still bring the ‘A’ game on occasion. As far as my quote goes, I’d be willing to bet that we’ve provided maybe a few hours of entertainment for a handful of people, which probably did nothing to shape their lives for even the near fututre. On the upside, it hasn’t gotten old, and we have gotten real-ish jobs.

For all of these reasons, I’m willing to up our star rating by half a star, over the average rating of 3. I’ve also realized that my method of calculating the rating might not be the best, so I’m gonna throw in another half star for a final rating of 4 stars out of five.

****

And for those of you playing along at home, yes, this technically is the 100th review and so therefore should be included. This review receives 3 stars for not having much to offer in the way of witty musings, and for having a faulty overall rating method, but for packing so many subjects and links into one review.

***

The Concept of The DaVinci Code The Video Game


I think the picture speaks for itself.

So as I was walking into the movie theatre yesterday, on my way to see what I think will be the summer’s biggest-selling movie (despite the terrible reviews), The DaVinci Code, and I was handed a coupon for Best Buy. SWEET! Except that it was only good for a video game… you guessed it, The Davinci Code, for Playstation and X-box.

I couldn’t help but laugh at how preposterous this was. I was reminded of the scene in Spaceballs where Mel Brooks was showing off all of the Spaceballs product tie-ins. I had the notion of Star-Wars-like fast food restaurants giving out cryptexes in happy meals, or “The DaVinci Coke” littering store shelves.

But the more I thought about it, I wondered what kind of video game this would be? I mean, video games have to be exciting and engaging, or else the player realizes he’s just sitting around doing nothing productive. That’s why most of the video games that are based on movies are made from action movies. Seriously, would you want to play a game based on Brokeback Mountain? Think of all of the things you and your player 2 can do together… like herding cattle!

What kind of format could this game take? Would it be like Grand Theft Auto, with Tom Hanks and the french chick driving around, stealing people’s cars by boring them to death with lectures about where the swastika came from? Or maybe he could choke people with his long, flowing locks of hair.

Could it be a fighting game where you play as Silas and try to get past the Priory members? You’d then advance to nuns (hint: hit them with stone slabs), and aging, crippled Grail scholars (watch out for the crutches!). Of course after every victory, the bonus round includes self-flagellation.

Personally, I’d love to see a whole line of games. The DaVinciKart, where the characters race around Paris, in small european cars, throwing out things like Silas’ spike strip, and the Madonna of the Rocks painting, to make other players swerve. There could be a soccer game, or a baseball game. There could even be a Mario-like game, where Tom Hanks has to save Sophie from the evil “Frogs” by jumping on them.

All joking aside, I really have no idea how they’d make a straightforward game out of this movie. I’m sure it would involve a ton of cut-scene videos of people talking and explaining all sorts of things about the holy grail and the Priory of Sion.
The only thing I can imagine it being, honestly, is in the style of a puzzle-adventure game like the old LucasArts games that were so beloved. Even that though, is a stretch, because anyone who’s seen the movie or read the book knows all the answers to the riddles, all the intense “history”, where the characters should go next, and ultimately, where the resting place of the Grail “is” anyway. There’s no point in going through the entire journey if you already know the answers, because the fun of adventure games is figuring out the solutions.

There is no possible way that this game could both fit into an existing video game model and be interesting. It’s interesting as a book and a movie because you’re engaged in following the characters along, passively. Once you’re actively controlling the characters, there’s nothing interesting about what they do, only what happens to them, and video games aren’t about being passive.

½

.5 stars, for allowing me to imagine all of the humorous possibilities.

NES GAMES – The Legacy of the Wizard

as a sort’ve addendum to this review, i’d like to point out that i found a walkthrough, and even knowing where to go, what character to use, and the type of objects needed, won’t help you beat this game. It is that difficult. There is no way any kid ever has gotten to the end by himself.


“Hey, look! A Dragon trapped in a bunch of blocks and doric columns. Let’s kill it!” “…Uhhh How?” “I don’t know… carbon monoxide poisoning?” “That sounds exciting!”

I think the best ending for this game would involve P.E.T.A. storming in and demanding the release of this animal into it’s natural habitat…. devistation.

Out of all the games I had for NES, I was very glad that I somehow managed to keep the instruction booklet for this one. Without it, you’re basically screwed. I read it recently and realized that the entire reason I could never figure this game out was that you actually had to read it before you played the game. What kind of idiot game-maker would make a kid read something in order to play his game? The whole reason kids play video games is so they don’t have to read. That’s like making someone go inside a Taco Bell to place an order to pick up at the drive-through window. Or course it goes without saying that I can’t seem to find the booklet right now (just my luck), after finding it was the original inspiration for this series of reviews. I didn’t write the review of this game just then because I figured I’d work my way up to this…. you know, use it when I ran out of ideas.

Of course, now I can’t find it, and wikipedia doesn’t have an entry for the game. I searched for it via google but it seems that its biggest contribution to mainstream society has been to fans of techno-remixed video game music.

BREAKTHROUGH! Just as I’m writing this, I found a site, on the fourth page of google results, with links to the sites that not only have maps of the “levels”, but the full text of the instruction booklet.

Apparently, according to the booklet, the goal is to destroy the dragon. You pick a character, and kind of wander around a giant maze… if you don’t believe me about the giant nature of the game, or it’s maze-like qualities, take a look at this map. Just to warn you though, my computer almost crashed attempting to load it. That’s how big the image is. It is insane to believe that any child would have any reasonable means of committing this map to memory, just by wandering around aimlessly…. in search of a dragon. And not just any dragon; a dragon that’s locked up in a cage deep within a giant underground maze of inescapable proportions. Of course according to the story, that you just have to read for yourself here, they decide to hunt him only after the dog, explain, aside from me saying that it’s a completely long-lasting game that involves lots of trial and error. In addition you have to save your game, which in this incarnation was achieved by going back to the surface where your grandmother would give you a code. The next time you played you could enter the code and start off where you ended. Of course, not reading the booklet, I again didn’t realize this.) you need to use certain people for certain situations. One member of the family can jump high, the other can move blocks, the dog doesn’t get attacked by the numerous mole-men, CHUD, and chupacabras or whatever, that live underground. Only the son can slay the dragon for some reason. The hassle in this is that you can’t just switch characters when you need them; you actually have to return to the surface. What a pain.

There’s also an overly-complicated system of special items that you take along with you, or can buy at shops which are conveniently located in the underground maze (along with inns where you can regain your health for 10 gold pieces. Not exactly sure how these inns stay in business, as it seems that their clientelle would consist mainly of the goblins and C.H.U.D. that wander around aimlessly underground, and I’m sure that they’re probably all broke). These special items are what you can use to beat the bad guys, who, in turn, leave things for you like bread, potion, keys, and gold… and of course, EVIL POISON, which looks exactly like all the other items, considering they’re just small blobs of pixels. These monsters really just don’t have it going on upstairs. If they all just carried poison on them, instead of bread and money, they’d win every time.

There are enormous amounts of treasure and items and “special items” that are so confusing, you’d need the booklet to tell you what you can do with each when you get them, and would have absolutely no clue how to use without it, or even with it. In the instructions, for example, notice the large section devoted to how to move blocks with the magic gloves.

Mostly, there just is too much to say about how overly-complex this game is on the whole. You have to navigate through this huge maze to find four crowns that will allow you to access the dragon, but you have to get the “Dragon Slayer” sword and then use the son, which means that you have to go back to the top, switch characters and then find the center of the maze to beat him somehow. Afterward, this is what happens… “After you defeat Keia the dragon, she catches on fire and burns and the rest of the family is waiting outside the dungeon and you come up out of the dungeon and you all walk home together then they stop near the door and wave bye bye at you.”

Doesn’t that sound like it’s worth spending at least 40 hours of your time to accomplish? They wave goodbye to you? At least Mario finally finds his princess, Scrooge McDuck finds all the gold in the world, Mario wakes up from his dream, historical landmarks stop getting stolen, Mario finds the Princess again… okay that one was a bit of a “been there” sort’ve thing, and kinda disappointing, but at least that game was fun, and easy to play. The only consolation here is the irony of a dragon burning to death, and I don’t know if irony is a good enough reason to spend that much time on a crappy video game.

This game sucks.

½

This game gets half a star for being way too complicated and horrendously over-designed. “Make a map” the instruction booklet says. Even with the actual map, I can’t figure my way around. You think my scribbles are gonna help me? Kids everywhere were probably so frustrated by this game that they threw it out their windows and hoped a 16-wheeler ran over it… ten times. There’s no reason to even be sympathetic towards the main character(s), because it’s not like the dragon is doing anything bad, he’s kinda just there, playing solitare or reading a book or something.

The half star goes to the designers for putting together something so ambitious, and so detailed that nobody had any clue what they were thinking. I have to give that kind of work something, for their good intentions. Unfortunately you need more than intentions to make a good video game. You need violence; the ability to trick people into thinking your game is easy, when three levels later it becomes really hard; and absolutely no brain power needed to play it…. and some cement.

The Superbowl 2006 “Preview Show”

In order to predict the outcome of this year’s Superbowl, we used the best tool in our repertoire to predict the outcome: John Madden NFL 98 for Sega Genesis. It was a tense game, filled with back and forth scoring. Nate’s Steelers came up short after a risky “going for it” on 4th down situation late in the 4th quarter.

prediction.jpg
Too bad there isn’t a Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes predictor…

In typical Madden 98 form, the final score (in spite of the 5 minute quarter length) was (my) Seattle Seahawks 39 to Nate’s Steelers 32. We each had about 300 yards of total offense, though I won the battle of time of possession.

You heard it here first: Seahawks 39, Steelers 32.

****½

The “preview show” (meaning our game of Madden 98) receives four-and-a-half stars due to its close finish that we can only hope the actual game will also have. Go Seahawks!

NES Games – Where In Time Is Carmen Sandiego


Doesn’t this look like as much fun as being forced to listen to Roseanne sing the national anthem?

Like the Waldo craze and the whole Disney Afternoon semi-craze, “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego” was a huuuugee fad for a few years. Broderbund came up with this idea in the mid eighties (for a computer game), and of course it spun off into two TV shows in the nineties. Eventually, as the PBS show waned in interest, they decided to do a reformat of it and it became this really crappy third show (now history themed instead of geography themed) with probably the dumbest kids they could find. Luckily it only lasted one year.

I think the video game series could probably boast about being the only video game to come with a desk encyclopedia. That’s right; the game comes in a 4 inch thick case with some crappy “encyclopedia” for use in solving the “crimes”. Basically the way you play this game is you’re racing a clock that arbitrarily counts down the “hours” you have left to solve a theft of a historical artifact. You go to a location in time (time jumping is the biggest use of “hours”) and ask people (a text box) about the crime and they give you clues to what the criminal looked like and where he/she was going. Then you look up the clue in your “encyclopedia” and head off there, where you do the whole thing again. Eventually you either run out of time, and do another case, or you solve the crime and do another case; there’s no difference between winning or losing, save the fact that in your fictional world, someone with an incredibly clever name like “Ella Vator”, “Jim Shorts”, or “Stu Pidname” will have managed to get away with a Stradivarius violin from 1730, and that even though you were hot on the trail, the case will never be solved. Each game only takes about 15 minutes, and the only thing that happens when you capture the criminal is you get “promoted”. There really isn’t any point to playing after the first 15 minutes because it gets really boring looking for 8th century Chinese vases.

I understand that it was made in the early nineties and that the graphics aren’t better because of it. I understand that it’s supposed to be an educational game about history, but it seems to me that the only thing that this game actually teaches people is how to look up answers in an encyclopedia. It would be more educational if perhaps there was a recap test at the end of the game, where you had a certain amount of time to answer questions based on stuff that you “learned” earlier in the game. I would equate this scenario to the difference between an open notebook test vs. a regular test. An open notebook test only serves to determine how well you take notes, except in the case where there are way more questions than you could ever answer by looking up, or it’s an essay test in which you need to take points out of your notes and combine them to form a coherent essay. A regular test should make sure that you have an actual practical understanding of the knowledge, much like the final challenge on the TV game show. For those of you who weren’t even allowed to watch PBS when you were a kid, the final stage of the game involved locating 10 or so countries or states (depending on the continent that the map was of) on a large map on the floor, within a certain amount of time. The host would call out the place name and the person would have to put a marker on it, showing that the kid actually understood the geography of the continent and was not just reading it off of a map with labels and then going to place the marker.

Granted, a game that had a quiz at the end of it wouldn’t be any fun at all. I can’t imagine a kid wanting to play something like that. I mean I played “number munchers” on the computer like all present twenty-somethings once did, before games had more than 3 colors to show, but those computer lab exercises that we’d have to do back in elementary school were just outright boring. I’d much rather have a teacher teaching me…. or be jumping on Goombas, or shooting bad guys, or even, putting puzzle piece-shaped blocks that fall from the sky into lines so they disappear. Video games need to be fun, and repeating the same process five times per game is not fun, especially when each game is so short. If you’ve played one “case”, you’ve played them all, but maybe the object that’s stolen and the thief are different. I’m not a game designer, but it seems to me that the people behind this game wanted to push a game as being “educational” without trying hard enough to actually be educational or interesting to kids. I wouldn’t put it out of the reach of the NES’s capabilities to be able to have a map with different countries and have the player have to identify them, but I guess no matter where it goes, it’s hard to mask the whole “teaching kids things outside of school” thing that the creators were going for.

*½

This game gets one and a half stars for putting forth an effort to create an educational game, and succeed at actually making it really popular. On the other hand, the game actually sucks, is incredibly repetitive, doesn’t teach anything that would stick longer than 5 minutes, is without a real goal to acheive, is incredibly repetitive, and is just plain boring. Also, the time usually runs out before you catch the crook (because of the amount of “time jumps” necessary to catch him/her) leaving you frustrated over something that you probably had no interest in playing in the first place, but thought would be cool because the box was so big.

NES Games – Where’s Waldo


Where’s Waldo? If you said, “In the upper right corner”, who knows? Maybe you’re right.

I was really into the whole “Where’s Waldo” fad when I was a kid. I think it had to do with the fact that I was reading a book without having to do any reading… I always liked to take the easy way out. I had all of the books: “Where’s Waldo?“, “Find Waldo Now“, and “The Great Waldo Search“. I even had the giant Waldo book, the small paperback with all the activities to do, and the fourth book, “Where’s Waldo in Hollywood?“, among various other puzzles and even a popcorn tin… yes a popcorn tin. So of course, it would go without saying that I had/have the Nintendo game. Strangely, though, the reason that I read the books was not necessarily to find Waldo. I know, I know, the title says “Find Waldo Now”, as if it were some sort of angry, authoritarian military leader, barking orders at me. Well, here’s the thing. Those pictures were filled with more than a guy in a tacky striped suit and hat. There were hundreds of sight gags per page, and always different ones throughout the book. The more you looked for Waldo, the more you found clever little drawings and scenarios. This was the real reason that I “read” these books; it kept me entertained for hours.

Anyway. This game, “Where’s Waldo”. The story is basically the same. You have to find Waldo in a bunch of different pictures. You have a certain amount of time at the start, and it counts down during each level. The time spent finding him is cumulative, so it’s best to find him as quickly as possible in the beginning levels, because the end levels will screw you over. In addition to that challenge, every time you guess that you found Waldo, and it’s actually not him, you get ten seconds taken off of your clock. And there are about 8 levels. Again, I say this as if these “levels” are some sort of obstacle course of bad guys or something. No. The levels consist of a still picture and a cursor. You move the cursor over to where you think Waldo is, and then push A. That’s it. That’s how you play the stupid game. I mean I guess I couldn’t ask for it to be closer to the source material; after all, that was my major gripe with Ducktales (that and the complicated attack method). Unfortunately, as the Waldo books weren’t all that exciting to begin with, this is a case where an upgrade was needed. There had just been a Where’s Waldo Cartoon show on CBS starring Brad Garrett from that Raymond show. Why couldn’t they have done something involving that?

Okay, so not only do they manage to take a boring idea for a video game, and actually create a boring video game, but they take all the fun out of the book. That may sound a little confusing and redundant, so let me explain. The idea of a video game where you search for an object on a still image is an incredibly boring idea for a video game, yet they made it, hoping it would sell on the brand name and the incredibly weird fans (of which it’s not innacurate to say that I was a member… but I was 8, sue me), instead of developing something interesting to do with it. Next, in making this book into a video game, they took all of the interesting things out of it by giving us a time limit to find him, making us rush through the picture. I guess, however, that it’s not that big of a loss, as the pictures are about as terrible as you can get. Waldo pretty much consists of about 5 pixels, colored in red white and blue, mixed in somewhere among other similar blobs, many of them also colored red, white, and blue, just to throw you off. In fact, Waldo doesn’t even look like the same blob in each level. Sometimes it looks like he’s wearing brown pants; sometimes he’s small; sometimes he blocked by a car, and only half of him is showing. The easy level is anything but easy because of this, and as you go down to medium and difficult, there is a big jump in difficulty.

As the levels get harder, your cursor gets smaller, the counter starts with less time on it, , and the kicker: the screen grows in size. So now, in addition to searching for “Waldo” on one screen, you have to use your cursor to scroll over to an entirely different screen of blocky, pixelated stick figures that may or may not be him. So basically the motto of this is, don’t play on medium or hard. In fact, don’t play it at all.

I do think that the people who made the game realized how boring it probably was, because they actually threw in three levels that don’t fit the regualr format. The first one is “THE CAVE”, in which you have to move your cursor around a black screen to find Waldo, whom you can’t see, but is walking around really fast. Your cursor acts like a flashlight, and if you see a bit of him and hit “A” in time, you turn the lights on and can move Waldo. You can then leave the room and go to the next pointless level, or take the biggest risk in the game and select the hourglass icon in the cave, which will either give you 100 seconds or take 100 seconds away. I think it’s about a 2/1 ratio in favor of subtracting the seconds. The second strange level is some weird 2-D maze thing called the subway, but it’s the last one that’s the killer. On the side panel of the rocket ship, you have to play a slot machine game, kinda like in mario 3, to get all of the windows to have a picture of Waldo on them, before time runs out. Then, and only then, can you ride in the spaceship and take a walk on the moon. That’s right. The only qualifications for Waldo to go to the moon are for him to walk through a myriad of places including, but not limited to, the circus, the city, a castle, and the woods, and have his face appear on the side of a rocket. No wonder the Russians have such a good space program.


When the most exciting part of the game is watching this idiot take 25 seconds to walk from one level to the next, you know the game isn’t going to get more than one star.

½

This game sucks. There’s nothing else to say. This is THE reason why Roger Ebert hates video games. The people involved took such an incredibly easy concept and made it very difficult for themselves and the players, and what’s more, no fun to play. And if it’s not fun to play, it’s not worth buying. I mean seriously, if they can make plumbers go down pipes, and ducks “Pogo Jump” on snakes, you’d think that they’d be capable of making a decent still image, but you’d be thinking wrong. Also, just to mention it, this game did make seanbaby.com’s list of the twenty worst NES games ever, which kinda makes me proud to own such an abomination.

Roger Ebert’s Take on Video Games

Quick site note: This is the first review of either many or zero more that will use “tips.” When hovering over some links, text will pop-up near your cursor. We’re not yet sure whether it’s annoying or if it enhances the writing. I especially find myself drowning in a sea of parenthesis, and these “tips” solve that problem in a way that writing on paper never could. Feedback please.

Lately the non-review sections Roger Ebert’s website have been filled with discussion on the merits of video games versus movies, and “the internet” has been abuzz with him being an out-of-touch old man. His weekly answer-man column has addressed the issue multiple times, namely his lack of interest in video games, in general. I can’t find the absolute starting point for the whole debate, but I think it has to do with a reader objecting to Ebert’s awarding of one star to the movie adaptation of DOOM (he uses a four star system for those of you wondering how to reconcile his reviews with ours.). The reader basically took offense at his generous one star review because one section of the other-wise unremarkable adaptation paid super-close homage to the game. Ebert sufficiently served the reader by explaining that video game websites review movies on their own terms, and he will continue to review movies on his. What started the “controversy” was his final comment in his reponse:

“As long as there is a great movie unseen or a great book unread, I will continue to be unable to find the time to play video games.”

This lead to (what I can only assume to be) countless angry letters of video game fans defending their XBoxen and poorly translated, endlessly sequeled, Japanese-sourced games (i.e. the Metal Gear and “Final” Fantasy series, etc.). True, that’s my bias showing through, but in the response to the letter that Ebert decided to run, he explained:

“I am prepared to believe that video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful. But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art.”

That’s the one that really got the internet in a tizzy.

ebert
You’d think that after writing all of this, I’d be able to think of a funny caption. Well, that’s not the case.

The problem with video game fans (in general) is that they are relentlessly but selectively enthusiastic about their “art” of choice. There’s no point for me to write an e-mail to the movie “Answer Man” being that it will be lost in the mountains of “You’ve never played Halo, Resident Evil, Final Fantasies 1 through 12, etc. so you suck” type letters (not that I’d assume it’d automatically be printed of course. I’m sure that every e-mail is read, but I think Jim Emerson (The site’s editor/blogger) probably handles most of the filtering). So, being that I have my own internet soapbox that ends in .com, here I go.

Without backing any of it up with fact or definitive history, I can guarantee that every medium of art has had to deal with detractors. Movies weren’t widely accepted as having any worthwhile value at their inception, especially considering that mankind had gotten used to the previous status quo from the past two-thousand+ years of seeing live actors performing on stage. On top of that, even movements within each art form have faced critics (again, with the lack of facts or evidence). People still argue about the merits of Jackson Pollack imagine hundreds of years ago, when Baroque music was developing and becoming (again) the status quo, and *gasp* didn’t base all of its harmony on the 4th. Sure, the now “normal” root-3rd-5th harmony sounds right, but back then a lot of people didn’t like it one bit due to the “profane” nature of the major-3rd harmony (in terms backing that up, I’ll hold a music professor I had responsible for defending that bit of trivia). In philosophical terms, the video game “medium” is about 25 years old and in only its second major movement. Consider the first to be the 2D era, started with the first Atari system and ended with Super Nintendo and Genesis. The second is the 3D era, started with the Sony Playstation, Nintendo 64, and Sega Saturn. The third (sub)wave of the 3D era began in late November of 2005 when Microsoft began shipping the XBox 360. As mentioned earlier, gamers are notoriously selective in their passions, and some choose to be passionate about the hardware aspect of video gaming, so in response to those people:

  1. I know I’m glossing over lots of other systems.
  2. I know that Genesis came out before Super Nintendo.
  3. Atari probably wasn’t the first system, but realistically it started the whole console “thing.”
  4. I know that 2D games have come out for the “3D” systems — especially Sega Dreamcast, but 2D vs. 3D is too significant of a divide to ignore.

Structured music went through quite a bit of development before anything gained an historical foothold; specifically, J.S. Bach and Handel are still being widely performed today while almost the whole of still-existing Renaissance and Medieval music is relegated to prominence in academic environments only. Sure, movies “came of age” much more quickly than music (or even painting), with films from about thirty years after the proliferation of the medium still widely considered classics. Interestingly enough, film also experienced several technical and artistic waves. (The “maturation of computer-generated effects” probably being the academic-sounding, retrospective categorization of today’s “wave.”)

Video games have not yet experienced a true second artistic wave (the 2D/3D divide is of a technical nature). The gameplay advances of Grand Theft Auto 3 (namely, go wherever you want, do whatever you want, follow a story or play randomly) have inspired countless similar titles the same way that DOOM began a wave of 1st person shooters in 1993. They offered different experiences, but neither was the quantum leap experienced by movie-goers attending the first “talkies” in the 1920’s. Newer hardware generations have enabled new features (namely graphical, some incredible advances in AI) in first-person shooters (and eventually bigger, prettier worlds in GTA-style games).

Anyone who says that once Roger Ebert would play Halo or any other mass-market game, Ebert would develop a huge appreciation and change his mind is simply wrong. Halo’s story serves merely to give the player a reason to shoot things. Similarly, Grand Theft Autos’ stories (any game in the series, even way back into its 2D, overhead days) simply provide a reason to take part in the shenanigans for which the games have become (in)famous. Limiting the lens to newer games, even the story of Metroid Prime is just a tool the developers used to make the shooting more compelling, not the other way around. It’s not that there aren’t story-driven titles among newer games, it’s just that in popular games it’s supplemental. I know there are ambitiously enthusiastic fans of the story in the Halo games, but ask yourself if you’d play the game any differently if there were no story, just the mission goals list, then shooting things until the next numbered list appears, rinse, repeat. So, no, I’m not claiming that “new” (more accurately, “popular”) games are bad, just that they serve as poor evidence in one’s claim that video games are narratively engaging.

So, as a bit of a disclaimer, I’d consider my interest in current video games to be passive. I’m interested enough to read game reviews or watch someone play for about 10 minutes or so, but I don’t participate. I own no consoles and the video card in my computer is from 2001. I’ve watched people play FarCry, Half-Life 2, DOOM III, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, both Halos and on and on. (Those games are almost all shooters, but a complete list would be excessive, and these are some of the most popular and loudly defended of the last couple of years). I hold no grudge towards new games, but my personal “golden age” of video gaming passed sometime in the late 90’s. Most recently, the games I’ve spent any considerable amount of time playing have been the Genesis version of John Madden NFL ’98 and the arcade version of Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo, both running on a friend’s modded Xbox. As the understatement of the year, neither of these games is exactly what we’d consider story-heavy, but in terms of bringing things full circle, provide a very social experience with a group of people, exactly what is marketed as the number one feature of Microsoft’s Xbox 360, not its currently man-beast-esque hardware capabilities.

Directly addressing Roger Ebert, we’ll now present the definitive example of the “video game as art” discussion:

“I did indeed consider videogames inherently inferior to film and literature. There is a structural reason for that: Videogames by their nature require player choices, which is the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires authorial control.”

At risk of this becoming a “my favorite game is more obscure than your favorite game” reverse sales-measuring contest, let’s first throw out every RPG. Ebert’s comment about “authorial control” initially sounds too heavy-handed to be anything other than hyperbole, but it should be painfully accurate to RPG players. A decently modeled RPG lets the player assume the “role” of a character (or group of characters); the user can choose for his game play experience to be as dull as desired. His or her experience will be different than another player’s. Sure, that sounds ideal, even enough to potentially consider that to be the ideal example of the one thing that would skew video games toward “art” status. But think of Choose Your Own Adventure books; they offer a choice in the reader making his or her own story. The first reaction to that is, “But they’re kids books, they’re not supposed to be good.” It goes without saying that there are plenty of widely appealing kids’ books, and if there were adult-oriented Choose Your Own Adventure books, would anyone read them? Would they be considered “literature?” Nope; and for good reason. It’s just a gimmick.

There are two story-heavy genres in video gaming. Role-Playing Games and Adventure games. (This is where I’m looking to avoid the obscurity-related reverse penis size contest.) RPG’s having already been justifiably thrown out, that leaves Adventure games. Most anyone with a passing interest in video games has played an adventure game, but their popular peak was both dramatically short and intensely focused on one title (which really wasn’t that great of a game, all things retrospectively considered ). MYST (aside from being considered the “killer app” for PC CD-ROM drives) was hugely successful, and was undeniably an adventure game. There was a set story, and very little room for non-linearity; provided you could figure out the “oh yeah, I guess that makes sense” puzzles, you were undoubtedly under the control of some “authorial” figure as you played. Though the graphics contributed to the overall mood, it was really the story and “art direction” that truly established the player’s sense of loneliness on the island throughout its history. The story created the puzzles (the single element of “gameplay”), not the other way around. Though this isn’t a review of MYST, it needs to be noted that it actually offered a rather passive gameplay experience; the puzzles were simplistic, the story, dull, but the mind-bendingly amazing (for 1995) graphics sold everyone. Unfortunately, it became the benchmark for the Adventure game genre, causing most everyone to think them dull and pretty-yet-vapid after most people were left thinking “Gee, I don’t get it” after either finishing the game (or more likely) giving up after getting one’s fill of pretty pre-rendered pictures.

With the genre’s prime and popular example painting such an ugly picture for average users as time went on, the “mass market” PC gamers moved back towards more interactive games (such as Quake, more-or-less the beginning of the PC’s true 3D boom). During this time, adventure games were still being made, and George Lucas of all people was responsible for some of the best. Okay, George Lucas’ company actually made them, but trivia’s trivia. Sam & Max Hit the Road, Day of the Tentacle, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, and Full Throttle were some of the best received adventure games of their time and are widely considered the classics of the era. Just like every every other genre eventually shifted to 3D, adventure games followed suit.

LucasArts’ first of two 3D adventure game offered one of the most interactively cinematical experiences in games, ever, no matter the genre. Limiting the focus of the “video games as art” discussion to whether or not video games present the “authorial control” apparently required by Grim Fandango offered the “authorial control” of a movie, while engrossing the player in ways that movies and books simply can’t. Loosely inspired by some sort of Central American mythology of multiple underworlds, and souls wanting to end up in the final, 9th underworld, you play as Manny Calavera, a sort of travel agent in limbo between life and death. Manny “sells” travel packages for different routes to the underworld; the better the prospective travellers lived their lives, the quicker their trip to the 9th underworld. The “cleanest” souls get to ride on the “Number 9” train which speeds them right to heaven,while those that face the travel agent (Manny) with more regrets are stuck with the less desirable methods, notably the long, dark walk through the underworld. All that is the setting, the actual story involves a conspiracy that Manny begins to uncover as he realizes that he keeps getting the “lesser” souls, and due to his unmentioned sins of his human life, he’ll be stuck in limbo forever. Along the way, he meets a special lady, gathers a sidekick, meets a mortician performing an autopsy (one of the harmlessly creepy characters in any movie, game, book, etc.) and ends up having to shoot someone to save his life. (In case you’re wondering, to kill a dead person, you apparently shoot them with a bullet that sprouts flowers, similarly to the earth “taking over” a body buried in the ground.) Without spending forever talking about this game, I’ll simply say it’s a more cinematic experience than many movies: the story is the game, the voice actors are top quality, the art direction (which somehow combines Latin American influences with Art-Deco) compares with any Hollywood production, and it offers an ending more emotional than most movies.

Which brings up the final thought: How many people have played Grim Fandango? How many have even heard of Grim Fandango? Not many. In fact, it’s usually considered the ultimate symbol of the adventure genre’s waning popularity. It came out in 1998, one year after Sierra had abandoned the King’s Quest franchise. Critical reviews were immensely favorable, but sales were not. Escape from Monkey Island, which was ultimately the final LucasArts adventure entered and exited with a whimper as sequels to two of their most popular adventure franchises were cancelled for ‘current marketplace realities’ and ‘creative issues,’ reverse respectively. In any medium there’s a distinct divide between the commercial/popular and the artistic. There is sometimes cross-over between the two, and it seems that most fans of the “artistic” baselessly resent fans of the popular merely because it is the “popular.” Music has thrived with that divide, and the “indie” boom of the mid-90’s brought that awareness to the world of movies. Even today, Rolling Stone and Spin’s editors campaign for the “latest, greatest, obscurest” new music while movie critics practically bet their credibility in defense of those same three superlative adjectives on some not yet known about “indie movie.” Thankfully, we don’t live in France where critics have been known to defend bad movies just to prove a point. Importantly, there is no true “indie” vs. otherwise divide in video gaming. There are no critics willing to champion some unheard of game for the sake of getting more people to experience it. People’s expectations for video games are drastically different than for other media, and even with the internet, there is no true “indie” movement that produces and distributes unheard of games the way that the major movie studios have arms dedicated to picking up obscure movies. There’s simply no My Big Fat Greek Wedding in the world of video games. The infrastructure isn’t set up to “get the word” out, and I’ll go out on a limb and say that in a society greatly affected by advertising and shiny things, video gamers are especially vulnerable to this advertising.

Looks like we covered a lot more than just “Roger Ebert and Video Games” in this one, so here we go, emptybookshelf’s first three-headed review! Let’s hear it for innovation.

**½

Roger Ebert’s take on Video Games receives two-and-half stars due to the fact that as well as he defends himself, he can’t help but come off as just another old person afraid of what the kids are up to. “Oh my God! How could a bunch of moving pictures ever be better than having the actual, live actors in front of the audience?! That’ll never work!!” Unfortunately for the video gaming industry, he has a decidedly correct take on the “games as art” issue. Judging just the popular games, he’s hit the nail on the head; they are diversions where interactivity is thought to remove the need for story. Aside from the fact that he’s said he has not played games, if he were to ever pick up a controller/mouse/keyboard/bongo, he wouldn’t be playing anything remotely cinematical. At the risk of going on yet another tangent, just the fact that you can use bongos to play a video game says something about them compared to movies.

*****

Though I claimed this wasn’t a review of Grim Fandango, I can’t help but consider this an ideal time to “star” it. It receives five stars for being the most engrossing of all adventure games, and dare I say, any game. That isn’t to say that it’s the best game ever, just the most cinematical, and in a non-girly way, potentially the most beautiful.

*

Internet Fanboys receive one star due to the fact that their existence and pedanticism make it so a review of such a contentious topic needs to go on so many sidetracks. There’s something to be said for being enthusiastic about something, but there’s also something to be said for having some perspective. Not-so-oddly enough, Roger Ebert himself, probably one of the wittiest people on the planet, summed up the whole “fanboy” thing quite well in his review of Hackers:

You should never send an expert to a movie about his specialty. Boxers hate boxing movies. Space buffs said ‘Apollo 13’ showed the wrong side of the moon. The British believe Mel Gibson’s scholarship was faulty in ‘Braveheart’ merely because some of the key characters hadn’t been born at the time of the story. ‘Hackers’ is, I have no doubt, deeply dubious in the computer science department. While it is no doubt true that in real life no hacker could do what the characters in this movie do, it is no doubt equally true that what hackers can do would not make a very entertaining movie.”

NES Games – Ducktales


Scrooge McDuck uses his patented “Pogo Jump” to defeat the Amazonian Snake. If only the girl at Pius X knew that.

So for some reason, I recently pulled out my old Nintendo and realized how dumb nearly all of the games I had are. Granted most of these games were made in 1989 or thereabouts, so I really shouldn’t judge them by today’s standards. I can however judge them by the standards of the other games that were out at the time. This is the first of a multipart series, reviewing the various NES games that I have in my collection, which is only about 10 or so.

First up: Ducktales. Ducktales was made in 1989 apparently, even though I always assumed that the cartoon wasn’t made until at least 1991 (I was way wrong). The game, like the TV show, focuses on the adventures of Scrooge McDuck, however that’s pretty much the only thing that the two have in common. Much like the widely-hated Super Mario Bros. 2, Ducktales takes a famous character and puts him in a totally ridiculous situation, more ridiculous than the original, and totally unrelated to it.

In the case of this story, you play as Scrooge, traveling all over the world (Transylvania, The African Mines, The Himalayas [Prototypes called it “Snow Mountain”], and The Amazon) as well as to the Moon (don’t question it!) in search of “lost” treasures stolen by various giant slugs wearing crowns, snowmonsters, tiki gods, or rats on the Moon. Of course the reason there’s a rat on the moon is because Scrooge is searching for a piece of green cheese (“Of Longevity”) which supposedly is worth millions of dollars. Never mind the fact that all the bad guys are wearing space suits; Scrooge is perfectly fine in spats and a top hat. Anyway, there aren’t any references to any of the locales from the show, and the only appearances by characters (Other than the Transylvania boss [Magica Dispell], and the main boss at the end of the game [after you beat the preliminary end boss, Dracula Duck]. Of course, it would make more sense to have Dracula Duck be the Transylvania level boss, and the tv-show villain be the preliminary boss, especially since the other level bosses have nothing to do with the show… but whatever) are a few brief cameos from Launchpad, who exists to take Scrooge back to the main menu halfway through each level, if you choose; the kids every once in a while; and Gizzmoduck, who shows up to blow a hole in the Moon so Scrooge can get into an underground lair that has no opening and is filled with Beagle Boys. How he got to the moon, we’ll never know.

The most ludicrous thing about game is the incredibly complicated and inane way that Scrooge fights off bad guys. They took the basic “jumping on them” idea from Mario, and found a way to complicate it. Scrooge uses his cane to “Pogo Jump” on top of them and then they fall off the screen. Unfortunately, this isn’t as simple as pushing the A button. You do need to push the A button, but while in midair, you must also push the B button as well as the down arrow on the directional keypad. Pretty much any combination of pushing those buttons at once will start you pogo jumping, but you need to continue to hold the A button for it to work, or you have to push them all over again. You can just hold the A button and continuously pogo jump, except in the Himalaya level, which is basically all snow and ice. When Scrooge tries to pogo in the snow, he gets stuck.

The levels are all very well mapped out, maze-like, with all kinds of secrets and challenging bad guys (of course, the only ones from the TV show are a few Beagle Boys, here and there). It’s hard enough to figure out where you’re supposed to go in these levels (in fact the Transylvania level actually has a wall that you have to walk through to get to the end of it), that making it past the bad guys seems easy. Once you have your bearings though, it’s fairly easy to beat, at least on the easy setting.

The animation is very good for when it was made, much better than the Darkwing Duck that the same company made a few years later, and the music is fairly catchy, but nowhere on the scale of Mario.

****

Despite the fact that the game has little to do with the show, and could very easily just have used original characters, the game is fun to play, and once beaten there’s much to explore. Making it not incredibly difficult, unless played on the difficult setting, and allowing the player to pick which level they want to play allows the player to learn the levels quicker than if they constantly had to start from the beginning every time they wanted to play level 8 or whatever. Ducktales gets four stars because of this, and the fact that it’s the only Nintendo game I could ever beat without using Game Genie.