Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Would You Like That Supersized? – DSi XL and Social Gaming

I love portable gaming. Love it. Over the years, I've probably owned about every iteration of the Game Boy (minus the Micro, and even then I was eying it for a while), and have absolutely loved my DS Lite. That is, until this last summer, when it went MIA.

I can't even think what happened to it. I told myself it was under my dresser for the longest time, but when I moved out of my room completely (my brother inherited it) it wasn't there. I was saddened. That sucker went everywhere with me: Italy, Japan, Salt Lake City for the Warped Tour, my entire then-present Carroll career (I remember sitting in my room freshman year, playing Final Fantasy Tactics Advance because Eugene and I didn't have a TV), everywhere. My only hope is that it's found greener pastures now, because it is sorely missed. Hell, I want to pour out a little liquor for it right now.

Goodbye, dear friend. You are truly missed.

I've been holding off buying a new one for a while now, partly because

  1. I've been holding out hope that I will magically find it every time I go back to my parents' house (I feel like the boyfriend who's still waiting for his old beau to walk back through that door "any day now")
  2. In truth, I hadn't really used it that much in the months leading up to its disappearance, and I didn't really want to buy the thing and not use it
  3. I'm a college student, and have only so much disposable income (see part b for why this would affect my buying judgment)

I've scoped out other models at pawn shops (for excellent prices, might I add), but I haven't been able to push myself into buying one again.

With the recent release of the DSi XL, though, I've started having thoughts about repurchasing my lost companion. This comes largely from my reading habits; with the launch of new Nintendo hardware comes an inevitable tidal wave of "review" or "impressions" articles from various gaming and tech website, which I happen to frequent. Still, there is one thing I gleaned from those articles that has been starting to take hold in my mind: the DSi XL's potential for social gaming.

DS Lite (left) and the DSi XL (right). The thing is enormous; its screen is supposed to be almost twice as big.

Keep in mind, when I say social gaming, I mean not that others will be able to play with you, but that others will be able to experience the game you are playing with you. This is made possible by the XL's massive screens (seriously, they're freakin' huge!) and the greatly-increased viewing angle that comes with them (meaning that it's way easier to look over someone's shoulder and see what they're doing).

I mentioned my love of portable gaming. I also love social gaming. Some of my favorite memories are of playing Rock Band with a bunch of buddies or throwing down at a great big Goldeneye multiplayer party, and I am part of the camp that thinks WATCHING someone play games is underrated. I love sharing things I enjoy, and it only stands to reason that I would want to share my gaming experience with others.

Therefore, this combination of taking my games everywhere and inviting people to be interested in those games (potentially) is an intriguing one for me. Part of the reason I think I wasn't using my DS very much is because I often felt like I was excluding people from my presence whenever I used it. I have reached an age where people are no longer curious about what game I'm playing (lamentable, but them's the breaks), and I always felt guilty about shutting people out whenever I was gaming on the go. Hence the slowing-down of usage.

The XL is aimed mostly at older people (grandparents, etc) who may not have the eyesight required to squint at a tiny screen for hours on end. Hey, makes sense to me.

While I don't think that the DSi XL will magically make people gravitate towards my piece of handheld plastic, I do think that the potential exists for someone to want to sneak a peek at what might be going on in my hot little hands (for much of the same reason that people snoop out the cover of the book you're reading: the thing is huge enough to notice, and you might as well check it out). And that potential is enough for me to be confident enough to bring out my device of choice in public again.

Of course, the big obstacle at this point is price: the DSi XL retails for $189.99, which is a BIG chunk of change for something I will use pretty casually (not to mention that I have a large stack of games going unplayed as we speak). The pawn shop DS Lites I found have gone for about $80, meaning that I would face a price hike of more than a hundred bucks if I were to jump on this thing.

Still, I have a feeling that it would be pretty worth it to go for the XL: the screens are bigger, all reports indicate that it simply feels better to handle, and the platform sounds more usable in a group setting. With my family's upcoming trip to China on the horizon (which prompts an immediate excuse for the purchase of a portable gaming device), I think I'll have to set aside some money so that I can enjoy gaming on the go once again.

Anyone purchased a DSi XL and can tell me about it? Have any thoughts on the topics of portable or social gaming. Sound off in the comment section below! I would love to see what your ideas are on this subject that is close to my heart.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Tub Thumpin’ – Hot Tub Time Machine

Color me pleasantly surprised.

I went into this movie expecting to hate it. HATE it. Instead what I got was an above average, slightly self-aware buddy comedy that will remind some viewers of "The Hangover" (or, in my case, the trailer for "The Hangover").

Make no mistake, this isn't some high comedy revelation; it's still chock full of gross-out gags, gratuitous T&A, and language as though the actors were getting paid for each swear. Still, for a movie called "Hot Tub Time Machine," it wasn't half bad.

The movie stars three friends, Lou (Rob Corddry from "The Daily Show"), Nick (Craig Robinson from "The Office"), and Adam (John Cusack …just, John Cusack) at various states of discontent in their lives (par for the course, in a comedy like this).

Left to right: Robinson, Duke, Corddry, Cusack. "Do I have to be the a@#$&*% who says that we went back in time?"

One night, Lou gets drunk and runs his car in his garage while jamming out to Mötley Crüe. He assures Adam and Nick that it wasn't a suicide attempt, but just to be on the safe side, they take him (and Adam's nephew Jacob, played by Clark Duke) back to their old glory grounds: Kodiak Valley, a ski resort that makes Mardi Gras look like Ash Wednesday, if you get what I'm saying.

Only the place isn't so hot anymore; it's broken down, full of cats, and they're waited on by Phil (Crispin Glover, who provides one of the film's best running gags), the one-armed baggage man who kicks, stomps, and scoots their bags to their room, then sticks out his only hand for a tip.

They then, of course, discover the titular Hot Tub and get transported back to the 80's, which touches off the rest of the movie and about every series of time travel setups you can think of. The only thing missing is an appearance from Mr. Peabody and Sherman.

What I'm failing to capture is the slightly whimsical and totally farcical tone of this movie. Everything happens at a pretty quick pace, and the movie is actually fairly witty in spite of its occasional foray into stereotypical "college humor" territory.

In "The Time Machine," it was a recliner. In "Back to the Future," it's a DeLorean. In "Hot Tub Time Machine," it's a jacuzzi. I'm waiting for a movie about the time traveling cardboard box from Calvin And Hobbes.

This movie had a lot of great little touches, such as how the characters sometimes take a second to chime in on each others' garbled wording or meaning screw-ups ("In what part of the a------ handbook does it talk about abandoning your friends?!" "Actually, I'm pretty sure that part'd probably be in the a------ handbook." "Alright, my bad, point taken.").

I also liked how one of the characters uses "The Terminator" to explain how they've travelled back in time, and how the main "villain" is obsessed with the movie "Red Dawn."


This movie goes out of its way to evoke 80's nostalgia. The soundtrack brims with 80's tunes like Poison and Public Enemy, and the movie has an off-kilter unforced vibe to it. And that's BEFORE the main characters get thrown back in time.

The movie is can be pretty dumb, but it knows when to hang back and make fun of itself (unlike of most "college comedies" that come out every couple of weeks, which are excessive to the point of reproach), and for that reason (and the fact it does have some pretty good gags) I'm recommending it. This'll teach me to judge a book by its cover, though if you see the name "Hot Tub Time Machine" and think it totally sounds like your bag, feel free to judge away.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Force Will Be With You, Always – Super Star Wars

A lot of you young whippersnappers might not remember this, but there was a time when video games were hard. Like, REALLY HARD. Oh sure, it's tricky to pick up Modern Warfare and do well, but what we're talking is a whole new level of hard. I'm saying controller-tossing, foot-stomping, expletive-hurling difficulty the likes of which you can't find nowadays. Super Star Wars is such a game.

To be fair, its sequel (Super Empire Strikes Back, for those of you keeping score at home) is even MORE difficult, but (as Brian Ferriter pointed out to me the other day) at least that game had a password system that let you skip to the level you got a Game Over at. In Super Star Wars, if you run out of Continues (a magical difficulty-enhancing device that has all but disappeared from modern games), you stared over. As in FROM THE VERY BEGINNING.

If you like Tatooine, you're in luck: you'll be seeing this place a lot.

The tradeoff for this stupid-high level of challenge is that beating the game becomes an achievement. Literally. As soon as I beat it, I seriously took a picture of the screen to prove that I did it. I guarantee that I will remember beating Super Star Wars (where I was, who I was with, when it happened, etc.) way more than I will for beating something like Pure or The Orange Box.

This is the screen of victory. Super Star Wars you got Testerman'd.

This is what victory looks like.

But more about the game. Super Star Wars is a pretty standardly-designed sidescrolling movie game that was prevalent up until sidescrolling games became unfashionable (and even then, they still kept making 'em for the Game Boy Advance!). It involves progressing from left to right and shooting everything that isn't you, all while traversing through stages that (rather loosely) follow the plot of the movie? Remember that part in the movie where Luke tears through a whole herd of Banthas before fighting a giant mutant Womp Rat? Well you'll sure get to play through it!

The shooting controls are reasonably tight; you can't aim and shoot at the same time, but you can aim in 7 different directions (you can't shoot down). Jumping is a rather tricky and hit-or-miss affair, making me long for the Mega Man games of yore (or in Mega Man 10's case, the Mega Man games of a few weeks ago). Also, the slide move, which is accomplished by pressing diagonal-down and either right or left is kinda fitful; it works well most of the time, but tends to get confused when used multiple times repeatedly (like, say, when you're in the middle of the hardest boss in the game, and instead of sliding, it makes you jump in the air… I'm not bitter).

Some of the bosses are pretty tough. And pretty fiction-breaking. What exactly is an "Imperial Defense Droid?"

These two aforementioned problems only exacerbate what is EASILY the most frustrating part of the game: the horribly unfair-feeling level design. Granted, a certain amount of repeated enemies and instant-death traps are to be expected in this kind of a game. But these places cross the line from "Oh, I Guess I Can Be Expected To Do That" to "How Was I Supposed To Know That Was There?!!!??!"

For example, in the Death Star Hanger level, I have to negotiate these pits that appear to be instant-death traps (which, they are). Fair enough. I also have to negotiate fighting Storm Troopers and little robots that push me into the pits. Also fair enough. But how am I supposed to jump over these pits if THE GAME KEEPS DROPPING STORM TROOPERS ON ME WHILE I'M JUMPING??? And they don't even fall in a pattern! They just randomly drop on me, more often than not right while I'm jumping over the pits! There's a fine line between challenging the player and just being a douche.

You can also expect to be hit by TIE Fighters. Which you can't avoid. What's this game got against me anyways?

So I guess the question that it comes down to is "How much frustration am I willing to put up with in my video games?" If you play games to unwind, do NOT touch Super Star Wars. If you enjoy video games periodically, you might get a curiosity point from checking out some of the levels (don't buy it on eBay just for curiosity, though, unless it's like $10 with shipping). If you're an old-school gamer who has likely played and beaten harder games than this in one sitting, go for it; some of the levels are fun, the shooting action works for the most part, and it's Star Wars. Just don't come crying to me when your Continues are gone and you have to start way back on Tatooine.