I Love Videogames

Chatter Propelling Character and Narrative: Star Fox 64 vs Star Fox Zero

New episodes are coming!  Next week, our episode on Star Fox 64 will finally drop; we are in fact recording right now!  To hold you over in the mean time, here's an essay comparing Star Fox 64 with the recently released sequel/remake, Star Fox Zero.  At the time of writing this, I'd finished Star Fox Zero's Story Mode, and explored a few alternate paths, but not all of them.  However, that's more than enough to talk about the core experience of each game.


There's been a move lately, and by lately, I mean over the last 20 years, to make video games more and more "cinematic".  Michael Bay movies are critical flops, and yet the visuals still draw people in.  No matter how many nerds scream on the internet about boring stories, people will pay to see interesting things explode.  The same thing can apply to video games right?  Video games can tell stories no other mediums can, so why do so many try to emulate cinema?  It's not a new complaint. One of Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri's first published articles was a review of Mother, saying it was well written but a bad game, and thus would have been better as a book or movie.  But fancy graphics, higher costs and voice acting have all pushed games to strive to be more and more movie like - when they don't have to.  They can be more like Star Fox 64.

Star Fox 64 wasn't the first game to use voice acting.  Arcade games had it as a way to attract players in the early 90s.  Night Trap brought full motion video, including actual "acting", to home consoles in 1992.  Resident Evil and Jill sandwiches were around a year prior, and PC games had been able to use it for a long time.  But the Nintendo 64's stubborn use of cartridges made programming in voice acting a technical challenge, and Star Fox 64 was the first game to include it on the console.  As a Nintendo kid growing up, it was the first game I saw with it, and I was hardly alone in that.  And like any new feature you can put on the back of a box, Nintendo wanted to show it off at every opportunity.  The characters in Star Fox 64 are constantly chattering.  Your wingmen, your foes, even Fox himself has a lot to say - for a Nintendo protagonist, anyway.  But unlike some modern games, Star Fox 64 never lets its dialogue get in the way of game play.  The game has cutscenes, but only between levels, and none of them last longer than a minute.  The game begins with a Star Wars style text crawl, but after that, the story is told entirely though dialogue that occurs during game play.  Its easy to keep on shooting down enemy planes by the hundreds while listening to someone talk, and that's really what you're there for, trying to shoot as many people down as possible and chase that high score.

Even Bioware games have to stop the action in order to tell their story.  When you're making story line decisions in Mass Effect, you're not shooting people, and when you're shooting people, you're not making any choices that effect the plot or characters.  I'm one of those people who wishes that Mass Effect had a button to skip the combat.  I'm there for the story and to make moral decisions, and all the pew pew shooting gets in the way.  But I'm sure things are just as frustrating for those who come to the game looking for a Gears of War clone and have to slow down to talk to Miranda about their feelings.  How many great action movies have the heroes admitting they love each other while hiding behind cover, waiting to pop up and shoot?  How many dramatic kisses have taken place right before a character charges down a hallway screaming and shooting?  Why doesn't Bioware try to be more cinematic in that way?  The action movies that Bioware is trying to emulate use action scenes to add stakes to character development all the time.  Why can't I tell Garrus that this is just like Virmire before I pop out from cover and start shooting back?  Why can't I remind Tali I love her right before leaving cover to do something reckless?  Star Fox's characters aren't nearly as complex as Mass Effect's and it would be tricky to give Shepard dialogue choices in the middle of combat, but Star Fox did this perfectly in 1997.

The constant chatter of Star Fox 64 instantly teaches us about the characters.  Slippy is young and reckless, and prone to getting himself into trouble.  Peppy is wise and learned, but getting to old for this.  Falco is cool but rude, a capable pilot, but not quite as capable as he thinks he is.  No one has to tell us this; every line the characters spout reinforce the characters'  personalities.  Peppy gives you the tutorials because he's the one who's done all this before.  Fox speaks very little, but when he does it's to give commands, or to deliver cool one liners.  Sure, Slippy is always getting in trouble, but it's because he's the new guy.  Falco usually gets into a jam trying to show off and help you.  Most games have dialogue in combat, but it's usually barks, things you'll have heard a thousand times by the time the game is over.  In Star Fox 64 lines are almost never repeated.  Yes, Falco always responds to friendly fire the same way, and Slippy's "Fox, get this guy off me!" is infamous, and there's more than one level where Peppy advises you do a barrel roll, but most of the dialogue is custom written for the situation.  Star Fox is on rails, making this easy to do, but if Bioware can come up with a few detailed conversations for party members to have while you wait for the elevator, conversations many players don't see the first time through, why can't they come up with a few for combat?

Once Star Fox's characters are established, they're used for more than just chatting at you or telling you to press B for your bombs.  They're used to enhance the levels, making them more unique and memorable.  Sector X is a horror themed level, an homage to movies like Alien.  But it's pretty hard to scare a player in a rail shooter; there's no chance of you going the wrong way and every enemy that appears on screen can be killed, most with a single shot.  The creepy music is an excellent start and enemies appear sporadically, leaving quiet moments for you to just contemplate what's happening.  But the level really gets going when a giant robotic arm flies at you, and as it passes the normally too cool for school Falco asks "What the Heck is that?".  His next line, a few moments later after you have time to consider it, is "Something's not right here.".  Sure, it' s not going to keep you up at night, or make a Youtuber comically throw their controller in fright, but it establishes a tone of mystery and dread, giving Sector X a very distinct feel.  There are five different space levels in Star Fox 64, but little things like this make Sector X feel different from every one, even though you're guaranteed to have already played through one before it.

By contrast, the use of voice in Star Fox Zero is completely flat.  At first, I was willing to attribute this to simply preferring the older voice actors, but the longer I played, the less interesting the chatter seemed to get. When trying to decide if I was going to purchase Star Fox Zero, the first review I read said the story was disappointing.  The story was the last thing I cared about in Star Fox 64 - or so I thought.  Star Fox Zero feels flat and uninspired in a lot of ways, but what I really noticed was the difference in how the characters are presented to you.  Star Fox Zero's level design is pretty boring, but perhaps it could have been spiced up if the characters had more to say about it!  Unfortunately, when the characters in Star Fox Zero decide to talk, it seems to be either to remind you that you're there, or remind you about your mission objective.  For the fifth time.  With the same line of dialogue.  There isn't a creepy level, in fact the various space levels do almost nothing to distinguish themselves from one another.  Just a day after playing through the game, they've pretty much mixed in my memory in a way where I can't tell one apart from the others.  But if Peppy and Slippy had spoken up about anything in particular, perhaps they'd have felt a bit more different.

In fact, the one level of Star Fox Zero that manages any effect with its voice acting is Zoness, a stealth level that Fox enters alone.  The complete lack of chatter manages to give that level a rather distinct feel, making it feel a lot more like a caper, a sneaky infiltration.  It does, however, mean that tutorials are given to you with on screen advice, instead of being piped right into your ear.  For some reason this game decided Slippy should be the one to teach you things though, so maybe that's for the best.  Of course, that quiet time ends when Fox runs into Team Star Fox's sometimes ally Katt.  Zoness is Katt's debut in Star Fox 64 as well, where her personality asserts itself right away.  Her first line for there is a confident "Make way for Katt!" as she flies in and takes out a few enemies for you.  Falco responds with an annoyed "Katt, can't you go bother some one else!?" and right away, we know there's a prior relationship with her, and sort of what her deal is.  There's no background on her, she's never been mentioned before, and you can count all her possible lines on your hands.  But when she leaves, you're asking questions.  Who is she, why was she here, how does she know Falco?  And you hope to see her again, to perhaps get a few answers.  By contrast, in Star Fox Zero, Katt is stuck, and needs you to save her.  Right away she's been reduced to a damsel in distress, and while her intro does sort of hit on her flirty personality, the only thing you're likely to remember is her telling you what you need to do to free her about 10 times while you fumble around trying to figure out how to do it.  I'll take Slippy distracting the bad guys for me while I shoot them off him over that any day.

Both games begin with the same level: Corneria, the peaceful Earth-like planet the good guys call home, under attack by the evil forces of Andross.  I examined both scripts, expecting to find that Star Fox 64 would have a lot more chatter than Star Fox Zero.  I was wrong.  Star Fox Zero has 48 lines of dialogue on its first level, while Star Fox 64 has a mere 27.  Even when you account for the fact that Star Fox Zero's version of Corneria lasts almost twice as long, Zero has more lines per minute than its predecessor.  So why does it feel like Star Fox 64 has so much more to say?  The very first line from 64 is delivered by Peppy, an emphatic "Slippy get back here!".  Right away it establishes Slippy as reckless, and Peppy as wise and fatherly.  It also dovetails right into the first of the game's segments that require you to help one of your wingmen in trouble, teaching you about it through play.  Once you've dealt with that, Fox has a simple expository line.  "We're entering Corneria City now" to which Falco replies "This is horrible.".   Again, it sets a tone.  It makes you look at the destruction Andross's forces are causing, makes you notice the buildings that are toppling over, and perhaps makes you even more excited to shoot down these invaders.  It also establishes that while Falco is a bit of a jerk, he's a good person - he's fighting Andross because at the end of the day, he's at least decent enough to not want to see anyone get hurt.  Last but not least, all four of our main characters have spoken, and we've learned a lot about three of them.

By contrast, the first line in Star Fox Zero's version of Corneria is "I've never seen anything like that!  Everybody stay alert!" Again, the line is from Peppy.  Again, it establishes him as fatherly, but it doesn't contrast him against any of the other characters, and if you don't know he's the veteran on the team, you might mistake him for a new guy.  "That" is a pretty impressively sized ship, a new foe not present in Star Fox 64, so it's clearly supposed to establish that as a new threat, but it's easy to misinterpret.  The next line is the same line from Fox in the N64 version, "We're entering Corneria City now.".  But instead of characterizing Falco next, we get a line from Slippy, where he eagerly tells Fox to "Follow me.".  This establishes him as brash, and we get Peppy's "Slippy get back here!" but it now feels like a hollow echo of the scene in the N64 version, because nothing bad happens to Slippy.  In fact, he starts giving you tutorials!  Slippy is the one who explains rings to you, as well as how to use your boost, making him seem like the veteran.  This would be one thing if Peppy already had a lot of lines and they needed to balance it out, but Slippy dominates the conversation.  In fact, Falco doesn't get a line at all until about 3 minutes into the level.  And when Slippy once again gets chased to show off how that works in the new game, it's with a simple "Help, Fox, I'm being chased."  Very bland, and no one else comments on the situation.  These are lines we've heard before, but instead of "Remember this?", a feeling the designers no doubt intended you to have, the only thing you can think is, "I've seen this all before.".

But that, ultimately, is a good summation of Star Fox Zero.  Pretty bland.  There are a lot of reasons for Star Fox Zero's mostly tepid response.  The controls are new and different, and by the time you're starting to get used to them and see what they can do that wouldn't be possible with the more common twin stick controls you might expect, the game is over.  The level design is uninspired.  There are fewer levels, fewer branching paths, and fewer alternate ways to beat levels to unlock them.  Shooting down enemies and getting a high score feels as good as it did in 1997 but Platinum Games, revered for the depth of their combat systems, hasn't added anything new or interesting to Nintendo's long dormant franchise.  Given how no one working on the game seemed to be inspired, I doubt better dialogue could have saved the game.  However, with all the reviews bitching about the controls and how short the game is, or how it's just a retread of a game that's 20 years old - all valid complaints - I didn't want the dialogue to get lost in the shuffle.  "Do a barrel roll" is so ingrained in nerd culture it has a Google Easter egg.  It's not a line that's said in a particularly comical way, it's not clever, and it doesn't have any impact on the plot, and there are far better lines in the game.  But hearing it instantly brings me back to that feeling of enemies covering the screen, to the sound effect of laser fire bouncing off my Arwing as I spin and destroy my foes.  I can hear the rewarding sound of a ring popping up for destroying them all right now.  I just played through Star Fox Zero, and there's not a line in the entire game that will make me feel anything at all.

I Love Videogames: That's a lot of Mario

Earlier this week I ended up on the Mario wiki. I don't remember exactly what I was looking for, but due to link wandering and curiosity, I lost about three hours to the site, and 28 bucks when I noticed how cheap Amazon was selling a couple of Wii games, and it really donned on me just how big the Mario franchise is. The first games I ever played were Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3, and the first one I bought (used, with trade in credit) was Super Mario 2.  I've always been aware of Mario, and when I was younger, each game that came out that I couldn't afford or didn't own the console for hurt a little bit.  But later I learned that Super Mario Bros. wasn't even technically the first Mario game, I'd miss Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong simply due to ignorance.  I've been on a bit of a Mario binge lately, playing Mario Galaxy and Mario RPG, with Galaxy 2, New Super Mario Bros Wii U and now its DLC Luigi U, Super Mario Sticker Star, and Super Mario 3d world all sitting on my stack to play next.  Which got me wondering... just how many Mario games are there?

I've compiled a list below, divided into catagories of my own devising.  This isn't comprehensive, I've left out Japan Only releases, as well as games that were released on the GB and NES or NES and SNES or 3DS and Wii at the same time.  I've also more than likely missed a couple of games, due to the sheer number of games we're dealing with here.  I've put the games I've played in italics, so you know how informed my opinions in each category are.

Early Games 5
Donkey Kong (Arcade)
Donkey Kong Jr. (Arcade)
Mario Bros. (Arcade)
Wrecking Crew (Arcade)
Mario Clash (VB)
 2/5
I've defined Mario's early games mostly as those predating Super Mario Bros.  This is somewhat self-centric, as that's the first one I played, but it feels accurate since he was called "Jumpman" in the original, and there was no real unifying theme between them.  Mario Clash is an enhanced remake or Mario Bros. for the Virtual Boy (remember that thing?)  so I lumped it in here.  While these games are aracdy and fun, they're pretty basic by most standards, luckily most of them are available for Virtual Console if you want to check them out.

Sidescrollers 14
Super Mario Bros. (NES)
Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES)
Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels (NES)
Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
Super Mario Land (GB)
Super Mario World (SNES)
Super Mario Land 2 6 Golden Coins (GB)
Wario Land Super Mario Land 3 (GB)
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (SNES)
New Super Mario Brothers (DS)
Super Paper Mario (Wii)
New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Wii) 
New Super Mario Bros. 2 (3DS)
New Super Mario Bros. WiiU (WiiU)
7/14

Of the 14 games I put in the Sidescroller category, I've played half of them.  This is the meat of the Mario franchise, both it's greatest strength and greatest weakness.  On the one hand, they're a ton of fun.  On the other, New Super Mario Bros. WiiU is pretty similar to Super Mario Bros.  The graphics are way better, four player is fun, and there are some new powerups but you still run and jump and try to reach the end of the course.  I having finished New Super Mario Bros. WiiU yet, but I plan to fairly soon, and having never played any of the Super Mario Land games makes me think perhaps we should have a Mobile Month here on LTOVG soon.  I'll see what the other guys think.

Cameos 11
Pinball (NES)
F-1 Race (NES)
Tennis (NES)
Baseball (NES)
Golf (NES)
Punchout (NES)
Tetris (NES)
Alleyway (NES)
Qix (GBA)
NBA Street V3 (GCN)
SSX On Tour (GCN)
0/11

On our most recent episode, we talked about how marketable Mario has been for Nintendo.  They frequently used him to add to the "feel" of Nintendo games, as a simple mascot in many of their sports games, often acting as referee or umpire.  EA actually stuck Mario Peach and Luigi in a few of their Game Cube sports games as well.  Part of me still wishes that every game on a Nintendo system had Mario somewhere, though that just wouldn't be practical these days.

Puzzle 11
Dr. Mario (NES)
Yoshi (NES)
Yoshi's Cookie (SNES)
Mario's Picross (GB)
Mario's Super Picross (SNES)
Dr. Mario 64 (N64)
Mario Vs. Donkey Kong (GBA)
Mario Vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis (DS) 
Dr. Mario Express (DS)
Dr Mario Online RX (Wii) 
Mario Vs. Donkey Kong Mini land Mayhem (DS)
2/11

In a similar fashion, puzzle games were pretty easy to make, but hard to market.  Slapping Mario's name and iconography on them was an easy way to get people to buy them.  Dr. Mario is still pretty good, but Yoshi is incredibly easy and bland.  I've never played the Mario Vs. Donkey Kong games, which are far more complex then standard puzzle games, but I've always wanted to give them a try.

Educational 8
Mario Teaches Typing (PC)
Mario is Missing (PC) 
Mario's Time Machine (PC)
Mario's Early Years: Fun With: Letters (PC)
Mario's Early Years: Fun With: Numbers (PC)
Mario's Early Years: Preschool Fun (PC)
Mario's Game Gallery (PC)
Mario Teaches Typing 2 (PC)
1/8

Mario was such a big deal, his likeness was even used for educational games, most of which were considered terrible.  I put there here for two reasons, 1 completeness, but 2, I played Mario Is Missing on the NES.  I never got far enough to realize how terrible it was, and didn't own it, I feel like I must have rented it, but I can't really remember.  Anyway, again I wish Mario was big enough to be in more things like this, even if they sucked, just to spread the brand.
 

Sports 20
NES Open Tornument Golf (Mario Golf in Japan) (NES)
Mario Tennis (VB)
Mario Golf (N64)
Mario Golf (GBC)
Mario Tennis (N64)
Mario Tennis (GBC)
Mario Golf Toadstool Tour (GCN)
Mario Power Tennis (GCN)
Mario Golf: Advance Tour (GBA)
Mario Superstar Baseball (GCN)
Super Mario Strikers (GCN)
Mario Tennis Power Tour (GBA)
Mario Hoops 3 on 3 (DS)
Super Mario Strikers Charged (Wii)
Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games (Wii)
Mario Super Sluggers (Wii)
Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Winger Games (Wii)
Mario Sports Mix (Wii)
Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games (Wii)
Mario Tennis Open (3DS)
3/20

Some might say an obvious follow up to Mario's  many cameos in in early NES sports games was to simply feature him as a character in them.  Mario had a couple of scattered sports games early on, but it wasn't until the N64 and Nintendo's partnership with Camelot Software that things really took off.  I loved Mario Tennis when it came out, and Hoops 3 on 3 was one of my favorite DS games, so going through the list of Mario Sports games, I was surprised how few of them I've really played.  I really want to give Mario Sports Mix a try, as it was made by the same team as Hoops 3 on 3 and includes a dodgeball game, and one of the new Tennis games would probably be as fun as the old ones, but I've just never plunked down the cash.  Perhaps it's due to my friends mostly preferring Fighters or First Person Shooters on the rare occasions we do hang out these days. 

Racing 9
Super Mario Kart (SNES)
Mario Kart 64 (N64)
Mario Kart Super Circuit (GBA)
Mario Kart Double Dash (GCN)
Mario Kart DS (DS)
Mario Kart Arcade GP (Arcade)
Mario Kart Arcade GP 2 (Arcade)
Mario Kart Wii (Wii)
Mario Kart 7 (3DS)
5/9

The Mario Kart series is odd, in that it's clearly its own seperate series, with completely different  from any other Mario game, and yet the theme feels so close, and they're just so good, they're practically their own sub-genre of racing games.  It's amazing to me that they're already on Mario Kart 7 with 8 set for release soon, especially when that doesn't count the arcade versions, both of which I've had to pleasure of playing, and recommend if you can find one nearby.

3d Platformers 5
Mario 64 (N64)
Super Mario Sunshine (GCN)
Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)
Super Mario 3d Land (3DS)
3/5
 
The 3d Platformers have been the "big" Mario game releases for the past 14 years or so, so it's interesting that there are only 5.  Mario 64 is one of my favorite games, Sunshine one of my least favorite, certainly my least favorite in the Mario franchise, and Galaxy had some really cool controls and concepts but ended up sort of meh.  Both Galaxy 2 and 3d land are at the top of my "to play" list right now, so I'm glad I can at least finish all of these before 3d world comes out.

RPGs 7
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)
Paper Mario (N64)
Mario and Luigi: Super Star Saga (GBA)
Paper Mario The thousand Year Door (GCN)
Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time (DS)
Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story (DS)
Paper Mario Sticker Star (3DS)
2/7

Paper Mario was a novel concept that I couldn't help but love when it was released, and as a big fan of Pokemon, but some one who didn't own a Super Nintendo, turn based combat was novel and interesting.  I've heard that great things have been done with the franchise since, but I've never played any of the Mario and Luigi games, and I've only barely touched Sticker star.  Still, that and Thousand Year Door are on my "to play" pile, and I'm very interested in finding a cheap copy of Super Star Saga.

Party 12
Mario Party (N64)
Mario Party 2 (N64)
Mario Party 3 (N64)
Mario Party 4 (GCN)
Mario Party 5 (GCN)
Mario Party 6 (GCN)
Mario Party 7 (GCN)
Mario Party Advance (GBA)
Mario Party 8 (Wii)
Mario Party DS (DS)
Fortune Street (Wii)
Mario Party 9 (Wii)
5/12

Man there have been a lot of Mario Party games.  I remember renting the first one and loving the concept.  I remember renting the second one and feeling they'd improved greatly, even if I missed some of the old maps.  I remember loving the third one, thinking they'd added plenty of new features and hit the top.  I remember buying the 4th and kind of hating it, it felt samey, and yet not as good as the third.  I stopped following the series after that, but have played Mario Party 8 and am curious about what could be done with the WiiU.  Fortune Street just arrived at my house today, it was only 11 bucks on amazon and I figured that made it worth trying, we'll see how I think it compares.

Other 6
Super Scope 6 (SNES)
Mario Paint (SNES)
Yoshi's Safari (SNES)
Hotel Mario (CD-i)
Mario Pinball Land (GBA)
Dance Dance Revolution Mario Mix (GCN)
0/6

Included for completeness, here are the Mario games that didn't fit anywhere else.  I havn't actually played any of them, so I don't have much comentary.

Spin Offs
Yoshi Story (N64)
Luigi's Mansion (GCN)
Yoshi Touch and Go (DS)
Yoshi Topsey Turvey (GBA)
Super Princess Peach (DS)
Yoshi's Island DS (DS)
Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS)
 1/6
Again, for completeness, these aren't really Mario games, but clearly spun out of them, so I included them.  Yoshi Story is the only one I played and it's a lot of fun.  I hear great things about the new Luigi's Mansion as well, so it's probably worth a look.

Now it's time for metrics.  By this count, Mario has been in 114 games.  As I said, the count is not complete, as I left off stuff like Mario 64 DS and some Japan only releases.  Of those I've played 31, or about 27%  If we remove the Spin Offs, Cameos and Educational games, the number drops to 89, of which I've played 29, or about 33% or a third of the games.  That means I have a ton to go, and in particular, I really want to track down some of the RPGs and Sports Titles from a few years back.  If we really drill down and only take the "core" games, that is the 2d sidescrollers and 3d platformers, the plumber has been in 19 games, of which I've played 10, which means I've played a little over half of them.  While it's a little depressing that I've left so many of my favorite characters games on the shelf, I'm really excited to try and make that number go up, especially with so many of the games available via things like Virtual Console.

I Love Videogames: Pokemon is Amazing.

This post contains links to TvTropes.  You have been warned.

I won't lie, this post is in serious danger of just being a love letter to Pokemon.  As I'm going to tackle that in my next series column, I'll try to keep that in check but Pokemon as a cultural event probably had as much influence on me as getting my NES when I was four, leading me to RPGs in general, anime, my first few girlfriends, and Pokemon Gold is the game I've clocked the most hours in, though League of Legends is probably fast approaching, with over 80 hours in my main save, and a second play through that was around 30, not to mention Heart Gold.

So last week I mentioned that the back of my Nintendo Power had this little fold out magazine called "Pokemon Power" with it's stupid little "Gotta Catch em All" catch phrase, that looked stupid.  What changed?

In the late 90s, Nintendo Power started releasing promotional VHS tapes for video games, mostly N64 games.  Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64 and Jet Force Gemini all got the treatment... which in hindsight are all Rareware games.  I never got any of those, but for some reason, maybe they knew it was going to be big and distributed more of them or maybe it was just luck of the draw, but one day in 1998 this came in the mail.



It was a few days before I watched it, obviously it was related to Pokemon Power, while the images on that were a bit more simplistic, having a style that looked more like game concept art than anime, I could still recognize Pikachu, even if I didn't know its name.  After a few days though, I got bored and popped it in.  And oh boy.

I don't have my copy of the tape any more, and I'm sure it was just cheesy marketing, but the effect it had on me.  I've scoured Youtube for a version, but unfortunately, it's been taken down by copyright infringement flags every time it's been posted.  I don't know that I'd link it here, it's probably really simple generic marketing, and it affected me way too much, but I'd love to see it just to figure out how they got me.  One little video, it was under 20 minutes long, and I went from a cynic who had stopped watching Power Rangers "cuz it was for babies" who felt the same about this Pokemon thing to quickly tearing out that copy of Pokemon power to scour it for any nuggets of new information.


I can't even really remember much about the tape.  It was from the point of view of Ash Ketchem's aunt, a character that of course never showed up anywhere else, and it had everything.  Clips from the cartoon, images of the game boy games and the explanation of different versions and trading pokemon, a huge collection of figurines that represented said Aunt's pokemon collection, a couple of trading cards... it was ready to launch this into a phenomenon.  And something about it really, really spoke to me.

The week the cartoon started, we were going on vacation and I begged my parents to go a week earlier.  No dice of course, and I missed the first five episodes, but I went from being barely able to get out of bed in time for school at 8:00 every day to being up promptly at 5:00 AM every day.  The cartoon was on at 6:00 where I lived, and I have to be ready for school before I could watch any TV.  I instantly started saving up money for a Gameboy, and convinced my brother to do the same so that we could get both the Red and Blue versions when they came out a few months later and begin trading.  I hounded toy stores looking for Pokemon cards.  I had had little obsessions before, but this was the first time I was really in the fandom for something.


And when Pokemon hit, it was really huge.  It's tempting to just say "you remember" but kids born in the year 2000, when the Pokemon wave was starting to crest will be Freshman in high school this year, so perhaps some explanation is in order.  It was easily the biggest fad in the 90s, other then perhaps Power Rangers, I was too young too really judge that one, but it was one of the first things to really get what could be done with multi-media.  Star Wars had tried similar things, but never to this extent, and Pokemon had a huge advantage.  The franchise had been going on for 2 years in Japan, there were 2 years of Comics, TV, Videogames, Trading Cards and Toys just needing a little localization.  Imagine Justin Beiber and Twilight as they are today, only good.  And literally having a little piece of everything kids liked.  


And I stand by Pokemon being good.  I recently watched some old episodes of Power Rangers, and they don't hold up at all, there was no effort put into the stories, the fight scenes were pretty good, but half of them were imported.  Pokemon on the other hand, touches something fundamental.  A few things really, one of the biggest things about it for me as a kid was a single minor line that I think was only in the anime.  When kids turned 10 years old, they could obtain their Pokemon license and go on and adventure.  I was 9 years old when Pokemon came out, and really a Pokemon adventure is all a kid could want.  Independence, self reliance and adventure all abound, and 10 is about when kids start to tire of their parents and feel they could do better on their own.  At the same time, Pokemon both represent friends, something every 10 year old wants more of, and pets, a responsibility that many kids try to prove themselves with.  At the same time, the large amount appeals greatly to those of us who like to collect things, and adding fantastical elements to already existing animals and myths means pretty much everyone has a base line to compare this fantasy world to.  Not to mention, while Pokemon design has faltered a bit recently, every generation has both really cool and really cute Pokemon, and Mewtwo and Charizard are just as iconic today as they always were.


So... I failed pretty hard core at not just making this post a love letter to Pokemon.  Hopefully it makes a good companion piece to my next series article detailing what I love so much about the Pokemon videogames specifically.  Next month, I'll try to go through my life after Pokemon, at least as far as videogames are concerned, and talk about the titles that have affected me from the post Nintendo 64 consoles.  Try being the key word, this column is supposed to be about why I have connections with specific games, so something may well side track me.  That said, Pokemon is still the only fantasy world that I still honestly wish was real.

I Love Videogames: How Videogames Found Me.

For my fourth and final column every month, (well most months) I actually found I didn’t have a real great idea. I thought I might do something like Tyler’s rants on the videogames he’s playing. I play a lot fewer videogames than he does, but there’s still more then one a month I want to talk about, as our “what have you been playing?” section proves every week. But we’ve never gone as in depth in these sections as I’d like and really talked about the things we play. That’s my fault as much as anyone else involved in the show, especially since some weeks all I play is League of Legends.  For my last column, I’ve decided to just talk about the games I love, modern and old, and why. And since I just shared how I got into Table Top RPGs, I figured I’d also share how I got into videogames and what they’ve meant to me.

The story of how I first got into videogames is pretty short. I had an aunt when I was much younger who was born a generation too early, in that it was kind of hard to pirate stuff in the 80s and 90s. That didn’t stop her though, and I owned hundreds of movies when I was a kid, because she’d record everything they owned or rented and send it to us, usually three movies per tape. Batman, Batman Returns, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, hundreds of movies I watched on tapes that were technically pirated. Something seemed off to me about it, but I was too young to get that it was illegal and simply enjoyed my bounty. Then, when I turned 4, movies lost that place in my heart. She sent me something far better an NES and a huge collection of games. I honestly don’t remember how many there were now, fewer than 20 probably, but it seemed gigantic. I was instantly aware of Super Mario, probably from the terrible cartoon, as I remember thinking the only thing that was missing from my collection was Sonic. 

That said, Super Mario Bros. Excitebike and Super Mario Bros. 3 were the only Nintendo classics in the bunch. I’d heard of Mega Man, but just the cartoon, I didn’t know he was a Nintendo game. A friend of mine had Metroid as I mentioned in that podcast, but Kirby and The Legend of Zelda were completely unknown to me. That said, a lot of the games I had were licensed games and back then, licensed games could some times be good, even great. On the podcast I’ve talked about Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers the first game I ever beat, a surprisingly good platformer made by Capcom. Another game deep in my memory is GI Joe The Atlantis Factor  another Capcom game that I loved. My favorite game at the time though was probably one made by Knoammi; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II, a port of the arcade game that would eventually be succeeded by the beloved SNES classic, Turtles in Time

I could just list the games I had as a kid and the fond memories as an entire series of articles, but those are the ones that stand out the most for whatever reason. There were plenty of games I didn’t like, or that were more mid range in my mind, and especially so when I found out about a place called Game Force. Game Force was a second hand videogame chain, very similar to GameStop now, although it was a far more local chain. They currently have four stores in the Colorado area, they used to have a lot more, but I don’t know if they ever got out of the state. Anyway, I found a place where I could trade in all the games I didn’t like for one that I wanted! My mom told me that it was a rip off, but I didn’t listen, and the first game I ever got for myself was Super Mario Bros. 2.

More importantly though, the guy at Game Force had a weird shaped cartridge with writing that was in Japanese. He told me it was a game for the Nintendo 64, a new console that was out in Japan and was coming to America soon. I had to have one. I begged my mom. They cost $400. She told me it was too much. I begged more. She told me if, by my birthday, I could save up $200, half the cost, she’d cover the rest. I saved like mad, and managed to meet the mark, and ended up getting Super Mario 64, Wave Race, and Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire as a birthday bonus. 

As an important aside here, I suck at videogames. This was even more true as a kid. The only game I could beat on my NES was Chip and Dale, a game that’s major flaw, in the eyes of most critics, was that it was too easy. The N64 was not much kinder to me, Wave Race wasn’t hard, but it was kind of boring. Relaxing might be a better word, I enjoyed the game, but never felt compelled to win races or unlock new content. I could beat the first few levels of Shadows of the Empire, but level 5 was huge by the standards of the time, and I couldn’t commit to beating it in a single sitting. To be fair, the game is only ten levels long. And Mario 64… well it took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to find my first star. I can beat it in under two hours now though, so showed it! 

Then, one day when my mom dragged me to King Supers and I was extra bored, and as we went through the magazine isle, something stood out to me. An issue of Nintendo Power. It had a list of what games were the best, with Super Mario 64 on top of course, and cheats, and previews of new games coming out, and guides about how to beat the games that were out already. I absolutely had to have it. My mom wasn’t the sort who would buy me something to shut me up in the store, but for whatever reason, she agreed to get me that, and it changed my life. 

I was constantly saving my money for new issues of Nintendo Power after that, and each time we went to the store I eagerly looked to see if there was a new one. At some point, I convinced my mom to let me pay her for a check so I could get a subscription to Nintendo Power, and they’d bring it right to my mail box, weeks before it made it to the store. It was amazing, and it introduced me to games I’d never even think of playing, games like Goldeneye, which my mom wouldn’t let me buy, and Mystical Ninja’s Starring Gomen. But in the back of an issue one month, was something that may have introduced me to the most important game of my life. A smaller magazine, named Pokemon Power. It looked like the stupidest thing I’d ever seen, and I left it attached. 

A few weeks later though, something unexpected came in the mail. A VHS tape. One I’ve tried to find on youtube many times since, and have succeeded only in finding videos talking about it, or copy write notices that say it’s been taken down. And what was on this mythical tape? I’ll tell you in a month.