Thursday, December 2, 2010

Retro Repost: 6 Best Video Game Characters of the Decade

Note: This article was originally published as part of my time as an Associated Content Featured Contributor to the Video Games Section. Associated Content was later bought by Yahoo! and renamed Yahoo! Voices. Yahoo Voices shut down in July of 2014. This article is being republished here on The Code, backdated to its original date of publication to remain as a record of my writing.

For all the progress video games have made in the past two decades as a both a vehicle of entertainment and as a vehicle of creative expression, the dearth of strong, independent female characters has been a shame. 

 Traditionally, female characters have been little more than eye-candy or adolescent fantasies for the assumed male demographic of games. The past ten years have shown an increase in the number of women as protagonists and supporting characters, developed as complex and intriguing characters in their own right. Here are six of the most well-developed women in video games that the past ten years have brought us.

6. Bonnie McFarlane 
Game: Red Dead Redemption

Equals turns caring and uncompromising, Bonnie McFarlane is an intriguing figure in the world of Red Dead Redemption. While she does help Marston, the main character, back to health, she also insists that he pay back doctor fees as he heals. This leads to her teaching Marston (and the player) the basics of how the game works. While Bonnie and Marston do become close and develop a relationship, is it that of mentor and friend. She doesn't fall into the role or damsel in distress, nor does she become the swooning love interest to the main character. She is firm but fair in helping Marston get back on his feet, and remains a witty, active presence throughout the entire game. She's worked hard as the daughter of a rancher, and both her demeanor and actions throughout the game make Bonnie a strong presence in Marston's quest for justice and redemption.

5. Lightning 
Game: Final Fantasy XIII
Lightning is the lead character of Final Fantasy XIII. Unlike the gravity-defying physique of Lara Croft or the campy dominatrix fashion of Bayonetta, Lightning favors a dark turtleneck 
 covered with a leather coat. In both action and dress, Lightning is designed to look powerful not to titillate. According to Motomu Toriyama, the director of Final Fantasy XIII, "In the past Final Fantasy titles, female characters in the leading role have traditionally been very... girl-you-want-to-protect... For Final Fantasy XIII, Lightning is not only beautiful, but she's very strong. She has this independence. In battle, she's very graceful in her movements, but she's very powerful and she's very speedy." Lightning also uses her training as a soldier to keep her cool in emergencies, and when the world seems to be falling down around her comrades, she is often the one who keeps a level head, calmly doing what needs to done.

4. Elena Fischer 
Game: Uncharted (Series)

Elena Fischer is a brave and fiercely independent reporter who has crossed paths with the Uncharted series' hero Nathan Drake several times. She dresses practically for the wilderness and jungle settings of the games. She is intelligent, amusing, witty, and not afraid to place her own life in danger if it will mean doing the right thing. She is so committed to doing the right thing that she will not hesitate to call out Nathan whenever he places his own selfish desires above his own morals. As the relationship between her and Nathan develops and deepens over the course of the series, nothing seems forced. She is every bit Nathan's equal and not afraid to take risks of her own.

3. The Boss 
Game: Metal Gear Solid 3

Solid Snake might be considered the embodiment of the Metal Gear series, but The Boss is the series' heart and soul, the foundation on which the entire series is built. In the Metal Gear universe, The Boss founded the US Special Forces, led Allied forces on D-Day, and gave birth on the battlefield after being shot, and develops the Close Quarters Combat System. And this is all before Metal Gear Solid 3 even starts! Once Metal Gear Solid 3 begins, she has been the combat mentor and comrade of the lead character, Naked Snake, for years. The Boss is in her mid-forties, and is still muscular with combat reflexes still sharp; she manages to single-handedly disarm, counter attack and defeat Naked Snake in a confrontation.

But the Boss isn't just strong because she can kick butt-- she is a patriot so devoted to her cause that she is willing to sacrifice her reputation by seemingly betraying her country even though she was really going deep undercover. To help a cold-war era US not be lead into a diplomatic incident or nuclear war, she was willing to become a scapegoat. When Snake and The Boss meet for a climactic final battle, although Snake emerges the winner, the true victor is The Boss because of the self sacrifice she makes for the greater good. Naked Snake is awarded the codename of "Big Boss" as the military way of declaring him to have surpassed The Boss, but Snake (and the player) know the truth that the rest of the world never will: The Boss is the game's real hero.

2. Alyx Vance 
Game: Half-Life 2

Alyx Vance is a supporting character in the Half Life 2 episodes that doesn't fall prey to the love interest or "she's powerful because she can blow things up" cliches. While she is a supporting character to Gordon freeman, Alyx is independent, strong, and powerful without it being the core of her characterization. She also has a wry sense of humor, rarely passing up the chance to crack jokes about the situations she and Gordon face along the way, whether it's a witty one liner or even imitating a zombie to break the tension. While she is at home toting a pistol or shotgun, Alyx is also a skilled hacker. She uses those talents to disable security systems, open up locked doors and even reprogram mines and turrets to attack the Combine, turning the invader's weapons against them.

Alyx is Half-Life 2's emotional center. She is nuanced and well-written, putting a human face to what would otherwise be seen as yet another grim and gritty post-apocalyptic science fiction game. She grows as a character and a person, eventually becoming a key figure in the resistance against the Combine.

1. Jade 
Game: Beyond Good & Evil

Jade is an unconventional heroine in an under-appreciated Playstation 2 game. While many video game protagonists search for power, wealth, dominance or some nebulously-defined sense of justice, Jade's motivation is more nuanced. She wants to expose the truth about a corrupt government and protect a children's orphanage. While she is agile and capable in hand to hand combat, beating faceless enemies down won't help her accomplish her goals, so she uses her greatest weapon: photojournalism.

In Beyond Good and Evil, Jade stealthily infiltrates factories, stockyards and even military bases, snapping pictures of the atrocities and crimes committed. She risks her life time and again to document the truth and spread the word to the public at large. Jade shows strength by supporting those she cares about, refusing to back down even when it means her life is threatened, all for her quest to reveal the truth. A nuanced, complex characterization by both the writing team and her voice actor, Jodi Forrest elevate the game Beyond Good and Evil from an average stealth game into a sleeper hit. Demand for the game's re-relase has been so high, in fact the a high definition re-release is slated for the Playstation Network and Xbox Live Arcade next year.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Retro Repost: THQ IS Wrong - How Used Game Sales Help The Industry

Note: This article was originally published as part of my time as an Associated Content Featured Contributor to the Video Games Section. Associated Content was later bought by Yahoo! and renamed Yahoo! Voices. Yahoo Voices shut down in July of 2014. This article is being republished here on The Code, backdated to its original date of publication to remain as a record of my writing.

The tension between video game publishers and the used games market boiled over last week. THQ creative director Cory Ledesma said in a CVG interview that "...when the game's bought used we get cheated," and further declared that THQ didn't "...really care whether used game buyers are upset because new game buyers get everything. So if used game buyers are upset... I don't really have much sympathy for them." Jerry Holkins, one half of the popular web comic Penny Arcade that has spawned a charity, two gaming conventions, merchandise and even a series of video games, went even further. Commenting on the controversy, he said "I honestly can't figure out how buying a used game was any better than piracy. From the perspective of a developer, they are almost certainly synonymous." With video games commanding billions of entertainment dollars, and the US recession still showing no signs of reversing, purchasing used games versus buying them new seems to be an increasingly polarizing issue. However, there is a strong case to be made that buying used video games is not only a morally sound practice but also a boost to the video games market.
Buying Used Games Is A Legal And Moral Right
Once you have purchased a video game, you own the game you bought. The rights of the creators of a copyrighted work, such as a video game, stop once the work has been sold (with the exception of making unauthorized copies). You have the right to the give away or sell property that you own to someone else if you want. It's called the "Right Of First Sale", and it's been a part of property law in the US for 102 years. In the more recent case of Vernor v. Autodesk, Inc. the court held that a retail purchase of a computer or console game has all the physical and commercial aspects of a sale, not a license. If if looks like a sale, walks like a sale, and quacks like a sale, then your have the same rights of first sale doctrine. That means that you can even resell it if you want; you're not infringing on any other rights.
A Customer Who Buys A Used Game Is Still A Customer
When a customer walks into a store and pays money to purchase a used game, they are already doing two out of three things a game company wants them to do. A sale is still being made, a game is still being purchased, monetary value is still being assigned. All a game company has to worry about in that case is providing enough of a value to the customer that the customer will decide to buy a new game instead of a used one next time.
Someone pirating a video game is not engaging in a sale, or assigning a monetary value to a game. A video game or software pirate is downloading an unauthorized copy for free. There is little a video game company could do from its end to change a pirate's behavior.
Sales of Used Games Fuel The Purchase of New Games
GameStop CEO Dan DeMatteo spoke to industry publication Gamasutra in 2008, saying that he expected the retail chain to give out approximately 800 million dollars in used video game credits, pointing out that these "... trade-in credits will go toward the purchase of new video games... [T]he consumer oftentimes.. needs that residual value from those games as a trade-in to be able to afford a new video game". Steve Perlman, speaking at the Design Innovate Communicate Entertain Summit in Las Vegas recently, established that the average price for a new video game is $60. With a recession that is showing no signs of reversing anytime soon, consumers are looking to stretch entertainment dollars even further. And sixty dollars is three times the average new release DVD or CD.
Industry analyst Micheal Pachter of Wedbush Morgan Securities says that the relationship between used video game sales and new game sales isn't parasitic, but mutually dependent, asserting that when customers get credit for used games, consumers buy more games, "Sometimes they buy new games. If, instead, they buy used games, so what?" he said in article for the Holywood Reporter. He continued, "In creating more demand for used games, it keeps the price of used games up, which means there is less cannibalization of new game sales."
Selling A Used Game Is Inherent In The Value Of The Game Itself
This value extends past the legal right of first sale. There is actual monetary value inherent in physical media that you own and can later give away or sell if you wish. When a company strips away the ability to re-sell, rent, or even lend out a game, that company is now delivering less of a value to its consumers.
For a salient example, one need look no further than conducting a Google search for "PSP Go" and "expensive". The PSP Go is similar to Sony's previous hand-held gaming console, the PSP, except it does not use physical media at all. All games are sold through a digital download system. These digital downloads are non transferable. These digital downloads are also priced at the same cost as traditional physical media. This, in essence, makes the consumer pay more for video games with less value. It's not hard to see why sales have been lackluster and consumers feel the PSP Go is an expensive proposition. It turned out that lots of people noticed they were paying physical media prices for digital media that can't be loaned, re-sold or lent out. There's always a market for the the latest and and coolest design, and PSP Go is a smaller and sleeker design than the original PSP. But the video games for the PSP Go weren't just the same price as comparable hand-held console games and other media. The games cost more while offering less value because they are not transferable.
Used Game Sales Help Video Game Retailers Large And Small Stay In Business
Wilm Stocks, the Executive Vice President at Atari acknowledged in a Hollywood Reporter interview that video game stores are balancing on very thin profit margins. saying "[I]f you talk to anybody in the used [video game sales] business, they'll tell you that they don't make enough margin on sales of new releases and that, in the large, expensive environments in which these guys operate -- in the mall-based stores -- that a three- or six-month delay becomes a problem for them." Customers playing a game and trading it it towards the purchase of a new game generate additional revenue for the store and video game publishers. As Patcher said, even customers who just buy used games end up reducing and internalizing market churn.
Used Game Sales Help Minimize Consumer Risk While Creating Potential Fans
While intense competition for entertainment dollars, being able to re-sell a game offers a built-in incentive to try a video game they might be unwilling to buy new. If a consumer is unsatisfied with the purchase, the customer can partially recoup their losses by selling or trading the game in. If the buyer of a used game likes the game, they may be more likely to purchase the next video game in the franchise, or other video games from the publisher.
The Video Game Industry Is Doing Just Fine
According to market research firm The NPD Group, Infinity Ward's Modern Warfare 2 sold 550 million dollars worth of video games in just five days. After 2 months of being released Modern Warfare 2 achieved sales of a billion dollars. Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto 4 sold over 3 million copies the first week it was out, and as of Spring 2010, it had sold a total of 17 million copies.
In conclusion, while video game companies may have issues with retails that sell used video games, there is nothing wring with a consumer choosing to purchase a used video game. It is a legal right, and in a period of increasing costs and shrinking disposable income, a legitimate choice.

Monday, August 30, 2010

7 Best Video Game Influenced Rap Tracks

Note: This article was originally published as part of my time as an Associated Content Featured Contributor to the Video Games Section. Associated Content was later bought by Yahoo! and renamed Yahoo! Voices. Yahoo Voices shut down in July of 2014. This article is being republished here on The Code, backdated to its original date of publication to remain as a record of my writing.

Whether it's rappers taking part in Madden NFL and fighting game tournaments, or Snoop Dogg launching his own Hip Hop Gaming League in 2006, the art and entertainment of rap music and video games have had an interdependent relationship for decades. Today, we look at the top six rap tracks about or influenced by video games.

7. "Human Video Game"
Artist: DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince feat. Ready C.
Album: He's The DJ, I'm The Rapper

Fresh off the success of Rock The House, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince's follow-up album is mostly remembered for the hit single "Parents Just Don't Understand". However, the last track, "Human Video Game" features Will Smith rapping about how he was a video game addict that spent so much time there patrons "thought that I worked there, and asked me for change". He talks about how his favorite game was Donkey Kong, and how he struck up a friendship with beat-boxing master Ready C. This rap tells how Will Smith and Ready C became friends when Ready C demonstrated how he could imitate all the music and sound effects from the game.

Sample lyrics:
"Ever since I was younger, I was into video games/ Tron or whatever, it didn't matter the name/ Thousands of my dollars have been poured/ Into all types of games, tryin' to get the high score!"

6. "Final Battle"
Artist: Random feat. Loose
Album: Mega Ran

Random is a rapper and producer who has worked with rap and hip-hop luminaries like Talib Kweli, Common, and Immortal Technique. Random is also a huge Mega Man fan, as evidenced by the the release of the album Mega Ran, in which every track samples from a Mega Man game. In "Final Battle", Loose and Random rap over a beat sampled from Mega Man 6. "Final Battle" narrates the struggles of the Mega Ran character with parallels to the Mega Man character, leading into the final track of the album about growing up.

5. "Little Weapon:
Artist: Lupe Fiasco
Album: The Cool

Lupe Fiasco has a reputation for complex, layered rhymes and equally complex lyrical content. "Little Weapon" is no different as it examines the culture of violence that surrounds kids, from child soldiers in Africa to inner-city high school kids. Then Lupe flips the script, showing that something that sounds so sad and oppressive in some parts of the world serves as entertainment in other parts of the world, comparing the violence of war to the violence of video games.

Sample lyrics:
"Imagine if I had to console/ the family of those I slay on game consoles/ ... Press B for the bombs/ press pause for your moms/ make the room silent/ she don't approve of violent games"

4. "It Is Pitch Dark"
Artist: MC Frontalot
Album: Secrets From The Future

Damian Hess, more famously known as MC Frontalot, coined the term "nerdcore" for the style of rap focused on traditionally nerdy subjects like computers or science fiction. So it might not surprise you to learn that MC Frontalot is a fan of interactive text adventures like the classic Infocom game "Zork". The track "It Is Pitch Dark" directly references the horrible monster from Zork, as well as the conventions inherent in text-based adventure games in general.

Sample lyrics:
"You are likely to be eaten by a grue/ If this predicament seems particularly cruel/ Consider whose fault it could be:/ not a torch or a match in your inventory."

3. "Gaming On Ya"
Artist: People Under The Stairs
Album: Fun DMC

People Under The Stairs are part of the west coast underground hip hop scene. They describe themselves as "party rappers" with a sound that is distinctly old-school, so it's appropriate that the track "Gaming On Ya" is chock full of lyrics that not only name drop classic arcade games, but also extensively sample sound effects and tunes from arcade games and NES classics for the track's beat-bed.

Sample lyrics:
"They call me Chubby Cherub/ They kickin' it old school/ She passed me some mushrooms/ Heard she likes Bad Dudes/ We stopped at Burger Time an' snuk into the bathroom"

2. "NES"
Artist: YTCracker
Album: N.E.S.: Nerdrap Entertainment System

YTCracker is the self-proclaimed "original digital gangster" of nerdcore rap, having rapped about his exploits as a former hacker since '96. When he released the album Nerdrap Entertainment System for free in 2007, it took the Internet by storm. While every track has remixed versions of NES music, the track "NES" has the most overt video game references.

Sample lyrics:
"Jump on the cannon/ the brick's where I'm landin '/ gotta get the triforce, gotta beat Gannon / They called him The Wizard in California / Power glove on my wrist just had to warn ya"

1. "Protoculture"
Artist: Del Tha Funkee Homosapien feat. Khaos Unique
Album: Both Sides of the Brain

Del Tha Funkee Homosapien and Khaos Unique rap over a sampled beat from Morrigan's stage in the Capcom fighting game Darkstalkers, but the video game connection doesn't stop there. They recount their lifelong love of video games, from the Collecovision and NES consoles in the 80s to the rise of 16 bit video games, first person shooters, 32-bit consoles, and even importing video games from Japan. "Protoculture" is a love letter to a lifetime of video game enthusiasm, and name checks everything from failed marketing efforts at SEGA to console RPGs like Xenogears and racing games like Daytona USA and SEGA Rally.

Sample lyrics:
"To anyone who knew me better/ Know I chose Saturn first cause it's 2-D heaven/ Bernie Stolar dropped the ball with the RAM cartridge/ X-men Vs. Street Fighter could've expanded the market!" 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Top 9 Easiest Boss Fights Ever (Retro Repost)

Note: This article was originally published as part of my time as an Associated Content Featured Contributor to the Video Games Section. Associated Content was later bought by Yahoo! and renamed Yahoo! Voices. Yahoo Voices shut down in July of 2014. This article is being republished here on The Code, backdated to its original date of publication to remain as a record of my writing.

In most video games, boss fights are used as a level's penultimate challenge. A challenging boss fight will give the player's reflexes and gray matter a good workout. A difficult boss fight will make you feel like you
 are climbing the rungs of the ladder of progress. The following nine boss fights, however, feel more like speed bumps. Read on for the ten easiest boss fights in video game history.

9. Mysterio
Game: Spider-Man 2 

Spider-Man faces a bevy of colorful and intimidating villains in Spider-Man 2. Mysterio makes a grand entrance-- or, as grand as you can be while holding up a convenience store. His metallic voice and outlandish costume recall classic science-fiction B movies, and while he dramatically declares his intent to destroy Spider-Man, you see his life bar fill up one, twice, and then three times. You'd be forgiven for assuming the battle might take a few tries.

However, just one swift punch will send Mysterio flying across the room, down to zero health-- and down for the count. He even begs you not to hit him again.

8. Old King Coal
Game: Banjo-Tooie

Some boss fights can be easier if you know what patterns to avoid, or the right weapon to use. The fight against Old King Coal takes this to new heights. If you stand on any of the half dozen or so large black coal platforms, his area-of-attack power to superheat the ground will not affect you. His erratic and random dashing attacks will always just barely miss you. And if you have any Ice Eggs handy, they will do a whopping 5 points of damage against him, more than even the powerful Grenade Eggs, reducing Old King Coal to dust in no time flat.

7. Chloe Walsh
Game: No More Heroes 2

Chloe Walsh seems like she'd be a challenge at first glance. She can spit poison acid, scream to unleash a sonic wave and even shoot laser beams from her eyes. However, these attacks are clearly telegraphed, easy to avoid altogether, and do very little damage. Her total health is so low that you can defeat Chloe in about 50 seconds. On the hardest difficulty mode in the game.

6. Lanmola's Shadow
Game: Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening 

Lanmola's Shadow is the second-to-last form that the final boss Nightmare takes in Link's Awakening. In the Lanmola's Shadow form, the boss becomes a very fast enemy that zips around the small room that Link is trapped in, and if you use Link's trusty sword, you will spend a sizable amount of time dodging out of the way and then waiting for just the right moment to swipe at its weak point with your sword. If you use any other weapon you have, though-- a Bomb, a swing of the Magic Rod, one hit from the Hookshot, or even a love tap from the humble Boomerang-- this form can be defeated in a single hit.

5. Flash Man
Game: Mega Man 2 

Flash Man has the power to stop time, but if you have the Metal Blades, this boss won't even have a chance to blink. Once you get the Metal Blade power up in Mega, the Blue Bomber can cut swathes of destruction, reducing regular enemies and mid-bosses in the various stages to a bucket of bolts easily. However, the Metal Blades also make fighting the boss Flash Man a joke. If you start the battle with the Metal Blades, you can simply enter the boss battle room, fire them in straight line and defeat Flash Man without having to take a single step.

4. Cloud N. Candy
Game: Yoshi's Story 

This boss is a large smiling cloud that takes up a quarter of the screen. His offense consists of a single weak hop that gives you plenty of time to dodge or slip under. And Cloud N. Candy isn't even good enough to be defeated by the normal method of throwing a baker's dozen worth of eggs at the boss. No, instead the way you beat this boss is by licking it to death, watching it get smaller and smaller. If you somehow bump into him and take damage, don't worry-- every single lick of Cloud N. Candy heals you!

Of course, as much as a walk in the park those previous six bosses were, they did offer a modicum of challenge. They were capable of dealing damage. At least the bosses you've read about so far could theoretically defeat the player. These final three have earned their spots because there is absolutely, positively no way that you can lose to them at all.

3. Bob The Goldfish
Game: Earthworm Jim 

Normally, when you bump into a boss or touch it in any way, you will lose health. In some games, any contact with the enemy results in instant death. But when facing off against Bob the Goldfish, bumping into him is the key to defeating him. You win the "fight" against Bob by making Earthworm Jim run into the table Bob the Goldfish's bowl is standing on, sending the goldfish's bowl careening off the table and shattering on the floor. And if you just stand there and do nothing? Bob is content to just stay in his bowl. He's a goldfish, after all.

2. Golem Overlord
Game: Chrono Trigger

This spiky, demonic-looking boss talks a good game. He start a 5 second countdown to a powerful attack... that he never executes. Why? Because he's afraid of heights. That's right, this boss will stop attacking you to
 tell you he's afraid of heights, so you can whack at him like he was a really ugly piƱata until he dies. In fact, the Golem Overlord will never lay a hand on the party for the rest of the battle. And if by some twist of fate you have not managed to inflict enough damage to defeat him after a certain number of rounds, the Golem Lord will harmlessly self-destruct.

That's right, the Golem Overlord will actually defeat HIMSELF.

And while these previous two video game bosses were both incredibly easy and impossible to be defeated by, there's only one boss in the history of video games whose ease of defeat and inability to defeat you actually cheapened the impact of the game's story. The easiest boss battle in video games history goes to...

1. Sephiroth
Game: Final Fantasy VII 

The very last time Cloud faces Sephiroth, a battle that is mano-a-mano, Sephiroth is just a human. Cloud is fully healed with his Ultimate Limit Break, Omnislash, already enabled. It would certainly make sense that Cloud could vanquish in one hit his hated rival by using his ultimate attack. In fact, it makes this symbolic battle a little dramatic and poignant. Or, at least it would be if it wasn't also true that any attack you made at all would finish Sephiroth in one hit. The simple low level fire spell. A simple swipe of the sword. And if you just sit there and let Sephiroth attack you? Cloud will automatically launch a counter-attack, even if he doesn't normally have that ability. 

No matter what you do, Sephiroth cannot defeat you, and will fall in a single hit. This takes what could have been a more dramatically satisfying battle and robs it of its essential climax. It also makes the final appearance of Sephiroth in Final Fantasy VII the easiest boss battle in history. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

7 Hardest Video Game Boss Fights

Note: This article was originally published as part of my time as an Associated Content Featured Contributor to the Video Games Section. Associated Content was later bought by Yahoo! and renamed Yahoo! Voices. Yahoo Voices shut down in July of 2014. This article is being republished here on The Code, backdated to its original date of publication to remain as a record of my writing.

All that stands between your hero and the ending credits of a video game is the final boss. All of the reflexes you've honed, the tricks you've learned, the strategies you've practiced elsewhere in the game come down to
 one final battle. Not all final boss fights are created equal, though. Here's a look at the seven hardest boss fights the history of video games have to offer.

7. Ultimecia
Game: Final Fantasy VIII
System: Sony Playstation 

Final Fantasy VIII is a game that has been a point of contention with some Final Fantasy fans. Fans complain about the final boss as the game's true villain not being introduced until very late in the story. Fans complain the characters and their angst. Many fans even complain about the magic Junction system. However, all of these elements combine to make Ultimecia a formidable final boss. First of all, the final boss is actually three fights in a row as she phases between past, present and future. She seems like a pushover in her first form. She becomes a bit tougher in the second phase, stealing the hero's innermost thoughts to summon a very strong beast to fight the party before merging with it herself. But but the last phase of the battle becomes hair-pullingly difficult . Why? Ultimecia takes the Junction system that is also used to to boost the stats of your heroes and strips them away. Forever. That's right, the final boss permanently de-buffs your characters. Should one of your characters die, then they sucked away into a time void and can't be brought back. Talk about a game over.

Game: Double Dragon
System: Arcade 

This final boss fight in Double Dragon stacks the deck against you. Willy has a lot of health, and moves faster than any of the other enemies in the game. While you are stuck with punches and kicks, Willy uses a machine gun. While that sounds a little unfair, at least you have the advantage of pumping quarter after quarter into the game until you defeat him, right? Wrong. As soon as you get to Willy, you can only pay for three more continues. If you can't beat the final boss in under three continues, then you get an automatic game over and have to start the game all over again from the beginning.

5. The Origin
Game: Radiant Silvergun
System: Sega Saturn

Radiant Silvergun is considered by many shoot-em-up fans as the pinnacle of the genre. But for all of the unique elements that made Radiant Silvergun a stand-out space shooter, it was the game's final boss that made this game unique. Instead of a two dimensional alien boss that fills up half the screen as would be expected for a top-down shooter from Japan, Radiant Silvergun's boss is a giant 3 dimensional robot that runs around the screen along a flight path. This boss fight flips the script by now making you have to think in three dimensions while the screen is filled with so many bullets that you run a very real risk of blundering into a stray bullet if you so much as blink.

4.Mike Tyson
Game: Mike Tyson's Punch-Out
System: NES 

Just getting to Mike Tyson is a challenge. The boxers get progressively difficult as you advance through three circuits. Mike Tyson is leagues ahead of every boxer that you face before him. For the first minute and a half of the first round he will do nothing but throw jabs that, if they land, will knock you down in just one hit. What's worse is that his punches can't be blocked; a block still counts as a hit and down you'll go. His punches can only be dodged. Also, unlike every other boxer in the game, Mike Tyson has no one-hit weakness. You'll have to slowly chip away at his stamina, and hope you don't get knocked out.

3. The Boss
Game: Metal Gear Solid 3
System: Playstation 2

The final boss fight with Metal Gear Solid 3's The Boss serves as an endcap to not just the emotional arc of the story, but also requires the player to draw on every skill in stealth, camouflage, close quarters fighting, and gun play. The fight takes place in a rolling field full of white flowers that make absolute mastery of camouflage a must for having a chance at winning. And you can't just button-mash your way through any close quarters combat, because The Boss is Snake's equal and can easily counter most of the hand-to-hand action you throw her way. Also, you have to take her down in ten minutes, or the carpet bombing that's been called in will obliterate you, leading to a game over.

2. Last Boss
Contra Hard Corps
Sega Genesis

Contra Hard Corps was one of the few games that was actually made more difficult for its North American release. While the Japanese version gave the player a 3-hit life bar, the US version has one hit kills. The
 Japanese version gave the player unlimited continues. The US version only gave the player five. This game's final boss has several forms it transforms into, each more bizarre-looking and difficult than the last. It starts as a humanoid that hovers in the upper right corner, tosses a dozen deadly energy balls per second, then shifts to the left hand corner of the screen and does the same. When it lands, it can shoot energy beams half the length of the screen, and can dash across the the screen in a blink of an eye. After you defeat this form, it transforms into a two headed creature that can shoot fireballs and energy blasts from either mouth. The neck can extended the entire length of the screen and with a shake of the head, will also raining energy balls that will fall from above, scattered in the 1/4 of the screen you can move in. Beat this form and it tranforms once again, this time into a whirling ball of skulls and alien faces that can expand to fill most of the screen, leaving only the extreme lower right and left corners safe, having to shoot the "core" in the middle, with space to do so for a split second. Hope you have enough continues saved up.

1.Mushihimesama Futari
"Spiritual Larsa"
Arcade/X-Box 360

They say a picture can be worth a thousand words, but in the game Mushihimesama Futari , only a video can truly express how well deserved the final boss demonstrates the genre of "bullet hell":

Featuring a final boss fight that requires razor-sharp reflexes, Spiritual Larsa will unleash wave after waves of bullets that fill the screen like rain. The only safe spaces for the ship are mere pixels wide, and those safe zones last for but a split second. Mushihimesama Futari truly deserves the title of hardest final boss fight.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Retro Repost: 10 Most Ridiculous Video Game Products

Note: This article was originally published during my time as an Associated Content Featured Contributor to the Video Games Section. Associated Content was later bought by Yahoo! and renamed Yahoo! Voices. Yahoo Voices shut down in July of 2014. This article was later featured on the front page of Yahoo! in the Yahoo! Buzz section, as screen-capped here: 

In this format, it was renamed the "Top 9 Most Ridiculous Video Game Products" (they omitted the Sega Saturn to Dreamcast controller converter. Yahoo! shut down its Buzz section sometime in late 2012. This article is being republished here on The Code, backdated to its original date of publication to remain as a record of my writing. 

Consumers spent over $25 billion dollars on video games last year, according to Today's Gamers Survey by Newzoo and TNS. Video games as an industry have been around for over a quarter of a century. Billions of dollars and decades of being around have meant that video games have also given rise to other merchandising efforts: promotional tie-ins, spin-offs, and accessories. With so much history and so much money being spent, there were bound to be a few video game products that were clunkers. Here are the ten of the most ridiculous video game products ever released.

10. Nintendo Cereal System
Released by Ralston in 1989, the Nintendo Cereal System was a limited edition of cereal designed to cash in on the popularity of the Nintendo Entertainment System. The box of cereal was divided into two halves. One half had Super Mario Bros. inspired fruit-flavored Mario pieces, along with mushrooms, Koopa Troopas, Bowsers, and Goombas. The other half promoted The Legend of Zelda and had berry-flavored cereal shapes of Link, along with other items from the video game like shields, boomerangs, hearts and keys. The cereal itself was bland and unexciting, tasting like an even sweeter Trix knockoff, but that wasn't really the main selling point. The back of the box featured Nintendo trading cards, Nintendo stickers and a contest entry to win a Super Mario Bros. cereal bowl, or a Nintendo Power Pad.

Though the cereal was only produced for one year, the flavor of nostalgia is still strong with the gaming enthusiasts of today; sales of vintage boxes of the Nintendo Cereal System often reach a hundred dollars or more on E*bay.

9. Sony Pocketstation

Released in 1999 in Japan, the Pocketstation was a memory card for the Sony Playstation console that had an LCD screen, flash memory and a built-in real-time clock. The Pocketstation garnered some attention in the US when it was announced that Final Fantasy VIII's US release would retain the Pocketstation mini-game present in the Japanese version. Eager gamers who paid the exorbitant import prices were rewarded with the ability to play a Chocobo-themed mini game... and that was about it. After you had paid more than a Game Boy or a Playstation memory card to get a much tinier screen with games that weren't all that fun, and a memory capacity no better than the cheapest memory card, you can understand why most importers were disappointed.

8. Total Control Saturn To Dreamcast Adapter

This device allowed a Sega Dreamcast owner to use Sega Saturn peripherals on the console's successor, the Sega Dreamcast. While the idea behind this device may seem like a good idea at first blush, there are two major problems with this product. First of all, the demand for the Total Control Saturn To Dreamcast Adapter was going to be low in the first place, as the reason the Sega Saturn was discontinued was due to slumping sales. The second problem was that instead of building backwards compatibility for controllers into the console, as Sony has done with its Playstation lineup, Sega was essentially requiring customers to pay for a feature that should have been included in a next generation console.

7. U-Force

Released in 1989 by software company Broderbund, the U-Force was actually a hardware release. It was a controller for the Nintendo Entertainment system that unfolded like a sort of laptop computer and used infrared beams and flat panel sensors to translate the motions the player made in front of it into what the video game would interpret as button presses. It sounded unbelievably futuristic when it was announced, and television commercials showed clips of gamers sticking and moving, unleashing devastating right-left-right punch combinations in Mike Tyson's Punch Out by throwing actual punches.

In practice, the infrared beams were very weak. The motions required a lot of effort to even register, and in many cases, the U-Force made a video game even more difficult to control. It proved to be a critical flop, even years later when IGN named it one of the 10 Worst Controllers of All Time.

6. Wii Hip Street Cheer Pom Poms

Kobian USA released this Nintendo Wii accessory last year, hoping to ride the bandwagon of the spate of cheerleading games on the Wii. For the low, low price of 20 dollars, the Wii Hip Street Cheer Pom Poms can be strapped onto the end of your Wii Remote and Nunchuck controllers, and... do... ...well, that's it. You've now paid 20 dollars for cheaply made pom-poms that dangle off of your Wii controllers and do nothing else. And if you bought this set hoping to make the most popular cheerleader series, We
 Cheer, more fun? Well, you are going to have to buy a second set, as the Wii Hip Street Cheer Pom Poms set has one attachment for a Wii Remote and one attachment for the Nunchuck controller; the We Cheer series uses two Wii Remotes simultaneously.

5. Gamer Grub

It turns out that the 1980s don't have a complete lock on ridiculous video game related food items. Gamer Grub was introduced as a "performance snack formulated especially for gamers" because it was engineered to be grease-free and crumb free so that you wouldn't clog up your keyboards or gunk up your controllers. Also, you didn't have to bother with the restraints of civilization commonly called "utensils". The Gamer Grub package was designed to be torn open and tilted directly at your open mouth so that you could keep playing with your free hand.

As if the one-handed junk food that fed into gamer stereotypes (as well as gamer waistlines) wasn't bad enough, the names of the flavors were laughable. With flavors like Action Pizza, Racing Wasabi, Strategy Chocolate and Sports PB&J, Gamer Grub marketing made the promoters of GoGurt look like geniuses in comparison.

4. Wii Party Station

The Wii Party Station demonstrates why video games and food just don't seem to work well together. Video game accessory maker Nyoko first debuted the Wii Party station prototype at the 2007 Electronic Entertainment Expo. It featured a hand fan unit to cool off sweaty palms, a tiny storage try, and four separate LED screens for presumably keeping score. What drove this accessory from the boring into the ridiculous were all its additional features: four plastic cup holders with freezable liners, and a shallow bowl in the center to store chips and dip.

While storing greasy chips in a chintzy plastic bowl atop a unit that has a hand fan out of a bowling alley might seem to be the key reasons Nyoko sent this product idea back to the drawing board after a much-hyped release, it turns out that the rising prices of oil have made the amount of plastic used for the accessory too expensive. So the world has been spared this plastic monstrosity. For now.

3. Sega Dreamcast Fishing Rod

Released in 1998 alongside the inexplicably popular Sega Bass Fishing video game, this official Sega accessory attempted to make the typical fishing video game more realistic by releasing this video game controller shaped like the fishing rod and reel. Unfortunately, since the Sega Dreamcast games didn't officially support any sort of controller vibration or motion controls, all this gave you was a more frustrating experience as you struggled to use the analog thumbsticks and other buttons attached to a heavy lump of oddly shaped plastic.

2. Power Glove

Released in 1989, the Power Glove was an accessory for the Nintendo Entertainment System that attempted to bring a virtual reality type control to the game console experience. It was a black and white glove that fit over the hand that also contained a joypad and keypad across the forearm. It was an accessory that received prominent product placement in the Nintendo-produced drama-comedy The Wizard, about the adventures of a group of tweens entering a video game contest. The movie's antagonist, Lucas, showed off the Power Glove in what would become an Internet meme two decades later when he uttered the line, "I love the Power Glove. It's so bad."

In the late 80's "bad" was slang for good. But as it turned out, "bad" meaning "not achieving an adequate standard; poor" was much more accurate. Most games were not specifically designed for the alternate range of motion the Power Glove offered, making attempts to play video games designed for use with a standard controller difficult to play. The glove was usually awkward or ill-fitting, and the forearm mounted controller pad usually seemed like it was just in the way. Only two games were ever released for use specifically with the Power Glove. One, Super Power Ball, was packed in with the Power Glove for free. The other game, Bad Street Brawler, was a critical and financial flop. Additionally, both Power Glove designed games could also be played with regular joysticks or controllers, making the Power Glove a superfluous purchase at best.

This list has spanned two decades' worth of video game accessories for many systems. And two of the preceding spots on this list were taken up by two Nintendo Wii accessories. The Wii itself is known for having a number of third-party accessories that add little to the gaming experience, from steering wheel attachments to fake tennis rackets that snap onto the end of a Wii Remote. In such a distinguished field, what video game product could possibly stand apart from the rest? What accessory could soar above the Power Glove to take the throne of number one most ridiculous video game product? Say hello to the...

1. CTA Wings for the Nintendo Wii
The CTA Wings are designed to be used for one specific mini-game for Wii Fit
 Plus game called Bird's-Eye Bull's-Eye. According to The Escapist, the Wings are promised to let you "truly experience what its like to be a bird". How does it accomplish this? It's simple: you take these "wings" that look like over-sized pot holders, slip your hands and arms through the loops, strap on the Wings, and then flap your arms up and down like a bird while holding a Wii Remote.

That's right, the CTA Wings do nothing except make you look even more ridiculous, and all for the sake of a single mini game on a popular title for the Wii.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Controller Company teams with Video Gamer With MS To Make Video Games More Accessible

Steve Spohn has from muscular dystrophy. He is also an avid gamer. With a bag of rice, some duct tape and Xbox 360 controller parts, he is working with a video game accessory company to keep himself in the game.

Arizona-based Evil Controllers specializes in modding video game controllers to make them accessible to gamers that have special needs. Steve's prototype X-box controller is modular. That means that every input component, from the buttons to the directional pads to the thumb-sticks can be positioned and repositioned however the user needs. They also have created a set of buttons that employ the use of mobility Steve has by rigging another pair of buttons that are activated when he shrugs his shoulders.

The controller in the video below is a prototype of a model Evil Controller hopes to produce and mass market.

Accessibility in video games is something that I think both game developers-- and more importantly, console manufacturers-- sorely need to improve upon.

The big thing in gaming from Nintendo's WiiMotion, Sony's Playstation Move and Microsoft's Project natal are all about encouraging people to control a video game by getting up and moving around. While it is an exciting and immersive development, it's not very inclusive to the disabled community.

You'd figure that increasing the user base for video game would be a good thing! Larger audience means more money, right? While I understand the economic realities of making and manufacturing different peripherals might incur extra espense, there are some things that seem like a no-brainer to me. Like closed captioning in all games with speech. A mode for colorblind players (I have seen this in PopCap Games' Peggle series and wondered why more companies don't do this). And... more I probably can't think of.

What about you, members of the gamer and disability community? What would you like to see?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Signal boost: Your Money Where Your Mouth Is Edition

From Nick Mahatmas' blog:

"I noticed that the Readercon programming schedule is up and that there is to be a panel on racial diversity and cover art. Further [info]james_nicoll has collected a couple of links about the malaise in science fiction—either there is no science, or the science is just a magical Singularity of nanotech and bad manners and rudeness toward sexbots or something.

To all of which I can only respond:

The Next Continent

I mean, the people who complain about whitewashed covers are going to be interested in books with accurate covers, are they not? The readers hmmphing about the lack of realistic hard science are surely going to be interested in a novel about a private mission to the moon, neh? So I can Bookscan my title here every week and see the regional buying patterns change based on the publicly announced pent-up demand for both near-term hard SF and stuff that's reflective of the ethnic diversity of the planet in some way, yah?

Because I'm gonna start tracking you all. "

New Retro Review Up

I have a new Retro Review up, this time giving an in-depth look at one of the Nintendo Game Boy Advance's swan-song RPGs... Summon Night: Swordcraft Story 2.

Jake Gyllenhaal Stole Gamer's Video Game and Identity

... metaphorically.

Sara Haghdoosti is a 22-year-old Iranian-Australian feminist writer, active with GetUp! Australia, and has been a lifelong fan of the the Prince of Persia video game series, ever since the very first game for the PC.

So she was very excited when the Prince of Persia movie was first announced... and then very disappointed when the movie was first released.
Why does she feel the Prince of Persia movie took computer games the she loved as a child and ruined them in a movie based on those video games as an adult?

She explains:

"As a child I loved the computer games. They weren’t just fun, they gave me an easy way to talk to and relate to others over something that was special to me and my heritage. As an adult, I feel like the movie has totally wiped out that aspect of it. The movie has reduced my identity, my heritage and my cultural background to lighting and make up.

Why should we care about the casting of the latest Hollywood epic action film? Castings of movies like the ‘Prince of Persia’ are important because we know that media images have profound impacts on our identities. "

Nick Mahatmas also explains and points out that the physical and cultural identities are whitewashed or papered over in his review of the film. To wit:

"Are non-white characters being played by white people? Of course! Everyone already knows that Jake Gyllenhaal is the titular Prince Dastan, but he's not the only blue-eyed Persian in this flick. There's two older brothers, one a blue-eyed guy who looks sort of like a Mormon Jesus Christ, and another, angrier brother who is at least dark-complected, but he looks more like Zack de la Rocha than anything else. (Next up for Disney—Martin Mull IS Barack Obama in The Audacity of Hope: The Imax Experience.)... Persia is a pretty neat place, actually. Maybe one day someone will make a cool fantasy movie about it. "

M. Night Shamalyan-directed The Last Airbender, the live-action movie based on the Nickeloden cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender, has encountered similar protests and charges of erasing and whitewashing all of the pan-Asian influences of the show-- changing the Chinese calligraphy to nonsense glyphs, and casting all of the principal lead characters, who were Asian in the show, white white actors instead. There has even been an activist group, Racebending that has been writing about and addressing the controversy for nearly two years.

What do you think we can do, as gamers and as activists and people who care, about the distressing tendency of whitewashing or under-representation? Will you vote with your wallet? Write letters? Speak out to your friends? Or if it doesn't affect you, do you say it's not a big deal? Why does or does it not matter to you?

Share This Post