Week of March 6th: Do Video Games Dream of 3D-Rendered Pixelated Sheep?
This week we're going to tell you all about Grandma's adventures in World Championship Poker 2 (XBox), World Championship Poker (DS), King Kong (XBox 360), and Taiko Drum Master (PS2).
We were also going to talk a little bit about the terrifying concept of existentialist video game characters in a Pirandellian tragedy describing the cruel and bitter relationship between innocent virtual beings and their creators, but.... I forgot what I was going to say. So I'll guess we'll have to wait on that one.
Grandma used to carry around a cheap LCD video poker game so that she could get her gambling fix in situations in which making a stop at the track and betting the car payment on "Red Red Rose" wouldn't be appropriate. She had a general casino game for the SNES, "Super Caesar's Palace," but the ability to play online against other people online on a console only came recently. For Grandma, it came with World Championship Poker for the XBox. WCP isn't graphically impressive, but it gets the job done in a raw sort of way. She's put enough hours into the thing to qualify for some sort of intervention, so, naturally, she thought the best thing to do would be to move on to the sequel.
She put it off for a while, racking up over $2 billion in her file. The day finally came that would provide the necessary catalyst for CHANGE.
She fucked up.
In her defense, you play a game for hours and hours and hours, and hitting "Do You Want To Save?" [...Yes...] "Are You Sure You Want To Overwrite?" [...Yes...] becomes as natural as slapping the children where bruises won't show. Right thumb to A, press A, left thumb press to down, press A. It's physical memory conditioning, and it's a BITCH when it fucks with your save.
$2.2 billion is a lot of money to lose at the tables in one sitting, but Grandma was unfazed. See, WCP has a neat little feature where, if you don't save your winnings or losses after an online session, you revert to the previous save. So Grandma, as she had done hundreds of times before, would just exit the XBox Live menu and- ...what's this? Do I want to save? Oh, alrighty I almost forgot... NO- NO! WAIT!!! FUCK!!!!! And it was all gone.
She was left with $25.00 bucks.
We went to the store that afternoon.
We had kept an eye out for it previously, but hadn't really seen it. We knew Best Buy didn't have it, and EB games were "fresh out of copies." We trekked into Aurora and checked GameStop, but they didn't have it either. "Try WalMart" said the dude, but the thought seemed sacrilegious. We passed CircuitCity on Grandma and I laughed, knowing we'd never step foot in that horrible place again; a good plan, considering we noticed CircuitCity corporate on our IP log for the blog after our last adventure there, quickly followed by the local store, all looking at the post with their name in the title next to the words "My French Canadian ASS." We decided that WALMART would be better than The Red Beast. We should have known; WalMart never has much, and sure enough they didn't carry the damn thing either.
What moments ago was unthinkable now became a possibility.
We went to McDonald's to consider the consequences over some burgers.
"Tim, honestly, what could they possibly do to us?"
"You don't understand these people. They have ROOMS in the back where they could put us."
"Fuck yeah, rooms! You know those televisions that no one buys because they're not quite small enough and not quite big enough to be of any function?"
"Yeah, the 19" ones that only have one AV input."
"Exactly. Well they don't want to take up a lot of shop space with those fuckers, so they put them in a room, see. Only this room has a little space where they could gag us and lock us in. No one goes into that room. They wouldn't find the bodies for YEARS."
"I don't buy that."
"Ever see Pulp Fiction?"
"So Circuit City manager guy is like... Zed?"
"No, Zed came LATER."
"I'm confused, who is Zed?"
"Zed's the dude with the motorcycle."
"It wasn't a motorcycle, it was a chopper."
"...Yeah. I think Zed would be some henchman from 20th Century Fox."
"We didn't say anything bad about 'Grandma's Boy!'"
"We didn't say anything GOOD either. They'll probably rape me first."
"...So what are we doing? Are we going in?"
"I don't know. What have we decided?"
"Well, YOU say that if we go to Circuit City, they'll kick the shit out of us, ball-gag us, stash us away in the shitty-TV room, call 20th Century Fox, who would send a guy to ass-rape us before leaving us to die. Right?"
"Yeah. They'll probably play "Blueberry Hill" by Louis Armstrong in the background while they're doing it, just to make it more frightening."
"Okay. I think, at the very most, they'll just be rude to us and rub the game on their crotch before handing it to us."
"It'll be the crotch is we're LUCKY."
"Hmmm.... Alright let's do it."
And that was that. We were going in. I was nervous, I'll admit. I thought perhaps the turnover rate is so high everyone we encountered during our last visit might have moved on to their great reward somewhere else, replaced by NEW minions of Satan put forth to torment us. Or maybe it would be so busy they would just look down at their shoes the whole time, letting us pass undetected. I WISHED it would be true. I wanted to see a full parking lot and a store with new, red-shirted demons.
But it was not to be.
It was DEAD QUIET.
We almost sprinted to the Games Section, grabbed the game; then like a pair of green criminals on their first heist we bobbed and weaved through the aisles, making our way to the rendezvous at the front counter. The whole spectacle was no doubt looked upon curiously by the bored, shelf-shifting staff; pausing for a moment from making themselves appear busy to gaze upon a real life enactment of a failed mission in Metal Gear Solid starring a lanky kid and an old woman.
We made it to the checkout. We paid. We left.
It was over! We were relieved, and we got the game! SUCCESS!!!
Now, if only it didn't suck balls.
Grandma HATES World Championship Poker 2. She LOATHES this game. She cannot even recommend it on a "Hey! This game is so bad it's FUNNY!" sort of way. It's just god-awful and terrible in almost every way. Grandma likes the Crave Entertainment folks, because they made the first one. They can make a mistake, it's okay.
She hates the graphics, she hates the gameplay, she hates the single player, she hates the multiplayer, she hates the bluff-tell system, she hates it, for the love of CHRIST on a FUCKING CROSS, GOD DAMN.
First off, who is THIS asshole? What is he LOOKING at? I know the "Poker Face" is supposed to be this masterful skill that everyone must learn if they are to be a great gambler; I know because I've read every play by David Mamet in circulation. But let's face it, if "bluffing" has any significance in your career, chances are, you're an asshole. I tried reading his Wiki article, which led me to his website, which led me to Amazon, which confirmed that, indeed he's an asshole. Grandma said she knew "of" him but I think she was thinking of this guy:
We don't hate the man because of his picture, we hate him because of his endorsement of this piece of shit game. It isn't Crave's fault the game sucks. It's HOWARD LEDERER's fault the game sucks. It is because of endorsement that we are able to shift blame away from hard working game developers and place them on rich, professional poker playing daddy's boys.
I'm willing to bet this motherfucker gobbled up too much money to get his boring ass picture planted on the front of this thing. If they could have hired "man in shirt looking bored" instead, they probably could have afforded to keep the whole character design feature from the first game.
But that didn't happen.
You really only have two options. Male and Female. Every other choice after that is too subtle to really care about. In the first iteration, you could make a person look downright spooky if you want, or match them up to a decent representation of yourself, using what appears to be the same engine they use to predict the outcome of an unsuccessful plastic surgery operation. Now, you get a HAT. Also, the voices are beyond annoying. The slings and retorts of a poker game are, understandably, not something easily recreated; but really- do we WANT them to? If you watch poker tournaments on television, the only time you want these assholes to open their mouths is if they're tolerable celebrities. The voices on World Championship Poker 2 will make you want to stab your eardrums with razor sharp Q-tips. Congratulations on your purchase.
See, now your money MEANS something in the game. You can buy an apartment, and furniture, and various toys. What used to be a cool thing after a days work.. "Hey, yeah; after dinner I'm going to play poker on the XBox a bit and then hit the sack" has become "Hey, yeah; I can't eat tonight- I'm playing poker on the XBox and I can ALMOST afford the virtual representation of a leopard skin couch." Why?! Why does there need to be a PLOT to a poker game?!
For love of all that is good in the world, do not buy this game.
Grandma's final word on WCP2: "IT SUUUUCKS!!!!"
The DS version of World Championship Poker, however, isn't bad at all.
Grandma really liked the choice of games in this one, and playing over Nintendo's WiFi network is easy. Grandma wanted to return to that portable gambling habit for when she's flying or waiting around, and this gives her that nostalgia while also providing her a lot of features from the original XBox version. Now that her game consoles are all out of the bedroom, she'll play this or Final Fantasy IV before finally drifting off around 4am.
The only thing she doesn't like is the name. "World Championship Poker: DELUXE SERIES! Oh hardy-har-fucking-har. What marketing department GENIUS came up with that one? 'Oooo! It's like DS, but different, it totally PLAYS off the PUN! I'M SO CLEVER!!!!' ....Jackass."
As it turns out now, if she wants to play poker, she fires up the original XBox and plays the first World Championship Poker. If she's away from her system, she'll put WCP:DS to use. Two hits and one miss isn't too bad. From what she's been told, however, it's a good thing we didn't get "World Series of Poker," but we don't know anything about it. Grandma's still waiting for the perfect gambling simulator.
Most of all she wants to see someone like GarageGames or PopCap to make a simple, crisp poker game for XBox Live Arcade on the 360. It is, in her dreams, the perfect idea.
Grandma has destroyed King Kong for the XBox 360. At 1000 achievement point type thingies... it looks pretty intimidating on her GamerCard. Grandma and I have NOT seen the movie yet; and we're wondering if we really should. They've already tried manipulating our games=movies=SUCK gene with the title: "Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of The Movie." So if Jackson worked on the game, then it MUST be good, right? Which came first, the movie or the game? If this is the official game, is their an UNofficial game?
So many questions.
First a confession. I hated The Lord of The Rings. God dammit: the books were just BETTER than the movies. I have a bit of a grudge with Peter Jackson for ruining the fantasy world of my childhood. I wondered, then, if this game might do the same to Grandma for King Kong; thus uniting us together in a quest for revenge against the dreaded Kiwi.
Grandma was too occupied to become jaded. The first thing Grandma noticed is this game is so easy it's OBSCENE. You want to shoot that giant crab all the way over there with a handgun, eh? Cool! Just aim over that way a little. You'll hit it. You want to climb that cliff and leap to a branch to crush the flying dinosaurs? Okay! This game is very much not Perfect Dark Zero and it's very much not Prince of Persia. Accuracy is subjective to your ability to achieve your goal of killing things or running away. All you have to do is master two things: First, find levers. Second, turn levers.
Oh yeah. And FIRE. You are going to set everything on fire.
Skull Island has no rules about campfires within 100 feet of the water. In fact, you will find conveniently placed flaming alters all over the god damn place in which to stick pieces of bone or the tip of a spear. If you notice any brush around, chances are you're going to have to set that on fire. Even though the island appears to be humid and full of lush rainforest, you will need to blaze a path of destruction to escape the monsters, and really- who can argue with that? We better notify Jack Thompson on this one. A couple of kids are going to get cornered by a big dog one day, and set the house behind them on fire because it was their only means of escape. Oh, it'll happen!! SURELY!!
Because Grandma was using the 360 on the Component hookup on the back of her TV, she DID encounter a lot of the "darkness" issues that other folks mentioned, but it wasn't too terrible. It was part of the atmosphere of the game. If one is in a cave and all you have is a torch, guess what: it's gonna be dark. It worked the same way that Geometry Wars is sometimes too bright with everything exploding on screen. It seemed purposeful; another obstacle to overcome.
The voice acting was excellent, which is one of those "Well, YEAH" statements. When Adrian Brody says "Two magazines on Backup!", it doesn't matter how many times you hear it, it'll be okay. Jack Black makes everything better. Just look at what he did for "BioDome."
Really, the only way to play King Kong is on the XBox 360 with the sound cranked up and vibration turned on. Grandma thought it was pretty fun! Her only complaints were that it was too short, and "why does Kong HAVE TO DIE?! ISN'T THERE ANOTHER WAY?!"
It is no secret that Grandma has been on the hunt for Taiko Drum Master for the Playstation 2. Well, my friends, we FOUND it.
We scoured all of Akron for the fucking thing. We went to three Targets, two Best Buys, an EB Games, and a GameStop. All of which had the same mysterious story: "Man, like... two weeks ago this dude comes in and buys every last one we got. It's an old game, I doubt we'll get anymore. Sorry." We had enough descriptive information to investigate whether or not the mysterious stranger was hocking them on eBay, but screw that; we didn't want to mess with shipping.
Finally, in a freak accident while shopping for an electric blanket, Grandma found one, shrinkwrapped and beautiful, at of all places, K-Mart in Streetsboro, less than five miles from the house.
This game is awesome! You guys were right, though, the song list is too short and it's far less dynamic than Guitar Hero, but it certainly is fun. We tried a few different ways of setting it up, first in Grandma's lap (impossible), then using a fold out breakfast tray. The tray worked well when the drum controller was surrounded by heavy books, but it would tilt a bit, requiring frequent readjustment. The best way seems to be on a carpeted floor, out in front of you a bit, like thus:
Curiously enough, Taiko Drum Master contains the song Killer Queen, as does Guitar Hero. Of all the Queen songs, they had to use THAT one. Methinks someone was trying to show someone else how things could be done. The drum is easy enough to play, two hit-sensitive pads covering the drum face, and two sliver pads running along the edge of the "drum-head." Drum rolls are a little difficult; the drum is hard, padded plastic- sort of like a practice pad. So don't go breaking out your tattered Zildjian t-shirt just yet. The edge notes are particularly difficult to get the hang of; you just have to keep your hand in position and know exactly where you plan on hitting the thing should the notes turn blue.
One thing you percussion people won't like is, too often you'll play the rhythm of the melody, rather than any true percussive track of the song. Luckily, that means it's a bit easier for the rest of us.
The other thing... this game is extremely HAPPY. Every character is emoting such an extreme level of joy, you just might kill yourself thinking you're depressed in contrast to their contentment. When you select a menu item, this game will be ever so pleased you did. "Select, GAME MOOOODE!!! .....TAIKO MODE SELECTED!!!!!!" You'll want to play the game loud, of course, but your neighbors WILL ask you if the squad leader of the varsity cheerleading team was practicing in your living room. It's really quite peppy.
See these dancing noodle looking guys right here? They are not "drum sticks," they are "Master Bachio" and they have a BACK STORY in the instruction manual. Check it out: "Master Bachio is a mysterious character who is two, yet one. He teaches how to strike the Taiko, and prides himself on his grace and agility. He is actually quite big in the world of water treading."
And this: "TAMASHI- These are the very souls of Taiko. Upon entering two flawlessly designed Taiko drums, the Tamashi gave life to Don and Katsu. Without the Tamashi, Don and Katsu would be mere drums. Various types of Tamashi exist. When Done and Katsu make a mistake in Taiko Mode, they exhale 'Dispirited' Tamashis."
Just remember that when you play this. If you screw up, you are stealing the very SOULS of the Taiko. How's THAT for motivation?
Grandma is having a lot of fun with Taiko Drum Master, even though she attests: "I've got no fucking RHYTHM!!" She really enjoys watching us play it as well, noticing things one can't really see while playing.
"Ooo!! Look at the dancing tambourines!! What the hell are they WEARING?!"
"This MiniGame is WEIRD. You have to beat the drum as fast as you can so the other drum can eat a fucking WATERMELON and then spit out the seeds, but that kid keeps hitting you in the back of the head, fucking you up. It's better than the Helicopter MiniGame, because I can't do SHIT in that thing. The Tigers keep falling!!!"
"Bobby, you suck at this."
[trying desperately to drumroll] "STOP WATCHING ME!!! I can't do it with you laughing!!"
If you need another reason to buy it, just think of this: You get to play "Katamari on the Rocks," the theme from Katamari Damacy.
Besides, if you don't, the Taiko drums will have no soul, and thus be damned forever in a state without feeling or meaning; sitting motionless in a puddle of sorrow, waiting for the worms to devour their flesh.
[We will hold an Ask Grandma Hardcore for everybody tonight at 10pm EST, so come join us! It's a feature you've all asked for, so we're given to yas. Coming up next week will be a feature on Grandia III, Grandma's current addiction, as well as highlights from her XBox Live Arcade Experiences and ...HOPEFULLY... a video and a podcast. If I can figure out the new configuration ;) We also have some more media coming up, and lots of news to share. Check back with us everybody!]