Multiplayer Archive: Week Seven

Multiplayer: A Call For Lemons — And A Pair Of 'Mortal Kombat's

Gaming's retro greats are popping up on download services — but what about history's lesser-regarded titles?

E.T., come home. Superman, you are needed.

Legend has it that an atrocious 1982 "E.T." video game helped bring down the mighty Atari 2600. Many gamers consider 1999's "Superman" for the Nintendo 64 to be one of the worst games ever made. Just how bad are these games? Wouldn't you like to know?

Maybe you don't care. Or maybe you do, but can't be bothered to get them on eBay or to find an online emulator. Now did you ever hear about the first "Mortal Kombat" that rocked the arcades and was ported to the Sega Genesis in all its gory glory, and then showed up on SNES looking better than it did on the Genesis but with the most extreme content censored? Any interest in comparing those two games?

Imagine a world where you could download old games for just a few dollars and see what the fuss is all about. Now look down. You're already in it. The Nintendo Wii and the Xbox 360, in addition to the computer service GameTap, allow gamers to download and play the oldies. Those services as well as the last several years' worth of retro gaming collections (the "Namco Museum"s and "Midway Arcade Treasures" of the world) have given gamers some of the luxury enjoyed by film buffs and music lovers and anyone else who assumes there should be easy access to the great movies and songs — and now games — of old.

But there's a difference. You can buy a DVD of the movie "Showgirls" and enjoy the unintentional humor. You can easily obtain Michael Jackson's very worst and very weirdest albums without much trouble. Whether older works were famous for the right, wrong or just downright odd reasons, you can still see or hear them (for the most part: Notorious comedy flop "Ishtar" is still not out on DVD).

Games aren't like this. Maybe it's unrealistic to expect "E.T." to show up on Xbox Live Arcade or "Superman 64" to appear on the Wii's Virtual Console. Both feature characters whose owners might now want the games back in the spotlight.

And some bean counters might rightly question how big the audience is for gaming's historical oddities. What would someone even pay for "E.T." on Xbox Live Arcade? A dollar? Two? Would it help if the game supported live chat and a spectator mode so one gamer could play it but have his or her performance beamed to other systems, all supported by a voice-chat line so all could engage in some live "Mystery Science Theater"-style mockery?

But that's all putting the game cart before the horse. The first issue here is that gaming as an industry doesn't present many of its historically important games — even its beloved ones — in a context that emphasizes their historical importance. Here's how Nintendo's Virtual Console service describes "Sonic the Hedgehog," a game that helped the Sega Genesis wrestle the SNES to a draw and launched the argument that Mario wasn't cool: "Rocket Sonic, the fastest blue hedgehog on Earth, through hair-raising loop-de-loops and into dizzying dives past bubbling lava, waterfalls and onward, as you gather up Rings to stop Dr. Eggman's (a.k.a. Dr. Robotnik) schemes for world domination!" Is that any reason to download the game?

"Sonic" is famous enough that it doesn't need help, but how about Tecmo's "Solomon's Key," which is also on the Virtual Console? Why doesn't GameTap mention that "Beyond Good & Evil" fans think it's one of the best-made low-sellers of all time and that Peter Jackson liked it so much he asked the game's designer to make a "King Kong"?

When Nintendo announced that Virtual Console would support downloads of the SNES and Genesis games, I assumed a "Mortal Kombat" dual-download would be a no-brainer. Instead it's nowhere in sight.

Right now the gaming download services are just for gaming's greats, almost all of them presented and marketed as they were the day of their release. For many, and maybe for most, that's enough. But they could be good for so much more.

— Stephen Totilo

Multiplayer: When Video Games Actually Are Funny

What aspect of 'Rayman Raving Rabbids' made our correspondent chuckle?

1.04.07

If you Google my name — not that I've ever done that or anything — the first thing that comes up is an article I wrote for the online magazine Slate, back when it was owned by Microsoft and I still worked a day job making celebrity documentaries at VH1. The piece is titled, "Why Aren't Video Games Funny?"

Many game makers who I meet try to prove that they know my work by casually mentioning that two-year-old piece (which can be found here). So it gets discussed a lot. And that guarantees that even if I didn't care about the lack of humor in games, I'd have to stay on top of the topic just to keep up the small talk.

The gist of the piece is that comedy is underrepresented in games. Jokes are stuck in the background as sight gags and lame one-liners. Developers know how to make gamers commit violence and kick field goals but no one seems to know how to make joke-telling fun. And outside of a few intentionally comedic games like "Conker's Bad Fur Day," there aren't even many games designed to be funny. (I didn't mention "Monkey Island" back then and got slammed for it, so please officially consider it lumped in with "Conker.")

All this makes it press-stopping news when a game makes me laugh. It also signals a time to wheel out the gurney and cutting tools to figure out what was in the game that sparked the chuckle. The patient is "Rayman Raving Rabbids," a Ubisoft title initially launched for the Wii in November. Limbless gaming hero Rayman plays a supporting role in a series of short games that feature crazy white teddy-bear-like rabbits running around in and out of outhouses, toward a player-directed spray of carrot juice, across a disco dance floor and elsewhere. I've already written about how the rabbits are used to throw players off their game, which is a good touch (see "Multiplayer: The Little Things"). The rabbits act zany, and that alone might make some people laugh. Not I, at least not outwardly.

But here's what worked: One of the brief games is called "Bunnies Like Surprises." A long raving Rabbid, blindfolded with a plunger, stands atop an island floating in the sky. Players shake the Wii remote and nunchuck to create sounds that signal the rabbit to walk left or right. Collisions with bear traps and cacti earn points. Before starting, the player is told he needs to score 75,000 points. But each impact only rakes tens or hundreds of points, and with the timer ticking down and maybe 25,000 points earned, I assumed the game had just served an impossible mission. Then, in the last seconds, a sound came from above. A giant weight the size of the whole island crashed down: 50,000 more points earned. The high score was cleared.

That made me laugh. Why? Maybe because I briefly had visions of playing that abbreviated game hundreds of times before getting the seemingly sky-high score? My quickly increasing concern begat looming anger begat a sudden surprise relief from a crushing weight, and that brought a laugh. It was a high-score joke. Worked like a charm, but why haven't I seen one before? The closest thing I can relate it to is a credits joke in the old "Donkey Kong Country," during which the credits roll early and all the listed developers are the bad guys in the game. Then the credits stop and the game continues.

Another game I'm playing now, "God Hand," has a lot of slapstick and many knowing pokes at games' silly excesses: over-the-top violence in the form of groin kicks and Looney-Tunes-speed speed-punches; mocking sexuality with a fully gratuitous series of images of cheesecake companion Olivia that appear whenever the game is paused. These are a few examples of games with jokes based on the actual makeup of games. I laughed at that one too.

So maybe games are getting funnier. I laughed at them twice in less than two months. Have they ever made you laugh? Intentionally? Without it involving blowing someone to bits during "Halo"?

— Stephen Totilo

Multiplayer: A Lapsed Gamer Tries The Wii

Writer gets a new lease on an old obsession thanks to Nintendo's latest console.

1.03.2007

On December 21, I was reborn as a gamer.

Early gifted a Nintendo Wii by my equally marvelous and intrepid fiancee, who braved the black-market world of CraigsList.com and paid lord-knows-how-much for the sleek little white box, I re-entered a world I had all but abandoned long ago, back when 64 bits was considered a buttload and "Grand Theft Auto" was just a lame overhead computer game.

See, up until I clutched the Wii's pearly white nunchuck in my hand, I fully considered myself to be a firmly "lapsed" video-game nut, one whose interest was piqued by Mario, Zelda and Kid Icarus, reached a manic peak with "Tecmo Super Bowl," then slowly waned with countless games of "Mario Kart" and "GoldenEye."

I owned a DreamCast, then a GameCube, yet neither really caught my fancy (though, to be fair, I didn't exactly give the DC a fair shake, as it met its demise when I chucked a controller and smashed it during a particularly heated contest of "Virtua Tennis" during college). I had no interest in PlayStation 2 or 3 and never played a game of "Halo." Games today seemed too complex, requiring almost an apostle-level of dedication. And there were too many buttons on the controllers. (I am becoming my father.)

And yet, all that changed on December 21. The Wii was everything I was looking for in a system — smart, sleek, easy to use. The wireless controllers were dead-on and intuitive, the games shied away from the guts-on-the-floor graphic realism and were just plain fun (smacking 600-foot homers on "Wii Sports" is truly a sublime and epic time-waster; if I had a Wii in college, it's debatable if I would've ever left the house), and making Miis became a sort of obsession. Not to mention the ability to download classic games from, like, five systems and the soothing qualities of the Wii's Forecast Channel. And even when I did chuck the controller — something I managed to do while playing here at MTV in late November (see "Multiplayer: We Chucked The Wii"), there was no serious damage done, since the Wii remote and nunchuck weigh next to nothing. It was official. I was truly, totally hooked.

And I wasn't the only one. In fact, I'd wager one of the most amazing things about the Wii is its ability to grab the attention of both gamers and non-gamers alike. I took it down to Orlando, Florida, for Christmas, where my brother (typical "Tiger Woods Golf" dude) and I spent eight hours screwing around with Wii Sports. The following week, a buddy of mine from Wisconsin — who owns a PS2 that could best be described as "dust-covered" — and I bowled for about three hours, his eyes widening, several "This is so f---ing cool"s burbling from his lips. Even my fiancee, whose gaming experience basically began and ended with "Super Mario Bros.," got in on the act, downloading the original and playing to her heart's content.

We've since added "Trauma Center: Second Opinion" to the arsenal and plan on picking up the new "Zelda" game this weekend. For myself — and I suspect plenty of lapsed gamers like me — the Wii offers a new lease on life. A portal to the halcyon days of old, when games didn't require advanced paramilitary training — or a degree in physics — just to operate. It's like the (good) old days are here again.

Now if Nintendo would only find a way to make "Tecmo Super Bowl" available for download; I'd like to try my hand at bringing down Bo Jackson wirelessly. Then, I'd say, my life would truly be complete.

Once a week Multiplayer provides a Stock Report that should give you a sense of what actually is streaming into the office and how companies are trying to grab our attention:

The Stock Report:

» Number of games at MTV HQ: 224

» Last three games arrived: "Blazing Angels" (PS3), "Yu-Gi-Oh! GX Spirit Caller" (Nintendo DS), "Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol" (PS2)

» Last system arrived: PS3

» Last swag: Brown American Apparel T-shirt (Christmas present from game publisher Aspyr)

— James Montgomery

Multiplayer: The Games Of The Holidays

Finishing as many games as possible — and encountering some surprises along the way.

1.02.2007

A 3-year-old I know decided that Kirby had to pee. I delivered my first video-game noogie. And my father asked the most unusual of questions. That was my gaming holiday break.

I try to play as much as possible during year-end breaks, not just to have fun but to stay afloat. The whole point of MTV Multiplayer is to describe the unusual lives of people who have nearly every game on the market at their disposal every day. That scenario produces an annual overflow of games for a completist like me. I strive to finish the games I enjoy, and the majority of the most enjoyable games get released between Labor Day and mid-December. It all backs up.

In early December, I counted 21 games that I completed in 2006, one fewer than I finished in 2005 (see "Multiplayer: How Many Games Did You Finish This Year?"). I predicted the impending completion of "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess" and "Gears of War." I was right about the former, which fell at the 41-hour mark in the middle of the month. But I never finished the latter because I'm trying to get a friend to commit to playing through the game with me from start to finish.

While much of the rest of the country was finishing Christmas shopping during the December 23-24 weekend that started my holiday break, I was busy wrapping up a few more games. I graduated from "Bully" that Saturday, having done nothing in the game more scandalous than kissing a few girls (I never found the boys hero Jimmy can also kiss), applying a noogie to some degenerate classmates and busting an alcoholic teacher out of a mental institution. "Resistance: Fall of Man" fell next, making it my first finished PS3 experience. I also finished "Yoshi's Island DS" that weekend, a game with a difficulty level that ramps steeper than any other game I played this year. The first levels cut like butter, but the final ones cut like some old, old steak. And that's not even counting the bonus levels.

I needed to travel for most of the Christmas/ New Year's week, so I opted to only bring the portables. This got me the surprise question from my 60-something father, who has never owned a gaming console in his life. Turns out he liked his Thanksgiving session of "Wii Sports" bowling even more than I'd realized. "Did you bring the Wii so I can bowl?" he asked. Sorry, dad. But does this mean that my father could turn into a gamer yet? That's what Nintendo has been suggesting all along.

I packed "Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops" for the PSP and was intrigued enough with the game that I'll write a separate entry on that title. It may be the wildest game of 2006 and deserves a spotlight of its own. Also along for my travels was "Kirby: Squeak Squad" for the Nintendo DS. The Kirby side-scrollers have been around for ages, but I've never played one, just the experimental "Kirby: Canvas Curse." Turns out the traditional Kirby games are the tricycles of side-scrollers. To keep the butter metaphor going, this game's levels cut like a melted stick. I zipped right through the game, enjoying it enough and ticking off another gaming staple now better understood.

I also learned that easy games can still be tough for some. "Kirby" is rated E for Everyone by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, but the rating's fine print indicates that "everyone" means ages 6 and up. So to my surprise, my 3-year-old niece Kate couldn't play it. Just don't tell her. She saw my DS (not well-hidden enough), figured out it was a game machine and became obsessed.

On day one of her obsession she mastered the clamshell DS's sleep function (shut it to put it to sleep; open it to resume). By day two she could make Kirby run to the left, a marginally useful tactic for a side-scroller that emphasizes rightward motion. ("Kirby has to pee," she'd tell me as she got him stuck at the left part of the screen). On day three, she figured out that the B button made Kirby attack. And sometimes she knew the A button made him jump. On day four she could make Kirby move slightly to the right and jump at the same time. She was much better with some shorter games using the stylus, which is something Nintendo has also been saying would work well for non-gamers.

During the break, I knocked off four games. Add in "Zelda" and my completion total for 2006 is 26. And I'm still not caught up just yet.

— Stephen Totilo

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About this column: The average gamer doesn't have the time or cash to experience one-tenth of the games that come out every week. Collectively, the MTV News team does — and then some. With games streaming into the office each day, we see a lot, we play a lot and we remember a lot. We want to tell you what we're playing and what's worth caring about it, and we'll do it every day at MTV News: Multiplayer. To follow the column daily, bookmark multiplayer.mtv.com.