Our games reporter conquered 21.
Thankfully, with gaming, it is socially acceptable to start what you can’t finish. But I still take pride in conquering a game. It means that I found one worth completing and was able to shift my schedule to get through it.
Games are long, and most of them get so repetitive. I’ll try anything, but I’m usually happy to stop with plenty left on my plate. Since I don’t review games as part of my job, I don’t really need to finish any. Nevertheless, in 2005 I finished 22 games, including “Shadow of the Colossus,” “Trauma Center: Under the Knife” and “Resident Evil 4.” I know this because I made a list of the games I started playing — all 75 of them — and ticked off the ones I finished.
Let me clarify what I mean by “finished.” I once had a publicist tell me that “Metal Gear Solid 3” wasn’t really finished until it was beaten on the European Extreme difficulty level and all alternate outfits were unlocked. I disagree. If you get to the end of the game’s story line, if you see the fate of the character Boss, then you’ve done it. “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” is done after the city burns due to a riot and you run the last story line mission, even if you haven’t found all the hidden oysters or finished the truck-driving side games. Also, puzzle games can’t be finished, so they don’t count.
On Thursday, I made my 2006 list. On my own, outside of game-company-sponsored press events, I started 102 games this past year (mostly provided for free because of my job). I finished 18 of them. I also finished three games that I started last year, for a total of 21. And with a couple of weeks to go, I’ll probably add to that. I think I’ll knock off “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess” Friday night (December 7) and “Gears of War” next week. Throughout the year I brought a number of other games close to completion, but I just might not be good enough a gamer to knock through the last challenges of “Pursuit Force” and I may run out of time on “Bully.”
Fellow gaming journalists and professionals tell me my numbers are high. Many of them don’t finish even that many games. Gamers I talk to don’t finish that many either. That makes me wonder how much care developers should even put into long games and whether enough people have seen a game ending to form an opinion on how a game should or shouldn’t wrap up. Should games be shorter? And how can it be that so many games can be so beloved without people feeling that they need to or can complete them? Is finishing really important? Or is all well whether it ends or not?
For your consideration, here are the 21 titles I conquered in 2006:
· “24: The Game” (PS2)
· “Black” (PS2)
· “Chibi Robo” (GameCube)
· “Donkey Kong Jungle Beat” (GameCube) [started in 2005]· “Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime” (DS)
· “Elite Beat Agents” (DS) [one song away from clearing its hardest setting]· “Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance” (GameCube) [started in 2005]· “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter” (Xbox 360)
· “Half-Life 2” (PC)
· “Half-Life 2: Episode One” (PC)
· “Lego Star Wars” (PS2)
· “Lego Star Wars II” (PS2) [my most thoroughly completed game of 2006; achieved 100 percent status]· “Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure” (PS2)
· “Metal Gear Solid 2” (PS2)
· “Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence” (PS2)[cleared normal difficulty, not European Extreme]· “Metroid Prime: Hunters” (DS)
· “New Super Mario Bros.” (DS)
· “Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan” (DS — from Japan) [started in 2005; cleared 3 of 4 difficulty levels]· “Sin and Punishment: Successor to the Earth” (Nintendo 64 — from Japan)
· “Star Fox Command” (DS) [reached four of the game’s nine endings].
· “Suikoden V” (PS2) [longest game completed: 64 hours, 51 minutes, 29 seconds]
— Stephen Totilo
Multiplayer: Gaming Underground — Literally
Bulk of gaming on New York subways done with cell phones, iPods.
I was playing the final mission at the hardest difficulty level in the musical-adventure game “Elite Beat Agents,” tapping and scribbling away on my Nintendo DS Lite while I was standing on a New York subway platform. But my awareness of where I stood was displaced by two DS screens of cheerleading agents, a plague of music-hating aliens and the sounds of a Rolling Stones cover that blasted from the game into my headphones.
A guy walked up to me and asked me for directions. I paused. I was already losing anyway. Did I know if the R train stopped at 8th Street? I did. He could take the W as well, just not the N. He walked away. I resumed playing. And then he came back. Was it OK to take the N?
I used to do most of my portable gaming at home, reclining on the couch with a Game Boy Advance, DS or PlayStation Portable. But a year and a half ago I started playing during my 40-minute subway commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan.
I noticed several things about gaming on the subway:
· Back then — and even now — when I take out a DS to play, I’m the only one. The DS wasn’t hot then; today it outsells the PSP, but I’ve yet to see another person with a DS on any of my daily subway commutes. The PSP, however, is a daily sight, though usually there is just one per car. The GBA and GBA SP used to be daily sights as well, but that has died down over the last few months — even if they still show up more than the PSP. Most of the gaming I see on the subway is done on cell phones. And then there’s the iPod. At least half the people squashed on a two-train car with me have one on any given day.
· Not everyone cares about game music or whether you can hear it. With apologies to the impressive, recently concluded Game Boy Blip Festival (BlipFestival.org), most GBA gamers don’t seem to care about music. I’ve seen hundreds of GBAs in use on the subway, but I don’t remember ever seeing someone using headphones. The DS and PSP can play more advanced music. Still, I’ve never seen a DS played with headphones either, even though I do every time. The PSP gets the headphones, though that’s also the system I most often hear played without headphones — and with the volume blaring. Some PSP gamers, apparently, don’t mind breaking the silence of a subway, even though radio playing is clearly prohibited. At least it’s clear that the PSP is the only portable system my fellow subway gamers consider worth listening to.
· People don’t go crazy playing games on the subway. I played last year’s “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney” primarily on the subway. Most of the game was originally programmed for a GBA. But it was on the game’s final case that I discovered the game supported the DS’s microphone — which can be used to blow for fingerprints. On a packed subway, with a game telling me to huff at the screen, what was I to do? I pretended I was blowing lint off my screen. Then the game told me to do it again. It makes you wonder if the developers factor public embarrassment while designing portable games. These days, “Elite Beat Agents” occasionally requires me to draw circles with the stylus as fast as possible. I can only imagine what my face looks like while I’m doing it. I keep looking up, but I haven’t caught anyone doing the same or getting weirded out. And it sure hasn’t kept people from asking me for directions.
— Stephen Totilo
Multiplayer: We Found Big Poppa, And Other Updates
Has ’Death Jr.’ plant’s fate been keeping you up at night? Here’s the latest on that and other mysteries.
We didn’t know Big Poppa after all.
Last week I wrote an entry for Multiplayer wondering who was responsible for all of the strange Mii avatars appearing on the MTV News Nintendo Wii (see “Multiplayer: Do Wii Know You? Lost In Our Crowd Of Nintendo Miis”). I had exchanged Wii passwords only with friends and had therefore only expected friends’ Miis to show up on the system. So which friend was behind this Big Poppa guy?
This week I got the answer via e-mail: “To Stephen Totilo, I’m Big Poppa,” wrote Phillip Kisubika. He’s a junior at the University of Georgia and works at the school’s newspaper, The Red and Black. “I write for the sports desk,” he wrote, “so I guess we have something in common. But otherwise, Stephen, Big Poppa doesn’t know you.”
Phillip connected the dots, explaining that he created Big Poppa on his roommate Ross Miller’s Wii. Miller writes for Joystiq.com and had linked his machine to Joystiq editor Chris Grant, who in turn had linked to the MTV system. Grant reports back that a Mii my father made on the MTV Wii has shown up in his system, so my own poppa should be heading to Phillip Kisubika soon enough. Now if only Nintendo modified the Miis to include information about where they came from, mysteries like this wouldn’t be so hard to crack.
In other Multiplayer news, the Konami “Death Jr.” plant is beginning to wilt (see “Multiplayer: Counting Our Games — And Watering Plants”). MTV News reporter Chris Harris continues to water it every three days, but some yellowing has set in and a new bud has spent a week not blossoming. The plant hasn’t died yet, but it’s not looking good.
And what of producer C.J. Smith, stuck in “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess” last week and contemplating whether he should cheat (see “Multiplayer: When The Going Gets Tough … Cheat?”)? He went back to the game and figured out the solution on his own.
Briefly I passed him without cheating either. Since then, he reached the end of the game and said that, on Tuesday night, he reached a final battle, struggled, considered cheating, decided it would be bad to break down right at the end and managed to persevere. He completed the game in about 44 hours, a bit shorter than the 60-hour completion time Nintendo estimated in the press.
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: 217
» Last three games arrived: “Kirby Squeak Squad” (Nintendo DS), “Online Chess Kingdoms” (PSP), “Xiaolin Showdown DS” (Nintendo DS)
» Last system to arrive: PS3
» Last swag: Inch-tall rubber “Kirby Squeak Squad” characters — pink Kirby and green Kirby (both made in China)
— Stephen Totilo
Multiplayer: Saying ’No Thanks’ To The Classics
New attempts to enjoy older games on Wii don’t yield greatest results.
I admit it. I’ve long had a problem with old games. I liked a lot of them when they weren’t old games. But then new stuff came out, and I ditched my old loves for the hot new things, without an ounce of regret. But I do like the idea that I might fall for one of the oldies again the way someone might discover a great black-and-white film, a classic album or a former high school flame. So I keep trying.
Last week, I downloaded a couple of old games from the Wii’s Virtual Console. The service lets system owners download games originally released for the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super NES, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis and TurboGrafx 16. Many people are using the service to download the alleged classics, like the NES’s “Legend of Zelda” and the N64’s “Super Mario 64.” I didn’t download either.
Every other form of entertainment has material that stands the test of time, no matter how much technology has progressed. But I just haven’t enjoyed that NES “Zelda” the few times I’ve tried to play it in the last 10 years. Newer “Zelda” games are richer in character, more creative in design and just more fun to play. I think my entire list of games that I played before 1995 that I still enjoy are “Donkey Kong,” “Ms. Pac-Man” and “Tetris.”
I assumed that Nintendo would make sure its Virtual Console service launched with some gems. And if I hadn’t heard of some of these games, those might prove to be the most exciting discoveries. So I downloaded the 1990 TurboGrafx spaceship shoot-em-up, “Super Star Soldier,” and the 1994 NES “Tetris“-with-a-twist “Wario’s Woods.” The TurboGrafx game was fun, though I kept thinking that 2001 spaceship shoot-em-up “Ikaruga” did everything it was doing better. And then I reached the end of a level, died fighting a boss and was restarted all the way back at the beginning of the level. That’s the kind of old-school game design I can’t be nostalgic for. So I quit the game, probably never to return. And “Wario’s Woods”? I’d rather have been playing “Tetris,” I guess.
Covering games full time, I’m constantly sent collections of retro games, and I just don’t enjoy them. Covering games full time and still being a gaming nut, I like making lists of my favorite games of all time, and the old games on my list keep getting knocked out. (Goodbye, 1994’s “Super Metroid” — you had an all-time great final hour, but otherwise I like newer “Metroid” games better.)
I want to believe oldies can be goodies. But I’m just not having fun with them. I’ll keep trying. Can anyone recommend some classics that actually stand up?
(Lest anyone out there thinks my trouble with the classics will taint MTV News’ coverage of old games, have no fear. Later this week I’ll file a report on people who might love old games more than anyone else. )
— Stephen Totilo
Multiplayer: The Little Things
These small details might not make or break a game, but they factor into its enjoyment.
Sometimes it’s the big things in a game that are worth talking about.
Should they have really set an entire “Zelda” on the ocean or made “Halo 2” so short? Would “Final Fantasy X” have been better with a hero who whined less?
Such grand talk is the stuff that sways review scores and directs conversation about a game. But a video game is more than the sum of its biggest parts. The little things that help fill the lengthiest of popular forms of entertainment also matter.
On the Wii I played “Rayman Raving Rabbids,” “Zelda: Twilight Princess,” “ExciteTruck,” “Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam” and “Need for Speed: Carbon.” On the PS3 I think I passed the halfway point of “Resistance: Fall of Man.” I kept noticing the little things:
» Playing to distraction: “Rayman” throws a series of mini-games at players, some cow-tossing here and some first-person plunger shooting there. In one mission, all the player is asked to do is flick the Wii’s nunchuck controller to make Rayman jump a twirling jump-rope. What literally jumped out to me while playing it was one of the game’s Rabbids. A crazed white rabbit kept popping in from any of the four sides of my TV making enough noise and blocking enough of my view to drive me to distraction. He caused me to trip a bunch of times and got me wondering why so few games — I can’t think of any others — mess with a player while they’re trying to concentrate.
» Pulling the race card: “Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam” lets players pick their racer from an internationally diverse crew of cartoonish, fictional racers. I chose to race down the slopes of San Francisco and Hong Kong as Ammon, a skinny black guy with dreadlocks. At the start of each of the game’s many short racing events, a window pops up and plays a documentary-style sound bite from one of the competitors. One skater girl brags about her looks. One guy quips about growing up without his dad. Most intriguing was my guy Ammon who tells the interviewer that he took up skateboarding because he was tired of people assuming that his being black must mean he is a good basketball player. I’m sure I’ve played more than a hundred games this year, and this is the first that has included any comments about race. It would be a purely welcome inclusion if not for the (hopefully innocent) fact that Ammon has the best jumping stat of any character available in the beginning of the game.
» Pressing the buttons: Every time I powered on the PS3 to play more “Resistance” this weekend, I had to do more with the controller than I wanted to. Ideally you can start at a game’s title screen and keep tapping the same button to load a saved game, confirm the load and start in on the action. “Resistance” is one of those games that doesn’t work that way. If you spam the main button, you’ll wind up starting a brand-new game every time. To continue a saved game, a returning player has to first flick the control stick to the continue option and then tap the main button a few times. This is the littlest of things, but experienced gamers know it’s a bother and easily programmed to work the better way.
— Stephen Totilo
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.