Saturday, April 23, 2016

Ben's Gaming Memories - Star Fox

Well, here we are. It's been a long (LONG) wait, but Star Fox Zero is finally here. Nintendo Wii U fans are finally able to jump into the world of Star Fox once again, and join the fight to save the galaxy. Although, it's also kind of a bit strange... I mean, this is Star Fox -- we actually got a brand new game! This is a series that was once near and dear to a lot of people, but then faded away into obscurity. It was one of Nintendo's main IPs, but the scary thing is that it has been so long since Star Fox Command, that the kids of today may not even know what this series is. Outside of Super Smash Bros, the Wii virtual console, and the very limited print run of Star Fox 64 3D, this is a game series that had nearly completely vanished with no real future in sight. Those of us who got a Wii expecting the next big game to be released on it were disappointed, and while the 3DS remake that came out many years later was nice, it was just the same old thing and it was even lacking an online mode -- something many of us were hoping the Wii would improve on, and Command only touched on. But this has finally all changed. Star Fox Zero was announced for the Wii U, and we are now able to play it.

It's at times like these I can't help but look back on my experience with the series and realize how "different" it was for me... While many may have just picked up and played through each game, for me it was a journey filled with twists and turns, and anything but normal.

The first time I ever laid eyes on Star Fox was at my grandma's house, upstairs in my uncle's room. This is where he kept his brand new SNES system, and his games, and it was where me and my cousins would spend time when they came from out of state for a visit. While we would mainly play other games like Mega Man X, Star Fox was one that we would try from time to time, but never get too far. Although it's 3D graphics blew me away at the time, the game was really hard for me to play, and I rarely lasted long past the first level. It's kind of funny to look back and see just how bad I was, but I guess for a young kid jumping into something so different like that wasn't easy. I mean, sure, I also played Top Gear 2 which was 3D, but in Star Fox you could move to all edges of the screen, and crashing meant you died (and I crashed a LOT). Even so, it was something I wanted to like, but was physically unable to. So, I stopped playing.

After giving up on Star Fox, a few years passed and the Nintendo 64 came out. These were true 3D games that (once again) blew me away, and were ones I couldn't get enough of. Mario 64 was easily my favorite game back then, but I was always on the lookout for something new also. That's when Star Fox once again entered the picture.

The first time I remember seeing SF64 was at Toys R Us when I was shopping with my mom, aunt, and cousins for a present for my upcoming birthday. While my memory is a bit fuzzy on what we all actually bought, I still remember being down an isle of the store next to one of their display TVs and seeing the advertisement for the upcoming Star Fox 64. The Star Fox team was back, and once again I was interested! Although, I wouldn't be getting it. Not for a long time. As my birthday was on the 19th, and the advertisement was for a game that wouldn't be released until 11 days later, asking for it didn't even cross my mind, but it was something I would remember in the years to come.

Awhile later (possibly months) when my cousins were visiting yet again, I remember going to the local video rental place and renting SF64. Of course I didn't play it... It was my cousin who chose to rent it, and he was the only one to sit there and play as I watched. I still did have fun seeing him go through the game, but actually he never did make it that far. He let the bomb go off in the early stages, he let Slippy get knocked to planet Titania, and he got a game over shortly after. Funny how I still remember it, but I guess seeing him fail is what made me think the game was just as hard as the SNES version, and it's what kept me from renting it again at first. That all changed though when I got sick sometime after. Typically when I was home from school and had to go to the doctor, my mom would allow me to rent a game, and the game I chose that day was Star Fox.

For whatever reason I took my N64 over to my grandma's house to play it (I assume we were going to stay there awhile that day and my mom let me bring it so I could play my new rental), but I remember sitting there on the couch slowly making my way through the galaxy up until I ran out of lives and got a game over. Yeah, I still wasn't the best at it.

It wouldn't be until multiple rentals later that I got good enough to make it through most of the game with no problems, but when I finally got to that point I did the unthinkable. I completely freaked out, shut off my N64, and swore off playing the game ever again. You see, Andross terrified me! When I finally reached Venom and he first started talking to me, his voice creeped me out, but when I actually got to him and saw he was a giant talking head that seemed to take no damage when I shot him (during his intro animations), I RAN SCARED! I rushed over to that TV, shut off that console as fast as possible, and that was that. I was done. This Star Fox "ban" I set for myself would go on to last years. Until I was in middle school at least.

I'm not sure why I decided to do it, but when I was around 13 I wanted to give SF64 a try once again; however, the game was no longer available for rental. I didn't know why, but it was no longer on the shelves, and I couldn't get myself to ask the adult at the counter what happened, so I asked my dad. I remember him walking into the store only to come right back out and tell both me and my mom that it was only for sale and not for rental anymore. I figured that was that, but shockingly my mom asked how much it was, and told my dad to buy it if it were cheap -- and so he did. Just like that the very same copy I had rented and played for years was mine (yes, the local shop only had one copy of each game, and in some rare cases it had two), and I was excited. This is when I finally beat the game (I actually would turn down the volume of the TV so I didn't hear Andross), and learned of the secret passages and what not from looking it up online (although I did know some things about it already from looking at guide books in Walmart).

Star Fox 64 quickly became one of my favorite games, and at school me and my friend Ian would spend a lot of time talking about it during PE and stuff. Soon my other friends got involved as well, and we actually started role playing Star Fox outside at recess. We would get on the swings, pretend we were flying Arwings, and go on adventures with each of us pretending to be a different character. There were even times where other kids would join in with us and we would assign them another character. I remember once we assigned someone we knew the character of Bill, and we decided to blame him for everything and have him screw up all our missions. Not sure why we decided, but the ironic thing was that the very next class we had gave us a news story where someone named Bill messed up some farm equipment or something -- of course we blamed that on "our" Bill as well. Really though, this is what lead to the creation of my next big project, and the next in line of RPG forums following Cyber Net (which, as some of you may know, is where NGR gets its roots).

"Star Fox Online" I called it. It was a simple forum that used the same RPG level system used at CN, and when members joined they were assigned two teams. We had the Star Fox team (which I joined), and the Star Wolf team (which my friend Ryan joined), and we would have RPG battles on different planets. Of course there was also general discussion forums, but we mainly used the site to keep doing what we did at school -- RP Star Fox. Sadly the site was short lived, but we did have a lot of fun with the time we spent there, but it never did take off quite like CN.

Adventures was something I didn't expect to ever play. I saw it advertised, I saw the demos at Walmart, I saw the guide book at Walmart (and read parts of it), and I remember seeing people talking about it on Nintendo's Nsider forums. It seemed cool, but for some reason I never saw my parents buying it for me, and I never did think to ask them; however, it did happen. It was getting close to Christmas and I was playing Star Fox 64, when for whatever reason I told my mom about how Slippy messes up and gets sent to Titania, and that's when she made a comment along the lines of "oh, you have a Star Fox game?" Thinking about it now, how did she not know that? Especially after how much I played it in front of her? Anyway she went on to say how she picked the game up for my cousins, and asked if I would like it as well -- that's when I said yes. Thing is, she never did buy the game for my cousins as the copy she bought was actually for me, but I really didn't care what they got or didn't get, I was just happy to open the game for myself on Christmas day and play it. Then, I wasn't so sure...

Funny to say this now, but Adventures also freaked me out. No I wasn't scared off by a giant Andross head, but I did get disturbed by the spirits you saved and how they lived inside Fox's body. It bugged me when it happened to Krystal at the start of the game, and it bugged me when it happened to Fox and I noticed his eyes glowing purple with the thing living inside him. The whole idea of this greatly disturbed me, and kept me from pushing along many times. I went through some sections of the game during that winter break, and one of my cousins came over to help me do it, but it wasn't until later when I got the game's guide book that I finally completed it myself. I think some of the dinos also disturbed me as I never knew what was waiting for me around each turn, but upon seeing the full game ahead of time in that book it gave me the courage to keep on going. Even though it bothered me, that game did leave a lasting impression on me, and I can still remember where I was and what I was doing in life when I cleared each part of it. Of course later on my friend Ryan got it as well, so we would talk about it at school from time to time (we both hated the button mashing part, but I think that's one of the reasons we were able to play the Metal Gear Solid games no problem. Star Fox Adventures helped train us).

When Adventures had come and past, Star Fox Assault was the next big game on the radar, and I was excited. Of course Nsider was talking about it, but the hype didn't really set in for me until that day I was home sick from school and we stopped by Walmart on our way home. That was when I heard the "Star Fox team is back" advertisement (which reminded me of the N64 days), and got to see some of the game's action for myself. It was a game I couldn't wait to get my hands on, and the moment I did I rushed over to my mom's work where my GCN was (yes, the house that burned down last summer) and jumped right into the multiplayer mode to play against my dad. We had always played the N64 game together, but with Assault we finally had a game with a fully fleshed out multiplayer mode to enjoy. We actually spent a lot of time playing that, he would also play it with me and my friends when they came over -- it was one of the few games he actually enjoyed to play, and I enjoyed to play with him. We'd sometimes make up our own games, but most of the time we did just flat out battle each other. It was a lot of fun, and one of the reasons I consider Assault to be possibly my favorite in the series. While I did like it's single player mode well enough, it was the multiplayer and the ability to get in and out of your Arwing, Land Master, and Wolfen and battle on foot that sucked me in.

After Assault came out my friends and I did revive our Star Fox Online forum for a short amount of time, and it was active with members on both teams fighting each other, but it was once again short lived. We had fun with it just like we had in the good old days, but it wasn't something that was there to last. This was the last time that site would ever be used, and we silently closed it's doors once there was no one else around to care. "Welcome back; your last visit was on Sep 2 2006, 04:49 PM" It's really been that long, huh?

(It's kind of cool to see Zero bring back
the walker as well. It seems like we're
slowly getting SF2 piece by piece!)

Star Fox Command was a game that I was excited for, yes, but when I got it I was completely let down. I rushed home to play it, and I even talked some other friends of mine into getting it, but it wasn't something that lasted long. I played versus mode with one friend at a school event once, and I went through the story and unlocked all of the endings, but it wasn't anything great. It took ideas from the canceled Star Fox 2 (which is all I'm going to say about that one), but was pure dog fight free range mode stages that got very repetitive. Putting aside how it's story felt like a fan fiction with no true ending, it was an extremely basic game, and one that didn't live up to what Star Fox was before. Of course it left me wondering how they would continue the story with how many changes they made, but it wouldn't be until a couple years ago that I would get that answer -- they would follow it up with a full on reboot. Well, at least they would after a rerelease of Star Fox 64 for the 3DS. That was pretty nice to see, but the fact that they changed some of the lines spoken by the characters felt a little bit off. Still, at least it was something!

While I'm going to leave my feelings of Star Fox Zero out of this article, I can say that I bought the game day one and am currently still playing it at this time. It's brought me back to my childhood, but it is also something different. Every time I turn on the Wii U and pick up that controller I begin thinking about the past, and I can't help but wonder where they will go from here. Will they keep going on with this reboot? Will we return to the original timeline set? I guess we wont know the answer until the time comes for Nintendo to get back to it. Either way, I've been on this ride for a very long time, and I hope to continue riding it for the rest of my life.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Gaming Legends: Animal Crossing and the "X"

Today we're going to be doing something a bit different. All throughout the history of gaming, different rumors, stories, and "creepypastas" have been told about our favorite games. Back in the day a lot of us actually believed these stories, but of course thanks to the internet and data miners many of these myths are debunked pretty fast. Even so, today we're going to take a look back on one that I personally was involved in, and has now days faded away into obscurity. Many of you may have never heard of this before, but at the same time I'm sure I'm not the only one to have "fallen" for it. This is the story of the mysterious X, and a little game called Animal Crossing Wild World.

When Animal Crossing Wild World first came out, it was a huge deal. Finally we were getting an Animal Crossing that could be played on the go, it gave us a much larger house, the section grid based map had been replaced with a free open one, and above all it was going to have online play! For the first time we were actually going to get a chance to play with friends in real time, and without having to go over to their house to trade memory cards (like in the previous). I really can't stress how big of a deal this was to us back then (especially considering how common online play is in today's world), but trust me, it was huge -- and of course with that also came the rumors.

Nintendo Nsider was Nintendo's massive online community. Hundreds of thousands of people were on each day, posts were created non stop, and nearly anything you wanted to find out about a Nintendo game could be found there as well. It was one of the largest gaming forums at the time, and it remained this way up until it shut down in the mid 2000s. When Animal Crossing Wild World came out, Nsider's Animal Crossing forums were just as active, and constantly people were sharing their new discoveries. Sadly sharing friend codes to play with each other was against the rules (spoilers: we did it anyway), but that didn't stop people from talking about their experiences online with people, and that's when the strange stories started to form. It wasn't long before the "X" rumor spread, and everyone was jumping online with their friends to find out if it were true or not.

In the story, one Animal Crossing player had described a strange occurrence in his game that had happened late at night. According to him, he was walking around his town near a bridge when he had caught sight of some black thing move across his screen. It was pretty fast, and he wasn't able to get a good look at it, but as he explored his town he managed to come across it again but this time with a twist. Apparently this "X" (as he called it) would jump scare you by screaming like a Redead from the Legend of Zelda series before vanishing. Afterwards he did keep searching for the mysterious thing, but he never did find it again -- so to Nsider he went with his story, and the hopes of finding it.

Needless to say, this story was fake. Looking at the game's data will show that there's no such thing in the game, but it's a story many of us wanted to believe, and we wanted to find it for ourselves. It was a rumor that gave us a reason to stay up late with friends looking for it, and possibly give ourselves a scare when we found it. Really, as strange as the story may sound, it was something that was quite possible. The first Animal Crossing featured a ghost, and many of us were wondering what happened to it, or what could have possibly replaced it. If X were real, it would explain why we hadn't seen him, and the Redead sound effect could have easily been an easteregg for fans -- that's just how Animal Crossing is. As made up as it may sound now, we truly did think it could be real.

Although we may not have been fully sold on the idea, my friends and I did set out to see if this rumor was true. There was me, "SirRufus," this guy, and his brother, and I can still remember us staying up well into the night as we searched the town from top to bottom. We ran around the bridges, we ran up and down the river, we had someone wait in each store at closing time to get locked in and explore them at night, and we ran around the main parts of town trying to recreate a similar path to what was explained in the post. We never did find anything, but once in awhile someone would yell "X! ITS X!" just to get everyone to come running. The whole thing was just us playing like the kids we were, making the most out of a game that we loved. We realized pretty fast that there wasn't an X, but we didn't let that ruin our fun. Soon everyone else came to the same realization that it was just some story someone made up, and the rumors of X faded away.

Even though it may sound a bit silly, the story of X and my hunt for it is something I'll never forget. It was something from the time when the world of video games was still a mystery to me, and I still believed anything could be possible. It's something most of us have lost by growing up, but the memories of that feeling will always remain.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Sign up for a Nintendo Account and get free points from Miitomo!

Unless you're someone who knows nothing about Nintendo, then I'm sure you know that they have been undergoing quite a few changes -- one of which being their account and reward system. Originally Nintendo used a service called "Club Nintendo" where you could register the games you buy to earn points towards rewards, but now the service is long gone and fans have been waiting for  it's replacement. On the other side of things, there was (or rather, still is) the whole "Nintendo Network" system. This would connect to your Club Nintendo account so that you could earn points from digital games, but it's main purpose is to allow you to access the online store, post on Nintendo's social network, and make use of other online features -- it is basically your typical account system. Of course, Nintendo Network isn't perfect (as it is missing many key features most account systems use), but all of this is about to change.

Awhile back Nintendo announced the new "Nintendo Account" system which merges both Club Nintendo and Nintendo Network into one. It's a rewards system where you'll earn platinum points for completing different actions (such as buying games), it's an online ID system that will be used by multiple Nintendo platforms, and it'll also be something that can be used in real world stores for different rewards and bonuses thanks to Nintendo's new mobile focused apps. Of course it'll be awhile before we get to this point, but you can begin earning points today!

By going to the link below, you can now sign up for a Nintendo Account (or use an existing Nintendo Network ID, or social media account to create the account) and "preorder" Nintendo's first mobile app "Miitomo." This app is a social media styled "game" that allows you to create your own Mii and interact with friends, and by making an account before it releases you will earn platinum points for your account. Of course you don't actually have to play the game, so anyone who plays Nintendo games and is interested in the new reward system, really has no reason not to do so. It's fast and easy, and just a single click away:

Miitomo won't actually be released until next month, but by registering you'll also get notified the moment it goes online. Just keep in mind that you'll need either an iOS or Android device to play it if you are interested.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

GameTrailers Shutting Down

I never thought I'd see the day, but the well known is officially shutting down. Over the years they have provided gamers with everything from reviews to live streams, but now they are closing their doors after 13 years.

Really it's quite the shock. For me personally, GameTrailers was one of them "go to" sites that I'd often find myself visiting. Their reviews helped provide insight on games I was unsure of, I'd often find some pretty interesting news stories from them, and I also have some pretty fond memories of watching their E3 coverage on Spike (as well as online once their TV time ended). I've always liked GameTrailers, and I really do hate to say goodbye.

For more information, check out their official Facebook announcement:

The Platinum Log - Assassin's Creed II

 Oh the Assassin's Creed series. Can you believe there was a time where these games were scarce, and people actually longed for another? Well, there was, and I was one of those people.

Back when I first got my Xbox 360, I really didn't know what games I wanted. I mean there were a few that caught my eye, but others I was unsure of -- Assassin's Creed was one of those games. I had seen it in stores when it first came out, and I had seen some trailers, but it was one of those games I figured I'd never play as I didn't own a console to play it on. Well, things changed, and after looking at some gameplay videos of it online I was actually impressed. Graphics looked amazing (for the time), the huge open cities looked great, and I loved the whole climbing aspect (as in, being able to climb up buildings and what not). It looked like a lot of fun, but I still wasn't sure. Then, my computer was hit by lightning, the PSU was fried, and I found myself at Best Buy waiting for Geek Squad to repair it. That's when I saw Assassin's Creed on sale, and I decided to go ahead and buy it.

Really I did like the game to an extent. It became repetitive, and you didn't have much control over your equipment, but I liked it for what it was. It was a great early 360 title, and I did enjoy the story; it just had some issues that annoyed me, and kept it from being one of my better games. Then, Assassin's Creed II was announced, and the hype began. AC2 seemingly fixed nearly everything I didn't like about the first. You could swim, there was a real armor and equipment system, the story was more personal, and the gameplay and weapons were greatly refined. This was a game I couldn't wait to play, but sadly it wasn't going to be released for quite awhile so I had to wait... And wait...

The day Assassin's Creed II came out I was in my first year of college, and I remember sitting in my Drafting class listening to others talk about it. There were quite a few people in there hyping about it just as much as I was, and it only made my wait for the game harder. It was only around 8 AM at the time, and it wouldn't be until close to 4 PM that I'd finally get to buy it (not counting the hour drive home). That day seemed to drag on forever, but the moment I was able to I headed right over to GameStop and picked it up. It was actually kind of funny once I got there. Since my dad and I rode together (as he worked down the street), he walked into the mall with me, and the GameStop employee assumed I was a kid bringing in a parent to play it. He explained why the game was rated M to my dad, as I stood there holding my ID.

When I finally got home, I was all set. I didn't have class the next day, and I was ready to play the game non stop (and so I did). That night I ran through most of the intro chapters, and the following day I worked my way through the main story. By the weekend I was nearly finished, and by that next week I was wrapping things up. I'd talk to friends on XBL party (whom were also playing it), and slowly make my way towards the different hidden chests and caves to unlock the final set of armor. These memories were some of the best that came from my Xbox 360, and once I finished the game I still wasn't ready to stop. Putting aside the ending, I wanted more, and I wasn't ready to stop playing just yet. So, after seeing people online posting about getting 1000/1000 achievement points, I decided to go for it as well.

The good news was, I had gotten most from just playing the game, while others were easy ones I actually tried for and had gotten early on. All I had left to do was mostly collection related tasks, and for that I had to spend hours running around the cities collecting feathers... It was frustrating at times, and multiple times I was almost ready to quit, but I stuck in there and accomplished my goal. The final achievement unlocked, I posted online joining those in the 1000/1000 topic, and then sat back looking at what I had accomplished. Here was a game I loved, and for the first time in any game I had gotten all of the achievements. Along the way many memories were made (despite it being such a short time), and I was excited for what was yet to come. I wanted more Assassin's Creed, and I also wanted more games that I would like enough to do everything once again. The funny thing is, I still hope for more games I'll enjoy, but I'd prefer it if AC took a break. Sure, I'll keep buying the games, but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing... (If you can even still consider it a good thing.)

Even so, this was the moment achievements started to matter to me, and I began doing all that I could to unlock them. I don't regret a thing.