Virtual Insanities: Smash Bros, Wrestling, Halo and Double-Dipping

Better Late Than Never

I spent the last week trying to finally unlock everything in Super Smash Bros. Melee. When I say “everything”, I’m not talking about those pesky trophies, some of which are so hard to get that it becomes a pain in the ass on the scale of finishing Ghosts N Goblins without losing a life. No, what I am talking about is simply unlocking the characters, the stages and the modes. I know, I am way too late on this one – six years too late to be exact – but I never really had the patience to do everything. Just to unlock Mewtwo, I needed to play for a combined VS time of 20 hours. Did I have the time to do that? With so many other fun games to play, jobs to do, people to see, time to lose… I had given up about two years ago. Then, last week, while I was getting frustrated in Super Mario Sunshine (some episode in Noki Bay where I have to play dentist for a stupid eel which won’t stop moving while Mario goes around losing his breath), I decided to go back to another game I never quite finished. You see, I’m like that. I start playing about five games at the same time, end up finishing one or two and never play the other games again until I get bored. Just ask my copy of Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time or even Super Metroid. I should have finished that about ten years ago. Probably even sooner that that.

Anyway, I did unlock all the characters and most of the stages, and I am having a strong case of Smash fever at the moment. Still got a couple of things left to unlock, like the sound test, but at least I am finally able to see what “All-Star Mode” is. All the kids were talking about it. Impressive and fun, I must say.

Is Your Gaming Set-Up Kids-Proof?

We had my cousins over at home a couple of weeks ago, and I forgot how stressful it can be. Ah, kids. Sure, they are cute, small and often let go of bodily fluids all over themselves. But let’s not forget that they are also destructive, cruel and selfish. I’m pretty sure that a lot of my readers have little brothers, sisters or cousins, just like I do. So, I’m certain that a lot of people will understand what I mean when I say that these small demolition machines playing with your expensive next-generation gaming rig can quickly become a nightmare. When it comes to that, we all have different means of keeping kids occupied, and keeping their minds off our newest console.

Personally, I try to convince them that my Super NES is way cooler. I don’t care what they do with it; the system has been proven to be quite sturdy and almost indestructible. Should anything happen to it, I have two extra systems in my basement, courtesy of family members who didn’t know what to do with them. So when the cousins are at home, it’s back to Mortal Kombat for them. I can’t say they complain. They feel a little bit like rebels because of the game, despite the fact that not a single drop of blood can be seen in that version.

I guess you could also try wrapping everything in bubble wrap, from the widescreen TV to the walls, but it can get expensive. But you never know how dangerous a child waving his arms around with a blunt object in his hand can be.

Wrestling Games and “Realistic” Graphics

THQ and its developers have been making wrestling games for quite a while now. I know they’re trying as hard as they can, but it seems like there is always something lacking, be it a decent season mode, an up-to-date roster, a good create-a-wrestler mode or even a fun gameplay engine. The last game I bought was Day of Reckoning 2. Sure, it was fun, and the CAW mode was OK, but the season mode was repetitive and the roster was already outdated when it shipped. Yet, despite the obvious flaws, we keep buying because after all, we always have hopes that next game will be better and more like WWF No Mercy. Oh well, at least, the graphics keep getting better, right?

This is where I disagree. I think that the graphics in wrestling games are getting more polished, but I’m not sure they’re getting any more realistic. For some reason, developers seem to have an unhealthy obsession with sweat. In their eyes, it looks like more sweat means more realism. So we end up with games where the wrestlers are losing buckets of sweat, to the point where we can even see the drops on their bodies. Can we even see that on TV? Sure, the guys get all shiny and everything but can we really see each droplets of sweat on their body? Man, I bet that 75% of the GPU is used simply to display the fluid.

Yet, while we get “realistic” sweat, they can’t even make the blood act real. The match goes normally until someone gets busted open, sometimes with a single punch, sometimes after a hundred chairshots to the head. Then, you have the usual cutscene where your wrestler realizes he’s bleeding, and after that, the stuff is so small that it can barely be seen with the naked eye. I swear, you’d have an easier time trying to spot Pluto on a cloudy night with your eyes closed. The only time you get a lot of blood is when the match drags on, and then, it disappears as soon as it touches the mat. Why is it so hard to program blood but not sweat? It’s not that hard. A guy rarely gets busted up because of punches anymore. If there’s a chairsot, make it so there’s a 10% or 15% chance of it drawing blood, and once it starts bleeding, it should get bigger with each subsequent hit. Finally, when it hits the mat, it should stay there. I don’t know how much effort that would put on the CPU, but it can’t be that bad. The NHL games have been displaying the traces the blades leave on the ice for a while now without anything slowing down.

However, blood and sweat are not even the worst part of the graphics. For a while, developers and reviewers alike have been singing the praise of the wrestlers’ models, which are getting more detailed each and every year. Should he still be around, you would soon be able to count the hairs in Maven’s eyebrows. Sure, the details are improving, but there’s still one problem with the wrestlers: the skin looks like it’s made of a weird bland of wax and plastic. I know that it’s hard to reproduce real skin texture with CGI, and honestly, I’m not sure I would want them to. I guess I would get the same feeling I got when watching the Final Fantasy movie. The characters look real enough to be almost lifelike, but not quite enough to be human. That makes everything look weird, almost surreal, and I believe it drags everything else down because that’s all I can focus on. I believe that cartoons should look like cartoons. When you look at games like Gears of War, the graphics are amazing, but the main character still looks like he isn’t real. The same goes for Twilight Princess. Everything is beautiful and lush, but there’s still a cartoon aspect to the characters. I think I’d prefer the wrestlers to be like that. Similar enough to their real-life counter-parts to be easily identified, but with a small caricature feel to them. That’s what I liked about N64 wrestling games. Nothing could beat playing as Gangrel with his constipated vampire face.

Playstation 3 20GB: R.I.P.

It’s now official; the 20GB model of the Playstation 3 is now dead. It has been taken off Sony’s website, and it should be off the shelves pretty soon. A lot of people are pointing to that news as another sign of Sony’s imminent doom. While I agree that it’s a blow to their image, I wouldn’t go as far as saying that they’re going to go bankrupt over that. I just think that from the start, it was a bad decision. In fact, I don’t get the point of releasing two models of the same console at the same time.

Microsoft has been doing it too. When the Xbox 360 launched, you also had the choice to buy the Core pack, which missed enough stuff to make it completely pointless. In my opinion, producing such packages is a waste of time. The number of people who are going to buy it is not significant enough to justify its existence. From my experience, most gamers are going to wait until they get more money to get the real deal instead of going for the crippled model just because it’s available right now. There’s no way someone is going to buy the cheaper model, then upgrade for the real one a year of two later. If you’re going to try to make gamers double-dip for your system, at least do it with some subtlety.

Nintendo has been great at doing that for a while, and Microsoft is learning. It all started with the original Game Boy in different “Play it Loud!” colors, which sold pretty well. Then you had the Game Boy Pocket, Color, Advance, Advance SP and Micro. Each version sold well enough because there was a time lapse between each release, enough to make some gamers go “ooh, that new version is so shiny and better, I think I’ll get it”. While time was a reason, I think it should be noted that the Game Boy didn’t cost over 400 bucks either. Even though the tactic has been done to death, it still works. The DS was first released, people bought it, then the DS Lite is released, and everybody’s going crazy for it. Microsoft, despite releasing two versions of the Xbox 360 at the same time, learned that a new version released later can sell. They have the Xbox 360 Elite ready to go, and you better believe that if someone is going to buy a 360 from now on, most of the time, it’s going to be the Elite version.

Maybe there’s some strategic financial stuff behind the scene that justifies a company releasing two models of the same console, but I don’t get it. Unless it’s a choice of color, I don’t think it should happen. One model is always going to look cheap next to the other, and most gamers will want to get the better version. At least, leaving a gap between the two releases will ensure that the new version will sell to people getting it for the first time, while some of the richer gamers will also see it as a justified upgrade.

Anyway, let’s wish Sony better luck with their PS3. I know there’s always something fun about Sony having difficulties because you know someone in their PR department is going to say something ludicrous, but I wouldn’t want them to have too much trouble. It’s always better when there’s a healthy competition going on. We all know how being alone worked for WWE.

Halo 3: Calm Down

All right, everybody calm down. I know, the Halo 3 Multiplayer Beta Test is coming in May, and everybody wants to be a part of it. Crackdown has been selling like crazy mostly because it contained invites to the test, and people online are already drooling all over their keyboards when it was announced that a “Legendary Edition” would be released, including a Master Chief helmet that will not fit your face, but could make a potentially funny accessory for your chihuahua or your cat.

I will admit that until very recently, I had never played a Halo game. However, following the hype that is currently preceding Halo 3, I had no choice but to try it out just to see what it’s all about, and why the entire planet is getting so excited about it.

I’m not going to go as far as to call the game “boring” or “bad”, but I will call it “average”. I don’t know if it is because the games have been so over-hyped that I expected something else, but in the end, I didn’t find the innovation and thrill that was described in so many reviews I had read.

What I did find was the amazing soundtrack, great graphics and cool guns I’ve heard so much about. As for the rest, somehow, it didn’t seem as fun as I thought it would be. I tried to like it, and I will admit that I had a good time, but this is not a game I would get so excited for, or even a game I would be willing to give my money for. Was it the levels? Was it because I have played the same game so many times before, only in different settings or with different characters?

I can’t put my finger on the exact problem with Halo, but some of the levels left me bored, with the impression that I had been there before. Also, while the story is engaging, the setting made me feel like I was in a mix of Starship Troopers and Star Wars. Getting through the start of the game sometimes felt like a chore which I would do just to get to see the next cut-scene. My multiplayer experience was a bit better, but it still wasn’t that different from what I had been playing since Goldeneye came out on the N64.

I’m not saying that the game sucks. I’m just saying that it’s not as good as everybody tried to make me believe it was. I have had some fun while playing it, but not to the point of calling it a classic or even influential. It’s a game that I have no desire to play again, and that in the end, did nothing to reinvent the genre. Reviewers have said that this game changed the way first-person shooters were done. I don’t see it. In my opinion, it is still below Goldeneye, Perfect Dark and Timesplitters. Now I know the next line might shock some people, but hell, I had more fun playing the original Turok.

So, I’m not going to tell you what to do. If you want to get all hyped and excited about Halo 3, it’s your choice. I’m not going to judge either; I used to be excited when I heard that Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey would be ported from the arcade to the N64. It’s all a matter of taste. Still, I’m not going to lose my time trying to get an invite to that multiplayer beta test. Now everybody’s happy, it’s one more invite left for someone else to get.

In Closing

I didn’t discuss that much about the Wii this week, which is weird because it is my system of choice. That’s because I have been busy downloading and playing Star Fox 64, which up to now, has been my favourite release for the Virtual Console. Other than Super Smash Bros. Melee, it has been my game of choice for the last week. I had good memories of the game, and even ten years later, it’s still as entertaining as ever. You can never get tired of shooting stuff with lasers. The multiplayer mode is also a blast, and my brother and I have spent a bit of time shooting each other downs during the Easter weekend. He gets a lot of fun breaking one of his wings, which sends his aircraft constantly flying down. Then I do the same, and we have cripple fights. Awesome.

Finally, I will be writing a review for Super Paper Mario, which I picked up yesterday (April 11th). I will try to have it up as soon as possible, but I will try to get a little bit more of playtime before unleashing my opinion of the game on the Internet. Can’t be too careful with that.