January 2003

Innovation in video games is rare. Actually let me rephrase that; innovation in video games, and actually being successful, is rare. All games nowadays try to bring something new to the table. Whether it be a new and improved way to utilize lighting or a higher polygon count, games will try to bring “that something else” to the table. Animal Crossing is no different in this regard; however it succeeds where others have failed. It made me say, “Oh my god, I can’t believe they pulled this off.” Allow me to explain.

This game is odd. It is odd in the sense that a video game can be so complex and simple at the same time. I have to believe that the developers of Animal Crossing planned for a very long time how to engross the gamer and make him come back for more. What they did was implement a real-time world. Real time as in 5:00 pm here is 5:00 pm in your town. When you eat lunch, the good folk that live around will be eating lunch as well. The game plays even when you are not there. Most everything you do will have an affect on the people and town you live in. Don’t talk to your neighbors; well they will begin to not like you. Don’t take care of your yard; then good luck pulling up weeds. The game has a way of keeping you playing for a very long time.

The objective of this game is to…well…you know? I don’t know if there is a real objective, but what you do is move into a randomly generated little town. The town is filled with townsfolk (all animals) and things to do. From the beginning you can pick a house which is yours to decorate as you see fit. Then of course you have to pay off your little place and then you can renovate it and make it bigger. For those of you who are thinking it sounds like a Sims type of concept you could not be further from the truth. The point here is to be occupied and happy. You make money by running errands for the townsfolk, and in turn they will give you bells (money) or something interesting (a new shirt, wallpaper, or furniture). If you, like me, are not the working type you can spend all day digging up treasure or shaking trees and selling junk for cash. Of course there is so much to buy, as you will be no doubt decorating your all the time, or buying new gear to wear.

The graphics are intentionally bad. At first you will think they completely suck as the Gamecube is able to handle much more than what Animal Crossing brings. The characters are very pixilated as is pretty much everything. I’m sure the developers could have just as easily created real time lighting effects with bad ass texture mapping, but the graphics bring Animal Crossing to a playing field all its own. It’s a bit weird at first as by now you are used to some pretty stunning looking visuals, but it will grow on you and you will appreciate the game more. Trust me.

The sound in the game is fantastic. The music never gets old as you can always go into your house and jam on some tunes in your HiFi Stereo. The midis are very catchy and to be honest with you, you will not ever find yourself annoyed with it at all. You will hear your shoes mush in the snow, as well as trample on leaves. If you go into the museum in town, everything gets real quite and hollow sounding, a very nice touch. Hell you can even edit your own jingles that will play when you speak to the people, I’m pretty sure you can even get the tunes for old NES games down if you played around with it long enough.

The games controls are a breeze. You can navigate to you inventory screen easily with the X button and Y button brings up your map. The A button of course is the predominant button as you will use it to talk and activate your new toys. The inventory screen is easy enough to use, you have a hand (a very Mario like glove) to grab items from their slots and either equip them or drop them. Special items like the butterfly net and Shovel can be dragged and dropped onto your character as easy as cake. The game is very responsive as you run from place to place you will not encounter many difficulties.

The fun factor for Animal Crossing is where this bad boy shines. You are really in charge of your time spent there. You have to raise enough money once you start the initial job, but after that your schedule is open to do what you see fit. The great thing is that you will not be able to just go out and start digging treasure. You will either have to wait for someone to give you a shovel as a present or the shop to have one in stock. While that may sound lame it makes that item come off as special. For instance the shovel is used to dig up buried items and even moneybags. Soda had already bought the shovel earlier that day. I run to the store with that shimmer in my eyes as today will be the day I can dig crap up! Alas when I get there my dreams are shattered as a big SOLD OUT sign lays where my shovel once rested. I then beg and plead with Soda to let me borrow it, and he did. But in other situations I could have traded items with him or sent him nice letters asking if I could borrow the shovel so I can dig a bear trap for him or something. You really do interact with the environment around you. While you can play this game by yourself it is much better played with some friends by your side. The game plays alternatively so after I save, someone else can go. This causes a lot of conflict with me as Soda always yanks the good stuff from the dump or the lost and found. Up to four of your friends can live in the town including the countless citizens that are already there, who happen to move in and out of town.

Better yet with the use you your handy dandy memory card you can visit other people’s towns. For instance Snowcone on a GameCube has his own thing going I can take my memory card over and stop by his place and say hi. There will be items that are only available in his town that I can loot and take back to my place to sell for a premium! Technically you can start your own apple tree plantation if you live in a city that only has pears…MUHAHAHA! Also I have come up with the great idea of being the only place in town to have pears. I will chop down every other pear tree in town, all the while I sport a big lush pear tree in my own back yard and become the Pear King of Snackbar Town!

Whoa…excuse me I went off on a tangent…

This game is a definite buy as I have yet to get bored with any activities that happen in Animal Crossing. You will find yourself playing for hours, trying to get that fishing pole or raise enough money to buy that something you really want. Animal Crossing is a gamer’s game. I was a bit standoffish about it, but now I am glad I was able to play such a fantastic game. In my opinion it is the best GameCube game out right now. Sorry Metroid but you got a swift kick in the butt by Animal Crossing. Do yourself a favor, round up some cash and head on off to purchase this bad boy.

Now if you will excuse me I must go back to my nefarious Pear King plan.

Welcome back to the Weekly Retro Column. Sorry about the brief
absence, but with the holidays and the launch we’ve been swamped.
This week’s game is Baseball Stars for the NES. Released in 1989
and developed by SNK this game is a baseball classic.

Baseball Stars is my favorite game ever. I can’t believe that in
the past 14 years no one has managed to build upon the groundwork
that Baseball Stars laid for a baseball franchise. The control that
you have over your team including the hiring and firing is unparalleled
by any game to date. When I was younger I would spend hours beating
The Lovely Ladies over and over trying to save up enough cash to
upgrade my clean-up hitter. Occasionally I’ll still pick up this
game and get hooked for a week or so. Best baseball game ever, hands

You have to wonder how a game of this quality came around so early.
It is obviously the most thought out and replayable NES game ever.
I remember getting deeply involved in this game trying to keep my
average around .400. Of course I made myself in the game as well
as my cousins, and together we would take on the computer or each other.
You may not know this, but Soda and I both grew up playing baseball
so there is special connection to this game that to this day I have
yet to feel with another baseball game.

I had my cousins and myself in this game as well. Eventually though
I ran out of cousin’s names and had my cat catching and my dog playing
right field. I’ll tell you what, my cat could freaking slug. For
this NES the graphics in this game were pretty sweet as well. The
pitching motions were pretty fluid and it was the first game that
I can remember that included different arm angles for the pitcher.
Additionally this was the first game that I can remember having
the ability to dive for a foul ball or climb the fence trying to
bring back a homerun ball. One thing that was lacking was the MLBPA
license though. There were no real teams included in the game and
what replaced them was a very odd cast of characters. Oc
a team would have one or two girls on it, but there was also the
all girl team, The Lovely Ladies. The girls were kind of funny.
You could bean them with the ball and they would fall down and cry.
When you’re nine that never gets old.

First of all the diving and leaping the game had was gold. I remember
bringing back homeruns with a leap at the wall. As far as game play
is concerned the game was smooth. The pitching and batting were
tight all the way around. The field however seemed like it was a
mile long, but your guys could run down the deep fly ball with relative
ease. The ladies teams were classic, but my favorite was the Ghastly
Monsters team. Everyone on the Ghastly Monsters had the name of
some old school horror flick. I mean how much does it suck to have
to pitch against Jason batting clean up. I would hate to be the
coach and have to post the starting line up for that team…shit
you will literally get a knife in you back.

No kidding I can see it now, “Allright Jason, we’re looking
to up the defense for today so we’re going with Cyclops for the
start.” Seconds later the sound of a chainsaw firing up fills
the clubhouse. Also cool in Baseball Stars was the team called the
American Dreams. They were the best team by a mile and were all
named after some baseball greats. Lou, Babe and Joe were all players
on this team. One thing about the game that really bothered me is
when the view switched from the batters box to the field. All the
girls would turn into boys. At nine years old I wasn’t quite prepared
for a subliminal sex-change lesson.

You want to know the best thing about this game…it was not
a home run derby, hell you were lucky to park one out the mile long
centerfield. The game was a true to form baseball sim. No crap to
deal with, just you and your team in a league. You were able to
raise your player’s stats and help bring you team home some jack.
I am so disappointed in the lack of any good baseball games now.
It really is frustrating to get a new baseball game it be some homerun
derby or a game that is so out of control you cant do jack crap.
I tell you what I really want for a change, Baseball stars repackaged
with a MLBPA license. I guarantee that it will sell like hotcakes
and be a damn good game. I suggest
to the new game developers to
build upon the foundation of Baseball Stars. Everything about the
game was great, from batting to pitching to fielding. Long live
SNK and Baseball Stars!


Wild Arms 3

January 3, 2003

Normally I am not a huge fan of the RPG genre, so it’s a bit odd that I picked out this game. I’ve never really been a fan of cell shading either. Something about Wild Arms 3 intrigued me at the store though. It had been quite awhile since I’d given an RPG a chance and this could possibly be the one that changed my mind. Wild Arms 3 was developed by SCEA and was released back in October of 2002. While not the best game I’ve played lately I was very impressed by the things that SCEA tried in this game. It’s seems that there has been an extremely lack of creativity in the game market lately, but that isn’t true of Wild Arms 3.

WA3 defiantly changed my mind about cell shading, this is the first time I have ever seen the power of it. I had no clue what could be accomplished and communicated by what I thought was just a cope out on the graphics end. Instead of the usual style of cell shading WA3 tried to texturize the cells. The end result just looks like they ran the scenes through a couple of Photoshop filters. I’ll have to admit that the graphics are pretty weak in the beginning and in the worldview. Later on in WA3 after you get spells to work with is when the graphics get a lot better. While I wouldn’t consider the graphics great by any stretch of the imagination the lighting effects on the characters are fantastic. Pickle sat there watching me play this a lot and was constantly pestering me as to how this game couldn’t carry Final Fantasy’s jock, but even he was blown away by some of the lighting effects. Some of the enemies you fight are so lame though. It seems kind of a waste to use a “Devastate” spell on a floating book. SCEA really could have put more time into developing more detailed enemies. The battle scenes that initially cause a jaw-dropping awe effect will later on make you want to beat yourself over the head due to how repetitive they are. In the end all this game’s graphics did for me was get me more hyped up about the cell shading in the upcoming Zelda.

The sound in WA3 is terrible. I played for close to ten hours and heard two midi tracks looped endlessly over and over. After two hours or so I just went ahead and played on mute, and trust me, I didn’t miss anything. One thing that really spurned me away from RPGs in the past was all the reading that was involved. Once RPGs started out on the next-gen consoles I thought that was a thing of the past. Apparently SCEA didn’t get that memo. There are very few things I find more frustrating than reading endless amounts of cheesy dialogue with no voice-over whatsoever.

Although I don’t play many RPGs I found that the controls during battle sequences were really easy to master. In the worldview though I wandered aimlessly not quite able to master quick turns while riding horseback. It doesn’t seem like control is a big issue in the RPG world, unless someone attempts to implement an extremely complex battle sequence. The thing that frustrated me the most, and what I consider to be the downfall of this game is the navigation. For some bizarre reason all the cities are hidden and you have to run around with this stupid search tool to find everything. After a while it got so frustrating that I just gave up. The world is enormous, and I spent a ton of money on a world map that I could never figure out how to use. Note to game companies: when making an RPG don’t hide the fucking cities!

Other than the challenge of trying to find my next destination there was nothing terribly complex about WA3. A few puzzles were involved here and there, but nothing that took a whole lot to figure out. I spent most of the time lost, looking for cities. Once I was able to find them the levels were a breeze to get through. Even the bosses don’t pose much of a threat. I fought the same boss on three separate occasions and whipped up on him every time. I imagine that later in the game the enemies are a bit more challenging, but like I said, the sheer frustration of trying to find the next city is headache enough.

I have an extremely short attention span and it actually amazed Pickle and myself that I was able to log close to 15 hours on WA3. The game’s story was really weak though. If the story had been developed a bit more I may have had more interest in achieving my next goal. All the characters back-stories were really weak as well and I was never really sure as to what my eventual goal was. Parts of it were entertaining, but as a whole the game really isn’t much fun. The repetitiveness of the enemies got to me as well. It seemed like enemy attacks were constant and I didn’t even have time to walk from point a to point b without being jumped 50 times.

In conclusion I’d say that it might be worth giving this one a rent. Someone with more patience than me may find it more enjoyable. I’d like to give SCEA props for trying new stuff and I think they have created an excellent foundation for other games to build on. This is the first time that I’ve been semi-interested in an RPG in quite some time. The fact that WA3 was a “western-style” RPG was pretty cool as well. It did peak my interest in other RPGs though and Pickle has convinced me to give Final Fantasy VII a shot. So maybe this game is a good beginner RPG to get people interested in the genre.