Friday, September 14, 2012

No "Weekend Flashback" this week. D=

Sorry to say it, but there won't be a weekend flashback from me this week. My dog had surgery on Tuesday, and while he's recovering during this first week, taking care of him is more important than a blog segment on old games. Or any blogging at all, really.

For those interested in hearing why that'd be such a huge diversion to blogging, he had a torn ligament and got it fixed. He's home now, and on pain meds, but he needs post-op care like massages and prom (passive range of motion) exercises to keep bruising and trauma low and to help keep him comfortable. It's also got the added benefit of reducing his recovery time.

Things should go back to normal after this week. I should have things queued up, if nothing else, before the end of next week. I can't make any promises, though, because my dog is my literal best friend, and his health and safety come way before any blog could ever dream of.

Peace out, peeps, I'll be writing again soon.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Girl Time! Review: John Frieda Precision Foam Colour

Okay, the rumors are true. For those of you who keep gazing at my Blogger profile, wondering how I got my hair to be such a vibrant yellow, gaze and wonder no more: Yellow is not my natural hair color.

It's actually this awful golden brown, like perfectly done toast.

So, I dye it semi-regularly. Usually it's the golden blond of my childhood. Or of Thor, but mostly my childhood, and sometimes I deviate from that with the help of my awesome hairdresser.

The complete kit. Simple and easy.
Today, I decided not to use my hairdresser for the first time in five years and dye it myself. The color I chose was Medium Burgundy from John Frieda's foam-based haircolor line.

"Foam?" I asked myself in the middle of the aisle whilst people milled around me. "How will this work, I wonder?" You have to remember, when I was dying my hair in high school, "foam" was not an option. It was a messy cream-based crap the got everywhere except in my hair and left huge undyed patches everywhere. Gross.

So I picked up this... "foam" and went about my merry way.

So, what's the point of this vignette? The point is this: HOLY CRAP I LOVE THIS FOAM HAIR DYE. WTF.

This stuff is so easy to use. I'm no stranger to hair dyes and hair dying supplies: I regularly dye my friends' hair all the time, I know my way around equipment. But this was so easy to use by myself that I was a little bit amazed. Foam doesn't get all over the place like the cream-based colors did. It's foam; it stays roughly where you put it. That's what I did with it, and it worked beautifully.

The other thing I really liked about the stuff? It covered all of my hair. My hair's long - it goes to the small of my back - and it's thick, to boot, so with cream based colors I was always getting two boxes of stuff. Not with this shit. I had extra in the container when I was done. That just doesn't happen! It was awesome.

And the results are amazing. I can't stress it enough. All the superlatives in the entire world are useless when describing my pleasure of having bought this. I'm sure that it would have been the same for any foam-based color, but this stuff is pretty. And oh my god is it red or what? I mean, really, the reds that I was looking at were like copper orange and strawberry blondes. But this is a really beautiful deep red. Look at it:

You're looking at the Color of Awesome, right there.

Yeah, that's me rockin' that new red. Oh man, so much better than that blonde I was just keeping around.

So, yeah, totes look at foam color next time you do your hair. And if you're looking for a red with depth, you can't go wrong with this stuff. It's pretty, it's vibrant, and it's really easy to use. It's a little more expensive ($11.99) than the L'Oreal or Herbal Essences dyes (which are both around $8.50 where I am,) but it really is worth it for its vibrant color and shine.

You can visit the John Frieda website here.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Weekend Flashback #5: Crash Bandicoot (PSO, 1996)

Title: Crash Bandicoot
Original Release Date: August 31, 1996
Platform: Playstation 
ESRB Rating: K-A (Current ESRB: E)

Crash Bandicoot used to be fun. When Naughty Dog was still in charge of it, it was a fairly entertaining, albeit basic, action platformer. The characters were mostly memorable, the levels pretty, and the music good.

Oh, wait, Crash Bandicoot was none of those things. Actually, it was exactly the opposite.

Before all my other friends were having fun with Spyro the Dragon, I was busy hating myself with the original Crash Bandicoot. It was a decent enough platformer for its time, I suppose, but it hasn't aged well at all. The controls are buggy at best, the camera angles suck, and it varies wildly between being impossibly difficult and simply too easy to bear. And yet, when it came out, it was given generally positive reviews.

But that was 1996. It's 2012 now, and that's the point. Trying to replay this was torturous at its worst and tedious at best. It's almost tough to believe that I ever had a good time with this game as a kid, especially enough to buy the later games in the series. Like I said above, the cameras are buggy now that I've grown accustomed to tight cameras, and the game's controls seem loose and unresponsive, which I believe was Dave's complaint about the game back when we first got it. This game introduces the major characters - Dr. Cortex, Aku Aku, Uka Uka, and Crash himself (obviously) - but they really came into their own in later games. The platforming isn't anything special and could actually be considered mediocre at best, even among platformers of its time.

I'm almost surprised that this game was successful enough to spawn sequels at all. I'm not saying that I'm not glad: I am, because the series would later become one of my favorites, starting with Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back. The series got a rough start, but it vastly improved with later installments.

Verdict: Unless you want a bout of nostalgia, skip it. Go for Crash Bandicoot 2 instead.

Notes: Crash Bandicoot is available on PSN for both PS3 and PSP play.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Review: Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One (PS3)

Title: Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One
System: Playatation 3
ESRB Rating: E 10+
Number of Players: 1-4 player co-op, online capabilities
Buy It: Amazon | GameStop |

By this point, everyone is sick of me talking incessantly about how much I love Ratchet & Clank. Well, call me honey badger because I don't care. I've been a fan of the Ratchet and Clank series since its launch in 2002. With each of the main games that came out, I liked the series even more. It was a mix of insanely bizarre weapons, an engaging story, completely loveable characters, and modern platforming (done right!) that drew me to the series in the first place. Even as the series evolved and moved onto the PS3, I still loved the series. I even enjoyed (thoroughly) the spinoffs Size Matters and Secret Agent Clank, despite their flaws.

So, despite the fan attack, I'm going to say this right out in the open, unashamed: I thoroughly enjoyed the shit out of Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One.

I know, I know. Fans of the series typically hated this game because it deviated from the R&C norm that we've come to expect from the series. But that was part of what really drew me to it: it was different than what I'd come to expect, and for the first time, I could play a game from this series with another person. Or, as luck would have it, a group of people. (I wasn't lucky enough to have anyone to play Deadlocked with me as a kid.)

The story isn't quite as deep as I've come to expect from a Ratchet and Clank game. We're greeted with a beautifully-rendered cutscene of Ratchet and Clank escorting Qwark to an awards ceremony that seems (to our titular heroes) to be a fishy. When they finally get to the podium that's been set up for Qwark, it's revealed that Nefarious is the villain behind the "ceremony," and our heroes prepare themselves for a Class-A beatdown. Unfortunately for Nefarious, he gets caught up in the chaos unleashed by his own plan and gets himself abandoned by Lawrence, leaving him to work with Qwark, Clank, and Ratchet. They all then get captured by the real threat, and the four of them have to work together while they await rescue from Cronk and Zephyr.

A lot of the complaints that I've read about the game talk about how it's not really a "co-op" game because you're working against your teammates as much as you're working with them. That's true, so my friends and I affectionately call these kinds of games "competitive co-op" games. It's the same kind of classification we give to Castle Crashers. As much as you'll be working with friends to complete puzzles and unlock doors, you'll be competing for bolts (the R&C universe's currency) and critters, cute little creatures that unlock bonus puzzles. If your friends are already competitive by nature, then this is already right up your alley. The winner at the end of the round gets a bonus in bolts, and every character gets a title after the battle. (For example, if you collected the most bolts, you'd be the Bolt Master, whereas if you died the most, you'd get the title Noob.)

One of my biggest qualms with the game doesn't lie in the "co-op vs. not co-op" debate, but in the fact that you can't level up your weapons like fans have grown accustomed to over the course of the series. You have to buy your upgrades instead of earning them, and sometimes, the upgrades really don't feel worth the bolts I have to pour into them. The other is that, while you can play the game by yourself, the AI that you get paired up with isn't always smart enough to get the hint. Sometimes, it gets caught and runs itself into circles while driving the player character crazy.

Other times, working with other players isn't much better. The range for working on the level is very narrow, making it frustrating for someone in the party to go back and get something when everyone else is trying to move forward. Other times, someone's clumsiness causes everyone else to commit mass party-suicide when they slip off of a hookshot point or when they pull someone off the edge while they try to tether forward to the rest of the party. And on grind rail levels, try to make sure whoever is playing as Quark stays in the back, because he's almost impossible to see around. The other characters - even Nefarious, despite his height - are narrow and easy to see past, but Quark is a wall of body mass. Most of these things are overlooked, though, while we're busy laughing at each other for being so unbelievably stupid. (Not that thing about Quark, though, we all really hate that guy.)

The weapons system is difficult at times, as well, especially when not working with the AI. Players can choose which of their weapons to use, and while that's great most of the time, damage bonuses are awarded when two or more players use the same weapon against an enemy. Many times - especially against bosses - that damage bonus is the deciding factor between winning the battle and resurrecting your friends. But unless you and your teammates are really good at guessing each other's movements and weapon preferences, it's easy to get caught up in using nothing but your blaster. That's a shame, because some of the other weapons (I'm looking pointedly at the Frost Cannon and Warmonger, here) are absolutely devastating against enemies when used wisely, and become indispensable later in the game.

Overall, the game isn't as bad as some members of the fanbase want you to think it is. It's entirely too short (we've blown through the entire story in an afternoon) and some of the things we have to go through don't feel worth it for the payout, but we've each found a character we love using and when we don't have anything better to do, we automatically default onto All 4 One. If you've liked the rest of the games in the series, but you'd like a multiplayer option, then you really can do worse than this game.

Bottom Line: Certainly co-op, but competitive co-op. Awkward camera angles and character sizes make some levels really difficult, but overall not a bad experience.

Final Score: 8/10

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Weekend Flashback #4: Paper Mario (N64, 2001)

Title: Paper Mario
Original Release Date: February 5, 2001
Platform: Nintendo 64 
ESRB Rating: E

Ever encounter a game that you picked up for no other reason than because the art was unusual? I think we've all done it at one time or another. (My most recent encounter with this was The World Ends With You, for example.) That's what I did with the original Paper Mario. I wasn't really into most of the titles in the Mario franchise as a kid; I'd play them if they were there, but they were far from my first choice. So everyone was a little shocked when I picked this title up as a kid.

I didn't finish this game the first time I played through it. I got stuck on the final fight with Bowser, got frustrated, and gave up entirely. I remember doing that, and my own save file on the N64 cartridge confirmed it. So, instead of picking it up from where I left off, I played through it again. Completely, all the way through. Then I bought it from the Virtual Console store on the Wii and played it through again to see how it stacked up against the original version. Two playthroughs in about a week and a half, and I still wanted more.

Needless to say, I'm pleased all the way around.

There's something about this title that makes it truly timeless. The graphics hold up, the music is just as fun and bubbly as I always remembered it being, the worlds Mario travels through are still beautiful, and the partners he picks up are still wonderfully characterized and different. This game is still so amazing and fun to play that I honestly believe it should be in everyone's Nintendo library, and that's not something I say often. The other entries in the Paper Mario franchise are all okay, but none of them seem to live up to the standard that this one set. In terms of accessibility, anyone can play it. My nieces had a blast playing through it, as did Dave. This is one of those rare titles that, no matter what your experience level is with gaming, you can pick up and play like a pro in just a few short scenes. 

The story isn't fast-paced, per se, but it does flow very well and move fairly constantly. There's not really a lot of idle time for Mario and his friends, but it never feels like you're being rushed. There's always something to see, do, and find in every level that makes going back really rewarding (and trust me, I'm still not at 100% with my files.) Leveling up my partners is still a bit of a challenge - you don't level them up with experience, you do it by finding ultra blocks - and I spend quite a bit of time just wandering around looking for them. I know there's walkthroughs out there, I even have the original guidebook in my room, but finding them myself is half the fun. 

As for the Virtual Console version, it's been left, for the most part, untouched. Most of the controls are the same, save for commands that use the "Z" button. (On the Gamecube controller, which is what I use to play Virtual Console games on, you use the "R" button.) The game is smooth and clear on the Wii, and doesn't leave remnants if you're using a standard-def Wii on an HDTV. Overall, an enjoyable experience.

Verdict: No one should miss the original Paper Mario. It's a game that none of its sequels have matched in story, gameplay, or charm. 

Notes: As I mentioned above, this title is available on the Wii as a re-release for 1000 Wii Points. ($10)