Saturday, August 20, 2011

I Have Standards, You Know

Yesterday I was weighted down by my own indecision, and couldn't commit to any one of the three topics I wanted to write about: wedding planning, video games, and comics. After the day I had yesterday and the night before, I've got a story that encompasses all three topics.

But mostly video games.

When I wrote yesterday's post on Thursday night, I found myself continually coming back to the question of what video game(s) I should play next. It is unusual beyond unusual for me to have no single-player games going, but such times are typically the only times when I'm willing to take a chance on something...different. Here's the breakdown of what I had been playing:

I'd just finished Back to the Future: The Game, having started back in December 2010, when the episodic PC game series first began. Each episode only took me a few evenings to a week to complete, but at the rate I was able to actually sit down and take the time to play, each new episode was released right around the time I was just coming to the end of the previous one. Given how little waiting I actually did between episodes, it genuinely felt as though I had taken eight months to finish this game, and that's quite an investment.

I had recently conquered the final boss of Final Fantasy III for the Nintendo DS, read about how I was totally missing out on a bunch of sidequests that I could only unlock by rounding up a group of ten friends and exchanging Friend Codes with them, and proceeded to free up another 20 hours of my life by taking the game out of my DS and putting it in a safe place where the obsessive completionist in me would be reluctant to lazy to look for it.

I had just wrapped up a few weeks of love-'em-and-leave-'em platforming, enjoying a brief fling with Tobe's Vertical Adventure, visiting my old flame, Mega Man (the PC game, which I'll be reviewing on GameCola before too long), and suffering though a mercifully short relationship with Mega Man's sororal twin sister, Mega Man III. (OH, THE GENDER CONFUSION, IT HURTS.)

Two lengthy commitments and a string of one-night-stands all at the same time leaves a guy ready for a break, so it was a welcome change to have nothing whatsoever on my gaming to-do list. For one night. Then I started to get antsy, and wanted to get at least one new game going. I considered polling our blog readers, or asking for opinions on the Racketboy forums I used to frequent, but I started to find that I was already formulating a list in my head.

Ideally, I like to have three games going at any given time. As a self-imposed requirement, I must at all times adhere to my Standards for Upholding Variety in Gaming. The Standards are met by ensuring that each game I'm playing represents a different item from both of the lists below:

- Adventure/Puzzle
- First-Person Shooter
- Platformer (as my favorite genre, this can be counted twice)
- Roleplaying
- Other

- Console (NES, SNES, N64, GameCube, Wii)
- Handheld (Game Boy/Color, GBA, DS)
- PC

It should be noted that I become progressively more lax about adhering to the Standards once I have three or more games going at once. I can't tell whether this all sounds more like common sense or complete nonsense, but it's a system that has served me well for many years nonetheless.

My normal procedure anymore when choosing a new game is to consult my Backloggery, scroll around until I find inspiration, or let the site's Fortune Cookie feature decide on my behalf what game I should play. Normal procedure was thrown out the window when a tremendous thunderstorm hit, and I hurriedly shut down my computer and retreated to the couch to read Dune for a while.

When the lights began to flicker, I shut off my lamp and sat in the dark for a moment, accepting my fate: I had no other suitable source of light on hand by which to read, and I wasn't about to put my PC or TV at risk of electrical overload. I had no recourse but to fetch my Game Boy Advance.

My initial thought was to try out Kirby & the Amazing Mirror. I'd been seeing a lot of references to the pink puffball on the Internet, and it had gotten me to think about how the most modern Kirby game I've played was released in 1995, when Bill Clinton was still in his first term as President. As I lifted the game out of my travel case, I noticed another game below it I had completely forgotten about--the Castlevania Double Pack.

I've played Castlevania, half of Castlevania II, and about an hour of Super Castlevania IV, and I can tell you right now that it's almost my type of game series. I'm a sucker for platformers, and the distinct game physics give the series a unique feel (which gets less painful the farther away you get from the original), and this is a big series that people like to talk about--so on one level, I'm curious. Still, it's a series featuring vampires and zombies and mummies and all those things people love around Halloween time, and I don't like Halloween. Ah, but the music is terrific.

It's a toss-up.

Much like I bought Kirby & the Amazing Mirror to get a handle on where the Kirby series has been in more recent years, I picked up the Castlevania Double Pack (featuring two games from 2002 and 2003, respectively Harmony of Dissonance and Aria of Sorrow) to see what the Belmont clan was up to some twenty years after the days of Simon Robo-Belmont. Curiosity got the better of me.

Alone in my living room, pitch black except for the occasional flashes of lightning, utterly silent aside from the sudden cracks of thunder, I sat down to play a video game crawling with every possible iteration of the undead.

It was fantastic.

As far as I've observed, Castlevania has always been just creepy enough to have atmosphere and character without being over-the-top scary, and that held true for the twenty minutes I got to play Harmony of Dissonance before the Game Boy ran out of power. I was having a blast exploring Dracula's castle with a responsive character who could level up and be decked out with fancy equipment. It was so nice to have RPG elements without being a full-blown RPG like the ones I'd been playing for the past two years, with their interminable cutscenes and endless random battles.

I finally understood what people meant when they called the newer games Metroidvania, and the simple satisfaction of discovering new areas and collecting powerups without any stupid gimmicks or aggravating game design decisions to detract from the experience suddenly made me feel that much more unfulfilled by the last official Metroid game. Everything was fun because everything worked. Well, aside from the part where the game stopped working.

The timing of my Game Boy's battery failure was awkward. It was almost time for me to consider going to bed, which is both too early to go to bed and too late to do anything other than continue playing Castlevania on my Nintendo DS, which I knew still had some battery life left. Not that I had many options other than bed or video games, but still. Awkward time.

More awkward: Having your DS tell you that there is no game inserted in the game slot, when you have very clearly just loaded the Castlevania Double Pack. Maybe two games was just too much for the system to handle. I was annoyed, because I was in the middle of one of the best gaming highs I'd had in a while, but I was willing to settle for a time-waster DS game, like Metroid Prime Pinball or Tetris DS. If the GBA game slot wasn't being recognized, at least the DS game slot would be.

Or not.

I can only assume that my DS is affected by the weather, because none of the games I shoved into it were recognized during the thunderstorm. I chalk it up to that, or to fumbling around in the dark with sensitive electronic equipment. Two portable gaming systems rendered completely useless for totally different reasons. At least I now had a substitute flashlight; the DS screen glows pretty brightly. Except I was too angry to strap the DS to my head so I could have enough light to read. "Fine! I'll go to bed!" was my response.

Last night was worse, yet somehow better. My plan was simple, as plans that fail always are: get home from work, watch a few YouTube videos over dinner, do some vital wedding planning (see, I told you there'd be wedding planning), call my family to say hello, and then do some writing before capping off the evening with more Castlevania.

What ended up happening was that I got halfway through dinner, received a phone call that led to another phone call that had me talking with my family during that awkward time where you want and need to talk, except your dinner is getting cold, and then hung up the phone to hear that another thunderstorm had overtaken the neighborhood. I died a little inside, turned off my computer, and brought my dinner into the living room, where I still dared to leave a lamp on in the midst of the cataclysm outside. Doggone it, I was not going to bed at 7:30.

It also occurred to me that I should plug in my Game Boy, if only for a few minutes, to ensure I still had something to do if the power cut out. I made a mental note to buy a proper reading light this weekend, along with five other Game Boys as backup. For the moment, though, I had ample light for reading, so I fetched a Star Trek trade at random from my bookshelf and sat down to read The Modala Imperative over dinner, and until the storm cleared. (See? I told you there'd be comics.)

I was a few paragraphs away from the end of Walter "Chekov" Koenig's introduction when my apartment lost power entirely. I unplugged the charging Game Boy, flicked the On switch, and panicked for a moment when it didn't turn on. I flicked the switch again, and all was well again. The battery light seemed to indicate I might not have to go to bed at 7:30 after all. I settled in for almost two hours of pure gaming, and I would've stayed there until the battery died on me again if the storm hadn't eventually cleared up and permitted me to get back to the wedding planning and blogging I had been meaning and needing to do.

I had officially found my first new game, though, and I hadn't (and haven't) been this enthusiastic about playing through a game since I picked up (and quickly finished) VVVVVV back in January. It looks like there are enough secrets to keep me busy awhile, but I'm still making excellent progress. Now I need two more games to add to my active roster.

I'm thinking that, to satisfy my Standards for Upholding Variety in Gaming, I should go with a 3-D platformer for the Wii and an adventure/puzzle game for the PC this time. Specifically, I'm looking at either Donkey Kong Country Returns (which is technically a 2-D 3-D platformer) or Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii, and Police Quest III: The Kindred for the PC.

There's a third and fourth aspect of my Standards that I'm taking into consideration here: Games that were given as gifts by friends or family should be part of the lineup whenever possible (which is the case for the Wii games), and games that bring me closer to writing an Exfanding post about a series are encouraged (which is the case with Police Quest).

However, I'm open to suggestions--the universe seems to be telling me to play The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, for example; I was toying with the idea of installing it (and its two expansion packs) on my computer when I found I had no more active games to play, as this might be the only time I'd be willing to sign myself up for what will probably be the lengthiest RPG experience I've ever undertaken. I dismissed the idea, citing to myself that I'd been playing RPGs continuously for the past two years, if not longer, few of which were completely worth the time spent playing them. Then I got a message from another Backloggery user who was currently playing Morrowind and Castlevania, and then my Backloggery fortune cookie also told me to play Morrowind.

I think it's going to be a matter of which install CD I find first--Morrowind or Police Quest. Though, as I said, I'm open to suggestions.


Catie said...

Yes, Castlevania! I greatly enjoyed Harmony of Dissonance and Aria of Sorrow (and the DS sequel Dawn of Sorrow) though I still think the one that did the "Metroidvania"-style the best was first one, Symphony of the Night (available on PS1, and PS3 and Xbox360 as downloads, though I don't think you own any of those).

Flashman85 said...

Nope! I'm a Nintendo-only guy, though the Wii Virtual Console is opening up all kinds of doors; I think I've seen a few Castlevania games from other systems on there. Right now I'm just stuck on the last 2% of my item cleanup in Harmony of Dissonance; do you know of anything particularly well-hidden that you could only find with a walkthrough?