Teenage Mutant Ninja Monsters


I almost didn’t go see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for several reasons. Reasons such as my familiarity of the past work of the director and producer, the nasty looking redesigns for the Turtles, and bad reviews it got from just about everywhere. However, thanks to my little brother, I ended up seeing this on a slow Wednesday afternoon. My initial instincts were correct, I should have skipped it. There are a few bright spots, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an ugly, stupid mess of a movie that is embarrassed by its own existence.

There are some bright spots. The biggest of which is the characterization of the turtles themselves. Leo, Donny, Mike and Raph’s personalities are all perfectly presented on the screen. Of course, even this bright spot isn’t perfect. It isn’t that their characterization is as deep as the line from the old cartoon. You know, “Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines, Raphael is cool but rude, Michaelangelo is a party dude.” It is that while the turtles are all just like they should be, but the story isn’t about them. In no way do any of them change, they are what they are. Raphael is mad because Leonardo was made the leader, until he is not. He simply stops being mad. That is closest any of the turtles gets to a character arc. Also, the avalanche chase scene is really good, despite not making any sense.

The rest is not so good. The film hinges on April O’Neil, played by Megan Fox. She is a stifled reporter, wanting to make her name but stuck doing fluff pieces. Of course, that is probably what she deserves, since when she has proof of her ridiculous claims about hulking vigilante turtles she crafts a conspiracy theory wall focusing on her old pet turtles and neglects to show her boss the picture she took of them. The picture that she shows the bad guys two scenes later to get him to believe her. Oh and yes, pet turtles because the Turtles are her former pets. The villain’s plan makes so little sense that I am going not even going to try to discuss it. It is just overly elaborate and dumb.

When I first saw these Ninja Turtles, I thought they looked awful. They are hideous, hulking monstrosities, more nightmare fuel than ninjas. I did like the little accents each turtle added to their costume, it really helped them stand out as individuals. And as bad as the Turtles looked, they were amazing compared to Splinter. I don’t know what happened there. Did somebody think that awful CG rat looked good? It is significantly less real looking than Splinter from the original Ninja Turtles movie. He looks unbelievably bad. Then there is Shredder, who appears more like a rejected Transformer than an evil ninja master.

None of this should be surprising to anyone who knows what else the people behind this movie. Director Jonathon Liebesman was previously responsible for turds like Battle: Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans. Both of them were confusingly shot and poorly constructed. Then there is Producer Michael Bay, the name attached to this movie to sell it. Bay makes shit movies, The Rock somewhat excepted. The Transformers series is a series that always makes tons of money yet hasn’t provided a worthwhile second of entertainment.

The worst part of the movie, though, is how embarrassed it is by its very concept. It goes to great lengths to mock the very premise of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It waffles between wanting to be a children’s movie, which it should be, and doing its best to earn that PG-13 rating. It is as if it tried to be a gritty reboot, only for everyone to realize how dumb that idea is, so it tries to get back to that cartoony romp. Unfortunately, it leaves a lot of the stupid gritty stuff in there. This is a movie with no confidence, no creative vision. This is not a movie made to tell a story, it is a movie made to make money.

I love the Ninja Turtles. Each incarnation of the cartoon has something to recommend about it, even the cheap, childish version that I grew up with. This is a movie made simply to cash in on the nostalgia and good will this franchise has. The charm of the Turtles manages to shine through at times, even in a mess like this, but it doesn’t stop this from being a bad movie.


Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review


As I was writing a Summer Movie Roundup post, I realized that I never actually posted my review of Captain America 2.  After debating with myself for at least 45 seconds, I decided to go ahead and post it.  

The great Marvel movie machine just keeps pumping them out. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, much like the seven or so films the precede it, is a well-constructed, slick action movie. Despite Marvel Studios pumping this out right on schedule, they do manage to make each character’s movie have their own feel. The Iron Man series relies heavily on Downey Jr’s charm and feels the most like a straight superhero movie. Thor has the whole space fantasy thing going for it. Cap’s movies seem to be the most about this Marvel universe. When Iron Man 2 heavily featured Nick Fury and Black Widow, it felt out of place, like the whole movie was preempted to set up the Avengers. When the first Captain America introduced what appeared to be an early incarnation of SHIELD, it worked. The Winter Soldier is the Marvel movie most reliant on the existence of the rest of this loose series, but it is also one of the only ones to really successfully tie things together. The heavy reliance on SHIELD, Fury and Widow makes more sense for Captain America than for the others.

The Winter Soldier starts with Captain America leading Black Widow and a small team of SHIELD Agents to save a SHIELD ship that had gone astray and been highjacked by some mercenaries. While the mission is successful, Cap discovers that Black Widow had another mission that Fury didn’t tell him about. This, and revelations about SHIELD’s future plans that Fury shows Cap after he confronts him, makes him very uncomfortable with his role in working with SHIELD. While Cap contemplates his present and future, the forces working behind the scenes make their move and take out Nick Fury. Before he is eliminated from the action, Fury goes to Cap and tells him not to trust SHIELD. From then on, it is Captain America versus SHIELD, with Cap unsure of whom he can trust. At times it seems like a comic book James Bond movie, others just a straight up action film, but it is always entertaining.

While it does run a little long, The Winter Soldier is a lot of fun. The special effects are as good as always and the acting is better than most of the studios output. Chris Evans does both a good job with the action as Captain America as well as selling his difficulties with modern life. There is also an immediate chemistry with Anthony Mackie’s Sam/Falcon. Sam Jackson is badass as always. I really think Scarlett Johansson really nailed Black Widow this time. In previous movies, she has played her as deliberately emotionless. However, there is a thin line between affecting no emotions and being a wooden actor. Here, because she is allowed to show more emotion, it is easier to see when she is deliberately showing none.

It is a film unafraid of comic book stuff. Characters that were set up in the first film that most people didn’t expect to appear again, especially in anything close to their comic book forms show up. There is little explanation for Falcon’s wings. They are treated as something that just exists. It is also unafraid to radically shake up the status of the Marvel Movie Universe. That is an odd thing. While I think it can assumed that most of the people that watched Avengers will likely watch The Winter Soldier, the fact is that when people show up to the theater next year to watch Avengers 2, the world of that film will not be the same as they left it after the first movie. That was not necessarily true after Iron Man 3 or Thor 2. Of course, Captain America is the character most tied to the Avengers. His first movie even has the subtitle The First Avenger. While the Thor and Iron Man movies can stand on their own, the Captain America movies have so far been Avengers .5 and 1.5.

Still, despite my love of Thor, The Winter Soldier is Marvel’s best movie. It has some of the best action scenes and plot that keeps moving and keeps the viewer guessing without being stupid. It doesn’t quite have the high stakes punch as the Avengers, but it has so much more heart. The characters don’t change in The Avengers, the merely react. In The Winter Soldier, Captain America and his relationship with the world change. But so do Fury, and Widow, and Falcon and SHIELD itself all change. Except for Loki and Thor, the threat of the Avengers was largely impersonal. Here, the threat is a direct result of the actions of the characters, starting with Captain America in the 1940s. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is simply very, very good.

2nd Quest: Twilight Princess

This was supposed to be 4 Swords Adventures, but that has been put on hold indefinitely. (I have misplaced the disc. I was playing 4 Swords with the Wii, my brother wanted to play Smash Bros, so he took out 4 Swords and I am fairly sure he put it in the Smash Bros case. The problem is I don’t know where he put the Smash Bros case, so I can’t play anymore 4 Swords.) I turned to the next game on the list, Twilight Princess. Twilight Princess has a strange reputation; for a game that earned such high review scores and has such high sales, no one seems to like it all that much. After playing it through for the first time since it was brand new, that doesn’t seem fair. Twilight Princess is a flawed game, but it is also an incredibly ambitious game and largely well made.


More so than any other game in the series, Twilight Princess follows in the footsteps of Ocarina of Time. That was something that fans claimed to want and something that the Zelda series withheld for a long time. The games following Ocarina played mostly the same, but the structure and tone were quite different. Instead of Ocarina’s Hyrulian epic, Majora’s Mask was a nightmare sidestory and Wind Waker was a nautical cartoon. Both are fun games, but they didn’t feel much like Ocarina of Time or A Link to the Past. Twilight Princess, despite its lupine digressions, was built on that model. It takes place in the traditional Hyrule, it follows the traditional structure. It is consciously a Zelda game. It feels a little like Nintendo saying goodbye to that kind of Zelda game. It had already moved away from that limiting structure, but they gave the fans one last romp through Hyrule.

In a move unusual for Nintendo, the game heavily invests in its story. It is full of scripted events and puts supreme effort into telling its tale, which it does well, with a few exceptions. Some reviewers lambast Nintendo for refusing to get in step with modern standards in regards to things like voice acting. Unlike most developers, Nintendo never embraced idea of the interactive experience; instead they continued to make games. The long time lack of voice acting in their games stems from that. Twilight Princess is one of the few times I really felt the lack. This game does have tremendous storytelling pretensions, but it doesn’t quite have the ability to realize them. The problem is not in the story it tries to tell; that is suitably epic and grandiose. It needs more than the grunts and slow moving dialogue that it has to tell that story.


It starts with young Link in the small village of Ordon; really letting the player get to know the inhabitants of the village while simultaneously learning the basics of how to play the game. That is the classic start to a Legend of Zelda game, essentially a tutorial that also does a lot of work narratively. From there it sticks largely to the same formula as usual, but greatly expanded. Each area of the game is bursting with new and intriguing characters, not the least of which is Midna, the replacement for Navi. She is an amazing character; strongly motivated and both mischievous and courageous. Outside of the big three of Link, Zelda and Ganon, I would call Midna the greatest creation in the series. Also great is the new villain Zant, though he falters greatly after his excellent introduction.  There are tons of side quests and extra secrets to find.  Some of this extra stuff is good, like the fun bug hunting mini-game, while some are not, like switching from 4 pieces of a heart to 5.  While the story never really goes far from being a Zelda story, it delivers it with a sense of grandeur that is only present in the most well regarded entries in the series.

The game is full of little compromises like the lack of voice acting. It adds the wolf transformation, but the player loses one of the item slots. While switching equipped items has been streamlined, the game makes the player switch them far more often. The context sensitive stuff, like picking up things off the ground or throwing vs dropping seems too finicky and somewhat imprecise. In all the controls in the Gamecube version feel just a little off, as though it lost some precision when the adapted it to the Wii control scheme. The controls are far from bad, but there are just enough times where things don’t seem to work right that it is worth distracting. The hunt the light bug segments are somewhat annoying, but they are also oddly paced. The areas where the bugs are hidden get progressively bigger and the hunt becomes more frustrating.


One part where the game absolutely doesn’t falter is in the dungeons. The game doesn’t have the usual easy starter dungeon; it gets right into the meat. There are a lot of them in this game and they are almost uniformly great. They are expansive and challenging. Puzzles span multiple rooms and require creative uses of all Link’s abilities. While they largely follow Ocarina’s set up of themes, but the dungeons are greatly different from their predecessors. Like much the rest of the game, the dungeons are at their best when they echo Ocarina without copying it directly. Despite Nintendo’s own word on the matter, I would say any Zelda timeline is at best nebulous. However, this game is clearly a sequel to Ocarina, albeit a distant one. The world of Twilight Princess is a decayed echo of Ocarina of Time. That comes through in the dungeons. Like the Temple of Time that seems to be built on the ruins of the Forest Temple. In all they are some truly excellent dungeons.

There are enough niggling problems that I can’t really call Twilight Princess one of the better Legend of Zelda games. I rank it just on the bottom side of the middle of the pack. None of its flaws are especially big, they are all small things. Unfortunately, there are just enough of them that it occasionally makes playing the thing a horrible chore. These flaws hold back what is truly and excellent game underneath them.


Top 5 Friday: Favorite Movie Scenes

These are my 5 favorite movie scenes. While I had to do some winnowing down, most of these scenes popped right into my head. This list did kind of shift from being small, discreet moments to longer scenes. It has a little of both. These are my 5 favorite movie moments. Every time I see one of these I have to stop and watch. Some are just impossibly enjoyable, some give me chills every time; all are great.

5. Clifftop Duel The Princess Bride. I could change this to just about any scene in the movie. There are just so many great scenes here. I’m going with the fight between Inigo and Westley. It is just so much fun, both with the banter and the sword fighting.

4. Castle Escape Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. With all due respect to The Great Escape, this is my favorite motorcycle chase. Plus, it has Harrison Ford and Sean Connery.

3. Juror 10’s Racist Rant 12 Angry Men. The most powerful scene in an excellent movie. One by one they all leave the table and turn their backs on him, the exact reaction that people should give thoughts like his.

2. Round 14 Rocky. This scene gets me every time I see this film. It is just so perfect.

1. The Graveyard Shootout The Good The Bad and The Ugly. I have never seen anything better in a movie. It pushes the tension to ridiculous levels yet still is riveting.

The Expendables 3


The Expendables is a movie series built on the gimmick of gathering up aging action stars and jamming them all on screen together. The problem with that is that after you’ve seen it once it starts to lose its punch. So they are left dragging more and more bodies off the street to keep the thrill of seeing all the stars in the same movie. So far, The Expendables has been able to keep bringing in new names. The problem then becomes giving all of these stars things to do together. That is a problem this series has never quite cracked. The bus load of new names added to this one didn’t do anything to alleviate that problem. Still, The Expendables 3 is a largely entertaining film. It is overloaded with characters, repeats a lot of plot points from the last film and is somewhat compromised by its PG-13 rating. But it is also often delightfully, ludicrously fun.

The character overload is a big problem, especially for a movie that sells itself on having all of these people in it. The movie is crowded and no one really gets a chance to shine, other than Stallone who is the one that the film revolves around. The original Expendables crew is shunted off for the bulk of the runtime, Arnold seems to champing at the bit to have more to do, and Jet Li is wasted yet again. That is just the returning stars. Banderas and Snipes bring some fun energy to the film. Banderas’s character’s enthusiasm contrasts with the tough guy characters that the rest of the crew plays, while Snipes’ comes off as more than a little crazy. The other newcomers don’t fare much better. Kelsey Grammar is fun, but he seems largely out of place and his recruiting section is overlong and saps most of the energy out of the middle of movie. After that, he’s gone. Harrison Ford seems engaged, even if all he’s asked to do is be grumpy. The kids that Stallone recruits, a group who barely get names let alone personalities, give a nice contrast to the old cast members, but don’t get enough time to distinguish themselves. Except for Ronda Rousey, who can fake fight as well as she can actually fight or just beat the crap out of a lot of dudes on set. Mel Gibson, who as ever is an entertaining performer regardless of his personal problems, does his best to make Conrad Stonebanks a memorable villain.

The plot is largely inconsequential, just a reason for the team to fight. On a mission Barney finds out their target is actually the thought dead co-founder of The Expendables. So he jettisons his crew and takes on a group of youngsters to go get him. Things go badly. The new kids in peril plot is not unlike the inciting incident from the second film, where the team is out for revenge for the death of the new kid. While the conflict between Barney and the villain is more personal than in the previous movie, the conflict plays out largely the same. Also, this time the movie is rated PG-13 rather than R. While the fight scenes are still entertaining, they are certainly not as visceral as in previous movies.

That contributes to the fun, Saturday morning cartoon vibe that the movie has going on. Banderas and Snipes play essentially cartoon characters and that final glorious fight is just straight up ridiculous. Despite being edited to never show the results of any gun shots or thrown knives, all of the fights in this film are fun. It starts with a crazy assault on a train and just gets more over the top from there. The biggest flaw in the Expendables 3 is that it doesn’t fully commit to being over the top. It flashes the craziness, but still tries to let Stallone have somber moments contemplating his mortality. Not that it isn’t possible to handle both in one movie, but The Expendables 3 doesn’t come close to managing it. The plot is predictable; they didn’t need to belabor it. Just give us viewers the violence we came to see.

The entertaining parts were entertaining enough that it is easy to forgive the less entertaining parts. I can’t say I actually liked the movie all that much, but I did leave the theater with a smile on my face. That is what is really important.


Down on the Farm

I am just finishing up my first year on the farm in Harvest Moon Grand Bazaar. I’m watching my Peach trees grow and getting pretty cozy with the Mayor’s daughter. The Harvest Moon series is one I have a lot or respect for. I often opine about the preponderance of violent video games. I don’t care that there are violent video games, only that there sometimes seem to only be violent video games. Not every game has to be about murder and revenge and the Harvest Moon series is proof of that. Unfortunately, it is not a series that seems to have a lot of money behind it. A new one hits handhelds every year it seems, only slightly improved from the previous year’s version. It is a problem, but one that is usually confined to uber-series like Call of Duty and sports franchises. Harvest Moon is tiny compared to those, but it does have its loyal fans. I consider myself one, though more in theory than practice, since I haven’t played most of the games in the series.


My biggest experience with the series is with the N64 game. The original SNES game feels like something of a rough draft. It has many of the elements of later games in the series. Harvest Moon 64 seems like the ideas of that first game fully realized. I have occasionally sampled the series since then, but outside of some ambitious games in the Gamecube/PS2 era, it has mostly felt like more of the same. The bulk of them aren’t bad games by any means, but they haven’t showed much evolution from the 64 version. Still, I felt the urge to play some Harvest Moon and since it seems that Harvest Moon 64 will never be rereleased, I picked up HM Grand Bazaar, which had a largely good reputation.

After one year of game time, I am enjoying it quite a bit. I have a good handle on my farm and what I want to do. I really like that the game seems to have a completely new cast. As much as I like HM64, the games I played after it seemed to rely a little too heavily on returning characters from that game. Yes, there were always new townsfolk and the old ones were often adjusted somewhat, but it felt kind of the same. Here, the rather small village is full of new, or at least new to me, characters. I have enjoyed getting to know the inhabitants of this village. My one problem is that it does seem really small. Maybe I am misremembering what the old games were like, but it doesn’t feel like there are many characters here, as interesting as they may be.


With one big exception, things have been both expanded and streamlined from HM64. There are more crops, more recipes and simple more things to do. Before, players were fairly constrained in what they did with their farm each season. There were few crops to choose from and only a couple of kinds of animals. Now not only are there more crops to choose from, players can also plant trees to make an orchard or grow tea. I haven’t done the math to determine which option makes the most money, but at least there are options. The big problem is this games big hook. The Bazaar from the title is new way the player has to sell their goods. In previous games, there is a delivery box to dump everything the player has to sell in. Someone comes by at the end of every day to take the contents of the box to market and the player gets their money. In Grand Bazaar, the player hordes their stuff in their initially limited storage and on the weekend runs a stall at the weekly to sell the goods. It isn’t a bad idea, except that the game doesn’t do anything interesting with it. It isn’t fun to run the stall. It doesn’t change the amount of money the player would normally get. The Bazaar merely takes something that was simple, dumping grown crops in the pick-up box, and makes it complex and time consuming. One day a week the player has to spend standing in one spot occasionally tapping the “A” button to sell turnips. It would be more useful if the Bazaar was monthly instead of weekly, but that would too greatly restrict the flow of money. The whole system is the biggest flaw of the game.


I guess a changeup of some kind is coming to the Harvest Moon series this fall. I don’t know how it is going to shake out when all is said and done, but unless this split in the series turns into no Harvest Moon games, then it will likely be a good change. For a long time this series has been stuck in two ways. The first is that there hasn’t been much evolution on the gameplay side. I may not have played all the games from the start to now, but the ones I have played are largely the same. That is not necessarily a problem, but with a series that has seen an annual release for the better part of a decade it is tiring. I don’t know if it is lack of time, money or ambition, but the series hasn’t really evolved since it came to the DS and even that seemed to be sliding back from the somewhat more ambitious Gamecube games. The other problem the series faces is its localization. I don’t mean to slander the fine folks at Natsume, but their localizations have been flawed. I would guess that most of those problems come from lack of resources. They just don’t have the time or manpower to do as good a job as everyone would like. This fall, though, there will be essentially two Harvest Moon games, each attempting to fix at least one of these flaws. Natsume is publishing a game titled Harvest Moon. It looks to be a significant departure from the previous games in the series, most likely due to the fact that it has a different developer. It is a different game, but Natsume owns the name Harvest Moon. This new HM game looks to take some inspiration from Minecraft, attempting to make a much more player driven game. The original developer, a part of Marvelous Entertainment, is still making farming games, though. Story of Seasons is the “true” continuation to the classic series, and looks to play much like the previous releases, with localization now being handled XSeed. Xseed has proven themselves to quite adept, maybe not Atlus good but a close second. So this new could have a much more flavorful story. However this split in the series shakes out, it should be interesting for players. I hope it is a shot in the arm for this series, sparking new evolutions and advances without sacrificing the series considerable charms.

I’m Not Scared Anymore

I’ve been playing Resident Evil 5 with my brother in short bursts the last few weeks. Though certainly enjoyable, it has quickly become clear why this game doesn’t enjoy the near universal acclaim that its predecessor does: it isn’t scary in the least. Not that Resident Evil 4 was all that scary, it wasn’t. It was, though, still nominally a horror game, albeit one straddling the line between horror and action. Resident Evil 5 has strayed far from that line. What made the Resident Evil series so enjoyable, despite being kind of clunky and constrained, was the novelty of playing essentially a schlocky horror movie. It if not created then at least popularized the Survival Horror genre. Resident Evil 5, as well made as it may be, is not a Survival Horror game.


I am not an expert on horror or on the Resident Evil series. You can count the number of horror movies I’ve watched on one hand, even If you count horror comedies like Shaun of the Dead. I avoid horror movies like the plague. I am a big scaredy baby and I derive no joy from scaring myself with horror films. I was occasionally mocked in college for leaving the common area of my dorm suite whenever the group chose a scary movie. Oddly, I do generally enjoy horror games. I don’t play a whole terrible lot of them, but I tend to enjoy them when I do. Mostly it is because the gameplay of survival horror games is somewhat slower and more thoughtful than most action games. Resident Evil, at least in its original incarnation, exemplifies this trend. I have neither played every game in the series, nor do I obsess over the mythology, but I have some experience with the series. I fiddled around with the first game on the Playstation, and beat one path of RE2, but I never touched RE3 or Code Veronica. I did play the REmake and RE0 on the Gamecube. Then came RE4, and it shook the whole series up, being pretty much the best action game ever made while keeping one foot in the survival horror realm. Most would agree that RE4 isn’t scary; many would argue that no RE game has ever really been scary. They aren’t wrong, but recall that I am a big scaredy baby. Resident Evil 4, despite not being all that scary, managed to freak me out pretty regularly. While I greatly enjoyed that game, the vagaries of one console ownership kept from playing further in the series for the better part of a decade.


Now I’ve played RE5, and despite being largely similar to RE4 it is a lesser game. The biggest thing missing is that it isn’t scary; not in the slightest. Why not? Because the game is co-op. One of the few things that kept RE4 somewhat unsettling is that, for the most part, you are alone. Leon is alone in a village full of people that are becoming monsters. It is a scary premise. In RE5, Chris is flanked constantly by a teammate. It doesn’t greatly change how the game plays, but it does greatly change the psychology of the game. Instead of a lone survivor facing danger around every corner, you play as part of a tag team ruthlessly taking apart everything that stands in your way. It is scary to be alone, but significantly less so with a partner. Especially since, like all Resident Evil games, the scares in this game are all cheap jump scares. It is all spring loaded cats. Those things tend to lose their effect when you are not alone and already tense. In RE4, you hear that chainsaw start off screen and it freaks you out. You have to find its wielder or you will die. Resident Evil 5 is less scary because there appears to be a safety net in the form of Sheva. RE5 isn’t actually any easier, the player is no less likely to die than in its predecessor, but it seems different all the same. It all comes down to that second player.


Otherwise, the game is pretty great. And playing co-op is a ton of fun. They smoothed off the rest of the adventure portions of the game, leaving it to be mostly shooting. There is much less inventory management and the like. The story and setting is still classic Resident Evil, evil corporations and zombie plagues. It has the same general array of weapons and enemies. Primarily, it is more Resident Evil 4 and who didn’t want that?

Essential Video Games: A Pointless List

I probably spend too much time thinking about the history of video games. Sometimes it is because my younger brothers ask me about old games; sometimes it is just that I like old games. An idea that often comes to me is the idea of setting up a video game canon, like the western literary canon. Yes, the idea of the literary canon has faced some criticism in the last couple of decades, but it is absolutely a useful tool if not a perfect one. If someone wants to study the history of video games, having a video game canon seems like a good first step to make that easier. 1up.com did two essential games lists back in the day that would have made a good place to start, but they seem to be lost to the ether. (It has come to my attention that USGamer.net is doing a video series of Essential NES Games, which is a good starting point for that specific system.) So we need a new place to start. Not that I am in a position to make such a list; for anyone to assume that they could would be the height of arrogance. But I am going to put forth a list of fifty games, too small a number to be anywhere near complete, as a starting point.

The question is how are “essential” games determined? I think there is a difference between what is essential and what is best. Not that most of the games generally determined to be the “best games ever” don’t deserve to be on this list, only that being one of the best is only one aspect considered. Take, for instance, the Mega Man series. I would say that the series deserves to be represented on this list, but which game or games? Do you put the first one since it was the first? What about the ever ongoing argument about which game is better, Mega Man 2 or Mega Man 3? What about all the subsequent subseries? For this initial rough draft list, I’ve only put Mega Man 2 on this list. It and 3 are essentially equally good, but MM2 has the fact that it is the game that really put the series on the map. It was the hit that secured the Blue Bomber’s place in the gaming pantheon. I’ve also put Mega Man X on the list. It is a great game in its own right and it was a seismic shift in the fortunes of that series. That is an example of the thought process I had as I put together this list. TO be on the is list, a game has to be some combination of excellent, influential or popular. So a game like Mortal Kombat, which I don’t much like, is important enough to the history of video games that it makes the list. It was certainly popular and definitely influential. For someone to understand the landscape of video games in the early ’90’s, one needs to experience Mortal Kombat right alongside games like Street Fighter 2 and Super Metroid.

That being said, I know there are holes in my knowledge. I don’t play a lot of computer games, so my knowledge of them is vague at best. Also, I am largely kind of a Nintendo goon, so Sega and the Arcade are obscenely underrepresented. Lastly, I have deliberately left off everything from the last 5 years or so. Not because there are no great or important games coming out, but because it is hard to gauge a games importance without a little history to look back over. All that is fine though, the point of this list is not to be comprehensive; the point is to spark thought and discussion. Eventually may evolve into a useful tool to help people explore the games that made this medium what it is now.  The list below started out chronological,  but all fifty games didn’t come to me at once and when I finished it was close to seventy games long so I had to edit it.  Instead of going back and spending a few minutes putting it in the correct order, I figured it was good enough as is. Et Voila:

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Pikmin 3

Both of the people who read my blog regularly will likely recall that I’ve had Pikmin 3 on my “to play” list for about a year. I don’t know why I’ve put it off for so long. At first it was due to a deluge of other games; games like Wind Waker HD and The Wonderful 101. Pikmin 3 was continually pushed down the list. One thing that did keep pushing it down the list is that it is best played with the wiimote and nunchuk, which means that I couldn’t play it on just the Gamepad. That made it just that much easier to skip it and go to something that I didn’t need the main TV for. Now, though, I have finally taken the time to play this game. Pikmin 3 is an amazing game; beautiful, original and with a startling attention to detail. I feel like a fool for putting it off so long.


I never played the first two Pikmin games. They came out during the time I was largely not playing video games. I did have a Gamecube, but other than Resident Evil 4 and Smash Bros Melee I didn’t have a whole lot for the machine. The Pikmin games looked good, but I just never happened to stumble upon them. Plus, my experiences with console based RTSes, even ones that were supposedly well made, have never been good. I did pick up the New Play Control Pikmin 2 for the Wii, but my nephew borrowed it and I haven’t seen it since. So Pikmin 3 was my entry into this series.

Pikmin 3 takes a complex genre, real time strategy, and gives a patently Nintendo take on it. It is simplified in some ways, like resource management and unit types. Games like Warcraft and Command and Conquer had various resources that the player had to harvest and then allocate to expand their army. Pikmin 3 does have some resources, but there is little about them to manage. Instead of an extensive tree of unit types to build an army with, there are only a handful of Pikmin types to use. In typical Nintendo fashion, the elements of Pikmin 3 all work together. The main goal of the game, other than to reunite the three little aliens that are the game’s protagonists, is to find fruit. The protagonists convert it to juice and drink, with their mission to the planet they crash on being to find new sources of juice. While there are frequently other goals, that is the primary one. The only other resources besides fruit are flowers and enemy carcasses, both of which are used to create more Pikmin. The color of Pikmin you get from them are determined by the type of Pikmin you used to send them back to the home base.


Solving puzzles and fighting enemies in the game is all based on the color of Pikmin. There are red, yellow and black Pikmin and they have a sort of rock/paper/scissors relationship. The red ones are immune to fire and good at fighting while the yellow are immune to electricity and, while not as good of fighters as the red are lighter and can be thrown farther. Choosing the correct Pikmin for the job is two thirds of the game. It simple in theory but difficult in practice. Especially once you get all three characters together and can split them into three distinct groups. Do you want to split your colors between each commander, or give each commander one color to lead. It hits that perfect balance of easy to play, hard to master.

Pikmin 3 is also one of the best looking games I’ve ever seen. The tiny aliens you control explore an Earth-like world, finding familiar fruits and your discoveries new names. It is cute. The same goes for all of the “alien artifacts” you find over the course of the game. Seeing these little aliens interpret various trinkets in amusing ways it highly entertaining. It all looks good, simultaneously detailed and clean. It is fun to just run around the areas of the game and just look at what there is to find.


It is really just another great game on the WiiU, a system with a robust and varied library despite its reputation for not having any games. Nintendo may be failing to sell the system, but they are not failing to support it with excellent software. It seems likely that Pikmin 3 is the last entry we’ll see in this series, which is a shame based on how great this game it.


After beating Rondo of Blood, I did two things. I downloaded Super Castlevania IV on my WiiU and played through that and I started playing the Symphony of the Night port in the PSP. That was the game I was originally trying to play in the first place. I had wanted to play the Castlevania game that most often gets called the best, and almost unanimously agreed that it is the best of the “Metroidvania” style games, the style it brought to the series. I have played all the games the sprung from this one, but by the time I was aware of it on the PS1, it was hard to find and expensive. While it has been on the PSP and Playstation Store for quite a while, I hadn’t made time to play it until now. I’m glad I’ve played it now; Symphony of the Night is excellent.


Symphony of the Night turned the level based set up of the previous games into the series into a giant, connected, Metroid-like map. Instead of a steadily more challenging tour through Dracula’s Castle, here it is one giant map that is kind of free to explore from the start. The game doesn’t force you to go anywhere, but you are limited by what abilities Alucard has found. This means that the difficult can be uneven. It is also changed from being a straight action game to being an RPG. Alucard gains levels and has quantified stats. It is not necessarily a good change, but it is certainly not a bad one.

Symphony of the Night doesn’t feel as perfect and complete as Super Metroid, the other game that led to the made up word Metroidvania. Super Metroid is pure, distilled perfection. There is nothing extraneous in the game. All of the tools and abilities that Samus ends up decked out with are to some extent necessary. (I am of course referring only to a normal playthough, not using any of the special tricks that can almost break the game.) Symphony of the Night, on the other hand, is filled to the brim with extraneous tools and abilities. Yes, Alucard gains necessary abilities like the double jump and the bat form. But there are also elements like the weapons, which are varied and special but none of them are strictly necessary. There are the familiars, which I didn’t even realize existed until I was more than halfway through the game.


That is what makes Symphony of the Night great. Super Metroid may be neat and polished; Symphony of the Night is messy. It is filled to the brim with stuff to find and toys to play with. The fact that most of these elements add to the game rather than detract from it is amazing. The player doesn’t really lose anything by not using familiars, but they add something to the game. If the player doesn’t want to deal with messing with their equipment, they can use the short sword that the player is almost required to get. While it uses a similar set up to Metroid, it ends up being quite different. Every time you play Super Metroid it is largely the same. Symphony of the night changes with each attempt, depending on what items enemies happen to drop and which tools you choose to emphasize. Those tools are fun to use. There are tons of weapons to choose from, many with unique special properties. The experience of the game can change drastically with some equipment choices. While not exactly the strongest weapon in the game, the Shield Rod has special abilities when paired with certain shields. Some weapons have greater range or swing faster. The leveling system can also be manipulated into making the game harder or easier depending on how you approach the game.


One of the most interesting things about Symphony of the Night is that while it seemed an offshoot, a strange experiment for the series, it ended up being the true continuation of the series. It is the game that kept the Castlevania series limping along for a decade when most 16-bit franchises not owned by Nintendo fell by the wayside. The series went 3D like everyone else, with about an average amount of success; which means that the games were bad, but not completely terrible. It wasn’t the smashing success of Ocarina of Time or Mario 64, but neither was it Bubsy 3D. The 3D side of the series muddled on, but those aren’t the game people remember. The ones that people love are Symphony’s progeny, the Metroidvanias that Konami produced for the GBA and DS. People remember Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow, they don’t tend to recall Lament of Innocence.

None of the later games ever surpassed Symphony of the Night, though. They often came close, but never quite reached the peak. The rough edges that made Symphony special were never really sanded off, they were usually just moved to a new area. Whether from a lack of care, money or time (or a combination of all three) none of the handheld games showed the same attention to detail that this game did. This one was a masterpiece, a one of a kind game that deserves its reputation for being one of the greatest games of all time.