Monday, April 29, 2013

Excitebots - Way More Fun Than It Has Any Right To Be

Platform: Wii   Genre: Racing   Release: April 20th, 2009 (NA)
There's a reason why I don't give the games I review a score and Excitebots: Trick Racing is a perfect example of it. Although the game has several aspects and missteps that would result in a critic detracting from the game's score, what really matters (fun) is still delivered in spades in spite of the game's technical flaws. 

So let me get those flaws out of the way first so you forget about them by the end of the review. First of all, the music, graphics, and presentation in general are average and forgettable. The animal-themed bots are more interesting than the trucks in Excitebots's predecessor, Excite Truck, but they'll never be as iconic as other Nintendo characters. Similarly, the environments, which are supposed to be themed on real-world countries, are simply not very memorable. The graphics are fine, but the art direction will leave you remembering levels as "that tropical level" or "that desert level", which still doesn't help you to remember which tropical level or desert level was the one you liked. The music is functional, but nothing special, and it's disappointing that the option to use music from an SD card that was present in Excite Truck is no longer available in Excitebots. Another complaint that many might have is that the game requires you to use motion controls to play, by holding the Wii remote sideways. Steering in this way works well, but some of the tricks can be awkward and feel gimmicky. 
Maybe this red bar acts as a loading buffer, but it uses annoying motion controls and interrupts the flow of the race.
Now that all of those complaints are out of the way, allow me to explain why Excitebots is so darn fun. Firstly, rather than simply racing to finish first, the goal in this game is to earn the most stars by the end of the race. Of course, you'll earn more stars if you finish first, but if you do enough stunts during the race, you can still win without finishing first. It follows that these stunts form the majority of the game, but you shouldn't think of them as just doing flips and spins like in some SSX or Tony Hawk game; Excitebots rewards you with stars for doing absolutely everything. As you might expect, you'll get stars for drifting, catching air, performing spins, and ramming other players, but you'll also get them for taking difficult paths through trees without crashing, launching off of floating bars, completing any of the many mid-race challenges, and even for crashing. The mid-race challenges are hella random and are usually triggered by passing through an exclamation point marker. They include sports themed challenges such as bowling pins appearing on the track to hit, hitting a baseball, soccer ball, or football, throwing a pie in a clown's face, hitting a tambourine with good timing, flying through rings, rescuing butterflies, throwing darts, fishing, and constructing sandwiches. 
Sometimes we all need to be rewarded for our sandwiches.

There's no rhyme or reason to these challenges, but the constant opportunities for more stars that they offer and the fact that you have to balance completing the tasks while driving makes them surprisingly fun. It's this constant positive reinforcement that the game gives you in the form of stars that makes playing so enjoyable. If you suck, you'll still be getting stars, and if you're good, the game makes you feel good by pouring out nonstop rewards and notifications of your achievements. You can then use the stars you've earned in single player or online to unlock new vehicles, colors, icons, and other collectibles.

The other thing that makes Excitebots so satisfying is how ridiculous and awesome the physics are. As well as making the previously mentioned challenges appear, the exclamation points on the track can also deform the track to create hills and valleys which work as ramps or shortcuts. Many of the ramps are huge, but even off of small ramps you'll be able to perform turbo jumps, which send you flying forward with a satisfying "whoosh" of flame. You're also able to control yourself in midair, and the motion controls allow for pivoting in all directions with ease. The boosting, which is used for the turbo jumps and just gaining speed in general, is limited by an overheat meter on the side, so you'll want to be careful to use as much boost as possible without overheating. Luckily, driving through shallow water will instantly reset your boost meter. Like the rest of the game, it doesn't matter if it makes real world sense; it's there because it's fun.
Catching huge air is so satisfying.
Apart from the two difficulties of normal races and mirror mode, there are also a few minigames. The majority of the minigames are simply challenges consisting of completing certain mid-race events consistently. These act as a good practice area if you find that you aren't able to figure out the events in the chaotic campaign races. 
Honestly, compared to the rest of the game, this isn't even weird.
Separate from those is Poker Race, which has you racing around one of three tracks while trying to swap cards from your hand with those on the track in order to get pairs, flushes, runs, and other scoring sets. As you might imagine, it's quite challenging to pay attention to the cards and the track at the same time. Playing against friends can be quite fun in this mode since you'll both be racing for a limited supply of cards and also for the first place finish bonus. 

Unfortunately, while this game does have online play and the ability send your records to friends, the online community is pretty much dead now (if the servers are even functional at all) and with WiiConnect24 being phased out on June 28th, 2013, you won't be able to share your records any more either. But don't let that stop you from trying out the game; going for all S ranks in single player is the real meat of the game and you won't be missing out too much if you can't get online.

The Final Word:
It doesn't look like much, but Excitebots is an incredibly fun and unique racing experience. If you can, you should definitely give it a try.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Digital Diarrhea (Taco Bell: Tasty Temple Challenge)

Updated 8/1/2017 - I've acquired a complete copy of Taco Bell Tasty Temple Challenge and scanned the "manual" that came with it. Here you go!

Original article, as posted on 4/22/2013:

Did you know that Taco Bell gave out computer games as Kids Meal prizes? They've actually done this more than once, most recently giving out Atari classics in 2010, but they also gave out some original games on floppy disks back in 2000 (I think). Information for these games is incredibly scarce, and it's likely that there are yet other Taco Bell games that I haven't found any information on at all, but so far I've found evidence of the following games:
  • Jumping Bean Jamboree
  • Taco Maker Marathon
  • Digital Extreme Sports Games
  • Atari Classics (Centipede, Lunar Landing, Asteroids, Super Breakout)
  • Tasty Temple Challenge
As a kid, I only remember playing two Taco Bell games: Tasty Temple Challenge and one other that I can't find any information about whatsoever, but I seem to recall it involving jumping on the moon.

Anyway, as Tasty Temple Challenge is the one I'm most familiar with, that's the one I'm reviewing. It also seems to be the most interesting out of all of them.

According to the game's readme file, you play as Baja Bill, an archaeologist and "hungry dude", who falls asleep while on an expedition and dreams that the temple he is exploring is filled with delicious Taco Bell foods. None of that back story really has any bearing on the actual game, but it disappoints me a little to find that all this is just a dream. The important thing is that this game plays like classic Doom, except that you shoot hot sauce at cartoon cobras and scorpions. As a kid, I was just impressed that Taco Bell had a first person shooter as a kids meal prize. Unfortunately, I was never able to beat the game... until now!
The graphics are pretty crappy, but then again, the game is pretty old. While the maze-like corridors look as dark and gritty as any other old FPS for the computer, the enemies (of which there are only two, not including the boss) look like they came right out of a cartoon from the 80s. The bad guys just come straight at you and hurt you when they touch you. If you hit them a few times, they'll turn tail and run away, which gives you the option to either leave them be or finish them off viciously. Unlike in real life, the hot sauce actually burns enemies to a pile of ash. The game consists of exploring the temple to find keys and other items so that you can backtrack and explore new areas with the ultimate goal of acquiring the Grande Meal. Apart from key items, there are also limited use hot sauce and wild sauce pickups and some sort of blow gun attachment that can kill enemies faster. For health refills, you can collect any of the many different Taco Bell food items scattered about the ruins.

As a kid, the biggest difficulty for me was getting lost, which is understandable, since most of the game looks the same and there are some unnecessary areas. Thankfully, there's an optional map that can be displayed over the screen that will fill in as you explore. This actually helped me figure out how to progress when I played it.
Of course, if you use the map, it'll be hard to see much else.
The controls are what I imagine playing a flute to be like if flutes were made out of live fish. That is to say, they aren't that great. Movement is limited to the arrow keys and mouse, with Home for jumping and End for crouching, which is necessary for swimming. You can also use PageUp and PageDown to look up and down, but the sensitivity is way too high and it never serves any purpose. Of course, these controls are not remappable unless you use an outside program.

During my play, I encountered a few glitches. The first crashed the game while I was on an elevator and played a horribly loud sound. The second was an enemy's pile of ash moving posthumously. The third occurred twice after no apparent cause and allowed me to walk through walls and go out of bounds, but also made shooting enemies impossible. Luckily, it's possible to save your game to safeguard against these bugs. Unluckily, loading a file often mutes the sound. Also, selecting New Game from the pause menu sometimes inexplicably doesn't work and requires a reset of the game.

If you're any good at all and make use of the save files, you should be able to easily finish in under an hour, but with some practice, you could even get close to my high score of 3:19. 
The Final Word
There's no reason to go through the effort of playing this game, and yet, I kind of enjoyed going back to finish it. It sucks, but not nearly as bad as it could. Now you know it exists. Wheee~

Monday, April 15, 2013

5 Ridiculous Gaming Couples That Could Totally Work

Gaming fanfiction and fan art has taken the world of romance to new heights (and more often, new lows) with its often mind boggling pairings of characters. But I say that these authors and artists haven't gone far enough! That's why I came up with five of the most absurd pairings I could think of that still retain a shred of believability and threw together fan art and fanfictions for them.

Ezlo (The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap) x Pyro (Team Fortress 2)
Sources: 1, 2
The Fanfiction:
"'Mmmph! Mmph-mmph-mmmmph,' Pyro confided to Ezlo with some obvious concern.
'Please, you don't need to worry about that. Ever since I first sat on your head, I knew no one else's head would do,' Ezlo did his best to reassure Pyro. 'And I know you'd never trade me away to some pub server noob either, even for an unusual.'
'Mmph,' Pyro agreed.
Ezlo kneaded Pyro's head gently with his brim.
'Don't worry. From now on, we're in this together!'"
-from "Unboxing a Soulmate" by DropHatsNotBombs

Why it could work:
If you aren't familiar with Team Fortress 2, the most valuable and coveted items are function-less hats which you can wear to make yourself look fabulous. If you aren't familiar with The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Ezlo spends most of the game as the titular Minish Cap, the only living hat that I know of. You shouldn't need a matchmaker to see that these two are made for each other.

Red XIII (Final Fantasy VII) x Cardboard Box (Metal Gear Solid)
Sources: 1, 2
The Fanfiction:
"'Go on ahead everyone, I'll catch up,' Red XIII called ahead to the rest of his party, struggling to hide his excitement at what he thought he saw. 
He couldn't be sure, but he thought he had caught a glimpse of something interesting by a rock off the path. Something wonderful. Something exciting. Something cardboard. 
As he approached, his heart raced faster and his suspicions were confirmed. There, next to the ordinary rock, was an extraordinary cardboard box. He wanted to control himself and act maturely, but this was an opportunity that may only come a few times in a lifetime. He stole a quick glance up and down the trail to make sure his companions weren't in sight. The coast was clear. After a deep breath, Red XIII could wait no longer and leaped into the box. He sat with his head poking out and his tail wagging. It was a tight fit, but he was comfortable. It just felt right."
-from "Thirteen Shades of Red" by sonofgrumpycat

Why it could work:
Oh come on. You don't even need to ask on this one. Everyone knows that cats love boxes more than their own mothers. Red XIII may not exactly be a cat, but he looks close enough to me. Unfortunately, it's doubtful that the rest of his comrades would be able to continue to take him seriously after finding out about his relationship with a box.

The Moon (The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask) x Angry Sun (Super Mario Bros. 3)
Sources: 1, 2
The Fanfiction:
"It was the night of the third day and Moon's time was running short. She had already made up her mind to fall to her death and destroy Termina in the process. But suddenly, she heard a familiar voice booming from across the sky.
'MOON! STOP!' it cried.
Moon's eyes drifted wearily to see Angry Sun's bright flame dancing on the horizon. 
'NO! I'M TOO ANGRY! I HAVE TO DIE!' Moon bellowed back.
'BUT MOON, I'M ANGRY TOO!!' pleaded Angry Sun with a tear forming in his eye and then instantly evaporating.
Moon considered this information silently for several seconds. At last, she called back, 'LET'S MARRIAGE!' and flew off to embrace Angry Sun."
-from "Sky's the Limit" by Miyamotool92

Why it could work:
How many other characters are there based on celestial bodies? I guess there's the sun and moon bosses from Kirby's Adventure, but besides them, there aren't many. Both the Angry Sun and the moon from Majora's Mask are clearly in need of companionship. It might not stop them from being angry, but at least they can be angry together and stop taking it out on the good guys.

Princess Angelica (Battletoads) x Slippy Toad (Star Fox)
Sources: 1, 2
The Fanfiction:
"'Thank you so much for saving me! May I ask your name?' Princess Angelica inquired, motioning for her savior to rise.
'Slippy here. I'm ok.'
'Slippy,' she repeated the name to herself, pondering how it at least sounded nicer than the names 'Pimple' and 'Zitz'. 'Is there any way I can possibly repay you?'
Slippy tilted his head and considered it for a few seconds and then cheerfully replied, 'Your carcass is mine!'
Angelica was understandably startled. 'I'm sorry... What?' 
She noticed an unnerving gleam in Slippy's eye that caused her to take a step back. As she did, Slippy moved closer and then dashed at her all at once. Princess Angelica let out a shriek and ran for the door.
'Escaping? I don't think so! You're not getting away that easy!' Slippy called after her, continuing his pursuit at a steady, but unhurried pace.
'Noooo!!' Angelica's cry rang out through the ship's corridors, but there was no one left on board to hear her. She found herself cornered and watched in horror as Slippy's large shining eyes became visible in the darkness followed by his puckered lips which were soon planted on hers. After a moment, Slippy backed away.
'I got one!' he exclaimed, apparently satisfied.
'Wh-what... All you wanted was a kiss? Ok... well... why don't we just get going back my home planet now, alright?'"
-from "Battlefrog Prince" by I_toad_u_so

Why it could work:
In spite of his name, Slippy Toad is, in fact, a frog. But that isn't too different from a toad, and it just so happens that Princess Angelica has plenty of experience with being rescued by toads in space. Slippy might not have the muscles that the Battletoads have, but in general I'd say that a frog is an upgrade over a toad. Of course, this hypothetical relationship would have to be before Slippy gets together with his sweetheart, Amanda, before the events of Star Fox Command. Slippy is many things, but disloyal isn't one of them.

Bomberman x Creeper (Minecraft)
Sources: 1, 2, 3
The Fanfiction:
"Chris the creeper was sad. His friends told him that it was their curse to never be able to get close to anyone, but Chris refused to accept that. Sure, all the creepers he knew that tried to approach a human either exploded or were killed by the human, but Chris was sure that if he was just a bit more cautious and friendly, things could work out for him. 
Today, his dream was going to come true. He knew this was his chance because unlike the usual people he saw, this person was not reshaping the world with his hands or pickaxe, but with bombs. As a creeper, prone to spontaneous explosion himself, Chris could relate to bombs. He hissed with anticipation and approached the man clad in white as slowly and peacefully as possible. 
The man noticed him and stopped what he was doing. He reached out his ball shaped hand, beckoning Chris to him. Chris was elated and very cautiously touched the man's hand with his head. To his relief, he did not explode, and the mysterious man began to pet Chris's head. It was the beginning of a fantastic relationship."
-from "The Creeper's Dilemma" by HereComesTheBoom

Why it could work:
Creepers suffer from an unfortunate epidemic of spontaneous detonation which is typically brought on by proximity to humans. I figure that it's not really their fault and that all they really want is some love. If ordinary humans make them explode, who would be better than Bomberman to tame these volatile beasts? Bomberman works with explosives all the time and knows how to handle them, so chances are good that he'd be able to make contact with a creeper without making it explode. Rather than a romantic relationship, I imagine that creepers would be more like a pet to Bomberman and follow him around like an army of loyal bomb puppies.

[Note: All included fanfictions do not actually exist and were written by me for the sake of this article. I know you'll want to read more of them, but you'll just have to finish writing them yourself.]

Like this post? Check out these:
6 of the Hottest Video Game Characters Ever
If Other Games Had the Same Problems as Sim City
5 Gaming Moments in Non-Frightening Games that Scared Me as a Kid

Friday, April 12, 2013

Nintendo ending various online Wii channels and services

According to Nintendo's Japanese support page, many of the online Wii channels and services will no longer be supported as of June, 28th of 2013.

Translated, the announcement message is as follows,
"We thank all of you very much for your regular use of our products.

We are very sorry to inform you that some of the network services that have been available to you on Wii will be concluded as of June 28th, 2013.

To everyone who uses these services, we are truly sorry and thank you for your understanding."

The services that will no longer be supported are:

-The Weather Channel (Forecast Channel)
-The News Channel
-The Digicam Print Channel (Japan-only)
-The Everybody Votes Channel
-The Nintendo Channel
-The Mii Contest Channel (Check Mii Out Channel)
-Exchanging data with friends via WiiConnect24 (This includes exchanging messages on the Wii Message Board, exchanging Miis in the Mii Channel, and exchanging messages and data in some titles)

"After the end date, the above services will not be able to be used when launched from the Wii menu. However, you can continue to use other services including the automatically updating daily activity log on the Wii Message Board and the Wii Shop Channel.

Thank you for your extended use of our products."

I have contacted Nintendo, inquiring as to whether these services will continue in regions outside of Japan and am awaiting a reply. I can only assume that online multiplayer in games that does not make use of WiiConnect24 will continue on a game by game basis.

UPDATE: This news is now also up on the Nintendo of America website, confirming that service will be discontinued in regions outside of Japan as well.

In any case, the impermanence of gaming has once again been made clear. For those who used these services, congratulations on having a gaming experience that future gamers will never be able to have again.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Pottermore on Playstation Home

If you haven't heard of it, Pottermore is a flash based website on which users can go through the highlights of the Harry Potter series as interactive moments. It has minigames, things to collect and find, new backstory written by J.K. Rowling, and some simple multiplayer things as well. It's moderately interesting, though I'm pretty sure it's just a marketing ploy to keep everyone from forgetting Harry Potter now that all the movies and books are done. 

Now that moderately interesting thingamabob has made its way to the similarly less than interesting Playstation Home. Playstation Home, if you aren't familiar, is basically a free MMO with not much purpose. It has some games that you can play, you can customize your avatar, you can explore different themed areas, and you can pay exorbitant amounts of real money to get more costumes and furniture for your room. As far as I can tell, it mostly ends up as a 3D chat room filled with advertisements for games and other products. It's also apparently been in open beta since the end of 2008.
The Pottermore areas are basically what you'd expect from Playstation Home: themed environments, overpriced DLC, and a few crappy minigames. Before you start, it's possible to link your Pottermore account to Playstation Home, but as far as I can tell this only allows you to trade the cards you've collected.

The first area is Diagon Alley, where all the witches and wizards buy their stuff. When you start, your Playstation Home persona will be wearing wizard robes. Only Harry Potter themed costumes can be worn in the Pottermore areas in order to maintain the illusion as much as possible. Like Diagon Alley from the book, there are lots of stores in this version, which of course contain clothes and virtual pets that you can buy for three-ish dollars a piece. As for games, there are card trading and "book herding". Trading cards is self explanatory and book herding involves trying to push bouncing books into a cage faster than your opponent. Sometimes spells appear that you can use to impede the other person's progress, but overall this game is incredibly simple and frustrating to play.

The other area is the Hogwarts Express, the train that students use to get to Hogwarts. This location doesn't have any DLC to buy, but it still has card trading locations. Its other minigames are a trivia game and wizard duels. The trivia game is pretty straightforward and relatively entertaining. It's first to ten points and whoever answers correctly the fastest gets to choose the next category. Wizard Duel pits you against an opponent on the train and you have to shoot spells at them. You can actually move around, hide behind the chairs, and aim your spells, so it has significantly more depth than the other games (but still not very much). Whenever you get hit, you get knocked down and have to shake the controller or rotate the control sticks to get back up. If you and your opponent's spells clash, a series of button presses come up that you have to press in order as fast as you can. Dueling is easily the most entertaining part of Pottermore on Playstation Home, but for the time it takes to download Home, the locations, and find a partner for the minigame, I can't really recommend it, even if it is free.
Overall, the Pottermore locations on Home are like the rest of Home: not worth the time and hard drive space. Exploring the areas as a wizard and taking part in the minigames might be fun for younger players, but I think most people would better enjoy playing something else or using the Pottermore website instead. Perhaps after a few updates it'll be more worth playing. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

6 of the Hottest Video Game Characters Ever

I've scoured the history of gaming to find the hottest characters ever. Hyped? You should be. But before you continue, make sure you equip some fire resistant armor and charms. Alright, now you can go.

Angry Sun
If you've played Super Mario Bros. 3, you ought to remember this hothead. Just when you think he's a creepy part of the background, he starts dive bombing you for no good reason. But that fact that he isn't part of the background is what keeps him so far down the list; he's way too small to be an actual sun. It's possible that the angry sun is indeed a superheated ball of burning gas, but it's also possible that he's just a normal enemy shaped like a sun. Only Mario knows the true level of the angry sun's hotness, but unfortunately, he ain't talking (apart from occasional short phrases). For now, Angry Sun's temperature will have to remain a mystery.

Whew, we aren't far into this list and it's already getting steamy in here. Volvagia is the fire dragon that resides in Ocarina of Time's Fire Temple (or The Hidden Palace in The Adventure of Link). The temple itself is so hot that if you aren't a goron you'll need some sort of heat protection to even go in there. To live in a place like that, you have to be pretty hot yourself. And indeed, Volvagia is hot. It can hide in lava, breathe fire, and burn you just for invading its personal space. It's also known to eat gorons, and one can only assume that it would do the same to any other creature than wanders too close. If normal logic holds true, it's probably even hotter on the inside, so you might want to steer clear of this one.

In some games there are actually enemies that live in the lava and only come out to attack. From the Mario series, two such enemies are Podoboos and Blargg. Due to his greater size, Blargg wins his spot on the list as a big, beautiful baddie. It's unclear just how hot Blarggs are, but they seem to be utterly unperturbed by the lava surrounding them, so we can only assume that they are around the same temperature as molten lava. It may even be the case that the creatures are made of lava themselves, though it is more likely that they are some kind of dinosaur and simply appear to be made of lava because of being covered in it.

Ifrit appear in a variety of games and under a variety of spellings, but they're always some kind of fire spirit, demon, or monster. They come from Arabic folklore in which they are fire jinns; so basically the same thing. In gaming, they tend to be the embodiment of all things fire and often prove to be quite difficult to defeat. When they are defeated, it often seems as though they were holding back and simply testing you. Luckily, these mighty beings are rarely completely antagonistic toward you and may even aid you when summoned in battle. That's good, because no one wants to be on the receiving end of an ifrit's flames.

It's a weird thing that kids are allowed to go out and try to capture dangerous Pokemon. There are psychic ones, ones that can burn, cut, freeze, electrocute, and otherwise kill you in every way imaginable. But few Pokemon are as dangerous as Magcargo, since simply being near one would likely be detrimental to your health. According to Magcargo's Pokedex entry, its body temperature is around 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit (10,000 °C). That's almost double the temperature at the surface of the sun (5,600 °C)! Luckily, Magcargo seems to be able to contain this incredible heat most of the time... except for the occasional eruption of flames. You'd probably be better off keeping this Pokemon in its ball.

Heat Man

I hear you; "There's no way a character could be hotter than Magcargo," is what you're saying, right? Well I was in fact able to find one. It turns out that the Mega Man series is stuffed to the rafters with hot bosses, including Magma Man, Flame Man, Fire Man, Burner Man, and our winner, Heat Man. After extensive research, I was only able to find approximate temperatures for two of those characters, and Heat Man won out over Fire Man's measly 4,400 °C with a whopping 12,000 °C! His appearance as a Zippo lighter might be unassuming, but be warned, Heat Man is the hottest character I know.

Know an obvious hottie that I missed or have a burning question? Leave it in the comments!
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