Dedication vs. Casual Play: Why Winning Isn’t Bad

Alexander “MixMasterLar” Browning was a freelance writer on the old Rithum.com and Gemubaka sites, and has also done opinion pieces on games and the industry here and there. Not one to agree with the majority, Lar has always offered his own views regardless of popular opinion. Today, he explains his reasoning on why gamers should strive to win instead of just playing.

There has been a long-standing debates for as far back as anyone who currently plays video games (and probably any form of games, for that matter) about the importance of winning versus-player games and remember that at the end of the day, it’s still just a game. A lot of people who play games casually don’t think too much into the matter of if they are winning or losing so much as having fun; the universal definition of “game” is that of recreational enjoyment and stimulation of either physical or mental activity that has no consequences, after all. Others tend to lean on the aspect of competition more heavily, believing games are more of managed conflicts that have their own rules to determine a victor. In the end, however, both camps can agree as long as you’re enjoying the activity then you can’t really do gaming wrong.

Except when people get an attitude about it. Which I am starting to see more and more.

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Roll a Six to Hadoken

Ever since the World Warriors’ first console outing on the Super Nintendo in 1992’s Street Fighter II, something always bugged me and, perhaps, it should also bother me that such a trivial matter has stuck to my brain for the past 17 years. In the game’s arcade mode, everything is innocent enough for the player, which chooses one of eight characters and then battles through seven other competitors to tackle four boss characters to clear the game. Since Street Fighter II is a tournament, though, obviously the other characters can’t be sitting around waiting for a single fighter to compete with everyone – they have to fight against someone to progress through the tournament to meet the player at his or her current standing in the brackets. In a perfect world, if only eight fighters were invited to the tournament, the winning fighter would only have to fight twice (with each fight accompanied by Joe Esposito’s, “You’re the Best,” of course) before moving on to the Shadoloo goons. So the million dollar question is, who are the remainder of the Street Fighter cast fighting to advance to the same bracket of the tournament?

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My Gaming Story

Surprisingly, through social media contact, I was approached by a friend addition, that asked me if I would be willing to take the time to submit a short story to their site, based on my gaming story. I obliged and now Nintendo Guy & Mrs. Peach have my story posted on their site. You know, it’s always bugged me that I have no memory of what my very first video game was, but in retrospect, my fifth birthday is my clearest memory of anything I had ever done up to that point in my life (sans maybe the dream I mention in the story). It’s always interesting when I think back to the simpler times and the fact that I have stuck with gaming for almost 24 years now is a badge I wear proudly. Even more interesting is the fact that very few people have ever asked me how I got into gaming and after all of those years my own parents haven’t even, to my knowledge, questioned how I got into the hobby. Well, if anyone is still curious, here is my gaming story:

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Heroes in a Half Shell and Arcade Envy

Seeing as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are making their way back into the downloadable game spotlight on July 22, I am often reminded of how far consoles have come in terms of technology. The TMNT series has always been an example of a franchise that gave me series arcade envy – back during the original releases of TMNT and TMNT: Turtles in Time, the console versions were downright archaic compared to the cabinets, but unless you could drop money and dedicate space to one of these cabinets, the NES or 16-bit versions were what you had to live with.

Of course, the turtles had their humble beginnings on the NES with their self-titled game produced by Konami’s sub-label Ultra Games. While everyone my age was ecstatic about the release, when the game shipped, it was undoubtedly below everyone’s expectations with poor graphics, shoddy controls and frustrating difficulty. In that same year, though, Konami single-handedly redeemed itself with one of the most-treasured brawlers of the decade’s turn. I remember first seeing TMNT in the arcade for the first time like it was yesterday – that’s how big of an impact the game made on me.

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Dreamcast Review: DDR Club Version (JP)

Dance Dance Revolution Club Version Dreamcast
Genre: Rhythm
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Japan
Pubilsher: Konami
Release Date: 04/27/2000

Even with the popularity of Dance Dance Revolution in the U.S. (which, admittedly, has been on an alarming nose dive since the birth of Guitar Hero), it’s guaranteed we will never see a domestic version of the Club Version series. The arcade series took the red-hot DDR franchise and mixed it together with the then brand-new beatmania IIDX to allow up to four players, with two players creating the game’s music using the IIDX DJ setup and the other players dancing to it on the DDR stage. For Dreamcast importers, this meant they had a second DDR title to sink their teeth into even though the IIDX aspects were completely dropped from the home titles. While the title might not have as much genre variety as the comparable 2nd Mix, the Dreamcast technology provides a superior experience over the Playstation versions and the disc contains a trove of early and forgotten IIDX material that players can experience few other places.

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PSP Review: Sunday X Magazine (JP)

There’s just something about a crossover game that gets the blood boiling. Marvel Vs. Capcom and Capcom Vs. SNK still stand as some of the most memorable fighting experiences, Super Smash Bros. still sells like hotcakes and who could forget when the Battletoads and Double Dragons settled the score with the Shadow Boss and Dark Queen? With a variety of series, though, licensing issues and unfamiliarity can make the journey to the United States next to, if not, impossible – Wai Wai World, Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom, Namco X Capcom, DreamMix TV: World Fighters, Jump Superstarsand more continue to pile up as import-only titles. Konami was the team behind two of the series mentioned in the previous sentence and the publisher returns to pay massive fan service in its newest PSP fighter, Sunday X Magazine Shuuketsu! Choujou Daikessen.
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Nintendo DS Review: Crystal Adventure

Even though Nintendo continually insists it doesn’t compete with the mobile app market, consumers hooked on portable devices show dedication to bite-sized experiences on the cheap. In this regard, an item such as Crystal Adventure should be a welcome addition to the Nintendo DS shop. For $3, the title aims to provide a portable, mobile phone style Rouge-like experience – simple and cheap. However, the title just isn’t immersive and a few mechanical snags reduce the gameplay to trial and error.

Looking at the game’s story, the title is similar to a retro title where all of the story elements are in the instruction booklet and virtually never mentioned in the game. While various sources online have the developer’s story of players controlling an infamous bounty hunter who has uncovered a temple being used by a sorcerer using the power of magic crystals to resurrect a demon, this is never seen throughout the game itself. Players boot up the game and are immediately thrust into the game’s single mode.

While a Hollywood-style script isn’t important for the game Crystal Adventure is trying to be, most RPG players do expect some semblance of storytelling. With bland menus and a lack of a few other mechanics I will come back to, the combination will create some disappointment to players who don’t do any research on the game before putting their money down.

Much like with the story, the title takes a classic approach in its presentation as well. The graphics feature 16-bit style sprites and use a fair amount of color even though there isn’t much detail to the characters. Still, the characters have a bit more flair than the bland environments. The game’s dungeon that players progress through are composed of a handful of tiles looped repeatedly through the dungeon. You’ll see a lot of the brick tiles, a few differently-colored floor tiles, some door tiles and not much else.

The sound may be the weakest point in the title, however. The repetitive music wears fast and the sound effects are just as minimal. The presentation is far from the worst I’ve seen in a game, but everything you’ll see in Crystal Adventure is as minimal as can be.

With gameplay, the title takes a Rogue-like concept and waters it down. Players engage enemies and each attacks the other until one is defeated. That’s true to the genre in many regards, but Crystal Adventure strips out a number of the genre’s most interesting elements.

Experience points and leveling up are present, but there is no customization. Levels merely expand your hit points and increase your attack and defense power. There are plenty of items to pick up, but no inventory, meaning items are used immediately, regardless of whether or not you actually need them. There are no status ailments or conditions such as hunger to concern the player.

What this boils down to is the player using the d-pad to walk around. When the player engages an enemy, a display appears showing the player and enemy hitting each other until someone wins. The player can disengage from the battle, but there is delay involved so the player can’t merely run from a fight without a penalty.

The majority of the game is the player walking around. Players can find a shop on just a few of the tower’s floors and this serves as the clearest sense of progression since the items boost your stats considerably at the cost of gold. However, the rest of the game is trial and error.

As simple of the game premise is, Crystal Adventure does have some challenge to it.  There is no randomization in the tower, so players will likely make some mistakes in managing the game’s resources. Players are thrown into the game with little direction, so it is unclear how much of a fight the monsters will put up. There are typically monsters on each floor that are stronger than the player would normally be entering the area.  Players can come and go to any cleared floor as they please to return for the extra combat and items, but running into a stronger monster and racking up damage can lead to frustration.

This is mostly due to the aggressive autosave feature in the game. The game saves automatically each time the player changes floors. Thus, if players find themselves in a sticky situation, it could potentially become an improbable situation. Since nothing in the game respawns, if there are no weaker enemies to fight or items to pick up, the player could have to start from scratch. The shops help this issue along, but, still, there is only so much gold to collect too.

There are some issues that popped up that pile on to the autosave problem. In one instance, I changed floors and was stuck in a space with only four tiles. There was an empty space to the right of the stairs, but the game slid me over to the left tile, right next to an enemy blocking the stairs. I was able to combat the beast, but I weren’t able to, my autosave would have permanently stuck me in that spot. I have also been dragged into fights by walking past a monster (understandable) and had my items, such as keys, used up by walking past doors and collectibles (frustrating). With the limited resources, not having a key could lead to one of the aforementioned autosave problems.

Honestly, if the autosave feature could be patched out of the game, Crystal Adventure could become slightly more enjoyable. Being able to manage my own saves would have prevented me from starting over twice.

With no randomization common to Rogue-likes, the title is pretty much only good for one playthrough and seeing the game through to the end won’t last even the most dedicated player through a day. The simplicity of the game isn’t a problem in my eyes, but games can be simple and interesting, innovative or original. Unfortunately, the title does little to drive it beyond a simple RPG experience on the cheap. It nails down the thought of being able to pick up and play a game on the go and put it down in the spur of the moment, but players will likely expect a fully-featured RPG if they do not put in the time to find out what the game is all about.

GemuBaka final review score: 2 of 5

Crystal Adventure does some service in providing a cheap, pick-up-and-play RPG, but its bare-bones offerings and ambiguity will turn off a lot of players. The title has some above-average graphics and well intentions, but an aggressive autosave feature severely cripples the game when mixed in with its other shortcomings. For $3, you could do worse, but I would recommend watching the videos featured on Nintendo’s official site and learning more about the title before you put money down on something you think is going to be a full RPG experience.

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