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All posts by Mandi Odoerfer

gold n64

The N64 Era Was a Great Time to Buy Video Games

Recently, our Editor-in-chief pointed out that the prices for N64 games were completely ridiculous. Junk puzzlers like Tetrisphere retailed for nearly $70; major releases like Turok and Killer Instinct Gold cost even more. Cartridge manufacturing and the increased cost of development were a deadly combination, and amassing a sizable collection of N64 games was a costly proposition. But while the prices bordered on astronomical, the cost isn’t really what I remember about that era. For me, it was a glorious time to buy video games, high prices and all. The Nintendo 64 launched in 1996, smack in the middle of my baby-sitting prime. Within a year of its release, I had an actual job and actual paychecks, all of which I could use to spend on video games.…
phantasmagoria

What Phantasmagoria Taught Me About the Ethics of Plagiarism

During my senior year of high school, I filled my schedule with all the blow-off classes I could. I took an “independent study” class in which I glued photos of John Cusack to pieces of poster board. I took three full hours of choir. And, for one hour a day, I helped out my teachers as an unpaid aide. I mostly used this period to play on the Internet, but every now and then, I had to do actual work. While I wasn’t qualified to actually grade papers, I was occasionally asked to read through them and sort them into piles that represented the grades I thought they deserved. Reading my classmates’ assignments was initially entertaining in a voyeuristic sort of way, but it soon turned into tiresome work.…

The Scuba Virtual Immersion Visor May Be the Worst Gaming Peripheral of All Time

Years ago, long before Retrovolve’s Josh used the Oculus Rift while hungover, the world was fascinated by the concept of virtual reality. Developers released poorly conceived virtual reality consoles, films featured ridiculous virtual reality headsets, and Philips attempted to capitalize on the trend by releasing the Scuba Virtual Immersion Visor in 1996. Despite its futuristic appearance, the Scuba Virtual Immersion Visor didn’t actually involve virtual reality of any sort. It was quite literally a low-resolution television set you had to wear on your head, and it may have been the least useful video game peripheral ever made. Advertisements boldly claimed that you hadn’t played a game until you’d played it wearing an Immersion Visor. The Scuba did offer gamers a fairly unique experience, but for all the wrong reasons.…
junji ito pokemon

Junji Ito Cast a Dark Shadow over the Pokémon Universe

Pokémon is primarily associated with children, but it’s always been fairly creepy. If you look beyond the brightly colored rodents and the catch-em-all gimmick, you’ll find spooky cemeteries and Pokédex entries that are downright disturbing. Nintendo has been known to conceal their dark side, but in the case of Pokémon, they opted to embrace it. In October of 2014, they asked horror mastermind Junji Ito to create a few terrifying Pokémon drawings. Ito’s Pokémon images were standalone pictures, not comics, but they still told an intriguing story. In one image, a menacing Banette who stalked behind a seemingly innocent girl. The text below explained that the Banette was once belonged to the girl, but was thrown away. Full of resentment, he tracked down its former owner and silently followed her.…
featured jungle hunt

Jungle Hunt Was a Terrible Waste of Quarters

Arcade games are something I’ve always struggled with. While home consoles gave me hours to hone my skills, arcades required me to master controls in an instant. I’d often burn through a pile of quarters in a matter of minutes, and walk away wishing I’d played Skee-Ball instead. But while plenty of games wasted my quarters, no game could obliterate them as quickly as Taito’s Jungle Hunt. I think I was drawn to Jungle Hunt because it felt like a contradiction. Not one, but two names were boldly emblazoned on the arcade cabinet — Jungle Hunt at the top, and Jungle King at the bottom. The dual names were a mystery I desperately wanted to get to the bottom of, and I thought playing the game was the only way I could get answers.…
zoombinis pizza

Logical Journey of the Zoombinis Taught Me More about Determination than Math

During the 90s, I played a lot of games that insisted they were educational. Some of them taught me a few things — I’m freshwater fish expert — but most failed to live up to their grandiose claims. The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis said it would help me build advanced math skills, something I desperately needed. Its box alleged it covered everything from data analysis to set theory, and it promised I’d have a little fun along the way. And Logical Journey of the Zoombinis did indeed provide me with hours of fun. I played the game over and over, creating hundreds of Zoombinis along the way. I wound up using my own money to buy both of its sequels, and I sunk hours into those as well.…
Final Fantasy VIII concert

Seven Retro Game Tunes You’ve Probably Never Heard

As a kid, I played my favorite games incessantly, which meant I listened to certain tracks over and over again. Just the thought of the Bubble Bobble theme makes me cringe. But while I’ve heard some video game music far too much, there are also some amazing songs I’ve barely heard at all. Sometimes, tracks are buried so far within games that it’s impossible to find them unless you know where to look. Some of them are catchy and others are just weird, but all of them are worth listening to. 1. Akumajou Dracula X68000: “Load BGM” In 1993, Konami created a Castlevania game for the The Sharp X68000, a Japan-only home computer system that required you to load games from floppy discs.…
wireless controllers

The First Wireless Controller Was for the Atari 2600

I tend to think of wireless controllers as a fairly modern invention. I spent most of my gaming existence tethered to a console, and I never gave much thought to life without a cord. Wireless controllers are something I associate with fancy HD epics, not classic pixelated titles. But apparently, wireless controllers have been around longer than I have. Way back in 1982, the Cynex Manufacturing Corp claimed to have created the very first cord-free controller. It was called the Game Mate 2, and it may or may not have been powered by lightning. It offered the charm of a standard Atari joystick without the hassle of those pesky wires. Unfortunately, that long-distance fun came at a price. The Game Mate 2’s magic lighting was powered by antenna, which means it was almost certainly a pain in the ass.…
strider

The Curiously Moody Soundtrack of Strider Arcade

Halloween is still a ways off, but I already have an insatiable craving for all things spooky. I have a lengthy list of creepy movies to watch, and a longer list of games to play. I’ve been thinking about my favorite horror stories, and I’ve started to dream up some scary tales of my own. I’ve also spent a lot of time listening to the Strider arcade soundtrack. Although Strider‘s boss fights can be pretty brutal, there’s nothing about it that’s particularly horrifying. It’s hard to create a chilling atmosphere when your game’s full of ninjas and robot dinosaurs. Strider was designed to be fun, not frightening, and the game is decidedly nightmare-free. But there’s something about its soundtrack that I find incredibly haunting.…
pathologic

Video Games Don’t Have to Be Fun

In the Big Book of Video Game Truths — right next to “Everything was better when you were twelve” — lies a proclamation in big, bold letters: “Video games are supposed to be fun.” And indeed, most games I play are fun. Diablo III distills ridiculousness into pure, unadulterated joy. Mother 3 occasionally breaks my heart, but it also makes me smile like nothing else can. And if I was capable of whistling, Deadly Premonition would have me blowing air all day. But every once in a while, I’ll fall in love with a game that doesn’t make fun a part of its equation. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it; it’s just that it evokes feelings that are neither happy or mirthful. …
Metroid Mother Brain

Hip Tanaka Made Some of the Greatest Game Tunes in Existence

Hip Tanaka grew up idolizing The Monkees, but went on to become member of a reggae dub band. He worked on a number of arcade cabinets, helped design the NES Zapper, and was responsible for the Game Boy Camera. Oh, and he probably had a hand in some of your favorite Nintendo tunes. For years, Tanaka was one of Nintendo’s most interesting and prolific composers. He wrote music for everything from Duck Hunt to Metroid to EarthBound. He’s the man behind the oh-so-catchy Dr. Mario theme, and is responsible for some of the strangest boss music in existence. While Tanaka composed plenty of upbeat tunes, he was more interested in writing music that was atmospheric. He believed that music shouldn’t just be fun to listen to, but an integral part of the game itself.…
dragon quest image

What Dragon Quest VI Taught Me About Mortality

I will never be able to play all the games I want to play. It’s not a question of money or backlog management, but a matter of time. Life is short, even under the best of circumstances, and sooner or later, my number will be up. But these morbid thoughts never entered my mind back in 1996, when I was more worried about the Nintendo Power Awards than my own mortality. It wasn’t that I felt invincible, but that death seemed impossibly far away. The funerals I’d attended were for people who seemed ancient; methuselan beings with lifetimes of accomplishments behind them. I thought I had more than enough time to do all the things I wanted to do, and to play all the games that I wanted to play.…
volleyball

The Xbox’s Custom Soundtracks Made Beach Volleyball Pretty Atmospheric

When I first acquired the original Xbox, I wasn’t particularly enthralled. It looked like the console equivalent of Mountain Dew. The controller was impossibly bulky, and the game library wasn’t very impressive. But once I learned you could add custom soundtracks, I was won over completely. The custom soundtrack feature made me fall in love with games I would have otherwise ignored. You haven’t played Tony Hawk until you’ve played it while listening to Tom Waits. When you’re jamming to The Mr. T Experience, Street Hoops is kind of magical. And when you’ve got the right soundtrack, a fan service free-for-all can become a haunting exploration of video game sexuality. I bought Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball at the same time as Lovage’s Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By, a concept album about sex, sex, and more sex.…
Nester

The Nintendo Power Awards Will Always Have a Special Place in My Heart

As a kid, I was unreasonably invested in the Nintendo Power Awards. I wasn’t content to simply mail in my voting card; I wrote lengthy diatribes justifying each and every one of my choices. I’m sure the mail room cringed when my overstuffed envelopes arrived. In those days, I didn’t have a steady stream of year-end best lists; I didn’t even have subscriptions to other magazines. That issue was the only form of gaming validation I could get. They gave me undeniable, physical proof that my favorite titles were the masterpieces I touted them as. When the awards (originally called The Nesters) began in 1988, Nintendo Power was entering uncharted territory, and they were obviously figuring things out as they went along.…
ODELL LAKE PICTURE

Forget The Oregon Trail; Odell Lake Was the Ultimate Educational Game

While my classmates were buying oxen and dying of dysentery, I was off on a very different sort of adventure. I eschewed the concept of manifest destiny, and chose to live life as a fish in Odell Lake. Odell Lake didn’t teach you as much as it forced you to learn if you wanted to live. The game was a brutal survival sim, and if you couldn’t master predator-prey relations, you’d be lucky to last five minutes. While Oregon Trail could be fairly complex, Odell Lake was extremely simple. You could choose a fish and explore the water, or play for points and have your fish type chosen at random. As you progressed, fish, plants, and other creatures would appear on your screen.…
thrustmaster frag master

The Thrustmaster Frag Master Could Have Only Existed In the 90s

In the 90s, the world was a very strange place. Pauly Shore was a beloved comedian, and people who weren’t plumbers wore overalls willingly. McDonalds sold pizza, AOL was the Internet, and designers released controllers with names like “The Thrustmaster Frag Master.” The Thrustmaster Frag Master was created to make PC first-person shooters more accessible. People who struggled with Quake‘s controls could pick it up, plug it in, and frag with the best of them. The problem was that the Frag Master looked less like a controller and more like a toilet from the future. Nothing about its design was intuitive, and programming it was a complete nightmare. Adjusting to a device isn’t easy when it seems like glancing at it the wrong way will cause you to travel through time. To make matters worse, the Frag Master was incredibly uncomfortable.…
Skies of Arcadia

Skies of Arcadia Should Have Been the Die Hard of JRPGs

In the 90s, every other action movie was a shameless attempt to duplicate Die Hard‘s success. Speed was Die Hard on a bus; Passenger 57, Con Air, and Air Force One were Die Hard on a plane. Someone even made Die Hard in a high-rise, which is really just Die Hard minus John McClane. While I have a strong appreciation for originality, I’m also pretty cool with this sort of copycatting. If a concept is good enough, it’s worth repeating. Some of my favorite games are Dragon Quest clones, and I’ve played some pretty amazing Zelda ripoffs. The secret to imitation is figuring out what to copy. If action movies had tried to be Top Gun instead of Die Hard, they would have faltered, and if JRPGs had tried to be Skies of Arcadia instead of Final Fantasy, they would have flourished.…
tetris attack

The Tetris Attack Soundtrack Is Happiness in Midi Form

I don’t remember much about Tetris Attack. I know that it wasn’t actually a Tetris game and that Yoshi was involved somehow, but that’s about it. I played an awful lot of puzzle games in the 90s, and this isn’t one that stuck with me. But I’ll never forget its unrelentingly happy soundtrack. Playing a puzzle game can be a pretty stressful experience. Most titles start out slow and simple, but rapidly ramp up the difficulty. Things get more and more challenging until you’re completely overwhelmed, and wind up buried in a pile of incorrectly-colored capsules or S-shaped blocks. The music often goes out of its way to add to the tension. The original Tetris theme is panic-inducing, and many other puzzle titles feature similarly intense tunes.…
girlfriend construction set

Girlfriend Construction Set Proves That Building Girlfriends Is Harder Than It Looks

Long ago, in the dark, desolate year of 1989, a man named Tom Scheffler created a game called Girlfriend Construction Set. It’s a title some might decry as a lonely man’s daydream; a game for guys who need simulations to land dates However, those who look beyond its off-putting exterior will discover an addictive and fascinating retro gem. Girlfriend Construction Set asks players to build a lady from the ground up, selecting her face, height, weight, and measurements. From there, you must assign points to other important attributes, like “Personality,” “Jealousy,” and “Sex.” But the core of the Girlfriend Construction Set experience lies not in the girlfriend you create, but in the dates you take her on. See, your character has his own set of attribute points, which he can use to attract better girlfriends.…
Animal-Crossing-weeds

Animal Crossing: Weeds Reflect a Town’s Decline

At first glance, Mobliz looks like a thriving Animal Crossing town. As you enter, you’re greeted by a whimsical tune, and there are fruit trees as far as the eye can see. When you explore its borders further, you’ll discover a river filled with fish, a beautiful white sand beach, and a downtown area full of brightly lit shops. But those once-bustling shops now sit empty, with no customers in sight. Grass that was covered with flowers has been overrun by weeds. Lavishly decorated properties are infested with cockroaches. Many villagers have already abandoned their homes, and many more intend to follow them. The town’s deteriation began with the mysterious disappearance of its mayor. While the mayor once oversaw every aspect of Mobliz life, she has since vanished completely. …
Noctropolis Box Art

The Alluring Box Art of Noctropolis

Noctropolis is not a particularly good game. It relies on shock rather than charm, and it fails to stand out in any way. The art is lackluster, the music is monotonous, and the puzzles aren’t very challenging. It’s a completely unmemorable experience, and it doesn’t hold up well when compared to other adventure games of its time. But for several years, it was my video game holy grail. When I laid eyes on Noctropolis‘ box art, I was instantly smitten. The art deco font appealed to my love of Batman: The Animated Series, and the skulls in the background appealed to my childish love of all things spooky. Further inspection only increased my interest. The game was set in a world where comics were real, promising to deliver plenty of horror and mystery.…
For the Frog the Bell Tolls

For the Frog the Bell Tolls Is Zelda for Frog Lovers

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is one of the Game Boy’s most beloved titles. It was an instant hit with critics and fans alike, and remained on bestseller lists for more than seven years. It was remade for the Game Boy Color, re-released for the Virtual Console, and is generally considered to be a handheld classic. But while millions of gamers have played Link’s Awakening, few have enjoyed its predecessor: a quirky little title called Kaeru no Tame ni Kane wa Naru, or For the Frog the Bell Tolls. Link’s Awakening started out as a port of A Link to the Past, but its engine was based on this obscure Game Boy title. For the Frog the Bell Tolls will instantly feel familiar to any fan of classic Zelda, from the overhead perspective to the use of top and side views.…
Mother 3

Mother 3 Is Arguably the Greatest Game of All Time

Mother 3 is not my favorite game. I experienced it too late in life, and don’t see it through the nostalgia-tinted glasses I apply to my most cherished titles. I have no warm, fuzzy memories of unwrapping the game at Christmas or attempting to play it the backseat of a minivan in the middle of the night. But I still think it’s the best game I’ve ever played. Mother 3‘s opening borders on saccharine. You’re asked to name each member of an adorable family, from its cowboy-hat wearing patriarch to the lovable family dog. From there, you’re asked to choose both your favorite food and your “favorite thing.” It’s charming, but it’s also time-consuming, and could easily turn off players unfamiliar with the Mother series.…
pokey minch

Pokey Minch Was Eric Cartman Before South Park Existed

EarthBound‘s Pokey Minch is a conniving, calculating coward. His taunts are incredibly childish, and his actions are unbelievably evil. He thinks nothing of sacrificing others, even if it doesn’t benefit him in any substantial way. If that sounds exactly like South Park‘s Eric Cartman, it’s because Pokey pretty much is Eric Cartman. They’re villains cut from the same piece of cloth, substituting brooding and angst with astonishing levels of jerkitude. Other jerks came before Pokey, but those pricks lacked potency. Pokey was annoying, but he was also an actual threat. He was at his most dangerous when he was at his most obnoxious. Cartman took that formula and refined it to a science. Pokey kidnapped a member of your party and attempted to use them as a human sacrifice; Cartman gave one of his best friends AIDs.…
atelier iris

Atelier Is the Batman of JRPGs

People like to say that Batman could beat anyone if he had enough time to prepare. With his determination, brilliance, and near-limitless resources, he’ll eventually find a way to conquer any foe. It doesn’t matter if they’re ridiculously overpowered or an omnipotent demigod. If they have a weakness, Batman will find it, and he’ll figure out how to exploit it. If Batman was a JRPG series, I’m pretty sure he’d be Atelier. Atelier is lacking in both vengeance and the night, but it’s like Batman in the ways that really count. Beyond its sweet anime exterior lies a game that’s all about being prepared. If you want to take on Atelier‘s biggest challenges and toughest bosses, you’ll need prep-time, and lots of it.…
earthbound flying men graves

The Flying Man Song From EarthBound Might Be My Favorite Piece of Video Game Music

Video game music is what I listen to when I want to get pumped. There’s a long list of songs that have moved me to tears, and a longer list of tunes that put a smile on my face. But there’s only one piece of game music that really makes me think. That song is Louis Philippe’s “Flying Man,” a tune that’s technically never appeared in a video game. It was recorded for Mother, but it never plays in the game itself. If that catchy melody sounds familiar, it’s because it shows up in EarthBound — twice. One version is every bit as happy as the song above, albeit lyric-less. The other rendition is slightly more somber. To understand the significance of “Flying Man,” you have to understand the Flying Men themselves.…
linda cube again

Linda Cube Again Is My Favorite Game I’ve Never Played

If someone stuck Pokémon, Dragon Quest, and 90s psychological anime in a blender, they might wind up with Linda Cube Again. It takes an already bizarre concept — saving animals from the end of the world by placing them on an ark-like spaceship — and dials it up to 11, throwing giant arm transplants and evil twins who dress like Santa Claus into the mix. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a video game. I’ve tried to play Linda Cube Again on several occasions, and I’ve had to give up every time. The game’s entirely in Japanese, and is extremely text-heavy. I understand a little of the language, but nowhere near what I’d need to tackle something like this. Image Source: ObscureVideoGames Even though I have no shortage of games to play, I’ve never been able to get Linda Cube Again out of my head.…

Final Fantasy Should Go Back to 2D

Some of my all-time favorite games are 3D Final Fantasy titles. Final Fantasy IX is a heartfelt love letter to the JRPG genre. The battle system in Final Fantasy X-2 is fast-paced perfection. Squaresoft handled the transition from pixels to polygons with unparalleled grace. But it’s time for the Final Fantasy series to go back to 2D. Recent Final Fantasy titles have lost all semblance of charm. They’re so desperate to be taken seriously that they’ve forgotten what made the series fun. There’s no room for joke-cracking octopuses or impromptu squat competitions. Instead, they drown you in melodrama and overly complex exposition. Contrast that with Bravely Default: Flying Fairy, a title that positively oozes whimsy. There’s still plenty of angst, but it’s balanced out with goofy conversations about food and hilarious Ringabel journal entries.…
Pokemon-fan

Pokémon Was Better When I Didn’t Know What I Was Doing

I love Pokémon just as much now as I did in 1998. Every time a new title is released, I play it obsessively, ignoring everything else. Every generation has had at least a handful of critters I adored. But even though my love for Pokémon is enduring, I enjoyed the game more when I didn’t understand it. In the early days, I didn’t give any thought to team building. I used my favorite Pokémon, and that was that. I steadfastly refused to evolve my starter — a Squirtle, of course — and just did some grinding if I found a gym I couldn’t get through. It didn’t matter that Pokémon like Jumpluff, Ponyta, and Teddiursa had lousy stats. They were cute, and that was all I cared about. Then online battling hit, and I realized everything I was doing was wrong.…
Power Stone 2 Umbrella

Power Stone 2 Is Everything I Want Super Smash Bros. to Be

Technically speaking, Smash Bros. predates Power Stone 2. While the original Power Stone made its debut in 1999, the sequel wasn’t released until 2000, one year after the first Smash Bros. title. They were two similar games that happened to come out around the same time, and it’s unlikely that either title influenced the other in any way. Still, I can’t help but feel that Smash Bros. could learn a few things from Power Stone. I love every game in the Smash franchise, but none of them have ever compared to the feeling of four-player Power Stone 2. It doesn’t matter that you can’t play as beloved characters and are stuck using the clunky Dreamcast controller. Everything about it is magical.…
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