In this modern day and age, when almost everyone has a communication device with access to a global, mostly-unregulated data network, we are confronted with an existential quandary which our forebears could not have even imagined: How to ensure your phone’s ringtone matches your winning personality.
This is a humdinger, make no mistake: Leave your phone on one of the default sounds, and people might think you lack imagination. Select the incorrect pop single, and people will think you shallow. You don’t want your friends and relations to cringe every time you receive a call and Justin Beiber’s “Girl Hair Blues” plays, do you? (Full disclosure: I do not know any Justin Beiber songs.)
With that said, there is a source of simple tunage to which all gamers may turn in this time of need: the Nintendo Entertainment System. NES music is chippy and simple enough to function well as a ringtone, and by necessity the songs’ melodies usually assert themselves quite clearly in the first thirty seconds of play–perfect for using as an alert sound on your futuristic communication devices!
Here, for your consideration, are a sample of some excellent ringtone choices from the 8-bit era, with an explanation of how they might be right for you.
1. Mega Man 2 — Stage Select
Why this is a good choice: Simple, effective, and with a loop no more than a few seconds long, this tune is immediately recognizable to an old-school gamer and won’t make you inclined to let the ringtone play for thirty seconds so you can get to the good part.
What this says about you: ”I’m going to check the Caller ID before I pick up to make sure I’m properly equipped for this conversation.”
2. Castlevania — Vampire Killer
Why this is a good choice: The first incarnation of a theme that appears throughout the entire Castlevania series, “Vampire Killer” is the most recognizable of the bunch and will help you to keep your cool in stressful situations.
What this says about you: “I am an unrelenting badass.”
3. The Legend of Zelda — Overworld Theme
Why this is a good choice: Hearing this music coming from your phone will remind you that there is adventure and freedom to be found in all aspects of life, even in the midst of a boring work day.
What this says about you: “I do my best work when I’m at full health.”
4. Ducktales — The Moon
Why this is a good choice: The Ducktales Moon Theme is the pinnacle of all human musical creation.
What this says about you: “You would be impressed by my extensive collection of precious gems.”
5. Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins — Stage One
Why this is a good choice: Another track whose melody is prominent right from the get-go, the main theme from Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins is packed with tension and is up-tempo while still feeling ominous. When your phone rings, you will at once be alert for spooks, spirits, and haints in your immediate vicinity.
What this says about you: “I can get the job done in my underpants.”
6. Final Fantasy — Prelude
Why this is a good choice: The Final Fantasy prelude is possibly the piece of 8-bit music best able to transport the listener to another world, and it can do so in just a few seconds with a handful of simple arpeggios. By putting this on your phone, you will make each call you receive feel magical, mysterious, and possibly even epic. Even if it’s from your Mum.
What this says about you: “I have a close-knit group of friends with whom I have gained a lot of experience.”
7. Ninja Gaiden — Basilisk Mine Field
Why this is a good choice: It’s highly likely that hearing this song coming from your phone will get you so pumped up that you will kick bystanders in the face.
What this says about you: “If I don’t take this call, it’s only because I’m too busy slicing someone in half.”
8. Dr. Mario — Fever Theme
Why this is a good choice: Despite the fact that this piece of music goes through a couple evolutions in a minute or two and you won’t get to hear all of it as a ringtone, the first thirty seconds are still enormously chippy, peppy, and happy. This is the kind of music that gets you going in the morning, like a good cup of coffee or the news that school has been canceled due to snow or chemical leak.
What this says about you: “I’m high on life, or perhaps psychoactive medications.”
9. Super Mario Bros. — Starman Theme
Why this is a good choice: Never has a tune so simple conveyed something so clearly.
What this says about you: “I am invincible.”
10. River City Ransom — Running Around the City
Why this is a good choice: This is a piece of music that clearly suggests that you are on a mission, but that you’re going to take your time getting around to it while you pummel the crap out of anyone who deigns to get in your way. A perfect ringtone for someone who spends a lot of time in malls, someone who likes to twirl a metal chain menacingly, or someone not afraid to throw their best friend’s prone body into a crowd of thugs.
What this says about you: “I am going to spend all my pocket money on a book that will teach me to spin-kick people in the face.”
Here is something that happened to me recently: Having completed Castlevania: Lords of Shadow not too long ago (an excellent title with a lot going for it, I recommend you give it a look), I went back to complete some of the game’s “trials.” This process involved playing through levels I had already beaten in an attempt to accomplish some arbitrary goals: kill a certain number of enemies with counter-attacks, complete a level without healing, beat a boss within a short time limit.
I was sort of having fun. It felt a little bit like a chore. I felt a little obliged to continue. The game’s combat system was enjoyable enough to keep me engaged, for the most part.
My wife plunked herself down next to me on the couch. “Didn’t you beat this?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said, “but I’m not really finished with it.” I explained the trials.
“Why are you going back and doing these?” she asked.
It was at that point, once the question had been voiced, that I had to admit the truth to myself: I was doing it for the achievements because I felt like I wasn’t “done” with the game.
As a young gamer, I was not much of a completionist. There were only a handful of games in which I felt the urge to do absolutely everything–these were the games in which I found the mechanics so compelling, so alluring, that I absolutely had to seek out everything there was to do (and in many cases, manufacture some additional challenges for myself). As an example, take Final Fantasy Tactics: not only did I beat the game multiple times, recruit every additional character, acquire all of the rare equipment, and explore every corner of the optional dungeon, but I began to play the game using regulations that were entirely of my own making. I played it only allowing myself to use story characters. I played it without committing violence against any human beings (I invited them all into my party instead). I played it with a team of five male characters, all of whom were bards (my “boy band” playthrough).
So entranced was I with this game that I came up with patently absurd “themes” for additional trips through it, independent of any outside influence.
I don’t tend to pour that much time into a single game anymore. Mostly this has to do with my shift in self-perception as a gamer; I have aspirations of being “well-played” (a fact to which this budding blog is testament) and I play games in many more genres than I did when I was a teen. Partly this has to do with the fact that no game has come out which can compete with Final Fantasy Tactics. But I have been conscious of a palpable shift in my perception of what it means to be “done” with a game since the advent of achievements and trophies, and it’s only recently that I’ve been able to pinpoint exactly what that shift entails.
First let me say that I am no true “achievement hound.” My gamerscore is modest, and the string of numbers next to my gamertag is entirely divorced from any sort of meaning in my mind. The “points” that are connected to achievements carry no weight. My problem is that I cannot help but think of the achievements for a given game as being a list of accomplishments suggested by the game’s developers–a kind of “to-do list”–and this is where I get stuck.
Extra Credits did an episode on achievements a little while back, and they do an excellent job of dividing them into a couple of categories: story achievements, sidequest achievements, and achievements that require you to think of the game’s mechanics in new and interesting ways. Anybody who takes a look at the list of achievements for a game nowadays can see the distribution of these achievement types pretty easily.
I run into a fairly major difficulty here, however, because in the achievement system as it stands, there’s no formal distinction between these types of accomplishments. In my mind, that means that all of these achievement types have parity. This is extremely problematic for my concept of what it means to be “finished” with a game. If you were to ask me ten years ago when I’d “finished” Final Fantasy Tactics, I would have told you without hesitation that it was when I’d beaten the final boss and the end credits had rolled. I might have conceded that you couldn’t really claim to have done it all until you’d picked up Cloud, Beowulf, Worker 8, and the rest. But nowhere in my wildest dreams would I have suggested that you hadn’t done everything the game could offer unless you’d played through with a team of cadets using only the classes from the original Final Fantasy–
(ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED — OLD SCHOOL (5G))
Boom! Suddenly the whimsy and the devotion isn’t earnest and intrinsic, it’s manufactured. It’s not that I mind developers having a venue for suggesting different ways of approaching their work. On the contrary, I appreciate it. The problem is that I finish a game like Lords of Shadow and I’ve earned 16 out of 40 achievements. Congratulations! You won’t be “done” with this game for a year. Because the story achievements are on the same “to-do” list as all of the extras, there’s an implied equality created here–where before I could have dismissed the sidequests, trials, and extras as material for the fervently devoted (and perhaps I might have counted myself among that number), I now feel an obligation… after all, only half of the to-do list is done!
I get achievement guilt. There are so many worthy games out there that I feel as though I’m doing a disservice to their developers if I don’t take all of the various paths that they lay at my feet. In a world where there are more good games to play than there are hours in which to play them, I have enough guilt about the games I don’t get around to (I’m sorry, Alan Wake! Forgive me, Human Revolution!) without having to worry about playing the games I do finish in the ways in which they could be played.
There are certain achievements which it’s easy to resign myself not to collecting. Playing the Endless Setlist in Rock Band? No, I’m never going to do that. Beating all of The Gunstringer on hard mode in one sitting without dying? Yeah, right. Getting to the highest level in multiplayer in Gears of War? No thank you.
And still I am nagged by my newly-grown sense of completionism. The handful of achievements left uncollected in each game taunts me. I’ve played Dead Space (and loved it!), but I never went back and played it on hard, or played through it using only the plasma cutter. I’ve played Bioshock 2, but I definitely missed the opportunity to smack the Andrew Ryan mannequin in the head with a telekinetically-wielded golf club (IRONY! — 5G). After briefly considering hooking up with Garrus in Mass Effect 2, I eventually decided that my Shepard wouldn’t betray the trust of her former partner Liara… and I missed an achievement for it! (The darn game didn’t even give it to me when I reconnected with her in the DLC!)
All of these achievements goad me because they’re out of my reach not because of my capabilities as a gamer, but because of my available time. I’m almost certain that I could beat all of those trials in Lords of Shadow if I invested a little bit of time. It wouldn’t be time wasted, exactly… the game is fun! But at some point one has to tear oneself away from a game one has beaten, even if one doesn’t feel that one is “done” with it.
Are there others out there like me, who are constantly called to by all of the tasks left undone in a game? Are there others who could have dismissed a sidequest or an optional boss in bygone times, but now feel as though they’re not being thorough? Are there players who pick up a game on the DS or PSP and think “Phew! No pressure here!”?
Maybe we can form some kind of support group.
I get game music stuck in my head all the time.
Surely I’m not alone in this. There is a substantial portion of the game playing community that’s wholly invested in game music. Check out OCRemix if you’re in any doubt.
For my part, game music has the ability to make me nostalgic for places that are entirely fictional– while movie scores, upon listening, can bring me immediately back into the story with which they originate, game scores have the additional quality of making me want to go back and roam the worlds they come from. I don’t just miss the characters, the emotional moments, the great battles… I miss the towns, the countries, even the dungeons.
Probably the most evocative music I can think of in this regard is Nobuo Uematsu’s scores from the Final Fantasy games. This one, from the closing credits of FFIX, makes me wistful for my travels through the streets of the bustling city of Alexandria, the bizarre landscape of the Forgotten Continent, and the strange otherworlds one traverses in the latter parts of the game. If you haven’t played the game before, of course, it will have none of these connotations… Nevertheless, Uematsu’s music has a certain universal applicability to light fantasy. Perhaps this will remind you, too, of a story you loved when you were small!
Any memories come wafting out of the past?
Alright, I’ll level with you: Tetris Attack doesn’t appear near the top of many “Best Games of All Time” list.
I know, right? I was surprised, too. But here’s the thing: look at just about ANY list of that nature, and you’re bound to notice something. Something about Tetris. How about this? Or this? Or THIS? (Yeah, that last link is ugly, but it goes to prove my point.)
Tetris is widely considered to be among the top five games of all time. Sometimes it’s given the top spot. This almost certainly has to do with the fact that the authors of these lists usually take into account both a game’s continued playability and its influence on the medium when choosing rankings. Tetris, being both the progenitor of the puzzle genre and the single most ported game in the medium (It’s true! Look it up!), rightfully scores high in both of these areas. It has cemented its place as a classic for all time.
I’ve played Tetris, though. Who needs a review of Tetris? You don’t need to tell me whether or not you should go back and play Tetris: You already have. We all have. It was bundled with the Game Boy I got for Christmas when I was six years old. Technically, it was the first game I owned.
Tetris Attack isn’t Tetris, though. Tetris Attack has about as much to do with Tetris as Bejeweled has to do with being a real jeweler.
Alright, maybe that’s a little disingenuous. They’re both puzzle games. They both involve making rectangles disappear. They both rely on a growing sense of panic and urgency to drive the player mad as their speed increases. But it turns out that Tetris Attack is just a title that Nintendo slapped on the game because they know no red-blooded American was going to buy something called “Panel de Pon.“
There’s something about puzzle games, though, as a genre: because they’re not shackled to expectations of narrative or graphical fidelity, they rely entirely on the gameplay and the feel of the game to engage the player. While pretty colors and happy sounds can definitely enhance an experience (and here I tip my hat to Peggle, that irrepressible nugget of charm), the reason we as gamers approach these titles is for the mechanics. Part of the reason that Tetris feels so timeless is that the mechanics haven’t aged.
Tetris Attack has exceptionally good mechanics. Yes, the aim of the game is to match three like-colored shapes, and yes, that’s pretty simple. But Tetris Attack abandons the frequent puzzle trope of having things fall from the sky–instead, the tiles rise from beneath your stacks, and you are tasked with unloading the pile before it reaches the top of the screen.
Oh, big deal, you say. Things rising instead of falling. Like that changes anything.
Well, actually, it kind of does. The player’s need to anticipate what piece is coming next is a staple of the puzzle genre, and games like Tetris, Columns, Dr. Mario, Puyo Puyo, and heck, even Yoshi’s Cookie create tension by dividing the player’s attention between the field of play and the little window that tells them the future.
Other puzzle games, like Puzzle Quest and Bejeweled, remove the tension of timing altogether and allow the player to concentrate on a static field of objects to manipulate.
Tetris Attack is the best of both worlds: there is a constant (oftentimes nerve-wracking) pressure to keep making moves, to flip tiles around, to do something oh god OH GOD–but because the tiles are always coming up from the bottom of the screen, line by line, you can always focus your attention on where you’re playing. When you rack up combos, the rising tide of tiles halts for a few precious seconds as you take in the screen, sometimes staring through the colors altogether, trying to find the next move you can make before your brief reprieve is over.
Tetris Attack occasionally feels like Bejeweled with a timer, but at the higher speeds and difficulties it requires a zen-like focus and the same sort of reflexes that make the original Tetris so exciting. The last level of the single-player “campaign” (if you can call it such a thing) took me so many tries that I was nearly ready to give up, but when I finally succeeded it was in such a state of absolute concentration and awareness that upon the completion of the level, I realized that I had been holding my breath.
So: Should you go back and find a copy of Tetris Attack to play? If you have more than a passing interest in puzzle games, I’d have to say yes. Tetris Attack is definitely one of the best I’ve played, and it has a distinct feel that is worth experiencing.
You have a couple of different options: It’s a delight to play in its original SNES incarnation (provided you have nothing against the cast of Yoshi’s Island), especially against a skilled opponent. This is the version I played, and I enjoyed it thoroughly… though it might be hard to get a hold of! Apparently there was an N64 version of the game, reskinned to feature everyone’s favorite pocket monsters, titled Pokemon Puzzle League. I’ve still never put more than forty-five minutes into anything with the Pokemon name on it (gives me a chance to write about it here!), but Wikipedia tells me that the N64′s processing power makes the gameplay go down even smoother. Pokemon Puzzle League is up on the Wii’s Virtual Console if you’re willing to plunk some money down on it. Maybe you’re a fan of the Pokemans! This could be right up your alleyway, so to speak.
Something tells me, though, that your best bet might be Planet Puzzle League for DS or the somewhat truncated Puzzle League Express (available in the DSiWare shop). Puzzle games fare really well on handheld devices (there’s a reason the original Tetris was a pack-in for the Game Boy), and I could see myself losing some serious hours to a Panel de Pon port if I could carry it with me. If Nintendo didn’t have such a monolithic philosophy and was willing to release a cheap port of Panel de Pon to the smartphone market, it could make approximately a bajillion dollars. Playing versus mode over bluetooth? Sign me up.
Ah well. We can dream. If you’ll excuse me, I think I might go play just one more round…
My Experience So Far: I have a very odd relationship with Nintendo’s flagship series. All of them. It’s a little difficult to pin down the nature of this relationship, but generally stated, I have a tendency to play (and love) all of the oddball entries in Nintendo’s canon while ignoring the biggest, most important games in a series. Consequently, there are many stand-up classics that I have never played (and hopefully, that means I’ll get to them in the course of writing this blog).
I never owned an NES as a child. I got into gaming with a grey-brick Game Boy (and my relatives’ Atari 2600), and when I got a real honest-to-goodness home console, it was a Sega Genesis. This is probably where my awkward relationship with Nintendo originates.
So suffice to say, I had never really spent any quality time with Metroid. If I played games at the house of a friend who had an NES, it was usually a game like Super Mario Bros., in which we could take turns, or World Cup Soccer, in which we could pummel the hell out of each other while pretending to play a sport.
There’s something about Metroid which evokes solitude, and I never had that with an NES.
What makes it a classic? Samus Aran’s original outing on planet Zebes is probably best known for a couple of things: the mood it creates, with its countless subterranean corridors and eerie, machine-like ambient music; encouraging exploration as a primary play aesthetic by populating this world with approximately a hojillion secret passages; the surprising reveal at the end that you’ve been playing as a girl this whole time.
Metroid, just like The Legend of Zelda, was one of the pioneering forays into open-world gaming. You can go almost anywhere on the map right from the outset, with only a handful of areas being cordoned off until you pick up the super jump boots or the morph ball bomb. There are plenty of items that you don’t HAVE to pick up–in fact, one of my few complaints against the game is that the three best powerups–things which I would say are essential to beating Mother Brain–are locked behind secret passages. If you don’t know where to bomb/shoot, you’ll never stumble across the Varia Suit, the Wave Beam, or the iconic Screw Attack.
You can debate amongst yourselves whether this bit of level design was a Dedication to a Pure Core Aesthetic of Play or an Excuse to Sell Strategy Guides, but speaking personally as a man who has lots of games he wants to play in his adult life, I could not be bothered with it. I pulled up GameFAQs without a second thought and figured out where I needed to go to get the items I needed to fill Mother Brain full of missiles.
As a child, I would have gotten a book of graph paper and a pencil, and I would have made a map of Zebes myself, and I would have gotten immense pleasure out of the exercise.
Here’s the thing about Metroid, though–that exploration and discovery may have been the core play aesthetic when it was originally designed, but even if you subvert that by goin’ to the ol’ GameFAQs as I did, it’s still an amazing game. The platforming controls are super-tight, the difficulty curve is pitch-perfect (Castlevania caution in the early levels, Mega Man recklessness once you’ve powered up).
Metroid even feels modern, thanks to the way it handles its checkpoints: Every power-up you grab is an item you’ve earned permanently. If you die, you’re sent back to the beginning of the area you were currently in (of which there are only five), given a meager, meager amount of health, and instructed to claw your way back up to full energy tanks. But–and this is the key–you keep all your stuff. Did you just barely make it to the Ice Beam before dying? That’s cool! As long as you touched it, it’s yours forever.
Metroid is compelling because it lays one rule on the table very clearly from the outset: there is a kind of progress that the game will never take from you.
That one simple concession to the player is something that makes Metroid very easy to play as a gamer used to auto-saves and frequent, generous checkpoints. There are no “continues,” no “lives,” not really–there’s no way to get a permanent game over.
Should you go back and play Metroid if you missed it? Yes. Emphatically yes. The gameplay holds up as well as that of Zelda, Mega Man, or Castlevania, the aesthetics are still remarkably potent (alright, so the 8-bit music can’t creep you out like Dead Space can–turn off all the lights in your living room and play with the sound way up and try and feel like you’re not nine years old again), and it’s a glorious challenge worthy of any retro gamer. Pull up GameFAQs and snag a map like I did, it doesn’t matter. It won’t affect your experience much.
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE– This, I think, is the best thing about the original Metroid: if you are the kind of person who doesn’t like to kick it old-school, if you wish the 8-bit music were just a trifle more intricate, if you can’t possibly play a Metroid game without a map in the pause menu, if you are FINICKY, geez… There is a game for you!
That’s right, in 2004, when Metroid Fever was sweeping the nation (or… not), Nintendo released Metroid: Zero Mission for the GBA. The game is essentially a retread of the original Metroid with fancy new graphics, updated mechanics (i.e., a map), and a gratuitous sequence in which you play as Zero Suit Samus. I played Zero Mission back when it first came out, and that’s part of the reason I didn’t get around to playing the original until now.
It might be a little harder to get a hold of a GBA game now than it was five years ago, and many of you probably don’t have a GBA anymore (or even a DS), but I can definitely say that Zero Mission is worth your time.
At this point, everyone with aspirations of being a Renaissance Gamer probably owns at least ONE Nintendo system. The original Metroid is available on most of them. I think that most of you will probably find it rewarding and enriching to seek this one out and give it a go.
Valve’s Half-Life is a lot like Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.
Hm. Let me back up a moment.
In my quest to further my gaming education and make myself familiar with as many gaming classics as I can, Steam’s holiday sale has been enormously useful. Valve seems to think that it is okay to tax everyone’s wallet by selling gaming history at a fraction of its cost every December, and, not being one to argue, I picked up several choice titles this year in the hope of experiencing brilliant games which my pitiful computers were never able to run back in the day.
Naturally, Half-Life was a prime candidate.
Half-Life, originally released in 1998, is widely credited with revolutionizing the way that first-person shooters told their stories. Gordon Freeman’s crowbar-wielding escape from the Black Mesa Facility is one of those escapades that form a central part of gaming canon. It frequently appears near the top of “Best Game of All Time” lists.
A brief tangent: When I was in college as an English major, I was asked to read something like twenty works of literature my senior year in order to prepare for comprehensive exams. One of these was Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, a book which is the origin of an entire genre (castaway stories) and in many respects is the first modern novel. Without Crusoe, we can’t have Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, or classic Bob Denver vehicle Gilligan’s Island.
The thing about all of these stories that pay homage to Robinson Crusoe, however, is that most of them are improvements upon the original, taking a revolutionary development in storytelling and using their own individual quirks and tropes to make something unique and memorable. What I discovered in college (somewhat to my disappointment) was that having taken in and enjoyed all of these more complicated, more interesting stories, it was somewhat difficult to go back and really enjoy the book that started it all.
You can probably see where I’m going with this.
Half-Life deserves credit where credit is due: it revolutionized a genre, and at the time of its release was one of the most cinematic gaming experiences available on any system. It’s a game that establishes a mood very early on, and it creates tension to such a degree that even though its graphics are outdated and blocky, the player holds their breath when edging around a corner.
At this point, however, most of us have played narrative-based FPSs that are able to deliver much more compelling cinematic experiences. If we are a modern gamer, it’s likely we have played Bioshock. We’ve played Call of Duty. Most well-versed gamers (and here I have to lower my hand meekly) have played Valve’s follow-up, Half-Life 2: Life Harder.
For my part, while stalking the halls of Black Mesa in search of headcrabs to murder, I continually compared my experience to another FPS from the same era, which I had not played until early last year: Deus Ex.
Deus Ex, which doesn’t look much better than Half-Life despite being released a year and a half later, has several layers of systems and mechanics which make gameplay complicated, interesting, and fresh. Half-Life has some pretty good shootin’, some so-so platforming, and some occasional puzzles which don’t do a very good job at giving you clues within the environment. Deus Ex is more complex, and it feels more modern.
One of the major differences between Half-Life and Deus Ex is that the former tries its best to tell you its story from entirely within the gameplay–no cutscenes here. As a general rule, I would say that HL‘s approach to storytelling is one which games should shoot for: the more you take control away from your player, the more they will be reminded that they are playing a game. Of course, the dialogue choices in Deus Ex‘s cutscenes allow for player choice in a way that keeps them engaged, but my main point is that the story happening all around the player in Half-Life can’t achieve the kind of depth and complexity that Valve achieved in later efforts like Portal, Half-Life 2, and even the Left 4 Dead games.
So, should you go pick up a copy of Half-Life and give it a go? That depends. If you’re looking for a first-person shooter with an engaging story and solid gameplay, I would have to recommend picking up a copy of something more recent–though Half-Life has both of these things, it hasn’t aged as well as some of its contemporaries. If you’re like me, however, and are interested in the history and evolution of gaming, then you really owe it to yourself to grab a crowbar and hunker down with Mr. Freeman for as much of his first adventure as you can get through: your path through Rapture, Omaha Beach, and even cyberpunk Hong Kong has its origins in a tiny chunk of the New Mexico desert called Black Mesa.