Series I Love – Super Mario Bros

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One cold, snowy day in 1992, my father decided to let me and my sister try out his NES. My mother had gotten the console as a first Christmas gift for my father and he liked to hide it away so we kids wouldn’t break it. Little did I realize, but his choice to let us touch that console would change my future.

I remember him going behind the television and fiddling with the coaxial cable. We had the RF/switch for our NES, so connecting it was as easy as pulling teeth (almost literally). After that, he switched the television to channel 4, dialed the nob and we were set.

Well, not just yet. The console didn’t display properly, so he had to remove the cartridge and blow into it. I never thought to question why at such a young age. I just took all of these steps as gospel. After “cleaning” the cartridge, my father put it back into the NES and we were golden.

He gave me the controller and tried to explain how Super Mario Bros. worked. I was 4 years old at the time, so needless to say, his words went completely over me. I saw the bright colors and a funny looking guy and proceeded to press some buttons. He walked to the right and the screen moved, so I just assumed that was it.

I walked into the first thing I saw. I can’t tell you what I was thinking, but I clearly had no perception of what an enemy was. My father then took the controller away from me, assuming I was an idiot (not in reality, I just got sad). I cried a bit, but I didn’t give up. I was entranced with this game.

24 years later, I’m still fond of Super Mario Bros. The fat, little, Italian plumber and I have basically grown up together. I’ve played all of the main Mario titles and a majority of the spin-offs. Seeing his face and hearing his voice is like comfort food to me.

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Some of the happiest memories I have are from Super Mario Bros. 3.My sister and I would trade turns for hours on end. The game seemed so incredibly massive and creative. Each world had something different about its design and the ability to store power-ups made challenging areas less painful.

Not only was the design more refined than previous entries, but having Luigi tag along and help progress just felt right. The original game basically mimicked an arcade machine by having each player make individual progress. Super Mario Bros. 3 felt like the first time cooperation was put into a game.

A few years after first picking up a controller, the Nintendo 64 was unleashed on the world. Being 8 years old at the time, I was completely floored. I couldn’t believe that we were moving into the third dimension so fast.

Nintendo was always the king of promo videos (their adds for Donkey Kong Country and StarFox 64 are ingrained in my mind), so I remember watching the Toys’R’Us video for Super Mario 64 about 100 times. I hung on every word the developers were mentioning. Mario was becoming more like a stuntman and a fighter. His moveset was expanding.

Not only his repertoire of attacks, but the world he was traversing was growing. Levels were becoming more vertically inclined. Mario could wall jump, ground pound and long jump; he felt like the crazy kid that I was. I was always loaded with energy, so I used to pretend I was Mario and jump around my backyard.

The wait for Christmas in 1996 was excruciating. Since I already figured out Santa wasn’t real, I knew my mother had the console in her bedroom. She hid that thing better than a drug lord dumps a corpse. I never even caught a glimpse of the box, despite her concealing it for 3 months.

When I did eventually get my hands on Super Mario 64, I felt like my life had changed. I was mesmerized by what I was playing. I couldn’t get my head around how such a game was made, let alone conceived. It felt like my world and video games were becoming one.

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The last time I felt such a way about Mario was with the release of Super Mario Galaxy. I wasn’t too big on Sunshine, but I played it and New Super Mario Bros. I had begun to gravitate more towards the spin-off games like Paper Mario and Mario Tennis, yet I had a feeling that Nintendo was slowly running out of ideas.

Super Mario Galaxy came out during my sophomore year of college. I went to school in Florida, away from my home in Connecticut and my Nintendo Wii, so I felt the sting of disappointment. I had to wait months to even try out the game, so I felt a bit empty. It didn’t help that my friends at school were jerks; I couldn’t seek comfort in the guy who had been with me my whole life.

There was a glimmer of hope, though! An online friend of mine who lived in Florida had just bought the game. He was willing to pick me up and have me stay the weekend. I was ecstatic. Not only did I get to hang out with one of my best friends, but I would finally get my hands on Super Mario Galaxy.

The opening cutscene that set up the story of Rosalina and the Lumas brought me to tears. It felt like Nintendo realized how cherished and special their mascot was. It was like they recognized the power this juggernaut of gaming had over the imagination.

The game was also thoroughly in love with Super Mario Bros. 3, something I attribute to Galaxy being the third 3D Mario game. I was sold; this felt like what I had been missing all those years. Platformers never really died down, but no one had made as creative and joyful a game as Nintendo did with Super Mario 64.

Galaxy pushed the limits of what could be done with 3D level design. It even utilized the Wii Remote in a method that didn’t feel so gimmicky. It had some challenge, an unlockable character (in the form of rising star, Luigi) and a truly incredible soundtrack.

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Since that day, Mario has been in some mediocre games and a few truly amazing ones. Nintendo just loves banking on nostalgia, a design philosophy that may potentially hold them back. When Nintendo EAD Tokyo is given the reigns, Mario is unlike anything else. The other teams kind of phone it in.

If the Mario series truly were to end, I wouldn’t mind capping it off with Super Mario Maker. Having the tools to create a brand new Mario adventure in my hands is something my younger self would have killed for. To have the kind of vibrancy and joy that my 8 year old self had would be overwhelming.

I’ve grown a bit cynical over the years, but Mario has always been there to bring the happiness back. He still has a zest for jumping and bouncing, even if his “love”, Princess Peach, is an airhead. How many times can one person really be captured?

Regardless, Nintendo isn’t going to let their mascot bow out. I won’t turn away from him, either. Until I can no longer physically hold a controller, Mario will always be a part of my life. To remove him would be like asking me to kill my childhood.

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Here’s to another 30 years!

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Series I Love – The Legend of Zelda

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When I was younger, picking which games I wanted to play was simple. I was a pretty damn spoiled kid, so I usually saw something in the store and my mother bought it. While she objected to some things, she typically got me anything my heart desired.

Walking into our local Toys’R’Us one evening in 1998, I happened upon a flyer for an upcoming game called Zelda. My reading comprehension wasn’t as astute as now, so I didn’t even catch the subtitle underneath. To me, the golden sheen and shield crest were enough to hook my interest.

Over the next few months, I played my N64 as usual and kept my obsession with Goldeneye 007 going. At such a tender age, nearly any game would get its hooks into me and engulf my imagination. I kept thinking back to that sword and shield and wondering what dangers awaited me.

As the release date drew closer, Nintendo began their marketing campaign on TV and in movie theaters. I distinctly remember sitting in the theaters and seeing the “WHILST THOU SUCK?” advertisement. It put a fire in my eyes and made me determined to prove those ads wrong.

A night or two before the games release, I heard from a GameStop employee that the cartridge for Ocarina of Time was going to be gold. My little mind was blown. I couldn’t let this thing escape me. I needed to have this game in my collection. It felt like a rite of passage.

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After getting home with the game, I couldn’t wait to play it. I nearly ripped the box apart with excitement, but I saved my enthusiasm for the journey. I didn’t want to sully the experience by destroying its case.

As soon as the first chords of the theme played, I was in love. The game felt legendary even without its namesake. For 10 year old me, this was the most important game of my life. It was almost as if I became an adult as I stepped in Link’s boots and set off to save the land of Hyrule.

I had never played anything like it at that point in my life. My childhood was full of video games, but the 90’s were dominated by platformers and beat-em-ups. Fighting games were a big deal after Street Fighter, but not many besides that and Mortal Kombat stuck around.

Something like Zelda encompassed all of the exploration I loved from Mario with puzzle solving and dungeon diving. It was literally being placed into darkness with some tools and being told to figure it out. You had no guide and your worth was measured in accomplishing the mind benders in front of you.

I don’t remember how long it took my younger self to finish the N64 classic; I do know that I nearly missed the bus ride to school one morning since I was nearing the end and refused to skip the cutscene. My mother also nearly fell asleep listening to Zelda’s lullaby after a long night at work.

That same year, Nintendo had a double whammy for young me. A colorized version of the first portable Zelda title, Link’s Awakening, was released for the Gameboy Color. I always brought the device with me to school for recess and the bus rides, so clearly I had to have this other Zelda title.

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When I’d leave home for the bus stop, I’d pack Link’s Awakening with me. From one to the other, my adventures with Link never ended. I’d sketch doodles of Link tackling foes, exploring ruins and finding treasure. I would fantasize about being in those dank caverns and surmounting the colossal beasts.

Since those games, The Legend of Zelda has become my favorite series. I’ve beaten each game in the series more than once (save for a couple of them) and I even get excited hearing about re-releases of past games. It’s strange to be excited for an HD version of a game you’ve finished 3 times and still own.

Even the dreaded Zelda 2 I’ve managed to complete twice. When playing it, I find the game amazing. For that matter, during any of the Zelda games, I’m awestruck. How Nintendo manages to craft such a varied world with intricate puzzles and hidden treasures is just awesome to me.

The mixture of thought provoking puzzle design and grandiose combat scenarios with a classic tale of good versus evil just keeps me coming back. I dig all of the variations the series has seen. Wind Waker is my favorite and I love bringing a friend along in Four Swords Adventures. The more recent Triforce Heroes is a solid co-op puzzle game and Skyward Sword made me a believer of motion controls.

Honestly, there isn’t a title in the series I truly dislike. I may complain about the issues that Twilight Princess has wit pacing or how superfluous most of Skyward Sword is, but I can’t get enough of those worlds. They are filled to the brim with interesting content.

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More importantly, they make me feel like my actions matter. I know that gaming has always placed your character as a hero, but those exploits weren’t as personal until The Legend of Zelda came along. With Zelda 2, Link was now directly helping people with their requests.

Running menial tasks shouldn’t be that gratifying, but I’ve always been drawn to the side quests in Zelda. Fishing for hours to get a stupid scale or holding onto a chicken and floating down to Earth is utterly captivating to me. That each activity rewards the player with something useful also makes those tasks feel less tedious.

I also just plain love exploring. Hyrule has had such a rich landscape, but even the extra worlds of Termina and Koholint are filled with nooks and crannies to delve into. As much as I may associate puzzles with Zelda, spelunking is a big part of the formula.

I’m not opposed to change and I do wish that some of the tropes would be put to rest, but I’m always eager and ready for a new Zelda title. Each one is like stepping into an actual legend. That I get to be the hero who overcomes adverse odds is just icing on the cake.

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Here’s to the future of Zelda.

Link Play

People love to claim that the Legend of Zelda series is basically the same game over and over again. While this is failing to take into account all of the handheld titles, even the main console entries have enough differences to differentiate themselves.

Still, Nintendo must have really taken that criticism to heart as the Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes is completely different from the classic Zelda mold. The game is more akin to Four Swords and not it’s Gamecube sequel.

While I enjoyed the game, I think it was mostly due to me being a die-hard Zelda fan. The singleplayer mode is hot trash and the weird requirement of three players kind of ruins local multiplayer with just a single buddy. Download Play is very generous, so at least you don’t have to have friends with copies of the game.

I can’t quite put my finger on why I may consider this the weakest Zelda game in the series. That isn’t to say anything is particularly bad about it, save for it’s netcode; I’m mostly just saying that nothing is quite original about it.

Since the game bears a huge resemblance to Four Swords, it’s easy to compare the two games. For starters, you progress through areas that are basically small rooms. There isn’t an overworld or any kind of dungeon exploration; you are placed in an area with some items and small puzzles.

“Puzzles”

Successfully completing the puzzle gets you to the next room and so on until a boss fight. It is fun, but it becomes pretty routine in a very short time. There are stylish touches like some graphical effects, 3D and great music, but without the costume changing mechanic, the game would be a bit dull.

Costumes are what define this Zelda experience. Changing to and fro makes for some great times. Having Link cross dress or putting on a replica of Marth’s outfit is well and good, but unlocking some of the more badass costumes (like Sword Master or Fierce Deity) can make replays and challenges trivial.

Four Swords was incredibly rudimentary in design. While having three friends help you through puzzles was a blast, all of it’s dungeons are randomly generated. At some point, you begin to see repeat room designs and immediately know the solution. I guess that takes awhile, but it also leads to a game that has no distinct or memorable moments.

That game got it’s fun out of being novel. The DSi re-release added some much needed content to spruce up the endgame, but it’s original state is a bit of a throwaway gimmick. Can Zelda multiplayer work? Four Swords said yes.

The sequel, Four Swords Adventures really went to town with the whole concept. You were required to have Gameboy Advance link cables for multiplayer, but each person could be exploring a small room on their own. Main puzzles had players taking divergent paths to find items and culminate in some grand solution.

Or a daring escape!

Everyone emerged from their GBAs and provided the steps necessary; Triforce Heroes doesn’t really have that. I can accept the lack of 4 players, but often times you can beat an entire room by yourself. It makes the concept of multiplayer feel like it was forced upon a different execution of the Zelda formula.

While online play should make up for lacking friends or having differing schedules, Triforce Heroes has some really unstable netcode. Seemingly perfect games can end suddenly for no reason and most people have no idea how to setup a WiFi connection; I’ve had lag so bad that my sword wouldn’t swing for 5 seconds after pressing the attack button.

At least with Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures, you had to be in the same room. It might have limited the chances most people had to play the game (not to mention the outlandish price required for such a feat), but the game worked at all times. Triforce Heroes sometimes fails at multiplayer while simultaneously failing at singleplayer.

The original Four Swords never even had a singleplayer component, but Four Swords Adventures allowed players to summon the extra Link’s in different formations. That kind of gameplay feels akin to some classic Bioware RPGs like Icewind Dale or Baldur’s Gate. Why the same type of mechanic wasn’t utilized in Triforce Heroes is beyond my comprehension.

Singleplayer has you tapping the bottom screen to switch between dopples of yourself. It makes for tedious progression; every time you get somewhere with one Link, you need to completely stop and redo it for another. The totem mechanic almost seems to come from frustration in solo play rather than any genuine multiplayer advantage.

There is also a rather limited method of communication for online play. You get emoticons that you can press which are supposed to tell other players what to do. They rarely work. There are no icons for “Do not use item” or “Stop”. You just have a generic “NO!!!” to warn players of anything wrong.

Where is the “Stop Dying” button?!

Trying to specify what needs to be done in a given situation to a totally clueless player is an exercise in frustration. You wouldn’t even believe how many times I ended up yelling at my 3DS when a solution came to me in seconds. To watch others shrug and bumble around like a doofus is maddening.

When everything does click into place, Triforce Heroes is fast and fun. I like that there is actual puzzle solving instead of just murdering enemies like in Four Swords. This feels like a compromise between the two previous multiplayer Zelda titles. It also has a vibe similar to Skyward Sword’s upgrades.

I also can’t stay mad at a Zelda game that calls back to the 2D gameplay from yesteryear. People love to worry about how Nintendo has basically forgotten “classic” Zelda, but they still make these games for us to enjoy. They never buried that tried and true game system.

If anything, I think Triforce Heroes has shown me that I just prefer to take my Zelda alone. To me (and a lot of people), Zelda has been about exploring a new world and conquering it’s many dungeons. It’s been about guiding Link through treacherous paths and perilous situations.

Traveling “literally” anywhere.

Sure, sharing that fun is great, but the real joy comes from figuring out a solution and putting it into action. Without the ability to verbalize that to a friend (or get them to read your mind), the game becomes an exercise in patience and insanity.

Having like minded players makes all the difference. With friends who actually understand Zelda (or being in the same room), you can accomplish what is being thrown at you. Local multiplayer saves the day yet again.

All in all, Triforce Heroes isn’t bad. I rather enjoy it. I just don’t know if I’d ever see myself playing through it again.Four Swords exists mostly as a way to kill time on long flights and Four Swords Adventures is an epic journey with friends.

Triforce Heroes kind of feels like a short trip to an amusement park. It’s fun while it lasts, but you really want to get home after you’ve had your fun. It also sucks to have to deal with people who lack common sense.

Paystation 4

Going into the 8th generation of console gaming, it seemed like Sony finally understood their fans. All their mistakes with pricing and vague marketing with the PS3 were a thing of the past. Microsoft became money grubbing and lost their focus on gaming. Nintendo was being Nintendo, but promising a stronger drive to make new games.

A few years into this generation, Nintendo is the only one that remained consistent. Microsoft made a dramatic reveal of backwards compatibility on the Xbox One at E3 this year and Sony is now following suit.

Wait, let me rephrase that; Sony is now charging us a 3rd (4th or possibly 5th) time to play our old games on new hardware. I think I’ve had enough of this lunacy. Despite me strongly preferring the PS4 interface over Xbox One, I can’t believe that my older games are being resold to me.

It’s not the largest deal to me as my PS3 is still functional and plays PS2 games. Many people are not in that same boat. Backwards compatibility should be a required on all consoles, regardless of architectural differences. All those legacy consoles are not going to last forever and I’ll be damned if I’m going to keep feeding money to a company bent on making me bankrupt.

Sony has gleefully taken to the trend of re-releasing “HD Remaster” ports of PS3 games on PS4 and now the PS2 is falling in line. Instead of selling a more expensive version of the current console with backwards compatibility support (which would make sense!!!), we’re being asked to fork over $10-15 for our favorite older games.

That doesn’t seem too dramatic, but the implication is that this will be a trend. Down the line on the PS6, we’re going to be rebuying our PS4 games. Hell, it may not even take that long as we’re currently rebuying PS3 games!

Because we all asked for this shit…

What makes this so shocking is that Sony was such a stalwart for PS1 support on the PS2. It was one of the defining features of the console when Nintendo switched formats and Sega basically forgot about the Saturn. With a PS2, you didn’t need to kiss your old library goodbye.

When the PS3 launched, Sony figured that not giving gamers an option was best and decided on jam packing the system with a bunch of extraneous features. Most people didn’t need media streaming, SACD support, wireless networking and video playback; for some, just playing a video game was all they wanted.

If you wanted the prestige of owning a Sony product, you had to deal with the price and extra nonsense. You were getting a Blu-Ray player, whether you liked it or not. You were dealing with internal storage and install times despite older consoles not having that. You were making due with WiFi even if your network didn’t support it.

Granted, the PS2 forced DVD support, but Sony managed to keep the price down by including expansion ports on the system. This let Sony develop a hard drive and network port for later use and for people to decide if they wanted.  Now that philosophy is lost.

With Microsoft granting you access to your games simply by owning the 360 disc, Sony has no reason to expect gamers to jump on these PS2 remasters. What is more baffling is that Sony launched a “PS2 Classics” line on PS3 that let gamers purchase things digitally.

They also started an initiative called “Cross-buy” that allowed you to make one purchase of software and get it on every Sony console. Like that cute little game on your Vita? That’s cool; you can have it on PS3 and PS4 for no extra cost! Why is this not a feature with PS2 on PS4?

It’s hard not to immediately jump to the conclusion of, “MONEY, MONEY, MONEY!!!” It’s doubly hard when Eurogamer took an in-depth look at the first PS2 remasters (Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, Racer Revenge and Jedi Starfighter) and found that they truly are emulation. This isn’t even some new code being written for different hardware; it’s the same damn thing!

Yeah! I’ll rebuy that!!!!

I could maybe understand not allowing discs to be used as there were a tremendous amount of PS2 games, but previous digital purchases not being supported is just unacceptable. It’s downright criminal, if you ask me. For a company so prided on their dedication to their fans, this just reeks of greed.

I will not stand for it. I may not be able to speak with Sony directly, but I’m not going to buy a single one of these “PS2 remasters”. There is no point. If I give in, what’s to say that I won’t be buying a PS2 Re-Remaster on the PS5? In some cases (San Andreas), you may already be doing so.

Unless you really cannot find a functional PS2, don’t give in to Sony. Let them know that you demand to have your games back. Owning a disc should mean that I can use it; the PC format has been like that forever. Enough is enough with this remaster trend.

Metal Gear and Me

Not many game franchises mean much to me. I blow through games quickly and tend to forget them. As I’ve grown older, my skill has gotten better and I just have a natural tendency to blitz through games.

Some games buck that trend. Zelda, Mario, Souls, Yakuza; these games are so well made and intriguing that I actively look for each facet of them. I want to experience every minute detail they contain.

Then, there is Metal Gear Solid. There hasn’t been many other games that have echoed different areas of my life. My first taste of MGS was with a PS1 demo disc, but I didn’t get into the games until the PS2 and MGS2.

I do still remember playing the living hell out of the MGS demo with my sister. We thought it was so expansive and daunting. We were scared to proceed, but interested in what the game held. The graphics were gorgeous and the atmosphere was second to none.

Still, I never did get MGS on PS1. I either was too disinterested in the PS1 (being raised a Nintendo kid) or just plain forgot about it. Whatever the case, when I entered middle school, I found myself without many a friend.

I’m Otacon in this picture. Dave was in love with Snake’s name being David.

I met a kid named Dave would introduced me to a lot of great games. Unreal Tournament, Neverwinter Nights and Metal Gear Solid. The first time I hung out with him, he beat MGS in an hour. He knew every inch of Shadow Moses and was able to show me exactly what was so special about the game.

It looked absolutely incredible. I didn’t realize that action games could be so in-depth and cinematic. While I didn’t actually catch any of the story (since he skipped every scene), I loved the way the bosses were set up and how the game focused on an espionage story.

At that point, I did finally want the game. What prevented me from taking the plunge was the announcement of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I was a bit of a graphics whore back in the day and that game was easily the best looking game on the market.

I was determined to get it. I tried buffering as many videos as I could online (I had dial-up!!!), but I mostly fell in love with the sound effects. I remember finding a theme for Windows 98 that augmented the task bar to look like MGS font and included every codec sound effect.

Anyway, this was around the time I started to get into reading reviews. I had found IGN64 when I was younger, but my internet access was so limited that I didn’t really frequent the site. In 2001, things were picking up a bit, speed-wise.

I favorited IGN and Gamespy and looked to them for coverage on every game. MGS 2 just happened to be the biggest damn thing in the world, so I was ingesting every bit of info I could. When it was announced that a demo would come with Zone of the Enders, I waited patiently to get that game.

While it wasn’t a bad game (not great, either), I spent more time with the MGS 2 demo then any human should. I had beaten every difficulty level and found every stupid little secret. I was so blown away by how detailed the “Tanker” was. I needed to know what came next.

At that age, I wasn’t ready for the bombshell Kojima would drop on us. I never had an issue with Raiden (seeing as how MGS 2 was my first Metal Gear), but I couldn’t understand what the plotline was about. I thought the ending was anti-climactic (it was written in the IGN review!!!) and I was angered that the plotline was mostly mumbo jumbo.

Still, I had enjoyed the gameplay enough to get interested in the series. While I still didn’t end up grabbing MGS on PS1, I did catch wind of Nintendo doing a remake of the first game. Since I liked the improved AI and mechanics from MGS 2, I figured getting the first game on the same engine would be for me.

You really didn’t mind me? Huh…

While it took a few years to come out, I had spent time online playing Unreal Tournament 2003 and meeting some nice people. The best of those were two younger girls named Mai and Kim. I grew attached to them, despite our distance, and I spent a lot of my time fantasizing about them.

Flash to when Twin Snakes was released and I was now in high school. During my biology class, we began to learn about the human Genome project. Much to my surprised, a lot of the plotline in Metal Gear Solid tackles ideas about how the human Genome can be manipulated.

There was also the curious case of a voice actress having the name Kim Mai Guest. I saw these things as fate giving me hints. There was no way this was purely coincidence. Metal Gear knew exactly who I was and what I was doing.

Hyperbole aside, I really fell in love with the characterization of Snake and his struggles against FOXHOUND. I loved the cutscenes as a child and my growing fascination with Japanese culture and Eastern philosophy seemed to hit a fever pitch.

After completing Twin Snakes, I was dedicated to the series. I didn’t want to miss anything else that came out. I wanted more Solid Snake. Learning that Metal Gear Solid 3 was just around the corner, I was ecstatic. How lucky was I to have 2 Metal Gear games in one year?

Oddly, though, that Winter didn’t go like I had originally thought. I had been a pretty bad kid in high school. I was falling in with a bad crowd and doing really idiotic things. I had become a thief and was constantly getting suspended. I was treating my own family like shit and manipulating teachers into letting me escape class.

So at the end of sophomore year (in 2004), I had changed schools. I had a growing depression that I was unaware of and ignored. I just felt miserable when I walked into this new school. I spent the first few months before winter break basically alone.

People were interested as hell on my first day and then quickly brushed me under the rug. It was hard to me to come to terms with being an “outcast” and not bonding with anyone. So when Christmas came along, I was gifted two games; Metal Gear Solid 3 and Metroid Prime 2.

Returning after New Years is where my life changed a bit. I had met my current best friend, Jim, at lunch. I’m not quite sure how we managed to get in touch, but our chance meeting was met with lots of discussion about games and music.

Jim’s favorite series of all time happened to be Metal Gear Solid. When I told him I had yet to play 3, despite owning it, he told me to immediately do it. He was so infatuated with the game that he didn’t understand how I let it slide past me.

Ch-chow!

I still tell him to this day that if he were a Metroid fan, I would have been more inclined to play that series. I didn’t want to let my new friend down, so I dove into MGS 3. At first, I hated the game damn. Kojima’s decision to stick with the old camera style didn’t mesh with how much more expanded the game was.

After breaking a controller in rage and screaming a lot, I kept playing. I forced myself through those opening hours. I wanted to make sure I had something to bond with this kid over. Sure enough, after about an hour and a half, I was enjoying myself.

I also found myself bonding immensely with Naked Snake. The story of the birth of Big Boss seemed to resonate more with me. While Solid Snake was cool, Big Boss had actual emotion. He had talent, skill and passion. He was also a bit of a klutz.

Instead of following in the footsteps of Solid Snake, Kojima decided to flesh Big Boss out more as a human. I understand, now, that this was all deliberate, but at that point, I had never seen a protagonist like this.

My own sadness and misery were paralleled by Big Boss. He had lost everything he ever loved in the world. Worse still, he was put in charge of ending it. The Boss was so brave in the face of absolute death; I wondered why I couldn’t be the same way.

After finishing MGS 3, I was in love. I loved the entire experience. It quickly became one of my favorite games ever. It also cemented a friendship that still exists. Metal Gear grew from being the cool, new, flashy series to something more personal for me.

I could just cry right now…

Ever since 2004, I began to take gaming more seriously. I was no longer playing solely for joy. Now I got into how reviewers processed information and what qualities of game design I enjoyed.

I dug deeper into why I played so much and why I felt more attached to Japanese style narratives then American ones. This brought about a new found interest in Martial Arts cinema. This also brought me closer to Jim, who was a bring proponent of kung fu.

While college would see us part for a few years, we stayed in touch and kept similar interested. Music, films and games were what we loved. Every time we hung out, we’d talk about one or all of those.

College sort of mirrored my high school life. While I wasn’t committing petty crimes, I was pretty alone. I had made some friends who seemed to bully me more then I liked, so after 2 years, I came back home.

This was in 2008 around the release of Grand Theft Auto IV. If anyone knows the history of Metal Gear, you should know that Metal Gear Solid 4 was on the horizon. Since I was back home and could hang out with Jim, I got to finally get a taste of what the PS3 had offered.

He obviously bought the game and invited me over to play it. Even though he had already finished it, he watched while I played. Under such close supervision, I made a bunch of mistakes, but I was floored with the quality that Kojima had on display.

Quality like a guy taking a dump in a garbage can.

Never had a game looked so damn realistic. The cutscenes were so flashy and over the top and the action was more manageable then previous entries; Metal Gear Solid 4 was everything a fan could have hoped for.

While I don’t really care for the game, presently, that experience of playing it with Jim and seeing this whole new world of PS3 opened my mind to the possibilities of the next generation. I figured things could only get better from there.

In a lot of ways, they did. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker was the next major installment in the series. When I learned it had co-op, I nearly cried. Jim and I could finally play the game together. We both loved Metal Gear and to be able to help each other made me overjoyed

The only problem was that I didn’t own a PSP. Jim has a big problem with spending, so he actually had ended up with multiple PSPs after his trip to Japan. He also really loves collector’s edition consoles, so the unveiling of a camo-themed PSP piqued his interest.

In addition to getting the collector’s edition of the main game, Jim also got the camo-themed console. It came with Peace Walker, so we were set to play the game. I don’t think I ever had as much fun playing co-op with him or anyone.

You guys ready to limbo?

I loved the increased emphasis on gameplay over story. I liked the neat comic panels that took the place of full motion cutscenes. I also loved the ridiculous extras and Monster Hunter missions. Peace Walker was a great game.

When the HD version came out, we beat it a second time. We even made sure to S Rank every mission. Our love of Metal Gear needed to be reflected in that Platinum trophy. I didn’t want to stop until every small bit was vanquished.

Now we can skip ahead to the present. While Jim and I were super excited for Metal Gear Solid V, we didn’t really play into the idea of Konami splitting the game up. When Ground Zeroes was released last year, we both took a pass on it. While we wanted to play it, we figured it would be better to just wait and get the entire experience.

Neither of us owned a PS4, either. We weren’t about to shell out to get a single game (even if Ground Zeroes was on PS3), so we played the waiting game. This paid off as Konami announced a PC port for MGS V.

PC has always been our preferred platform, even if Metal Gear has had a terrible past on it. Seeing Ground Zeroes running on PC was incredibly tempting. We nearly plunged during the 2014 Steam Winter Sale, but the $20 price tag was still a bit high.

Earlier this year, a random sale saw Ground Zeroes dropped to $10. Without thinking, both of us quickly bought the game. We were both amazed at how many touches Kojima thought to add.

Games have had a huge problem escorting people and allowing you to shoot. MGS V not only lets you aim and crouch, but you can flat out sprint with hostages. You can lay on your back and fire any weapon you desire. There is a neat “reflex” mechanic that allows you to silence foes before an alarm goes off.

The control scheme is just so smooth. The scale of the island is massive. Ground Zeroes may not be long, but it is incredibly dense. It opens up so many possibilities that I can’t believe other developers didn’t tackle first.

In an industry going towards more linearity and scripted sequences, it’s refreshing to see a game with near limitless freedom. You are basically put in a map, given a target and told to go. It’s intimidating and exhilarating. It makes you feel like you are Big Boss.

Or like Solid Snake being Big Boss; either one.

Our memories or too fresh to really say if Ground Zeroes will stick with us, but we are both waiting with bated breath for Phantom Pain. Since this is going to be Kojima’s last Metal Gear, both of us need to experience it.

Jim has even gone overboard and purchased both the Japanese and English collector’s editions along with the Japanese themed console and a CE of Ground Zeroes. He is making sure that he does not miss the monumental conclusion to the Metal Gear saga.

And for me; I just want to know how the whole thing ends. What other facet of my current life will Metal Gear reflect? Each game has seen me create incredible friendships or strengthen my inner acceptance.

Without Metal Gear in my life, I wouldn’t be half as engaged with gaming as I am. I wouldn’t have found my best friend and I definitely wouldn’t be a better person. I have Kojima to thank for that.

It will be sad to know that a true Metal Gear won’t exist after V, but I’m ready to accept reality. All good things must come to an end and while I really hope MGS V doesn’t echo the end of my life, I can guarantee it will be the end of a certain chapter of my life.

What’s In a Character? – Agent 47

With yet another bomb of a video game movie out, I’m beginning to think Hollywood is picking the wrong games to adapt to film. When I heard of the first Hitman movie, I wondered how the hell it would even work as a film.

For starters, Agent 47 isn’t really a character. He has an iconic style and is very precise, but he doesn’t show much emotion or development. He is a link from which the player gets to enact their prowess. He exists solely so you don’t have to get attached.

That is the basic premise behind his design. He is bald, white and of average build. He is a John Doe if there ever was one. What makes him work is that the game world built around him is incredibly detailed and fully interactive.

The Hitman series is more about how you, the player, approach a situation then how Agent 47 would do it. If you suck and just want to shoot everything in sight, you can. If you actually want to painstakingly follow NPCs and murder by numbers, you have the options and tools at your disposal.

Hollywood seems to think that 47 has something to develop, so I figured that we could take a look at his various incarnations to see if there ever was a chance of him becoming an interesting protagonist.

Hitman: Codename 47

The start of the Hitman series is actually rather bland. While it had some cool new technology in the way of rag-doll and cloth physics, the game was a bit of a mess. Sloppy controls, frequent crashes and unstable performance; Codename 47 felt rushed out to the market.

In more recent times, the game’s issues have mostly been worked out, but it still remains a rather unremarkable game when placed against it’s sequels. I suppose it is more faithful than Hitman: Absolution, but that game is basically a mess.

Anyway, Agent 47 doesn’t really get much development in this game. From our actions, we learn he is super intelligent and very detached. His work is what he was bred to do (literally) and he is a master of his craft.

These aren’t really personality traits more so than a skill set. I guess 47 is really angry; he does emote that much. Having a single characteristic doesn’t really make for a compelling lead. Like I said above, 47 works because he is so bland.

I really love his suit and tie, but he is an efficient killer. There are no hairs on his head because that would leave traceable DNA. He wears a black suit to hide blood stains. He is always wearing gloves to not leave fingerprints (though knowing him, his fingerprints were burnt off long ago).

Even the end of the game doesn’t really show off much. 47 kills his creator and doesn’t shed a tear or even get too frustrated. It’s just another day on the job for him. So is the way of a genetically altered super killer.

Hitman 2: Silent Assassin

Hitman 2 is where Eidos started to make this series worth a damn. I can accept that the first game was too ambitious for it’s time, but to fail to improve for the sequel would have been a crime. That thankfully didn’t happen and Hitman 2 became a genre staple.

Expanded levels with more choices then ever; better controls and smoother flow; smarter AI and greater detail to their path finding; Hitman 2 was an instant classic upon release in 2002.

Was anything done differently for the story? Yes, actually. Agent 47, apparently, had a desire to get out of the game. Faking his own death to get out of the agency, he is now a groundskeeper for a monastery in Sicily.

The plot kicks off when some thugs come and capture the father at the church. Their motive was getting 47’s DNA to make their own super assassin. They leave a ransom note for 47 to collect an obscene amount of cash or else they will kill the father. 47 gets pulled back into a life he tried so desperately to escape.

It’s a fantastic start to a game that has some great moments, but 47 remains a blank slate throughout. Even if we got a little bit of development during the introduction, nothing else of substance happens. Again, this works in the context of a videogame about killing people, but not so much in making a fascinating lead.

There are some moments where 47 gets in touch with his agency to get an update on the father and those do show a bit of concern on his part. He obviously feels guilty for getting an innocent person involved in his past. He should have been smarter then to think he could escape his rivals.

But other than fleeting moments, the game just ticks along until you kill everyone and get to a dramatic finale. It’s a well executed and paced mission in which the thugs from the beginning storm the monastery looking for you and 47 has to stealth around to find equipment.

After you load up, you get to bring the lead to your foes. In a game focused on making you silent, it’s cathartic to let lose and give it to some truly despicable people (then again, you could be a psychopath the whole game).

Killing everyone sees 47 saving the father and then giving up his peaceful life. He obviously isn’t longed for a world where he doesn’t assassinate. Whatever the agency had started, 47 is going to have to weather this burden until he can discover the real reason behind his existence.

Hitman: Contracts

Contracts is an interesting game. At the time of release, the game was seen as a bit disappointing following the stellar Hitman 2, but I believe the years have been kind to it. Hitman 2 has some wonky AI, even if it is an improvement over the original game.

Contracts is a lot more consistent with it’s enemies. It also remakes some of the first game’s missions in a much more refined engine. Getting to redo the assassination in China is beautiful.

The plot line is a bit convoluted, but it starts when 47 retreats to a secluded hotel room after being wounded. In typical Tarantino fashion, the game is starting from the end and working backwards.

47 ingests some pills and begins to hallucinate about his past. Mixed in with missions from the first game are some new levels. This game basically exists as a retelling of the first title. While I can’t say I truly understand what the plot is about, the game is fun.

The level design remains vast and diverse and the improved AI makes for a more challenging and fair game then Hitman 2. The game takes a step back, plotwise, and focuses more on gameplay.

47 doesn’t get a single hint of development in any facet. He’s never really angry and he doesn’t explain his feelings towards the past or his present predicament. You just experience a setting and are thrust into his shoes.

The final mission is mind-blowingly awesome (which seems to be a trend with the series). After that, 47 escape into the night and we are left to wait for the sequel. It’s kind of a bummer, but whatever.

Hitman: Blood Money

Blood Money is, hands down, the best game in the series. While I once argued that Hitman 2 was the pinnacle, time hasn’t been entirely kind to it. I’d rather take a game with more complex level design, better set-pieces and extremely proficient AI over what feels like random chance.

Blood Money seems to understand that 47 isn’t really a two dimensional being, either. Missions in the earlier portion of the game give you incredibly detailed descriptions of your targets with all of their evil deeds being mentioned.

By the end of the game, your agency contact kind of gives up. You are basically told the target is well guarded and has a few habitual problems. No lecture about how evil they are or whether life is too good for them. You’re a detached killer; why would any of that matter to you?

The narrative does at least try to set up some Bourne style intrigue. Apparently the plot in Contracts was more important then one would have believed. 47 was attempting to discover the location of his enemies and take them out.

Having failed at that, his contact at the agency, Diana, devises a plot to fool everyone. She poisons 47 with atropine lipstick and fakes his death. With 47 disposed of, the director of the CIA steps in to brag about his accomplishment and extract 47’s DNA in a vein attempt to recreate him.

The game works in a similar fashion to Contracts in that the story is told through the eyes of his enemies. You play out levels that were basically heard second hand by the victim’s survivors. It’s really neat and the multitude of options makes for playthroughs that are rarely the same.

This game also sets up a sort of mystique about 47. His enemies believe him to be a mystical being with super human powers. He is cold, efficient, precise, brilliant and unrelenting. His targets will die; the question is just when.

We get the most vocal proclamation of 47’s personality in Blood Money. When Diana “betrays” him, 47 lets out a, “YOU BITCH!” That is about it. Through that short exclamation, we can deduce that 47 trusted Diana. It’s something, even if it’s vague.

The finale, once again, is excellent. Diana kisses 47 with the antidote to his fake death and you rise off the cremation table to kill every last witness. I love how the series builds up to some dramatic climax and then delivers better then most action games.

With all of his enemies defeated, 47 is left with questions about why Diana had double crossed him. Unbeknownst to him, she was trying to protect him. Still, he isn’t exactly happy and is looking for revenge.

Hitman: Absolution

I could go on about how much I loathe this game. I could detail about why I think it is a crappy action game and a terrible sequel to an excellent series. That isn’t why I’m writing this blog.

I took the time to detail some of the reasons why I loved the series in the previous game descriptions, but Absolution doesn’t deserve that. It’s basically a failed attempt to make Hitman and 47 “modern.”

With that said, his game is truly where Eidos tried to create a fully defined character for 47. I believe they failed, but that isn’t to say there aren’t moments where he is given clear motives for his actions and some characteristics to bounce off the scenes.

The game starts with Diana goes rogue from the agency. After the events of Blood Money, she reveals that the agency was corrupt. 47 apparently never got the memo, as he rejoins the agency under a new handler.

This man tasks 47 with killing Diana and bringing in the little girl that was with her. Upon pulling the trigger on Diana, 47 comes to a realization that he is being played (*nudge* *nudge*). 47 then defects from the agency and goes on a quest to figure out why this young girl is important.

There are a lot of Bourne Identity style twists and turns and the game loses a lot of focus as it goes on. Instead of making the central antagonist the shadowy agency, the story introduces some redneck by the name of Blake Dexter. He’s wonderfully acted, but he’s so unnecessary and goofy in terms of what Hitman is.

The series never really put much effort in establishing villains. That may sound insane for a series so focused on eliminating targets, but the deliberately ambiguous backgrounds to your foes is what made you truly feel like a hitman.

Learning the how and why to a person’s actions kind of takes away from your severed connection to the game world. You aren’t supposed to be more interested in what makes a bad guy tick. You’re just tasked with finding them and killing them.

It’s similar to how Grand Theft Auto V included a torture scene. It was purely for dramatic click-bait headlines, but it also tremendously impacted the effect GTA has. The game has never up close and personal about it’s violence. Now this one scene came and made the game very intimate.

Anyway, 47 eventually goes through some ridiculous plot points (need to hit that shooting range!) and kills people for reasons unknown and eventually tortures some guy. You make a rudimentary choice that obviously shouldn’t even exist (47 kills people for a living!) and then you proceed through more action set-pieces.

Somehow 47 makes a connection with the young girl and won’t let anyone take her. It’s basically the same thing with Kratos in God of War III and Pandora. There isn’t much reason to have this tertiary character other than a shoddy attempt at character growth.

I’m also really baffled why some levels are basically cut-scenes. One has 47 go to a shop and get a new suit. That’s beyond pointless; it’s padding for the sake of making a “cinematic” game. I don’t want cinematic qualities; I want to kill people!

Eventually the game wraps up with a generic action scene on the roof of a building. While the final missions were typically the best of the bunch, Absolution throws a wrench into the mix and makes this one a chore.

If you love quick-time events, then I’m sure you’ll dig the closer to this story. Otherwise, we get some anger out of 47 and nothing more. After erasing the villain from existence, 47 drops the girl off at a church and the game ends.

So, what does this whole blog show? Basically, I don’t know how Agent 47 was ever supposed to make for a quality movie leading man. As I’ve hopefully demonstrated, 47 doesn’t evolve much as a character.

While that should be a death knell for any narrative driven experience, the Hitman games have functioned on their mechanics. Like how Miyamoto bases his games on ideas first, Hitman is all about the central premise and not much else.

I know Eidos has tried with their “genetically engineered agent” backstory, but all of that doesn’t matter much. It’s just an excuse to have 47 wind up in shootouts. The ability to avoid those shootouts is awesome.

Still, the series has made some kind of impact on the gaming world. It’s surprising how we’ve seen the likes of 2 movies based on this series and the game is looking to reboot soon. I never thought gamers would gravitate towards a bald, emotionless man.

It speaks to the ingenuity of game mechanics and how gripping gameplay will almost always take central stage. Even if a story is the most dramatic thing ever written, a game is about how you control the outcome of certain events.

Something like Bioshock may have a great story, but I’ve never really clicked with it due to the gameplay being simplistic. That isn’t to lobby a complaint, but I just feel like that series could do a whole lot better.

On the other hand, I think that stealth action games tend to try too hard. Splinter Cell, for how awesome those games are, has a very mind-numbing plot that takes way too much precedent from the 4th game onwards.

Metal Gear Solid is an entirely different beast, basically relying on story more than gameplay. It makes for thrilling and industry defining stuff, but I’ve never really felt that it was a true stealth game.

Hitman, though, nails it. It even allows you to forgo stealth if you want. That makes for a rather short and unfulfilling game, but the option is there. There is more than one solution to any given problem (something that Absolution forgets).

So while the games will continuously be enjoyable, I don’t think 47 is ever going to make a great protagonist in a film. Removing the connection a player makes destroys pretty much everything that makes Hitman fun.

Nintendo Preview: E3 Comes Home

E3 has increasingly become less relevant to the common gamer. The show was fantastic when the general public was allowed to attend, but now times are different. While gamers appreciate that journalists write back about their experiences, nothing beats getting hands-on time with a game.

Nintendo wanted to be different this year. Not only did it not hold a press conference, but it partnered with Best Buy to give the regular old gamers a taste of the E3 goodness. While my state isn’t exactly a sprawling metropolis, I still had to wait two hours in line to get my hands on these demos.

I can say this Nintendo experience is the closest I’ve been to an E3-like crowd. The people were friendly and genuinely excited to see Super Mario 3D World. We all cheered when someone succeeded and cried when others failed. It was fantastic.

This also gave me an opportunity to shed some of the doubt I saw from the Nintendo Direct stream. While I knew I’d be getting Mario regardless (stupid blind Nintendo fanboyism) when I wasn’t very optimistic from the videos.

Well, since this is a preview, why don’t I explain what I played?

Super Mario 3D World

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While I can’t claim this is the 3D Mario game we were all dreaming of, 3D World is very fun. The co-op is frustrating, but I suppose that is to be expected. The bubble mechanic from the New Super Mario Bros. games makes an appearance and you can now pop it yourself, so I guess co-op could be easier.

I didn’t get to use the Gamepad at the demo booth, but the Wii Remote controls were decent. Running in a 3D space with a D-pad sucks, but everything is smooth. There isn’t any mandatory pointer action, either. Just running and jumping with a flick acting as a spin-attack.

Getting another game with Peach is fantastic to me. It was also adorable to see a five-year-old come up and practically beg for Peach.  All the characters handle like their Super Mario Bros. 2 counterparts. Luigi and Peach are the obvious choices as they can float. 3D World is a lot faster than the 3DS game, so anyone who thought that game was sluggish won’t have the same complaint this time.

The level I got to play (6-3) had the map converge to one point where the four players had to enter a clear tube. This tube sends you straight forward and around some bends, of which you can control by holding up, down, left or right. The players needed to cooperate to get some keys and unlock a box to proceed. This felt almost like a mini Zelda puzzle and it was fun to see the platforming not be solely running and jumping.

The graphics were very solid. The colors popped and the subtle textures on Mario’s and Luigi’s jeans looked nice. Nothing was too realistic, but the colors were so rich that it just appeared glorious. The camera was a bit wonky, though. There are no controls to change it, either.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

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This was the game I was the most looking forward to. I love Donkey Kong Country Returns and thought it was one of the best platformers ever made. I guess striking lightning twice just wasn’t bound to happen.

I’m not sure if it was the graphics that did it, but nothing seemed entirely different. Obviously using the gamepad to control your characters is much nicer than the Wii Remote and waggle, but this game is eerily similar to the Wii game.

The animations are very smooth, though, and the game feels spot on. It runs smoothly and never drops in framerate. Your actions have immediate response and you can carry a few enemies, which leads to improved barrels to attack. Nothing screams HD, though, and I think this was a missed opportunity to sell the system on power.

You now have six hits until you die (other than in co-op where it is three per player). The Nintendo rep said he believes this to be a deliberate change in the game to make it slightly easier. I know the 3DS version had this as an option, so I think he may be confused.

The Nintendo rep did confirm to me that the game would have Wii U Pro Controller support along with the gamepad and Wii Remote control schemes. He wasn’t able to tell me if online co-op was available, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that.

Mario Kart 8

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While I’ve enjoyed the Mario Kart series at different points in my life, the last two games did nothing for me. Mario Kart Wii is my second least favorite in the series and Mario Kart 7 is barely any better. I figured Nintendo had no gimmicks or creativity left for this series. It was also surprising when Sega nailed it with the Sonic racing games, making me question what could even come next.

Well, Mario Kart 8 plays very nicely. The gamepad can be tilted for steering or swapped on the fly to classic-style controls. There is also Wii U Pro Controller and Wii Remote schemes, so you never have to settle for any decided style of play.

The level designs are also very eye-catching. The zero-G sections look mindblowing with their bending of reality. The game flips upside down and you can ride on walls, all while tossing your weapons wherever you see fit.

Split-screen is also still an option and it works wonderfully in HD. Nintendo hasn’t packed the screen with a useless HUD or cluttered it with too many particle effects. The boxes are huge and offer plenty of real estate for players to see the action.

The graphics also run at an amazing 60 frames-per-second. This is on top of visual detail that looks like a storybook. I am genuinely surprised at how great-looking the game is and how well that translates to speed.

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD

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My dream come true. I could honestly write that and that would be enough. Still, I will explain a bit.

In terms of game feel, nothing has changed. This plays pretty much like the GameCube version. The camera is a little weird, Link is very quick and the swordplay looks fantastic. The big draw is how the graphics have morphed and they look stunning.

The textures look even more cartoony than before. Link’s face is epic to behold in full HD. The particle effects mesmerize me now, almost to the point of distraction. The smoke clouds and dirt effects are beyond belief. I have no idea how Nintendo worked this kind of magic.

For some reason, though, I feel like the framerate is slower. I even mentioned this to the Nintendo rep, but he kept saying that it was running at 60 fps. I just don’t believe that. The game doesn’t have any laggy inputs, but it does appear to move slower.

The extra Wii U features didn’t really have time to shine in the demo. I noticed that the gamepad screen acts exactly like Ocarina of Time 3D did, so that is very awesome. Inventory is quick and easy to access and you can keep a constant map on the gamepad at all times.

As far was extra content goes, the Nintendo rep told me that everything is essentially the same. No new dungeons are going to be added and no dialog or music will be changed. You just get faster sailing and Miiverse integration directly in the game.

I couldn’t get the Nintendo Rep to confirm if Wii U Pro controller support was available or not. He just said that the demo only allowed for the gamepad, so I’m not sure what that could mean when the final build arrives.

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I love that Nintendo wasn’t content with just throwing up some videos online and expecting the general public to eat them up. Quite honestly, not getting hands-on time with Super Mario 3D World would have nearly dissuaded me from getting the game. This Best Buy experience was a wise decision for the Big N.

It also gave a poor guy like me a chance to feel like I was at E3. I’m always a bit jealous of the journalists who get to play these games and experience the glitz and glamour of the E3 floor. While Best Buy certainly isn’t as big, the Nintendo Experience was definitely very loud.

I urge anyone who is excited from this to get to Best Buy this Saturday. The store will be hosting the event from 1-5 PM. You can get a Luigi hat and flag for participating, too! Nothing beats free swag and early access.