Tracey’s Basement

If you guys aren’t already followers of my YouTube channel – Tracey’s Basement – why not? It’s full of geeky goodness, and it’s only getting better, so why not take a look? Here’s my most recent video, which is a “Content Update” to let everyone know what kind of videos are going to be coming up in the (fairly) near future. Give it a look and I know you’ll want to stick around to see what comes up next. ^_^

8-bit Teeth, Red-haired Heroes, and a Mother-Gamer’s Pride


(Note: the idea for this post was given to me by Miss Alexandra from Man Crates. Thanks Alex!)

This is going to be one of the oldest-sounding things that I’ve ever said, but…kids today have no idea what it’s like to grow up alongside the progression of video games. My daughter, for instance, is five years old and for her entire life so far she’s always been around latest-gen games. She’s watched mommy and daddy fight extremely realistic monsters, listened to immaculately-voiced characters have deep, emotional conversations, and awed at light shows that could shame Hollywood. She even plays games of her own, leading Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars characters through amazingly designed worlds that you can change and mold to your liking.

But she’ll never know what it was like to first experience video game graphics jumping from 8 to 16 bits. She’ll never have the giddy joy of sneaking peaks at Nintendo Power magazines in the drug store in order to learn how to perform special moves. She’ll (likely) never experience the ups and downs of picking up a random game at the local rental place, having absolutely no idea what it’s going to be like because none of your immediate friends have played it and internet reviews don’t exist yet.

And that’s all fine, because I’m certain my daughter will have plenty of her own experiences that will go way over my head, but it still makes me almost sad because the things I’ve mentioned were enormous parts of my childhood.

I was born at the perfect time to really grow up with video games as a home entertainment. When I was just a couple of years old my parents were still at the right age to hear about the Atari 2600 home video game console and think that it would be a really neat thing to have in the house. We had our fair share of games, and all three of us played. My mom’s favorite was Mouse Trap, which was a PacMan clone using mice as the ghosts and a cat as PacMan. My dad would get super-frustrated with Pitfall because he just couldn’t ever seem to time his jumps properly. And me? Well, at the tender age of five-ish, my favorite game was the ridiculously-conceived Plaque Attack. It was a Space Invaders clone, but instead of attacking legions of aliens, fast food items such as burgers, fries, and soda would move toward waiting rows of teeth, and instead of the defender of the Earth, you played as a squirting tube of toothpaste.

Tell me this isn’t one of the most ridiculous things you’ve ever seen.

Looking back at it now, that game seems outrageously silly, but when I was a kid I absolutely loved it and I would play it again today if I had it. I can fondly remember sitting on my parents’ bed with that little joystick controller, blasting globs of toothpaste at cakes and candies in order to protect my rows of 8-bit pearly whites. It was great, foolish fun. It wasn’t my whole life by any means, but it was definitely a welcome amusement to have at my disposal.

At some point – I don’t remember the exact age, but I think I may have been six or so – my parents picked up a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas and my horizons were broadened. I was introduced to Mario for the first time, and my cousins (who also had NES consoles) and I spent hours trying to hunt down that damn princess. There was also Duck Hunt, which was a crazy-amazing innovation with its fancy, neon-orange light gun. That was definitely one of my favorites in the early days, although I loathed the clay shooter side-game and would often resort to pressing my gun right up against the TV screen in order to hit the damn disks. I also got the biggest kick out of the Power Pad when my cousin first got his, although it didn’t take long for us to realize that you could just get down on the floor and use your hands to hit the buttons rather than dance around on it as Nintendo had intended.

You’d think they’d have learned way back then that people don’t want to exercise while they’re gaming.

There’s no doubt that the Atari and the NES were enormous parts of my childhood, but at that age I wouldn’t have described myself as a “gamer”. The games were simply among my toys, and I didn’t spend any more time on them than I did on Play Doh, Legos, Barbie dolls, or, you know…playing outside.

That all changed when I was somewhere around eight- or nine-years-old and my parents got me a Super Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas. It was a huge deal right off the bat because the 16-bit graphics looked outstanding compared to the previous games I’d played. It was hard to believe that such amazing graphics were even possible.

Shown: The most realistic-damn thing I’d ever seen.

And I won’t say that I didn’t play the HELL out of Super Mario World (because I did), and I definitely had something of an obsession with a little thing called Uniracers, but if I’m totally honest with myself the game that I would say turned me into a gamer was Chrono Trigger. My best friend had come across it in one of the local rental places and told me that it was amazing, so I practically begged my father to go so we could see if it was in (in those days each shop was lucky to have one copy of each video game). I was in luck that day, and the bright red, spiky hair of the protagonist on the cover immediately appealed to me. It looked like an anime cartoon, which was also something I was getting into at the time, and that definitely cemented my resolution to rent it and get the heck home immediately.


I ran home with my rented treasure and popped it in the machine, practically vibrating to see what it was all about, why my friend had praised it so, and soon I was being treated to a Millennial Fair. I ran around with the red-headed hero (Crono), ringing bells on the strength game, guessing winners for the races, beating up a training robot, and dancing with people dressed as cavemen, and it was a blast. I totally understood what my friend had been talking about and I eagerly ran around that fair for about two hours, and which point I finally discovered that, yeah…there was actually a hell of a lot more to this game.

Yeah, it’s true, for a good two hours I honestly believed that the Millennial Fair opening of the game was the game. So when another character accidentally opened a time portal and disappeared into the past, prompting my red-haired hero to follow, I was flabbergasted. There was an adventure to play too! Oh, and what an adventure it was, full of time travel, a looming apocalypse, hidden magic, futuristic robots, and actual death…a character in a video game dying. I’d never seen the like before that.

I can’t even explain to you how many hours I sunk into that game. My best friend and I spent countless pocket change on renting it until my father finally decided that it was economically sound to just buy a copy, and that quadrupled my gameplay, easily. I was determined to find every hidden item, defeat every tiny side quest, and unlock each of the multiple endings (which was something else I’d never seen before). And remember, this was before you could just look everything up on the Internet. I had to actually search for all those items, and defeat the end boss dozens of times in hopes that I might have completed the right sequence of events to get a new ending.

One of the most heartbreaking moments of my childhood was when I came home from school one day and flipped on Chrono Trigger. I’d been sinking hours and hours into an overachieving attempt to raise all seven playable characters up to the highest level (100, which was depicted by two stars), and I was getting fairly close. I had two of the characters complete and the rest were in the 80’s and 90’s. But when I turned the game on, the screen didn’t load up with that oh-so-familiar title screen. Oh no…what I got was a black screen with a few angry-looking bits of digital lightning flashing across it. I immediately switched the SNES off and grabbed at the game to find that it hadn’t been seated properly. Someone had removed it and not pressed it all the way back down into the system. I pressed it down firmly now, and literally held my breath as I switched the system back on… But the damage had been done. The game had been erased. I had three blank save slots staring at me, mocking me, mocking the countless days I’d spent trying to raise those characters’ levels. I’m not proud. I seriously almost burst into tears.

As it turned out, my mother had removed the game in order to test a used game she and my father had recently picked up for me for Christmas: one Final Fantasy III (VI, in Japan), which just barely beats out Chrono Trigger as my favorite game of all time. I forgave her, because ohmygodFinalFantasyIII, but I still to this day lament the fact that I never got all seven characters to the maximum level. Later in life I even picked up the remastered Nintendo DS version of the game, but as an adult I’ve never had the time or inclination required to undertake so much level-grinding again.

Still, I definitely credit Chrono Trigger with truly turning me into a “gamer”. It was the game that awakened a desire to do everything, to see everything, to experience ever tiny detail that the programmers had hidden within. To this day, although I’ve enjoyed plenty of games since the SNES, all my favorite games are from that console: Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy III, Breath of Fire II, Illusion of Gaia, Secret of Mana… You could say that I became a bit of an RPG-maniac.

These days I don’t have nearly as much time for games, and I tend to choose ones that can be completed much quicker than the 20+-hour sagas I played as a kid. But that’s okay because I hold the memory of first playing those games deep down among some of the most wonderful memories of my childhood. And in the meantime, I’m busy raising a new gamer to make memories with her favorite games. 🙂


Arcade Block Unboxing and Review for August 2015

Here cometh the last subscription box for August 2015, also late but also not my fault! What’s with the mail lately? I don’t know, but just as long as you guys understand that it is the subscription box services and not me, then we’ll all be fine.

So this is my second Arcade Block, and after last month’s disgrace of a box I wasn’t expecting too much from this one. Were my doubts confirmed or was I pleasantly surprised? Go ahead and take a look at the video:

So clearly you can see that I wasn’t exactly reeling with joy, but it was definitely better than my first Arcade Block. Let’s take a look at the breakdown:

“Counter Strike” NES parody t-shirt:
This is an item that is sitting firmly in the middle of the fence. On the one hand, it’s not a bad shirt at all, and my husband actually rather likes these NES parody shirt designs. On the other hand, the game they chose to make this shirt was Counter Strike, which is not only a game neither my husband or I play, but also a genre of game that we hardly ever touch for any reason. We’re just not first-person-shooter-war-simulator people, so there are many other games that could have been used that would have been better in our opinions.
As usual, valuing this shirt at a standard $15.

“Scorpion” from “Mortal Kombat” plush figure:
This little guy is all kinds of freakin’ adorable, and he’s the one item that made me glad to have gotten this box. The two available options were Scorpion and Sub-Zero, the two infamous colored ninjas who have existed since the first ever Mortal Kombat game, and either would have been totally acceptable in this household. In fact, I kinda want to buy Sub-Zero now so we can have both; they’re that adorable, and they’d look awesome on a shelf together.
This little guy seems to be some kind of pre-release since every website I find them on gives only the option to pre-order, but it looks like they’re going to be available in October if you’re looking to get one for yourself. They’re going to go for about $15.

“Rock Band” sweatband:
Always quick to correct me, my husband informed me that this sweatband does, in fact, feature the Rock Band logo, not Guitar Hero like I was thinking. Either way, there’s not a great deal that you can say about a sweatband. It’s a bright red-and-white one, which is a little different from what I’ve seen (most of the ones I’ve seen tend to be dark colors like black), but that’s about all I can tell you. I can’t see me wearing it, unless I suddenly get the urge to start accessorizing on a daily basis, but I’ll have it in case that day ever does arrive.This was a Nerd Block exclusive item, so I’ve got to give you an estimate based on similar items; we’ll go with about $5.

“Boston Vault Dwellers” pennant from “Fallout”:
My husband tells me that the reasoning behind this little sport pennant is that the new game is going to take place in Boston, so there you go. There’s not a great deal to say about this item either, although it is cute. It’s basically just a little flag with an imaginary post-apocalyptic sports team logo emblazoned on it. It features Vault Boy, so it’s immediately recognizable, so it’ll probably look pretty cute hanging up above one of our collectibles…perhaps my little Vault Boy Funko Pop. ^_~
This item is also exclusive to the box, but I’m feeling that it’s probably not worth more than about $3 or so; it’s just a little fabric flag, after all.

“Scott Pilgrim VS the World: The Game” soundtrack CD:
Honestly, there is no end to how shocked I am that I got two Arcade Block boxes in a row that had CDs in them. I don’t know if I’m more shocked over the fact that they’re choosing to include CDs over something like a digital download code, or if I’m more shocked that CDs are actually being produced of things like this. I mean, the Scott Pilgrim game is not that old…surely the people who recorded the soundtrack realize that we’ve entered an age in which very very few people bother to buy music on a physical medium. Really, I can’t say enough about this. CDs. CDs!
Anyway, I’m going to assign this item a value of about $10, after going online and seeing that the movie soundtrack is apparently retailing for $12.

“Retro” video game magazine:
You guys know that I’m not a fan of magazines in my subscription boxes because I simply don’t read them, but I might make an exception for this one, given the genre that it falls into. Can’t go wrong with video game literature, right? Especially retro video game literature. Also I took a quick look through the magazine and I’m thoroughly amused by the feature that shows you how to properly clean old video game systems. Two thumbs up for that article.
This magazine retails for $8 per issue in Canada.

Total approximate value of box: $56
Total approximate cost to me: $40

So right off the bat you know what I’m going to point out: the value versus cost ratio, which is pretty poor. Of all the subscription boxes I’ve gotten, the value of this one is down there with some of the worst ones, but it also wouldn’t be that horrible if it weren’t for the fact that the cost is so awful. I had originally thought that Nerd Block was a Canadian-based company, but apparently I was wrong because their cost has been skyrocketing along with the lowering of the Canadian dollar, which definitely sucks.

Looking at just the contents of the box itself, this one was definitely way better than the last one I got, but it’s still not overly amazing. There was one item that was awesome (the Scorpion plush), two items that were kinda cool (the magazine and the Fallout pennant), two items that were “meh” (the shirt and the sweatband), and one item that causes the box to actually lose points as a result of its inclusion (the CD, obviously). All in all it definitely wasn’t a horrible box, but it also definitely didn’t wow me at all, so take that at face value.

So there you go! Those were my thoughts; what are yours? What do you think about Arcade Block? Which item was your favorite? Which item could you have definitely done without? What do you think about CDs in your subscription boxes? Please share! Cheers!

Glorious Gifts

Memoir MondaysRecently I was telling a coworker about my daughter’s special Rocket Raccoon stuffy from Santa and how much she loves it. That got us talking about some of the best presents we’d ever received in our childhood. One of the top ones, which I’ve mentioned before, was when my parents managed to track down a used copy of Final Fantasy III/VI for the Super Nintendo. I nearly lost my mind over that one, but of course there were plenty of other memorable ones.

  • When my cousins and I “graduated” from kindergarten (pre-school, to some of you), our teachers put together this cardboard-and-construction-paper wishing well for us to toss pennies into. I got a coin from my parents and tossed it in while wishing aloud for a teddy bear. This must have been quite amusing to my parents because, lo and behold, when we got home they had a teddy bear waiting for me. With good nature they insisted that the wishing well must have sent it, and my believe in magic was rock solid for months, at least.
  • When I was around the same age, some family friends gave me my first ever Play Doh set, the Fuzzy Pumper Barber Shop. My mom had to grit her teeth at the gift because we had lots of carpet at the time (and if you don’t understand the issue you obviously have never watched a young child play with Play Doh) but I was ecstatic. That play set was the bomb, and I maintain to this day that it was the best Play Doh play set ever.
  • Someone, at some point (my memory is actually quite fuzzy on this one), gifted me with a large make-up pallet. It was full of lip gloss, eye shadow, and blush in bright, vibrant colors, and was probably meant to be marketed to teenagers, but I got it when I was around ten. I looked like a complete doofus whenever I tried to apply anything and I totally embarrassed myself by going to school with a bunch of it on one day, but I had a blast screwing around with it until the whole case was empty.
  • When the Nintendo 64 console came out I was a loyal subscriber to Nintendo Power magazine. I was always reading the articles about the new system and gushing about how amazing the “3D” graphics looked. Fast forward to grading day. My parents handed me a tell-tale rectangular box and I thought, “Yay! A new game for my SNES!” But when I ripped off the wrapping it turned out to be “Shadows of the Empire” for the N64. Knowing that my parents weren’t exactly geniuses when it came to video games (my mother called the games “movies”) I assumed they’d messed up and told them so. Then my father pulled an N64 box from behind the wall. I was never so happy to have been mercilessly fooled by my parents.
  • When I was younger (say, 8-ish), it was actually pretty difficult to find video games. We only had so many stores that sold them, and they generally only carried so many. So whenever we’d travel to the bigger city where my aunt and uncle lived it was an opportunity to look for a new game. During one such trip we were walking through Toys R Us when my father noticed that a new game called Mario Paint was on sale. I had no idea what the game was (this was before my Nintendo Power subscription and long before we had internet), but when my father asked if I wanted to get it I happily said yes. It turned out to be absolute loads of fun. My cousins and I played it for hours, and it was the kind of game that I would keep coming back to month after month after month.

I was a lucky kid for sure, to regularly receive so many fun and memorable presents…some of the things I mentioned I even still have today! I hope that someday my daughter will be able to look back on her childhood and remember some of her favorite gifts…perhaps even a particularly special little stuffed raccoon…

First Ever: Arcade Block Unboxing and Review for July 2015

Rounding out the late unboxing videos and reviews comes a brand new contender to the Tobin household. It’s always fun to check out something new, and since I’ve cancelled Nerd Block and Horror Block my husband suggested that maybe I might want to try Arcade Block. I was a little skeptical, since it comes from the same family of the two boxes that I cancelled for not being worthwhile, but last month’s Arcade Block was so hyped up that it sounded amazing. The ad emails told of two t-shirts, a Funko Pop, a Mega Man item, a Sonic item, and “much more”. But did it live up to the hype? Why don’t we answer that question by watching the unboxing video:

Oooh…ouch…so it wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for…at all. Turns out that there were a lot of things to complain about in this particular box. Let’s take a look at the breakdown.

Hannibal “Bonus” t-shirt:
So right off the bat, Arcade Block gave me a big old frown with the item that was on the very top of the box. This shirt was listed on the inventory card as a “bonus”, which is the Nerd Block family’s way of saying, “We had a bunch of leftover junk from blocks that didn’t sell, so we’ve tossed one in this box to give the illusion of increasing its value”. After last month’s Vinylpalooza box, I’m starting to get a nervous twitch over this business practice. For one thing, I’m frustrated by the fact that I got a Hannibal shirt in my gamer box. For another thing, they keep putting stuff from old Nerd and Horror blocks in other boxes, which means that if you already subscribe to those boxes you’re getting doubles. Long story short, I don’t consider this a “bonus” so much as a way for the Nerd Block people to get rid of some leftover junk while pretending to have done me a favor. Normally I assign a value of $15 to t-shirts, but since this is a shirt that I already got in Horror Block – and with very little effort they should have been able to figure that out – I refuse to assign it any more than $5 toward the value of the box.

The Last of Us t-shirt:
Now this shirt, on the other hand, I can get behind. This caution sign design featuring a Clicker from The Last of Us is totally acceptable in a gamer box, and I’ll definitely wear it. The Last of Us was an absolutely amazing game, beloved by many, so this is at least one item from July’s Arcade Block that gets the seal of approval, along with the standard $15 value.

Cut the Rope “Nommies” blind bag:
I have a hurricane of feelings on this item. On the one hand, I generally enjoy blind bags. On the other hand, once we opened them I found that these “Nommies” are pretty small and junky. Back on the first hand, at least this is a gaming item. But then again on the other hand, it’s a mobile gaming item. I feel pretty strongly that, in the end, this item is a loss because, seriously? A Cut the Rope item? Of all the real video games out there, you guys chose a cheap blind bag toy from a smartphone game? For shame. Believe it or not, these particular blind bags go for $8, and can I just take a moment to express how insane that is?

Coin Op Crush CD:
Okay, I’m sorry, but I’m seriously laughing at this item. It’s not the fact that it’s video game music because, honestly, I rather enjoy video game music. It’s the fact that it’s a CD. Who the hell listens to CDs anymore? I mean, I can understand that some people would probably prefer the physical item, but to me it would have made a lot more sense to send a digital download of the album. Seriously, I don’t even know that many people who own a CD player, but everyone has a phone capable of downloading music. I’m not sure what they were thinking with this one. Between the fact that this album was put together specifically for Arcade Block, and the fact that it’s a freakin CD, I have no idea what kind of value to assign to this, but since it seems like you can actually download the music for free, I feel I can’t assign more than $2 for the physical item.

Evolve “Val” Funko Pop:
I can’t really say anything bad about this item because, hey, Funko Pop. You guys know I love Funko Pops, and they definitely add a bit of value to any subscription box. It’s just unfortunate that out of all the games that Pops have been made for, they chose one of the only ones that I know absolutely nothing about and honestly have no interest in. It’s still a Pop, though, so I can’t complain too much. As always, Pops go for approximately $12.

Classic Console Cartridge Coasters:
Okay, I’ll admit, these would be pretty humorous if they were a little more sturdy, but I’m not really liking their viability as actual coasters. These Nintendo-game shaped coasters are of the type that are made of some kind of paper-like material; in other words, they feel like they would dissolve the second a little condensation ran down your glass. I’ll definitely find something to do with them in our geek basement, but they’re definitely a cheap item. They’re also an Arcade block exclusive, and thus difficult to put a number on, but let’s say $4…I think a buck per coaster is pretty damn generous considering how flimsy they feel.

Sonic the Hedgehog “Worlds Unite” comic:
When I was doing the video I implied that this wasn’t a bad item. I don’t mind getting comics in my subscription boxes, and Sonic is definitely one of those big things from my childhood. But I feel I have to point out something that annoys the hell out of me. Arcade Block hyped that there was going to be a Mega Man item in this box, but I didn’t see one, until my husband let me know that the comic is, in fact, a Sonic x Mega Man crossover story. That doesn’t make the comic any less acceptable, but it annoys the hell out of me because in all their email ads and social media hype Arcade Block constant said that there was going to be a Sonic item and a Mega Man item. There was no indication at all that these two items would actually be one. It just feels like false advertising to me, and is yet another thing that gives me a bit of a twitch. $5 for this comic.

Total approximate value of box: $51
Total cost to me: $41

So right off the bat, you’ll notice that the value of the box is pretty damn low compared to other boxes. The reason for this is, of course, that Arcade Block is factoring their “bonus shirt” into the value calculations which, in my opinion, is total bullshit. It is not a gaming item, and if it were truly a “bonus” it wouldn’t factor in to the value of the box. If I take away the $5 I assigned it it brings the box down to $46, which is barely more than what I paid. That makes it NOT a bonus at all, and makes the rest of the box look weak as hell.

There were a couple of items that weren’t bad – the The Last of Us t-shirt is pretty cool, and despite my frustrations over the Mega Man issue the comic is okay as well – but there were also a few items that were little more than junk. The Pop doesn’t even really make up for anything since it’s from one of the only lines they could have chosen that does not interest me in the slightest.

All things said and done, I can’t say much good about this box; I was actually rather disappointed in it, and I can’t see myself continuing on with Arcade Block if the value is going to be so low compared to what I’m actually paying for it.

What do you think? Did you receive an Arcade Block for the month of July? What was your favorite item? Least favorite? What did you think of the “bonus” t-shirt? Please share!

A to Z Challenge in Review


Well, ladies and gents, it’s May 1st, which means that this year’s A to Z Challenge is complete! Yay!

So how about a little recap and review?

If you visited my blog during the challenge you know that I chose “video games” as my theme. I didn’t restrict myself to just writing about specific games; I also wrote about consoles, characters, worlds, and at least one creator. I figured that it would be a pretty easy theme for me, considering that I’ve been playing video games since before I was even in school, and there are so many options and routes to take.

I was both right and wrong. My video game theme was definitely easier than some other themes would have been, and I was successful in writing and scheduling over half of the posts before April even began. That was great because one of the best parts of the challenge for me is getting stuff scheduled ahead of time so that I don’t have to worry about it for a while. But there were definitely several letters that fathomed me. You’d think, with about 26 years of gaming behind me, it wouldn’t be difficult to think of something to write about for each letter, but for a few letters I had to stretch, talk about things that I really didn’t know all that much about. For instance, for the letter “I” I wrote about “Ice Climbers” even though I’ve never played the original game, because I couldn’t think of any other game or character that I had played that starts with “I”.

On the other hand, there were plenty of letters that I could have written about multiple times over. For instance, I had a rough time with the letter “M” – I chose to write about “Megaman” because he’s a pretty huge and important character, but I could have easily written about “Mortal Kombat”, “Mario Kart”, or half a dozen others. For “P” I chose “Playstation” because I wanted to write a little something about each of the major consoles, but I really kinda wanted to write about “Pokemon”. For “Z” there were several characters I could have written about, but I didn’t really want to end the challenge on a character; it seemed like I should end it on an important game, so I chose to talk about the setting of “Super Metroid”, “Zebes”.

An interesting side effect of doing this challenge? While trying to decide what I wanted to talk about for each day, I ended up with a growing mental list of all the games I never played and want to. Unfortunately the list is so long that it would take me years of unemployment to get through it, so it’s not likely to happen. But at least I have some ideas in the back of my head for days when I’m bored and have some spare time.

So was the challenge successful? Well I had fun with it, that’s for sure, and despite a couple of bumps in the road I did manage to write about a good topic for every one of the 26 days (with a little help from hubby). So that’s all well and good, for sure. As far as one of the other goals of the challenge – to drive traffic to the blog – I can’t really comment too much. My daily stats seemed to stay pretty much on par with where they usually are on any given month when I’m writing non-challenge posts. I can say, however, that it was not all a loss, because I gained a few new followers, both on the blog and on Twitter, plus I got a few new Likes on my Facebook Author Page. I also came across a few new blogs to follow, which is always nice because it helps to grow the community.

So all in all? Sure, I think it was a pretty good experience, just like last year, and I’ll probably participate again next year. Who doesn’t love a good challenge, right?

So, thanks to everyone who dropped in and commented on the blog throughout the challenge, and a big congrats to everyone else who completed the challenge. Until next year!

A to Z Challenge: (Z)ebes

ZebesRounding out the end of the A to Z Challenge and my video games theme, today I give you a planet that many gamers of my age group will know well: Zebes.

‘Metroid’ is a classic Nintendo franchise that was first established in August of 1986 when the original game was released for the Famicom in Japan, and later released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America. The game was known for its eerie sci-fi feel and was a huge hit with gamers, leading to several sequels and a thriving fan base. The series’ main character, Samus, is a spacesuit-wearing bounty hunter who is one of Nintendo’s most well-known exclusive characters.

The Metroid series is well-loved for many reasons, but one of those reasons is the wonderfully creepy setting of the first two games – ‘Metroid’ and ‘Super Metroid’. The Planet Zebes is the adopted home of Samus Aran, who was raised by the Chozo there after her Earth colony home was destroyed by Space Pirates, and the planet on which she takes her stand against the metroid creatures that overran it.

A cavernous area of the planet known as Brinstar was the home to the majority of Zebes’ wildlife, and was also the location of a dense forest, which is strange since the vegetation there did not have access to anything to photosynthesize. The area of the planet known as Maridia is known for its huge water deposits just below the surface of the planet. This water spiraled off in many directions, eating away at the land and creating vast mazes of water, as well as deadly quicksand traps. The crust of the planet, known as Crateria, was a bleak, rocky area constantly drenched by acid rain, which would affect bioforms that could not adapt. A final note of interest was a wrecked ship that landed on Crateria in the past, arriving at about the same time as the first Chozo civilization cropped up.

My closest relationship with the planet Zebes is through the Super Nintendo installment of the series, Super Metroid. This was one of the games of my childhood that got played so often and for such lengths of time that it’s really quite amazing my cousins and I ever did anything else. I didn’t own the game myself, but one of my cousins did and he and I would play often, wandering around the labyrinthine planet for hours, getting lost, never seeming to make any progress, but having fun none-the-less. The planet setting was of the type that a player had to have one hell of a memory to put up with, but that didn’t really matter back then. In the days of graphics that left a little something to the imagination, the planet Zebes was an ominous world filled with unnatural colors, spooky sounds, and, of course, disgusting creatures out to murder and/or eat you.

It may not look like much now, but that freakin' thing gave me the heebie-jeebies as a kid.
It may not look like much now, but that freakin’ thing gave me the heebie-jeebies as a kid.

What I’m really trying to get at is that the Metroid games paid close attention to a very important part of storytelling – the setting – and did an excellent job making it one that was fun and memorable. In that, the game developers created a world that will forever be one of the most important ones to an entire generation of gamers.

Have you ever played any of the Metroid games? Which one was your favorite? What is your opinion of the planet Zebes? Please share!

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A to Z Challenge: (V)iva Pinata

VivaPinataI’ll admit it: I had a horrible time coming up with something to talk about for “V” day, and up until a couple of days ago I didn’t think I was going to have anything worth bothering to write about.

But then I was looking through a book my husband has, called, “1001 Games You Must Play Before You Die” and I saw it. “Viva Pinata”.

On “K” day I spoke about how fresh and weird and addictive “Katamari Damacy” was when we first discovered it. It was so strange and oddly fun that it soon became an obsession, even though at first glance it seemed stupid and pointless. “Viva Pinata” is another of those kinds of games. When you first look at it, it seems like the dumbest idea in video game history, but that’s just because you haven’t actually tried it yet.

Developed by Rare for the XBox 360, “Viva Pinata” is a simulation-type game that takes you into a very bright, colorful, and strange world, where a variety of animals – who are actually pinatas – roam the landscape. The point of the game is to take a dilapidated plot of land and turn it into a beautiful garden by attracting lots of little pinata animals to come live there. Basically, there is a set of requirements that must be completed in order to attract any one kind of pinata. When you’ve completed some of the requirements (say, purchasing a special home for them), a black-and-white pinata will wander into your garden and start snooping around. If you complete the rest of the requirements while the pinata is hanging about it will make itself a permanent resident and bloom into full color. If you successfully attract two of the same pinata, you will be presented with a further set of requirements in order to convince the two to mate. Mating initiates a maze mini-game which, if successful, results in a baby pinata egg.


Does it sound easy? Well it shouldn’t. For one thing, while you’re trying to attract new pinatas and make little baby pinatas, there are ‘enemies’ that you have to worry about. ‘Ruffians’ and ‘sour pinatas’ can wander into your garden and wreak all kinds of havoc, destroying homes, eating your pinatas food (candy, of course), and dropping sour candy that can make your pinatas sick. In addition to dealing with those issues, you have to realize that the pinata world actually has its own intricate food chain. In other words, some pinatas eat other pinatas. So you’ve got to protect your little pinatas if a “pinatavore” wanders into their midst, and alternatively if you want to attract those particular pinatas to your garden you have to be willing to let them devour some of the pinatas that you’ve already raised. In order to do everything that it’s possible to do and collect each and every available pinata in the game, you have to start from the bottom and make lots of sacrifices on the way to the top.

Meh. Who really needs a chicken pinata? >.>
Meh. Who really needs a chicken pinata? >.>

And, to be honest, that was part of the game’s charm. It seems like this super-simple sim game aimed at young children, but there’s actually a fair bit of thought and effort required if you want to collect everything and grab yourself every achievement. That system made it addictive, and the playfulness of the whole concept made it super-fun. When my husband and I first picked it up we were sure it was going to be dumb as hell, but once we got to playing it we both ended up engrossed. It’s a fun little escape, not difficult but not super-easy either, and definitely a huge change-up from the over-saturated world of first-person-shooters and follow-the-path-RPGs.

Have you ever played Viva Pinata or any of its sequels? What did you think of it? What was your favorite pinata? Any that you had a hard time attracting to your garden? Please share!

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A to Z Challenge: (T)etris

TetrisWhether you’re a casual gamer or a hardcore gamer – or you’re really not even a gamer at all – pretty much everyone has heard of Tetris. It’s one of those pop-culturally relevant things like Star Wars or Ninja Turtles; even if you were never into it yourself, you likely know someone who was, or at the very least you can hear the world and not be completely bewildered by it.

So what’s the story behind this iconic piece of gaming and pop culture history? Well, it all started in 1984 with a man who loved the puzzle board game, Pentominos. Oh, and did I mention that he also happened to program computer games for the expressed purpose of testing the capabilities of USSR equipment? Having both the skills and the motivation, Alexey Pajitnov decided that he was going to design a game for himself, based on Pentominos. After deciding that the game should challenge players to arrange puzzle pieces under pressure, he created the iconic seven distinct geometric pieces that we know and love (or hate, if you were never really very good at Tetris). The name ‘Tetris’ comes from a combination of “tetra” (the Greek word for “four”, to represent the fact that each geometric piece is made of four squares), and “tennis”, which was Pajitnov’s favorite sport.

The finished game was created on an Electronica 60 at the Moscow Academy of Science in 1985 and soon became the subject of lots and lots of legal battles. See, it was ported to the IBM PC, and eventually worked its way to Budapest, where it was ported to the Apple II and Commodore 64. From here the president of a British software company took notice, and planned to buy the rights to the game from Pajitnov. However, before even contacting Pajitnov, he turns around and sells the rights to the game to Mirrorsoft UK and their affiliate, Spectrum Holobyte (USA). From there you can imagine how badly this mistake got out of control.

But despite rampant licensing messes and the downfall of more than a couple of companies, ‘Tetris’ eventually made its way onto Nintendo’s blockbuster handheld system, the Gameboy, in 1989, and North Americans haven’t stopped playing it since. The simple idea of fitting shapes together like puzzle pieces, combined with the difficulty of gradually increasing speed, has captured several generations of gamers and non-gamers alike. ‘Tetris’ has been ported – mostly unchanged – to every possible platform; it can even be played for free online, and is available as a free downloadable app on iOS and Android devices. It’s staying power is truly magnificent. And also, it’s existence brought about things like this:

…which is just amazing.

Myself? You’re damn right I’ve played my fair share of Tetris over the years. I owned a cartridge for my first Gameboy (which I think I lost…damn it), and have seen fit to play the game on a number of devices over the years…there’s currently one version on my Samsung phone. It’s one of those games that you just go back to every now and then because it’s familiar, easy to pick up, and keeps you busy for a few minutes when you need to be kept busy. I suspect it will probably stand the test of time for quite a few years to come.

Have you ever played Tetris? Please tell me you’ve played Tetris. I will seriously be sad if anyone comments on this post and tells me that they’ve NEVER played Tetris. Lie to me. Please share, but lie to me.

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