Yeah. I can’t wait to see this.

2010. -C

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The first Saturday of every month, my friend Nick and owner of Next Level Video Games holds a collector/gamer gathering (South Jersey Classic) at his store. This gives us a chance to catch up, trade some games, and try maybe one of the thousands of games that Nick has in his store.  We are all very thankful for Nick holding this gathering, and it is something we all look forward to every month. Below is a video of what we did all day Saturday at his store. -C

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Mega Man 2 NES Box Art

Mega Man 2 NES Box Art

I am on a streak of excellent game reviews, to give you the reader an idea of how I take into account certain things about a game.  By showing you what I think the BEST games are, I can show you some mediocre and horrible games later.  But not today!  Today we have one of the greatest entries in what may be one of the top 5 video game franchises ever, Mega Man 2.  A little background, the original Mega Man arrived on the Nintendo Entertainment System 18 months prior to this entry, and was well received by critics, but virtually unknown by players.  However, with the incarnation of Nintendo Power, Capcom made it quite clear that Mega Man 2 was THE game to have in the summer of 1989.  Full page spreads, maps, posters, colorful artwork; this game could not go unnoticed.  The game stars Mega Man the protagonist fighting off the evil Dr. Wily and his 8 Robot Masters: Bubble Man, Air Man, Crash Man, Wood Man, Heat Man, Quick Man, Metal Man, and Flash Man.

The Mega Man games were unique at the time, because it allowed the player to choose what level to start with. (Although if you started with Quick Man, he lives up to his name, and you quickly die.)  After a robot master was defeated, Mega Man could acquire his weapon to use against future enemies in other levels.  Trial and error was needed to find out what weapons the 8 robot masters were weak against.  There are energy and weapon power-ups scattered throughout the levels, and Energy Tanks which the player could collect and save when they needed an extra burst of health during battle.  A password feature using a unique grid system was also implemented, allowing the player to continue later and still leave the same robot masters as defeated.  This obviously takes away the challenge presented by the original Mega Man game, but I think Capcom may have done this on purpose….

Capcom knew that as a second entry in the franchise it had to do EVERYTHING right.  Marketing, gameplay, soundtrack, difficulty.  It all had to be balanced..  If something wasn’t right, it would get lost in the sea of other NES games that flooded the market at the time.  

Mega Man 2 - Wood Mans Stage vs. Fire Dog

Mega Man 2 - Stage Select for the 8 Robot Masters

You have to think, this game was going up against some big names at the time!  Super Mario 2, The Legend of Zelda, Ninja Gaiden, and Contra were all out before Mega Man 2.  This game had to be the best.  And it is.  The graphics are impressive by NES standards, giving us HUGE sprites, some bosses taking up the entire screen!  The gameplay is solid. Mega Man controls exactly how you want him to control, if Mega Man falls into a pit of lava, it’s because you made him fall. The soundtrack is excellent.  So excellent that I have it playing in my iTunes right now as I am writing this. All stages have a catchy tune from start to finish, there isn’t a dull one in the bunch.

The difficulty varies.  Most stages allow the player to blast through the level with basic run-and-gun tactics to get through, however others require the player to utilize logic such as to find the correct path of disappearing blocks over the Heat Man lava pool, or the correct pattern to navigate through those damn laser beams in Quick Man’s stage.  There is even one part in Dr. Wily’s castle where if you don’t conserve a certain weapon for use on the Turret Boss at the end of the level, Mega Man cannot defeat his rival and must start the stage over.  When you first play any Mega Man game it can be very overwhelming on what stage to choose first, what weapons to use on the boss, etc.  However, I think Capcom encouraged magazines such as Nintendo Power to include the level maps, secrets, and boss weaknesses on purpose.  They wanted you to progress.  They wanted 7-year old Chris and 5-year old Sean to see the giant dragon in Dr. Wily’s castle.  They wanted the public to say “This game is awesome, you have to try/rent/buy it.”  

Mega Man 2 - Wood Mans stage battling the Fire Dog.

Mega Man 2 - Wood Man's stage battling the Fire Dog.

And they succeeded. It was just right.  The password system worked well and had players coming back for more. However, Capcom was smart and added in a “difficult” game in addition to the regular mode.  This allowed pro-players to run through the game with harder enemies, and potentially take more damage.

The game as a whole is a masterpiece, and I hope that everyone who worked on it got a raise, which I am sure they did after sales of the game were phemonemal and eventually spawning many successful sequels on almost every console some of which include SNES, Game Boy, Game Gear, Saturn, Playstation, Nintendo 64, and an all new downloadable game on Wii, 360, and PS3.  This game is relatively easy to find as it sold millions of copies.  The NES cartridge will run you about $10-$12 but you can also find it on the Mega Man Anniversary Collection for Gamecube, Xbox, and Playstation 2.  Also, Mega Man 2 is available on the Wii Virtual Console for download for a measly 500pts. ($5)  Get equipped with Mega Man 2. 10/10 -C

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Donkey Kong Country SNES box

Donkey Kong Country SNES box

Donkey Kong Country is one that is close to my heart. I believe that it was received by my brother for his birthday in November of 1994. Nintendo did a great job promoting this game for months, making me want it more and more every day that came closer to release. Finally, the month before the release of the game, a VHS videotape arrived in our mailbox covered in jungle green leaves. As I saw it was from Nintendo, we popped in the video and were dazzled. Before the Internet had streaming video, all we had seen of the game were pictures in magazines. This marketing tactic was the best idea that Nintendo had at the time. Seeing this game in full motion video had sold not only me and my brother on the game, but all the other neighborhood kids that had seen this video. It was better looking than any game we had ever seen, and at least twice as good as anything SEGA had put out on the Sega Genesis.

Donkey Kong Country VHS Tape

Donkey Kong Country VHS Tape

Now about the game, this game is a 2-D platformer that uses 3-D wireframe models to give the illusion of the game being three dimensional.  The game holds a basic premise that any player can understand: Donkey Kong (formally a bad guy in most previous games) has had his entire banana hoard stolen by the lizard Kremlings.  He grabs his buddy Diddy Kong and they need to get their bananas back with help of some animal friends around the island.  The entire adventure is fresh from start to finish with standard platform levels, barrel levels, mine carts, ice, swamp, jungle, and tons of bonus levels.  The number of secrets in Donkey Kong Country is astounding and all of them would be found unless assisted by a guide of some sort.  Collecting Bananas, letters that spell “KONG”, and golden animal tokens has never been so much fun.

Donkey Kong riding Rambi the Rhino

Donkey Kong riding Rambi the Rhino

 

The music in the game is catchy and the ambience whether it be in a cave, water, or the jungle makes the soundtrack one of the best of all time.  (It can be purchased but it is quite rare, do an eBay serach for “DK JAMZ CD”)  There is a two player feature that allows two players to switch off like a standard platformer, or have one player control DK and the other Diddy. 

Overall this Nintendo designed and published game was revolutionary and sold over a million copies of the Super Nintendo cartridge alone.  It was so popular that Nintendo even packed it in with some versions of the Super Nintendo system.  It spawned two SNES sequels, three Game Boy versions, a Game Boy Color port, a Nintendo 64 unofficial sequel, and three ports of the SNES games back onto the Game Boy Advance, not to mention the Wii Virtual Console downloads of the SNES versions.  Most importantly, it revived a ten year old franchise and put Donkey Kong back on the map.  This game is one of the best that Super Nintendo has to offer, I highly encourage you to check it out, the SNES cartridge can be had for about $10 or you can download it from the Wii Virtual Console for 800 points ($8).  Now excuse me while I go eat a banana. 10/10 -C

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Setting up our booth at MGC

Dave setting up our booth at MGC

I recently took a trip to Wisconsin to vend at the Midwest Gaming Classic convention in Oconomowoc, WI. Going in I had low expectations, especially after comparing cons to the old days of Philly Classic 3, 4, 5, etc. as well as CGE back in San Francisco & Vegas. I was reassured by many in the online classic gaming community that it was worth the trip. After working some details out with my friend Dave, I decided to help load & unload as well as run their booth in exchange for some table space.

I shipped three boxes of random retro gaming goodness out to Wisconsin, packed up some clothes and hopped a plane to Green Bay. We loaded a 26 foot Penske truck full of Arcade machines, cartridges, boxes, manuals, discs, memorabilia, and more. After arriving at Oconomowoc, I immediately sensed something different. Vendors were actually vendors! Now what I mean by this, is that the vendors who had tables actually sold items. Recently, I have noticed the disturbing trend at cons where a vendor will pimp out one or two products, or even just try to promote their business, with selling little or no items at all. However at Midwest Gaming Classic, there was none of that. Every vendor had parts, games, and/or memorabilia at their table, very impressed. Arriving at the show, the staff was very helpful in helping us unload and directing us to where we were supposed to go.

As the show floor opened on Saturday, I could immediately tell that this show was going to be different. This show is a buyer & sellers show. Deals were to be found everywhere. Vendors giving discounts, free games, and more. People had the money. I don’t care what the economy is like, there are still a lot of people who have a lot of disposable income to burn on copies of Shaq-Fu and Mario Party 3.

Some of the Arcades at MGC

Some of the Arcades at MGC: Punch Out!, Street Fighter II, Area 51, Ms. Pac-man, Dig-Dug, Galaga, and a ton more.

If you had no money, that was okay, because there were over 25 arcade machines to play for free, as well as over 30 or so pinball machines to play as well. This doesn’t count the 20 or so console stations that were setup to play anything from classics to XBOX 360. There were a bunch of tournaments including Guitar Hero / Rock Band, Pinball tourneys and a bunch more!

All in all I would say that MGC 2009 may be the best game show of the year, and that CGE is the only show that could potentially give it a run for its money. I definitely would go back again, and be in as a full force vendor. I hear they sold the floor space of the show out quickly, and that there are rumors of a larger venue being acquired. I am all for it, especially if they move it closer to a major city like Milwaukee or Green Bay! -C

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Hey folks, sorry I haven’t updated in a long time. I have been way over-stressed in the last couple months, well ever since the 1st of the year really. Last week I took it upon myself to take a week long solo spring-break vacation out to my favorite place, Wisconsin. (More on the actual trip in a post tomorrow.)

I have come back with a new outlook on life. My friends out there seem not to stress about anything. They are much happier people for it. Four of my friends who currently live together Dave, Jake, Jen, and Jolie live in Green Bay, Wisconsin and live life like they should, by working hard and having fun when the time is right. Another person who I got to know better is Alex, who has his stuff together at a very young age. Again he works hard, but knows how to take a load off when necessary.

My friends on a regular basis are involved in activities that I consider fun. After work, all four are involved in a volleyball league as well as a dart league. These are two things that I am alright at, but I would like to get better at as well. I plan on purchasing a volleyball net this summer for my outdoor barbecues, as well as getting an additional dart board for the porch out back.

I had two nice flights on the way home to ponder the way my friends in Wisconsin live, and how I operate on a daily basis. Currently when I get home from work I don’t really do anything. In fact I feel spent and tired. Well I am tired of that. I plan on being productive. Now, when I say productive, I am not talking about always doing more work. Working on a house project like the bathroom or working on eBay / Internet sales are definitely included in this, but there are other projects that I classify as being productive as well. Such as working on my darts and corn-hole skills, finish the conversion on my Spider-man arcade machine, and working on my Game Boy collection.

One thing I do that I am not proud of is spend way too much time at home on the computer. Usually it is just browsing video game forums, looking for any bit of information I can. There is no reason for this. Checking email or eBay sales is fine, but there are better things to do when I have a few free hours at night. Another one is staring at the TV. I watch about 5 different shows a week, taking about less than 4 hours total a week. That is reasonable. This Work -> Dinner -> Internet / TV mentality has to stop. It is making me lazy, and unproductive. Now this is not to say that I can’t have something on in the background while I am blogging, listing stuff on eBay, working on my Game Boy project, or grading, that is still being productive.

I also have started working out. Now I have had an elliptical in my home for over a year. A nice one, several thousand dollars poured into it. However I had not ever touched the thing, until about 5:50am this morning. 30 minutes this morning, I burned about 250 calories. I feel refreshed, full of energy, and I am looking forward to tomorrow’s workout.

In short, I haven’t been living life happily in the past few months, between work, teaching, holidays, and just overall being busy, somewhere along the line I have forgotten how to live life. I knew someone once that told me “Life was meant to be enjoyed, not to be worked all the time, or lazy all the time, but a happy medium.” This starts now. I am tired of being “booked” or having to “check the calendar” Screw it. I am going to be productive and have some fun at the same time. I am going to grab some healthy food for dinner on the way home from work, some Miller Lite, some DIF wallpaper remover, and clean up my bathroom & basement. I am living life to the fullest, and enjoying it. If anyone from Wisconsin is reading this, I want to thank you and encourage the others to read this. Not only for being good friends, but for reminding me that life can be fun, while still being productive. If you never thought you had ever changed anyone’s life, you can throw that out the window, because you just changed one. -C

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If you watch one youtube video today, let it be this one.

-C

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Yeah, every critic site has one of these posts, so I can too.  Let me tell you some of my favorite music albums that were released in 2008.  This year was a pretty good year for music overall, especially considering I got into a couple bands I haven’t heard of before.  I am getting exposed to artists I have never heard of before through friends like my good friends Bobby and Dave Weigel who are well versed in music culture.  I hope to continue my music education in 2009.  But that is for another post.  Lets dive into it.
 [amazonify]B0013BNY2Q:right[/amazonify]
R.E.M. – Accelerate

Let me start off by saying no other album on this list has gotten more play than this one.  R.E.M. was being panned by critics left and right for their previous release “Around The Sun” claiming the band was washed up, internal strife was within the band, and they were has-beens.  R.E.M. made a fool out of every critic on April 1st, 2008 when Accelerate was released in the United States.  An album with as much punch that hasn’t been seen since Monster, the band had truly come back to their quick-paced form seen in the 80′s and 90′s.  Just shy of 35 minutes, the album comes out in full force with the lead off song “Living Well is the best revenge” and closes with the live favorite “I’m Gonna DJ.”  This album is chock full of R.E.M.’s traditional hidden political overtones, which includes Hurricane Katrina, the Music Industry, President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and more.  

Accelerate has sold over 312,000 copies in the U.S. since August 6th, already outpacing the total number of 240,000 copies of Around the Sun. It was on the Billboard 200 charts for 18 weeks, peaking at the number 2 spot. According to my iTunes, which has only installed in August when I got my Mac, has my favorite track “Man-Sized Wreath” played a whopping 17 times (Now 18 since this review started), which is incredible because I know I listened to that track much more when the album first came out.  I bought this the day it came out.  Top of the list.

[amazonify]B001FWRZ46:right[/amazonify]

 

The Killers – Day & Age  

Earlier in 2008 I heard that the Killers were coming out with a new album in the Fall.  This had me both excited and worried, because let’s face it, “Sam’s Town” wasn’t all that good.  I am going to chalk it up to the sophmore slump theory, and hoped that whatever they released on Day & Age better be good or they are done for.  Brandon Flowers knew this too, as he has written some of his best material to date.  I wasn’t completely sold on Day & Age after hearing “Human” but the selling point for me was hearing them on Saturday Night Live, performing both “Human” & “Spaceman” projecting the excitement that I once heard from the album “Hot Fuss”  Spaceman for me is the real single on this album, a catchy pop-rock song about alien abduction, that shows Flowers has both a sense of humor and can bellow out those notes.  The rest isn’t filler either.  Make sure you check out “Joy Ride”, “Neon Tiger”, and “A Dustland Fairytale”.  All excellent tracks that will keep you coming back for more.  In short, if you liked Hot Fuss, but were somewhat unimpressed in Sam’s Town, I highly recommend that you give Day & Age a chance,  you won’t be disappointed.  I received this for Christmas by my good friend Dave Kibler.

 

[amazonify]B001C3KCSY:right[/amazonify]

Kings of Leon – Only By the Night

Okay so if you just said to yourself “WTF? Who the heck is this?”  don’t worry, I did the same thing when I saw them on Saturday Night Live back in the Fall.  I honestly had no idea who these guys were, but apparently the whole band is related by blood in some way or another.  Let me just say if you took southern rock and infused pop into it, this is what you get.  The two singles “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” are just simple pop songs that don’t sound like anything else on the radio today.  Caleb Followill is trading in his indie fan base for a more popular one with both simpler lyrics and catchy hooks despite criticism from it’s hardcore fans. (Doesn’t every artist go through this?”  Anyway, I like it.  The whole album is good, make sure you also check out “Manhattan” & “Cold Desert”.

 

 

 

[amazonify]B001872MDM:right[/amazonify]

Weezer – The Red Album

Alright, stick with me on this one.  Most people don’t like this album.  But I am not most people.  There is an issue with this album.  See, Rivers Cuomo and crew thought it would be a good idea to let the rest of the band sing their own tracks on the second half of the album.  Very nice of Rivers to do that, there is just one problem.  It doesn’t work very well.  Those tracks have to be some of the worst in Weezer history.  So why is this on my list?  It also has some of the best in Weezer history.  Let’s start with the flagship single Pork & Beans.  If you think this is just a goofy pop song, get this.  The reason this song was even written is because Geffen Records sat in on the Red Album studio sessions, and executives claimed there was not enough commercial material on the record.  Rivers Cuomo wrote this song as a big “screw you” to the music industry.  Just take a look at the lyrics:

I’mma do the things that I wanna do. I ain’t got a thing to prove to you.
I’ll eat my candy with the pork and beans. Excuse my manners if I make a scene.
I ain’t gonna wear the clothes that you like. I’m fine and dandy with the me inside.
One look in the mirror and I’m tickled pink. I don’t give a hoot about what you think

On top of that you the catchy “Troublemaker”, insightful “Heart Songs”, upbeat “Everybody Get Dangerous”, and the epic “Greatest Man Who Ever Lived” which combines every type of music imaginable. This album is a great purchase, if you just buy it for the first five songs, and just think of the rest as an “experiment.”  I purchased this on June 3rd, 2008, release day.

[amazonify]B0019GAOI2:right[/amazonify]

Beck – Modern Guilt

This kind of flew by my radar, and I am sad in retrospect that I didn’t acquire it sooner.  I am a huge fan of Beck, and love his last effort “The Information” which got much play by me.  Modern Guilt  was released on July 8, 2008.  I want to say I was away on vacation, or had no money, because I don’t understand what the real reason was for me not picking this up on release.  I did look for this at every used CD shop I came across, and struck out every time.  I finally heard this last weekend when my friend Bobby put his iPod on, and played through the whole album on my drive back to Delaware from the mountains.  Modern Guilt has been Grammy nominated for best Alternative Album and is produced by both Beck and Danger Mouse (of Gnarls Barkley fame). This one is sure not to miss, I’m just sorry I didn’t get to it sooner.

 

 

 

[amazonify]B001H5HWSU:right[/amazonify]

Best Reissue – R.E.M – Murmur (Deluxe 2-Disc Edition)

I don’t want to spend too much time on this one, but this reissue of Murmur is incredible.  Totally remastered, includes a second disc from a Live 1983 show in Toronto, and includes live versions of older tracks such as Harborcoat.  It is also the first time an official full R.E.M. concert has been released on CD.  Listening to Murmur again, I can hear all the sounds that were blurred or muffled from the original recording.  Some remasters I am not fond of because it sometimes makes the songs lose their original appeal, but this remaster is one of the best I have heard in awhile, and is long overdue.  Let’s be honest, the entire R.E.M. catalog could use a remastered overhaul.  I’d buy them all..  If you were a fan of R.E.M.  before, this is a must have, and if you have never heard this Alternative album, this is the best place to start for something as timeless as Murmur.

 

 

Honorable Mentions: Rivers Cuomo – Alone II, Mark Kozelek – The Finally LP, Sun Kil Moon – April, Coldplay – Viva La Vida, Bob Dylan - Tell Tale Signs: the Bootleg Series Vol. 8

[amazonify]B001IBC1GQ:[/amazonify][amazonify]B001JL2UZC:[/amazonify][amazonify]B00158FK42:[/amazonify][amazonify]B000RPTQ1C[/amazonify][amazonify]B001D06SEI[/amazonify]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well there you go, there are my best music picks of 2008.  Make sure you check them out!  Also, let me know what you think of these selections and the list overall down in the comment section below. -C

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Yes that is spelled correctly. My New Years resolutions are the typical of others.

  • Put important finances first
  • Work on my Game Boy collection/site/publication
  • Eat better.  (Damn you French Fries. How I love you so.)
Thanks for sticking with me, and expect another post shortly.

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A Snow-covered Tree in my Front Yard

A Snow-covered Tree in my Front Yard

A Snowy Backyard

A Snowy Backyard

Woke up this morning, and look what I found to my surprise!  The first snowfall of 2008. Winter has been teasing us all this week with flurries almost every day, but we finally got hit!  It was in a good way though, because it was just enough snow to make things looks nice, but not to hazardous to drive in.  It didn’t cover the roads or sidewalks, just the cars and grass.  Take a look for yourself! These pics were taken with my MacBookPro ichat camera.  I had never used it before, works pretty good! -C

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