Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The last metroid is in captivity...

For someone who's such a Metroid fanboy, I'm actually not much of a fan of the original. I've been spending a decent amount of time on the Virtual Console lately, and the original Metroid hasn't aged nearly as well other big franchises (like Mario and Zelda). Even when I know where I'm going I invariably get lost in the repetitive environments. And entirely too much effort is spent farming energy to fill up your tanks. In Zelda you may have more heart containers (energy tanks), but each heart drop gives you back a full one (not 5/100) and there are both fairies and potions to give you big refills in times of need. I've never actually had the stomach to finish the original Metroid, although I try every now and then if only to experience it's historical significance.

Super Metroid, however, is one of the greatest games of all time. It is a timeless classic - the pinnacle of 2D action gaming. It may be 13 years old, but it still can r0x0r your b0x0rz.

I was aware that these classic Metroid games were coming to the Virtual Console, but it was seeing the speed runs at PAX that really motivated me to try a run of Super Metroid after all these years. Back in 1994 I worked my butt off to get the best ending (which requires beating the game in less than 3 hours). But do I still have what it takes?

Turns out, yes. Stuffed away in the recesses of my brain is all the information I need to blaze through Super Metroid (no GameFaqs crutch here). I can barely remember a movie I saw last week, but I know exactly what section of wall to shoot to reveal another coveted super missile tank. My run clocked in at 2:00 even (which was 50% items). There's a lot of time I could shave off there for sure: I stopped for way too many items, made and extra trip to Brinstar, and I got totally lost in Maridia. I just might try for another run to see how low I can go, but I'm totally proud of the fact that I can still rock it after all these years.

Now, by today's standards beating a game in 2 hours sounds crazy. We expect a bare minimum of 10-20 hours even from our action games. But I like the fact that Super Metroid can be done in 2 hours. Instead of being a game padded with filler, this is pure gaming goodness that you don't mind playing again and again. But don't go thinking that my 2 hours is any sort of achievement. The Speed Demos Archive clocks the record at 0:32. The skill involved in a run like that is crazy impressive, (on par from the jaw dropping Quake Done Quick runs). Super Metroid is a natural fit for speed running, as that the very nature of the gameplay impedes progress gated on movement enhancing upgrades (high jump, dash, grapple, etc.). Very clever and dexterous people can overcome those obstacles through other means, bypassing or at least speeding up large sections of the natural progression.

Of course there's a reason that these titles are hitting the Virtual Console now, and that's the release of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption this week for the Wii. From the reviews it sounds just as awesome as I'd expect from its pedigree, and to get you up to speed GameTrailers has done an excellent retrospective on the entire Metroid series (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

In the meantime, if you've got a Wii and some spare cycles, I highly recommend you go download Super Metroid. It won't disappoint.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


If you couldn't tell from my lack of posting, life has been rough lately. But not yesterday. Yesterday was a good day.

Yesterday was the first day of the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX). I've never been before, but this year I've been plugged into more gaming blogs and the more I learned about PAX the more interested I became. What totally sealed the deal for me was this adorable story about Gabe attending a Pokemon tournament (and the warm fuzzy follow-up). These guys and their web comic are hardcore yet laid back gamers - people like me. PAX is basically a party by gamers for gamers. And I am so into that.

I'm fortunate enough to live in Seattle, so getting to PAX is cake for me. I distinguished the usually common walk downtown by grooving to some 8-bit remixes on my Zune. Upon arriving at the convention center I was immediately struck by how the place was swarming with my ilk. My heart swelled to see so many good people (albeit a bit pale) coming together to geek out over something they love so much. I guess it's a sign of how stressed I've been to say that I wanted to get all teary at the sight of a whole bunch of gaming geeks milling around.

I wasn't at the convention for more than ten minutes before I got to play Rock Band (priorities are priorities, after all). I was there early before the line got totally ridiculous plus I got bumped up to fill out a group of three that needed one more. They were sitting there, ready to go, but looking so sad because they had no lead guitarist. And I, like a true guitar hero, raised my hand as if to say "I will save you!" The song was Learning to Fly by the Foo Fighters, the difficulty was Hard (I didn't have the balls to try out Expert on a new song in front of a crowd that large), our drummer kinda sucked (props to him for trying ), but it was totally awesome.

The Rock Band guitar feels a less solid in heft than the Guitar Hero one, although it looks way cooler. The strum has a lip to it, giving it more grip than the Guitar Hero triangle of slipperiness. The fret buttons don't stick out, making them feel a little more like piano keys than buttons (which I think made them feel more substantial and a bit easier to slide over). I didn't get a chance to try out the mysterious high frets. The whammy bar feels like a real whammy bar, and the guitar has an actual effects switch. If you ignore the fact that it's way too light and seems to be made of too many pieces, it totally feels like a Fender Strat.

As that I was playing lead guitar, I didn't really get much of a chance to feel out the drums or vocals. But the guitar portion was more or less exactly what you get from Guitar Hero. It might have just been due to my virgin run on the song, but it felt like the timing was a little more critical than what I've grown used to. The fret UI indicators also don't seem to stand out as well (either in size or color) compared to Guitar Hero, but again that could just be me resisting change. All in all it felt like a solid round of Guitar Hero but with a whole band behind me.

Totally aglow from my rock experience, I wandered the show floor a bit longer until I found the Wii section… complete with playable Metroid Prime 3. I had to wait in line a bit for this one, which was made extra painful by how bad the guy was in front of me. I don't mean to be too critical, but we weren't resetting the demo after each player so I had to start off wherever he stopped - totally lost, 5 minutes in the opposite direction from where the action was. So I didn't get to sample a great deal of the combat. But I can say that the controls are really smooth. This was my first real Wii shooter, so I can't say how it compares to other games, but I can say that I never felt like I was fighting the controls. The pan regions on the edge felt a little sticky, but by the end of my run I was already compensating for that and moving around like a champ. I did spend a large time staring at a grapple point, frantically trying to figure out what button to press… until I realized that you grapple with a totally hot nunchuck gesture. Apparently I was making it waaay too complicated by thinking in terms of "buttons."

I wandered the floor for a bit longer, and on my way out I just happened to catch the keynote. I hadn't planned on attending, after all what does Wil Wheaton have to say that I need to hear? But I'm totally glad I went, because the speech was awesome. He basically just talked about his life of being a gamer, from dumping his allowance into the arcades to playing Guitar Hero with his kids. He was witty, funny, and completely relatable. And again I was strong by a great sense of camaraderie for all my fellow gamers filling out that theater.

I finished off my evening with wine, steak, and DotA. Unfortunately those people online didn't seem to have heard Wil's "Don't be a dick" message, but it was still a pleasant way to end a pretty awesome day.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Wiimote + Halo = Hot

My friend OBsIV has at last completed his side project to adapt a Wiimote for use on an Xbox 360 to play Halo 2. Check out all the info (complete with a demo video) here.

I haven't had a chance yet to play a shooter on the Wii. Well, unless you count the awesome bunny shooting sequences from Rayman Raving Rabbids. I think I'm just waiting for the perfection of the control scheme in Metroid Prime 3. But maybe I can hold myself over by sticking it to the Covenant wii-style...

First order of business: Convince OBsIV to add a melee Wiimote gesture. Hot!