NES Classic finally joins my home arcade

About two years ago, I went through an agonizing and frustrating bout with the internet in general and Amazon in specific while trying to obtain the hot-yet-unavailable NES Classic. Nintendo either had underestimated the interest in an all-in-one retro gaming console or (more likely) deliberately underproduced stock to drive up interest and demand. In any case, no matter how diligent I was in trying to nab one, I never could — and I certainly wasn’t going to pay scalper prices.

So I played the waiting game. That was eased by last year’s release of the SNES Classic, a console which I had wanted much more anyway. Since then, I have hooked up the SNES in my office where it enjoys a lot of play from me, my kids, and anyone else in the church who has a hankering for nostalgia and genuinely fun games. Hearing my kids talk about Mario, Zelda, Starfox, and Street Fighter II puts a lot of happy in my heart, since I can share some of my own childhood with them.

I wasn’t really gunning for an NES Classic any longer — not seriously, at least — but a batch released on Amazon late June and, what the heck, I went for it. Got one in the first minute, and it shipped to my house about 10 minutes before me and my family were leaving for a week of camping. Totally forgot about it during that week, too, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it waiting on the kitchen counter when I came back.

I am at the point in my life where I’m very much opposed to spending money on games that I won’t play, so if I buy it, I have to play it. I set up the NES Classic on my desk and quickly put it through its paces, dipping into old favorites like Super Mario Bros 3, Castlevania, and Zelda while trying out a few titles (Kirby, Mega Man 2, Dr. Mario) that I never had the opportunity back in the day. Since our family never owned an NES, my exposure was limited to whatever friends would have or arcades would feature. Man, remember how much tougher the arcade versions of Mario and Castlevania would be? We were practically pouring quarters into them to survive the first levels.

Generally, I’m pleased with the purchase. I’m sure it’s going to get some play at our house, especially with the Mario games. However, I can’t help but keep comparing it to the SNES Classic, which dominates in every way other than the actual number of games. The SNES simply has better titles, better controllers, and more games that I want to play today versus ones that are enjoyable for nostalgia alone. The save states and other options are very welcome, and it’s always possible that one or two games might be worthy contenders for a retro gaming series.

It definitely feels satisfying having it in my collection. There are a few NES titles that are really missing here — TMNT (1 and 2), the original Contra, Dragon Warrior, Castlevania 3 — but I’m quite sure that Nintendo will break out an NES and SNES Classic II one of these years. Keep milking me for my nostalgia dollars, I’m good for it!

Star Trek Online: Armistice

For an expansion that only has six (now seven) missions as its main story content, you’d think that Star Trek Online would have to make every episode in Victory is Life absolutely count. With so few, they’d have to all be slam-dunk winners, right?

Well, I’m two episodes in, and so far I am incredibly underwhelmed. In fact, Armistice is one of the lamest missions that I’ve played in the game to date. Part of the problem is that this expansion is so deeply Deep Space Nine-focused that it comes off as a lot of fanservice that, as a person who hasn’t seen most of the series, will not get nor appreciate. Usually Star Trek Online is pretty good in bringing us non-viewers up to speed, but this quest was some sort of weird coda to one of the show’s episodes. And it was pretty dull.

Armistice had me heading into the Gamma Quadrant (which I couldn’t explore, as the mission auto-warped me right to the planet in question) where I was supposed to rescue the old Bajoran priest who was intentionally marooned here but now I guess they want to un-maroon her. Oh, and they had given her and her companions immortality via nanites. You’d think that all of the universe would be using these nanites by now, but I guess not? As I said, it’s very confusing if you’re dropped into the middle of it.

Anyway, getting her out is compounded by the pesky Hur’q, the new villains of this expansion. Like what I’ve seen so far, they’re kind of generic bug-aliens. Underwhelming. Lots of swarming and hyperactive jumpers.

Kira and Bashir come on this mission for some reason, and Kira — looking like a cartoon action figure — activates her bizarre pink lightning sonic power. Honestly, I have no idea what’s going on in this picture here.

Part of the dullness of this mission is that it’s very lopsided in favor of ground exploration and combat on a planet that’s just not interesting in the least. Oh well. I entertained myself by firing a miniature Death Star laser all around the place.

The worst part of the mission was the boss fight against this overseer insect up there. He hit so hard with multiple cone attacks, and any time we respawned, we were right at his feet and had no time to regroup and prepare. Basically, it was one of those instances of “throw your bodies at the boss often enough and hope that you get lucky sooner or later.” Took me about a dozen tries.

Back in space, there’s a hectic fight against a huge Hur’q fleet. Lots and lots of ships vs. me, my fighters, and the reprogrammed drone satellites. Everything was so small that I couldn’t really see it. As a carrier, I kind of have to take it on faith that my ships are actually fighting and not just doing donuts and figure eights.

I guess I save the day. Kira stops being a priest and goes back to being a captain, which is good for her because she looked like a gerbil in that getup. Then the wormhole opens and Sisko talks to the two Bajorans in a brief and unilluminating cameo. I get that they didn’t bring Avery Brooks back and so could only use voice clips for the show, but what was all that about?

I don’t get how this mission moved any sort of plot along, and even if it did, it wasn’t worth going through for the story or rewards. Two down, five to go!

Ranking World of Warcraft’s core races

Today, I’m going to look at World of Warcraft’s core races and running them down from best to worst, in my humble opinion. Wait, there’s nothing humble about it! Why would I be writing a public gaming blog if I was humble? This makes no sense.

Best: Gnome

Obviously. I mean, hate on the little dudes and dudettes all you like, but Gnomes are objectively and subjectively awesome. They have spunk, they have technology on their side, they have awesome emotes, they look cute as a button, they have the best facial hair in the game, and they’re perpetually the underdog in any given situation. Love my gnomies!

Draenei

Other than being slightly difficult to spell, Draenei — especially the female models — look pretty terrific while still bearing a very different body structure and features. I’ve always found them really appealing, especially if you want a “good looking” race that isn’t human. Other pluses include a self-heal, magi-tech totems, and a home that doubles as a spaceship.

Undead

Very few MMOs let you play as any sort of zombie character, so World of Warcraft’s Undead/Forsaken automatically distinguish themselves for this fact alone. I think I love the concept of the race more than the actual models (there are too few visual options that don’t make them look like drowned rats and the bones sticking out of the gear is a downer). Still, it’s pretty awesome to play a recently dead character that has a Halloween town for a capital city and one of their own as the war chief.

Tauren

Despite being too big and having slow running animations, I’ve always had a fondness for the Tauren. The mixture of native American culture and cows, weirdly enough, works. They’re kind of the “nice guys” of the Horde and have usually sported a really good class selection. Plus, the cow puns. Oh the cow puns. They moooved me.

Goblin

As the shortest race for the Horde, the Gobbos aren’t quite Gnome-levels of terrific, but they do have appeal. I like their fun little racial abilities, their quotes, and even some of their punk-rocker looks. I kept going back and forth in making my Horde Warlock an Undead or Goblin, and to this day I’m not sure I made the right choice.

Human

Yes, it’s the “boring” and “way too popular” choice, but there’s a lot to be said for humans. Armor looks fantastic on them and they get perhaps the most character creation options for visuals out of any of the races. Plus, the racials aren’t half-bad and the class selection is pretty much everything except Druids.

Dwarf

Dwarves are fine… in theory. My first WoW character was a Dwarf, in fact. I’ve always tried to get behind this race because I like to support the shorter characters, but the Dwarves seem so vanilla and bland in this game for some reason. Plus, I don’t like giant beards overtaking armor, nor am I a fan of the rather generic-looking female options.

Worgen

Great starting zone. Transformation options. Another Druid race. But that’s where the joys of Worgens kind of stop for me. You can’t stay as human in combat even if you want to (which, as a Druid, I did). The animations and visuals for this race suffer, as do the voices. Even though I played a Worgen Druid for a while, I never connected to it.

Pandaren

I think the best thing that can be said about Pandaren is that the models are well-detailed and you do get the option to choose your faction. But they still, three expansions later, don’t feel like they fit in World of Warcraft. I’ve tried rolling one and given up each time because it didn’t look right at all. They’re still pretty shunned by most players, so I guess if you really want to set yourself apart, here you go.

Troll

I’ve come to the conclusion that Horde is for masochists that enjoyed looking bad. Especially in Vanilla, where a pretty race was nary to be seen. Trolls, nobody likes Trolls. They’re just off-putting in their stance, their overgrown teeth, their three-fingered limbs, etc. Plus, their homes look like they just came out of the stone age, so why are they players on the level with some of these other races?

Orc

Yet I’d rather play a Troll than an Orc. I never even considered playing an Orc. They’re brutes that are ugly no matter which gender you pick, and Blizzard’s harping on them for story beats have made them even less appealing. Rawr, yes, but I’m not playing you.

Blood Elf

Yeah, don’t act too surprised that the despicable Elves are at the bottom of this list. That said, I’m putting the Blood Elves one notch higher because the Horde really did need at least one attractive-looking race early on, and their gold-and-red aesthetic is a nice color combination.

Worst: Night Elf

Where do I even start with these. They have plagued the game like cockroaches ever since Vanilla. People playing them don’t stop doing that jump-flip. Their Druidic forms are terrible. Their eyebrows stretch to the horizon. And THEY ARE ELVES. Arrogant, know-it-all, tree-hugging, we-know-better-than-you, we’re-connected-to-the-earth jerks.

Fallout 4: Take me down to the Diamond City

As I’ve said many times before, urban exploration in RPGs isn’t my favorite, so now that I’m starting to get into the thick of Fallout 4’s Boston, I’m giving up my systematic search in favor of following questlines and hitting up points of interest should I be passing by them. So far, that’s working.

Got to say, my favorite enemies in this game are the Synths, especially the second generation varieties. It’s fun to blow bits and chunks out of their frame while watching them continue to approach, Terminator-style. By now I have a few really powerful weapons that can take most enemies down in one or two VATS-assisted hits, so I keep myself amused with the slo-mo shots.

Every instance on the map typically has some sort of story attached that is unfolded by exploration, dialogue, computer terminals, and observation. The ArcJet plant surprised me with this rocket booster for the Mars Shot project in the basement. At first I thought it was a full rocket, but no such luck. At least I got to use it creatively to fry a whole bunch of Synths!

Feral ghouls throwing a pool party. They’re relatively weak mobs but they come on FAST and have a tendency to startle you with their unexpected presence. I’m getting really good at triggering VATS as soon as I hear something other than me or Dogmeat moving around.

What’s really fascinating me with this playthrough is observing the frozen-in-time pop culture and technology of this alternate 2077. It’s a world that was really sad and depressing in a lot of ways (even before the bombs), but it also had a lot of love for cool things like comic books and fun toys. Piecing together how this foreign world ticked and functioned is the most interesting aspect of exploring it.

One vault had a mockup street shooting gallery tucked inside. I did a double-take when I first saw it, thinking that I had come back outside somehow.

This guy died as he lived — with his face down on a toilet.

Bethesda has too much fun with propping up skeletons.

Since in the Fallout universe the microtransistor wasn’t developed, the technology stayed big and bulky, even as civilization developed rocket ships and power armor and computers. This “big, bulky, and metallic” design is all over the place (and I really dig it).

I was taking out some Raiders on a barge and saw that they had fished up and were eating… dolphins, I guess? Poor guys.

Finally, finally I arrived at Diamond City, which I had previously thought was just a walled-off block of Downtown Boston or something. When I saw it was Fenway Park I smacked myself in the forehead. I’m an idiot.

DDO: Don’t fear the Reaper 3

“Hey guys we should split up!”

“That’s the beginning of every bad horror movie, you know?”

And thus began another exciting group outing in Dungeons and Dragons Online, in which a group of slightly overleveled characters try — and succeed — in figuring out how to kill themselves doing low-level quests. We have a very special skillset that becomes a nightmare for people like us.

Before we get into all of that, night rainbows! Brought to you by Turbine and NBC’s The More You Know.

Also, I try to turn into an ursine transport for one of my dragon chums, but alas, mounts are not to be in this game. Wait, DDO doesn’t have mounts? I knew that. I just haven’t really thought about that in a while. That’s so weird.

Anyway, back to questing in the Harbor and Marketplace! With loads of buffs weighing us down and not a small amount of overconfidence, we kept jacking up the difficulty level of our dungeon runs. Reaper One? No sweat. Reaper Two? Well… I can’t really heal myself any more, but we survive. Three? Three smacked us up and down the place.

On one run, someone — don’t look at me — accidentally set the difficulty level to Reaper Ten. A dog was blamed for this. I think we got through two kobolds before the third one nearly wiped us all.

And speaking of wipes, here’s a horrid death trap room on Reaper Three in the process of killing everyone who dared come this way. It was one of those tragedy-upon-tragedy scenarios, where one person would die and another would dash in to grab his or her soulstone, only to die themselves, and then a third person would try to rescue them both, only to… yeah, we were very predictable here.

I think I found a new profession much better suited to my abilities. I’m kind of impressed she’s carrying eight goblets like it ain’t no thing.

All in all, it wasn’t the most productive night, although I did get a couple of slight upgrades in healing gear. I told the group that seeing a +28 heal crit pop over someone’s head was the highlight of the night for me. 28 points! I’m LEGENDARY.

Also, we had a ladder backup and ended up becoming way too intimate with each other as we waited for a pokey puppy to catch up with us.

Join the MMO blogging revolution! Catch the gaming fever! Something something inspirational!

This summer is — you have no idea — crazy busy for me. More so than any other summer I’ve experienced up to this point in my life, and it’s probably not going to slow down for a while. So while I have no time or energy to devote to running any sort of community event, it’s very gratifying to see Belghast crank up Blaugust once more.

This “festival of blogging” that starts up in August is a way to encourage, promote, and mentor gaming and MMO bloggers — especially new or lapsed ones that need some encouragement in getting into the groove of (semi-)regular blogging.

According to Belghast, “What I propose is a month of mildly structured posting and developing a strong mentorship community among those of us who are still out there doing it on a regular basis.  Lets help grow that next generation of bloggers and help them get started in a journey that honestly has meant more to me than I can adequately put into words.”

There are awards to be gained and mentorship to be had. I am signing up as a mentor to offer advice and help, such as I have to give. I do want to spend the month of August doing regular features on all of the participants of Blaugust, both new and veteran. It’s good to be reminded that we don’t blog in a vacuum. He’s even scheduled weekly themes for us to talk about, so I guess I need to pay attention to that or else suffer his notorious (non-existent) ire.

If you’re interested in starting up a gaming blog, want to dust your old one off, or need a push by the community, then head on over to read the full details and sign up for the Blaugust Reborn adventure. And for those of you who are experienced bloggers, why not agree to be a mentor?

Battle Bards Episode 124: Old MMOs, new music

It’s a catch-all, catch-up episode for the Battle Bards as they dig through new soundtrack releases from MMORPGs that they’ve covered in the past! You may be prepared for an eclectic and enjoyable mix of music — but there is no way that you can steel yourself for the raw and heartfelt confessions that take place on this show.

Episode 124 show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “Tiragarde Tavern” from World of Warcraft, “Never Look Back” from EVE Online, and “Mellow” from RuneScape)
  • “The River Running” from Lord of the Rings Online
  • “The Last Train to Cairo” from The Secret World
  • “Old Wisdom Tree” from Black Desert
  • “The Inquest” from Guild Wars 2
  • “Temple of Erlik (Night Version)” from Age of Conan
  • “The Ruby Sea” from Final Fantasy XIV
  • “Summerset Theme” from Elder Scrolls Online
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Jukebox Picks: “A Town Unlike Any Other” from Darkside Detective, “Main Menu” from StarCraft, “Main Theme” from Viridi
  • Outro (“Empyrea Leisure Dome” from Wizard101)

The Sims 4: All of this costs HOW much?

When my computer’s hard drive barfed back in May and I had to reload everything onto a new one, I had forgotten at the time to reinstall The Sims 4. It wasn’t until the recent Seasons expansion patch that I even remembered that I had it, at which moment I went, “Oh YEAH, that would totally hit the spot!” and I returned to the evil lair that is EA Origin to get it.

It actually does hit the spot, especially for those evenings when I want a very casual house-building experience. Hey, MMOs, I’d be building houses in you if more of you would just have them, you know. The other interesting thing about The Sims 4 in our household is that it’s kind of a party experience. When I boot it up, all of the kids rush over and start telling me what characters to make and how to decorate and a thousand other backseat commands. We have one household that was built by committee and it is the goofiest thing ever.

So when I installed it, I figured that I might for the very first time in my life splurge on an expansion pack or something. I knew that The Sims franchise was infamous for how many expansions it pumped out to keep milking money from its fans, but I had never been in so deep as to feel the allure there. But I figured, hey, the older expansions had to be cheaper now, so why not?

HAHAHA Syp you’re so naive. This is EA we’re talking about. If someone at EA mentions a sale or discount, a marketing person is sacrificed on an altar next to the snack machine.

At least through Origin, nothing looks to be on sale unless I buy three different tiers of expansions together and get $20 off. That’s right, The Sims 4 has TIERS of expansions. There are five full-fledged expansion packs ($40 a pop), six game packs ($20 each), and 14 “stuff” packs ($10 each). So if I purchased them all separately, not including the core game, I’d be looking at $460 to patch up the game with everything.

$460. That is insane.

Now true, not everyone wants all of these expansions and packs, so you’re going to pick and choose what interests you. And there is that bundle deal where you can get one from each tier (three total) for $50. So say you get five of the $50 bundles ($250), then you’d be left with one game pack ($20) and 9 stuff packs ($90), bringing it to a slightly more reasonable but still expensive $360.

Maybe there are better deals out there. I know that EA jealously guards The Sims franchise, so it doesn’t appear on GOG or Steam. But there’s no way that I’m going to spend that kind of cash on a game unless it’s the only game I’m playing — and I’m paying for that piecemeal.

This all said, I’m not going to buy anything right now. This is becoming the Summer of Trying Other Games Out for me. I can’t remember the last time I’ve played so many non-MMOs, and I’m finding the variety enjoyable. If, say, I get to August and I’m cruising around in Sims 4 fairly regularly, sure, I might consider buying one of the bundles after doing some research as to which is the best one. I hear Get Together is a pretty great pack, although everyone seems to be really liking Seasons right now.

Geocaching: Quarter back play

Now that my children are old enough to take on small expeditions, I’ve been introducing them to geocaching over the past couple of months. We had so much fun on our first outing, in fact, that I ponied up for a $25 yearly subscription to get the premium version of the app. I highly recommend that, by the way, because many of the best geocaches are hidden for all but premium members.

I also introduced my youth group to geocaching as an unstructured event. After showing them the basics, they picked our next adventure, and we found ourselves finding all sorts of interesting places all over town. In the span of two hours, we discovered secret paths that cut through small forests, climbed a tree in a fruitless search for a cache that wasn’t there, encountered a whole lot of suburban wildlife, hiked over train tracks, and trekked through a cemetery.

As one of my teens later put it, the appeal wasn’t in what tiny little trinkets we got out of the caches, it was in the stories of the journeys that we went on. It was like being guided to cool spots by strangers, some of whom went to a lot of trouble to set up some neat geocaches.

Four really cool ones stuck out at us:

  1. There was one that we spent hunting for a half-hour, focusing on the key word of “attractive.” We thought it meant good-looking, but there was nothing pretty there. Eventually we found a hidden metal tube with a magnet that was “attracted” to the underside of a metal scaffold.
  2. Someone took a lot of time to put together a coffin-shaped geocache in a cemetery that had a giant thumb pop up out of it when you opened it (“thumbs up!” was written on the lid).
  3. As part of a leftover Halloween cache, someone placed a mannequin’s head deep into a thicket. Creepy as all get out, let me tell you.
  4. Our absolute favorite, however, was a “Quarter Back” cache. This one was an actual newspaper vending machine that someone had painted with the geocache logo and placed off of a business’ parking lot. You put in a quarter to open it, but you got the quarter back (hence the name). Inside was a huge cache with more trinkets than I’ve ever seen in one of these.

Geocaching isn’t an activity that I have a lot of time for these days, but it is a great “once in a while” or “oh I have 10 minutes of spare time” or “we’ve got to hang out here a while, what do we do?” filler, especially in a populated area. While we don’t always find our caches, the journeys that we go on more than make up for the disappointment. And that’s something I want to keep doing for a while to come.

Chrono Trigger: A fun day at the fair

(This is part of my journey going playing through Chrono Trigger. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Chrono Trigger! It’s definitely one of my all-time favorite RPGs (and I’m certainly not alone in this), and I still very much enjoy playing it even over two decades since it first released. It’s so well designed with a great story, incredible music, and a sheer fun factor that rides high all the way through. Even though I played it last year, I wanted to give the now-improved Steam version a shot for a true Retro Gaming series (as I’ve never done that before) and to do a few things, such as all of the game’s side quests (as I’ve never done those before). No more introduction, let’s get going!

What still impresses me after all these years is how Chrono Trigger does the exact opposite of how most JRPGs start. Usually there’s some immediate threat, a village gets burned down, hero vows to save stuff, and we’re off. Instead of that, CT delivers a slow, satisfying experience of… a day at the fair. It’s actually brilliant. It teaches you a lot about the game, ties in to some time travel elements later on, advances the plot, and gets you familiar enough with the world so that you actually start to care about it. And it does all of this casually, allowing the player to go as fast or slow through it as possible.

It’s 1000 A.D. in a fantasy world that’s somewhere around the Industrial Revolution in terms of development (well, there are gadgets and fridges and so on). You start out as Crono, a spikey-haired lad who’s woken up by his mother and told to behave as he heads off to the festival to celebrate the country’s 1,000th birthday. He also wants to check in with his best friend Lucca and see her latest invention. Again, you have freedom to explore the town and even head into the nearby forest for some early fights/grinding, but little of it is necessary. I appreciate “just for fun” options that are in this game.

Speaking of, I thought I’d quickly list everything that you can do at the the fair:

  • Bump into Marle, a strange tomboy with a strange pendant, and go on a date with her
  • Buy gear and potions from vendors
  • Bet on the outcome of a footrace (I never win this)
  • Play a minigame to hit a bell at the top of a pole (I almost never win this, either)
  • Go into the Tent of Horrors and play three tough minigames. These do pay out in items that then appear in your home, making this as close to a housing feature as this game has.
  • Challenge a man to a drinking contest
  • Dance at a prehistoric party
  • Return a lost kitty to her owner
  • Fight a singing robot named GATO (which is my preferred method for gaining festival points, since you’re also getting XP and levels)
  • Go watch Lucca’s invention demonstration

I am the very very sweetest! Also, I just drank my body weight in “soda,” so I’m pretty sure I’m dying right now.

What was so cool about this festival is that most players going through it the first time had no idea that it was actually preparing them for the game and even setting up some story beats to come in the future. It was especially trippy to realize that your actions would have consequences down the road, although it was mostly for flavor. I liked it, even still. And for the record, I try to do all of the “good” things for the trial later on. Well, most of them. I do eat the guy’s lunch because it’s an easy way to heal up between fights.

Does GATO’s stomach have a pokeball in it? Seems rather before its time.

So let’s talk about Crono Trigger’s combat. It’s a blend of turn-based and real-time, keeping the pace of battle flowing while players queue up choices. At the beginning it’s pretty simple, but eventually you get regular attacks, “tech” attacks, and magic spells — and then some of these can be combined with other character’s moves to do even more impressive skills. I love it.

But the best, seriously the BEST, part of all of this is that Crono Trigger doesn’t have a random encounter system. Enemies appear on screen (although sometimes they pop out of the environment) and can be avoided or engaged as you wish. Coming from the nonsense that was Final Fantasy’s random encounters, this was such a blessing and continues to be today. You feel like you’re coming to fights on your terms, not the game’s.

Ugh, I hate this particular minigame. You get an important item from it later in the game, but I absolutely stink at doing this rapid “Simon says” interaction.