Five Great Alternative Video Game Weapons

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 1:55 pm
Bow and arrow -- regular weapon, regular violence. But some of these other things...

If there's one thing I've learned from playing a lot of Minecraft over the past few days, it's that bashing heads isn't always the best way to deal with your adversaries, even in video games, where bashing heads is almost always a good option. Sometimes the best way to deal with an angry horde of foes is to simply lock your doors, take a nap, and hope they're gone by the time you wake up again.

But even when complete nonviolence isn't an option, weird violence is. Weird violence is like regular violence in that it harms people, but it's like nonviolence in that it warms the human heart. How does it accomplish both of these seemingly diametrically opposed goals? Well, weird violence causes injury in ways that are so goofy or dumb that it's impossible not to smile.

In video games, the available weapons are usually mainstays like firearms or swords. But sometimes a game will give you something different, something a little kooky that still manages to neutralize your enemies. Weird violence ensues! Hilarious!

The following are five indisputably odd ways heroes of video games have destroyed their adversaries.

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Tags: Weapons

Five Fighting Games That Are Creeping Me Out Right Now

Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 10:00 am
Some fighting games seem less concerned with action and more concerned with haunting my dreams.

Fighting games satisfy a very specific corner of the mind. They don't provide the same type of gaming experience as Heavy Rain or Mass Effect 3; they affect me on a much more basic level. If I were to take a CAT scan while playing Soul Caliber, I imagine it would prove that fighting games engage the same parts of the brain as activities like binge-eating Doritos or watching porn. There is no clearer expression of my id than Mitsurugi in a ready-stance with his daikatana out.

I don't play fighting games often, but they're part of my history as a gamer nonetheless. When I was a kid, my brother and I would play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for the SNES for huge stretches of time. For the uninitiated, this is a game where our turtle pals compete in vicious bare-knuckle brawling tournaments in order to win stacks of gold.  I also have fond memories of playing King of the Monsters at a friend's house and button-mashing until the controller had actually inflicted a wound upon my thumb.

But there is a dark side to fighting games. Perhaps it's because they serve that very basic part of us that wants to use punching as a solution to every problem, so sometimes they come across as oddly hostile.  Or perhaps it's just because I'm not as familiar with fighting games as I am with RPGs or FPSs and so some of them seem foreign, strange... wrong somehow. Whatever it is, there are some fighting games that freak me out.

They just kind of make me uneasy, okay? Something about them gives me the willies. Not all fighting games, obviously I don't have nightmares about Super Smash Bros. or anything. Just a few of them...

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Five Things We Learned From 3D Movie Maker

Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 5:00 pm
3D Movie Maker -- before the Xbox, Microsoft gaming looked like this.

Last week I tried to get myself to understand the mechanics of adapting movies to games and games to movies, and I got in a little over my head. Or, to put it in more vivid terms, I wrote down so much concentrated nonsense that I could actually feel my brain melting, and over the next few days my hair began to fall out (I guess certain types of high-grade nonsense are radioactive). So this week I decided to take it easy, play it safe and go back to my old standby -- the "Five Things We Learned From" series, where we revisit video games we've played in the past and speak about what gems of wisdom they imparted to us.

The trouble is that I usually look to the games of my childhood for material when writing these articles, and I've done everything from Super Mario World to Goldeneye to Bubsy. And Bubsy wasn't even really a part of my childhood; he was like a distant cousin I saw only rarely and didn't much care for. I realize now that I've kind of already turned all the influential video games of my youth into Five Things articles.

Except for one.

3D Movie Maker is an old-school computer game that allows the player to create short films using pre-rendered scenery and 3D characters, props and effects. You can use stock dialogue and music cues, or you can import your own. It looked impossibly goofy even by 1995 standards, but god damn it did I love it, and it taught me many things about my own creativity, the art of storytelling, and a strange, terrible humanoid creature named McZee. Things like...
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Five Hilarious Licensed Games and What Could Make Them Great

Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 1:00 pm
cool spot.png
Licensed games -- source of occasional brilliance and common hilarity.

Last week I reviewed the new XBLA game South Park: Tenorman's Revenge, and it brought a lot of questions to mind. Some of them were personal questions, like, "When was the last time I watched the Chinpokomon episode of South Park?" Some of the questions were deeper questions, like, "Do I think the idea of door keys made out of poop is funny?" (The answer is yes.) But mainly it got me thinking of video games based on already-existing creative properties: how wonderful they are when they succeed and how miserably disappointing they are when they fail. Tenorman's Revenge, for me, is the rare licensed game that falls between these two poles -- not depressingly bad but not especially good, either.

Usually when a licensed game converts its source material to game form in an effective way, it's near-phenomenal. The best licensed games take characters that you know and love and put you directly in their shoes; they take the indescribable tone of a movie, TV show or book and somehow transplant it into an experience that you, as a gamer, control directly. When it works, it's quite a trick. Not to mention an almost guaranteed cash cow.

But for every really amazing licensed game, there are four hundred that are horrifying bastardizations of the source material, interesting ideas that have been brutally jammed down into something resembling a video game to make an easy buck.

I thought I knew about most of the licensed games out there. The great ones, like Arkham City and Goldeneye. The hellish ones, like E.T. and Superman. But after having my interest piqued and doing some research, there are a feast of crazy licensed games that I never had any god damned idea existed. I hand-picked the five licensed games that most frayed the portion of my brain that controls reason and logic and listed them below. I haven't played these games, but I've included the traits that I think could make each one superlatively good or abjectly terrible. I will now list them in ascending order of dumbness.

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Five Things that Make the Mass Effect Franchise Some of the Best Science Fiction of the Last 20 Years

Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at 12:00 pm
By Jason Helton

It's easy to see that EA is putting a lot of stock in their Mass Effect franchise.  Turn on any even slightly nerdy show on TV, and you will most likely see an ad for Mass Effect 3.  I'm not talking an ad featuring cut scenes from the game mixed in with action sequences and perhaps a foreboding voiceover.  The ME3 ads of recent are live action short films depicting the invasion of Earth, with what seems to be incredible production values.  Real emotion can be felt as parents hold their children, lovers kiss for one last time as oblivion engulfs the people of Earth.  The tone is set, the gravity of the situation is obvious, and for even the casual viewer, it looks like Mass Effect 3 is so much more than a typical video game.

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Five Things That the PlayStation Vita Should Do (But Doesn't)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm
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​By Jason Helton

It's safe to say that the world of mobile gaming has changed dramatically in the last three decades. Where once rudimentary games were played on tiny LCD screens similar to a digital watch, now portable systems rival their at home counterparts with amazing graphics and complex games. But we're also living in a world where 35% of all adults in the US carry around a gaming device daily, namely their smartphone. With sales of dedicated portable gaming systems on the decline, is the PlayStation Vita a revolutionary entertainment device, or the final shutters of a dying portable gaming industry?

While I've certainly been impressed with my short time on the PlayStation Vita, it feels like there may be something missing, something overlooked either to cut costs, or to get one last system out on the market before smartphones officially take over.  The following are five things I think the PlayStation Vita missed out on, some of which they may still have time to fix.  
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Five Underrepresented Character Types in Video Games

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 3:01 pm
This type of guy tends to turn up a lot in video games.
I want you to do something for me. Go to the nearest video game retailer you can find. Bring duct tape.

Don't worry, I'm not asking you to do anything illegal! I'm not asking you to kidnap a Gamestop employee or anything. No, I don't think this is illegal. Though it may get you banned from the store.

I want you to stand outside the store, wrap duct tape around your face until you are effectively blind, and then go inside. Fumble around until you find the game displays. Now select a game, entirely at random, and flail about wildly until you get a sales clerk's attention. (Don't worry, someone who has covered their face in duct tape and is waving a video game around in the air is probably only the third or fourth weirdest person this sales clerk has had to deal with today. Retail is a harsh, unforgiving world.) Now buy the game and exit the store. Apologize if you've accidentally body-slammed anyone during this process.

So now you have purchased an entirely random game. Drive home (please take off the duct tape first) and fire up your console or gaming computer. Pop the random game in and start playing. Now take a good, long look at your player character. What kind of person are they? If you had to describe their personality in one word, what would it be?

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Five Games for Singles on Valentine's Day

Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 3:00 pm
Valentine's Day is all about love, but it's also about other feelings.

To those with a sweetheart, a happy marriage, a lover or a crush, Valentine's Day is, at best, a time to affirm the mutual love and respect you feel for each other, and at worst it is a day when you exchange mediocre gifts for mediocre sexual favors. But for those who are committed or smitten, it is an undeniably exciting time.

Sure, it may be stressful to nail down the dinner reservations and try to come up with ideas to spice things up (hint: puns always make things sexier!), but unless you fuck up and get your partner a diet book or something, the aura of Valentine's Day is designed to make you feel validated. Everywhere you look, America is both paying homage to and milking money out of your relationship. Though it can be a little disheartening to sense the vigorous corporate hard-on that the greeting card industry achieves on this holiday each year, even that can't dampen the spirit if you're really, truly in love.

But what if you're single? Well, my unattached brethren, we can survive this most syrupy of days. Video games can help. I'm going to tell you how.

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Five Things We Learned From Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 4:00 pm
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an exploration of whether someone is still human when they have sunglasses built into their face
As we continue the trend of expanding the "Five Things We Learned" series into this-generation territory, we now come to a game that asks important questions like, "Will Detroit still be a cesspool in 2027?" and "If you could shoot metal planks out of your elbows, would you use this power for good or evil?"

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (shortened to DX:HR because honestly, with an acronym that badass, why not use it) is the prequel to Deus Ex, which presented a vision of the future that tapped into the eerie atmosphere of those early days of the new millennium and is heralded to this day as one of the best video games ever made. I've expressed my love many times for the classic original, but did the prequel live up its roots? Can Adam Jensen adequately fill out the big coat of JC Denton?

Having just played through this game, I learned the answers to the above questions -- and much more. And even though I never asked for this, I ended up learning... a little bit about life.

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Five Things We Learned From Dragon Age: Origins

Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 3:00 pm
In Dragon Age: Origins, you do regular stuff like kill arch-demons and sleep with witches.

I've been severely behind the times on this-gen games for what seems like an eternity. For a long while I had no console to call my own, only a laptop with a graphics card that kept me permanently stuck in about 2005.  Using the computer equivalent of dark sorcery (I think I put a file called "eyeofnewt.ini" in some directory), I managed to trick the machine into running some more recent games like Oblivion or Mass Effect, but the dismal frame-rates made the games more like interactive slideshows, and I usually had to decrease the draw distance so much that my character was wandering through a permanent haze.

Every so often I would remember wistfully the good old days when I was at the cutting edge of gaming, when my father had bought a Dreamcast for us and we marveled at its then-unbelievable capabilities. I have clear memories of shouting at the microphone we attached to the controller to play Seaman, trying to tell my tadpole son that he was a fuck-up and that he'd never amount to anything, all the while amazed that games were so advanced.

For a time  it seemed that those days were gone forever, that the price of New York life on low wages would preclude me from experiencing current games.

But recently a good friend purchased a newer model Xbox 360 and, in an act of gamer benevolence matched by few others, passed his still-perfectly-working previous 360 along to me. And so suddenly I find myself with all the possibilities of modern gaming at my fingertips. Mad with power, I now chip away at a seven-year backlog, devouring the games I once thought I would only be able to play come 2020 or so.

And with new games, come new life lessons. So let's get right to it, and talk about the lessons of one of the first games I popped into that sweet vertical 360 CD tray -- Dragon Age: Origins.

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