Joepinion

Have an idea for a review?  Just email me at imyourjoe@yahoo.com  I’ll review ANYTHING (if I want to)!!!!!

Also, don’t forget to subscribe by clicking the box to the left, and remember to join the JoeMinion facebook page (a group of Joepinion fans on Facebook!)

Thanks for reading!

Mario Kart 8: The Good, The Bad, and The Verdict

 

MK8boxSo, I have written three reviews for Mario Kart 8, but I haven’t been able to really get my thoughts properly out on the page. I’m really torn about the game and how I feel about it. So, I’m going to write two short reviews. One negative, and one positive. Here we go.

 

 

Why I Don’t Like Mario Kart 8

 

Mario Kart Wii was the last time I saw my favorite Nintendo characters drive around in go karts on my TV. Mario Kart 7 was a fantastic diversion, but I have been hungry for more. Sadly, in some ways, Mario Kart 8 takes steps backward in terms of where Mario Kart 7 and even Mario Kart Wii stands.

 

My biggest issues center around the roster of characters and the kart/bike options. While the roster of characters is larger than in the Wii version, there is less depth. There are only 8 sets of characters, and they all share the same stats. So it may appear that Toad and Shy Guy are different characters, but on the track they are exactly the same. This goes the same for kart types, wheels, and gliders. Like in Mario Kart 7 any character can select any kart, and there are a ton to choose from. That said, many share stats, just like characters, and (also like characters) they are not organized together. For example, there are 4 versions of the standard tire but some have one or two options between them when selecting kart options. This really makes it difficult to decipher what’s going on. It’s almost like Nintendo is trying to hide the fact that they got lazy. I mean, Mario Kart Wii had small differences between all of its characters, shouldn’t we expect the same or more for this game? If they were trying to make things more simple in light of being able to choose wheels and gliders for your kart now, they sure did complicate things by not organizing them properly.

 

Also, Metal Mario and Metal Peach (I know she has some longer stupid name) are pretty boring additions. Isn’t Metal Mario just Mario with a power-up? That’s like adding Cat Suit Mario, or Frog Suit Mario- either of which would have been more fun. Also, with a whole chunk of the roster being dedicated to Koopa Kids, how could they blow good roster spots on metal characters and a new baby character in the form of Baby Rosalina? Who the hell cares about adding Baby Rosalina? Why not add Cranky Kong or Dixie or something? They were in the last DK Country, so it kind of makes sense, and we’re down to one primate on the roster.

MK babies

I hate babies.

In Mario Kart 7 we were given the Lucky 7 item, and in Mario Kart 8 we have the Crazy 8. It’s quite obnoxious, feeling more like they ran out of ideas than anything else. It gives me the same sensation I imagine I’d get if I were driving down the street in a hail storm and all my windows decided to roll down on their own. Which window do I roll up first? Where is the button? Never mind, I’ve fallen off a cliff.

crazy 8

You mean to tell me that now I can shoot 2 shells, drop a banana, throw a bomb, rocket myself forward, fire a blooper, get 2 coins, AND activate a super star? FINALLY!

They also got rid of two of my favorite items (the hot-potato style cloud and the giant mushroom, both from the Wii version) but still opted to keep the worst item in the history of the series. I shouldn’t have to say it’s name in my blog, but the blooper has got to be one of the worst, most infuriating things ever thought up in and actually put into a video game.

 

One of my favorite things that Mario Kart 7 introduced was point A to point B races, where there were no laps, just one long race. There are only two in this game. One is a new course and one is the N64 version of Rainbow Road, which seems a little strange to me. That Rainbow Road course is still just a lap, albeit a long one. These were loads of fun in Mario Kart 7, and it looks like developers knew it, but only keeping 2 in there must be pretty confusing for players who missed that installment, and disappointing to gamers like me.

 

Oh, I forgot to mention that battle mode has basically been destroyed. Ever hear the expression “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? Well, Nintendo evidently hadn’t. Now, instead of battle arenas, you’ve got your choice of tracks from the game to choose from. So, you can drive around the track, shooting at people….like you would in a race. Or I guess you could just hide from other racers, but that wouldn’t really matter because NO ONE IS PLAYING IT ONLINE.

 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to the train Nintendo refuses not to run on it’s fans by way of it’s super-cheap 150cc AI.

death stare

You think this is a game?!

Why I Love Mario Kart 8

 

Mario Kart 8 has got to be one of, if not the most beautiful game I’ve ever seen available on a Nintendo console. And while Nintendo takes a lot of heat for repurposing the same old franchises over and over (Mario games in particular), it’s games like this that add new dynamics and new layers to familiar favorites which keep fans like me happy.

 

While I’m not hot about all the new items, the new item system works extremely well (with the exception of in 150cc when other karts always seem to have the item they need to keep you from finishing that last lap in first). The items seem more balanced this time around and while you can get creamed when in a pack, once you break free you will not have to live in constant terror of a blue shell coming to get you. They’re far more rare this time around and the super horn item can actually save you from losing your 1st place spot.

super horn

Super horn, I don’t know where you came from, and I don’t care.

Like I said before, the game is stunning, and Nintendo knows it. They actually took most of the HUD off of the screen and put it on the gamepad. Sure, it’s difficult to look down and get all the vital info, but everything is so beautiful that it really doesn’t bother me much. I wish there was some kind of option to put some info up on the TV screen, but I like the setup overall. You can even save replays and post them straight to Youtube. You cannot actually edit the videos, but it’s still a nice feature.

 

Here is me, winning by a nose.

The real big stuff pluses come through by way of the tracks, though. First of all, being able to ride on walls and other surfaces make the game way more interesting. Finding alternate routes and seeing which you can make it through the quickest is a lot of fun and makes tracks more rewarding to retread. Also, something needs to be said for the creativity and craft that went into these new tracks. There’s a whole level where you start in the clouds, find your way onto a vine, only to end up on one of Bowser’s flying warships. Visually, it’s the most amazing level I’ve seen in any Mario game in a long time.

 

Even the retro stages have been given a really slick upgrade. The N64 version of Rainbow Road looks phenomenal and even features updated versions of the train and fireworks that made that level so special before. One level that really impressed me was the flat and very straight forward Mario Circuit from the GBA Mario Kart. To give it a taste of anti-gravity, one whole long U turn has been raised about 60 degrees up in the air. As the race starts you actually get to see it getting lifted up off of the ground, and that’s pretty cool.

 

The Verdict:

I’ve got to give Mario Kart 8 a solid B-. It’s the best looking, most fun B- I’ve ever played, and there is a lot that they could fix with DLC in the future (I’m not holding my breath, but they could add some battle arenas, maybe add some depth to the roster of characters, throw in some A-to-B style races, etc). Mario Kart 8, on it’s own, if I had never played the Wii version or 7, would have been an A game for sure, but when you look what Wii and 7 had that Mario Kart 8 doesn’t, you cannot deny that Nintendo took their foot off of the gas with this one (PUN INTENDED).

 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: What’s Good

I’m not one to make excuses for movies, but before I went to see The Amazing Spider-Man 2 I read some reviews online that were pretty horrible. And while I will admit that the film is far from one of the best movies ever made, one of the best movies of the year, or even one of the best movies in the super hero genre, it did a lot of things right. So, rather than writing a regular review, I will be sharing with you some of the things the movie does right. There ARE SPOILERS below, so I suggest you read this after you watch the movie.

 

spider-man 2

The Rhino wears a track suit and special “Super Crocs” through the whole movie that makes him run faster and jump higher. JK, but there seriously are some spoilers up ahead.

 

First of all, to enjoy this movie you need to back up off the comic books and cartoons that you grew up with. This new retelling needs to be different. Why? Well, we just had a very popular trilogy of Spider-Man movies. Beyond that, the Spider-Man story has been told over and over again more than any super hero story with the exception of Batman. Aside from the Raimi movies, we’ve had a hit cartoon in the 90’s, at least 3 other cartoons since then, video games that take their own liberties with the story, and all the weird stuff going on in the comic books. Being a big Spider-Man fan, it’s hard for me to say this, but even I am getting a little tired of the rehashing of the origin story with Uncle Ben and wrestling, and power/responsibility, and yada yada yada.

 

So yes, this new set of movies is taking liberties that other movies didn’t. It is cherry picking what it wants and is putting it together like some kind of casserole on left-over night, but can we just be honest and admit that sometimes “hamburger surprise” is pretty damn good? I mean, look at all the stuff they’re doing right: they didn’t jump right into Mary Jane, they didn’t make the web come right out of his wrists (which was super weird in the Raimi movies), and they got Spider-Man’s attitude down much better than any of Raimi’s movies ever did. Seriously, if I asked you to picture Toby Maguire as Spider-Man, you’re probability picturing this:

toby crying

Because all that guy did was turn into a bitch every time he took his mask off.

 

The stuff they are improvising about Parker’s dad and mom, and all this stuff about Oscorp basically being a super-villain factory is pretty weak, but at least the latter will serve some purpose. In most cases the first installment in a super hero movie series is the weakest because you need to explore the origin of the character and at this point we have seen most of the most interesting of these stories. No one is really going to care that much about how the vulture got his wings, and no one is going to want to watch someone try to do a better job at being Doc Ock than Alfred Molina. Sony is planning on a Sinister Six movie next, and if we needed to sit through a bunch of back story, it just wouldn’t be possible. Do I like that it looks like they’ll all be cyborg robots? Not really, but if it spares me four hours of back story, I’ll deal with it.

 

sinister six

Let’s see, one guy is a scientist, one dude can turn into sand, the other guy can turn into other people…you know the guy in green…that guy over here has wings, and that Freddy Mercury looking dude is super into killing stuff and wearing it. Done. How long was that?

 

Like I mentioned before, this new Spider-Man is much better than Toby Maguire’s version. Andrew Garfield is nailing it. Top it off with Emma Stone doing a pretty solid job as Gwen and Sally Field knocking it out of the park, and this could be the best cast Spider-Man movie ever. I know Jamie Foxx was a bit of a ham, but compared to James Franco I’ll call it a wash.

 

A big complaint about this movie is that it falls in the “too many villains” trap. I feel like people just like throwing that trope around to show they’ve seen movies before. Sure, other movies have struggled with it in the past, but The Amazing Spider-Man 2 really has one true villain. The Rhino and the Green Goblin are hardly in it at all. You can argue that before Osborne turns into the Goblin he is also a villain, and that can be true, but if you’re going to say that then I’m pretty sure most Super Hero movies have had the same kind of set up for a secondary villain. Could The Amazing Spider-Man have been better with a focus on simply Harry Osborne or Electro? Sure, but it still did a better job of balancing out the two than some of the campy Batman movies we’ve been forced to watch, or Spider-Man 3 for that matter.

toby emo

I mean, the movie itself was a monster.

Finally, my biggest point is also the biggest spoiler, so stop reading if you haven’t seen the movie. The balls of this film cannot be denied. Simply put, the death of Gwen, which was such a big deal in comic book history, is critical to the Spider-Man story. I think it is a universal understanding that the appeal of Peter Parker and Spider-Man is that we’re talking about a average kid who is given super powers. The effect it has on his life, and his need to protect those around him is always paramount. So, being unable to save his girlfriend changes everything and rocks him to his core. Being able to build on this loss gives writers that are exploring new directions for Spider-Man in the upcoming films the ability to add a layer of depth that other incarnations could only lob at us like spaghetti at a wall, hoping some of it will stick. The reason Peter Parker and Mary Jane’s whole relationship was so hard to come to fruition was because of Gwen’s death, so if that comes up in the next Spider-Man film expect something with more substance. I mean, “I love you but I can’t have you” just isn’t as strong as “I love you, but I can’t have you because my best friend killed my last girlfriend in a clock tower, and I was right there and wasn’t able to save her. I watched her die and held her lifeless body in my arms. Sorry if all this is ‘too real’ for you.”

spiderman gwen dead

“I guess you could say I’ve got some baggage.”

There is plenty you can complain about with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but for all it omits from the stories it is borrowing from it keeps some key things going that I think will only make the next movies better. This movie had a lot of loose ends to tie up from the first movie (the Peter’s mom and dad stuff was a slog), but it feels a lot leaner moving forward, and I have a high hopes for the next few movies in this series.

Joefestapaloozachella 2014

joefestapaloozachella

 

Click here to enjoy the show: Joefestapaloozachella 2014

 

 

Very soon thousands of people will trek deep into the desert to regret their poor decision making skills under the hot sun as they trade their life savings for a bottle of water or their first born son for a suck on someone’s CamelBak. I am not a fan of any music festival in general. There are usually only three or four bands I want to see, and usually two of them are playing at the same time. Now host it in the middle of no where and make me stand in the sun all day, and you can imagine how I feel about Coachella. Look, if you’re ok with paying $400 to for a chance to see 4 of your favorite bands play for 30 minutes each, you might as well pay $50 to see each of them play their own show in LA.

 

This isn’t a blog about how godawful festivals are, though. This is about my great idea to break you free from the clutches of despair by allowing you to enjoy great live music from home. I have found videos of some of my all-time favorite live performances and made a playlist on Youtube for you to enjoy in the safety and luxury of your own home.

 

I don’t expect anyone to actually sit down and listen to all 3 or 4 hours of this, but you might enjoy listening while you cook or go to work, or drive into the middle of no where to fight over the last centimeter of shade…

 

So, what if you had a time machine and you could go back and pull some of your favorite artists from their most spot-on performances and add them all to one bill? Sure, there are other great tours that can certainly be added here, but we need to save something for next year, right?

 

Here’s the line up.

 

Stephen Malkmus: Acoustic KCRW Session

 

Joefestapaloozachella opens with a great acoustic performance by Stephen Malkmus in which he performs some of his greatest tracks from Real Emotional Trash. This acoustic session is one of my go-to background noise options, and when I want to see someone really cut loose on the guitar there really isn’t anything better than this. There is a lot to enjoy here.

 

Eels with Strings: Live at Town Hall

 

Next up is the Eels. I have seen the Eels about 5 times live now, and you never really know what kind of show you’re going to get. Sometimes they turn it up to 11 and rock out all of their songs, even a lot of their more melodramatic tunes. Other times you are treated to a mellow and touching take on some of the greatest songs in the Eels catalog. The Eels with Strings tour was the best incarnation of the latter, offering a substance to some of the Eels most familiar songs that gives the music a new and fresh texture. The DVD is fantastic, but I could only find a few tracks online to treat you to. I hope you enjoy.

 

Andy Kaufman

I wanted to add some comedy into the mix. You know, someone to come on stage and entertain you while you stand around waiting for the next band? Andy Kaufman was my no-brainer choice. The guy is a comic genius. I’m sure most of the audience would be high by this point, which would only make his type of “I’m here to screw with you” humor more entertaining.

 

Thin Lizzy: Live and Dangerous

 

There are too many people out there don’t know much about Thin Lizzy beyond their hit The Boys are Back In Town. The band is more than just one great song. They walk the line between hard classic rock and metal and they make it sound better than most bands could back then. Their energy on stage and the presence of Phil Lynott makes the Live and Dangerous Tour one of the most entertaining recorded live performances I’ve ever seen. You know you’re in for a treat when a band opens with their most popular song. Usually, by the time a show like this is over you have a list of new favorite songs you can’t wait to check out when you get home. They kill it from start to finish.

 

David Bowie: Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars

 

It was hard to push play on this next performance- Thin Lizzy is so too damn good to turn off. But when the next performance up is from David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, it makes it easier. From hard, fast, and amazing rock, we tread onward into the spectacle that was Ziggy Stardust. The 70’s were weird.

 

I have a lot of respect for Bowie because he could have milked that Ziggy Stardust cow for ages, but he decided he was going to leave his uber successful alter-ego in the dust and pursue a conventional solo career. It was a gutsy move that paid off, but looking at footage from the movie made of one of his Stardust shows, you really get to see what he left behind- a giant fan base and one of the most bizarre and enjoyable live shows ever dreamed up.

 

The Talking Heads “Stop Making Sense”

 

Amazing music- check.

Suit that’s way too big- check.

Academy Award winning director- check.

An elephant’s weight in cocaine- probably.

 

As great and timeless as these performances all are, it’s a slam dunk who is headlining this thing- The Talking Heads from their now famous Stop Making Sense video. There isn’t much I can say that you shouldn’t know already and that you couldn’t learn from just watching the video. If you haven’t seen it before, you should watch it right now, and if you have seen it before then you know that you should probably watch it again as soon as possible. If you love the Taking Heads, Stop Making Sense is the best way to revisit the band in all their glory through what is possibly the most momentous performance ever caught on tape by any band. If you don’t love the Talking Heads, you haven’t seen Stop Making Sense yet, so shut your mouth and experience it.

 

 

 

 

 

In n Out Chicken Sandwich

In n Out is known for their secret menu.  While their regular menu is simple and straight forward, their unspoken items, like Animal Style Fries and Neapolitan Shake are all staples that really set the fast food chain apart from others.  Still, nothing has really changed on either of these menus for many many years, until now.
.
The Chicken Sandwich, the newest addition to the secret menu, is here!  After months of grumblings about the sandwich on the internet, I was able to get my first bite today.  The item is rumored to be developed by In n Out to compete with Chick-fil-a, and in my opinion can stand up to the chicken sandwich giant.
I forgot to take the fries out of the bag for this picture...but can you blame me?

I forgot to take the fries out of the bag for this picture…but can you blame me?

Essentially, if you have ever ordered a regular hamburger from In n Out, you can imagine what you will get when you order a chicken sandwich.  It is, for the most part, the same thing, with your choice of fried or grilled chicken in the place of your beef patty.  The fresh ingredients and the buns are all the same, and I honestly think they compliment the chicken sandwich much better than the beef option.
.
My wife and I tried to order the chicken sandwich animal style, but In n Out will not make the sandwich that way.  This was disappointing, but all-in-all, it was pretty awesome as it was.  Another thing that was a let down was the cheese.  They stick with the same cheese that comes on a burger, and it doesn’t really work with the chicken.  Next time, I’ll get it plain.

 

Provolone might have been a better bet, but plain will be fine, I'm sure.

Provolone might have been a better bet, but plain will be fine, I’m sure.

There really isn’t much more to say about In n Out’s Chicken Sandwich.  Honestly, it’s one of the most tasty things on their menu.  With a side of fries and a shake, I don’t think you can beat it.  I give the Chicken Sandwich an A+.

South Park: The Stick of Truth

Stick of TruthWhen I preordered The Stick of Truth, I didn’t know it was only about 12 hours long. If I had, I probably would have saved my money. But after spending about a week playing it and after beating the game, I’ve got to say that it does more things right in 12 hours than most games can in twice that.

You’ve got to really think about what went into this game to appreciate it, even if it is short. It was written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and it holds the same comedic value of any South Park episode. The jokes are all very funny and well-timed, and the fact that the majority are not repeated over and over makes the game even more enjoyable. I am sure if the game were longer, the quality in this respect would have to be compromised, and the laughs are hands down the biggest draw of the game.

If you’ve ever played a Paper Mario game, you will not be surprised by The Stick of Truth or anything that it does technically. That said, The Stick of Truth does offer a great deal of opportunities to learn new attacks and level up your character by earning XP and by finding new friends on Facebook in the game. That might seem kind of weak for a game mechanic, but usually these friends add you after you complete some kind of quest for them, and once they send a request you can view their posts on your wall. Some are hilarious and some can be pretty annoying (try to do Al Gore’s quest last, since he’ll blow up your news feed about MBP, for serial).

You can summon some characters for assists during battle.  Jesus' "Crossfire" attack summons Jesus and his machine gun.

You can summon some characters for assists during battle. Jesus’ “Crossfire” attack summons Jesus and his machine gun, for example.

Another great thing about South Park: The Stick of Truth is the endless amount of references to the show. Be it just a simple line from a party member when walking by a location, or looking through the rooms of famous characters from the show, there seems to be no bottom to the well of throw backs to the show.

The short playtime does affect the game in a negative way at times, however. For example, there are a TON of weapons and clothes to find and earn for your character. Unfortunately, you usually find a better weapon or a better hat, or a better anything within an hour, so you don’t really have time to enjoy using the things you find. For example, I found this cool club that steals health from enemies, so I upgraded it and equipped it. A half hour later I found a sword that did way more damage. So, I had to unequipped my club, take off the upgrade, apply the upgrade to my sword, and then equip my sword. This seems like it could have easily been fixed by letting weapons level up, but maybe the designers were just trying to keep things from getting complicated; I’m not sure.

If you end up in one of the kid's bedroom's, check out their closet for a ton of cool references to old episodes.

If you end up in one of the kid’s bedroom’s, check out their closet for a ton of cool references to old episodes.

There are small minor mechanics that made me scratch my head as well. Some enemies can block melee attacks, for example, and they deal damage to anyone who tries to attack them this way. At one point the only person in my party was Butters and he didn’t have any more ranged attacks to use. I was looking all over for a way to skip his turn, but there was none. I had to melee attack and take damage in order to progress the fight. Also, there were some tutorials that were vague, such as learning new fart attacks and conducting an abortion (remember, this is a South Park game).

Still, the game’s charm shines through its flaws. The humor and the characters push this game to another level that I really appreciate. I give South Park:The Stick of Truth a B+ for great game play, countless references for die-hard fans, spot-on humor, and a few minor mechanical issues.

You might enjoy this game if you’re a fan of South Park, low-brow humor, RPGs, and parodies of fantasy movies and games.

The Joepinion’s Top 10 Games of All Time

NOTE: This is going to be a list that I will continue to come back to and update.  These are MY favorite games.  I have not played every game ever made, nor do I want to.  These are just the best games I’ve ever played.  Feel free to comment and leave me synopsis of your own favorite.

1. Punch Out!! (NES)

punch out!!There, of course, are two versions of Punch Out!! for the NES. One which features Mike Tyson as the baddest boss of all time and one that features Mr. Dream, which was a placeholder for Iron Mike once Nintendo could not (did not want to?) continue billing the infamous fighter on one of its games any further.

The boxers you face are all (almost racist) characatures of different ethnicities. They each have their own style and their own attacks/weaknesses that you will need to learn to win the fight. For this reason, the game is often called more of a puzzle game than a boxing game. I agree that learning the styles and pattens of each boxer is an important key to winning the game, but isn’t that the case for any game? I mean, think about any Bowser fight. Don’t you have to understand his patterns- where he is going to jump, when you can attack, etc., before you can win? It goes the same for any boss in any game, from God of War to Ducktales.

Why is Punch Out!! the best game ever made? It is the most unadulterated, straightforward test of skill there is in video games. Consider that there are no power ups in this game. While other games allow you to enter a boss battle with a mushroom, extended life bars, rocket launchers, or some other type of power that helps you beat the boss, Punch Out!! asks you to beat every boss with nothing going in but your reflexes and trainer that really doesn’t know what he’s talking about half the time. Sure, you can find ways to earn stars that give you a power punch, but this is done by finding hidden weaknesses in each boxer. You need to work to find those during the fight.

Exhibit B in my argument is the fact that this game is centered around boss battle after boss battle. There are no bonus rounds. There are no practice modes. The game simply puts you in front of a new boss and charges you with the task of finding out how to win. You have 3 dodge moves and four punches to choose from. It is 100% pure, beautiful, nerve racking gaming. By the time you get to the next boxer, you have earned absolutely nothing but the mental experience you earned from beating the last boxer. You have absolutely nothing, and you have everything you need to win.

For those reasons, defeating Mike Tyson (or Mr. Dream) is the biggest challenge in gaming, and Punch Out!! is the best game ever made.

  1. Portal 2

portal 2When I look at the most loved and successful video games, they usually have a few things going for them. They mostly have characters or at least one character that is iconic or that the player can connect to. They also, in some way advances some aspect of video games. When I was growing up, the big thing people were paying attention to and giving acclaim for was graphics. Games like Star Fox almost made it into the limelight based on cutting edge graphics alone. Somewhere around the time we stopped worrying about bits, the focus changed to story telling.

If someone were to ask me to complete the sentence: “In the future, I hope all games could be more ____,” I would probably either say “cheaper” or “like Portal.” Portal makes you think, it makes you explore, it makes you work out tricky puzzles, and it makes you care. It makes you wonder about the world you are in, it makes you like interesting characters, and it makes you feel like you’ve just been entertained for however long you were playing. It doesn’t do any of this through cut-scenes, and it doesn’t hold your hand through the most difficult parts of the game. It rewards you with a fantastic ending and hidden secrets that reveal more about the story.

The multiplayer, longer play time, and the addition of multi-player inPortal 2 make it better than the original, but the first title would have shown up on my list if it went up to 20 or 30, that’s for sure.

  1. Super Mario World

smwThe Super Nintendo is, in my opinion, the greatest console of all time, and it was launched on the wings (cape?) of Super Mario World. The game took everything that made Super Mario Bros 3 great and turned it up to 11. It introduced us to the next generation of gaming for Nintendo and really set the standard from that point forward for killer apps that would dominate video game console wars to come.

I only wanted to pick one Mario platformer for this list, so I tried to find the best by focusing on what set each game apart from the rest. Super Mario World is full of definitive moments in the franchise, including riding Yoshi for the first time, finding keys and unlocking new pathways out of levels, and a new depth of immersion and story telling that was not possible on the NES. The addition of many other Mario staples, such as the spin jump, Star Road, and Ghost Houses, to name only a few, made Super Mario World one of the last 2D games in the franchise that could really be called fresh and innovative.

Since Super Mario World, Mario has done a lot. He has entered 3D, he has driven go-karts, he has gone missing- but he has never quite matched the greatness that was Super Mario World. Sure, Mario 64 did something similar for the character and for Nintendo- and even for gaming in general, the game did have its glitches, and in my opinion lacks the iconic power-ups that can be found Super Mario World.

For those reasons, Super Mario World simply cannot be topped when talking about the best of the Mario franchise.

  1. Donkey Kong Country Returns

DKCRA Wii game? At number 4? For serious?

Totally for serious. And it might have even beaten out my #3 game if it wasn’t on the Wii, as a matter of fact.  I mean, shaking the controller gets kind of old.

The Doney Kong Country franchise made a lot of waves with its first installment and kind of petered out after that. When I first heard it was returning to its roots with a new game for the Wii, I went banana’s (that will be my only pun, I promise). And to be totally honest, the game had me going ape until the very end (ok, I’m done now, seriously).

I am not going to spend too much time talking about why I liked the game since I already posted a review on the Joepinion about it. Read that review if you’re wondering what makes this game so great.

5. Silent Hill

silent hill

Few games have actually affected me as a human being. I never got PTSD from playing Metal of Honor, and I never checked under my bed for zombies after playing Resident Evil. I mean, really, Resident Evil wasn’t scary. It wasn’t even a thriller. It was cool, but that’s about it. Resident Evil 2, maybe you could call that scary.. Silent Hill, on the other hand, was downright frightening. It gave me nightmares and it introduced me to what kind of terror a video game can deliver.

I mean, come on, the game starts off with you getting killed in a dark alleyway by a bunch of little demon children. Next thing you know, you’re running around a fog-ridden town trying to find you daughter as you bounce between what seems like a twisted version of reality and a world that seems closer to hell than anything else you’ll experience on the Playstation (unless you count Bubsy 3D).

The stuff you see and do in Silent Hill is damn near madness, and in terms of the horror genre in general, it was years before its time. The twisted and freakish look of its villains and the haunting moans of the monsters you are tasked to defend yourself against remind me of more recent and more significant horror movies than the horror movies of its time. Also, the investment you feel with so many of the characters in this game is beyond anything you could probably find in video games of this era, let alone in the horror genre.

This game was built to mess with your mind and really pulled you into its gritty and horrifying world. To this day, it is the ultimate game in survival horror in my opinion.

6. The Legend of Zelda

the legend of zelda

I am in the middle (kind of) of trying to get through Ocarina of Time again. If that game is so great, why the hell can’t I stay interested enough to beat it? Everyone keeps telling me to get past the first 3 dungeons and things will pick up. That’s fine, sure, but it takes hours to do that, and I’m bored NOW.

I never felt that way in the original Legend of Zelda or in a Link to the Past. Both games could have gone here, but I only wanted to pick one, and the most groundbreaking and eye-opening for me was the original. I mean, being able to explore all those dungeons and find all those items- uncovering the unexpected over and over again- it felt so much more special the first time around.

I discovered The Legend of Zelda before the internet was around and before I could go out and buy a strategy guide. Most everything I found in that game was either by accident or by someone showing me or telling me about it. Those were different times, and it made everything feel much more rewarding and individual- like you were on your own adventure outside of the game to try to figure out where to get the next great hidden item.

Other games have tried to live up to the greatness of the original, and some have gotten close, but sometimes you just can’t beat a classic.  It did more with 8 bits than most games did with 32 or 64.

7. Red Dead Redemption

reddeadredemptionRockstar was going to get on my list one way or another, and while most people might have included a GTA game on their top 10 before a Red Dead game, I was honestly most torn between including Red Dead Redemption of Red Dead Revolver in this slot. I remember Revolver taking over my life when I first got a copy. I unlocked everything that game had for me and I loved every minute of it (except maybe for that final quick draw battle. That sucked.).

Red Dead Redemption is definitely on the Mount Rushmore of games from the 360/PS3 era. It was beautiful, engrossing, and full of surprises. Its story was compelling and the characters that populated the landscape were fun to talk to and help out when you could. You could pick flowers or hunt animals or search for hidden treasure. It was the best old west game I have ever played.

Online was even fun, and that’s hard to pull off. I hate multiplayer in these kinds of games, but some of my best memories of this game were online. Like when my friend Max and I found these people in a stage-coach. We rode up, killed their horses and rode off, leaving them alone in the middle of nowhere to rot. Good times. Oh, and the Undead Nightmare DLC was spot-on. Bigfoot could have been my favorite character of that console generation.

By far, this was the most interesting and wonderful world Rockstar has created for us to explore, and that is why it is on my list.

8. Super Metroid

super-metroidThis is an interesting title to land on my list because even through it came out when I was 9, I just played it for the first time. I am going to write a full review for the game, so check back for that soon.

When you stack up Super Metroid to the other games on the Super Nintendo you can’t help be notice all the things that it did so well. Because of the cinematic score, the beautifully designed open-yet-claustrophobic setting, and the great boss battles spread out between power-ups and mini-bosses, the game gives you just enough to let you want to know more.

If you’ve played the original Metroid on the NES, it only makes you appreciate this game more. Just like the upgrades that make the series great, the Super Metroid game is a beautiful upgrade from the original. It improves the already great music, and every area feels even more varied than in the original, which are both great accomplishments.

9. Driver: San Francisco

driver sf

I like to reward people for being different, but when I first saw trailers for Driver: San Francisco, I wondered how the hell they were going to make it work. I mean, hopping from car to car and taking over the bodies of the people driving so you can control different vehicles in the middle of a mission seemed more like a sci-fi game than a driving game. It takes a lot to make me call a driving game brilliant, but this gamble paid off, because here is Driver on my list.

I would have never thought one of the most compelling stories on my top ten list would be in a driving game. Playing as Tanner, a cop in San Francisco, you start to discover you have super-natural abilities, described above. You use these abilities to try to stop a big time criminal from releasing a horrible fate upon the city. If I told you any more about the story it would ruin the game, so I’ll stop here.

I will say that the side missions, the characters, the “Last time on Driver: San Francisco” TV recap of your game so far when you turn it on, and the many Easter eggs to be found make Driver a game worth coming back to time and time again.

10. Tony Hawk’s Underground

thug

Before the first Tony Hawk game, these kinds of sports games didn’t exist. Then suddenly, after Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater hit shelves, we started getting snowboarding games, BMX games, rollerblading games. I mean, what Tony Hawk did for real life extreme sports he did for the extreme sports genre in gaming. It’s pretty incredible. Now, I know that the last few games that bore his name have been really horrible and literally unplayable, but for a while his games were only getting better and better. At the apex of the Tony Hawk franchise was my number ten game, Tony Hawk’s Underground.

What really set this game apart from others in the franchise was its editor modes. You could make your own park and then make your own goals in the park you’ve made. You could also make your own goals in the levels that were provided on the disk. This made Underground probably the game I have played the most on the list.  The story wasn’t all that bad either, and was probably the best and least annoying of all the attempts made by Neversoft to make a story mode work in a game like this.

Other notable features of the game included being able to get off of your board and climb around the levels. It included some great classic levels as well, including The School II, which is my all time favorite.

The Lego Movie

lego movieEvery movie franchise has gotten a Lego video game, so it’s about time that Lego got a movie.  Does that make sense?  I feel like that makes sense.  My wife wanted to see this movie from the moment she found out Will Arnett was going to voice Batman, but that honestly wasn’t enough to get me excited.  When I saw all the cameos in the movie, I started to get a little interested, but still, I wasn’t giddy about the idea of sitting through an hour and a half of Lego anything.  The games have always been disappointing to me, and I have no idea what’s going on with these weird ninja Lego cartoons that kids seem to love.  Lego and I have just grown apart over time.

Yo, Dawg, I heard you liked Legos.

Yo, Dawg, I heard you liked Legos.

I saw the movie last week with this attitude in my back pocket, and after slowly being won over by the charm and the humor of the movie, I left debating with my wife about just where this movie stands on our “All Time Favorite Cartoon” list.  It’s a lot higher on hers, but I’m pretty sure it has a place on mine somewhere. Still, the longer I thought about it, the more I liked it.

My biggest gripe with the film was that is relies too much on references to other franchises.  But we ARE talking about Lego, here.  Representing other franchises is their bread and butter.  The Star Wars references and the Lord of the Rings references were all well timed, they didn’t dominate the movie, and they were fun.  Thinking about it now, this was one of the movies strongest points and it really represented their brand well.

The casting for the movie is another bright spot.  Chris Pratt, who has been on my “Interesting Actors” radar for a while now, does a great job of voicing the main character,  Will Farrel makes for a funny bad guy, and Charlie Day is a stand-out as he always seems to be. Elizabeth Banks’ character is a nice strong female lead as well, which I think parents of young girls will be happy about.  And of course, Nick Offerman is always gold.

Also, the Good-Cop/Bad-Cop character (Liam Neeson) was pretty brilliant.

Also, the Good-Cop/Bad-Cop character (Liam Neeson) was pretty brilliant.

The animation was, obviously, a big part of the show.  Whenever things would slow down, it gave me a chance to really appreciate all the work that went into the film.  Building and ripping things apart is a big part of playing with Legos and I was happy that it was a big part of the film.  It really felt like this wasn’t a film made in Legos, as much as it was a film ABOUT Legos, and that was pretty cool.

Over all, the movie gets an A for original ideas masked under the familiar face of Lego, amazing visual effects, and for imaginative settings that bridged multiple Lego series’.

You should watch this movie if you’re a fan of kids movies, silly movies, goofy comedy, nostalgia, and creative animation.

Castle Doombad

Castle Doombad by [adult swim] iconI love Adult Swim games for the iOS.  No matter who the developer may be, they’re all great.  Castle Doombad is no exception.  I bought it 3 weeks ago and have been all-about it since. 

 

The story is basically that you work for a bad guy who needs you to build defenses in his castle to keep heroes away from his captured princess.  You get to build all kinds of traps over multiple stories of the castle, including a trapdoor, a troll that blocks the path of the would-be good-guys, and spinning blades on the ceiling.  There are a ton traps that can be unlocked, some that attack on their own and some that rely on your expert timing to be deployed.  All of this is purchased with “screams” that you are harvesting from the aforementioned princess and from machines you can build that create artificial screams. 

Castle Doombad pits you against a number of heroic characters.
Pictured: Not your character

Castle Doombad is not the most original title in the world.  It harkens back to the 2004 game Evil Genius in a lot of ways, but it is simple to play like any other tower defense game on iOS. Still, what it lacks in its originality it makes up for in its execution and charm.  The minions you can buy are a lot of fun to watch run around your castle, and the heroes all have a level of personality that can be appreciated without being too distracting to make some nail-biting, last minute, game saving additions to your top floor.

 

Some other things this game gets right is that it’s not on a freemium model.  You buy it, and that’s all there is to it.  Other Adult Swim games could have used this approach (I’m looking at you, Amateur Surgeon 3), and I hope something has been learned here. 

 

While most Adult Swim games can end up feeling very repetitive (Robot Unicorn, Mole Escape and Giant Boulder of Doom, primarily), Castle Doombad has kept my attention for a while now.  Chalk this up to interesting game modes (including a mode that moves your castle progressively lower into the dungeon instead of up into the sky. I still can’t figure out why playing in this mode feels so different and game changing when it really isn’t…), tons of unlockables and upgrades, and an endless mode where you can earn a ton of gold to unlock other goodies. 

photo (1)

When things get flipped over in the dungeon stages, things feel very different.

If you just got an iOS device, I would still probably recommend Super Monsters Ate My Condo, but Castle Doombad is a close second.  It is by far my favorite tower defense style game on iOS, and possibly my favorite tower defense game ever.

 

Castle Doombad gets an A+ for creative design, fun characters, and game play that does not dull out as quickly as other iOS titles.

 

You should play this game if you’re a fan of: iOS games, Adult Swim games, Tower Defense games, super hero characters, super villains, or cartoon humor. 

5 Underrated A+ Albums

Sixteen Stone by Bush

While I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest Bush fan, this album really deserves more credit than it’s given. Maybe it didn’t redefine a genre or put the world on its head, but it accomplished a lot. I feel like whenever a song from this album comes on the radio I have to defend it, and that doesn’t seem right to me, and it’s actually the reason I thought about writing this article.

Bush will forever be known as the band that showed up to the party late. Kurt Cobain was already dead, Pearl Jam was trying to stay relevant, and Soundgarden was either broken up or on their way there, and then in comes Bush. And they weren’t bad. Most new grunge bands would have been mocked and shunned, but Bush was actually so good that the genre most people were tired of became interesting again. “Machinehead” and “Glycerine” were GIANT hits and are accepted as such today.

The band kind of disappeared after this album. They released that song “Mouth” and kept trying to reclaim their former glory while changing their sound, but it wasn’t happening. Today, people kind of seem to think they’re a joke, but let me run some info by you. The album contains 6 songs that charted higher than number 4 on the Billboard music charts. The album itself peaked at #4, and has sold over six million copies. This was all AFTER grunge was popular. This is like someone coming out and releasing an amazing Rock/Rap album right now. Making old hat into new hat is pretty impressive, so my hat is off to them.

 

Ixnay on the Hombre by The Offspring

Before they went off and got kinda poppy and funny, The Offspring were kinda punk. Their first major album, Smash, was pretty high octane and didn’t pull any punches. It contained all the hits you likely remember, “Self Esteem”, Bad Habit”, and “Come Out and Play”. When their second major album came out, a lot of people were excited to hear where they would take their sound.

The album was still kinda punk, complete with a disclaimer at the album’s start, voiced by Jello Biafra of The Dead Kennedys. The album is a just as loud and charged as Smash and really kept their tempo up and their fire burning. The singles from the album, “Gone Away”, “I Choose”, and “All I Want” were pretty great and didn’t get as much attention as they deserve, especially “Gone Away”.

Today, when people look back on their career, people remember Smash, and then they remember “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” and “Why Don’t You Get a Job”, leaving Ixnay on the Hombre out of the picture. Their new stuff is cool, but it has more meaning when looking at it in context of a band with punk roots who took their message into the mainstream. Ixnay on the Hombre is a great album that many fans of outspoken, raw music should look into.

 

Fashion Nugget by Cake

In 1996, Cake got some recognition based on the success of the single “The Distance”, but their fame was sporadic at best from there. They have experienced spikes in popularity in their career after Fashion Nugget with hits like “Never There”, and “Short Skirt, Long Jacket”, but most people did themselves a disservice by letting this gem pass them by.

The album opens with “Frank Sinatra”:

and delivers track after track of fun, witty, catchy, well written, and downright enjoyable songs. There isn’t a track on this album from the somber “Sad Songs and Waltzes” to the cover of the 1947 song “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” that under-delivers; the album really shows the band’s range and writing styles in a powerful way.

Any Cake CD deserves your attention, but the most underrated of the group’s catalog is Fashion Nugget. While other albums show an evolution of their trademark sound, this album is as close to perfect as many might hope for. In a time when the music world should be begging for a fresh, fun, and outspoken group like Cake, the mainstream seem to keep letting them slip by. It’s nearly criminal.

 

Girlfriend by Matthew Sweet

I know you might think I’m crazy for putting this cult classic in here, but my point is that this album deserved much more than cult classic status. I bought this album without being too sure what to expect, but after the first few songs it’s hard not to be impressed. How so many people had never heard of Matthew Sweet before Guitar Hero featured “Girlfriend” is beyond me. The man has immense talent.

The guitar work of Matthew Sweet is something very special, and his songwriting ability is tremendous. The first 6 songs on this CD is one of the best beginning to any I’ve ever heard. From “Divine Intervention” to “Evangeline”, the album starts off with a showcase of talent and passion for not only the music he’s writing, but for the topics he addresses within each song.

While the album has been called one of the best power-pop records of the 90’s, today it is often overlooked and deserves a lot more attention than it gets. The videos for the songs “Girlfriend” and “I’ve Been Waiting” are made from a blend of Japanese animation and music, and was pretty cutting edge for the time.

From the harmonizing to the crazy guitar solos, Girlfriend offers up a lot more than many people might imagine. I listened to this album many times, and every time I listen to it I feel like I hear something new. It’s a beautiful album.

 

High Voltage

I’ve said for a long time, if someone asked me to show them what rock music was all about, I’d give them an AC/DC album. But let me clairify: I’d give them an album before Bon Scott died. After Bon Scott died, things changed, but ask any casual listener today and they might not even know about it. Brian Johnson came in after the tragic death of Bon Scott and did a great job with Back in Black and subsequent records as well. Bittersweet as it may be, Back in Black was so big that it’s easy to forget just how amazing the band was before the change.

The older albums had something the new stuff just doesn’t. Bon Scott added lyrics to the music that fit. He was a bad ass and he let everyone know it. Songs like “Live Wire”, “The Jack”, and “Rocker” cannot be recreated by any musician with the same amount of truth. The newer stuff feels too much like Brian Johnson is just trying pretend he’s Bon Scott. It makes sense to try, but none of his lyrics really come close to the badassery that was Bon Scott.

And of these older records, I feel the most underrated is High Voltage. For a debut album, it is simply amazing. The raw power of the band, and the in-your-face lyrics push this album to the front of the line when looking at some of the best rock albums of all time. From the very start with the song “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock’n’Roll)” to the very last song “High Voltage”, AC/DC paints an accurate picture for the world of just what kind of power they’re unleashing.

I know the US version of this album went platinum, but today it’s one of the last albums a casual listener or new fan might pick up. Songs like “The Jack” have been retooled by and rewritten by Brian Johnson, and some people might even hear the (better) original versions after they’ve heard the new stuff. It’s a shame.

The most popular song on this album is “T.N.T.” but every one of these rockers could have been hit singles. In my opinion “Live Wire” is one of the best songs the band has ever written. Between the screaming classic guitar riffs and the bad ass lyrics that proclaim the power of AC/DC, it’s impossible to deny that this album should be the starting point for any new fan and should go down in history as, quite possibly, if not THE, then one of the very best quintessential rock albums ever made.

 

 

Join Us by They Might Be Giants

When first listening to Join Us, it was clear to me that this album is a step backward for They Might Be Giants. Their last album, The Else, wasn’t bad but it wasn’t their best, so this step backward did not have to be a bad thing. It could just be that they are rediscovering their roots. But did they do that, or did they just try to produce an album that was an imitation of their older stuff?

I was torn on this question. Tracks like “Old Pine Box”, and “Can’t Keep Johnny Down”, are great, catchy songs. Songs like “The Lady and the Tiger” and “Canajoharie” contain wonderfully written lyrics that just beg to be dissected. Then there are songs like “Dog Walker” and” Spoiler Alert” that just fall flat.

(The song in this video starts at 3:40)

Most the album kind of falls flat, really. While I feel the content and spirit of the album is something from the days of Flood or Lincoln, the album’s power and energy falters. It’s kind of bizarre that I’m taking this stance because the last album they released, The Else, had a sound that seems overdriven and pushed into territory that didn’t flatter their song writing style. On Join Us, it’s almost the opposite. I feel like they’re holding back a bit.

This might be because of their time spent writing children’s music, but song styles that rocked in the past that included stuff like “I Palindrome I”, “Damn Good Times”, and “Twisting” are just not present. Every TMBG album has some songs that really peak the momentum. Listening to Join Us brings you close to that point, but only brings you close enough to realize that it’s missing. I feel like a lot of songs could have been turned up a notch, and I have a feeling they are played that way live, but on the albums, they fall flat.

Join Us contains some really awesome songs, and some really bizarre songs. If anything, this album does hold on to those conventions. I enjoyed listening to it more the second time because I focused more on what they were doing and not what I wanted to hear. The first half of the album seems to be more straight forward, catchy songs. The second half is a bit more creative and reminds me a lot of their first two albums. Songs like “2082” and “Protagonist” are just as perplexing as “Where Your Eyes Don’t Go” and “32 Footsteps”. I didn’t get “Protagonist” at all until I read the lyrics a long with it. There are two sets of vocals in this song, basically reading a script, one being the lines and the other being the stage direction. Very cool.

So, while this album does fall flat, and seems kind of like a “lite” TMBG album, it is still fun to listen to and still something that I’m sure will make its way into my CD player again and again. For the fans, check it out. For those of you who are looking to try out the band, stick with Flood, Mink Car, Lincoln, or Apollo 18.

« Older entries