Monday, May 30, 2011

Old Guy Game Guides: Komik Kombat

I’ve been playing video games for close to as long as they’ve been available and I’ve been standing under my own power.  We kind of grew up together. However, I have been known to have extremely long lag times in upgrading my systems, largely because it tends to take an extremely long lag time for me to show any proficiency at a given game. 

I started, like most of my generation, with Pong.  Not just any pong, though.  Dad was always looking for the next thing. Although it usually ended up the most interesting next thing, not the best technology next thing.  We had (if memory and Wikipedia serves) the Telstar Ranger.
Smell the Seventies, even the video games were wood paneled.
Not only could we play pong, but there was a light sensitive revolver allowing two target games as well.  The only difference between the target games was that in “Target” the white square bounced off the walls, and in “Skeet”, it flew off the screen.  (Remember that kids, when you’re complaining that Ultra Soldier Killer War Guy 57 doesn’t have enough downloadable content.)  The game also had an added feature: if you pointed said revolver at the chandelier, you could rack up scores orders of magnitude above your sister…theoretically…so I’ve heard.

Telstar was a hoot for a while, but then the Atari 2600 swept the known universe. Dad, however, wanted more, deciding to wait until the Intellivision was available. (Or more accurately, in our Sears Wish Book fueled holiday home, the Sears Super Video Arcade.) I was very happy for a long time with my Intellivision, and though I spent a great deal of time in arcades in high school and college, felt no real need to upgrade the home system. 
I usedta could rock at Astrosmash.

Then a momentous occurrence happened Thanksgiving of 1993.   I spent the entire day getting my butt kicked by my teen aged cousin at the first Mortal Kombat on his Sega Genesis.  At the end of that afternoon of being frozen, electrocuted, and set on fire (all in the name of family fun) I realized that I had two choices:

1) Accept the fact that I was now older, more mature; more focused on adult pursuits, and therefore didn’t have the time and energy to develop skills at video games.
2) Buy a Sega Genesis.
Like anyone is surprised.
The Sega and I had many fun years together and, with the exception of a couple of PC strategy games, it was all I needed.  One of the key reasons for my resistance to change was a concern that I would have to grow more digits to handle the newer controllers.  I kept the basic three button Sega controller even when given six button ones for gifts (by my sister, still looking for an edge after the whole Telstar Chandelier Incident), as everything over three, button wise, has been a problem for me dating all the way back to Defender in the arcade.   (Intellivision did have way more than three buttons, but the way the games were made was more like using two badly designed directional controls rather than numerous buttons.)  Various attempts at new generation store demos and friends’ systems drove home the fact that I wasn’t cut out for those technological terrors. 

The worst case of this was an attempt at the supposedly simple Mario Kart.  For a very long time I couldn’t get the cart to move, as my finger wasn’t on the hidden button that acts as the gas pedal. (I could spin the camera view around quite rapidly, though.) Moving my grip on the Xbox controller to reach that button meant I could no longer steer.  With eventual help from some very patient kids (who only laughed a little) I finally had fingers on all the required buttons.  Then the entire controller fell out of my hands and bounced across the carpet.  At that point, I expected to need to maintain an old television in my home long after we all have free standing holograms in our living rooms in order to keep using my Genesis.

There was an event in 2009 to change this view. Ads in comic books started appearing for Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe.  When I read the announcement for this game, I told myself it sounded like a colossally stupid idea, but didn’t really believe a word I was saying.  I’m convinced the invention of this fight fest came about based on a bunch of marketing executives in a room saying, “Jeff McGinley hasn’t bought a video game system in over a decade and a half. What could we come up with to fix that?” Over the summer I saw some youtube footage of the various characters in action.  The purchase became inevitable at that point.

The Original Series of Star Trek coming out on blu ray, the previous carpet bouncing Xbox controller incident, and the shiny Genesis like black exterior meant a Playstation 3 was installed in our home that fall. (Actually, a very patient and understanding wife meant a Playstation 3 was installed in our home that fall.)
It even looks like a Sega if you squint a little.
I was very pleased to learn that the controllers are much better designed than I had thought.  The numerous buttons aren't overwhelming, because you often have choices of which ones you find comfortable to do many of the same functions. My daughter immediately took to the small joystick, whereas I pretended the directional buttons were my trusty old Intellivision disk. The wireless feature greatly enhances the ease of use, and I felt a little less old and pathetic after only a small amount of experience. The plethora of buttons were much more problematic in the stores with the unit welded into short fat tethers at the perfect height for a Neanderthal who has chain smoked since birth. The unplugged aspect of the controllers had an even greater effect on my daughter. It turns out that the reason she never wanted to play the Sega games (apart from them being archaic well before she was born) is that she can't be wired down.  Any game she plays involves a remarkable amount of running and jumping around the room, which greatly improves both her enjoyment of the games and ability to play them. (Not so much my ability, as she tends to jump up and down in front of me, but she’s having fun and that’s what is important.)

It took quite a while to connect the system to the internet as I was rather directly informed that having a fifty foot coaxial cable snaking from the bedroom, down the hall in front of the kitchen door and through the dining and living rooms did not match our decor. (There are limits to my wife’s patience and understanding.) Once we got a wireless router the connection was made, but I only use that for free game and software upgrades.  Honestly, I am more than capable of playing badly on my own without having squadrons of people at the age where Cheetos are still viewed as one of the four food groups blowing me up, shooting me down and smacking me around on a regular basis.

Of course one of the first games picked was Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe…but could the game live up to the amount of hype in my head? 

In a word, yes! 

In two words WOOO-HOOOOOO yeah!
They knew I was coming so they baked some carnage.
General observations and advantages for the old guy gamer:

The new animations are amazing, but the controls hearken back to the simple basics of the original game (with a few carnage filled extras).  Many of the Mortal Kombat characters’ special moves are very close to the first Mortal Kombat making it easier to remember in the panic of getting pummeled.  More advantageous to the button challenged; most characters have those special moves in “families”, using the same direction button combination with different action buttons to produce varied entertainingly damaging attacks.  This means if, in your old and feeble random button mashing, you find one move - several more are readily discoverable.

Even the basic punches, kicks and combos are displayed differently for each character, making them each retain the personality from older versions of the game, or the comic books for the DC fighters.  Personality is very important when beating your opponent to a bloody pulp.

There are three new Kombat styles that are almost like "mini games" in the middle of fights.  Again, they are very simple to execute with minimal buttons to remember.  However, the multiple comically violent animations allow them to really enhance the fun.  They were even kind enough to include an in game story to explain why everyone is fighting, as well as a nod to why well known, if fictional, people are missing from both sides.  More importantly (for those of us who know far too much useless information about non existent individuals) a reason why all the characters are evenly matched is stated (other than the game isn’t called “Superman Kicks Everyone’s Heiney Before the Opening Credits Finish”).  

My daughter agreed to try only because she wanted to be Wonder Woman. She never really cared about the Sega fighting games.  Most of the time she would refuse to engage in any kind of assault, preferring instead to jump and crouch over in the corner claiming that she was dancing. Her normal reluctance to hitting attack buttons...not really an issue here.  We started up a two player game and as I was telling her which button did what and I heard a "THWACK" followed by her saying, "Ooh! I kicked you in the face".  Then she threw me through a wall and went, "Whoah-ho ho hoho!" tailing off into a deep evil overlord type chuckle and was hooked.  (I’m so proud.) For a very long time this was the only game that she asked over and over again to play, and she ranked it as her favorite for many months. 

Not only did we play a bunch of two player, but she wanted to see the one player story mode, told me to continue when I was going to quit and even took over and successfully beat the computer in a Kombat or two. (Even though it was "very easy" level, it gets harder as it goes; she won a fight midway through the second chapter, after I had my tired old clock cleaned.)  Unfortunately we still haven’t finished the story over a year later.  One video game thing hasn’t changed in all this time: the lack of middle ground between “So easy you can win a fight while in the kitchen making a sandwich,” And “Impossible to beat the final enemy even if you have a case of Red Bull in you and grow six extra thumbs”.

A word of warning to other old gamers, children without experience of the genre have no prejudice that this kind of fighting game should be two dimensional.  My young, sweet, innocent daughter literally ran Kitana in circles around Batman while kicking him in the head the whole time until I dropped.  (I'm so proud.)

The other superhero game we got with the system is Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2.
Because one universe to battle in isn't enough.

I really had no plans to buy this game only a couple days after its release.  I was considering looking for the first one, figuring it would drop in price with the release of the second.  I knew I would probably need one as they both have Deadpool in them, and due to the "I'm a Marvel, I'm a DC" action figure videos, my daughter has become Deadpool's number one fan (as well as a big Watchmen fan a good decade before she’ll be allowed to read it or see the film).  Though we are primarily a DC family, we continue to raise our daughter in both religions to let her make her own decision when she is old enough.

My initial plan was to pick out a first person shooter with the new Playstation.  I ended up deciding against it, oddly because I am more concerned with my daughter hearing the bad language in them than seeing the violence. This may say something about me as a parent.  Most likely that I recognize her ability to separate reality from fantasy, along with her other ability to remember and repeat everything she hears (often using my intonation, removing denial as an option).

Thanks to the lack of the shooter and a well placed sale, I grabbed the Marvel sequel, which is based on comics I read and enjoyed, so ...bonus!

For most of the initial attempts at this game, we weren't really sure what was going on much of the time.  Luckily, for old slow people like me, the game has a "no death" setting which allowed us to learn as we went. The cut scenes are nicely done, and are even better looking than some recent Marvel cartoons.  The appearance of “Senator Lieberman from New York”, who ended his thank you speech with his state’s motto, caught me by surprise, as did my daughter yelling out “STAN LEE!” after he said “Excelsior!” (I’m so proud.) 

Her enjoyment was greatly enhanced by being able to use more characters she knew as time went on.  She often took the lead yelling, “Follow me!" before heading off in the opposite direction of the level goal. The A.I. in these new games is very well programmed to back up the lead character, frequently leaving me on the edge of the screen to be clobbered by the bad guys, while the two computer controlled allies tried to copy her dance steps.  She maintained her pacifist view of attack buttons for much of the first forays into the Marvel Universe; since it’s far less fun to beat up Playstation animated robots than Daddy.  With a little more experience, and the unlocking of more of her favorite heroes, she eventually became a master of fusion attacks, and throwing large pieces of debris at the enemy. (I’m so proud.)

Recently we bought a third controller and my wife joined in our Marveling adventures. This acquisition is a strong recommendation to all old guy gamers. The reason for the suggestion is: it changed her original most frequent Playstation question of, “How can you two still be playing this game?” to “Do we have time for another level before she goes to bed?”  (I’m so proud.)
It's even her favorite color!

A final important note: husbands, even if the game does not allow direct attacks to damage other players, shooting fireballs at your wife will guarantee both “the look” and the “accidental” detonation of explosive containers next to your super hero.  Another one of those limits to her patience and understanding, I guess.

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