Monday, December 29, 2008

The Top Ten Best Video Game Villains Ever

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You know, the problem with top ten lists is that you only have a selection of ten to choose from. Sure, I could make my lists into top 20 lists, but where’s the joy in that? It’s either go top ten, or go top 100, and I just don’t think I can name that many games on my own to make a list of that stature. So here are my top ten favorite video game villains of all time. Some of them may seem like cheeky afterthoughts to you, but hear them out. I think you’ll agree that I have a valid point with most of them. Or not.

10. Mario/Jumpman from Donkey Kong Jr.

Ah, so the tables have turned, I see. Who ever knew that Mario was a spiteful little man who would actually kidnap a baby’s father and put him in a cage because of a previous girlfriend stealing incident? Well, in the bizarre sequel to the hit game, Donkey Kong, Mario did just that. This would get much higher on the list if it came out much later in the Mario canon, because as it stands now, our favorite portly plumber was still simply known as “Jumpman” back then. He was nowhere NEAR as three dimensional (Pun SO intended) as he is today, so let’s cut the guy some slack, okay?

9. Dr. Robotnik from the early Sonic the Hedgehog series

Man, Dr. Robotnik is an idiot. He knows how to make all these strange looking egg shaped contraptions (Hence, the reason he later became known as Eggman, I suppose), but to control them, he hypnotizes woodland animals and puts them into machines to do his bidding. Uhhhh…what? Well, be that as it may, Dr. Robotnik is a pretty bad dude if you take into account that he’s trying to harvest those omnipotent chaos emeralds to take over the world. Really, if you wanted to be a pedant about it, you could make the claim that Sonic the Hedgehog is actually an allegory for man vs. nature. But who would make a claim like that? Well, besides me, of course.

8. GLaDOS from Portal

In any given story, the most interesting character is always the bad guy, and in the genre bending, Portal, GLaDOS steals the show from the stoic protagonist, Chell, who never says a word the entire game. Cracking jokes about pretty much everything that has to do with your demise, that monotone robot voice of hers is the perfect, icy communiqué to set you off at all the key times you’re trying to concentrate. Murder by humor, now THAT’S a new one.

7. The black marble from Marble Madness

If you’ve never played Marble Madness, then you have a right to sneer at this entry. But if you have played the game, then you already know the grimace you have on your face when you see that damned dark nuisance roll onto your screen. It’s hard enough to negotiate those tight turns and sharp grooves (ESPECIALLY on an NES controller when you should really be using a rollerball), without falling off, but the added black ball becomes a real menace when you’re just barely keeping on the board by a nail. I mean, when I was younger, I actually FEARED the black marble. I’m not even lying to you, that’s how serious it was to me.

6. Kefka from Final Fantasy VI

That evil laugh (mwa ha ha ha ha ha ha, mwa ha ha ha ha ha ha!) and those garish clothes are enough to hate Kefka already, but there’s so much more to his sinister appearance than meets the eyes. First, he’s the kind of bastard who would poison a whole water supply to kill everybody in a village. Second, he’s a complete nihilist who wants to obliterate the human race just because he doesn’t really feel like a part of it. And third, and this might be the most heinous of all, he runs away from fights, avoiding any real conflict that might possibly endanger him. As far as RPG villains go, I’d put Kefka way above Sepheroth anyday of the week.

5. Goro from Mortal Kombat I

Talk about a bodyguard. Goro, the four armed goon that gets nailed in the nuts by Johnny Cage in the movie, is so much tougher than the final boss, Shang Tsung, that their roles should have been reversed. Goro, large, intimidating, and two arms up on you, was such a monster that I actually spent eight whole dollars in quarters on him when I was a youth, trying out every character against him and failing miserably. Kano eventually took him down, but I’ll tell you. Goro’s no joke.

4. Lavos from Chrono Trigger

This alien parasite has only one real intention in life—to suck the Earth bone dry of everything and everyone, and that alone makes him pretty badass. But this sleeping beauty, who awoke to attempt to decimate the Earth on 1999 AD is not just diabolically evil, but, if the story serves me correctly, is also responsible for the birth of all human beings in general, making him mankind’s father, so to speak. This makes patricide the only option to prevent Lavos from destroying the world. But, what I remember MOST about fighting Lavos was that final boss battle, which went on FOR-EV-ER, especially against Magus. He also returns in the sequel Chrono Cross, but in a different form. But all Chrono fans will undoubtedly remember him most from this adventure.

3. Yourself in Shadow of the Colossus

One of the greatest turn of events ever in the history of video games is in the finale of Shadow of the Colossus, where you realize that YOU were the enemy the entire time, and the colossi were totally innocent in their existence, and actually acting as a shield against a satanic type creature that talks backwards. I don’t want to spoil everything for you if you haven’t beaten the game (Oh, wait, I already did), but let’s just say that you’re going to have to attone for killing all those colossi just for the love of your life to be revived. Some people hate the ending, while others absolutely adore it. But finding out that it was you the entire time that was the problem is a pretty big slap in the face to all your effort. Some people say the big reveal in Bioshock was a bigger surprise, but I’m still sticking with this one myself.

2. Bowser in the Super Mario Bros. series

How typical, right? Wrong! Bowser, if you look at him through the chronology, is actually pretty tame when you see the big picture. Whether he was played by Dennis Hopper in the movie, or was flipping over in a pool of magma in the original SMB as King Koopa, the only REAL crime Bowser is guilty of is kidnapping a princess, and quite frankly, sometimes, I think she allowed herself to be kidnapped because she just liked the attention. So why is he so high on this list then? Because he’s so damn iconic, that’s why. Some might say the capturing of the princess is actually just a MacGuffin for the awesome gameplay that follows, but I think Bowser plays a much larger role in the saga than that.

Just check out the oddball darkhorse of the series, SMB2, to see if the spiked back one isn’t missed in the series. In that game, the final boss is some fat toad named Wart, because Bowser just wouldn’t fit into the chronology of that story because it was so damn weird. And why was it so damn weird, you ask? Because it was based off of another game called Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic, and characters from the Mario universe were just switched in to make it work because the Japanese thought the real Super Mario Bros. sequel was too tough for us westerners. I mean, why else would the Princess be an actual playable character in the game if something wasn’t up? And get this, if the Princess is free, then what would be the purpose of Bowser then? And if there’s no purpose for Bowser, then what the hell is Mario banging his head against bricks and going down drain pipes for in the first place then? The scenario without Bowser works in SMB2, because it’s just a dream, but how would it possibly work in the other games when the key focus is to rescue the princess? So, really, Bowser, evil or not so evil, IS the reason the Mario series even exists today. Try to wrap your head around that one for a little bit, why dontcha?

1. M. Bison from the Street Fighter series

Okay, let me just start off by saying that Goro doesn’t hold a candle to how many times I had to continue against M. Bison, as his psycho crusher, and flying head stomps, put me at the game over screen more times than I can count. But besides his insane difficulty, M. Bison makes the number one spot for several reasons. One, he’s genuinely evil. Unlike many of the other characters on this list (With the exception of Kefka), Bison is a total asshole. He wants to take over the world and doesn’t care who he has to step on or trample to get there. Two, he’s the ultimate terrorsist. Sure, many of the scenarios that intertwine with the story of M. megalomaniac, are outright silly (Zangeif dances at the end of his story for some reason), but that still doesn’t keep him from being the ultimate tough guy who would bomb your city without thinking twice. And three, even his name is badass. The M. in M. Bison can be substituted for anything you want it to be (M for Mr.? Naw, too tame. M for Master? That’s a bit better. M for Militant? Perfect!). And to think, his name in the land of the rising sun is actually Vega. Vega! Could you imagine that? With that red hat, those sinister eyes, and that maniacal psycho powered smile of his, M. Bison couldn’t be any other name, ESPECIALLY not Vega. All hail the sire of Shadaloo!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Top Ten Greatest Fighting Games Of All Time

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Street Fighter IV is coming out soon, and I think that’s call for a celebration. To celebrate, what better way to greet a new fighter into our library than to create a list that is sure to infuriate fighting fans when they read it (Sorry Clayfighter fans. This list is not for you). So below, gnash your teeth at my HIGHLY opinionated list of the greatest fighting games of all time. If you have something to say, the comment box awaits you.

10. Primal Rage (Arcade)

I’ll give you this, Primal Rage wasn’t the easiest game to play. With some really wonky controls (Wait, so how many buttons do I have to press and complete circles do I have to make to get this monkey to fart?), and a really idiotic storyline about shamans turned into dinosaurs, you might brush off PR as a game best left in the past. But what PR lacked in flawless gameplay it more than made up for in histrionics, and in a fighting game about warring dinosaurs, that’s half the battle. When you hit a dinosaur or grabbed him by the throat, that surround sound really kicked in, making those crunches sound fierce as hell. And sudden death matches, hoo boy. They were actually accompanied by meteor showers that would rain down on its combatants as they battled for supremacy. Even cooler was when you were actually able to pull off one of those nasty juggling combos and a lightning bolt would flash from the heavens when it was completed, signaling that the gods were appeased. Like I said, it might not have been the most balanced fighter ever, but it was definitely one of the most fun to just sit and watch.

9. Mortal Kombat II (Arcade)

I was chewed out in my last top ten article for not including the words, “Finish Him!!” as one of the best game phrases of all time, and for good reason. In MK II, “finish him” had so many different possiblities that the game became more than just a brutal basher like its predecessor, but an actual namebrand that was finally coming into itself. With two fatalities per character, babalities, friendships, friendships?! And secrets galore, this game had REALLY thrown in the kitchen sink, and get this, it was the only the second game in the series. But I’ll tell you, this game had it all. A balanced combat, (Or is that “kombat”?) system, humor (“Toasty!”), a decent storyline. The only reason it’s not higher on this list is because some of the characters, while cool, were utterly useless (Reptile, I’m looking at you), while others could absolutely dominate, Katana being one of them. But this is DEFINITELY still the best game in the deteriorating series. Granted, it didn’t have Joker punching Superman in the face, but back then, it didn’t need such gimmicks.

8. Dead or Alive 3 (X-Box)

Any game that has actual interaction with the background has DOA to thank (or blame) for that. The first two games were merely a display of the mismanaged physics of a woman’s breasts, but the second game had some real meat to it. The characters were typical DOA fare, with Bass being the relative Hulk Hogan wannabe with the grabs, and Kasumi being the femme fatale who would step on your head. Depending on who you talk to, the fighting system was either amazing (Gotta love those counters), or maddening (Button mashing works), so that’s obviously not why this game made the list. It made the list because no other game before or since, could let you fling your opponent straight into a tree that was sitting in the background. The alone makes DOA one of my favorite fighters of all time.

7. Tekken 3 (PS 1)

Sure, many would go the length to say that Tekken 5 surpasses number three in pretty much every single way, but I have to disagree. There’s just not the same magic to it by the fifth time around. I’ll agree, the fighting is pretty spot on in five, as far as Tekken’s go (I really like the new customization feature, too), but it just doesn’t have that same spark of freshness as playing as a young Eddie Gordo for the first time, or realizing that Dr. Boskonovitch really CAN’T stand up on his own two feet and you had to deal with him just like that. These characters were just so fresh and new (and different!) at the time that they really made a revolutionary character like Steve Fox from number 4 look like a gimmick compared to the strange selection in the one before it. Plus, beach volleyball! DOA, they beat you to it!

6. Bushido Blade

Some people might go the length to say that Bushido Blade isn’t even a fighting game, and I’m not going to argue with them. But I will say that it’s a great testament to the title that it can be seen as so many different things to be considered undefinable. Doesn’t that just sound so zen-like? Well, in my opinion, Bushido Blade is indeed a fighter, and a damn good one at that. There were neither bars to designate your health, nor were there any clocks to tell you how much more time you had before your character covered their face in shame that they couldn’t kill somebody in 99 seconds. Matches could end in one hit depending on the angling of the attack, and escaping or countering a fatal slash could either be to your benefit or to your detriment if you didn’t know how to counter the blow. It really was a war of skill, and one that grows on you the more you play it. I wouldn’t say it was infinitely playable like some of the other games on this list, but I think it did a lot for fighting games in general by being so genre defining and unique. Without the free-roaming of BB, we’d probably never have a Powerstone today, and who doesn’t love Powerstone? Well, you for instance, maybe…

5. Virtua Fighter 2 (Saturn)

Okay, so maybe I’m not the BIGGEST VF fan in the world (I already know I’m going to catch hell for not including the latest game in the series on this list, or for not making this game number one), but I can definitely appreciate a good fighter, and VF2 is definitely one of the best. Gone are the lame matches that almost always end in ring-outs (Well, sort of) from jumping clear over your opponent, and that’s because the ground game was so satisfying this time around. Two new characters were added to the fray, one a drunken old man, and the other a fighter using mantis style, and never have I felt a roster to be more complete with just two added characters. That’s because all of the old characters felt fresh and new, and definitely more focused. Akira, for instance, didn’t just seem like a powerhouse anymore. He seemed balanced if you understood how he moved, and more importantly, how the other characters moved. Actually, all of the characters felt like this, and it really made you explore how the other fighters worked so you could use their own faults against them. I guess you could say that this is true for ALL of the VF post this one (and maybe even pre), but this is the only one I ever really spent extensive time with, so there.

4. Soul Calibur (Dreamcast)

Certainly the best game for the Sega’s fated swan song system (Even better than Shenmue), it was also one of the first. With sweeping music, an excellent cast of characters (Though, the fighting styled dopplegangers were pretty lame) and, oh, such beautiful graphics, I guess a lot of things about this game could be excused for being such a gorgeous fighter. But don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying it was Battle Arena Toshinden bad when it came to excuses. If anything, the excuses were minor, such as, if your opponent had the intention to, they could ring you out like crazy. But everything else about it was spot on, so it really didn’t matter all that much. Oh, and did I mention the graphics?

3. Killer Instinct (Arcade)

Let the ire begin. I don’t care what ANYBODY has to say, Killer Instinct is awesome. Let me count the many ways I love this game. Obviously, there’s the combo system, which doesn’t just border on being ridiculous, but gets flung right off into a vat of molten hot lava. But there’s so much more to it than just the combos. It’s not that KI is as balanced as VR 2, or that it’s as wildly different as Bushido Blade, but it’s such a damn good crowd pleaser (Even more so than Primal Rage), that it’s hard not to overlook its crippling problems (A skilled Jago player will destroy you. It doesn’t matter how good you are with Fulgore). Back when this game came out, I seriously couldn’t wait for this supposed “Ultra 64” system to come out, just so I could play this game at home. And when it did finally come home to the much less ultra Super Nintendo, I really had felt cheated as a gamer. The follow-up didn’t really help, either. Killer Instinct 2 was an utter disaster in comparison and didn’t feature any of the gold (Get it? No? Well, who asked you?) features that made the first one so grand, so the original kind of doesn’t get looked at in a very positive light nowadays. But just try playing it again—with a friend—in a pizza parlor somewhere if you can find it. It’s actually much better than you remember it, if that’s even possible.

2. Street Fighter 2: Championship Edition (Genesis)

Talk about balance! Many have gone on to say that this is the grand daddy of them ALL when it comes to balance, and I agree. If you can master the character, then you can dominate with him/her, as each character has their own Achilles’ heel that leaves them completely vulnerable to a devastating combo if you really know how to use your own character.

I mean, it really says a lot when the characters actually reflect the players who use them. Ken, for instance, is just Ryu in blond hair and a red gi, but you wouldn’t imagine (Or you would, if you played the game), how wildly different they’re used in the hands of those who pick them. In Championship Edition, Ken isn’t the rapid character he later becomes, but players don’t play the same with him as they play with Ryu. Players seem to take more risks with him, while Ryu players seem to be a bit more conservative. In other words, Ryu players would rather wait and bait then be brash and crash like Ken players. And that’s just from their difference in appearance and where they hail from around the world. Plus, this is the game that actually let you be the final bosses from The World Warrior, making you realize what annoyingly unlimited power you now had with Sagat doing high and low “tiger!” fireballs. It really was a grand day to be a gamer.

What really settles it though for me was that it was just so damn fun to play. You could literally spend HOURS with this game with only one character, and not even realize that you were using up so much valuable time learning their plusses and minuses. Only one game could be better than THIS one, and that would be…

1. Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes (Dreamcast)

Yes, I realize that I put MvC2 above both SF2:CE and VF2, but I never said I was a pompus player who valued gameplay over sheer fun. I mean really, aren’t those the exact same thing when it comes to down to it? While fun can be found in a challenging game, I think even MORE fun can be had in just being an overall blast to play, and no other game comes remotely close to that than MvC2, not one. Let’s start with the roster. Being the last game in the Marvel/Capcom collaboration (So sad…), Capcom really pulled out all the stops for this one. Containing pretty much EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER from the past three collabo games, plus a few more, you didn’t feel like your character of choice was left out of the fray. Sure, I would have liked to have seen some of the wild cameos made in the first Marvel vs. Capcom (Arthur from Ghost and Goblins takes the cake), but adding that third character to the team really makes up for it in a big way. Just like how the Smash Bros. games are a love letter to Nintendo fans, MvC2 is a wet kiss on the private area to all Capcom lovers, with Jill Valentine, SonSon, and Servbot all making appearances.

What I think is MOST important to mention though is that even though some of the characters may not be that good at all (Again, I must mention Servbot), it didn’t really matter since you had two other characters to rely on. I’ll give you an example. I really like bone claw Wolverine—I actually prefer him to Adamantium Wolverine (If you’ve never played the game before, please don’t mind me, I’ll be done in a second)—but I’m not that good with him. I am, however, REALLY good with Strider and excellent with Guile, so I can use those two characters as my anchors when all else fails, and it’s this ability that makes MvC2 fun beyond belief, because you actually CAN use everybody on the roster, even if it’s only once. Seriously, there is no game more fun that this one, and that’s why it’s all aces on my list.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Girl Scout Helping Animals Around The Town

The unedited version is below, but if you want to see how it ended up looking on the site, click below
When many people think girl scouts, they think cookies. But cookies only represent a small fraction of what the girl scouts have to offer. Case in point: fifteen year old Washington Area Girl Scout, Tara Carroll, who recently set up an educational campaign around the area to inform more people of how to take care of their pets.

“I feel there’s a need right now, what with the economy the way it is,” Ms. Carroll says, “More and more people can’t take care of themselves, let alone their pets.”

So thus began the awareness campaign, which has been titled the 2nd Annual ‘Collection for the Paws.’ It started on the first of December and ends on the 21st.

Five locations have been set up—The Long Valley Dog Park, Well Bred in Chester, Pets Pets Pets in Califon, Hoffman’s Supplies in Long Valley, and the Washington Twp Hall—and all of them, along with the educational campaign, will feature a large collection drive for food and pet care, some of them set up by Ms. Carroll herself. This is all in line with the 65 hours of community service she needs to put in to attain a gold award in her troop.

“[When I started my community service], I knew I wanted to do something with animals,” Ms. Carroll says.

Ms. Carroll, who has a black Labrador herself named, Hershey, feels that pets should not be neglected, no matter the circumstances. She hopes that these information sessions and collection drives will help those in her community who have a hard time taking care of their pets in this economic crisis. But this isn’t all she has planned for animals in the future.

“I plan to set up an adoption event in May,” Ms. Carroll says, “But that’s still in the process right now.”

This isn’t her first whiff of community service, either. To get her silver award, Ms. Carroll collected boxes and supplies for foster kids’ birthdays, and for her bronze award, she helped set up a foster care party for kids, each time learning more and more about what it means to give back to the community.

“You have to pick a cause that helps the community, and it can be done over a four year period,” Ms. Carroll says on how to achieve a gold award, “and [once you complete it], you’re a girl scout for life.”

And that’s food for thought a whole box of Caramel Samoas couldn’t satiate.
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