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July 31, 2005


It's here! It's here!

Or more accurately, the highly-anticipated game arrived a couple days ago, and we've all been playing it together since.

There was singing. There was dancing (I'm not kidding. The kids love to sing & dance along to the KD soundtrack). There was much merriment & joyful play together as a family. 1-player, 2-player; playing, watching; a good time was (and is) had by all.

I captured the riveting action of the Prince's arrival as it unfolded. Enjoy!



IT IS!!!


FYI, you can find the berry-licious KD wallpaper at the Japanese Katamari Damacy website. I found it one night, and surprised the kids with it when they turned on the computer the following morning.

July 28, 2005

Round & Round She Goes

We seem to be caught in one of those vicious circles (or do you say cycles?), where it seems as though each of us keeps catching the cold we just passed along 3 weeks ago. Apparently, I'm up.

It's enough already.
My doze hurts.

I'll post some new stuff after I go through about 4-5 more boxes of tissues.

To tide you over in the meantime, here's a sampling of my priceless art collection:

July 26, 2005

Heads Up!

FYI, starting today, I'll be writing a bi-weekly column at GameDAILY Family. Check it out, why dontcha?

July 25, 2005


NOTE: I originally posted this at the end of my Katamari Damacy review, but it makes more sense as a stand-alone post, don't you think?


When I started to really ramp up my console gaming a couple years ago, I started at my local Blockbuster, by joining their monthly GamePass program. But while the location and turnaround time were convenient, their selection was brutal, and they only allowed me to have 1 game out at a time. So I started exploring alternatives.

I found several Netflix-esque subscription-based companies online. Most hover around the $20 monthly fee range for 2 games, though most have other options as well. For a while, I toyed with the idea of going with the very cheapest ($19, I think), but after some extensive research and reflecting on my disappointing Blockbuster experience, I came to the conclusion that selection was absolutely crucial. It was (and is) worth an extra buck or 2 to make damn sure I got that hot-off-the-presses copy of Madden, Halo 2 or Gran Turismo 4, instead of settling for another go-round with last year's flotsam & jetsam. And on that score, GameFly was the runaway winner.

GameFly has some helpful features for parents. They display not only the average rating for GameFly users, but they also aggregate reviews from GameSpot, GameSpy & IGN on a single page. In addition, you can browse any of the consoles for "Kids/Family" games, which is convenient. You can't do a cross-console browse for Kids/Family games, but unless you're a multiple-console household, no big deal.

GameFly is just one part of my overall gaming-on-a-budget plan. Like many parents, I don't have a limitless entertainment budget. I'm all for supporting the deserving game developers, but I have to support my family first, so when I buy a game, I often have to go the pre-played route, be it on eBay, at EB Games, or through GameFly's Keep It program and pre-played game sales.

But since I also like to play 20-30 of the hottest games every year, I'm all about renting, 'cuz as much as I love gaming, at $50 a pop for AAA (i.e. top-selling, blockbuster) titles, I'd rather not have to take out a 2nd mortgage to finance my family's gaming habit, especially since we don't always play every game all the way through.

GameFly's turnaround time is pretty reasonable, and since you have (at least) 2 games at once, you always have something to play when you're waiting for your new game to arrive. And I have to tell you, I just love it when my kids run up the stairs with the day's mail, yelling...

"Daddy, the new orange envelope is here!"


UPDATE (8/4): I just realized that I plumb forgot to mention one of the most important advantages of having a GameFly subscription. If you like to try before you buy (wouldn't you like to have that option with everything you buy for your kids?), GameFly is your new best friend.

So it's not only for me to make sure I can play the latest "grownup" hits. Rentng from GameFly takes the guesswork out of buying games for your kids. We've rented many many games for the kids, to make sure that when we finally plunked down some bills on the proverbial counter, they'd be getting a game they already love.


UPDATE (8/22): After writing my review of Finny the Fish & the Seven Waters, I just realized another advantage of rental services like GameFly. Not only do they let you try before you buy, but they give you the freedom to experiment with games outside the mainstream. When I'm paying fitty bux for a game (not often, if you haven't guessed by now), I try to make damn sure that I'm getting my money's worth, by reading reviews and message boards to see if there's a consensus. If I'm renting, though, I can try out any game I want, and simply return it if it doesn't strike my fancy. Both Dog's Life & Finny were lesser-known games that didn't get good reviews, but struck me as being worthy of a trial. Sometimes you win (Dog's Life), and sometimes you lose (Finny), but as I wrote above, I love having the freedom to experiment.

FREE Burnout Revenge DEMO @ Best Buy

After seeing this post earlier this morning, I headed over to Best Buy after picking my son up from day camp, to get my FREE demo version of EA's not-yet-released Burnout Revenge. The first store I went to didn't have 'em, but the blue-shirted game guy thought they were in the back somewhere. Of course, he wasn't inclined to...y'know...actually check for me. Thanks for the effort. :o(

The Joystiq post mentions (and has a photo of) the demo for Xbox, but I got the PlayStation 2 version. You may want to call ahead to make sure they have the one for your console.

July 24, 2005

REVIEW: Katamari Damacy (a.k.a. That's How We Roll)

  • Platform: PlayStation 2
  • Current Price (new): $20
  • Amount of Game Played: nowhere near enough...yet
  • BOTTOM LINE: Rolie Polie Perfection!
"Is that game here yet?"
"I want to play that game."
"It entertains me."

No, that's not me talkin'.
Nope, not the chillens, either (though they share the sentiment).

That would be something my wife said a few days ago, and the game she was referring to is Katamari Damacy.

Last November, we rented KD from GameFly (think Netflix, but for video games instead of DVDs - more info here). I'm not sure whether it was because we were playing other games at the time, but while my kids seemed to enjoy the game, they were just as happy to play other games instead. As a result, though I was enjoying it ('cuz it's so freakin' enjoyable), we exchanged the game after only 2 weeks.

But soon after, the kids started excitedly asking to play "that cool Kamemamashi game."


I was granted a temporary reprieve when one of my Official PlayStation Magazine discs had a short KD demo. The kids love to play the demo and they heartily sing the infectious Katamari Damacy theme song every time.

Speaking of kid-friendly PlayStation 2 demos, why does the Katamari Damacy demo have to be so short, when the demos for the Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper franchises are delightfully robust? Is Namco afraid that they'll lose sales if the demo is too long? SCEA (Sony Computer Entertainment of America) wasn't worried, and we bought their full versions, too. But I digress.

So after everyone (including me) kept saying how much we wanted to play the full monty, we finally bought the game that my wife, who doesn't play many video games, is waiting so impatiently for. For the most part, gaming is something I do with the kids. Every once in a while, though, a game will come along that she finds enjoyable. What those games have in common is that they are as simple & elegant as they are compelling. For example:

OK, so there's a little more to Katamari Damacy than just the sticky rolling. The high concept is that in addition to sheer size (you start with pushpins, ants & candy, and graduate to mice, birds, cats, dogs, cars, buildings, islands, etc. - the kids love when we roll up the flailing animals), you try to make your balls of collected stuff as elegant and symmetrical as possible (watch out for bats & pencils), as they are destined to replace the very stars in the sky.

It seems the King of All Cosmos went on a bender and accidentally destroyed the stars, and the Prince (also "of All Cosmos") is sent to earth (where better to find stuff?) to replace the stars with ever-larger balls o' stuff. Speaking of the King, I'm not thrilled (as a parent) with the way he tends to berate the Prince. But since the insults are text-only, it's easy to avoid the issue if your kids aren't reading yet.

Designed by Keita Takahashi, Katamari Damacy is a wonderfully original, creative, quirky game that is both fun & challenging (moreso for young 'uns, obviously) for kids. Other than that, there's not much else to explain that the screenshots can't tell you, which is good, 'cuz I think I hear the mailman. Gotta go!


Namco has a sequel coming out later this year (We Love Katamari), and it should be super-swell. Here are some Katamari-related photos from E3:

We Love Katamari at the Namco booth.

Namco invited E3 attendees to bring contributions for the We Love Katamari ball.

If all 70,000 E3 attendees agreed to be completely silent for just a minute, they'd have heard my "Cow in a Can" moo every time the We Love Katamari ball spun around.

Hey, what's that puffy pink thing next to my can cow?

Step off, pal! Nobody messes with The Prince!


NOTE: The GameFly review has been migrated to its own separate post. FYI.

July 20, 2005

NOT FOR KIDS: Alien Hominid

  • Platforms: GameCube, Xbox (Europe only), PlayStation 2
  • Current Price (new): I'm not telling (okay, fine: $20-$25)
  • Amount of Game Played: 0% (by the kids, anyway)
Though I try to keep my copy of Alien Hominid out of sight, my kids occasionally catch a glimpse of it, and invariably, every time they see the colorful yellow cartoon alien on the cover, they ask if they can play, because it looks like a lot of fun.

As always, I patiently explain that even though it may look like a game for kids, it's still For-Grownups-Only, so they'll just have to find another game to play (not that we have a shortage of choices).

No, this game isn't as bad as a certain raunchy squirrel I warned parents about recently. Where Conker: Live & Reloaded is profane, disgusting & violent (hmm, I may have to try that game after the kids go to bed), Alien Hominid is simply violent (though very much so). And to that point, while Conker is rated M (Mature), Alien Hominid is rated T (Teen).

"Cartoon violence," as listed on the ESRB's content descriptors, can be many things. It can be relatively mild, like Sly 2 Band of Thieves (review coming soon), or it can be intense, graphic, bloody (well, cartoon blood, anyway) & non-stop, like Alien Hominid. To be fair to the ESRB, they also have a "Mild Cartoon Violence" content descriptor, but there are always variances within each rating or descriptor. Just something to keep in mind when you see the ratings.

For parents, this game can be a lot of fun (depending on your gaming preferences, of course). It's a funny, extremely challenging 2D side-scrolling shooter, in the mold of Metal Slug.

There's also a feel-good story behind it, in that it was originally created (and became immensely popular) for newgrounds.com, an independent, Flash animation-based games website. FYI, Newgrounds is owned & run by Tom Fulp, who programmed Alien Hominid (Dan Paladin, aka synj, did the graphics).

Due to the deeply disheartening dominance of derivative drivel (sure, I'm exaggerating, but check out the swell alliteration!) out there in the marketplace, it's such a breath of fresh air to see innovative new titles like Alien Hominid & Katamari Damacy (an excellent kids game that I'll be reviewing soon).

So have fun playing the game if you're so inclined. Just make sure to keep it where the kids can't find it.

In the meantime, here's a little cartoon carnage for your viewing pleasure:


NOTE: When I link to game information, it usually comes down to a choice between Metacritic (ratings-based) & Answers.com (information-based). Each has it's strong and weak points, but I was just wondering if anyone out there had a preference between the two. Feel free to chime in.

July 17, 2005

Ohmigod! Chuck Foreman!

The summer after 8th grade, I was enjoying a lazy, hazy, decidedly un-crazy summer day with a few friends. We were gabbin' 'bout the skin o' the pig, as many 13-year-olds are wont to do.

On that particular afternoon, we were debating the merits of various & sundry NFL running backs. At one point, after agreeing that Walter Payton was indeed the best ever (RIP, Sweetness), one of my friends invoked the name of Chuck Foreman, the halfback with a silky smooth spin move, who played for the Minnesota Vikings in the mid-'70s.

Another friend looked at though he'd been struck by a thunderbolt. "Ohmigod! Chuck Foreman!" he exclaimed. "I totally forgot about him!"

Naturally, we jumped all over him. "What do you mean you forgot about him? He was a 5-time Pro-Bowler just a few years ago! And the Bears play the Vikings twice a year, every year!"

In his excited state, he mercifully explained just what the hell he was talking about. "I realize he was one of the best running backs in the NFL pretty recently, so of course I know who he is, but I had completely forgotten about him. Until just now, his name was completely erased from my memory banks. So when you mentioned his name, all of my Chuck Foreman memories (how many Chuck Foreman memories can a teenage Bears fan have?) suddenly came flooding back! That was so cool!"

Since that day, the phenomenon of "having a Chuck Foreman" - a sudden reminder of a long-forgotten person, event, product, etc. - has spread like a mildly successful viral marketing campaign. In recent years, I've heard good ol' #44's name invoked by people I've never met, about things that have nothing to do with football.

How does one use Chuck Foreman in a sentence? Why, like this, of course:
    • Candy: "Big League Chew?! Ohmigod! Chuck Foreman!"
    • School Supplies: "Liquid Paper?! Ohmigod! Chuck Foreman!"
    • Music: "Hooked On Classics?! Ohmigod! Chuck Foreman!"
    • Movies: "Breakin' 2 - Electric Boogaloo?! Ohmigod! Chuck Foreman!"
    • Video Games: Here's how is this self-indulgent trivia cruise down memory lane is relevant...
In preparing arcade-related lectures for my class on the history of the video game industry, one of the resources I use is a website called KLOV, which stands for Killer List of Videogames. Most of the games I check out are well-loved, well-remembered favorites, like Galaga, Defender, Tron, Star Wars, Time Pilot, Tempest, Zaxxon, and the other usual suspects.

But every once in a while, I'll stumble across a game that sounds vaguely familiar, and once I click on the link to see the cabinet, marquee & screenshots, I'm suddenly and abruptly whisked back 20+ years into the past.

Here are a few KLOV-induced Chuck Foremans I've had recently:

When I saw each one of these in the text-only list, I had a vague memory of the title (except for Wizard of Wor, which I remembered), but when I clicked on the game page, I immediately remembered playing and enjoying each one. *sigh... good times*

I wonder which of the games we're currently playing will fill that role for my kids someday.

I wonder about what I can do to make their childhood gaming memories as sweet, if not sweeter than mine.

But most of all, I wonder when my kids will be home from day camp so we can play one of their favorite games together.

So 20 years from now, they can suddenly exclaim...

Sly Cooper?! Ohmigod! Chuck Foreman!

July 13, 2005

REVIEW: Roller Coaster Tycoon 2

  • Platform: PC CD-ROM
  • Current Price (new): $10
  • Amount of Game Played: approx. 75%
"Look, Daddy! Roller coasters!"
"Yup. I see 'em, kids."

"Look, kids! Roller coasters!"

"Look, Daddy! Roller coasters!"
"Yup. I see 'em, kids."

"Look, kids! Roller coasters!

Relax. Your lasik surgery hasn't suddenly gone horribly awry. I meant to write that a few times, because that's what happens every time we pass the amusement park on the way to visit my wife's parents (there & back, of course).

I'm not going out on a limb when I say that kids love roller coasters. They just love 'em. Period. Paragraph. Of course, since mine are "too short to ride this ride," they'll have to settle for oohing & aahing from afar.

At least that was true until a couple of years ago, when we downloaded a timed RCT2 demo from Microsoft's free-demo-licious (sure that's a real word. I looked it up) Games for Windows page (though I can't seem to find it there anymore). The kids loved it so much that it became our default "last-game-before-bed game" every night. Thus was hatched a birthday present idea, and we bought the full Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 game a few months later.

Many games burn brightly for a short time on the fun meter (how many metaphors did I just mix there?), only to fizzle out quickly. For my kids, this wasn't one of those games. Sure, they played it a lot for the first few weeks, and as I started bringing home new game after new game to try, RCT2 dropped on the priority list. However, while some discarded games remain unplayed, both kids will ask to play RCT2 every once in a while, including a few days ago.

EDIT (7/13): When my son woke up this morning, guess which game he wanted to play? Told ya.

So what's keeps 'em coming back for more? Simple. They get to CREATE (or modify existing creations), and then enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Raves & Faves:
    • Choosing & customizing the coasters & rides
    • Popping the balloons as they float skyward
    • The haunted house
    • Changing the landscape
    • Picking people (guests, animal mascots, etc.) up and dropping them wherever their little hearts desire
    • Finding the nauseous people getting off the roller coasters (hint: they're the green-faced ones stumbling around)
Since the kids were a lot younger when we bought this game, they wanted me to play the game for them, implementing their imaginative whims, of course. For me, this wasn't one of the many little parental sacrifices we all make to ensure our kids' happiness. I also enjoyed playing RCT2. Like several other games we've played, my kids had fun, I had fun, and we all had fun together. Not too shabby.

To be completely honest, we don't play the game the way it's "officially" supposed to be played. While we try to create the best, cleanest parks with great rides, attractions & food, we don't waste our energy trying to achieve the game's official missions (though we may in the future). For example, one mission might be to have 1,250 park guests by the beginning of the 3rd year of operation (time is highly compressed, of course).

Finances are limited (you start with $10,000), which is why I actively search out, dare I say it, cheats. That's right, I said it (more info at end of review). When it comes to increasing the budget for my junior park designers, I'll choose the path of least resistance, thank you. In my opinion, it's more important for the kids to let their creativity run wild, as opposed to developing a sound business model. Fiscal responsibility lessons are on the horizon, but for the time being, it's all about creativity & fun.

In addition to missions & finances, the other aspect that we don't play to its full complexity is ride creation. While you can make your own coaster section by painstaking section, we just pick from an extensive menu of existing coasters & other rides.

Of course, those are just our choices. Older kids will probably enjoy challenges like accomplishing missions with a limited timeframe & budget, and creating their own custom roller coaster from scratch. It's all about customizing the experience for your own kids.

That's about it. We're taking the kids to visit my in-laws again.

"Look, Daddy! Roller coasters!"
"Yup. I see 'em, kids."

Enjoy the game.


RE: cheats... the easy-money-generating cheats are few, far between & convoluted for this game (unlike for Zoo Tycoon, where you just press SHIFT-4), so if you're interested, feel free ask in the comments section.