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February 26, 2006

Still Here

Sorry for the little hiatus. I've been grading papers and prepping for the end of the term, and scrambling to get coverage for the final exam, which I'm now happy to report will be proctored.

Since you asked (nosy), the reason I have to find a fill-in is that I'm going to be at the Game Marketing Conference in San Francisco the 2nd week of March, which just happens to be exam week.

So the day I return from the west coast, I have to pick up the completed final exams straight from the airport, and turn in my final grades soon after. Yup, it's shaping up to be quite the leisurely travel day.

But back to GameFam. I'll get back to my regular posting schedule this week, and on Thursday, I'll be posting my usual GameDAILY Family column with my usual added photos, graphics, and red-faced error corrections.

Carry on.

February 13, 2006

Starlight, Starbright, First Game I Play Tonight

If you've been reading GameFam for a while, you've read about terrific causes like Child's Play and Games Can Help, who are dedicated to helping kids.

Here are two more excellent game-related causes that I recently added to the "noteworthy" section on the right sidebar.

The Get-Well Gamers Foundation (their site is down at post time, but hopefully it's working by the time you read this), donates games to sick children. When their link is working again, check 'em out.

Here's the other new one - The Starlight Foundation Fun Center.

If you have a few grand ($3250, to be exact) burning a hole in your pocket, you may want to consider donating a Fun Center:

Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation has a program where they place GameCube/DVD/Flat-Screen TV combos in hospitals, so kids can play games and watch movies, to take their minds off their pain.

In fact, some of you may actually be familiar with this program, since it's been around for a while now. Here's a photo of a previous version of the Fun Center, with the Nintendo 64 instead of a GameCube.

If you're not in the mood to click on the links above, here's what it says on the Fun Center page:

A Fun Center is a mobile entertainment unit containing a flat-screen television, DVD player, and Nintendo GameCube™ system. Whether hospitalized children are nervously awaiting surgery, sitting restlessly during a long treatment, or feeling lonely in their hospital room, the Fun Center helps them cope by providing endless hours of fun and distraction.

To date, more than 4,000 Fun Centers have been sponsored by companies, foundations and individuals and are being enjoyed at hospitals across North America. However, the need is great and our waitlist long.

Below is a note shared with us from a Nurse and Child Life Specialist:

Dear Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation,

We are thrilled with the Fun Center! Our patients see it and are immediately entranced. This morning, a six year old patient who has had problems with breathing treatments allowed the respiratory therapist to complete his treatment while he was playing on your Fun Center. He truly did not notice the therapist or breathing mask! Thank you so much for your generosity and for all of the time and effort put into making this happen for the patients…your ongoing support has made a genuine difference.

Cindy, Nurse Manager
Cathy, Child Life Coordinator

Though there are more than 4,000 Fun Centers in hospitals across North America, the need is great; hundreds of hospitals are waiting for Fun Centers right now. Fun Center sponsorship is currently $3,250; benefits of sponsorship include:

1. The unit containing a flat-screen television, DVD player, and Nintendo GameCube™ system
2. All taxes
3. Shipping & administration
4. Repair and maintenance for the life of the Fun Center by a dedicated Starlight Starbright staff member
5. Two customized adhesive signs recognizing the sponsor of the unit

If you are interested in sponsoring a Fun Center for your local hospital or one off our wait list please contact us. If you work at a hospital that would like to be added to the Fun Center waiting list, email us with detailed contact information, including the number of pediatric beds in your hospital.

February 06, 2006

Any Questions?

This is your room...

This is your room after replacing the wired controllers and extension cords with...

...the Logitech Cordless Action Controller for the PlayStation 2...

...and Nintendo's wireless Wavebird Controller for the GameCube.


Yes, you in the back with the hand up.
Please speak up so everyone can hear your question.
Did everybody get that? No?
What he asked was "Why didn't we get a cordless controller for the Xbox as well?"
Good question.

The answer is that while we have all 3 current-generation consoles, we simply don't use the Xbox as much as the PS2 and GameCube.

Oh sure, I use it for "grownup games" once the kids have gone to bed. But since we only have one Xbox controller anyway, it's easy for me to put it away after I use it (though I sure didn't in the top photo, did I?). Besides, it just wasn't in the budget.

Happy no-tripping-over-the-wires-anymore...Day!

Oh yeah. Also...

Happy I-can-sit-in-the-comfy-chair-across-the-room

February 02, 2006


As someone who has grown up alongside the video game industry, I have a warm, squishy place in my heart for many, many outstanding games from back in the day.

If you’ve read my previous columns, you’ve heard ‘em all before: Zaxxon, Defender, Track & Field, Tron, Star Wars, Donkey Kong, Time Pilot, and the list goes on.

However, soul-nourishingly wonderful though the games were, the characters – the protagonists of those three-minute interactive melodramas – weren’t so hot in the Q Rating department.

Don’t believe me? Then join me as we stroll down memory lane, and remember such licensing and merchandising gems as FroggerOs, The Burger Time Hibachi Grill, Yar’s Revenge: The Movie, Astrosmash Underoos, and of course, The Tempest Evil Red Flopping Bow Tie Pasta...of Death.

See what I’m sayin’?

In fact, one of the characters with the most personality earned that distinction because he was the star of what is arguably the single most offensive, sexist, racist, criminally horrible game in video game history, which is saying something. I’m referring, of course, to Custer of Custer’s Revenge fame. Or as Iceman (Val Kilmer in Top Gun) might say, “Famous? You mean notorious.”

Well, how about the obvious - Pac-Man?

Oh, sure, Buckner & Garcia’s ode to Toru Iwatani’s pizza-pie-with-a-slice-missing graced the Billboard charts for a time back in ’82, and the plucky yellow pill-popper had his own TV show, cereal, candy, toys, plush characters & pasta, and was named Time’s Man of the Year in 1982 ................................

EDIT: As you can plainly see, Pac-Man was MAD Magazine's Man of the Year for 1982 (Time's 1982 "Machine of the Year" was The Computer). It didn't sound quite right when I wrote it, but since I was tired and apparently lazy, I ran with it instead of double-checking. D'OH! That'll learn me to add little nuggets and tidbits at 2:30 in the morning. Bad Dan! Bad!

Anyhoo, back to my point..................................

OK, so the most popular arcade game in the history of Planet Earth is a legit exception, though you have to deduct some style points for ill-conceived brand extensions like Professor Pac Man, the Crystal Pepsi of Pac-Man sequels. And who can forget (hard though we try) the soul-crushingly brutal Pac-Man port for the Atari 2600. As Danny Vermin (Joe Piscopo in 1984’s underappreciated Johnny Dangerously) might say, "I played it once. Once."

How about some of the early licensed games? Well, let’s see. E.T. the film star was beloved by millions and got that sweet Reese’s Pieces deal. He (it?) was so money and he didn’t even know it (which is, of course, why he was so money). E.T. the video game character starred in the most reviled dud in the history of the video game industry.

In fact, when I Googled “video game industry crash” a few months ago, the very first Google Image that popped up was the box from the Atari 2600 version of E.T. Today, that image no longer shows up, and in fact, it has been replaced by one of the best (and best-selling) console games of all-time - Super Mario Bros. 3. As Bloo (from Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends) might say, “suspiiiiiicioooooouuuusss”!

What about Donkey Kong, you ask? Well, we’re getting closer, but we’re not there yet. Oh, sure, Jumpman (the pre-Mario carpenter) was swell, and there was a Donkey Kong cereal. But while I really liked Jumpman, I loved me some of that red-hatted plumber, Mario, who entered my life just over 20 years ago.

The landmark Super Mario Bros., designed by the uber-mazing Shigeru Miyamoto for the Nintendo Entertainment System, was one of the best games ever made, and it was one of the first video games that made me feel a real sense of connection to a character.

Today, that connection is even stronger, and doesn’t show any signs of weakening. In fact, more kids today recognize Mario than recognize Mickey Mouse. And while I didn’t see this anywhere, I would guess that the same holds true for the other characters as well. For example, Luigi vs. Goofy, Peach vs. Minnie, etc.

My kids didn’t enter the magic world of Mario until last year, when I finally bought a GameCube. Since then, we’ve played Mario games not only on Nintendo’s little purple lunchbox, but also on the DS, Game Boy Advance, and even at the arcade.

So without further ado, here are the Mario games my kids and I have played together during the last year, in chronological order:

Super Mario Sunshine

I picked Super Mario Sunshine up (along with Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, which I'm saving for a later date, and Metroid Prime, which ain't for the kiddies) when I first bought the GameCube. It’s bright, colorful and whimsical, which is no surprise, given that Miyamoto-san designed it. On the downside, it’s a tough game for young kids if they want to advance very far, mainly because of the controls, which are nowhere near as polished as, say Ratchet & Clank or Sly Cooper. But if you’re willing to pick up the controller, they should love to watch you play. But the main reason why this is such a special game for us is that it was how my kids first met Mario.

After the kids discovered that they shared my love for the heroic mustachioed plumber, I made a few changes to my GameFly GameQ, and bumped these next few games up to the top of the list. Resident Evil would have to wait....................... For me! For me! Not for the kids! What are you, nuts? GameFly was instrumental in our being able to play the bulk of these game, and in order to play a new one, the kids had to choose which of the others (including both Mario and non-Mario titles) to return.

Mario Power Tennis

Mario Power Tennis was first up in our Summer Cavalcade of Mario Sports Games. My kids absolutely loved it, mainly because it was the first time they could not only see their favorite characters, but they could play as their favorite characters. When my daughter wasn’t teaming up Peach and Daisy as doubles partners, she switched back and forth between the two for the single-player games. My son was more varied in his selections, though he seemed to like that Bowser and Bowser Jr. a good little bit. Their favorite mini-game was the paint-by-numbers-style game, where you hit different colored tennis balls at corresponding zones on the wall-sized mural. As for the main tennis games, you can play it straight, or play on fanciful courts with equally fanciful gameplay.

Mario Superstar Baseball

Along with tennis, Mario Superstar Baseball was my kids’ favorite Mario sports game. The games can be normal or nutty, and the mini-games, including a batting game with fireworks and a pitching game, are terrific.

Mario Kart Double Dash

This was the first of three Mario Kart games we played over the past few months. You race around as different characters in custom Karts, avoiding obstacles that your opponents toss at you, and tossing a few at them in the process. My kids loved it.

Mario Golf Toadstool Tour

Of all the Mario sports games, this was the one that my kids returned to GameFly the fastest. We kept Tennis and Baseball for 2 months each, and Mario Kart DD for one month. Golf didn’t last two weeks.

My kids liked the idea and the look of the game, but since the controls are more complex than the others, they never broke through the initial frustration into the warm embrace of gaming joy. The main problem is that whereas a tennis or baseball swing requires only a simple, one-time push (or release) of a button, the golf swing is more complex, requiring several button pushes and precise timing. And that doesn’t even take into account choosing which club to choose, judging the wind, etc.

Note that since these hurdles should be high enough for your older Mario fans to clear with ease, they should have a great time playing this game.

Mario Kart DS

We just got this a couple weeks ago, so we haven’t delved too deeply into the game, but what we’ve played so far has been terrific, and we can’t wait to race against other people via Nintendo WiFi.

Mario Kart Arcade GP

We played MKAGP (catchy, ain’t it?) during our recent trip to GameWorks, the review of which I will now borrow (by which I mean copy & paste) from:

This was the highlight of the trip, hands down. You not only get the wonderful, kid-friendly Mario Kart experience, but you also get to race against up to three of your friends (or siblings, kids, parents, etc.).

Of the many fun features in this game, one in particular stood out. Each game is equipped with a camera, and before the race begins, it takes a photo of the player and superimposes it onto his or her chosen character from the Mario family. So as you race around the quirky Nintendo tracks, you also get to see your friends’ bright shining faces as you pass each other.

Ironically, we almost didn’t get to play the game, because it’s designed for big kids only. Although the seats slide back and forth, the pedals are just too far away for little legs. However, instead of giving up, we split up into teams - girls vs. boys.

My son sat on my lap and we shared steering duties. My job was to work the pedals and he was in charge of firing items at the other drivers. My wife and daughter worked out their own arrangement, but I wasn’t paying attention to the specifics, ‘cuz I was in pregame, baby. In case you were wondering, the girls beat the guys twice in a row, including a come-from-behind photo finish. So much for pregame.

Classic NES Series: Super Mario Bros.

After my kids returned from their Las Vegas trip last August, they were buzzing about the “best game ever” that they had played with their cousins. That game was 3D platforming pioneer Super Mario 64. On the way back from the airport, I told them about the original Super Mario Brothers game, which we still have in the basement. However, we haven’t been able to play it yet, because the blowing-on-the-connectors trick didn’t work, and I haven’t tried using water or alcohol to clean it yet. So in the meantime, I got the next best thing – the 2004 direct port of the original game to the Game Boy Advance.

What’s Next?
Well, that about does it for the ones we’ve already played. Our Mario Wish List for the near future includes soccer-themed Super Mario Strikers, Dance Dance Revolution Mario Mix, Mario Party 7, and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door.

Got any extras?

EDIT (2/4): I found this bitchin' (sorry. must be all the '80s reminiscing from the beginning of this post) Super Mario Bros. sound board on digg a few minutes ago. Highly recommended.