Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ryan’s Desert Island Handheld Video Games

Yes, that title is, indeed, a mouthful.

I chose a handheld for my list simply because it seemed more plausible (which in these scenarios doesn’t matter in the least) that I could have a small, portable gaming system with me on a desert island, rather than a TV, console and required peripherals.

I’ve also decided, just to make things a littler more stringent, that I’ll only have one handheld device with me: the Nintendo DS.  I chose this because it gives me access to Gameboy Advance games as well, via the system’s built-in GBA port.

How I’m going to re-charge the DS is as suspect as powering the TV and console, but whatever.  I’ll be a master of harnessing the energy of the coconut, or something.  Anyway, on with the list!

5. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow

As a lover of Metroid-vania/Castleroid gameplay, I just had to have a Castlevania game on my list.

These games offer very extended gameplay.  There are lots of areas to explore in the castle, tons of enemies to take on, endless weapons to find and try and in the Aria/Dawn of Sorrow mini-series of Castlevania games there are tons of souls to capture, giving your main character Soma Cruz a bevy of abilities.  It’s like Pokemon meets Castlevania: you gotta catch ‘em all!

I had a hard time deciding which of the most recent Castlevania portable games to choose from.  There was Aria of Sorrow (the predecessor to Dawn of Sorrow), Portrait of Ruin and Order of Ecclesia.  I very much enjoyed all of these games, but the collecting aspect of Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow ultimately gives you much more to do than the other titles I’ve mentioned. I basically picked Dawn because of its upgraded graphics and DS functionality, but I suppose I could have just as easily chosen Aria in its place.

If there was somehow a port of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the DS then you’d best believe it’d be on this list.  

4. Mega Man Zero Collection

This is such a cheat, but I’m doing it anyway!  As you may know, I’m a bit of a Mega Man fan and if I were to be stranded on a deserted island for the rest of my days, I would most definitely have to have me some Mega Man on hand.

I’d much rather have all kinds of other Mega Man titles, but as far as GBA/DS go, the best I have at my disposal are the four Mega Man Zero games, released for the Gameboy Advance and then re-released as a collection last year on the Nintendo DS.

I could be real and just choose one of them, and I’m sure any of them would do the trick, but if I can technically have them all in one game, why not!?  

There were two DS-specific Mega Man titles, both of which I’ve owned and defeated, entitled Mega Man ZX and Mega Man ZX: Advent, but if I had to take my pick I’d go with the Zero titles.  Although they’re very similar, at least in playing Mega Man Zero I can play as an actual hero from the Mega Man X franchise, instead of some kid wearing a Mega Man suit.

3. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

This game is very much a compromise, much like taking Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow over Symphony of the Night, because it doesn’t exist on the DS.  If the original Final Fantasy Tactics were available on this handheld, then I’d be taking that game.  Alas it is not, so I’ll be taking its descendant: Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.

The much-hyped spiritual successor to the blockbuster Playstation title, FFT Advance takes the world of Ivalice in an all-new direction for the Gameboy Advance.  You could say it was made much more kid-friendly, and you’d be completely right.  Gone is the political intrigue, the religious overtones and the dark, bloody storyline of the original game in place of some kids finding a magic book and being whisked away to a magical world.

The gameplay is what makes this a must-have on my indefinite desert island excursion.  Putting aside the storyline -- which isn’t bad by the way, it’s just not as good as the original’s -- the turn-based, tactical RPG style that was passed down to FFT from Tactics Ogre is what makes this game amazing.  

Why this over FFT Advance 2: Grimoire of the Rift - the DS successor to FFTA?  FFTA2 (these acronyms are getting to be a bit much, huh?) takes a new spin on the gameplay, which requires too much quest-giving and walks players through the game.  At least in FFTA there are some “random battles”.  I’d rather if there were true random battles like FFT, allowing for power-leveling, but I’ll take the pseudo random battles in FFTA, in the form of clan battles.  Also, obtaining new team members is a major annoyance in FFTA2, and it’s just an inferior game to FFTA (phew).

For my tactics fix, I just have to have Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for the GBA with me on the sandy beaches of my new home (very far) away from home.

2. Super Mario 64 DS

Super Mario has had many classic iterations.  In fact, this writer’s favourite isn’t even Super Mario 64; it’s Super Mario Bros. 3 for the NES.  Now you ask, “But, Super Mario Bros. 3 came out for the GBA, didn’t it?”  Why yes, it did.  However, even if I take my time with Super Mario Bros. 3, it doesn’t compare to the exploration that is involved with finding all 120 stars in Super Mario 64.

Super Mario 64 features a giant castle filled with many different worlds, much like other games in the classic Mario series.  However, the game-style is something that hasn’t been matched since, even with newer titles like Super Mario Galaxy, a game that attempts to emulate Super Mario 64 in many ways.

You’re given a “world”, in the form of a castle portrait, and then a clue to where the star may be hidden, or what task you need to complete to find it, and then it’s up to you to find all the stars.  It may only take 70 to reach the game’s end, but there are truly 120 to be found within the world of Super Mario 64.  That is the reason why I would have to have this game with me on a desert island.  Also, it is my second favourite game in the Mario series.

The Nintendo DS port of Super Mario 64 also offers multiple characters and new locations for each of those corresponding characters: Luigi, Wario and Yoshi.  This offers even more gameplay than the original 64 title.  All in all, a must have to keep me content while stranded away from the rest of civilization.

1. Final Fantasy VI Advance

This should be no surprise to the readers that know me, but Final Fantasy VI (formerly known as Final Fantasy III in North America) is my very favourite game of all time.  On a desert island, I’d need a rich, fun storyline.  With 14 different characters, all of which with their own individual abilities and specs, as well as the ability to teach each of these characters magic through the Esper system, there are endless gameplay capabilities found within FF6.

A departure from the usual sword and sorcery storyline of its predecessors, FF6 also has a cool, steampunk theme, which blends the worlds of magic with technology.  It has a storyline that envelops all of its 14 characters (a series record) and features a second half that is completely wide open, with tons of sidequests to keep you playing this game for a long, long time.

The GBA port of this game also features new Espers -- giant summoned creatures that party members can learn spells from, as well as call on in battle -- and an all new set of dungeons, which increases the playability of an already chocked-full game.

This game combines the great story-telling of a novel with a fun game, which inherits all of that great Final Fantasy styled gameplay in what I consider to be the series’ very best.  If I could only have one single game with me on this deserted isle, it would most definitely have to be Final Fantasy VI.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Shane's Desert Island Movies

Only having a handful movies to watch for the rest of my life is a terrifying thought and I really struggled putting this together. Making this list was not just about picking my 5 favourite movies ever (though that was certainly a starting point). Instead it was trying to find the movies I think are great, that I'd be willing to watch again and again, and that would cover the widest range of genres so I would have the most variety. So, here they are in no particular order.

5. The Dark Knight (2008)
I've already praised this movie enough in my favourite films of 2008, so I'll try to keep this brief. This was an easy pick seeing as how it's my favourite superhero film about my favourite superhero. If I can't drag along a stack of graphic novels to the island, I should at least take along the best movie about Batman. When it came down to it I had to decide between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and I love them almost equally, but the truth is one of them had Scarecrow, the other had The Joker. You do the math.

Whenever I'm craving action and thrills this movie will have me covered. So much happens that it practically feels like two movies crammed into one, but it also feels complete enough that I won't mind watching only the middle of a trilogy of movies. Well ... at least that's the idea.

4. Spirited Away (2001) 
For a good while I had this movie pegged as my all time #1. It tells the tale of a young girl named Chihiro who is moving to a new home with her parents when they take a shortcut that leads them to strange abandoned village. As night falls, her parents are transformed into pigs and Chihiro finds the world is filled with spirits. She makes her way to a bathhouse for the spirits and ends up working there as she tries to figure out a way home again.

This movie is such an unusual and beautiful film, I find it hard to describe what's so amazing about it, but bear with me. The score is wonderful and the animation is among the best I've ever seen. Combined with the sound design the film captures details so vividly that every moment spent in the spirit bathhouse feels real: the sound of bare feet on wooden floors, the deep rumbling and hissing of furnaces, the sloshing of hot water. I can practically feel the humidity in the air.

Spirited Away has been compared to "Alice in Wonderland" and other famous fantastical children stories. It does have similarities to many of those tales, but it still stands out as something unique. There is a dream-like quality to Chihiro's journey. The places she travels to and the characters she meets either fill you with a sense of comfort, a sense of fear, or shift between the two. Chihiro herself changes as well; maturing from a sullen, easily-angered girl, to one who is is confident in facing the challenges that life throws at her. It seems like the ideal positive message I'd need in my isolation.

3. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) 
The film takes place almost entirely in a real estate office where a group of salesmen must face off  in a contest that will win one of them a new car and cost one of them their job. The film's taken a competitive job in a competitive industry and added more competition, so you should not be surprised to learn that stress and emotions run high.

First of all, if you haven't watched this movie yet, drop everything and watch it right now. I mean it. I had known about it forever and only got around to seeing it two years ago and it blew my mind. It's so goddamn good. It's an all-star lineup of actors giving amazing performances: Spacey, Arkin, Harris, Pacino. Plus Alec Baldwin tears shit up during the film's opening like no one's business, and Jack Lemmon gives one of the best performances EVER. Seriously, I get chills.

It's so good because every moment is riveting. You have a group of master bullshitters all trying to bullshit their way to the top with their own approach. It's a cutthroat business and as pressure quickly escalates almost every character goes on a tirade before the end. This is easily the most fun I've had watching people yell and swear at each other. In any other movie it would seem profane, but here, with the right script and actors, it's like poetry.

Why is this movie a good pick for my deserted island? Well, the dialogue is so good I want to memorize every line of it, and a deserted island might be just the right place to try. Also, the movie reminds me of some of the worse jobs I've had, and that should make me feel thankful to be out of the workforce and trapped in the middle of the ocean.

2. Rear Window (1954)
I knew I wanted a Hitchcock film here, and I was torn between Rear Window and Vertigo for some time. Rear Window won because it has a more suspenseful story, more enjoyable performances, and I just really love the way the film keeps us locked into Jeff's vantage point throughout. The first time I watched it I was literally stunned at how engrossing it was and how tense I was getting as the final act plays out. Every time I watch it I'm still on the edge of my seat when Lisa goes into the neighbour's apartment to investigate.

I enjoy all the characters immensely, but of course Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly really make this film as great as it is. I love his trademark delivery and mannerisms, and I love her elegant beauty and sensual voice (I would honestly listen to her read the phone book if I could). It's so much fun watching these two very different characters finding a common interest to pull their relationship together, and then switching roles when they get caught up in their curiosity.

Rear Window is entertaining, re-watchable, and a masterpiece of mystery and suspense. I'll be watching it time and time again, deserted or not.

1. Amelie (2001) 
Like Spirited AwayAmelie is a movie that makes the world seem like a more happy, loving place. I figure even if a majority of my favourite movies are of a darker tone, I should choose a a balanced selection so as to keep my spirits up while I'm stuck on the island, you know, forever.

The film follows the life of the titular Amelie as she helps (and sometimes punishes) those around her in interesting ways and falls in love. The visuals are gorgeous and vibrant, the music relaxing and cheerful, and the characters quirky and whimsical. Hell, even the narration is notably pleasant. Front to back it's a charming French film. For me this film is like a warm hug, remembering the innocence of childhood, and reliving the experience of first love. Yeah, I know it sounds corny, but it's true.

All in all I think I've captured a solid selection of movies for whatever mood I might be in: mystery, suspense, action, adventure, drama, comedy, romance, fantasy, or animation. Stories about people trapped in one place and piecing together a secret, or heading off into an unknown world and learning something about themselves. Stories about the competition of business and the cruelty of mankind. Stories about people in disguise helping society for justice or romantic ideals. Stories about growing up and growing old, about losing love and finding love.

Hopefully I've got a nicely rounded assortment of entertainment to keep me occupied through the long lonely years of this hypothetical situation. Or maybe I'll become bored, go crazy, and spend my time making up movies in my mind with my only friend, a volleyball.