On this Good Friday just passed, my Yankee mate Luke and I headed to our Aussie mate Nerida’s house to play videogames. Our packs were laden with gaming systems, controllers, and many, many discs and cartridges. We took a train to the crap side of the Harbour Bridge and a ute to our final destination.
Nerida’s house turned out to be a large rock with a TV antenna on top, a bit like Patrick’s house in the television programme SpongeBob Squarepants. We lifted up an edge and crawled inside. “It’s just like my place” said Luke, as he looked around the granite lounge room. Domestic animals peered at us warily from behind stacks of anime DVDs; storm clouds gathered. A purple plastic cube appeared in front of the TV. A rice cracker cracked ominously; a James Squire hissed as its cap was cruelly wrenched off.
We decided to ease into things with a shortish (15 turn) game of Mario Party 5 on the GameCube. As the name suggests, it’s a lightweight beer and pretzels affair; a collection of Mario-themed minigames. For the purposes of the Mario Party, I took the role of Toad the friendly mushroom, Nerida took Boo the spooky ghost, and Luke took Daisy, the… uh… perky princess. We decided that the CPU would take the role of the treasure-hungry Wario and began the game.
I took an early lead in the coin dept (leading to some muttering about the handicap screen from the peanut gallery), but soon fell behind as everyone else picked up stars. In a desperate attempt to get back into the running, I dueled Wario, wagering 50 of my coins for one of his stars. He quickly defeated me, took my money, and gained an impossible lead. And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Of the human players, Luke fared best, trailing Wario by a handful of coins at the buzzer. Enjoyable minigames included
Mario Mechs (in which Luke and Nerida’s tiny mecha ganged up on and
lasered the crap out of my rampaging giant robot), Will Flower (in which my sunflower psychically bloomed first due to my 1337 A button pounding skillz), and Hotel Goomba (in which we brutally kicked small creatures around the lobby of the Mushroom Hilton for no apparent reason).
At this juncture my colleagues took a cigarette break while I hooked up the PS2 and tweaked its PSX driver settings.
Next up was a quick round of perennial favourite Worms World Party (PSX version). Due to the copious shelter afforded by their rocky domiciles, neither Nerida nor Luke had played Worms before. “Come on people!” I said, “It’s part of your rich cultural heritage! Get on board!” And get on board they did, with much shotgun blasting and cluster bombing and dynamiting and strategic prodding. Highlights included a CPU worm getting stuck in an infinite loop, Luke’s crazed blowtorching, Nerida dynamiting everyone simultaneously, and my inability to drive the jetpack.
After this spate of cartoon gaming, we were keen for a bit of fragging and fired up
Halo 2 on the XBox. Having recently moved into a rock house of my own, I had not yet played it and was keen to see whether it lived up to the hype. My first impressions were that it was not terribly different from any other FPS game, except that it had large maps with an excellent draw distance. Further play revealed some interesting nuances: really slick map design, a clever grenade implementation, a useful radar (could use some height info for the blips), strategic weapon management. Quite good fun, and I’d be keen to play an 8 or 16 player match at some point.
Cigarette break time again, and I played a few levels of Metal Slug Advance on the GBA while the others wheezed and hacked.
While the XBox was still hooked up, Luke snuck in a few levels of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance II. The BG:DA games have always interested me from a technical perspective, as they look identical on all three of the current generation consoles
without sacrificing looks. They’re fun too, if you’re into top-down dungeon crawling. Anyway if you have a PS2 and you’re sick of XBox and GameCube owners poking fun at your system’s graphics, pick up one of these games and you’ll feel a bit better.
Enthused by the monster bashing theme, we plugged the PS2 back in and watched Luke play Final Fantasy X for a bit, back seat driving him in a boss fight and generally being annoying. I hadn’t played it in a while and had forgotten how gorgeous the graphics were and how annoying the voice acting was. Maybe I’ll give it a whirl again when I’m done with Phantasy Star I.
When the FFX cutscenes became too much to bear, we dined on gado gado and broke out the single malt whisky.
Since drink encourages foolishness, we took turns playing levels of PaRappa the Rappa 2. For those not familiar with it, it’s a rhythm game in which one takes the role of a paper-thin dog who is skilled at old school posi rapping (in the vein of the Sugarhill Gang). We chuckled at length at the game’s Nipponese surrealism, but after four or five levels the rhythms became too complex for boozy mortals and we threw in the mic.
At this juncture Luke produced a copy of Midway Arcade Treasures Volume 2. The treasures within — with the possible exception of Mortal Kombat — have not stood the test of time, really. Possibly this was because the games weren’t quite retro enough; 24-bit rather than 8- or 16-. It was interesting as a bit of history, but I think Volume 1 (with Paperboy etc) would be the better purchase.
Ranting interlude: Sony, where are the other two controller ports? Get out from under your rock house and get on board! Boo! End interlude.
Tiredness was setting in at this point, and there was time for but one more title. I had recently picked up Super Monkey Ball second hand, so we hooked up the GameCube for the last time and selected our simians. Nerida chose the cute baby chimp, I chose some sort of tweenaged girl money with a pink bow(?), and Luke picked a giant gorilla. Looking at the minigames screen we decided to go with the Monkey Racing Grand Prix first. This proved to be an enjoyable kart racer in which the ball-dwelling primates rolled around a gutter-like track, throwing fiendish bombs at each other (the most amusing of these being a device that turned an enemy monkey’s ball into an uncontrollable cube — hilarious at high speeds). My teenage years of compulsively playing Wipeout 2 led me to overall victory, despite my inability to keep my ape on the track on the final two courses. My colleagues were angered at my victory, and in the next game, Monkey Fight, they relentlessly pounded my monkey with their oversized boxing gloves. As Nerida gloated and capered, I rolled my battered and misshapen monkey ball in the direction of the animal hospital.
For our final monkey minigame, we played Monkey Target, in which the monkeys must glide from a great height towards an island target covered in bombs and mines. My monkey kept exploding, Nerida’s monkey kept drowning, and Luke’s giant gorilla finally tasted the sweet sweet banana of victory. We packed everything up, and wandered home, clutching our aching eyeballs and carpal tunnels.
And I didn’t have to use my AK. It was a good day.