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I was in the mood for some old school action gaming, and so I finally got back into Ice Climber on the original NES. The game was one of the system's launch titles in North America, and it got a huge boost in attention due to the out-of-nowhere inclusion of its two characters amongst the playable roster of the classic and still hugely popular Super Smash Bros. Melee. I was also reminded that I needed to revisit the game after having played NES Remix a couple months ago, which includes challenges excerpted from the game.

I have vague memories of playing the game as a kid, and even then the controls felt stiff, especially compared to the smoothness of the controls of games that followed it, like the original Super Mario Bros.. The gameplay, which consists of jumping to break open paths, climbing, and attacking and dodging enemies, feels unique, but it doesn't take long before things feel super repetitive. The game has a number of hazards, including moving platforms, ground that pushes you in a particular direction, and icicles that fall from above, with the best of them definitely being the sunglasses and swimsuit-wearing polar bear who forces you to move higher if you spend too much time without moving upwards. There are also cute little abominable snowmen (seals in the original Japanese version) that help or hinder (depending on your current need) by filling in empty spaces in the floors. (I tend to feel a little bad about defeating them since they definitely help more than they hinder overall.)

There are a good number of elements to the game, but somehow all the different combinations of them that appear in the different levels just don't feel different enough to a modern gamer. Still, this is par for the course for this type of early game, which definitely feels like it would be more suited to an arcade than playing at home. There are 32 unique levels, and the game has a handy level select, which is nice. It's not too hard to get through any of the levels using up all the chances provided, but getting far on a single credit and earning a high score is much more of a challenge.

Despite some of the worst jumping mechanics ever, the game is a fun blast from the classic NES past. The design is great and features colorful characters and enemies and a fun bonus round with some catchy music. Getting to the top of the mountain and catching the condor's claws is always satisfying, and I can imagine that the two-player mode is also an entertaining combination of fun and frustration. The mechanics aren't as enjoyable as its peers, such as Balloon Fight or the original Mario Bros. game, so it never gets that addictive, but it's definitely still fun overall. The game has been rereleased on numerous platforms, the 3DS version has a nice bonus in the form of download play, whereby a player with the game can send a temporary copy to a friend in order to play the two player mode. Not my favorite of the classic NES games, but this was a nice trip down memory lane.

Not too rough Ice Climber links:
- Entry on Wikipedia. Apparently "in some countries of Europe, the console game was bundled with the NES, increasing the game's familiarity outside Japan." Interesting.
- NintendoLife has several reviews of the game. Here's their review of the 3DS eShop version.
- Entry at strategywiki.org
- Some footage, from Coyote12101
- Random cute fan artwork

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Another bit of fluff while I continue to slowly make my way through some longer games. I picked up Personal Trainer: Math (released in EU with the unwieldy title Professor Kageyama's Maths Training: The Hundred Cell Calculation Method) more out of being a Nintendo completist than any real interest in improving my math skills. I was interested in seeing if it would provide anything like the surprisingly addictive and fun gameplay of the Brain Age games. The short answer is, nope.

The game is structured so that you have daily training and practice exercises. The daily training consists of three exercises that are set according to your level, and the game doesn't have any sort of pretest to determine what level you should start off on. You're also required to perform well enough at the same level for 5 days before progressing to the next level. Given that there are 40 exercises, this means that it would take at least 70 days to get the highest ranking (assuming that daily exercises don't repeat and that they don't introduce many exercises unavailable in the practice exercises). I can't imagine anyone wanting to devote so much time to this game, except for zealous parents who really want to drill their kids in math. The math exercises are actually not completely mindless, and I found I had to flex brain muscles I'd forgotten I had in some exercises like three digit addition and three digit subtraction.

The game features the "Hundred Cell Calculation Method" developed by some guy named Kageyama that probably has been proven to improve math skills, but I can't say how effective it is. I'm guessing the game is good for your brain the same way that the Brain Training games are, but the whole presentation is much less inviting and it's easy to get the highest medal ranking in all the exercises. Unlike the Brain Training games, which are marketed as being fun for all ages, this game seems much more geared towards people who actually want to improve their math skills. In that sense it does exactly what it says on the tin, and it's hard to fault it for not being much fun as a game. It wasn't a complete waste of time to play it, but I'm glad I can cross it off my list. I guess since I've played this and Personal Trainer: Walking that Personal Trainer: Cooking is up next, haha.

Become a Human Calculator with these Personal Trainer: Math links:
- Page at nintendo.com
- Entry on Wikipedia
- Review at IGN

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I got Tomodachi Life for 3DS soon after it came out, and I've been dipping into it off and on since. I finally sat down and spent a focused amount of time with it, and I finally got to the credits. The game is sort of reminiscent of the Animal Crossing series, but with the focus being on building up relationships rather than having a life in a village. Your character doesn't really have a more important role than any of the other Mii characters you create, and much of your enjoyment of the game will be based on how much you enjoy having something for your menagerie of Mii characters to do. If you have a bunch of Miis of your waifus/husbandos or favorite celebrities or relatives, or if you like creating backstories for new Miis you've created, then the silly interactions and relationships that the Miis in Tomodachi Life have will be way more entertaining than if you just have a few Miis that you don't care that much about. I started off importing just a few random Miis, but once I imported a lot more, including Nintendo characters such as my long-time favorite Ike (and also Filsamech and Miyamoto) and Game of Thrones characters and such, my experience with the game improved a lot (e.g., will Princess Daisy choose Luigi or Waluigi? Why doesn't Link want to date Samus?, etc., etc.).

Along with the relationship building, most of the rest of the game is about collecting food, interiors (i.e. apartment designs), and clothes (including hats). The descriptions of all of these are entertaining, and the game has a hidden system where certain items are more liked by certain personality types. The clothes are like the ones in Miitomo, but the difference here is that they're cheap to buy, so you can easily try out different looks for your Miis.

The mini-games get repetitive quickly, but they're not really the focus of the experience and more just a means of earning more money. There are little skits that pop up regularly, when your Miis have surreal dreams or in the news segments that occur twice a day, that feature that particular brand of Japanese quirkiness and are generally pretty funny. You can also teach your Miis songs with your own customized lyrics, although this is a lot of work and so I didn't spend any time on that. The game encourages you to take screenshots, and this is a game that definitely feels like it was made for Miiverse, as you're sure to encounter humorous moments even in just a single play session (although again, much of the humor comes from which specific Miis you're using). The game also makes it easy to edit Mii's personality attributes (although not a Mii's looks themselves, unless the sharing settings for that specific Mii have been set to "on"). The text-to-speech used is a bit on the robotic side, but somehow ends up being endearing overall.

You can get caught up in a cycle of feeding and clothing your Miis and responding to their requests and so even though all the individual moments are pretty darn trivial, the cumulative effect is that you end up becoming involved in these little fictional lives more than you might expect. The game also became oddly poignant for me since I had imported the Mii for the much-beloved Nintendo president Satoru Iwata before he passed away (R.I.P.), and so when I returned to the game I took a greater interest in his Mii. I was happy the game matched him up with Princess Zelda, and I'm pleased to report that they've had a healthy son that the game named Carlos (haha).

I hadn't played any Sims games before, but the sense of humor in this game definitely makes it a different type of game. It does feel a bit like playing with dolls at times, but the presentation makes it enjoyable overall. It's worth noting that the game does feel behind the times, though, in that it doesn't feature same-sex relationships, something the Sims has had since its first iteration. All in all, though, this was even more mindless than the Animal Crossing games, and definitely one best played in short sessions. Still, it's a cute and quirky game and would be good for people looking for something a little more active than playing with dolls.

Cute 'n Quirky Tomodachi Life links:
- Official website
- Nintendo Direct video
- Nintendo Minute video
- Community on Miiverse
- All the info about the game you could need (and its Japanese exclusive predecessor) at tomodachi.wikia.com
- miicharacters.com is a great site for finding Mii QR codes
- Some Fire Emblem: Awakening Mii QR codes I found online
- Review at NintendoLife

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I'm still making my way through a couple of games, so in lieu of a game review I thought I would write up my thoughts on the Fire Emblem anime, which was apparently released in the US around 1997 (and in Japan a year earlier). The anime is based on the first video game in the series, and so features series icon Marth, although in the anime he's called "Mars" (understandable, since this was the origin of Marth's Japanese name). The anime only made it to two 30-minute episodes, but oddly it was dubbed into English and released on VHS. You can still track down a VHS copy without too much trouble, although it's also easy to find on YouTube.

Anyway, I watched this a while ago, and after watching it I'm still mystified as to why it was released in the US at all. Most of the first Japanese animation brought to the US was sci-fi as opposed to high fantasy, so maybe companies were feeling out the market and seeing how it would fare. Or maybe it was scheduled for release before it tanked in Japan, and so it never got a chance to fill its role in being part of a bigger marketing push to make Fire Emblem popular outside of Japan. One can only wonder what the history behind the anime was, but aside from all of the anime's backstory, the quality of the anime, by a company called KSS, is actually quite high.

The episodes correspond to the first and third chapters of the game, and the anime does a nice job of filling in the backstory and bringing the barebones drama of the game to life. The English dub is done well and the voice acting is all pretty good, although as with the original game the story is pretty by the numbers. Aside from the fantasy setting there isn't anything that particularly stands out in comparison to other anime of the time, but fans of the series such as myself will get a definite kick out of seeing all of the familiar characters and settings (including the odd versions of now well-known names, like the afore-mentioned "Mars" instead of "Marth", and "Oguma" instead of "Ogma"). It's too bad the series was cancelled, but this is a fun bit of Fire Emblem history that fans will enjoy and worth watching.

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I've been playing way too much Fire Emblem Heroes, so for my post this week I thought I'd write up my experience working at PAX East. I imagine my experience wasn't much different from other people's, but maybe some people will find it interesting.

I suppose my story begins with responding to a posting on a popular job site. The advertisement named the specific video game company, which is large, extremely well known, and had one of the biggest booths there (apparently they posted on Craigslist as well). Apparently it's not uncommon for companies to supplement their regular staff with temps. I responded on a whim. I'd been to PAX East before, and honestly am not that into conventions (I still don't quite see the appeal of waiting for hours in line to play a game that's coming out in a couple of weeks anyway.) Anyway, I had to write up a few sentences about my interest and also submit a resume. My actual day job is completely unrelated to working a booth at PAX, but I guess I was convincing enough about both having social skills and also knowing a lot about video games, and so I got a call from the recruiter pretty soon afterwards (I think the next day).

The recruiter basically just verified that I would be available for all three days, that I had authorization to be employed, and that I lived nearby. I then had to fill out a fair amount of paperwork online, and I still hadn't heard details about where and when I was supposed to show up even a couple of days before the Friday of PAX. The recruiter said I was definitely on the list of staff, but he didn't get the info until basically the day before PAX started.

I was instructed on what to wear and to show up on Friday promptly at 7:45 in the morning. The instructions were, understandably, super serious about showing up on time, so I actually got there half an hour early. They had given me the name of the person to meet, but they didn't say anything about what he looked like, where to find him, or what his phone number was. I didn't want to text the recruiter since based on his phone number I assumed he lived on the West Coast, so I wandered around until after 8:00 before finally texting him, and then I finally met up with the guy I was supposed to meet.

From there I got in line to get in with the other staff and temps (typical metal detector setup), and then finally we were in. They gave us some time to drop off our stuff in the staff room, get a staff shirt, and check out the games they would be showing. The assignments of the games each person was going to be demoing was fairly random. I have broad tastes in general and didn't have any strong preferences, but I was happy with the game I was assigned. There was another guy who was going to be demoing the same game as I, and one of the regular staff told us a bit about the game and why the demo was for that particular section of the game, but that was pretty much the extent of our training. Neither of us knew anything about the game, which was a sequel to a game that we also didn't know anything about, but it turns out that wasn't a problem because no one asked us about it. (This was better than nothing, I suppose, because the guy at the neighboring station didn't get any guidance whatsoever.)

The doors opened for the media at 9 and for the rest of the crowd at 10, and from there it was a non-stop stream of people trying out the game. We got two 15-minute breaks and a half hour for lunch (they got us sandwiches the first day, which were actually pretty good, and also free snacks and drinks). Manning the station was pretty easy. Our instructions were to kick people off the demos if other people were waiting, and I gave people roughly 15 minutes with the game, which seemed plenty (and people were free to come back for another round if they wanted). One snag was that people saved over what was supposed to be the demo's actual start point, but this wasn't too big a deal since there was a lot of stuff to check out in the game no matter where you started, and the game wasn't overly difficult even at those later stages.

The day was pretty uneventful, and the game was interesting enough that I didn't mind watching a hundred people playing it. The 15-minute breaks were too short to do much other than walk to the bathroom and back, although I did get to see a bit more of the main floor on my lunch break. Things ended promptly at 6, although there was an event for exhibitors soon after with free booze and some snacks. I walked around more of the floor then, although the line for the drinks was long and I was pretty tired from having gotten up early and standing all day so I didn't stick around.

I'd recovered enough by Saturday morning that I was ready for another day (although for Saturday we only had to arrive at 9:15 with the doors opening at 10). The guy I was working with on Friday apparently had a foot problem from standing so long the previous day, and he was replaced by another guy. The guy from the neighboring station was sick of his game, and I was happy to trade spots. I'd done some research on both games the previous night, although it took some time watching people playing for me to figure out what would give them the best experience with the game. Otherwise Saturday was more of the same, although my game was far less popular than the game I'd demoed on Friday. This was actually fine by me as I didn't have to spend nearly as much mental power keeping track of how long everyone had been playing, since there was rarely much of a line.

After the doors closed on Saturday I met up with some friends at the handheld lounge and hung out, and also swung by the free console play rooms a bit. I was starting to feel sick, but I thought it was just from being tired from being on my feet all day. It wasn't until I got home that I got really sick, and what followed was a bad bout of food poisoning and one of the worst 24 hours I've experienced in a very long time. Most likely it was from the food we had for lunch, although I'm not sure if anyone else got sick. In any case, I texted both the recruiter and the main point of contact at the booth and apologized profusely for not being able to work Sunday. The booth guy was sympathetic and understanding, and when I asked him about it on Monday he told me they hadn't been able to get a replacement in, but the other two guys were able to cover for me. (Sundays are less packed than the other days anyway, but I still feel bad for making extra work for the others. Sorry, guys! I owe ya one!)

All in all this was a fun experience, and one that I would be happy to do again. It's probably not great for people who just want a free ticket to PAX, but as someone who enjoys being surrounded by fellow video game lovers this was a pretty painless way for me to soak in the atmosphere of PAX, check out some cool cosplay, and get paid playing some games for a weekend. And who knows, maybe I'll even wind up back again next year! ;)

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