more than one aquarium

After two years of development, Aquaria is out. Is it better than Sketchy, my own aborted attempt at making an indie “Metroidvania”? Absolutely. Is it the best indie game to come out of the U.S.? Most likely. Is it better than Cave Story? Probably. Is it worth $30? Download the demo and decide for yourself.

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It’s a… nice day for a… whitelisting

At the suggestion of striderhlc, I’m compiling two lists of the top five games that are PERFECTLY SAFE to buy your children this Christmahannukwanza. I realize that Inverted Castle is no Gamespot or IGN (although I am willing to plaster the site with advertising for whatever game you want to pay me to advertise, and I promise that if I don’t like your heavily-advertised game, I will not say anything bad about it, and if I accidentally do say something bad about it I promise to promptly fire myself and claim that I’ve been “skating on thin ice for a while now”)… where was I? Oh yeah! I’m no Gamespot or IGN, so my opinion has very little clout, but I’ll post my lists anyway, and maybe other, bigger blogs and review sites will be inspired to post their own.

I’m splitting this into two lists: “5 games that are appropriate for — and enjoyable by — people of all ages”, and “5 games that are macho enough that your teenager won’t feel emasculated playing them — which is of utmost importance to teenagers — but are also not as violent as an R-rated movie”. I’m also going to try to keep all of these games fairly recent. So, here we go!

5 games that are appropriate for — and enjoyable by — people of all ages

  1. Super Mario Galaxy (Wii): For a couple of weeks, this game was the most positively reviewed video game of all time. Now it’s been bumped down to second place by Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time which, honestly, was super-amazing when it came out but hasn’t aged that well. Anyway, most people, parents included, are familiar with how non-violent Mario is. His enemies are mushrooms and turtles, and he jumps on top of them to either squash them flat (in the case of the mushrooms) or cartoonishly squirt them out of their shells (in the case of the turtles). Sometimes there are cannon balls and bullets, but they all have big smiley faces on them and appear to hurt Mario about as much as being hit with a grapefruit. In this installment of the series, Mario travels across a galaxy of planets akin to the ones in The Little Prince, collecting stars that have fallen out of the night sky. Video games don’t get much more whimsical than that.
  2. Beautiful Katamari (XBox360): This is the latest installment in the quirky-yet-beloved Katamari Damacy video game series. Developed by the Japanese artist Keita Takahashi, the Katamari Damacy games all follow the same basic formula: you play a tiny little two-inch-tall prince, rolling a two-inch-tall ball around a house. The ball is sticky, so when you roll over something tiny like, say, a postage stamp, it sticks to the ball and the ball gets a tiny bit bigger. As the ball gets bigger and bigger, it can roll up bigger things, until you get the ball big enough to leave the house and roll up some garbage cans and mailboxes, then some people, then some cars, then you come back and roll up the house itself, and then the neighborhood, and so on until you’ve rolled up all of the world’s continents! The games’ graphics have a goofy, blocky, Lego-like style to them, and even though you do roll up people and cows and giraffes and other living things, everything the ball picks up stays fully intact, and the people and animals you acquire wave their arms comically in a way that’s more likely to provoke giggles than nightmares.
  3. Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords (XBox 360, Wii, DS, PSP): If you’ve had this list handed to you, then you’re probably a parent shopping for your child, and if you’re a parent then it’s likely that you’ve played Bejeweled at some point. Puzzle Quest, despite the “Warlords” in the title, is like a typical “knight on a quest” video game, except instead of fighting bloody fights against monsters, you play a two-player version of Bejeweled against them. Just like the typical “knight on a quest” video games, you learn new fighting techniques and buy better weapons and armor as you progress through the game, but having a more powerful sword just gives you an edge in the two-player Bejeweled game, and has nothing to do with bloodshed.
  4. Meteos: Disney Magic (DS): Special tip for parents who don’t play video games: 99% of the time, video games based on movies, TV shows, or other licensed properties are total crap. One of the few exceptions to that is Meteos: Disney Magic. Disney is surprisingly savvy when it comes to getting video game companies to make good games out of their properties; Meteos was originally one of the earliest games for the Nintendo DS, and was a puzzle game, along the lines of Tetris or Bejewelled, where the player had to link falling blocks together to fling them back up into the sky. The gameplay was very catchy, and Disney collaborated with Meteos‘s developer to create Meteos: Disney Magic, a game which keeps the established, abstract gameplay of the original Meteos and gives it a thick coat of Disney characters and charm.
  5. Chibi Robo: Park Patrol (DS): The original Chibi Robo for the Gamecube put you in control of a four-inch-tall silver robot with a plug for a tail, who ran around a family’s house cleaning it and doing favors for the family members. Video games have a strange way of making entertainment out of things you’d consider to be chores in the real world. In this sequel, you control a Chibi Robo who’s been assigned to clean up a run-down public park, and doing so primarily entails watering flowers so they grow and dancing for the flowers so they produce seeds. Helping out plants, animals, and people in the game rewards you with “happiness points”, which you exchange for “watts” to power your tiny robot (by plugging his plug tail into an electrical outlet) or to spend on tools to help you with your gardening. There are enemies in the game, but they are things like “smoglings” which are allergic to water and which will simply make your flowers wilt if they go unchecked. The game’s most convincing endorsement is the fact that it’s exclusively sold at Wal-Mart in the US, and as Wal-Mart is famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) for muscling edgey bands into sanitizing their album art and even their song lyrics, you know it has to be wholesome for them to support it so strongly. Fortunately, this is one of those few games which is very wholesome and still manages to be very entertaining.

5 games that are macho enough that your teenager won’t feel emasculated playing them — which is of utmost importance to teenagers — but are also not as violent as an R-rated movie

  1. Rock Band (XBox 360, PS3, PS2): At $170, this is by far the most expensive game on the list, but that’s because the game includes a four-head electronic drum kit, two guitar-shaped-and-sized controllers, and a microphone. Players invite their friends over (or kick it Partridge-style if you’ve got a big enough family), and use the instrument-shaped controllers and microphone to play along with 58 different popular songs. The XBox 360 and PS3 versions of the game also give you the option of buying and downloading more songs for the game after you’ve blazed through those first 58. At $170 you’re probably wondering why you don’t just shell out a little more and buy your kids some REAL instruments. The answer is that it will take your kid about a year to learn to play “Next to You” by the Police on a real guitar, by which time he’ll probably have lost interest, and it will only take him an hour to learn to play it on Rock Band, and he’ll be elated. The reason Rock Band is in the teen category is that although the makers of the game are careful to pick teen-friendly songs, they’re still a little edgey, and also because teens seem to be more interested in rock and roll than their raging-hormone-deprived younger siblings.
  2. Guitar Hero III (Pretty much every system that doesn’t fit in your pocket): See Rock Band above, but remove the drums, the microphone, and one of the guitars and halve the price. You can add a second guitar for two-player action.
  3. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Wii): First-person shooters are typically a very violent genre of video games, and have spawned Doom, the most maligned video game in the history of mankind. Metroid is a series of science fiction games about a female bounty hunter named Samus who explores space stations and caves in search of space pirates and life-sucking jellyfish called metroids. The games are built on a balance of exploration and fighting alien monsters; for example, in almost every Metroid game, the first thing Samus gets is the ability to roll up into a little ball to squeeze through tight passages and do more exploring. The second thing she usually gets is the ability to fire missiles at the monsters. For years, the Metroid games were two-dimensional, side-scrolling games, but the Metroid Prime series combines the series’ balance of fighting and exploration with a 3D, first-person perspective, with spectacular results. And while most first-person shooters pride themselves on their realism, arming you with authentic guns, pitting you against human opponents, and rewarding you for shooting them in the head, the Metroid Prime series is filled with the same sorts of outlandish alien monsters as earlier games in the series, which flash when you shoot them with your lasergun or your space missiles, and “pop” when they die rather than exploding in a shower of vicera. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is the first installment of the series for the Wii, and the “corruption” in the title refers to a living computer in the game being infected by viruses.
  4. Bleach: The Blade of Fate (DS): Bleach is a popular cartoon about a cocky, red-headed teenage boy named Ichigo who more or less accidentally becomes a “God of Death”, and spends an average of 3/4 of each episode in a swordfight with other “Gods of Death”, or against evil ghost monsters called “Hollows”. Despite all the swordfighting and talk of death, however, nobody ever dies, except some of the more monstrous Hollows. There is blood, and there are bruises, but all of the injuries are the kind you’d expect from a schoolyard fistfight, not from a deadly swordfight. Bleach: The Blade of Fate is one of the video games based on Bleach, and by far the most enjoyable. It pits characters from the cartoon against each other in one-on-one swordfights with lots of spectacular effects, but even the most vicious attacks have as much visible effect on opponents as being whipped with a wet noodle. Note that, like Meteos: Disney Magic, this game is one of the very rare exceptions to the rule of “video games based on licensed properties are crap”, so be careful not to pick up a different Bleach video game or a crappy game based on a similar cartoon by mistake.
  5. Odin Sphere (PS2): Odin Sphere is an absolutely beautiful video game in which all of the graphics look like moving oil paintings, and the plot of which is based on Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” operas. The primary gameplay consists of running around a side-scrolling area that loops back on itself (like the 1980 video game Defender), fighting through waves of monsters. Although there are some human-looking monsters, most of them are things like frogs and ghosts and dragons, and the oil-painted violence in Odin Sphere is significantly less gratuitous than the violence in the Lord of the Rings movies. It’s not all mindless violence, however, because when you defeat enemies they release points of light called “phozons”, and you have to choose whether you want to absorb the phozons into your weapon to make your attack stronger, or if you want to plant seeds and feed the phozons to them to grow fruit which will make your defense stronger, and which you can brew into potions or cook into meals which provide a variety of different effects.

For more suggestions, check out the “family” section of Gamespot’s holiday gift guide. They don’t have a “suggestions for teens” section, though, which I think is important, because “family” game lists are usually comprised primarily of cutesy games that teenagers wouldn’t be caught dead playing, and “benign” games like golf and “edutainment” which would bore most players of any age to tears.

This I command!!

Attention internets! There has been far too much wasted potential for silly names in the discussion of video game company mergers. I therefore propose the following:

  • The merger of Activision and Blizzard shall henceforth be known as “Actiblizzion”.
  • The merger of Square, Enix, and Taito shall henceforth be known as “Squanto”.
  • The merger of Bandai, Namco, and Banpresto shall henceforth be known as “Banampresto”.
  • The merger of Sega, Sammy, and Dimps shall henceforth be known as “Smegma”.

That is all.