Friday, April 10, 2015

Video Games Brought My Brother and I Closer Together

Just like Mario and Luigi are video game partners (and sometimes rivals), my brother and I are too

Since yesterday was apparently "National Siblings Day" here in U.S. (or maybe it's just one of those crappy made-up Hallmark card holidays; I honestly don't know), and it got me thinking about siblings and video games and how the two relate.

The way I got introduced to video games was though my older brother.  He got an original PlayStation when we were about six or seven years old. Like any annoying little sibling, I wanted to do everything my brother did, so of course I played video games too. From then on out, he and I would spend countless hours cooped up in his room playing games together, which I imagine caused my parents to stare at each other in disbelief and lament, "Oh god, what have we done?!" 
The first game I remember playing with my brother (and the first game I had ever played period) was 007 Racing for the original Playstation. Yes that's right. A self proclaimed Nintendo fan's first video game experience was in fact not a Nintendo game at all, but a crappy movie-spinoff racer.

Going back and researching this game, it's apparently shittier than I remembered....

Being the blissfully ignorant children we were, this game was the most amazing thing ever made. I remember the elation I felt as I would shoot heat-seeking missiles at my brother's car, blowing it to smithereens, laughing maniacally at the carnage that I caused. Of course, he later tried to make up fake rules saying that I couldn't use the heat-seeking missiles, but being the smartass little sibling I was (and still am), I called bullshit right away, or something like what a six year old child would say. I'd like to think I said bullshit in a high pitched, pre-pubescent, yet eloquent manner, but my memory from my early years can be a bit subjective sometimes.

My six year old self felt no remorse for causing large explosions, and subsequently death. Was I a psychopath? Maybe. A badass? Definitely.

Being the younger sibling, I had to really savor my victories. I don't know what it is about being the youngest, but it always seemed like my brother managed to beat me no matter what. I was always better than my friends who played games, but my brother was always two steps ahead of me. Kind of like Luigi is always in his older brother's shadow no matter what, I'm always in my brother's shadow as well. But, I'm okay with that because playing video games brought us closer together.

I'd like to think that the reason why my brother and I are so close is because we bonded so much in our early years through playing video games together.  He and I are really close in age as well (19 months apart), so we were always each other's playmates no matter what. Video games allowed us to solve problems together. For example, when I eventually got my Gamecube (my very first console), he would help me when I would get stuck in Super Mario Sunshine.  We bonded through playing games together and helping each other out.

Even if my brother got a new game and it wasn't multiplayer, I would still sit and watch him play it. We would talk about what we liked and didn't like about the game, so I think that helped us understand each other more in one way or another.We just spent a lot of time together, and video games were really the catalyst in making our relationship so strong. I will always treasure the memories of staying up late into the night watching my brother play Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, 007: Agent Under Fire and Nightfire (he and I played a lot of James Bond games for some reason, mostly because Pierce Brosnan starred in the games that were released back then and he's the perfect Bond IMO and a certified badass). I still watch my brother play video games to this day. It's something that I love to do because I get to spend time with him.

I may not have as many siblings as the Koopalings do, but I wouldn't trade my brother for anything; quality over quantity!

Nowadays, my brother and I don't have as much time to play video games as we used to (growing up sucks! How do I adult again?). So, when we do get the chance to play together, it makes it all the more special. No matter how old we get, or how much things change in our lives, playing video games with my brother will always be my favorite pastime. Those memories and feelings never age. I know that when we're 80 years old and barely alive by medical definition, he will still demand to be player one, and he will still beat me no matter how hard I try.

Some things never change, and I'm okay with that.


Thank you for reading my blog about my dearest childhood memories with my brother! What's your experience with playing games with your siblings? What are some of your earliest experiences with games? I'd love to hear!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Could Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS be the last Smash games?

In the latest Nintendo Direct, it was announced that the developers of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS are now taking suggestions for new characters to add to the already packed roster. Two new characters that are already slated to be added are the fan-favorite Pokémon, Mewtwo, and Lucas from Earthbound. Both these characters (and the new ones to be added, most likely) are going to be available to purchase as DLC. The reasoning behind the developers wanting to add new characters could be a myriad of things ranging from a shameless cash grab, to fan service (or a combination of both), but I can't help but think that there might be an alternative reason for wanting to add fan-requested characters.

Mewtwo makes his return to Smash Bros. for the first time since Melee

Literally. Lucas came out of nowhere, but why? Do we really need a Ness clone? *takes shelter*

Let's back up for a second. I'm sure the majority of you have heard about the theory that the Super Smash Bros. franchise being modeled after series creator Masahiro Sakurai's life.  I have always had a hunch that maybe some of the game's themes and characters were pertinent to the creator's life.
In the first Smash game for the Nintendo 64, the opening cutscene depicts a child bringing his toys to life in his bedroom to make them fight. Therefore, we can assume that the Smash franchise takes place in a child's imagination. With each entry in the series, the child gets older and becomes more mature. For instance, the characters were depicted as being plush toys in the first game, and became action figure-like statues in the later entires, giving the player the sense that the child was growing up.  Fittingly, Sakurai grew up with Nintendo, so this child could represent him and his progression through his childhood.
And then we have the series' main antagonist, Master Hand. He is the final boss if the player runs through Classic Mode. It seems rather strange that in a world full of Nintendo baddies, that a disembodied hand is the main villain. Well, in the Smash Bros. universe, Master Hand represents creation and ultimate power. He can be interpreted as representing Sakurai's desire to create. It makes even more sense if you look at the N64 opening cutscene, considering that a hand is the one making all the toys come to life and fight, much like Sakurai did when he created the series.
But, then we have Master Hand's alter ego, Crazy Hand. He's the complete opposite of Master Hand; he's sporadic, unpredictable, and erratic. Crazy Hand made his first appearance in Melee, which isn't a coincidence. The development of Melee was a difficult one for Sakurai. He reflected on the experience in a column he wrote for Famitsu magazine:

"On a personal level, Melee had an extremely grueling development cycle. Some of my other games did, too, but Melee sticks out far ahead of the pack in my mind. I worked on that game for 13 months straight, after all, without a single Sunday or holiday off that whole time. During parts of it, I was living a really destructive lifestyle -- I'd work for over 40 hours in a row, then go back home to sleep for four."

Sakurai has been quoted saying on multiple occasions that he dislikes making sequels, so Crazy Hand could represent that feeling. Crazy Hand's trophy info in Melee even mentions his desire to "destroy one's own creations". Since Melee was the first Smash sequel he made, this interpretation of Crazy Hand makes sense.

Crazy Hand could represent Sakurai's desire to break free of making Smash sequels and move on to other projects
Moving onto Brawl, we see Master Hand be under the control of a strange character called Tabuu in the Subspace Emissary story mode of the game. By definition, something that is "taboo" is not of the norm for society, such as playing with toys. By this time, the child is now in young adulthood, so playing with toys is seen as unacceptable. Tabuu represents adulthood and the judgement of society, and that's reflected in his appearance. He often has his arms crossed, almost judgmentally, closed off to the world. Not to mention that the fight against him is grueling, much like the fight against society and adulthood is in real life. 

Tabuu cold represent adulthood and society's judgement
In the latest installment of the franchise, Master and Crazy Hand make appearances again. However, if you face off against them on a high difficulty, they become Master Core, an insanely hard final boss that can take multiple forms. If you manage to defeat Master Core, he becomes a defenseless ball, emblazoned with the Smash Bros. logo. In this state, Master Core can't attack or hurt you, unless you take too long to defeat him, in which he will self destruct and kill himself anyways. This could represent Sakurai giving us one last hard fight, and once defeated, allowing the player to end him. He's willingly surrendering himself to the player, and to defeat.

Fierce Deity Link faces off against Master Core in the 3DS version

Sakurai has said that the two Smash Bros games he developed for Wii U and 3DS may be the last games he develops for the franchise. In an interview done with Game Informer he discussed his difficult position with developing another Smash game:

"I can't positively declare there won't be [another Smash Bros. game]. With both Melee and Brawl, I made those games with the thought that there wouldn't be any more sequels. Thus, I really can't deny the chance for another. However, as for myself, I don't think there will be. And yet, despite that, I also have trouble picturing someone else taking my place."

It's no secret that Sakurai is probably one of the most dedicated game developers out there. He works impossibly hard to produce the very best games possible. As a result of that dedication, he sets a higher and higher standard for himself, which he compares to a noose tightening around his neck. Creating the Smash Bros. games has taken a very big toll on him, but it's still very understandable that he would have trouble leaving a franchise that he himself created and has worked so hard on. But, as was evident in the inclusion of Master Core, it really does seem that he intends on leaving the franchise, despite being stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Perhaps relating Master and Crazy Hand and Master Core to Sakurai can seem like a bit of stretch, but the franchise really is his baby, and they say that you write about what you know, and I think the same goes for him.

So what does this have to do with the inclusion of fan-requested characters?

Well, this is the first time the developers have done something like this. It seems to me that they're possibly trying to prolong the life of the Wii U and 3DS versions by adding more and more content. Could it be possible that they're doing this because these games might be the last? With the series' creator possibly leaving, it seems plausible to me.
Sakurai himself said that he couldn't see the series continuing without him. He's set a pretty high bar for anyone who comes after him, so it remains to be seen if anyone could live up to the legacy he's already created. All good things must come to an end, after all.
On the other hand, Smash Bros. is one of Nintendo's most successful and well-loved franchises. If Sakurai were to leave, they'd probably find someone else to take his place. Not to mention that in today's day and age, it's very common for developers to add content in the form of DLC to their existing games. Perhaps Nintendo is just keeping up with the times.

Take a break, Sakurai, You deserve it.

However, when I was playing the Wii U version, I couldn't help but see the signs of Sakurai's decision to leave and pay homage to the other games. The different menu themes of previous games play, and the credits theme is a mashup of all the previous Smash Bros. theme songs. I can't help but feel like that's a nostalgic goodbye of some sort. Whether it's a goodbye to the creator of the series, or to the series itself, that remains to be seen.

Be it the end of the series or not, I think Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U will be the Smash games that we will play for a very long time. After all, there was a 6 year gap between Melee and Brawl, and an 8 year gap between Brawl and the current versions. And with Nintendo's new console on the horizon, who knows what the future has in store for the Smash Bros. franchise.


Thanks for reading! I love to pick apart my favorite games (as does Game Theory), so everything I talked about is how I (and many others) interpret the game. What do you guys think? Is the Smash franchise coming to end if Sakurai leaves? Why or why not? What are some characters you'd like to see be added to Smash?