Tuesday, November 29, 2011

#0032: WCW Grip n' Flip Figures

Rasslin' is a funny thing, really. At it's best, it's a spectacle to behold, as two (or more. Rarely less) combatants put together a beautifully choreographed and wonderfully executed match that tells a story, ebbs and flows naturally yet dramatically, and finishes so epically that the crowd rises to their feet.

At it's worst, and commonly it's conception by non-fans looking in, it's a bunch of burly men in tights pretending to fight, while hurling slander at each other before a massive crowd of rednecks.

Methinks neither of those descriptions will appease pro wrestling enthusiasts. In the former paragraph, I broke kayfabe. In the latter, I generalised fans as rednecks. And tragically, any crowd shot will affirm this as being true. The vast majority of wrestling fans are, truthfully, rednecks. I myself can even attest to this in a live environment, from an event I attended in 2000. Main event was Curt Hennig vs. Dennis Rodman. Wasn't great.

Since the last two-pack entry went so well (I mean, I liked it), I thought I might as well continue that trend, by dishing out some hardcore pain with the WCW/nWo Goldberg vs. Hollywood Hulk Hogan Grip n' Flip figures. That was potentially the longest name for a toy ever.

I can scarcely remember when it was, or where we were going, but I first came upon these muscular friends while my father, sister and I were on a road trip. We were at a department store, and when I first laid eyes upon them, I knew that I most assuredly had to have them. Because like I said in a prior entry, I was a big WCW fan during the turn of the millennium, and Hulk Hogan was my favourite wrestler at the time.

And so, I forked out a sum of money that was somewhere in the realm of $35. I guess it was an allowance for this trip or something, because I distinctly remember it being my money to spend, and to this day, whenever I'm short of cash, I deeply regret spending those $35 that day, when I need that money so much more today.

An odd thought. But one I still can't shake. I need that cash for food and transport, and my wrestling toys have never given me either of these things.

Anyhow. They're very nicely crafted figures (though they've got some weird moulding around their abs that looks like rice), and their claim to fame is their magnetic hands. ...Haha, that sounds like an excuse a molester would use. 'Magnetic hands'.

So you bump their fists together, and then squeeze their left leg to lift their arms, causing them to fling each other about. There's also a magnetic panel on the collapsing chair, allowing it to become a weapon, and on Hogan's back, allowing him to become a blonde projectile.

See it in action!

It got kind of awkward when it transitioned to them riding an invisible see-saw before a majestic skydiving session. Furthermore, I think there's something very wrong with the magnet in Goldberg's left hand. Locking fists with Hogan has made some strange mist emerge that resembles smoke. I have no idea how or why that has happened, but it renders even the friendliest attempt at dap incredibly deadly.

One of the excellent things about these toys was that I always felt okay in throwing them around and treating them like dirt. After all, that's what they're made for, right? Brutal pummeling! Throw them off the tabletop, watch them tumble down the stairs, pit them off against an angry dog... It has the makings of being the cruelest, most bizarre wrestling event in history. Mildly akin to The Running Man.

The additional props these guys come with are pretty good, too. The chair is strictly for melee use, however, because these fellas have knees so stiff it would make Al Gore feel flexible. There's actually only one way to even position them atop the chair, and it's...

...Inappropriate, at best.

The title belt is even better. Because it can be given to any appropriately sized toy, no matter what lore they hail from.

I spent many an enjoyable minute sifting through my legion of plastic contenders, crowning each champion as I so chose. People may have even forked out good money for the pay-per-view event, in which Kermit the Frog narrowly eked out a win against an ultra-competitive Koosh.

In fact, I don't think I'm done yet. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go back to crowning ridiculous world heavyweight champions!

#0031: Maxwell & Penelope

Hamtaro! When we work together, it's much better. Hamtaro! We like sunflower seeds, krum krum krum. Hamtaro! Little hamsters, big adventures!

...No, there is no particular reason for me to own toys from an anime series marketed to prepubescent girls. Other than... It was on Cheez TV on weekdays, before Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z.

Morning television was a necessary ritual for school kids of my era: you'd wake up roughly two hours before you had to head off to school, and get your awesome cartoon fixin's. Back in 1997, I opted for Agro's Cartoon Connection, and I can scarcely remember what I saw. There was this futuristic cartoon, with like, a princess, and a dinosaur henchman, and in one episode, the princess was trying to do the unexpected, and they worked together, and they said that they should team up in future, and the dinosaur was all 'don't find that to be... unexpected', and it was pretty badass.

Year(s) went by, and Cheez TV became the channel of choice, overwhelming the competition with their arsenal of anime programs. The aforementioned Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z, they were mainstays. When kids got to school, they'd discuss what happened in DBZ with great excitement.

It took us years to realise that these updates were only necessarily on a fortnightly basis, because most episodes were spent discussing prior transgressions, or a solid twenty minutes of screaming as someone powered up. I always wondered why the opponents never took that opportunity to attack. I mean, it seems like a particularly vulnerable moment, but instead they chose to stand there, grunting in disbelief.

In 2004, a new challenger entered the fray, and it brought the greatest weapon of all: a bevy of cute, cuddly hamsters. ...Hamha!

My favourite (I'm allowed to have a favourite) was the book-smart Ham-Ham, Maxwell. As you can see here, they were packaged as a set of two, as Maxwell shared his plastic abode with the youngest Ham-Ham, Penelope.

There, have you gotten enough factoids? I've kept that bit of cardboard for no apparent reason for the last seven years, and it's finally served a purpose. It can die a happy manboard.

At the time, I did of course realise that I was not the intended demographic for these toys. If the source content wasn't enough to tip me off, perhaps the fact that most of the packs were in settings of luncheon dates and slumber parties did. But I cared not. For Maxwell was thuggin' and buggin', and he came equipped with a rocking horse, a carrot, and a small baby. It was like the contents of a crack house, it was awesome.

When I first opened them up, I was met with a dilemma. I really had nothing to do with them. I wasn't really playing with toys anymore in 2004, but that didn't stop me from still buying them every now and then. Hence, I had the set of Ninja Turtles from the series revival, and on the other end of the spectrum, the duo of Maxwell and Penelope. Two different worlds, most assuredly. I tried to get Leonardo to ride the rocking horse, and he was most unaccommodating.

Frankly, the Ham-Hams don't really do anything. Their playtime sessions are quite akin to an old English comedy; lots of witty dialogue, with very little in the way of action. They're basically model replicas of their on-screen equivalents, other than the enormous holes in their bottom, allowing them to mount the rocking horse in a fashion akin to the vehicle Mr. Garrison invents in season five of South Park.

My intention is to pass these on to my young niece. She's old enough not to put things in her mouth, so I don't have to worry about her swallowing the carrot. And even if she does, it'll probably be okay, because carrots are supposed to be healthy.

Anyhow, if you aren't quite clear about the sort of mischief a group of curious hamsters would get up to, I'll leave you now with a brief video that shows some of their greatest moments...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Coming attractions...

...without Jay Sherman. (heaven forbid!)

Just thought I'd give y'all a sneak peek at some of the items you could possibly look forward to in future entries. A smattering of crap I nabbed randomly from my unholy tub of plastic.

How long it takes me to get to any of them, I'm unsure. Could be in-production for five years, after all.

Should you have any particular requests (things you see here, or things you assume I might have), leave a comment and I'll do my best to accommodate!

And don't forget, pretty much every item I've done is up for grabs at no cost (except postage and handling. I lie. SOME cost.), so make sure you get in early to ensure the next Elmer Fudd toy is yours!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

#0030: Manta Ray

Can't say I was ever a Transformers fan. I don't know whether I just missed out, or if the concept of robots battling each other simply didn't grab me. In any case, it wasn't until seven years ago that I discovered Megatron was the name of the enemy. Ouch!

I do, however, recall occasionally watching and enjoying 1996's CGI Beast Wars series. Because now, they were animals! And animals are fun.

To coincide with this exciting new chapter in Transformers lore, McDonald's introduced Happy Meal toys featuring the characters. The set included favorites like Beetle, Panther and Manta Ray.

...I have no idea who any of those people are.

In today's age of blatant false advertising, Manta Ray could be considered refreshing. True to her moniker, she has the ability to transform into a manta ray.

And by 'transform', I mean you can move a ray head either on or off over her noggin. And frankly, that's the loosest definition of transform I have ever come across. If I put on a Jack Skellington hoodie, I don't suddenly become the pumpkin king, now do I?


...No, I apparently do not.

Manta Ray features some particularly unambitious design. Her arms can be moved, and her legs can be turned outwards, which makes her look like she's doing a square dance. She has great big screws puncturing her boobs and nether regions like a robotic parallel to Jesus, and a grand tally of five different colours. One of those colours is black. Another is silver.

On the plus side, she looks pretty damn hilarious when you turn her to the side so she just looks like a ray with arms and legs. Like a crappy superhero, or a Lady Gaga costume.

The most interesting thing about this character is that, if I'm not mistaken, in Japan, Manta Ray is male. It's not dissimilar (double negative, ho-ho!) to English dubs of animes like Sailor Moon, where genders have been altered to overwrite homosexual relationships.

Does that mean that Manta Ray had a gay lover in Japanese lore? Manta Gay?

I dunno. But I am pleased as punch about how much material I managed to muster about such a simple little toy. I'm now looking forward to seeing if Manta Ray ever resurfaces (zing!) in the Transformers movies; be it as a female, a male, or something in between.

...Wait, why do the robots have genders?

#0029: The Clown

There are occasionally times when the line between children’s series and mature programming are blurred. If the content is dark, violent and uncouth, is it unacceptable to market certain aspects towards the young’ins? I’d venture to say it’s iffy territory, but time and time again, I’ve been proven wrong.

Hundreds of Beetlejuice toys hit the market, and even a cartoon series, making Tim Burton’s original flick seem as though it’s suited for all ages. I watched it as a kid, and I was fine. Now, though, I can’t help but question… Do I want my kids to watch Beetlejuice spout foul language, and act like a lecherous pervert? Wouldn't they get enough of that from watching me, anyway?

The Terminator films contained explosions, blood and strong language (though the second was obviously much less gritty), yet kids were treated to delightful Arnold Schwarzenegger toys, complete with tattered flesh and a big honkin’ gun. As well as Austrian-accented banter. I liked for my Terminator to shout ‘There is no bathroom!’

I realise; a lot of these figures have age-restrictions on the packaging, but… they’re kid’s toys, y’know? They’re not the high-quality models for collectors, they’re plastic playthings for tots. At least, you’d be excused for thinking this when they’re found in the same toy aisle as Gumby and My Little Pony.

Like I said, I shouldn’t complain, and I shouldn’t be a prude. Christ, I watched a lot worse than that in my youth, and so far the only negative effects I’ve noticed are desensitization to gore in fictional media, a slight penchant for casual swearing, and, when I’m bored, the occasional flaying(!!!)

Today, we take a squiz at one of the culprits behind antsy parents eventually attempting to put the squash on mature toys and video games. Toys have gotten by fine, but video games are still yet to recover. And dammit, I blame you, John Leguizamo Clown!

I don’t know how or why Todd McFarlane’s Spawn series leaked its way into toys, but I guess it was inevitable. Nearly every comic book character has their own toy line, from Batman to Spiderman to Arm Fall Off Boy (at least, someday, hopefully!). Spawn started off as a comic series about a murdered U.S. marine who makes a deal with the devil to return to the mortal plane, only to go back on his word and fight evil instead.

So far, in that one sentence synopsis, we’ve dealt with treachery, murder, and HELL. Does that sound like appropriate fare for kiddies to you? For crying out loud, Mulligrubs got cancelled for being too scary.

I’ll stop harping on this point now. I’m sure you’re getting sick of it. I’m sick of it, mostly because it’s made my fury about the absence of an Arm Fall Off Boy action figure resurface. Anyway, in the distant year of 1994, the Spawn toys hit the scene, and they were the hot ticket on the birthday present scene.

I myself was awarded this guy right here, and immediately I pondered… well shit, he’s ugly, isn’t he? I know that the Spawn series wasn’t filled to the brim with supermodels, but the big fat scary clown man certainly wasn’t what I had in mind.

The Clown is the alternative form of the hellish demon Violator, which is a huge, hulking creature that looks like a cross between a praying mantis and really, really old chewing gum.

In the same vein as our dearly departed Slobster, the Clown’s hideous look belies some really, really pretty craftsmanship. His colours are accurate, his clothes are detailed, his hair is wild and scraggly, and his gut hangs out like a champion. He looks like what would happen if one of your weird distant uncles went off to join the evil circus.

He’s not terribly poseable, his legs being attached firmly to his torso (like most fat people), but his arms can wriggle up and down. Me personally, I like to point his right arm to the air in a defiant declaration that disco is alive and well.

Tragically, my Clown has some unsightly paint wear on his arm, exposing his dark blue undercoat. Fortunately, this can still be attributed to this human form only being a guise for the wicked Violator, hence the fleshy exterior isn’t real anyway. …I don’t know why I like to try and explain my toys’ wear and tear, I just do.

This damage is only apparent in his right arm however, which is a removable piece that I lost for a period of time. Why is it removable? Why, because he’s really Arm Fall Off Boy it holds magic powers, my dear!

Pardon the presence of two strikethroughs in one entry. I just couldn’t bear to part with either of them. Now you see, if you turn the Clown’s right arm around, he transforms into…


Well… sorta. He actually looks more like he has harlequin ichthyosis, but we won’t split hairs. This angry, veiny fetus of doom theoretically represents the middle ground between Clown and Violator. In essence, I myself feel violated.

As a result of this dandy little feature, the Clown is loaded with springs and cogs in his interior that makes him completely inappropriate for bath time play. But frankly, the Clown should never be allowed in your bathtub to begin with. I mean, just look at him. It’d be the spookiest water-based assailant since Jaws, and I’m pretty sure he’d stink out the tub, to boot.

I don’t think I’ll particularly miss my Clown. He’s an also-ran in the venerable history of TonyToys, an outcast who didn’t get much love. If you asked me to choose an enemy for the next playtime session, I would much rather opt for Bebop. Yes, I would rather choose a bumbling anthropoid warthog than an almighty demon, simply because he comes in the form of an obese clown. Look, you can find 800 guys who look just like the Clown walking around Manhattan, but Bebop, he’s unique, you see. Must be the purple Mohawk.


My mate Sonic

In case it wasn't drummed in your head enough times prior to this, I was a massive fan of Sonic the Hedgehog growing up. And I still love that blue gaffer, be it in his classic, pudgy form, or as the spindly wise-ass of today.

Me and Sonic, we go way back, you see. As soon as I nabbed my first Sonic game bundled with the Sega Genesis (Sonic 2, in case you were wondering. I was a year late to the party), I was hooked. Whether it was Sonic gear for my birthday, or a Sonic costume for Halloween, I was proud to show off my true colours (blue, with some red thrown in).

...Oops! How did that third photo get in there? Isn't that the figure set that came bundled in the collector's edition...?

Why, yes. Yes, it is.

A little while ago, I bit the bullet and made the most frivolent purchase of my young life. I'm not entirely proud of it, but I can't help but feel satisfied. For I paid a grand tally of $527.32 Australian to nab the elusive box of wonder.

Because, like I said, Sonic Generations is more than a game. It's a culmination and celebration of 20 years worth of fandom (well, 19 in my case, but let's not split hairs). Consider this my way of thanking Sonic for years of good service, and as I proceed in this blog, expect to see one or two pieces of Sonic gear finally leaving my possession.

Like Sonic, I'm growing up, and it's time for me to give a little piece of my past to the next generation.

Though, that's not entirely true. It's not like I'm going to offload something awesome like Sonic & Knuckles or Sonic Adventure 2... More likely, they'll just get the Sonic candy container or something. But still. It's the thought that counts.

Sonic the Hedgehog... here's to 20 more years, and many more beyond that!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

#0028: The Face of Evil

Look, I have no way of beating around the bush. What I have here is simply the most horrifying thing I have ever owned, excluding perhaps the crawling army man doll that scared the bejeezus out of me as a toddler. I see no reason for this to be in the possession of any man, woman or child, and I apologise for my selfishness in unleashing its curse upon whomsoever is its unfortunate recipient.

After all, for the briefest of moments as I was shifting through my toy chest, when I first laid eyes on this, I thought that somebody had ripped Wario’s face off. And that’s never a good sign for a child’s toy, now is it?

This is the destroyer of worlds. The gobbler of souls. The buyer of Roseanne DVDs. Observe, if you dare, the face of evil.


Why in god’s name does this heaven-forsaken thing exist? If you were unaware due to nervous distraction (or possible premature fatality), this thing is actually a finger puppet. You stick your fingers in the four holes in its back, and wiggle them around to make its hideous maw flex and contort. Whether or not you actually get your fingers back afterwards, is anybody’s guess.

Evil faces are always scary, of course, but this guy here really takes the cake. He should have been the major villain in all of my playtime adventures; the wicked puppet master pulling the strings for the lesser nemeses. Jeez, if Andross looked like this, I would have simply torn out of the room in terror, leaving Fox McCloud unguided and causing the downfall of the Lylat system.

I suppose it was for a lack of functionality, predominantly. Whereas enemy numero uno (Beetlejuice) could kick and fly and jettison his head for nefarious reasons, this finger puppet fiend really only comes with the ability to bite. Unless you count looking really frightening as a capability, in which case he had that in spades.

Actually, I’m seriously considering sending it to somebody in the mail. That would be a really excellent way to freak people out, wouldn’t it? Is it a death threat? A foreboding warning? A voodoo hex? It truly has the capability of making you assume the worst. If I ever received a package with this inside, I’d call all of my friends and family to make sure they’re okay. Then I’d tell them to lock all doors and windows, and call the police.

I wonder how I ended up with this thing? I can’t see my parents gazing upon its visage and deciding, ‘yes, our son will adore this delightful new friend’. Has it been in my family for generations, like some dark, sinister family secret? I suppose that would be the more interesting possible origin, though it makes me worry that when I do try to dispose of it, it’ll end up right back on my pillow the very next morning.

Fortunately for me though, I have a wide arsenal of heroes to lay waste to this beast. I don’t know about other kids, but my good guy to bad guy toy ratio was about 20:1. You needed to have the protagonist and all of his plethora of friends ready to save the day, and you only rarely nabbed a villain or two for plot reasons, or with the sole purpose in life of being brutally thrashed.

When I have kids, I should arm them with no more than Shredder and Dr. Robotnik, forcing them to play with them to day’s end, only occasionally introducing auxiliary characters in an effort to increase the children’s bond with these misunderstood foes. What a terrible, tyrannical father I shall be.

But I digress (heavily). Let’s see if my stable of light can best this wicked evil-doer?

Poor Garfield scarcely put up a fight. His green kneepads and effeminate flowery shirt might have seemed like suitable protection against the dastardly puppet, but in the end, they’re little more than mere chew toys.

Streex came in with a lot of confidence and a collection of broken street signs to do battle with, but a simple stare-down with his opponent led him to shriek in horror, tearing down the street as fast as his rollerblades would take him.


It’s not very effective…


PIDGEY fainted!

Poor Pidgey. It couldn't grasp the true form of the face's attack.

…Toykind… is doomed…

Sunday, November 13, 2011

#0027: Mr. Plaid

Clearly, some toys are not to be trusted. I mean, you shouldn't really be trusting any of your toys with anything important, like driving you to the hospital or delivering your baby, but some are much worse than others.

Ladies and gentlemen, exhibit A: Mr. Plaid.

Let's put things into perspective a little. That picture right there? With Mr. Plaid snorting some hedgehog ass? Completely unposed.

I just opened up the closet door and found them that way. And call me nutty, but I swear Sonic has not smiled quite the same since.

So already, you know this Plaid guy is bad news. Molesting his countrymen, grinning broadly amidst a mess of wild grey hair, and sporting the kind of fashion sense that would make Lady Gaga blush.

Methinks, if memory serves, Plaid was a prize won in an arcade in Las Vegas. Can't say for sure, and he's certainly not going to tell me (I dare not lean in to hear his whispers), so I'll just have to go with my gut instinct on this one. So Mr. Plaid originated from an arcade in Las Vegas. Totally not a sleazy place for him to watch children or anything.

The biggest problem with Mr. Plaid, you see, is that there's so much going on there, what with the colours and the stripes and all, that you can't quite put your finger on exactly what it is that makes him so unsettling. In fact, he's so loud, it's almost disarming. Surely a dude who looks this bad just has a really wicked sense of humor, yeah?

I don't know. All I do know is that I keep finding articles of women's clothing strewn about from whence Plaid has been, and it's frankly quite unsettling.

What have you done, you pink freak??!!

Settle... Settle... Until you find the bodies, there's no proof...

Right. I'm okay.

Anyhow, one of the things I find funny about our furry friend here, is the concept that he began his journey as a prize of some sort, the kind you would be rewarded with for succeeding in a game of skill.

And I can't help but wonder, what kind of feelings this prize would evoke? Disappointment? Bewilderment? Sheer, unbridled horror?

You pay your money and play the game to win a prize. When your end result is something so queer and unsettling, you really have to ask yourself why you bothered in the first place.

Or maybe you needed a little creepy buddy in your day to day activities. A confidant. An accomplice to your homicidal secrets. Mr. Plaid would be awesome to confide in if you got up to some really sick, horrid shit.

Like I said, though, just make sure you don't get too close. You might end up with something in your ear that shouldn't be there.

Here we see an innocent Treecko taking in the morning rays. Little does he know, that Mr. Plaid is nearby, watching. And really, this is a silly mistake for a Pokémon to make, because, of course, Mr. Plaid is always watching.

Oh no! Now Mr. Plaid has Treecko in his vile clutches. He squeezes the unfortunate critter with all his might, giddily enjoying this most brutal cuddle.

The end result... is simply tragic. He never stood a chance.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why I love Miis

It isn’t my intention to turn this blog into a general observation about everything, but with the end of the Nintendo Wii looming on the horizon, set to make way for the grand arrival of its successor, the Wii U, I thought I might as well take note of one of my favourite aspects introduced by the Wii.

These are Miis. By now, you should be well aware of what one is. They are, effectively, an avatar of yourself (or someone else, should you be so inclined), and at a base level, they make for an easy way to identify a player. When you’re starting up a save file for a new game, you assign your Mii to its profile, and boom, everyone knows whose file it is.

Beyond that, however, the Miis have had various other roles. At times, in a playable capacity, giving the player an on-screen self-representation to follow. Other times, the Miis litter themselves throughout a gaming experience, background players who are interchangeable.

And it is this latter aspect that I love so dearly. It’s an odd fascination that I have, but if you bear with me for a moment, I’ll impart a few reasons that, hopefully, might make you feel the same. At least, a little bit.

First of all, one of the major things you’ll do when you’re making your Miis is to recreate a few of your closest friends. Whether they take charge of forming their own likeness, or you painstakingly construct your friends yourself, you’ll have the same end result; an army of Miis who at least vaguely resemble your friends and family.

The most immediate use of the Miis is, obviously, as a player avatar; you play a game as yourself. This is most apparent in the ‘Wii’ series of games (Wii Sports, Wii Play, Wii Fit, etc.), since the series was meant as a way of introducing gamers to the functions of the Wii remote.

What the Wii series does, however, is quite forgettable in most eyes, but novel in mine. It will randomly assign other Miis to non-playable roles. In Wii Fit’s soccer game, the other Miis will kick soccer balls towards you. In Wii Music, your Miis will dot the audience, watching and applauding your performance.

At a base level, this probably won’t make much difference. However, it’s because you’ve assigned each of these Miis a real-life persona, that their presence is welcoming, at times, even hilarious.

Take the tightrope-walking game in Wii Fit, for example. You’re tasked with walking from one building to another, calmly stepping forward while keeping your balance. Miis will populate various windows, and a couple will be waiting on the roof at your destination, cheering you on. These aren’t just random characters like Mario or Donkey Kong, these are your friends! And they’re there to lend their support!

One of the games that best implements Miis is Mario Kart Wii. First off, Miis are playable, and their weight class is influenced by how tall and heavy you made your Mii. Each Mii is even assigned their own voice, and although each weight class/gender combination only has about three different possibilities, the fact that two similar Miis can sound different is a nice touch.

Then, you’ll notice that the Miis will appear throughout the game, in various capacities. A large Mario statue will suddenly have the head of your friend from school. Your cousin will feature on a poster in a shopping mall and, quite amusingly, your father-in-law could be driving his car aimlessly back and forth, threatening to block your path and ruin your race.

Just earlier today, I giggled with amusement as a bust of Luigi and Daisy had transformed into Eben, a friend from theatre, and Tara, a friend I had met in New York. These two have never met each other, but the Miis will so casually be assigned that any combination is credible and acceptable.

You might never understand my fascination with the random, pointless appearances that my friends and family make in the games I’m playing, but I for one applaud Miis, and I was happy to see their continued use on the 3DS and the Wii U.

The Miis proved so popular, that shortly afterwards, Microsoft introduced avatars for the Xbox 360; complete with heavily customizable costumes and animations. And though it’s nifty to watch my Xbox avatar chase after Hornswoggle or operate a flying vehicle from Halo, the Miis are still the ones who catch my fancy. There’s just something about having a character identified as you, who in theory at least vaguely resembles you, in there, battling, racing, leaping and questing like Nintendo’s greatest heroes.

I hope that the Miis will continue to be a presence in Nintendo’s future endeavours, in all-new capacities. I would love for Miis to be customizable fighters in the upcoming Smash Bros games, with similar functions to Sonic Battle’s Emerl; choose your own statistics and techniques, with each assigned a number of ‘stars’ based on their use, and a cap to the maximum number of overall stars.

I’d be ecstatic for more personalized statistics to be tallied like with the 360’s avatars: for you to be able to select a Mii, and see their KO totals on Smash Bros, their fastest times in Mario Kart, their completion status on Zelda, that sort of thing.

But hey, I’d even be happy just for things to continue as they are; for my Tony King Mii to fulfill a challenge, with a team including my fiancée, my best friend, and a random guy I went to uni with, there by my side.

Because like I said, Miis don’t play favourites. Although I have noticed a disturbing trend in my father-in-law turning up in my games...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

#0026: Tales of Symphonia

The Nintendo GameCube may well have been my favorite console. Not necessarily for it's catalogue of games (though it does feature magical titles like Smash Bros Melee, Wind Waker and Pikmin!!), but because of the memories I have associated with it.

It's lifespan of 2001-2006 corresponded with my high school years, a time when your mates could just swing by your place after school and have a gaming session, and it would be SWEET.

Melee, Mario Kart, Phantasy Star Online, you name it, we'd sink hours into 'em. And for that reason, we were always on the hunt for multiplayer games, particularly ones that allowed for cooperative play.

So that's how #26 on our list (or should it be 25, since I cheated with the talking Pikachu?) came into the collection. It was a title that toted cooperative four player gaming and a great, big immersive adventure. How then, did Tales of Symphonia disappoint? Read on, you crazy diamond...

First, some background: one day, as a joke, I put a couple of dollars into an envelope, that I creatively dubbed 'the Lovely Envelope', and asked my friends to make a donation. They did, and as time went on, we continued putting in the occasional coins until the envelope swelled with money.

We transferred our funds to an empty Pringles tin, and the cash kept going in there. I guess when you're that age, you don't have much to spend your dough on, so offloading a few bucks for no particular reason is more acceptable.

We had determined that we would use the money to buy gaming-related items. We started with a multitap for the PS2, allowing us to plug four controllers into the console instead of just two. A good start, and our SmackDown sessions thrived as a result.

Our second purchase (and if memory serves, the last one) was ToS here. My buddy Matt had done a bit of sleuthing and come across it. It fulfilled the necessary criteria to be appropriately awesomesocks, so it was with great anticipation we popped it in the little black cube and started it up.

It's story follows the escapades of one Lloyd Irving, tasked with awakening a goddess to prevent the destruction of the world; a dire fate set off by the sacrifice of a hero to save a particularly important tree.

Yeah, I dunno either, but it's not like we're playing this for the story. (Our first of many mistakes!)

As Lloyd and an ever-changing cast of allies, you travel the world, encountering enemies and battling them in an arena-like enclosure.

So that would make this an RPG with real-time combat. And right off the bat, that proves to be a chaotic gaming style. Because, if you weren't aware, RPGs are most often heavily story-driven and laden with dialogue. This would be fine under usual circumstances, but this is a multiplayer game, and most sweaty frantic teenagers aren't keen on sitting around and taking in a whole lot of text.

From the opening scene in the classroom, we moaned about when they'd cease their incessant blather and let us play.

I wanna move! I wanna kill stuff! What's that, a chair? CAN I KILL IT?

Then finally, Lloyd came free of his stint in suspended animation, and we were permitted the exciting gameplay element of MOVEMENT.

And what did we have to do? T-t...talk to people? No! Killing! Pleeeeease! If we were playing Smash Bros, we would have each amassed twenty kills by now! (Except my mate Dom. He was shithouse.)

Herein lies the dilemma: the combat is appropriate for four people. The overworld, however, is 100% RPG, and that's a problem. Even when there's something interesting happening, like exploring a dungeon, only player one is even present.

So you watch a lengthy cut scene, you take a few steps forward, you watch another cut scene, you might progress a few more inches, then finally you have a little fight, followed by a cut scene expressing how you all felt about said fight.

Furthermore, as the cast isn't static, there are times when there simply won't be enough playable characters for everyone. You wait around for four folks to turn up, you smack some cronies around, then you go onto the next storyline arc, and all of a sudden, Lloyd is alone again.

What kind of demographic are they hoping to appease with that? Patient children? Frequently absent gamers? One person with eight hands?

In case you couldn't tell, this game's failings really stemmed from the fact that it didn't suit my friends and I. Not necessarily it's fault, but when you're eight minutes into a multiplayer game without having done a single thing that even vaguely resembles gaming, you have a problem.

Then finally, you get out in the field and start killing some zombies, ghosts and unlucky little bunny rabbits, and you think... that's it? The combat is nice, but it's not exactly enough to hold your attention amongst the overworld stuff.

...I think I should have preceded that video with 'spoiler alert', but it seems as though every ToS fight on Youtube is one. My lore is no more! Also, that fight looked kinda cool, which really contradicts the point I was trying to make. Er-hem.

Effectively, the biggest fault of ToS is that it's a single-player experience masquerading as a multiplayer game. It has a large cult following, so obviously it's doing something right, but it most definitely was not for me.

...Wow, this entry wasn't funny at all, was it? It was borderline informative, in fact! I guess I'm still dwelling on my Sonic Generations plight.

Oh well. At least selling ToS will bring be approximately three dollars closer to my goal...

The search for Sonic

The acronym INAKA supposedly stands for 'I'm Not a Kid Anymore', and it's connotations include growth, maturity and adulthood.

Isn't it funny, then, that today I'm experiencing a childlike frenzy that practically mirrors a memory from 1994.

So there I was, a six year old in Las Vegas. Vegas would seem a strange holiday destination for my family, neither parents being particularly into gambling and my sister and I wee tots of no more than ten, but we were vacation nuts, and we bounced from place to place. I hardly remember Vegas, but I loved it all the same.

One thing in particular, however, that I shan't forget, was the day we were out shopping, and I laid eyes on a prize like no other.

There, on the shelf, in plush form, was Sonic the Hedgehog.

Plushes were my thing as a kid, for some reason. Though neither as durable or versatile as other toys, they felt more robust to me, somehow. Maybe it was their larger size or their oh so fluffy exteriors, but I loved those plushes like a bevy of hookers, to be collected, and then later forgotten and stuffed in my closet.

For it to be a plush of fancy was one thing, but for it to be Sonic? Oh, good gracious! Had to have that sucker. Just HAD to.

Sonic was my boy, he was my man, he was my go-to guy. Of all the obsessions I had over the years, the three biggest, in no particular order, were Sonic, Ninja Turtles and Pokémon. Back when computers were a novelty, I once printed sixty pages of crappy Sonic images to put on my wall. I even wrote pensive comments on each picture, as though it made it more pertinent. Indeed, one picture even misprinted to just be completely black, and I somehow made a pencil-based observation to make it Sonic-relevant.

As an impressionable child of the 90s, Sonic was marketed so heavily to my demographic, it was almost like he was meant for me exclusively. He was cool! He was cocky! He was fast as all hell, and we loved him like the messiah.

Couple that with what may be the most compelling packaging known to man, with phrases like 'I need your help!' and 'take me home for adventure!', and the purchase was automatic.


See, this Sonic plush had a price tag so inflated, gullible minds may fear it would float away.

My dad would have none of it. I don't mean to portray him as stingy, quite the opposite actually, but we left that store minus one blue hedgehog.

With that, I responded with the most powerful tool in my arsenal.

It used to be tantrums, but over six years of honing my craft, I had cultivated a much more potent tactic, one that would accentuate my parents' guilt, while minimizing the amount of trouble I would get in.

Ladies and gentlemen, I moped.

A sullen child can sure be a buzz kill while you're on holiday, and the only solution is to bite the bullet and buy that ridiculously overpriced toy. It worked in Fiji when I wanted a stuffed monkey (who I later dubbed Mutombo), and I won big in Vegas.

Sonic the Hedgehog was mine. I was a horrible, spoilt little bastard and I'm sorry.

Fast forward to today (with at least two more Sonic-related episodes along the way), and I am feeling those familiar emotions: Frustration. Vexation. Depression.

Unfortunately, the cure this time isn't as simple as outlasting my parents in a war of attrition. Now, it seems as though Sonic may have eluded my grasp once and for all.

You see, Sonic Generations has hit the scene; a celebratory game that brings back the very best of Sonic from the last two decades and delivers it to you in one splendid package: a collision of old and new, a beautiful tapestry of spin dashing, homing attacks and cute animals bashing the bejeezus out of enormous robots.

Exclusive to the UK and Australia for some reason, is the piece de resistance; the collector's edition. It includes a documentary, soundtrack, art book, exclusive figures and an individually numbered gold ring.

These are all things that, surely, another twenty years from now, will seem inconsequential, but right now, they are must-haves.

Usually, I'm ambivalent about collector's editions. But Sonic Generations isn't just a game, you see, it's an event. An experience. The culmination of twenty years of magical adventure. It has been released in three versions: standard, limited edition (with downloadable content and a fancy box), and the aforementioned collector's masterpiece.

I have decided that getting anything less than the maximum package would be a slight on my Sonic fandom as a whole, and unfortunately, I only came to this revelation yesterday.

The game came out six days ago, and pre-orders for the collector's holy grail date back to early September, if memory serves. Merrily strolling up to retailers now expecting to find it is akin to Arnold Schwarzenegger's quest for a Turbo Man in Jingle All the Way, only with fewer wacky escapades, as of yet no explosions, and little to no potential for a climactic showdown with Sinbad in an elaborate costume with a large brain.

This collector's edition, you see, only seems to have one batch. While proper nerds secured theirs through pre-order, rusty out of practice nerds like myself are left scrounging in the dirt for scraps. Already in an epidemic-level panic in the UK, the Poms are hawking it off at £300 on eBay and Amazon.

Pretty soon, their swindling Australian cousins will follow suit, demanding $465 for something that retailed at $165.

It's a sad situation, and I've exhausted nearly every option. EB Games, JB-Hifi, GAME, Gametraders, Myer, Kmart, Big W, Dick Smith Electronics... I even Tweeted desperately at gaming journalists, but they always ignores me. I wonder why. I guess they're not fans of Stone Protectors or Oogie Boogie.

The search shall continue, however, because I have a near autistic-level of obsession capability. Damn my career! Damn my engagement! Damn them all, for Sonic awaits out there, somewhere.

Seventeen years ago, he begged me to rescue him from a shopping mall in Las Vegas. Now, his time is running out, and the search radius has expanded to all of Australia.

Hang on, big blue, I'm a-comin'.