Review: Spore Galactic Adventures

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Evolving my race into space was a threshold moment in Spore for me until I discovered that instead of a galaxy of fun, there was little to do once I had actually gotten there. Arriving at the center of the galaxy proved to be a temporary injection of excitement because afterwards, I found myself back to running the same spice routes and while drawing from the same, tiny glass of mind numbing activities.

So it was with some anticipation that I loaded up the expansion pack, Galactic Adventures, hoping to see if it could help reinvent what could have been the best part of the game. The good news is that it adds a fun wrinkle to the daily grind of spice running and planet hopping while allowing you to run wild with your own ideas. The bad news is that it also has a few holes in its heat shield..
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Being like Mike in Fight Night Round 4

I’m always going to remember the mid-to-late ’80s. It was a simple time for me, and a lot of people my age (I’m 30). School was easier, life issues were easier … and if you wanted to know who the best person was at almost anything, there’s a chance his first name was Mike, and there was a chance he had an unearthly talent.

You had young Michael Jordan building his mythos through the air. You also had the other MJ, dubbed the “King of Pop” and always a moonwalk away from another chart-dominating piece of work.

Then, there’s this guy:

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I can’t remember anyone who seized my attention more when I was younger than Iron Mike Tyson. Jordan soared, Jackson dazzled, but there was something about Tyson’s contained feral energy that captivated me and millions of other people. As a gamer, the only real taste we had was in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, and he was a boss battle.

All this sentiment is why Fight Night Round 4 was especially important for me. I had a thought in my head that maybe I didn’t need to invest myself into it as much, since my fighting jones would be sated with UFC: Undisputed. I was kidding myself: UFC’s a fine game, but I don’t remember watching those dudes when I was 10. I remembered Tyson, and I wanted to see if EA was watching the same guy.

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Mods: Niko drives the Ecto-1 and Mr. T fights Gandhi in Street Fighter

Niko has a new ride in the PC version of GTA IV thanks to a clever mod. No siren yet, or Ghostbusting equipment, but if modders can figure out how to get Doc Brown’s DeLorean time machine into Vice City, then GTA IV’s world might start to become a lot more interesting in the same way.

And if driving around the city isn’t your thing, there’s always Mr. T and Gandhi fighting it out in Street Fighter IV. Yes, you read that right.

You can read up on the details on how you can try this out in the modding thread hosted at Street Fighter uber fansite, Shoryuken. In the meantime, here’s Mr. T and Gandhi smashing each other up. The names are still listed as Zangief (Mr. T) and Dhalsim (Gandhi) and the voices haven’t changed, so Mr. T sounds like a mad Russian. I’m sure someone’s bound to figure out just how to get around that, but in the meantime, enjoy the show.

Wii Sports Resort: Review

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Even those who despise Nintendo’s little white box and it’s wacky waggle control system, have to agree that the original Wii Sports was a great title. It was easy to pick up, fun to play and even though it was an original IP, there was something about it that was very Nintendo. It was the game that defined the system and that demonstrated motion control as a viable way to play games, one that the other software giants have been desperately looking to emulate.

The problem with Wii Sports however was it’s brevity. All of the sports (with the exception of boxing) were indeed a lot of fun, but the game lacked depth and with the absence of online multiplayer the game (and in a lot of cases the system) ended up in the back of closets or pushed under the sofa to collect dust. With the release of Wii Sports Resort (with the 3rd best opening week sales of any Wii game in Japan) it looks like the system might be finding it’s way back into a lot of living rooms.

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The geeks have taken over

Maybe it’s just the ComicCon hype that’s in the news this week, but it seems increasingly evident to this writer that the geeks have taken over American culture.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although journalists probably fit in more with the “dork” or “nerd” subgroups than the geek demographic. But the announcement that “Spider-Man” and “Evil Dead” director Sam Raimi will direct a movie based on the “World of Warcraft” universe seems to confirm the geek ascendancy.

Geek culture has taken many forms in post-WWII America. “Star Trek.” “Star Wars.” Dungeons and Dragons. Comic books. Science fiction film and novels. What they all have in common is a fascination with the amazing and fantastical, whether the subjects of the stories are rooted in speculative science or the realms of myth.

Fans of geek culture, generally speaking, enjoy immersing themselves in the imaginary worlds created by writers as varied as J.R.R. Tolkien, Stan Lee and Alan Moore, and for several years, endured the scorn of cooler Americans.

But things have changed. Many of the biggest – and best – movies of the decade have been aimed at the geek demographic. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was the first fantasy film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture and the first two “Spider-Man” films, the most recent pair of Batman movies and “Iron Man” were all excellent.

Beyond the worlds of cinema, the Harry Potter books (rumor has it the film adaptations are also popular) and television series like “Lost” and “Heroes” have gained popularity. Video games are big business and even those who would never play “World of Warcraft” know what that the game exists.

Somewhere along the line, geek became cool.

It’s this writers view is that somewhere on the timeline was 1999, when “The Matrix” hit theaters. A lot of people didn’t like the sequels – I thought the second made no sense and didn’t bother to see the third – but the first edition of the trilogy featured a band of cool, black-clad rebels who had access to big guns, advanced technology and knew kung fu.

The movie offered nothing less than a new geek archetype. The geeks were no longer the men or women who understood computers and had a large collection of X-Men back issues, the geeks were mankind’s last hope, and they looked awesome in that role.

Compare “The Matrix” to another 1999 film, “Star Wars: Episode IV: The Phantom Menace.” On the surface, both are geek fare with mainstream appeal, but “The Phantom Menace” was old geek. Where “The Matrix” was slick, rebellious and forward-looking, “The Phantom Menace” was comparatively slow, silly (Jar Jar Binks) and chock full of stilted dialogue.

I liked “The Phantom Menace” more than “The Matrix” when they were released, but that’s because I grew up watching Star Wars movies and have never been a Keanu Reeves fan. But in retrospect, “The Phantom Menace” didn’t have much for people who were not young kids or already fans of the franchise. “The Matrix” was a cultural bridgehead that offered the red pill of geek culture to mainstream society.

Ten years later, a movie based on “World of Warcraft” is in the works. This very year has already seen such cinematic releases as “The Watchmen,” “Terminator Salvation” and “Transformers 2: Rise of the Fallen.” “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” is still waiting to be released.

The geeks have taken over.

Modern Warfare 2 to offer night vision goggles

In the latest example of how war is awesome for those who don’t actually have to face kill-or-be-killed situations, the Internets are abuzz with reports that gamers will be able to unpack working night vision goggles with the “Prestige Edition” of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

Here is but one example of the coverage.

Gamers will have to wait to see how functional these goggles really are. But this writer remembers that during Desert Storm, war correspondents highlighted the actual U.S. military’s possession of night vision goggles as a major technological advantage against the Iraqi army.

I don’t know if this promotion is a good thing, a bad thing, or just a thing, but it seems kind of weird that this kind of technology is now being given away to fake soldiers fighting a polygon war.

Regardless, the rules of marketing dictate that Modern Warfare 3 or another future combat-themed video game will have to raise the bar even higher. Short of creating a game that actually allows players to strike enemy terrorists from the comfort of their own homes, perhaps it could be possible to sell a SpecOps edition that gives players field-ready equipment.

This writer and fellow blogger Redmond Carolipio suggest that video game makers package a working firearm, a cell phone with contacts to human intelligence sources, fake passports and a phrase book that would enable players to participate in their own covert action. C’mon video game companies, America needs you.

The infamous LeBron dunk footage

Jewish Journal writer Brad Greenberg posted it on his Facebook, and it leads to the LeBron 2010 blog, which features really shaky and blurry TMZ video of King James getting dunked on by youngster Jordan Crawford at his hoops camp recently. However, the video you see above actually comes from ebaumnation.com and makes the TMZ stuff look like poor surveillance video.

The story of how Nike (and possibly Bron Bron himself) had a tape of the dunk confiscated has become the stuff of legend. You’ll see the dunk at about :35 into the video … a solid, two-handed flush from Crawford (a Xavier freshman) off one foot that the King isn’t able to stop.

My first thought … that’s it? The dunk itself looked like a solid piece of work against someone defending the rim, and that someone happened to be LeBron. Was it really worth all the trouble?

Think about this in comparison to the story of another legendary dunk, this one involving a guy by the name of James Felton, who was on the receiving end. The bringer of pain? Tracy McGrady, circa 1996. The dunk was chronicled in a great piece in ESPN the Magazine, and it served as a visceral catalyst for two careers.

Check out this description:

Entering the camp, McGrady was a 17-year-old mystery from central Florida, unmentioned on most top-500 recruiting lists. So everyone in the gym took notice as he slowed at the top of the key to wait for the much-hyped Felton. When the big man caught up, McGrady stared him down, then took off a couple of strides inside the free throw line. Felton jumped too, but just as his fingers grazed the ball palmed in his opponent’s right hand, McGrady whipped it down to his waist. In the next instant, he grabbed it with his left and windmilled it through the hoop so fiercely that it should have dented the floor. By the time the unheralded prep landed, he was the next big thing. Dozens of fans and players tumbled onto the court, yelling and high-fiving, temporarily halting the game. All Felton could do was shake his head, scratch his cheek and try not to look the victim. But the damage was done. The country’s most-sought-after big had been owned. “It was one of the best basketball moments of my life,” recalls (Lamar) Odom. “An I’m-ready-to-get-drafted type of move. I’d never seen anyone do something like that, not even in the NBA.”

Nearing the Toyota Center’s exit 12 years later, T-Mac says, “After I made that dunk, I had chills running through my body. It put me on the map.”

And knocked Felton off of it.

Now that sounds more fitting of oohs and ahhs, doesn’t it? That’s the video I want to see.