Super Paper Mario

This entire video game series is so amazingly entertaining that I have played all three games at least twice.  I love the Paper Mario games so much that words cannot describe it; however,  my job is to do just that.

My journey with Paper Mario began way back in the N64 (Nintendo 64) days with the very first Paper Mario. After placing the cartridge in the console, I didn’t leave my bedroom for days. Not in any way was the first edition lacking but my, my, my!  Look how far technology has come!

Super Paper Mario offers a surprising game play element that you would probably never think to include in a game based around paper: the ability to play in 3-D. The cover of the game explains it all: “Stuck in 2-D?  Flip into 3-D and keep going!” With the press of a button, one game turns into two with its own set of enemies, items and passages that will help you gain the knowledge necessary to reach the Crystal Hearts at the end of every world.

In Super Paper Mario, Mario teams up with new partners that in turn offer him new abilities, assisting him in rescuing Princess Peach again. However, her new captor is the dangerous Count Bleck, who is intent on swallowing the world whole! With the help of his partners in crime, the pixels and Luigi and, oddly, Bowser, they travel together through eight completely different worlds to recapture the Crystal Hearts and hopefully save the world in time.

Super Paper Mario is available for the Nintendo Wii and perfect for all ages.  However, it does require previous gaming experience and some patience due to its medium-hard strategic nature.

by Heidi E.P. Abdul

uDraw: Dood’s Big Adventure

“Dood’s Big Adventure” can be summarized as the digital version of the “add your own sound” books that I used to have as a kid.  These books would have a set of 10 to 12 different sounds related to the book (normally based on a Disney movie) and you could add them anywhere you felt it was necessary.  These books, along-side the “create your own ending” books, offered a means of creating your own story.  Similarly, “Dood’s Big Adventure” offers a unique way of making the game your own.

Several elements of game play have been literally left blank for your imagination, including your avatar, the three main enemies, clouds and traps. With the required uDraw tablet, you can color and decorate any of these elements almost as if you were the graphic designer for the game. When you have saved these, they will automatically be included in your next game-play session.

Though many mainstream games don’t allow you to change the gaming experiences outside what clothes the characters are wearing, in Dood’s Big Adenture, everything is left up to the player’s imagination.

This game is not just about creating the elements of the game, though.  You get to interact with your creations in a video game setting based around the actions of the uDraw tablet. The first couple of levels may seem ridiculously easy, but there is a reason to this madness as you will need a practice arena for introducing yourself to the unique controls of the tablet.  This tablet is nothing like the Wii-mote or any other controllers. Despite its differences, it is no more difficult to get used to and will prove to be a refreshing experience in gaming!

uDraw: Dood’s Big Adventure is available for the Nintendo Wii along with the uDraw tablet accessory.  This game is rated E with mild cartoon violence.

by Heidi E.P. Abdul

“Must have” for Black Friday and holiday shopping

By Catherine Wyman

Let’s face it — parents are busy. I have spent more time rushing to the doctor this fall with one kid after another while trying to keep up with my job…and forget about making time to fold the laundry or complete other household chores. I hardly have time to think about the holidays looming, yet my youngest son has been reminding me that his birthday is coming up and yesterday flatly refused to practice his song for the Christmas pageant until after his birthday. Then I remembered that not only do I have to start thinking about holiday shopping, I also have a birthday to plan for. What’s a parent to do?

This week I attended a school board meeting where the topic was what the kids in junior high are reading. Evidently some precocious readers were reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which evidently has some pretty graphic mature scenes. (I wouldn’t know — I don’t have time to read novels.) There was also discussion of the graphic video games some kids play.

I realize that as a parent, my primary responsibility is assuring the safety and well-being of my child. If I ignore the media my children are consuming, I am not doing my job. I can’t  let this go, like the clean laundry waiting to be folded.

There are several ways that busy parents can do a little research on the media their child is requesting. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a quick and easy way to investigate if a given video game is appropriate for your child. (Just because “everyone else” has it is not a valid justification.)

This week, the ESRB released a new version of their free mobile app.  You can check out video games while shopping! Visit http://www.esrb.org/mobile/ for more information.  There is also a Parent Resources section of the ESRB website that parents can access for detailed information.

To check out other media such as books, movies, websites, TV shows, music and more, Common Sense Media is a website that contains many resources, including detailed reviews. It is not hysterical, but straight-forward and detailed. Personally, I wouldn’t go to see the new “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1” movie because it sounds too graphic for me, but Common Sense Media doesn’t badmouth it — they just tell the reader what they are in for if they go see it.

These tools provide parents the resources they need to be informed.  My laundry can wait. I have a job to do.

Catherine Wyman is a technology instructor at Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix.

Skee-ball: an arcade favorite

Skee-Ball has always been a favorite arcade game of mine, even before I knew what the word “arcade” meant. Every time I enter an arcade, I make a beeline to the Skee-Ball wall. If I could, I would spend all my money on this quasi-bowling game. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer me much in the way of tickets, due to my amateur skill level.

The Skee-Ball app for iPhone, however, brings all of the joy of this timeless game into a handy digital stress-relief ball. Everything from the look to the game play is the same. In this digital version, however, there are special bonuses that make this app unique. Randomly, one of the scoring rings light up and if you happen to land in this ring you score bonus points!  This never happens in real life, and if it did, I might actually score some major “ticketage” if I were as good as I am in the virtual version.

Similar to a real arcade, there is an option to redeem any tickets that you have earned while playing. With these tickets, you can receive some of the normal prizes you always see at the prize counter such as rubber bands and erasers, even a doughnut. If you make enough damage though, you could end up winning a watch or a custom ball! Sadly enough, these are all virtual, of course.

This game is perfect if you have a child that is constantly begging you to take them to the arcade (or even for yourself).  The best part is that unlike an arcade, this app is free!

by Heidi E.P. Abdul

Create your imaginary life in Japan

Like Farmville but don’t have the time to keep up on all of your crops?  Like making cities?  Like Japan?  Then Japan Life a free app for the iPhone is perfect for you!

The title pretty much explains it all: it is an imaginary life centered around Japan and Japanese culture.  The greatest fun of this game comes from the purchasing, building, and expanding of your city through restaurants, ninja shops, and spas.  It is not just about spending money, though.  There are several mini-games/tasks for you to pass the time away as you collect more money to expand your city.  Though these games are quite enjoyable, you can only take on three tasks at a time, and some even require you to spend money through the purchase of diamonds.  However, this can easily be circumvented if you are willing to put a little time every day into this game.

Do be frightened by this though!  Japan Life is not an all consuming, life-sucking, boarder line WoW (World of Warcraft) game.  It is a fun little app that will take your mind of your real-life stresses.  So why not take some time to yourself, get this free app from iTunes, and have some fun with just you or a group of friends!

by Heidi E.P. Abdul

How real spies helped make Cars 2

When you saw Cars 2, or played the Cars 2 videogame, did you ever wonder what it would be like to be a real spy? Well, now we have been given a small glimpse into the world of espionage through an interview with former CIA agent Lindsay Moran. Ms. Moran was a consultant to the developers of the Cars 2 videogame, where she was able to share her experiences as a spy to help keep the game similar to real spy training. She now tells us a bit about what her life at the CIA was like, and how prepared players would be for the world of espionage.

Who is your favorite Cars 2 character? Why? 

Finn McMissile.  He never loses his cool, like the ultimate professional spy.

You have said in previous interviews that you were inspired to become a spy at an early age thanks to the Harriet the Spy books. Was being a spy at all like you expected it to be? 

Not exactly.  I am the first to admit I had a very Hollywood-inspired and romanticized vision of what it would be like to be a spy.  Still, in some ways, it was even more interesting and challenging than I ever had imagined.

What was the most exciting part of being a spy? The least? 

To me, the most exciting part was living overseas, learning new languages and blending into foreign cultures.

Which is more exciting, real spy work or the game? 

The game is exciting in that it really gets your adrenaline pumping, the same way being “in the field” – or operating overseas – can.  In some ways, the game is more exciting.  For instance, a lot of people don’t realize that in real life, as an operative who’s being followed and wants to lose whoever’s on your tail, you’re supposed to drive under the speed limit, obey the traffic laws and basically “bore” the bad guys to tears.  There’s little opportunity to practice all the defensive driving techniques you’ve honed in training, unlike the game.

How similar is the Cars 2 game compared to real spy training?   

The game really brought me back to my training, and specifically a course we took at the Farm – the CIA’s spy training facility – called “Crash and Burn.”  It was a course in defensive driving, in which we raced around tracks, smashed through barriers, and even drove while blindfolded.  Actual “missions” involve a lot of driving since before you ever do anything operational, or meet with an agent, you need to drive around for at least an hour or two to make sure you’re not under surveillance – being followed.  Many foreign intelligence services have sophisticated surveillance teams; as a “spy,” you get really good at recognizing makes and models of cars.  In training, when we were routinely followed, I even ascribed “personalities” to some of the cars, not unlike the movie and game!

How were you involved in the design of this game? 

I met with the developers during the process to give them an idea about what real CIA training was like so that they could make the Cars 2 training at CHROME similar, and the game as realistic as possible.

How did your input influence the design and game play of the Cars 2 videogame?

Remarkably, the developers already had a very realistic vision of what spy training was like.  My input, as a former spy, was to give ideas about what was genuine and what reminded me of the real world of secret agents and operatives. 

Is this a game you would recommend? 

Absolutely.  My kids love this game.  They can play together or with playmates since there’s an option for four player, or us, and there’s such a variety of modes and options, it really keeps them engaged and entertained.  The only problem is that they are both better at it than I am.

What was your favorite part of the game? 

I like how the Cars 2 characters comment and converse with one another throughout.  My kids love this as well, and I’ll find them reenacting dialog between Mater and Lightning McQueen for example.

What was the most realistic part of the game? The least?

To me, the realistic part is the notion that, since the game takes place at CHROME, the Cars 2 spy training facility, friends – like Mater and Lightning McQueen – can engage in battle against one another, and that’s realistic.  At the Farm, we spent a lot of time role-playing against our colleagues and instructors.  This is part of spy training, so that when you confront enemies and bad guys in real life, you’ll be prepared.  The only unrealistic part was all the cool gadgets the Cars 2 cars are equipped with.  As a real spy, you usually have a basic car – not something fast and/or tricked out with weapons and gadgets.  I wish we’d had cars like that!

How does the spy gear in the game compare to real spy gear?  Unfortunately, as a spy, you don’t frequently use all the cool gear and gadgets you see in movies, or in Cars 2: the Video Game.  The lack of shoe phones and poisoned-tip umbrellas was probably my biggest disappointment in being a spy.  What’s cool about the game is that my kids assume my life as a spy was as exciting as the game, and that I am proficient with all kinds of awesome gadgets and weapons.  Little do they know . . .

Were there any parts of this game based off your real life experiences? 

The idea that the Cars characters all go to a training facility – in their case CHROME – to undergo preparation for the field is very much based on real life, and what real CIA officers undertake at the Farm.  The driving component of real CIA training is very similar to the video game.

Pretty cool, huh? We at Gator Gamers would like to thank Ms. Moran for her time and effort! Happy driving everyone!
by Erin Ryan

Will Wright’s inspiration for the Sims comes from an unlikely place

Former Gator Gamers blogger Anna Carlos has moved on to her next assignment in California. While there, she had the good fortune to be able to interview Will Wright, the creator of one of the most popular games in video game history:  The Sims. Proving that inspiration for video games can come from an infinite variety of sources, he tells Anna what made him think of creating The Sims.