Single Dragon?! No thanks! I’ll check over in River City..

So decades ago.. in a land not too far from here a young Joshua was totally hooked on the awesomeness that was Double Dragon.  I often visited the local skating rink just because they had a copy of the arcade classic to which I would offer my last week’s lunch and/or break money which I had saved so that I could get some arcade action. Billy and Jimmy Lee (the main characters of the game) were the absolute epitomes of cool.

“Insane, violent street gang steals my girlfriend?  Obviously I will kung-fu my way through every last one of them to save her!”  They also have that 80’s and 90’s ‘tude just dripping from their sweet blue and red jumpsuits.

In comes the Nintendo Entertainment System and home gaming.  I had to wait a few years before my parents actually graced our  home with this beautiful bit of miracle but boy did we enjoy it.  I mowed yards and chopped wood and every other chore and odd job I could think of in order to hasten the process of growing my fledgling game collection.  The classics were an easy pick but others I feel were fortunate accidents, as game reviews were pretty much non-existent and the only magazine that really carried information was biased to say the least.  After exhausting every way one could play the original Legend of Zelda including a “no-sword” run before that was even “a thing” and dropping King Koopa into the lava pool more times than I could remember I heard the whisperings of Double Dragon being ported to the NES.  Could it be so?  Sadly, while this was so it was not the same game at all.  After a single rental from my local game rental store – which doubled as a gas station, mind you – I realized that the dreams were in fact too good to be true.  Single player?  How could this be?  One of the coolest aspects of Double Dragon was the fact that it was DOUBLE Dragon.  Two players!  Simultaneously!  How could they get that wrong?  And what was this disastrous “level-up” system.  Now let me take a moment to explain that years later, looking back at it the NES version of Double Dragon is actually rather interesting.  It presents some pretty unique and special qualities for its time and delves into that experimental realm that really only Nintendo games tend to do.  For my almost-teenaged heart, however, this was not sitting well.  I needed a 2-player simultaneous kung-fu filled, girlfriend-saving, high-school-gang-stomping romp!

BARF

Sure.. great last words, Barry.

I found this little gem with little hope, but it looked fun and touted some interesting “bonuses” in comparison to Double Dragon.  It was titled River City Ransom, and honestly I don’t think I ever shopped for games the same way ever again after playing it.  The game was pretty poorly marketed, had a pretty cheesy cover and the back packaging game images really didn’t give the buyer much idea of what they were getting into.  It was obviously something like my beloved Double Dragon, though, so I gave it a try.  My friend and I began our journey as Alex and his brother Ryan, setting out across River City to save Alex’s girlfriend from the evil gang leader, Slick.  On their way they will defeat the various gang-members ranging from lackeys to mini-boss sub-commanders, all of which drop their “lunch money” upon defeat.  This money must be collected so that the brothers can “power-up” by eating all kinds of food that the town has to offer, each bestowing increased stats, refilling health or giving other strange benefits.  There are also books to read, some of which teach new techniques as well as shoes that increase speed and kicking power – obviously.

shop_derpface

Alex seems to be really happy with his meal.  Certainly he will be fueled up for miscreant punishing now.

While the game is probably just in general better than Double Dragon if only in variety, the enemies are a bit less varied.  As mentioned there are the basic low-level gang members, the mid-level commanders and of course the final boss.  With only three exceptions, the only variation the player sees on the basic opponent is whether they are armed with a weapon.  There are several of these:  sticks, pipes, tires, garbage cans, rocks, brass knuckles and chains.  While there isn’t an incredible amount of enemy variety, it seems pretty forgiving as there is little need to grind any ridiculous amount unless the player really wants to save up for a special technique to try out, as those can be rather pricey.  For the most part enough money is collected in a pretty straightforward playthrough to power-up enough to take on all of the bosses and save Alex’s girlfriend without the need for too much senseless violence.  It’s okay if you wanna commit a little senseless violence against the evil gang, though, they respawn.  No permanently hurt feelings here.  Plus the enemies “talk” to the player in a text box at the bottom of the screen.  Most of it is nonsense and goading but occasionally the mini-boss commanders actually give out information that is useful, so keep a watch for that!

Some give useful information.. some just banter playfully.. it’s a real mixed bag in River City!

I cannot talk about River City Ransom without going into two little details that I found extremely weird, funny and endearing back then and really still do now.  First, when Alex and Ryan get food or drinks in the restaurants… they eat the food/drink container and all.  It was probably done to save the trouble of doing eating and drinking animations for different food items at the time, but I loved it and still do.  It’s just amusing to seem them cram an entire glass of soda or a whole pizza into their mouths by way of apparently unhinge-able jaws.  Hey, they have taken a lot of punches to the face, after all… probably loosens the joints.  The other thing I found pretty amusing was the one shop that sells chicken.. kind of a KFC spin-off.  One of the offerings on the side menu was a “Smile” in which the lady cashier smiles at the player, making him blush.  This may seem simple but I found that to be pretty amazing that they programmers/developers thought to add little touches like that in the game.  There are a few other unique interactions in the game that makes certain places seem more memorable and not just reskinned versions of the previous section of town.

town_pinkshirts

Pink shirts are a hot item in River City.

So much naughtiness to correct.  Alex’s lot is a hard one..

Smile_blush

Think a smile can’t brighten someone’s day?  Just think, Alex might not make it to save his girl if it wasn’t for the kind smile of the nice chicken-lady.

So in today’s world of amazing games RCR may not hold most people’s attention for long, but certainly if a chance ever arises I would recommend taking Alex out for a stroll across River City and see what kind of trouble the two of you can get into.  If you have a friend handy bring his brother Ryan along for the full experience.  Oh and stay out of the pits in the construction zone.  I’m pretty sure they are bottomless.  River City is a dangerous place, after all.

Plant Powered Ratings:

Fun: 9/10 Lunch-money coins –  To this day I still can have a pretty fun 30-60 minutes roughing up the trouble-makers of River City and I have finished this game countless times.  Its peculiar uniqueness just makes it timeless to me though I do admit that nostalgia probably colors it a bit rosier than it deserves in my eyes, so I am pulling a point from it for that sake.

PlantPoweredGamers
Grow Strong. Game On.

Emergency Emergen-C

So, just a quick plug here.

When I find something that seems effective or interesting I am generally pretty happy to share with others.  We do live in a world of potential abundance if we can temper that tendency to view things as scarce.

I’ve been sick over the last week which slowed up my time to write.. well my time to do everything.. as my amazing wife helped pick up the slack and help me get everything done even while recovering.  She and I are both pretty strong advocates of this amazing little drink packet, Emergen-C.  I was surprised when I was talking to my parents about it and they had never heard of it, but these little guys pack some punch.  Any time Suzy or I am feeling a little under the weather and feel there may be something creeping up on us, perhaps a cold, perhaps a scratchy throat, we usually down one of these.  They pack 1000mg of vitamin C in a dose and have a few other vitamins and minerals that have some pretty strong evidence suggesting that us humans recover quicker when they are in large supply.

Is it a placebo effect?  I cannot comment concretely on a study with an n=2, especially when we have each other’s feedback to feed off of!  In any case, I certainly feel like I shake things quicker and get back into my usual pace when I use them.  Additionally, considering that they kind of taste like a slightly tart fruit drink mix and cost only marginally more than typical drink mixes I feel like it is a worthy splurge.  Give them a try and if you do let me know in the comments what you think of them.  I’d love to increase the n-count on my “research”.

Grow Strong, Game On.

Eat Your Veggies!

“Eat your Veggies!”  That is probably one of the few bits of dietary advice that any of us likely hear that isn’t immediately conflicted or confusing.  It can be really tricky to sort out all of the information that is thrown at us daily and nutrition information is certainly no exception.  It is exceedingly important to pay some mind to our diet as poor choices can have dire consequences.  In the study,The State of US Health, 1990-2010: Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors, we find that diet is actually the leading cause of early death and disability in the United States!  If you have a moment to look over some of the research with me I think we can come to the same conclusion on at least one simple rule that could be quite beneficial:  processed foods are dangerous and they desperately need to be replaced with whole plant foods.

In the paper,Plant-based nutrition for healthcare professionals: implementing diet as a primary modality in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease, we can find a wealth of information.  Hever and Cronise have done an amazing amount of research gathering for us and if you want to see some of the most convincing research done to date that backs up this point just check their resources section at the bottom of the paper.  In any case, one may gleam from these studies that processed foods, that is, “commercially produced products made with adulterants such as sugars, salts, oils and other food additives” (Hever, Cronise) contribute to inflammation and oxidation which increase risks of disease and injury to the body.  They also set the stage for cancer growth and can actually be carcinogenic themselves (which is to say that they can actually cause new cancers to form).  Call me an alarmist if you will, but feel free to peruse the article 17 Carcinogenic Foods You Probably Eat Every Day if you like.  Need more? World Health Organization Says Processed Meat Causes Cancer is also a fine read.  These are not articles from random bloggers or conspiracy theorists, it is actual news from the likes of the World Health Organization and the Huffington Post.

Now some of the recommendations for replacing this are quite gentle.  The United States Department of Agriculture, American Heart Association, and American Institute for Cancer Research suggest in their review of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee that at least half of the plate should consist of fruits and vegetables.  The “whole-plant food” recommendation is referring to plants that are minimally processed or are as close as one can get them to the way they left their source (ground, tree, bush, etc).  The preparation argument is beyond the focus of my writing today but that is another case of there being loads of conflict.  What we can focus on is eliminating the carcinogenic meats and sugar/salt laden boxes and bags of chips, cookies and crackers.  If one gets into the habit of checking labels it is startling to find just how many of the “so-called” healthy entrees in the freezer section contain all manner of things that are unidentifiable as food ingredients.  Let us just take a few extra minutes to steam a pot of broccoli to go with dinner, that in itself would be a huge first step.

There is so much detail here that I simply do not feel like I have enough knowledge of in order to speak on the subject beyond pointing my readers in the direction of those that I feel are much better suited to inform us on these issues.  Feel free to comment back and let me know what you think on the subject.  If you would like more resources and prefer video to articles, please check out Dr. Michael Gregor at Nutrition Facts .Org.

I hope my little write up does not come across as overly opinionated.  My only intention is to spread information that I have personally found interesting and helpful.  I hope you find it to be as well!

Grow Strong.  Game On.

Dancin’ in the Dungeon with Crypt of the Necrodancer

Have tons o’ fun Dancin’ with Skeletons!

Crypt of the Necrodancer – Brace Yourself Games April 2015

Rogue-like, Rhythm

Take a pinch of pixel graphics, a drop of rhythm gaming and mix them with the ridiculously fun rogue-like mechanics.  This weird recipe calls forth Crypt of the Necrodancer, and the mad alchemist forming this brew will never be the same..

The game lays out the story in a clever cut-scene sequence that leaves the player with the vague understanding that movements and actions can only be taken “with the beat”. This is reinforced by the fact that all monsters in the crypt follow the same rules, so your movement with the beat can be planned out to foil that of the monsters, most of which follow pretty predictable movement patterns. Sound too simple? Don’t be fooled, when watching the movements of several monsters while also timing your own and trying to avoid certain trapped tiles it can be shocking how often a mistake can be made which can cost anywhere from a slap on the hand (a half a heart of damage) to severely punshing and brutalizing death spirals (dead before I realized what was happening even though I was at full health).  Speaking of death spirals, this guy is often to blame..CoND_RedDragon

(Those red dragons have a tendency to catch me with their sizzlin’ breath all too often.)

The game has loads of unlockables that you “purchase” with in game currency – diamonds. This is really fun as you can look forward to finding that new item or spell you recently unlocked to see how it affects your next dungeon run. There is also gold to be found so that if one is lucky enough to find the shop in each level then items can be purchased to power up the player.

CoND_Shop

(Apples for 10 gold, broadswords for 30… guess you make prices up as you go if you live in a musical crypt.)

Speaking of shops.. hear that singing? In the crypts? Weird… Shopkeepers actually sing with the music; not words exactly, but it is very clever and pretty amusing. You can hear them increase in volume as you get closer, letting you play “hot and cold” to meander your way to the shop. There are loads of items which alter the game mechanics a bit or give the player bonuses or even reusable spells. It is one of the hallmarks of a good rogue-like in my opinion to make the player want to keep going to see what interesting, powerful or silly combinations of power-ups and items might be discovered in the next attempt.

In addition to unlockable power-ups there are even unlockable characters, each possessing different abilities and attributes that alter the way the game works.  Take Eli, the first character I unlocked for instance.  While Cadence, the main character typically uses only a few bombs per game, Eli has unlimited bombs and can even kick the bombs around.  They are very powerful and it allows him to dig his way through any walls with ease but it can be a real pain if you get cornered or swarmed with little room to maneuver and place explosives – leaving the big guy wishing for a trusty dagger.  This can really add some nice variety as the games initial charm begins to wear down and starts to leave the player wanting some additional variety other than different power-up combos.

The game increases in difficulty at a reasonable pace with the game divided into 4 “zones”. Each one contains a different selection of monsters with some classic “palette-swaps” to show the player that certain dancing skeletons may behave slightly differently than previous ones, but there are actually quite a few new monsters to be seen and outsmarted.. out-patterened? Out-danced! A mini-boss stands in the way of the stairs to the next level at the end of each with a final boss at the end of each zone’s 4th level. All bosses are randomized and some are certainly trickier than others. My absolute favorite was “King Conga” who leads a massive conga-line of zombies that must be defeated before he can be harmed.  Coral Riff is a close second with an entire band of possessed water-elemental (maybe?) instruments that teleport about and attempt pincer attacks.

CoND_CoralRiff(Behold, Coral Riff in all of his Glory.  Don’t blink, those are some aggressive instruments!)

For a game themed around music, rhythm and dancing, at least at some level, one may have mixed opinions. Having grown up in the NES and SEGA era, retro tunes tend to appeal to me and Crypt of the Necrodancer certainly didn’t disappoint. Grant and I are especially fond of the first zones and I honestly play through it on occasion just to hunt up the shopkeeper and hear him sing his jingle along with the zones music – its really catchy! Good job Brace Yourself Games!

CoND_Golem

(Golems, skeletons and mushrooms, oh my sweet pixels!)

The Plant Powered Gamers’ stat breakdown:

Fun: 9/10 dancing skeletons. Getting into the beat of the game as a neccesity makes it easy to zone out and enjoy; clever and funny monsters present adequate challenge; the silly theme is a perfect fit for how the game “feels”.

Replayability: 6/10 bouncing slimes. It is a really fun game, true, but after the initial charm had worn off I find that I usually play it for only 15-30 minutes at a time. It is a nice game to have on hand as a small time-gap filler and even now after several months I find myself playing it on occasion.  Additionally, Grant likes the music and I still get a silly smile over the singing shopkeepers.  One might increase this score if access to the Steam Workshop is viable which adds even more variety to the game.

Value: 10/10* wailing banshees. Picking this up on sale makes it feel like a steal. It is probably worth the $15 price on Steam as of the writing of this article, but as often as it comes up on sale it may be silly not to wait and get it for half that price. The Plant Power Gamers have certainly been happy with our purchase.

Make new friends with Kirby – then eat them..

“Hey!  Why did you eat me mom!?” Grant cried.

“Oops!  Oh well, I needed that ‘flame power’ to light this fuse anyway, ” Suzy explained. “Don’t worry, I’ll spit you back out when I’m done.”

“No way you shot me into the pit!”

“Well you ran off and left me earlier and I was after that last puzzle piece.”

Fun for the whole family..

Actually, to be a bit more objective, this one really is a blast. Kirby Star Allies for the Nintendo Switch was a gift from Suzy to us guys to play together over Spring Break this year.  It has been quite a hit and we have had several evenings of fun and I’d love to share our thoughts regarding this adorable and quirky game.

First it must be noted that this game is a return to the more basic Kirby formula.  Platforming and adventures with a pretty low difficulty curve that should be comfortable for even the little gamers in the family are in large supply once again.  In this game Kirby is able to throw “friend hearts” at enemies to convert them into allies.  He can also go the traditional route and just eat them “old school” but a lot of the game plays off of the friend mechanic so one might as well play around with it a bit.  Oddly enough he can still eat his friends, which we all found hilarious, in order to use them as projectiles or consume them to gain their powers.  This friend eating power adds to the normal chaos of multiplayer games and has led to a lot of laughter and amusement.  Some of the enemies/allies have elemental powers which can be combined with other powers to produce either special attacks or augmented weaponry.  I always loved the mix and match powers in Kirby Crystal Shards, originally on N64 but also included on the Kirby’s Dream Collection: Special Edition, so I was happy to see something in that vein returning.

C1

As mentioned, this game is very “little gamer” friendly, as the ally players cannot lose by falling into pits and even if they run out of health they can commandeer a new friend so there is minimal repercussion for the ally players’ errors.  The teams fate really hangs on Kirby, because if he falls in battle the whole team loses and backs up to a checkpoint, though as far as we have gotten the game is pretty gracious with checkpoints and I cannot think of one yet that took us more than two tries to pass.  This keeps the game’s potential for frustration very low but does suffer, as Grant noted, from being a bit too easy at times.  The level of frustration and risk is very low and while this is good for casual players and little ones, anyone looking for a challenging game may be a bit underwhelmed.  This is a Kirby game, though, and the little pink puffball sort of has a tradition for being a bit softer on the difficulty curves in the last several iterations.  Grant also pretty much hated “friend bridge”… one really must experience it… but I’ll agree, not the most entertaining “mini-game challenge” by a long shot.

C2

We all agree, however, that what the game lacks in challenge it makes up for in clever ability combos, super powers, new allies to explore and learn and above all – that special Kirby charm.  He holds the place as the main game that can get Suzy to join in on the gaming action and really make for a fun “family game night”.  In my opinion that is the coolest power Kirby has to offer and it is one that keeps returning again and again.

Sound interesting?  Have little gamers that would like to join in or perhaps a significant other that is not typically a gamer?  This one may be the gateway you are looking for!  Do be aware that the game probably has a certain ceiling on likely replayability.  If we unlock anything that changes my opinion on this later then I will be sure to make an edit and note any opinion changes.

On the Plant Powered Gamers scales:

Fun: 9 out of 10 friend-flavored cupcakes.  Make friends.  Eat them.  Spit them at bosses until they are defeated, then eat them.  Recyclable fun!  Plus mix and match powers have been incredible fun to experiment with.

Little-gamer Friendly: 9 out of 10 mega-tomatoes.  It is harder than my son’s old V-tech toddler games, but not by much.

Aesthetics: 10 out of 10 “Super tough cream puffs“.  It is colorful, imaginative and accompanied by happy, energetic music – probably works as an antidepressant and with fewer side effects.

Replayability: 6 out of 10 sleepy Noddys.  Other than replaying the levels to collect missing puzzle pieces, there is not a lot to cause me to want to return to previous stages.  They are all fun, certainly, but not really any that I would truly say were memorable.

PlantPoweredGamers