Friday, October 1, 2010

Top (and bottom) 5 Gamecube Games

I am loyal to Nintendo.  I think they put forth great efforts to make great games and great experience for gamers.  So it pains me to say this:

The Gamecube was aweful.  Honestly, only 1 game was exceptional and that’s not good.  You name it, they screwed it up.

They took the best controller on the market (N64) and took away the underneath trigger but didn’t give it dual analog.  Mistake (sports games were aweful).  They used mini-DVD sized discs instead of full sized.  Mistake.  And they ventured off the beaten path with their biggest franchises.  Often, this was a mistake.

I was soooo disappointed with my first batch of games that I was extremely hestitant to try out new games.  Unfortunately for me, the best games on the Gamecube were new or games I hadn’t played before.  So my list will NOT look like mainstream Gamecube lists because I didn’t play the great games.  My apologies to the following games I didn’t play: Metroid Prime, Resident Evil 4, Super Smash Bros Melee, Pikmin, Animal Crossing,and Pikmin.

This is why I feel I was a classic consumer case for the Gamecube: loyal fan who couldn’t get past too many disappointments.  It also has lead me to create a top and bottom 5 list.  So keep reading for my bottom 5 games


1: The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker

Ok, this goes against everything I just said.  But this is the exception.  Zelda took a huge risk by going to this new graphic style.  I enjoyed it enough, although it was really weird.  What WAS awesome was the gameplay.  I felt completely in control of Link at all times.  The dungeons were great, the side quests were interesting and the plot was pretty cool.  The end fight with Gannon was top notch, one of the best.  Traveling by boat sucked a bit, but in the end I completely enjoyed this experience.

monkey ball 2

2. Super Monkey Ball 2

I bought this game thinking it might be a good party multiplayer game.  Turns out it is one of the best overall games I’ve owned.  1 player story mode was challenging and strangely addictive.  Monkey racing was also fun by myself or with friends.  But the rest of the multiplayer was near perfect.  Pick a game and I had friends who wanted to play.  Monkey Fight, Monkey Target, Monkey Shot were all great party games and worth the price of admission.  Put them all together and you have a surprisingly quality game.  This is also the only game I’ve ever lost.  Whoever “borrowed” my copy I want it back!

3. Mario Kart Double Dash

I loved Mario Kart 64.  So again, this game was a disappointment.  The graphics weren’t much better and the play control was actually a little worse.  The double-kart feature was neat, but I rarely found anyone who wanted to play co-operative kart racing.  Either they were so bad they never wanted to steer or they were good enough to want to challenge me head to head.  Also, I'm not sure what this game contributed to the Mario Kart franchise except maybe a few good courses.  In the end, it was a fun game which is good enough to make this list.


4. Super Mario Sunshine

Point of reference: this game wouldn’t make my top 5 Mario games.  That’s how bad this system was.  I had problems with the whole water-cleaning-the-island bit, it didn’t help the game flow all that well (I felt like a janitor).  But this game’s biggest problem was Mario 64.  This game in no way improved the franchise.  Sure the worlds were still beautiful and some of the action was unique, but I never felt like I was playing something special.  The best contribution this game made was its gift to the Mario Kart world.  And for that we salute you.

5. Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader

I bought this one with my system, so it has a little nostalgia to it.  Looking back this game had everything I wanted.  It was a Star Wars game, and I am a huge fan.  The play control was actually pretty good.  It wasn’t Star Fox 64, but it was still a lot of fun.  The downfall is the same of all space fighter games: it’s repetitive.  But that’s ok, I enjoyed the game for what it was for and sometimes that’s all I can ask for.

My Bottom 5 games:

1. James Bond 007: Agent Under Fire

We all know that Golden Eye was the N64 standard.  And after the success of Perfect Dark I really had high hopes for the new Bond game.  Big enough hopes that I bought it with the system.

Utter failure.

This game didn’t improve on either of the aforementioned N64 games.  The 1 player was forgettable minus the car levels (which is not what I bought the game for).  The multiplayer was terribly bland and was barely recognizable compared to Golden Eye.  The game play was just lousy, which I think is partially because of the new controller.  In a world of Halo and Star Wars Battlefront this game was a complete waste of time.

2. FIFA World Cup 2002

“Hey, I’m a soccer fan and it’s the World Cup time.  I think I’ll buy a soccer game.  I assume that since the World Cup is the best tournament in the world that the game will be the best soccer experience.”


This was an arcade game.  It was meant to keep people interested in a soccer game that wouldn’t normally care.  Really hard shots had flames behind them.  Fast players had smoke behind them.  It was devoid of any actual soccer strategy and I learned nothing about the sport itself.  Opportunity wasted.

3. MVP Baseball 2004 (aka the lefty glitch)

Albert Pujols was on the cover.   I had to get this game, especially because I hadn’t owned a baseball game since the SNES.  I bought it, went home and looked up the new rosters online.

EGADS!  There was a glitch in the game that made it near impossible for left handed batters to hit homeruns.  Think about that!!  Jim Edmonds would go a whole season with 1 or 2 homeruns!  HE HIT 40 THAT YEAR!  What a ridiculous problem to deal with!

4. Mario Party 6

Mario Party 4 would actually be number 6 on my best games list (sad but true).  So when Mario Party 6 came out I thought I would try it out, since I still assumed that newer games improved on the old.  Fooled again! They changed everything that worked, most notably the game board.  The mini games were still fun, but when they barely counted towards the end result who really cares?

5. FIFA 2004

In truth, this is the game that helped me become a soccer fanatic.  The game play was good, they had all the players and teams and I spent most of my time falling in love with Arsenal.

But besides the gameplay, the actual mechanics were lousy.  No matter how much money your team spent during the season, it was all replaced next season.  Then, when you bought the best players in the world THEY NEVER GOT WORSE!  Players improved each season, but nobody got worse because of age or ability.  Let’s just say with a regenerating budget and stagnant talent pool I had a pretty sweet team by the end.

So there you have it!  Feel free to comment or disagree on my Top 5, bottom 5 or assessment of the Gamecube in general.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sam the Ram needs to take 5 this year.

I've never seen a franchise that needs to go 5-11 more. But that's how I feel about the 2010 St. Louis Rams. The last 3 years have been horrible. Unwatchable. Depressing. But....I trust GM Billy Devaney and Head Coach Steve Spagnolo. I believe in 39 Steven Jackson as he has matured into a leader of this team. And from the pre-season I believe that Sam Bradford will make enough plays to get yards and touchdowns from broken plays. That alone will get us into each game and at least make each game interesting. And maybe win some of those games.

I see the Rams going 5-11 with wins over the Cardinals, Seahawks, Lions, Buccaneers, and Browns. That would do enough to show me the Rams are moving in the right direction. It won't be pretty, but at least it is football.

Here are my lovely pre-season predictions:
AFC: New England, Baltimore, Indianapolis, San Diego, Cincinnati, NY Jets

NFC: Washington, Green Bay, New Orleans, San Fransico, Minnesota, Dallas

Superbowl: Indianapolis over Green Bay

Many of the picks I read online are raving about the Ravens. I disagree. All winter leading up to the draft we heard about how this is a quarterback league and how much of a passing league this is. Yet, the "trendy" picks of Baltimore, NY Jets, even Cincy and Atlanta were all running teams last year. Everyone naturally assumes that young quarterbacks get better each year. That is too large of an assumption for me.

Aaron Rodgers looks great. And since I feel the NFC is wide open I find it hard to believe the Saints will just march back to the Superbowl. I feel if Green Bay focuses on defense they will make up for the shootout in Arizona and let their offense shine in the playoffs.

Then there is my doomed pick of the Colts.

Historically, Superbowl losing teams fall apart. Losing the big game has an effect the next season. The team either falls apart mentally, or one injury breaks everything apart (Brady '08, Warner '02). What is different for me is Peyton Manning. All he does is win. He leads. He doesn't allow for a letup. And I've heard from several experts that with a healthy Bob Sanders and other improvements the defense is actually better.

Improved Defense and Peyton Manning equals a Superbowl for me. Hard for me to think anything otherwise, even with the Superbowl letdown.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Jump up and touch the sky

One of my goals in life is to never become stagnant as a music fan. I don't want to be the guy that 20 years from now still only knows songs from the 90's and spends his days trying to tell people how underrated the band Live is. I feel like since I got out of college I've been able to do that through bands like Coldplay, The Killers, Snow Patrol, Ben Folds and U2. But as I look at these bands I've come to a conclusion: they represent myself as an "adult" music consumer. They bring melodies, harmonies and energy but not the raw energy and game changing music that I found with Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden.

Which leads me to ask: what band would be 15-year-old me's favorite? What band might change the way I look at music? I might have an answer.

30 Seconds to Mars is a band that certainly caught my ear on the radio. But that's not what everyone sees first. Lead singer/song writer Jared Leto is an established actor. You might remember him as Angel Face in Fight Club. (I wanted to destroy something beautiful). Well, he should drop the acting gig, cause his music is electric for me.

The first thing I notice is that the music grabs me. It's not just 4 chords of distorted guitar or some riff in drop D tuning like you hear in all the anger rock. Alright, I can get into this music. Then the lyrics. Leto is on a mission to fight for the human spirit. His latest album is called "This is War" and has absolutely nothing to do with war, and everything for fighting for the voice of youth and the spirit and love they bring. Hmmm...I think I'm starting to buy in. Then I saw a video of their live performances.

It is clear that 30 Second to Mars and their fans have a spiritual experience at their shows. That's what sealed the deal for me. I believe music has a very spiritual element to it as well. (Although Leto and I differ as to the source of the spirituality) I want to be in a crowd that has a common purpose and that purpose is greater than "I need to let off all this anger." Yes, I think I would like a 30 Seconds to Mars crowd. (Coincidentally, when they came in concert this past May I was at a Pearl Jam concert. Got to wait your turn new guys)

Below is a video that shows it altogether. I encourage you to give it a watch (since I can't embed official videos) If you can get by the emo teens and the pink mohawk you will see a phenomenon. The type of phenomenon 15-year-old-me was looking for. The type of music current-me is thankful to have.

Monday, July 12, 2010

South Africa World Cup remembered

What a month! What started with 32 nations hopes of a World Cup championship comes down to only 1 victor. A congrats to Spain, a worthy World Cup champion. I am amazed at the composure it takes from a whole team to win that many games 1 - 0. Often, that goal came very late in the game. At any time one player could lose his concentration and make a mistake that leads to conceding a goal. Not Spain. I give tons of credit to captain Iker Casillas. Way to skipper the ship.

One more note on the Final: if that was the USA playing, there would have been 2-3 red cards coming our way. I keep hounding on the word respect. This is the example:

Only a yellow. WHAT!!! In 2006 the US got red cards for much less. And I'm not even arguing that we didn't deserve them, I'm just saying that perceived soccer ability and respect gives you calls that others won't get. Hopefully those days our over with our performance in this year's Cup.

So although I didn't want a European team to win, I am glad a team hoisted the trophy for the first time. Here are my other Break Out Moments.

Diego Forlan - Uruguay.

Even before winning the Golden Ball (player of the tournament) I was saying "He stood out above all others." (David Villa is my number 2 player). Where would Uruguay be without him? Above all others he made goals out of nothing. He will receive a huge payday, and personally I would love to see him at Arsenal.


I admit, I never have given Germany the respect they deserve. But following 2 third place finishes and a runners up finish, I am starting to believe. I am probably going to follow a German team in the fall (Schalke) that's how much they impressed. They played solid team defense, held possession of the ball, made solid passes and (most importantly) they put the ball in the net with precision. That is a rare combination. I credit the Bundesliga for their success, they really know how to develop talent and they how to play the game. The MLS could learn a lot from them.

Top 3 games of the World Cup:

Spain v The Netherlands: The Final
It was ugly. It was choppy. But in the end, it was exciting. All the chances in extra time were amazing, especially with any goal almost securing a WORLD TITLE! And then to have the latest World Cup winning goal in history? Amazing. Also, why didn't Spain start Cesc Fabregas? He was a creative beast when he entered the game.

Ghana v Uruguay: The Handball.
I was rooting hard for the last African hope. The game was exciting. The goals were exquisite. Then, with penalties looming the Ghananians threw a barage of shots at the goal. With time running out they gave one last effort only the have it batted off the line.

Listen, this is the truth. 90% of players would have done it too. I really thought "Nice effort, but Ghana wins." The rest is African history. Hitting that crossbar demoralized the whole team. Uruguay advanced, but not without some of the best drama I've ever seen.

USA v Algeria: The Goal.
Both teams could advance with a win. Yet, with England comfortably ahead of Slovenia, Algeria starts playing for a heartless draw. Do they know where they are and what's at stake??? Still the US carries on, creating chance after chance.

Then came the goal.

I admit, I ran around the house. Ran. My kids joined me. It was incredible. Overjoyed. And I wasn't alone. Anyone who witnessed that goal Live knows what I'm talking about. The tension up to that point was unbearable. The release.....will be remembered for generations.

This my favorite game not only because the US won. It is how we won. This is why I love soccer. Sure, you're never really sure the goal is coming. But when it does come.....

I seriously doubt anyone makes fun of how soccer players celebrate goals anymore. Because we've all been there ourselves.

Friday, July 2, 2010

"They can take our goals, but they can never take our freedom!"

I've had a week to think over the US performance in the World Cup. I wanted an African Nation to make a run in the World Cup, I just didn't want it to be at our expense! It took a great individual effort to take us down, and I applaud that. (I don't blame Bocanegra, he just got beat.) I consider our World Cup effort a success as we made the knock out round and fared better than France, Italy, Mexico and England. And while it was a thrilling run that ended in heartbreak, I think I'm ready for the positives and negatives.

Negatives: The first point is we lack depth at defender. Onyewu and Clark were directly responsible for 3 goals at my count, and we all saw how Clark made the mistake against Ghana. Demerit and Bocanegra played strong in the middle, they just got out run in extra time. More experience and depth could have allowed Bradley more options for replacements. What's more I expect that none of our starting defenders in this World Cup will start in 2014, with no specific replacements on the horizon.

Also, lack of depth at striker was huge. Ideally we would have put Dempsey and Donovan at wide midfield with Altidore and Davies at forward. Well, Davies was injured and Altidore was leveled ineffective without him. We had no answer to either create goals or allow Altidore more space. Hopefully we find some actual goal scorers in the near future.

Positives: Our midfield rocked my world. Michael Bradley was a stud. The ball seemed to be tethered to his foot and he always made timely runs to create chances. Donovan and Dempsey were amazing and the stars of our team. Edu showed great quality, and Feilhaber resurrected his career in spectacular fashion. What's more, I expect all of these players to appear in 2014.

Tim Howard proved he is a top 5 keeper in the World. He had one slight mistake on the early Ghana goal, but still that was a silly position to have to be in.

Finally, the US put on a show. After the first half of the Slovenia game we played great soccer as a team. I was watching a quality football team, not just a squad I hoped would scrap a victory together. I also felt with our performances against Slovenia and Algeria we really gave the World something to cheer about. Imagine that, we were actually gaining support around the world. This translates into an important quality.


I think the World saw us as a quality team, and that will translate into future respect. No more cheap fouls because it must be the American's fault. No more tough draws in the World Cup because Mexico undeserving received a number 1 seed. More Americans will get playing time in Europe. It will have an effect.

Soccer also gained respect in the US itself. Landon Donovan gave us a moment we will not soon forget. The goal and reactions across the nation gives us a talking point for not just this World Cup, but for the next 4 years and possibly the 4 after that.

A new nation of fans: How can this one moment change a nation? Well, it was a World Cup that turned me into a soccer fan. In 2002 I watched a young Donovan and company defeat Mexico and controversially lose a chance at the semi-finals at the hands of the Germans. But they had captured my spirit. I started following US players in the MLS. I started watching Champions League and English Premier League games. I was hooked. I bought a FIFA video game. I picked a favorite team. (Arsenal) And I started watching every USA match played. I followed our players on their club teams.

Soccer is now a part of my sports world just like baseball, football and basketball. In 2002 I knew very little about world soccer. 8 years later I own 3 jerseys, countless soccer shirts and I have soccer regularly set on my DVR.

In 2018 the World Cup will probably be in Europe, but the US is trying to land it. Where will your game be in 8 years?

Friday, June 4, 2010

One Cup to rule them all: World Cup Cinderellas, favorites and predictions

If the NCAA Tournament took steroids and decided to conquer the world, it would look like the World Cup. Then play it once only 4 years. Could you imagine Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Michigan State going for the tourney title only once every 4 years? That's the best way I can explain it to American sports fans. Lots of big time countries will lose to less talented squads who play with a lot of hustle and heart. Yet the same super star nations end up in the semi finals (final four) every tournament. So if a team like Mexico, the US, England or France bows out early don't think of it as much how they screwed up but how these other nations rose to the occasion. Also, please feel free to bandwagon onto whatever Nation makes a surprise run. It's totally acceptable.

As for my overall preview, one things really sticks out to me.

Location, location location.

Host nations do really well in the Cup. While I personally expect South Africa to make some magic, I consider every African team a host nation and for them to do well because I feel they will be playing with the pride of the entire continent on their shoulder. More importantly European countries play poorly off their continent. It's a fact in my mind. Only two countries have ever won the Cup off their home continent: Brazil and Argentina. My picks reflect this. As much as I enjoy watching England and Spain play I foresee them heading home disappointed.

If the boot fits: Cinderellas in the crowd. These are teams that I feel have the chance to win it all if they catch a break or two. It is my hope that the USA can make a run, but I will use my space to feature other teams.

Ivory Coast: This is the most talented African nation in my mind. They have talented, experienced players all over the field. But they have maybe the most influential player in the Cup: Didier Drogba. Love him or hate him (I double hate him) he is a forward that always finds a way to score. He has carried Chelsea to huge success, and he can do it in South Africa as well. He broke his arm preparing for the Cup which leaves the question: Is the arm going to be the excuse for a bad World Cup, or the inspiration for a spectacular one?

The Netherlands: Consider them those old Roy Williams Kansas teams. All the talent, none of the big victories. The Dutch terrorize Europe during the regular season, but never seem to put it together for the big tournaments. Well, it only takes one tournament to change that perception. They have a top 3 offense and a good enough defense. If they can get their heads straight they could send some big countries home.

The Favorites:

Brazil: Brazil is looking to win its 6th World Cup on its 5th continent. What?? That's the kind of pedigree the Brazilians come from. Lots of people love their home country first, but Brazil is their second team. They have flash and style, but they have focused on defense recently. To the point where they left former world player of the year Ronaldihno at home. (despite the Nike commercial!) Fortunately, they have another former world player of the year in Kaka, and he will be their main creative force. If the defense can hold up and the forwards get some confidence it will be hard to stop the World Domination of Brazil.

Argentina: They boast the current world player of the year in Lionel Messi. How much can one player influence a team? Well, when he can literally dribble around the entire midfield, defense and goalie to score he is a rather important player. Not to say he is alone, there are many talented, experienced player around him. The question is whether their insane manager Maradona can not screw it up. As weird and temperamental as he is, I think he can hold it together for the big one.

Spain: They put on a show winning the European Championship in 2008. Much of that team is in tact for South Africa and they are ready for a World Championship. They have fierce forwards and brilliant midfielders and a top 5 keeper. Their downfall? They have played a ton of games. While those extra games from '08 may not matter now, all the games their talented players participate in the Champions League may take their toll. Also, Spain used to be known as the team that couldn't win the big one. Can they win the big one twice in a row?

And now for my doomed picks:
A1: Mexico
A2: South Africa
B1: Argentina
B2: Nigeria
C1: England
D1: Ghana
D2: Germany
E1: Netherlands
E2: Cameroon
F1: Italy
F2: Paraguay
G1: Brazil
G2: Ivory Coast
H1: Spain
H2: Chile

Nigeria V England
Netherlands V Brazil
Argentina V USA
Cameroon V Spain

Semi Finals
England V Brazil
Argentina V Cameroon

Argentina V Brazil

Champions: Argentina

Obviously I am very hopeful for the African continent. Think of North America, Asia and Africa as the mid-majors where a Final Four is like a championship. I also would like to see a non-European team not named Brazil win. As much as I would like Africa to do it, I see too much talent for Argentina. I see a classic final that is decided by a questionable call just so those two nations can hate each other more.

Enjoy The Cup!!!

One Nation: My USA World Cup Preview

No sporting event means more to the American sports landscape than the World Cup. That is not an exaggeration: for better or worse it's the truth. True, more Americans will talk about the Super Bowl or will fill out NCAA brackets or stop what they're doing to watch Albert Pujols than talk about soccer. But when it comes down to it, nothing compares to the effect the US Men's result in the World Cup has on the state of soccer in our nation. Lose and people think "wasn't that cute....Americans trying to play with the big boys." But defeat some of the big boys....and US Soccer gets some serious credibility in the eyes of a skeptic nation.

No pressure.

Actually that's more true than you would imagine. The expectations of the US team rides on the coat tails of their performance in the last World Cup. In 2002 the national team shocked the nation by making the quarterfinals. Expectations were high for 2006, some were predicting the semifinals. Well, we scored 2 goals and got knocked out early. This gives our team a "nothing left to lose" attitude. An attitude that fits Americans well. Here is a look at some key players you should know.

Consistent Stars: Great players who just seem to have the knack to rise to the occasion.
Tim Howard: He is an elite keeper, one of the top 5. He played over 40 games in England last year and he is sharp both in form and in decisions. He can clear out corners, get down for low shots and keep our back line organized. You don't have to worry about the keeper making a dumb decision with Howard in the goal. And that's saying a lot.

Landon Donovan: The all-time leading scorer for the US has moved from being a forward or attacking mid to play right wing. At first I was concerned about moving a playmaker to the wing, but Landon has proved my worries unnecessary. He is explosive in space, he makes great runs off the ball and has great touch. He knows how to weave in and out of the defense and that allows him to find his way into the action, often to create a chance on goal. Once a liability, he is clearly a strength now.

Clint Dempsey: His story is similar to Donovan's. A great striker and goal scorer, he now plays wing for the US. And like Donovan, that position suites him well. What he lacks in pace he makes up for in determination. He is always in the right place, always fighting for the ball. He knows when to use a flashy move and when to just muscle it through. And he always ends up in the action. The difference is Dempsey is more likely to get in a fight than Donovan. Not a bad thing mind you.

Need to perform to their abilities: Good players who have something to prove.

Jozy Altidore: He's been great for the national team over the last couple years, but he only played in about half his games this past season, and he didn't exactly perform well. Will we see the Jozy of last summer or last winter? As our most seasoned forward that is an important question for the team.

Michael Bradley: Honestly Bradley has played really consistently for the US. But even the slightest gaff and he could cost the US a game. He is our strongest defender in the midfield and often kick starts the offense. He connects the back to the front, we need him to be on his game.

Oguchu Onyewu: Gooch busted his knee last October and has shown a lot of heart getting to the World Cup at all. But he is still needed in the back. No offense to Clarence Goodson, but Onyewu (when healthy) is a rock on the back line. Can his knee hold up? Will there be rust? The answers will determine if Tim Howard makes comfortable saves or "hold your breath" saves.

Rise above it: Can these players make a difference?

Jose Torres: To be honest, I didn't know who this guy was before World Cup qualifying. I was surprised he made the team. But after the Turkey game I have really high hopes for him. He doesn't mind doing the dirty work in the midfield: Defending deep, bailing out the defense. This allows the rest of the midfield to focus on their offense a little more which greatly enhances our ball movement. I don't know how much he will play, but a good tournament from Torres could do wonders for the US.

Findley/Gomez/Buddle: Three forwards with little National team experience. Crazy? Crazy like a fox. These three are all playing great right now. They are literally too inexperienced to feel the pressure. All they know is the ball goes in the net. If any combination of these three can score 2 - 4 goals, the US is in great shape.

Success? After the poor performance in '06, the measure of success is hard to gauge. Think of the World Cup as the NCAA tournament, good teams lose and lesser teams make a run. Picking the World Cup is the same. For me, my expectation is for the US to get out of Group C and make the knock out round. I would call the tournament a definitive success. Make the Semifinals and the world will notice.

Win it all? Running around naked would be acceptable. I don't think it will happen, but that's why you play the games.