I will always consent when someone asks me to be in a video game tournament. It doesn’t matter if I’m not familiar with the game. I can’t pass up the opportunity to test my skills which have been in the making for 21 years now. When I was younger, I received a $20 gift certificate to Kmart for getting the highest score on Super Mario Bros at the county fair. Several years later, I won the consolation prize in a Warcraft II competition. Last night, I was the only one on my Halo 2 team to win anything: a T-shirt for having the most assists. The team placed fourth overall, a dubious honor. Considering I’m not a chronic Halo player, and my experience was limited to one week of practice, I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, it was a lot of fun, and Critical Pink (my team) became the topic of discussion for about an hour after a darn close sniper’s only round.
I was comfortable being a Nintendo fan with my Game Boy Advance and limited access to my brother’s GameCube. This Halo 2 tournament, however, has made me question where I stand in this console generation. It isn’t that I was floored by how cool Halo 2 was; I really only see it as another first-person shooter. What makes the game such a hit is how intense and crazy it becomes once 8-16 players join in. This, of course, comes from the Xbox’s ability to go online and hook up to other Xbox machines (the latter referred to as LAN: local area network).
I prefer LAN over online gaming, because I like to know my opponents. It means more to me. I like hearing my friends upstairs pound the couch in frustration when I beat them. I like being able to talk about the game afterwards and say, “Remember when I shot you with the rocket launcher while you were jumping out of the Banshee? Yeah, that was awesome.” LAN play is ingenious. Gaming took a huge leap from 2-player games to 4-player games, but up to 16-player games? I don’t even have that many friends! The prospect is alluring nonetheless. Even one-on-one, a FPS becomes a nerve-racking and creepy showdown when neither player can see what the other is doing. And that’s the key! It’s not only about being able to invite new players. LAN is great, because it prevents screen watching. It allows teams to branch off and connive behind the other’s back. I’ve always been interested in LAN back in the days of Warcraft, but after playing it on a home console, I’ve fallen in love with it.
During my week of Halo practice, I took a break from the Xbox and returned to the GameCube to play a little Star Fox Assault. To my surprise, its multiplayer mode was very similar to Halo… except in the third-person with furry animals and no blood. While running around the map and trying to find the other two players, I realized this game would have been much better if it supported a network. It would have saved Star Fox Assault altogether! LAN play could have saved a lot of GameCube games. It could have saved the GameCube.
Nintendo missed a huge opportunity by downplaying LAN support. I totally understood their disregard for online gaming, but the reason for putting forth so little effort into system linking baffles me. Nintendo, if you’re going to make the option available, use it! Show other developers that it works! Why should we buy a Broadband Adapter that’s only useful for three games? None of these were very good, either. Eight player Mario Kart was definitely appealing, but it came at the price of random character selecting. 1080 Avalanche’s implementation was ridiculous: you still only got four players. And who the heck has seven friends who would want to play Kirby’s Air Ride?
What does the GameCube have? GBA/GCN connectivity? We all know how well that went over. Actually, the Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure was a great blend of cooperation and competition and made for one of the best multiplayer games available on the GameCube. It was difficult, though, trying to find three other people with a Game Boy Advance and link cable who were willing to invest the time. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was even more of a demanding commitment. And Pac Man Vs? It was fun, but passing around a GBA and tangling up the cords got to be a hassle. I appreciated the attempt to make games that relied on players working together through communication (you can’t get anywhere in FFCC otherwise), but this connectivity wasn’t enough to make up for what has made the Xbox the talk of the town.
It’s cool that Nintendo wants to innovate, be a little different, and keep the magic of games alive, but they can’t ignore what the people want. I kind of agree with the statement that video games are reaching a stagnant point, but there are a million people who don’t, and they’ll buy Grand Theft Auto 8 and Halo 4 without question while Nintendo will be trying to convince us that “full body control” is the new thing. High definition isn’t going to drastically change how games are played, but if the majority of gamers think it will, that’s a huge chunk Nintendo’s ignoring. It’s possible to be original and appease the larger market, but I’m afraid the company is going to isolate itself completely. In time, even the most ardent fans may find it difficult to buy an E-Reader and a pack of Super Mario Bros 3 cards. After playing in that tournament, I’m having trouble myself.