Gotta’ Catch ‘Em All!


Pokemon is probably one of the most defining aspects of my child hood. As soon as I got a Gameboy and the Pokémon games, I started obsessively trying to collect one of each and every Pokémon. It wasn’t all that difficult to achieve in the first iteration of the games (Pokemon Red and Blue), it just required you to have a friend with a gameboy and the opposite game to you. For me, this slot was filled by zel, my younger brother. Sadly, we never made it to an event to get the elusive and adorable Mew, but still, 150/151 isn’t bad going.

There are now nearly twenty games in the main series, and many spin-offs such as Pokemon Snap (N64), Pokemon Colosseum (N64), and Pokemon Trading Card Game (GBC) to name just a small handful. There are also other areas of the phenomenon – there’s a Trading Card Game, an anime series, and more merchandise than you could shake a stick at. Pokemon fever really did sweep the world and from the young to the young-at-heart, Pokémon became a part of our culture.

I was young (maybe about seven or eight years old) when I first came across the adorable, collectible creatures. Young tends to mean impressionable. The major philosophy behind the games was ‘Gotta’ Catch ‘Em All’ and so this innocuous game involving (something I now consider slightly questionable) catching small creatures in even smaller digital balls, and making them fight until one passes out has had what I consider to be a fairly large impact on my life, or at least my psyche.

In the field of psychology, the question of nature or nurture rages on. I don’t know if I was predisposed towards completing and collecting tendencies, if Pokemon awakened these traits within me, or if the game created them in me from scratch, but what I do know is that since I was a child I have taken pleasure in collecting. From glow in the dark plastic shapes to achievements to Magic: the Gathering cards.

So, before you pick up that DS to play Black or White (the latest installations in the series) ask yourself if you really want to ‘Catch ‘Em All’.

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Minecraft


Another game I’ve been spending a lot of time on recently is Minecraft. Created by the enigmatic Notch (a Swedish bloke), Minecraft (MC) is a global phenomenon. Even though it’s currently only in beta testing, MC has sold over a millions copies.

I’m a relative newcomer to MC. A friend lent me his account for a few days and when I eventually got around to playing it (I admit that I did ignore it for a fair while before trying it out – I was dubious) I was hooked pretty quickly.

I wasn’t hooked instantly, though, since the complete lack  of a tutorial left me furiously hammering the mouse button because I didn’t know any better. Some kind of introductory thing would be hugely helpful, even if it was only telling you the controls.

After I worked out how to actually collect basic materials I had to return to the MC wiki to find out what the heck I could do with an inventory full of bits of tree and earth. It became clear quite quickly what I needed to do.

Hide.

It was getting dark, and in MC, while the sunsets are actually quite pretty and picturesque, they spell trouble. And in MC, trouble is spelled c-r-e-e-p-e-r. When it gets dark, scary things come out to play, where play = kill you and eat you.

minecraft fleeeee

Because it had taken me so long to figure out how the basic controls worked, I  hadn’t had time to make a shelter or find coal to make torches (the only source of light in the scary dark night). This meant I was alone and open to attack. The safest thing I could think of was to dig a small pit and cower until the sun came up. Which I did. I’m not sure if it was luck or something else, but I survived that first night pretty easily and safely. The noises scared me to the edge of my seat though. The groaning of zombies, the chittering of spiders and the twang of skeleton’s bowstrings, all combined with something I couldn’t identify and the occasional explosion to make the fairly quiet night seem cacophonous.

When the sun rose, I emerged blinking from my pit and jumped immediately back into it. I could see from where I had been a zombie on fire. Turns out the MC monsters don’t like the sun. It burns some to death and makes others docile. After a moment or two I ventured forth into the world again and started to plan out a place to live and mine.

minecraftscape

Minecraft really is a game that does what it says on the tin. You mine to gather materials and then use them to craft almost anything you can think of, really. I’ve seen some fantastic things, ranging from a scale model of the SS Enterprise from Star Trek, to a funky little beach parasol made by abusing the strange physics the game has.

This a game which really has me gripped, and a lot of my friends too. We have gone to some lengths to set up a multiplayer server, including using a laptop which does NOTHING ELSE other than run idle, dedicated to the server. (Admittedly, it is a laptop which has no screen, but that’s beside the point)

Steep learning curve aside, I highly recommend this game. It is one that takes you and has you gripped. It lets your imagination run wild, and gives you a real sense of achievement. Don’t believe me? Try mining your first diamond vein, or trapping your first monster in a cleverly designed trap which implements Redstone (Minecraft’s equivalent of electricity). Then you’ll see what I mean.

Recent Crazes in AliceLand


So, lately I’ve been playing a lot of Puzzle Quest 2. I can’t think of any better way of putting it than ‘Bejewelled – the Role Playing Game’. Essentially, you play a character who, in typical RPG style, locates a village and has to (for no good reason) save it from the baddies. You do this by fighting off various monsters. However, in place of a conventional battle system, you play bejewelled against an opponent. Your character earns mana from matching colours and uses it to cast spells, most of which alter the board state in some way.

When you’ve killed the monster, you might find a chest to loot! To do this, you play bejewelled, matching up various chests and crowns and coins instead of gems. You may come across a locked door on your adventure! To open it, you can bash it down with bejewelled power, or cast a spell of opening using your bejewelled magic, or pick the lock with bejewelled lock picks. You might have to search a room for a clue, or disarm a trap. I’m sure you can guess how….

Despite being very repetitive, PQ2 is a good game. It does exactly what you expect. It lets you play bejewelled, but makes it slightly more interesting. The abilities and spells your characters get are a great addition to the game and make it very interesting. Being able to turn half the gems on the board purple, then destroying all the purple gems for MASSIVE DAMAGE! is great fun.

There are a few kinks, and the levelling and mini-games systems I think especially need some more work. For instance, it’s just as easy to use a spell to unlock a door as it is to bash it down, whether you’re a berserker or a sorcerer. It would be nice if this was altered to be more appropriate.

All in all though, if you’re looking for a casual game to sink a few hours into (I’ve lost nearly thirty so far), Puzzle Quest 2 is an excellent candidate.  It’s available on Steam and a very reasonable price, so really there’s no reason not to buy it! (Unless you have a particularly addictive personality. Then it might not be such a great idea)