Raroos at Comic-Con Logo[GameSetWatch columnist Mister Raroo and his family are at San Diego Comic-Con and are giving us the skinny on their experiences. We’ll be running daily updates from the Raroos, continuing with this report on the first full day of the convention.]

The Smell of Hard Corps in the Morning

Considering that we didn’t get a full night’s sleep and we had to drop our son Kaz off at daycare before driving to downtown San Diego to find parking, I think Missus Raroo and I did very well to arrive at the Convention Center right around 10:00 am. We wanted to have a little time to hit the main floor and check out some more booths before walking over to Konami’s suite at the ritzy Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel.

Konami had a lot of games available to play, and I chose to start off by trying out the beautiful Hard Corps: Uprising. I spent a great deal of my freshman year in college playing Contra Hard Corps on my Sega Genesis, and Hard Corps: Uprising is essentially a spiritual sequel to that game. At the ready to answer questions was Associate Producer Kenji Yamamoto, who jumped in and played co-op with me through the game’s first stage.

I’ve got to say, I kind of wish I had guys like Mr. Yamamoto around to play games with more often because he was smiling the entire time and genuinely seemed to be enjoying himself. He and I had a good chat about how great it is that 2D game design truly seems to have made such a strong comeback. And when I told him how much I appreciated the bright, vibrant colors used in Hard Corps: Uprising's visual design, he just laughed and thanked me for noticing.

Seriously, I’m so sick of drab games, and in the wrong hands a game like Hard Corps: Uprising could be yet another dull military-themed shooter. Thankfully, that's not the case, and in fact it almost seems downright happy… well, aside from the continuous shooting and explosions, that is. Three cheers for developers realizing there are other colors besides gray and brown!

In a bit of a stark contrast to the lush visuals of Hard Corps: Uprising was the dark and brooding Rush ‘n Attack: Ex-Patriot. Though the game seems to be well-constructed and sports some fairly impressive production values, the switch from the pure action gameplay of the original NES game to an almost sidescrolling Metal Gear-like stealth approach didn’t really get my blood pumping. I wasn’t in the mood for hiding in dark shadows and pouncing on unsuspecting guards. I wanted to rush… and attack!

Two Castlevania games were available to play, and since Castlevania is one of my favorite video game series of all time, I was itching to try them both out. The big-budget console game, Lords of Shadow, sports gorgeous visuals and seems like a fresh turn for the series, even if I couldn’t help but think it was a little too serious for its own good. I appreciated the game's responsive controls, and within seconds my enemies were feeling the sting of Gabriel Belmont's whip, but part of me couldn't help but think that Lords of Shadow didn't really feel like a "true" Castlevania game.

It was the odd little downloadable game, Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, which ended up appealing to me more--something I found surprising because I’ve been feeling totally wary of the game ever since I first saw screenshots a couple months ago. Harmony of Despair is essentially like the type of doujin game that would be concocted by the craziest Castlevania fanatic, and I mean that in the most complimently manner.

Harmony of Despair

Harmony of Despair takes all the 2D Castlevania games from Symphony of the Night onward, tosses them into a blender, and spits them out into a massive orgy of fanservice. The game takes place on various maps that allow up to four player cooperative play where teamwork is key above all else. The maps can be zoomed out to view the entire game area at one time, and seeing the castle designs on one screen is actually a thing of strange beauty. Really, Harmony of Despair is absolutely bananas, like some type of Castlevania from a bizarro universe, and I can’t wait to play the final release.

While I was busying myself with all the games mentioned above, Missus Raroo and Yoshie were having a blast watching people try out Dance Masters, a (as the title suggests) dancing game that utilizes Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral. I didn’t except Kinect to work so well, but it was much more accurate than I had figured it would be. Even though Dance Masters was a little generic, it seemed like a perfect party game for very casual players, and it’s also the type of game I would bring out for kids to play at my library’s video game programs. But it doesn't seem like the type of game I would ever spend my own money on.

Konami’s staff seemed very amused that we had a baby along with us, and they get a special shout out for being so accommodating. They didn’t even get mad when Yoshie was acting hungry and wanted to nurse, let alone when she pooped and needed a big-time diaper change. The Raroos are all about family above all else, and our kids definitely shape the types of video games we play.

Mom and Dad Need a Nap

Yoshie was not in any mood to take a nap all day, even though she needed to. Despite being a good little girl at Konami’s hotel suite, when we returned to the Convention Center, she started to get really fussy. We had brought a baby carrier so we could take turns having her strapped to us as we walked around, but Yoshie would have nothing to do with that. So, Missus Raroo and I had to carry our grouchy little daughter around the rest of the day, making life slightly more difficult.

But it’s hard to be down on life when there is free ice cream, which is something we were able to enjoy thanks to Adult Swim's colorfully-painted ice cream truck. Best freebie of the day, by far! It was kind of funny to see so many people clamoring for ice cream, but hey… nobody’s going to mistake Comic-Con for Fitness-Con. I may not be a shining example of optimal health myself, but compared to many of the frighteningly unhealthy denizens of Comic-Con, I might as well be at the top of the President’s Physical Fitness Award List.

While we were enjoying our lunch, we ran into fellow zinester Jae Lazaro, who has not only been busy maintaining San Diego State University’s zine archive (which includes Game Time With Mister Raroo issues!), but is also noteworthy as being the first person to ever send the Raroos "fan mail.” I’ve been in touch with Jae for years now, and she and I have actually tossed around the idea of collaborating on a zine focused on thrift stores and second-hand items, but it wasn’t until today that we’ve had the chance to meet in person. I’ve never worn a costume to Comic-Con, while Jae was dressed like a World of Warcraft character, so she scores more nerd points than I do!

After lunch, both Missus Raroo and I were feeling completely exhausted, so we came up with the plan to find a nice place to sit while we scoured the Comic-Con schedule to choose a good panel to attend. We wanted to enjoy fresh air, so we made for the Convention Center's outside patio area where we found an empty table located in the shade and set up camp. Within minutes, we threw away the idea of attending a panel and decided to just enjoy a good old-fashioned sit.

Apparently we weren’t the only ones who were feeling wiped out, because we met up with our friend Brandon Sheffield who sat down and took a load off his feet with us. Being lazy at that shady spot was probably my favorite activity of the day, truth be told. When I was a kid I never understood why “old” people liked to sit around and talk, but now I do: It’s because we get so freaking tired!

Oh Hell No!I was somewhat grumpy from being so fatigued, though I was able to channel my sour mood and use it to do a good deed. A company called GameRave was selling “rare” video games at their booth, and I overheard the staff trying to sell a used copy of Dragon Quest VII to a lady for $100. She was protesting that she thought the price seemed rather high, but the GameRave staff argued otherwise, in fact going so far as to say it was actually a good price.

A little voice went off in my head that said “Oh, Hell no!” and I chimed in to let her know that she could get the game for less than half that price online, making sure the GameRave staff heard me loud and clear. Needless to say, they seemed none too pleased about. All of their games were overpriced far beyond the usual Comic-Con mark-ups, and the staff members just seemed like the type of sleazy jerks that gamers should steer far clear of. I’m glad I kept them from getting that sale, even if they’ll probably just take advantage of someone else down the road.

Music and Whining

In the evening we met up with our friend Maki to cap off the day by enjoying The San Diego Symphony’s’s performance of Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy. Maki’s mom is a violin player in the symphony, and she surprised Missus Raroo and me with a personalized autograph from famed Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Umeatsu. A very cool gift, indeed!

We purchased the cheapest concert tickets available, which basically allowed us to set up a picnic blanket in the general admission grassy area, but we still had a good view of the stage as well as the massive video screens that played game footage during the performance. As was to be expected, most of the selections came from Final Fantasy VII and VIII, but there were also some choices for hardcore fans, such as a nifty version of the Opera scene from Final Fantasy VI, not to mention my personal favorite of the evening, a very jazzy rendition of “Swing de Chocobo.” How I love chocobos!

Silly Little StoromtrooperThe most entertaining part of the Distant Worlds concert may not have actually come from the symphony, but from a young boy dressed like a Star Wars stormtrooper. It didn’t take long for the kid to get bored of listening to classical music, and we were laughing at his hilarious antics, the best of which was pulling his costume over his head and trying to walk around without being able to see. Eventually the boy’s father ended up throwing in the towel and leaving the concert, looking quite sad that he was going to miss the remainder of the performance.

Seeing that wacky little boy made me think of my silly son Kaz, who was spending the night with Grandma and Grandpa. We knew full well that there was no way Kaz would last through a two hour performance of classical music, though we thought we'd be safe with Yoshie. As it turns out, she was fussy for the first half of the concert, and Missus Raroo spent that time standing with Yoshie near the back of the venue so as not to disturb the people around us. Eventually Yoshie calmed down and we were all able to enjoy Distant Worlds while holding a sleeping a sleeping baby in our arms, which was the perfect end to a long, tiring day.

[Mister Raroo is a happy husband, proud father, full-time public library employee, and active gamer. He currently lives in El Cajon, CA with his family and pets. You may reach Mister Raroo at mister.raroo@gmail.com.]