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Column: Game Time With Mr Raroo

Mister Raroo's Poké-Tastic Birthday Bonanza

February 21, 2011 12:00 PM |

[Don't think for a minute that Pokémon is just for kids! GameSetWatch columnist Mister Raroo spent his birthday attending Nintendo's Pokémon Black & White Tour. He thought it would be fun to share photos and thoughts from his experience.]

Pokémon Tour

On February 19 I turned 35 years of age. But if you were to hear a description of how I spent my birthday, you might think I had turned 12! Not only did I score some excellent video games from Missus Raroo and the kids in the form of Dragon Quest VI, Wii Party, Mario vs. DK: Miniland Mayhem, and Etrian Odyssey III, but I took a road trip from the San Diego area to the Santa Anita mall near Los Angeles in order to attend the Pokémon Black & White Tour.

Snacks for the RoadTo be fair, a big part of the reason we braved the looming rain and Los Angeles traffic was because our son, Kazuo, is something of a Poké-maniac. At a month short of 4 years old, he's not quite old enough to properly enjoy the games, but he is a massive fan of the show and loves playing with his Pokémon toys.

We've been trying to eat healthier lately, but we threw caution to the wind and hit up 7-11 before embarking on our nearly three-hour road trip. We decided that since it was my birthday, we would get decadent and enjoy some junk food. Kaz definitely didn't seem to mind this plan.

We managed to avoid almost any traffic whatsoever until we got off the freeway in Santa Anita and were very close to the mall. At that point the traffic was absolutely horrid, and we were afraid that all of the cars around us were also headed to the Pokémon event.

However, it turned out there was a stoplight out a few blocks ahead and as a result everything had slammed to a halt. Missus Raroo busted out her cell phone and quickly used its GPS feature to plot an alternate route. It wasn't much longer until we were in the Santa Anita mall parking lot, and we even lucked into a close space.

We quickly hopped out of the car and tried to find our bearings. The Santa Anita mall is massive, which is likely why Nintendo chose it as one of the locations for its Pokémon Black & White Tour. The mall is also extremely busy, and we felt like we were stuck in a crazy game of Frogger as we scurried through the parking lot to the safety of the sidewalk.

Missus Raroo Says: Reminiscing About Ragol

February 2, 2011 12:00 AM |

Missus Raroo Says Logo[Missus Raroo heads down memory lane with a look at the Sega Dreamcast's beloved Phantasy Star Online in honor of its ten year birthday. If it wasn't for Phantasy Star Online, the Raroos might not be married with kids today! Mister Raroo contributed illustrations, making this a true husband and wife team effort.]

A Whole New World

Time flies! Mister Raroo just informed me that we recently passed the tenth anniversary of Phantasy Star Online’s release. This, then, also marks ten years from when we were deep in the courting phase of our relationship, meeting up for virtual “dates” in the world of Ragol. Before you jump to any conclusions that we met online, please know that our love story did not have any game-related roots.

We actually met in a teacher education course when we were both working toward our credentials. Our professor grouped us in teams to discuss children’s books and we bonded over the literary work: Shaq and the Beanstalk.

I honestly can’t remember when I figured out that Mister Raroo was a gamer. I was such a complete non-gamer, having been raised in a household without video game systems of any sort, that the concept of gaming and gamers did not even exist for me.

So how exactly did I go from being a gaming virgin to meeting up nightly to down some monsters in the forests and caves of PSO? Part of it had to do with the fact that I fell into the trappings of young love, eager to show interest in the hobbies of my boyfriend. I like to think I wasn’t too pathetic about it since it wasn’t like I pretended to have any firsthand knowledge—I was simply open to learning about games. Furthermore, it wasn’t like I blindly fell for all of Mister Raroo’s interests. I never, for instance, became a metalhead even though the Raroo likes to rock.

All the same, as an empty vessel, Mister Raroo quickly educated me about video game systems from the then-current Dreamcast and Neo Geo Pocket Color to older systems like the NES and Sega Saturn. If you have ever noticed Mister Raroo’s enthusiasm about video games bleed through in his writing, you can only imagine how powerful it comes across in person.

The Best Ever!

While not made of salesman stock, he is passionate when he believes in something, and he has a way of convincing you that it is indeed the “best thing ever.” With my self-admitted naiveté, I fell for that line more than once in our early years. When he told me multiple times that “The Dreamcast is the best system ever,” I was swayed into bidding on one off of eBay. Being new to games, I was at first drawn to Raroo-recommended games with cute, colorful graphics such as Chu Chu Rocket! and Space Channel 5.

While Mister Raroo would do his best to convince me that Chu Chu Rocket! was the best game ever, I decided it was much too hard for me, because I’m not good at keeping up with the frenetic pace. Similarly, while he tried to convince me that Space Channel 5 was also the best game ever, I realized that I unfortunately have no rhythm. Both of these games were certainly girl-friendly in appearance, but they weren’t matches for me. It wasn’t until Mister Raroo bought me Phantasy Star Online for Valentine’s Day of 2001 that I discovered my true gaming affinity was for dungeon crawls and role playing games.

Game Time With Mister Raroo: Five Reasons I Cannot Kinect

January 25, 2011 12:00 AM |

Game Time With Mister Raroo logo[GameSetWatch columnist Mister Raroo is a fan of Microsoft's Xbox 360 peripheral Kinect, but there are five main reasons he's not able to get the most out of his new toy. It's not easy playing Kinect when you don't have a massive living room, share a home with kids and pets, and worry about how silly you look to others!]

I Want to Kinect!

Though I had originally planted my feet firmly in the Kinect Haters camp, these days those same feet are happily dancing around in front of my television set. I received a new Xbox 360 bundled with Kinect this past Christmas, and I was pleasantly surprised by just how awesome Kinect turned out to be. It’s a really nifty peripheral!

With notable games like Steel Battalion and Child of Eden on the horizon, I’m truthfully excited about what the future has in store for Kinect. And, in the meantime, I’m unexpectedly having a great time with the Kinect games I’ve played. Well, most of the time, anyway. Though Kinect can be a heck of a lot of fun, there are a number of issues that prevent me from fully experiencing all it has to offer.

I have identified five main factors that stand in the way of my ability to properly enjoy Kinect. A couple of these issues are unavoidable, while the others are the result of personal circumstances in my home. No matter the reason, however, it bothers me that I’m not able to get the most out of playing Kinect. But that doesn’t stop me from trying all the same!

Game Time With Mr. Raroo: Poppy Culture - Spotlight on a Small But Mighty Developer

December 23, 2010 12:00 PM |

Poppy Logo[GameSetWatch columnist Mister Raroo takes some time to highlight the work of one of his favorite iOS developers, Poppy. With so many iOS games in Apple’s App Store, it can be tough for many developers and publishers to have their work get any attention. Mister Raroo loves the cute, simple style of Poppy’s games, and he thinks you just might, too!

NOTE: Because Poppy’s art is so charming, Mister Raroo decided to eschew his usual drawings and let the screenshots stand on their own.]

Off the Charts

A year ago at Christmas my dad surprised me with a gift I didn’t think I wanted: an iPod Touch. Since that day, my iPod Touch and I have been inseparable. I didn’t think I’d have any interest in iOS games, but as it turns out, the iPod Touch was my most-played platform for video games this past year. There may be an overabundance of games and applications available to consumers, but many of the best releases seem to have a tendency to float to the top.

However, not all the good stuff winds up receiving the attention it deserves. With admittedly fun games like Doodle Jump, Angry Birds, and Cut the Rope sitting atop the App Store sales charts for what seems to be an indefinite period of time, it can seem almost impossible for lesser-known developers to have their releases enjoy any attention.

I doubt I’m alone in my continual search for off-the-radar iOS releases, the type that surprise you and make you wonder why the majority of App Store shoppers haven’t taken note of them. I regularly scour each day’s new releases in hopes of stumbling across some unnoticed gem. This is how I first came across Poppy.

We Are Poppy!!Poppy is a wonderful little developer from Japan composed of two individuals who refer to themselves as TomTom and Jerry. The team’s main output has been working in Flash, creating many advertising websites for companies in Japan. Two years ago they created the Poppy website in order to focus on their private works. Currently Poppy focuses on iOS releases, though they plan to eventually move into other areas, such as games for Facebook.

Poppy’s output is essentially divided into two categories depending on which member of the team created the software. TomTom’s releases tend to be simple games with adorable pixel-art that bring to mind Nintendo’s Game & Watch series, whereas Jerry’s works are more akin to interactive toys or experiments.

I recently got in touch with Poppy and was delighted to find the response was just as I would have expected judging by their works. That is, the message was friendly, to the point, and contained all the information I needed. It made me smile.

All of Poppy’s iOS releases are well worth checking out, and you can purchase their entire catalog for less than the price of one Nintendo DS game. And, should you be a total cheapskate, some of Poppy’s releases are even free, so you have no excuse not to give them a chance. Below are some thoughts on my five favorite Poppy releases.

Game Time With Mister Raroo: The 2010 Raroo Awards

December 14, 2010 12:00 AM |

Raroo Awards logo[As the end of 2010 draws near, regular GSW columnist Mister Raroo details his picks for top games of the year in this special article.]

The Most Prestigious Award Ceremony of All

The end of any calendar year brings about a buzz amongst gaming publications and websites as they select the standout games from the past twelve months.

Indeed, many a developer and publisher alike wait with bated breath to see if the fruits of their labor make such lists. To many video game fanatics, the presentation of video game awards is a spectacle that eclipses the likes of the Grammys, Emmys, and even Oscars.

Of the countless accolades and prizes handed out by the multitude of magazines, websites, and blogs, there is only one award that is considered to truly “matter.” Those not familiar with the video game industry may understandably assume that the awards presented by high-profile outlets like IGN, 1UP, and GameSpot represent the pinnacle of importance.

True, most developers and publishers would hardly turn their nose at receiving such praise. That said, it is widely accepted that no one has truthfully made a name for themselves unless they’ve won a Raroo Award.

And so, dear readers, we present you with the 2010 Raroo Awards, highlighting games that stood out to our columnist Mister Raroo in some interesting and noteworthy way. 2010 was a year filled with an incredible amount of quality game releases across all genres and platforms.

Limiting the awards to ten video games proved difficult, and outstanding titles such as Sin and Punishment: Star Successor, Hydro Thunder Hurricane, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, and even the astounding Super Mario Galaxy 2 were not able to make the cut. Such is the nature of the Raroo Awards. Congratulations to this year’s award recipients!

Game Time With Mister Raroo: Refurbishing the Castle(vania)

November 2, 2010 12:00 AM |

Game Time With Mister Raroo logo[In a return for regular GSW columnist Mister Raroo, he looks at this year’s three Castlevania games, reflecting upon how they differ from other games in the series. He then explores possible directions for the series to head into. If you thought Konami had already experimented with Castlevania, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Mister Raroo somehow brings such elements as custodial work, dating simulations, bullet hell, and DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince into the mix. Well, okay!]

Alternate Routes

Castlevania has had an interesting year, to say the least. Konami seems intent on shaking things up with the franchise and released three very different games this past year, all of which stray from the usual Castlevania experiences fans have come to expect. Castlevania is my favorite game series, so I was very anxious to get my hands on the games, even if I knew they would be a bit unusual.

Though I hold Castlevania so dear to my heart, I’m not averse to Konami trying new things with the series. Heck, I even enjoyed Castlevania: Judgment, the Wii-exclusive fighting game that received fairly negative reviews from professional outlets, not to mention a lukewarm or even negative response from fans. So, it didn’t bother me to know this year’s Castlevania releases would be something out of the ordinary, and I approached each game with an open mind and little in the way of expectations.

First out of the gates was July’s iPhone release, Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night, which weaves Symphony of the Night music and visuals along with RPG elements into a fairly solid puzzle game formula. To be honest, though, I found the game a little boring and while I applaud the developer’s efforts of adding a neat castle exploration motif to the game’s progression, the actual game itself failed to do much more than make me wish there was a “real” Castlevania game for iPhone.

On the flipside, August’s Castlevania: Harmony of Despair did anything but disappoint, and it is possibly even vying for the coveted title of “Mister Raroo’s Game of the Year” at this point. The game brilliantly makes use of recycled assets from previous games and creates a completely fresh experience with them. It is definitely something special.

Game Time With Mister Raroo: Appreciating the Fineness of Print

August 26, 2010 12:00 PM |

Game Time With Mister Raroo logo[GameSetWatch columnist Mister Raroo reflects upon how reading information in print is an entirely unique experience that can’t be replicated in any other way. Along the way he touches upon the special qualities that make the best print publications so great, the differences between publishing in print and electronic formats, and how his unsuccessful attempt to join Electronic Gaming Monthly’s staff led him to being the family man he is today.]

Reach Out and Touch Me

Perhaps I’m more than a little biased since I work as a librarian, but I think the experience of reading physical materials like books and magazines cannot be replicated in any other fashion. There is something about the tactile interaction that comes with holding a book or magazine in your hands that is irreplaceable with any electronic device. The look, the physicality, and even the smell of print materials are all genuinely unique and wonderful. Admittedly, the advent of many electronic sources of information has altered my overall reading habits, but that doesn’t mean I’m anywhere ready to go completely paperless.

The past half decade or so was a rough time for many video game publications, and watching some of my favorite magazines drop by the wayside one after another has been difficult. However, considering the type of content that was the large draw of most game magazines, specifically video game previews and reviews, it’s no surprise they weren’t able to compete with the instantaneous and pertinent nature of online sources. The way information is being disseminated and accessed has changed drastically, and it makes sense that things would be shaken up in the print industry.

Of course, for those of us who love our print publications, we know there has always been much more to their appeal than the face value of their content. One of my all-time favorite video game magazines is GMR, which despite being an exclusive publication for retail chain Electronics Boutique, demonstrated an unexpected depth beyond what one would initially expect given its corporate backing. The magazine’s staff members were not a bunch of commercial bozos, but rather individuals who as a collective had a pretty impressive games journalism pedigree. I always felt I had a connection and understanding of what each writer brought to the table.

GMR had an inviting layout, was jam-packed with material, and truly seemed to be written “for gamers, by gamers.” GMR featured content well beyond the aforementioned reviews and previews, providing information and ideas that weren’t available elsewhere. And even in the case of reviews, it was always a pleasure to read the thoughts of the writers, even if the games had already been on store shelves for weeks by the time the magazine issues arrived in my mailbox. Still, what I liked most about GMR, or any other quality game publication for that matter, is that as a whole, it always delivered a compact, portable, diverse, and fun bundle of information about video games.

In other words, what makes the best video game publication great is not necessarily one specific element, but the sum of its parts. For GMR, my enjoyment stemmed not only from engaging content like James Mielke’s “My Life in Vana’diel” column, but from the fact that all of its components worked together so as to make an engaging final product. I knew that from beginning to end there was would always be something well worth my time in the magazine. And, even though much of the same content (including Mielke’s column) eventually found its way online after the magazine closed up shop, reading it was just never the same as it was when it was in print format.

Comic-Con Time With the Raroos: 2010 Edition (Part 5)

July 26, 2010 12:00 PM |

Live Action Raroos at Comic-Con[GameSetWatch's coverage of Comic-Con concludes with a collection of photos from the event compliments of The Raroos. In a revelation that shocked everyone here at GameSetWatch, it turns out Mister Raroo and his family may not actually be a group of elephants after all, but instead are actual human beings! Thanks for reading the Comic-Con series. We hope you enjoyed it!]

Attending San Diego Comic-Con International for Preview Night and all four main days is a tiring feat, and I think I speak for the entire Raroo family when I say we are completely exhausted.

We had a lot of fun this year, especially since it was the first time we were able to attend with baby Yoshie. Missus Raroo and I may have been able to more nimbly navigate the crowds and attend panels to our hearts’ content in the past, but having our kids along with us is definitely more fulfilling.

We feel like we’ve written more than enough on Comic-Con this year, so instead of wrapping up our coverage with more of the same, we thought it would be fun to share some of the photos from our time at Comic-Con. A special thank-you goes out to all of the friendly people we were able to meet up with this year!

Klingon Signs at the Trolley Stop

The San Diego Trolley stop near the Convention Center changed its signage from English... to Klingon! We noticed it as we were making our way to the Convention Center on Preview Night, and we thought it was a pretty cute. There aren’t as many Star Trek cosplayers as in years past, but having the signs in Klingon is kind of a nod of the head to the old-school Comic-Con attendees.

Comic-Con Time With the Raroos: 2010 Edition (Part 4)

July 25, 2010 12:00 PM |

Raroos at Comic-Con Logo[GameSetWatch's coverage of Comic-Con continues with another report from The Raroos. This update features Missus Raroo at the helm, and she discusses how the changes to Comic-Con in recent years run parallel to the changes in the Raroos' lives during the same period of time.]

Just as Mister Raroo and I have watched Comic-Con change over the years, so too have our lives. In our first years of attendance, we were just in our early twenties. We were out of college and working, but we did not yet have children, a mortgage or many other responsibilities. This meant we felt free to spend money to buy stacks of our favorite small press comics and manga. Back then, the general market wasn’t saturated with “graphic novels,” and so it was a real treat to discover new works that we couldn’t find at just any ordinary bookstore.

Each day, we would fill up our backpacks with new reading material, and we would head home with aching backs from hauling our goods around. Fast forward to today and we are still ending up with aching backs, but it’s no longer from backpacks full of purchases. Instead, we have backpacks full of diaper bag supplies, and we’re also frontloaded by taking turns carrying around our toddler son Kaz and infant daughter Yoshie.

As many can attest, Comic-Con has blown up in scale during the past decade. It wasn’t so long ago that people could walk up the same day to purchase available passes, and now the venue becomes sold out nearly a year in advance. With all of this growth, it seems like Comic-Con has perhaps lost some of its innocence and yet for our family, the experience has become fresher than ever because we are able to experience it in a new way with our children.

Sometimes people will hear that we’re taking our kids to Comic-Con and they either feel bad for the kids or else they feel bad for us. If Mister Raroo and I expected to get the same experience out of Comic-Con that we had when we were younger, I would agree that all parties would be pretty miserable and cranky. Luckily, Comic-Con is an opportunity that can be tailored to offer countless different experiences to all of its unique attendees.

Outsiders of Comic-Con usually assume that the experience is something that can be summed up by what they see in news coverage. In turn, we always get asked the same two questions by curious people in our lives: 1) What did you go dressed up as? and 2) Did you see any famous people? While Comic-Con is about dressing up for some and about seeing celebrities for others, this is not what it’s all about for the Raroos.

Comic-Con Time With the Raroos: 2010 Edition (Part 3)

July 24, 2010 12:00 PM |

Raroos at Comic-Con Logo[GameSetWatch columnist Mister Raroo and his family are still going strong at San Diego Comic-Con. We’ll be running daily updates from the Raroos, continuing with this report on the second full day of the convention.]

In Debt to the Sleep Bank

There’s a reason sleep deprivation is sometimes used as a form of torture: It makes you go crazy. I’m definitely in need of a good night’s sleep, and hopefully that will come tonight because I feel like at the rate I’m going, everyone at Comic-Con is going to mistakenly think I’m wearing a zombie costume.

Despite my complete fatigue, however, my senses were alert enough to spot Shawn Smith not long after Missus Raroo and I arrived at the Convention Center this morning. He was on his way to do a signing, but he took a few moments to hang out and chat with us. Shawn was super friendly and it was great to finally have a chance to meet him in person. It’s always a treat when people turn out to be just as awesome in real life as they seem to be online.

I ducked into Namco’s booth to take a gander at Splatterhouse, in part because of the giant statue of protagonist Rick that was on display. Splatterhouse is one of the first games I owned for my Turbografx-16 way back when I was in high school, so I was anxious to see what the newest incarnation of the series was like. It’s no secret that there have been many development hiccups with Splatterhouse, and sadly the game seemed more than a little boring. I completely lost interest when the Namco representative who was talking to me about the game mentioned that it contained licensed music from a whole bunch of generic metal bands.

Capcom’s booth, on the other hand, featured a handful of games that really stood out. There was a ridiculously long line of players waiting to get their hands on Marvel vs. Capcom 3, but I decided not to bother waiting hours in line to play it. The game looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun, though, and it seems to combine the tried-and-true Marvel vs. Capcom gameplay with some really slick 3D character models and backdrops. I’m sure it’ll sell by the truckload.