Letter from America

Jaz Rignall rattles off his weekly US dispatches before sloping off to enjoy "Labor Day".

Howdy y'all, and welcome to this week's Letter from America, now broadcasting from its new regular slot of noon on Sunday.

It's Labor Day Weekend out here, or Socialist-Entitled De-Productivity Day, as the Conservatives like to call it. Which is basically the same Bank Holiday weekend you got last week in the UK, except that instead of getting to laze around on the last Monday of August as do Britons, Americans have to wait until the first Monday of September. Making me wonder if someone on the Mayflower lost their calendar, or perhaps the ship's clock broke on the way over here.

In a flagrant display of my advancing years, I still associate Bank Holidays with arcades. Growing up in the early 80s near the seaside town of Aberystwyth on the west coast of Wales, I spent most of my summers on the Royal Pier, playing arcade games until I was skint. Whereupon I'd carefully start nudging one of the arcade's several Penny Falls machines to knock a few coins down without setting the alarm off, so I could continue playing.

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Arcades - the birthplace of social video gaming. This is actually a shot from the E3 Retro Museum, a mini-arcade that gets wheeled out once a year for the biggest show in gaming. I usually spend an hour or so here, because I'm an old fart who still likes to occasionally stand up to play a game.

As it turned out, as well as becoming highly adept at procuring illicit coinage, I had a bit of a knack for running up some tasty scores on certain machines, such as Defender, Asteroids, and Missile Command. Single games on those machines could last hours, and sometimes even the better part of a day - which was great when I was gaming on a budget of craftily acquired 10 pence pieces. But sometimes, these mammoth gaming sessions would push the machines beyond their limits. I reset Missile Command on several occasions while going for a record score - which I subsequently found out happens when you earn more than 255 extra lives, causing the machine's 8-bit processor to freak out and try to kill itself so it wouldn't have to calculate the “impossible” number of 256.

But that's nothing compared to the day I accidently melted an Asteroids machine. I wrote the story as a piece of test content for USgamer months ago, and it's been sitting at the bottom of our content management system ever since. So here it is, should you wish to be regaled with this previously untold tale.

While having to leave your house to play the best that gaming has to offer is a pain in the ass, especially by today's laze-in-front-of-the-telly-while-games-come-down-a-pipe-to-you-oh-no-I've-become-a-fat-recalcitrant-bastard culture, I'm glad I grew up during the arcade era. Social gaming is a big thing these days - but it started in arcades, with players competing side by side. It's something that happens all too rarely these days - and it's a lot easier to be a dick to someone when you're safely down the end of a microphone hundreds of miles away, rather than being physically next to them. Not that I'm knocking online gaming, but being all old-school like, I think the best interactions come from when you're in the same room as the person(s) you're competing against.

Anyway! Enough of this misty-eyed wallowing in the past, and onto the bright-eyed present. This week, Nintendo pulled a surprise out of its pants in the form of the 2DS - which is basically a non-folding 3DS without the child-blinding screen. While some looked at it rather nonplussed, I was impressed. This thing is the cockroach of handhelds: it's built to take a beating. There are no fragile bits on it, making it pretty much the only handheld I'd trust to withstand the rigours of abuse it might take in the hands of a young child. Which is its target market, and it will be nigh on irresistible to kids when paired with the upcoming new Pokemon games.

One of the interesting things we found out is that while 2DS looks like it has a twin screen, it's actually one big one split by the case overlay. I think this helps make the machine even more robust, and although it seems that it's a bit bulky, I really don't see the non-folding thing being any kind of an issue. I mean, hands up who cried into their Weetabix because they couldn't fit their tank-like Game Boy into their trouser pockets without bursting the seams? See. Not an issue at all. We just forget these things thanks to modern life's constant mollycoddling.

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The new unfoldable 2DS might sound like a dumb idea, but it's really not. It's cheap(er). That pop of red makes it right cheerful. But more importantly, it's one tough sumbitch, as they like to say in the States. Ideal Xmas pressie for the kids... and I'd craftily ask Santa for one too. There are tons of ace games available for it, including some lovely old classics.

The other thing is that while it's not super-cheap, 2DS is just about cheap enough to be worth treating yourself to, should you be rightfully tempted by the myriad of ace 3DS and classic virtual console games that are now available to download for little more than the price of a Crappachino with Minty Chocolate Flakes and Caramel Sauce. Go on, ask Santa for one. It'll make you happy - I kid you not.

Last weekend, I started playing Blizzard's upcoming blockbuster, Hearthstone, and found myself throwing my own money at it, even though it's still in beta. Yeah. I really like it. I mean, I REALLY like it. But then again, as a recovering Magic the Gathering-o-holic, previewing this new digital collectible card game was a bit like being a drug addict getting a new job minding a pharmaceutical store.

Other than that, it's been a fairly quiet week. We reviewed Killer is Dead, and didn't like it. We also reviewed Lost Planet 3 and didn't like it. But we did like Tales of Xilla. Well, Pete did. Being one of those weird JRPGs with big-eyed girls with strangely proportioned bodies, it didn't float my boat so much as iceberg-to-the-Titanic it. But Pete loved it, and since he's a big proponent of the genre, that's what really counts.

Speaking of the Titanic, something that's really odd, and has nothing to do with anything here, is that I seem to have the weirdest timing when it comes to James Cameron's movie. It's shown here on TV all the time, and I have a really strange habit of channel surfing into it just a minute or so away from that awesome bit where the ship is well and truly sinking, and a guy who's trying to hang onto a railing loses grip and falls a huge distance, spanging off the Titanic's exposed propeller before he plops into the frigid sea. It must have happened five or six times in the last year. I don't mind, because it's the best bit in the movie, apart from Leonardo DiCaprio turning into an ice cube, but anyway. I just thought of it, and couldn't resist using it as a way to end this piece.

Until next week!

Jaz Rignall is editorial director of USgamer.net, Eurogamer's rootin', tootin' American cousin. He lives in San Francisco in a little box on the hillside made of ticky-tacky.

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