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Weegee over at Nintendo is getting the old spa treatment as 2013 is a celebration of the Year of Luigi. I’ve always had a strange respect for him despite letting Mario hog the spotlight. Since both my brother and I grew up gaming together, I always played the wingman. The Robin to his Batman. The Chewbacca to his Han. The — well, yeah.
And since it’s the Year of Luigi, I figured I’d take my time and appreciate all the second-player characters that don’t have their own special year.
The original Donkey Kong Country changed the way I thought about platformers. There was just something about the way Rare brought every single Kremling and Kong to life. The prerendered graphics were akin to how LittleBigPlanet makes me feel today — the world looks alive, and there are discrete little details in the character models. Maybe it was the supersweet marketing campaign. (Play this LOUD.) It’s probably the way Diddy looks around, tail wiggling and occasionally taking off his hat to scratch his little chimpanzee head. You can’t deny that charm.
But my favorite part of the game is the ability to switch between Kongs on the fly. Both DK and Diddy have unique abilities that make them handle differently. DK has the ground-slap, overhead barrel throw, and the decency to rock the red-tie-no-pants look. Diddy, although weaker, moves faster and can reach areas that DK can’t.
Donkey Kong Country also has two different multiplayer options for couchers like my brother and me: team and tag co-op. Team has you going through the overworld as two different units, and tag sticks control of DK to player one while Diddy is in player two’s hands. My hands.
My brother wouldn’t do much tagging, though. We were really competitive, so we’d bet cookies on how many levels we could beat without taking a hit. That competitive edge always made sure every cartwheel-jump was not in vain. It made me into an efficient platformer in retrospect. (Today I have a love/hate relationship with Battleblock Theater.)
But I can’t forget one of my favorite games of all-time: Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest. This is platforming perfection to me. Having both Dixie and Diddy to reach hidden areas taught me teamwork. The rich, diverse, and pirate-inspired soundtrack makes it feel like an actual quest. The level design is absolutely brilliant — because I died, a lot. The increase in difficulty ensured that I would remember every pitfall and Kremling spawn in every level to this day. I’ve never attempted a speedrun of a game before, but if I had to, it would definitely be this one. Luigi’s my boy and all, but Diddy’s in my heart forever. Diddy deserves his own year, Nintendo!
All the COGs call him “Dom.”
Gears of War is one of the most prolific bro-downs I’ve seen this generation. It’s loaded with power-thirst-sized men and huge machine guns with freakin’ chainsaws. Although Marcus Fenix (voiced by John DiMiaggio, a personal favorite) is pretty much the cover boy, any emotional impact is focused on Dom. Sure, the world’s gone to hell for absolutely everyone, but Dom’s gone to a whole other circle.
On Emergence Day, Dom lost both his children. His wife flew into a depression, and he found her years later as a prisoner in a vegetative state.
The third entry in the series cements Dom’s legacy in my heart forever. During the course of the game, Dom suggests heading to Mercy, his wife’s hometown and one of the biggest sources for imulsion fuel. Upon discovering that everyone and their mom has fallen subject to the substance’s effects, Marcus and the gang are overrun by Lambent, Locusts, and the newly-found Fallen. The look of disbelief on Dom’s face is clear as enemies rush Delta Squad, and in one last desperate hurrah, he makes a dash for a truck and drives off.
He makes a 180 at the other side of the tunnel, but he doesn’t bid farewell. Instead he addresses his wife: “Never thought it would end like this, huh? Huh, Maria?!” And in good old-fashioned slow motion, Dom drives the truck straight into the pipeline, killing most of the Lambent, Locust, and Fallen in the process. The song “Mad World” by Gary Jules crescendos and contrasts against the death orgy that ensues.
And I was in shambles the entire time.
Who knew that this steroid-infused cover-shooter had heart? It’s because of Dom that every time I hear “Mad World” I thank him for the duty he served in the name of Sera and humanity. I’ll miss you, Dom.
Back in 1997, Core Design, the developer of the ’90s Tomb Raider games, released a beat-em-up in the same vein as Final Fight and Double Dragon with a 3D twist. Also back in 1997, I was in Vietnam, visiting my grandparents and embracing my heritage for the first time. Vietnam has awesome street food, crazy wildlife, and hole-in-the-wall console arcade joints. Did I mention these hole-in-the-wall console arcade joints served food? I’d spend hours competing in Bomberman tournaments and watching someone play Clock Tower for the first time. I flipped through so many illegal copies of PlayStation games it made my head spin.
That is, until I flipped to Fighting Force. The game has four characters to choose from: two of Lara Croft’s cousins, a jean-jacket wearing everyman, and Smasher — the brute with the torso-sized forearms. He lacks in speed and mobility but makes up for it in brute strength. Who else in the game can pick up a car engine and hurl it 30 feet across the hall and into an unsuspecting goon’s chest cavity?
Despite the overall cheese factor that Fighting Force has, it’s great co-op fun. Nothing is as enjoyable as pummeling wave after wave of henchmen named Smiler or Crusher with a buddy. Sure, there are plenty of brawlers and beat-em-ups that are more polished, but Fighting Force to me is more than just that. It’s our memories as gamers that produce the nostalgia I’m spilling all over your screen right now.
Imagine playing in an arcade. It’s been five hours, and you’re riding the elevator up to face the final boss. Kids behind you are clamoring to see whether you valiantly succeed or ultimately fail. Nothing really beats playing video games with your brother and having a bunch of kids cheer you on.