So here's some more thoughts about my foray into video games.
First, if you don't have a Nintendo GameCube, go get one now! It's awesome, and really worth the money. They have a sale right now where you can get a new GameCube and Super Smash Bros. for $99. That's a great deal, as the system rocks and that game in particularly is really fun and easy to pick up with a bunch of friends (you'll obviously have to buy more controllers). I had a bunch of people over a few weeks ago to try the GameCube out, and though some people didn't like the cartoonish nature of many of the games, most everyone seemed to have a lot of fun - especially with Super Smash Bros. Personally, I really like the Nintendo Universe, so to me seeing Mario in different games is great. To each his own, but the GameCube is definitely not just a system for kids. It's got a bunch of really great titles (many that have been released cross platform).
Personally, I would do what I did and go the eBay route, and then hit your local GameStop or EB Games and get a bunch of used games for cheap. My favorites so far have been Super Mario Sunshine (of course), Mario Kart Double Dash, Super Smash Bros., Soul Caliber II and FIFA Street. I've decided I don't like the games which take a long time to play, or require me to figure out odd puzzles to get the action moving. I've gotten stuck in The Hobbit, FireFox Adventures, Pikmin and a few others because I can't seem to get out of one room or another. I really don't play games *that* much - I may have an hour here or there to sit down and play. So when I play, I really want to get the action moving.
The GameCube is an amazing bargain right now - not only is a new console $50 cheaper than the PS2 or the XBox, but the games are also a lot cheaper too. Well, most of them. Some of the newest or popular ones are actually pretty expensive - I haven't tried the new Tennis game because it costs like $50. I could pay for quite a few months subscription to GameFly for that amount of money. I much prefer spending $6-$15 down at GameStop for used games instead.
Yes, you will be investing in a console that's at the end of its lifecycle and being replaced by something newer next year, but Nintendo is still advertising and releasing games for it, so its definitely not dead as a platform yet. And the games rock. I mean, they're just really fun. The dollar to gaming enjoyment ratio is way, way up there. I haven't even gotten around to getting the Donkey Kong Jungle Beat drums and game yet. Those look like they'll be a lot of fun. That's the amazing thing about Nintendo, I think, is how innovative their systems and games are. I sort of knew this before, but know I really get it.
The other surprise is my Nintendo DS. I got one to just round out my collection of handheld gaming systems (GBA, PSP, N-Gage, Zodiac, and now DS) and I'm so glad I did! The device is incredibly innovative (it has both a touch screen and a microphone, both which have been used interestingly) and the games are just fun. How fun? Well my wife - who generally dislikes video games - loves playing ZooKeeper (a Bejeweled clone). So much so that I bought a second DS so we can play against each other (and I lose regularly). That alone is pretty amazing.
Of course the DS has Super Mario 64 (which has been changed quite a bit from the original - new characters and objectives in many places) and I also got Polarium and Meteos as well. These are interesting puzzle games, but Meteos - which was created by the same guys who did the PSP's insanely addictive Lumines - isn't very good at all. I read some online reviews of it as being fun, but I don't think so. I've yet to get Wario Ware Touched, but I've heard that it's hundreds of mini games are really fun. That'll be next on the list to try. Casual games rule!
That said, the other day I bought Nintendogs to see what all the fuss was about. WOW! How cool is that game!!! Again, I'm not one for spending hours and hours figuring out games, but that game is so cool! First, it uses the touch screen and microphone really well. For example, you have to pet the puppy when you first get it by using the touch screen, then you can train the dog to respond to your voice, and the most innovative was the bubbles. You literally blow on the DS, and a bubble wand creates bubbles which the dog can chase. Obviously the microphone is just listening for that roaring sound you make when you blow on one, but still the sense of being really drawn into this game is incredible. You start calling the dog (after you've taught her her name) and you whistle to get it's attention, and then you start petting the dog as well... Seriously, if you ever had a dog in your life, you immediately feel like you're with a real dog. And unlike Tamagotchi's, the dog won't die on you. It's just there to train and play catch with, etc.
I was trying it out with my three year old watching the other day, and he couldn't wait to try and amazingly, he was able to totally interact with the dog via the touch screen. He was throwing the ball, and calling the dog and everything. I was completely amazed. This is the reason that the DS is outselling the Sony PSP right now - Nintendo knows how to make insanely compelling games. Hands down, no contest. There's nothing on my PSP that comes close.
They are also launching a new "Nintendo Network" at the end of this year which is going to take advantage of the DS's WiFi capabilities. Each DS already comes with Pictochat (you can tap out messages, or draw pictures and send them to nearby friends), it would be really amazing to be able to do that sort of thing over WiFi as well. Also, there'll be games like Mario Kart DS which takes advantage of online play (I think - or that may have been cancelled, not sure). Either way, it'll be interesting to see what Nintendo comes up with. Maybe a firmware upgrade like the PSP to include a browser? :-)
On September 15th, Nintendo is launching their GameBoy Micro, which plays GameBoy Advance games. It's gotten good reviews, so I'm definitely lusting after it. I have quite a few cartridges from the past few years of GBA playing (it was my only console for years until just recently), but I was thinking that I'd snag a few more in the Used Section in preparation for when the new system comes out. Wow! How can you tell the GBA still rules the handheld world? The used game cartridges cost just about as much as the new ones! There's obviously more than enough demand for the market to decide that GBA games are still worth a lot. They cost more than the GameCube games, which just floors me. (I got The Hobbit for $6... )
Considering that, I've bought a blank 512MB GBA RAM cartridge and "linker" that I can throw "homebrew" and backups on. And yes, though I can grab bootlegs off the internet (as I've done for my GameBoy) I actually just want to back up the dozen cartridges I have and have them all available on my future GB Micro. That would particularly rule. Also, I'm dying to figure out how to get Linux to launch on my DS - there's a project dedicated to it and it looks pretty cool - you can even use the touch screen and a virtual keyboard... pretty cool.
So yeah, I'm really digging on Nintendo lately. But it's not just because I like their stuff, but because I'm also comparing it against everything else. Nintendo concentrates on good games, and a great gaming experience and it shows in everything they touch. Until you go out and buy a clunker like Death Jr. for the PSP, you don't realize how uncommon it is to make a good game and gaming platform.
Yes, I wish the GameCube had a network option and a bit more power (NitroKart for the GameCube runs at least 30% slower than the XBox version) and I wish the controllers were more like the XBox or (preferably) the PS2 controllers, and I wish there was an analog controller on the DS (controlling Mario 64 with digital buttons is frustrating) and I wish the DS's screen was as big and beautiful as the PSP's. But wow, none of that matters when you get sucked into a Nintendo game. Really.
Long Live Mario! :-)