Dave & Buster’s Orlando: Now Open

I’ve seen ads on TV for Dave & Buster’s since moving down here, but for the last 4 years there hasn’t been one nearby. I think the nearest one was Miami. Anyhoo, it looked like a fascinating idea — a restaurant full of standard American fare, attached to a video game arcade. It made me think of GameWorks, but maybe a little less indie-hipster-gastropub. (I don’t know if all GameWorks locations were like that, but the Seattle one was definitely trying for the fancier side in their restaurant.)

Finally, last week, Orlando got its own Dave & Buster’s. So we got together with some friends and friends-of-friends, and headed on over.

At first glance, it gave me a surprising Las Vegas vibe. Except there was a lot more natural light, and no thick layer of cigarette smoke hanging over everything. But the flashing lights, the clanging sounds, the layout of the gaming machines — it was all very casino-like.

First we had lunch, which was surprisingly good. And cheap, considering. We got the “Eat and Play” deal, where you pay $16.99 for an entree and a $10 game card. So my fried shrimp was $6.99, and let me tell you, you’re not going to get fried shrimp for that price anywhere.

I’d also joined the D&B e-club beforehand, so I had a coupon for an additional $10 in gameplay. After eating, armed with our gaming cards, we hit the arcade.

They have their own weird pricing structures at D&B, ones that I don’t quite understand. It’s even more convoluted than trying to convert dollars to Xbox points. For $10 you appear to get 48 D&B credits, and the games range in price from 2.6 credits to 10.5 credits. There may have been cheaper or more expensive games, but that was the top and bottom of the range that I saw. So a little game of Skee-Ball was a mere 2.6:

With real wood balls, no less. Or you could pay 9.9 credits to play this ginormous claw machine:

So big that several children could climb up inside and get stuck!

To add to the confusion, some games give tickets, while others don’t. There’s a bunch of plain old arcade-style games, in which you can shoot stuff or drive stuff, and those are just for the playing. Like this shoot-em-up Rambo game:

But then there are also games of chance, like the Skee-Ball or even more crazy stuff like Ginormous Operation:

Where you win tickets for playing well. And of course, there’s a shop in the corner where you can trade your tickets (each one is, bafflingly enough, worth “2 coupons”) for a variety of prizes. My eye was caught by the plush Angry Birds, but they’re 600 coupons each. I’d have to play quite a bit of Skee-Ball to earn that.

The skill games ranged from actual bona-fide skills to the classic sham game where you drop a token into a pile, and a little bulldozer pushes the token pile forward, so that you get tickets for all of the tokens that drop. There were several of those games, including this oddly-themed one:

We had a good time overall. There was one shooter game that really stood out — you sit in a pirate ship and shoot machine guns at sea monsters and skeleton pirates and such. Because pirates totally had machine guns.

There was also a Price is Right game, and a Deal or No Deal game, and even a huge Fruit Ninja game. Also a Guitar Hero game, but I didn’t get a chance to play it. Quite popular, that.

Of course, we all ended up with tiny bits of gaming credit on our cards — one of them has 1.6, another 2.5 — and you can’t swipe more than one card to make up the difference. Hopefully next time I go, they’ll have a way to consolidate all of the little amounts onto one card. Because we’ll totally go again. I have all of these tickets (and a very Vegas-like cup to carry them in) and more credits to play.

Top 7: Video Games

Top 7. Because 5 is never enough, but I’m too lazy for 10.

I was going to say that I wasn’t a huge gamer growing up, but thinking about it, that’s totally not true. When I was a kid, we had an Intellivision. I loved playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons on that sucker (even though I’ve never played D&D in real life). We also had an Atari 400 — many of the games came on audiocassettes, and you’d put them in a special player that took a half-hour to load the data onto the computer. The game I remember the most from the Atari was called Preppie, and it was a Frogger clone involving a caddy out fetching golf balls on a busy course.

Then we moved on to the Apple IIc. We had games galore on the big 5″ floppies, some of which we’d attacked with a hole punch so we could put data on both sides of the disc. That Apple also had our first modem, a lightning-fast 300bps model that transmitted written material slightly slower than the average person’s reading speed. I played many a multi-user dungeon on various local dial-up BBSes using that little beauty.

As technology improved, I moved up to Windows (386!) and various consoles. Although I was a latecomer to the newer consoles — I missed out on machines like the Genesis, SuperNintendo, and the PS1, and picked up with the original Xbox, the GameCube, and the PS2.

All that said, here are my personal top 7 games ever. At least, to date. Because we haven’t bought Portal 2 yet.

7. The Saboteur – Xbox360, 2009

This little-known gem is a third-person open-world game. I have no memory of how we discovered it — maybe by chance, maybe by seeing a review on G4, or maybe while we were looking for information on possible sequels to Mercenaries, another excellent open-worlder also made by Pandemic. The story of The Saboteur centers around an Irishman in Nazi-occupied Paris, wreaking havoc and destroying everything possible. The game itself is beautiful, and has a fantastic soundtrack. The dialog can get clunky in spots, but everything is forgiveable when you can load out with a silenced pistol and a silenced machine gun. This is the only game in which I’ve earned 100% of the Xbox achievement points (which took me about 50 gameplay hours).

6. The Neverhood – PC, 1996

I was on some sort of gaming break between college and marriage. Hitching myself to Scott also meant hitching myself to his Windows computer, and in the year of our marriage, we found both the original Tomb Raider and The Neverhood. I watched Scott play through as Lara Croft, and we quickly developed our system of him playing while I spotted treasures and bad guys. But The Neverhood was the first modern game I played through myself. Claymation characters, a weird-cool soundtrack, and the incredible weirdness of it all have stuck with me through the years. We still use certain lines from this game as in-jokes.

5. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! – GameCube, 2003

There have been many other iterations of Mario Kart, but for me, this one is the tops. It’s even better than the Wii version — a lot of the classic tracks that they imported for the Wii really suck, plus the GC version allows two people to have what we call “a race around the world” — a cup made up of all 16 tracks. Sure, it takes over an hour, and afterward your fingers feel like hamburger. But it’s all worth it when a pair of unlikely teammates (Peach and Birdo, anyone?) win the gold.

4. Sly 2: Band of Thieves – PS2, 2004

I’ve played all three Sly Cooper games. In fact, Sly is the only reason we still have our PS2. But of the three, the middle game is the best. It improved on some of the wonky mechanics from the first game, and was the perfect balance of missions, free-range destruction, and collectibles. The third game took away most of the collectible aspect, which broke my heart. The second game also includes a nice soundtrack (the great Peter McConnell), some fun dialog, and a not-too-easy but not-too-hard level of gameplay. The only problem I have with it is the player’s inability to invert the controls. It was hard to get into the groove of pushing the stick one direction to turn, when my instincts wanted to push the stick the other way.

3. Assassin’s Creed II – Xbox360, 2009

We tried playing the original game back when it first came out in 2007. The missions were repetitive, it felt like you had to ride a horse for hours to get anywhere, and the main character, Altaiir, was a dick. So when ACII came out, we didn’t pay it much mind until a friend told me how amazing it was. We borrowed his copy and fell quickly in love with Ezio, the suave and charming lead. (In exchange, I introduced that friend to The Saboteur, so we’re even.) The game is a massive improvement over the original AC, with a huge but easier-to-navigate open world and side missions galore. Sure, sometimes Ezio veers off in weird directions, but every game has its little glitches. The soundtrack, by Jesper Kyd, is an example of how video game music can be better than the music in most movies. I’m sitting at 995 out of 1000 achievement points on this one, since there’s one fighting move I just can’t master. But no matter. Maybe I’ll try to tackle it during my third playthrough.

Oh, and yes, I’ve played Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. It’s great! And I love the ability to build a squad of trained assassins to do jobs for you. But some of the missions were incredibly long, and felt like there were 10 parts to them. Plus, the ending of the Ezio’s story part was kind of weirdly abrupt and confusing. So an excellent game, and a worthy follow-up to ACII, but II still wins as the best AC game.

2. Psychonauts – Xbox, 2005

This is, far and away, the best game you probably haven’t ever heard of. Even though it got great critical reviews, sales were poor. Which is a shame, because it’s a fun, beautiful, weird, charming game. You play Raz, a kid at the Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp. You learn how to invade people’s minds and help battle their various neuroses. I know it sounds weird. It is really, really weird. But it’s full of fantastic characters, gorgeous settings, an awesome Peter McConnell soundtrack, and an entertaining storyline. I’ve played it through probably 6 times, and will most likely go through again the next time we’re in a drought for new games. It’s backward-compatible, so go out and get a cheap used copy to play on the 360.

1. BioShock – Xbox360, 2007

I’m not normally a first-person shooter girl. As you can tell from the list above, I lean more toward third-person games, either open-world or platformers. But BioShock is in a world all its own. Spooky situations, beautiful settings, an amazing soundtrack, and nice clean gameplay work together in the best game I’ve ever played. The first time through, I watched Scott play (and provided spotting support). Then I played through, and discovered a ton of new stuff (he’s a straight-through storyline guy, while I’m an explorer). Then I played through again, and again. A wide variety of weapons, both hand-held and physical, make it easy to find your favorite combat methods. The locations are so unique and distinctive, you can’t wait to go back to see them again. Heck, just writing about it makes me want to fire up the game and revisit Rapture.

BioShock 2 is a good game, but much of the surprise of Rapture is gone. Still, it’s well worth a play. We can’t wait for the next game, BioShock Infinite, which is scheduled for a 2012 release. Let’s hope we get a chance to play it through before the world ends.

Stuff

Here’s a LOLcat that actually made me laugh out loud. Which rarely happens.

Of all of you out there watching Dancing with the Stars, is there anyone else who dislikes Cloris Leachman? I feel like I’m in the minority here — the reality round-up I read has an author who’s all, Cloris is still in it! Yay! I just find her irritating, and desperately trying to amuse us, and there’s just no joy in her for me whatsover.

I’m meeting up with some Comedy Warehouse folk this afternoon at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. Most countries also have beer, however. Which is good for us wine-haters.

We took a videogame break from shooting people in Venezuela (yay, Mercenaries 2!) so that I could go shoot people in Rapture (yay, Bioshock!) for a while. I upped the difficulty to medium, which is a first for me in FPS games. Usually I’m all about the easy. The game is awesome as ever, and even more awesome with all the lights out. If I finish up Rapture too quickly, I may then go run around Whispering Rock Summer Camp (yay, Psychonauts!) for a while.

Brick!

Our Xbox 360 is bricked. We have the red ring of death.

Xbox support was very helpful, and a shipping box is on its way to us. Although they’re not being terribly secretive about their call center — the hold music was a radio station in India.

In an intriguing coincidence, Scott just got Forza 2 a couple of weeks ago, and has been playing it. Not extensively, but still — it just fuels the rumors that F2 bricks Xboxes.

Bloody Splicers!

We rented the new game BioShock this last week. As usual, I watched Scott play, then I started my own game on the “easy” setting. Having watched him play most of the game, I tore through it in just a couple of days.

I don’t usually go for the first-person shooters (I’m more of a platformer), but this game was just amazing. The environment, the story, the steampunk weapons, and even the background sound and music (a great collection of 40s tunes like “Beyond the Sea” and “Bei Mir Bist du Schon”) were all used together to create an incredible game.

360!

We combined our birthday power and got an Xbox 360 yesterday. It came with Xbox Arcade, and Scott also bought Gears of War.

I’m just glad that Psychonauts is now bacward-compatible. Now if only they’d add Mercenaries to the list, before Mercenaries 2 comes out (in “holiday 2007”).

Quel Week!

Last week. Whew!

I was in both Reality World shows over the weekend — and won the one I was competing in. Last season, I went 5 straight final-twos without winning, but then finally won the last show of the run. Looks like my luck has finally turned. I hosted one, and while it took me a little bit to get into the groove, I really felt on my game. It was awesome.

Scott fiddled with our old PS2, and finally got it to recognize controllers in both ports (when we first started it up, it wouldn’t recognize any controllers). So he’s started up with Ratchet & Clank and the first Sly Cooper. I don’t play many games myself, but I do enjoy watching him play, and helping him spot things to collect and such.

And in my usual habit of putting the most important item last, I got offered a job! I went to a casino Friday and requested an audition, since the teachers at dealer school found out they were specifically looking for girls. The audition was WAY easier than the one I had to do to graduate school. A little Pai Gow and Spanish 21, and we were done. So now I have to go get fingerprinted for my gambling license application, and find some cheap Hawaiian shirts for my “uniform”. It takes a couple of weeks to get the license, so I figure I can start work in about 3 weeks. Huzzah!

stuffthings

I love watching Scott play video games, because I get to enjoy helping strategize and finding hidden treasure and stuff without having to learn the controls and such. Lately he’s been playing Mercenaries, which is an awesome game. It’s broken up into four parts, based on the suits in a deck of cards. I didn’t see him play any of the Clubs contracts — I only started watching him play halfway through the Diamonds. So I figured I’d start up with a different mercenary (he chose Nilsson, the insane murderous Swede — I picked the British chick, because the other guy was a surfer dude and seemed boring).

It took me 3 days to get through all of the Clubs contracts, and now I’m hooked playing this damn game. I’m pretty much using my sniper rifle on everybody, because it’s my favorite video game weapon. At least this game isn’t open-ended — you can do one contract at a time and try to manage your time.

In the next few weeks, my TV docket is going to get much more full. Lost comes out of hiatus on 1/11. American Idol will be back, as will Beauty and the Geek and Dancing with the Stars (although the “stars” seem just as b-list as the first season). Not to mention good-looking new shows like Love Monkey (with geeklicious TV boyfriend Tom Cavanaugh). I don’t know about Skating with Celebrities, but I’ll give it a shot.