Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review: Pokemon Red and Blue

“Pokemon Red” and “Pokemon Blue” are an RPG pair released on the Game Boy in 1996 in Japan, and 1998 in North America. They have since spawned a huge following, and a number of different sequels, spin-offs, and more. However, were the original games really all that good? Do we remember them with nostalgia because of the quality of the sequels, or were the first generation games as great as fans remember them being?

Story - 8/10

The story of Pokemon Red and Blue is inspiring, if not entirely believable. A young boy goes on a journey to capture a team of Pokemon, and take on the Pokemon League. Along the way, he meets new friends, explores the world, and defeats an entire criminal organization. A kid, typically accepted as 10 years old, takes down a crime boss and all of Team Rocket. It’s far-fetched, but boy if it doesn’t send kids a strong message of “you can do anything you set your mind to.”
The characters of Pokemon Red and Blue are entertaining, if predictable. The protagonist is shallow and ambiguous, nothing more than a persona for the player to don. This is, after all, your own adventure. Professor Oak is the scholarly type, and a source of motivation for your journey. Blue, or whatever the player chooses to name the antagonist, is less of the “bad guy,” and more of the “you’re a jerk and I want to put you in your place” character. The characters never really deviate from these roles, but I don’t think it’s necessary for them to. The entire premise of Pokemon Red and Blue is more about the player and protagonist, and their own personal journey. You don’t really need depth or evolution in characters, as long as the roles are in place.
Despite the simplistic limitations of the Game Boy as a platform, the region of Kanto somehow manages to appear real and lifelike (and apparently parallels the Kantō region of Japan). There are dense forests, dark caves, wide swaths of ocean, and everything in between. The port city of Vermilion almost gives off the familiar scent of the ocean. Celadon genuinely feels like a busy shopping mecca.
One of the most beautiful things about Pokemon Red and Blue is how variable the length is. Just getting through the main story, defeating all the gym leaders and the elite four, can reasonably be done in 20-30 hours. Putting in the effort to actually complete the Pokedex and build up a team to battle with others can easily tack on a hundred hours. It all depends on what you want out of the game.
Pokemon games in general have a great replay value, and Red and Blue are no exception. With the main story being so much shorter than an average length RPG, players can go back through without much investment. And with the variety of Pokemon species and moves, each play through can be vastly different. Even beyond the initial choice between the 3 starter Pokemon, what you catch and how you train it is wide open.

General Gameplay - 8/10

Getting around in Pokemon Red and Blue is straightforward, with all the options you would expect of an RPG. There is a bicycle that players can access early in the game, which doubles movement speed. Somewhere before halfway, you can get the hidden machine for Fly, and teach it to a Pokemon, in order to fly to any previously visited place. This really makes fast travel believable. You don’t just stumble upon an airship, or imply that the protagonist physically traveled the distance in the blink of an eye. With the size of bird Pokemon, it seems perfectly reasonable that these birds might be able to carry a child quickly from one place to another. Plus, you don’t just always have the capability to fast travel. Specifically, you must have a Pokemon in your party that knows Fly. This adds another level of complexity to team building, where players must plan for a Flying type Pokemon if they want to be able to fast travel at will. In addition to flying, the other hidden machine techniques of Cut, Surf, Strength, and Flash offer more options for overworld movement.
Inventory management is the one place that Pokemon Red and Blue really suffer. Every single item is collected into the same menu, and the number of inventory slots is very limited. Considering all the different healing items, the levels of Pokeballs, and all 50 TMs, there is a delicate balance between selling items, storing them in the PC, and keeping them in the bag. Many items are fortunately stackable, but I feel like this adds an unnecessary frustration to the game. Future Pokemon generations separated the bag into different pockets for different types of items, and eventually removed the item limit completely. While item storage is annoying in this generation, they did at least learn from their mistakes and vastly improve it in future generations.
While there aren’t necessarily collectible items in Pokemon Red and Blue, filling the Pokedex could be seen as a sort of collectible in and of itself. It isn’t necessary for game completion, and it takes quite a bit of effort beyond what is necessary to beat the Elite Four. I will say that the reward for collecting all 150 (151?) Pokemon is tremendously disappointing. The only thing players receive is a message of congratulations from the developers. No super powerful item, no secret story addition, just a pat on the back. It’s nice for bragging rights, but not much else.
Variety in gameplay stems from the multiple different goals the player can have in Pokemon Red and Blue. If your chief concern is beating the gyms and Elite Four, you can just power through the main story and knock out the trainers as quickly as possible. If you want to complete the Pokedex, you can take a break from strictly battling to look for rare Pokemon in the wild or train up ones that you’ve caught to evolve them. Most of the gameplay mechanics are the same across the board, but what you choose to do with them allows for some variation.
Pokemon games have always been one of my favorite examples of multiplayer. It isn’t necessary for game completion, but it also gives incentive beyond arbitrary levels or achievements. With the Pokedex, there are Pokemon that are exclusive to Red or Blue specifically, and you must trade with other players to obtain every Pokemon. If you don’t care about completing the Pokedex, this is inconsequential. As much as many of the exclusive Pokemon aren’t bad, they also aren’t necessary to build a solid team in either game. If, however, you do care about filling out the entire Pokedex, you absolutely have to have a friend with the other game. Beyond trading for completion, being able to battle allows players to test out their own parties against each other. There is no need to compare single player metrics to see who is the better player, you can go head to head with link cable battles. Again, it isn’t remotely necessary to enjoy the game on its own, but it does give incentive to continue playing the game with other people even after finishing the main campaign.

Combat - 8/10

I genuinely love the combat of Pokemon. As much as people tend to criticize Pokemon as being a franchise for kids, they have very solid RPG core elements. The balance of types, and how it’s like a massive web of rock-paper-scissors interactions. Instead of the 4 or so elemental types that most RPG combat uses, water, fire, ice, lightning (or some similar variation), Pokemon Red and Blue have a 15 type system. This was eventually bumped up to 18 types in subsequent games.
With a party of up to 6 Pokemon, the player must balance defences by knowing what their Pokemon are weak to, with offenses by equipping their Pokemon with powerful attacks. Each of these 6 Pokemon in the party can learn up to 4 moves. These moves can cause status ailments, damage, or stat alterations. Every damaging move has a type, and Pokemon using moves of their type get a 50% Same Type Attack Bonus (STAB) to its damage. With all of these facets in play, there is no perfect party of Pokemon. It all comes together in this delicate balance of maximizing your offensive capabilities without sacrificing your defenses.
While intricate and complex, the combat in Pokemon Red and Blue is extremely unbalanced. As much as I love the mechanics, they are broken in the first generation. Long time fans will know how overpowered Alakazam could be. With Special being a single stat, as opposed to physical being divided into Attack and Defense, Alakazam’s ridiculously high Special buffs both special attack and special defense. Additionally, it gets STAB from Psychic, which is an already broken move. With such a high Special and Speed, Psychic typing, and the STAB from Psychic move, Alakazam is completely broken. Level for level, it can dish out probably the highest damage of anything besides legendary Pokemon.

Difficulty - 6/10

The difficulty of Pokemon Red and Blue is a complex affair. While the combat is broken and easily taken advantage of, the difficulty outside of those tactics is actually some of the hardest in the series. The games do not hold the hands of players by offering free healing and navigation hints. Hence, Pokemon Red and Blue can be rather difficult the first time through, but become much easier as players learn the unstated tricks.
Besides the difficulty of combat, Pokemon Red and Blue are quite reasonable in punishing mistakes. Fainted Pokemon can be brought back with Revives either in or out of battle, provided the player has at least one more active Pokemon. If the player does lose all 6 Pokemon, the punishment is a percentage of their money, and a return trip to the most recently visited Pokemon Center. Considering the ample opportunity to spend money on items, this death fee could be inconsequentially small. The biggest frustration is to wipe out in some of the longer segments of the games, such as cave systems and hideouts. Still, all of the defeated trainers remain defeated, so the player just has to make their way back to where they were before.

Graphics - 7/10

The graphics of the entire Game Boy platform weren’t amazing, but you can’t blame the graphics for one game on limitations of the handheld. The sprites of individual Pokemon in battle look great, and I have to praise the designers for that. Every Pokemon has a unique sprite, and it is genuinely amazing what they were able to come up with for such limited hardware.
Everything else is completely lackluster, however. Environments are repetitive, with very few unique textures. People in the overworld all look nearly the same. The biggest problem in my mind, however, is how Pokemon in the party menu share sprites. There are 150 individual Pokemon species and… 10 sprites. If you’ve nicknamed your Pokemon, there is literally no way to know what type of Pokemon it is without actually looking at its details. I understand that with so few pixels per menu item, it would be difficult to make unique sprites for every single species. Still, it seems like they could’ve easily made more than just 10. Not everything in my party is a Rhydon.

Music - 8/10

The music of Pokemon Red and Blue is filled with memorable tunes. Especially the tracks for rival battles and gym leaders feel so intense. The theme from Lavender Town, probably one of the most iconic tracks in the entire Pokemon franchise, exudes remorse. There have been numerous tales and urban legends about children killing themselves after hearing the theme played backwards, and other such stories. Not to praise such tragedies (if they even did happen), the fact that music from such a limited platform is able to cause such a wide response is remarkable. The music in these games may be simplistic, but it is ridiculously catchy and occasionally haunting.

My Take

The Good

The very first Pokemon games did the RPG genre right, and set into motion what would eventually become an enormous intellectual property.

The Bad

These are clearly first generation (in every sense of that word) products. They can be clunky at times, and the combat is absolutely broken.

The Ugly

Going back to the very first entry of a decades old series in its original form is a shock from the polished suave of the modern Pokemon games.

Overall - 8/10

Pokemon Red and Blue are flawed masterpieces. They reflect a level of genius that has taken decades to fully realize. The massive market for Pokemon games, shows, movies, and merch is clear evidence of that. What began as one man’s desire to make a game based on his hobby of bug collecting has turned into a household name across the globe. The first two Pokemon games aren’t nearly as polished as the modern games, they don’t have the bells and whistles introduced in later generations, and the combat is far from balanced. However, for a first generation title, they are absolutely remarkable. Beautiful in their simplicity, Pokemon games introduced a gateway to more mature RPG titles, and gave us characters who are still relatable so many years later.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Review: EarthBound

EarthBound” or “Mother 2” is a Japanese Role Playing Game released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1994. Originally not very popular, the game gradually developed a sort of cult following for its quirky story and interesting combat. Is EarthBound genuinely a great game, or are fans of it seeing through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia?

Story - 7/10

The story of EarthBound is undeniably the most distinctive facet. I have described it before as “a representation of how the culture of the United States is seen from the perspective of Japanese video game developers,” but even that doesn’t fully describe what EarthBound is. From one perspective, it is almost boringly typical of a JRPG. A great evil threatens the world, and a young boy is chosen by destiny to join with a group of friends and defeat this evil. The nuance, however, is just strikingly odd. It’s very much like asking someone who has never been to United States to describe Americana culture. They likely get the highlights and iconic pieces, but it isn’t anywhere near what you would get from asking someone born and raised in America.
The main cast of characters in EarthBound are almost placeholders, present only to give the player an opportunity to experience the game. Each character in the main party has a simple background given, but there is little to no character development over the course of the game. Besides meeting each other and becoming friends, there is no realization or growth as a result of the story events. The extent of the story’s resolution is basically, “Well, we saved the world. That was fun.” I wouldn’t say that I actively dislike the characters of EarthBound or that they aren’t memorable to a degree. It’s more that the game doesn’t explore the characters enough to make them any more than mild acquaintances to the player. I have a hard time getting emotionally attached to such flat, static characters.
Oddly enough, the auxiliary characters of EarthBound are significantly more interesting than the main cast. Mr. Saturn, with their weird text font and wonky behavior, are lovable in the way that you can’t help getting attached to the strange-looking puppy in a litter of otherwise normal dogs. The Blues Broth- I mean, Runaway Five are always getting themselves into trouble, but somehow manage to come through for Ness and the gang when they need it most. I was tremendously more entertained by various characters you encounter in the game, than I was with the people you actually play as.
Speaking of the Blues Brothers, all of the pop culture nods in EarthBound manage to tread a thin line between blatant and obscure. If you know of the source material, a lot of moments in the game will give you a good chuckle. Instead, if you aren’t aware of the reference, you still don’t really miss much. The allusions aren’t shoehorned in at all, but they are good for bonus entertainment if you catch them.
The individual areas of EarthBound are surprisingly varied. Instead of simple color and sprite swaps, some areas have mechanics unique to one location. Such differences include making Ness and company much smaller on the screen to give the image of a larger world, or having areas darked out to make them more difficult to navigate. For the era, this sort of variety is absolutely astounding in my mind.
I never noticed a play time indicator in EarthBound, but the length feels appropriate. There are 8 main areas in the game, with a little bit of buffer between each area. I don’t know how many hours I spent playing, but there was enough material that I didn’t feel it was cut short, nor was I ever just dying for it to end. It would’ve been nice to have some extra optional content, but I can’t complain about the length of the core content.
Replay value for EarthBound, as with many games of the RPG genre, is minimal. Once you’ve experienced the story, there isn’t much incentive to go through it again. There is only one ending, and no decisions within the game that have any bearing on the story. It’s nice to go along for the ride, but at the end of the day, you don’t really have any reason to play it again.

General Gameplay - 7/10

Navigation in EarthBound is simple, but in a good way. The first few areas of the game are in a scripted order, and the game throttles you in order to teach you the mechanics and build up a party. After maybe halfway through, you unlock an ability to return to any prior area. The best part about the navigation is basically that you don’t notice it. You just play the game, and things happen in a way that feels right.
Inventory management is slightly tactical, but also slightly annoying. Each character can only hold so many items, and players can only use items in battle that they are holding. If a character dies in battle, their items are off limits. This wouldn’t be that much of a problem, except that there are key items that only Ness can hold. There are enough spots that you can play through the game without much hassle, provided you regularly sell off items you won’t need, but it is something that must be handled. Equipping gear can be a bit of a pain, since players need to be holding the item before they can equip it.
As I mentioned before, there isn’t any sort of optional content in EarthBound. Hence, there aren’t any collectibles either. The benefit of this is that you don’t have to read up on missable items and pay attention to what you have and haven’t picked up. The downside is that when you beat the game, it’s just done.
Enemy encounters are one of the best aspects of EarthBound. Enemies have sprites in the world, and only trigger an encounter if they touch you. This mechanic offers a lot of variety to how you play the game. When you enter an area, if you don’t like the spawn pattern, you can just leave and return to try for new enemies. This also works within the same area if you have enough distance. Beyond managing what enemies appear, the game has a system where enemies can actively pursue you or flee from you. If you’ve reached a high enough level, depending on the enemy, they will run away from you. This makes it much easier to get around in previous areas, so that you don’t have to deal with repetitive encounters that will yield very little reward.

Combat - 10/10

The combat in EarthBound is quite possibly the best turn-based combat I’ve ever played. The game employs a “rolling HP meter,” which means that an attack’s damage takes real time to fully apply. There are numerous enemies that deliver a powerful final attack as they die, but you can avoid most of the damage if you quickly exit the battle. Furthermore, a player that would have normally died from an attack can be saved if healed before their HP hits zero. This gives players incentive to be quick with their actions in certain situations, but they can just as easily play at their own pace and have the damage of an attack applied normally.
EarthBound also employs a system of early attacks or ambushes depending on how Ness hits the enemy’s sprite. If Ness hits the enemy head on, or by most angles to the side, the battle starts normally with both the player and enemy getting a full turn. If an enemy hits Ness from behind, the enemy gets a full ambush turn before the player gets a chance to attack. Alternatively, if Ness hits an enemy from behind (which becomes significantly easier once enemies flee from him), the player gets a full turn of uninterrupted attacks. The fact that ambushes and pre-emptive strikes aren’t determined randomly, and that the player has a say in how they occur, is absolutely spectacular.

Difficulty - 4/10

The difficulty of EarthBound is moderate, and can be minimized with grinding. If you blow through without any grinding at all, the game can be harder, but still not necessarily hard. Plus, if everyone in the party dies, you can just “try again” from the beginning of the dungeon you were in. With the rolling HP meter, you can err on the side of caution and heal before most characters die anyway. I died a few times through the game, but most of them were due to me playing risky. None of my deaths were unfair, just a consequence of my play style.

Graphics - 7/10

EarthBound graphics stand out in their style, as compared to the anime style shared by most other games in the 16-bit RPG era. They’re simple, bright, and colorful. I wouldn’t describe them as notably “good,” but they also aren’t bad. On their own, the graphics are alright, but I respect that the designers didn’t go with the status quo and tried something a little more unique.

Music - 9/10

Often cited as a potential reason why the game went so long without a release or remaster on modern consoles, the music of EarthBound is absolutely fantastic. I could easily listen to the soundtrack on its own. Tracks for different areas just sound appropriate. Some are cheerful, some are eerie, and some are just strange. The best music in the game occurs during the Runaway Five and Venus shows. While the player won’t confuse these segments with actual recordings of live shows, the composer absolutely nailed the musical style.

My Take

The Good

Combat in EarthBound is fantastic, and I wish more games would emulate it. It’s the perfect balance between active and static.

The Bad

The main characters are boring, and the core of the story is the same as pretty much every JRPG that has ever been released.

The Ugly

It’s weird. For better or for worse, EarthBound is just a weird game.

Overall - 7/10

EarthBound is entertaining in its quirkiness. To call it “one of the most unique games of all time” would be absolutely true. To call it “one of the greatest,” is taking some liberties that I just don’t feel it deserves. Yes, I do think the combat and music are amazing, but I don’t think they make up for the characters and story. It is fun, no doubt, and I would say it is still completely worth playing. Just don’t go into it expecting something life changing, from the way the game’s cult following praises it. EarthBound is undeniably weird, and certainly good, but not quite great.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

SNES Classic Edition

Nintendo has finally announced the long rumored SNES Classic Edition.
When Nintendo released the NES Classic Edition back in November 2016, people immediately began speculating about a SNES Classic Edition. Despite the good and bad about the NES Classic Edition, it only made sense. So many fans want an official way to play old SNES games, and this seems to be the solution. After just a few months, Nintendo has confirmed that the SNES will be revived in the form of the SNES Classic Edition.

The Good

In many ways, Nintendo seems to have learned from the mistakes they made with the NES Classic Edition.
First and foremost, Nintendo has elected to include a second controller with the SNES Classic Edition. One of the biggest appeals of video games in the NES and SNES eras were the local multiplayer. People didn’t play at their respective homes, connected via the internet. They went to each other’s houses, and they played on the same console and screen. When the NES Classic Edition didn’t ship with a second controller, people were baffled. Sure, these games do stand alone just fine, but most people were probably more excited about playing together than they were and playing independently. The SNES Classic Edition seems to have fixed this issue, and will allow people to play games together from the get-go.
Another great move with the SNES Classic Edition is the inclusion of Star Fox 2. The first Star Fox game is widely considered a classic, and the fact that people can play the sequel that was never released is amazing. For the most die-hard Star Fox fans, this probably justifies the $80 sticker price alone. For others who were already planning on purchasing the SNES Classic Edition, it seals the deal even further. In my mind, this is probably the best idea that Nintendo has had in a very long time.
Beyond the second controller and Star Fox 2, the SNES Classic Edition does feature some really good games. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is one of my personal favorites, and I’m so glad to see it in the list of games. Super Metroid is where the Metroid series really hit its stride, and is just an amazing exploration game. All of the Super Mario games on the SNES are included. The JRPG fans should be pleased with EarthBound, Final Fantasy III, and Super Mario RPG. Most genres have at least a game or two on the SNES Classic Edition, so fans of any style of game should have something they enjoy available.
Though we won’t know until the SNES Classic Edition is released, I do hope that Nintendo addresses the issues around release and marketing of the NES Classic Edition. For one, supply should be made to keep up with demand. With the insane scalping prices that people were selling the NES Classic Edition for, Nintendo could’ve made a ton more money by producing enough systems to stock shelves. Plus, they discontinued the NES Classic Edition not even a year after it was released. Give people enough time to discover and purchase the SNES Classic Edition, maybe discontinuing it after sales have declined to a certain level. If Nintendo fixes these issues, I think the SNES Classic Edition will perform significantly better than its predecessor.

The Bad

Much like the the NES Classic Edition, probably the biggest problem with the SNES Classic Edition is the deficit of games. Don’t get me wrong, there are some really good ones on there. However, the issue, more than what it does have, is what it doesn’t have.
If you look at SNES games ordered by most downloaded on a popular ROM site, one would expect the most popular games to be included on the SNES Classic Edition. The number one most downloaded SNES game is Chrono Trigger, a great JRPG, and it is… not on the SNES Classic. Right. Well Final Fantasy III is next, another fantastic game from the same genre, and it is fortunately present.
After Final Fantasy III, the list falls apart. TMNT IV: Turtles in Time, probably my favorite brawler game, isn’t available. Killer Instinct, as well as all of the Mortal Kombat games that were on SNES, are all missing. Aladdin, one of the only video games based on a movie that had any sort of success, has been left off. Doom and Super Bomberman are also excluded. Final Fantasy III and Secret of Mana are literally the only 2 of the top 15 most downloaded games that are on the SNES Classic Edition out of the box. That seems like a massive oversight to me.
I understand that a lot of these games were probably excluded because of licensing issues. Many of them were released across multiple platforms, and Nintendo probably couldn’t acquire rights to put them on the SNES Classic edition, at least not for a price they could reasonably pay. That’s fine, but if you’re unable to include so many of the most popular games on the platform, should you even bother making it?

The Ugly

The price of the SNES Classic Edition is still a point of contention. Even if Nintendo addresses supply issues, the device retails for $80. That’s for the device, 21 games, and 2 controllers. In contrast to the NES Classic, you’re getting another controller, but you’re getting 9 fewer games, almost a third of the full game list, for $20 more. Where the NES Classic Edition was $60 for 30 games, yielding a cost of $2 per game, the SNES bumps that ratio closer to $4 per game. Without any capability to load other games onto the device (at least not officially), buyers are stuck with that investment. If you’re genuinely interested in every game on the list, it isn’t a terrible deal, especially with everything ready for plug and play. However, if there are some you don’t care for, they may as well be written out of the equation. For every game you don’t plan on playing, the price per game effectively goes up.
Speaking of loading other games, the SNES Classic Edition is still an emulator at its core. There are occasionally errors in running games, and they ultimately run no different than a ROM would run on any emulation software. These games are officially purchased from Nintendo, as opposed to the legal uncertainty of ROM sharing sites, but it doesn’t change the truth about the hardware. Some people are going to be alright with this, but others are going to wonder why they shouldn’t just download the games on their own for free.
Perhaps you can justify the cost based on the hardware. After all, the SNES Classic Edition does run all of the games as soon as you plug it up. For simplicity, it’s nice, but $80 puts the device more in range of the Raspberry Pi and peripherals. Instead of just 21 SNES games, the RasPi can run games from several different platforms, and holds as many games as you can load on the card. Why settle for the original Donkey Kong Country, when you can have the entire trilogy? Load up Killer Instinct and all the Mortal Kombat games, and you’ve covered basically an entire genre that the SNES Classic Edition didn’t touch. Outside of the legal issues around ROM and emulator acquisition, the RasPi is a clearly more capable platform.
“But Star Fox 2,” you might be screaming like a giddy school girl. And yes, I’ll give it to you, that does sound like the only way to experience Star Fox 2 at the moment. However, I will be tremendously surprised if Star Fox 2 never becomes available in ROM form outside the SNES Classic Edition. People cracked the NES Classic Edition to load games onto it, it’s only a matter of time before they crack the SNES Classic Edition to pull the one exclusive game off of it. This might even happen before the SNES Classic Edition is released, but it is inevitable. Nintendo may pursue pirates with relentless diligence, and slap ROM hosting sites with cease and desist orders. There may be no easy way to find a copy of the Star Fox 2 ROM, but there will be sources that share it around.

The SNES Classic Edition is going to sell well. Provided Nintendo generates enough supply, it could be a huge success. People love a simple way to experience the nostalgia of SNES games. However, as much as Nintendo seems to have fixed many of the problems with the NES Classic Edition, the SNES Classic Edition could still have its share of issues. The price and game selection aren’t perfect, and a number of the most critically acclaimed SNES games are unavailable. I’m curious about the SNES Classic Edition, but I’m not yet convinced enough to actually make the purchase. For me, the Raspberry Pi still seems like the preferable option.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

2017-07-05 Independence Day

‘Murica. If I had to describe Independence Day in one word, it would simply be “‘Murica.”
I’ve always had a weird relationship with Independence Day, or “the fourth of July” as I tend to hear more often. As a kid, we did Independence Day big. And I don’t mean we went somewhere to see professional fireworks shows. We shot fireworks at home. And not small, gas station fireworks. We had hookups with people who shot professional fireworks, and somehow managed to acquire some of these for our own purposes.
As such, I’ve always been intimately familiar with fireworks. That includes the mishaps that can go along with amateur firework shows. We’ve had a dog run by and snatch up an actively firing cake of Saturn Missiles, shooting off as we chased her around the yard. A larger cake of balls with report tipped over once, pointing directly at where the entire audience was seated. Another time, a rocket shot up into a tree and caught the top of the tree on fire. Someone had to climb up an adjacent tree and put out the fire… with urine. Perhaps most seriously, someone once almost lost some fingers when setting off a 30-30 shell filled with gunpowder.
With all these minor disasters, we’ve fortunately never had anyone die or seriously injured. There may have been some shrapnel in a hand for a few months, but no loss of limbs. And oddly enough, we never once learned our lesson. We kept doing the same stuff for years, despite knowing exactly what could come from it. If memory serves, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing multiple times and expecting different results.
This went on for a number of years, and then halted suddenly. For the past few years, we haven’t done much of anything for Independence Day. The kids are too young to stay out super late, so shooting fireworks late into the evening is a hassle. Plus, I’ve lived in apartments and developments for a number of years, none of which allowed fireworks to be shot nearby. So I’m left with the option to drive half an hour to shoot fireworks in my old stomping grounds or go see a professional show. Neither is an exactly attractive option, because I don’t want to spend money on fireworks of my own and I hate dealing with crowds when going to a professional show.
In any case, I find it interesting how Independence Day has simultaneously lost and maintained its original meaning. I wouldn’t doubt that a large number of people might not even recognize that fourth of July is Independence Day, let alone what its significance is. To them, it’s a day to shoot fireworks and have a cookout. But honestly, is that not a intensely American thing to do? We like big guns and things to explode. We have some of the worst over-eating habits in the world. What we do for Independence Day, whether we recognize it or not, genuinely expresses ‘Murica.

I don’t mean to make any sort of social commentary. Independence Day is one of the many holidays that I would elect to work on to get bonus pay or another PTO day instead. What we do to celebrate could all be done after I would normally get off work anyway. Fireworks are cool and all, but I’m not as obsessed as a lot of people. I’m on a diet now, so I can’t binge eat like I normally would. It’s… lackluster, but it is something.