479. TMTF’s Top Ten Detectives in Fiction

Who are the greatest detectives in fiction? I’m no sleuth, but this is one mystery I might be able to solve.

From a young age, I’ve enjoyed detective fiction. I watched Scooby-Doo cartoons as a young child. Almost immediately after learning to read, I devoured stacks of Hardy Boys books. I read the entire Sherlock Holmes canon in my early teens, and picked up a number of classic mysteries in college. Yes, I love a good detective story.

Of course, such a story is only as good as its detective. Here are ten of my favorite mystery-solvers, because top ten lists are my beat.

The game is afoot, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Detectives in Fiction!

10. C. Auguste Dupin


Although C. Auguste Dupin appeared in only three short stories, he makes history as one of the earliest fictional detectives. When Edgar Allan Poe created Dupin, the word detective had not even been coined. Heck, the character is even mentioned in the very first Sherlock Holmes story: Watson compares Holmes to Dupin. Sherlock Holmes may be the father of detective fiction, but C. August Dupin is its grandfather. The character’s sharp intellect and analytical methods helped create an archetype for fictional detectives.

9. Batman


I was going to put Hercule Poirot on this list, but then remembered that I’ve read only two of his mysteries, and disliked one of them. Who could possibly replace the legendary Poirot, created by the legendary Agatha Christie, in a list of great detectives? The correct answer is Batman. (The correct answer is always Batman.) When he isn’t busy punching bad guys or brooding over his tragic past, Batman earns his nickname of World’s Greatest Detective by dabbling in forensics, solving crimes, and catching bad guys… whom he generally punches before brooding some more. Batman’s gotta Batman.

8. Lord Peter Wimsey


Lord Peter Wimsey has the intelligence of a detective like Holmes or Poirot, along with his own gift: an easygoing sense of humor. In a series of novels and short stories by Dorothy Sayers, this British nobleman makes a hobby of solving crimes. Wimsey’s relationship with his valet, the solemn and hyper-competent Bunter, echoes the partnership of Jeeves and Wooster in the stories by P.G. Wodehouse—and believe me, any comparison to Wodehouse is a good thing. Wimsey has all the skill of other famous detectives, and a heck of a lot more charm.

7. Professor Hershel Layton


Hershel Layton, the star of the Professor Layton games, wears many hats… figuratively speaking. (The only literal hat he would ever deign to wear is his beloved topper.) Layton is not only a professor of archaeology, but also a puzzle enthusiast, true gentleman, and amateur detective. Even inspectors from Scotland Yard have sought Layton’s help with tough cases. The strangeness of these mysteries is matched only by his ingenuity in solving them. The good Professor is clever and kind, and have I mentioned his magnificent hat?

6. Shawn Spencer


Shawn Spencer, the star of television’s Psych, is a “psychic detective” who handles cases too small, sensitive, or just plain weird for the police. Shawn’s alleged psychic powers are actually a front for rigorous training and a photographic memory. Since he’s an immature goofball, his clients find it easier to believe that Shawn has supernatural gifts than to accept that he’s just, y’know, really smart. He runs his detective agency with the help of his friend Gus; their chemistry is easily the best thing about the show, though Shawn’s quips and pop culture references are also a lot of fun.

5. Dick Gumshoe


Dick Gumshoe, the hapless police detective from the Ace Attorney games, is easily the least competent sleuth on this list, but he gets the job done. (His musical leitmotif, which I wish were my own theme music, is aptly titled “I Can Do It When It Counts, Pal!”) What Gumshoe lacks in smarts, he makes up in dedication, tenacity, and fierce loyalty to his friends. There’s a heart of gold under that shabby coat, and a determination behind those bewildered eyes to see justice done. It’s just a shame he can’t afford any meal more expensive than ramen noodles!

4. Edogawa Conan


Kudo Shinichi is still in high school, but has already built a reputation as a crime-solving prodigy who has worked with the Tokyo police. However, when he interferes with a criminal syndicate known as the Black Organization, its attempt to murder him with an experimental drug causes an unexpected side effect: Shinichi awakens in the body of a child. Now calling himself Edogawa Conan, he moves into a local detective agency, and solves its cases from behind the scenes as he searches for a lead on the Black Organization. The manga and anime series Detective Conan (known as Case Closed in the West) boasts some of the cleverest mysteries I’ve ever seen, all solved by this adorable little guy. Edogawa Conan is cooler than an action hero and cuter than a kitten—often at the same time!

3. Adrian Monk


Adrian Monk is afraid of dentists, snakes, nudity, elevators, death, milk, and mushrooms, not necessarily in that order. These are just a few of his phobias, which, along with his obsessive-compulsive disorder, make it hard for the star of television’s Monk even to leave his home, let alone solve crimes… yet he solves them. Monk’s phobias make for terrific comedy, but also create a character whose strength lies in overcoming his worst fears every single day. Adrian Monk is the rare character who can make you laugh in one scene, only to turn on a dime and make you cry in the next.

2. Father Brown


He may not have claimed the top spot on this list, but Father Brown is probably my all-time favorite character in fiction. This gentle Roman Catholic priest stars in a number of short stories by G.K. Chesterton. I’ve already written about Father Brown: “He’s a perfect foil to Sherlock Holmes . . . Everyone expects Holmes to be brilliant. In a charming subversion, everyone dismisses Father Brown as a superstitious simpleton, which makes it all the more satisfying when he apologetically solves the mystery right under their noses.” Father Brown’s quiet brilliance, boundless compassion, and no-nonsense worldview make him not only a great detective, but something rarer and more admirable: a good man.

1. Sherlock Holmes


Throughout this blog post, I’ve repeatedly mentioned Sherlock Holmes. How could I not? Sherlock Holmes is the world’s most famous detective, and the standard by which all others are measured. His ruthless logic, unshakable calm, numerous connections, and eclectic talents make him capable of solving practically any crime. In addition to his gifts, Holmes possesses, or is possessed by, a strong determination to use them. (He doesn’t handle boredom well.) This combination of passion and ability make Holmes an unstoppable detective. In addition to the original character in the novels and stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, television’s Sherlock offers an updated take on Holmes that’s perfectly delightful.

Who is your favorite fictional detective? Give us a clue in the comments!

415. The Bests of 2015

I no longer review stuff on this blog, but I don’t mind taking a day to look back on the best media I experienced in 2015. I didn’t spend as much time reading, watching movies and television, or playing video games as I would have liked, but I did enjoy some notable works, and here are the best of the best. (For clarification, this list includes only media I experienced for the first time in 2015. I’m featuring neither old favorites I revisited nor new episodes of shows I’ve seen.)

After I’ve shared my favorites, feel free to share yours in the comments! What great films, books, television shows, or video games did you enjoy in 2015?

Here are mine.

Best Live Action Film: Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max

This film is a work of art, and also an action movie with spiky cars and fire-spewing electric guitars. Mad Max: Fury Road is an action film in the purest sense, with sparse dialogue and explosive momentum. The movie is basically a two-hour car chase through a dystopian wasteland, yet manages to convey (amid explosions) meaningful themes such as guilt, redemption, the empowerment of women, and the worth of human life. The film also gets bonus points for its oversaturated, brightly-colored scenery: a welcome change from the bleached, washed-out look of most dystopian movies. Fury Road is stupid, campy action elevated to an art form: a film with all the ferocious beauty and power of an erupting volcano.

Best Animated Film: Inside Out

Inside Out

Pixar films nearly always leave an emotional impression, so it’s only to be expected that a Pixar film about emotions makes a terrific impact. Inside Out nearly made me cry in the movie theater, and I’m not a person who cries. Pixar’s best movies have a simple premise, and this one is no exception: What if your emotions were tiny people inside your head? Inside Out tells two intertwining stories: the fantastical journey of a little girl’s emotions inside her mind, and the consequent struggles of that little girl to accept the changes in her life. This film warms the viewer’s heart, but only after it has finishing breaking it. Inside Out is a sad, joyful movie… which seems appropriate, as Sadness and Joy are two of its most important characters.

Best Fiction Book: The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King cover

The Once and Future King is a retelling of King Arthur’s life. Like Inside Out, this story is both happy and sad; unlike that film, this novel leans much more heavily toward sadness than happiness. The epic backdrop of the Arthurian legends is used here as a stage for the intimate stories of Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere. Fragments of the old legends—the Round Table, the Grail Quest, Mordred’s betrayal—are woven neatly into two stories: the king who spends his life trying to do the right thing, and the knight whose loyalties are forever divided. Both men are great heroes, and both are doomed from the start. As it reinvents old stories for our cynical age, The Once and Future King is funny, sad, and well worth reading.

Best Nonfiction Book: All Groan Up

All Groan Up

Its title is a really bad pun, but this is not a bad book. (Seriously, though, that title causes me physical pain.) This memoir of a young man’s post-college panic, crises of faith, search for employment, and painful transition to adulthood is eerily similar to my own experiences. Paul Angone tells his story with openness, honesty, Jon Acuff-like humor, and way too many silly metaphors. In the end, despite its stylistic quirks, his story is well worth reading for all those college-age adults who feel lost, alone, ashamed, and hopeless. I wish I had read this book five years ago.

Best Console Video Game: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Ni No Kuni cover

This is probably the most beautiful game I have ever played. With visuals inspired (and some contributed) by the legendary Studio Ghibli, and music by noted composer Joe Hisaishi, this game looks and sounds amazing—and it plays beautifully. The game’s story of a little boy searching for his mother is touching and bittersweet… except for when it’s cute and hilarious, which it frequently is. The Final Fantasy-meets-Pokémon gameplay may be a bit deep for casual players, and the ending is unsatisfying, but these are nitpicks. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is magical. And it’s getting a sequel!

Best Handheld Video Game: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask

“A true gentleman leaves no puzzle unsolved,” and Professor Hershel Layton is the truest of gentlemen. Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is a delightful collection of puzzles, strung together by the most intriguing Professor Layton story I’ve seen yet. The good Professor’s search for the diabolical relic known as the Miracle Mask is packed with interesting characters, charming visuals, good voice acting, and (of course) scores upon scores of puzzles to solve. This is a game for everyone, casual players and veteran gamers alike. In fact, the only people for whom I can’t recommend this game are those with no feeling, soul, or sense of humor.

Best Live Action Television Series: Marvel’s Daredevil

Marvel's Daredevil

I’ve already written two entire blog posts about the excellence of Marvel’s Daredevil, so I won’t add much here. I’ll just point out one more fun detail: a scene set in a Hispanic lady’s home contains a two-liter bottle of Inca Kola. (I grew up drinking Inca Kola in Ecuador.) That is serious attention to detail.

Daredevil (now with 100% more Inca Kola!)

Marvel’s Daredevil has a breakable hero, a fascinating villain, great writing, brilliant action scenes, a gripping (and grounded) story, and an artistically comic-booky visual style. This show is superb.

Best Animated Television Series: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun

This anime isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but there’s something compelling about its unromantic romance writer and his quirky entourage of artists. Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is neither a romantic comedy nor a satire, but something in between. It never feels cynical or mean-spirited as it deconstructs rom-com clichés; the show’s self-aware humor is balanced by a heartwarming charm and innocence. As an added bonus, the show offers fascinating glimpses into the process of making manga (i.e. Japanese comics). It’s fairly short and available only in Japanese with English subtitles, but Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is delightful.

What are some of the best media you experienced in 2015? Let us know in the comments!

375. Why Video Game Movies Suck

Name three good video game movies.

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

You see, video game movies suck.

Granted, movies about games as a medium are sometimes good, like Disney’s superb Wreck-It Ralph. I love that movie.

Wreck-It Ralph coverMovies adapted from games, however, are another story: a sad, depressing story. I’ve seen a number of video game movies, and most of them are awful.

Why is this? There are many excellent films based on books; why not on video games? There are at least three reasons.

First, many games have either no story or only the barest semblance of one.

The plot of nearly every Super Mario Bros. game, for example, consists of a monster (Bowser) kidnapping a princess (Peach) and a brave man (Mario) setting out to rescue her. That’s it. This story (and minor variations thereupon) appears in game after game after game.

For a video game, such a simplistic story is perfectly fine—after all, the story is just an excuse to play the game. What matters in the Super Mario Bros. games is the what of the adventure; the why is a minor afterthought. It’s such fun to guide Mario through challenging levels that his reason for facing them in in the first place is hardly more than a footnote.

Unlike a game, which can be fun for its own sake, a film needs a story. The what is not enough; it also needs the why. Many video games don’t offer a strong enough why to be adapted into compelling movies.

The second reason video game movies often fail is that too many filmmakers, assuming their film has a guaranteed audience in fans of its source material, make it inaccessible to broader audiences: people who don’t play video games.

Final Fantasy VII - Advent ChildrenThe clearest example of this is my all-time favorite action movie, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. This computer-animated movie’s action scenes are ridiculous—this movie has a sword fight on motorcycles, guys. The animation looks great nearly a decade after the film’s release, the music is excellent, the characterization is compelling, and the ending is genuinely touching.

However, Advent Children has one damning flaw: it’s practically incomprehensible to anyone has hasn’t played an old PlayStation game called Final Fantasy VII. Even for those of us who have played the game, the movie can be a little tough to follow. This is a shame. In every other respect, Advent Children is an excellent film—but that excellence is locked away from most audiences.

The third reason games hardly ever make good movies is in the medium itself. Most video games are a repeating pattern of stages; many are nothing more than a series of levels. That’s hard to adapt to film.

Other games offer a more subtle take on this structure. Role-playing games, for example, generally feature a robust story, yet follow the same pattern: the player progresses from a town, to the open world, to a dungeon, and then back to a town, there to begin the cycle anew.

This approach works well for video games as a medium. It even works for television, in which a set of episodes allows for repeated rising and falling action. A film, however, is too short for this structure. The repeating pattern of a video game doesn’t fit in a movie. A game’s cyclical narrative can’t be compressed into a two-hour film.

Every now and then, however, there comes a game whose narrative isn’t a repeating cycle, but a focused story that could be brilliantly adapted to film. I can think of at least one video game movie that absolutely needs to be made… but I’ll save that for next time.

Are there any good video game movies?

Vide game movies that don't suckOf those I’ve seen, I can think of a few good ones. Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, an animated film spin-off of the Professor Layton games, is accessible and charming, though it drags a bit. The aforementioned Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children boasts phenomenal action, epic music, and stunning visuals for viewers who don’t mind having no idea what the heck is going on. For those who like foreign films, Takashi Miike’s live-action Ace Attorney is really good, despite its absurd hairstyles.

Um, that’s it. Flipping heck, someone needs to make a good video game movie.

Question: Have you seen any video game movie that you would recommend? Let us know in the comments!

TMTF’s Top Ten Hats in Video Games

I recently learned of an indie game titled Fez. The game’s protagonist wears a fez, presumably because fezzes are cool. (We all know this.) This game reminded me that characters in video games have some pretty sweet hats.

As a gamer, blogger and proud owner of several hats, I believe it’s my solemn duty to decide which video game hats are the best.

The following rules apply: I’ll choose hats only from games I’ve played, and I’ll select no more than one hat from any game series. Only original video game hats are permitted: no hats from licensed characters like Indiana Jones or Donald Duck. Hoods, helmets, headbands, ribbons and all headgear except hats and caps are disqualified from this list.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, hats off as TMTF proudly presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Hats in Video Games!

10. Quote’s Baseball Cap (Cave Story)

Quote's Baseball Cap

Quote, the amnesiac hero of indie classic Cave Story, manages to look quite heroic in a simple baseball cap. The hat isn’t particularly fancy or elegant, but its bright white and red design helps Quote’s pixelated figure stand out against the muted blacks and browns of Cave Story‘s subterranean locales. On an entirely different note, do the buttons on Quote’s hat remind anyone else of Mickey Mouse’s shorts?

9. Cormano’s Sombrero (Sunset Riders)

Cormano's Sombrero

This Mexican gunslinger, who has been described as “either groundbreakingly inclusive or an offensive stereotype, take your pick,” is a playable character from Sunset Riders for the SNES. The game consists mostly of shooting stuff. Cormano’s skill with a rifle is belied by his sombrero, which is colored bright magenta and shaped like a taco. Never has the Old West been so fabulous!

8. Shadi Smith’s Pork Pie Hat (Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney)

Shadi Smith's Pork Pie Hat

Not since Buster Keaton has anyone looked so good in a pork pie. Despite being a shifty character with questionable ethics, Shadi Smith is a really sharp dresser. There are many fantastic hats in the Ace Attorney series, from magician’s top hats to policewomen’s berets, but none seems more stylish or elegant than Shadi Smith’s classy pork pie hat.

7. Carmen Sandiego’s Fedora (Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?)

Carmen Sandiego's Fedora

As a child, I played Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? on my family’s ancient black-and-white Apple Macintosh. (I’m pretty sure the above picture of Ms. Sandiego comes from another game in the series, but it’s the best I could find.) It was educational gaming at its finest: besides learning about geography and national flags, I got a taste of fashion from Carmen Sandiego’s criminally fabulous fedora.

6. Red’s Baseball Cap (Pokémon FireRed)

Red's Baseball Cap

This one was a toss-up between the hats worn by Red from Pokémon and Ness from Earthbound. Red won because his baseball cap is quite a bit cooler. (Besides, Red’s cap in the original Pokémon Red was the inspiration for Ash Ketchum’s iconic hat in the Pokémon anime.) Like Quote, Red takes a common item of casual apparel and makes it seem dashing and even heroic.

5. Agent Chieftain’s Stetson (Elite Beat Agents)

Agent Chieftan's Stetson

Elite Beat Agents is a wonderful rhythm game for the Nintendo DS in which government secret agents assist people in desperate need by invoking the inspirational power of song and dance. (Yes, the game is every bit as weird—and awesome—as it sounds.) Agent Chieftain, a senior agent of the Elite Beat Agency, flaunts a flashy Stetson that adds a dash of cowboy flair to his plain suit and tie.

4. Red Mage’s Wizard Hat (Final Fantasy III)

Red Mage's Wizard Hat

Although the Black Mages from the Final Fantasy series have neat hats, the Red Mages earn this place on the list with their gorgeous crimson hats adorned with snowy feathers. Other Final Fantasy characters have clunky helmets, dull hats or plain hoods. Red Mages alone uphold the lofty standards of fashion while defending their worlds from demons, dragons and other monsters.

3. Mario’s Flat Cap (Super Mario 64)

Mario's Flat Cap

How could I not include Mario’s cap? It’s indisputably the most famous video game hat in the world, and definitely one of the neatest. Mario’s cap from Super Mario 64 deserves special mention for giving Mario superpowers, including flight. Few things in video games have been more fun for me than soaring around the game’s locales with Mario’s winged cap. Like its owner, this hat is remarkable.

2. Professor Layton’s Top Hat (Professor Layton and the Curious Village)


I have absolutely nothing to add.

1. Link’s… Cap? (The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap)

Link's... Cap

Link’s cap is one of the most iconic elements of the Legend of Zelda series. It’s instantly recognizable—seriously, how many legendary heroes wear green pointed caps? Link achieves an incredible feat in every Zelda game by looking cool in a hat that wouldn’t seem out of place on one of Santa’s elves. As much as I like it, I wouldn’t give Link’s cap the number one spot on this list if it weren’t for one detail: it talks. In The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Link is joined on his quest by Ezlo, an enchanted hat who gives advice, grumbles, cracks jokes and turns out to be one of the most engaging characters in the entire Zelda series. For its iconic status, surprisingly cool appearance and amusing dialogue—I can’t believe I’m saying this about a hat—Link’s cap is TMTF’s pick for the best hat in a video game.

O people of the Internet, what great video game hats would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

This post was originally published on April 8, 2013. TMTF shall return with new content on April 20, 2015!

A Collection of Fabulous Video Game Mustaches

Stache Stash

Clockwise, beginning at the top right: Yang (Final Fantasy), Mario (Super Mario Bros.), Dr. Eggman (Sonic the Hedgehog), Dr. Wily (Mega Man), Wario (Super Mario Bros.), Naked Snake (Metal Gear Solid), Don Paolo (Professor Layton) and Marvin Grossberg (Ace Attorney).

This is a collection of magnificent video game mustaches: a stache stash, if you will. Which is best? My money is on Mario’s mustache. It lacks the extravagant flair and staggering size of the competition, yet it boasts an understated charm.

This post was originally published on May 8, 2013. TMTF shall return with new content on April 20, 2015!

349. TMTF’s Top Ten Video Games for People Who Don’t Play Video Games

Most of my dear readers aren’t really into video games. If you’re one of those readers, this post is for you!

Like most bloggers, I glance at my blog’s statistics from time to time. My blog host, WordPress, tracks views for each post on TMTF. I’ve noticed that posts about video games are among the least popular on this blog. This realization points to one logical course of action.

What’s that? I should stop writing blog posts about video games? Don’t be ridiculous! If my posts about games aren’t popular with my readers, there is clearly just one rational solution: I must encourage my readers to play more video games!

(Yes, I’m joking.)

Here are ten video games I recommend for anyone who doesn’t play video games. Most of these titles are easy for casual gamers to pick up and play, with a few must-play classics sprinkled in for good measure. These games—which represent a variety of genres and gaming generations—are upbeat, accessible, and fun to play.

The game is afoot, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Video Games for People Who Don’t Play Video Games!

10. Chrono Trigger (Nintendo DS)

Chrono Trigger DSWe’re starting with a masterpiece, which is low on this list because it’s also a bit of a challenge for beginners. I tried to find a short, easy RPG (Role-Playing Game) for casual players, but the easy ones aren’t really worth playing. Chrono Trigger is a little complex, yet simpler than most classic RPGs—and dang if this isn’t a beautiful game.

Chrono Trigger is probably the best RPG I’ve ever played. It was revolutionary in its time, and it has aged well. The music, graphics, characters, and battle system are all superb. I recommend the Nintendo DS version above all others: the translation is vastly improved, a few handy features are added, the game can be played on the go, and it’s far easier to find than previous versions. If you play no other RPG in your lifetime, play this one!

9. Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo 3DS/Wii U eShop)

Super Mario Bros.This is where it all began. Super Mario Bros. hearkens back to the early days of video games, when it launched Mario into his shining career as the most famous character in the industry. The game has aged brilliantly: after thirty years, it’s still tons of fun and pretty easy to play.

This is the world’s most recognizable platformer: an iconic iteration in the Jumping on Stuff genre of video games. Nearly all platformers that followed, including greats like the earlier Sonic the Hedgehog games, owed it all to this one. Super Mario Bros. isn’t merely a classic game. It is, unequivocally, the classic game.

8. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse (Nintendo 3DS/Wii U eShop)

Shantae and the Pirate's CurseShantae and the Pirate’s Curse is a short, sweet, funny introduction to the action-adventure genre: a blend of exploring, fighting, and puzzle-solving. Available on Nintendo’s eShop, the game offers all the retro-styled joy of classics like Metroid, Mega Man, and Cave Story without their nail-biting difficulty and frustration.

This game is superb: a love letter to the games of yore that adds an upbeat tone and zany style. Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is relatively short, an advantage for casual players. I must also give it bonus points for being absolutely freaking adorable.

7. Ocarina of Time 3D (Nintendo 3DS)

Ocarina of Time 3DConsidered by many to be the greatest video game ever made, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the quintessential adventure game. I can hardly overstate its excellence. It defined both a genre and a generation.

The original version of Ocarina of Time shows its age, but the Nintendo 3DS version makes the game accessible by putting it on a mobile system with better graphics, redesigned menus, and an elegant hint system to help casual players. Even the Water Temple, a stage of infamous difficulty, has been streamlined. Ocarina of Time may be the world’s best video game, and this is certainly its best version.

6. Elite Beat Agents (Nintendo DS)

Elite Beat AgentsElite Beat Agents is pleasantly bonkers. Imagine someone putting a lot of popular songs (“September,” “Y.M.C.A.,” and “Material Girl,” among others) in a blender along with comic books, Japanese anime on VHS tapes, and disco fashion. This rhythm game is the result, inviting players to tap their way through more than a dozen absurd scenarios.

The premise of Elite Beat Agents is that a secret government agency assists desperate people through the inspirational power of song. It’s every bit as wacky as it sounds, and any player with a sense of rhythm (and a sense of humor) will probably enjoy it.

5. Portal (Microsoft Windows/Xbox 360/PlayStation 3)

PortalPortal puts players in the high-tech boots of Chell, a woman who wakes up in an abandoned research facility with only a deranged (and delightfully funny) computer for company. Chell must escape armed only with an Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device that opens interconnected gates in three dimensional space. (It’s cooler than it sounds.)

Portal is a puzzle game, and probably the best example I’ve seen of a video game as art. The portal concept seems complicated for the first few minutes, but quickly becomes intuitive as the game puts players through puzzles on a gentle difficulty curve. Portal is brilliant, funny, sophisticated, and conveniently short at just a few hours long. While its sequel, the legendary Portal 2, is the better game, Portal is the perfect place to start.

4. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (Nintendo GameCube)

Mario Kart - Double Dash!!Mario Kart games are one part racing, one part warfare, and all parts fun. The games are all about beating competitors to the finish line… and also beating them with an assortment of damaging objects. Watch out for banana peels, explosives, and high-speed projectiles! Mario Kart games are a blast, sometimes literally.

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is, in my humble opinion, the best of the bunch. The controls are straightforward and finely tuned. The racetracks are well-designed. Best of all, having two racers per go-kart allows for cooperation between players, not just competition. Newer players can pair up with more experienced ones.

3. Wii Sports (Wii)

Wii SportsThis is the ultimate casual game. All it requires is the ability to wave a controller that looks like a TV remote, and the willingness to look silly doing it. Wii Sports isn’t a deep game, but it doesn’t need to be. It offers fun, simple activities like golf and bowling. They won’t keep you hooked for hours, but they’re quite enjoyable in short sessions or with friends.

The real joy of Wii Sports is in getting up and moving. Motion controls are usually a cheap gimmick, but Wii Sports is one of the few games to use them really well. It may not be long or complex, but it’s an inviting place for casual gamers to start.

2. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies (Nintendo 3DS eShop)

Ace Attorney - Dual DestiniesWhen I first played an Ace Attorney game, I expected it to be dull—how could a video game about the legal profession be any fun at all? I was absolutely wrong. Ace Attorney is a series of interactive murder mysteries, with some courtroom drama and a ton of humor thrown in for good measure.

In the pretentiously-titled Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, the courts have entered a “dark age” in which suspicion and corruption run rampant. Wright and his team must defend their clients—including, in one memorable case, an innocent killer whale—as they unravel the mystery behind the dark age of the law. Dual Destinies is the best the Ace Attorney series has to offer, with polished mechanics and stellar storytelling. It’s also a great starting point for players new to the series, demanding no knowledge of previous games.

1. Professor Layton and the Last Specter (Nintendo DS)Professor Layton and the Last SpecterHave you ever picked up a book of puzzles—you know, a collection of mazes, word searches, riddles, math questions, brainteasers, and crosswords? The Professor Layton games are basically those puzzle books, but a thousand times more charming. They also feature tales of intrigue and mystery, all starring the top-hatted Hershel Layton.

Professor Layton and the Last Specter is the first chapter of Layton’s story, but not the first game in the series. By this point, the series has hit its stride. The puzzles are delightfully varied, the style is charming, and the Professor himself is a refreshingly polite, kindhearted alternative to more traditional video game heroes. For those who don’t play video games, I can offer no higher recommendation than the good Professor’s puzzles!

What casual games do you recommend? Let us know in the comments!

331. TMTF Strikes Back!

After a two-week hiatus, TMTF is back with new content! My typewriter monkeys and I have resumed… whatever it is we do around here. I don’t know.

Before I get carried away with new posts, there’s some stuff we need to discuss—mostly following up on last month’s charity fundraisers, and also asking an urgent question about hats. Prepare yourself, dear reader, for some Important Business Things. We’ll cover them one at a time. Here we go!

TMTF’s charity fundraisers were a success!

Because of your support, TMTF’s charity fundraisers last month were successful!

Charity logos

The Child’s Play fundraiser didn’t quite reach its goal, yet contributed a respectable $75 toward purchasing toys and video games for kids in hospitals. (I like to think that every cent of our donations was spent on Legend of Zelda games, but that’s just me.) While the Child’s Play fundraiser didn’t meet its goal, I’m thankful we were able to give as much as we did.

The Living Water International fundraiser, which is ongoing, surpassed its goal. Thanks to you, we’ve given $375 toward providing clean water to people in impoverished areas! That’s one hundred twenty-five percent of the fundraiser’s original goal, which is just bonkers.

When we started raising funds last month for charity, I honestly wasn’t sure we would meet our goals. You guys have amazed me. Thank you so much for making this possible. You are my heroes. Well done.

Bravo (GIF)The Living Water International fundraiser is still going strong!

Even though the clean water fundraiser was meant to be a Christmas project, it won’t end for another few weeks. (I didn’t have much flexibility in planning its duration.) For as long as it’s up and running, this blog’s rewards for donors will remain in effect, so feel free to give!

I’m still working on donor rewards, and I will get them to donors as soon as I can.

If you haven’t received your rewards for donating to one or both of TMTF’s fundraisers, I haven’t forgotten you! I’m still working on them, and I’ll send them your way as soon as I can.

By the way, there were a few anonymous donations. If you donated anonymously and would like to receive donor rewards, it’s not too late to contact me. I want to say thank you!

Should charity fundraisers become a Christmas tradition for this blog?

I don’t know. What do you think?

All right, enough talk about fundraising. Let’s discuss hats.

Top hats or fezzes?

Top hats vs. fezzes


I think that’s everything!

I guess those are all the Important Business Things we have to discuss for now. Thanks again, dear readers, for making last month’s charity events a success!

In conclusion, fezzes are less expensive, but top hats lend a certain dignity to any aspiring gentleman. They’re both pretty great.

Three Minutes of Charm

The animation above, produced by Mechanical Apple and presented by Disney, is basically three minutes of heartwarming charm. Like many of my favorite short animations, Motorbike doesn’t need words to tell its story, just soft music and softer colors.

The first time I watched the video, I was struck by its similarities to the Professor Layton games: the music, pastel colors, and comic-strip character designs seem familiar. My impression of the video the second time around was that reminds me strongly of Kiki’s Delivery Service and Studio Ghibli’s other films.

Either way, Motorbike is ridiculously charming.

I encourage you, dear reader, to set aside the woes, worries, trials, troubles, and problems of your life for three minutes, and spend those minutes on a motorbike in the sunshine.

231. TMTF’s Top Ten Mad Scientists in Video Games

We’re all a little crazy.

Some of us, of course, are crazier than others. In video games, the craziest people generally fall into three categories: villains, mad scientists or both.

I find mad scientists particularly interesting. They abandon morality (and occasionally their own humanity) in their frenzied pursuit of knowledge or power. Like Adam and Eve snatching the forbidden fruit of Eden, these lunatics rebel against God and nature in the name of progress.

Mad scientists may not be good people, but they sure are good characters!

In listing ten remarkable mad scientists in video games, my usual rules apply: I won’t include characters from games I haven’t played (with one notable exception) and will include only one character per game series.

Let’s get crazy, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Mad Scientists in Video Games!

Be ye warned, here there be minor spoilers.

10. Andross (Star Fox series) Andross Andross was once a brilliant scientist, but experiments damaged his sanity and ruined his body. Although he doesn’t have much personality, Andross establishes himself as a notable villain by killing the father of the games’ protagonist and declaring himself emperor of the solar system. I also want to point out that Andross is apparently comfortable with sacrificing his body and becoming a disembodied head. That’s pretty crazy.

9. The Doctor (Cave Story) The Doctor (Cave Story) No, not that Doctor. This Doctor is actually a medical practitioner, albeit one with a terrifying lust for power and a violent disregard for the Hippocratic Oath. The Doctor is merciless, selfish and cruel. He also gets bonus points for using himself as a test subject and becoming a hideous mutant. Besides, I love that he carries around a pen. More villains need pens sticking out of their pockets.

8. E. Gadd (Super Mario Bros. series) E. Gadd Egad! This nutty little gentleman has the distinction of being pretty much the only good guy on this list. Professor Elvin Gadd is an inventor and paranormal researcher whose crowning achievement is a vacuum cleaner that sucks up ghosts. He’s cheerful, egotistical and blithely inconsiderate. He also sounds exactly like an Ewok from the Star Wars films. Coincidence? Yeah, probably. All the same, this pint-sized prof definitely has a few screws loose.

7. Fennel (Radiant Historia) Fennel Fennel is the head of a military research and development team. He’s also just a head. (There might be a body inside that slug-like machine, but I’m not sure.) Working for the warlike nation of Alistel, Fennel develops thaumatechnology: an arcane sort of machinery consisting mostly of weapons and other stuff that can kill you. He’s in love with his work, which takes place in a dim, ironclad labyrinth of underground chambers. Seriously, Fennel is kind of creepy.

6. Jean Descole (Professor Layton series) Jean Descole I haven’t actually played any of the games in which Jean Descole appears, but my brother insisted I put him on the list. (I’ll finish the Professor Layton series sooner or later.) Descole is cold, calm and cunning… except when he’s angry. Then he’s kind of scary. This archaeologist, master mechanic and self-proclaimed scientist manipulates others, shows no remorse and stops at nothing to achieve his goals. Don’t be fooled by that detached smile. Descole is not a sane man.

5. Doctor Eggman (Sonic the Hedgehog series) Doctor Eggman As his name and title suggest, Doctor Eggman is a doctor shaped like an egg. Despite being extremely intelligent, he is not particularly bright; his schemes for world domination are invariably foiled by either a hedgehog or his own incompetence. Eggman is short-tempered, egotistical and prone to bouts of maniacal laughter: defining characteristics of a mad scientist. Besides, dat stache.

4. Pamela’s Father (Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask) Pamela's Father This poor fool, who is never given a proper name, is so devoted to his study of supernatural phenomena that he moves to a desolate, haunted valley to study ghouls and ghosts… and takes his young daughter Pamela with him. When his research causes him to deteriorate into a monster, she traps him in the basement and bars the front door against the ghouls circling the house. Terrifying? Heck yes. Pamela and her father are eventually rescued and his humanity restored. Regardless, any scientist crazy enough to drag his daughter to an isolated wasteland to study monsters is, well, really crazy.

3. Ansem (Kingdom Hearts series) Ansem Without delving too deep into the convoluted lore of the Kingdom Hearts universe, I can confidently declare this man a lunatic. His research into the darkness of the human heart leads to the creation of Heartless, shadowy monsters that swarm across the universe to devour worlds. Ansem himself becomes a Heartless. Then—in the time-honored tradition of mad scientists—he tries to conquer everything. This tanned, stylish scientist gets extra points for inverting the stereotype of the pallid researcher in a lab coat.

2. GLaDOS (Portal series) GLaDOSThis psychopathic artificial intelligence builds death traps and forces test subjects to solve them. Why? For science, of course! So what if her research methods kill a few people now and then? GLaDOS believes her experiments are worth the cost: “The science gets done and you make a neat gun for the people who are still alive!” I love how this AI becomes unhinged throughout the games, eventually stooping to ranting and petty insults. For complexity of character and degree of insanity, GLaDOS is wonderful.

1. Cidolfus Demen Bunansa (Final Fantasy XII) Doctor Cid Cidolfus Demen Bunansa is one of the best video game characters I’ve ever seen: supercilious, brilliant, arrogant, foppish and seemingly insane. He treats tyrants with casual disrespect and talks aloud to an imaginary friend named Venat. I would call Cid a delusional lunatic, except for one minor detail—he’s actually sane. Cid is a rational man obsessed with defying the gods and putting “the reigns of history back in the hands of man,” abetted by the mysterious, invisible Venat. Of course, on his noble quest to liberate humankind, Cid doesn’t mind shedding a little innocent blood: this man ordered the obliteration of an entire city with the magical equivalent of an atomic bomb as a scientific experiment. Cid is fabulous, fascinating, evil, despicable, astonishing and awesome.

O people of the Internet, what video game mad scientists would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

A Collection of Fabulous Video Game Mustaches

Stache Stash

Clockwise, beginning at the top right: Yang (Final Fantasy), Mario (Super Mario Bros.), Dr. Eggman (Sonic the Hedgehog), Dr. Wily (Mega Man), Wario (Super Mario Bros.), Naked Snake (Metal Gear Solid), Don Paolo (Professor Layton) and Marvin Grossberg (Ace Attorney).

This is a collection of magnificent video game mustaches: a stache stash, if you will. Which is best? My money is on Mario’s mustache. It lacks the extravagant flair and staggering size of the competition, yet it boasts an understated charm.