This week I'm going to do something a bit different. Seeing as another Christmas has just come and gone, I thought I'd present a Christmas-gift roundup. This will be just like a normal column where I blather on about goods or services, except this time they'll be goods and services that I didn't have to pay for myself. To add a twist, I am going to apply two challenges of my own devising: the Canine Challenge and the Coupling Challenge. These will answer the burning questions "What does a dog think of this gift?" and "Sex?"
Let's see how I did, shall we?
Whence: My esteemed colleague, Vanessa. Also, she's my wife.
Analysis: Multi-tools have been around for a while-114 years, if we take the Swiss Army Knife as their genesis, which we ignorantly will. A multi-tool is almost as important to the housebroken nerd (or at least the housebroken nerds that I know) as his or her computer, glasses or COMDEX swag. Among my cadre, the tool of choice has been the Gerber, a pair of pliers with retractable jaws and a menagerie of tools hidden in the handle. The Gerber is great to have around for all sorts of computer maintenance, as well as a million other jobs around the house. It's also a bit too large to carry around at all times. Swiss Army's tragically named CyberTool, however, is small and light and more deceptively full than Oscar the Grouch's trash can: A screwdriver and bit set (including hex bits!). Pliers. Wire cutters. A wire stripper. An awl. A full complement of cutting tools. And a mini-screwdriver for glasses ingeniously stored in the tip of the corkscrew. Also, it has a corkscrew. Very gawk-at-able. I can think of about a million broken things that I'll break some more using this tool.
Coupling Challenge: Because this was a gift from Vanessa, it is safe to assume that my sex life in the years to come depends greatly on frequent enthusiastic declarations of its excellence.
Judgement: The greatest gift ever given.
Whence: Acquired in a Secret Santa exchange among friends.
Analysis: The thingamajig in question contains ten classic Atari games, all locked inside a 2600-era joystick that plugs directly into your television. (Apparently, the Namco and Activision catalogues of games are represented in other joysticks.) This thing has all kinds of appeal: the retro appeal of playing games you have not thought about in years; the tech appeal of seeing them all crammed into such a neat package; and the smug appeal of declaring this a reminder that fun comes before verisimilitude in the list of things that make a game great, you young whipper-snappers!
So far, we've taken a crack at Asteroids, Pong and Missile Command. Missile Command remains as unnerving as ever, although playing with a stick isn't quite as much fun as using the giant trackball that adorned the original arcade version. Pong is kind of useless without another player (the lack of a second controller is the thingamajig's major flaw). Asteroids, though! Oh gosh, how to explain the feeling of zooming off one side of the screen at full speed only to reappear at the opposite edge, spinning around and shooting in all directions, obliterating rocks the size of worlds!? It gave me an irrational sense of speed and exhilaration as a child, and it still does today.
Canine Challenge: The doggies really got into this. I think it was the strange noises and large moving shapes. Wabby was rapt and Jupiter howled at it. Eight paws up.
Coupling Challenge: It's called a joystick. So you can imagine the smooth, silky seduction that one could launch from such auspicious beginnings. And while you're at it, you can probably imagine the rejection and punches in the back of the neck that would ensue.
Judgement: Not without room for improvement, but still loads of fun.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE THIRD AGE (GameCube version)
Analysis: I thought this game was going to be like Gauntlet-the four-player, Dungeons & Dragons-inspired, hybrid beat-'em-up/RPG arcade classic-but I'm happy to report that Lord of the Rings: The Third Age is much more like Final Fantasy. Assuming that means nothing to you, here's a taste: You start out as a guy with a sword. You walk some dirt paths. Sometimes there are chests full of magical potions and, of course, gold. At random intervals you'll end up in fights, which are signalled by a vibrating controller and a fiery graphical transition to the combat screen. On one side of that screen are you and the members of your party. On the other side, whomever you happen to be fighting. Okay, now scroll down the menu and pick an attack. No, not that one! Use the Goblin Bane. Because you're fighting a goblin, that's why! Okay, he bit you on the neck. Try some magic on him or something. And so on, until whoever causes the most bloodshed is declared the winner. Just like in real life! All told, the game is supposed to last twenty to twenty-five hours, but after five hours I seemed to have finished only about 4 percent. You are cordially invited to a game-finishing celebration some time in 2007.
Canine Challenge: Neither dog would go anywhere near the vibrating controller. After some treat-assisted cajoling, I was able to grab Jupiter's paw and press some buttons with it, but after a few minutes she escaped and hid behind the toilet.
Coupling Challenge: Not having a television in our bedroom, the living room floor was the arena of seduction. Vanessa's reaction was less than positive. "Would you have sex with somebody who was playing this game?" I asked. "Or even owned it?"
"Somebody? No, I don't think so."
"No, I don't think so."
Judgement: The Lord of the Rings is beloved "to the max" in our household, and I happen to like RPGs of this sort. This game has value as a way to prolong the magic of the books and the films a bit longer. It's just not as romantic as a Luther Vandross LP. But your mileage may vary.
David and Vanessa currently live and toil in Toronto-for, respectively, a large technology corporation and a large eCommerce vendor. They met via their blogs and were married in the winter of 2002. They have a hamster and two dogs, but no yacht.