Saturday, September 16, 2017

It's All Downhill from Here

First on the menu, a guy named Arian Kordi has created an oekaki site called Closedverse, which mimics the style and some of the functionality of Miiverse. You can't post screenshots directly from your 3DS, but there's more flexibility overall, with users posting video clips and full color drawings along with the usual black and white sketches. I don't have an account on the site yet, but I have a feeling that it's going to become my methadone once my withdrawal from Miiverse kicks in after November 8th.

Now that we're done with the appetizer, it's time for the main course! After hearing all the praise heaped onto SSX 3, I decided to pick up a copy of this popular snowboarding title for myself. All that hype is not without merit... the game looks gorgeous in spite of its age, with rolling hills spilling out into the distance and tiny specks of light sparkling on nearby mounds of snow. It also doesn't take itself too seriously, which is refreshing in this increasingly grim era of gaming. There's just one problem, though...



I am completely terrible at SSX 3. I couldn't even say that I'm all thumbs, because that suggests some degree of skill, however little. I am no thumbs at this game. It's like I'm playing SSX with my tongue. I can't even explain why I'm doing so poorly, because I've had previous experience with the Tony Hawk series. I'm hardly a tournament caliber THPS player, but I've got a grasp of the basics and can string together a few combos.

Problem is, SSX 3 isn't Tony Hawk. The techniques that worked in Tony Hawk don't always work here, and the ones that do have been reassigned to different button combinations. The board press serves a similar function to Tony Hawk's manual, adding to the multiplier of a combo while keeping it active. However, instead of tapping up-down or down-up on the D-pad, you briefly hold up or down on the right thumbstick. I mean, hey, you might as well use every input on the gamepad, right?


It's complicated. Seriously.
(image from YouTube)
Tricks are also counter-intuitive... instead of the fire and forget approach of Tony Hawk, you've got to hold buttons down briefly to make the trick count. You can "pre-wind" moves while you're on the ground, making them activate faster... but, uh, why is that even necessary? All these little changes leave you with an experience that seems familiar, yet really isn't once you get past the superficial similarities. It's like learning to ride a bike, then being expected to go a few miles on a unicycle.

Then there's the whole issue of downward momentum. With Tony Hawk, you're almost always moving, but you've got control of exactly where you'll go next. SSX gives you one direction, down, and while you can alter your course to some degree, you can't head back up the mountain if you've missed a rail, or a hidden item, or that all-important ramp which will let you tack a few extra tricks onto your combo. There's little room for error, and the punishment for making a mistake can be so severe that you'll have to restart a race or a heat to have any hope of victory. As the kind of gamer who hates being forced to repeat a mission over and over until it's done just right, that doesn't sit well with me.

I suppose all of this wouldn't be so frustrating if SSX 3 had been forgettable. I could play it, decide that it wasn't for me, and move on with my life. The problem is that I'm pretty sure it's as good as everyone says, but it's also as dense and impenetrable as a lead wall. I love SSX, but it doesn't love me.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

One Step Beyond


"I don't remember much, buddy, and you're no looker!"

Er, pardon my absence. While I've been gone, I've been thinking about a few things... like how well the original Xbox has aged in the sixteen years since its release. Most of the games spread across multiple formats looked best on the 'box, and its exclusives looked amazing, regardless of their other faults. Let's take a look at a couple of those games, shall we?


This is Tao Feng, developed by Mortal Kombat co-creator John Tobias. I never got a feel for the flow of this game, but it's hard to deny the quality of the graphics. The characters ripple with muscles and move gracefully through a variety of interactive playfields which offer more than just pretty scenery. Throw an opponent into a wooden pallet and it shatters; drop them to the ground and the floor is left broken from the impact. You could find the same collateral damage in the cult classic Phantom Dust, with players tearing the environment apart while lobbing beams and explosives at each other. It helps bring the player into the action when they're put in a tangible location, rather than a well decorated box.


The Xbox was Microsoft's first game console, giving its games a pioneering spirit that was rare on systems from more experienced competitors. There was a lot of fresh IP, and a lot of experimental ideas... the kind that were just as likely to stumble as soar. Crimson Skies was one of the titles that worked, a flight combat sim set in a fantasy world inspired by the 1930s. I never made it very far in this one, but I liked what I saw, and I'm eager to come back to it. I may even want to give its seafaring counterpart Blood Wake another chance, even though I don't recall enjoying that one nearly as much.

Xbox games are still pretty cheap, and there's plenty of titles I either haven't played in a while or haven't tried at all. I have a feeling I'm going to love catching up with this machine after all these years.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Break-Up

I've made a horrible mistake. About the Wii U, I mean. Have you ever been in a relationship which you're extremely desperate to make work? Everybody tells you that your partner is bad news, and maybe you know that too, deep down inside, but you ignore your gut instincts and keep trying to jam that square peg into a round hole. "Things will change!," you shout, hoping to convince yourself more than your friends. "You don't know them the way I do! We can be happy together if I put in some effort, I just know it!"

Then comes the turning point; that chance encounter which breaks the spell of delusion and makes you realize that the object of your affections wasn't worth the effort. That moment came for me when I turned on my Wii U for the first time in several months. I hated all the waiting... waiting for the system to boot, waiting for games to start, waiting to switch to the Wii mode. I hated the gamepad, which felt less like a controller and more like an anchor tied around my wrist. I hated Splatoon's infuriating last boss DJ Octavius, who took all the happy memories I had of the game, tossed them into a dumpster, and set them on fire. I hated that Nintendo had the temerity to sell us a three hundred dollar console which on its best day could perform at the level of the twelve year old Xbox 360. (Now you're playing with power... minimal power!)

The only conclusion I could come to from this experience was that the Wii U was a steaming turd, pushed out of the colon of a game company which let the success of the Wii and DS go to its head. Most gamers were smart enough to recognize this pile of hubris for what it was and walked around it. As for me... well, I'll be cleaning bits of Wii U from the bottom of my shoes for a few years. My sincere apologies to anyone who I convinced to follow in my footsteps. Also, try an old toothbrush soaked in soapy water... it works wonders.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Epi-Tomy of Cool

Okay, you've been getting a lot of bad news from me lately, so let's lighten the mood a bit. Recently, I was alerted to this brilliant invention by a hacker named Matt Brailsford. You've got to see this thing in action to believe it.


Matt took apart a Tomy "Turnin' Turbo" toy, added a Raspberry Pi running the OutRun arcade game, then hooked it all up to a tiny display. The steering wheel and shifter are used to control your car, and that would probably be cool enough, but wait, it gets better! See the instrument panel just above the wheel? Matt added extra hardware which reads the values from the game, then accurately displays them on the panel's LED gauges and counters. When you speed up, the tachometer fills and the speedometer rapidly counts upward. When you crash into a palm tree, well, the opposite happens.

This portable arcade cabinet is a ballsy bit of engineering and one of the best hacks I've seen this year. YouTube user Han Neko describes it as "superlative in every way," and I'm inclined to agree... it really doesn't get much better than this.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

For Better or Miiverse...


...till death do us part.

The rumors have been flying for a while, but now, it's official... Miiverse will be ending in seventy-two days. Actually, seventy-one days by the time I post this. 

From a business perspective, it makes sense to stick a fork in Miiverse, because the two consoles that support it are pretty old, and Nintendo is especially eager put the Wii U and its shabby sales behind it. Past that, I don't think Nintendo ever wanted to get into the social networking business, especially since it needed to spend more time (and by extension, money) moderating posts than "anything goes" sites like Twitter and Tumblr.

From a customer service perspective, the decision stinks. Nintendo has been putting the screws to its fans for a couple of years now, abandoning the Wii U while making it more difficult than necessary to purchase its successor, the Switch. Speaking of system shortages, it was damned near impossible to buy an NES Classic last year, and there's every indication that Nintendo won't meet the demand for the Super NES Classic this year. 

Now there's this... the imminent demise of a service that gave players a fresh new way to interact with their games and each other. Microsoft and Sony let you take snapshots of games and share them with friends on Twitter, but Miiverse gave players the chance to react to games as they played them, with only a brief pause in the action. The service also let players express themselves artistically, with advice for other gamers, comics poking fun at what they'd just seen, and stunningly detailed illustrations which demonstrate just how much could be accomplished with Miiverse's simple art tools.

After November 8th, there will still be social networks and art galleries, but there will be nothing like Miiverse. It's a bitter pill for anyone who used the service regularly for the last five years.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Re-Boxed!

I'd like to thank reader Chopstick Samurai for supplying me with a fresh Xbox, ending the dilemma described in my last blog entry. It's already softmodded and everything! I'll have to wait until next month to buy a larger hard drive and really put the system through its paces, but in the meantime, I've got a handful of Xbox games I can throw at it, including a few that won't run on its successor, the Xbox 360. It'll be fun getting reacquainted with this machine after a several year hiatus.

(So what's gonna happen to the other Xbox? Well, I do have that mod chip coming in the mail. I'll be less hesitant to attempt to install it now that I have a back up.)

Another classic game system I've been spending some QT with is the GameCube. Well, kinda... it's more like the GameCube half of the Nintendo Wii. I just find it more convenient, as the Nintendont app can run games straight off an SD card, rather than needing tiny, fragile discs. Beyond that, the Wii's component cable costs five dollars, and the same cable for the GameCube is... significantly more. Heh.


"You're... me!"
"I knew you were gonna say that."
(image from YouTube)
Sorry, I'm babbling. Anyway, I've been spending the bulk of my Cube time with TimeSplitters: Future Perfect. First-person shooters aren't my bag, but this one feels like it was designed to let newbs like myself dip a toe into the genre. It's neither too challenging nor too complicated, and there's a charming, slightly corny sense of humor that makes the game less intimidating than it otherwise would be. Sergeant Cortez (that Vin Diesel-looking dude in the picture on the right) leaps from one time period to the next, meeting goofballs like a tacky secret agent and a dimwitted goth girl, and occasionally jumps into rifts to join forces- and trade barbs- with himself. Imagine a head-on collision between Halo and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, and you'd be on the right track.

I'm also using my Wii as a substitute Super NES, because it's far from likely that I'll be able to find a Super NES Classic this holiday season. Feh, whatever. The Wii is more than capable of running its games, and I don't have to pay eighty dollars and trade elbows with some old ladies to get one. I'm not AS angry about the limited supply as some folks, but knowing that Nintendo is going down the same route as it did with the NES Classic really chaps my culo.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

To Error 16 is... Frustrating

Yeah, it's that damned Xbox again. I'm not even sure why this is bothering me so much. My usual pattern of behavior for a recent gaming purchase is that I obsess over it until it arrives, mess with it for a couple of days, then lose interest and forget it ever existed. Unfortunately, if the plaything in question isn't working, that pattern quickly becomes a DO...LOOP with me permanently stuck in the obsession stage, because I was never able to advance to the other two lines in the program. 

All I can think about right now is the Xbox I can't play, even though I've got plenty of other game systems, and even though repairing this particular console will cost more than it's worth. I've got a mod chip coming in the mail, but all the stuff I'll need to install it (flux, desoldering braid, a better soldering iron, etc. etc.), will actually cost me MORE than just buying another damn Xbox. I might be able to hack into the hard drive and reinstall the dash using a hot swap, but I'd need an old desktop computer to make this happen. Normally these junkers pop up like weeds, but now that I could actually use one, they're nowhere to be found.

Knowing this Xbox could be repaired without having the resources to do it is a special kind of agonizing. It's like water torture for nerds.

Hopefully I'll be able to tear myself from this unhealthy fixation long enough to write something people might want to read. First things first... Sonic Mania is out, and it's getting rave reviews from critics, fans, and pretty much anyone else who's ever enjoyed a Sonic game. I'm watching footage of it right now, and it's a lot like the original trilogy on the Genesis, except everything's just a bit brighter and more ambitious than it was in the 1990s. Rings shine with a golden luster, the animation has doubled, and there's scaling, rotation, and even occasional polygonal effects that would have been well beyond the reach of Sega's most popular game system.


image from videogamer.com
I've had friends claim this is the Sonic game the Sega Saturn should have gotten, and maybe the system could have handled it. Realistically though, the late 1990s wasn't the right climate for Sonic Mania... it would have been skinned alive by magazines like Next Generation, which panned 2D games like this by reflex. No, 2017 is the perfect time for this one, now that side-scrollers are back in style and players are hungrier than ever for the old-school Sonic experience. (I'm not sure why anyone would want to go back to Blue Spheres, but it's here too, just in case your misplaced nostalgia demands it.)

There was something else... oh yeah! Now that I've got a TurboGrafx-16 emulator on my 3DS, I've been spending a lot of time with Ninja Spirit. This Irem release is a bit like The Legend of Kage, and a bit more like Ninja Gaiden, except it distances itself from those two games with a more versatile weapon system. Your hero is armed with a katana, throwing stars, explosives, and a sickle, and can switch between them to better suit the player's fighting style and the situation at hand. After you've powered up these four weapons and have two shadow ninjas trailing behind you, the screen quickly becomes choked with shurikens, explosions, and the corpses of fallen ninjas. 


Irem sure knew how to make a strong first
impression with bosses like this one, didn't they?
(image from arcade-museum.com)
The constant carnage is almost too much for the TurboGrafx to handle, with noticeable slowdown and flicker. On the other hand, the beefier arcade version might be too much for you to handle, since one hit is all it takes to bring down your warrior. Whether you choose the console or arcade version of Ninja Spirit, you're sure to enjoy yourself. Just try to resist the temptation to smash your controller with a hammer while playing it.