Friday, January 22, 2021

Inactive Visions

So. We've got a new president now (thank goodness), and he was sworn in on...well, this.

image from The Wrap

That Bible is hella thick and old. It looks less like the religious text you'd bring with you to church on Sunday and more like a weapon you'd use for protection while invading Dracula's castle. Then again, considering the last occupant of the White House, Biden could use all the protection against unholy nightmares he can get. Better bring along a sack full of garlic and stakes (not steaks with catsup; the last guy liked those) while you're at it.

image from the Castlevania
Fandom Wiki

Anyway. The eShop sale mentioned in a previous post is over, and my take from it was surprisingly slim... just Pure Pool, Panzer Dragoon, A Short Hike, and Clubhouse Games, with a copy of Captain Toad I managed to get at a steep discount, because Wal-Mart accidentally sold the game for the price of its DLC, and members of Cheap Ass Gamer were quick to flip all the copies they purchased during this brief mistake.

I haven't dug too deeply into my bounty yet, but I did leaf through Clubhouse Games and was slightly underwhelmed. It's polished yet bland, like a shellacked saltine cracker, and that's pretty much exactly what I should have expected from it. However, the selection of titles is unappetizing compared to its Nintendo DS predecessor, packed to overflowing with board games and card games I'm not likely to play. It seemed like the DS version was a little more creative, including a Jenga-like game of balance and the slightly nerve-wracking Soda Shake.

Also, Bowling was a bit of a letdown, at least from the perspective of a Switch Lite owner. I already have a couple of bowling games for the system, and the best of these, Strike!, wisely uses a vertical aspect ratio, giving you a better view of the alley and more room to swipe your finger for throws. Clubhouse Games Bowling is played with the system held horizontally, and I can't tell you how many throws I've guffed because of the limited finger real estate. At least the impact of the ball against the pins is more satisfying here, with a loud thunderous crash, compared to the unremarkable clacking of pins in Strike! and the toothless, tinkling sound effects in Knock 'Em Down Bowling.

The improbably good DS
game Tony Hawk's American
Sk8land, created by Vicarious
Visions. Guess we won't be
seeing much of that action
anymore, thanks to Bobby
Kotick.
(image from DarkZero.co.uk)

There's something else worth mentioning... oh yes, Vicarious Visions is being absorbed by the Blizzard half of Activision-Blizzard. I'm not just saddened by this news as a fan of the Game Boy Advance, where many of their games were published, but also a little mystified. VV was one of the few game companies that could turn the sow's ear of a television license into the silk purse of a respectable handheld video game, and their specialized talents will be wasted at a publisher best known for World of Warcraft. 

There's still room in this industry for a game company that can make entertaining handheld games based on cartoons and movies, really! Just look at Wayforward, which has made it their bread and butter for the last twenty years. I'd personally just leave well enough alone and let Vicarious Visions do what they do best, but hey, what do I know? (More than Bobby Kotick, the guy who cratered the Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero series with a decade of oversaturation and inferior products.)

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Besieged with Choices

"There was a poem
in ancient Rome
about a dog
who found two bones
he picked the one
he licked the other
he went in circles
he dropped dead!"

Freedom of Choice, DEVO

Can't decide! Brain aneurysm!
(image from IGN)
(also, Psyduck looks less like a Pokemon here
and more like a bit character from a Munch
painting.)

People like choice, but they hate deciding between two equally appealing choices. That's the dilemma I'm currently facing with the eShop New Year's sale, which offers a whole lot of appealing choices and only so much money to stretch between them. Do I get Clubhouse Games, packed with over fifty different diversions? None of these insubstantial games would be especially tempting on their own, but when you pack them all together in one package and cut the price to the lowest it's ever been, you start to take it a lot more seriously.

Perhaps I should go one step further and get SmileBASIC, a programming language which lets you download hundreds of games or even create your own. The promise of infinite gameplay for a paltry seventeen dollars is hard to ignore, but then you realize that a programming language also demands an investment of your time... time to download the fruit of others' labors, and time needed to learn that specific dialect of BASIC. Let's not forget that without a keyboard, typing in those programs is going to take a whole lot longer on the Switch than it would a personal computer.

No no, that's starting to sound more like work than play. Maybe I should snap up some of the games in the Sega Ages collection, currently being sold at healthy discounts. Maybe recently released indie titles like A Short Hike and CrossCode (a dual stick shooter/RPG mash-up?) would be a better investment. Then again, I could always set my sights a little higher and buy one of the big budget games  on sale, like Ghostbusters, or Crysis, or Assassin's Creed IV, or Borderlands: The Handsome Collection. I've got to assume that Borderlands 2 would be a much better experience on the Switch than it was the Vita, which could barely keep up with its demands.

Perhaps I should just save what money I got from the stimulus and put it into the computer I bought at a thrift store a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, that comes with its own tough choices... should I stick with the small form factor case the system came in, saving space but also sacrificing expandability? Or should I risk transplanting it into the more spacious case I purchased at an estate sale last year? There'd be plenty of room for a video card in there, but it's also plenty big and bulky.

I can drag my feet on the computer for a while, but with the New Year's sale ending on January 21st, I've got a whole lot of choices on the Switch and not much time or money to make them.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Where We're Going, We Do Need Pictures

Hey! I got a new phone with a thirteen megapixel camera, so it's time to take some snapshots!

I wound up with these Sega Genesis games quite by accident when I purchased a lot on ShopGoodwill to rebuild my library a couple of years ago, but they seem a lot more relevant now. Rest well, gentlemen. You may be gone from this plane of existence, but we'll always have you in digital form, as well as thousands of game show reruns and Slim-Fast commercials.

(Fun fact! This was not Alex Trebek's first brush with electronic gaming! He was the host of video game show Starcade in one of the pilots!)

In cheerier news, I went to the bustling city of Tucson the other day for some long overdue thrifting. Some of what I found in the Bookman's, Goodwills, and pawn shops in the area was exciting, but not nearly as thrilling as this.

I leaned out the window while waiting for my aunt to finish her shopping, and caught this out of the corner of my eye. Could that silver wedge in the Wal-Mart parking lot really be a DeLorean, made famous in the Back to the Future trilogy?

Yes! Yes, it really could be! It's the same model of car featured in two classic movies and that annoyingly prescient Pepsi commercial sandwiched between them! It obviously wasn't showroom quality, with occasional scrapes along its metal frame, but it was nevertheless incredible to see one of these up close and personal. By the way, did you know the trunk of this car is in the front? I wondered why the driver was piling groceries onto his engine block until my aunt explained the car's design.

Anyway, here was what I managed to find in the Tucson trip. Like I said, there's nothing here that would generate DeLorean-caliber excitement, but there are a few things in this picture that made me pretty happy. The best catch by a mile was this HP ProDesk, found at a thrift on Speedway for thirty-five dollars. It wouldn't boot when I first tested it, refusing to go to POST or do anything beyond lighting a few lamps on the front of the case, but unplugging the hard drive seemed to fix that problem. (Thanks to reader nightrnr for that suggestion, by the way!)

I was thinking of using this as my entertainment PC in place of the already capable ThinkCentre I bought last year. However, as it turns out, this HP is more than twice as powerful as my main desktop, the Acer I threw into a custom case seven years ago. The original plan was to replace that machine with all new parts, loaded into a spiffy case I found at an estate sale last fall. However, that less than generous stimulus check (six hundred dollars? For eight months?) makes me think I should just drop an SSD and a video card into the ProDesk and call it a day.

All right, onto the video games. PS-Pickins were disconcertingly slim at the two Bookman's stores I visited... it seems like the pandemic and the boredom that came with it gave people a new appreciation for a handheld typically ignored by the masses. Games that had once been easy to find were suddenly far less plentiful and more expensive, although I did notice a few random Japanese imports, like Daisenryaku (given a chibi, Advance Wars-like overhaul on the PSP), Shin Megami Tensei, and Densha De Go. Having no need for train simulations or RPGs with an impenetrable amount of Japanese, I left them behind.

What I did buy was a couple of 3DS games, Super Mario Maker and Project X Zone 2. Critics claimed that the former title wasn't as good as its Wii U counterpart, and I'd have a hard time arguing the point. It seems more humble and constrained than the console version, even judging from the limited time I've spent with it. I strongly doubt there's ever going to be a situation where I jump into a warp pipe and find a discotheque waiting for me there. 

Project X Zone 2 has more promise, although it's more for the lulz than the gameplay. It's a crossover game with characters from Sega, Namco, and Capcom, including such deep cuts as Saturn spokesman and psychotic judo master Segata Sanshiro. Does it matter that it's a turn-based strategy game, a genre for which I have little interest? Not really, as long as it's not the tire fire Cross Edge was. Does it matter that Segata Sanshiro had no presence in the United States, beyond a write-up in Tips and Tricks? Nope, he's here anyway, and I can't wait to find him.

The other goodies include a tiny MP3 player for those lengthy trips to Sierra Vista and a cable that will let me finally shake a decent image out of my Sega Genesis. Yes yes, I'm sure an OSSC or a Framemeister would give me a better picture. Anyone care to break their piggy banks and buy one for me? Yeah, I thought so.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

The Birthday Post, 2021 Edition

This birthday brings with it both relief (I survived 2020!) and a sobering thought. The characters Mai Shiranui and Cammy White are close to exactly my age. According to official Fatal Fury and Street Fighter canon, Mai was born on January 1st, 1974, while Cammy arrived five days later on the 6th. Note that they were intended to be the youngest members of their respective casts, with Street Fighter leads Ken and Ryu dating back to the 1960s and Zangief going back even farther than that, to the 1950s.

I'm gonna take a stab in the dark and
presume she's no longer a hair over a
hundred pounds, either.

Cammy matured in later entries of the Street Fighter series, with more confidence and a posh British accent, but Mai seems to be preserved in amber, looking and acting pretty much just like she did in her 1992 debut. By the way, both Street Fighter II and the first Fatal Fury debuted thirty years ago... if that makes you feel old, just remember that you're in good company.

What else? Christmas and my birthday treated me well... I've got some pocket cash, Bookman's credit coming out of my ears, and a second Genesis Mini in case I need a spare. I'm dangerously addicted to Starlink, even without the silly toys sold separately. The Satiator is finally out, and at $259, my Saturn's need for games on solid state storage will have to go unsatiated. (I mean come on, even the Analogue Duo doesn't cost that much, and it's a full friggin' system!) That is all.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Just One More Thing...

For my money, this guy is the better eccentric
detective on Comcast's payroll, not that
annoying Monk dude.
(image from Medium)

It seems someone found the early prototype version of Sonic the Hedgehog, with a different set of stages and a ton of bugs that would ultimately be squashed in the final release. (These days, they'd probably just release the game as it is and fix the bugs a year later with patches.) Anyway, here it is if you're interested, courtesy of the Hidden Palace.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled end of year drinking and debauchery, already in progress.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

This Crappy Year: 2020 in Review

With a contagious disease costing people both their lives and their livelihoods, and people refusing to believe that said disease even exists, the best part of 2020 is that very little of it currently remains. Fortunately, gaming brought some good news to a year which could desperately use it. Here now are the highlights from the past twelve months.

JANUARY

The toughest game you'll ever love/loathe.
I learned both the pleasure and the pain of Dead Cells, a side-scrolling action title that's equal parts Castlevania, Dark Souls, and that time you foolishly accepted a dare to put your tongue on a frozen metal pole. Preservationists uncovered the rumored Super NES version of Coolly Skunk, which was eventually released for the Playstation with improved graphics and a slightly different title. Sadly, this thoroughly unremarkable mascot, unfit to shine Sonic's sneakers, remains unimpressive even by the humble standards of a 16-bit console, proving that a skunk by a different name still stinks.

FEBRUARY

We've known for years that the Game Boy Advance can play Doom, but some hackers proved that it could play the game better, touching up the graphics while adding features missing from Activision's official release. Speaking of things that are both portable and pointless, Hasbro's Tiger division brought back several of its dedicated handhelds from the early 1990s. They're exactly the same as you remember them despite twenty-five years of technological progress, but that hasn't stopped tinkerers armed with a Raspberry Pi from bridging the gap to the 21st century...

MARCH

Ken Shimura, one half of the comedy duo Kato-Chan and Ken-Chan which inspired our own America's Funniest Videos, was one of the early victims of COVID-19. This had impact on me as a gamer, as JJ and Jeff, the Americanized version of their video game, was one of the first titles I played on the Turbografx-16, and influenced my overall opinion of the console. Seriously, the bulk of the system's library were simple, colorful action titles originally based on some Japanese property. Remember the pack-in Keith Courage? That was really some kid's cartoon called Mashin Eiyuden Wataru, with the characters and storyline given a macho, US-friendly makeover.

Is that Doogie Howser?
I also went to bat for killer apps getting ported to other formats- it used to happen all the time, guys, don't blow a gasket over it- and complained at length about the Commodore Amiga using single button controllers for most of its games. Yes, that was thirty years ago. I'm still frustrated by it, because the Amiga was released in the same year as the NES and had advanced 16-bit features that lent themselves especially well to video games. Considering the direction the video game industry was moving- away from simple arcade challenges and toward complex adventures with a need for more input- Commodore should have known better. Nobody was going to want to play Mortal Kombat with an Atari joystick eight years later.

APRIL

I finally broke down and bought a Switch, a decision I'm still questioning months later. It's not that the system itself is bad; it's just that the Lite variant isn't well suited to many of its games, with a small screen that makes text difficult to read. I'll be complaining about this issue repeatedly in future posts.

My first game for the system was Hyper Sentinel, an offshoot of the Uridium series where you skim over the tops of massive battleships, steadily weakening their defenses with laser blasts. It was definitely not the reason I bought a Switch, but that fifteen cent price tag was impossible to resist.

Speaking of irresistible purchases, the price of the Neo-Geo Mini dropped to thirty dollars on Amazon, so you know I had to buy one of those. I'm sure it was a disappointment for one hundred and thirty dollars, but for a small fraction of the original price, its flaws become a lot easier to ignore.

MAY

Johnny Turbo's Arcade was a focal point for this month, with reviews of a half-dozen Data East games featured in one post. (I got a lot of flack of panning Bad Dudes, by the way, but I'm standing by that review... it wasn't great in 1988, and this paper-thin beat 'em up sucks even more thirty years later.) I also took a second look at the Neo-Geo Mini and picked five of my favorite games from the venerable Pac-Man series. (Venerable: it's more fun to use in a sentence than "old.")

JUNE

Chuck E. Cheese, the famous amusement center and unwitting inspiration for the Five Night's At Freddy's franchise, went bankrupt this month. I used to love this place when I was a kid, but the rat and I went our separate ways a long time ago, so I'm not too broken up over it. They could have had the decency not to buy out the more adult-focused Peter Piper Pizza and drag them down to Chapter 11 hell with them, though...

Take four, they're small.
I also found a cache of rare GameCube games at a bookstore in Sierra Vista, and first learned about the Game Gear Micro, a revival of Sega's handheld from the 1990s with a form factor best described as "Lilliputian." Seriously, this thing be tiny. It's also expensive, costing fifty dollars and containing just four games. It's a slightly better deal than the recently released Game and Watch with only three games, but at least that has a screen you can actually see with the naked eye.

JULY

Not much happened on Kiblitzing this month, with just four posts. One of them was a detailed comparison of all the Sega Genesis ports of Street Fighter II: Championship Edition, including the lackluster prototype by Opera House. ("Opera HOOOOOUSE!") Even if you weren't happy with the version Capcom ultimately released, you'd have to agree it's a good sight better than what Opera House had created for them.

Also, I started building an entertainment system out of a beater PC I bought for five dollars at a garage sale, and warned readers to check the batteries in their handheld systems. Turns out they don't last forever, and neither will your PSP if you leave a bad battery inside it.

AUGUST

The entertainment system I built in the previous month wasn't all that impressive at first, but it got better, thanks to the addition of a video card, an SSD drive, and a high performance CPU. Now it's my favorite way to play old arcade and console games, putting my Raspberry Pi into retirement. I'm sure I'll find some use for it eventually, if I can find it under all that dust...

In less pleasant news, it turns out that SNK has been making stealthy edits to its old Neo-Geo games, removing references to Taiwan to appease the Chinese government. This got me pretty hot under the collar, but it may not be a problem for long now that SNK is under new management...

SEPTEMBER

Okay, we're finally in the "ber" months! September marked the end of the 3DS line of handhelds. I have fond memories of this system, although a lot of that comes down to social features like Streetpass and Miiverse. It was way too much fun busting that stupid pink rabbit's chops in front of a live audience. (And oh yeah, some of the games were fun, too.)

Not having too much trouble keeping THESE
in stock, I see.
Nintendo pulled its usual artificial scarcity BS by limiting the production of Super Mario All-Stars 3D to just six months. Once March 2021 arrives, you won't be able to buy this collection in stores or on the eShop. The Game and Watch referenced earlier in this post was announced this month, but judging from personal experience, it doesn't look like anyone who wants it will have trouble finding one. That's if they want one... even hackers have had trouble finding uses for this machine beyond what Nintendo intended, thanks to limited onboard storage.

OCTOBER

Night in the Woods was everything I expected and just a little bit more, exploring the decay of middle America that the rest of the media seems content to ignore. Sony ended support for its legacy consoles, including the Playstation Vita, which is just one year older than the PS4, and Michael Pachter opened his big dumb yap again, suggesting that Nintendo put an end to the Switch's docking feature. You know, the defining trait of the system that makes the text in Switch games large enough to actually read. Alex Hutchinson also said something stupid, but it's very hard to say something more stupid than Michael Pachter... he's had years of practice.

NOVEMBER

A prototype of the deeply flawed Sega Nomad was revealed by Sega, looking a bit like a high-class Game Gear. By the way, we deserve a portable Sega Genesis that actually works, with games that sound like Genesis games and not funeral dirges. Somebody get on that.

The big news for this month, aside from the bewildering acquisition of SNK by the Saudi government, is that someone found a way to port Atomiswave arcade games to the Sega Dreamcast. Not all of these games are great (Demolish Fist is very not great), but it's nevertheless gratifying to know that the Dreamcast had a little more gas left in the tank, and could have lasted a couple more years if Sega hadn't been so eager to abandon it.

Also, Capcom announced a mini console, as if we didn't have enough of those already. It looks idiotic, like Mega Man's love child with an old IBM PC, but at least it's full of nifty games. At a retail price of $210, it had better be.

DECEMBER

Oh hey, that's right now! The prototype version of Superman for the Playstation was recently released. It's entirely different from the Nintendo 64 version, and consequently less bad. Would I call it good? No, let's not go that far. It sure does exist, though.

Apparently Seph's aim has gotten rusty
after twenty-three years.
Also of note: Sephiroth nearly put a hole in Mario with his impractically long katana, Capcom Arcade Stadium was announced for the Switch, I hacked Super Mario Bros. so Bowser's fireballs weren't ass-backwards, and the NX hoax from a few years ago wasn't nearly as hoaxy as we all thought. Yeah, that was an official Nintendo design according to documents leaked from the company, although it never went any farther than brainstorming sessions. 

Also, 2020 ends in just three days, which is the best news I've heard all year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Which Switch? What Switch? When Switch?

So hey, remember that image of an early Switch prototype with thumbsticks buried into the screen that got everyone worried about the finished product, but turned out to be a fake? It might not have been as "fake" as we thought, according to Twitter user Forest of Illusion. Here's an image he posted from the latest Nintendo "gigaleak," featuring... a handheld console with thumbsticks buried into the screen.

So it wasn't real, but it was an official concept, and it came much closer to becoming a reality than any of us would have liked. Look, I get enough fingerprints on my Switch Lite as it is... a system with a screen that swallows the front of the unit whole would have been a total grease magnet. What's most alarming is that this design dates back to 2014, suggesting that Nintendo had known the Wii U was a dead man walking and was eager to put it out of its misery just two years after its launch. Special thanks to Game Rant for the scoop.

"What have you been playing on the actual Switch?," you don't say, but I'm saying for you so I have an excuse to pad out this blog post. Fortunately, Nintendo has the answer to this and many other not-so-pressing questions on their year in review web site. Here's what I played the most:

I know, Highrise Heroes: Word Challenge sounds lame, and if you judged it entirely by its plot and a synthy soundtrack plucked from a 1990s drama on Lifetime, I guess it would be. However, it provided many hours of word-hunting, debris-clearing, lab chimp-rescuing entertainment. I'm a sucker for these kinds of games, as evidenced by my previous addictions to Alphabears and Bookworm. Highrise Heroes' only major problem is that it doesn't know when to make a graceful exit... ninety levels is a bit more than anyone really needs, and the bonus challenges were completely unnecessary. Thank goodness they were also completely optional.

Moving down the list, we have Smash Bros. Ultimate and Sydney Hunter and the Curse of the Mayan (Curse of the Mayan what?). I'm sure we're all familiar with Smash Bros. at this point, and this was a pretty good entry in the series, giving with one hand (Terry Bogard is a downloadable character, and that's pretty freaking awesome) and taking with the other (the new story mode feels like busywork, and has got nothin' on Subspace Emissary or Smash Run). 

Sydney Hunter was the big surprise for me, a side-scrolling action-adventure game that plays like a hybrid of retro classics from the past, without borrowing too heavily from any of them. It's a little like Montezuma's Revenge, but with more variety and a goal beyond racking up a high score. It's a bit like indie hit La Mulana, but more fun to play and not nearly as obtuse. It's got some classic Castlevania in there but there's fewer cheap deaths and more freedom in exploring the intricately crafted stages. If you enjoyed any of the previously mentioned games (and don't mind wading through an ill-considered tribute to Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel's Castle about halfway through), you ought to buy Sydney Hunter the next time it's on sale.

Next we have Far Cry: Zelda Edition- er, I mean Breath of the Wild, and Steamworld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech. Breath of the Wild didn't click with me... it's a little too vast, too open-ended, and too aimless, and the fragile weapons drove me bananas. I might go back to it if I can get a Zelda Amiibo that will keep me well stocked with swords, but even that's doubtful... I'm sure I could find better uses of my time, particularly with all the Switch games I've purchased but never touched. (Someday, Starlink, someday.)

At the end is Steamworld Quest, a fun if somewhat linear RPG that uses custom-built decks of cards in its combat system. It's hard to fault any part of this game... the attractive, painterly graphics remind me of Vanillaware's best work, the characters are charming, with the eager, lunkheaded soldier Armilly leading her eccentric friends into battle, and the card combat is entertaining, if occasionally frustrating. (One fun trick the game likes to pull on you: incapacitating one of your fighters, then continually dealing cards only he or she can play. Gee, thanks a lump.) Still, I suppose it's telling that I never finished this one, and was never inclined to return to it.

As for how much time I spent playing my Switch, here are the deets:

My use started in April when I bought the system, crested in May, and precipitously dropped by the end of the summer, likely due to my mayfly-like attention span and the Switch losing its new console smell. 

Right now I'm at just four hours for this month, which is slightly concerning. Hopefully things will pick up next year... I'd hate to think that I spent two hundred dollars on something that kept me entertained for four months.