Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Fun with Pronouns, or I My Mi Mine

That Mi Box I mentioned in a previous post arrived a few days ago, and in my opinion, it's gone a long way toward redeeming Android as a gaming format. Sure, there are a lot of apps on the Google Play Store that won't install on this palm-sized device, but it's just dandy for emulation, handling the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of gaming better than the Playstation TV had. Games load faster, run more smoothly, and work with more controllers than they do on Sony's failed set-top box. Needless to say, it utterly steamrolls the CX-919 II that vexed me a couple of years back. 

Mi Box, he box and she box...
(image from Anandtech)
I guess the moral of the story is this: if you're going to turn to Android for your casual entertainment needs, for the love of Pete buy a system with strong reviews, that you can actually find in a store. The Mi Box isn't entirely flawless- it's slow to respond to voice input and there's no dedicated menu button on its remote control- but at $69 dollars with a fistful of free streaming trials, it's a far better deal than the NES Classic is at $60. (If you can find one. Trust me, you can't.)

I've been using the Mi Box to get reacquainted with the NES library, and I've learned a few things from the experience. At the top of that list is the realization that Nintendo's first home console no longer has the hold on me it did when I was younger. For the longest time, I was convinced that the Nintendo Entertainment System was the best system ever made, but now, I'm having second thoughts. Frankly, video games have come a long way since the NES. It's hard not to think of the machine as a little dated in hindsight, whether it's the repetitive tiled graphics, or the unpalatable color palette, or the cruel sadism in games like Batman.

Image from HG101
I mean, come on! Who designs stages like this? A big jerk, that's who. And it's not like this level (or the game in general) gets any easier from here. Back in my teens, I would have pounded my fists on this brick wall for an hour or two, but now, I just don't have the patience. In the increasingly relevant words of Danny Glover, I'm getting too old for this shit.

There was some other stuff I was going to write about, wasn't there? A retrospective of last year's posts, maybe a review of that Hori Fighting Commander I bought for King of Fighters XIV. Maybe that'll happen later. Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Shake Your Move Thing

During a jaunt to Sierra Vista, I picked up a pretty sweet prize at a thrift store in the area... a 42 inch television set for ten dollars. They said it could be repaired with a $25 part, but what they DIDN'T say is how difficult it would be to open, or how much space it would take up in my house. So I've got this behemoth propped up on the side of my entertainment center, covering nearly half of it, while I figure out a way to pry off the back cover and replace what's broken. Maybe this wasn't such a sweet deal after all...

In "better use of my money" news, I scored a Playstation Move controller for seven bucks; not a bad catch when you consider how much it costs online. Evidently it's forward compatible with the Playstation 4, turning what would have been a quickly forgotten novelty into a sought after component for fans of virtual reality. VR's not my bag, though... I wanted the Move for one game and one game alone.

Several years ago, I wrote a brief review of Deadstorm Pirates, a swashbuckling shooter I found at a Peter Piper Pizza in Nogales. I took an instant liking to the game, and made it my mission to bring it home as soon as I heard there was a Playstation 3 version.

Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that Deadstorm Pirates is a front-loaded game, with all the thrills packed into the first stage. I haven't played through the whole thing, but the next level is a decidedly less exciting trip down a river with crowds of giant enemy crabs along the shore. They're sick of that meme from 2006, and they want revenge! Hopefully the gameplay will get better in the next three stages, but I wouldn't bet on the lousy acting and script improving much. Yes, Captain Obvious-beard, keep your eyes on the crabs and shoot them some more. Thanks for that clarification.

Namco Shooting Collection comes with two other games, Time Crisis 4 and the headliner, Razing Storm. I don't know that much about the Time Crisis series (I was always a Virtua Cop guy myself), but from what I can tell Razing Storm is vastly different from the science-fiction tinged espionage in the previous four games, with bulky, heavily armored mercenaries blowing up robots and turning buildings into rubble. It's Michael Bay meets Gears of War, and I strongly suspect Namco designed it that way to appeal specifically to an American audience... possibly after some arm-twisting by its parent company Bandai.

Time Crisis 4 is a more traditional Time Crisis experience, except with swarms of deadly insects called Terrorbites added to push the limits of the Playstation 3 hardware and the player's shooting skills. Personally, I'd rather be shooting terrorists than genetically modified bugs, but the series was over ten years old at that point and I guess the developers had to throw in something new to keep the fans surprised.

The Move wand (right) and optional
Navigation controller.
(image from TechReport)
Let's talk for a minute about the Move controller itself. It was offered as Sony's answer to the wireless controller packaged with the Wii, but it's not nearly as intuitive. While the Wiimote was mostly a point and click affair, navigating menus with the Move requires you to hold down a trigger under the controller, THEN flick the wand in one of four directions, THEN release the trigger, THEN press a special button on the top of the Move to confirm your selection. Tiny action buttons on the top of the wand and recessed start and select buttons along the side don't help matters. Start and select in particular are so hard to see that it's easy to forget they exist at all!

To its credit, the Move works pretty well once you've learned how to use it, and if the Playstation Eye camera has a clear view of the globe on top of the wand. It's accurate enough that you can target specific areas of enemies in the three previously mentioned light gun games, and it makes for a serviceable pool cue in Hustle Kings, letting you strike the ball with natural arm movements rather than filling a power meter and tapping a button. I'm still absolutely terrible at pool, but at least I'm having more fun playing it!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Once More into the Droid

Okay, maybe that's not as clever as Parish's "Farewell, My Conker Buyin'," but hey, you'll have to work with what I give you. Anyway, after months of slumming with the Playstation TV to get my retro gaming fix, I've decided to take another chance with an Android device. I'm not taking chances this time, though... instead of some cheapie cheap stick from and made with parts unknown, I'm getting the favorably rated, extensively tested Xiaomi Mi Box. The videos I've seen suggest that it's powerful enough to handle both emulation and Android exclusives, which is pretty much all I demand from it. The wealth of television apps on the Mi Box is the icing on an already tasty cake.

I'm glad Jeremy mentioning the rising price of classic game collecting, because it's a subject I wanted to tackle here on the blog. I wanted to plot out a line graph detailing the price of software for a typical system over a twenty-five year period, but I would need concrete data to validate it, and that information isn't easy to come by. Prices vary wildly depending on the seller, and there's not a common consensus about how much a particular game should cost. You might be able to get a ballpark figure from talking to a dozen retailers, but it'd be a pretty wide ballpark. Now try getting that same figure from five years ago, or ten, or twenty. It's a little slice of impossible!

One thing I can confidently say is that the time to purchase games for a system you enjoy is a few years after its successor is launched, or (in the case of non-starters like the Saturn or Vita) a year after its manufacturer abandons it. In other words, if you like the Xbox 360 or the Playstation 3, the time to start your collection for those systems is NOW NOW NOW. Don't wait. Scour your local pawn shops, thrift shops, yard sales, and Craigslistings for the games you want, because they're going to dry up in a few more years. 

Take it from someone who's been collecting since the 1990s... you want to grab this stuff while everyone else is eager to move on to the next big thing. When they get nostalgic for the games they left behind- and they always do- you'll already have them.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Gaming on the Cheap

Just a quick update, because it's been a while and I really need to keep my writer's pencil sharpened. I picked up a handful of video games over the past week... some came from Wal-Mart and the rest were found in a thrift store, but they've all got one thing in common: they were less than ten dollars each. 

The Wal-Mart games were Sonic All-Stars Transformed for Xbox 360 ($5) and Dead or Alive 5 Last Round for Playstation 4 ($7). Granted, I already bought the former game for my PC during a Humble Bundle sale, but what the heck... for a fiver it can't hurt to have it on a console as well. DOA5 at seven dollars is a much better deal than the forty it currently costs on the Playstation Store, and it adds much-needed bulk to my PS4 fighting game collection.

On the thrift store side of things, we've got the longbox version of Battle Arena Toshinden, All-Star Slammin' Super D-Ball, and X-Men Legends, all for a dollar each. Toshinden was an early system seller for the Playstation, loaded with the flash largely absent from the original Virtua Fighter. However, even in 1995, some players saw through the cutting-edge graphics to the mediocre gameplay underneath. Twenty two years and three console generations later, it's impossible not to notice how much this sucks. 

I played this with a Sega Saturn joypad, and while that controller can make a good fighter even better, even it can't save a lousy one from itself. Special moves in Toshinden are a gamble, coming out roughly half the time and forcing the player to crush the D-pad with his thumb in a vain attempt to compensate. By contrast, the woefully unappreciated Street Fighter EX+ Alpha responds to your requests for special moves 90% of the time with a Saturn pad. It's a tighter, better constructed game overall, reserving its 3D for dramatic camera angles rather than finding an awkward middle ground between 2D and 3D gameplay as Toshinden does. It's telling that while the EX series sputtered out after the third game, its influence can be felt in Street Fighters IV and V. Toshinden has no such spiritual successor, remembered only as one of the awkward first steps in the transition from 2D to 3D gaming. (And oh yeah, the terrible, terrible voice acting in the Saturn version of the game.)

As for the other two games? Well, I haven't gotten to them yet. I may never get to Slammin' D-Ball (YouTube videos suggest that it falls far short of the excellence of Technos' Super Dodgeball), but I might spend an hour with X-Men Legends for shiggles. Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Toys to Life Support

Okay, I might as well try to blog, I guess. It's not like I've got anything better to do, other than sleep and worry about the fate of this country.

Anyway! It looks like the "toys to life" fad, started by Activision's Skylanders and hitting its apex with Disney Infinity and Nintendo's Amiibo, is starting to run out of gas. Disney's line of toys was discontinued last year (although many of the figures can be still found in retail stores with significant price cuts), and there are rumors that the franchise which started it all is starting to grind to a halt. Danish toy maker Lego's Dimensions line has made a less than illustrious debut in dollar stores, and even Nintendo's Amiibos have gotten sporadic discounts. Many of those figures still retail for $13, but a handful can be found for as little as three bucks if you know where to look (hint: try Best Buy and Wal-Mart).

Personally, I tried to steer clear of toys to life, as I suspected that they wouldn't be popular (or useful) for long. Beyond that, I have plenty of plastic clutter in this cramped trailer, and I certainly didn't need to add to that pile. Having said that, I do have three Amiibo figures, mostly for display purposes, and I'll grudgingly admit that I admire the quality that went into both those and Disney's Infinity toys. Every time I see that smirking Han Solo on a store shelf, my super ego has to pin my id to the ground to keep me from making a purchase. If one of these companies had made Star Trek figures, there's no way I would have been able to resist...

Huh, that wasn't so bad after all! At least blogging kept my mind off, ahem, other matters.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

(More) Radio Silence

Yeah, I know... it's been around two weeks since I last posted. Sorry about that, folks. It's not that I don't have things to talk about... I'm just not sure if there's a point. Does anyone read this stuff? Does it even matter what I say? I feel like I'm throwing words down a hole. The antics by our current president (remember when he said he was going to "tone down" his obnoxious behavior after the election? Wasn't that a fun fantasy?) have only further dampened my enthusiasm for blogging. It's hard to discuss trivialities like video games when it feels like Rome is burning all around you and there's a ten foot wall preventing your escape.

I dunno. I guess I'll post here again if I can work up the motivation. Don't set your watch to it, though.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Switched Off

2016 left us in suspense about Nintendo's next console, but now that most of the beans have been spilled about the Switch, I wish I could go back to that blissful ignorance. Other writers have discussed the machine at greater length (and I suggest you read the articles recently published by Kat Bailey and Bryan Ochalla), but my own opinion of the Switch can be summed up in two words...

image from The Register
(both the site and the cash register in the picture)
The price of the system is an absurd $300, a fistful of bills above the $250 that was anticipated before yesterday's reveal. The accessories are similarly upscale at $70 or more, while the hardware is anything but, unlikely to keep pace with the Xbox One or Playstation 4. Software runs the gamut from insubstantial tech demos to the regurgitations that were so aggravating on next generation systems two years ago (really... Skyrim?), with the best stuff planned for the end of 2017. There will be a paid online service similar to Xbox Live, but there won't be support for features like Miiverse, one of the few reasons I still turn on my 3DS. 

It's like Nintendo not only refuses to learn from the mistakes it made with the Wii U, but insists on repeating everyone else's blunders as well. Since they haven't been paying attention, let me make this clear: Nintendo's most successful products have been economically priced. The NES. The Game Boy. The Super NES. The Nintendo 64. The Game Boy Advance and its successor, the DS. The original Wii. These machines all retailed for the same price as competing systems or significantly undercut them, and led the industry as a result.

Now let's look at Nintendo's failures. The clumsily designed Virtual Boy wasn't just hard to enjoy; its $180 price tag made it difficult to afford as well. The Wii U cost at least $300 at launch, with much of that price being the fault of its bulky, impractical gamepad. The 3DS would have failed as well if its $250 launch price hadn't been drastically cut. 

Nintendo can no longer afford to make systems people can't afford. If they insist on releasing consoles and handhelds that lag behind the competition technologically, the prices have to reflect that. It's wiser- and far less risky- to pass the savings onto the customer than invest it in costly, cumbersome hardware that doesn't contribute much to the gaming experience. I suspect the Joycons that seem like a good idea now have a dim future ahead of them as closet clutter, crammed between the plastic steering wheel and the balance board that called you fat.