Friday, October 19, 2018

To Infinity and Beyond

Mulligans aren't just for people who are terrible at golf, it seems. Rumor has it that Capcom will take another swing at Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, rebranding it Marvel vs. Capcom 4 and throwing in some characters that were missing from the previous release. Nothing's been confirmed yet, but it doesn't seem that far-fetched considering that Capcom did the same thing with Street Fighter V. It's also not clear if the suckers who bought the deluxe version of Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite (me) will get the new fighters free of charge, or who those fighters will even be. Unfortunately, VG 24/7 states that they probably won't be from the X-Men universe, despite Disney's planned acquisition of 20th Century Fox. My tepid demand for this reboot decreases.

In other news... I don't really have any other news. I really need to spend more time with the major gaming blogs. (No, not Destructoid... that sucks ass.) I can say that online voice IP service Discord is trying to railroad users into accepting an arbitration agreement. You'll find more information about this on Kotaku, and like Kotaku, I recommend that you opt out while the opt-ion is available. How on earth are you going to get a fair shake in a complaint against Discord when the arbitrator is an employee of Discord? Talk about your conflict of interests.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Supercharging the Super Retro-Cade

I can't believe it's not another PSP post!

Oh, there will be plenty of time for that. In the meantime, let's jump back a few months, to my review of the Super Retro-Cade. I was pleased with this mini-console, if not deliriously happy, but warned my readers (both of you) that Retrobit may have used emulation software without the permission of its creators. It brings a whole new meaning to the term "guilty pleasure."

Beyond that, Retrobit updated the Super Retro-Cade with new games and enhanced performance, but to get the revised firmware, you have to buy the system all over again. That brings the usual meaning to the term "being a colossal dick." Fortunately, the fine folks at GBATemp have found a way to not only flash the Super Retro-Cade with the new firmware, but circumvent it entirely and run the feature-rich Lakka emulation suite instead.

As GBATemp member PSX_Specter explains in this post, you'll need a copy of Lakka, a speedy SD card, and image writing software to put Lakka on the card. Etcher hasn't let me down yet, so I used that. When you're done, you make a minor change to a text file on the card, then stuff it into your Super Retro-Cade. Power it on and after a brief set-up period, you should see something like this...



You'll need to find some way to put games on the SD card. No, just popping it into your PC won't cut it. Either you'll have to plug a wifi dongle into your Super Retro-Cade and transfer files to it through a network (this didn't work for me; I tried three such peripherals without success), or burn a Linux disc, reboot a computer with the disc in the drive, and write files directly to the SD card. 

Once you're done, the Super Retro-Cade will run any games the stock unit could, but better. Here's a close-up of Bio-Hazard Battle for the Genesis, without the smeary filter the machine uses by default.



Crisp pixels ahoy! With Lakka, the Super Retro-Cade will also run games it couldn't before, for over a dozen other systems. Here's Namco's Bravoman for the Turbografx-16.



Er, you probably want to run something better than that. And you'll have the option, because Lakka can handle everything from the Atari 2600 to the ZX Spectrum. I'm told the Super Retro-Cade hardware can comfortably run Playstation games, but anything beyond that (even if it's technically compatible) is pushing your luck. It's also worth noting that Retrobit's previous console, the Generations, will NOT work with this hack, since it's running on entirely different (and inferior) hardware.

Special thanks to both PSX_Specter and his partners in crime Kuwanger and WD GASTER2 for digging deep into the Super Retro-Cade and revealing its true potential. It was nice to have a reason to take it out of mothballs after all these months.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Vitae and Their Kin

I think it's time for a little Vitalogy, don't you?

image from Wikipedia
Er, not that. That was an overrated Pearl Jam album, from where I'm standing. No Code got ripped by the critics, but at least it didn't have Bugs and Hey Foxymophandlemama on it. How is that last one even a song?!

No, this was the Vitalogy I had in mind.


I've built up quite a collection of these guys over the last four years, haven't I? From the top, we have a Playstation TV deluxe set, two PSP 3000s flanking a PSP Go, another Playstation TV, and two Vitas. The Vita on the left was my most recent acquisition, procured from a pawn shop and upgraded to the latest firmware. Yes yes, I know, but all the other systems in that picture have already been hacked. I needed a legit machine that I could use to access the PSN Store and play physical cartridges, since the cart port on my first Vita is already occupied by an SD card adapter. No regerts.

Admittedly, I wish my second Vita had been, well, the second Vita. You know, the lighter one with the less impressive LCD screen but option buttons that don't require surgical precision to press. Why Sony thought it would be a good idea to use tiny ovals flush with the face of the unit is anyone's guess. Sega did the same thing with the first model of the Saturn, and it drives me bananas. C'mon guys, say it with me... function before form!

But I'm not just posting to grouse about the design flaws in obsolete hardware, or show off my collection of Sony handhelds and juicy grapefruits. I just wanted to say that I picked up another pawful of PSP games, and that I'd be happy to post reviews if you'd like to read them. I mean, I'd still probably post the reviews even if you didn't want to read them... I'd just be less happy about it.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Curiously Strong, or Just Plain Curious?

I should have jumped on this news the moment I heard about it, but better late than never, right? Anyway, a modder named Shank decided that the world needed a Nintendo Wii squeezed into an Altoids tin. Polygon reported on this in detail a couple of days ago, but the Cliff Notes is that Shank pared the system down to its barest essentials to fit it into a palm-sized form factor. It runs hot and chews through a rechargeable battery in ten minutes, but it sure is a thing that exists. Here's how it looks on the inside, again courtesy of Polygon...


And here it is in action, presumably playing the GameCube version of Super Smash Bros., since people just won't let it go fifteen years and three sequels later. For those curious, this image came from GameTyrant.


Good luck wave dashing with those tiny little buttons.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Oso Terrible

Bryan Ochalla from The Gay Gamer brought this article about the Japanese launch of the Sega Genesis (aka Mega Drive) to my attention, and it's morbidly fascinating, in the same way a fifteen car pile-up or the crash of the Hindenburg would be. While the Genesis had a fairly successful launch in the United States, with Thunder Force II and Ghouls 'n Ghosts available right out of the starting gate, things did not go so smoothly for its Japanese counterpart. One of the first games available for the Mega Drive was Osomatsu-Kun: Hachamecha Gekijo, a thoroughly unremarkable side-scrolling platformer based on a popular comic book series.


Somewhere in that nightmare of peach and
magenta, there's a Kit Kat bar. You can tell
it's a Kit Kat bar even at that size, so at least
they got the product placement right.
Hastily thrown together to make the launch of the Mega Drive, what modest aspirations Osomatsu-Kun had were dashed by a ROM shortage, cutting its size to 256K and leaving the game with just three stages. The game was the headliner for the Mega Drive launch event, and while the system's designer Hideki Sato doesn't come right out and say it, he heavily implies that early titles like Osomatsu-Kun doomed Sega's chances of competing with the Super Famicom, years before that system was even released!

I've played the game in an emulator, and while Osomatsu-Kun doesn't quite live down to its reputation as a system killer, it ain't good. Levels scroll in just one direction, and the game's extreme linearity is clumsily balanced by paths that loop back onto themselves if you take the wrong exit. The control (although not as "floaty" as the MD Shock article suggests) is passable at best, cheap hits are frequent, and Osomatsu's sole means of defense, a sling shot, is short on range and speed until the second stage.


Osomatsu-Kun creator Fujio Akatsuka reportedly
flung an ashtray at one of the game's designers,
eerily mirroring this outburst from another
crabby cartoonist on The Simpsons.
(image from Frinkiac)
Despite its colorful, cartoony graphics, Osomatsu-Kun has the feel of a middle of the road NES release that arrived one generation too late, and it's not the first impression anyone wants to make with their freshly released, cutting edge game console. If you ever wondered why the Mega Drive struggled in vain to compete with the Super Famicom in Japan while the two systems were evenly matched here in the United States, this is exhibit A. 

Thanks once again to MD Shock for publishing this enlightening article, and to Bryan Ochalla for telling me about it.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Rest in PSPeace

Alas, the Vita is dead... Boing Boing (Boing... Boing?) reports that Sony will stop manufacturing the system next year. However, my love for its predecessor, the PSP, still goes on! Here now are reviews of five games I've recently played on Sony's most successful handheld.

PANGYA: FANTASY GOLF
Tomy/Ntreev

This was a freebie, generously supplied by a member of the Cheap Ass Gamer forums. Now I've gotten free games before, but it's rare for one to get its hooks in me the way this has. I've been compulsively playing Pangya since I got it in the mail two weeks ago, and have spent a total of twenty four hours with it so far. That's a straight day of gaming! I don't have the attention span to spend a straight day doing anything! No wonder the Pangya series was such a hit, both in its native Korea and abroad!


Oooh, witchy woman...
(image from Moby Games)
Between two entries in the Hot Shots Golf series and nearly a half dozen Tiger Woods games, golf is pretty well represented on the PSP. However, Pangya delivers an experience its competitors either can't, or won't offer. Unlike Tiger Woods with its tight focus on realism, Pangya is approachable and full of quirky personality. Instead of an endless expanse of rolling green fields, you get vibrant beaches, perilous cliffs, and even the set from a Rankin-Bass Christmas special, complete with frozen water hazards. The characters are likewise far from ordinary, with a junior pirate, a shapely naval officer, and a love-struck, out of shape cop all in constant pursuit of each other. Things get really weird when a resurrected dark lord and a polar bear enter the fray...

Pangya isn't the only PSP golf game that's not afraid to get silly, but I find it's easier to pick up and play than Hot Shots Golf. You can advance through the meaty story mode, tackle one of the many license challenges, or just play a few practice holes in any of the game's nine courses. When you're done on the links, you can use the "pang" you've earned to buy better equipment and new outfits for your characters, or gamble for one of three daily prizes at the Papel Shop. There's loads of content, which is what kept people coming back to Pangya when it was an online game and what's kept me glued to my PSP for the last two weeks.

Sadly, Pangya is a couple of strokes from a perfect game. The information you're given about wind speed and club strength can be misleading... you'll be informed that your next shot will send you straight to the pin, only to discover that it fell far short of the mark. Putting can be a hassle, since it's hard to read the dots used to mark the topography of the green. Finally, computer opponents in the story mode can either be nearly unstoppable or mind-blowingly stupid, falling just short of the cup in easy putts and even aiming directly at trees and other obstacles in a doomed attempt to take a shortcut to the green. That lighthouse isn't moving for your ball, Scout. Either take a detour or learn the stinkin' curve shot.

These are minor gripes, though. For my money- all zero dollars of it- Pangya is the best golf game on the PSP. It's fun to play, there's a ton of content, and hey! What other recreation of the sport lets you perform a tomato hook, turning your ball into a cruise missile? A-

SPINOUT
Ghostlight/Icon Games

This easily missed European title claims to be the sport of the future, but what you're really getting here is Marble Madness in 3D. You guide a silver sphere through stages largely comprised of sphincter-clenchingly thin platforms, hoping to reach a goal before time expires. The margin of error is as slim as the catwalks you'll roll across, with unforgiving time limits and a five second penalty if you plummet into the void below. It's something you'll do distressingly often, thanks to the mounting stress. You're probably better off skipping the arcade mode entirely and just playing the career mode, which lets you finish levels at a more leisurely pace, and without the nagging from an announcer who clearly overestimates her helpfulness. "You're running out of time!" THANK YOU, Ms. Data.


It's a long way down.
(image from the Sony Playstation UK store)
Without the constant pressure of a timer, Spinout is a competent maze game. The controls are surprisingly tight with the PSP's single analog nub- and believe me, you'll need that precision- and the graphics have a futuristic sheen, with towering skyscrapers and gleaming metal platforms set hundreds of feet above the planet's surface. If you're acrophobic, you probably don't want to play this. If you're not acrophobic, this game will give you a healthy fear of heights after a few rounds.

On the downside, quirks in Spinout's design conspire to prevent you from earning medals in the career mode... and will stop your progress cold in the arcade mode. The behind-the-ball perspective sometimes conceals your path to the next checkpoint, and the boxes strewn through each course can't be destroyed by rolling into them... they just scatter from the point of impact, possibly plugging up holes that lead to the end of the stage. At least the bowling mini-game offers some relief from Spinout's frequent frustration, letting you take your aggression out on a set of pins waiting on the far end of a skybound alley. C

AFTERBURNER: BLACK FALCON
Sega/Planet Moon

This game is ostensibly a spin-off of Sega's Afterburner series, but it could just as easily pass as a sequel to other flight combat games from the 1980s. Take MACH 3 by Mylstar Games, for instance. That arcade hit spooled aerial footage from a laser disc to bring a photo-realistic edge to your dogfights and bombing runs, yet somehow, Afterburner looks even better. The ice floes you'll skim over and the tight canyons you'll squeeze through are drawn in real time and seen from behind your ship, bringing you into the action in a way MACH 3 couldn't.


You won't reach the danger zone until six
or seven missions later.
(image from Emuparadise)
Structurally, the PSP version of Afterburner resembles Blue Lightning, a showy flight game released for the Atari Lynx at the tail end of the 1980s. Rather than limiting itself to white knuckle combat, that game offered various missions, each with different goals and targets. Black Falcon builds on this by letting you earn cash, which can be invested in new jets or improvements to the old ones. Each fighter feels distinct from the others, with the wispy AV8 dodging enemy missiles with ease and the larger, less maneuverable A10 proving its worth during bombing runs. The game recommends a specific jet for each mission, but you're free to color outside the lines and choose your personal favorite.

Black Falcon improves on earlier flight combat games, even its namesake, but it shares their critical flaw... it's kind of mindless. Missions don't change much aside from the terrain and the targets you're expected to blast, and battles boil down to tapping circle when you see a green crosshair on the horizon, and square when blue crosshairs poke through the clouds. The action also gets chaotic in later missions, with constant explosions and volleys of missiles making it tough to catch the power up crates you'll need to survive.

But hey, if you wanted a thoughtful storyline and strategic combat on your PSP, you'd be playing Tactics Ogre. This is Afterburner! You want gorgeous graphics, speed that will ripple your cheeks, and a rock soundtrack that would bring a tear to Kenny Loggins' eyes. Black Falcon delivers all that like a payload of missiles to an active volcano. B

ULTIMATE GHOSTS 'N GOBLINS
Capcom

It's probably not a point in a game's favor when you have to force yourself to play it, yet that's exactly what I have to do with Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins. I wanted the game, I paid for the game, and I'm glad it was released for the PSP after the series went into hibernation for fifteen years. Despite all that, I don't actually want to spend any time with it. Yes, the infamous difficulty of the Ghouls 'n Ghosts series is a factor, but there's more to it than that.


Wow, this is starting to look creepy in all
the wrong ways.
(image from Emuparadise)
A friend of mine, another games writer who parlayed this silly hobby into a successful career, pinpointed what makes this particular entry in the Ghouls 'n Goblins series so repellent. As brutal as they were, the challenge was always above board in Arthur's previous adventures. If you couldn't make it through a scene, it was probably because you hadn't learned how to overcome the challenge... what to anticipate, when to jump, and where to throw your lances. Scenarios that seem impossible at first blush can be beaten if you know the trick.

Sometimes that's how things work in Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins. But sometimes a magician will appear on a whim to turn you into a chicken! Sometimes your greatest enemy is distraction... you'll get swept away in a wave of blood or plunge to the bottom of a ghostly corridor while fighting three or four monsters at once. Sometimes you seem to be magnetized to that damned bubbling cauldron in your path, and sometimes strange things happen that you're at a loss to explain. What do most of these items do? Why did this set of armor slow Arthur down when the other ones don't? Why was he suddenly turned into an obese milkmaid? Why, why, why?

There are some things I appreciate about this game. Each level has tons of hidden prizes tucked away in the nooks and crannies, making it feel a bit less flat and a bit more full-featured than its predecessors. Unlike my friend, I think the dark-tinged graphics are fine... they're creepy, they're spooky, and they're altogether ooky, which is exactly what you would expect from Ghouls 'n Ghosts. They're just not as conceptually sound as they were in previous entries. One level starts with Arthur riding a cloud through a dark pit littered with melting clocks, and ends with a tunnel of dried grass, culminating in a fight with a stingray made of pollen. The logic, if any, escapes me.

That's my biggest problem with Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins. The game raises far more questions than it answers, including why a series which used to pride itself on carefully designed levels would stoop to leaning on RNG to artificially inflate its challenge. Some entertainment can be had if you brute force your way through the game in the novice mode, but the earlier Ghouls 'n Ghosts titles were fun even without that crutch. C+

SPACE INVADERS EXTREME
Taito

Last year I bought the Nintendo DS version of this game for a couple of bucks at a pawn shop. More recently I snagged its PSP counterpart, still shrink-wrapped, for a couple more dollars at a Saint Vincent DePaul. This means a comparison is in order! Unfortunately, it also means that I'll have to turn on my 3DS after avoiding it for months. Even looking at this miserable thing sours my stomach after Nintendo closed Miiverse, but this review just wouldn't be complete without looking at how the two versions of the game measure up, would it? The things I do for you people...


Glowsticks and recreational drugs not included.
(image from Video Games Museum)
Anyway. Regardless of the format you choose, Space Invaders Extreme abstracts itself from whatever plot the original may have had. The aliens are little more than targets to be shot, and the only threat they present is to your score and your progression through the game. Nailing four like-colored invaders in a row earns you a power-up that makes your ruthless extra-terrestrial slaughter more efficient, while rainbow-colored UFOs take you to a bonus stage that unlocks "fever mode," if you're fast enough to finish it in twelve seconds. As you play, techno music and geometric patterns pulse in the background, making the action feel more like a rave than a fight for human survival.

The PSP and DS versions of Space Invaders Extreme play to each system's strengths. The Playstation Portable's powerful graphics hardware means more dazzling transitions for the bonus stages and polygonal invaders that gracefully swoop into the playfield at the start of each round. The twin screens of the Nintendo DS more closely approximate the vertically oriented playfield of the classic arcade game, and while that extra screen is often wasted on a heads up display crammed with information, it's wisely used in the boss fights, including one battle where the invader is under you and you have to fire shots at his shielded minions, sending the blasts downward. The PSP tries to reproduce this by setting the boss above you and having your shots deflected sideways, but the fight is a lot less memorable and a lot more tedious.

Ultimately, and I can't believe I'm saying this, I'd have to give the edge to the DS version. They're both good games, though, and among the better entries in the long-running Space Invaders series. B

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Toad vs. Chode

And in video game news today...



...er, maybe it's better you don't know.

One thing you should know is that Sony's taking a swing at the mini-machine market, releasing the Playstation Classic at the end of the year for about a hundred dollars. There's no word on what games will be included or what hardware it will use (hell, maybe Sony just threw their unsold Playstation TVs into a spiffy new shell), but consider me intrigued. 

EDIT: Guess I jumped the gun on this post! We DO know that the Playstation Classic will contain twenty games, including Jumping Flash, Rrrrrridge Racer, Tekken 3, and Final Fantasy VII. Seems pretty Namco and Square heavy, but then again, so was the original console, so it fits.

I suspect we'll also be seeing Tomb Raider, WipeOut, and Medieval in this machine, since those games helped define the Playstation experience in the late 1990s, and because Sony or one of the third parties already contributing to the PS Classic owns the rights to the IP. I would like to see Bloody Roar 2, Intelligent Qube, and Street Fighter Alpha 3 included with this system, but while I'm dreaming, I might as well ask for a unicorn.