Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Golden Arches

Wanna see something cool? Of course you do. Take a gander at THIS!

That's SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium for the Neo-Geo Pocket. That wouldn't be anything out of the ordinary, except it's not running on a Neo-Geo Pocket. Nope, this is on the Nintendo 3DS, courtesy of RetroArch.

RetroArch is a jack of all trades emulator, similar to MESS but with a more intuitive interface and some neat bonus features. On more powerful machines, you can use filters to make handheld games like this one look the way they did on the actual hardware. (I covered this in greater detail last May, for those curious.)

The Nintendo 3DS doesn't have the power or the resolution to pull this off, but just being able to play these games is a big step up for the system. Before RetroArch, a hacked 3DS could run games from a small pool of systems, and not always very well. Now, it's compatible with a dozen consoles, and the emulation is generally faster and more reliable.

Here's a snapshot of Snow Bros. for the Sega Genesis. M2 ported a handful of Genesis games to the 3DS, but I doubt they've got any plans for this one. You're not likely to see sleeper hits like Mega Turrican or Dragon's Fury (aka Devil Crush MD) as Sega 3D Classics either, but they run perfectly well with RetroArch. You can even play Sega CD games, in case you've got a desperate urge to make some color-deficient music videos with Kriss Kross or Marky Mark Wahlberg.

RetroArch also handles arcade games, including Capcom's Forgotten Worlds. I'm not entirely sure how you'd play this without a dial... your hero just seems to randomly turn on his own, without accommodations for the missing controller. Still, it looks gorgeous on that 3DS screen! I expect similarly dazzling results from CPS2 and Neo-Geo games, although I haven't tried the former and have had no luck getting the latter to run. (I'm sure it's possible; I just don't think I've got files in the right place.)

The WonderSwan got a brief mention elsewhere, so I guess I should point out that its games also run on RetroArch. I haven't found a single game in the system's library that has given me trouble, aside from titles like Judgement Silversword which force you to flip the system sideways. (Thanks for that, Gumpei. Yeesh.)

Game Boy Advance titles, on the other hand, are less reliable. Double Dragon Advance and Pac-Man Collection run nearly as quickly as they do on the actual system, but Castlevania: Circle of the Moon is stuck in slow motion, possibly because of the game's heavy reliance on sound samples.

It's also worth mentioning that I tested these emulators on a New 3DS. Your results will probably be less encouraging on older systems, not only because the hardware is less powerful but because what's there is less accessible to homebrew programmers.

Between all that and the fact that RetroArch can't be accessed directly from the home menu, the 3DS still has a lot of ground to cover before it can challenge the PSP for the title of best pocket-sized emulator. Still though, it's a big step in the right direction. Anyone who's already hacked their 3DS (preferably the New model) ought to give it a try.

Friday, September 25, 2015

I Want It All, and I Want It Now: The PSTV Whitelist Hack

Now dig this! There's a hack for the Playstation TV that allows you to play blocked games for not only the Vita, but the PSP and PSOne as well. You'll find more information about this on the NeoGAF forum

Ready for round two?
To pull this off, you'll need a Gmail account, a copy of the Thunderbird Email client, and a couple of exploit files. After sending the exploit files to yourself, you open each attachment with your Playstation TV, immediately exiting with the Home button after you're given an error message. This exploit was originally designed for Vita games, but was recently expanded to include the handful of PSP and PSOne titles that wouldn't work on Sony's micro-console. (ED: That was the work of Dunkley from the NeoGAF forums, by the way.)

I've personally tested the PSP release Sega Genesis Collection and was delighted by the results... both Sega Genesis games and arcade oldies like Astro Blaster play just the way they had on the PSP, without any glitches or performance issuesOther Playstation TV owners report that Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, two games that originally refused to play nice with the PSTV hardware, run perfectly after the exploit.

This hack works pretty well, at least for the moment. However, you're advised to switch the wi-fi off on your Playstation TV and keep the memory card inside, as future firmware updates will most likely break the exploit. Purchasing games on the Playstation Store is also reported to refresh the system's white list, forcing you to repeat the hack. Get everything you want for your PSTV now, then shut off the wi-fi antenna after you run the hack so you can keep it.

Special thanks to Tiny Cartridge and NeoGAF for the news.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Stray Thoughts

I got back from my trip to Portland a few days ago, but my mind's still kind of scrambled from the plane ride, so I'll just spurt out a few random thoughts I had over the past week...

• They really need to make bullet points easier to type out, you know that? Every time I either have to look it up on Wikipedia or use some lame asterisk. I think there's an ASCII code for them but NOT a dedicated key, which is rather frustrating. Anyway...

Let us make a journey to the cave of,
uh, motion sickness.
(image from Flickr)

• While we were getting our bags checked in Phoenix, the Southwest kiosk made a confirmation noise that I swore I'd heard before. After some research, I'm pretty sure they nicked a sound effect from the arcade oldie Bubble Bobble. It's not even the first time I've heard video game sounds in decidedly non-gaming situations. I've heard the Sonic ring pick up noise at a handful of gas station cash registers back in 2011. It's a pleasant sound, sure, but the classic "cha-ching!" seems like a better fit for a transaction.

• Perhaps it's a little late to ask for this now that the Wii U's headed toward retirement with the 3DS hot on its heels, but if Nintendo was going to make game systems with legacy hardware, why didn't they make the most of it? The Wii U just got downloadable Wii games this spring, and I think the only DS game you can download for the 3DS is Four Sword Adventures, which Nintendo gave away a year ago. (Yeah yeah, there's DSiWare too, but bleech.) It's been established that the Wii U can run GameCube games, yet you can't buy any directly from Nintendo. You can't buy standard DS games for the 3DS either, but you can get them for the Wii U, because... uh... to be honest, I can't figure out a reason myself. Congratulations Nintendo, you just broke my brain!

You'd be cranky too if your game was
constantly interrupted by button prompts.
(image from Video Game Wallpapers)
• I don't think I like God of War very much. I bought the HD remakes of Ghost of Sparta and Chains of Olympus for the Playstation 3, and the games are entirely too hung up on quick time events for their own good. Drain a boss's energy, and you have to precisely enter a series of random buttons to finish him off... or he gets some of his health back, forcing you to start from square one. Need to break down a door with a battering ram? Get ready to hammer that O button into powder! Even sex is tied to a quick time event, just in case you thought you'd find some fun there.

• Kingdom Hearts is slowly winning me over. It's gotta be one of the dopiest crossovers ever, but there's fun to be had if you can keep yourself from asking why you're looking for Snow White's seven dwarves or fighting alongside Mickey Mouse. Birth by Sleep in particular looks amazing on the PSP, and offers plenty of customization for your character along with weapons based on various Disney properties. Fortunately, many aren't represented in the game, so you'll never be forced to wield a Snow Dogs keyblade.

• I've been fighting with my LG Tribute for hours, trying to download apps to the SD card instead of the phone's minuscule internal storage. Look people, it ain't 2008 anymore. Four gigs doesn't get you very far, especially when half of that is gobbled up by the operating system by default. Yet I haven't found a way to download software directly to a card, because I guess that would be too convenient. Rooting didn't work and storage switching apps didn't work, so all I can do is download the Android development kit on my computer and tinker with that. And after that? I dunno, I probably WILL need a new phone after that. And a dustpan and broom.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Miiverse: One More for the Road

Welp, I'm going to a wedding in Portland Oregon this weekend. I want to post one more blog entry before I leave, but I can't think of anything to say. So you know what THAT means... it's time for some sketches I drew on Miiverse!

I bought Gunstar Heroes for the 3DS a few weeks ago, because of course I did. It's aged a bit in the twenty plus years since its debut on the Genesis- cheap hits are common and the designers used a whoooole lot of tiling to squeeze it into an eight megabit cartridge- but it's still fun to combine power-up orbs to make your own weapons and toss around exploding robot soldiers.

One of the more memorable moments in the game was in Black's Dice Maze. Once you defeat him, the stubby little jerk (who looks like Joe Pesci from the Michael Jackson film Captain EO) has once more trick up his sleeve... an exploding decoy gem! If you're caught in the blast, you'll take damage. One of my friends was killed outright by the gem and had to start the (exceedingly long) Dice Maze from the beginning. Dirty pool, Treasure.

So, the new CEO of Nintendo has been announced! Let's see who it is!

...uh oh.

Tatsumi Kimishima's obviously more business than pleasure than the last guy, but if he can make the upcoming NX a success, I suppose I can live with that.

I bought Fire Emblem Awakening, oh... (counts on fingers) ...about a month ago during a sale. It's a solid strategy RPG with gorgeously illustrated combat, but there's just one problem...

Most of the members of your party seem distressingly fond of bear. Not in the nature loving, Marty Stouffer kind of way, but the "I'll have mine with a side of mashed potatoes" kind of way.

Lissa here is the lone exception, arguing that bears shouldn't be toppled from the top of the food chain. You go, girl! Bear is too gamey to eat anyway. And bitter, in Clyde's case.

Speaking of edibles, Crusty Sean here will rue the day he kicked me out of his store. Nobody will sell you anything in Splatoon until you've played a few online battles, so I bit the bullet and leveled up just enough to make purchases.

By the way, let me state for the record that I'm GLAD there's no voice chat in Splatoon. I don't really want to hear other players swearing like sailors and making demands for chocolate milk. 

C'mon, I HAD to do this. The fruit was hanging right there at eye level, ripe for the plucking!

Okay, fine, it doesn't look that bad considering it's a Super NES game. But they shouldn't have considered making this a Super NES game in the first place! Was the Nintendo 64 really so poorly suited to fighting games that they had to make Street Fighter Alpha 2 for a last generation system?

I thought Jeff Foxworthy would have disappeared after people had grown tired of his redneck jokes, but nope, he's a permanent fixture at the Golden Corral chain of restaurants and even has his own Wii U game. By the way, is there some rule that every 21st century game show host has to be a comedian now? Jeff Foxworthy, Steve Harvey, Drew Carey, Wayne Brady...

Speaking of Wayne Brady, there's a game in his reboot of Let's Make a Deal that bears a striking resemblance to the previously mentioned Dice Maze in Gunstar Heroes. Observe!

I refuse to believe this was just a coincidence.

SNK was just purchased by (another) pachinko company, which hopes to lure gamers into the exciting world of... watching tiny balls cascade down a table full of pins. This concerns me slightly. It's even more worrisome that the upcoming King of Fighters XIV is nowhere near as impressive as its contemporaries, Mortal Kombat X or Street Fighter V. This is gonna be like Maximum Impact all over again, isn't it?

Wait wait, one more! Shigeru Miyamoto promised to divulge the identity of Bowser Jr.'s mother, only to reveal that it was him all along. That was a pretty big letdown, unless you imagine it happened like this...

Fellow Miiverse user PhoenixRsh posted this in response...

Yes, nature truly is a magical thing. Slightly disturbing, but magical all the same.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

I Want My PSTV... But Does Anyone Else?

The Playstation TV seems like it was made just for me! Which is kind of a problem, because I can't imagine why anyone else would want one.

Frankly, there's a lot this tiny system can't do. It's not compatible with leading video services like Netflix, making it a lousy digital media player. It's not a replacement for the Playstation Vita, since it's missing a lot of that system's unique features and can't run all its games. It's not on par with the current generation of consoles, or even the last generation of consoles, in overall performance. With all this in mind, why the hell would anyone want this?

A great system... but only if you
know what to do with it.
(image from Playstation.com)
Two reasons. The first is that the Playstation TV can stream Playstation 4 games, so you can play them just about anywhere without having to lug a six pound system to every corner of the house. However, I don't have a Playstation 4 yet, which brings us to the second way the Playstation TV justifies its existence. It plays the vast majority of games for both the PSOne and the underrated PSP, and it does all this on a television set, with a real controller. If you've still got an interest in these two systems (and I do!), and you've bought a lot of games on the PSN digital store (and I have!), this thing is ambrosia.

Let me give you some examples of how the Playstation TV has earned its keep. I spent one hundred hours playing Disgaea last month. Although the Vita has a pretty large screen for a handheld, I was eager to graduate to my much larger television set. Sure, I could have switched to the Playstation 2 version of Disgaea, but that would have meant starting from the beginning, and nobody wants that! Luckily, the Playstation TV offered a simple solution to my dilemma. I just had to take the memory card out of my Vita, pop it into the PS TV, and blammo, I'm resuming my game from the last save point, without losing a moment of progress.

The original arcade game had dials you had
to twist to aim, and push down to fire.
Needless to say, using two joysticks is a
huge, HUGE improvement.
(image from Monotunes-N)
Wait, it gets better! The Playstation TV lets you customize the control of PSP and PSOne games. This option isn't as full-featured as it is on the Vita, but being able to assign the second analog stick to other buttons is usually good enough. If you bought Monster Hunter Freedom Unite from one of the recent PSN sales, you can assign the D-pad to the second stick, letting you adjust the camera like you would in the console versions. This works even better with Forgotten Worlds, one of the many games on Capcom Classics Collection Remixed. Just turn on 4-Way Firing in the game, then set the second analog stick to the face buttons in the options screen. It's now a twin stick shooter, and it's never been more comfortable or fun to play.

What else? PSP and PSOne games have never looked this good on a Sony system. While the PSP Go could display games on a television set with an optional cable, they'd be squeezed into a window surrounded by black borders. However, the Playstation TV gives both Vita and PSP games the full screen treatment, with only PSOne games getting borders. Vita games look lovely, just a notch below equivalent PS3 titles. PSP games look great too... a bit jaggy, but you'd have to expect a few rough edges from the dated technology. PSOne games... look about as good as they're ever going to get, but at least you get the fast disc loading that was frustratingly absent on the Playstation 3, along with the vibration that simply wasn't possible on the Vita or PSP.

There's a lot the Playstation TV doesn't do well, or at all, but for the very specific purpose of playing Sony's classic library of games on a television set, it's cheaper, more convenient, and just plain better than competing systems. There's no hacking necessary, and the game selection is far superior to anything you'll find on the Ouya or similar Android devices. At forty dollars, it's the sale of the century... but only if you know exactly what it offers and that's exactly what you want from it.

Friday, September 11, 2015


I've had mixed thoughts about the Playstation brand since its American launch in 1995, but it's been around for twenty years now, and like it or lump it, it will likely be a permanent part of the gaming culture. Besides, I'd rather celebrate twenty years of Playstation domination than some other anniversaries I could mention. So with this in mind, here are a handful of titles for the first Playstation game console, currently available on the PSN digital store.


Not shown: nausea.
(image from Emuparadise)
I was a huge, huge fan of this tube shooter at the turn of the century, but fifteen years later, it's easier to find the flaws buried under its wild psychedelic visuals. As a matter of fact, the graphics are a big part of the problem with N2O. Some stages buckle and sway in a loving tribute to motion sickness, and this coupled with the blinding lens flares provides excellent cover for your enemies, which frequently ambush you as you race through the game's garishly colored tunnels. N2O also seems intent on using every button on the Playstation controller, when four would have been plenty. A jump button is helpful when you're on the edge of the tube, like in Tempest 2000, but not so much when you're inside it. Having said all that, this game is still a rush after all these years thanks in large part to a remix of The Crystal Method's Vegas, which sounds even better than the official album.


"I am Gato
I have silver joints
Beat me up
and earn fifteen points
then kill me in the sequel
that disappoints"

~ anonymous Twitter post

What... is even going on here?!
(image from FinalFantasyKingdom.net)
Good grief. Even calling this a sequel to Chrono Trigger stretches the definition of the term to the point of snapping. It doesn't look anything like the first game, with 3D character models and an art style far removed from the work of Akira Toriyama. It doesn't play anything like the first game either, shackled to a confusing menu-based combat system where light attacks can be chained into stronger blows, which can be chained into magic spells, but only if the gauge at the top of the screen is a solid color and what the fuck am I even doing? There are rumors that Chrono Cross started development as its own game, unrelated to the Super NES classic, and it really shows. It's vaguely entertaining if you can push the tenuous ties to the original out of your mind, but there are so many superior RPGs on this system that it's hardly worth the effort.


The Killer Bee comes standard with
driver side airbags.
(image from Emuparadise)
I had this for the Sega Saturn back in the 1990s, and I'm happy to report that it's pretty much the same experience on the Playstation, right down to the... er, Japanese text. I guess Capcom didn't see the point in an English translation for a six dollar download, but the unintelligible dialog won't stop you from enjoying this fun if insubstantial beat 'em up. Your towering mech has just two strengths of attack, coupled with a long range weapon and a boost that lets you dart across each futuristic playfield. Battles are fast-paced and incredibly tense, and they're presented with some of Capcom's best visuals from the CPS2 era. You're sure to have a good time with Cyberbots, as long as you don't expect the depth of Tekken or Capcom's own Street Fighter series.


Our dashing hero, Ashley Riot. Wait, Ashley?
(image from Emuparadise)
Slow, detail-obsessed, and more than a little awkward to play, Vagrant Story isn't for everybody. It doesn't help matters that this late Playstation release demands more from the system than it can deliver. One look at the chunky textures and angular monsters in this castle will make you long for what might have been on the more powerful Playstation 2. Once you've learned to accept the quirky interface and the relentless brown of your surroundings, however, you'll discover the hidden pleasures of Vagrant Story. Your knight can target specific areas of his opponents to exploit their weaknesses, or just switch to a long range weapon like a crossbow to nail them from a safe distance. Your strategic options only grow as you progress, making Vagrant Story a safe purchase for players old enough to remember when RPGs were all about number-crunching and polyhedral dice.


Andor Genesis... still annoying,
but now annoying in 3D!
(image from Hardcore Gaming 101)
"You like Xevious, eh? Well, have all the Xevious in the WORLD!" Okay, not all the Xevious, but probably as much Xevious as anyone who isn't from Japan would need in their lifetime. Included in this collection is the original arcade game, the slightly enhanced Super Xevious, the 16-bit revival Xevious Arrangement, and the headliner Xevious 3D/G, which offers more complex gameplay than its predecessors along with breathtaking cinematography made possible by a polygonal graphics engine. It looks a little plain next to, say, Raystorm, Soukyugurentai, or Radiant Silvergun on the Sega Saturn, but at least it's more merciful than the other three games in the collection! Seriously, if you can beat the Andor Genesis in Xevious Arrangement, give yourself a pat on the back with that bionic hand of yours.


Knuckle under.
(image from Emuparadise)
Curiously, this game can't be played on any of Sony's handheld systems, making it less pocket-friendly than advertised. That's a shame, too, because aside from the incredibly weird, incredibly unnecessary Edit Fighter mode, it's a great port of one of the lesser known games in the Street Fighter series. Between the big-headed characters, the simpler control scheme, and a reliance on auto combos, you'd be tempted to call this a kid's game, and indeed, it probably would make a good introduction to Street Fighter for younger players or newcomers. However, with new gameplay elements like block breakers and throwable items, and zany sight gags referencing everything from Mega Man to Elvis Presley, there's plenty here for both devoted Capcom fans and those who'd like to join their ranks.


The kind of odds you face when
you play Mega Man X4.
(image from US Gamer)
Mega Man X4 is probably the best game in the series, with the big, bold graphics and CD-quality sound that were beyond the grasp of the Super NES. (There were later games too, but the series fell off the rails after X5 and never really recovered.) Beyond that, it's a reminder of how rotten I've gotten at video games in the eighteen years since it was released. I was able to reach Sigma (but not beat him, because come on) in my twenties, but now, I need the Ultimate Suit to make any progress at all! I've got to give props to Capcom for offering this crutch to less skilled players like myself... or would, if it weren't for the falling ceilings in Split Mushroom's stage. Or that stupid hoverbike race that seems to last an eternity in Jet Stingray's stage. Or any one of a number of scenes that seem less like a fun challenge and more like bamboo under my fingernails now that I'm older and my reflexes have dulled.

Sony/Whoopee Camp

Farting peaches. Sure, why not?
(image from US Gamer)
Designed by one of Capcom's most talented developers during his brief departure from the company in the late 1990s, Tomba seems like the kind of game I would really enjoy... yet it doesn't work out that way. As a platformer, it's slightly wonky and way too infatuated with physics. Your pink-coiffed hero swings from tree branches, runs along sagging bridges, and awkwardly pounces on pigs. I think he's supposed to be attacking them, but from the way he wraps himself around their backs, you'd be tempted to think he had something kinkier in mind. As an adventure game, it's puzzlingly obtuse, in the tradition of early NES titles like Castlevania II. Although Tomba can jump into the background, it's hard to tell when he's allowed to do this, and it can be just as challenging to figure out how to finish some of the game's many fetch quests. Tomba is a well-intentioned but clumsy hybrid of genres that ultimately misses the mark on both fronts.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Throwing Your Weight Around with the Balance Board

"You're not going to lose weight by playing video games," my doctor said. Well, let's see what my newly acquired Wii balance board has to say about that!

"You're obese."

Oh, screw you, balance board. I should have left you at the Goodwill where I found you!

"Hey, just sayin', man."

Well, you could have been a little more tactful about it. "Obese" is such an ugly word. It suggests that you're too fat to even be human, like you should be dragging a space princess behind you on a chain or something. 

But hey, I've lost weight before. I can do it again. And I can even do it on a budget! The balance board only cost me $2.50... Nintendo sold over forty million of them during the Wii's brief rise to fame, and now that the system is a distant memory, nobody wants theirs anymore. Similarly, a copy of Wii Fit cost just five dollars on eBay, including the shipping. So that's less than ten dollars for a focused training regimen... not bad when you consider that the price of a month's membership at the local gym is substantially more.

The only thing left for me to supply is the willpower... and that may prove a little challenging. It's gonna take monumental effort to pull out the (heavy!) balance board and play Wii Fit day after day after day. Hell, I don't even turn on my Wii U every day! However, I'm gonna to have to start if I want to drop this excess tonnage.

On the next American Gladiators...
(image from Amazon)
Luckily for me, Wii Fit seems like a fairly entertaining way to get in shape. Using the balance board, it can not only measure your current weight, but detect subtle changes in your balance and the position of your feet. This opens the door to a wide range of mini-games, from the expected (stair stepping) to the slightly bewildering (ready to bust a hip spinning an imaginary hula hoop?). There are even jogging trails which don't require the balance board at all; just a Wiimote tucked in your pocket. That strikes me as a cop-out on Nintendo's part, but keeping pace with your virtual jogging partner is just as strenuous as anything the balance board can dish out.

So I guess this is where I'll be investing my wafer-thin attention span for the rest of the month, if not longer. Wish me luck, folks!

(Oh, and in case you were wondering, the balance board is pretty damned worthless for Punch-Out!!. I tried it on a lark, and found myself lifting my feet off the board to make Little Mac dodge punches. I was able to beat Glass Joe- after three rounds- but unless you relish the thought of waggling from both ends I'd suggest sticking with the classic NES control scheme.)