Saturday, October 31, 2015

Viva Oktober-Fist! The Vampire Strikes Back

Look, I'm feeling lazy most days today, so I'm just gonna let the editor of VGJunk do the honors with his comprehensive review of Vampire Savior. He's right, by the way... I personally prefer the predecessor NightWarriors, but Vampire Savior has lots of memorable characters and a more haunting atmosphere that's a perfect fit for the holiday.

Ready when you are!
(image from
Still here? Okay, I'll leave you with a short Halloween story. Way back in the late 1980s, when I was, I dunno, thirteen, I went out and trick or treated for the last time. Honestly, I was getting a little old for those hijinx, and I didn't put much effort into my costume, slapping on a white lab coat and a beard made of cotton puffs. Imagine a low budget Albert Einstein (no no, even lower!) and you'd have a pretty good idea of how I looked that night. Being as old as I was, and my costume being as crappy as it was, I wasn't getting too much candy from the houses I visited. However, that actually worked to my advantage, as one of the houses slipped me an Intellivision game, complete in box, just to get rid of it. I think it was Las Vegas Poker and Blackjack, the one with the shifty-eyed dealer. The game isn't a prized collector's item even in 2015, but I still had a lot of fun with it. It was more memorable than my lame costume, anyway.

Friday, October 30, 2015

This Old Wii, or The Revolution Renovation

There's one thing you should know about me, if you haven't already figured it out from the last three years of blog posts. I like collecting video game stuff, but I also like to do it cheaply, even if the stuff in question isn't in great condition. This year alone I picked up a PSP Go with a heavily scratched screen, and a Game Boy Advance that looked like it had been fed to a disgruntled badger and fell out the other end. It took a lot of work to get these systems back in decent shape, but hey, anything to save a few bucks!

And so it goes with the Nintendo Wii I picked up at a yard sale a couple of days ago. Sure, I already have one of these things, but for ten dollars, who could resist a spare?

Well, when it looks like this, it's pretty easy for the average yard sailer to resist. But wait, it gets better! And by "better," I mean "dirtier."

The previous owner had broken off the cover and left the legacy ports inside to languish under mounds of dirt. One of my followers on Twitter asked if I recovered it from King Tut's tomb. Another lamented its condition, wondering aloud how any self-respecting gamer could let something like this happen. I couldn't say for sure, but as a sucker for hard luck cases (and low, low prices), I was determined to reverse the damage done by years of neglect.

So I broke out my trusty toothbrush, some auto buffing cloths, and a generous amount of rubbing alcohol, and got right to work. It took me about an hour, but I'm happy to report that the system is in presentable condition. I wouldn't call it brand spankin' new, but it no longer looks like it was raided from the Cryptkeeper's closet. Observe!

Yes, that's a copy of Last Story right next to the Wii. It seems like a pretty decent role-playing game, at least from what little I was able to play of it. See, although the Wii is in working condition, I can't say the same for the remotes, which were badly corroded and don't function worth a func. You can't have it all, but for a sawbuck, I got quite a bit!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Worlds of Blunder: Keith Courage in Alpha Zones

Bryan Ochalla of The Gay Gamer asked for more coverage of the Turbografx-16, so here's a review of Keith Courage in Alpha Zones!

(Oh wait, he wanted more positive coverage of the system. That might be a problem...)

Geez, even in monochrome it's kinda loud...
(image from
Keith Courage is a fascinating game. Not because it's good, because it really, really isn't, but because it's such a mystifying way to introduce Americans to the Turbografx-16, and because it was so representative of the system's library as a whole. Granted, most of the games on the TurboGrafx were better than Keith Courage, but nearly all of them had the same quirks. You know, the gameplay that was kept simple due to the limitations of the HuCard format, the oversaturated colors that made a Lisa Frank poster look like a tintype photograph from the Civil War era, and the characters that didn't click with a Western audience despite embarrassing '80s-flavored attempts at localization. It all leads to the conclusion that the TurboGrafx was a thoroughly Japanese game console which not only couldn't make itself comfortable in the United States, but actively resisted NEC's attempts to bring it to these shores.

Take for instance... well, Keith Courage in Alpha Zones. The game was originally created as merchandising for Mashin Eiyuden Wataru, a popular Japanese cartoon intended for young children. You can watch a little of the 1997 remake on YouTube, in case you're curious.

You're not fooling anyone,
(image from
As a throwaway game with a cartoon license, Mashin Eiyuden Wataru was benign, if slightly forgettable. But this became the pack-in for a costly next generation game console, and that was... harder to forgive. NEC tried to tack on a new, darker storyline, with some nonsense about a force of "Beastly Alien Dudes" killing Keith's father, but apart from new names, none of the characters in the game had really changed. Nintendo and its third parties turned localizations into something of an art form, with titles like Blaster Master being cleverly rewritten for an American audience, but not much effort was put into disguising Keith Courage's Eastern origins. He may look like a futuristic He-Man on the front of the box, but the moment you see squids bouncing along grassy fields and past pagodas, you know something's up.

Blue, blue skies, I see...
(image from
It's not just that the game was poorly suited to Americans... it was also tremendously dated, lacking the 16-bit punch players had come to expect after years of gorgeous arcade titles like Final Fight and Golden Axe. For all its failings as a game, the early Sega Genesis pack-in Altered Beast at least had the power to impress with its grotesque monsters, haunting gothic music, and digitized speech. Keith Courage in Alpha Zones has none of that, looking like a more brightly colored cast-off from an earlier era of gaming. Enemies burst into a puff of faintly-animated smoke when you strike them, and level designs are one-dimensional, with a light smattering of platforming and the occasional gimmick to differentiate one area from the next. Things pick up in the Alpha Zones, with an armored Keith hacking his way through more threatening aliens, but these stages have their own issues, like beds of spikes you can't see until you've jumped down a floor (possibly into them) and tireless spawning points for enemies, particularly the more aggravating ones.

Bonk, Bonk! Uh,
nobody's bonking.
(image from
The biggest problem with Keith Courage in Alpha Zones is that NEC learned nothing from it. The company kept repeating its mistake by releasing TurboGrafx-16 games that felt out of step with an evolving industry and weren't relevant to Americans. Later titles for the system included such curiosities as Somer Assault, Chew Man Fu, and Bravoman (who's still trying to find an audience in the United States, without much success). The Sega Genesis was home to arcade hits like Strider, Forgotten Worlds, and Ghouls 'n Ghosts that took years to find their way to NEC consoles... years after players stopped caring about them. The official TurboGrafx-16 mascot was Bonk, a rubber-faced, meat-craving caveman who lacked the international appeal of Sonic and Mario.

NEC tried one more time to find a Western audience with the TurboDuo, but that system floundered as well... perhaps because there was no room in the video game market after the launch of the Super NES, or perhaps because an aggressive ad campaign meant to spark fanboy passions ignited the wrong ones. However, it's just as likely that the games themselves were to blame, hitting the same cultural barriers that stonewalled NEC's success from the very beginning. The TurboGrafx line was never popular in the United States, and despite NEC's best efforts, it was probably never meant to be.

(thanks to Wikipedia and YouTube for assistance with research on this article.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Great Scott, Marty! This Sucks!

I guess it's required by internet law to talk about Back to the Future today, so here I am. Actually, I really do like the first and third films in the trilogy, but everybody's talking about the thinly veiled Pepsi commercial that was sandwiched between them, so I'll offer my thoughts on the fittingly mediocre video game it inspired.

Still more subtle than the Pepsi
schilling in the film.
Nope, not Back to the Future II & III, the NES disaster that was so cynically designed, the publisher tacked on another dozen (boring, boooooring) stages based on the third film at the last minute. I'm talking specifically about Super Back to the Future II, released for the Japanese Super NES by Toshiba Emi. You might be tempted to think that this game, with its bright colors and immediately recognizable caricature of Michael J. Fox, would finally break the streak of terrible games based on the movies. Resist that temptation.

What we've got here is a side-scrolling platformer whose merits begin and end with the faithfully reproduced film soundtrack. Everything else seems to be an afterthought. It's kind of like Sonic the Hedgehog, except instead of a spiny rodent, you've got Marty on a hoverboard in desperate need of a tune-up. Rather than gradually building velocity like Sonic, Marty moves in exactly two speeds, agonizingly slow and too damn fast. This means you'll be spending a lot of time overshooting platforms and desperately trying to nudge Marty over to robots to knock them out with an unreliable spin attack.

Oh, the variety!
Even if the control were tweaked, it probably wouldn't make up for the piss-poor level design and boss fights. An early area has Marty climbing to the top of a seemingly never-ending skyscraper, with a copy-and-paste cop waiting on every other floor. You can finish off Biff by nesting inside him and hammering the jump button for twenty seconds. 

Granted, I didn't spend too much time with Super Back to the Future II, but I'm not exactly eager to return for a second helping of its crap control and lackluster stages. Back to the drawing board is more like it.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cirque Du So Lame: The Ballad of Neo Mr. Do!

Once again, my apologies for my extended absence. I came down with the flu last week, but several antibiotics and a whole lot of cough syrup later, I'm feeling just good enough to start blogging again. So let's do it, shall we?

Since I finally got Neo-Geo games working on my hacked 3DS, I think I'll spend a little, heh, quality time with one of the lesser known titles for SNK's arcade jukebox. Neo Mr. Do!, developed by Visco Games, is the next generation sequel to Mr. Do!, one of the B-list celebrities from gaming's golden age. Here's an illustration taken from Joystik magazine...

Okay, creepy? I'm sorry, but I keep thinking those cherries are bloody skulls. The actual game is less disturbing, best described as a hybrid of Pac-Man and Dig Dug. As the harlequin hero Mr. Do!, you can either clear the screen of monsters or take a more pacifistic route and just eat all the cherries strewn throughout the playfield. Your primary weapons are the power ball, which bounces around madly in search of targets, and apples, which can be used to crush monsters by digging under them or shoving them into neighboring tunnels. 

Mr. Do!, as it appeared
on the Super NES.
(image from Console Classix)
The monsters are wilier than the ones in Dig Dug, burrowing their way through the dirt in their pursuit and even pushing apples onto you if you've been sloppy with your work. Complicating matters are the letter men, which appear when you grab a dessert that appears in the monsters' spawn point. These guys happily devour any apples you drop onto them, but killing them helps you build the word E-X-T-R-A, which earns you an extra life. It's very much a product of its time, simple and derivative but naggingly addictive all the same.

Like Nintendo's jack of all trades Mario, Mr. Do! adopted new play styles in his later games. Mr. Do!'s Castle, my personal favorite, has the clown crushing unicorns with a hammer in a pastiche of Donkey Kong and Lode Runner. Mr. Do!'s Wild Ride is the dud of the bunch, a perilous climb to the top of an active roller coaster track. (No explanation is given for this suicidal behavior, but you'll be happy to send Mr. Do! to his demise so you can stop playing the game.) The entertaining mid-1980s finale, Do! Run Run, is the most like the original, but replaces the mounds of dirt with layered overhead platforms studded with dots. Drawing squares around the dots changes them into more valuable fruits, and brightly colored logs can be pushed to crush the monsters nipping at your heels.

Mr. Re-Do.
Neo Mr. Do! returns the clown to his roots, with the same faux-Dig Dug gameplay that made him (almost) famous. He hunts for cherries, he turns apples into weapons of mass destruction, he throws bouncy balls into monsters. However, this time, it's louder, more garish, and above all, stranger than ever. Visco Games leaned hard on the circus theme, resulting in colors so bright they burn to the touch, enthusiastic calliope music, and full screen performances by Mr. Do! himself between levels. Even the font is desperate to convince you that you'll have a grand old time, with googly eyes and demented grins. (Call me a party pooper, but I'd be having more fun if the text in this game were readable. It's forty points in size and I still have no idea what it's trying to tell me!)

You're no Circus Charlie, pal!
But alas, fun is more elusive under this big top than it first appears. The attempts at humor are often forced (if it tells you anything, there's even a laugh track in the intermissions...) and the enhancements to the gameplay don't really improve it. Spelling "EXTRA" gives you a brief, often annoying puzzle stage with no real reward beyond bonus points. You'll have to earn an extra life by mining coins from stationary objects... it's kind of like banging your head against a coin block in Super Mario Bros., except the objects often won't tell you when they've been wrung dry of cash. Power ups include gender swappers that turn our hero into Ms. Do!, and the mini-bosses that appear at the ends of levels won't take "die" for an answer, respawning almost immediately after they've been hit with the power ball. Come to think of it, a lot of the enemies in this game shrug off death, leaving the player feeling helpless and overwhelmed.

Gee, I didn't realize Mr. Do! was so ripped.
The biggest problem with Neo Mr. Do!, as is so often the case with retro game revivals, is that it feels out of sync with the original vision for the series. It gets the basics right, but goes way overboard with artistic license, to the point where Mr. Do! dances spastically after beating stages and rides a Harley down the highway, clown girlfriend in tow, after winning an extra life. I don't know how the designers of the original Mr. Do! would have made an updated sequel, but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have done this.

(Screenshots taken from World of Longplays on YouTube)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Don't Try This at Home: Hacking the Playstation TV

Sorry this blog hasn't exactly been buzzing with activity, folks. I posted twelve entries- twelve!- last October, but right now I feel like a balloon with most of the air let out. I don't know what's responsible for my current malaise, but I'm hoping the holiday season will lift my spirits.

Anyway! In gaming news, I took a stab at hacking my Playstation TV, since it hasn't been getting a lot of lovin' lately. While I was ultimately successful, I can guarantee you that the "easy to install" TN-V is nowhere near as simple to use as past exploits for the PSP. You can find more information about the hack here if you're curious, but I'll warn you that it takes a lot of hard work and some frustrating trial and error to get it running. "Fifteen minutes of reading comprehension" is all you'll need for a successful installation? Yeah, if only.

You can't argue with the results, though. TN-V gives you full access to the PSP emulator built into the Playstation TV, letting you play any game in that system's library, along with a vast array of emulators. The interface is exactly the same as it is on an actual PSP, as you'll notice from this picture...

While you can connect later models of the PSP directly to a television set, the games are letterboxed, and you'll have to settle for the PSP itself as a controller, unless you've got a PSP Go (and in that case, you'll have to turn on the Bluetooth feature, which quickly drains the system's battery). The Playstation TV is a better way to go, if you've got the patience to install TN-V and transfer games to your memory card.

Speaking of games, here's one you probably won't see on PSN any time, well... ever. This is Salamander Collection, featuring five shooters from Konami's glory days. I've also got Twinbee Collection, Burnout Legends, and Grand Knights History running on my Playstation TV, and they all look fantastic... although with Grand Knights History, that pretty much goes without saying. I haven't tried any emulators yet, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time before I get to them.

Is the TN-V hack worth the trouble? For most users, probably not. An Android stick (available online for about fifty dollars) offers much of the functionality that this does, without much of the hassle. On the other hand, if you've got a lot of Vita games to play and just as much time to kill, you may want to look into this. TN-V greatly expands the scope of the Playstation TV, even if it's by giving it games the PSP has had for years.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Fighter's Misery: Battle Monsters

Twenty years ago, it was the nineties. And there was time for... crappy digitized fighting games! There must have been a whole lot of time for them, because they were all over the place. It got to the point where any schlub with a Macintosh, a digital camera, and some drunk friends could throw together their own Mortal Kombat kompetitor. Just look at Way of the Warrior, or Kasumi Ninja, or Tattoo Assassins, or... this.

Image from Lukie Games
Battle Monsters for the Sega Saturn has a convoluted history... it was released by Acclaim in the United States, but produced by Naxat Soft, but designed by Scarab, a small-time publisher pieced together from the remains of Atomic Robo-Kid creators Universal Playland. Scarab went on to develop a serviceable conversion of Fighting Vipers 2 for the Dreamcast, and spent its twilight years creating RPGs for the Xbox 360 under a new name, Feelplus. However, the company proved itself worthy of its previous title when it rolled this little ball of filth to Acclaim's front door.

Battle Monsters has all the usual earmarks of a half-assed Mortal Kombat knock-off... ridiculous characters, muddy digitization, feather-light physics, and of course, copious amounts of blood. Everyone gushes gallons of the red stuff, whether they're beefy gladiators or animated skeletons. It should all sound very familiar to anyone who remembers gaming in the Clinton years, but Battle Monsters offers two key differences from the mountain of blood-soaked brawlers available at the time. The first is that stop-motion monsters were thrown into the cast, adding an extra layer of cheese to the hokey fantasy setting. Both Battle Monsters and Konami's Crypt Killer marked a brief renaissance for the not-so-special effects made famous by Ray Harryhausen, a comeback made possible by the limited technology and tight budgets of the time. High-quality computer rendering was hugely expensive in the 1990s, and the Saturn's 3D hardware could barely produce recognizable humans, let alone scary monsters. With all this in mind, stop motion animation must have seemed like a smart workaround for penny-pinching game designers. (I doubt they'd be too proud of their work now, but I digress...)

The other thing that separates Battle Monsters from its contemporaries is that its stages are pretty large, with platforms hanging overhead and floors lying below you. You can hitch a ride on one of the platforms and briefly escape your opponent's wrath by tapping the X, Y, or Z buttons, but there's not much strategic value in taking the high road. In fact, because there's so little room to move, you'll often fall from your perch and tumble down to the lower half of the stage. There are a few nifty gimmicks, like the carnivorous plants waiting at the edges of one level and the boulders you can push in another, but beyond that the multi-tiered stages add little to the game but window dressing and irritation. 

Speaking of irritation, Battle Monsters serves up plenty, whether it's in the life bars that gobble up large portions of the screen without actually telling you your current health, the simplistic yet pointlessly cluttered control scheme, or terrible special effects like the field of grass that rolls past you instead of swaying in the breeze. Character costumes are rarely more elaborate than what you'd find at the office Halloween party, and your final battle is against four elemental spirits which are actually just the same guy in different colored robes. In 2015, the game's threadbare budget and lack of enthusiasm are good for a few laughs, but any Saturn owner who got stuck with Battle Monsters in 1996 would struggle to find the humor in the fifty dollars they just lost.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Go Home, ET, You're Drunk

So, it's officially Oktober-Fist here at Kiblitzing. But according to Chic Pixel, it's also Kuso-game Month, when the industry's worst products get their chance to shine... or just stink up the place. How do I combine the two?

image from Suscipe Domine, whatever that is
Yeah, that'll do it.

Seriously though, I'll be covering fighting games and terrible games this month, sometimes in the same breath. There were so many cheesy Street Fighter clones in the 1990s that even thirty one days of straight blogging won't be enough time to cover them all.

But you know what else is terrible? Having to bend myself into contortions to play the entire library of Vita and PSP games on my Playstation TV. Get this... I had to adjust settings on my router to keep Sony from sneaking whitelist revisions into my system without my knowledge or consent. Beyond that, I have to use a proxy to dodge mandatory system updates while downloading games from the PSN store. This isn't the kind of "challenge" I want from my gaming experience, Sony! How 'bout you take the boot off my throat and just let me play what I've legally purchased?

Also, Jeb Bush is terrible. But that's hardly news.