Thursday, December 31, 2015

Eve of Destruction

FOR SALE: One CX-919 II Android stick, crushed into a fine powder. Can be used as grit for icy sidewalks, or rooted by mixing it into the potting soil of your favorite plant. Inquire within.

Let that be a lesson to everyone who wants a cheap, flexible way to play all their favorite video games from the past century... the CX-crement 919 II is not the way to do it. It's got no support from the official manufacturer and it accepts no firmware but the underperforming default. Believe me, I've thrown everything but the kitchen sink at it, before pounding it into dust WITH a kitchen sink. Maybe there's a suitable Android device for retro gaming, but you'd be wise to pick up something backed by a leading tech company, rather than the Chinese fly-by-night that made this.

Anyway. I'm leaving this miserable (torture) device in the past, and looking hopefully toward the future. After all, a new year is on the horizon, and I might as well make the most of it! Right now, I've got my eyes on one of these fun little toys...

It's the Cambio by RCA, a tablet that runs an honest to goodness version of Windows rather than RT, Microsoft's weaksauce mobile operating system. This means that, at least in theory, I could play all my favorite emulators on the go and even sketch in Paint Tool SAI using my Wacom tablet. The specs... aren't terrific (2GB of RAM? For Windows 10?), but I'm nevertheless tempted by that price. After all, it couldn't possibly be any worse than the CX-919!

(Shut up, you idiot! That's what you said about the Playstation TV when you bought the damned CX-919 in the first place!)

Er, knock on wood.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Kurisumasu!

Ah, I love that clip. You'll probably have to fast-forward to 1:30 in the video, by the way.

Well, I hope you and yours had a happy holiday. Me and mine have, uh, overindulged and need to get back on an exercise regimen. I'm thinking the treadmill is the right way to go, because I don't need that stupid balance board telling me what I already know about my weight.

So what'd I get? A few weeks ago, my aunt slipped me a twenty to spend at Bookman's, a used entertainment store in Arizona. (I picked up three PSP games, including the brutally hard and unforgiving Tenchu: Shadow Assassin. Perhaps not the best of ideas...) Beyond that, I received gift cards to Wal-Mart and a copy of Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga, giving me an incentive to sweep the dust off my Playstation 3 after months of hibernation. It'll be a good way to re-familiarize myself with the series in time for The Force Awakens.

What's the other thing? Oh yeah... sorry I haven't been updating much this month. My creative juices haven't been flowing like they were earlier in the year. But hey, at least I've posted over eighty times in the past year, even better than the sixty nine posts I made in 2014. Here's hoping for even more output in the coming year.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Ho Ho Horrible: The Android Stick That Stole Christmas

A reader was curious about how well that Android stick worked for me. Put simply, it DIDN'T, but let's go into exhaustive, cathartic detail, shall we?

It came from eBay fairly quickly, and it wasn't tough to install. You just connect a writhing octopus of cables to the CX-919 II, pop in a fresh SD card, and connect it to the back of your television set. Blammo! Instant Smart TV.

The CX-919 II exists solely to
extinguish all joy from the
universe. Like Dave Coulier.
(image from eBay)
So far, so good, right? Wait, wait, here comes the fun part. Games designed especially for Android aren't a great idea, because even older titles like Shadowgun are too much for the candy bar-sized console to handle. It runs pretty well for about fifteen minutes, then overheats and crashes. Other games refuse to recognize your controllers, and others still don't work well with a horizontal aspect ratio. You didn't need to see the entire playfield, right?

But hey, you can always switch to emulators! After all, that's why I bought the stick in the first place. So I downloaded a few of those from the Google Play store, and noticed that their performance seemed a teensy bit... off. You know, you get occasional split-second hiccups that the average person probably wouldn't notice, but drives an obsessed nerd like myself bananas.

A remarkably accurate
depiction of what it's like
to use the CX-919 II.
(picture from
So, an obsessed nerd like myself started looking online for solutions; better firmware or maybe even a way to root the system, which would open the door to Dual Shock controllers and lessen the tangle of wires hanging from the back of the system. "It's so easy!," web sites like Freaktab claimed. "Just run the Rockchip Assistant and your computer will recognize the stick when you plug it in!" These web sites are filthy liars. The program, actually titled Rockchip Assitant because who the hell cares about proper spelling, takes two minutes to install and gives you NOTHING in return. Plug in the stick and your computer just goes about its business, completely ignoring the dongle dangling from its side.

Oh, there are solutions for this failure to communicate, according to the same filthy lying Android sites. But of course, none of THOSE work either. You'll edit configuration files, download program after program, and connect the stick from every possible USB port with every micro SD cable you've got, only to get the same fat load of nothin' you had before. So you're left to wonder what the CX-919 II could have done with that "really freaking fast KitKat ROM" capable of 1080p output which serves you breakfast every morning and cleans up afterward.

What I'M wondering right now is how many whacks of a hammer it would take to reduce this idiotic thing to a black and orange powder and put it out of MY misery. Yes, Virginia, it really does get worse than the Playstation TV. If you want to use an Android to get your classic gaming fix, pony up the extra dough and get something better than this.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

PSP, Done Dirt Cheap

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to stumble across a cache of PSP games for a couple of bucks each. I also found a copy of Tomba! for the same price, but I'd already complained about- er, reviewed that in a past blog entry, so let's just talk about the PSP games. As an added bonus, I'll throw in a review of Tron: Evolution, which was recently offered on the Playstation Store for five dollars. (And really, really isn't as good as it should have been. Why is it so hard for developers to make a video game that takes place inside a video game, anyway? That should be money in the bank. But I digress...)



Simple but attractive scenery is commonplace
in the PSP port of Ape Escape.
Ape Escape was designed as an introduction to the Dual Shock, giving the player all kinds of novel ways to familiarize themselves with the controller's twin thumbsticks. So naturally, the game was a perfect fit for the PSP, which has... um, just one analog stick. Sony found a way to make the game work, but you'll frequently feel the pinch of the less precise control when you swing your time net and catch air instead of the monkeys hiding in each stage. Generally speaking, Ape Escape is more kludgy here than it was on the Playstation, and the (slightly) enhanced graphics and improved voice overs don't really make up for it. Even with the hobbled control, it's an entertaining throwback to the late 1990s, with larger, more creatively designed levels than you'd expect from a PSOne platformer.

Bandai-Namco (Dimps)

"Here's something for YOU!"
A better game, hopefully.
Dragonball Evolution was pilloried by gaming critics around the world, but like Street Fighter: The Movie, it really isn't so bad if you can ignore its ties to the wrongheaded film that spawned it. It seems to borrow the same engine as Dimps' previous Dragonball Z games, replacing its cartoony cast with a whiter, fatter Goku and a Piccolo apparently plucked from an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Luckily the gameplay is, in a refreshing departure from most film-licensed games, fast and tightly responsive, with the fighters darting around the playfield, trading blows and charging up special attacks. There's not much to the action beyond getting in your opponent's face and mashing the attack button, but Dragonball Evolution is not quite as awful as you've been lead to believe. Just try not to dwell on whoever or whatever the hell Fu-Lum is.

Crave (Farsight)

Pin-Bot: The lurid science-fiction book cover
turned into a pinball game.
Farsight Technologies, creators of the incredibly awful Action 52 collection for the Sega Genesis, abandoned their filthy kusoge-making ways and have worked hard to establish themselves as a developer of faithful pinball simulations. The tables in Pinball Hall of Fame are based on a dozen games manufactured by Williams in the 20th century, and closely mimic their real-life counterparts with convincing physics and a camera that trails your ball as it bounces around the playfield. The attention to detail is commendable, but the question must nevertheless be asked... is hyper-realism really the way to go when video games can transcend the limitations of real life and evolve the pinball experience? Personally, I'd much rather play Devil's Crush or Metroid Prime Pinball, but if you want your pinball strictly by the book, this is as good as you're gonna get on the PSP.

Sony (Eidectic)

Not the easiest game to play on the PSP,
but certainly one of the prettiest.
I didn't even want to play this game at first, but it was popular with the critics, and hey, why waste the two dollars it cost? So I sat down and forced myself through most of the tutorial and one of the stages. Luckily, Dark Mirror has an easy difficulty setting, and isn't above a little friendly hand-holding to help newcomers get started. That came as a huge relief, because the game requires both stealth and expert marksmanship, and neither come naturally with the perplexing control. The analog thumbstick guides Gabe Logan through each mission, while the action buttons adjust the camera. The shoulder buttons aim and fire your weapon, while the D-pad along with the action buttons let you select from a wide assortment of visors and firearms. It's daunting, especially when your partner tells you to press left to select your infrared goggles and you tap the left shoulder button repeatedly, waiting in vain for something to happen. Playing Dark Mirror sometimes feels like juggling with oven mitts, but it's worth the frustration if you're a fan of tactical espionage. It looks spectacular on the PSP- the snapshot I've provided says it all- and the arsenal of weapons you're given grants you the freedom to take down soldiers as quietly- or as loudly and messily- as you please.

Disney (SuperVillain)

Oh how I wish this game
were as good as it looks.
(Image from
This game makes a strong first impression, with a camera sweeping into Flynn's gorgeously rendered arcade and voice overs from Jeff Bridges and Tron himself, Bruce Boxleitner. However, the excitement is short-lived, as the focus quickly shifts to a random program fighting his way through what's best described as a digital Olympics. You get the impression the developers were attempting a sequel to the Tron arcade game from the early 1980s, except this time, most of the events just aren't much fun to play. The light cycle battles are now seen from a behind the back perspective, leaving the player blasting pixelated puke with every disorienting 90 degree turn, and there are dull action sequences with simple puzzles to solve and legions of cheap enemies to fight. The game picks up a little during the death matches, with players scurrying around an arena, grabbing life-saving power ups and nailing each other with glowing frisbees, but it's just not enough to save Tron Evolution from the gaping maw of the Recycle Bin. Shame too, as the game looks gorgeous, with the same stark scenery and eerie phosphorescent lines as the film.

The guy in the Hawaiian shirt looks
kinda like my cousin...

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Take This Console and Stick It

Merry almost Christmas and happy currently Hanukkah, kids! I just thought I'd stop by and inform you that I've had a complete change of heart about the Playstation TV, Sony's ill-conceived micro console. After you're done puttering around with your library of (some) Vita and (most) PSP games, you discover that it can't really do anything else, and it just sits there gathering more dust than Yahoo Serious's career. (No, that's not Carrot Top, but I understand the confusion.)

Yes, there's technically a way to hack the Playstation TV, but it's a long, arduous process with unsatisfactory results. You have to create two "custom bubbles" for the system, one for official PSP games and the other for homebrew, and that requires a complicated series of steps that would leave even Rube Goldberg gasping for breath. If you've logged out of your PSN account for any reason, you'll be constantly hounded by the system to update the firmware if you try to do half the things the hack requires. And if you update the firmware, you won't be able to finish the hack anyway!

Look, I get why the firmware updates exist. Sony's got to keep people from pirating decade old PSP games on its twenty dollar console. (As far as I know, there's no way to run pirated Vita games on the PSTV, but why the hell would anyone bother when Sony practically gives them away during monthly flash sales?) But it doesn't make the misbegotten Playstation TV any more fun to use, and it doesn't make the system's wasted potential any less frustrating. The console is pretty powerful, especially for the price. It's just a pity that Sony will never take advantage of that power, and has gone to such lengths to prevent anyone else from harnessing it.

So I'm switching to an Android stick; specifically, a CX-919 II I recently purchased on eBay. I can't vouch for its performance, but I do know from my past experience with Android products that it will be a lot easier to customize. It may even run PSP software better than the PSTV can, since the PSP emulator on Android enhances the resolution of games and cleans up their chunky textures. Admittedly, the CX-919 might be disappointing too, but it's hard to imagine how it could be any worse than what I've already got.