Saturday, December 31, 2016

One Four the Road

It's New Year's Eve, and there's time for just one more 2016 post! So I guess now would be a really good time to tell you all that I broke down and bought that Playstation 4. They had a deal at the GameStop... it wasn't a great deal, mind, but $250 with a copy of Uncharted 4 and a free $25 gift card was the best I could find after Christmas. I thought about getting a used machine from a pawn shop, but it wouldn't have saved me much money, and buying new gives me both a one year warranty from Sony and the peace of mind I wouldn't have gotten from buying someone else's leftovers. If I'm going to do this, I figured I might as well do it right this time.

I haven't spent enough time with my Playstation 4 Slim to give it a proper analysis, but I can offer these observations...

I prefer the new shape of the slim model. It's reminiscent of the design of the original, but rounded at the edges and doesn't demand to be noticed the way the old machine did. It reminds me of an ice cream sandwich, and you know that's not a bad thing!

The interface is an evolution of the cross bar from the Playstation 3 and PSP, with a row of categories along the top and another row of installed software just below that. Below each app is a screen with handy information like a link to the user manual and the number of trophies you've earned. It's a little cluttered, but it might be a blessing to have that data readily available later.

‣ Prices are a little out of whack in the Playstation Store. Sure, there's a sale going on right now, but that won't last forever... and there are still lots of games that are much more expensive than they really ought to be. There's a line of arcade classics by Hamster Corporation which are eight dollars each, costing significantly more than the PSOne titles for Playstation 3 while offering significantly less play value. Would I like to own Exerion and Terra Cresta? Hell yes. Am I willing to pay nearly ten dollars for each of them? Hell no!

‣ The PS Home button is generally a lot more responsive than it was on the Playstation 3. Tapping it almost instantly pulls you out of the current app or game, whereas on the PS3, it would take a few seconds. However, the fly in the ointment is that leaving an app doesn't make it clear to the PS4 that you want to quit it. You've got to press the Options button and pick "close application" for that decision to really stick.

‣ The Dual Shock 4 has been redesigned slightly, with a small shaft of light peering up from the top of the controller along with the window on the front. It also seems more responsive than the old model, although given the fact that I have a really old model of the original PS4 controller that I had to refurbish myself, maybe I'm not the best person to make that judgement.

Speaking of the Dual Shock 4, the controller has rebranded the Start and Select buttons as Options and Share. Options serves the same purpose as Start, pausing the game while giving you a small menu that lets you adjust the settings to your liking. Share has replaced the mostly obsolete Select button, and is an entirely different animal, letting your share screenshots and brief video clips on the internet. It's a 21st century option complete with 21st century limitations, as not everything you see in the game can be recorded thanks to copyright issues.

‣ There's also a touchpad on the controller, which seems kind of extraneous but admittedly has its uses. When playing the system's small handful of PS2 games, you'll be asked to push down on the left and right sides of the touchpad to press Start and Select. Also, Spelunky lets you physically turn pages in the explorer's log book by swiping a finger across the touchpad. It's not necessary, really, but it does add slightly to the feeling of immersion as you explore tombs and get killed by practically everything lurking inside them.

‣ Mid-download gameplay is a much-hyped feature on the Playstation 4 that ultimately doesn't add up to much. Yes, you can kind of play the game before it's finished installing, but you're offered something lame and insubstantial, like the tutorial mode in King of Fighters 14. Best to forget about it and distract yourself with something else for a couple of hours while the download finishes. I mean, you've got other game systems, right?

‣ The Playstation 4 seems to handle Playstation 2 games better than the previous system had. It's not just that there are trophies and sharing... the graphics are a whole lot crisper than they had been on the PS3 too. It makes a big difference in King of Fighters 2000, and I imagine polygonal games like Dark Cloud 2 look great in high definition too.

‣ Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare was my first full-fledged Playstation 4 game, procured a couple of years ago when Electronic Arts took brief leave of its senses and gave away a handful of Playstation titles. Turns out that they didn't really give me much... the game won't start if you don't have Playstation Plus, even if you just want to play the story mode. Gee, thanks.

King of Fighters 14 was my primary motivation for picking up a Playstation 4 Slim, and it almost justifies the purchase. I'm not totally convinced it needed to be a Playstation 4 exclusive- the graphics don't seem beyond the grasp of Sony's previous console- but I'm really digging the gameplay, which encourages players to chain increasingly powerful attacks together. SNK hasn't lost its touch when designing characters, either, offering such memorable fighters as a narcoleptic kung fu master and the bug-eyed, criminally insane Xanadu. He's completely nuts, and I like him that way.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

It Came From Miiverse! Ho in Triplicate

If you'll pardon the indulgence (and you will, because you have no choice), I thought I'd post a few of my Miiverse scribbles on Kiblitzing this Christmas, along with brief descriptions of how they came to be.

Some concerned parents (aka meddlesome busybodies) complained that the Mall of America had a black Santa Claus this year. I'm not convinced they'd be happier with the real Saint Nicholas, who looks very little like the jolly fat guy in the red suit and very much like the late horror actor Christopher Lee in Catholic murals.

Some folks at the Talking Time forum took it upon themselves to compare the arcade classic Joust to Balloon Fight, while detailing all the ways that Nintendo's knock-off was superior. They're wrong, of course. Normally I don't mind Nintendo's whimsical approach to game design, but defanging a childhood favorite by replacing the vulture-riding knights with chubby balloonists did not sit well with me. 

Akuma is coming to Street Fighter V... with a flaming red mane instead of his usual bloomin' onion haircut. By the way, I've played a little bit of Street Fighter V at a GameStop and it seems... all right, I guess. Nothing that makes me want to run out and buy a Playstation 4, but admittedly, it's fun to open up stages by throwing your opponent through barriers.

I had to make this joke. Yes, I know I should be ashamed of myself. I'm not, but I should be.

By the way, I've played Rayman Legends, and it's far better than any other game I've played in the series. Maybe a little too wacky for its own good, but there's a really well-designed platformer buried under those madcap cartoon antics and a largely superfluous cast.

Microsoft offered the first episode of Batman: The Telltale Series for free on Xbox Live, and at that price, I could hardly resist. However, after playing through the first fifteen minutes, I'm not sure it's for me. It's a more grimdark take on the franchise, with people getting shot in the head and a gravelly hero who ought to keep a few Bat-Ludens in his utility belt. I know, there's no wrong way to portray Batman, but I've gotten mighty tired of this particular interpretation of the character. Also, I was kind of hoping that the industry had moved beyond Dragon's Lair, yet its soul lives on in this game's many, many barely interactive quick time events.

Speaking of games that aren't really for me, here's my impression of Undertale. It's just what RPGs always needed... guilt! Heaven forbid I defend myself against things that are attacking me.

Okay, this one isn't all that funny, but it was a fun challenge to reproduce the light and shadow in the illustration between stages in this largely forgotten NES game. I actually owned Isolated Warrior briefly in the early 2000s. Seeing the prices it's been going for lately, I wish I'd kept it.

While I'm on the subject, what the hell is VAP? They published the game in Japan, and evidently they had something to do with the animated series Death Note as well.

I dunno, I always heard this instead of "eliminate Gadget." And you know he'd be dumb enough to actually drink it.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Kicking and Screaming

Christmas is fast approaching, and I still have shopping to do. I'm not just talking about gifts for my family, either... I'm putting away a little extra cash to get something special for myself at the end of the year. The logical thing to do would be to finally step into the current generation of consoles with an Xbox One or a Playstation 4, but there's just one problem.

I... um, don't really want either of them.

Now I realize that the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 have reached the end of their respective life cycles. Third party support for the two systems has been dwindled to nothing in the past year, and the only thing that's keeping them relevant in 2016 is the huge back catalog of titles available on Xbox Live and PSN. 

On the other hand, it's been three years since their successors was released, and I still can't think of many compelling reasons to buy either of them. The Playstation 4 has Street Fighter V and King of Fighters XIV, along with a handful of games that probably run better on it than the Vita. What it doesn't have is backward compatibility with the past three generations of Playstation systems, aside from a few Playstation 2 classics... far fewer than what's currently available on the Playstation 3.

From the makers of "Who Gives a Damn,"
comes "Really, Why Are We Still Doing This?"
The Xbox One does have backward compatibility with a growing number of Xbox 360 titles, but I have to imagine they run better on the Xbox 360 I already own. Past that, what does this system have to offer me? Killer Instinct, a remake of one of the B-list fighting games of the 1990s? The critically underwhelming Sunset Overdrive? A whole bunch of first-person military shooters I wouldn't touch with a ten foot howitzer? It's hard for me to give a damn about this machine and its library, even with the long (long, loooong) awaited Cuphead coming next year.

Add to that my increasingly dusty Wii U and I just can't muster much excitement for this generation of consoles. I'd like to have the same rabid anticipation I had for the Sega Genesis in the early 1990s, or the Dreamcast at the turn of the century, or the Xbox 360 in 2006, but the enthusiasm just isn't there. Considering that we're already three years into this cycle with two stopgap consoles planned in the near future, I don't think I'll ever find it.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Samba de Amiga! (part 2)

Finally, here are those reviews I promised! Just a few notes: running Amiga games is a little different on an emulator than it would be on the actual computer. You don't have to swap floppies a half-dozen times, and trainers go a long way toward making the tougher games a lot more fun to play. There's also the option to map keyboard keys to the joypad, letting you play with more console-like controls. Okay, with that out of the way, let's begin!


Puff puff... pass.
Bubble Bobble clones are a staple of the Amiga owner's diet, but they're generally ports of obscure Japanese arcade games... Rodland and Snow Bros. to name just two. Super Methane Bros. is a peculiar break from that tradition, created exclusively for the Amiga by a Western design team. And when I say "peculiar," I'm not kidding! As the gas mask clad exterminators Puff and Blow, you must blast pests with noxious purple clouds, draw them into an oversized sprayer, then slam them into nearby walls. When one of the wandering creatures is killed, it explodes into a shower of goodies. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, it would be, except the game is really picky about the process. You can't launch an enemy into a crowd of his buddies, and if you don't fire him directly into a wall, he shakes off the fumes and continues chasing you. Games like this one live and die by the versatility of the lead character's weapon, and the gas gun in Super Methane Bros. just doesn't do enough to keep the player entertained for long. It's a shame too, because the designers got everything else right, from the explosively colorful graphics to the tons of items to collect. C


Another fine conversion from the
ace programmers at Ocean France.
Now see, this is how you do a Bubble Bobble-alike. Snow Bros. not only looks and sounds great, it's got a genuinely useful play mechanic. The frosty hero Nick packs his foes into massive snow boulders which can be launched across the screen, frantically bouncing off walls and flattening anything in their path. Send one snowball into another and the chaos doubles, increasing the chances that you'll clear the screen of enemies and earn a hefty point bonus in the process. It's exciting, it's cathartic, and it offers plenty of opportunities for careful strategy... qualities that are sorely lacking from Super Methane Bros. Ocean's French division also gets plenty of credit for a quality conversion that's easily on par with the Genesis game, with larger characters and a smart use of the Amiga's limited color palette. There are just two problems... one, there's no two player option, and two, this game was never actually sold in stores due to a copyright dispute with Toaplan. Sure it's available now, but it would have mattered so much more in the 1990s when the Amiga was actively supported... B+


Would you believe it if I told you
this was the 256 color version...?
You've gotta be pretty hard up for Street Fighter if you're going to play it on an Amiga in this day and age. Nevertheless, this is as good a conversion as you're going to find on the system. While Street Fighter II and Super Street Fighter II Turbo pump up the visuals while skimping on the gameplay, Super Street Fighter II concentrates on the fundamentals, resulting in a surprisingly playable port. With a two button controller, special moves come off cleanly and combos flow nearly as well as they had in the original, even Ken's brutal punch-to-flaming-shoryuken. On the down side, it's not a pretty game, with tiny sprites and static backgrounds. Even the (slightly) more colorful AGA version doesn't compare favorably to its Genesis and Super NES counterparts, but when compared to other Amiga fighting games, Super Street Fighter II is hardly a disappointment. B-


Is it live, or is it Amiga-rex?
The Amiga isn't usually the place to go for faithful arcade conversions... that was more the specialty of the Sharp X68000, Japan's own multimedia computer. However, the Amiga could be coaxed into producing some really impressive ports with the right designers behind the wheel. Pang (aka Buster Bros.) is a perfect example, losing almost nothing in its migration from the corner of the bowling alley to the computer desk. The picturesque backgrounds inspired by world landmarks are here. The silly post-stage cut scenes seemingly drawn by Dragon Ball's Akira Toriyama are here. The power-ups- even the ones you hate, like the dynamite- are all here. The balloons seem to drop a little too quickly after they've been split by your wire, but beyond that, the game is an almost pixel-perfect copy of the original. Ocean's French division took its job seriously when porting arcade games to the Amiga, leaving nothing out and taking no liberties with the source material, and that attention to detail makes a big difference. A-


How do I hate this game? Lord, where do I even start? The hero, a noodle-limbed ninja ant, is arguably the worst thing to have been spawned from the mascot game craze of the early 1990s. His enemies are even worse, respawning at the worst possible moments and unleashing a steady stream of obnoxious sound samples that will test your will to live. The graphics are loud and tacky, with colors that run the gamut from "please tone it down" to "my eyes, the goggles do nothing!" The constant ads for Chupa-Chups lollipops (mental note: never buy Chupa-Chups lollipops) is that extra touch of contempt Zool needs to be the most openly spiteful platformer on the Amiga. Sure, the gameplay borders on acceptable, but there are so many Sonic clones out there already! Why the hell would anyone torture themselves with this one?! D-


We've replaced John's copy of Mega Turrican with
Turrican 3. Let's see if he notices the difference!
Turrican is one of the big names in the Amiga library, a fast-paced shooter with loads of weapons and enormous levels. And oh yes, a lot of irritating flaws that didn't sit too well with the console crowd. Because there's no post-hit invulnerability, the hero's life bar drops like a stone whenever he touches enemies. Beyond that, there's a lack of polish in the presentation, especially the character designs which are either forgettable or too stupid to blot out of your mind. Fortunately, many of the game's rough edges were sanded off in the console-exclusive sequels, especially Mega Turrican, which traded some of the series' sprawl for a more professional, arcade-quality look. Some fans balked at the changes when the game was faithfully ported to the Amiga as Turrican 3, but personally, I think the new design was a step forward for the series. Sure, the levels are more linear than they were in the first two games, but with so much added polish and fewer cheap deaths, there's a lot more give than take. B


Captain Flynn gains his sea legs.
There's plenty to like about this platformer, which drops you in the tall boots of a pirate who's washed ashore on a mysterious island. It's got a strong sense of atmosphere, with the sound of crashing waves in the distance replaced with an eerie aquatic soundtrack whenever Captain Flynn dives for sunken treasure. Add charming cartoon artwork, and Traps 'n Treasures feels like a high-class console release... something that would have been more at home on the Turbografx-16 or Genesis than the Amiga. The only problem- and it could be a deal breaker if you're easily frustrated- is that the game is punishing, even cheap at times. Flynn can't defend himself underwater, where his most dangerous enemies live, and overly generous collision detection means even close calls with schools of fish and clams could cost him some health. There are passwords for each level, but they're pretty long levels, and there's no option to continue if you die halfway through one of them. You best not make too many mistakes, matey. B

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Roots Run Deep

I'm still working on the second half of that Amiga article... just be patient! In the meantime, here's a bit of gaming history I feel like mentioning. 

Badr Alomair of Madman's Cafe was talking about the music from Fatal Fury, and I took the opportunity to remind him that one of the themes from the first game was borrowed from Street Smart, a fighting game SNK designed shortly before the Neo-Geo was released. Here, have a listen:

Fatal Fury: Sound (Sandy?) Beach theme

Street Smart: City Streets theme

The Fatal Fury track is a little fancier thanks to the power of the Neo-Geo, but it's definitely the same tune. (Pretty catchy too, now that I think about it!) Beyond this track and the option to double-team opponents in the versus mode, the ties between Fatal Fury and Street Smart are pretty tenuous. However, there's still fan speculation that the latter game is part of the long-running South Town series. SNK hasn't confirmed this (or even seems to remember that Street Smart exists...), but hey, anything's possible.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Samba de Amiga! (part 1)

The holy grail for teenage nerds in the 1980s.
(image from Pinterest)
The Amiga was one of those systems I desperately wanted but which always seemed just out of reach. Originally designed in 1983 as a cutting-edge game machine, the Amiga hardware was purchased by Commodore two years later and repurposed as a home computer, competing with other 16-bit powerhouses like the Atari ST and Apple's Macintosh.

Yet despite the keyboard and floppy drive, the Amiga could never escape its true purpose. There was a lot you could do with the computer, from composing music to producing home videos, but Amiga owners always found themselves returning to its vast library of video games. Amiga games were typically designed in the United Kingdom, where the computer was most popular, and the European influence could plainly be seen in their lavish backgrounds and a quirky sense of humor.

I've got one of these now! Geez,
it took long enough...
(image from Amazon)
Recognizing the Amiga's strengths and the increasing popularity of the video game market, Commodore tried turning the machine back into a game console with the CD32 in 1993. Sadly, the company had been wrung dry of cash by that point and could no longer give its machine the support it needed to flourish. When Commodore went bankrupt a year later, it was game over for the CD32 and the rest of the Amiga line.

Yet even in death, the Amiga remained fascinating to me. I've spent hours playing its games in the WinUAE emulator, discovering everything I missed in the 1980s... as well as a fair share of titles I would have been better off leaving in the past. Even the lousy games have been an education, and here's what I've learned so far about the Amiga experience:

 The Amiga was, in its original design, limited to just 32 colors. The more clever developers could squeeze a lot more out of the hardware with a special technique called Hold and Modify, but this was better suited to static images, not animation (and by extension, games). The color palette would get a big boost years later with AGA, a technology which allowed later Amiga systems to display 256 colors out of a selection of... sixteen million? Yeah, I think I could work with that!

Left: Amiga (32 colors)
Right: TurboGrafx-16 (256 colors)
  You'd be amazed at what can be done with just 32 colors, though. Games like Parasol Stars and Snow Bros. match up fairly well with their console counterparts despite the Amiga's color deficit, and other titles like Super Methane Bros. and Zool are blindingly bright. However, the absence of color is deeply felt in more realistic games, like the ports of Mortal Kombat and Super Street Fighter II. If you thought the latter game suffered on the Genesis, you ain't seen nothin' yet...

 The Amiga is capable of producing crisp digitized speech and other sound samples... and boy did developers take advantage of it! Sometimes this resulted in powerful soundtracks like the one in Agony, but sometimes you'll wish the designers had shown a little restraint, like when every item you collect in Super Methane Bros. comes with its own wacky noise. There are a lot of items in that game, by the way. I hope you brought just as much patience for stupid sound effects.

Nope, you're done. Go home.
 The British seem to have a serious allergy to continues. Some Amiga games limit you to a couple, while others give you none at all. It's no wonder that when these games were pirated, they included "trainers" which gave players infinite lives or health. Infinite health might be just enough to finish a ball-buster like Shadow of the Beast...

 Some Amiga games give you music or sound effects, but not both at once. Sometimes you're allowed to choose between the two, but occasionally that choice will be forced on you. Platformers like Oscar and Zool have no background music and feel naggingly incomplete without it. And kind of creepy too, now that I think about it.

 The motif for the lion's share of Amiga games (especially Psygnosis games) is "progressive rock album cover come to life."  Be prepared to see a lot of surreal landscapes littered with aliens, dragons, and combinations of the two. (Admittedly, there are worse things than having your video game look like a Roger Dean poster.)

No controller standard
means you get to spend
some quality time with
your old friend, hand-
cramping 2600 joystick!
 The Amiga was designed with two DB-9 joystick connectors... the same kind you'd see on the Atari 2600 and Sega Genesis. There'd be nothing wrong with that, except there was never a standard controller for Amiga computers, forcing users to plug in their single button joysticks from the Atari era. This problem wasn't addressed until the CD32 was launched in 1993, and by then, dozens of games that had no business being played with one button were already available for the Amiga. Whoops...

 Originally, Amiga games had to be loaded from a floppy disc. If you have the option- and you almost certainly do if you're playing these games on an emulator- I would suggest using a virtual hard drive instead. You can set one up by using these instructions provided by GBATemp member Dansmell. When you're finished, you can quickly and painlessly access your games from Workbench, a user interface that's the rough Amiga equivalent of Windows. You can even use the hard drive file you made in the recently released UAE4All for the Playstation Vita, making it even more handy.

Oh, I'm not done yet! I'll be reviewing a handful of Amiga games in the second part of this feature, so stay tuned!

(Special thanks to Wikipedia, Old Computers, and Lemon Amiga for providing valuable information for this article.)

Friday, November 25, 2016

When Black Friday Comes...

Well, it's here... National Step All Over Your Fellow Man for Low Priced Merchandise Day. I wish there was a discount on thought-provoking comments, because man, my cupboard is bare right now.

Now that there's an Amiga emulator for the Playstation Vita, I thought I'd review a few of the games for Commodore's cutting-edge (for 1985, at least) multimedia computer. Turns out that running those games is more difficult than I'd expected, full of tedious disc swapping, load times, and compatibility issues. Ruff 'n Tumble, that bizarre yet brilliant hybrid of Metal Slug and Sonic the Hedgehog, runs a lot smoother than it had on the PSP, and is double the fun with an infinite ammo cheat and a dedicated button for jumping. However, the Amiga version of Snow Bros. won't work at all, and the ill-conceived ports of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II won't actually let you play them because they demand discs you've already put in the Amiga's virtual drive. So I guess that's not really an option until I work out the kinks.

I recently picked up a flight stick from St. Vincent RuPaul's (wait, that's not right...), so reviews of arcade games that use that style of controller are not out of the question. The only problem is that what a flight stick offers in immersive, seat of the pants excitement, it lacks in precision. It feels right to play Zaxxon with a trigger-mounted stick, but an ordinary gamepad makes it less likely that you'll crash into castle walls, enemy jets, and all the other hazards the game throws at you. Then again, even a really good gamepad can't fix Zaxxon's frustrating lack of depth perception. Sorry, but that altitude meter on the side of the screen just doesn't cut it in 2016. (or 2006. Or 1996. Heck, maybe even in 1982 when the game was released.)

Plan C would be to barf up a bunch of drawings I did on Miiverse over the last couple of months. I haven't been posting there as often as I did last year, but there should be enough fresh content to justify a post. It's kind of lazy, but hey, it's something.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Genesis Did

I've been feeling nostalgic for the Sega Genesis, so I thought I'd drop a few of its earlier games (and one of its later ones) into an emulator and share my experiences. Hey, it gives me something to do.


See? I wasn't kidding about the Cruz thing!
America deserved a really good Ghostbusters game after suffering through the overly complicated and underly fun home computer title by Activision... you know, the one that later migrated to every 8-bit game console under the sun and was somehow even worse on them. Fortunately, Ghostbusters for the Genesis is a step in the right direction, starting from scratch with platforming action that's like a more passive Mega Man. As Ray, Egon, or Peter (but no Winston? Tsk tsk, Sega!), you blast wayward spirits in a series of massive New York homes. The stage designs lean toward the confusing and you'll take cheap hits more than occasionally, but the control is very solid, with the trio making precise jumps with ease and locking themselves in place while firing diagonally... a handy skill when battling bosses three times their size. The graphics are also a highlight, with recognizable caricatures of the Ghostbusters cast. Bill Murray looks disturbingly like senator Ted Cruz, which is not the kind of scare you want from a Ghostbusters game, but that's still a big step up from the faintly detailed stick figures from the 8-bit titles... B



Death comes from all directions
in Dick Tracy.
Sega put its Shinobi team to work on this one, and the influence in its design is obvious. It feels a lot like the original Shinobi arcade game, with Tracy pushing his way deep into mob territory, using boxes for cover and picking off gangsters with a modest but effective pistol. It all seems pretty cut and dry... but then enemies appear on the other side of the street, and that's when things get interesting. The saffron-colored shamus is also armed with a tommy gun, letting him blast foes in the distance before they can catch him in their sights. You'll frequently have to juggle between the two styles of play to survive, keeping the action lively and strengthening the game's ties to the big-budget Disney film of the same name. The gameplay gets a little too overwhelming during boss fights, but the stylish presentation (including large, well animated sprites and a fitting jazz soundtrack) helps soothe the sting of being blown to bits by The Brow for the sixth or seventh time. B


Being pelted with Winnie the Pooh toys is
actually one of the least weird things
that happens in this game.
The gorgeous anime intermissions... the ludicrous level designs... the nagging sense that another developer could have done this better... yep, it's a Wolf Team game, all right! El Viento continues the Wolf Team tradition of quirky-but-not-always-in-the-best-ways gameplay with a fast-paced platformer set in the 1920s. Sometimes you'll be impressed with the way lanky magician Annet gracefully sprints through each stage, clearing her path with handfuls of boomerangs. Sometimes you'll get frustrated by the way she's shoved around by her enemies, without a brief window of mercy invincibility or any indication that she's been injured aside from a quickly draining life bar. And sometimes you'll just stare at the screen in bewilderment as Annet clashes with hovertanks, sewer mutants, and swirling lines of airborne cacti. Does El Viento ever make sense? Not really. Is it entertaining? Sure, if you can get used to the slightly off design. It's a Wolf Team game, after all. That comes with the territory. C+



Released late in the life of the Sega Genesis, Aero the Acro-Bat 2 was the last burning ember of the furry mascot era of gaming. Players were weary of the avalanche of Sonic clones that dominated the Super NES and Genesis, and were eager for fresh experiences on the coming generation of consoles. This made Aero 2, with its squeaky-voiced hero and cartoony animation, feel like a relic in the far-flung year of 1994. Twenty years later, with the resentment for video game mascots softened into quaint nostalgia, it's easier to judge Aero the Acro-Bat 2 on its own merits. By those standards, it holds up surprisingly well. The drill attack is more useful than it was in the original, there are hidden paths tucked everywhere, and set pieces like spinning gears and bells keep the player surprised and engaged. Aero's still not much of a character, awkwardly straddling the fence between cuddly and edgy, but the gameplay is just good enough to make it worth putting up with the contrived star's constant guano. B



The G.I. Joe Armored Battle Tank.
Get yours today for $29.99 at Toys 'R Us!
(Figures sold separately.)
If Dick Tracy is just too darned subtle for you, give Dynamite Duke a spin. It serves up all the big, loud, dumb action you could ask for, with the brawny title character gunning down soldiers, tanks, choppers, cannons... really, there's no soldier too small and no boss too big for Duke to blow to bits. He'll even roll up his sleeves and throw a few punches if anyone is stupid enough to challenge him to a fight.

Like the games in the Neo-Geo launch library, Dynamite Duke makes a strong first impression with its big, bright artwork and surprisingly smooth 3D effects. However, the thrills don't last because the game is neither long enough nor deep enough to hold the player's attention. You shoot everything in sight, you engage in CQC with brain-dead cyborgs who can't touch you when you duck out of the way of their attacks... the process repeats until you reach an infuriating final boss and the end of the game. The muffled sound doesn't do much for Dynamite Duke's long-term appeal either, taking the teeth out of the constant gunfire and explosions. C-



One nice touch: Cows peacefully graze
below you, unaware of the carnage overhead.
Raiden Trad suffers from being a perfectly competent game in a genre that's over-represented on the Sega Genesis. Shooters are a dime a dozen on this system, and this one in particular is so much like Truxton and Fire Shark that it's even harder to justify its existence. Having said that, if you absolutely must play a Raiden game, this is one of the better ports on an early 1990s game console. Compared to the Turbografx-16 version that came later, the colors are a little dull and you don't get that cool burst of shrapnel when your ship explodes, but at the same time, it's head, shoulders, torso, knees, and ankles above the embarrassing Super NES port. It's also worth noting that Raiden Trad is one of the few shooters of its time that shows you a little mercy after you die, summoning a fairy which showers your next life with power-ups. The game is hard enough in the later stages that you'll be grateful for the helping hand. C+

Monday, November 14, 2016

This Old Xbox

(cricks neck)

It's been a while, but let's see if I can still do this blogging thing. We're all frightened by what the election results have in store for us, but it doesn't have to stop us from living in the moment. Today we game, tomorrow we die!


Uh, er, anyway. You may recall that I bought an Xbox 360 E last year, since I've always liked the system and found a smaller, more reliable, less ridiculous looking version of it appealing. Problem is, I was too cheap to buy an official hard drive, and those are the only ones that offer compatibility with the original Xbox library. That machine I like a little less, but it nevertheless has a lot of cool games, and it was distressing that I didn't have access to them.

Feh. What else you got?
(image: Softonic)
So during the summer, I scoured the internet for a solution to my compatibility problem. Turns out you can get the patch you need to run Xbox games on an aftermarket hard drive... it just takes a SATA cable and a little work. Now my el cheapo drive runs classic Xbox games like a champ!

Wait, there's one other problem. All my legacy Xbox games are stranded in Michigan, and the only ones I've got here in the Southwest are Shenmue II and Sonic Heroes. No no, that won't do at all! Guess I'll have to rebuild my library with a little shopping. And there's no better place to start than Dead or Alive 3, my favorite game in the long-running series.

The perfect winter attire,
if you're a pneumonia fan.
(image: YouTube)
Dead or Alive 3 is one of the most common games in the classic Xbox library and can be had for a pittance... I scored a copy for five bucks, and I'm sure I could have paid less if I spent more time looking. More importantly, it's a fantastic fighter that somehow still looks incredible fifteen years after its release. Each stage feels like a tangible location rather than wallpaper, with ledges your opponent can be pushed off and walls they can be pinned against. The characters are gorgeously animated and only slightly artificial... you can find polygonal edges on their shoulders and clothing, but only if the camera's pretty close. For my money, it looks almost as good as the much later Dead or Alive 5, and worlds better than the crushing disappointment that was the fourth game.

(image: Wikipedia)
I also found a copy of Fable... somewhere. (Where the hell DID this come from, anyway? It's like it randomly materialized in my entertainment center.) This hasn't aged so well, but I suspect that was the result of its open world design coupled with a limited budget. Games are so polished these days that the little flaws that would easily be ignored in 2004- cheesy voice acting and an overuse of the Arial font in menus to name some examples- are a lot harder to shrug off now.

Anyway. Dated though it may be, Fable holds up better than its Xbox bunkmate Elder Scrolls: Morrowind. The characters are somewhat angular but have a charming cartoony design, with big, bulbous feet and exaggerated features. The gameplay is kind of awkward- it's entirely too easy to put away your bow when you wanted to fire it- but you see what Peter Molyneux was hoping to accomplish with this. The man promises entirely too much with his games, but at least he meets half of his lofty goals. I understand that there's a special anniversary edition with enhanced graphics. I may have to look into it, especially since the classic Xbox version doesn't play all that smoothly on an Xbox 360.

I think that's where I'll end this blog entry. Hey, I made it through the whole thing! Go me! Hopefully you'll be hearing more from me in the coming months.

Thursday, November 10, 2016


Well, that election sure happened. Look, I'm not going to spend a lot of time discussing it here... this really is not the place for politics. For what it's worth, I will say that America has made a dreadful mistake. We won't know whether he'll be just a bad president or one of history's worst dictators (I'm fearing the latter), but whatever happens, I'll keep writing for as long as I'm given that opportunity. The rights of free expression guaranteed by the first amendment are your greatest gift, people. Cherish them, fight for them. Die for them if you must.

I'll keep posting about silly video game nonsense here as long as I'm capable and motivated. People may criticize that decision as dwelling on trivialities in the face of something far more serious, but I've been immersed in the increasingly stressful world of politics for at least a couple of months, and I'll need this distraction to keep me sane. No apologies.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Radio Silence

Doo, doo dah. Bop bop, aah, aah.

Yeah, I'm probably not going to be doing much with the blog or my YouTube channel for a while. This year's election has seriously got me on edge. After that's over, my mother returns from Michigan, and I'll have to find a way to deal with that drama, too. Sorry. Hopefully when I come back, I'll have something worth reading for you guys.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

How to Win at Nintendo (then lose my respect)

You know, I don't often discuss politics here on this blog (although lord knows I've been tempted), but this warrants the intrusion. Remember Jeff Rovin, the guy who wrote all of those How to Win at Nintendo books at the exact moment the NES got popular? Turns out he's an extremely prolific writer, editing the sleazier tabloids from the 1990s, and he's somehow gotten himself involved in this increasingly ridiculous presidential election. Just look at this.

Rovin claims he was paid to keep quiet about Hillary Clinton's torrid affair with Vince Foster's ghost, or some stupid thing. Sean Hannity, the windiest of Fox News' blowhards, ate it up, because this is the last fragile strand Trump's supporters can cling to now that it's two weeks from the election and his chances of victory are in the toilet.

I really did appreciate Jeff Rovin's work as a teenager, because video game journalism was a rare commodity in the 1980s, and How to Win at Nintendo seemed more earnest than marketing focused magazines like Nintendo Power and GamePro. So it's a little disappointing to learn that he's been reduced to spreading rumors about the Clintons that even Fox News can't verify. Then again, I can't really blame Rovin for turning to the dark side. It's not like you can make much money writing about video games these days...

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Kan't-ji (also some Switch crap)

I'm still trying to make a translation for the Game Gear version of Mappy. It's not going that well. HOWEVER! I did manage to find out what the game's adventure mode was called, after a frustrating hour of scribbling strokes into online dictionaries. Ready for it? Here it comes!

Wait wait, that's not it at all. (Funny, though!) Let's try this again:
Roughly translated to English, it's "Challenge of your Ancestors," or perhaps "Ancestral Challenge." If I were translating it, however, I'd probably call it Days of Mappys Past, because I like my localizations cheeky and slightly off-script.

(image from GoNintendo)
All right, enough of that. Nintendo finally revealed the NX, or as it's now known, the Switch. The brief promotional video was a confirmation of what everyone expected it to be, give or take a directional pad. Yep, the D-pad is history, removed from the two tiny Joy Cons that clip on the sides of the system. I suspect Gumpei Yokoi is shaking his fist from way up there in gaming legend heaven. I also suspect Namco-Bandai is considering a lawsuit for the very familiar name Nintendo chose for the modular controllers.

There's also an unpleasant rumor that the Switch screen will have no touch features whatsoever. Not only does this strike me as a step back from previous Nintendo systems (AND the Playstation 4, AND the Vita, AND practically every smart device on the market), it'll effectively make Miiverse useless for artists like myself. If this turns out to be true, I won't be making the Switch to Nintendo's new system any time soon. This is... kind of an important feature, guys! You can't just start an art-based social network with thousands of users, only to chuck it in the crapper a few years later! Give it a chance to grow, for cryin' out loud!

The other rumor is that Nintendo will continue to make handhelds, in spite of the Switch's extreme portability. This... is slightly mystifying to me, because I thought the system was supposed to merge the handheld and console markets. I'd humbly suggest squeezing a few more years out of the New 3DS and then deciding whether to launch a new handheld or putting all of your eggs in the Switch basket, but what do I know? (More than this guy, at least.)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Lost in Translation(s)

So hey, good news! Although the Playstation 3 repair was a bust, I did manage to install Arm9LoaderHax on my 3DS! That means instant access to homebrews and emulators, without the annoyance of starting Ocarina of Time 3D first! I can even inject ROMs into Virtual Console with some handy software I found on GBATemp. That's good! But some of the games I'd like to play are in Japanese and don't currently have translations available... which is less good.

Take for instance the Game Gear version of Mappy. It's a solid port of the Namco(t) arcade game, with the addition of a brand new quest mode. The game's new stages scroll in four directions, and all the ill-gotten booty the Mewkies have stolen has been updated to early 1990s standards. It's a pretty nifty sequel, marred by a needlessly confusing menu screen.

Picking the first option takes you to the original Mappy, obviously, but I have no idea what the hell the second option is supposed to be. All I can tell you is that it's something of something else, because I can't read kanji worth a damn and the only thing that really stands out is the possessive () in the middle. The final option is some kind of versus mode, I guess, but with all that kanji only native Japanese speakers and advanced students will know for sure. It's just completely unnecessary in a Mappy sequel. It's not a damn RPG, after all.

So I took it upon myself to translate the game. Hey, all you have to do is change a few tiles in an emulator and you're done, right? Heh heh, no. You'd be able to get away with that on the NES, but things aren't that easy on the Game Gear. The graphics are compressed, so Sega can squeeze them onto those tiny handheld cartridges. That compression also prevents tampering, as you'll notice in the next screencap.

Changing just one tile garbled up most of the graphics on the same horizontal line. Even if you could read it before, you probably wouldn't be able to now. So that was a swing and a miss. It would help if I knew what I was doing, or if someone would at least tell me what to do, but alas, that information is tough to come by and not always complete. Let's take a look at the guide offered on the official web site for Master Tile Converter, the program I used to mangle- er, alter this game.

Okay, I've got MEKA. Hell, I've used MEKA for nearly fifteen years. I don't go back to it much anymore, because KEGA Fusion has obsoleted it, but sure, I'll fire it up one more time to get that information you wanted. Now I'll just load the cartridge and tap in the keys that export the palette. Oh, there ARE no keys that export the palette! Wait, is there an option in the drop-down menu? No, no there isn't. Wait, maybe the documentation will tell me what to do! Nope, it sure doesn't! And this goes on and on until I'm tired of getting crushed by the boulder I'm trying to roll up a hill. Nuts to this... maybe I can find something more productive to do with my time, like demolishing a brick wall with my skull.

This kind of frustrating crap was precisely what put the breaks on my plan to translate the Super NES-exclusive sequel to Fighter's History. I thought it would be fun to do to Mizoguchi Kikkipatsu! what I'd done to Schmuck Fu years earlier, but Data East did such a wonderful job of hiding the text from hackers that it became obvious why nobody attempted a translation before. If you're going to put in that kind of effort, you might as well invest it in a game that absolutely needs English text, like the surprisingly enjoyable Gunman's Proof. (Seriously, try it sometime. Ignore the fact that it was programmed by the same guys who made Deadly Towers... you wouldn't even know that if they hadn't told you.)

Sure, you can muddle through Mizoguchi Kikkipatsu! without actually understanding it, but I still dream of what could have been. My faux-translation would have had so many fart jokes and anachronistic pop culture references! Eat your heart out, Victor Ireland!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Halloween Horror Show: The Playstation 3 Autopsy

You want to see something scary for Halloween? Here's something absolutely terrifying. Viewer discretion and a strong stomach are advised.

Around this time last year, I found a Nintendo Wii at a garage sale for ten dollars. It was in miserable shape, but it still worked, and a thorough cleaning made it not only functional, but presentable too. I was not as lucky with this recent find.

This Playstation 3 appeared in my yard a few days ago. My aunt brought it over in the dead of night, having absolutely no idea what it was but thinking it could fetch a few dollars in a yard sale. Under normal circumstances, sure, but in this shape? Not bloody likely! The system was caked with dust and faded Disney stickers, and a test run on my television had predictably disappointing results. Turns out the machine was just as much of a mess on the inside as out, as you'll soon discover.

Most of the screws on the underside of the Playstation 3 were missing in action, but the previous owner's attempt to repair the system was foiled by a trio of Torx security screws, hidden under the disc drive. They nearly stopped me too, but then I remembered that I could take them off with a strategically placed flathead. Jess one, vexing security screws zero!

What I found under the case was a whole lot of unpleasant-smelling dust. Perhaps the previous owner had a Playstation 3 for every room of the house and this poor soul was stuck with bathroom duty. Perhaps I shouldn't be breathing near this thing without a mask. I dunno. Anyway, this is what was waiting for me under the cooling fan...

Dig that dust bunny in the fan well! No wonder this Playstation 3 wasn't working properly... I wouldn't work under those conditions, either. 

Using the handy instructions on iFixit, I continued to take apart the Playstation 3, unplugging ribbon cables and removing screws, until I finally reached its creamy center.

Well, maybe not so much "creamy" as "creamed." The system's motherboard is a dust-covered mess, and the thermal paste on the processors has turned to silt. It's hard to believe this system was brand new in 2009... frankly, it looks like it's suffered decades of neglect. I've seem Atari 2600s in better shape. 

Unlike the Wii I mentioned earlier, I don't know if this system can be revived. A wiser man than I would likely dismiss it as a lost cause, but hey, at least a doomed attempt at a repair will distract me from all the ridiculous crap that's happening in America right now.

Oh yeah, there's one other thing I feel I should mention! In an amusing but not especially surprising fit of hubris, Sony called the graphics processor in the Playstation 3 a "Reality Synthesizer." I mean, sure, that's probably more accurate than calling the CPU in the Playstation 2 an "Emotion Engine" (what the hell does that even mean?), but it has an air of overreaching pomposity that makes you think Sega deserves an apology for all the grief it got for Blast Processing.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Pigs (Two Different Ones)

There was a wonderful surprise waiting for me in Nintendo's eShop... a remake of Butasan, the frantic action title where pigs chuck explosives at each other. (I know what you're thinking, but no, it's nothing like Bomberman... imagine dodgeball with even more painful projectiles and you'd be a lot closer to the mark.) 

Unfortunately, this release from Jaleco's successor Clarice Games would be easy to miss, not only because Butasan is not well known in the United States but because the company's attempt to make it more relevant to Westerners was a crashing, flaming failure of Hindenburg proportions. Here's a picture of the original game from 1987... the 3DS version uses polygonal graphics but is otherwise in the same style.

(image from arcade-museum)
(also, no, I don't know why that pig
is wearing a diaper. Look, that's not
important right now...)
Okay, cute livestock frolicking with cartoon bombs. Got it. Now let's look at the artwork used to promote the game on the eShop...

(image from Nintendo UK)
I can almost forgive the new title, but those characters? The one on the left looks like Harley Quinn with a fake tan and an appalling fashion sense. The steroid junkie on the right at least resembles a pig, but one that's likely to stick a pole through you and roast you over an open flame, rather than the other way around. It's not even the first time the game has been, uh, creatively localized, as the ZX Spectrum version illustrates:

(image from MobyGames)
Look, I get it. Westerners weren't in love with cute Japanese characters back in those days. Nintendo hadn't quite cemented itself as the leader of the gaming industry in 1987, and Pokemon was almost a decade away. But really, if you're going to offer Pig Vicious here as the Western face of the series, I'll stick with the original design for Butasan, polka-dot diaper and all.

(image from YouTube)