Friday, January 29, 2016

Gofer the Gold, or Genesis Still Does

Hm, it's been a while since I've posted. Time to make the doughnuts, I guess!

Anyway. I turned up this gem over at the RetroCollect web site. Evidently a homebrewer in Japan is porting Gradius II: Gofer to the Sega Genesis, and it's looking pretty promising so far. Here, have a look for yourself:

Honestly, I wish Nendo16 had chosen to bring the X68000 game Nemesis '90 to the Genesis instead of Gofer, one of my least favorite entries in the series, but hey, any Gradius is better than no Gradius at all. I was always disappointed that Konami never brought the franchise to the Sega Genesis, and this addresses that oversight rather nicely.

Nendo16 is also working on a Genesis conversion of Darius. That's harder for me to get excited about, because there's a perfectly good port of Sagaia on the Genesis already. But hey, here's a clip anyway in case you're interested.

Gee, that sure is a lot of brown. That sort of thing tends to happen when you've got sixty colors to work with, I suppose.

It was unpopular in Japan when it was first released, but the Sega Genesis seems to have become a kitschy counterculture favorite in the years since. I remember trading American Genesis titles (and pretty awful ones, like Spiderman and X-Men: Arcade's Revenge) with a Japanese guy in exchange for Saturn imports. I can only hope that this gentleman had no intention of actually playing these games, because nobody should subject themselves to that kind of punishment.

While I'm here, I might as well post a few more surprising Genesis homebrews. Here's Wolfenstein 3D, which runs shockingly well on what I presume to be an unexpanded machine. Looks a helluva lot better than Cyber Cop did, anyway. (I'll warn you that there's Nazi imagery ahead, but if you're familiar with the series, you probably knew that already.)

Why no, I'm not finished! Here's a Genesis conversion of the original Super Mario Bros. Looks like the real thing, plays like the real thing, sounds... kinda weird, unfortunately. Well, two out of three ain't bad!

On the Sonic side of things, here's an admirable attempt at Mode 7 on the Genesis. It wouldn't be the only one, either! Someone else is working on an F-Zero demo, and although it's very limited at the moment, with no background music and no rivals to race against, it's certainly recognizable.

This demo by Evoke isn't playable at all, but it's a feast for the eyes, with special effects you might not expect on the Sega Genesis hardware. The layered checkerboards at 3:55 and the animated sequence at 5:00 are highlights.

Last week, I picked up an early model of the Sega Genesis at a yard sale for five dollars. It was beaten up on the outside and horribly rusty on the inside, but watching these videos and discovering the system's full potential makes me a lot more confident about that purchase.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Standing Ovulation

C'mon Jess, it's been AGES since you put anything on this blog. You gotta post something, man! 

Wait wait, how about this?

Hey, you said post something.

Anyway! As you can probably tell, I don't have a lot to say video game-wise at the moment. Console manufacturers have been patching exploits left and right with new firmware, meaning that the next time I update my 3DS, the IronFall hack and all the nifty emulators I've been running with it will go bye-bye. I'll also lose the TN-V exploit that lets me play PSP games on my Vitae, but it's been weeks since I powered up the handheld and months since I booted the Playstation TV, so I guess that's not such a big deal.

I dunno. I'm just weary of the exploit/patch cat and mouse game, and I'm thiiiis close to giving up on it completely. On the plus side, now that I've installed the DirectX files it was missing, that RCA Cambio I reviewed earlier runs games better than you'd have a right to expect from a $130 laptop. 2D games are almost invariably a slam dunk, and it can run PSP titles at full speed and demanding Dreamcast games like Dead or Alive 2 at a respectable 40 frames per second. Between that, the new Android phone ($20? Damn, I love the future...), and all my older systems, I should be set for gaming for some time to come. Now I just have to pick something to play, rather than sitting around on my butt scribbling dumb comics in Miiverse.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Double Whitening, or Another Go at It

Around this time last year I had zero PSP Go systems. Now I've got two of them. Funny how things work out.

Before you stage an intervention, I can explain! I found a second Go at a pawn shop for a ridiculously low price. How does fifteen dollars grab you? It sure as hell grabbed me... frankly, I've spent more on those silly Tiger handhelds from the 1980s. You know, the ones that play a single game, and not particularly well. 

Absolutely real. Sometimes the truth
is stranger (and tackier) than fiction.
(image from Handheld Empire)
So I threw down my debit card faster than Yugi can drop an Exodius while on the brink of defeat, and took the system home to join its brother on my cluttered bedroom shelf. Granted, I didn't need another PSP Go, especially another white one, but that price was impossible to resist. Maybe one of my friends could use it. Maybe I could use it as an extravagant belt buckle. I dunno.

Beyond that, not too much has been happening. How's by you?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The RCA Cambio: More than Meets the Wallet

Looking for a new laptop? Terrific! There are all kinds to choose from depending on what you need-

Wait, you only have $130? In that case, you've got just one option. Namely, this.
(image from Wal-Mart)
The RCA Cambio has been popping up in retail stores across the nation, particularly Wal-Mart, where they fill the endcaps of the electronics department aisles. You probably wouldn't expect much from a computer that comes in a flimsy cardboard box and costs less than the average handheld game system, but don't underestimate this little guy... he packs a pretty strong punch for the price.

See, next to this, the Cambio
looks pretty fantastic.
(image from
Admittedly, the Cambio doesn't make a strong first impression with its looks. The matte black casing slurps up skin oils and the overall design lacks finesse, with awkwardly placed, difficult to find buttons and ports to accommodate the Cambio's dual roles as a laptop and a tablet. Utilitarian would be one way to describe it. Nobody would ever describe it as "sexy," unless they just woke up from a thirty year coma and had never seen a tablet computer before in their lives.

What's great about the Cambio is that it runs Windows 10... not RT or Mobile, but straight Windows 10. This makes using the system a comfortably familiar experience, at least with the keyboard attached. The interface is the same as it is on your home computer, and it's compatible with nearly all the same software. I quickly loaded my Cambio up with all my favorite programs- IrfanView, Chrome, Paint Tool SAI, and 7-Zip- and they all ran just like they would on any other Windows computer. Try saying that about an Android device or a Chromebook.

The specs are kind of low on this machine, with a budget graphics processor and just two gigs of RAM. Despite this, the Cambio runs amazingly well, juggling a Skype conversation and three open Chrome tabs without much effort. There's a limit to how much the system can handle, but you shouldn't have any trouble if you've got reasonable expectations. I owned a $350 netbook in 2008 that didn't come anywhere near the performance of this $130 Cambio, and that old beater was running Windows XP!

Caps Lock is larger than Enter, and Left Shift is
three times the size of Right Shift. Okay...?
The Cambio includes a keyboard that snaps onto the bottom of the unit and connects with four copper pins, likely a modified USB port. The wired connection saves on batteries, but can be finicky at first... you may have to attach and remove the keyboard a few times before it's properly recognized. The keyboard is responsive and fairly comfortable to use, although some of the keys on the left are stupidly oversized, forcing you to move your hands slightly to the right to type properly. (Really RCA, it's 2016. Who needs a caps lock that large?)

Alternately, you can take the keyboard off, switching the Cambio into tablet mode. The desktop is replaced with a panel of "live tiles," colorful squares which can be tapped to access programs. Unlike the icons in Android or Apple's iOS, many of these squares have frequently updated bits of information on the front, potentially saving you a click if, for instance, you've already read all the E-mail shown in the tile. Live tiles aren't as useful as the widgets in Android, but they do offer potentially handy updates while keeping the display fresh.

No, I do not need to obtain a special
computing wand. Shut up.
(image from SimpsonsScreenShots
at Wordpress)
While the Cambio can function as a tablet, it doesn't do the job as well as a dedicated device. The digitizer doesn't always accurately follow your finger and there's no zoom function to clear up any confusion about what you're trying to tap. As a result, you'll poke at the screen repeatedly to close windows and click on web site links. Using Chrome with the Cambio is especially frustrating thanks to the developers' stubborn refusal to let the user resize the address and bookmarks bar. Those bookmark icons are 32x32 pixels. The Cambio's resolution is 1280x800. It's a pretty small target for a plump digit.

The battery life is... unremarkable. The manufacturer claims you can squeeze six hours out of the Cambio, but you might get four hours of *comfortable* use out of it, with full screen brightness and wi-fi enabled. Fortunately, the system can be charged with either a dedicated AC adapter or through the micro USB port. By the way, it bears mentioning that the micro USB port is only good for juicing up the battery... it doesn't seem to respond to anything else. If you've got an on-the-go cable, you might want to leave it at home.

Ports and buttons jut
awkwardly from the side
of the Cambio.
There aren't many I/O ports on the Cambio- just a headphone jack, a standard USB port, and a mini HDMI port- but Bluetooth helps shore up the numbers, letting you connect multiple devices wirelessly. This has become a standard feature for tablets and smartphones, but it's less common on laptops running Windows, so its inclusion here is a welcome surprise. The Cambio synced up with an external keyboard with little effort, but you'll have to jump through a lot of hoops to get wireless controllers like the Dual Shock 3 and the Wiimote to work with the system. I'd suggest you save yourself the headache and buy a Bluetooth controller designed especially for PCs.

That brings us to gaming. Definitely keep your expectations in check here... with a tight 32GB hard drive (expandable to 64GB with a micro SD card), you're not going to be packing a lot of entertainment into the Cambio. The Intel HD graphics processor also limits your horizons, but there are reports that the system can run Minecraft and even World of Warcraft on low settings, suggesting that the Cambio's got more 3D muscle than other budget laptops. I've personally tested PPSSPP, the PSP emulator, and performance varied from perfectly playable (Pac-Man Championship Edition) to reasonably playable (Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny) to miserably slow (WipeOut Pure). The emulator would only use OpenGL as a renderer, not DirectX, which was a recurring issue with games despite the Cambio having DirectX 11 pre-installed.

The Cambio in its
vertical orientation.
(Image from Wal-Mart)
Not surprisingly, casual games and emulation are a better fit for the Cambio. The system spits out DirectX errors when Final Burn Alpha is started, but the games themselves run smoothly. One fun bonus is that while using MAME, you can flip the system sideways and play games like Dodonpachi in their proper aspect ratios, with a little room left over on the edges of the screen. It takes a century to load the emulator, but that's more the fault of MAME's runaway bloat than any issues with the Cambio itself.

The netbook craze of the late 2000s proved there was a public appetite for inexpensive, user-friendly computers, and the Cambio has the potential to satisfy that hunger in this decade. It's got the strongest performance in its price class (although at $130, that's not exactly a crowded field), its software compatibility is second to none, and it can even double as a tablet in a pinch, even if it doesn't excel as one. With its homely exterior and modest specs, the Cambio will be rejected by many as a disposable store-brand gadget, but they'll be missing out... the penny-pinching tech enthusiast will be glad they took a chance on this surprisingly capable device.

EDIT: If you're having Direct X9 problems with the RCA Cambio, or any system running flagship Windows 10, the instructions provided here may address them.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Year Gone By: 2015

Well, here it is, 2016 already. Let's do a quick recap of the previous year just to make sure we're all on the same page, shall we?


Kind of a dry month. I spent some time struggling with Yumi's Odd Odyssey, a game that thanks to the recent closure of Agatsuma Entertainment will be harder to find this year than it was the last. It's already been purged from Steam, although it's still available on the Playstation Store and Nintendo's eShop. (But for how long? HOW LONG?) Sony also had a pretty sweet sale, with several of the best games on PSN at fire sale prices. I already had many of them from previous sales, but hey, it's the thought that counts!


(Image from GameHall)
This was a month to love for fighting game fans thanks to a PSN sale featuring several great titles, including my personal favorite King of Fighters '99. Sure sure, it was the PSOne version, but it holds up remarkably well on the Vita when you turn on fast loading. (On the PS3, not so much.) Weirdly, KOF '99 started out at $3, but dropped to $1.20 during a flash sale at the end of the week.

Speaking of fighters, I also discovered the existence of a Street Fighter II port for, of all things, the Virtual Boy. I guess it's no stranger than Casey Kasem hosting the Weekly Top 40 countdown months after his death...


Alley Cat was the featured game of the month, an infuriating yet strangely alluring action title on PCs that would have been right at home in an early 1980s arcade. Alley Cat is also famous for its delightfully demented imagination, with the title character swimming through eel-infested fishbowls and catching mice that peek out from the holes of a massive wedge of Swiss cheese. I also pinched pennies to build a makeshift entertainment center and played entirely too many RPGs... while finishing absolutely none of them. Curse my short attention span!

In more depressing news, it was revealed that former gaming giant Konami was making a hasty exit from the industry. Turns out the company wanted to pursue other interests... you know, like making slot machines, running fitness centers, and, uh, tormenting employees. Oh well, I'll always remember the good times, back when Konami was rocking the four flags logo.


(Image from Toys 'R Us Inc.)
Club Nintendo came to an end this month, but not before leaving its members with some keen consolation prizes. I can't even count the number of games I got from this promotion, so it was hard to see it go. (Nearly a year later, we still don't even have a proper Club Nintendo replacement. What's the hold-up, Kimishima?)

I also took the time to wistfully remember the game buying process at Toys R Us in the 1990s (it was complicated enough to give Rube Goldberg a headache, but that was part of the fun!) and reviewed every game in SNK's Arcade Classics collection for the PSP. I'm still amazed there were people who paid two hundred dollars for turkeys like Sengoku and Burning Fight...


The high-tech filters in RetroArch gave old favorites for the Game Boy and Atari Lynx a charmingly old-tech look, and I became briefly infatuated with the recklessly ambitious Vita port of Borderlands 2. Sure, it crashes at the worst possible moments, but you gotta give Iron Galaxy credit for having the, uh, brass to attempt it. There was also a lengthy interview with yours truly that seems horribly self-indulgent in hindsight, but in my defense, the readers demanded it! The reader, I mean. It was just one reader. But really, that's like a quarter of my audience right there.


June was a month of console restoration (I mean, look at this grody GameCube! It must have been pulled straight out of Morton Downey Jr's lungs!) and hacking. I also got a brief taste of Playstation 3 ownership (before the blasted thing sputtered out on me...) and sent Street Fighter's Ryu into battle against the increasingly odd cast of Super Smash Bros. Punching Pookas and tossing fireballs into P-p-peahats seems like the fever dream of a video game-obsessed elementary school student, yet here I am doing it in real life! Unless the past thirty years have just been a hallucination and I'm in bed right now with a thermometer under my tongue. More orange juice please, Mom.


Satoru Iwata, the charmingly goofy and impossibly talented CEO of Nintendo, succumbed to cancer this month. He was harshly criticized near the end of his career, but Nintendo may not have gotten its second wind in 2006 with the original Wii if it hadn't been for his leadership. I spent the month celebrating Iwata's contributions to Nintendo and Hal Laboratory... while giving web sites that conveniently reversed their opinion of the Wii U the stinkeye. (Coincidence, my ass.)  Speaking of Nintendo, the fabled CD-ROM unit for the Super NES made a public appearance in July, an exciting discovery for grizzled old console war veterans like myself.


More console restoration happened this month, along with a handful of random observations and a half dozen GameCube reviews. Also, despite some initial reservations, I wound up buying a New 3DS XL anyway. What can I say? The purchase was a lot more tempting after K-Mart slashed the price in half. You'll find my detailed review of the system here. I really don't regret getting this, by the way, but it's mostly because of the IronFall hack and the dozen great emulators that came with it.


Playstation games were the focus this month, including Pocket Fighter, Tomba!, and the alleged sequel to Chrono Trigger. Chrono Cross has a completely different art style from the original and the bewildering combat system isn't even from this planet, but sure Square, you tell yourself whatever helps you sleep at night. I also posted several of my drawings from Miiverse, because I spend more time scribbling silly comics on my 3DS than actually playing games. Seriously, I've done the math. I logged over a hundred hours on Miiverse last year... the only thing that came close to that figure was Super Smash Bros. at sixty hours.


I intended to celebrate Oktober-Fist this month, but I ultimately crumbled and went with Anne Lee's Kusoge-month instead. Who can resist the chance to kick duds like Battle Monsters, Back to the Future II, and Keith Courage in the chops? I also brought a dusty old Wii back to life and gave the editor of VGJunk some much deserved props for his exhaustive review of Vampire Savior, the third game in the Darkstalkers series. There was also a slightly embarrassing anecdote about the last time I went trick or treating, but the less said about that, the better...


The Nintendo Badge Arcade made its American debut this month, shaking kids of loose change while irritating adults with its chipper pink mascot. I complained about him, a lot. I still do, actually. I think I might have a problem. On the plus side, I found a way to customize the badges I won, which I guess is worth the eighteen dollars I spent on what I described earlier as a “carnival of sadness.” (Did I mention I might have a problem?) Finally, I reminisced about the Odyssey2, my first game console. It wasn't terrific- in fact, far from it- but when you're eight years old, you take what you can get. And really, KC's Crazy Chase with the Voice module was a pretty good consolation prize.


Ho ho holy crap this was not a good month for gaming. First, I broke up with Sony's misbegotten Playstation TV after a brief honeymoon in September. Then I bought an Android stick to replace it, but that was even worse! At least I managed to rekindle my love for the PSP with a stack of cheap games I found at a thrift store. And oh yeah, I finally got an excuse to post that clip from Keio Yugekitai. It's sure to become a holiday tradition!

Saturday, January 2, 2016


Pardon me! All that cake and pizza have made me a very bloated birthday boy. In case you were wondering, I had a lot of fun at my party and got some great gifts, including that RCA Cambio I mentioned in my last post. I'll get to that later this month after I've fully tested it, but I can tell you right now that it's a hop, skip, and a hundred yard dash ahead of that crap Android stick I bought last month. I didn't really pound that thing into dust, but I was sorely, sorely tempted.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a major case of the -itis and need to sleep it off. G'night!