Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Monster (Hunter) Mash

Hm, I guess I'd better squeeze in one more post before National Worthless Internet Day (April 1st). Just a few things off the top of my head before I get to the meat of this blog entry...

1. My Nintendo and the Miitomo app are now available in some (most? All?) locations. My Nintendo is a loyalty program, similar to the old Club Nintendo, but a lot more confusing and intrusive. There are three virtual currencies associated with your account, including tickets for Miitomo, gold coins for purchasing games online, and platinum coins for completing "missions," which generally involve letting Nintendo track your every move online. I don't know about you folks, but I'm not thrilled with sharing every morsel of personal information with Nintendo just to get a free copy of Super Punch Out.

Boy, does it.
(image from Lein)
2. RetroCollect reports that there's an English translation of the 7th Dragon 2020, a futuristic (if four years from now still counts...) role-playing game for the PSP. I had mixed thoughts about the news until I saw the combat system in action. It's got the same first person perspective as Dragon Quest, but makes much better use of it, with enemies literally leaping for your face with each attack. Why Sega didn't release this for the 3DS instead is anyone's guess, but at least it's available for something. Also, it's got a soundtrack from acclaimed composer Yuzo Koshiro, just in time for the theme Anne Lee is planning for April. If you want to participate in her game-along for next month (and are sick to death of Streets of Rage), this is a good place to start.

"Wait, I need to ruin your
career over inconsequential
(image from YouTube)
3. In "August never ends" news, geeks from that gate thing pressured Nintendo to fire marketing rep Allison Rapp, because... I don't know, honestly. I guess they were angry that Nintendo took the creepier parts out of the US versions of Xenoblade Chronicles X and Fire Emblem Fates and wanted someone's head on a platter for it. Nintendo had a thin excuse for Rapp's dismissal, but it'd be a lot easier for the company to tell whatever-Chan to piss up a rope than to fire an employee every time they have to localize a game for an American audience. They make these changes for a reason, people. Remember how fun our version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was? Remember how fun the Japanese version wasn't? Well, there you go.

Okay, now for that meat I was promising earlier. I came back to my Playstation TV after months of neglect, hoping that I could finally understand what makes Monster Hunter so popular. Here's what I discovered from my hours with Monster Hunter Freedom Unite...

* The tutorial missions are "optional" in that you don't have to do them, but you really, really should. Not only are they a stress-free source of cash, they help you get comfortable with the game's dauntingly dense play mechanics. There's a lot here to digest, and it's easier to take it all in when swarms of hungry dinosaurs aren't trying to digest you.

* Hands off the square button! While you'll occasionally need it to sheath your weapon and make your hero more maneuverable, it's also used to consume items, and it's entirely too easy to gulp down a valuable potion by mistake. Buttons are context-sensitive due to the PSP's limited input, changing their function depending on whether you're armed or not. You'd be wise to learn which button does what and when before you play it for real.

"Okay, you sit here looking cute,
and while the monster is eating you,
I'll run away."
(image from Wikia)
* Like real-life cats, the Felynes are as cute as the dickens but have little practical use. Maybe I need to raise their levels before I can cast judgment, but right now, they only seem good for three things: making terrible meals, digging around for useless items, and throwing bombs at already downed enemies (and the player).

* Don't let the training missions give you a false sense of confidence. You get the best weapons in the tutorial, but the actual missions are far less generous. You'll probably need to swat a popo (a woolly mammoth about the size of a pony) ten or twelve times with the standard issue sword before it dies. Be exceedingly thankful these creatures never get more than mildly perturbed... the giaprey (brightly colored raptors) are far more aggressive.

* Beware the Tigrex! This massive beast frequently appears in later missions to fill your heart with fear and your pants with... uh, other stuff. You're not even warned about this striped monster until you meet it face to face during what first appears to be a mundane quest. "Okay, I almost have enough Popo tongues and... what the blue blazing hell is THAT?! Did it just take three quarters of my energy with ONE SWIPE?!" When the Tigrex appears, you've got two options: run like a character from a Benny Hill sketch, or take a tour through its digestive system. (I strongly recommend the first option.)

Death on four legs.
(image from YouTube)
* This is one gorgeous PSP game. Not as nice as some titles I've seen on the Vita, and not quite as crisp as Monster Hunter 4 on the 3DS, but breathtaking considering the age of the system. It's got an impressive sense of scope, with your hero climbing steep mountains that overlook fields of grazing elk, and when you're trekking across the frozen tundra at the summit, you'll almost feel the wind and snow blasting in your face.

So I guess the bottom line is that I'm enjoying myself. Monster Hunter isn't a game that welcomes you with open arms, but you start to understand its appeal with some persistence.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Happy Trails to (Wii) U

Just weeks after Sony put down the Playstation TV, it sounds like Nintendo plans to do the same with the Wii U, according to this report from Engadget. This will be the last year of manufacturing for the system, which was hobbled by a high price and an ad campaign which forgot to mention that it was a replacement for the Wii and not yet another accessory.

In Nintendo's defense, the system did last four years before the axe fell, compared to just two for the Dreamcast and Saturn. And I stand by my opinion that the system is more interesting than either of its contemporaries thanks to a library that's not choked with "Definitive Editions" of last generation titles. Nevertheless, it seems that 2016 will be the end of the road for the Wii U. Little is known about its successor, the NX, but one can only hope it will fare better than the console Nintendo just abandoned.

Friday, March 18, 2016

St. Patrick's Day II: The Unsnake-ening

Happy Day-after-Saint-Patrick's-Day, folks! The editors of Dual Pixels have dug up what they claim to be a prototype of the controller for the upcoming NX game system. Let's take a look, shall we?

I'm sorry you had to see that.

I don't know what that thing is, but I'm desperately hoping it won't come within a hundred feet of Nintendo's next game system. It's got an off-putting zeerusty look that reminds me of an appliance you'd see on a Pan-Am flight in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Beyond that, I don't see the purpose of a screen that swallows the front of the unit when your thumbs are going to be blocking the edges of the display. I'd like to believe this is a hoax, but then again I'd like to believe Donald Trump won't be our next president. I'm going to need concrete evidence before I can rest easy.

In better news, Sony is having a Flash sale this week, chock full 'o games you're probably going to want at prices you'll probably be able to afford. How's Castlevania Chronicles for $1.50 strike you? Or a variety of Prince of Persia titles for less than two bucks a pop? If that sounds tempting to you (and it sure does me), you'll want to swing by CheapAssGamer for more details and links to the sales.

Oh yeah, one other thing. Someone asked me how to turn Ocarina of Time 3D into a backdoor for 3DS homebrew, so don't be surprised if I go into more detail about that in a later post. Unless Nintendo blocks the exploit first, I mean.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Fun with Warranty Expiration: Building a Better C-Stick

I recent discovered on Reddit (aptly described by a friend as "surfing 4Chan with a condom") that you can improve the New 3DS's crappy C-stick to some degree by popping off the rubber nub and replacing it with the analog thumbstick from a PSP-1000. As an outspoken critic of the C-stick, and being exceedingly bored, I decided to give it a shot. Here now are the results:

And here's the verdict: it's not tough to install, it stays put once it's pushed into place, and it really is an improvement over the standard C-stick. On the other hand, it doesn't work the way you might expect. Rather than tilting, the stick acts like a very small touchpad, reacting to your thumb with only a small amount of pressure. It's responsive, but not as tactile as the circle pad on the left. So it's not an ideal solution, but until Nintendo pulls its head out and does things right with the NX, it's as good as you're going to get.

Some notes: I'm not responsible for any damage you might do to your 3DS if you decide to try this yourself, but in way of assurance, I will say that such damage is fairly unlikely. Second thing... the C-stick cover is held in place with two rubber loops, which will snap when you tear it out of the system. The cover can be put back in place if you snip off the loops, but it won't be as secure without the loops anchoring it in place. Finally, the analog thumbstick has to be from the PSP-1000... sticks from later models of the system won't fit. They're not hard to find, though... do an eBay search and you should be able to buy one for maybe a couple of bucks.

Special thanks to Reddit for the information, and to the Talking Time forum for alerting me to its existence.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Second Chance, or Game Boy Advance XL

There's a happy ending for my 3DS XL! While the system itself isn't well suited to emulation (cough cough it sucks for it cough), it's backward compatible with Nintendo's last two handhelds, and those do the job a whole lot better. I can run a hefty portion of the Neo-Geo library with NeoDS... the games don't quite run at full speed, but they come surprisingly close, and the graphics look even more sharp and vibrant than they do on the PSP. (Needless to say, the circle pad and D-pad are a big improvement over what passes for control on that system, too.)

My port of GORF for the Game Boy Advance,
ported to the 3DS. Trust me, the second port
was a whole lot easier than the first.
Better yet, now that I have the old system hacked with rxTools, it can run Game Boy Advance games too. It's not a perfect solution... instead of emulating the games, the 3DS is essentially downshifted into a Game Boy Advance, losing a lot of its handy features in the process. It does work, though, and it's nice to have the option to play all of my favorites from the GBA library on the 3DS XL's super-sized screen. If I had the patience for it, I could convert my entire library to a 3DS-friendly format and play them all without having to lug around a plastic tub crammed with cartridges. (I don't, but I'm sure I'd be quite happy with a couple dozen of those games on the go.)

One more thing before I head out. Evidently Street Fighter V sold rather poorly in its first month, compared to other big-name titles in the same genre. According to data from NPD, it moved just 200,000 copies at retail, compared to 800,000 for its predecessor and 1,200,000 for Mortal Kombat X. Gee, who'd have thunk selling a half-finished game for sixty dollars would end badly?

Monday, March 7, 2016

Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

So, the whole world wants to know... what makes me think I'm so funky?

No wait, that's not it. What the whole world wants to know is this... why the hell do we have to buy a New 3DS to play Super NES games that were released over twenty-five years ago? The answer is as sobering as it is surprising. Put bluntly, the 3DS as it was first designed in 2011 isn't very good hardware. Like, at all. Oh sure, everyone was dazzled by the near GameCube-quality visuals of its launch title Pilotwings Resort, but it's become increasingly obvious in the years since that the system wasn't designed for the long haul.

Yes, Abdul's stand looks like an
Atari 5200 character, but trust me, this
was hella impressive back in 1999.
(image from Moby Games)
You remember twenty years ago, when conventional wisdom was that the Playstation couldn't handle 2D graphics? It turned out that this reputation wasn't entirely deserved... the system was actually pretty 2D capable in the right hands, as late releases like JoJo's Bizarre Adventure and Street Fighter Alpha 3 proved. However, even the best hands could barely wring 2D gaming out of the 3DS, as this interview with emulation specialists M2 illustrates. Here's a quote from M2's president Naoki Horii:

The 3DS had a big change in architecture from the Nintendo DS and Game Boy Advance; it uses a GPU that specializes in stereoscopic 3D. When you bring software from an era when games were composed of sprites and backgrounds into an emulator on the 3DS, you wind up doing a lot of work in a very roundabout way. And that offsets the performance gains you get with the CPU. That’s why I said “they [Genesis games] probably won’t work out.”

We did eventually get Gunstar Heroes,
so I guess I can't complain TOO much.
(image from USGamer)
Of course, M2 did manage to get Genesis games running on the old 3DS, but it took a lot of work to make it happen... and it's worth mentioning that the Genesis has a relatively straightforward design, without the bells and whistles of the Super NES. That console is hard to properly emulate even on home computers, and on the 3DS, with its 2D handicap and lackluster specs (just two cores with one dedicated to the operating system, 128 megabytes with a large chunk of that devoted to the OS, and a clock speed of 268MHz), it's simply out of the question.*

Things are getting pretty nerdy all up ins, so let me put it to you in simpler terms. Emulating classic systems on the 3DS is like dicing tomatoes with a butter knife. It's possible in theory, but it's messy in practice, and it doesn't take long before you realize you've got the wrong tool for the job.

This leads me to the unfortunate conclusion that the original 3DS was never the right tool in the first place. It was incredibly shortsighted for Nintendo to develop a handheld which can't handle their library of classic games, especially when you stop to consider that Sony's last generation PSP can. The New 3DS has the muscle to emulate Super NES games and a whole lot more, but from where I'm standing, the system looks like a Band-Aid for a self-inflicted wound.

* Granted, there is an emulator called BlargSNES which kind of runs Super NES games on the old 3DS, but its compatibility is limited and even the games that do run don't run perfectly. Blarg, indeed.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

End of an Error

Well, you can stick a fork in the Playstation TV... it's done. The misfit game system (not really a full-fledged console, not really a set top box, not fully compatible with the Vita, not heavy enough to be an effective paperweight) has officially been retired just two years after its American debut. You may recall that I originally went to bat for the PSTV in a cautiously optimistic review, but my opinion of the system soured after Sony eroded its software library with firmware updates. No, you didn't really need to play Sega Genesis Collection or Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles on a television set. And forget about Street Fighter X Tekken even though its Vita-exclusive features were tacked on and hardly necessary... you've got the Playstation 3 for that!

Reports suggest that the Playstation TV only sold 200,000 units in its native Japan. That's an astonishingly low number, but considering all the (mostly artificial) limitations set on the system, is that really a surprise? So it's with a large helping of indifference and a pinch of schadenfreude that I say goodbye to the Playstation TV. Make friends with the Atari Jaguar... you'll be occupying the same dusty corner of gaming history.