Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Saved by Zero

Sensing a musical theme with these titles?

Anyway, the "zero" in question is Horizon Zero Dawn, the action-adventure-survival title that was released to critical acclaim early this year. And what was saved was my Playstation 4, which had built up at least three layers of dust before I purchased HZD in a recent Amazon sale. 

Honestly, I wasn't sure I'd ever find a video game that justified the PS4's place in my collection. Sure, Bloodborne held my attention for a while, and King of Fighters XIV and Mortal Kombat XL are both great fighting games, but nothing in my Playstation 4 library compelled me to keep coming back to the system, the way Oblivion or Mass Effect 2 had back in the Xbox 360 days.

However, with Horizon Zero Dawn, I might finally have that "sticky" game that makes the Playstation 4 worthwhile. Hell, I've already spent at least twenty hours with it, polishing off quests, picking health boosting flowers, and sinking arrows into the game's cast of e-fauna. It's way more time than I spent with the initially promising but ultimately disappointing Final Fantasy XV, that's for sure.

The end of life as we know it never looked
so good.
(all images from Dual Shockers)
I'll talk about Horizon Zero Dawn's robot animals in a minute, I promise, but let me explain the premise first. The elder race of man has been wiped out, and a more humble breed of human has taken its place, living in tribes and scrounging off the land. You're the red-haired, sharp-tongued outcast Aloy, and you must prove your value to the neighboring Nora tribe by out-hunting and outracing its best warriors. That probably would be plenty of plot for the average video game, but someone throws a wrench into the Proving, and things get a lot more complicated...

I won't give too much away. What I will say is that from this point forward, Horizon Zero Dawn becomes an open world action game. It's frequently compared to Nintendo's latest Legend of Zelda title, Breath of the Wild, but pick any big-name epic from the past ten years out of a hat and you're going to notice similarities. If you've spent any time with a Bethesda RPG or one of the Far Cry games, you'll get the hang of Horizon Zero Dawn in a couple of hours. You're dropped in the middle of an impossibly large continent, packed with quests to finish (some trivial, others necessary to advance the plot) and monsters to fight. The world is your oyster, so get crackin'.

Some machines' programming can be overriden,
turning a bucking (Ford) Bronco into a handy
steed. 
You'll pick up on a couple of differences, though. The first is that "fatigue" isn't in Aloy's vocabulary. She can run as long as she likes and dive for cover for as long as you can punch the O button, at least in the Normal difficulty setting. You'll need that boundless energy to survive, because enemies come at you hard and fast, and you'll need to put a lot of distance between Aloy and her pursuers before they'll give up the chase.

The second is that aside from bandits, pretty much everything you'll fight are Zoids. These android-imals do their best imitation of real-life beasts, from the iron horses dubbed Striders to the aquatic, crocodilian Snapmaws. However, when they're threatened, they break out the heavy artillery; high-tech weapons like bursts of electricity and laser fire that seem even more threatening next to your Bronze Age arrows and spear. 

You'll have to make do with what you've got, peeling the armor from each machine and piercing its vulnerable energy cores with carefully placed shots. Succeed and you'll be given experience points and parts from the felled machine, including metal shards that can be bartered for better weapons. Fail and you'll be crushed under five thousand pounds of charging buffalo-bot.

Cow-droids and Indians seems like an idea dreamed up by an eight year old with ADD, but it works. Heck, it's fascinating to tuck yourself away in a tall patch of grass and watch the machines fulfill their roles in this twisted ecosystem. Reindeer-like Grazers chew through grass by using their spinning antlers as blades, while cyclopean raptors survey the surrounding area for predators (typically, you). 

A Shell Walker, thankfully without its
protective force field.
You'll eventually be forced to fight the denizens of this wired animal kingdom, and taking down some of these machines can be a time-consuming and ultimately futile process. A Shell Walker with an active shield seems almost indestructible, and airborne Glinthawks are universally hated by HZD players, because they have a much easier time reaching Aloy than her arrows can reach them. 

Still, the payoff of killing that three-story tall Thunderjaw or successfully infiltrating a Cauldron usually makes it worth a few frustrating trips back to the nearest save point. Even the resonant "tink" of an arrow meeting the glass battery of a machine can be satisfying... especially when the battery catches fire and explodes. The great thing about Horizon Zero Dawn is while you can easily get lost in side quests or burn away hours hunting robots, everything you do has purpose, and none of the time you spend feels wasted. It's a fulfilling experience, and one my Playstation 4 desperately needed.

Horizon Zero Dawn is currently $19.99 during Sony's Black Friday sale. I humbly suggest that you pick up a copy for yourself, if you haven't already.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Livin' on Channel Z

So, an old friend of mine (and when you get to be my age, they're all old friends. Pardon me while I pluck another grey hair out of my eyebrows) has been spending his free time mapping out old NES games. I jokingly asked him to make Capcom's Section Z his next big project. His response? "You're a bad person and you should feel bad." (I think he was joking.)

Fortunately, someone already took care of this a long time ago. My cousin had this game back in the day, and he got frustrated enough with it that he begged Capcom for assistance. They were kind enough to send him a handy map, charting a path through all of its Gordian-knotted stages. And here it is now!



I don't know how I managed to get this, nor do I know how I was able to keep it long enough to scan it for my old web site, The Gameroom Blitz. But here it is now, in all its "is that a game map or a schematic for a super computer?" glory. Note that the cartographer was Paul Biederman, who later promised to release a handheld NES called the Nintendo Express. Here's more information from the ninth issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly:



I'll give you the Cliff Notes on this. Biederman's proposed Nintendo Express had stereo sound (okay, sure), a four inch backlit color display (...), and could squeeze at least forty hours of life out of a set of batteries (BULLSHI- I mean, uh, rather doubtful!). Most of these specs are easily achieved with today's technology, but this magazine was published in December 1989. I think Biederman was either selling EGM's readers a false bill of goods or had entirely too much confidence in his abilities as an engineer. I mean, sure, mapping out a game like Section Z without losing your mind in the process is pretty impressive, but delivering on hardware like the kind described in this article twenty-eight years ago is a little slice of impossible.

EDIT: This site claims the issue in question was published in April of 1990, not December 1989, which would explain the ridiculous claims made about the system. Did I ever mention that I hated EGM's April Fool's jokes?

EDIT to the EDIT: I can't ascertain that the issue in question was from April 1990, because EGM was kind of squirrelly about publication dates back in those days. If the premiere came out in May of 1989 as the cover states, and the magazine really was published on a monthly basis, the ninth issue should have hit shelves in January 1990. However, none of that would mean anything if EGM had skipped months. Let this be a lesson to you... always clearly post publication dates on your magazines for archival purposes. Also, never publish bullshit April Fool's jokes like the ones in EGM.

Another freaking EDIT: I just found this page from the seventeenth issue of EGM, published on the Nintendo World Report forum by a user named Hudson Soft Fan. Evidently the Nintendo Express (or The Express, as shown here) was a real thing, and was considered for release by Camerica, the creators of the Game Genie peripheral and a perpetual thorn in Nintendo's side.


Now I'm not sure what to believe! But I still say an NES portable with forty hours of battery life is crap, unless that battery once belonged to a station wagon.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

I Played It on the X

Now that Miiverse is closing up shop, I'll have to find something else to occupy my time. Wait, how about that blog I never update? Yeah, that'll work!

Here now are reviews of a handful of games I've been playing (or in the case of Amped 2, trying to play) on my classic Xbox.

AMPED 2
Microsoft


Shown here: someone who actually knows
what the hell they're doing.
(image from YouTube)
Okay, so you're thinking to yourself, "Jess already humiliated himself trying to play SSX3! Why the heck would he try another snowboarding game?" Well, there are a couple answers to that question. The first is that I figured a different snowboarding game would be more accessible. This one's got a hands-on tutorial, while SSX3 thinks text messages are good enough. (They're not.) However, while the basics of Amped 2 are easy enough to understand, the finer points of the gameplay, like combos, pre-winds, and tilting the left thumbstick just enough to earn style points, are incredibly difficult to master. Just like SSX3, I find myself landing on my face, behind, and everything but the board half the time I attempt tricks. It's a shame too, because Amped 2 looks nearly as attractive as EA's game does, and I like the idea of showing off for the cameramen scattered across each mountain. I usually get a face full of snow trying to show off for the cameras, but it's a good idea in theory.

The second answer is that the game cost a little over a buck at Bookman's. Leave me alone. B-

BLOOD WAKE
Microsoft/Stormfront

Microsoft was willing to color outside the lines occasionally with its first game system, as evidenced by titles like Blood Wake. Speedboat combat with a quasi-Asian setting wasn't something you were likely to find on either the Playstation 2 or GameCube. Heck, I have to think back to the obscure Genesis release Bimini Run to come up with something similar... but while that game was dangerously close to torture, Blood Wake succeeds thanks to clearly defined missions, a boat that can withstand heavy fire, and impressive water physics. Hey, when most of the game's graphics are sea, you might as well make it look really good. The cherry on top is the story, told with meticulously detailed sketches and quality voice acting. The sepia-toned drawings add authenticity to the Eastern setting, and give Blood Wake a welcome touch of class. B-

ENTER THE MATRIX
Atari/Shiny


And it doesn't look that great, either.
(image from justrpg.com, which evidently isn't)
Tightly integrated with the film franchise and dismissed by the press, Enter the Matrix isn't quite as hopeless as you've been led to believe. It's never great, but in its best moments, Enter the Matrix is an admirably ambitious action title, offering much of the excitement and the time-shifting, wall-bounding combat of the first movie. The control feels a little loose and you're not always sure where to go, but it's nevertheless clear that a lot of work went into making this look and feel like an authentic Matrix experience.

In its lesser moments, Enter the Matrix folds car chases, sniping distant targets, and battles with heavily armed choppers into the action, and the game starts to sag under all that dead weight. The awkwardness that permeates the gameplay is never more keenly felt than when you're driving a tip-prone police van with half the screen obscured, and interactive plot points tend to be both needlessly confusing and abusively frustrating. Couldn't they save this stuff for the cut scenes? In fact, maybe you'd better save your craving for bullet time for one of the Max Payne games. C-

GUILTY GEAR X2 #RELOAD
Majesco/Arc System Works

Just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in! For the last fifteen years, I've been in a perpetual cycle of trying to become a Guilty Gear fan, only to be repelled by its quirky design. Special moves are tough to remember with the game's odd button layout, and even tougher to properly utilize. Characters tend to lean toward the weird and flashy, and away from Street Fighter's predictable but comfortably familiar martial artists. There's an emphasis on chaining together lightning-quick combos, with the impact of each blow suffering as a result.

Yet in spite of all my beefs, I want to like Guilty Gear. It's crisply drawn and colorful and imaginative, which is why I keep coming back to it, hoping that someday it will all just click for me. Guilty Gear X2 #Reload comes closer to hitting that switch than any other game in the series. Maybe it's because it's more satisfying to play it on a big screen, rather than the Vita's tiny display. Maybe it's because I've finally found a character who works for me... the swordsman Ky Kiske is as close to normal as you're going to find in Guilty Gear, and the swipes of his blade do meaningful damage even when they're not part of a seven hit combo. I'm still not a Guilty Gear fan, but X2 #Reloaded tilts the scales of my love-hate relationship with the series a little closer toward love and a little further away from hate. B

LINKS 2004
Microsoft/Access


No can dunk, but good fundamentals.
(image from Thunderboltgames.com)
I don't normally like sports titles, but a good game of golf is like comfort food to me. Sometimes, it just feels right to dispense with the aggressive sensory overload of your average video game and concentrate on dropping ball A into hole B. Links 2004 scratches that itch as well as any game I've played, with strong visuals and brilliant camera work for your best swings, but it suffers from one serious problem. Links 2004 is... pretty generic. Like, generic enough that you'd expect to find it in a white box next to the real brands on a supermarket shelf. Sure, it's endorsed by a celebrity golfer, but the celebrity in question is Sergio Garcia, who I didn't know existed until I played this game. The title cards used to celebrate record breaking shots are in typesets seemingly pulled from shareware font collections. The rock music introducing each hole is functional, but not terribly catchy, and certainly not performed by familiar musicians. Links 2004 is more than competent, outperforming Tiger Woods 2006 on the more advanced Xbox 360, but it's nevertheless simple comfort food; more mashed potatoes and gravy than birthday cake. B

SCALER
Take-Two/A2M

What's unfortunate about Scaler is while it's a perfectly adequate platformer, the included art gallery hints at a more interesting one... something a bit more cartoony and a bit less focus tested. What we get instead is the story of a boy turned lizard who gets sucked into an alternate dimension, then fights non-descript enemies with powers both obvious (claws and a tongue lash) and confusing (a burst of electricity, charged up by surfing rails scattered throughout each lush stage). Scaler is the kind of game that specifically caters to its tween audience, who may be too young to recognize the profound lameness of the hero's snarky quips, and will be happy enough with the diverting gameplay to ignore its many cliches. The adults in the room will get a kick out of Scaler's alternate forms; creatures like a bomb-chucking gremlin and a spherical reptile which use physics to add some much-needed zest to the action. C+

TIMESPLITTERS: FUTURE PERFECT
Electronic Arts/Free Radical

As a general rule, first-person shooters are grim, gritty, and hardcore, punishing less skilled players with swift deaths. TimeSplitters: Future Perfect is absolutely none of these things, making it a welcome addition to this unwelcoming genre. The game was designed by the team responsible for the Nintendo 64 version of Goldeneye, and it shows in both its quality and a wacky, British sense of humor influenced by Free Radical's tenure at Rare. While on the trail of a mad scientist, Sergeant Cortez jumps from one time period to the next, teaming up with a dimwitted goth girl, a secret agent who makes Austin Powers look like Pierce Brosnan, and thanks to rips in the space-time continuum, even himself. Cortez is never at a loss for weapons, packing everything from a simple pistol to a rocket launcher, and each mission is both beautifully illustrated and offers just the right amount of challenge. It's a great introduction to first-person shooters, and a transcendent experience even for those who can't stand them. A-

WILD RINGS
Microsoft/Paon


Fire Pro Wrestling never LOOKED
this good, at least.
(image from Video Games Museum)
Wild Rings is one of the few Japanese exclusives for the original Xbox, and while it would be easy to describe it as a wrestling game, that's not entirely accurate. Wild Rings covers the entire pantheon of sports entertainment, from several flavors of professional wrestling to kickboxing to fistboxing to mixed martial arts. Each style of fighting has its own signature move, triggered with the L button... for instance, sumos charge into their opponents like a flabby freight train, while karatekas can deflect incoming strikes, leaving their rivals open for a split second.

It would be accurate to say that Wild Rings cribs mightily from the Fire Pro Wrestling series, with an achingly familiar presentation, copyright friendly clones of real life fighters, and fighting that leans toward the technical rather than the flashy. As it is with Fire Pro, the key to victory is to wear down your opponent with slaps and kicks, then work your way up to the heavy artillery of throws and submissions. 

Wild Rings isn't as good as Fire Pro- some fighting disciplines have an unfair advantage against others, and I'm still not sure how the grapple system works after sixty plus matches- but this is as close as you're gonna get to the real thing on the original Xbox. Also, you've got to give Wild Rings credit for its remarkably lifelike polygonal characters, certainly an improvement over Fire Pro's steroid-packed puppets. B

Monday, October 30, 2017

Slipped Discs

First things first. You'd think the success of the Switch would threaten the continued existence of the 3DS, but Nintendo has given its previous handheld a temporary stay of executionThis is good news for the millions of Nintendo fans who aren't quite fond enough of Nintendo to spend three hundred dollars on a Switch, but it comes with a catch. The 3DS line will now be marketed to a younger, more cash-strapped audience, with games to match. I guess I'd better work up an appetite for table scraps, because it sounds like that's what the system will be serving for the next couple of years. Special thanks to GBATemp for the scoop.

So, what else was I going to discuss...? Oh yeah! You may recall that I hacked my classic Xbox a couple of months ago, since I haven't shut up about it since. The machine is stocked with dozens of arcade hits from my childhood... but I didn't include them all. After some contemplation, I decided to leave the handful of laserdisc games in the past, mostly for the sake of hard drive space but also because... uh... what's the most charitable way to describe these? I keep reaching for a charitable euphemism, but the only thing that keeps coming to mind is "these miserable things suck ass."

I mean, really, have you seen these games? Thanks to the content maker-shafting magic of YouTube, you will.


By my estimation, laserdisc games come in four different flavors. The first of these is "western cartoon with nearly motion picture-quality animation." Nearly all of these came out at a specific time (1983) and were directed by a specific person (animation legend Don Bluth). The lone exception is Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp, shown here. The game was put into a time warp of its own thanks to the video game crash, and wasn't released for five years. This may have been good timing, because the mall arcade had made a comeback... but then again, maybe it wasn't, because 16-bit hardware had started to narrow the gap in visual quality between video games and movies pretending to be them.

Anyway. Bluth's games are a high watermark in the sewer that is the laserdisc genre. They're only barely interactive and require way too much trial and error to enjoy as a video game, but they're at least fun to watch. Dirk corrupting a plus-sized Eve, battling his way through Alice in Wonderland, and surviving a creative outburst from Mozart is Don Bluth at his "I forgot my meds again" peak.

Next we have "Japanese cartoon with nearly television-quality animation." Some of these were pieced together from footage of films most Americans had no idea existed. Stern's Cliff Hanger is one such example; a re-purposing of Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro. The dubbing is lousy and action scenes are repeated several times in a row to pad out the game, but the footage is from a Hayao Miyazaki film, so it's at least easy on the eyes. 


On the other hand, you've got something like Esh's Aurunmilla (shown here). The animation for this Gakken release was made especially for the game, rather than pasted onto it from other sources. On the down side, the game was designed on the cheap to capitalize on the fleeting popularity of Dragon's Lair and Space Ace, and it really shows in the anemic artwork and creatively bankrupt character designs. Recycling doesn't seem so bad now, does it? Esh merges the heroes of Don Bluth's games into one supremely dorky space barbarian, whose voice actor seems to ad-lib all his lines and would probably lose an arm wrestling match to your dead grandmother. The action is par for the course for this genre, except with tiny visual cues that are easily lost in the backgrounds. If you play only one laserdisc game this year... this probably shouldn't be it.


To be fair, not all of the Japanese laserdisc games were this derivative. Hell, I haven't seen anything you could compare to Data East's Road Avenger (aka Road Blaster), released years later for the Sega CD. Let me try to explain this... your wife is murdered by a gang moments after your marriage, so you kill them all in a spree of vehicular homicide. Road Avenger is seen from a first person viewpoint and there are extra buttons to press, making it even harder than the average laserdisc game, but you've gotta give props to the loony concept. It's like the episode of M.A.S.K. the networks were too afraid to air.


Let's move on from the not-really games to the kinda-sorta games. These were typically shooters using the primitive 8-bit technology of the time, superimposed over video footage. Sometimes it was Japanese cartoons, sometimes it was stock footage of a city seen from an overhead view, and sometimes it was Astron Belt's grab bag of low-budget space battles and MacGyver explosions. There's slightly more interaction here than in the previous games mentioned, with players being able to pilot their ship around the screen, but they're not given much to do beyond dodge the occasional laser and fire into the void of space. Sometimes your ship just explodes for no discernible reason. Thirty-five years later, gamers still aren't sure how to play Astron Belt, or if there's a point to it at all.


Other games made better use of the combined technologies, including Gottlieb's M.A.C.H. 3 and Simutrek's surprisingly advanced Cube Quest (shown here). Yep, those are really polygons in a 1983 video game. I was surprised too. Yet even in the better hybrids, there are still issues. The laserdisc footage is often poorly edited, with jarring transitions that take away from the sense of immersion, and the games are typically dull shoot 'em ups that don't compare to the best titles from Namco, Sega, and Williams. Throw in all the anime clips you want, but Bega's Battle is never going to be a match for Galaga or Astro Blaster.

Finally, we come to the full-motion video game. Most of these were released in the 1990s for the Sega CD, a console which was poorly suited to them due to its low color output and the limited capacity of the CD-ROM format. It's not a surprise that two of these games, Night Trap and Sewer Shark, were originally developed for the Control-Vision, a VHS-based game system bankrolled by Nolan Bushnell and considered for release by Hasbro. The Control-Vision was ultimately cancelled, but its games lived on thanks to the Sega CD. (Lucky us.)

Full-motion video games play similarly to Dragon's Lair, with live actors replacing the animation and a teeny bit more interactivity. For instance, in Night Trap, you can switch your view between eight rooms to find and catch vampires hoping to sink their teeth into the game's cast of perky co-eds. Most of these titles were console exclusives, with one odd exception.


This is Time Traveler, released by Sega in 1991. This arcade title features a cowboy who jumps from one period of time to the next, blasting cavemen, drug dealers, and some really unfortunate western-themed stereotypes. As expected from a full-motion video game, the acting is terrible, the set pieces are cheap, and the interactivity is limited. The game's only notable feature is the use of a holographic effect that makes the characters seem as though they've been projected onto a grid. It didn't take long for Sega to leave Time Traveler in the past and adapt its holographic technology to a fighting game, the claustrophobic Holosseum. It wasn't good either, but at least it was more relevant to gamers in the 1990s.

So there you have it. Laserdiscs offer a variety of gaming experiences... none of them particularly good.

(Thanks to the many users of YouTube for the video clips!
Special no thanks to YouTube, who keeps treating them like crap.)

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Urge to Merge

Not to be fickle, but I'm thinking of posting to this blog again. You know, two weeks after chasing all my viewers away with the previous announcement that I was taking a break. As Ochalla astutely observed, blogs are all about self-indulgence... I should just leave caution to the wind and post whatever the hell I want. Besides, the original Xbox that I've been spending so much time with is back en vogue now that the Xbox One supports a handful of its games. Engadget reports that you'll be able to choose from a selection of thirteen titles as soon as tomorrow, or just pop in the discs from the original system, if you happen to have them in your collection. The currently supported games vary wildly in quality (King of Fighters: Neowave? Seriously?), but you can always blow away the chaff and head straight to the wheat of Crimson Skies and Ninja Gaiden Black.

There was one other thing I wanted to mention, as was suggested in the title of this post. There are rumors floating around the 'net that Capcom is in dire financial straits, and that it may be acquired by another game company. We've heard such hearsay before, and there haven't been any conclusive reports from trusted video game news sources (or Kotaku). However, let's just indulge the rumors for a minute and ponder who might claim the Capcom IP in the near future. Personally, I'm hoping it'll be Nintendo, as the company has worked closely with Capcom over the last thirty years, and seem to understand better than anyone else (including, uh, Capcom) how to make the most of its stable of characters. Naturally, this would mean they wouldn't appear anywhere else, but that exclusivity would be a boon for the Switch, which has had trouble luring in third party developers despite strong sales.

An acquisition by Square-Enix, Konami, or Electronic Arts is also possible (and frightening, if I may editorialize). The only reason I can see Konami taking the reigns of Capcom is out of spite, since Capcom's early foundation was built almost exclusively by ex-Konami programmer Yoshiki Okamoto. Then again, Konami's sole motivation these days seems to be revenge, so I wouldn't put the purchase past them. Square-Enix has been merger-happy lately, absorbing Taito and Eidos over the last decade, so it's entirely possible that Capcom will be its next meal. 

Then there's Electronic Arts. Japanese game companies generally don't merge with Western ones, but if Capcom gets especially desperate for cash, and EA wants to wedge its foot in the door of the Asian market, it could happen. I wouldn't have much confidence in Capcom's continued existence if this comes to pass... after all, EA just shuttered Visceral Games, in spite of that company making EA relevant in the survival horror genre with Dead Space. Anyone familiar with Electronic Arts knows that the company has a habit of purchasing and then cannibalizing its development studios; most notably Origin, the creator of Wing Commander and the influential Ultima series. With any luck, Capcom will not share their fate.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Downtime

Forgive the extended absence. I'd post something, but in all honesty, I just don't wanna. I'm not interested in updating the blog at the moment, and I'm not convinced people would want to read what I've got to say. "Hey, let's take a look at these ancient Xbox games I'm playing!," I'd say, to the groans and snores of my audience. (Admittedly, I've been going to this well pretty often lately, and I'm not sure anyone else shares this thirst.)

I don't know. Maybe I'll get my blogging groove back during the holiday season, but for the moment, my interest in posting could be best illustrated as an EKG flatline. I'm sure my enthusiasm will return in time, and when it does, you'll be the first to know.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Catch Me, I'm Fall-ing

It's officially fall. The birds are chirping (well, my birds are chirping... all the other ones seem to have flown south), the weather has cooled, and the game industry has roused from its slumber to release several highly anticipated products in time for the holiday season. After several years in limbo, side-scrolling shooter/1930s animation throwback Cuphead has been released to rave reviews. There's also the Super NES Classic, which Nintendo has released in adequate supply to fend off both scalpers and torch-wielding gamers still angry that they weren't able to purchase the company's last plug and play console. So I guess I won't get a chance to post this image complaining about the supply bottleneck I expected... but heh, I'm gonna do it anyway.


As for me, I'm still plugging away at my classic Xbox. What's great about this system- aside from the crapton of emulators available for it- is that games for the sixteen year old machine are still in abundance, still reasonably priced, and still look great, especially on the Xbox 360.

Oh yeah! Speaking of the Xbox 360, it's last call for the system's Indie Games service. You've got about... hmm... three days to purchase the handful of standout titles in the massive (and if I can be honest, massively awful) XBLIG library. I'd personally recommend Crosstown and Leave Home, and others have spoken highly of DELTA and, uh, qrth-phyl? Pat, can I buy a vowel here? 

Anyway, you've got until the 7th of this month to grab what you want, and while the signal to noise ratio on XBLIG is atrociously low, there are still a few games worth your time. On a related note, Nintendo is (finally) ending its Wiiware download service, but you've got about a year to stuff your Wii with software, so there's no great rush there.

This begs a discussion on the ephemeral nature of digital downloads, and I'm sure we'll be talking about that a lot in the future. Since I've got other things I need to do tonight, all I'm gonna say for the moment is that backups are your friend. Keep a few hard drives and SD cards around just in case.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

How Sweet It Is!

It's been a while since I've posted, so I might as well take care of that while waiting for my homemade caramel to finish cooking. It's really not hard, y'know! You just drop a can of sweetened condensed milk into a pot of water, set it to boil, then turn down the heat to low and let it simmer for around three hours. Make sure there's always water over the top of the can, and...

Okay, okay, I'm stalling. I've got a larger hard drive in that Xbox now, and have been cramming every emulator I can find into it. One harsh truth has revealed itself in the process, though... no matter what game console or set top box you use, there's always going to be a flaw that keeps it just shy of perfection. For the Android TV I was using earlier, it was limited storage and the fact that nearly every emulator costs money. The Xbox comes closer to hitting that entertainment sweet spot than most, but without an HDMI port, the graphics in emulators suffer slightly. There may be options to sharpen up the picture in MAMEdOX and Final Burn Legends, but nothing I've tried gets rid of the blur entirely. I'll keep working at it.

Ow ow ow my hands ow ow ow
(image from YouTube)
Speaking of the 'box, I've been sampling a few of its games. You remember all those complaints about the awkward control in GunValkyrie? Yep, they were right on the money. My hands still ache from squeezing triggers and pushing in thumbsticks for the past hour. I get the impression that Sega was trying to offer the same nimble movement that Capcom had in Product No. 03, but couldn't make it fit in the framework of what is essentially a mech game. Twitchy camera control and unreliable targeting add to the frustration... there were far too many times where Kelly either wouldn't lock onto visible targets, or couldn't find them at all. I might come back to the game later, but I'm sure I could do better.

On the plus side, I tried the unreleased Xbox version of The Red Star, and enjoyed the game a lot more than I had when I first tried it on the Playstation 2. I'm guessing that I gave up on the game after getting soundly thrashed by the first stage. However, once you've muscled your way through the prologue and gotten the hang of the play mechanics, The Red Star reveals itself as a fairly diverting blend of beat 'em ups and bullet hell shooters. The challenge comes from juggling the two styles of gameplay, striking from a safe distance with your guns, then switching to melee combat to disarm shielded enemies. It's not the first time someone's tried to mix gunplay with CQC, but it works better here than it had in Capcom's quickly forgotten Cannon Spike.

Ooh, ooh! Caramel's almost done! I'll catch you all later. Apologies for the long wait between blog posts.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

It's All Downhill from Here

First on the menu, a guy named Arian Kordi has created an oekaki site called Closedverse, which mimics the style and some of the functionality of Miiverse. You can't post screenshots directly from your 3DS, but there's more flexibility overall, with users posting video clips and full color drawings along with the usual black and white sketches. I don't have an account on the site yet, but I have a feeling that it's going to become my methadone once my withdrawal from Miiverse kicks in after November 8th.

Now that we're done with the appetizer, it's time for the main course! After hearing all the praise heaped onto SSX 3, I decided to pick up a copy of this popular snowboarding title for myself. All that hype is not without merit... the game looks gorgeous in spite of its age, with rolling hills spilling out into the distance and tiny specks of light sparkling on nearby mounds of snow. It also doesn't take itself too seriously, which is refreshing in this increasingly grim era of gaming. There's just one problem, though...



I am completely terrible at SSX 3. I couldn't even say that I'm all thumbs, because that suggests some degree of skill, however little. I am no thumbs at this game. It's like I'm playing SSX with my tongue. I can't even explain why I'm doing so poorly, because I've had previous experience with the Tony Hawk series. I'm hardly a tournament caliber THPS player, but I've got a grasp of the basics and can string together a few combos.

Problem is, SSX 3 isn't Tony Hawk. The techniques that worked in Tony Hawk don't always work here, and the ones that do have been reassigned to different button combinations. The board press serves a similar function to Tony Hawk's manual, adding to the multiplier of a combo while keeping it active. However, instead of tapping up-down or down-up on the D-pad, you briefly hold up or down on the right thumbstick. I mean, hey, you might as well use every input on the gamepad, right?


It's complicated. Seriously.
(image from YouTube)
Tricks are also counter-intuitive... instead of the fire and forget approach of Tony Hawk, you've got to hold buttons down briefly to make the trick count. You can "pre-wind" moves while you're on the ground, making them activate faster... but, uh, why is that even necessary? All these little changes leave you with an experience that seems familiar, yet really isn't once you get past the superficial similarities. It's like learning to ride a bike, then being expected to go a few miles on a unicycle.

Then there's the whole issue of downward momentum. With Tony Hawk, you're almost always moving, but you've got control of exactly where you'll go next. SSX gives you one direction, down, and while you can alter your course to some degree, you can't head back up the mountain if you've missed a rail, or a hidden item, or that all-important ramp which will let you tack a few extra tricks onto your combo. There's little room for error, and the punishment for making a mistake can be so severe that you'll have to restart a race or a heat to have any hope of victory. As the kind of gamer who hates being forced to repeat a mission over and over until it's done just right, that doesn't sit well with me.

I suppose all of this wouldn't be so frustrating if SSX 3 had been forgettable. I could play it, decide that it wasn't for me, and move on with my life. The problem is that I'm pretty sure it's as good as everyone says, but it's also as dense and impenetrable as a lead wall. I love SSX, but it doesn't love me.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

One Step Beyond


"I don't remember much, buddy, and you're no looker!"

Er, pardon my absence. While I've been gone, I've been thinking about a few things... like how well the original Xbox has aged in the sixteen years since its release. Most of the games spread across multiple formats looked best on the 'box, and its exclusives looked amazing, regardless of their other faults. Let's take a look at a couple of those games, shall we?


This is Tao Feng, developed by Mortal Kombat co-creator John Tobias. I never got a feel for the flow of this game, but it's hard to deny the quality of the graphics. The characters ripple with muscles and move gracefully through a variety of interactive playfields which offer more than just pretty scenery. Throw an opponent into a wooden pallet and it shatters; drop them to the ground and the floor is left broken from the impact. You could find the same collateral damage in the cult classic Phantom Dust, with players tearing the environment apart while lobbing beams and explosives at each other. It helps bring the player into the action when they're put in a tangible location, rather than a well decorated box.


The Xbox was Microsoft's first game console, giving its games a pioneering spirit that was rare on systems from more experienced competitors. There was a lot of fresh IP, and a lot of experimental ideas... the kind that were just as likely to stumble as soar. Crimson Skies was one of the titles that worked, a flight combat sim set in a fantasy world inspired by the 1930s. I never made it very far in this one, but I liked what I saw, and I'm eager to come back to it. I may even want to give its seafaring counterpart Blood Wake another chance, even though I don't recall enjoying that one nearly as much.

Xbox games are still pretty cheap, and there's plenty of titles I either haven't played in a while or haven't tried at all. I have a feeling I'm going to love catching up with this machine after all these years.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Break-Up

I've made a horrible mistake. About the Wii U, I mean. Have you ever been in a relationship which you're extremely desperate to make work? Everybody tells you that your partner is bad news, and maybe you know that too, deep down inside, but you ignore your gut instincts and keep trying to jam that square peg into a round hole. "Things will change!," you shout, hoping to convince yourself more than your friends. "You don't know them the way I do! We can be happy together if I put in some effort, I just know it!"

Then comes the turning point; that chance encounter which breaks the spell of delusion and makes you realize that the object of your affections wasn't worth the effort. That moment came for me when I turned on my Wii U for the first time in several months. I hated all the waiting... waiting for the system to boot, waiting for games to start, waiting to switch to the Wii mode. I hated the gamepad, which felt less like a controller and more like an anchor tied around my wrist. I hated Splatoon's infuriating last boss DJ Octavius, who took all the happy memories I had of the game, tossed them into a dumpster, and set them on fire. I hated that Nintendo had the temerity to sell us a three hundred dollar console which on its best day could perform at the level of the twelve year old Xbox 360. (Now you're playing with power... minimal power!)

The only conclusion I could come to from this experience was that the Wii U was a steaming turd, pushed out of the colon of a game company which let the success of the Wii and DS go to its head. Most gamers were smart enough to recognize this pile of hubris for what it was and walked around it. As for me... well, I'll be cleaning bits of Wii U from the bottom of my shoes for a few years. My sincere apologies to anyone who I convinced to follow in my footsteps. Also, try an old toothbrush soaked in soapy water... it works wonders.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Epi-Tomy of Cool

Okay, you've been getting a lot of bad news from me lately, so let's lighten the mood a bit. Recently, I was alerted to this brilliant invention by a hacker named Matt Brailsford. You've got to see this thing in action to believe it.


Matt took apart a Tomy "Turnin' Turbo" toy, added a Raspberry Pi running the OutRun arcade game, then hooked it all up to a tiny display. The steering wheel and shifter are used to control your car, and that would probably be cool enough, but wait, it gets better! See the instrument panel just above the wheel? Matt added extra hardware which reads the values from the game, then accurately displays them on the panel's LED gauges and counters. When you speed up, the tachometer fills and the speedometer rapidly counts upward. When you crash into a palm tree, well, the opposite happens.

This portable arcade cabinet is a ballsy bit of engineering and one of the best hacks I've seen this year. YouTube user Han Neko describes it as "superlative in every way," and I'm inclined to agree... it really doesn't get much better than this.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

For Better or Miiverse...


...till death do us part.

The rumors have been flying for a while, but now, it's official... Miiverse will be ending in seventy-two days. Actually, seventy-one days by the time I post this. 

From a business perspective, it makes sense to stick a fork in Miiverse, because the two consoles that support it are pretty old, and Nintendo is especially eager put the Wii U and its shabby sales behind it. Past that, I don't think Nintendo ever wanted to get into the social networking business, especially since it needed to spend more time (and by extension, money) moderating posts than "anything goes" sites like Twitter and Tumblr.

From a customer service perspective, the decision stinks. Nintendo has been putting the screws to its fans for a couple of years now, abandoning the Wii U while making it more difficult than necessary to purchase its successor, the Switch. Speaking of system shortages, it was damned near impossible to buy an NES Classic last year, and there's every indication that Nintendo won't meet the demand for the Super NES Classic this year. 

Now there's this... the imminent demise of a service that gave players a fresh new way to interact with their games and each other. Microsoft and Sony let you take snapshots of games and share them with friends on Twitter, but Miiverse gave players the chance to react to games as they played them, with only a brief pause in the action. The service also let players express themselves artistically, with advice for other gamers, comics poking fun at what they'd just seen, and stunningly detailed illustrations which demonstrate just how much could be accomplished with Miiverse's simple art tools.

After November 8th, there will still be social networks and art galleries, but there will be nothing like Miiverse. It's a bitter pill for anyone who used the service regularly for the last five years.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Re-Boxed!

I'd like to thank reader Chopstick Samurai for supplying me with a fresh Xbox, ending the dilemma described in my last blog entry. It's already softmodded and everything! I'll have to wait until next month to buy a larger hard drive and really put the system through its paces, but in the meantime, I've got a handful of Xbox games I can throw at it, including a few that won't run on its successor, the Xbox 360. It'll be fun getting reacquainted with this machine after a several year hiatus.

(So what's gonna happen to the other Xbox? Well, I do have that mod chip coming in the mail. I'll be less hesitant to attempt to install it now that I have a back up.)

Another classic game system I've been spending some QT with is the GameCube. Well, kinda... it's more like the GameCube half of the Nintendo Wii. I just find it more convenient, as the Nintendont app can run games straight off an SD card, rather than needing tiny, fragile discs. Beyond that, the Wii's component cable costs five dollars, and the same cable for the GameCube is... significantly more. Heh.


"You're... me!"
"I knew you were gonna say that."
(image from YouTube)
Sorry, I'm babbling. Anyway, I've been spending the bulk of my Cube time with TimeSplitters: Future Perfect. First-person shooters aren't my bag, but this one feels like it was designed to let newbs like myself dip a toe into the genre. It's neither too challenging nor too complicated, and there's a charming, slightly corny sense of humor that makes the game less intimidating than it otherwise would be. Sergeant Cortez (that Vin Diesel-looking dude in the picture on the right) leaps from one time period to the next, meeting goofballs like a tacky secret agent and a dimwitted goth girl, and occasionally jumps into rifts to join forces- and trade barbs- with himself. Imagine a head-on collision between Halo and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, and you'd be on the right track.

I'm also using my Wii as a substitute Super NES, because it's far from likely that I'll be able to find a Super NES Classic this holiday season. Feh, whatever. The Wii is more than capable of running its games, and I don't have to pay eighty dollars and trade elbows with some old ladies to get one. I'm not AS angry about the limited supply as some folks, but knowing that Nintendo is going down the same route as it did with the NES Classic really chaps my culo.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

To Error 16 is... Frustrating

Yeah, it's that damned Xbox again. I'm not even sure why this is bothering me so much. My usual pattern of behavior for a recent gaming purchase is that I obsess over it until it arrives, mess with it for a couple of days, then lose interest and forget it ever existed. Unfortunately, if the plaything in question isn't working, that pattern quickly becomes a DO...LOOP with me permanently stuck in the obsession stage, because I was never able to advance to the other two lines in the program. 

All I can think about right now is the Xbox I can't play, even though I've got plenty of other game systems, and even though repairing this particular console will cost more than it's worth. I've got a mod chip coming in the mail, but all the stuff I'll need to install it (flux, desoldering braid, a better soldering iron, etc. etc.), will actually cost me MORE than just buying another damn Xbox. I might be able to hack into the hard drive and reinstall the dash using a hot swap, but I'd need an old desktop computer to make this happen. Normally these junkers pop up like weeds, but now that I could actually use one, they're nowhere to be found.

Knowing this Xbox could be repaired without having the resources to do it is a special kind of agonizing. It's like water torture for nerds.

Hopefully I'll be able to tear myself from this unhealthy fixation long enough to write something people might want to read. First things first... Sonic Mania is out, and it's getting rave reviews from critics, fans, and pretty much anyone else who's ever enjoyed a Sonic game. I'm watching footage of it right now, and it's a lot like the original trilogy on the Genesis, except everything's just a bit brighter and more ambitious than it was in the 1990s. Rings shine with a golden luster, the animation has doubled, and there's scaling, rotation, and even occasional polygonal effects that would have been well beyond the reach of Sega's most popular game system.


image from videogamer.com
I've had friends claim this is the Sonic game the Sega Saturn should have gotten, and maybe the system could have handled it. Realistically though, the late 1990s wasn't the right climate for Sonic Mania... it would have been skinned alive by magazines like Next Generation, which panned 2D games like this by reflex. No, 2017 is the perfect time for this one, now that side-scrollers are back in style and players are hungrier than ever for the old-school Sonic experience. (I'm not sure why anyone would want to go back to Blue Spheres, but it's here too, just in case your misplaced nostalgia demands it.)

There was something else... oh yeah! Now that I've got a TurboGrafx-16 emulator on my 3DS, I've been spending a lot of time with Ninja Spirit. This Irem release is a bit like The Legend of Kage, and a bit more like Ninja Gaiden, except it distances itself from those two games with a more versatile weapon system. Your hero is armed with a katana, throwing stars, explosives, and a sickle, and can switch between them to better suit the player's fighting style and the situation at hand. After you've powered up these four weapons and have two shadow ninjas trailing behind you, the screen quickly becomes choked with shurikens, explosions, and the corpses of fallen ninjas. 


Irem sure knew how to make a strong first
impression with bosses like this one, didn't they?
(image from arcade-museum.com)
The constant carnage is almost too much for the TurboGrafx to handle, with noticeable slowdown and flicker. On the other hand, the beefier arcade version might be too much for you to handle, since one hit is all it takes to bring down your warrior. Whether you choose the console or arcade version of Ninja Spirit, you're sure to enjoy yourself. Just try to resist the temptation to smash your controller with a hammer while playing it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

You Know What Sucks? Everything.

Gee, and I thought the GameCube was a headache. This classic Xbox has quickly become a money pit... every time I fix one problem, another materializes. The joystick didn't come with a breakaway cable, so I ordered one from eBay. Except whoops, the joystick doesn't work even WITH one! I buy a USB adapter and a copy of MechAssault to softmod the system, but uh oh, the mod didn't work the way it was supposed to and now the dashboard is corrupt, forcing me to buy software to repair it. And on and on it goes until I'm ready to break out the baseball bat and pull an Office Space on the damned thing. 

And then there's the Trump thing! Oh lord, I do NOT want to talk about the Trump thing. It's been a shitty week, I'll just say that. If you came here hoping to be entertained, maybe you should take the off-ramp to Ochalla's post about his latest TurboGrafx finds, or the VGJunk guy's reviews of old Super Nintendo controllers, or... damn, I'm already out of ideas. I think I need to read more gaming blogs.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Crisis Averted

So, you know that problem I was having getting the Game Boy Interface to start?


Yeah, it's not a problem anymore. Granted, my GameCube still won't run burned discs, but in the world of console hackery, there's always a back door somewhere. In this case, it was a convoluted exploit for Super Smash Bros. Melee. You've got to put files on a GameCube memory card using a hacked Wii, then run Smash Bros. and access the Name Entry option in the Versus Mode. It's clumsy and counter-intuitive, and it puts wear on my copy of a game that's selling for outrageous prices on eBay (note to hardcore Smash Bros. fans... Melee is fifteen years old. LET IT GO ALREADY!), but it gets the job done. 

The only problem now is that I'm not sure it was the blood, sweat, and tears. Game Boy Advance games will work on my GameCube now, but the homebrew I'm using to start them is low on features, and the visuals are washed out and blurry. That's likely the fault of the composite cable I'm using, but there's also the matter of having to swap cartridges. I guess I'm spoiled by emulation... it's just easier to pick a file from a menu than tear out a cartridge from the bottom of the Cube and replace it with a different one.

I know there's a lot of people out there who swear by the authenticity of real hardware, but there's much to be said for the convenience and cost-effectiveness of emulation. Sure, you could pay out the wazoo for a cable that will make your decades old game system produce a pixel-perfect image, but emulators do this by default, without the expense. They also give you the freedom to choose your own controller, and... well, I did mention not having to swap cartridges, right? I've reached a point in my evolution as a gamer that I want to have these games and consoles in my collection, but I don't want to have to dig them out of the closet if digital options are available. Authentic or not, emulation is just fine with me.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Boxed- and Cubed- In

So yeah, that mod chip I installed in my GameCube? It's not doing me a damn bit of good. I know the Cube recognizes it, because this screen appears when I hold down the start button on boot-up.



Yet when I try to run burned discs, this is what I get.



That's despite using the Ritek discs recommended by other modders, cleaning the laser lens with isopropyl alcohol, and adjusting the laser pot that Nintendo so thoughtfully buried under a dense mass of circuitry and metal shielding. So this is probably what my GameCube will look like in another fifteen minutes.


image from Game Podunk. I have no
idea what that is, but the pic was useful.
Did I mention that I have a Game Boy Player coming in the mail tomorrow? It didn't come with the start-up disc, but I didn't think I'd need it, because I could just burn a copy of the Game Boy Interface and pop it into my modded GameCube! Heh. Heh heh. Screw me sideways with a sequoia.

Speaking of dumb ideas, I just ordered a classic Xbox from ShopGoodwill, in the hope that I could mod it. You know, because the last mod I attempted worked so well for me. On the plus side, it was just thirty dollars with shipping (just ten dollars more than the GameCube stand I'll be getting in the mail soon), and it comes with OutRun 2. If the system works at all, it'll be worth the price. If I can make the mod stick (and I've successfully done this one in the past), it'll be worth a lot more, because you can do a ton of things with the old tank once you've convinced it of its full potential. Pop in a high capacity hard drive and cram it with Xbox games, play hundreds of old arcade and console titles with emulators... the sky's the limit, as long as the sky is only 64 megabytes high.

Wish me luck. Boy could I use it.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Rise of the Robots

No, don't run away screaming! I'm not reviewing that game, honest! I'd much rather discuss a couple of other titles I've been playing, starring heroes both fully and partially robotic.

Let's start with Mighty No. 9. The game was recently offered in a Humble Bundle, alongside a pile of other Deep Silver titles, and morbid curiosity compelled me to give it a try. Conventional wisdom is that the game was a crushing disappointment, and that Keiji Inafune should be flogged with a wet USB cable for inflicting it upon the world, but eh, conventional wisdom is overrated. I'm having roughly the same experience with Mighty No. 9 that I did Inafune's Mega Man games... you know, running through stages, tumbling into pits, and screaming myself hoarse because that stupid bastard blindsided me, I swear if I see him again I'll tear out his...


Plucky boy robot Mega-Bender
talks to his creator, Professor
Katamari-head.
You get the idea. This is Mega Man at its core, albeit anchored to dubious character designs and wrongheaded ideas. The robots suffer from design overload, while the human cast is lifted straight out of the Osamu Tezuka playbook, to the point where Dr. Sanda looks like a head swap of Astro Boy's creator Dr. O'Shay. It's like Inafune worked himself to exhaustion with the mighty numbers (and not always to their benefit), then threw up his hands and said "screw it" to everything else.


As for the gameplay, Inafune is clearly in love with Beck's "Xcelerate" power... I only wish I shared his enthusiasm for it. Killing enemies is a two step process, with Beck first softening them up with a weapon, then dashing into them as they bleed pixels. It's not as much of a chore as it was in that other overhyped yet ultimately disappointing platformer from twenty five years ago, Taxan's Low G Man, but it still seems unnecessary, and leaves the game feeling less precise.  It's a minor irritant that becomes hugely annoying during the boss fights, where you must ram into your opponents with the Xcel dash or risk them recovering their energy.

Funny, I remember the early
mock-ups used to promote
the game looking better than this...
Ultimately, Mighty No. 9 feels like a victim of unbalanced ambition. Keiji Inafune clearly cared about some parts of the game, especially the focus on earning high scores with perfect performance. However, the parts that mattered the most to him seem to matter the least to Mega Man fans, and vice versa. The graphics are plain, yet leave a bitter taste in the mouth, like unflavored yogurt. The versatile weapons system promised early in the game's development cycle didn't actually happen. Freed mighty numbers can offer their assistance in later stages, but only in those stages where their weapons are most effective... and even there, they don't do very much. No wonder Mighty No. 9 left a lot of players hot under the collar... they gave nearly four million dollars to the Kickstarter drive, and got something only Inafune wanted to play.

Guess who's totally screwed?
That's right, YOU are!
(image from Blue's News)
What was the other game I wanted to discuss? Oh yeah, Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I got this from Xbox Live's Games with Gold promotion several years ago, and decided to give it another chance after a humiliating first encounter in 2014. I'm having more fun with it now, but it's offering a bitter reminder that I'm absolutely hopeless at stealth action games. It happens every time... I attempt to sneak around a crowd of heavily armed soldiers, get spotted anyway, then paint the walls with the blood of everyone in the room. (Or the walls get painted with my blood, which happens more often. But I digress.) I have no aptitude for this sort of thing. You might as well send a gassy elephant into the room to retrieve that top secret document... at least it could sponge up more than a couple rounds of gunfire.

The game's got merit, though. I mean, the graphics are nice, painting a world where Detroit is the peak of technological advancement rather than the badly neglected symbol of urban decay we know in this reality. The acting is solid, although the threats of foes and the heartfelt pleas of allies lose something when the characters jerk around on hidden strings, like so many extras from an episode of Thunderbirds are Go. Although there's a focus on stealth, it's not an absolute requirement... you can blow your enemies away with a variety of satisfying weapons, or sweet talk your way into otherwise prohibited areas. Problem is, you have to upgrade your character to do some of this, and that requires Praxis points... points you may have wanted to save for more exciting cybernetic enhancements. I'm just saying, I don't think most of the cash spent on the Six Million Dollar Man went into making him a sparkling conversationalist.

Evidently, murder really works
up an appetite.
(image from Moby Games)
You may have noticed some ambivalence in that run-on paragraph. It's been a running theme in my Deus Ex playthrough... I'd find something in the game that made me want to stomp my controller, only to find something else five minutes later that salvaged the experience and compelled me to continue. Areas are large and varied enough to invite exploration, BUT it's easy to get lost without constantly checking your map, and locked doors regularly impede your progress. Hacking is a confusing nuisance, BUT it's more tolerable than in most games once you understand how it works. Stealth takedowns are a thrill to perform, BUT they deplete your energy, forcing you to munch on Cyber-Snickers to replenish it. It's fun to play with the weapons, taking out security cameras and peeking out from behind walls to cap some unsuspecting fools, UNTIL you hit a roadblock in the form of a seemingly invincible boss. And so on.

There's a lot of give and take here. However, unlike Mighty No. 9, the developers had some idea of what the players wanted from Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and delivered on those expectations... without asking for a single cent in crowdfunding. Granted, these are two very different games, but it nevertheless suggests that if you're going to ask end users to foot the bill for your next project rather than getting the funds from a publisher, you'd better not disappoint them. Just ask Inafune... when he comes out of hiding.