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


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
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
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
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.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Not Worth a Plug 'n Play Nickel

I heard Wal-Mart opened pre-orders for the Classic Super NES that's scheduled for release in September. I also heard Wal-Mart cancelled those pre-orders, claiming that a bug in their system made them available sooner than they planned. Nintendo fans with bitter memories of last year's Classic NES debacle are fuming, but I'm neither surprised nor upset by the news. I expected Nintendo to put players who wanted this system through the ringer, which is why I wasn't interested in buying one. I'm old enough to remember the fad toys of the past, and the manipulation companies use to make customers break down store doors and trample each other to get them. Soon enough, that excitement fades, and all that remains is the regret. No sale.

Speaking of plug and play consoles and predictable outcomes, AtGames released yet another Sega Genesis, which has been received with all the warm enthusiasm of a Christmas fruitcake. Really Sega, isn't it time you took the license away from them? After eight years of failure, I'm pretty sure AtGames is never going to get it right. Wile E. Coyote's got a better track record.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

You Can't Always Get What You Want

The terrible reality of being a video game fan is that you're always looking for new ways to play them, but you never have the money to explore all of those options. I just learned about a frontend for the original Xbox called Coin-Ops, which turns the sixteen year old system into a capable arcade jukebox. Hold on, let me dig up a link...

Look at all those games! Look at that slick, user-friendly interface! Who wouldn't want that? Regrettably, while I do have a classic Xbox, it's stranded in Michigan, and it would cost a pretty penny to ship it to the southwest, where I'm currently stranded. I could get a new old Xbox, but first I'd have to find one, then mod it. That would take a few hours of work, along with a lot of extra equipment. After that, I'd need to download the Coin-Ops file, which weighs in at a gargantuan ninety gigabytes. That's a lot of time, effort, and money, and frankly, I already threw in the towel on this idea two sentences ago.

I suppose I could settle for a Wii... lord knows I've got plenty of those. The problem here is that while the system is easily modded, there's not much hardware under the hood, making arcade emulation a crapshoot. Some games will run, while other games will run slowly, and still more won't run at all because the Wii just doesn't have enough RAM to accommodate them. Plus you have to deal with that stupid Wiimote, making it less than ideal as the heart of an arcade cabinet. Scratch that idea.

I do want to build an arcade cabinet eventually. I mean, I've got tons of flat screen monitors, the tools to build the cabinet itself, and the knowledge to put together a machine which could handle most of the arcade oldies from the 1980s and 1990s. Hell, an ancient Pentium 4 would do the trick... even that would be more powerful than a classic Xbox and a Wii combined, and it would be a helluva lot easier to set up for this purpose. Sadly, the only thing I'm missing is the cash to bring it all together. Some day, Jess... some day.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Fighting Games Are Great!

They sure are, Tokido. (Well, except Street Fighter V.) 

There was some pretty big news announced at EVO, the yearly fighting game tournament. Let's start with Tekken 7. Not content with Akuma, Namco has added another final boss from a competing series to the game's growing roster. Here he is, freshly scraped off the streets of South Town... it's Geese Howard!

Not sure I'm in love with his voice or the medallion around his neck which seems to defy gravity, but at least he's got all his moves from the Fatal Fury series. That includes the Reppuken, which might be a little out of place in a series where projectiles are rarely used, but I'm sure Namco will make it work.

What else? Capcom revealed their own crossover character for Street Fighter V, and fittingly, it's kind of a letdown. You remember Abigail from Final Fight, right? No? Well, Capcom still does. He's back, and he's so big and brawny he could make even Hugo pee his pants.

You could make fun of his name, but considering that he could give you a concussion with a flick of his finger, I wouldn't recommend it.

There was also news of a tag-team fighter featuring the characters from several Arc System Works series. I think I've made it clear in the past that I don't like ASW's games, but for completion's sake, here's the clip.

Before I go, there's something I've been meaning to mention on Kiblitzing, but never seem to get around to it. I was having trouble performing dragon punch motions with joysticks- even that top of the line one from MadCatz- and was getting frustrated by the situation. After all, the shoryuken is an important attack in 2D fighters, defending you from aerial opponents, and some characters are nearly helpless without it.

The solution to my rising uppercut dysfunction was embarrassingly simple... I just needed to lighten up. My grip on the joystick, I mean. See, American arcades use rugged parts that force the player to really lean into the stick to get complex motions like the shoryuken to register. Home joysticks (and indeed, all sticks that use the Japanese design) don't respond well to this, though. Since they're designed for precision rather than durability, they demand a lighter touch from the player. Once I adjusted my play style to compensate, I found myself performing dragon punches with relative ease, even in games like Capcom vs. SNK 2 where the timing for commands is uncomfortably tight. Trust me on this one... quick, gentle inputs make a big difference.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Writes and Wrongs

First, let me get this out of the way. I'm a writer by trade... it's what I love, and I've spent many years refining that talent with practice and college classes. Perhaps the biggest slap to the face you can give to a writer like myself is to take a carefully researched article and shrug it off as "fake news" because it didn't confirm your personal biases. It's intellectually lazy, and proves that you don't know a damned thing about writing when you elevate paranoid conspiracy theories and half-baked lies over the inconvenient truths of credible journalism.

No, modern news sources aren't perfect, and yes, it doesn't hurt to be skeptical when you come across an article that doesn't pass the sniff test. At the same time, maybe you'd better save some of that skepticism for the claims that the politicians you don't like reek of fire and brimstone, or the strangely glowing coverage of the politicians you do like. Use your head, and try to keep it out of your ass if at all possible.

Okay, rant over. I don't have much to report on the gaming side of things, but I can tell you that the GameCube I modded a couple of weeks ago seems to be working properly. By the way, there's a much easier way to diagnose a modded Cube than hunting for tiny LEDs buried inside the system. Just pop in a disc, close the lid, and hold the start button on your controller while powering on the machine. You'll get a copyright message from the Xeno chip... or not, if it isn't properly installed. Don't worry if it's fuzzy; the message is displayed in the European PAL format, and your television has no idea how to deal with that. Your games will display properly, though.

So why did I go to the trouble of installing a mod chip on a system that's over fifteen years old? Well, you remember the Game Boy Player, right? It's an accessory that snaps onto the bottom of the GameCube, giving you access to the entire Game Boy library. Thing is, the startup disc that comes with the GBP is lacking, offering a dim, slightly blurry picture which doesn't do the Game Boy Advance library justice. 
Frustrated by its shortcomings, a hobbyist programmer whipped up his own startup disc called the Game Boy Interface, which brings out the vivid color in Game Boy Advance titles. Just check out this comparison video... you'll notice an obvious difference in quality. Unfortunately, this homemade startup disc won't start up at all on a GameCube... unless you've got a mod chip like the Xeno installed. 

People also have a nasty habit of losing the official disc that comes with the Game Boy Player. Replacement discs cost a mint on eBay, so why not get something that works better for the price of a mod chip and a handful of mini DVD-Rs? It's a smarter, more cost effective way of doing business.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Frustration, Cubed

What to discuss, what to discuss...

Well, there's the Castlevania series which recently debuted on Netflix. Word on the street is that it's very good (and very brief), cementing Netflix as the preferred streaming service for original animated series. It's also very violent, but you can't make an omelet without whipping a few zombies into undead goo. Or something.

Blah! BLAH! (Not blah at all, actually.)
(image from Screen Rant)
On a personal note, I've pulled my GameCube out of retirement to install a mod chip. It's not like I needed to do this... my Wii U plays Cube games just fine using the Nintendont app. However, I just wanted to be prepared in case I ever found a GameBoy Player without the disc. That tends to happen, but you can substitute it with a homebrew app called the GameBoy Interface, which is said to run GameBoy games even better than Nintendo's official disc.

What was that? You said I could just as easily play GameBoy Advance games using my Android TV? Well, uh... the mod chip was cheap, and I was bored. So there.

Just a couple of notes about the install... normally, you need a special tool to open the case on your GameCube, but that's not really necessary. I found that the bit extender on a screwdriver sold for about seven dollars at Wal-Mart works just as well. Set the extender (without a bit on the end) into the screwdriver, stick it down the screw hole, then turn left until you hear a click. Bingo bango, the screw releases, and you can keep unscrewing it until it's loose enough to shake out of the bottom of the console. Here's the tool set you'll need, by the way. It's got a lot of bits that'll probably help you with the rest of the mod job, too.

Second thing. YouTube users have described this mod as "extremely easy," but I beg to differ. Just getting the GameCube open is a bit of a challenge (hint: try this teardown guide by iFixit), but once you reach its creamy middle, you've got to solder six points on a chip the size of a small postage stamp. It's got to be placed precisely on the drive controller board, and you've got to make sure you're binding the chip to the Cube's PCB. Just filling the holes on the chip isn't enough... you'll have to poke the iron through them a few times to ensure there's a love connection.

Wait, wait... I haven't gotten to the best part! There are LED indicators which tell you if the installation is successful. The first one blinks off, then a second one turns on if you've done it right. Seems easy enough, but the LEDs are tiny, packed closely together, and (you're going to love this) the same color. Once you insulate the chip with black tape, you're not going to have the figgiest idea which LED is lit, if you can see them at all. So maybe my GameCube's been properly modded, but maybe it hasn't... the only way to know for sure is to nuke it from orbit pop in a burned mini DVD and hope for the best.

On an even more personal note, I tried Zima for the first time in nine years. Holy hell, I liked this stuff? Maybe my tastes have dulled in the past decade, but to this steadily graying member of Generation X, it tastes like slightly sweetened rubbing alcohol. Flavored malt beverage technology must have advanced by leaps and bounds during the Obama administration, because I'd rather have a Mike's Hard anything than another Zima. Okay, my curiosity's been satisfied... back to the 1990s with you!

Monday, July 3, 2017

I'll Get You This Time, Gadget

I think my search for the perfect joystick may finally be over. I've had my eye on a MadCatz TE2 at a pawn shop in Sierra Vista for a while now... but apparently I was the only one interested, because it had been there for over a year without any takers. The manager cut the price from $130 to $90, and I was able to whittle that down to $75 after a little negotiation. I generally don't pay that kind of dosh for a controller, but after my past (often frustrating) experiences with cheap arcade sticks, it seemed like a wise decision to finally do things right, no matter the price.

Here it is in the box. Aside from some tearing on the box cover, the package is in excellent condition... the stick looks great and there are no missing pieces. There's even a screwdriver included so I can remove the plexiglass plate and replace the artwork... something I might actually do, because the lenticular Chun Li on the front is a little distracting.

And here it is out of the box. Not sure I'm down with the textured blue plastic along the edges, but past that, this is clearly a premium stick, outclassing anything else I've ever owned. (Or built. D'oh.) It's fully compatible with the Playstation 4, so I can finally play Namco's arcade series with a proper controller. The joystick is responsive, with minimal clicking, and the buttons have low actuating force, so even a light tap registers as a press. The control panel rests on a hinge, so you can open it up and swap button positions if you like (and I might; I'm not fond of the factory defaults). Start and select are set on the back of the stick, making it unlikely that you'll press them by accident. The USB cable screws into the back and can be stored inside the stick when you're not using it. 

In short, the TE2 is a class act all the way, and the fact that we no longer have Mad Catz making these should be distressing to fighting game fans. If it's any consolation, though, they're still ripe for the picking on eBay. Let's check out a few listings, shall we?

$369? Oh...kay. Surely there's an auction with a better price!

Five... hundred and fifteen dollars. Excuse me for a minute.

Wait, wait... all right, I'm good. Seriously. So like I was saying before... WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?! You're paying FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS for a damn joystick?! Look, I get it. This has never been a cheap hobby, and the prices have risen exponentially in the last five years, but still! It's a JOYSTICK. You could buy a game system for that! Like, one of those fancy Xbox One Xbox One Xbox One Xs, or a Switch, or maybe even an NES Classic! Unless you're doing this professionally- and even that notion mystifies me- there is absolutely no reason to pay FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS for a joystick.

Five hundred dollars.

Five. Hundred. Dollars. Think about it.

I'll be back later, once I clean the drool off my shirt.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Ms. Lacks, Man

Okay, just one more post before June ends. Yes, it's cranky, but by my estimation, that frustration is well deserved. 

Let's talk about Ms. Pac-Man for a minute, shall we? Originally designed by General Computer Corporation as "Crazy Otto," the game got some tweaks by Midway's marketing department, becoming an official sequel to Pac-Man and one of the most successful arcade games of all time. 

Thirty five years later, people still play Ms. Pac-Man, and for good reason... it's more varied, more colorful, and has loads more personality than the first Pac-Man. Just between you and me, I don't think Namco has ever forgiven this US-born game for topping its own creation. Home ports of the game have varied wildly in quality, with Namco's own conversions for later consoles feeling almost intentionally lackluster. Let's take a look at the scoreboard...

ATARI 2600
To the best of my knowledge, this was the first console port of Ms. Pac-Man. It's clearly saddled with the limitations of the aging 2600 hardware, but it's an earnest effort and a huge step forward from the first game. Ms. Pac-Man faces in all directions, and the fruit targets bounce along the playfield just as they had in the arcade game. I spent many a morning playing this one just before school.

ATARI 5200
image from Atari Age
Outwardly superior to the 2600, with a higher resolution, more faithful mazes, and excellent sound. The big problem here is that Ms. Pac-Man moves rather slowly, and jerks along the playfield slightly while eating dots. The 5200's stock controller doesn't help matters much, but really, if you spend any time with this system at all you should have bought a 2600 joystick adapter or a Wico controller already.

ATARI 7800
Coincidentally, Ms. Pac-Man creators General Computer also designed this system, originally meant as a peace offering to players burned by the Atari 5200. Ultimately, the console was delayed to compete with the NES, making its flaws more obvious. Nevertheless, it's smoother, faster, and more detailed than its Atari 5200 counterpart, and even sounds okay despite the 7800 sharing a sound processor with the 2600.

Image from Emuparadise
Putrid green courtesy of Namco
And here is where the problems begin. This version of Ms. Pac-Man is obviously a reskin of Namco's already shaky NES port of Pac-Man. The lovely pastels of the arcade game have been turned into gruesome greens, rust reds, and Pepto-Bismol pinks, the characters have been awkwardly scrunched into mazes too small for them, and sound effects are far off the mark, excluding the music at the start and during the intermissions. It was released in 1993, probably at the exact moment when people least cared about Ms. Pac-Man, so it won't come as a surprise that the game is super rare today. Hold onto your copy if you've got one, but for the love of Pete, don't play it! 

This is an entirely different animal from Namco's game, and takes a lot of liberties with the source material, adding mazes (some good, some so frustrating you'll want to belt the designers) and new features. Ms. Pac-Man can dash, giving it the flavor of the Ms. Pac-Man speed hacks, and the translation is overall vastly superior to Namco's version. Colors are brighter, the artwork is more faithful, the sound... kind of blows... well, I guess you can't have it all. It's worth noting that this version was developed by Franz Lanzinger, the guy who created the very Pac-Manny arcade game Crystal Castles back in 1983.

Despite running on nearly identical hardware, the Master System and Game Gear versions are completely different. The former is based on Tengen's NES version, with the same variety of mazes and the turbo button. The latter is based on the crap Namco served up on the NES, with the same scrunched up mazes and similar sound effects. One thing worth noting is that extra care went into the graphics in these two games, with exquisitely detailed fruits in the Game Gear version and jowly monsters in the Master System game. Why the designers couldn't just stay true to the arcade game is anyone's guess, but it's a reoccurring issue with these ports.

Image from AtariAge (again)
This is hands down the most Atari-looking of Atari's Ms. Pac-Man conversions. The monsters are single colored, with black dots for eyes, and Ms. Pac-Man herself only looks slightly better, smashed into a six pixel wide sprite. You could blame the Lynx's coarse resolution for the stone-aged visuals, but what about the sluggish gameplay, huh? Or the chirpy sound effects? My point is, this isn't very good, no matter what Lynx fans starved for software will tell you.

Largely the same as Tengen's sorry NES conversion, with a scrolling playfield and an outline around Ms. Pac-Man. The lack of color may actually be a plus when you consider how the NES game looked. It's more detailed than the Lynx version too, but then again, so are most cave paintings.

Pretty similar to the GameBoy version of Ms. Pac-Man, which in turn was similar to the NES version. It was the 1990s... I guess Namco was into recycling, like everyone else. However, this one has several improvements. Color is the most obvious of these, but it's good color, unlike the NES version with its desaturated greens and reds. Also thrown in for your (likely brief) amusement is a port of Super Pac-Man.

Image from Player 1 Start
Remember the NES version of Ms. Pac-Man by Tengen? Well, these two cartridges are the same thing, beaten bloody with the 16-bit stick. Everything is jarringly detailed and shiny, from the mazes to the fruit to Ms. Pac-Man herself. If you insist on an arcade perfect port, maybe don't get either of these. The sound effects rapidly alternate between stunningly faithful to the arcade version and "what the hell were they thinking," with the Super NES version sounding the best. Ms. Pac's high-pitched quacking/oinking in the Genesis game will... probably take some adjustment.

(Image from Moby Games)
What the hell happened here? In the mid 1990s to the turn of the century, Namco had access to the most powerful game consoles ever made; machines far and away superior to the original Ms. Pac-Man hardware. Despite this, the port of Ms. Pac-Man on Namco Museum is clearly compromised, with compressed graphics. Not satisfied with frustrating Playstation owners, Namco also released this collection for the Nintendo 64, and most depressingly, next generation consoles like the Dreamcast and Playstation 2. You know, the Playstation 2, the game system powerful enough to be used as a missile guidance system. Guess a 1981 arcade game was just a leeetle too much to ask from a console that could send you to the Matrix. (Either that, or Namco just got lazy.)

Rightly repulsed by the Ms. Pac-Man ports in earlier Namco Museum releases, someone at the company hired the emulation masters at Digital Eclipse to (finally) do the game justice. The end result was Namco Museum 50th Anniversary, which not only includes a sterling conversion of Ms. Pac-Man, but a lot of other Namco hits. Rolling Thunder? Galaga '88? Yes, please! The interface is a nice touch, a spinning turntable packed with authentic arcade cabinets and 1980s music blasting in the background. Now that's the way you do it!


Okay. I'm going to skip ahead a couple of chapters, because if I had to cover every Ms. Pac-Man port in existence, I'd never get a chance to make my point. Some years back, Namco released Pac-Man Museum, a spin-off of its Namco Museum series featuring only Pac-Man games... and the characters from that stupid computer rendered cartoon. Namco offered Ms. Pac-Man as part of the collection, but it was downloadable content, and you had to download it right away or pay five dollars for it later. I opted to pick up the DLC while it was free, and waited for Pac-Man Museum to go on sale.

I bought Pac-Man Museum the moment it hit the digital bargain bin, and now I can finally play Ms. Pac-Man. All the other games on the collection are golden, so there should be no problem with this one, right? Right?


Uh, no. Very not right. The attract mode looks fine, but then the game starts and you hear a constant high-pitched droning that sounds like the noise a guy must hear before his head explodes in Scanners, except it happens all the time, and you can only wish your head would explode to take the pain away. A casual player may not notice the difference, but I've been playing Ms. Pac-Man for a while, so I picked up on it right away... and wanted to play a better version almost immediately afterward.

I mean, sure, I could have settled for Namco Museum on the Game Boy Advance (which is good), or Namco Museum Battle Collection for the PSP (which is very good), but I wanted to play Ms. Pac-Man on a big screen. My copy of Namco Museum 50th Anniversary Edition for the Xbox is back in Michigan, so to satisfy my raging need for instant gratification, I had to buy the game from an online source.

Currently, the Playstation 4 version of Ms. Pac-Man is available for just two dollars on the PSN store, so I went that route. And that's when my problems continued. I should have known something was up when the game took what seemed like a lifetime to finish downloading. Turns out that Ms. Pac-Man for the Playstation 4 is eight hundred megabytes, which is about... 799.9 megabytes larger than the actual arcade game. I could understand a little padding for a user interface, but damn, 800 megabytes? That's just senseless. You could put half the Neo-Geo library into that much space.

Joystick not included. And actively discouraged.
(image from the Playstation Store)
So it finally downloads, and I hungrily open the file. It's a pretty good conversion, and I love the option to add reverb to the sound effects, giving them added punch and making it seem like you're hanging out in an arcade with noises bouncing off the walls. However... there's no joystick support. You know, a joystick, the thing you used when you first played Ms. Pac-Man. Some Playstation 4 games have the option to play with a joystick designed for the Playstation 3, but that was a bone developers had thrown to fighting game fans. It's not a feature in older arcade games, to my great consternation. Sure, you could play Ms. Pac-Man with a Dual Shock controller, but you could do your own dental surgery, and I don't recommend that either.

So I looked for yet another version of a game I already bought, in the vain hope that Namco would finally get it right. Okay, Ms. Pac-Man is on sale for two dollars over at Microsoft's store. I guess I'll get that. Sure, I already have it for the Xbox 360, but that's the Pac-Man Museum version, and my ears have already taken enough punishment.

(Image from IGN)
Out of all the home ports of Ms. Pac-Man I've got, the standalone version on the Xbox 360 is the most tolerable. Yes, the sound is a little soft, prompting me to crank up my television's volume to compensate. Yes, Ms. Pac-Man looks strangely sultry in the border art. (No, I won't "come up and see you sometime." Aren't you married?) However, it offers most of what the Playstation 4 version does, and you can play it with a damn joystick you already own. 

I'm not sure why I had to buy this game three separate times before I found one that Namco did right. You'd think they would have it down to a science after thirty-five years, but I'm starting to get the impression that Namco would be much happier if people forgot about Ms. Pac-Man entirely and just settled for the original game. (Fat chance of that happening, though.)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Coming to a Scalper Near You!

Well, it's official. Nintendo is making a Super NES version of its extremely popular, and just as extremely under-supplied, Classic game console. Here's an image of the box, straight from Nintendo's web site...

And here are all the games that will be included, courtesy of Polygon.

But because you're never, ever going to find one, here's a mask so you can pretend to be the hero of the obscure Sega RPG Panzer Dragoon Saga!

Image from Retro Gaming Australia
I'd like to direct you to the caption on the bottom of this advertisement, which was the last middle finger in the face Sega fans needed to switch their allegiance to other console manufacturers.

Gosh, I hope I'm not being too subtle. Nintendo claims that there will be "significantly more" Super NES Classic Edition systems manufactured, but coming from the company that cut supplies of its products to the point where people were willing to risk their lives for them, I'm not optimistic.

In games you can actually buy news, the Playstation Store is having a helluva mid-year sale, with tons and tons of titles you can purchase at a fraction of their original prices. (An even smaller fraction, if you have Playstation Plus!) I'm actually considering the Namco 3-in-1 pack, despite the fact that I've bought Ms. Pac-Man, Dig Dug, and Galaga for countless other systems over the last thirty five years. In my defense, most of the home ports of Ms. Pac-Man were kind of crappy...