Saturday, December 30, 2017


It makes sense to close out the year with a tribute to Miiverse. Nintendo's social media service came to an end in November after a brief five year run, and while there have been attempts to rekindle that fire with copycats, none of these sites have been as easy to use as Miiverse, or have inspired the same strong sense of community. Like downloading Genesis games from the Sega Channel in 1994, or logging onto a server for Phantasy Star Online during the Dreamcast's peak in 2000, Miiverse was one of those special moments in gaming history... daringly experimental, easily missed, and impossible to relive once it's gone.

Here now are my observations about the death of Miiverse, drawn on the 3DS during its final week of service. It's a little melodramatic and the art's not going to win any awards, but I think it makes its point.

Turns out the second panel was right on the money... I find myself using my 3DS less and less without Miiverse, and the overall experience has become emptier; lonelier. Miiverse quickly became an essential component of the 3DS, and without it, the system feels incomplete and its potential unrealized. Sure, you can still play its games, but without a convenient way to share that experience, why bother? 

Honestly, there's a lot I miss about Miiverse. I miss the promising young artists who will probably find greater fame elsewhere now that they're not chained to the limitations of the Miiverse drawing tool. I miss the sharp-tongued comments about the latest 3DS titles, ranging from Nintendo's big-budget hits to whatever turd RCMADIAX fished out of the shovelware sewer that week. But most of all, I miss mocking that stupid pink rabbit from the Badge Arcade.

I mean, who's going to keep the little dink humble now that I'm not there to heap abuse on him? Give him a few weeks without put downs and he'll think he owns the place.

Monday, December 25, 2017

I'm Dreaming of a Big Christmas

So yeah... I'm just about over my flu from last week, but now I've got another problem. Some neighbors of ours wondered if they could give us their old television set, and I said yes, because who's going to say no to an offer like that? But it turns out that my mother doesn't want it in her room, and there is no other room for this thing in the house. It's fifty inches diagonally, and I'm already quite happy with the 42" set in the living room... you know, the one I resuscitated earlier this year.

So now I've got to make practical use of this massive plasma television set. In any other situation I'd be thrilled to have it, but with space at a premium, I'll have to get creative to keep it from going to waste. (Sure, I could give this television away, but I get the feeling that I should keep a spare set handy in case the other one croaks on me.)

image from Bandai-Namco
Here's what I've come up with so far. You've heard about the "World's Largest Pac-Man" arcade game, right? These machines pop up from time to time in mall movie theaters, and they're exactly what it says on the tin... an unreasonably large version of Pac-Man, displayed on a six foot long screen and played from a nearby podium. Some tweaks have been made to the gameplay to add surprises to the thirty-seven year old formula and accommodate two players, but past that, it's Pac-Man... just bigger. Big enough that Pac-Man could probably eat your hand in three bites.

I can't literally put the world's largest Pac-Man in my house, but through the magic of tate, I could come pretty close! I could hang the television from a wall using a VESA mount, connect a Playstation TV or an Android TV to the back, then flip the whole thing sideways, giving me a gargantuan vertical display for not only Pac-Man, but Donkey Kong, Dodonpachi, and everything else which uses a portrait orientation. Better yet, being stuck on a wall should save a lot of space that would otherwise be gobbled up by a stand. It's ostentatious, hedonistic, and completely unnecessary, but hey, first world problems deserve first world solutions. 

EDIT: Well, it works! Here are a few images of Ms. Pac-Man running sideways on this television set, using a Playstation TV and pFBA. I don't have the set hanging from a wall yet, but this is a promising start.

I've taken the liberty of flipping the second picture, to give you an idea of how it would look in a vertical orientation. It's big, all right, but having to lay down on the floor with a tilted controller to play it is... less than ideal. Stay tuned for more news as it happens.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


Ho ho flu, boys and girls! I picked up a bug last Friday while watching the latest Star Wars film (advice: don't do either of these things), and although I feel better than I had over the weekend, it still feels like my sinuses are filled with sand. I'm talking about the hardcore sand you'd use to blast rust off metal, not the sand you'd find on your feet during a long, romantic walk on the beach. But if a crappy little spaceship like Zanoni can do it, I'll surely revive as well...

(See, I can make obscure video game references too! I'll be eagerly awaiting that contract, book publishers.)

While not burning through cough drops and hankies, I've been... enjoying?... Nioh. I'm still not sure, really. Like Demon's Souls, there's a lot of give and take in this game. Specifically, it takes your pride and dignity, then gives you doubts about the existence of a fair and just god. I've spent hours with Nioh, getting my hero up to level fifty one, but progress has nevertheless been constipated, with ludicrously overpowered bosses and the developers' vexatious habit of hanging the better abilities just out of reach halting my advance. You need the Sloth Talisman that makes boss fights less of a chore? It's over there on the next island! Not so fast... now you've got to finish this mission as well, and a training mission, too! Jump, boy! Jump! Good doggie! Now get in the cage and we'll take you to the vet for your "special" visit.

Eh, close enough.
Nioh's so difficult that some players have tapped out on Onryoki, the second boss. Personally, I may have reached my capacity for the game's bullshit with Umi-Bozu, the boat-chucking blob at the end of The Ocean Roars Again. It's not just that Umi-Bastard can vaporize you with one shot of his screen-engulfing laser beam, or that he may elect to do this two seconds after the fight starts. It's that as he leaps from one end of the playfield to the other, doing the world's most disgusting Free Willy imitation, he breaks off pieces of the pier where you're standing. After he leaps onto the pier for round two, you won't have much room to move around, and it's entirely too easy to roll out of the way of one of his attacks... and off the pier, into the waiting embrace of Davy Jones' Locker.

This is where boss fights start.
Right here, not three blocks away.
That "it's supposed to be hard" crap
doesn't feed the Irish setter... so
was Mega Man, but it still practiced
good game design.
After twelve fruitless attempts to take down the Blob Who Ate Nioh York, I whipped out a Himorogi Branch and made a hasty exit, all while wishing that I could take the branch, strip off the leaves, and spank executive producer Kou Shimasawa raw with it. You can "git gud" me until you're blue in the face, but the fact remains that this is not good boss design. I've got two choices in a 3D game like this... either I can see the boss I'm fighting, or the surrounding stage. I can't do both at once, because human eyes don't work that way! And what the hell is the deal with putting save points a hop, skip, and a five mile hike away from each boss? That other sadistic villain Dr. Wily would be happy to sell you some slightly used metal chamber doors. After ten games I'm sure he's got plenty to spare.

I had my fill of this game for the day, but it wasn't done with me. After turning off my Playstation 4 and crawling into bed, I switched on my alarm clock's white noise generator. You know, calm blue ocean, gentle afternoon rains, the kind of thing that makes slumber come more easily. I swear that hidden in the simulated whirring of box fan blades, I heard the twinkling and the squeaky, abrasive horns of the Kodama at a Nioh shrine. I really, really need to take a break from this one, don't I?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Ajit Pai Sucks, and Other Things You Already Knew

I'm softening a little on Nioh, now that I've adapted to the gameplay. Only a little, though... the bosses are still way too aggressive and the designers love to pull surprises from their bag of dirty tricks when you least expect them. The end of Kanbei and the Overlord traps you in a cramped room with skeletal samurai, bloodthirsty ogres, and flaming skulls, served up in rapid succession. That battle quickly turned into a Benny Hill sketch, with William frantically running from the horde of monsters nipping at his heels. Kill one pack of yokai and another appears to take its place, until the game finally relents and opens the door to the end of the mission. That's a side mission, by the way... the story missions are even more brutal. Some players crave this kind of challenge, but personally, I'd prefer something less stressful. Like air traffic control or brain surgery, perhaps.

Having said that, there are things about Nioh I do honestly appreciate. Some of the mooks in a stage handle their weapons with confidence, while others stumble after every swing, making it clear which enemies can be easily dispatched and which will make you earn your victory. The Guardian Spirits grant you temporary invincibility, occasionally relieving the pressure in the game's many tough fights. The combat is deep yet brisk, without the sluggishness of the Dark Souls series. There's a lot I would have done differently (what's the point of burying all the useful skills so deep in the game? I could have used the sneak attack and more arrows NOW), but I can't really say I regret the time I've spent with Nioh. You might not know that from all the swearing, though.

Switching gears from Nioh to Nook, I got a replacement battery for the e-reader I bought last week, and have been using it ever since. This is the first e-reader I've ever owned (not including this crappy thing, and let's never speak of it again), and the experience has been something of an education for me. Lesson one: the Nook is a very specialized device, and there's a lot it can't do. Even graphics-heavy PDF files are a poor fit, because the screen is too small for comfortable reading and there's no convenient way to zoom in on specific details.

However, the Nook handles text files, including its own EPUB format, with aplomb, letting you adjust the font size to your preference and displaying every page on a monochrome screen that rarely needs refreshing. The benefit to this design is that the Nook doesn't need to be powerful (and it's not, clocking in at a lightweight 667MHz), and requires only weekly recharges. So it's convenient, if only for its very specific purpose.

I just need to use it for that very specific purpose. I spend a lot of time on the internet (or at least did, before Reese's Peanut Butthole Cup sold it to the highest bidder), but I'm not a dedicated reader. It's rare for me to finish a book, unless it appeals to a specific interest or I'm obligated to do it. Maybe the Nook will finally give me a reason to sit down and read everything I downloaded from past Storybook Bundles, and all the orphaned literature generously supplied by You know, classic works like Jane Austen's Pride and Pre- no stupid, of COURSE they're all video game books.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

My Capcom Cup Runneth Over

Hello, what's all this, then?

Capcom's releasing a Street Fighter collection for all major formats. This is a welcome development, as it's been a while since we've gotten one, and there's not an ideal way to play Street Fighter Alpha 3 on a more recent system. Yeah, I could play the PSOne game (with its tons and tons of access time) on my Playstation 3, or risk my thumbs and eyesight on the PSP version, but this seems a lot more convenient. There's no word yet on whether the additional characters from the older console versions will be included, and I'm confident that Capcom won't be including the versus mode from Street Fighter Alpha Anniversary, which gave the cast their moves from the Marvel vs. series. Having said all that, I'm still eagerly awaiting this release. Horizon Zero Dawn has lost a bit of its flavor after sixty hours, and it'd be nice to have another reason to fire up my Playstation 4. 

I was hoping that Nioh would provide that motivation, but alas, the game isn't really doing it for me. Right from the start, you're presented with an insurmountable challenge... the lead character is forced to burst out of a prison cell and battle a fully armed and armored captor... while in his underpants. Gee, using the WHOLE hand, Tecmo?

Things don't get any easier when William (...William?) washes ashore on a Japanese village. From there, Nioh becomes a struggle to reach each new save point, and progress comes at a glacial pace... you'll cut down three soldiers, lose to the fourth, and get dragged all the way back to the last shrine you found, no matter how far away it was or how close you were to the next one. You'll need a lot of patience to play this game, I'll say that. 

I'll also say that you're going to need a Rosetta Stone to make sense of the dense gameplay. There are multiple stances, and a "ki burst" which refills your constantly dwindling stamina, and ninjutsu, and a half dozen different kinds of skill points to earn (prestige points?!), and a Guardian Spirit with its own abilities, and... damn, it's exhausting just thinking about it. Nioh was spearheaded by Koei's Kou Shibusawa, the creator of Nobunaga's Ambition, and his obsession with historical events and complex-beyond-reason play mechanics is painfully evident in this release.

I'll go out on a limb here and say that the industry's current fascination with the Dark Souls style of gameplay is getting tiresome. We've had four games in the series counting Demon's Souls, the more aggressively paced Bloodborne, and at least a dozen mercilessly difficult knock-offs from other companies. Can we move past this trend already? I don't want to "git gud" anymore. I want to get something that's fun.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

You Can't Always Get What You Want...

...and sometimes, you'll wonder why you wanted it in the first place. This happened to me a few days ago, when I found a set of three broken PSPs on the Shopgoodwill web site. One of the systems was an E1000, the European exclusive known informally as the PSP Street. It's got an unfortunate combination of added girth and trimmed down features that make it one of the least desired models of Sony's handheld. On the other hand, it's said to have a better screen than the PSP-3000, and it's got an indescribable appeal to a fan like myself who won't have many opportunities to find this particular version... a je ne sais crap, if you will.

I wanted a PSP Street badly enough that I was willing to take a chance on this junker... you know, win the auction for a modest price and fix whatever problems it had. At least, that was the plan, until the bidding shot up to fifty six dollars, dumping a bucket of cold water on my burning desire for the system. I could buy lots of things for that price... things that work right out of the box! Besides, I've already got two working PSPs, and those grapes were probably sour anyway. So I let this opportunity slip by me, in the hope that another would eventually present itself.

My latest in a long line of white whales.
Which is actually black, but you get the idea.
(image from
In the meantime, I've got plenty of things I can use to occupy my time. Like the old Nook I found at a brick and mortar Goodwill (some assembly required), or the Moto I bought to replace my aging phone, or any one of a number of game consoles I hacked and subsequently abandoned. I swear, if my attention span were any shorter, I'd- SQUIRREL!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Give Your Back a Break!

image from @johnandersen21
Definitely not the way to do it, now that they come in more pocket-friendly sizes. A company called Basic Fun has been shrinking arcade games from the 1980s down to a handheld size, and selling them at stores including Wal-Mart and (somewhat puzzlingly) the Cracker Barrel chain of restaurants. They're a fair distance from arcade perfect... some games are clearly running on Famiclone hardware, while others have the eerily accurate sounds but painfully choppy animation of cell phone ports from ten years ago. Regardless, it's a pretty nifty novelty, and at twenty dollars each it's hard to complain about the price. Even if the games don't satisfy you, you can always bring your Christmas tree to life by sticking a couple of them on it. Here's footage of two of the games in action, courtesy of YouTube user MadLittlePixel:

By the way, several of these micro-cabinets have other games hidden inside them... generally, these hidden titles can be revealed by bridging two connectors on the PCB before powering up the system, or if you're feeling especially adventurous, soldering in switches. That Joust cabinet can also play Defender (actually, HAL's pared down port of Stargate) if you know the trick.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Great PS3 Jailbreak

Early this month, Nintendo shut down its Miiverse social network after a brief five year run. However, the company was kind enough to offer post histories to anyone who requested them, and made good on its promise a couple of days ago. Everyone who made that request should have received a ZIP file with their comments and drawings, neatly arranged in a page that mimics the design of the late, lamented service. It's not a complete record of the time you spent at Miiverse- any responses made to your posts are toast- but it nevertheless gives you one last taste of what I feel was the most effective social integration in gaming history.

I'd like to talk a little about my time on Miiverse and share some of my favorite posts, but my thoughts are a little disorganized at the moment and I'll need some time to properly arrange them. Expect a post dedicated to the subject at a later date.

Instead, I'll discuss this recent development. A week ago, I was celebrating that I finally had a reason to turn on my Playstation 4 after months of neglect. Today, I've been given a reason to fire up my dusty Playstation 3, albeit for different reasons. There's a hack for early models of the system (all PS3 Phats and some PS3 Slims, but no PS3 Super Slims) that lets you install custom firmware, opening the door to a respectable homebrew library. There's not as much software as there is on the Wii, and it's not as flashy as it is on Microsoft's first Xbox, but there's enough available for the PS3 to make it worth the thirty or forty minutes it'll take to hack it. Special thanks to for shedding light on this exploit, and to the team of bguerville, esc0rtd0w, W, and habib for creating it.

By the way, this was a fairly easy hack for me, but your results may vary. Be sure to follow instructions closely if you go through with it, and don't blame me if things go awry!

The main reason I tried this hack was because I heard a modified PS3 could play PSP games, either at their native resolution or with upscaled graphics. It's technically true, but the PSP emulator built into the PS3 was only designed to play simple games in Sony's "minis" collection. When tasked with more demanding titles, it stumbles. For instance, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles works, but only the 3D remake of Rondo of Blood, and even that has difficulty displaying the titles which appear at the start of each stage. Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny won't accept any saves aside from the default, and Street Fighter Alpha 3 freaks out if you try to save at all. According to this compatibility chart, a third of PSP games refuse to run, either locking up the PS3 or sending you back to the cross-menu bar. I guess the takeaway is that you'd better hold onto your Playstation TV if you want to enjoy PSP games on a screen larger than four inches. (You know, the Playstation TV. That flat black thing you've probably got propping up a table leg.)

Homebrew emulation on the PS3 is a little more encouraging. Super NES games look great in 1080p, and the same could probably be said of MAME once I figure out how to turn off the accursed bilinear filtering. (Seriously, if anyone out there who's reading this makes emulators, stop making Cataract-Vision the default graphics setting. I guarantee you that almost nobody who actually remembers these games wants it.) Admittedly, the PS3's emulators are more difficult to set up than I'd like, and their user interfaces look pretty plain next to the visual spectacles of HyperVISION and Coin-Ops on the classic Xbox. However, given the superior specs of the Playstation 3 coupled with how easy it's become to jailbreak the system, things could improve in a hurry. I'll be keeping a close eye on the PS3 scene in the coming months to see if that dormant potential is tapped.

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
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.


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-


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-


And it doesn't look that great, either.
(image from, 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-

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

No can dunk, but good fundamentals.
(image from
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


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+

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-


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


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.