Sunday, January 29, 2017

Toys to Life Support

Okay, I might as well try to blog, I guess. It's not like I've got anything better to do, other than sleep and worry about the fate of this country.

Anyway! It looks like the "toys to life" fad, started by Activision's Skylanders and hitting its apex with Disney Infinity and Nintendo's Amiibo, is starting to run out of gas. Disney's line of toys was discontinued last year (although many of the figures can be still found in retail stores with significant price cuts), and there are rumors that the franchise which started it all is starting to grind to a halt. Danish toy maker Lego's Dimensions line has made a less than illustrious debut in dollar stores, and even Nintendo's Amiibos have gotten sporadic discounts. Many of those figures still retail for $13, but a handful can be found for as little as three bucks if you know where to look (hint: try Best Buy and Wal-Mart).

Personally, I tried to steer clear of toys to life, as I suspected that they wouldn't be popular (or useful) for long. Beyond that, I have plenty of plastic clutter in this cramped trailer, and I certainly didn't need to add to that pile. Having said that, I do have three Amiibo figures, mostly for display purposes, and I'll grudgingly admit that I admire the quality that went into both those and Disney's Infinity toys. Every time I see that smirking Han Solo on a store shelf, my super ego has to pin my id to the ground to keep me from making a purchase. If one of these companies had made Star Trek figures, there's no way I would have been able to resist...

Huh, that wasn't so bad after all! At least blogging kept my mind off, ahem, other matters.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

(More) Radio Silence

Yeah, I know... it's been around two weeks since I last posted. Sorry about that, folks. It's not that I don't have things to talk about... I'm just not sure if there's a point. Does anyone read this stuff? Does it even matter what I say? I feel like I'm throwing words down a hole. The antics by our current president (remember when he said he was going to "tone down" his obnoxious behavior after the election? Wasn't that a fun fantasy?) have only further dampened my enthusiasm for blogging. It's hard to discuss trivialities like video games when it feels like Rome is burning all around you and there's a ten foot wall preventing your escape.

I dunno. I guess I'll post here again if I can work up the motivation. Don't set your watch to it, though.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Switched Off

2016 left us in suspense about Nintendo's next console, but now that most of the beans have been spilled about the Switch, I wish I could go back to that blissful ignorance. Other writers have discussed the machine at greater length (and I suggest you read the articles recently published by Kat Bailey and Bryan Ochalla), but my own opinion of the Switch can be summed up in two words...

image from The Register
(both the site and the cash register in the picture)
The price of the system is an absurd $300, a fistful of bills above the $250 that was anticipated before yesterday's reveal. The accessories are similarly upscale at $70 or more, while the hardware is anything but, unlikely to keep pace with the Xbox One or Playstation 4. Software runs the gamut from insubstantial tech demos to the regurgitations that were so aggravating on next generation systems two years ago (really... Skyrim?), with the best stuff planned for the end of 2017. There will be a paid online service similar to Xbox Live, but there won't be support for features like Miiverse, one of the few reasons I still turn on my 3DS. 

It's like Nintendo not only refuses to learn from the mistakes it made with the Wii U, but insists on repeating everyone else's blunders as well. Since they haven't been paying attention, let me make this clear: Nintendo's most successful products have been economically priced. The NES. The Game Boy. The Super NES. The Nintendo 64. The Game Boy Advance and its successor, the DS. The original Wii. These machines all retailed for the same price as competing systems or significantly undercut them, and led the industry as a result.

Now let's look at Nintendo's failures. The clumsily designed Virtual Boy wasn't just hard to enjoy; its $180 price tag made it difficult to afford as well. The Wii U cost at least $300 at launch, with much of that price being the fault of its bulky, impractical gamepad. The 3DS would have failed as well if its $250 launch price hadn't been drastically cut. 

Nintendo can no longer afford to make systems people can't afford. If they insist on releasing consoles and handhelds that lag behind the competition technologically, the prices have to reflect that. It's wiser- and far less risky- to pass the savings onto the customer than invest it in costly, cumbersome hardware that doesn't contribute much to the gaming experience. I suspect the Joycons that seem like a good idea now have a dim future ahead of them as closet clutter, crammed between the plastic steering wheel and the balance board that called you fat.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Get Serious!

I've got a Playstation 4 now, but lately, all I seem to be doing with it is playing King of Fighters 14. Sure, I've got other games (waves to the still-sealed copy of Uncharted 4 that came with the system), but I may not have gotten a Playstation 4 at all if it weren't for this one. I've been a fan of SNK's work for a very long time, and of the high-profile fighting games available for the PS4, this seemed like my best option.

The only problem is that I don't have a proper controller for it. The standard issue Dual Shock 4 is almost adequate, but it cheats you out of the sure-footed response you need to play King of Fighters 14 (or indeed, any fighting game) confidently. I've got a Hori controller coming in the mail, but that won't be here until Monday at the earliest... and the reviews on Amazon suggest that once it does arrive, it may not last long.

This thing had better last after spending
that much cash on it. I've got my eye
on you, Hori...
If only I had a way to use my cherished Sega Saturn joypad instead. Oh wait, I DO! SNK was kind enough to add support for "legacy" (marketing speak for "old") game controllers to King of Fighters 14, and I just received an adapter in the mail that lets me connect Playstation 2 joypads to my Playstation 3. If I'm really lucky, I can connect my Saturn pad to that adapter to my Playstation 4, and get the kind of flawless control I had on my Sega Saturn three console generations ago.

And the verdict is... drum roll please! It works, in a Red Green "duct tape solves everything" kind of way. (You remember The Red Green Show, right? It was like Home Improvement, except Canadian. And also funny.) King of Fighters 14 recognizes the controller as soon as you switch on legacy support in the options menu, but it's read in a peculiar way, with X and O and square and triangle trading places. It's easy enough to reassign those buttons to compensate, but the order select is hardwired to X, tri, and square, meaning that you're probably going to pick the wrong fighters and/or back out of menus more than you'd like.

Beyond that? It works like a charm. The Saturn pad comes through yet again, readily taking all your input and throwing it on the screen as burn knuckles, venom strikes, and super Argentine backbreakers. There remains no better joypad for fighting games, making me wonder why Sega has kept the Saturn controller design in retirement for over a decade. Don't fighting game fans deserve better than to be left at the mercy of Mad Catz and Pelican?

One other thing. I haven't posted anything on my YouTube page in a dog's age, but thanks to the Playstation 4's share feature, that may change. Stay tuned.

EDIT! This is kind of important... to me, at least. King of Fighters 2000 also supports legacy controllers. When you start the game with one plugged in, you'll get a message stating "AUX CONTROLLER DETECTED," and can use that to play the game. While we're on the subject, here's a preliminary list of PS4 games which offer support for PS3 controllers, including fight sticks and pads.


Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator
King of Fighters 14
King of Fighters 2000
Mortal Kombat X
Street Fighter V (DS4 must remain on)


Garou: Mark of the Wolves
Last Blade 2
Metal Slug Anthology
Samurai Shodown VI/Tenkaichi
Fu'un Super Combo
Arcade Archives (doubtful)
Arcade Archives Neo-Geo (also doubtful)


Dead or Alive 5: Final Round 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Microvision: A Blast from Birthdays Past

My mother was kind enough to take me to Sierra Vista today for a birthday dinner, and I managed to snag this from a thrift store along the way.

This is the Milton Bradley Microvision. It's an early handheld game system, and the first to include a cartridge slot. It's also incredibly primitive, packing about 1/12000th the power of one of those no-contract smartphones Wal-Mart sells for a couple sawbucks. The resolution is a laughably coarse 16x16 pixels. It has 64 bytes of RAM... not 64 megs, or 64K, but 64 bytes, half the size of a Twitter post. Yet despite all this, I'm happy to have it, because it takes me back to a birthday many years in the past...

Let's rewind back to... 1985, I think. My stepfather and mother had recently married, and they took my brother and me to White's, a warehouse store in a tiny midwestern town. They sold a little bit of this and a little bit of that; typically under-loved overstock from other stores. Amidst the clearance priced couches and lamps, we both managed to find something worth taking home... my brother an Optimus Prime figure from the Transformers toy line, and myself a Microvision. 

The Microvision was already six years old and completely disowned by Milton Bradley, but that didn't matter much. It was new to me, and I could play it wherever I liked, as long as I had a couple of fresh batteries loaded in the back. It didn't even matter that I never found any cartridges beyond the pack-in, Block Buster. It was the best game on the system anyway; a clone of Breakout that was well suited to the Microvision's limited hardware and dial controller.

Like so many childhood toys, I lost interest in the Microvision, and it vanished shortly afterward. Maybe I gave it to a friend, or it wound up in the donation bin of a Goodwill, or it was dumped in a landfill after being left in the rain. It's anyone's guess, really. Whatever the cause for its disappearance, I'm happy that my Microvision and I have been reunited... even if it's not likely to distract me from my Vita for long.