Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Talk is Cheap (and annoying)

Is February almost over already? And I haven't posted anything for over a week? Sheesh!

(image from Wikipedia)
Okay, let's try this. I recently purchased the Playstation 4 version of Mortal Kombat XL during last week's PSN sale, and while I'm not the biggest fan of the gore or the ridiculously hard to perform brutalities, I certainly appreciate the effort that went into the game. Most of the characters were given talented voice actors and loads of personality, with the two Cages and newcomer Takeda being highlights. The graphics are even more gorgeous than in the last Mortal Kombat, with beautifully illustrated backgrounds and startlingly human kombatants. If that weren't enough, there's plenty of content, with dozens of fighters and three different play styles for each. It's a standout fighting game on a system with no shortage of competitors. Better than Street Fighter V? Yup. Better than King of Fighters XIV? Well... it certainly looks better, at least. If you're new to the Playstation 4 and are in the market for a versus fighter, Mortal Kombat XL should be on the top of your shopping list.

All of my PS4 fighting games have been getting a lot of love lately, while the system pack-in, Uncharted 4, remains sealed in shrinkwrap. Frankly, I'm not looking forward to the mountains of exposition that I'll have to sit through just to get to the action. It's a big problem with today's video games... there's too much story and not nearly enough, you know, video game. One of the reasons I enjoy versus fighters so much is that they remind me of the arcade scene from the 1990s, where you were playing as soon as you dropped in a coin. The game industry of the 21st century could use a lot more of that instant gratification, and a lot less of the chatter.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Glutton for Punishment

How do I get myself into these messes, anyway?

I picked up a copy of Bloodborne during PSN's Flash Sale, despite knowing full well what happened when I played Demon's Souls seven years ago on the Playstation 3. Much hair was lost, many teeth were gnashed, and a full wardrobe of garments were rent, until I came to the bitter realization that this style of game just wasn't for me. 

But because I was convinced I needed something meatier in my Playstation 4 library than fighting games, I'm back at square one with Bloodborne... and have barely progressed beyond it. The latest title from, er, From Software brings the punishing gameplay of the Souls series into 19th century England. This time, crowds of torch-wielding lunatics and grotesque monsters are hoping to get medieval Victorian on your ass, and your only hope for survival is a "trick" weapon that can be shortened for quick strikes, or lengthened to keep enemies at a safe distance. (Well, in theory at least... they usually end up slaughtering you anyway.)

Burn up the old... bring in the new...
(image from game.co.uk)
I don't know if it's the extra horsepower of the PS4 or seven years of refinements to the core gameplay, but Bloodborne feels tighter than the old Souls games. Your character dodges more quickly and swings his weapon without leaving himself wide open to counterattack. However, the number of enemies has increased to compensate, sometimes drastically. An early scene has a throng of foes gathered around a burning stake, with a dozen sentries standing nearby. Taking them out is a time-consuming progress of luring individuals from the crowd with gunfire (so laughably weak that it offers little more than a distraction) or sneaking behind stragglers for a stealth kill. Make a mistake and you're thrown back to a checkpoint set agonizingly far from where you were slain.

You'll spend as much time in Bloodborne recovering the ground you've lost as you will making concrete progress, and the grim knowledge that you'll have to repeat everything you've already done (perhaps for the fourth time) is maddening. Like, "pound the walls, stomp the floor, scream every expletive in the book and a few you just made up" maddening. Shortcuts make the trip to the end of a level less painful, but you've got to find them first, and they don't take you straight to the boss... you'll need to fight a half-dozen formidable enemies to reach his front door. At best, it's a waste of time, and at worst, it's senselessly cruel.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Or who
turn around and go in the opposite direction.
Doesn't matter, really.
(image from GameFAQs)
Bloodborne can be entertaining when it takes the boot off your throat. After hours of fruitless struggling, I found an detour through Yharnum... a sewer with less dangerous enemies and plenty of hidden items. It was fun to explore for a while without worrying that I'd be pounded into lunch meat by an eight foot tall ogre. But then I stumbled across the merciless Father Gascoigne, and I was once again wondering if the brief moments of joy were worth the blood, sweat, and tears. I'll probably be asking myself that question a lot, considering that I spent eighty hours with Demon's Souls before I finally had the sense to give up on it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Fun with Pronouns, or I My Mi Mine

That Mi Box I mentioned in a previous post arrived a few days ago, and in my opinion, it's gone a long way toward redeeming Android as a gaming format. Sure, there are a lot of apps on the Google Play Store that won't install on this palm-sized device, but it's just dandy for emulation, handling the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of gaming better than the Playstation TV had. Games load faster, run more smoothly, and work with more controllers than they do on Sony's failed set-top box. Needless to say, it utterly steamrolls the CX-919 II that vexed me a couple of years back. 

Mi Box, he box and she box...
(image from Anandtech)
I guess the moral of the story is this: if you're going to turn to Android for your casual entertainment needs, for the love of Pete buy a system with strong reviews, that you can actually find in a store. The Mi Box isn't entirely flawless- it's slow to respond to voice input and there's no dedicated menu button on its remote control- but at $69 dollars with a fistful of free streaming trials, it's a far better deal than the NES Classic is at $60. (If you can find one. Trust me, you can't.)

I've been using the Mi Box to get reacquainted with the NES library, and I've learned a few things from the experience. At the top of that list is the realization that Nintendo's first home console no longer has the hold on me it did when I was younger. For the longest time, I was convinced that the Nintendo Entertainment System was the best system ever made, but now, I'm having second thoughts. Frankly, video games have come a long way since the NES. It's hard not to think of the machine as a little dated in hindsight, whether it's the repetitive tiled graphics, or the unpalatable color palette, or the cruel sadism in games like Batman.

Image from HG101
I mean, come on! Who designs stages like this? A big jerk, that's who. And it's not like this level (or the game in general) gets any easier from here. Back in my teens, I would have pounded my fists on this brick wall for an hour or two, but now, I just don't have the patience. In the increasingly relevant words of Danny Glover, I'm getting too old for this shit.

There was some other stuff I was going to write about, wasn't there? A retrospective of last year's posts, maybe a review of that Hori Fighting Commander I bought for King of Fighters XIV. Maybe that'll happen later. Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Shake Your Move Thing

During a jaunt to Sierra Vista, I picked up a pretty sweet prize at a thrift store in the area... a 42 inch television set for ten dollars. They said it could be repaired with a $25 part, but what they DIDN'T say is how difficult it would be to open, or how much space it would take up in my house. So I've got this behemoth propped up on the side of my entertainment center, covering nearly half of it, while I figure out a way to pry off the back cover and replace what's broken. Maybe this wasn't such a sweet deal after all...

In "better use of my money" news, I scored a Playstation Move controller for seven bucks; not a bad catch when you consider how much it costs online. Evidently it's forward compatible with the Playstation 4, turning what would have been a quickly forgotten novelty into a sought after component for fans of virtual reality. VR's not my bag, though... I wanted the Move for one game and one game alone.

Several years ago, I wrote a brief review of Deadstorm Pirates, a swashbuckling shooter I found at a Peter Piper Pizza in Nogales. I took an instant liking to the game, and made it my mission to bring it home as soon as I heard there was a Playstation 3 version.

Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that Deadstorm Pirates is a front-loaded game, with all the thrills packed into the first stage. I haven't played through the whole thing, but the next level is a decidedly less exciting trip down a river with crowds of giant enemy crabs along the shore. They're sick of that meme from 2006, and they want revenge! Hopefully the gameplay will get better in the next three stages, but I wouldn't bet on the lousy acting and script improving much. Yes, Captain Obvious-beard, keep your eyes on the crabs and shoot them some more. Thanks for that clarification.

Namco Shooting Collection comes with two other games, Time Crisis 4 and the headliner, Razing Storm. I don't know that much about the Time Crisis series (I was always a Virtua Cop guy myself), but from what I can tell Razing Storm is vastly different from the science-fiction tinged espionage in the previous four games, with bulky, heavily armored mercenaries blowing up robots and turning buildings into rubble. It's Michael Bay meets Gears of War, and I strongly suspect Namco designed it that way to appeal specifically to an American audience... possibly after some arm-twisting by its parent company Bandai.

Time Crisis 4 is a more traditional Time Crisis experience, except with swarms of deadly insects called Terrorbites added to push the limits of the Playstation 3 hardware and the player's shooting skills. Personally, I'd rather be shooting terrorists than genetically modified bugs, but the series was over ten years old at that point and I guess the developers had to throw in something new to keep the fans surprised.

The Move wand (right) and optional
Navigation controller.
(image from TechReport)
Let's talk for a minute about the Move controller itself. It was offered as Sony's answer to the wireless controller packaged with the Wii, but it's not nearly as intuitive. While the Wiimote was mostly a point and click affair, navigating menus with the Move requires you to hold down a trigger under the controller, THEN flick the wand in one of four directions, THEN release the trigger, THEN press a special button on the top of the Move to confirm your selection. Tiny action buttons on the top of the wand and recessed start and select buttons along the side don't help matters. Start and select in particular are so hard to see that it's easy to forget they exist at all!

To its credit, the Move works pretty well once you've learned how to use it, and if the Playstation Eye camera has a clear view of the globe on top of the wand. It's accurate enough that you can target specific areas of enemies in the three previously mentioned light gun games, and it makes for a serviceable pool cue in Hustle Kings, letting you strike the ball with natural arm movements rather than filling a power meter and tapping a button. I'm still absolutely terrible at pool, but at least I'm having more fun playing it!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Once More into the Droid

Okay, maybe that's not as clever as Parish's "Farewell, My Conker Buyin'," but hey, you'll have to work with what I give you. Anyway, after months of slumming with the Playstation TV to get my retro gaming fix, I've decided to take another chance with an Android device. I'm not taking chances this time, though... instead of some cheapie cheap stick from and made with parts unknown, I'm getting the favorably rated, extensively tested Xiaomi Mi Box. The videos I've seen suggest that it's powerful enough to handle both emulation and Android exclusives, which is pretty much all I demand from it. The wealth of television apps on the Mi Box is the icing on an already tasty cake.

I'm glad Jeremy mentioning the rising price of classic game collecting, because it's a subject I wanted to tackle here on the blog. I wanted to plot out a line graph detailing the price of software for a typical system over a twenty-five year period, but I would need concrete data to validate it, and that information isn't easy to come by. Prices vary wildly depending on the seller, and there's not a common consensus about how much a particular game should cost. You might be able to get a ballpark figure from talking to a dozen retailers, but it'd be a pretty wide ballpark. Now try getting that same figure from five years ago, or ten, or twenty. It's a little slice of impossible!

One thing I can confidently say is that the time to purchase games for a system you enjoy is a few years after its successor is launched, or (in the case of non-starters like the Saturn or Vita) a year after its manufacturer abandons it. In other words, if you like the Xbox 360 or the Playstation 3, the time to start your collection for those systems is NOW NOW NOW. Don't wait. Scour your local pawn shops, thrift shops, yard sales, and Craigslistings for the games you want, because they're going to dry up in a few more years. 

Take it from someone who's been collecting since the 1990s... you want to grab this stuff while everyone else is eager to move on to the next big thing. When they get nostalgic for the games they left behind- and they always do- you'll already have them.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Gaming on the Cheap

Just a quick update, because it's been a while and I really need to keep my writer's pencil sharpened. I picked up a handful of video games over the past week... some came from Wal-Mart and the rest were found in a thrift store, but they've all got one thing in common: they were less than ten dollars each. 

The Wal-Mart games were Sonic All-Stars Transformed for Xbox 360 ($5) and Dead or Alive 5 Last Round for Playstation 4 ($7). Granted, I already bought the former game for my PC during a Humble Bundle sale, but what the heck... for a fiver it can't hurt to have it on a console as well. DOA5 at seven dollars is a much better deal than the forty it currently costs on the Playstation Store, and it adds much-needed bulk to my PS4 fighting game collection.

On the thrift store side of things, we've got the longbox version of Battle Arena Toshinden, All-Star Slammin' Super D-Ball, and X-Men Legends, all for a dollar each. Toshinden was an early system seller for the Playstation, loaded with the flash largely absent from the original Virtua Fighter. However, even in 1995, some players saw through the cutting-edge graphics to the mediocre gameplay underneath. Twenty two years and three console generations later, it's impossible not to notice how much this sucks. 

I played this with a Sega Saturn joypad, and while that controller can make a good fighter even better, even it can't save a lousy one from itself. Special moves in Toshinden are a gamble, coming out roughly half the time and forcing the player to crush the D-pad with his thumb in a vain attempt to compensate. By contrast, the woefully unappreciated Street Fighter EX+ Alpha responds to your requests for special moves 90% of the time with a Saturn pad. It's a tighter, better constructed game overall, reserving its 3D for dramatic camera angles rather than finding an awkward middle ground between 2D and 3D gameplay as Toshinden does. It's telling that while the EX series sputtered out after the third game, its influence can be felt in Street Fighters IV and V. Toshinden has no such spiritual successor, remembered only as one of the awkward first steps in the transition from 2D to 3D gaming. (And oh yeah, the terrible, terrible voice acting in the Saturn version of the game.)

As for the other two games? Well, I haven't gotten to them yet. I may never get to Slammin' D-Ball (YouTube videos suggest that it falls far short of the excellence of Technos' Super Dodgeball), but I might spend an hour with X-Men Legends for shiggles. Stay tuned.