Sunday, January 28, 2018

Cancel and Regrettal: Shin Waku Waku 7

I've got a lot on my plate at the moment, so I haven't had the time to post anything substantial on Kiblitzing. However, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this. Sunsoft actually considered a sequel to Waku Waku 7, its silly send-up of anime tropes that doubled as a surprisingly solid fighting game. The proposed sequel was called Shin Waku Waku 7, and featured the cast from the previous game, alongside a few cast-offs from Galaxy Fight and a handful of new heroes. Some of these designs are pretty unremarkable, particularly the young girl armed with teddy bears, but then you've got more Waku-worthy fighters like a pancho-wearing duck and a Super Saiyan salaryman. These characters are brimming with promise, and make me all the more resentful that Sunsoft abandoned the Waku Waku 7 series for Astra Superstars.

image from Video Games Densetsu
Had Shin Waku Waku 7 been released, bunny girl Arina would have gotten a male counterpart, the vaguely ursine Arashi. (What's with Waku Waku 7's designers and bears, anyway? Not that I'm complaining, mind.) Fernandeath would have also taken a backseat to a new boss, based on the legend of Excalibur. Beat the other characters and you'd get the chance to pull a mighty sword from a stone. Unfortunately, the blade also happens to be attached to a frantic girl who attacks with bloody axes, mugs of beer, and... uh... hentai magazines. Fernandeath would have made an appearance, but as the steel-plated Mecha-nandeath, perhaps as a playable character but more likely as a hidden boss.

You can see more production sketches of Shin Waku Waku 7 on Video Games Densetsu. Unfortunately, that's all you're going to see, as Sunsoft hasn't expressed any interest in reviving the series beyond releasing the Neo-Geo version of the first game on the Switch. It doesn't help matters that Kouki Kita, the lead character designer for Waku Waku 7, died last year, but it wouldn't be hard to imagine another team taking this baton and running with it. Shin Waku Waku 7, by Skullgirls creators Reverge Labs? Hey, a guy can dream!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Good? Bad? I'm the Guy with the Elephant

First things first... as part of its bankruptcy reorganization effort, Toys 'R Us is closing 180 stores. You'll find a complete list here, but it hurts the most for me to know that the Tucson and Lansing locations will be shuttered in a matter of months. The Tucson Toys 'R Us is where I got my copy of Panzer Dragoon Saga (and the last time I bought a game using the old ticket system), while the Lansing store holds so many happy memories for me as a gamer. 

That store moved across town years ago, leaving a crappy Babies 'R Us in its wake, so I guess I shouldn't get too choked up over it. Nevertheless, watching a childhood staple like Toys 'R Us fade into history is heartbreaking. Those stores brought so much joy to me when I was a kid... somehow I doubt those buildings will hold that same thrill for future generations when they're turned into Halloween stores and Harbor Freights.

Now that you've been thoroughly depressed, let's look at the lighter side of the news... if a ten thousand pound pachyderm qualifies. I purchased Tembo the Bad-Ass Elephant in last weekend's PSN flash sale, and while the game was given a mixed reception by critics, I'm happy with what I've played so far. There's a sense of girth to this game that you don't often see in platformers... the lead character bursts through concrete walls, crashes through the floors of skyscrapers, and tramples over armies of soldiers with the screen-shaking impact you can't get from wimpy plumbers and spiny rodents*

I also dig the juxtaposition of the military soundtrack, seemingly borrowed from a Rambo movie, and the silly artwork, plucked straight from the Cartoon Network prime-time line-up. Tembo the Bad-Ass Elephant was directed by Game Freak's James Turner, and while I was never impressed with his monster designs for Pokemon (an ice cream cone? Seriously?), this game seems like a more natural fit for his distinctly Western art style. I may lose interest in Tembo once the game gets tougher and more frustrating, but at least for the moment, I'm giving it two trunks up.

* actually, hedgehogs are more closely related to shrews
shut the hell up, asterisk

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Besties, 1993-1999

In this installment of Besties, I'll look at some of my acquisitions from the mid to late 1990s, along with my favorite games for each. By now you know the drill. If you don't, you should have read the first one!

By the way, did the 1990s seem really long to anyone else? Like, longer than the next two decades combined. Maybe it was because I was in my teens and twenties back then, and time seems to run at 33RPM when you're that age. Either that or I just blotted the Bush II years out of my mind...

Nintendo GameBoy
Released: 1989
Owned: 1993

(image from Wikipedia)
My memories of owning a GameBoy are vague... it may have been a Christmas present, or it may have been a lucky catch at one of the thrift stores I frequented in the early 1990s. I better remember my introduction to the system... one of my classmates purchased it at launch, along with Castlevania: The Adventure, and I was dazzled by them both when he brought them to school. It was hardly a shining moment for the Castlevania series, but keep in mind that my last handheld gaming experience was Milton Bradley's Microvision. You're bound to be impressed by anything after growing up with one of those.

A few years and much brainwashing by David "Sushi-X" Siller later (mental note: don't trust anyone who thinks this is sexy), my opinion of the GameBoy had soured. Nevertheless, it was the only handheld I could afford at the time, and it had all of gaming's biggest names thanks to Nintendo's industry dominance. One franchise that was forgotten by most was Solomon's Key, brilliantly adapted to the GameBoy as Solomon's Club. It wasn't as challenging as the NES game, with smaller stages and a password feature, but that actually worked to the game's benefit, making it more user-friendly. Even my brother was seduced by the charms of Solomon's Club; no small feat when you consider that his tastes leaned more toward the flashy violence of Mortal Kombat and Doom.

Years after parting ways with that GameBoy, my mother brought home a tackle box with a red GameBoy Pocket and several accessories inside, including the camera and printer. I didn't think much of it at the time, having upgraded to the more powerful GameBoy Advance. However, it was a thoughtful gift, so I held onto both the GameBoy and a handful of boxed Pokemon games as a keepsake. That was a smart move... these days, that random gift has a lot more than just sentimental value.

Emerson Arcadia 2001
Released: 1982
Owned: 1994

You know what's awesome about the Emerson Arcadia? Nothing particularly, but it had value to collectors, so I snapped it up from my brother's friend for ten dollars. After suffering through experiencing the system's library, I traded the Emerson and a half-dozen boxed games for a Vectrex. I didn't keep that very long either, but it was nevertheless a better use of my time.

This is where I'd list my favorite game for the system, but the Emerson Arcadia doesn't make that easy. It's a Frankenstein's monster pieced together from every annoying flaw I hated in a late 1970s game system, from the harsh sound of the Atari 2600 to the bedeviled hard-wired dial controllers of the Intellivision. Even the box art is objectionable, with sketchy, copyright-skirting watercolor images that just scream cheap. Okay, fine... if you're going to make me choose an Arcadia game, let's say Cat Trax. It's a dodgy Pac-Man clone with a cliched Tex Avery motif- your cat can turn the tables on a pack of dogs by transforming into an animal control van- but it's fast-paced and doesn't require extensive use of that stupid numeric keypad every system had to have back when the Arcadia was released in 1982.

By the way, a free word of advice. Don't talk smack about the Emerson Arcadia around any Australians, because they grew up with a rebranded version of this horrendous system (the Tunix or the Ham 'n Eggs or whatever), and they get a little pissy about it. We're talking "boot through the fence of the American embassy" pissy.

Atari 7800
Released: 1986
Owned: 1994

Fun fact! Atari's hapless rival to the NES was originally designed as a replacement for the 5200. In fact, there are rumors that during a board meeting, Jack Tramiel took a hammer to the 5200 to drive home the point that the system had no home at Atari. 

You just know Atari wanted to put a
numeric keypad on that joystick, instead
of that silver strip.
(image from Wikipedia)
Unfortunately, the Atari 7800 solved some of the design issues of the 5200 while creating entirely new ones. It was backward compatible with Atari's most successful game system, the 2600, but it inherited its tone-deaf sound processor, leaving it at a disadvantage against the more advanced NES and Master System. Past that, the software library was still stuck in 1983, with dozens of dated arcade conversions which cemented Atari's reputation as a living fossil. The company wasn't willing to adapt to modern trends, and gamers spited them for their stubbornness.

Yet there were some of us who were born at just the right time to appreciate both the golden age of gaming and what Nintendo brought to the table after the crash. It's why I picked up an Atari 7800 from a yard sale and added it to my still modest collection. I'd be lying or crazy if I told you that I enjoyed the 7800 as much as the NES, but playing a manic shooter like Robotron: 2084 was comfort food for someone who was just old enough to reach the joysticks when the game made its arcade debut in 1982. Sure, that game might have been possible on the NES, albeit without the vibrant color and the sheer volume of enemies. However, as anyone who's played the lackluster NES ports of Joust and Stargate will attest, it wasn't the right place for that older than old school experience.

GCE Vectrex
Released: 1982
Owned: 1995

In the early days of game collecting, the Vectrex was a holy grail among consoles. If you were lucky enough to find one, you'd be treated to a novel experience no other system could reproduce. No one draws glowing lines like Vectrex! No one's resolution is as fine as Vectrex! No one scales and rotates in real-time like Vectrex! Er, you get the idea. The Vectrex even has a rectangular four button controller that's bound to remind you of the NES game pad. Numeric keypads, who needs 'em?

Alas, I wasn't lucky enough to find a Vectrex in the wild, so I had to speed things up by trading with a collector. He got my Emerson Arcadia (poor guy...), and I got the Vectrex, weighing in at a hefty fifteen pounds thanks to its built-in vertically oriented monitor. After sampling the system's library of games with the aid of a multi-cart, I got bored and sold my holy grail to another collector. To quote Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, I chose... poorly.

Several years later, I was reunited with the system after finding it on Bidville, an auction site back in the days when there were other auction sites than eBay. Bidville no longer exists, but the Vectrex is still in my collection. Now I just have to find a copy of Star Castle, which was my favorite game on that multi-cart. It's a classic David and Goliath story, except David is a tiny star ship and Goliath is protected by three spinning walls. The part about sinking a pebble into his forehead still holds, though.

Sega Game Gear
Released: 1991
Owned: 1996

I remember why I bought a Game Gear... I'd gotten a prototype version of GG Frogger in a trade, and obviously needed the system to play it. I just don't remember how it happened. My best guess is that the Game Gear turned up at a thrift store or yard sale, and after some money traded hands, I added it to my expanding collection.

If at first you don't succeed...
make it portable?
(image from Wikipedia)
The Sega Master System didn't excite me, so it stands to reason that its handheld counterpart wouldn't do much for me either. Like the Atari Lynx, it was a full color portable, but the Game Gear felt rather low rent by comparison. Many of the games in its library were either holdovers from the Master System (Drancon's Revenge, Woody Pop) or heavily watered down adaptations of Sega Genesis hits (Streets of Rage, Columns, Sonic). The remaining handful of exclusives are best left unmentioned, except as a warning to prospective Game Gear owners starting their own library. Seriously, Chicago Syndicate is so bad. You don't even know. You don't even want to know.

GG Frogger, though... now that was fun on a bun! Imagine a sequel to the arcade game with friendly cartoon artwork, lengthy scrolling playfields, and a new objective... finding a trio of frogs scattered across the level and bringing them back to home base. Some of the Game Gear's Japanese exclusives are worth your time as well, especially Namco's port of Mappy and Ninku Gaiden Hiroyuki, starring a penguin who shoves ice blocks into hungry monsters. (Any resemblance to Pengo is strictly coincidental.)

Atari Lynx
Released: 1989
Owned: 1996

The 1990s were a wonderful time for collecting. Case in point: I was able to find two copies of the elusive 2600 title Chase the Chuckwagon in the span of two months. It was a pretty sorry game, with a dog plodding through a dull maze to reach a horse-drawn carriage at the top of the screen. In other words, it's a fitting cross-promotion for the cheap, processed food that turned your dog's poop white. However, as trade bait with other collectors, it was immensely valuable. Those two copies of Chuckwagon netted me a big box full of gaming goodies that I otherwise wouldn't have been able to afford.

One of those prizes was an Atari Lynx, the ├╝ber-handheld that left me starry-eyed from the moment I first saw it in EGM. It had a full color screen... the GameBoy did not. It had stunningly close conversions of Atari arcade games... the GameBoy did not. It had hardware scaling and rotation... hell, even the Genesis and TurboGrafx didn't have that! Even after Atari dropped support for the Lynx, I desperately wanted one in my collection, and after all those years of wishing, that dream had become a reality.

For the next year or so, life was good. I spent hours with the best games the Lynx had to offer, like Desert Strike, Robotron: 2084, and the star attraction Toki. This quirky action title, ported from a Fabtek arcade release, offered a taste of the quality Japanese platforming that the GameBoy had enjoyed for years, and was miles better than other attempts at the genre, like Scrapyard Dog and Viking Child. But alas, I eventually became bored with my toy (or just got tired of going through a mountain of AA batteries), and traded it into a Bookman's shortly after moving to Arizona in 1997. Funny how quickly yesterday's must-have winds up on tomorrow's discard pile...

Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Released: 1991
Owned: 1997

One hard lesson I've learned as a gamer is that you should never let your fanboy instincts get the better of you. Specifically, don't vow that you'll never buy a game system from a company you despise, because the world around you will change, and so will your loyalties. Sooner or later, that console you loudly protested will be in your entertainment center, and you'll have egg on your face.

The Super NES's Japanese counterpart, the Super
Famicom. The Super NES got boxy and
purple on its way to these shores, because...
well, someone at Nintendo must have
thought Americans would like it better if it
were beaten with the ugly stick first.
(image from Wikipedia)
So it goes with the Super NES. As a rabidly devoted Genesis fan, I promised myself that I would never buy one... only to break that promise when the 16-bit console wars ended and I wanted to catch up on all the games I missed in the early 1990s. My friends remembered the vows I made, and took great amusement in reminding me of them years later.

Okay, fine! I regret being an obnoxious Sega fanboy. I can't say I regret the Super Nintendo, though, and I definitely don't have second thoughts about making Super Mario All-Stars & Super Mario World my first game. This generous collection was the pack-in for the Super NES near the end of its life, and I was lucky enough to find a copy at the same pawn shop where I bought my system. It's valuable to collectors, and more importantly, it's packed with gaming goodness. Even in 1992, when the console wars were at their most heated, I'd sneak in a few minutes of Super Mario World whenever my family went to Wal-Mart for groceries. Come on, I'm not made of stone.

Sega Saturn
Released: 1995
Owned: 1997

This was the first game system I bought when I moved to Arizona in the late 1990s, and for sheer entertainment value, it remains one of my best investments. I can't count all the hours I spent with my Saturn, playing games that ran the gamut from fantastic (Street Fighter Alpha 2) to hilariously terrible (Battle Monsters), and from easily found (Daytona USA) to obscenely rare (Panzer Dragoon Saga). And when I ran out of American releases, I turned to Japan for my fix, spending many more hours with Dracula X: Nocturne in the Moonlight, Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, and Grandia.

For two solid years, the Saturn was gaming for me. It didn't matter that Bernie Stolar had publicly disowned the system, or that the few Saturn games available in the United States were shuffled to the clearance aisles and bargain bins of stores. It may have been dismissed as a lemon by ninety percent of Americans, but I was determined to squeeze every last drop of tangy juice I could out of the Saturn. Turns out that with a little effort and a whole lot of importing, it had plenty to spare; enough to sate my thirst until I purchased a Dreamcast at the turn of the century.

Of the many Saturn games I played, the one I enjoyed the most was the game I bought before I even owned the system. Shortly before my trip to Arizona, I picked up a discounted copy of NightWarriors: Darkstalkers' Revenge at a Meijer in central Michigan. That slashed price should have been a clue that the Saturn was on borrowed time, but that didn't matter to me. I played the game before at a friend's house, and loved it so much that I was willing to take a gamble on the system that played it. I took the road less traveled, and twenty years later, I still don't regret the trip.

Panasonic 3DO
Released: 1993
Owned: 1997

One fun "feature" of this $700 console is that
you had to loosen the screws on the back of
the controller to make the D-pad recognize
diagonals. This could have used a bit
more playtesting, me thinks.
(image from Wikipedia)
I had such high hopes for the 3DO back in 1993. However, it was stuck between the rock of less expensive, better established consoles and the hard place of more advanced (yet still cheaper!) upcoming machines like the Playstation. When faced with such tremendous pressure, the 3DO's only option was to lie back and wait to be crushed by the competition.

By 1997, the 3DO had been forgotten by most players, with the only trace of its existence being the critically panned Army Men series. However, I still wanted this old fossil of a game system, and after some excavation, found one at a Bookman's in Sierra Vista. The 3DO and a few games cost twenty five dollars, and although I didn't use it nearly as often as my Saturn, it was still a worthy investment. 

After all, it had a darned good port of Super Street Fighter II Turbo, probably the best you could find on a home console until it was released for the Saturn and Playstation years later. Way of the Warrior was entertaining too, although in more of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 kind of way. Then there's Mark Hamill getting slaughtered by a shaggy Thundercat, and Kirk Cameron's proclamation that he was raised by a kind herd of wild cows, and Trip Hawkins wilting when Chris Kohler told him his friend bought a 3DO for twenty five dollars...

Yeah, all that was worth the price of admission.

Released: 1978
Owned: 1997

This was an odd find, discovered at a dusty old thrift store in Tucson and purchased for five dollars. I wasn't even sure what I had... all I knew for sure is that it looked kind of like a video game system and that I needed to buy it.

It was indeed a game system... just not a very good one, which tends to happen with these late 1970s obscurities. I only owned one cartridge, Boxing, and its brightly colored, noodle-armed pugilists didn't hold my attention for long. (I'm told that Space Destroyers is the APF's best game, but you could play Space Invaders clones on everything back in those days.)

The system had collector's value, so I was able to more than recoup my losses. I wouldn't learn about the APF's historical value until much later, when I looked up the console on Wikipedia. It turns out the machine was designed by a man named Ed Smith, an African-American tech wizard whose life story parallels that of Jerry Lawson, the creator of the Fairchild Channel F. How do I keep missing this stuff?

NEC TurboGrafx-16
Released: 1989
Owned: 1997

That plastic thing on the back
actually comes off, revealing a
bunch of I/O pins. The pins
were designed for optional
peripherals, but you could
probably make you own with
the right equipment.
(image from Wikipedia, obvs)
The TurboGrafx-16 will forever be tied to one of my biggest gaming regrets. While visiting a Toys 'R Us in Lansing, I had fifty dollars to spend on whatever I wanted. I could have purchased a clearance priced TurboGrafx, but instead, I put that money toward a Sega Genesis game. Not just any Genesis game, but that non-stop thrill ride, Ecco the Dolphin, where you spend half the time gulping down schools of fish and the other half solving cryptic puzzles. Cue that scene from Police Squad 3 where a hundred people in a crowded theater slap their foreheads in unison.

Look, I did get that TurboGrafx eventually! I just had to wait a few years, until one turned up at a Bookman's in Tucson. (Like all good sun-baked nerds, I spent most of my free time and nearly all of my free money at Bookman's. It's where I got most of my Saturn games, too. But I digress...) The price was about the same, but luckily, I got to choose from a small selection of HuCards rather than being stuck with Keith Courage, the dopey pack-in.

I went home with Galaga '90, which was the best TurboGrafx title they had. But if I were to choose the best game the system had, it would have to be R-Type. It was a visual dynamo with the same vibrant colors and huge bosses as the arcade version, and a memorable experience even if you missed Irem's demanding shooter the first time. If R-Type had been the TurboGrafx pack-in, uh... the Genesis still would have beaten it. Then again, it wouldn't have been such a thorough drubbing that NEC had to sell its remaining systems for the price of the competition's cartridges.

Sony Playstation
Released: 1995
Owned: 1999

Years after the Playstation was released, Sega released a game called Segagaga, with a depressingly familiar storyline. As the head of a smaller console manufacturer, you've got to keep your struggling business alive, thwarting attempts by the nefarious Dogma to drive it into bankruptcy.

As a satire of Sega's woes, it was pretty obvious, but at the time, I didn't understand the concept of "dogma." Now I think I get it... dogma is accepting a set of beliefs or a pattern of behavior not for any rational reason, but because it's the way things have always been, and must continue to be. It's the kind of grim inevitability that Sony brought to the game industry with its Playstation line. You had to own one of their systems, because you had no other choice.

I held out for as long as I could with the Sega Saturn, but with the system orphaned in America and steadily losing support in Japan, it was only a matter of time before I had to get a Playstation. So with a deep sigh, I accepted fate. I traded a handful of my import Saturn games to a guy named Gregg (did they have a discount on Gs when he was born...?) for a Playstation, still sealed in the box. It was a pretty good deal at the time, but twenty years later, you could probably trade the same games for a grocery cart full of Playstations.

Anyway. I traded a few more of my Saturn games to another collector for a starter pack of Playstation titles... Armored Core: Project Phantasma, Rival Schools, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha. I enjoyed them all, but of the four, I got the most mileage out of Street Fighter EX. Heck, I still play EX occasionally on my Vita... it's got that rock solid Street Fighter gameplay I crave, along with polygonal graphics that elicit contented sighs of nostalgia rather than groans of disgust. 

I've purchased many Playstation games since, both on disc and from Sony's online store, but this is the one that sticks with me the most. Well, that and Bloody Roar II. And Suikoden II. And... well, lots of games, honestly. I didn't like getting a Playstation, but at least Sony made it worth choking down the bile in my throat.

Stay tuned for part three of Besties! It's no longer the 1990s, and there is time for the Dreamcast, Playstation 2, and a few systems Jess missed in the previous century.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

If You Got One, You Gotta Get One

image from YouTube
We interrupt this nostalgic look at my video game collection for this important message! The Mayflash Universal Adapter Ultimate is the best peripheral you can, but shouldn't have to, buy for the Xbox One.

Let me explain. Like most modern game systems, the Xbox One has universal serial bus ports which accept peripherals like keyboards, hard drives, and... no, not joysticks. Controllers have to be licensed by Microsoft to work on the Xbox One, so even if it plugs into the port, your favorite arcade fight stick probably won't work. You don't even get the legacy controller support most fighting games offer on the Playstation 4. 

This wasn't such a big deal back when the system was launched in 2013. However, now that Xbox One owners have three seasons of Killer Instinct, third-party releases like Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, and backward compatibility with the Xbox 360, the absence of a good arcade stick is a lot harder to forgive. How are you supposed to play Ms. Pac-Man or Ikaruga or Soul Calibur II or The King of Fighters without one?

image from Mayflash
Microsoft still hasn't adequately addressed this issue (GTFO with that overpriced Elite controller crap), but Mayflash has picked up the slack with its Universal Adapter Ultimate. You plug this little blue box into your Xbox One, and your system will suddenly recognize controllers it had once refused to acknowledge, like a bouncer who had a hundie stuffed into his shirt pocket by a tenacious night club patron. 

It opens the doors to a lot of controllers, actually... more than you might have been expecting. I tested the Mayflash with a dozen joysticks and game pads, first navigating the menu, then playing Killer Instinct, Ultra Street Fighter IV, King of Fighters 2002 UM, Maldita Castilla EX, Ms. Pac-Man, Radiant Silvergun, and Ikaruga. This extensive testing yielded the following results:

MadCatz TE2 for PS4: You remember that uber-stick I got from a pawn shop? You know, the one with Chun Li on the front that costs like a bazillion dollars on eBay? That works just fine. View and Menu are mapped to the front of this over-sized stick, and the joystick seems more sensitive when you set it to function as the left thumbstick, but past these quirks, it offers solid performance.

Custom Hori Fighting Stick PS: Frankly, I'm not hugely fond of Hori products... I still have a bad taste in my mouth from the Hori Fighting Stick 3 and the Tekken 5 arcade stick. They both hold the buttons over carbon pads rather than using microswitches, resulting in a mushy feel and unsure response. The Hori Fighting Stick PS was no different, but it wasn't tough to remedy that design flaw. I just threw out the old buttons and the PCB resting under them, then soldered some new Sanwa buttons to the control board resting under the turbo switches. (Okay, they were Chinese Sanwa knock-offs. I'm not made of money here!)

The finished product, which I call 'Ol Slappy, is great for casual play... I can be as rough with it as I please without worrying that I could damage something valuable. To my delight, I discovered that 'Ol Slappy not only works with Mayflash's adapter, but works wonderfully with Killer Instinct, a game that invites frantic button mashing. You lose the Home button, since this twenty year old joystick doesn't have one, but that's why you keep the stock Xbox One pad nearby.

Hori Fighting Stick 3: This disappointing and frustratingly picky joystick has the same issue as other Hori products... the buttons press down on carbon pads, making the controller feel cheap and fragile. Beyond that, the arching button layout is awkward and the Fighting Stick 3 actively resists functioning with systems other than the Playstation 3, adapters be damned. The Mayflash Universal Adapter Ultimate is the only product I've tried that forces the Fighting Stick 3 to cooperate with systems outside its comfort zone. The Home button doesn't work, but all the other buttons function as they should. Too bad it's still a Hori.

Custom Built Stick: The fight stick I built last year was a noble endeavor, but alas, it wasn't an entirely successful one. The buttons make a resonant "klong" from inside the hollow wooden frame whenever they're hit, and the joystick I used doesn't work especially well for fighting games... despite being called the "Roundhouse" by its manufacturer. Ahem.

The encoder I used in the stick has two connectors on the end of its cable; one for the Playstation 2 and another for more modern systems. Curiously, the USB end of the cable didn't work so well with the Mayflash, reversing the button order. The adapter was happier with the Playstation 2 end of the cable, but it didn't solve the problems the joystick already had, like the need for a light touch when entering quarter and half-circle motions. The stick seems to have an easier time with cardinal directions, making it great for Maldita Castilla EX and Ms. Pac-Man. If I'd known it would be a better fit for old-school arcade titles, I... er, probably wouldn't have given it so many buttons.

Logitech Extreme 3D Pro Twist: Moving on from fight sticks to flight sticks, we have the Logitech Extreme 3D Pro Twist. I can't think of any Xbox One games that would be well suited to this, but luckily, the Pro Twist doesn't work especially well with the console anyway. It's twitchy in the system menu, often skipping over options, and while it can be used to play Maldita Castilla EX, the button arrangement is a mess and the analog stick isn't sensitive enough to do this ghoulish and ghostly platformer justice. I doubt any sane person would have considered using the Pro Twist with  the Xbox One anyway, but just in case, give this controller a pass.

image from Best Buy Canada
Hori Fighting Commander PS4: This specialized digital joypad is kind of chunky and the D-pad offers slightly less than crisp response, but it's nevertheless the closest thing to the legendary Sega Saturn MK-80313 you're going to find on the Playstation 4. It takes to the Mayflash adapter like a fish to water, with every button including Home working as intended. That's a big relief, as I wasn't looking forward to buying the controller's Xbox One counterpart.

Dual Shock 3: If you're stuck on the Shock, congratulations! The Mayflash adapter works great with the Playstation's iconic controller. You'll have to plug the Dual Shock 3 into the side of the adapter with a mini USB cable, but some games work so much better with Sony's controller that it's worth the minor hassle of being tethered to the Xbox One.

Dual Shock 2: Here we go again! The Dual Shock 2 offers roughly the same experience as its Playstation 3 counterpart, but you'll have to use the square Analog button recessed into the pad as a makeshift Home button. You won't be able to hold it down to turn off the system either, but the Home button built into the Mayflash will work for that purpose.

Xbox 360 wired pad: Why anyone would want to go back to the Xbox 360 controller when the superior Xbox One pad is right there in front of them is anyone's guess. However, you've got that option with the Mayflash. All the inputs function just as they did on the Xbox 360... unfortunately, that includes the D-pad, which didn't work worth a damn on that system and still doesn't on this one.

image from Satakore
SLS Darkstalkers pad for Playstation 2: Hoo hoo, now we've hit the jackpot! The Darkstalkers pad by Sega Logistics Service is nearly identical to the controller packaged with later models of the Sega Saturn, with the added benefit of a select button. It's perfect for fighting games, and I'm happy to report that it works perfectly well with the Mayflash adapter. The only thing it's missing is a Home button, and you can use the button on the adapter to make up for that. Alternately, you can just press the Home key on your Xbox One pad if you don't want to pull your sorry carcass off the couch.

Logitech Gamepad F310: This is an odd one. Logitech designed the F310 to mimic the feel of console gamepads, with the Xbox 360 controller's button layout and the Dual Shock's shape and parallel thumbsticks. The names and the colors of the action buttons are even the same as they were on the Xbox 360, giving players the impression that it will work on the system. (Logitech says "no," while gamers with early models of the Xbox 360 say "yes.")

Personally, I wasn't able to get my Xbox 360 E to recognize the F310. However, I can safely say that with the Mayflash adapter, Logitech's controller works with the Xbox One, and works extremely well. Every button is properly mapped, and the round (if slightly loose) D-pad is a blessing for fighting games. The fact that it has clickable thumbsticks means that it should adapt equally well to modern titles, like first person shooters and open world RPGs. There's even a Logitech-branded Home button in the center that offers a handy escape from whatever you're currently playing. The F310 isn't going to put your favorite controller into retirement, but a second player isn't going to grumble too much if he's stuck with it.

SLS Saturn pad for PC: Here's where we hit our first and only snag. Despite its similarities to the previously mentioned Darkstalkers pad, this controller will not work with the Mayflash adapter. I couldn't even get out of the menu with it... the cursor was magnetized to the top left of the screen, instantly snapping back to it once the D-pad was released. 

Several knock-offs of this controller exist, including the white Play Sega pad that was offered with Sega's short-lived download service. Unfortunately, since I don't have any of these, I can't say if they'll be any more cooperative with this adapter than the SLS joypad.

So there you have it. Out of the twelve controllers I tested, eleven worked at least partially with the Mayflash Universal Adapter Ultimate, and ten worked well enough to confidently use. I'd say that performance deserves an A, especially when you consider the diversity of the pads and sticks tested. 

It's worth mentioning that I didn't test any racing wheels, and that the Amazon users who did were disappointed with the results. The Mayflash adapter will recognize them, but they're not responsive enough to be worth the bother. I'd advise against using this adapter with those peripherals, but for fight sticks, digital game pads, and Sony's Dual Shock controllers, the Mayflash Universal Adapter Ultimate is a must. I question why such a device is even necessary for a system with universal serial bus ports, but I suppose I'll have to take that up with Microsoft.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Besties, 1982-1992

Someone on Twitter asked other users to list every system they've ever owned, along with their favorite game for each. When you've been at this as long as I have, that's a loaded question... I've had dozens of systems, and there's no way I could have adequately described my experiences with them on a micro-blogging site. With this in mind, I'll expand upon those experiences in a series of articles on my macro-blogging site.

A few notes before we begin. I'm going to limit this to distinct product lines... I'm counting the Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS as separate systems, but a Sega Nomad is just a Sega Genesis in handheld form. (Which usually doesn't work anyway. Cough.) I'm also going to list these systems in the order I received them, as best as I can remember. This list goes back at least thirty-five years, so my recollection might get a little fuzzy for the earlier entries.

With that out of the way, let's start from the top...

Magnavox Odyssey2
Released: 1978
Owned: 1982

If nothing else, the Odyssey2 had
the coolest box art, full of
futuristic neon images.
(image from Wikipedia)
Nobody's ever going to accuse the Odyssey2 of being the best console they've ever owned, but for me, it was the first. I was very young so I can't remember the specifics... all I know is that one day, my family was browsing through a Magnavox showroom floor, and the next, there was an Odyssey2 in our living room. We weren't the only ones... my mother's friend had one, and the farmer's kids down the road had one too. Apparently Phillips had some really slick salesmen back in those days.

Anyway, eight year old me had a lot of fun with the Odyssey2 (because he didn't know any better, cough), but the best game in his collection was without a doubt K.C.'s Crazy Chase. The sequel to an earlier Pac-Man clone that Atari found too close to the real thing for comfort, K.C. munched pine trees and the body of a roving caterpillar for points. Finish a stage and K.C. let out a hearty and startlingly lifelike laugh... perhaps sampled from the designer when he found a way to make a game that was just Pac-Man-like enough to draw in an audience without getting Magnavox sued.

Atari 2600
Released: 1977
Owned: 1985

Naturally, everyone in the neighborhood who didn't have an Odyssey2 owned the Atari 2600 instead. It was the industry leader, after all, even after more advanced successors like the ColecoVision and Atari 5200 were released. However, I didn't get my hands on one until after the crash of 1983, when my mother remarried. Her new husband's son had just left for college, and left his Atari 2600 in the basement for anyone who wanted to play it.

And play it I did... I must have spent hours with Yar's Revenge and the lackluster port of Pac-Man, taking a break only to read the comics that were included with the games. Things only got better when I scavenged yard sales for games to add to my collection, and peaked when the dollar stores at malls were flooded with unwanted 2600 titles. Well, unwanted by everyone but me, of course. These criminally cheap games were some of the best on the system, but none were as ambitious as Solaris, a futuristic shooter with surprisingly deep gameplay and 3D effects that put even the NES to shame.

Milton Bradley Microvision
Released: 1979
Owned: 1985

BlockBuster video game...
oh, what a difference!
(image from Wikipedia)
The Microvision was another fringe benefit of my mother's second marriage. My stepfather took my brother and me to a nearby warehouse store, filled to the brim with clearance priced goods. My brother grabbed a Transformers action figure (possibly Optimus Prime; he'd remember better than I would), and I claimed a Microvision as my prize.

There was nothing special about the Microvision, as I've mentioned in a previous post. Its resolution was laughably coarse, and the brains of the unit were built into the cartridges rather than the console. Despite this, I spent a lot of time on car trips pecking away at the pixelated walls of BlockBuster. It was the system pack-in, and the Microvision's best game... a lucky break for me, as it was nearly impossible to find any of the others.

Mattel Intellivision
Released: 1978
Owned: 1986

Like today's Xbox One X or the Neo-Geo in the 1990s, the Intellivision was the high-end console of its time... a little more expensive than the competition, but also a little more advanced. While the Atari 2600 was puttering around with watered down ports of arcade games, the Intellivision treated its owners to World War II flight simulators, real-time strategy titles, and sports games licensed by the NFL, MLB, and the Professional Bowler's Association. (Hey, it's a sport too! Shut up!)

However, when the crash of 1983 happened, the once coveted Intellivision became as worthless to the general public as any other game system. I was quick to capitalize on this by picking up an orphaned Intellivision at a yard sale. The system, a voice synthesizer, and a couple dozen games cost me twenty dollars, but playing B-17 Bomber until the metal strip on the top of the system burned to the touch was priceless.

Atari 5200
Released: 1982
Owned: 1987

Yes, yes, the controllers are terrible.
That's why you get the Wicos.
(image from, yeah, Wikipedia again)
Before the NES, the Atari 5200 was at the top of my list of most wanted game systems. Sure, all the cool kids were getting a ColecoVision, but the more colorful graphics of Atari's system were more appealing to me. I preferred the 5200's library as well... the games were just more familiar to me, as opposed to the ColecoVision with its random assortment of arcade titles, some more obscure than others. Everybody loves Donkey Kong and Zaxxon, but who even remembers Victory, Looping, or Slither? (In the case of the last two games, who would want to?)

My cousin and a friend both owned Atari 5200s, but alas, it took a while before I had one of my own. I found the system and all the trimmings at a thrift shop in central Michigan, but it cost thirty dollars, and I was thirty dollars short that day. So I just kept borrowing my friend's 5200 until he bought an NES, and unloaded his old console on me for chump change. Years later, during a collecting frenzy, I picked up another Atari 5200 and as many games as I could to make up for the one that got away at that thrift store. 

One of those games was Wizard of Wor, a port of the intense Midway arcade game that just barely edges out Moon Patrol and Mountain King as my favorite cartridge on the Atari 5200. It hasn't aged gracefully, playing more slowly and looking a lot blockier than I remember, but the pulsing bass and the general excitement of the arcade game is still there, even if the Thorwors look like angry shrimp.

Nintendo Entertainment System
Released: 1985
Owned: 1988

My relationship with Nintendo has been pretty volatile... one day, I'll be madly in love with them, and the next, they'll do something to spoil the mood, like kill their fun social network or unceremoniously bury the flagship console which cost $300 at launch. (Uh, just to name two random examples.) Nevertheless, Nintendo has done more to shape my tastes as a gamer than any other company. The big N dominated the video game industry with its Nintendo Entertainment System while I was still an impressionable teenager, and debuted franchises like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid, which continue to influence both modern game design and pop culture.

Beyond all that, games on the NES were fun, but in a more substantial way than they had been on previous systems. The play mechanics were more complex, and thanks to cut scenes and endings, the action had a purpose beyond reaching the next stage or beating high scores. It was an evolution of the gaming experience, and I had to be a part of that. It's why I purchased a Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988, with money I earned from raising animals on my parents' hobby farm. (Yes, I was in 4-H and everything. Life in the rust belt during the 1980s was a little weird.)

I had a lot of fun with the NES, particularly with Mega Man 2. I loved the original Mega Man, but somehow, this was even better, with massive bosses and a cartoony charm the first game was lacking. However, my loyalty to the system started to falter when Sega released its 16-bit Genesis, and Nintendo's response was putting its seal of quality on a cavalcade of licensed crapola by Acclaim. (Come on... Bart vs. the Space Mutants alone would have been enough to make anyone consider jumping ship.)

Sega Genesis
Released: 1989
Owned: 1991

Remember when 320x240 pixels
was considered "high definition
graphics?" Things were so much
simpler then...
(image from... yeah, those guys)
Let me paint a quick picture for you. It's the summer of 1991. I'm in the back room of a game rental store that's been transformed into a makeshift arcade. All the latest consoles I've been reading about in EGM are there, and I can play anything that hasn't already been rented out for just three dollars an hour. One of those games was Forgotten Worlds, which made my NES look almost as cutting edge as a UnivacGuess how long it took before I decided I absolutely had to own a Sega Genesis?

Shortly afterward, I sold my NES and thirteen games to the same rental store for $150; just enough scratch to purchase a Genesis of my very own. For the next five years, my loyalty was with Sega... and I'm embarrassed to admit that I made sure everyone knew it. When I wasn't making an ass of myself on the front lines of the console wars, I was playing Genesis hits like Dragon's Fury, Alisia Dragoon, Streets of Rage 2, and of course, Treasure's frantic Gunstar Heroes. It's everything you loved about Contra, without the vein-popping frustration!

Released: 1982
Owned: 1992

Oh boy, this one. I realize this machine has plenty of fans, but for me, the ColecoVision was a victim of lofty and ultimately unfulfilled expectations. Everyone in the classic gaming community praised the ColecoVision's pack-in Donkey Kong as a nearly perfect arcade conversion, so you'd better believe I snapped up the system the moment I found one at a yard sale. I ran into my uncle's house with the ColecoVision tucked under my arm (probably with its controllers and their ridiculous coiled wires dangling behind me), plugged that enormous power supply into the wall, and fired up the system, expecting to be blown away.

It blew, all right. Not "me away." It just blew. I paid only ten dollars for the ColecoVision so I really shouldn't complain. Yet when I remember all that hype about the ColecoVision bringing the arcade home, only to play a port of Donkey Kong that's objectively worse than the incomplete NES version, all I can do is complain! It's not just Donkey Kong, either... arcade conversions on the system range from reasonably accurate (Venture, Lady Bug, Galaxian) to that fresco of monkey Jesus (Time Pilot, Roc 'n Rope, Mr. Do!, Omega Race, Gorf, et al), and the inconsistent quality is hugely frustrating. A little research quickly reveals the problem... the ColecoVision was thrown together with off-the-shelf parts. Its Z80 processor can be traced back to arcade games, but its ugly color palette, limited RAM, and lack of hardware scrolling curbed the system's ambitions.

Good arcade ports do exist for the ColecoVision... they're just not a guarantee, despite what Coleco's marketing may lead you to believe. Burgertime is very impressive; superior to the NES version that came years later. Frenzy has an edge over its arcade counterpart, with more expressive artwork for the lead character and an eerie science-fiction soundtrack replacing the robotic voice from the original. Then there's Mr. Do!'s Castle, which doesn't look quite as sharp as the arcade version but nails the gameplay and that jaunty soundtrack. If every ColecoVision game had been up to the same high standards, I'd be complaining a lot less.

Sega Master System
Released: 1986
Owned: 1992

Remember that friend with the Atari 5200? He also owned a Sega Master System. After the excitement of guiding a snail through a maze and blasting an ever-reviving Zanoni wore off, he sold it to me for a couple sawbucks. I don't remember the specifics... it had been a long time ago, and it wasn't one of my more memorable acquisitions. What I do recall is that during a fit of boredom, I connected the Master System to a headset called the Victormaxx StuntMaster VR. The StuntMaster was actually designed for 16-bit systems, but because the Master System shared an A/V port with early models of the Genesis, I was able to turn Hang On into a pseudo-virtual reality experience. Sadly, I think the eyestrain from looking into the headset lasted longer than the respite from the boredom.

If you think this looks good, you should check
out the recent remaster!
(image from YouTube. Yay, I broke the streak!)
Anyway. Master System games are as memorable as the system itself, which is to say, not very. There are a lot of ports of Sega's SuperScaler arcade games, which the hardware is woefully ill-equipped to handle, and the occasional gem like Ys, Rampage, and Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap. You've probably been hearing a lot about this one now that it's been revived on modern game consoles, and there's a damned good reason for the comeback. Dragon's Trap is a lengthy action-adventure title with a hero who regularly changes forms to adapt to the terrain... Fish Man can swim in deep water, and so on. The Master System isn't known for this kind of game, but Dragon's Trap is on par with anything the NES can dish out... and looks better thanks to the system's lush color palette.

Stay tuned for part two of Besties! We'll dive deeper into the 16-bit era of gaming, and check out some long forgotten relics from previous generations.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Nice S!

Gosh, Lois, I sure hope so.

I decided to pick up an Xbox One S shortly before New Year's Eve. Did I need one? Not particularly, as my Playstation 4 covers most of my next generation gaming needs. But in my defense, it was one hell of a price. See, Target was running a sale a few days ago on this system, and offered an extra 30% off with its Cartwheel app. My total out the door, including sales tax? A smidge over $150, which is a lot better than the standard retail price of $279.

I found out a little later that Target wasn't supposed to stack the two discounts, which means I got extra lucky with this deal. Either that or the store just realized its mistake, and will be sending an assassin to my front door, making me a target. That's okay... I'm a man who lives dangerously. And ironically.

So with that out of the way, how 'bout some unboxing photos?

Here's the system as it arrived from Target. The Minecraft bundle wouldn't have been my first choice, but with all of the cheaper barebones systems and the more appealing Forza Horizon bundles sold out, I guess I'll have to live with poor man's Legos.

The Minecraft packaging was just a cardboard sleeve... pulling it off revealed a standard Xbox One S... uh, box. I have only a passing familiarity with some of the franchises shown here and none at all with the woman on the right side of the box, but hey, there are always third party games! Not to mention the backward compatibility with the Xbox 360 that seemed to come out of nowhere a couple of years ago. 

I take some small measure of comfort in knowing that former Microsoft spokesweasel Don Mattrick's original vision for the Xbox One has been almost completely demolished. You remember that, right? No backward compatibility, no trading games with your friends, no using the system without a preliminary rectal scan from the Kinect, etc. Fortunately, Microsoft threw Mattrick under the bus shortly before the system was released, then sped off into the sunset, never looking back at his potentially ruinous mistakes.

Opening the box gives you a glimpse of the Xbox One S and its many ports. There's one for the power supply, two HDMI ports, two USB ports (warning: less universal than advertised), an infrared jack, an S/PDIF port for optical audio, an ethernet port for wired internet connections, and a lock port for... locking the system, I guess. Well, it's there if you really think you need it.

On the front is another USB port, a power button, a tiny eject button, and an infrared receiver, which makes the infrared connector on the back seem a little extraneous. There are optional, television-style remote controls for the Xbox One, and if you plan to spend any time at all playing DVDs I suggest you get one... navigation is the farthest thing from easy with an ordinary game controller.

Here now are the instructions, printed on a folded sheet of cardboard so long I didn't have room to fit it all in one picture. Despite its daunting length, this super-sized pamphlet gets right to the point... you connect the system to your television set and a power supply, load some batteries into your controller, and you're ready to roll.

The Xbox One, freed from its box. Microsoft was kind enough to include not only a code for Minecraft, but an expansion pack, eight episodes of Telltale's Story Mode, three months of Xbox Live, and a month of Microsoft's new Game Pass service. That large chunk of Xbox Live pairs nicely with the month I purchased last week for a dollar. As for Game Pass, I doubt I'll be keeping it past the trial... it looks like it just offers a lot of Xbox 360 titles I either already have or don't want. I've owned an Xbox 360 for twelve years, after all. I've pretty much plumbed the depths of its software library.

I'll admit I got some morbid amusement from these images on the Xbox One's deadly plastic baggies. Plastic baggies: not even once.

Without further ado, here's the Xbox One S in action. Er, sort of. It's become an aggravating tradition to wait through hours of system updates and software downloads before you can even start playing your console. Hell, this thing wouldn't even play DVDs until I downloaded a software package, which seemed... unnecessary. That couldn't be included with the operating system by default? Really? All righty then.

So far, I'm satisfied with the Xbox One. I'm not thrilled with it, but I wasn't exactly jumping for joy over the Playstation 4 when I got that, so I'll give it some time to grow on me. I will say that the backward compatibility goes a long way toward improving its value and the overall experience. I also like the new Killer Instinct, which is aggressively button-mashy but at least shows more effort than Capcom put into Street Fighter V. All the characters have classic costumes (even the ones who weren't in the first two games!) and browsing through the post-fight menu plays the Killer Instinct theme, one note at a time. The game badly needs a fight stick, and those aren't readily available on the Xbox One, but I'm happy with what I've seen so far.

Now that you've seen this fabulous prize, let's see what was behind door number one!

I could have purchased this laptop at a nearby Wal-Mart for $200. However, because I couldn't find any information about it, or reviews beyond the ones on Wal-Mart's site, I left it on the shelf. That may have been a mistake. These notebooks have been snapped up by speculators across the country and sold on eBay for double the price. Beyond that, I probably needed a new laptop more than I needed an Xbox One, even if the reviews of this one's A12 processor have been less than glowing. Heh... who am I kidding, they've been savage! Yeah, I'm sticking this one in the "fox and grapes" folder.