Thursday, June 20, 2019

Apple for the Kvetcher

Yes, that's Yiddish for "complainer." No, I'm not the slightest bit Jewish, but it's a fun language. You'd think the community that gave us Yiddish and Albert Einstein and Einstein Brothers bagels and The Three Stooges would get a little more respect from the rest of us, but nope, you still hear about synagogue shootings every couple of months. Frankly, it kind of blows.

That's off topic, though. A few days ago, I bought a fourth generation iPod Touch from Goodwill's auction site. It's supposed to arrive in the afternoon, and while it's grossly outclassed by my current Android phone, I'm still looking forward to getting it. Why? Well, I originally owned the first iPod Touch, and there was a lot of software that just wouldn't work with that system. Android casts a fairly wide net with its own cross-device compatibility, but things work differently on iOS. Once a new generation of iPods is released, the previous generation is forsaken by developers.

That would include the fourth generation iPod Touch, of course... it's nine years old, and was disowned by Apple six years ago. However, there were a lot of games that I owned in 2011 that either didn't run well on my first iPod Touch, or didn't run at all. Pretty much everything I purchased on iTunes up to when I switched to an Android device in 2012 should function. That includes both games that never made the jump to Android (Street Fighter IV Volt) and ones that look and play better on iOS (Forget-Me-Not).

Even if I can't get my old library of games on this iPod Touch (I don't know if I remember my iTunes password or even what E-mail address I used; it's been a really, REALLY long time), I can still use it as a music player. Even the crusty first model was pretty good at music playback, and I imagine the experience will be that much better with a built in speaker and a high resolution display. Also, since it's an earlier model, I don't have to futz around with a Lightning cable or worry about iCloud locking me out of my own system. The Apple Store won't unlock it unless you've got a receipt, and somehow I doubt they're going to accept a proof of purchase from Goodwill.

Not shown: hundreds of deer eager to be
crushed by your station wagon.
Speaking of mobile technology, I managed to get Playstation Mobile working again on my Vita, granting me access to its modest library of simple but creative games. Games like Oh, Deer! Alpha, which combines OutRun with the distinctly Midwestern experience of flattening a white tail that was too stupid to wait for your car to pass. Hermit Crab in Space, where you blast cuboid ships and add their weapons and thrusters to your own craft. Rock Boshers DX, which tries very hard to convince you that you're playing it on a ZX Spectrum. And Chaos Rings, which is... over six hundred megabytes in size. So much for keeping things simple.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Shift into Turbo

(ignore the "to Wii U" part)
Welp, that's the end of this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. However, it left us with an earth-shaking, jaw-dropping, pants-soiling revelation... Konami is planning a mini console that plays games from the Turbografx-16 library. Why Konami? They bought Hudson Soft, the previous owner of the console and its library, fifteen years ago. Why a mini Turbografx? It's the current fad... bite-sized consoles are easy to manufacture and a quick way to cash in on the nostalgia of gamers. What games will be included? Konami is being coy about this... they've revealed just six so far, but we do know that it'll play both Turbochip and CD-ROM games. Games like R-Type!


And Ninja Spirit!


And Dungeon Explorer, which, uh...


I don't know what to say about that one. We don't know what else we'll be getting, beyond the six games Konami mentioned in the press release. Hopefully they'll pass on duds like Vigilante.


And for that matter, China Warrior, which launched with the PC Engine in 1987.


If we're lucky, perhaps we'll get Hudson's Zeld-a-like Neutopia.


Uh, Clyde, that was Neutopia. If Konami is feeling really generous, maybe they'll put their differences with Capcom aside and give us Street Fighter II: Champion Edition.


You know, because Guile says "Ru-Paul" when he's knocked out in one of the later games. Now you made me explain the joke! I hope you're happy!

Will the Turbografx-16 Mini be one of the better mini consoles available, or just another AtGames-caliber dud? Who cares... it gave me an excuse to recycle all these old Miiverse drawings.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Bring Out Your Dead


Honestly, I don't care much about what's been revealed at E3 so far. However, one announcement resonated with me, for all the wrong reasons. Microsoft has declared that after four years and entirely too damn many Call of Duty games, backward compatibility for the Xbox One is over. Done. Kaput. Pushing up daisies, sleeping with the fishes, taking a dirt nap six feet under while biting the dust... feel free to choose your own crass death metaphor.

Yes, I understand that Microsoft's next game console will pick up where the Xbox One left off, and yes, I realize there are six hundred Xbox and Xbox 360 titles available. Nevertheless, there could have been more of them, and better choices. It got a little aggravating waiting week after week with an empty cup, waiting to be served something nourishing, only to end up with another bowl full of Hitman. 

You wanna know how many Splinter Cell games were made backward compatible? Seven, counting four for the original Xbox. Guess how many Call of Duty games we got? Ten. How many Darkstalkers games did we get? Not Darksiders; Darkstalkers, the fighting game with monsters in it. That'd be zero. What about Mortal Kombat 9, the game that revived the series after several failed attempts by Midway to take it into the third dimension? Nope, didn't get that either.

Maybe I should be grateful for what we did get. King of Fighters XIII was released eventually, just a few months short of the cut-off point, and there were several other fighting games and retro compilations made available through the magic of backward compatibility. I'm relieved that Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition, the first two Soul Caliburs, and Midway Arcade Origins squeezed through the gate before it slammed shut. 

Nevertheless, I resent Microsoft's "slow drip" method of backward compatibility. How many games will be offered this week? Will there be anything you'd actually want to play? Will you get anything at all, or will Microsoft skip a week? It's better than having to shell out sixty dollars for a "remaster" of a game you already own, but it nevertheless feels manipulative. It's a carrot and stick situation, where you keep coming back week after week for the vague promise of a game you may never actually get to play on the latest hardware.

Backward compatibility wasn't always like this. In the 2000s, if you bought a next generation system, be it a Game Boy Advance or a Nintendo Wii or a Playstation 2, playing your old games was as simple as popping them into the new system. You didn't have to cross your fingers and hope that your favorite game would work someday... it just did, whether it was a mainstream title like Splinter Cell or something obscure, like Chibi-Robo or Intelligent Qube.

But hey, why give the consumer the power to make their own choices when you can string them along for a few years, using games they already own as bait? Now if you'll excuse me, I need to dust off my Xbox 360 so I can play some Mortal Kombat 9. It's obviously not going to happen any other way.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Deluxe Treatment


And here I was thinking I wouldn't get a chance to post this picture again! Anyway, Microsoft is offering a new "Ultimate Game Pass" subscription, which combines their Xbox Live Gold and Game Pass services. At $14.99 per month, it costs more than either Gold or Game Pass, but is less expensive than the two of them together. If you really want to save some money, Cheap Ass Gamer has your hook-up... one of its members discovered that when you sign up for Ultimate, your remaining months of Gold and Game Pass are transferred there, effectively doubling their value. 

Say you just bought one year of Gold and one year of Game Pass. Switching to the premium service gives you two years of Ultimate, so you'll have both online gaming and a small pool of free Xbox games for twice as long as you otherwise would have. You can get up to three years of Ultimate using this trick... some CAG members were able to stretch out their subscriptions to 2021 by purchasing a couple years of Gold, then switching to Ultimate. There's no telling if this was an unintentional goof on Microsoft's part, so you'd better get in on this deal quickly!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Well Played

E3 is almost here, and as promised, Sega has revealed all of the games for its upcoming Genesis Mini. Here's what's on tap for America, courtesy of the official Sega Genesis Mini web site:

Ecco the Dolphin
Castlevania: Bloodlines
Space Harrier II
Shining Force
Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine
Toejam & Earl
Comix Zone
Sonic the Hedgehog
Altered Beast
Gunstar Heroes
Castle of Illusion
World of Illusion
Thunder Force III
Super Fantasy Zone
Shinobi III
Streets of Rage II
Earthworm Jim
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Contra: Hard Corps
Landstalker
Beyond Oasis
Ghouls 'n Ghosts
Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
Golden Axe
Phantasy Star IV
Street Fighter II Special Champion Edition
Mega Man: The Wily Wars
Sonic Spinball
Vectorman
Wonderboy in Monster World
Virtua Fighter 2
Alisia Dragoon
Columns
Dynamite Headdy
Strider
Kid Chameleon
Light Crusader
Monster World IV
Eternal Champions

and here's a couple of extra surprises for good measure:

Sega Tetris
Darius

It's an excellent selection overall, barring a few questionable choices like the doomed to fail port of Virtua Fighter 2 and Sonic Spinball, which helped get the ball rolling on the infamous "Sonic Cycle" of hopefulness followed immediately by crushing disappointment. About two thirds of the titles are repeated in the Japanese version of the console, with the more Western games replaced with Genesis ports of Snow Bros. and Slap Fight, among others. 

Personally, I find the Japanese selection more appealing... they're getting Rent-A-Hero, Assault Suits Leynos, and Yu Yu Hakusho, and we're not. However, several under the radar Genesis games are coming to both territories, including Gunstar Heroes and Alisia Dragoon, one of my favorites from the early 1990s. It's nice to see that game finally getting some love after all this time, even if it's not quite as good as I thought it was back in 1992.

But let's talk for a minute about the two games released exclusively for the Genesis Mini. Sega Tetris is a retooled version of the Mega Drive game that was nearly blotted out of existence by Nintendo and its exclusivity agreement with ELORG, the technology branch of the Russian government. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Alexey Pazhitnov is free to license his game to whoever he pleases, giving Sega a chance to release Sega Tetris without interference from its rival. 


However, that wasn't good enough for M2. Word on the street is that they're going to rewrite the code to make it more faithful to the Tetris arcade game. No, not the one Atari did, but Sega's own version, released in Japanese arcades and full of digitized backgrounds that look like Windows 3.11 wallpapers now, but must have been impressive thirty years ago.

Darius is an even bigger surprise. Sega could just as easily have given us the Genesis port of Sagaia, which was finished a quarter of a century ago and given straight eights by EGM's review crew. However, they decided to give us the original game instead, most likely due to its popularity in Japan. M2 is taking the credit for the port, but a recent Kotaku report suggests that they just bought the code from a hobbyist programmer named AC Hidecade, who was already finished with a Genesis port of Darius. The icing on this already strange cake is that Hidecade wasn't the only one working on a Genesis version of Darius... RaelX16 had posted an early work in progress of his OWN port on YouTube years ago! Curiouser and curiouser...

Anyway, the Sega Genesis Mini is scheduled to be released on September 19th, roughly a month after the thirtieth anniversary of its US launch. It'll cost eighty dollars, and just like the original, you can accessorize it with useless plastic junk that just takes up space. (No, I'm still not over that whole 32X mess. I don't care that it was twenty-five years ago.)

Sunday, June 2, 2019

A Matter of Restraint

I went down to Sierra Vista yesterday, and grabbed a buttload of stuff while I was down there. Here, have a look!


From left to right, we have a bootleg copy of Mega Turrican for the Genesis, the original Die Hard Trilogy, The Great Mouse Detective, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Super Mario Bros., The Last Starfighter, Galaxy Quest...

(draws a deep breath)

...the Sergeant Bilko TV series, two seasons of Adventure Time, five seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and a pair of Turtle Beach headphones, which can be used with an Xbox 360 if you've got the engineering degree to figure out the connection schematic. Not shown is an air fryer, procured for ten dollars. It's how all the cool kids are cooking these days. (Just don't use it around your pet birds if you happen to have them.)

You'll probably notice a distinct lack of video games in this haul. It wasn't necessarily by design, but it's probably for the best, because I think I've got way too much crap already, and what I wanted to buy was going to add a lot of bulk to that manure pile. 

Take for instance the Arcade1Up cabinets currently sold at Wal-Mart. The price of these kits has been sharply reduced from a "no way in hell" three hundred dollars to a "I don't need it, but..." seventy five. The id of my collector's brain would love to have one of these. The superego is sticking with "no way in hell," and the ego concurs. They're not well made- the spinner on the Asteroids unit is atrocious, judging from the demo unit I tried- and beyond that, I just don't have the room in this trailer for it. I'm not even sure I have room for what crap I already have, so clearance priced or not, the cabinet remains on the shelf.

I gave more serious consideration to the Playstation Classic, which had its price slashed to a little over twenty five dollars in a sale at Target. Again, it's not a great product, but this lackluster mini console gets a whole lot better when you put RetroArch on a flash drive and stick it into the system's USB port. Again, I don't need this, considering that I already own a Raspberry Pi, a Super Retro-Cade, and that AtGames Sega Genesis from a couple years back. Nevertheless, my id would have won this battle if it hadn't been for the fact that the Sierra Vista Target had already run out of stock days before I got there. I was mildly disappointed, but just as relieved that I didn't waste my space and money on a system I already bought three times before with a different shell.

There's an internet celebrity named Marie Kondo... I haven't done much research on her, but from what I can tell, she's kind of an interior decorator, and kind of a life coach. She advocates paring down your physical possessions to lighten your emotional burden, and while I'm usually suspicious of people who claim that giving away what you own is a path to spiritual enlightenment, I'm starting to wonder if I may be toeing the line between collecting and hoarding. I'm reluctant to get rid of what I already own- even the stuff I don't really need- but I certainly don't need more of it.

I have a friend who had to sell most of his own sizable collection fifteen years ago to move to California. He's now a successful game journalist, so that decision, as painful as it must have been at the time, clearly worked out for him. Nevertheless, I have to wonder if there was a fringe benefit in throwing all that ballast overboard. Now it's someone else's problem.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Spin It to Win It


I gotta hand it to the video game industry. I've been involved with this hobby for forty years, yet after all this time, it still hasn't lost its capacity for weirdness.


image from the Hollywood Reporter
I'm referring specifically to the Play Date, a handheld game system with black and white graphics and, well... a crank. Now it's not completely unusual for home electronics to have a crank to charge them in case of emergencies, but this crank isn't meant for that. No, it's actually a rotary input device, similar to the paddles and spinners of old. It sounds ridiculous, but maybe that's why it's attracting famously weird game designers like Katamari Damacy's Keita Takahashi and Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy's, uh, Bennett Foddy. They've both pledged to support the Play Date, with Takahashi already hard at work on Crankin's Time Travel Adventure. You can find a little footage of the game and more information about the system that will play it on Slash Gear. The Play Date will cost a kingly one hundred and fifty dollars when it's released next year. Better start saving your pennies.

So in short, the Play Date is unreasonably expensive, completely bizarre conceptually, and has a crank on the side for rotary input. How much you wanna bet Jeff Minter's going to want in on this?

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Haul of It All

Every once in a while, you find some really good stuff in the free bin at the local thrift store. Stuff like this!


Sadly, I couldn't find the disc for Super Paper Mario, but everything else was in the case... sometimes in the wrong case, but hey, it was free. I was most excited about Super Mario Maker for the Wii U, because I was always curious about that game, but never curious enough to pay sixty dollars for it.

Everyone's going nuts about the recent announcement of a sequel, which will offer new skins and features along with a multiplayer mode. I'm just happy to get in on the ground floor with the original, and while I haven't spent much time making stages, I've sure spent time playing them. The game starts you out with an eight stage "10 Mario Challenge," which offers familiar levels with unexpected and increasingly peculiar twists. It was quite a mind screw to dive into the open pipe in World 1-1 of Super Mario Bros., only to discover that the underground cache of coins had become a discotheque, complete with pulsing music, dancing lights, and a shower of currency from two spinning cannons. "What is this I don't even" describes the experience pretty well.

I'm enjoying this game, but I really didn't need to be
reminded of Miiverse's demise. Believe me, Nintendo,
I haven't forgotten... it's why I haven't bought a Switch.
The other games are just gravy (diaper gravy in the case of Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, if the reviews are to be believed). I already owned Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but it's nice to have a case to go along with it. Super Mario Sluggers I've never played before, but the Mario cast in a baseball game seems like a solid concept. Wii Play didn't get great reviews, but it may provide me with some fleeting entertainment. Then there are the two GameCube games, Mario Party 4 and Wario Ware. I can't imagine getting too much use out of the former, but I had the latter game in Michigan and it's comforting to have it close at hand again.

Oh! Before I go, I should probably mention that Sega has announced the next ten games that will be included with the Sega Genesis Mini. You'll find the details on Polygon, but the Cliff Notes is that there will be a lot of Capcom games in the final product, including Ghouls 'n Ghosts, Street Fighter 2: Special Championship Edition, and Mega Man: The Wily Wars. (Are you ready for a Genesis collection of the first three Mega Man games which somehow aren't as good as the NES originals? Too bad, you're getting it anyway.) Some other goodies include Phantasy Star IV, Wonder Boy in Monster World, and Beyond Oasis. Some baddies include Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle and Sonic Spinball, just in case you needed a little kusoge in your retro gaming diet.

Two other things! I've finished seven chapters of the Neo-Geo ports book, and just installed a 128GB SD card in my Playstation Vita. Sony's proprietary cards always left the system at a loss for storage, but with this monster in place, my Vita will never go hungry again!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Last Exit

There's a new hack out for the Playstation Vita... and it's likely to be the last. Hacker TheFlow released Trinity a few days ago... it's an exploit that lets you run the VitaShell file browser and some unlicensed applications. Unlike Henkaku and Henkaku Enso, this one's not easy to use, requiring you to download a PSP game, send it to your computer with QCMA (an altered version of Sony's content manager), decrypt it, insert a file, re-encrypt it, and send it back to your PSP. It's a rather involved process.

The creator of the hack recommends that once you've installed Trinity, you use it to roll back your Vita to an earlier firmware, then install Henkaku Enso for more reliable and user-friendly access to homebrew apps. On the down side, you'll lose access to the Playstation Store, but on the plus side, there won't be too many more games released for the Vita anyway. Just back up everything you've already purchased to your computer before running the hack and you should be set.


One fun thing you can do with your Vita after you've installed Henkaku Enso is change the splash screen that comes up when you first power it on. Courtesy of Talking Time user Tegan Robichoud, here's Danny De-Vita!


If you want a taste of this kind of fun, you'd better act quickly. Sony usually seals off these back doors with a security patch shortly after they're discovered, and with TheFlow retiring from Vita hacking and general interest in the console dwindling, you probably won't see another jailbreak for the system again.

One other thing... I've got four chapters of the SNK book finished, and started a fifth one last night. If things continue to move at this pace, I'll have the whole thing done in just a few months!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

SNK-o de Mayo

Whoops! Looks like I forgot to post on May the 4th. Well you knew what I was gonna say already... Star Wars fans are obsessed nerds, etc. etc. Here, I'll just let Triumph the Insult Comic Dog do it for me.


So we'll just jump to a legitimate holiday, Cinco de Mayo. I celebrated the occasion by picking up the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection... the connection to Mexico's day of independence is tenuous at best, but it was cheaper than the retail price, and I don't have anything else to discuss. So there. 

The purchase seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I'm having second thoughts. Would the thirty dollars have been better spent on a copy of Nier Automata: Become As Gods Edition? The time I spent with anti-classics like Bermuda Triangle, Munch Mobile, and Vanguard suggests that yes, it would have, and yes, I was a dumbass for picking door number two. It's too late for regrets, so I'll just dump cherry pits into an approaching garbage can while you save a ravaged planet Earth from mechanical monsters.

Anyone care to explain what's going
on here? Because I don't have the figgiest.
(image from Wikipedia)
On the bright side, this is the Xbox One version, with all the games already included (no extra downloads are necessary), plus the NES version of Baseball Stars as a bonus. I spent a fair amount of time playing Baseball Stars as a teenager, building teams, playing games, and firing the dead weight, so that definitely adds to the value of the collection. 

On top of that, it's always fun to p'sharktank soldiers across the screen in P.O.W., listen to an early version of Fatal Fury's South Beach theme in Street Smart, and gun your way through the various anachronisms in Time Soldiers, best described as a prequel to Alpha's Ninja Commando without the Street Fighter influence. So I'll live. I mean, how good could Nier be, anyway? (Don't answer that.)

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Pining for the Fjords (and an announcement!)

Nintendo hasn't made it official yet, but it seems the Nintendo 3DS has reached the end of its life after eight mostly successful but occasionally tumultuous years. Kotaku reports that there are no first party games in development for the system, and almost nothing from licensees. (Oh dear me, how will I ever go on without a steady flow of classics from RCMADIAX?)

This is where I'd grumble about the system getting axed before reaching its full potential, but honestly, it's been eight years. Now that we've got the Switch, and now that Miiverse is history, what else is left for the 3DS? I rarely crack open mine these days, and when I do, it's to play games for systems like the Super NES and Genesis which have been cold in the ground for decades. I'm ready for the 3DS to follow them to the grave.

(I'm not ready to buy a Switch, though. Nuts to that.)

There was one other thing I wanted to mention before I go...


There was an advertisement many years ago which proclaimed that the Neo-Geo was a premium game system, with specs far above those of the competing Super NES, Genesis, and Turbografx-16. Those machines were dismissed as "squirrel burgers" next to the Neo-Geo's sumptuous Prime Rib... yet SNK wasn't above farming out their biggest arcade hits to its rivals.

Some of these home ports were surprisingly good, and others less so, but I thought they would all make a great subject for an eBook. I've already written one chapter, with fourteen more to go. Systems from the 16-bit era of gaming would be the focus, particularly the aforementioned Super NES, Genesis, and Turbografx-16, along with the CD add-ons for the latter two machines.

I'd also like to add a bonus chapter about the Nettou series; Neo-Geo games ported to the original Game Boy. Yes, that seemed like a good idea to someone, and yes, I'm masochistic enough to actually cover them.

The book is tentatively titled "Squirrel Burger Cookout," and I'll be offering updates on its progress and perhaps a few excerpts right here over the next six months. With any luck the book will be published in time for the Neo-Geo's thirtieth anniversary, and oh lord I just realized I really am that old. Anyway, I hope you'll be looking forward to it!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Weekend Update

"Why should I bother posting? I don't have anything to say that's worth reading anyway!"
"Hey, you told yourself when you started this blog that you weren't gunning for a Pulitzer... it was just so you could write whatever came to mind, even if it wasn't important and even if nobody was going to read it! So get your mopey ass in there and WRITE SOMETHING!"
"Ugh. FINE."

So here I am, folks. My enthusiasm is almost palpable.

There is definitely one thing worth mentioning... Sega's announced another ten games for its Sega Genesis Mini, and there are some pretty surprising selections. Two Disney-themed games will be offered in the machine, including Castle of Illusion and the sequel World of Illusion. This is a pretty big deal, not only because these were two exceptionally well made Genesis releases, but because Sega's got the cooperation of a major film studio. It's not something you often see in these mini consoles, which generally stick to IP held by either the manufacturer or one of its third party developers.

Sega's got two more game reveals planned for the Genesis Mini, with the first coming in about a month and the final one scheduled just before E3. Will one of these announcements include more games from Disney or one of its subsidiaries? If that's the case, I hope they pass on that X-Men game where you had to press reset on the console to make progress. And Fantasia, which felt like cold water to the face after the euphoria of Castle of Illusion. And Bart vs. The Space Mutants, which Disney now owns thanks to the Fox deal but sucked on pretty much everything. Er, maybe Sega should just stick with the two games by Illusion Shot Productions.

What else? I purchased my first 8BitDo controller, the M30, earlier in the month. What's nifty about this very Sega Genesis-like joypad is that it can be used wirelessly with Bluetooth compatible devices, or by connecting it directly to the system of your choice with a cable. It'll even work with the Xbox One if you plug it into the Mayflash Universal Adapter. The Bluetooth pairing process is more complicated than I would have liked (I suppose "plug and play" doesn't apply when you're not actually plugging it into anything...) and the D-pad feels slightly rough on the thumb after extended use, but I'm happy with it overall. It's just nice having a Sega Genesis style gamepad that works with nearly everything you've got, including a tight budget.

Okay, I updated. Now can I go back to bed and sulk?

Monday, April 15, 2019

His Body Is Ready (for retirement)

So I played ("played") my first console Kingdom Hearts game. Here's how that went.



I feel kind of bad for Haley Joel Osment. Every time he starts a conversation with somebody, they instinctively shout back, "Just shut up and let me play the game already!" You couldn't stop yourself... after playing a few hours of Kingdom Hearts, it would just jump right out of your mouth.

Needless to say, I probably won't be getting Kingdom Hearts III. That unique blend of Square-Enix's worst game design impulses and Disney's twee characters and aggressive self-promotion just doesn't appeal to me.

In less self-indulgent news, Nintendo of America president Reginald Fils-Aime is set to retire from the company, replaced with Doug (looks through notes)... Bowser? Wow Nintendo, that's a little on the nose, isn't it? 

Anyway. I've had big disagreements with Reggie in the past. Years ago, he suggested that indie games (like Cave Story, Undertale, Read Only Memories, etc.) were beneath Nintendo's notice, comparing them to American Idol contestants. These days, indie games are the new industry darling thanks to their fresh ideas and low production costs, while AAA titles by big studios have an odd habit of re-materializing in the budget bins of dollar stores. Looks like you made the wrong call on that one, Reg.

Nevertheless, as corporate mouthpieces go, Reginald Fils-Aimes was one of the better ones. With his rallying cry of "I'm about kicking ass and taking names, and Nintendo is about making games," he did more to make Nintendo relevant to Americans in the 21st century than anyone else at the company. Plus he was always a good sport about Nintendo's zany promotions, playing a ruthless robot in one E3 sketch and a Muppet in another. 

Reginald Fils-Aime left an indelible mark on the company, and he'll be missed. Maybe not as much as the late Satoru Iwata, but his absence will be hard to ignore.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Tiny Tech Adventures

Sometimes I just don't get Apple. Actually most times, but especially now.

Last week, I picked up a fifth generation iPod Nano at a thrift store for ten dollars. It was a pretty good catch, considering that these things sell for fifty bucks on sites like eBay. Nevertheless, I'm mystified by the technology in this device, which is roughly the size of a stick of Airheads taffy. The iPod Nano's got an internal speaker, a camera, and a microphone, and it needs absolutely none of these things, especially since the camera is set on the bottom of the device, where your hand is likely to cover it. It gets points for ambition, I guess, but loses just as many for being so impractical.

There's the camera, next to my thumb.
Why is this even here? Why, Apple, why?!
In the words of Big Audio Dynamite, I wanted this thing to just play music, but Apple made that impractical too. You can't just plug the iPod Nano into your computer and drag your songs into a folder, oh no... there has to be a middle man involved. Usually, that would be iTunes, but you can use a third party program as a work around... provided it actually does work, and it usually doesn't. Eventually I settled on PodTrans, which does the bare minimum of transferring songs and does it for free. It also nags you to tell your friends about the program on FaceBook, but that's why they put Xs on dialog boxes.

While I'm bitching about impracticality, I should probably mention that this iPod Nano can also play games, just in case you wanted that. (You don't.) I tried Vortex, a circular take on Breakout which has you spinning your thumb around the jog dial to control a paddle at the edge of the tiny Nano screen. I've got mixed thoughts about ball and paddle games with this perspective (years ago, I panned the Acorn Archimedes title Ballarena, which had charmingly dated computer rendered graphics but little else going for it), and the Nano's small display and imprecise touch sensitive wheel does little to endear me to the concept. 

Astonishingly, Apple offered a variety of games for the Nano line of music players... one such title was a little-seen spin-off of Mr. Driller called Star Trigon, which used all of one button for its input. Despite its simplicity and a hefty price tag, a friend of mine bought it anyway, because she's just that big a fan of the Mr. Driller series. (I still say Apple and Namco should return her five dollars.)

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Genesis Done Right

It's not up to the minute news, but it nevertheless needs to be mentioned... Sega's releasing a miniaturized Genesis, but this time AtGames has nothing to do with its design or manufacture. Better still, M2 will be handling the emulation software, which is assuring considering the work they've done in the past. Hey, they managed to make an old beater like the 3DS handle arcade hits like Space Harrier and Galaxy Force II! Making this system (presumably running on ARM-based smartphone hardware, like everything else in this product class) run thirty year old Genesis games should be no trouble at all for them.

Nice package! (Not Sonic; I don't think he
has anything down there.)
(image from The Verge)
The Sega Genesis Mini hits store shelves on September 19th, and will include forty games. Not everything you loved on the Genesis will be here, of course, but big names in the system's library like Comix Zone, Gunstar Heroes, and Castlevania: Bloodlines have already been confirmed. Beyond that, you'll be able to play the games as they were released in America, Europe, or Japan, which would be especially handy for Dynamite Headdy and Contra Hard Corps, since the overseas versions of both were a lot less difficult. (We don't know that these games will be in the Genesis Mini, but why wouldn't they be? Hell, even Ecco the Boring-Ass Dolphin made the cut.)

There's a lot about this machine we don't know yet... will there be an SD card slot available for adding games? Why is the cartridge slot on the top hinged if it's too small for real Genesis cartridges? Will real Genesis cartridges fit anywhere in this system? And why is Sega including three button controllers with the US version of the Genesis Mini when the six button controllers were so much more comfortable and functional? These mysteries and more will be revealed when the system launches in the fall, just in time for the thirtieth anniversary of the launch of the original Genesis.

Special thanks to Kotaku for the scoop.

Friday, March 29, 2019

The Game with No Name

I recently discovered something interesting about Sega's first entry in the US home console market. The machine originally called the Mark III wasn't supposed to be known as the "Master System" at all here in America... that only applied to a specific package that included the light gun and two controllers. The machine was also sold as "The Sega Base System" (the entry level model) and "The Sega Video Game System" (the super deluxe model with the surprisingly effective 3D glasses). This marketing mirrored how Nintendo sold the NES... you could buy either the Control Deck, the Action Set, or the Deluxe Set, which included historical footnote R.O.B. the Video Robot.

Sega Retro claims the system's official name, at least in the early days, was simply "The Sega System." It makes peculiar sense... in the 1980s, people generally didn't refer to game systems by their official titles, but by their manufacturers. "Hey, what happened to your Atari?" "That's old news... I got a Nintendo now. Wanna try it?" It seems Sega was eager to cut to the chase and call their machine what they thought everyone else would. (No, not "that black trapezoid your parents got you by mistake.")

Here's a picture of the console, supplied by Sega Retro. The first model always had "Master System/Power Base" printed on the top, regardless of the box it came inside. However, it officially earned its "Master" status after the Genesis was released in America, in an effort to limit confusion between the two machines. It's a lot like how Atari rechristened the Video Computer System the 2600 after its own successor was launched.

Special thanks to Sega Retro for this revelation. By the way, I was never a fan of the Master System, but it gets credit for being the first and possibly only game console with a flowchart on the case.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Sho and Tell

Big news for SNK fans! Terry Bogard makes his debut in Fighting EX Layer tomorrow, and Gematsu has revealed more information about the Samurai Shodown reboot scheduled for release later this year.


Here's what can be gleaned from the article and the accompanying forty-four minute long demo footage. Special thanks to Gematsu editor Sal Romano for the news.

 There are sixteen characters planned for the SamSho reboot, with seven available in the demo. These include series regulars Ha-ohmaru, Nakoruru, Jubei, super-sized bandit Earthquake, and of course Galford, who looks like what might happen if someone dropped the books Shogun and Call of the Wild and got the pages mixed together. Three new characters will be included along with the original cast members, and more will eventually be available as downloadable content.
 As Galford himself might say, SNK is going back to the basics with this one. Unlike the deeply unfortunate Samurai Shodown Sen, the third dimension is reserved strictly for adding flair to special moves, and there's none of the dross like auto-combos and Mortal Kombat-like fatalities that was added to Samurai Shodown IV. Special moves like projectiles and throws do only minimal damage, putting a strong emphasis on sneaking your blade past your opponent's defenses and into their stomach.


Ha-ohmaru invests his rage gauge in the
"Lightning Blade," and severely injures his
opponent.
(image from CryNGameR)
 The trademark rage gauge can either be kept full to increase the potency of your strikes, or sacrificed for either a signature move or a single deadly strike (now called the Lightning Blade), one of the few holdovers from Samurai Shodown IV. Once the gauge is used, it's gone for the rest of the fight, so don't waste it!
 I didn't fall in love with the graphics at first... it cribs a lot from Street Fighter IV, with the same splashes of ink and dynamic camera angles. However, others I've talked to made a good point about the (not so) fresh look. If you can't use sumi-e in a game about sword-wielding samurai from Japan's feudal age, where can you use it? Other notable details include the blood that stains each fighter's clothes after a successful hit and, uh, Earthquake's undulating body fat. Jiggle physics don't seem so fun now, do they?


No coins? No straw coffins?! Geez, what a rip-off!
(image from CryNgameR, again)
 Incidental fatalities remain, but they're subdued in comparison to later Samurai Shodown games, or even the first one. The two halves of your bisected opponent unceremoniously fall to the ground and fade from sight, which lacks the dramatic impact of a slow-motion shot of the cleaving blow. (I also miss the shower of coins, but I'm funny that way.)
 The characters are mostly kept consistent with their original designs, unlike the latest Mortal Kombat games which larded their own fighters with overly busy details, or Street Fighter V, which made unwelcome changes to series staples like Ken. This game is going to be comfort food for fans who haven't had a good Samurai Shodown in over a decade, and SNK has been careful not to upset them.
 SNK wants this thing out, like, yesterday. It's planned for the Playstation 4 in June, with other versions trailing behind at the end of the year. BadoorSNK, the proprietor of long-running fighting game web site Madman's Cafe and the person who first announced the news on my Twitter feed, is worried that the game will be rushed to market, like Street Fighter V was when it launched in 2016. However, considering the limited character selection and the lessons learned from Capcom's past mistakes, I'm more optimistic about its future.

I don't have complete confidence in the Samurai Shodown reboot, but what I've seen so far seems miles ahead of Samurai Shodown Sen, Tenkaichi, or anything that wasn't originally released for the Neo-Geo twenty years ago. As a casual but increasingly nostalgic fan of the series, I've got my fingers crossed for this one.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Extra Dreamy

Seems like it's Dreamcast month here at Kiblitzing. Considering all the money I've dumped into the system so far, it darned well better be! What started out as a twenty five dollar purchase of an orphaned Dreamcast on Mercari has snowballed into a much larger expenditure, with controllers, adapters, and even a replacement for the GD-ROM drive procured from other online retailers. I think I've spent more on this late 20th century relic than I did the Xbox One S a year and a half ago! (Emphasis on the "more on.")

I discovered that the Dreamcast aged less than gracefully in the twenty years since its launch, but I'm nevertheless determined to squeeze as much entertainment as I can out of this machine. I dropped several dozen games onto an SD card, including my favorites from when the system was launched and titles I missed the first time around, and here's what stood out for me. Note that these aren't reviews, exactly... just brief impressions.

TOY COMMANDER

Heading the list is this vehicular combat game that's less Twisted Metal and more Blast Corps meets Toy Story. You're a little kid, and you keep yourself entertained by starting epic wars with your playthings. Fighting on the side of good are an assortment of airplanes, helicopters, and trucks. The villains include a robot with a missile launcher arm, that lame stack of rings you had as a baby, and a teddy bear with the parts from other toys stuck on it. As the battle progresses, you'll annoy the cat, shatter wine glasses, and flood the kitchen, adding to the excitement but also the frustration of your unseen parents. I get the feeling that this epic war will end with an epic spanking...

This kitchen is totally giving me
Chibi-Robo flashbacks.
(image from YouTube)
Speaking of punishment, Toy Commander serves up plenty, giving you tight time limits to finish missions with multiple goals. The tutorial has you piloting an airplane to a landing strip, dropping a payload of sugar cubes with a helicopter, and driving over the floor and walls of the house with a supply truck to reach a chocolate bar, all in the span of a minute and forty seconds. Later stages get even more demanding (and obtuse), necessitating the use of cheat codes to make progress.

It's harder than it should have been, but it's not hard at all to see how Toy Commander achieved its cult status. The vivid graphics have the same sense of scale as an early Katamari Damacy stage, and most of your vehicles are armed to the teeth with roll caps, colored pencils, and eraser bombs. During each mission, you'll gleefully gun down tanks, missile silos, and wooden block barriers, probably making a mess of the house in the process. Your parents are going to be so mad when they get home.

GAUNTLET LEGENDS

In a previous post, I described the Dreamcast as a transitional game console. It's fair to say that Gauntlet Legends is a transitional game, sandwiched between the groundbreaking action RPG released in 1984 and modern dungeon crawlers like Torchlight and Diablo. The problem is that it blends the worst parts of the earlier Gauntlet games (the mind-numbing repetition) with all the aggravation of more modern (but not nearly modern enough) 3D graphics. It isn't just that Gauntlet Legends is ugly... it's that its jagged, low polygon terrain is tough to traverse, with confusing topography, paths that loop back onto themselves, and breakable walls that hide themselves a little too well against the rest of the game's scenery. After a few stages of Gauntlet Legends, you realize why more recent games in this genre, particularly the Gauntlet remake by Warner Games, keep the camera zoomed out and the playfields relatively flat... they're just easier to navigate that way.

Rogue-likes of the 21st century have another advantage over Gauntlet Legends... they offer more for the player to do than cut a path through a seemingly endless demon army. You can find, equip, sell, and fortify hundreds of different items in Torchlight, and change the weapons and armor you've collected to adapt to a variety of different combat situations. Gauntlet Legends gives you health, keys, screen-clearing magic, temporary power ups... and that's pretty much it. That was good enough for an arcade game in the mid 1980s, but not fifteen years later on the Dreamcast, and certainly not now.

MORTAL KOMBAT GOLD

This is one of those rare games which I didn't like when it was first released but has sweetened with age. Okay, "sweetened" is too strong a term... maybe "mellowed" would be a better fit. Mortal Kombat Gold seemed downright offensive next to Dreamcast overachievers like Soul Calibur and Dead or Alive 2, but twenty years later, it's easier to accept the game on its own terms.

Uppercuts that spew more blood than a body
could physically contain. Pretty much business
as usual for Mortal Kombat.
(image from Oldies Rising)
What you get out of Mortal Kombat Gold is, well, Mortal Kombat. It's a pared down entry in the series, with twenty characters next to the thirty two in Mortal Kombat Trilogy, and much of the soundtrack was recycled from Mortal Kombat 3, suggesting that the developers were working with a tight budget. On the plus side, it maintains the brisk pace and the basic gameplay of the first three MK titles, with minor and easily ignored tweaks to the action. You can pull out a weapon for extra damage and make limited use of the 3D environment, dodging your opponent's attacks and tossing debris scattered throughout each stage.

It was disappointing in 2000 and it's still not spectacular now, but Mortal Kombat Gold has the awkward charm of a game that's trying to keep up with the times while still holding onto its identity. The camera sometimes stops in front of walls during fatalities, leading to some unintended censorship. Blood leaps out of wounds as a spray of red diamonds. Endings are illustrated with stiff, muddy computer rendering. It'll make you laugh and cringe at the same time, like that yearbook picture of you with a mullet.

KING OF FIGHTERS 2000

I like King of Fighters 2000, but I love the preceding game, King of Fighters 1999. I love it so much that I have copies for several of my systems, going so far as to purchase NESTS Saga from the Japanese Playstation Store so I could have it on my Playstation 3. I'd have it for my Dreamcast too, but I've got that system connected to my television with a VGA cable, and KOF '99 won't work with it. King of Fighters 2000 does, so that'll have to be my silver medal.

Look, there's nothing wrong with KOF 2000. It's a more ambitious game than its predecessor, with a larger selection of fighters and way more strikers. Each character has their own alternate striker, so you can briefly summon fighters like Mature, Vice, and Geese Howard who died in previous King of Fighters installments, or characters from entirely different SNK games, like Metal Slug and Robo Army. You get the impression that the design team knew SNK was almost bankrupt and went all out with this entry in the series, thinking that it might be the last.

With all that said, it's still not King of Fighters '99. The novelty of the NESTS storyline and a more futuristic aesthetic has worn off, and the new batch of backgrounds just don't have the same impact as the old ones. KOF '99 had a lush green park that starts out sunny but is hit with a sudden downpour halfway through the match. By contrast, the sequel has a run down city block getting plowed under by a bulldozer. Urban renewal may be a necessary evil, but it doesn't make for a memorable fighting arena. 

King of Fighters 2000 is still a great game, no question, but alas, my heart is elsewhere.

SAN FRANCISCO RUSH 2049

Midway's probably best remembered on the Dreamcast for its technically sound but fiendishly hard racing games. Many a game controller was sacrificed on the altars of Hydro Thunder and 4 Wheel Thunder, but San Francisco Rush 2049 was the most brutal of them all... a racing game so hard that you can't possibly win against the computer opponents unless you memorize the layout of each track and take all the hidden shortcuts. Rush 2049 is so hard that even its cheat codes are hard, forcing you to punch in long, complicated strings of buttons to unlock options that might make the game possible for mortals to finish. It's difficult, is the take home here.

It looks nice, runs fast, and hates
your friggin' guts.
(image from ProDriveGT on YouTube, who's
somehow good at this)
As hard as it is, Rush 2049 deserves credit for being a futuristic racing game that doesn't crib most of its ideas from WipeOut. You're driving cars with wheels, not wedge-shaped hovercrafts, and obstacles you might have bounced off in WipeOut will turn your ride into a charred heap here. Ramps and the tops of hills send your car airborne, and you can take advantage of this brief escape from gravity by pressing the wing button, giving you extra airtime and letting you perform stunts. Just remember that you'll probably explode if you don't make a solid four point landing, because this is a Midway racing game, and only wimpy loser babies would ask for something like a margin of error, or mercy, or a reasonable expectation of victory without sweating blood for it. Yes, I'm bitter.

PROJECT JUSTICE

Fighting games with a high school setting were pretty popular in Japan at the turn of the century. There was Sonic Council and several flavors of Asuka 120%, but the valedictorian of this class was Capcom's Rival Schools. It even traveled overseas to be a foreign exchange student in American arcades, briefly catching the attention of players bored with Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.

Project Justice is the sequel to Rival Schools, quite similar to the original at its core while tapping the power of the Dreamcast to deliver better graphics and more complex gameplay. Teams are now built from three fighters rather than two, and you can use them all at once to deliver a spectacular beatdown... if you've got the three stocks of super meter for it. The more modest team up attacks from Rival Schools can also be performed, but these can be interrupted by one of your opponent's teammates, generally making them not worth the risk.

Just like Rival Schools, there's a lot about Project Justice that feels off. Movement is slightly stiff, forward jumps don't take you very far, and you can't switch between teammates in the middle of a fight; only between rounds. Nevertheless, you've got to give some credit to a game featuring juvenile delinquents, youthful athletes including a sumo in training, and a principal with a startling resemblance to Stephen King.

YU SUZUKI'S GAME WORKS VOLUME 1

It's all the fun of Sega's Super Scaler arcade games, without having to play Shenmue first! Ooh, sign me up! This collection offers the expected trio of OutRun, Afterburner II, and Space Harrier, then tops it all off with Hang On and Power Drift. Space Harrier actually looks better than it did in Sega Ages for the Saturn, which is odd because there didn't seem to be anything wrong with the Saturn version. My best guess is that the Dreamcast's higher resolution gives the graphics added pop.

Ugh, those accursed log bridges...
(image from Retrogames.cc)
One thing the Dreamcast can't do is justify the existence of Power Drift, a game that tries to build a 3D race course out of 2D sprites and fails miserably in the attempt. You'll drive over log bridges, get pushed off the side by one of the other racers, be hopelessly confused as to where you landed, and place eighth because it took so long for you to regain your bearings and get back on the track. This was popular in arcades back in the late 1980s, but heaven only knows why. I'll stick with OutRun, which makes more reasonable demands of the Super Scaler hardware and is better off for it.

THE TYPING OF THE DEAD

House of the Dead 2... as a typing game? It happened, and it was a remarkably prescient decision for Sega. The House of the Dead games were originally designed for light guns, but those don't work with modern displays... the onscreen flashes used to communicate with the gun are hopelessly out of sync on an LCD screen. However, a computer keyboard talks directly to the Dreamcast, taking the picture out of the, uh, picture. Well, you'll still need some kind of display to know what to type, but just about anything will do.

Let me get right to the point. Typing of the Dead makes House of the Dead 2 playable in the far-flung year of 2019. It's a ridiculous way to play the game, especially when you're keying in phrases like "He was an iguana" and "Unwanted hair" to blow chunks out of zombies, but it's not like the game wasn't weird before.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Ahead of its Time, Behind in the Next

I've played with the GDEMU for a few days, tried a handful of games, and I'm satisfied with the experience overall. It's a handy device as long as your Dreamcast cooperates, and a 32GB card offers plenty of space for most fans of the system. The GDEMU has gotten me reacquainted with the game system that swallowed up most of my free time at the turn of the century, but it's also brought to light an inconvenient truth about the Dreamcast.

I doubt I would have ever admitted this in 2000 when I first bought the system, but in hindsight it's become increasingly clear that the Dreamcast was a transitional console, like the 3DO years before. Was it more capable than previous systems? Yes, absolutely... the Saturn has a strong reputation for 2D games, but there's no way it could have handled the manic three on three fighting of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, even with a four megabyte RAM cartridge. It's also got a leg up on the 3D capable Playstation, with polygonal characters that are more detailed and less angular. Going from the Playstation version of Hydro Thunder to its Dreamcast counterpart definitely felt like an upgrade.

At the same time, the Dreamcast feels out of step with systems of its own generation, like the Playstation 2, GameCube, and especially the Xbox. The graphics are rougher and the gameplay less developed than later releases on those three machines. Maybe the Dreamcast would have been able to catch up to the competition if Sega hadn't cut its life short, but it's hard to imagine highlights of the sixth console generation like Katamari Damacy, Resident Evil 4, and Crimson Skies working on the system. The limited RAM of the Dreamcast (26 megabytes in total, compared to the Playstation 2's 32 megs and the Xbox's 64) and the lack of a second analog thumbstick on its controller would have been serious handicaps.

Some aspects of the Dreamcast's design seem puzzlingly backward and wrongheaded in hindsight. Case in point... the VMU unit. Rather than plugging into the console, this specialized memory card is pushed into the controller, with a screen facing outward that functions as a miniature heads up display. The only problem is that it's an extremely tiny black and white display with limited applications. It's no good as a map and offers little room for other useful information, so developers generally stuck cute icons on the screen and called it a day. You could also remove the VMU and use it as a tiny handheld game system, but it was no Game Boy, relegated to pet raising sims and other short-lived diversions. All that unwanted functionality just feels like a bad bet on Sega's part, especially when you consider that later systems had many times the storage on their dedicated memory cards.

The VMU didn't ruin the Dreamcast experience, but it did make playing the system more costly and cumbersome. Controllers were larger than they needed to be to accommodate the memory cards, while coming up short on buttons... players had to smash start and light punch together in Capcom's fighters to taunt, and squeeze the triggers on the underside of the pad to unleash their strongest attacks. Alternatives were available, but most of these third party joypads were as large as the genuine article, and somehow even uglier. If you wanted a controller better suited to the fighting games that made up a significant chunk of the Dreamcast's library, you had to buy an adapter, which have only gotten less common and more expensive in the years since the system was discontinued in 2001.

I've been enjoying my time with the Dreamcast, don't get me wrong. However, it's a bitter pill to realize that the console which seemed so ahead of its time in 1999 has lagged so far behind its rivals.