Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Subpar Size Me

I think members of the press let their enthusiasm get the better of them when they gave high marks to Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters for the PSP. Sure, just about everyone loves this mismatched pair of intergalactic heroes, and the thought of taking them wherever you please must have seemed appealing at the time. However, what really makes this series work, aside from the snarky hero and the arsenal of wacky weapons and the expressive animation, is the scope of the adventure. Each planet you'll visit is huge, with lush jungles and stunning city scapes in the distance, and sprawling playfields chock full of hidden goodies nearby. Size really does matter, and the console versions of Ratchet and Clank have it. This PSP extension of the series, for all its superficial resemblance, does not. It's a scale model of the real thing, a diorama, a ship in a bottle, and it doesn't take long before you start to notice the lack of elbow room.

If the camera were any closer behind Ratchet,
it would be giving him a colonoscopy.
Gosh, this review turned out a little front loaded, didn't it? Well, let me talk about the minor details of the game that I probably should have mentioned before I panned it. Ratchet (a fuzzy, talking cat-bat who ranks up there as one of the least threatening alien designs ever) and his back-mounted sidekick Clank (a robot with a decidedly low tech look and the voice of a math professor) head to a sunny vacation planet to cool their heels after saving the galaxy from certain doom. They barely get time to kick back in their beach chairs before a not-at-all suspicious little girl (we all had metal antennae before puberty, right?) begs them to do something heroic for her school newspaper. The kid gets kidnapped, and the tale of a mysterious miniature race, excessive cloning, and way too many mini-games follows.

I mentioned earlier that Size Matters suffers from a lack of scale, right? The levels are linear and hidden items aren't all that well hidden, to the point where pieces of armor are dropped in your lap at the end of some areas. Well, the developers at High Impact Games must have noticed this too, and added diversions to Size Matters in the hope of distracting the player from its shortcomings. Locked doors are opened by first shrinking to fit the keyhole, then riding the circuitry inside them to flip switches. Some critical items must be earned by winning hoverboard races against a dimwitted stoner lion. Ratchet and Clank team up to break the security inside enemy strongholds, with Ratchet hacking the systems and Clank defending him from robot spiders with an ice beam. These mini-games are tedious and frustrating and overused, but they sure are there, and you sure will have to finish them to make progress.

It was already established by the plot that this
is all going on in Ratchet's head! Was this
drug trip really necessary?
Of course, the core gameplay has its own problems. The camera is set way too close to Ratchet, and the throngs of enemies that made each battle feel like crowd control in the console versions have been slimmed down considerably. Some of the game's faults are unavoidable considering the hardware- nothing beats a second thumbstick for camera control, and nothing the game offers as a substitute comes close- but others are just senseless, like the dream sequence where the edges of the already cramped screen are obscured with psychedelic swirls. I'd like to be able to see the axe Captain Quark just threw at me, but sure, go ahead and cover that up with some groovy purple haze. Clearly those hit points were worth sacrificing for your special effect.

Some compromises had to be made to bring Ratchet and Clank to a portable, especially in 2007 when this spin-off was released, but I can't help but wonder if High Impact Games made the wrong ones. Size Matters looks and sounds like the games I loved on the Playstation 2, but the spirit of the franchise was crushed into a cube to cram it into the PSP. It's there, but it's mangled and folded into itself and given no room to breathe. If you've spent any time with the console versions of Ratchet and Clank, it's just as suffocating to play Size Matters for an hour.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Buy Buy Again

I don't know what to make of the flavor,
but at least it's fun to say! Like most Korean
foods, really. Bibimbap. Bi-bimmmm-BAP!
(image from Serious Eats)
Okay, I bought a bottle of gochujang on a whim, and this stuff is a complete mystery to me. It's sweet like catsup, smokey like chipotles, and ends with a slightly unpleasant fermented tang. What do you even DO with this?! It's like the Riddler of condiments! I made a grilled sandwich with it, and while I could keep it down, it wasn't exactly a taste delight in every bite. Yet I'm probably going to be banging my head against this culinary puzzle for the next couple of months, because I do so hate to waste food. Even the crap I probably shouldn't have bought in the first place.

Speaking of mysteries... I've been pondering my gaming purchases, and I've noticed that over the last twenty years, I've been buying a lot of titles which I technically already owned. It doesn't seem like the smartest use of my gaming dollar, so I decided to dig a little deeper and find the logic in these redundancies. Turns out that most of these re-buys fit into one of the following categories...


Tunnel B1. Not a good
game when I owned it on
Saturn, but certainly more
palatable when you get
it and a dozen other games
for a few bucks in
an indie bundle.
(image from eStarland)
Even with downloadable content and subscription services as a counterweight, you get a lot more bang for your gaming buck in the 21st century. It's not just that games are longer than ever, taking anywhere from twenty to eighty hours to complete... it's that digital distribution, intense competition, and a fickle public turn today's big budget hits into tomorrow's clearance priced antiques. 

This is a pretty good deal for collectors, as well as anyone who missed the game the first time and hopes to satisfy their curiosity about it. I already owned the superior Dreamcast version of King of Fighters '99, but when Sony offered the Playstation port in a flash sale for the cost of a fast food soft drink, I had to have that too. The animation isn't as smooth and the load times are a little on the long side, but when the game costs a couple of dollars and plays on three different systems (the PS3, PSP, and Vita), I'm willing to slum a little.


The harsh reality of today's gaming technology is that it's made us lazy. Spacious hard drives have made us reluctant to get off the couch to swap discs, and we sure as hell don't want to dig up that dusty old console from a decade ago to play our older favorites. So we buy them again, in HD, for the console that's already hooked up to our television set. That's less of an issue for Xbox One owners, since that system can play over half of what was released for the Xbox 360, but even they'll have to break out their wallets if they want to jump back a few generations. After all, Microsoft didn't even have much of a presence in the video game industry back in the 20th century...


"I can't wait to play Strider on my...
uh, what is this?"
(image from Moby Games)
The harsh reality of yesterday's gaming technology is that home conversions of arcade favorites were often drastically changed, and not up to snuff with the originals. The Nintendo Entertainment System was notorious for games that called themselves Gyruss, Ninja Gaiden, and Bionic Commando, but could be better described as spin-offs, tailor made for the less powerful hardware. They were still good in their own right, but probably not what you expected when you saw the names on the boxes. 

Even when the gap between arcade and home gaming started to close in the 1990s, perfect ports weren't a guarantee. Namco whiffed its Namco Museum collections for a half dozen consoles, until finally getting it right with the 50th Anniversary for the Xbox and Playstation 2. I can't tell you how many times I bought (and re-bought) this for Galaga and Ms. Pac-Man, until I was finally satisfied with it.


It's in a gamer's nature to hunt for bonus prizes. However, when buying video game collections, they're not looking for cherries or chests overflowing with treasure, but omake... goodies like artwork, soundtracks, cheats, and interviews with the designers. Digital Eclipse (both when it was first founded in the 1990s, and the recently resurrected company headed by archivist Frank Cifaldi) earned a reputation as the master of omake, packing titles like Sega Genesis Collection, Capcom Classics Collection Remixed, and The Disney Afternoon Collection with so much extra content that they'd be hard to resist even in the unlikely situation that you already owned all the games on the discs. 

Those bonuses usually don't change the games themselves, but Capcom went the extra mile with Street Fighter Alpha Anthology, which included all three games in the Alpha series, AND the spin-off Pocket Fighter, AND an exclusive versus mode that let players use the super charged attacks from the Marvel vs. Capcom series. That's the kind of stuff that will bring someone who already owns all the Street Fighter Alpha games back to the table for another helping.


PSP, kills boredom dead!
(image from Amazon)
Never underestimate the draw of a game you can take anywhere. It's what made the Nintendo Switch a success despite its performance deficit next to competing consoles. Many of the third-party games on the Switch first made their debuts on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, but players are willing to give Skyrim and Dark Souls another spin now that those experiences aren't chained to the living room television set. 

Even the fourteen year old PSP got a lot of mileage out of stuffing a console quality experience in your pocket. I've got Disgaea for both the Playstation 3 and its handheld cousin, and spent a whoooole lot more time with the PSP version. The hours of grinding necessary to power up your characters and their weapons is best done during a boring airplane trip, or a boring car trip, or any other situation where you find yourself bored to tears. (Maybe not that showing of Fantastic Beasts and How I Wish I Chose Another Movie. The usher got pretty testy about that.)


Sometimes you're willing to buy a game over and over simply because you love it that much. Ms. Pac-Man has been a serious money magnet for me... I've owned it on everything from the Atari 2600 to the Playstation 4, with plenty of systems in between. Yeah, I even had the Coleco tabletop that looks like a tiny arcade cabinet. I didn't get to keep it for long, but it was fun while it lasted! I've got King of Fighters '99 for the Playstation, the Dreamcast, in the Japanese NESTS Collection for the Playstation 3, and the Xbox One, evidently because I can't bear to ever be in a situation where I can't play my favorite game in the KOF series. The same thing applies to Darkstalkers and its two sequels... I made sure that I have at least one of the games in that franchise for every console that's ever had it.

The font that haunts your nightmares...
(image from Lunatic Pandora on Twitter)
So there you have it... six pretty good reasons to re-buy the games you already own. Sorry, but I couldn't bring myself to list "HD remasters" as the seventh reason. I find that these lack the spirit of the originals, either because they were clumsily ported to the new hardware, or because they introduce graphics and sound that clash with the original developers' vision for the games. I'm pretty sure signs written in Comic Book Sans are not the kind of scare Silent Hill fans wanted from that series...

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Fighter's History and Current Events

It took a while, but Microsoft finally fulfilled the promise it made with the Badlands promotion, and gave me the three months of Xbox Game Pass I wanted. They did it in a weird, roundabout way, giving me Microsoft Rewards points that I could redeem for the subscription, but whatever, I'm happy.

Speaking of happy, I've been making the most of Pseudo Saturn, playing games I either haven't experienced on the Saturn in over a decade, or never tried at all. I haven't worked up the courage to play the bizarre Mr. Bones, but perhaps I'll get to that one someday. I did give the semi-sequel to Dark Legend, Fu-un Saiki, a spin, along with Fighter's History Dynamite. I had as much fun ridiculing it as playing it back in the 1990s, but I gotta say, I'm enjoying it without irony now that I have a few more years under my belt... and more than a few pounds hanging over it.

Just thought I'd let you know what's going on in Kiblitzing-ville at the moment. Hopefully I'll have a more substantial update for you in the near future.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Nomad, Bro?

This comes as a surprise... Retro-Bit, the makers of the Super Retro-Cade I reviewed last year, is releasing its own version of the Nomad. That's the portable Genesis Sega launched at the tail end of 1995, and while it may have seemed like a good idea at the time, my personal experience with the original Nomad was, um... less than impressive. A milky, low contrast screen and a cartridge slot which can't keep a solid grip on games does not add up to a quality handheld gaming experience.

Hello... Newmad.
(image from Segabits)
That was nearly twenty five years ago, though. We've got the technology to do a portable Genesis justice now, right? I guess we'll find out once the system is released, although judging from Retro-Bit's past track record, that might take a while. They announced a series of Sega-inspired USB and Bluetooth controllers at last year's CES show, and those still haven't been released... although at least now, we have a solid launch date for those. Expect the joypads to hit stores by the end of February. Special thanks to GameTyrant for the scoop.

Before I go, I should probably offer a correction... the Pseudo Saturn Kai software that I mentioned in my last post has a higher compatibility rate than previously suggested. Before you break out the tar and feathers, let me just state in my defense that I based my comments on the software's official compatibility list. However, that list hasn't updated in a while, and some games that were marked in red actually work just fine with the latest version of PSK. In way of examples, I spent an hour with Saturn Bomberman last night, and didn't have any issues with it. Just something to keep in mind if you're on the fence about installing the software.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Three Warps to Saturn

Violent coughing to come again!
After a month without phlegm flew by
We now declare the return
of that cold you thought you left... 2018!

Seriously, though... urrrrgh. I thought I was done with all that icky cold business from December, yet here I am sucking down cough drops and bringing up mucus, just like I did last month.
The Action Replay, an essential ingredient in
any Saturn owner's collection.
(image from estarland)
Yet despite my illness, I found the strength to pick up my Action Replay from the post office and hack it to run Pseudo Saturn Kai, a software backdoor that lets you run burned Saturn games without the need for a costly mod chip. Some things I learned from that experience...

 A "swap trick" is necessary to install Pseudo Saturn Kai, but it's not as tough as you've been led to believe! You'll need to open your Saturn first, then tape the lid button near the back of the system closed. After that, you pop in your burned disc, turn on your Saturn, wait for the intro to finish, and swap to an official disc. When the blue Sega logo appears, hit the reset button on the system, wait for the introduction to finish, then swap back to your burn. 

Look, I'll just let a professional explain how this works. It's probably smarter to listen for changes in the drive's motor speed than to watch for visual cues, but the window for swapping discs is incredibly generous. If you've been playing video games for a while (and you have, if you're at all interested in the Sega Saturn), you've got the reflexes to do this.

• Once you've got Pseudo Saturn Kai running, just select Pseudo Saturn Kai Lite from the menu that appears... it's the only version of the software that will fit on an Action Replay. (There are more advanced flash cartridges available for the Saturn, but they're also less common and more expensive. I'll just assume you're using the old storage-tighty whitey.) Press A, then when prompted, press A, B, and C together. Now leave the Saturn alone for about ten minutes! Don't reset it, don't unplug it, and get all the kids and pets out of the room while you're at it. No sense taking chances, right? Once the cartridge has been flashed, you'll be given a "write verification success" message at the bottom of the screen. Now you can press start and choose reset from the menu options that appear.

(Special thanks to the folks at PPCenter for explaining the process to me in a tutorial, so I could explain it to you. Also, I assume no responsibility for damage done to your cartridge or console. That probably won't happen, but I should mention this anyway as lawsuit repellent.)

 Here's the disappointing part. Pseudo Saturn Kai won't run every game in the Saturn library, and that includes heavy hitters like Metal Slug (ow), Saturn Bomberman (...OW), and Radiant Silvergun (OW! OW!). Most games will work... just not all the ones you probably wanted to play. Why a Saturn would have trouble playing its own games is kind of bewildering, but there's probably something about the Keebler magic Pseudo Saturn Kai is using to bypass the Saturn's security that makes this an issue. If you want a more consistently reliable (and expensive) Saturn hack, consider the Phantom Modchip instead.

It sure is! And it's deeply sad that we're still
having debates about this after all these years...
The Action Replay arrived just in time for me to try the recently released English translation of Linkle Liver Story. That's the action RPG from the developers of Crusader of Centy... and in all honesty, a name that will never not annoy me. The title is frustratingly stupid, but the game itself is quite pleasant, a Zelda-like action adventure that runs at a brisk pace and features charming quasi-furry characters. I'm already enjoying it way more than Shining Wisdom, and an English translation that doesn't mess with the game's balance or inject pop culture references that will seem as old as dirt twenty years from now is icing on the cake.

I'll be covering more Saturn games in the future... because even I'm sick of hearing myself talk about the PSP at this point.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Happy Irthday to Me!

Er, sorry. Cake got slightly squashed in transit. Anyway, my aunt was kind enough to take me to Tucson for a birthday shopping spree, and here's a little of what I picked up while I was there.

I had to get some PSP games, of course, so this is what I managed to find for a reasonable price. From left to right, we've got Metal Gear Acid, Yugioh 5ds Tag Force 4, Metal Gear Portable Ops, and Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters. You didn't know I was a fan of Metal Gear, did you? That's because I'm not, but these games fill a gap in my collection. Besides, I got Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops Plus in a previous deal, and I understand that even though it's a standalone release, it drops a lot of the content that was in the original game. Konami needs to work on learning its mathematical operands, apparently.

My only explanation for the Yugioh game is that the Craig of the Creek episode Bring Out Your Beasts made collectible card battles look more fun than the actual Yugioh cartoon series ever did. Ratchet and Clank needs no explanation, as that was a solid series of platformers from the start, and I wanted to give the trimmed down handheld extension a shot.

Nestled in the middle of these four PSP titles is a GameCube memory card, weighing in at a beefy 1019 blocks of storage. Standard GameCube cards barely hold anything- even the Game Boy Interface is a tight fit on a 59 block card- so this was a long overdue addition to my collection.

As you may already know, I bought a Sega Saturn last month. However, since a Sega Saturn is not much fun without games, I picked up a couple of cheap-ish titles at Bookman's. (Oh, for the days when Saturn games actually were cheap! I bought a new copy of Sega Rally Championship for five dollars back in the 1990s. Good luck finding it for that price now.) Judging from what I've played of the slippery and imprecise Sonic 3D Blast, I'm still not going to have much fun with this system, at least until I get an Action Replay with Pseudo Saturn installed on it. At least it'll make a good swap disc until that happens.

By the way, can I just state for the record that I kind of hate the long boxes Sega used for these games? They're nearly twice the height of the disc, and have this annoying tendency to fracture under even small amounts of stress. You'll notice that Sonic 3D Blast came in a standard DVD case... I don't know who was responsible for this, but frankly, I can't blame either Bookman's or the previous owner for making the swap.

Finally, I found a couple of Kirby games in a pawn shop on the way out of town, hidden in a pile of DS cartridges wrapped in tiny plastic bags. Kirby's Dream Land 2 is no big deal... I'm pretty sure that's included in Kirby's Dream Collection, which I already own. However, I hit the jackpot with that seven dollar copy of Kirby: Planet Robobot. I've been wanting that game for a while, but I could never bring myself to pay the forty bucks Nintendo wanted for a digital copy. Thanks to this lucky find, I can have both the game and thirty-three extra dollars in my pocket!

So, how's the game? It's very similar to the last one, Kirby's Triple Deluxe, but with a technological motif. There are no psychedelic fruits that give Kirby powers far above those of mortal pink puffs... now, he climbs into mechs, which give unprecedented weight to the control and can scan enemies for new abilities. Yes, Kirby could already steal powers from his foes, but the robot takes this ability to the next level, with flamethrowers, blasts of electricity, and plasma swords many times larger than anything he could conjure up on his own. Beyond that, it's just more Triple Deluxe... not that I'm complaining.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Street Fighter EX Minus Street Fighter

One quick thing before the main event. I played a couple more hours of Ori and the Blind Forest, and it made a mystical transformation from a coma-inducingly dull Metrovania to a mean-spirited masocore platformer with more pointy objects than a cenobite's face. It's like someone from Moon heard my complaints from a few days ago and growled, "Oh, you want it more INTERESTING, huh? Oh, I'll make it plenty interesting!" 

Pulling thorns out of my keister is... is not the kind of "interesting" I wanted. My subscription to Microsoft Game Pass lapsed at the end of the month, which is probably a mercy in disguise because I won't have to finish removing the blight from the Ginso tree, only to be drowned by it thirty-seven times. So with that I bid Ori and the "if you keep doing that you'll go" Blind Forest goodbye. Don't let the door hit you in the thousands of razor sharp nettles on the way out.

Characters like Allen Snider have taken an
expected step up in visual quality... although
their taste in clothing remains questionable.
(image from YouTube)
Okay, now what was I going to discuss? Oh yeah, my latest purchase! During the soon-to-expire holiday sale on the Playstation Network, I picked up a copy of Fighting EX Layer. That's the spiritual successor to Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha, one of my favorite games on the Playstation and a title I find myself going back to from time to time on my hacked Vita. Feel free to read VGJunk's uncharacteristically warm review of the game if you haven't already tried it yourself. Then rectify that oversight and, uh, try it for yourself.

Fighting EX Layer is more of the same... and yet less, because the Street Fighter cast have their own 3D fighting games now and don't really need to be here. What you get instead are oddballs like beefy bouncer Jack, salaryman-turned-circus freak Skullomania, and talk show host by day, ruthless assassin by night D. Generes Dark. Are they as useful as classic Street Fighter characters like Guile and Cammy? Not really, but they have their own off-brand charm, and they beat the pants off some of the later additions to the Street Fighter cast. Come on, Laura, Necalli, and F.A.N.G.? Get outta here with that crap.

This isn't a bad consolation prize, though.
Bring on the Bogard, baby!
(image from Playstation Lifestyle)
It may be missing the star power of the Street Fighter cast, but Fighting EX Layer is a solid game in its own right. The constraints of Arika's modest budget are obvious... FEXL looks like it could just as easily have been pulled off on the Xbox 360, and the arcade mode is thinner than I would have liked; just an eight fight contest ending with superhuman samurai Garudo. However, the heart of the Street Fighter EX series still beats within this release. You can still chain together super moves for a humiliating beatdown, and each stage still has catchy tunes provided by Shinji Hosoi, the most unappreciated video game musician this side of Hitoshi Sakimoto.

There's no question Fighting EX Layer is lean on content, and no, the "Gougi" system which briefly boosts your character's abilities based on your performance doesn't really fill that gap. (Didn't we already do this before with Street Fighter X Tekken? Didn't everyone hate it?) You could probably get more mileage from your money with Mortal Kombat XL or Killer Instinct, which offer dozens of characters and styles of gameplay for a fraction of the price. Having said that, I can't help but wish the very best for FEXL, not only for the warm nostalgia it provides, but because it feels like a labor of love rather than a cold, calculated attempt to wring money from the fighting game community. You know, like what some better known entries in the genre have become. Cough, cough. Cough.