FALL 2004

Posts from October, November, and December 2004.

December 30, 2004...  Parish the Thought (also, Tekken 5 impressions)

As you may have heard elsewhere, I hung out with 1UP's contributing editor Jeremy Parish the other day, drinking in Lansing's many sights and sounds.  We'd stopped at the arcade to play Elevator Action Returns... you wouldn't believe how tough it is for two players to work together in that game!  We'd spent a lot of time getting stuck in elevators on the opposite ends of the screen, and even found ourselves getting flattened by them from time to time.  The end of the game was a mad dash to defuse a nuclear warhead and defeat the psychotic villain trying to launch it... we brought down the bad guy, but the missile launched anyway!  I'm still trying to figure out what the heck happened.

While there, we also noticed that Tekken 5 had been released.  It didn't seem like a vast improvement over the previous, underwhelming games in the series, but one thing about Tekken 5 DID really impress me.  The game is tightly integrated with the upcoming Playstation 2 release, featuring both PS2 controller ports and slots for MagicGate memory cards.  I don't know why you'd want to use a Dual Shock joypad when you've got an arcade-quality stick within your reach, but the memory card compatibility does have possibilities.  It'd be great if you could customize your character at home, then take your creation on the go and kick ass with him at the local arcade.

After the trip to the arcade and a delicious sushi dinner, we took a 180 and headed to a mall, where I found a most excellent joystick at GameStop.  Any fan of fighting or arcade games owes it to themselves to buy Pelican's Real Arcade Stick... it's a phenomenal controller that almost perfectly reproduces that elusive arcade feel, long sought out by game fans and Johnny Turbo alike.  It's compatible with all three currently supported game systems... you can even coax it to work with a Dreamcast if you've got the right adapter.  I popped in King of Fighters: Evolution and Vampire Chronicles to test them out with Pelican's Real Arcade Stick, and it made these fantastic games even better.  There aren't many good arcade joysticks available for today's consoles, and the few companies who've tried to make them have failed miserably (man, don't even get me started on Nuby's sad, sad Soul Calibur II stick).  This makes the Pelican Real Arcade Stick a real rarity, a gem buried under a mountain of substandard third party game controllers.  If you're lucky enough to find one, don't let it slip out of your hands!

December 24, 2004...  First Thoughts on the PS3 and Wii (aka Revolution)

First things first... Merry Christmas, everyone!  I'll be back with another update sometime next week, after my Christmas vacation is over.

I've seen some pictures of tech demo footage running on the preliminary Playstation 3 hardware, and I must admit that even cynical old me is impressed by what they've been able to do.  I was convinced that there would need to be another monumental change in the video game industry, like the switch from 2D to 3D back in 1995, before we'd start to see video games improve visually.  However, the photos of a generic football game (Madden?) and a generic racing game (Gran Tourismo?) changed my mind in a hurry.  I was especially impressed by the detail of the players in the football game... they looked like renders taken from a big budget film or television show, rather than plain old video game characters.

It remains to be seen if the gameplay can evolve as much as the graphics in the next generation of systems, however.  Nintendo is discussing a completely redesigned controller for their upcoming Revolution console... apparently, this one's not going to have a directional pad or standard action buttons.  They haven't divulged any more information than this, but this vague description makes it sound as though Nintendo's new controller will be dynamic, adapting to whatever game has been inserted into the system.  This could be accomplished either with a DS-style touchscreen or a holographic interface, similar to the holographic keyboard which was in development for home computers.

I guess we'll have to wait until next year to discover what the future holds for gamers.

December 20, 2004...  The Silent Treatment

To be honest, I don't have all that much to say right now.  I haven't had much motivation for updating the site, either, but since I know there's still a few people who come here, I've written a new review so they won't feel like they've wasted their time.

Hopefully I'll be in a more verbose mood the next time I update.

December 14, 2004...  Madden-opoly

The battle for supremacy on the video game gridiron is over, and it's safe to declare Sega the winner over its archrival Electronic Arts.  The makers of Sonic fought well against their competition with six years of great football games on the Dreamcast, XBox, and Playstation 2. 

However, in the end, Sega's victory was not earned through the superiority of its software, but by default.  When Electronic Arts realized that its crusty Madden series was bound to lose against the equally well designed but more reasonably priced ESPN line of sports games, the software giant took its ball (and an exclusive licensing agreement with NFL) and stormed home, crying like a knock-kneed, yellow-bellied sissy.

Congratulations, Sega!  You may have lost millions of dollars in sales thanks to Electronic Arts' underhanded scheming, but in the eyes of gamers everywhere, you're still the champ.

December 9, 2004...  Furries at the Renaissance Fair.  Now THAT'S Geeky!

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the pawn shop, where they were holding my reserved copy of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.  I took a detour down to a nearby Goodwill to scope out their supply of compact discs, and found something rather unusual hidden among the Christmas albums and outdated PC software.  It was an adventure game called Inherit The Earth, released by New World Computing for the Macintosh.  That doesn't sound too out of the ordinary, but there's an oddball twist to this King's Quest clone... it features an all-furry cast!

This quirky quality made the game impossible to resist, even though I don't get much use out of the Power Macintosh in the corner of my room.  If nothing else, Inherit The Earth gives me an excuse to wake the old girl from her slumber and put her through her paces.

While I'm on the subject of medievel quests with animal stars, there was a late Playstation release starring a daring fox adventurer, swashbuckling his way through a dangerous journey apparently inspired by the Nintendo 64 Legend of Zelda games.  Does anyone remember the name of this game, or if it was any good?  I recall seeing it at a video rental store once... I wanted to try it, but I never heard anything about it (even after a thorough online search) and wasn't sure if it was worth the three dollars.

December 8, 2004...  Hypertext Hangups

There were a couple of problems with the layout, stemming from flaws with my web site editing tool (thanks to Liquid Sky from the Atari Age forums for warning me about this).  For some idiotic reason, it insists on making all the links to the images absolute rather than relative.  What this means is that the HTML tries to find files on my hard drive, rather than the server where they actually reside.  I haven't been able to find a way to force the references to remain relative when I enter them, so I may just give up and switch to a different site editor, like NVu.  I've dabbled with this software before, and although I didn't like the interface quite as much as CutePage's, I may need to make the switch anyway.  It's a total pain in the ass to upload all the files to the Overclocked server, only to discover that they're formatted improperly and that I've got to edit and reload them.

December 7, 2004...  Sharkjump Squarepants (also, Dark Cloud 2)

So last weekend, I watched the Spongebob Squarepants movie... or as I like to call it, the exact moment when the franchise went down the toilet.  When you watch a cinematic extension of a popular television series, you expect the increased length and higher budget to enhance the experience.  In this case, however, these qualities actually distract the writers from coming up with the kind of wacky, wild humor that made the television show such a success.  They're so busy travelling down the tired path of cinematic clichès (a quest to prove the worth of the heroes, emotional near-death experiences, and pointless celebrity guests) that they forget all about keeping the audience laughing.  I went into the theatre expecting to bust a gut, but left with barely a bruise.

There are a few good moments in the film... nearly every scene with the wave cruisin', pectoral muscle flexin' David Hasselhoff was hilarious.  His appearance in the film perfectly merged Baywatch satire with the inventive saltwater silliness we've come to expect from the Spongebob Squarepants series.  There were also a handful of great lines, making fun of everything from tacky seaside souvenirs to the pomposity of NPR listeners.  Unfortunately, these brief flashes of inspiration came too infrequently to rescue the film from its mediocrity, much like the salmon which desperately flops around on the shore before it acknowledges that its glory days are over and that its dying moments will be spent in the crushing jaws of a hungry bear.

I can't help but think that the above simile not only describes the Spongebob Squarepants movie, but the franchise as a whole.  The television show is still fun to watch, but I've been tuning in less and less, suggesting that it may be time for Nick to stop wringing the sponge dry and concentrate on creating fresh new cartoons (preferably ones with characters you can tolerate for more than thirty minutes).

Oh yeah, I forgot this was a video game site.  All right, how's this for gaming coverage?  I rented Dark Cloud 2 a few weeks ago, expecting it to serve up the same boring gameplay and ugly graphics as its predecessor.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there was a whole lot more to the sequel... like a whimsical fantasy setting, a wide selection of playable characters, and a deep power-up system that lets you "spectrumize" existing items to unlock their hidden potential, or combine them to create new weapons and tools.  Even the voice over acting is pretty impressive... although after a couple hours, you'll start to wonder when Max will dig a black mask out of his overalls, defiantly point toward his enemies, and shout, "Titans, GO!!!"

That joke bombed pretty badly with Jeremy.  Hopefully, someone somewhere will appreciate it more than he did.  I'm not holding my breath for that, though.

December 1, 2004...  Let's Do the Royal Warp Again

You may think you've found everything in Katamari Damacy.  You've tracked down every last object on Earth, including all your brightly colored cousins and the King's many carelessly scattered presents.  Well, there's one more thing you might not know about, and I'm here to tell you how to discover it for yourself.  Get ready to ride the Royal Warp!

All right, here's what you'll need to do.  Start the game and select the Taurus stage (or, if you haven't gotten that far yet, keep playing until you've unlocked it).  At the beginning of the round, instead of rolling the katamari forward, reverse direction and take the light brown path up the hill.  You'll reach a grove of trees.  Roll past those and over the edge of the nearby cliff.  You'll fall into the ocean.  From here, you need to turn left and follow the edge of the cliff wall until you reach a shore populated by oxen.  This will take a while, so be patient and keep rolling.  Once you find the beach, look carefully for a vertical edge where the sand meets the grass.  This is your target.  Roll the ball into this partition, then move backward... you should sink into the sand and vanish from the face of the Earth!

After about fifteen seconds, dear old dad comes to the rescue, pulling you out of the void and returning you to Earth. The usually cavalier and self-centered King even breaks character and apologizes for the unfortunate incident!

Remember, this trick is just for fun.  This won't increase the size of your katamari, and you won't be compensated for all the time you lost while floating in the vacuum of space.  It's just one of those well-hidden design flaws that's fun to show your friends, like walking through brick walls in Super Mario Bros., or that brief moment in Spawn where the game actually seemed kind of fun.  "Which Spawn game," you say?  Heh, take your pick.

November 30, 2004...  Nintendo DS First Impressions

I had my chance to test out the Nintendo DS over the past week, thanks to my manager at work and an old friend of mine who's currently writing for Ziff-Davis.  Out of the small handful of the games I've played so far, only Feel the Magic: XY/XX demonstrates the system's full potential.  Not only are the game's stylish, smoothly animated silhouettes impressive by the once humble standards of handheld systems, but Feel the Magic makes full use of the system's integrated peripherals.  You'll be sweeping sharp tacks from the street to make room for speeding shopping carts, frantically tapping in numbers to open the parachutes of hapless plane jumpers, and blowing out candles, using your very own breath. 

Feel the Magic offers a level of interaction you're just not going to find in any other game, which sadly includes the other titles released for the Nintendo DS.  Metroid Prime Hunters and Super Mario 64 DS are fine games in their own right, but they only use half the system's full potential.  The graphics are fantastic (people have frequently compared the DS to the Nintendo 64, but trust me, Metroid Prime Hunters looks better than anything you've ever seen on the N64) and the stereo sound is even better, but the touchscreen and microphone are wasted on these games.  The control in both games is clumsy, especially in Super Mario 64 DS, where the simulated analog thumbstick keeps moving out of the reach of your thumb.

The Nintendo DS is a pretty good system, but future games are going to have to demonstrate why Nintendo included two screens, a microphone, and a touchpad in the design.  These features are the only advantages that the DS has over the PSP... Nintendo needs to make the most of them now, so gamers will understand what truly distinguishes the system from its future competitor.

November 29, 2004...  Show, Don't Tell

Katamari Damacy review.  Tomorrow.  Count on it.

In the meantime, I've updated the cartoon review page.  Check that out while you're waiting for the really good stuff.

November 22, 2004...  The Great DS Rush of 2004

Remember this day, everyone.  It's the day after the launch of the Nintendo DS, a historical occasion in the history of video games.  Whether it's a success or a failure, this system will forever have an impact on this industry, and may very well influence the design of future game consoles.

I didn't pick up the system myself... I plan to wait a few months, until the Nintendo DS has a stronger software library and the price has dropped so that it can better compete against the upcoming Sony PSP.  However, I've been checking the stock available (or in most cases, NOT available) at retail stores in my area, and talking to folks who've purchased the system about its features.

The first thing I've discovered is that the system has been selling quite well at most locations, but it's not impossible to find if you know where to look.  I found six Nintendo DS units at a K-Mart in Greenville, but some forty miles away, the Meijer was completely out of stock.  A friend of a friend had told me that nearly every location in Lansing had sold out.  This suggests that you're better off hunting for the system in a smaller town, where people don't take their gaming quite as seriously and the demand for the DS isn't nearly as strong.

After arriving home, I called a friend who vowed that he would get his hands on the system by any means necessary.  He wasn't around, but his girlfriend assured me that yes, he did manage to find a Nintendo DS.  In fact, she bought one of her own to sell on eBay, a tactic that should be familiar to anyone who remembers the launch of the Playstation 2. 

She decided to keep the second system in the box to increase its resale value, so she couldn't test the PictoChat feature with her main squeeze.  However, what she COULD tell me about the system was both enlightening and very encouraging.  Apparently, Super Mario 64 DS has tons of replay value... it's overflowing with dozens of mini-games, which are unlocked with every stage you complete.  I'm also told that the game "looks just like a cartoon"... I'm not entirely convinced of that after watching the footage on G4, but if she's impressed with the game, there's a good chance that a lot of other players will be, too.

The strangest thing about the system is that you've actually got to register it after you open the box.  You don't get a choice in the matter... you can't play games until you've entered your name and other information into the Nintendo DS.  I'm not sure if this data is sent directly to Nintendo using the system's wi-fi capabilities, or how it's stored, or even if the information can be reset later.  If the registration makes permanent changes to the system, it'll be a whole lot tougher to sell it later when Nintendo releases their next handheld system.

When I arrive at work later today, I'll have a chance to experience the Nintendo DS for myself.  My manager picked up the system on launch day and has been showing it to everyone he knows.  Now, if I had saved the money that I'd spent on my Game Boy Advance SP, along with an extra fifty dollars, I could be playing the DS right along with him, rather than waiting for a turn up to bat.  There's no use crying over foolishly spent money, though... I'm sure I'll get my chance next year, when the price on the system drops.

November 20, 2004...  Catching Up With Depeche Mode- er, Playstation 2

It's that special time again... the time when families gather to enjoy the bounty of the fall, and when Jess catches up on his gaming knowledge by playing all those first generation Playstation 2 games he missed when the system was first released.

Thanks to a special holiday sale at the local pawn shop, I was able to pick up a handful of critically acclaimed PS2 games, all released within a year of the system's launch.  I didn't own a Playstation 2 until a couple of years after it came out, so I missed a lot of high profile titles... games like Jak and Daxter, Gran Tourismo 3: A Spec, and Dark Cloud.  I've rectified the situation by picking up all three of these games, for less than ten dollars a piece.

First, there's Gran Tourismo 3.  I always dismissed Gran Tourismo as an overrated Sony exclusive which didn't merit the praise it constantly received.  Of course, that wasn't an especially informed opinion, since I'd only played a demo of the original back when I'd gotten my first Playstation back in 1998.  How do I feel about it now?  Well, if nothing else, it's pretty.  Compared to its Dreamcast counterpart Metropolis Street Racer, Gran Tourismo 3 comes out ahead with a faster frame rate and more detailed tracks.  The soundtrack is also pretty catchy, featuring modern covers of everything from 99 Luftballoons to Are You Gonna Go My Way?  However, I've got issues with the gameplay, which is much too technical and demanding for my tastes.  This isn't a game you can  jump right in and play... it takes a lot of practice to get a feel for the handling of your vehicle, and just as much skill to keep yourself from crashing into the guardrails after every turn.  Now, I know some people dig that kind of realism, but as a fan of arcade racing, I just don't have the patience for it.  If I had to make a choice between Gran Tourismo 3 and Metropolis Street Racer, I'd throw them both in a drawer and just play Crazy Taxi or Hydro Thunder instead.

I enjoyed Jak and Daxter much more, although its qualities weren't immediately apparent.  At first, it just seemed like another cookie-cutter platformer from the creators of Crash Bandicoot, but as I continued to play I started noticing what really sets the game apart from Naughty Dog's past work.  The most important distinguishing characteristic is that the playfield is far more open.  There aren't levels in the traditional sense, but one great big world, comprised of different lands which you can explore at your own whim.  There's a sense of freedom here that's missing from most 3D platformers, which force you to collect items and abilities that act as keys to new locations.  Although the graphics seem a bit dated, I was pretty impressed with the voice acting, made appropriately cartoony by industry professionals like Futurama's David Herman.  They even hired Max Casella, Doogie Hauser's unwisely chosen best friend, to do what he does best... play an obnoxious, weasel-like sidekick.  Now that's great casting!

Finally, there's Dark Cloud.  What sounds like a low-grade brand of toilet paper is in reality, an adventure game in the vein of Gateway to Apshai, with just a touch of territorial development thrown in for zest.  Jeremy Parish, the editor of Toastyfrog, once said that dungeon crawlers like Dark Cloud can be strangely addictive, even when they're not particularly well designed.  I'd tend to agree with that statement, but at the same time, Crimson Tears' approach to this style of unending exploration is a lot more appealing thanks to its crisp, futuristic graphics and a far more exciting combat system.  You could say that the ability to create (or more accurately, reorganize) your own towns in Dark Cloud makes up for its boring monster battles, but to me, it feels like this feature distracts you from the core gameplay rather than enhancing it.  I don't know, maybe I need to spend more time with this one.  If Dark Cloud is anything like Crimson Tears (and believe me, it is), there's no doubt that I will.

I also bought a ludicrously cheap copy of Ninja Gaiden for the XBox... not for me, but for my manager at work, who bought the system a couple of months ago.  You'd think that he'd be having a lot more fun with this freshly released, state-of-the-art action game than I would with three crusty old Playstation 2 titles.  Funny thing about that, though... he's already stuck in the first stage, stopped in his tracks by a rocky cliff wall.  When people said this game was tough, they weren't kidding!

November 17, 2004...  Katamari Damacy First Impressions

I've finally received Katamari Damacy in the mail.  Even after watching the review on X-Play and reading a half dozen opinions of it on the Internet, I was still taken aback by how utterly strange it is.  Just reading the dialogue (provided by the foppish, self-absorbed, and just slightly insane King of All Cosmos) is the kind of mindbending experience that no Earthly drug could provide.  However, it is pretty entertaining... not as fun as others have led me to believe, but I'm sure it will get better as I work my way up from the humble beginning and earn the opportunity to roll over larger, more exciting items than dead mosquitos and stray shogi pieces.

November 11, 2004...  Art Attack

You know you've made your mark as an Internet personality when your characters get mocked in shitty webcomics, published on third rate online art galleries.  I mean, really, Sheezy Art?  What, this guy couldn't even get into Side 7?

I have to admit, I was pretty depressed for the past couple of months.  I felt that my site was losing its relevance... that my contributions to the gaming community no longer mattered.  Just when I lost all hope in The Gameroom Blitz; just when I thought the site was a waste of my time, along comes some random cretin on the Internet whose primitive, backstabbing scribbles have reaffirmed my faith in my work.  Thank you, hamhanded, lobotomized fool, for proving to me that The Gameroom Blitz still has meaning and purpose.  If my web page can bother just one mouth breathing idiot enough that he takes a break from his G4 marathons and his Grand Theft Auto to draw sad, humorless parodies of my characters, the past eight years have completely been worth my time.

Here's a word of advice to the rest of the dimwits who have a problem with this site, and the opinions expressed within it.  I edit The Gameroom Blitz for only one person, and it ain't you.  If you can't handle that, there's the door.  Feel free to let it hit you in the ass, the face, and the groin (repeatedly) on the way out.

November 8, 2004...  Handheld Commando (Metal Slug Advance review)

I'm amazed at the quality of Metal Slug Advance.  This is SNK's first release for the GBA (remember, other companies were responsible for King of Fighters EX and its sequel) and already they're kicking ass with a great shooter that merges the fantastic audiovisuals of the Neo-Geo games with the deep gameplay of the spinoffs on the Neo-Geo Pocket.

First, the bad news (and there isn't much of it).  The level design isn't quite as good as it was in the first two Metal Slug titles, where the game told a story as you played it, rather than waiting to do this with intermissions at the end of each stage.  Instead, it feels as though the designers of Metal Slug Advance have just thrown together bits and pieces from previous games in the hopes of creating what seem like new missions.  Also, it's worth noting that the game is tough.  Weapons are in short supply, and the enemies have an annoying tendency of regenerating when you walk back to collect items you may have missed.  Finally, the Metal Slug tradition of stealing all your prisoners and items when you die is even more annoying here, because they sometimes offer your character permanent benefits.  However, you don't get that armor plating and super-sized ammo clips if you can't complete the stage in which they were collected, making it even more important to stay alive, no matter what occurs.

If you can get past the difficulty and the familiarity of the stages, you'll find that Metal Slug Advance is the best game of its kind on the Game Boy Advance.  The graphics are only slightly downscaled from Metal Slug on the Neo-Geo, with the same lush colors and detailed shading but less animation and a more cramped view of the action.  However, the sound is incredible, featuring the same powerful military themes as its big brother on the Neo-Geo, along with crystal clear voice and booming explosions.  Most importantly, the game is a whole lot more fun than the other side-scrolling shooters on the Game Boy Advance.  You no longer have to settle for cheap imitations like Lilo and Stitch or Turok Evolution if you want a handheld Metal Slug fix... Metal Slug Advance is the real deal!

November 5, 2004...  On the Ball

At long last, I've found a place where I can conveniently purchase Katamari Damacy!  The local Family Video offers a handy service where you can order any game for a currently supported system and have it delivered straight to your house, with shipping thrown in for free!  You just can't beat a deal like that.

So in a few days, I'll finally get my chance to roll a sticky ball over anything and everything in my path.  Now that's entertainment!  At least, that's what everyone else who's played it has been telling me.

November 1, 2004...  Brains: The Other White Meat

Wow... it's already November.  Time just keeps on slippin' into the future, doesn't it?  Who can believe that we're already in the 21st century?  Next thing you know, there'll be space travel and feisty gold robots and, and... cobra-shaped rings that produce phallic shafts of light.  Yes, I don't have anything to talk about, and yes, I watched Spaceballs over the weekend.

That's only half true, actually.  I spend much of Saturday hanging out at Chris Larson's house, playing games ranging from King of Fighters '99 to good old fashioned foosball.  I forgot how much I enjoyed the former game... and how much I stink at the latter one.  The editor of Stage Select (formerly Fatman Games) also took me on a trip through his neighborhood, starting at a nearby game store and ending up at his favorite Chinese restaurant.  After bringing all that great food back to the house, we capped off the evening by striking up a discussion with Chris' wife and friends, then watching the remake of Dawn of the Dead.  I'm not fond of horror movies, but any film with a sniper blowing away a zombie Jay Leno has to have SOMETHING going for it!

I've got to thank Chris for his hospitality.  Work's been pretty stressful lately and this trip helped relieve some of that tension.

October 29, 2004...  Subparman

There's a new review, courtesy of faithful GRB contributor Tony Bueno.  Coming soon, John Roche sees red (and green) in his review of Superman for the Nintendo 64, commonly known as "gamer's Kryptonite."

October 27, 2004...  Oh, Joy!  (the PC JoyBox peripheral review)

I couldn't get yesterday's update to load due to issues with my steadily failing USB pen drive.  This was a frustrating turn of events, because I very desperately wanted the update to coincide with the release of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (even though what I'd written had nothing to do with the game at all).  Oh well... at least you should be seeing it NOW.

Before I go, I've got a word of advice for those of you looking for a good controller for your home computer.  End the search now, because you're not going to find one.  Instead, purchase a PC JoyBox from a supplier of import accessories like Jandaman.com.  Let me tell you, this thing SMOKES.  Not only is it automatically recognized by your computer, but its performs beautifully with either Saturn or Playstation controllers... there's no lag whatsoever, making all your games on your PC just as fun as they were on those two systems. 

When used wisely, the two joypads can handle pretty much anything you throw at them. The Japanese and second run Saturn pads are perfect for fighters and other fast-action arcade games which require precise digital input, while the mountain of buttons and sticks on the Playstation Dual Shock pad is great for emulating more advanced systems like the Nintendo 64. 

Words cannot express how happy I am with the PC JoyBox.  If you love emulators, but the many crappy joysticks designed specifically for PCs are making the experience less appealing than it could be, you absolutely must have one of these adapters.  It's the best twenty bucks you'll ever spend.

October 26, 2004...  The Thousand Year Dork

It's Tuesday.  October 26th, to be precise, and you know what THAT means!  Everyone's playing that hot new video game everyone's been dying to get their hands on for years.  Yes, it's another game in the series that made a swarthy, tackily-dressed Italian famous.  I'm talking about none other than... Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door!

That other game is getting plenty of publicity... G4's even gone so far as to devote an entire day of programming to it.  I'd much rather talk about sequel to the Nintendo 64's best role-playing game, Paper Mario.  I really enjoyed what I've played so far, and there are definitely improvements over the previous game.  Remember how you'd get frustrated with the buddy characters in the first Paper Mario, who never contributed as much to the fights as Mario himself?  That's been fixed... there's a lot more you can do with them now, making the battles less monotonous.  Your partners have a lot more personality now, too.  The character designs are more distinctive, so instead of hanging out with a plain old Koopa or Boo, you get a shy turtle wearing a sweatshirt and band-aids, and an immense ghostly diva with a crush on Mario.

I'm not entirely convinced that the game is better than the original Paper Mario, however.  The levels are woefully short for an RPG, and they're not as cleverly designed as they were in the previous game.  Parts of the game had left me frustrated and confused due to goals that were unclear and paths that were needlessly obscured.  Your first partner character, Goombella, does offer advice to help you get through these tight spots, but it's not always enough.  You're going to need a FAQ for this one... just try to resist the temptation to look ahead!  Some of the plot twists sandwiched between each level are a shocking surprise. 

In general, the storyline is well-written and quite entertaining.  I appreciate the fact that the American translators are trying to give the characters in the Mario universe more depth, despite their paper-thin appearance.  Some of the jokes are pretty clever as well... you won't be laughing quite as hard as you did when you were playing Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga, but you'll be laughing all the same.

Is Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door the game of the year?  As much as I'd like to say so, no, it isn't.  However, it's so full of vibrance and life that it's bound to wind up on your top ten list.  It's certainly a nice change of pace from the reckless violence in that OTHER recently released video game.

October 20, 2004...  It's Not Just a Chore, It's an Adventure!

It's a slow news day, and I haven't played Katamari Damacy yet (although it hasn't been for lack of trying, believe me...).  I guess StarFox will be the subject of the day, since I just took StarFox Adventures back to the rental store and the English translation patch for StarFox 2 was recently released.

A lot of people hated StarFox Adventures.  I can understand why, as it was a huge departure from the previous games in the series.  Having played over a dozen extremely loose NES adaptations of popular arcade titles, I can understand the frustration that can result from this kind of false advertising.  Still, it is worth pointing out that Dinosaur Planet was originally designed as its own series... the association with StarFox just came later, when development shifted from the N64 to the GameCube.

If you can get past the tacked on license, you've got to admit that StarFox Adventures isn't an entirely bad game.  If nothing else, it's got some of the most fantastic graphics you'll see on the GameCube, with rendered characters so incredibly realistic you can almost feel the soft fur and smooth, shiny scales.  The quests won't keep you up late at night like Zelda: Wind Waker did, however... the level design is confusing, the battles are unsatisfying, and the annoying, demanding characters don't give you much incentive to rescue them.  "Give me alpine roots!  Give me GrubTub fungus!  Give me this, give me that!"  After a couple hours of dealing with these ungrateful, uncooperative idiots, I felt like jumping into the Arwing and flying as far away from the forsaken planet as possible.  Those stupid woolly mammoths can do their OWN chores for once.

I'll admit it, the game even started to get on my nerves after a while.  However, StarFox Adventures is a competant adventure that gets entirely too much grief for not meeting the expectations of Nintendo fans.  Yes, it's not really StarFox, but at the same time, it's not a bad game in its own right.

October 14, 2004...  Buried Treasures

Don't mind me... I'm just here to do some much needed maintenence on the site.  Now that I've got ad banners on all the currently supported pages, including the Saturn reviews, those annoying pop-up ads should vanish.  Those pop-ups ARE going to disappear now, right?  Right, Dave?  Dude, you're starting to scare me.

I haven't been in the mood to update the site, so I've been spending all that free time playing games.  I picked up Midway Arcade Treasures for my GameCube last week, and rented the sequel earlier today to see how the two games compare.  Strangely, neither of these collections impressed me the way that Midway Arcade's Greatest Hits for the Sega Saturn had.  Sure, Midway Arcade Treasures has a lot more games, but it's also got a lot less content.  Nearly every game on the collection warns you that it's missing press artwork, or interviews, or a history file, making the total package frustratingly incomplete.  There's also the issue of the overly specialized GameCube controller, which just isn't up to the task of bringing you arcade-quality gameplay.  That's a task better left to the Saturn's digital joypad, which offers a level of precision you just can't get from any of today's game systems.

Despite this, I would recommend Midway Arcade Treasures 2 without a moment's hesitation.  It's an extremely generous collection, offering titles like Mortal Kombat 3 and Primal Rage that were released as single games less than ten years ago.  Also, this is the first time that a truly worthwhile version of Total Carnage has been released for a home console.  All the hilarious, steroid-drenched gameplay that was left out of T*HQ's mediocre Super NES version is here... you'll be gunning down thousands of enemy soldiers while picking up American flags and being urged to "blow up big stuff" with the bombs scattered throughout each stage.  It's not the only great game on the disc, but it's definitely my favorite, and the only reason I need to take this collection home for good when I get my next paycheck.

October 7, 2004...  Activision Wins... Anthology

I'd recently rented Mortal Kombat: Deception and Activision Anthology, and found myself enjoying the collection of ancient 2600 games more than the state-of-the-art fighting game with dozens of features and options.  That either means that I'm a hopeless Luddite, or that everything Midway packed into the latest Mortal Kombat can't disguise the mediocrity of the core gameplay.  I haven't decided yet.

October 5, 2004...  Giving Sonic CD a Spin

New Fighter's Misery?  Oh yeah, we got it.  Today, we're stepping into the blood-soaked arena of Slaughtersport.  This Genesis game was released by Razorsoft, a company best described as Rockstar Games' spiritual ancestor.  Unlike Rockstar, however, there was absolutely nothing special about any of Razorsoft's games, and Slaughtersport was no exception.  You can read more about it here.

After many years of doing without, I've finally gotten a chance to spend some time with Sonic CD.  It reminds me a lot of the very first Sonic the Hedgehog on the Genesis, except with a new time travel play mechanic that adds depth and originality to the gameplay.  You'll need to travel to the past to find your rival Metal Sonic, wrecking havoc on the local wildlife.  Defeat him and the future becomes a lot brighter, transforming from a desolate wasteland to a post-modern paradise.

Some parts of the game haven't aged well, like the plainly drawn, washed out cartoon in the attract mode.  On the other hand, the time travelling gives the game a sense of purpose missing from even the newest Sonic titles, and the crisp redbook audio is a welcome improvement over the music in the Genesis games.

There are rumors that Sonic CD will be included in the next Sonic Mega Collection for the GameCube.  Although it should have been on the first disc, I guess this is one of those instances where it's better late than never.

October 1, 2004...  Have You Been Subpoenaed By Atari Today?

It's been ages since I've given the site a respectable update.  I'm going to have to think about adding content to one of the feature pages, like the Game Boy Advance review index or Fighter's Misery.  Then there's that Space Invaders retrospective, and the peripherals like the Game Boy Player that I wanted to cover on the site... there are just so many choices that I don't know where to begin!

I'll have to decide over the weekend, I suppose.  In the meantime, have you heard about the controversy surrounding Infogrames, the current owners of the Atari brand name?  They've been handing out cease and desist letters to classic video game sites faster than a cheap old lady can hand out bags of pennies to disappointed kids on Halloween.  They haven't threatened to shut down sites like Atari Age (yet...), but they have stopped them from selling homebrew games featuring characters from old Atari titles like Pong and Adventure.

Now I do realize that Infogrames (not to be confused with the golden breakfast treat that gives anyone who eats it violent diahrria) has a legal right to stop these games from being produced, but it does set a rather frightening precedent.  Atari built the foundation for the video game industry, and any game built on that foundation, whether created by hobbyists or large corporations, could be subject to an Infogrames lawsuit.  There's a lot of potential for abuse here... hopefully, Infogrames will know where to draw the line with its legal threats.