Posts from July, August, and September 2004.

September 27, 2004...  Suspicious Cinematic Similarities

I hope you'll forgive the recent lack of activity on the site.  I've been trying to switch my computer over to Windows 2000, but the transition hasn't gone as smoothly as planned.  I can't seem to get the sound drivers installed, and sound is just something you can't live without when you're as fond of emulators as I am.  I guess I'll have to keep slumming with Windows ME until I can find a solution to the problem.

Anyway, I did make good on my promise to write a Crimson Tears review.  I must say that it's quite a change of pace for the Blitz, offering a review of a game that was just recently released.  Usually I wait until they're good and crusty before I offer an opinion of them, because, well... let's not mince words here.  I'm lazy!  Lucky for me, I can get away with that, because timeliness is hardly a concern when you're running a retro gaming site.

Before I go, is anyone else thinking that the upcoming movie Taxi was originally based on the game Crazy Taxi?  I'm watching the previews and I can't help but think that there's a connection... Taxi's got "less than faithful film adaptation of a popular video game" written all over it.  I also can't help but notice similarities between the lead character in Pixar's The Impossibles and failed Sony mascot Blasto.  Since The Impossibles are already scheduled to appear in a Playstation game, I can only hope that the two characters just look alike.

September 22, 2004...  Now That's Vesatility! (Nintendo DS news)

There's more solid information on the upcoming Nintendo DS.  It'll be available in America on November 21st, and will cost $149.  That's not too bad when you consider that it'll have everything from a touchscreen to wireless communication to Game Boy Advance compatibility to, um, a corkscrew and a toothpick.  Wait, were we talking about a game system or a Swiss Army Knife here?

Anyway... we've got a new review on the site, faithful readers.  Today, we're examining the Protector/Y*A*S*I combo cartridge for the Vectrex, designed by Alex Herbert and distributed by Mark Shaker.  Next week, we'll leave the past and head for the future with Crimson Tears for the Playstation 2.

September 20, 2004...  50% Space Invaders, 50% Defender, 100% Awesome

I don't have any major updates to the site today.  I was attacked by a thug over the weekend, and spent the rest of it in bed feeling sorry for myself.  You'll find more information about this unfortunate incident on my LiveJournal, but let me just say here that when a homophobic cretin whose parents are cousins starts shouting insults from his car, just walk away and let him wallow in his own immense stupidity.

Well, enough of that.  You want to hear about video games, and I've played some great ones this weekend.  First up is Sly Cooper 2... I managed to get my hands on this one the day it arrived at my local rental store, and I must say that I've loved nearly every minute of it.  There's more stealth in Sly 2: Band of Thieves, and I normally don't have much patience for this style of gameplay, but Sucker Punch has somehow extracted most of the frustration and replaced it with fun and excitement.  The level designs are terrific, too... now, Sly and his friends work together to finish the longer, more difficult missions, and the objectives offer more variety than simply running from one end of the stage to the other.

I also received my Vectrex last Friday, and have spent hours of quality time with Protector and Y*A*S*I.  Protector, as the name suggests, is a clone of Williams' Defender, and an extremely accurate one despite the Vectrex's visual limitations.  Defender loses nothing in the conversion to vector graphics... its graphics were always pretty simple, and color didn't play a major part in the game, unless you were hunting down specific enemies in the radar.  You can still recognize them on the Vectrex... you just have to pay attention to their movement patterns and luminescence.

Y*A*S*I is a Vectrex adaptation of Space Invaders, and it's even closer to the source material than Protector.  The designer actually found a way to simulate raster graphics on the Vectrex, so the invaders look exactly like they did in the arcade game.  There is a bit of flicker as the vectors rapidly alternate to fill in the characters, but there's absolutely no slowdown, which means that the gameplay is absolutely perfect.  It's the best Space Invaders conversion since Opcode's superb Space Invaders Collection for the ColecoVision.  In fact, it would be incredibly tough choosing between the two games... on one hand, Space Invaders Collection offers both Space Invaders and its sequel, while on the other, Y*A*S*I features a variety of unlockable modes and looks more like the arcade game thanks to its bright monochrome display.

Lucky for me, I don't have to choose.  I've got 'em both, and I have no intention of giving up either anytime soon.  I DO have to bring Sly Cooper 2 back to the rental store, however, so I'll have to end this entry here.

September 14, 2004...  Ain't Life Grand?

Well, it's official, folks.  You've probably suspected it for a long time, but after today, you can safely say without any doubt that I'm a hypocrite.  That's right, I picked up a copy of Grand Theft Auto III for my Playstation 2.  Hey, I'm as surprised as you are, but I found the disc at a pawn shop for five bucks.  It's nearly impossible for me to resist any game for an actively supported console at that price. 

Besides, True Crime: Streets of L.A. isn't going to last forever.  Once I'm done with it, I'm going to want a second helping of that go anywhere, do anything gameplay, and Grand Theft Auto III ought to satisfy that craving... at least until True Crime 2 (which will hopefully be subtitled "Better Aiming, Less Snoop Dogg") hits the streets.

I also just received my copy of Protector/YASI for the Vectrex.  This cartridge offers conversions of two great arcade classics, Defender and Space Invaders.  Since I haven't actually gotten my Vectrex yet, I can't tell you how the games play, but from the instruction manuals alone I can already see that a lot of work was put into them.  Both games have battery backup, and YASI, the Space Invaders clone, has the extra special bonus of voice effects, provided you have a special adapter.  I don't know WHY you'd need voices in a Space Invaders clone, but hey, they're in there.  You know, come to think of it, such a peripheral also opens up the possibility of a Vectrex port of Gorf.  Maybe I shouldn't be so quick to dismiss this as a silly gimmick...

Another big surprise is that the designer has cleverly used the vector graphics of the system to emulate a raster scan display.  That means that the invaders are made of pixels, rather than lines.  The amount of processing power needed to reproduce this effect may also mean that the game's got even more flicker and slowdown than Spinball!, but again, I couldn't say for sure until I actually have the chance to play it.  Stay tuned to the Blitz and I'll let you know if the game is a technological marvel... or just a well-intentioned but overly ambitious blunder.

September 9, 2004...  Seeing Red (Crimson Tears review)

There was some talk on another message board about observing the fifth anniversary of the Dreamcast by spraypainting swirls and pro-Sega slogans on run down buildings throughout the country, and possibly the world.  As much as I like that system, I probably won't participate in this well-intentioned but still very illegal vandalism.  Nevertheless, I'd like to find some way to celebrate the fifth birthday of this most excellent game system.  Perhaps I'll limit myself to playing nothing but Dreamcast games today in rememberence of its debut.  Heaven knows I've got enough of them to keep me entertained.  Besides, I'm curious to see how well its graphics have held up after all these years.

In not-so-cool game system news, I spent my Labor Day weekend with a couple of Playstation 2 titles that I'd rented from a local video store.  I didn't really NEED to do this, since I had plenty of other games at home, but I was overwhelmed with curiousity when I saw an unfamiliar Capcom release called Crimson Tears.  When I discovered that it was designed in part by Spike, the creators of the Fire Pro Wrestling series, I absolutely had to try it.

You're probably wondering what the heck Crimson Tears is, so here's the scoop.  Remember the quest mode in Ehrgeiz for the Playstation?  The computer would make random dungeons for you, and you'd take your character into them, fighting vicious monsters and collecting a wide array of weapons and items.  Crimson Tears is pretty much just like that, except with a futuristic gloss that's more reminescent of Phantasy Star Online and its sequels.  If you're not familiar with any of those games, you've probably played SOMETHING that's pretty close to Crimson Tears.  It's at the very tip of a family tree that includes such titles as Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon, Fatal Labyrinth, and Gateway to Apshai.

However, while most of those games featured turn-based fights, Crimson Tears features more exciting battles that take place in real time.  At first, you'll be kicking and punching your way through crowds of bad guys, which range from ferocious green striped dogs to soldiers who bear a suspicious resemblence to the Master Chief from Halo.  Eventually, one of the enemies will drop a weapon, or an item, or a power-up, and you'll be able to either equip them right away or bring them back to your home base to enhance your characters' abilities.

As a 3D fighter, Crimson Tears gets passing marks.  The combat does get repetitive after a while thanks to the limited variety of enemies and the lack of a two player mode, but the animation and some of the attacks are spectacular.  Just put two swords in Amber's hands and you'll be mesmerized by the way she dances through each room, taking out enemies with every graceful step.

However, Crimson Tears is almost guaranteed to disappoint fans of RPGs.  After playing ten years of increasingly complex Square-Enix titles, they've come to expect a lot more depth from the genre than this game can possibly offer them.  Players can piece together weapons from the parts they've found in the dungeons, and the option to rescue fellow party members left stranded in the levels after being defeated is a welcome feature.  Unfortunately, nothing else in Crimson Tears is going to be much of a surprise or a challenge to anyone who's spent more than a few hours with other RPGs.

It may not be the best game Capcom released this year, or even this month, but the ten hours I spent playing Crimson Tears would seem to indicate that the game's got something going for it.

September 7, 2004...  Pop-Up Paranoia

I'll be doing some maintenence on the site this week, adding ad banners to all the currently active pages and removing all the outdated ones.   Just to warn you, you'll probably see see tons of pop-ups on The Gameroom Blitz until the folks at ZTNet make the proper adjustments to the site's advertising script.

Until then, my advice to you would be to download Mozilla Firefox and use that as your primary Internet browser... not just to visit this site, but for all your other favorites as well.  Nothing's better at blocking pop-ups and all the other online irritations that you had come to expect from Internet Explorer.

Anyway.  Later this week, you can look forward to new reviews from Tony Bueno and John Roche, The Gameroom Blitz's most prolific contributors.  Maybe I'll toss something into the pot as well, if I'm feeling up to it.

August 30, 2004...  Mean Streets and Miserly Tanuki

I'm already catching grief for my shadenfreuden regarding Acclaim's demise.  Gee, who saw THAT one coming?  Look, I'm sorry that people have lost their jobs over this, but if they've got the qualifications to get hired by a software manufacturer as large as Acclaim, they won't be waiting in the unemployment line for very long.  Furthermore, the folks who did get hired by Acclaim have already had a lot more success breaking into the business than some of us (by some of us, I mean me).  So try not to take it so personally, all right?  Thank you.

Anyway, there's a new review, of True Crime: Streets of L.A. for the GameCube.  I really enjoyed this one... I rented it last Thursday and became so addicted that I never wanted to let it go.  Good thing Meijer had a couple of cheap copies in stock, because those six month late fees can be a real bitch!

I'm not so sure about Animal Crossing, however.  I picked that up earlier this weekend, and although I like the dialogue, the N64-quality graphics and dull gameplay is less than endearing.  Maybe I'll enjoy it more once I pay off the whopping debt on my house.  That way, I'll be free to do whatever I want, and Tom Nook can finally afford that scrotum reduction surgery he's been looking into.  I guess I'd be cranky too if I had to drag my happy sack on the floor everywhere I went.

August 28, 2004...  Ding, Dong, Acclaim is Dead!

My computer's been acting funky lately... it's that lowdown, dirty funk that only an operating system reinstall can cure.  Maybe I'll take this opportunity to upgrade to Windows 2000 Professional.  It may not have native DOS support, but it'd still be a whole lot better than slumming with crummy old Windows (N)ME like I've been doing for the past two and a half years.

But you don't want to hear about that... you're here for the gaming news.  That's good, because I've got a big story hot off the presses for you!  It seems that, after torturing gamers with awful software for the past twenty years, that creepy little cockroach we know as Acclaim has finally been squashed for good.  They've closed down all their offices, and will probably file for bankruptcy in another month.  With any luck, it'll be the permanent, chapter 13 kind, rather than the KMart "we'll bounce right back even though you've made it clear you don't want us around anymore" kind.

Also, I've been buying games.  MAN have I been buying games!  I finally picked up Animal Crossing for my GameCube, and intend to start playing it as soon as I have the time to really sit down and enjoy it.  I've also bought Kya: Dark Lineage and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 for the Playstation 2... even though I haven't gotten halfway through Tony Hawk's Underground yet.  Now that I think about it, that was a pretty dumb purchase.

I can't say that I regret picking up Kya: Dark Lineage, though.  From what I've seen of it so far, the game's got promise.  The character designs are extremely well done... I'm particularly impressed with the Wolfen, a bunch of bandaged beast men who look like the work of a really talented, but really angsty furry artist.  Also, it looks like the fighting could be a whole lot of fun once you unlock all of Kya's moves... later on in the game, she can grab onto the Wolfens' tails and spin them around, or hop on their shoulders and mercilessly clobber their heads.  Now that's deliciously vicious!

Finally, I've got a word of advice for any of you considering the Sega Mega Pack for computers.  Yes, it's cheap, and yes, you get a lot of games, but the system requirements for each title vary wildly.  While some of the games, like Crazy Taxi and Virtua Fighter 2, should work fine on a modern day machine, Sonic CD was clearly designed for older computers, even forcing you to set your color output to 256 colors before you can play it.  Who uses a 256 color monitor anymore?  Why would anyone want to?

My advice would be to just stick with a freeware emulator like Gens if you want to play Sonic CD, or any of the other Genesis games in this collection.  You won't have to deal with nearly as many hassles.  As for the more advanced titles like Sega Bass Fishing and Crazy Taxi, well, you've always got your Dreamcast for those.

August 26, 2004...  Capcom Regeneration

Capcom's been a little shy about releasing classic game compilations in the United States, but now that Mega Man Anniversary Collection has become a critical and financial success, they should get over their stage fright and finally bring the Capcom Generations series to America.  I spent last night playing the five disc collection on the Saturn, and was amazed at both the quality of the games and the number of extras Capcom had included.  There are early design sketches, helpful game hints (if you're Japanese, anyway...), and even secret features that can be unlocked with high scores and other noteworthy achievements.  My personal favorite is on the fifth and final disc... when you beat any of the Street Fighter II games, you win the soundtrack originally written for Super Street Fighter II Turbo on the 3DO!

Out of all the great titles in the Capcom Generations series, only one of them was released in the United States.  It's time for Capcom to correct that mistake and bring the entire series here to the States... the success of Mega Man Collection proves that Capcom Generations has a place here in America as well.

August 23, 2004...  Ubisoft Spectacular (Prince of Persia, Beyond Good & Evil)

I've been negotiating with the site's host to remove those annoying pop-up ads from the index page.  He's willing to help me out, but in return, I'll need to put smaller, less intrusive banner ads on the top of every page.  I suppose it's a fair trade... it'll take some effort to redesign all the pages on the site, but it'd probably take even more to move to a new server.  Also, to be perfectly honest, I've gotten comfortable here at Overclocked after three years.  Moving has never been a pleasant experience for me, and with my interest in The Gameroom Blitz (and gaming in general) waning, I just don't feel it's worth the trouble of finding a new home for the site.

Anyway.  I've been spending some time with Ubi Soft's two sleeper hits, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Beyond Good and Evil.  I had rented Prince of Persia earlier this year, and because I never removed my save file, I was able to pick up where I'd left off.  Although parts of the game are frustrating (particularly the combat, where you're overwhelmed with aggressive enemies), I still admire it for its solid control and beautiful graphics.  It's certainly a quantum leap ahead of Prince of Persia 3D on the Dreamcast... I had the opportunity to play that recently, and discovered that it was better left buried in the sands of time (or more appropriately, the sand in a litterbox).  We'll never know if the Dreamcast could have handled a conversion of the latest Prince of Persia, but one thing I CAN say for sure is that it deserved better than a stiffly animated Tomb Raider clone seasoned with seven Middle Eastern herbs and spices.

I'll give Ubi Soft credit for doing such a great job with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, but Beyond Good and Evil is more my kind of game.  I really appreciate how the designers had taken the edge off of its threatening, unearthly setting with a cast of silly characters and lighthearted dialogue.  It's almost like what would happen if Jim Henson were still alive and started making video games in the same vein as forgotten films like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal.  The cooperative gameplay is a great idea as well, although it begs the question, "If it's so vital to have a second character with you wherever you go, why didn't they just make this a two player game?"  I think Ubi Soft missed an important opportunity here, but the interaction between Jade and her friends  do help create the illusion of a multiplayer experience.  The characters share conversations as they solve puzzles, and when Jade is pinned down by a savage beast, her partner comes running to her aid.  This helps draw you into the world of Beyond Good and Evil... it really feels as though your partners are close friends, rather than worthless tagalongs you're forced to put up with for the duration of the game.  Y'know, like Tails.

Beyond Good and Evil may not have made a lot of money, but it did win a lot of hearts, including my own.  And hey, you can get a lot of money by selling hearts on the black market, so it all worked out for the designers in the end.

August 17, 2004...  Billy Hatcher and the Giant Case of Diabetes

I was searching through my Saturn discs for omake (you know, hidden goodies!) and what should I find on Dracula X: Nocturne in the Moonlight but this?

[picture of the big-breasted succubus in the Saturn version of Dracula X]

That was a bit of an eye-opener, but as shocking as that was, I was even MORE surprised that I couldn't find any omake on any of my PS2 discs.  Is this a dying art, or is it against Sony policy to include content for other formats on a Playstation 2 disc?

Anyway, I just played Billy Hatcher and The Giant Egg on the GameCube.  I've been pretty annoyed with all the gory and violent games that have been released lately, but after spending an hour with Billy Hatcher, I came to the realization that it's possible to take things too far in the opposite direction.  I'm convinced that Shigeru Miyamoto and Yuji Naka are secretly competing to make the world's fruitiest video game.  Miyamoto makes a game about a bunch of prancing, brightly colored flower people, and Naka fires back with an even more flaming game, starring an obnoxious little boy in a chicken suit.  By the time this battle is over, even Nintendo and Sega's more faithful fans will be scrambling to play Rockstar's latest antisocial fantasy, where the player runs around kicking puppies and taking candy from babies.

August 12, 2004...  Archrivals

I just heard that the editors of Tips and Tricks are working on their own book about the Nintendo Entertainment System, one that's likely to be authorized by Nintendo itself.  This prompted two reactions from me... the first was "Oh shit."  The second was "I've got to finish my own NES book FAST if I want it to find an audience."

I respect Chris B. and the gang at Tips & Tricks, and I have no doubt that they'll do a great job with their own guide to the NES.  However, I've been writing about video games for nearly fifteen years, and I'm long overdue for a shot at the spotlight.  I don't just want this chance at success, I've EARNED it.  And I'm not going to let anyone take this opportunity away from me.

So I'll be taking a break from The Gameroom Blitz for a while.  I'll need to devote all my spare time to the NES guide if I hope to have it finished before the system's twentieth anniversary... and more importantly, BEFORE any competitors hit the bookshelves.

August 7, 2004...  Dysphoria

G4 had the chance to redeem the concept of a televised video game awards show... but they blew it in a big way with Gphoria.  People will probably argue that it wasn't as horrible as last year's VGAs on Spike TV, but it's hard for me to fathom how an awards show could be even less relevant than Gphoria.  Thank you, Comcast, for showing me that soon-to-be-washed-up celebrities, questionable musical talent, and an unrelenting barrage of advertising is more important to the game design process than game designers.

Seriously, out of all the people who took the stage at Gphoria, only one deserved to be there... Hideo Kojima, the creator of the Metal Gear series.  Sure, they also introduced one of the "programmers" of the latest Madden game, but I'd bet demons to diamonds that the stereotypical nerd who briefly took the spotlight was just an actor.  When he was heckled and pelted with Nerf balls, it not only confirmed my suspicions, but proved just how much contempt G4 has for the men and women who are the lifeblood of this industry.

When the director of an outstanding film wins an award for his hard work, he's the one invited onstage to receive his prize.  When a brilliant novel tops the best-seller list, the author is given public recognition for her achievement.  Why is it, then, that when game designers excel at their own craft, it's Tony Hawk and Snoop Doggy Dogg who take home the gold?

Judging from this awards sham... er, show, it would seem that video games have made little progress since the days when programmers like Warren Robinette had to sneak their names into their software if they hoped to receive any credit for their work.  Gphoria also makes it clear that video games have made little progress in being recognized as a legitimate form of media, even if they are marketed to an older audience than they were back when Atari was calling the shots.

August 3, 2004...  Broken Wings (or, original Tony Hawk disappointment)

I recently picked up the Playstation version of the very first Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, and I have to admit, I'm a little disappointed with it.   After playing (and playing, and playing...) Tony Hawk 2 on the Dreamcast, I was expecting the first game in the series to be almost as fun and addictive.  Sadly, there's a lot missing here.  While the later Tony Hawk games may be a little too complicated for their own good, the original Tony Hawk's Pro Skater doesn't offer the player enough tricks and combo opportunities to keep them entertained for long.  Also, if you're expecting to just pop the game into your Playstation 2, turn on the texture smoothing, and enjoy a near-Dreamcast quality experience, you can forget it.   It's not just the polygonal graphics that are rough, but the frame rate and gameplay as well.  There's a much greater difference in quality between this game and its Dreamcast sequel than I ever would have imagined.

I was hoping to use Tony Hawk's Pro Skater on the Playstation as a stopgap... something to keep me satisfied until I could find the Dreamcast version of the game.  However, my experience with the game on the Playstation has only made me want the original Tony Hawk on the Dreamcast even more.  It may not have all the features in the later games, but it does give you an entirely different selection of places to skate, and I'd like to try them all on a system that can really do the Tony Hawk series justice.

July 30, 2004...  Move Over, Yoo-Hoo! (also, GBA SP impressions)

Remember, when you're hot, tired, and in desperate need of an endorsement deal, nothing beats the cold, refreshing taste of Butterfinger soda!  It's the peanut butter and chocolate flavored soft drink preferred by the cast of Tony Hawk's Underground, as well as custom characters like this crude approximation of Dan Hibiki.  When you've got a thirst that really sticks to the roof of your mouth, wash it away with a Butterfinger soda!  This message has been brought to you by Nestle and Activision.

OK, I'm done being silly now.  I recently took that Classic Retro Game Boy Advance SP out of layaway and have been testing it out for the past couple of days.  I'm happy with it so far... the side lighting makes the screen visible in nearly any condition, the built in lithium battery holds a charge for an extra, extra, extra long time, and the system is small enough to carry in your pocket with room to spare for your wallet and some change.  That's in sharp contrast to the first color handheld, the Atari Lynx.  I did somehow manage to fit the whole thing in my pocket once, but I must have been wearing clown pants or something at the time.  Also, walking around with that gigantic piece of hardware made it look as though I was hung like the Washington Monument.

Wait, why was this a bad thing again?

July 27, 2004...  The Big Three, Together At Last!

The shock of seeing Sega's games on Nintendo's systems may have worn off by now, but it's hard not to be surprised when you see all three major console manufacturers from the 90's mentioned in the same game.  These screens are from the recently released US version of Astro Boy: The Omega Factor.  Although they're referring specifically to the film studio and not SCEA, I still can't help but laugh when I see Sony's name prominently displayed in a Game Boy Advance game.  Perhaps we'll be seeing a lot more of this in the future, after the PSP goes down in flames and Sony's forced to turn to Nintendo to publish portable versions of their most popular games.

July 21, 2004...  There's No Audience Like a Target Audience

Not content with merely neglecting older gamers, video game companies like Midway have taken things one step further and started to antagonize them.  In an article on the "thugification of gaming", written for the 1UP web site by Jeremy Parish, Midway marketing analyst Mark Allison makes it abundantly clear that his company has no interest in satisfying the needs of gamers who've fallen out of the 18-34 age demographic.  He goes on to characterize them as loud-mouthed nerds obsessed with fantasy games, as if everyone who hits the age of 35 magically transforms into the Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons.

I shouldn't be surprised by these comments, nor should I resent Midway as much as I do for making them.  After all, I'm still five years away from slipping out of the age group the company thinks is so important.  Still, their completely writing off customers who want games that AREN'T stupid and phat and poppin' fresh doesn't sit well with me.  Sure, marketing exclusively to casual gamers may bring in the noise, bring in the bucks at first.  However, when you ignore or even mock the concerns of the industry's core audience, who will continue to play video games even after it stops being cool to do so, you're setting yourself up for a lot of misery (and bankruptcy) in the future.

I seriously thought about purchasing Midway Arcade Treasures, but after reading this article, I think I'll just rent it, or buy it used.  Since I'm one of those gamers who likes fairies and dragons, my money's no good at Midway anyway, right?

July 19, 2004...  That's the Way I Like It

I normally use this site to air my grievances about video games, buuut since I've been in a better mood than usual lately (more hours and pay will do that to a guy), and you've probably grown tired of my bitching about everything under the sun, I'm going to try something different and discuss everything I LIKE about video games.

I LIKE... the Nintendo GameCube.  I wasn't sure what to think of this system when it was released three years ago, but after buying a GameCube for a ridiculously low price, I just don't know what I'd do without it.  It's cheap, it's fun, and it's got a bunch of must-have games you just can't have on any other system.  The GameCube is also better supported by third party developers than its predecessor, the Nintendo 64.  Some big-name games aren't released on all three systems (lousy Rockstar...), but the ones that are look better than they do on the Playstation 2 and can be found for fifteen dollars or less.

I LIKE... Tony Hawk.  Not the man, but his games.  I kept my distance from them at first, but I eventually fell prey to the Hawk after picking up the second game for the Dreamcast.  Once you understand the play mechanics and learn to deal with the frustration of wiping out, you'll have a lot of fun stringing together huge combos and catching more air than an industrial-strength fan.  The more recent Tony Hawk's Underground is enjoyable too, although sometimes I wonder if the designers packed TOO much into that game.  There are so many new tricks that it's impossible for anyone but a Tony Hawk expert to keep track of them all.  The Caveman is pretty slick, though... merely getting off your skateboard in the middle of a combo is considered a trick of its own.  Using this, I was able to rack up the kind of insane six figure scores that were once limited to the Tony Hawk elite.  Thanks, Neversoft!

I LIKE... the GameBoy Player.  Snap this adapter onto your GameCube and you'll be able to play all your favorite Game Boy Advance games with a full-sized screen and joystick.  Sure, you could do the same thing with your computer, but where are you gonna find a PC for $150 that can pull off something as complex as Game Boy Advance emulation?  Besides, the GameBoy Player has some exclusive features, like a wide variety of colorful frames and a user interface that syncs up nicely with the frontend built into the standard GameCube.

I LIKE... the NES.  So much so that I'm spending a hundred clams on the Game Boy Advance SP Classic, which looks like a pocket NES.  Do I need another Game Boy Advance?  Hell no... even if I lost my original system and my computer blew a fuse, I could still play the games on my GameBoy Player.  Still, how could anyone resist one of their favorite systems, shaped like one of their OTHER favorite systems?

Speaking of the NES, you're probably wondering why its games have been the subject of so many mini-reviews here on the Blitz.  Well, here's the scoop... I'm working on a project with a few friends of mine, and the reviews you've been seeing were originally intended to be included in it.  The reviews were a little too verbose, however, which is why I've decided to publish them here.  I can't tell you much else about the project, except that we should have it finished in time for the twentieth anniversary of the best game console ever made.

July 15, 2004...  Concerns about the Next Xbox

You've got to love those wacky monopolists at Microsoft.  After losing profit on the XBox for three straight years, they're STILL convinced that they can dominate the video game industry by continuing to throw money at it.  Company CEO Steve Ballmer has made the lofty claim that Microsoft will knock Sony out of the console wars after the next generation of game systems have been released.  You've got to admire his boundless optimism, but let's look at the facts here.  Microsoft has yet to make a penny on the XBox, despite investing billions of dollars in both the unit itself and its XBox Live online service.  Moreover, the versatility that's made the XBox famous among hackers may not be a feature in Microsoft's next system.  There's already talk that the NextBox will use different hardware, will not include a hard drive, and will not offer backward compatibility with the original XBox.  This is clearly an attempt to keep computer geeks from modifying the system to run Linux, but this move could ultimately prove Microsoft's undoing.  Ironically, Linux is why their console has sold so well in the first place.  Take out that functionality and you've got just another game system, with nothing to distinguish it from its competitors.

While Microsoft and Sony fight over the majority of the market share, Nintendo will continue to thrive by catering to the audiences that the other companies neglect.  And mouth breathing XBox and Playstation fanboys will continue to predict doom and gloom for Nintendo, even while the company makes millions of dollars from families, children, and old-school gamers who have nowhere else to go for their gaming enjoyment.  In their quest for market domination, Microsoft has forgotten that it's better to make a small profit than a HUGE loss.

July 12, 2004...  Pinching Pennies (reviews of Lupin, Namco Museum, etc.)

The only thing better than adding a bunch of new games to your collection is finding them for absurdly low prices.  Circuit City recently unloaded many of their older console and Game Boy Advance titles for a shocking five dollars apiece, and even Midwestern retail outlet Meijer has gotten into the act, offering select games for ten dollars.  They made the deal even sweeter with a special one day offer, slashing the price of every second game you purchased in half!  Even this didn't make Meijer's offer quite as generous as Circuit City's, but it was more than enough to convince me to pick up four games.

The original plan was to get as many GameCube titles as I could afford, but as always, money was tight, and I didn't find enough dirt-cheap Cube games that I really wanted to justify picking up more than two of them.  I gave Spawn: Armageddon and Rayman 3 some consideration, but I've been burned on too many Spawn games to take a risk with this one, and I hated Rayman's new, more extreme character design.  I decided instead to pick up Namco Museum and Legends of Wrestling II, and see what the store had in the way of bargain basement Playstation 2 titles.

The first thing I noticed is that although there were twice as many PS2 games available, not nearly as many of them were marked at clearance prices.  I did manage to find a few, though... like Lupin the Third: Treasure of the Sorcerer King.  This was perched on the top shelf, hidden from most gamers and nearly out of my reach.  Maybe they wouldn't have had to cut the price if they actually bothered to make it, you know, visible.  Er, anyway, I had the money for one more game, so I picked up Black and Bruised, a comical boxing title often compared to Mike Tyson's Punch Out!!

So, how were the games?  Well, half of 'em weren't too shabby.  I didn't care for Legends of Wrestling II at first... the loud, obnoxious rock music and wrestler designs that strike an awkward balance between realism and cartoony exaggeration left me cold.  However, things warmed up pretty quickly when I started the career mode.  You start off wrestling in small arenas with a few dozen people watching your fights, but as you progress, the stadiums get bigger and the crowds become more enthusiastic.  When you graduate from anonymous jobbers to classic wrestling heroes like Hacksaw Jim Duggan, the battles get a lot more intense, and it's not just because the fights are tougher.  It just feels like there's a lot more at stake when you're surrounded by thousands of cheering fans, capturing you on film with every bright flash of their cameras.

I liked Lupin the Third as well... but then again, I'm a little biased, since I'm such a fan of the cartoon that inspired it.  There have been many Lupin games released in the past twenty years, but this is the first one that goes to great lengths to be faithful to the license, rather than shoehorning the crafty crook and his band of thieves into a Rolling Thunder or Tomb Raider clone.  Treasure of the Sorcerer King is a stealth action game, although I wouldn't compare it to Metal Gear Solid... this is more linear, and as you might expect, a lot less serious.  Lupin strikes silly poses behind statues to keep from getting discovered by police officers, and can wallop the cops with a frying pan if he's backed into a corner.  Eventually, you're given the chance to play as Lupin's partners in crime, and there are even unlockable bonuses like mini-games that you can lift from the pockets of your unsuspecting victims.  From what I've seen so far, Treasure of the Sorcerer King seems largely dependant on the player's interest in all things Lupin.  If you can't stand the show, don't even bother with the game, but if you love the wacky antics of that skirt-chasing scoundrel and his friends, you might want to add this to your collection.

However, I wouldn't suggest purchasing either of the last two games under any circumstances.  Namco Museum is yet another in a long line of phoned-in classic game collections by Namco.  If you thought Todd Frye's conversion of Pac-Man was a travesty, just wait until you see what Namco and Mass Media have done to the game on a system many times more powerful than the 2600!  You'd think that a perfect translation of a twenty year old arcade game would be a slamdunk for a powerhouse like the GameCube, but sadly, the graphics still look just as compromised as they did on the Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, and every other system that's been plagued with this collection.  The "arrangements", greatly enhanced sequels to games like Dig Dug and Galaga, could have saved Namco Museum, but they too suffer from compressed graphics and ugly borders that gobble up nearly half the screen.  There are no "tate" (vertical screen) modes, no added features aside from two lackluster hidden games, and frankly, no valid reasons to buy this disc if you've already downloaded MAME on your computer.

Black and Bruised demonstrates much more effort on the parts of the designers, but it isn't much more entertaining.  The only thing it really borrows from Punch Out!! is its selection of stereotyped characters, this time ranging from a hot-tempered Irish lush to Dolly Parton in her younger days.  The gameplay is vastly different, however... it would be a lot more accurate to compare it to that other quickly forgotten boxing game, Ready 2 Rumble.  You're given full run of the ring and can pummel your foes with a large variety of combos.  Unfortunately, most of them are too complicated to memorize, and your foe's weaknesses are too ambiguous to exploit.  These flaws leave you with a frustrating button masher where Latino milquetoasts and demure environmentalists somehow beat muscular drill sargeants and massive prison inmates to a bloody pulp.

Was my spending spree worth the disappointment and the empty wallet?  Yeah, I'd have to say so.  It's been a long time since I've picked up some new games, and even longer since I've used my Playstation 2 for something other than a cheap DVD player.  Also, I can't say that I regret buying either Lupin the Third or Legends of Wrestling II... I'm sure that both games will have a lot to offer if I'm willing to stick with them.

July 7, 2004...  Learning to Love Tony Hawk

Let me tell you, it's not easy to learn to play a game in a genre that's unfamiliar to you.  I learned that lesson in the 90's with Street Fighter II and its many clones, and I'm taking a refresher course in humility (and outright humiliation!) now that I've started the career mode in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2.  I bought the game for my Dreamcast about a month ago just to add it to my collection, but now that I've finished Zelda: The Wind Waker, I figured it was the right time to spend some time with the game and see what all the Hawk-o-maniacs loved so much about the series.

Many hours, bruises, and potentially lethal falls later, I started to earn a whole new respect for the game... not to mention the guys who do this stuff in real life.  After you learn to perform the tricks and open up the secret areas in each stage, Tony Hawk 2 becomes a lot more enjoyable.  Frustration is still a factor at this point- there are bonus items and cash prizes hanging in places Spider-Man couldn't reach, much less an ordinary guy on a skateboard- but ultimately, I'd have to say that Tony Hawk 2 was worth the money, and more importantly, the time I invested in it.