Posts from January, February, and March of 2005.

March 31, 2005... The Wonders of WipeOut Fusion

The unanimous praise of the PSP launch title Wipeout Pure had left me jonesing for some lightning fast, futuristic hoverjet action.  However, since I lack the disposable income to afford a PSP, and any interest in digging out the antiquated original on the Sega Saturn, I had to settle for a used copy of Wipeout Fusion for the Playstation 2 instead.

Most readers have claimed that Wipeout Pure is actually a better game than its console counterpart.  If that's really the case, then it says a great deal about the quality of the PSP extension of the long-running series, because Wipeout Fusion is a darned good game in its own right.  It's got the most responsive controls and the sharpest graphics of any Wipeout title I've ever played, along with unlockable content that gives you even more incentive to demand a rematch after the relentless computer opponents completely humiliate you on the track.

However, having said all that, I definitely can see room for improvement... the kinds of improvements that were most likely made in the PSP version of the game.  Wipeout Fusion doesn't capture the attitude or the eccentric visual style of the titles Psygnosis released for the Saturn and Playstation.  This was THEIR series, after all, and their departure from it leaves Wipeout Fusion without a lot of the defining qualities of the series.  The new designers tried to reproduce the simple but expressive logos and the distinctive fonts spread throughout the first three games, but they just don't have the same quirky flair.

A far more pressing issue are the new rules in the standard game.  No longer are you given three attempts to win each race... if you blow it (or blow up), you take whatever miserable score you've earned and advance to the next track.  This is made even more frustrating by aggressive competitors hellbent on preventing you from completing the race at all.  If you take too much damage on your way to the finish line, your ship will explode, and your standings in the competition will drop through the floor.  Wipeout's always been tough, but the changes in Wipeout Fusion push the game from merely challenging to needlessly frustrating.

Overall, though, the game is quite impressive, and a good sight better than that other futuristic racing title on the PS2, the quickly forgotten Kinetica.  Yeah, that was the game that slapped wheels on scantily clad chicks with big boobs and butts.  It was fun for a few minutes, but it's safe to say that Wipeout Fusion will be spending a lot more time in my Playstation 2.

March 30, 2005... Now You Know Why Evil Will Always Triumph...

I'll warn you upfront... this update is probably going to make both Sony and Nintendo (and Terry Schiavo) supporters pretty angry.  This rant might be mean, nasty, and just plain unfair, but this site's never subscribed to the philosophy of "we report, you decide" anyway.  It's always been closer to "I complain, you sit down and shut the hell up."

I used to think that the competition between the Nintendo DS and Sony's recently released PSP was a battle between good and evil.  After some thought, I've come to the conclusion that I was only half right.  The honest truth is that this is, more than anything else, a fight between dumb and evil.

I've been quite vocal about my contempt for Sony, and my frustration with the electronics giant setting foot in the handheld market.  I don't like the way the company has reshaped the video game industry, making aesthetics a higher priority than gameplay, and I don't want Sony to bring this insubstancial style of game design to a segment of the industry which has long been protected from it.  Now that Sony's muscled its way onto the portable gaming scene, 2D gaming is in serious danger of being stomped out of existance.  Sure, sure, the PSP offers a handful of launch titles like Lumines and Darkstalkers: Chaos Tower, but this is a bait and switch tactic to make old-school gamers more comfortable about the purchase.  In no time at all, the PSP's software library will be inundated with the same tiresome procession of first-person shooters and Grand Theft Auto clones we've seen on its big brother, the PS2.

However, Nintendo has its own issues... big issues.  Big, stupid issues.  To put it bluntly, if Nintendo's upper management were any more brain-dead, the Supreme Court would be rushing to pull out their feeding tubes.  The software for Nintendo's latest handheld system has been trickling in at an agonizingly slow pace.  Games which were promised for the Nintendo DS late last year (including highly anticipated yet-to-be-releases like Super Mario Kart) have been delayed repeatedly.  There are so few titles currently available for the DS that its software selection is on the verge of being eclipsed by the freshly released PSP's.  Frankly, I haven't seen a selection of games this small on a Nintendo system since the ill-fated Virtual Boy.  This strengthens the critics' withering comparisons of the two consoles, and makes even Nintendo's most loyal fans wonder if the DS will follow its predecessor down the long, lonely road to obscurity.

I'm sure Nintendo has the same sad excuse it always does when it gets its ass beaten by its competitors... "Oh, we're not competing with those guys at all!  We're offering something so totally different that you just can't compare it to other game consoles!"  Fine, whatever.  You're entitled to your delusions, but they don't absolve you of your responsibility to support a product that your increasingly disillusioned customers paid nearly two hundred dollars to take home.  They had faith in the Nintendo DS, even though they knew something more practical and functional was just around the corner.  Why are you betraying their trust by releasing so few games, and even fewer ones that take full advantage of the system's touchpad and dual screens?

What happened to you, Nintendo?  You used to fight so hard to stay on top... now, you're satisfied resting at the bottom of the heap in your permanent vegetative state, letting the world pass you by.  When people talk about video games these days, you're no longer the first word on their lips... in fact, it's doubtful that you're mentioned at all.  This is the most important battle of your company's history.  You simply can't afford to phone this one in.

I can't justify the purchase of a Nintendo DS, even though I recently lost my Game Boy Advance and am hurting for a replacement.  I don't WANT to buy a PSP either, but its more appealing selection of games (EA's unimaginative schlock aside) and greater functionality makes it a smarter purchase than its closest competitor.  I can't trust Sony to give me the games I want to play, but at least they'll give me SOMETHING.

I think that this classic quote from my favorite film sums up the situation perfectly.

March 17, 2005... Worst... Segue... Ever.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone!  It's time to break out the green and, uh, read the latest Fighter's Misery update, written by guest writer John Roche!

All right, that was the worst segue ever.  I've been doing a lot of freelance writing in the past two weeks and I'm running out of clever things to say.

March 10, 2005... Itagaki Likes Boobs; Just Not Bare Ones

I heard a bunch of hackers were sued by Tecmo for making a patch of Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball that removes all the girls' bikinis.  This was most likely done at the insistence of Dead or Alive creator Tomonobu Itadaki, as he's always complained rather loudly whenever someone takes his already exploitative games and takes the final step (however small it may be) that turns them into softcore porn.

Itadaki has openly ridiculed the hackers who've peeled off the bikinis in the Dead or Alive games, challenging them to use their programming skills for something truly worthwhile.  Well, I've got a challenge for you, my good sir.  If the integrity of your software is really that important to you, then it's time to prove it by making a truly outstanding game that DOESN'T rely on outrageous sex and violence as a crutch.  You've done a fine job of bringing Ninja Gaiden back from the dead... now let's see you put your talent to good use by resurrecting another Tecmo classic that's long overdue for a comeback. 

Here's my challenge to you, Mr. Itadaki.  Give us a remake of the exceptional puzzle game Solomon's Key.  Make it as good as the innovative but sadly overlooked NES release, and do it without the big breasts and bigger explosions.  Can you put all that pandering nonsense behind you and make a game that's fun to play simply because it's brilliantly designed... or are you just another loud-mouthed developer drunk on his own inflated sense of self-worth?  You've constantly bragged to us about your integrity, Mr. Itadaki.  Now prove to us that it exists.

February 26, 2005... Have You Played Monogatari Today?

Sno 'nuff, the compression utility I was using was to blame for Cave Story's problems.  After downloading WinRAR and using it to extract the game's files, I've had no issues with it whatsoever. 

It was a bit of a hassle to get the game to work (at least at first), but I must admit that it was worth the trouble.  People have compared Cave Story to the later Wonder Boy games, but the vast selection of guns, along with missiles that are extremely powerful but must be regularly replenished, reminds me a lot more of Metroid and its sequels. 

Its lineage may be open to debate, but there's no question that Cave Story is a very endearing game.  The square-headed, simply drawn characters have a look that's abstract, yet surprisingly expressive... kind of like the characters in a Hello Kitty cartoon, or the weirdest bosses in Treasure's classic Gunstar Heroes.  Some of the stars of Cave Story might be just a little too strange for their own good, like the giant suitcase you battle thirty minutes after the game begins, but overall, I like the quirky visual style. 

I'm also enjoying the gameplay... it can get a little repetitive, but the large selection of weapons, coupled with an excellent English translation courtesy of the fine folks at Aeon Genesis, will give you more than enough incentive to keep coming back even after you've blasted the thirty-seventh square elephant.

You can get a copy of Cave Story for yourself at this address.  Be sure to follow it up with this English patch by Aeon Genesis... there's a lot of text in the game and you'll need a translation to know where you'll need to go next.

February 23, 2005... The Low-Down Dirty File Compression Blues

I think I figured out why I haven't been able to get Cave Story to run on my computer.  I used an ancient .LZH program written in DOS to decompress the file I'd downloaded, and while there weren't any apparent errors during the extraction process, I never had any luck getting the program to run properly.  I've tried running Cave Story on two different machines without success, so I have to assume that the fault lies with the decompression utility I was using, and not the file itself.

So why would I use such an old file unzipper when I could download something native to Windows that offers more features?  I dunno... I'm just stubborn, I guess.  I resent that people insist on using forty seven million different compression formats when ZIP has been around for nearly ten years, and has since been accepted by many as the industry standard.  Sure, sure, the other formats offer a higher rate of compression, but any time you save by downloading a file in a funky compression format will just be spent searching for a utility that can handle it.  Isn't it enough that I already have ZipCentral and 7-Zip on my computer?  Do I really have to congest my start bar with even more programs?  I'm sorry, but it's just annoying.  My advice to anyone out there uploading files... unless you're sending entire DVDs through BitTorrent, don't force people to bend over backwards to comply with some flavor of the month decompression format.  You know you're just going to abandon it in a heartbeat for the next esoteric format that shaves a whopping three bytes from the size of your files.

Anyway, MAME: Full Access is finished, and it's looking mighty good if I do say so myself.  I've made some changes to the format to differentiate it from, ahem, other MAME review columns, and I think pitting three games against one another, rather than reviewing them seperately, gives MAME: Full Access the kind of competitive spirit that was missing from my reviews on Digital Press.

February 17, 2005... The Best Things in Life ARE Free!

I've really been getting into computer freeware and shareware lately.  Maybe it's because the games are dirt cheap, and maybe it's because they're usually the kinds of immensely fun 2D action titles we never get to see on game consoles anymore.  I'm not sure, but one thing I do know is that I just can't get enough of them.  I had a lot of fun with the Jets 'n Guns demo, and I was extremely impressed with what I've played of BreakQuest... it really is the pinnacle of the evolution of Breakout games.  Every issue I had with the otherwise enjoyable Arkanoid series has been addressed in BreakQuest... even that pesky last brick you can never seem to get rid of is no longer a problem, since the game eventually throws you a weapon if you can't take the brick out on your own.

However, there are some games that just don't want to start on my computer, like the critically acclaimed Cave Story (Doukutsu Monogatari).  It doesn't matter how I adjust the options in the configuration menu... whenever I try to run the game, I get an aggravating error message.  It'd be impossible for anyone short of a master cryptologist to decipher it, but I imagine that it's my increasingly glitchy computer's way of telling me to get bent.

February 14, 2005... Under the Weather on Valentine's Day

Whoo... I don't feel so good right now.  I think I might have strep throat or something.  Sorry for the lack of updates, but I just haven't felt up to working on the site.  I'll probably spend more time drinking tea and sleeping off this infection than anything else.  Some way to spend Valentine's Day, huh?

There's good news, though.  The first installment of MAME: Full Access is almost finished... I just have to do a little research and write the introduction and it'll be ready for publication.  In the meantime, regular contributor John Roche and Fight The (Video) Power author Mickey Tveter have graciously supplied the Blitz with new content.  John's got a review of Power Rangers: Dino Thunder on the cartoon page, and Mickey's cooked up a response to the response to his hilarious feature chronicling his experiences on the short-lived video game show Video Power.

February 4, 2005... The Fall of Full Spectrum

I'm on an updating streak today!  Submitted for your approval is a new entry in the Fighter's Misery feature, and John Roche's opinion of the weird pseudo-cartoon Tom Goes to the Mayor.  Finally, there's a new review at the bottom of this page.  And to think I'd originally intended that space for daily game reviews... yeesh!

Finally, you'll notice that the Full Spectrum logo is gone.  I haven't updated the premium content in nearly a year... frankly, I never had much incentive to do it, since practically nobody was sending me donations.  What will more than likely happen is that all the premium content I had written in the past year will be distributed throughout the main site.  It's so old that I doubt the people who paid for the content will be too upset that it will be available for free from now on.

Replacing the Full Spectrum link is a progress bar for my book, Awesome NES.  Each green section represents a letter of the alphabet whose licensed NES games have all been reviewed.  I've been bouncing around from letter to letter, so the progress bar isn't entirely sequential.  Also, "Z" seems to be missing in FireFox, and I still haven't found a way to make it show up.  I don't think I'll ever understand the way that browser does things...

February 2, 2005... Suffering from MAME Rage

You could only imagine my surprise when I discovered that MAMExpose, the column I had written for Digital Press before its editor saw fit to stab me in the back, is still being published on that site.  Seems that Low Blow Joe thinks that it's perfectly fine to continue using the concept I'd created without my involvement or consent.

If you happen to visit that site regularly, just keep in mind that the bastardized version of MAMExpose that's currently being published on Digital Press is not written, endorsed, or even tolerated by me.  It's a phony, and a cheap imitation of my work.  If you want genuine coverage of the world's most popular arcade emulator from the mind behind the real MAMExpose, keep reading the Blitz.  We'll have something for you in a month that'll blow away anything Sans-Testiclese has to offer.

January 27, 2005... Hey, Weren't You on Doogie Houser?

Maybe I'm just cranky from having to redesign the review page to make it compatible with both Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer, but I'm starting to get my hate on for G4's Kevin Periera.  I actually used to like the guy, but he's become increasingly self-absorbed as he continues to spread through the network like a smarmy virus.  The last straw was when he replaced Patrick Norton on TechTV's flagship series The Screen Savers.  The show, along with everyone on it, has been dumbed down considerably since Kevin's arrival.  The helpful computer advice once regularly dispensed on The Screen Savers has almost completely dried up, replaced with stale gaming news and vapid guest hosts who look like they stepped out of a Gap commercial.  On the rare occasions that The Screen Savers DOES answer incoming calls, G4's contempt for its viewers is made even more obvious by Kevin's flippant, even insulting responses.  Hey, Kev, you do know that you're supposed to be helping people out here, right?  If not, you might want to start doing that, instead of, you know, acting like a world class asshole.

But yeah, as I was saying earlier, I'm retooling the site to make it Firefox compliant.  Some design elements that show up as I'd intended them to in Internet Explorer just don't when you view them in Mozilla Firefox, so I've got to change the Blitz to make it play well with all the browsers out there.  This is going to take a while, and there are bound to be some mistakes made along the way.  If you happen to find any broken links or other design flaws, just let me know and I'll get them ironed out right away.  Just one more thing before I go... I'd like to extend my thanks to Random Terrain from the Atari Age forum for his advice on a universal site design.

January 25, 2005... Georgia on My Mind (with apologies to Ray Charles)

I'm back from Atlanta!  I've learned a lot from the trip... like how much I love the seaweed salad they serve at sushi restaurants.  Slimy, yet satisfying!  I've also learned that you should never, ever drink Beverly when you're visiting the World of Coca-Cola, and that you've got to keep a tight grip on your Game Boy Advance at the airport if you expect to bring it back home with you.  That was an especially painful lesson, but at least it gives me an excuse to replace it with a Nintendo DS!

Now that I'm back, I'll be doing freelance work for a top-secret project, but I should have plenty of time to update the site as well.  Today, we've got a review of Resident Evil 4, the game that takes the survival horror series in a welcome new direction.  In a couple of days, John Roche will chip in reviews of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and the Cartoon Network television series Tom Goes to the Mayor.  After that, I'll update Fighter's Misery, introducing the world to Reikai Doushi.  This cornball beat 'em up combines Chinese mythology with claymation for an experience that's even more ridiculous than most of the fighting games featured on this page.  Now that's an accomplishment!  If only the game were as fun as it is stupid...

January 13, 2005... The Origins of Awesome NES

I've been out of the game for a while, haven't I?  Sorry about that... a lot of stuff has happened in the past week that's kept me from updating the site.  I can't tell you much about it, but rest assured that this is very cool stuff indeed.

However, I CAN discuss a side project that's been eating up a lot of my spare time.  I've resumed work on the NES book, finishing a large chunk of the reviews that will appear in the finished product.  I've also been talking to other writers who've expressed an interest in contributing to the guide, and have come up with a tentative title for the book.  How does "Awesome NES: The Unauthorized Guide to the World's Greatest Game Console" sound?

I've also managed to finish the second chapter of my Space Invaders retrospective, titled Assault of the Invaders.  It's a little dry compared to the feature's first volume, but the reviews are longer and more informative, so it all evens out in the end.  If any of you gaming historians out there feel that I've left anything out, just drop me a line and I'll be sure to revise the page accordingly.

January 7, 2005... Never Buy a Joystick from a Waterfowl with Jowls

I may have been a little hasty in my judgment of the Pelican Real Arcade Stick.  After a week of use, I've started to find dents in its armor, and pretty big ones at that.  The stick stopped working with my Playstation 2, leading me to believe that it had shorted out, and that I was out forty dollars. 

After some research and a little experimentation, I discovered that the situation was a whole lot worse than I'd thought.  It wasn't the controller that was damaged, oh no... the truth is that the controller had damaged my game system!  I talked to the folks at the Shoryuken message board, and they revealed to me that the Pelican Real Arcade Stick is powered by the components that normally keep the motors in the Dual Shock controller spinning.  Unfortunately, the stick also has a nasty habit of burning out these parts.  This means that I'm not only left without the vibration feature in my favorite games, but can't play my favorite PS2 fighting games the way they were meant to be played!  Oh, the pain of it all!

There is hope, however.  There's a generous warranty included with the Pelican Real Arcade Stick, covering both the controller and any systems it might damage while using it.  I've kept all the paperwork needed to take advantage of this warranty, but to be honest I don't like the thought of being left without the console I play the most... and I REALLY don't like having to pay big bucks to mail in both the PS2 and this ginormous arcade stick.

On the plus side, the stick still works great with my GameCube and Dreamcast.  This suggests that only the Playstation 2 has been damaged, and that I could just take it to a repair shop for a quick fix.  However, after this unfortunate incident, I'd think twice about using the Pelican Real Arcade Stick with my PS2... and that, sadly, is the main reason I bought it.  Looks like my never-ending quest to find the ultimate joystick has resumed once again...

January 5, 2005...  So Poor I Can't Even Pay Attention

Well, that's not good.  I had planned to write more articles and reviews for The Gameroom Blitz this year, but now that I'm unemployed and have no convenient way to update the site, that's probably not going to happen.  Hopefully I'll find a new job soon... if I'm really lucky, I'll even be able to afford Internet access at home, and I won't have to rely on the kindness of strangers (and public libraries) for all my Web surfing needs.

Now that I have plenty of time on my hands, I probably should return to college.  I'm just thiiiiis close to earning an associates' degree, which would look better on a resume than the computer repair certificate I currently own.  Besides, college was kind of fun... the intellectual challenge provided by my classes kept me sharp and focused.