SPRING 2006

Posts from April, May, and June 2006.

June 29, 2006...  Inty Fresh! (the editor buys an Intellivision)

THE FAT LADY CAN'T SING: Or watch films, or run Flash games, or read PDF documents. That's the news about the web browser recently released for the Nintendo DS in Japan. It's far less flexible than the browser included in later firmware updates for the PSP, but at least the touchscreen built into the DS makes it easier to tap in websites and other information. · · · POLISHED STEEL: Rumor has it that Ubisoft is returning to the drawing board for its first Wii release, Red Steel. The first person shooter/slicer was hyped to the heavens by Game Informer, but criticized by practically everyone else for control that seemed more than a little rusty. Here's hoping that Ubisoft can work out these kinks before it's released. · · · SEVEN THOUSAND?!: No snappy headlines necessary... the number says it all. Sony is vowing that up to seven THOUSAND Playstation games will be available for download for the PSP by the end of next year. It seems unlikely at best, when you consider the difficulties of procuring the rights to third party titles, but only time (specifically, next Christmas) will tell. · · ·

I better get in one more post before the month ends, huh?

First things first... you may notice something missing from the main page.  I've removed the daily reviews, because what had originally been "daily" quickly turned into "weekly," then "monthly," then "bleh, I don't feel like it."  I've given thought to replacing it with a Wiki; a more dynamic page that could be updated by not only myself, but the readers of the site.  However, judging from how the forum turned out (population: three crickets), I doubt that either my reader base or myself have what it takes to keep it updated on a regular basis.

All right, what else?  I picked up an Intellivision game system with sixteen boxed games last weekend.  It took a little fixin' to get it in full working condition, but after popping open one of the controllers and cleaning up the plastic membrane under the keyboard, it's working as well as it did the moment it was taken out of the box.  Granted, since this is an Intellivision, that may not be saying much.  Nevertheless, I'll finally have the chance to play my all-time favorite conversion of Burgertime, a game so incredible that it actually blows away its NES counterpart.  And after a little more garage sailing, I'll be able to plug in the voice synthesizer and take to the skies, bombing German factories while a co-pilot plucked from Mayberry RFD applauds me for my efforts.

Ah, nostalgia.  You truly are the wonder drug that does wonders!

GOOD THINGS COME TO THOSE WHO WAIT: But do we have to wait this long? PSOne downloads for the PSP won't be available until October, a long long ways away for anyone who wants to scratch their itch for 1990's nostalgia. There's good news for the impatient, though. If you're not a fan of the waiting game, you could always grab Korea's GP2X and run Playstation games on that instead! · · · TICK TOCK, CAPCOM: Speaking of delays, it looks like Xbox 360 owners will be waiting until the end of July to play Street Fighter II Hyper Edition with their friends. Seems that Capcom is having trouble making the game lag-free, which is kind of silly when you consider how well other, considerably more complex Xbox 360 games work online. C'mon, Capcom, get the lead out! · · · SWEET FIFTEEN: If the three Sonic Advance games aren't enough to satisfy your appetite for speedy hedgehogs, there's good news. Sega is releasing a 15th Anniversary Edition of Sonic the Hedgehog's first Genesis hit for the Game Boy Advance. Sonic will be armed with his speed dash in this game, but there's no news on whether or not he'll be paired with another dopey sidekick. · · ·

June 26, 2006...  With Apologies to Phil Collins (the editor buys a DS Lite)

The Lite, the Lite, the Liiiite!  Oh, ohhh!  We're gonna make it right, more light and bright tonight!  Oh, ohhh!

Got some money in my pocket... spent it on DS, even though I 'ready got it!  It'll be number twoooooo!
So please, don't make no more!  I already feel, like a Nintendo whore!  What am I gonna doooooo?


As you can tell from the mangled Genesis lyrics above, I'm the owner of a Nintendo DS Lite.  I actually bought the system a couple of days after the launch, but chose not to mention it until now.  Really, what's there to discuss?  It's a glossy redesign of Japan's favorite handheld game system, looking almost enough like an iPod to forgive those dumb rumors about Nintendo's impending acquisition by Apple.  It doesn't play any games that the original DS couldn't... it just does the job better, with a brighter screen (we're talking supernova here) and a directional pad that's no longer flush with the system.

It's important to note that the system isn't entirely improved over the original.  The contoured design and less slick plastic of the DS Phat made it easier to hold, and Game Boy Advance cartridges didn't jut out of the bottom of the system like they do in the new DS.  Also, the DS Lite's buttons feel cheap.  They're responsive enough while playing games, but they shift around like they could fall out if you turned the system upsidedown and shook it for a couple of seconds.

Despite its minor shortcomings, I've decided to stick with the DS Lite, and gave the old system and a copy of Brain Age to my parents.  It was a real thrill to watch the two of them get hooked on this game.  It's not all that surprising that my mother would enjoy it... she's never objected to playing one of Konami's more whimsical arcade oldies, like Frogger or Circus Charlie.  However, I thought my seventy year old stepfather would be more resistant to Brain Age's charm.  I've never seen him so much as pick up a joystick in the twenty plus years I've known him, but he really seems to dig the game's mental exercises.  I guess Nintendo had the right idea about making their products more appealing to older customers... if my own experience with my parents is any indication, their plan is working!

All right, enough about that.  You've probably come to the Blitz looking for new site content, and today, we actually have some.  Systematix is the next feature on the site to be given an overhaul.  Not only has the layout been made more colorful and dynamic, but the article has been split into three seperate pieces.  The oldest system reviews (some dating back to 1996, when the site first debuted!) have been put in a special legacy section.  The 2003 update, which introduced the system cross-referencing Jessboard, has been moved to its own page, while the latest installment of Systematix will be the one readers will be directed to when they click the Systems button on the top of the page.

I've added a chapter to Systematix, by the way.  This time, the Blitz is stuck in the middle with those game systems that were neither good nor bad enough to really leave an impact on the industry.  Everything from the Xbox 360 to the Atari Jaguar are covered in this update, ensuring that there's something for everybody who plays video games.

TIME IS ON THEIR SIDE: Nintendo received a welcome shot in the arm when Time Magazine gave its best gadget of the month award to the DS Lite. Time praised both the system and its selection of games, which appeal to more than the usual 16-24 age demographic. Now that's news Nintendo can use! · · · JOIN THE CLUB? WE WISH!: In other DS news, Nintendo has finally released a Game+Watch collection for the dual screen portable. The only problem is, you've gotta be a member of Club Nintendo to get it. Did I mention that you've got to be Japanese to get in this club? Yeah, it breaks my heart too. · · · THE JOKE'S ON US: Batman: The Animated Series star Mark Hamill has been hired to play criminally insane kingpin Majima in the upcoming Sega release Yakuza. Odds are ten to one that Mark will break out his tired Joker voice for this role... you know, just like he's done with all his other VO jobs. · · ·

June 18, 2006...  A Tale of Scrolls and Souls (game reviews)

Advance Theory's the next page on the Blitz to get a makeover.  Just like Saikyo Crusher, you'll find links to related pages and outside sites nestled in the sidebar.  It's one-stop shopping convenience for all your web surfing needs!

Also, my latest article for 1UP.com went live late last week.  I swear, I always seem to be the last to know...  Anyway, if you want to check it out, just click this link!  Both classic video game fans and newcomers to the scene should get a kick out of this one, as it covers the best play mechanics from the past thirty years of gaming.

So, about those brief game reviews I promised earlier...

THE ELDER SCROLLS IV: OBLIVION:  There are, at last count, about fifty games available for the Xbox 360.  However, there's only one you've got to have, and this is it.  Oblivion is the first game that really makes me proud to own Microsoft's latest system, and one of the only role-playing adventures that hands full control over to the player.  Once you've finished the tutorial, your next quest is entirely up to you.  Heck, you don't even need to start a quest if you don't feel like it!  You can just take a lengthy trip around the kingdom, admiring the lush scenery while hacking up any wolves and bandits foolish enough to cross your path.  It's the first sandbox game with a purpose... even when you're just fooling around, you're strengthening your character's abilities and making him (or her, your choice!) better prepared for later challenges.  Oblivion could use work in a couple of areas... the frame rate chokes and sputters in more intense moments, the fighting could offer more variety, and half the male cast sounds like Optimus Prime.  That's pretty much it for the complaints, though.  With over a hundred hours of gameplay packed onto the disc, even the dizzyingly high sixty dollar price tag is easy to justify.

GRADIUS COLLECTION:  Gamers who've been in the hobby for a while have come to expect a trade-off from collections like this one.  Either you get a whole bunch of badly antiquated 8-bit games (Namco Museum, Taito Legends), or a small handful of titles that aren't nearly as far behind the curve (Midway Arcade Treasures 3, Sonic Gems).  With only five games, Gradius Collection falls into the latter category. However, some of these titles were released so recently that it almost seems like an insult to call them "classics."  Gradius IV in particular was one of the Playstation 2's launch titles at the turn of the century, and Gradius Gaiden isn't too far behind, hitting Japanese store shelves in 1998.  Gradius Gaiden is the very best of the bunch... with its dazzling 32-bit special effects and tight gameplay that upholds the Gradius standard of excellence, it's one of the best side-scrolling shoot 'em ups ever made.  Whatever you choose, you're sure to get a lot more alien-blasting excitement than you would in a prehistoric Namco Museum shooter like Baraduke or Sky Kid.  And oh, did I mention the save states?  You can save your progress any time you like in any of these five viciously difficult games... a feature which is sure to save at least one player the two hundred dollars they would have otherwise lost by launching their PSP at the nearest wall.

SOUL CALIBUR III:  Soul's in control!  Soul's on a roll!  Soul's gonna win the equivalent of the Super Bowl!  Er, uh, sorry.  Soul Calibur has returned, bringing its lethal elegance back to the Playstation 2 for another round of weapon-based fighting action.  The first thing you'll ask yourself when you pop in the disc is this... "Hey, where the heck is the GameCube version?"  Once you've accepted the loss of Link (perhaps cushioning the blow by reminding yourself that all of Todd MacFarlane's characters hit the nearest exit along with him), the next thing that'll spill out of your mouth is an expletive, followed by "Why is everything so fast now?"  Finally, you'll be left at a loss for words when you discover that the arcade mode lets you choose your own path through the game (good), but throws in Dragon's Lair-style cinemas that punish you for not pressing the right button at the right time (bad).  Little else in Soul Calibur III will be a surprise... the game looks even better than past incarnations on the GameCube and Dreamcast, and there's even more fun stuff to unlock (for both the established cast of characters as well as heroes you've created yourself).

June 15, 2006...  Pop Goes the Weasel (Jak X Combat Racing review)

Not only has the Dan Hibiki page been updated, it's been completely revamped!  It now more closely resembles the index page, with the same white and blue color scheme.  I've also added quick links in the side bar, so readers can visit related pages on this site.  This design will likely find its way to other unfurnished sections of the Blitz, so if you haven't already gotten used to the look, you'd better start now!

And now, since I can't think of anything else to talk about, here are the games I've been playing lately!

NEW SUPER MARIO BROS.:  There's not much new here, but boy, is it super!  New Super Mario Bros. takes most of its inspiration from the very first game in the series, with linear level designs and a small handful of largely unexciting power-ups.  However, there are bits and pieces taken from other Super Mario Bros. games, and there's even a little Metroid action in spots.  If you hope to discover new areas, you'll need to hold onto special power-ups that let you slip through cracks and break through otherwise impenetrable barricades.  The graphics aren't as warm and friendly as Super Princess Peach's candy-coated visuals, but with tons of stages (many hidden) and a higher challenge level, you get a lot more game for your money.

JAK X: COMBAT RACING:  Forget that car combat game on the Xbox 360!  Jak X offers twice the excitement for nearly half the price, and all on the humble Playstation 2 hardware.  What makes this more fun than Full Auto, despite an obnoxious cast of characters?  Well, there are more options available to the player... unlike Full Auto, each mode is distinct, ranging from circuit races in the vein of Super Mario Kart to all-out war on open battlefields.  Even the normally annoying time trial races are fun, thanks to freezers strewn throughout the track that briefly stop time, taking the pressure off the player for a couple of seconds.  The music's intense, and the graphics are dazzling, which lots of screen-filling explosions and a style that manages to be cartoony, futuristic, and threatening all at once.

STREET FIGHTER ALPHA ANTHOLOGY:  You've gotta love the idea... five outstanding Street Fighter games, including Capcom's daring experiment in satire Pocket Fighter, rolled together in one collection.  It's a recipe that's made even more tempting by the complete lack of post-match load times and the chance to mix and match characters from all the Alpha games.  However, it doesn't come together as well as you'd expect.  The graphics have been resized, resulting in an odd shimmering effect whenever the background scrolls, and the control lacks that exact precision that players enjoyed in the Saturn games.  Yes, even with Sega's replica Saturn pad, you'll find that attacks just don't flow the way you remember.  And oh, don't get too excited about the Hyper Street Fighter Alpha mode.  Although there's an option to arm your characters with some enhanced moves from the Marvel vs. Capcom series, you won't get them all.  It's worth the thirty dollars, but Street Fighter Alpha Anthology won't make your Sega Saturn obsolete.

Stay tuned for brief summaries of even more games, including Soul Calibur III and that role-playing masterpiece, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion!

ROTTEN TO THE CORE: Ah, what some tech sites WON'T publish to draw in readers! Cnet is reporting that Apple may consider a purchase of Nintendo. If there is any truth to this wild speculation, it's unlikely that such an acquisition will take place. If you don't believe me, just ask Microsoft. · · · WHO WANTS TO BE A HALF-MILLIONAIRE?: Take-Two Interactive is offering a cool $500,000 bonus for any designer that can finish the long-delayed Duke Nukem Forever by the end of the year. Now all they have to do is pay gamers to care about this crusty, neglected franchise, and they might be able to move a few copies! · · · DRAWING A BLANK: The brilliant light gun game Point Blank has dropped its weapon and picked up a pen for its upcoming Nintendo DS debut. Point Blank DS is a straight port of the first game in the series, with the only major change being the switch from a gun to the DS stylus. You COULD still play it with a gun, but it could get a little messy! · · ·

June 12, 2006...  The Future is Now

The Gizmondo article!  She is finished, and she is magnifique, no?

So what else have I been up to these past few days?  Catching up on my nostalgia, mostly.  I ordered a couple of books from Alibris.com and received the first one, Ken Uston's Guide To Home Computers, on Saturday.  I loved Ken Uston's video game books when I was growing up, and it was a lot of fun reading Ken's predictions for the future of technology, which would eventually become my present.

Some of the predictions that the late Mr. Uston made in the book are pretty safe calls, like this one:

...the home computer field is so uniquely dynamic that I'm willing to bet (and give steep odds) that three things will happen:

1.  The hardware and software will get better-- BEYOND BELIEF.
2.  The hardware and software will get cheaper-- BEYOND BELIEF.
3.  We'll be able to do things electronically that we primitive beings cannot even begin to fathom.

As I sit back in my chair, updating a fully illustrated web site, listening to music streamed from an internet radio station, and peering over at a game system capable of Jurassic Park-quality computer rendering, I'd have to say that Ken's forecast is right on target.  Not only are computers capable of feats that few could have imagined in 1982, but they're far cheaper.  A budget model Dell can be had for the same price as a Commodore 64 nearly twenty five years ago, and even with a Celeron processor, it's well over a thousand times more powerful.

One part of Ken's prediction was a bit off, though.  If anything, software prices (especially game prices) have only risen since the embryonic days of home computing.  The games that were set in stone at forty dollars by Atari president Nolan Bushnell have since jumped to sixty with the debut of the Xbox 360, plus a monthly fee for online services.  

Ten years ago, cartridge games for the Super NES, Genesis, and Nintendo 64 actually rose above that amount, tipping the scales at a hundred dollars each for Phantasy Star IV and Virtua Racing!  I won't even bring Neo-Geo games into the equation.  It's only thanks to the compact disc and its descendants that those costs have been kept down to a reasonable amount.

There was one other, purely unintentional prophecy bured in the middle of the book.  Ken made an analogy while explaining software piracy to his readers; a purely theoretical idea that almost borders on clairvoyance.  It went a little something like this:

Just imagine if people could make copies of phonograph records [LPs] on some kind of copying device for a dollar.  That's the kind of problem present here.

What sort of dark magic could extract the music from albums, then trap it inside a mystical artifact that you could fit in the palm of your hand?  And where could you possibly find a service that lets you put songs on this unearthly creation for a dollar each?  Where I ask you, where?

All kidding aside, I wish Ken Uston would have survived long enough to have seen his predictions come true.  The man was truly ahead of the curve, and had he been around through the 1990's, he could have been a major contributor to the technological revolution, throwing his weight behind industry giants like Apple and Microsoft.  Sadly, the professional blackjack player's last gamble was a fatal one... Ken died of a drug-induced heart attack in 1987, shortly after the video game industry got its second wind and the concept of the graphic user interface had begun to take root on computers.

Ken ends the book by saying, "It's going to be exciting just to sit back and watch what happens!!"  It really has been, Mr. Uston.  It really has been.

IT'S NOT A TUMOR- UH, GAME SYSTEM!: Ken Kutaragi and the management at Sony insist that the Playstation 3 is a computer, not a game console. The logic is that it's reasonable to charge six hundred dollars for a state of the art computer... but the problem with this logic is that many Windows-based computers retail for well under that amount. Whoops! · · · RIDLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT: Ridley, the pterodactyl-like enemy that Samus frequently battles in the Metroid series, will be included in the cast of Super Smash Bros. for the Wii. He'll be joined by at least two characters from third party Nintendo games, which have yet to be announced. Here's hoping that Sonic and Mega Man will finally get to meet fist to face! · · · SNOW FALLS: Take-Two Entertainment, masters of all things tacky and tasteless, have made an uncharacteristically classy move by deciding not to publish the drug-dealing simulation Snow. The game was designed as a pumped-up console version of the shareware title Drug Wars, but it looks as though it's going to be put in the deep freeze for good. · · ·

June 8, 2006...  Everything I Know I Learned on Xbox Live

Several things I've learned during the brief time I've owned my Xbox 360...

  • Online gaming is actually pretty fun... you just have to find a game that appeals to you, and opponents who don't act like total jerks.
  • No need to run out and buy a special headset... any old set of cel phone ear buds will plug into the port on the bottom of the Xbox 360 controller.  Thanks to Chris Larson for pointing this out to me! 
  • Full Auto isn't as bad as I thought it was last week, but still not as GOOD as I thought it was at the beginning of the year.  It offers a solid bang for your buck, but isn't the classic it could have been.
  • The walls in Project Gotham Racing 3 are magnetized.  What else could possibly explain my crashing into them despite putting on the brakes five miles in advance?
  • Dead or Alive bosses will only get more and more cheap and aggravating in the future.  In DOA5, your final opponent will be fifty feet tall and swallow you whole the moment the match starts.
  • Once you pop, you can't stop.  Just having an Xbox 360 isn't enough... you're going to want a million accessories for it, ranging from the VGA cable to the high-definition Xbox 360 popcorn popper.
  • Oblivion seems like a pretty intriguing adventure game, even if you can't actually see the exquisitely detailed graphics when you're trapped in those dark, dank dungeons.
  • Crystal Quest still sucks.  Seriously, why did I spend four hundred Microsoft points on this?  It's like Robotron as designed by Ben Stein!

WITH TWO YOU GET ICO: Or Soul Calibur III, or Project Gotham Racing 3, or heck, anything you want! GameStop and EB Games are joining forces to offer a buy two, get one free special. Just pick up three games, and the cheapest is free. And no, wiseguy, I'm not working for GameStop. I just spend so much time there that it SEEMS like I'm an employee. · · · MAIN SCREEN TURN ON: Speaking of package deals, Microsoft will bundle a free copy of Uno with the Xbox Vision camera, due in the middle of September. This is good news for gamers who wanted to use the camera right out of the box... but not so much for those of us who already bought the strangely compelling card game on Xbox Live Marketplace. · · · HOOKED ON THE PLUMBERS: New Super Mario Bros., the 21st century update of the classic platformer series, is the best selling DS game in Japan. That's not a surprise, but what MAY shock you is that nearly a million copies have been sold in its first week of release, ten times that of Japan's second best-selling game according to import news source The Magic Box. · · · END OF AN ERA: Sad news for Space Wars fans as well as video game historians... Alan Kotok recently died in his sleep. Kotok was one of the designers of Space War, the first commercially distributed video game and the inspiration for countless other shooters. Celebrate the passing of this great man by firing up your Vectrex and playing a few rounds of his invention! · · · CALIFORNIA DREAMIN': In an unusually creative outburst, the editors of IGN have revived the Dreamcast section of the site, writing fresh articles and reviews pro bono. There's not much new content there at the moment, but at least all the old stuff (written during IGN's glory) is still there. Now all they need to do is bring back SaturnWorld and we'd be in business! · · · WHAT'S IN THE BOX?: A brand new dashboard update, that's what! Power up your Xbox 360 and connect it to the Internet, and you'll be able to download a firmware update with over a hundred new features. The most important of these, of course, is the ability to download content while playing the software you already have. · · ·

June 5, 2006...  Net Defense

And now, an important public service announcement from The Gameroom Blitz (if you're looking for video game news, you'll find it at the top and bottom of the page):

http://www.boiseweekly.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A162372

Gird your loins folks, because the fight over net neutrality (the right to visit any web site at the top speed of your internet connection) is going to get ugly this week.  The telcoms and cable companies are pushing through a bill that's going to hobble your internet connection, slowing down or even blocking any site that doesn't give the ISPs a boatload of money.

If you care about what YOU can do with YOUR internet, fight with every ounce of energy against the COPE bill!  Call your congressman and demand that net neutrality be preserved, no matter what!  Your freedom and the principles upon which the Internet was founded are at stake!

You'll find more information on net neutrality and how to protect it here:

http://www.savetheinternet.com/ 

May 29, 2006...  This Update Is Scheduled for One Fall

Although I stopped watching the actual sport after WCW closed its doors, I've been thinking a lot about wrestling games recently.  Over the weekend, Stage Select's Chris Larson and myself scoured the Lansing area for used video games, and I went home with WWE Day of Reckoning as well as a Playstation import that really took me by surprise.

WWE Day of Reckoning was impressive, if only for finally giving me a reason to wipe the cobwebs off my GameCube.  I haven't sat down and played the game, but I did set up a tag team exhibition match with four computer opponents, then watched 'em duke it out from the corner of my eye while working at my computer.  I've got to say, the graphics were pretty, well, pretty... all the fighters looked just like their real-life counterparts, and gleamed under the bright lights of the arena as they traded blows.

Sadly, that's only half the picture.  While the characters looked astonishingly lifelike while standing still, their frozen faces and canned animations left them looking like sweat-drenched, spandex-clad robots.  Yuke's should have spent less time touching up the ornate tattoo on The Rock's chest, and invested a little more effort in putting some spring into his step.  It's not just Dwayne Johnson who suffers... all the wrestlers look like they're just going through the motions, as if Vince McMahon slashed their salaries.

Stiff, unenthusiastic animation seems to be a common trend in many of today's video games.  I've noticed it in Electronic Arts' Fight Night Round 3 as well... and this was the Xbox 360 version!  Next generation gaming will never look the part until game companies get their priorities straight and improve the motion capture technology they use, rather than heaping more details on the same wooden puppets.

Oh yeah, that other game I mentioned earlier?  That was Fire Pro Wrestling: Iron Slam '96.  Nothing gets my adrenaline pumping like a great Fire Pro Wrestling game... and this is nothing like one!  Unlike other titles in the long-running series, Iron Slam '96 is in 3D.  The polygonal graphics aren't bad by early Playstation standards, but the gameplay is frustratingly awkward by even the most generous standards.

Landing punches and kicks takes even more guesswork than it did in the previous Fire Pro games, and it's exceedingly difficult to get the upper hand in clenches.  When you lock arms with your opponent, it's a pretty safe bet that you'll be the one hitting the mat.  When your beefy Hulk Hogan clone is constantly losing to someone who looks like the banker from The Lucy Show, you know there's something wrong!

REGGIE RULES NINTENDO: Most fans of the company already were convinced of this, but now Nintendo has made it official. Spokesman Reginald Fil-Aimes has been made the president of Nintendo's American branch due to his extremely aggressive and effective promotion of the DS and the upcoming Wii. I'd normally make a Bewitched joke here, but I'll let Reggie savor the moment. · · · INFINIUM RENAMED PHANTOM: Presumably because the names "Gizmondo" and "game.com" were already taken. Infinium, hoping to fool more investors into dumping money into its sure-fire disaster of a console, has changed its name to Phantom Entertainment. It's a fitting title for the developer of a system which has yet to materialize, four years after it was announced. · · · A LITTLE BACKGROUND: Xbox 360 owners tired of waiting for their demos to dowload will be thrilled with the system update that will be available soon. They'll be able to not only download fresh games while playing the old ones, but create custom gamer tags (about time!) and set bookmarks in their favorite DVD movies. · · ·

May 27, 2006...  A Taste of High-Definition

Is an Xbox 360 truly incomplete without a high-definition display?  Today, I determined to find out.  I set up a ghetto HD rig using a 17 inch CRT monitor, a speaker system I picked up from Goodwill, and an official VGA cable.  At just under forty dollars, that cable was the most expensive ingredient in the recipe, but also the most essential.

After bringing it all together, I switched on the Xbox 360... and sure enough, the picture was crisper and cleaner than it was on my television set.  I just wasn't convinced that it was forty dollars better.  What impressed me a lot more was the speaker system that I put into retirement a few months ago.  The constant explosions in Full Auto shook the walls and made the action more urgent and immersive... even when the frame rate hit single digits.

I dunno... maybe the reason my first high def gaming experience didn't blow my mind is because I bought an ancient computer monitor, instead of doing things right and picking up a thousand dollar LCD television.  I'll admit that even with the dime store display, the graphics did noticably improve... details in Geometry Wars that had disguised themselves on my television suddenly became a lot more obvious on the monitor.  Needless to say, the benefits of the VGA display were even more pronounced in Full Auto... the cars looked as if they rolled straight off the assembly line! 

Despite all that, I can't help but ask myself if it was worth the hassle and expense of going high-def with my Xbox 360.  I also wonder what the heck I was thinking when I put those speakers in my closet!  If my last experience with them was any indication, they won't be going BACK there for a very long time!

THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON TAKING: Thought six hundred dollars was a lot to pay for a Playstation 3? Well, that high cost doesn't stop with the system! According to Games Radar, PS3 titles will come with a license that prevents users from renting or selling the games they've bought. That means no used PS3 games... and no relief for penny-pinched customers. · · · GOOGLE WINS! NEUTRALITY: Exciting news for anyone who's been following the debate over net neutrality. Search engine Google has purchased thousands of miles of "dark," or currently unused, fiber-optic cable buried under the United States. It's speculated that Google will use this cable to supply its customers with a net-neutral ISP. · · · TOM CRUISE FEARS SPACE INVADERS: And not just the ones sent by Xenu! There are reports that Cruise won't allow his children to play video games, or read about them in magazines. They can't even watch television, but what they CAN do is send their allowance to a freakish cult that's years away from buying mass quantities of black Nikes and grape Kool-Aid. · · ·

May 24, 2006...  The Good, the Bad, and the 360

Next generation gaming has arrived at The Gameroom Blitz!  After receiving my latest paycheck, I purchased a used Xbox 360, along with two games and a Microsoft points card.  I even wound up subscribing to Xbox Live Gold for three months.  Why?  Even I'm not sure, since I'm not what you'd call an online gamer.  Just call it an impulse purchase.

Anyway, here's what I like about the Xbox 360 so far... along with some gripes about the system's lesser qualities.

GAMING EXCELLENCE

  • The interface is at least fourteen times better than it was on the original Xbox.  The murky green and black color scheme has been replaced with bright and colorful menus that you can actually READ!  If you don't like what Microsoft has given you, you can always download a new skin for your dashboard, based on any one of a number of Xbox 360 titles.
  • The wireless controller not only lets you play games without being chained to the system, but it lets you turn it on from a distance... a big improvement over the Playstation 2, which forced you to flip a switch and press a tiny button on the front of the unit.  It's sleeker and more comfortable to hold than even the slimline controller on the original Xbox, and the wireless feature is flawless.  Plus, it's got a cool silver orb lodged in the center that lights up as you play!
  • It's pretty easy to purchase and download content.  You just connect your Xbox 360 into a nearby cable modem, then log into the Xbox Live Marketplace and enter the code on the back of your Microsoft Points card.  From there, you just pick the games and other content you wish to download from an onscreen menu.  Some games will cost you MP, but demos are completely free of charge.  That brings me to my next point...
  • You can download game demos free of charge!  No longer will you be forced to subscribe to a crappy magazine to get your hands on demos of new and upcoming games.  Just log on to Xbox Live Marketplace and grab whatever you like, a'la carte.  The demos are typically pretty short, but Lost Planet gives you a lot of bang for your (lack of) buck.
  • The 'box has multimedia support that's superior to anything else on the market.  Want to listen to one of your dusty old CDs?  Just pop it in, then have a seat and watch the mesmerizing psychadelic patterns (supplied by- who else?- Jeff Minter) until your eyes glaze over.  Would you rather watch a film?  Go ahead and throw that in the drive.  You won't need an expensive remote control... the wireless joypad will work just as well!
  • This is what we all came for, folks!  The Xbox 360 offers the best graphics that money can buy.  When you tear through- and tear up!- a city in Full Auto... when you sink a fist into the fleshy face of your opponent in Fight Night Round 3... when you look overhead and find a flock of dragons blotting out the smoke-filled skies of Kameo... you know you've stepped up to the big leagues.

GAMING EXPLETIVES

  • Load times.  They're still here, and they're especially bad in Full Auto.  Be prepared to set your thumbs to maximum twiddling while each stage loads!  And speaking of waiting...
  • ...you'll be doing a lot of it while downloading content from the Xbox Live Marketplace.  Until a firmware update is offered for the Xbox 360, waiting is ALL you'll be doing until the download is finished.  Hey Microsoft, a call just came in from 1985.  It's the Amiga 500, and it wants to know if you'd like to borrow a cup of MULTITASKING!
  • It's great that the Xbox 360 features USB ports, rather than its own proprietary controller jacks.  However, if you're going to include a Universal Serial Bus in your system, shouldn't it be... you know, universal?  There are a few USB devices that the Xbox 360 can recognize, but not nearly enough.  I wanna play Project Gotham Racing 3 with my Logitech steering wheel, consarnit!
  • Remember all that gushing I did over Full Auto in my End of Year special?  Try to forget that ever happened... I wish I could.  If ever there was a game that proves the adage "too much of a good thing," this would be the one.  Full Auto is so packed with chaos, destruction, and fiery explosions that there's barely any room for a GAME.  Bleech, the Playstation 3 can have the sequel.
  • Maybe it was something special on the Macintosh, but Crystal Quest on the Xbox 360 is an aimless, pointless mess.  It's an omni-directional shooter without the teeth of Geometry Wars... you just wander around, picking up gems while dodging the various indifferent enemies in your path.  If you feel like it.  You want to know how boring this game is?  A land mine won't kill you until you rub against it for three straight seconds.
  • The system's backward compatibility... well, it sucks.  No point in trying to mince words here.  If you've got plans to replace your old 'box with this one, forget it.  You're going to be disappointed.  Only a small portion of the Xbox library will run on the 360, leaving out key titles like Psychonauts, Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath, and Panzer Dragoon Saga.
  • Tomunobu Itadaki is a conceited ass.  Look up Dead or Alive 4 in the Xbox Live Marketplace and you'll find it listed in the genre "Incredible Fighting Game."  I'm hoping that Capcom will respond by putting their first Xbox 360 beat 'em up in the category "More Incredible Than Anything Tecmo Can Come Up With Fighting Game."

E3! EXCELLENT! PARTY TIME!: Wait a minute, you putz! E3 is over! In fact, it's BEEN over for a week now! Would you just update the news feed already? · · · DELAY STATION 3: Oh, all right. Bad news for early adopters of the Playstation 3... many of the games you were hoping to get won't be available at launch, or even before Christmas! This includes Heavenly Sword and a new EyeToy title (possibly Eye of Judgement). However, Insomniac's Resistance: Fall of Man WILL be ready for your alien-blasting pleasure by launch. · · · REZ DISPENSOR: Q? Entertainment's Tetsuya Mizuguchi still has Rez on his mind. In a recent interview, he stated that he would like to make another game similar to the artsy shooter on the PS2 and Dreamcast. Wait, it gets better... Mizuguchi claimed that he would create a genuine sequel to Rez if Sega (which still owns the rights to the game) asked him to do it. · · · N-GAGE LIVES! SORT OF: Proving that you can't teach a dumb dog any tricks, Nokia is planning a relaunch of the N-Gage brand name. There's just one problem, though... there's no system attached to it! Rather than the misbegotten handheld that Nokia released in 2002, the half dozen new N-Gage games shown at E3 will only work with a handful of advanced cellular phones. · · ·

May 22, 2006...  Gaze Inside My Crystal Ball

We've seen the future at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo... but the crystal ball, as brightly as it shines, only has the power to display what this year has to offer.  What will the next five hold for gamers the world over?  Nobody knows for sure, but The Gameroom Blitz predicts the following fates for all three major console manufacturers:

SONY

It's the end of an era as the Playstation brand name begins to lose its hold on consumers.  The first cracks in the armor began to show with the release of the PSP in 2005, but that armor begins to fall off piece by piece when the Playstation 3 is introduced at the tail end of the following year, just in time for Christmas.  The PS3 is delivered with the price tag that Sony had promised at E3, between five hundred and six hundred dollars.  That sticker shock alone is enough to drive most consumers away from the unit and straight to its competitors.  Parents who want to entertain their kids but have no need for a game console themselves will head straight for the Wii.  Older gamers who demand a more sophisticated experience will opt for an Xbox 360.

The Playstation 3 trickles out of stores, and it's given high praise by some media outlets for its high performance hardware and excellent Blu-Ray film playback.  The system's developers took special care to make the Blu-Ray support in the PS3 as good as it can possibly be.  As a result, the Playstation 3 is on par with dedicated Blu-Ray players selling for twice the price.  However, consumers aren't yet ready to abandon their DVD collections for a new format, and game developers, already strained by high software development costs, are reluctant to take advantage of the additional storage that the Blu-Ray format offers.

Games that once put Playstation systems in millions of homes are starting to lose their hypnotic effect on fans.  Tekken, Ridge Racer, and Gran Tourismo are old news, and the high price of the Playstation 3, coupled with the lack of innovation in all of these titles, have convinced players to look elsewhere for their entertainment.  Ridge Racer 7 in particular is a crushing disappointment, lacking both new ideas and the extraordinary visuals that PS3 owners expect from the system that emptied their wallets.  After dire sales, Namco Bandai reconsiders making its flagship games exclusively for Sony's systems... but doesn't stop to think that those games are too old and busted to sell on ANY console.

After a few years, some impressive exclusives (particularly Metal Gear Solid 4, which actually lives up to the hype), and a grudging price drop, the Playstation 3 begins to pick up momentum.  However, the real star of the Sony line-up becomes the Playstation Portable.  After a reduction in price to $149, the PSP becomes the console of choice for gamers who wish to stay loyal to the Playstation brand name, but can't afford Sony's latest system. 

Gamers witness a mass migration of third party developers from the PS3 to the PSP, and the once unappreciated handheld becomes a serious threat to the Nintendo DS's market dominance.  However, this is only the case in the United States.  The Nintendo DS remains uncontested in Japan, with the PSP clinging to life on the backs of a few stubborn supporters.  A redesign of the system (including a reduction in size, improvements in battery life, and a screen with a higher refresh rate) does boost sales, but not by much.

2010 arrives, and brings with it word of a new generation of systems.  Sony is left humbled and hurting after the high manufacturing costs and lackluster sales of the Playstation 3.  Nevertheless, the system becomes a cult hit among early adopters and Playstation loyalists.  Like the owners of the Sega Master System in the 1980's and fans of the Sega Saturn in the 1990's, Playstation 3 supporters stand by their console of choice, proclaiming it to be the best on the market.

A handful of games on the system do demonstrate its superiority over other consoles, but the fact remains that Sony only captured 20% of the US gaming market with the Playstation 3.  The system sold better in Japan, but only marginally, taking 25% of the market.  Sony obliges its small but devoted user base with the marginally improved Playstation 4, but focuses much of its attention on the PSP II, its next generation handheld.

MICROSOFT

Early console launches are always a risk, but it's a risk that pays off in a big way for Microsoft.  Near the end of 2006, the majority of hardcore gamers pass up the underpowered Wii and overpriced Playstation 3, and head straight to the Xbox 360.  It's got the best of both worlds, with a reasonable price (although unchanged from its launch) and enough muscle for a truly next-generation experience.  Strong online support helps too... even after the hasty introduction of Sony's HUB, Xbox Live remains the crown champion of online gaming services.  You've got to pay to get in, but gamers eager to compete against their friends all agree that it's worth the price of admission.

The Xbox 360 offers a wide variety of games that, while lacking in originality, still appeal to an American audience.  Gears of War, Chromehounds, and Too Human are all best-sellers in the United States.  However, on the other side of the ocean, the Xbox 360 quickly becomes irrelevant, even with the release of Japan-centric titles like Ninety-Nine Nights and Blue Dragon.  The Japanese are quick to accept any alternative to Microsoft's next-generation system, and those two titles fade into obscurity.  Ninety-Nine Nights is soon ported to the Playstation 3, while Blue Dragon (badly botched by Artoon, even under the supervision of Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi) is left stranded on the Xbox 360.

Meanwhile, back in America... it's status quo all the way for the Xbox 360.  The system offers a wide selection of well-designed games, which have not a creative bone in their collective body.  Microsoft shuns innovation not only in its selection of games, but in its peripherals as well, offering only its Xbox Live camera as a weak answer to the Wii's remote control.  Rather than bringing the player into the action like Nintendo, the Xbox 360 brings the action into the player's world with augmented reality. 

Viva Pinata is a moderate success in the United States, reeling in kids both young and old with its bright colors and refreshingly sedate gameplay.  The Viva Pinata cartoon, produced by 4Kids Entertainment, isn't quite as entertaining as the game it was created to promote, but it does manage to stay on television for two or three years.  Rare starts to regain its footing as a major first-party game developer, and creates several more games for the Xbox 360.  Most are pretty good.  Nearly all are family-friendly.

The HD-DVD drive, released as a peripheral for the Xbox 360 in late 2006, becomes a permanent part of the Xbox 360 architecture in 2008.  Later models of the Xbox 360 are rebranded "Xbox 360 HD," with a slimline design and the same price as the original unit.  Like the TurboDuo from days past, dozens of games are developed exclusively for the new system, as well as older Xbox 360 units enhanced with a standalone HD-DVD drive.

As the years pass, the Xbox 360 becomes America's game console of choice.  In 2010, Microsoft has taken 50% of the US gaming market, with the remainder split between its competitors.  Its market share in Japan is so low that it's not even worth mentioning.  Having conquered the United States, Microsoft uses that success to integrate the Xbox 360 with its less popular products.  This includes Windows Vista, which is largely ignored by users still satisfied with Microsoft's last operating system.

NINTENDO

Last but not least (that honor goes to Sony!), we have Nintendo.  The company releases the Wii in November of 2006 for $229, and in a welcome return to the old days, includes a game with the package.  That game is Wii Sports.  It doesn't look pretty, but it does get players ready for the Wii experience.  A handful of first-party titles are introduced with the launch of the system, and all of them cost $39.99 each.  Yes, even The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which actually costs ten dollars MORE on the dying GameCube.

The American public becomes curious about the Nintendo Wii... so curious, in fact, that it becomes the top-selling game system in Christmas of 2006.  Japanese gamers are just as fascinated by the Wii, resulting in a worldwide feeding frenzy.  The Wii is swept off store shelves in the blink of an eye, and the incredible demand becomes the subject of evening news reports, talk shows, and web sites.  Has Nintendo finally reclaimed its throne as the leader of the video game industry?

Well, yes and no.  Nintendo can only maintain this popularity in Japan.  Riding on the success of the Nintendo DS, the Nintendo Wii outsells the overpriced Playstation 3 by a ratio of three to one.  The Japanese fall in love with the console's compact size, its irresistable price, and a library of games that cater specifically to their unique tastes.  Some gamers (and third party licensees) remain loyal to the Playstation 3 regardless of its price, but it becomes increasingly obvious as the years pass that this is a fight Sony can't win.

That's Japan.  In America, the Wii becomes a short-lived fad, much like the Nintendo 64 before it.  Americans quickly tire of the novelty of the Wii interface and demand more of the same, which both Sony and Microsoft offer in ample amounts.  Lousy third-party support, the Achille's Heel of the Nintendo DS, also factors into the decline of Wii sales in the United States.  However, Nintendo remains the leader of interactive family entertainment, despite Microsoft's best efforts with Viva Pinata.

Meanwhile, on the handheld front, Nintendo is dismayed to discover that the PSP is slowly catching up to the Nintendo DS in US sales.  Sony still has its supporters, and at $149, the PSP is the only currently supported Playstation system they can afford.  Nintendo shifts its attention from the Wii to the Nintendo DS in America, hoping to maintain its leadership of the handheld market.  Wii sales continue to suffer, leaving it in the same unenviable position as its predecessor, the GameCube.

In 2010, the Wii has taken a gigantic portion of the Japanese market... around 70%, with the remainder going almost exclusively to Sony.  Nintendo once again becomes synonymous with video games, and the Japanese are already excited about the Wii's successor.  It's a different story overseas, but the news is still encouraging.  The Wii has taken almost 30% of the US market, edging out the Playstation 3 and demonstrating a marked improvement over the GameCube.  Things may never be the same for them in America, but on all fronts, Nintendo has a promising future ahead of it.

May 18, 2006...  Need for Restraint Underground

Here's an equation for you to keep your mind sharp between sessions of Brain Age...

Need For Speed Underground 2 +
Ridiculously overpriced steering wheel +
Slippery, rain-soaked roads =
Pure unbridled frustration expressed through frightening violence

As you may already have realized from reading this site, I have a low threshold of frustration.  It doesn't take much to set me off, and there are few things I hate more than being forced to repeat stages over and over to make progress in a video game.

I thought it would be fun to kick back and play a racing game with my Logitech racing wheel.  As you can see from the above equation, I thought wrong.  While the wheel certainly brings realism to Need For Speed Underground 2, it takes away the exact precision you get from an analog controller.  When you're playing with a Dual Shock pad, don't have to fight with the force feedback, and it's easy to make slight corrections as you drive.  When you've got a steering wheel in your hands, every turn is a struggle, and gamebreaking spin-outs are a frequent occurance.  After losing four straight races, I thought it would be more fun to take the disc for a spin... into the nearest wall!

I should be upset with myself that I cracked the disc in half.  I SHOULD be, but I'm not.  It was so theraputic to fling the damned thing across the room that it was easily worth the price of admission.  I'm just glad I didn't go one step further and throw the steering wheel, its pedals, and the chair they were both attached to into the wall.  Believe me, the thought had crossed my mind.

I guess the lesson learned here is this... the most expensive controller isn't always the best controller for the job.  That, and I have serious anger management issues.

May 15, 2006...  Sleeping with the Swedish Fishes (Gizmondo impressions)

And as soon as it appeared, it was gone.  If you want to have another look at the special corporate whore edition of The Gameroom Blitz, fueled by Russian crab juice, you'll find it here.  Click the link, it's just that veasey!  I mean easy.

Just a little post-E3 news before I hit the road.  I recently received a Gizmondo in the mail, and I've spent a surprising amount of time with the system.  Despite its mafia connections, the Gizmondo actually isn't that bad!  With its 400MHz processor, it's the fastest kid on the portable block, edging out even the PSP in overall speed.  It's also smaller and more comfortable to hold than the PSP, with a rubberized case that stays put in your hands and doesn't get greasy like the PSP often does.

There are even a couple of games that make the Gizmondo more than just a silly-looking paperweight.  Laugh at the name all you want (who didn't?), but Sticky Balls is a great puzzle game that brings together the stylish bank shots of pool with the colorful, clinging blobs in Puyo Puyo.  Colors, like so many games on the market these days, is a Grand Theft Auto derivitive, but it's so well designed that it's bound to impress even fans of the real thing. 

Then there's SSX 3, Trailblazer, Point of Destruction... and well, that's pretty much it for the good games.  When the Gizmondo was only on the market for a year and most of the money that was supposed to be invested in software development went straight into Stefan Erikson's pockets, you kind of had to expect that.  Still, under different circumstances, the Giz could have been a contender.  It kicks the crap out of some OTHER handhelds, which have cheated death despite their incredible unpopularity.  I won't name any names.

May 12, 2006...  E3 Special: Microsoft Press Event

I'll end this week with a list of highlights from the Microsoft press conference.  Truth is, Bill Gates and company didn't make the impression that Nintendo and Sony had with their own events.  Of course, then again, nobody wants to make the kind of impression that Sony did when they announced their game system would cost six hundred dollars...

10.  BY THE NUMBERS:  Microsoft is clearly proud of its accomplishments with the Xbox 360, and it wasn't shy about saying so.  Peter Moore started off the conference by hitting the audience with some impressive numbers.  Five million Xbox 360s have been sold since the system debuted last November... no wonder there was a shortage!  On average, each Xbox 360 has been sold with over four games and three accessories, and three of the top ten best selling games were for Microsoft's latest system.  It's hard not to brag about figures like those!

9.  FLASH IN THE JAPAN:  Oh, Microsoft... will you ever win in the Far East?  You've earned the loyalty of millions here in the United States, but in Japan, the Xbox 360 is the least popular American import since the atomic bomb.  In a valiant attempt to capture the hearts of an indifferent Japanese audience, you're hired Final Fantasy's Hironobu Sakaguchi to help create Blue Dragon, the last hope for the Japanese Xbox 360.  However, you've made one fatal mistake... the bulk of this role-playing adventure will be developed by Artoon, the one game design team that everyone in the world can agree to hate.

8.  HASTA LA VISTA, BABY:  Microsoft's latest operating system (guaranteed to needlessly waste even more system resources than its last!) was discussed in the latter half of the conference.  When Vista is released, Peter Moore explained, Microsoft's PC games will be rebranded "Games For Windows," rescuing them from the Land of Misfit Toys.  Wait, what?  Did this suddenly turn into a Claymation Christmas special?  Anyway, Peter the Red-Nosed Product Rep showed off the earth-shattering power of Windows Vista with Crysis.  This first-person shooter features exactly two colors... the black void of the night sky, and the bright red of flames in the distance.  Amazing!  It's just like being trapped inside a cataract!

7.  HI-DEF COMEDY JAM:  With a user base of five million players and a substancial price advantage over its competition, it would take a blunder of 32X proportions to make the Xbox 360 lose the next-generation console wars.  Well, here it comes, folks... an external HD-DVD player that costs nearly a hundred dollars!  Right now, the drive will only play HD-DVD movies, but gamers old enough to remember Sega's many wallet-busting upgrades and peripherals are rightfully apprehensive about its release.  Whatever you do, Microsoft... DON'T make games for this thing.

6.  X MARKETS THE SPOT:  The most exciting Xbox 360 games at the conference (well, the most exciting to ME, anyway) were titles you'll never find on store shelves.  No, you'll only be able to buy Lumines Live, as well as enhanced versions of Konami's arcade classics, from the Xbox Live Marketplace.  Soon, a small fee is all it will take to get your hands on Q? Entertainment's mesmerizing puzzle game, as well as translations of Scramble and Time Pilot with vastly improved graphics.  My favorite games from the 80's with a totally awesome new look?  In the midnight hour, I cry "more Moore, MORE!"

5.  INNOVATION?  IN NO WAY, SON:  Xbox 360 marketing director Peter Moore was giving a lot of lip service to "innovation," wearing the word out even faster than Nintendo's Reginald Fil-Aimes.  However, none of this pioneering spirit could be found in the games shown for Microsoft's next generation console, or any of its other products for that matter.  Amidst the endless array of first-person shooters and Grand Theft Auto clones, the only game that seemed truly refreshing and original was Rare's Viva Piņata.  Hey, Peter!  Like my man Geddy Lee always says... show, don't tell.  And take off, hoser.

4.  OIL OF OLČ:  With a cast of excruciatingly cute characters, Rare's family-friendly Viva Piņata will give kids yet another reason to love the classic Mexican party favors... and adults another reason to want to bludgeon them with a stick.  There won't be any of that going on here, though!  In Viva Piņata, you'll cultivate a plot of land, eventually transforming it into a sanctuary for candy-filled creatures both great and small.  Like in Nintendo's Pokemon, all the characters are based on real-life animals, and have silly puns for names.  However, UNLIKE Pokemon, you won't have to spend countless hours leveling them up with boring turn-based battles.  You can't beat THAT with a stick!

3.  ANYWHERE, ANYTIME!:  Talk about buy one, get one free!  Microsoft is planning a cross-platform integration network that lets you buy a game from the Xbox Live Marketplace, then enjoy it on any Microsoft branded console for no additional charge.  Yes, you can have it all, whether it's the Xbox 360, a PC running Window, or even a cell phones equipped with Windows Mobile (sorry, offer does not apply to Dreamcasts or Gizmondos powered by Windows CE.  Participation may vary.  Void where prohibited).  You'll also be able to challenge friends to Microsoft games regardless of the platform, and any high scores you earn while playing the games are universal, extending across all Microsoft systems.  Did I say "Microsoft" enough in the last paragraph?

2.  TRAILER TRASH:  A friendly note to game companies... cinematic trailers may give you some idea of the storyline in a game, but don't tell you anything else.  The trailer for Alan Wake was as cryptic as one of those avant garde perfume commercials from the 1980's, giving viewers no clue about how the game will actually play.  The brief teaser for Halo 3 was even worse, with a holographic head floating in front of a bleak mountain range.  Rather than, you know, talking about the game, the ghostly woman spouted nonsense that would make even Margo Kidder run for dear life.  Meanwhile, at the Nintendo press conference, genuine in-game footage was shown for nearly every title, even hotly anticipated system-sellers like Super Mario Galaxy.  What's the deal, Bill?  Aren't your fans good enough for real game clips?

1.  GET IN GEAR:  You know a military shooter is impressive when even I want to play it.  Gears of War is the latest from Unreal developer and would-be celebrity Cliff Bliszinski.  In the game, you're a hunchback soldier, struggling to survive in the face of an alien onslaught.  You'll dive for cover and gun down the most hideous creatures in the galaxy as entire buildings crumble around you.  Like in last year's God of War, a storyline unfolds as you play, adding in a dash of variety and freeing the gameplay from the once necessary evil of cut scenes.  Will this be the game that finally makes Halo a thing of the past?

May 11, 2006...  E3 Special:  Nintendo Press Event

Here comes another top ten list of E3 highlights, this time from the Nintendo press conference:

10.  THAT'S DRIVING EXCITEMENT!:  Excitetruck was one of the first games shown for the Nintendo Wii... and true to its name, it was also one of the most exciting.  As the driver of an off-road truck, you'll race over dirt tracks at speeds that would make most rockets jealous!  Hills send your truck skyward, and when you hit the ground, you'll feel the impact in the Wii remote.  Oh yeah, did I mention that you'll actually be using the remote as a steering wheel, holding it sideways and turning it to guide your truck through the track?  Well, I did now!

9.  ZELDA, MADE TO ORDER:  Wanting to take full advantage of its next system, but committed to its promise to support its last, Nintendo will release two versions of the highly anticipated The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.  The first game will be compatible with the GameCube, while the second will be a launch title for the Wii, offering full support for the system's remote controller.  Seems like Nintendo wants to play both sides of the fence here.  It's a decision that could have painful consequences if players decide that they'd be just as happy with the game on a last-generation system.

8.  CHEERS TO YOU:  Wow, that sure took long enough!  The cult hit Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! is finally coming to the United States, but with a new title... among other things.  Licensing issues forced Nintendo to change the selection of songs in the game, so they decided to go one step further with the localization and change everything else!  The buff male cheerleaders of Ouendan are out, replaced with the Elite Beat Agents.  They're a secret society of performance artists who come to save the day whenever they find someone in desperate need of encouragement... and catchy music!

7.  TENNIS THE MENACE:  Near the end of the conference, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, his loyal lackey Reginald Fil-Aimes, and Mario's creator Shigeru Miyamoto all tried their hands at the tennis game in Wii Sports.  They invited contest winner Chris Dier on the stage to compete along with them in a doubles game... and what followed was enough slapstick comedy to give even the Three Stooges a run for their money.  Nintendo's top brass and Dier nearly fell to the floor and into each other as they ran across the stage to return serves.  All that was missing were the cream pies!

6.  BABY, I LOVE YOUR WAY:  Most DS owners thought that Yoshi's Touch 'n Go would be the closest they would ever get to a Yoshi's Island sequel.  However, that early DS release, with its charming but simplistic side-scrolling action, was only the beginning for the little green lizard with the big red tongue.  More than just a tribute to the underappreciated Super Mario Bros. spin-off, Yoshi's Island 2 is a sequel with fully explorable stages straight out of a children's coloring book, and one of three riders clinging to Yoshi.  Nobody's sure how the three baby Mario characters will affect the gameplay, or if the stylus will be used to aim eggs, but everyone is gonna want to add this to their collections!

5.  DUAL SCREEN DYNAMO:  You know, I was skeptical of the Nintendo DS at first, but after last fall's avalanche of awesome games, and looking at what's in store this fall, I wonder how I could have ever felt that way.  Vicarious Visions is bringing Tony Hawk back to the DS in Downhill Jam, which serves up all the quality of American Sk8teland with double the originality.  Final Fantasy III looks even better than advertised, with vibrant characters and playfields that are better than those in the groundbreaking Final Fantasy VII.  Sequels to underground hits Phoenix Wright and Trauma Center are in the works, and the first arcade-style Castlevania in years will be released in a matter of months.  Oh my beloved dual-screen handheld, how I love to lick your creamy, game-filled center!

4. STEEL THE SHOW:  Wii Wii, monsiour!  Ubi Soft hopes that its first-person shooter Red Steel will make Nintendo's next system as warmly embraced by the French as Jerry Lewis.  Reps from the company demonstrated the game to an excited audience, showing off its superior graphics as well as the many ways that the Wii remote will improve the gameplay in this well-worn genre.  The remote is your gun, while the sidecar controller is used to make your way through the mean streets of Tokyo.  The innovation doesn't stop with the controller... crowds of thugs often have a leader who acts as the keystone of the group.  Take him out and the rest of the goons will run for cover!

3.  WIMPY, WIMPY, WIMPY!:  Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Wii is what isn't.  Nobody expected fantastic graphics from the Wii and its limp-wristed 729MHz processor, so it wasn't a surprise that the the best games (Red Steel) had frame rate issues.  However, Wii Sports was well below even the most modest expectations.  Lego action figures running around a flat court?  Even the Dreamcast has put the graphics in Wii Sports to shame with the five year old Virtua Tennis.  It's safe to assume that the Wii can do much, much better than this... so why is Nintendo intent on accentuating the negative with what's best described as Katamari Arthur-Ashe-y?

2.  FIRE DISRUPTERS!:  "Disruption."  It was the first word on the lips of everyone who came on stage but the janitor who cleaned up after Nintendo had left.  Reggie and Nintendo president Satoru Iwata never passed up a chance to dish out product slogans and half-baked catchphrases.  Change Is Good.  Playing Is Believing.  Inclusion Is Hot.  Knowing Is Half The Battle.  Quality And Value Is What You Get When You Buy Coronet.  Geez, guys... give it a rest, already!  We know you're trying to shake up the industry, but some of these quips just leave us shaking our heads!

1.  FAILURE TO LAUNCH:  Nintendo revealed a lot of juicy information during its conference, but the news they left out will probably be what people will remember most.  Reggie refused to divulge the launch date or the price of the Nintendo Wii.  Not even Bob Barker knows if the price is right or wrong, and that ace will stay tucked in Nintendo's collective sleeve until they need it to counter an earthshaking, mindshare-stealing announcement by its competitors.  Oh well, looks like it's back to the DS for me!

May 9, 2006...  E3 Special:  Sony Press Event

Now that E3 has started, I finally have something to talk about on the site!

I guess the recent Sony press conference is as good a place to start as any.  I just covered this for Stage Select, so rather than repeating myself, I'll offer a brief run-down of the ten most memorable moments at the event.

10.  RESISTANCE IS FUTILE:  Increasingly desperate to break free from his cute platforming past, Insomniac Games founder Ted Price will introduce Playstation 3 owners to a grim alternate dimension in The Resistance: Fall of Man.  In this vision of the 1950's, World War II was cut short by an alien invasion.  Adolf Hitler?  Blasted with a death ray.  Winston Churchill?  Found out the hard way what the book "To Serve Man" really was.  Harry Truman?  You don't want to know.  As one of the few human survivors, you'll fight back against your alien oppressors in a first-person shooter that's anything but ordinary.

9.  HOT SHOTS NOT:  Now you're playing with power?  Images of Hot Shots Golf for the Playstation 3 did little to convince people of the system's capabilities.  The characters looked a bit shinier than they did on the Playstation 2, but certainly no better.  Between this and the considerably more impressive Tiger Woods PGA Golf '07, It makes you wonder if there's a future for bright, cartoony games on Sony's next system.  Oh well, there's always the Wii!

8.  HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF:  What's truly great about the Playstation 3 are all those fresh new games third parties are releasing for the system.  You know, brilliantly original titles like Genji 2!  Call of Duty 3!  Devil May Cry 4!  Hot Shots Golf 5!  Tekken 6!  Ridge Racer 7!  And of course, Tony Hawk: Project 8!  I'd include Sonic on that list, but I've lost count at just how many damn games the little rodent has appeared in... and after Sonic Spinball on the Genesis, I stopped caring.  Anyway, the next time someone complains that all Nintendo ever does is release Mario games, do me a favor and shove an original Xbox up their butts.

7.  ON HIS HIRAI HORSE:  After all these years, SCEA president Kaz Hirai is still a smug douchebag.  Sure, he's just doing his job, but does he have to be such an arrogant prick about it?  Perhaps the most infuriating part of Hirai's speech was when he paraded around the Playstation 3 controller, packed with features shamelessly stolen from the Nintendo Wii remote.  This was just an hour after sternly reminding conference attendees that "Sony isn't about gimmicks," a rabbit punch aimed at the proverbial groins of the Nintendo DS and Wii.  Oh, Kaz... I could just hug you.  Really tightly around the throat.

6.  I'VE GOT MY EYE ON YOU:  After a stirring rendition of Hold On To The Nights, Dr. Richard Marx put down the microphone and introduced conference attendees to the latest game for the EyeToy.  You know, that television hood ornament you only used once or twice.  The Eye of Judgement is a card battle game with one key difference... like in episodes of the Yu-Gi-Oh! television series, ferocious monsters (and rubber duckies?) emerge from the cards after you slap them on the table.  Note that you're playing the game with actual cards, not a controller.  Note also that this is incredibly fucking cool.

5.  SOLID SNAKE NOT GUNSHY:  The star of Metal Gear Solid 4 demonstrated a disturbing fondness for his firearm that would make even Sledge Hammer blush.  A video of the upcoming stealth action title showed the crusty codger jamming a pistol in his mouth.  The subtitle that appeared underneath him tried to clarify the situation, reading "One last punishment I must endure."  However, from the look of things (and the amount of Magnum in his mouth), it seems as though Snake is more than willing to take one for the team.

4.  IT'S A FREE-FOR-ALL!:  It really is the best word in the English language, isn't it?  Kaz Hirai promised that the Sony online service HUB would be free of charge for Playstation owners, a good five dollars a month less than what Microsoft is charging for their own Xbox Live service.  It remains to be seen whether or not HUB will actually be as GOOD as Xbox Live, but with a price like that, gamers will have little room to complain about its shortcomings.

3.  LET'S DO THE TIME WARP AGAIN:  It's official, folks!  The Playstation Portable really will be able to play games from the Playstation's early library!  Sony's product reps even demonstrated this by playing the original Ridge Racer on the PSP, complete with the Galaxian mini-game that keeps you occupied while you're waiting for the game to load.  Why would you want to play the first Ridge Racer when there's a perfectly good version of the game designed specifically for the PSP?  Well, uh... you probably wouldn't.  There are plenty of other Playstation games that are begging for the handheld treatment, though.

2.  WII WILL, WII WILL COPY YOU:  Like the ideal marriage gift, the Playstation 3 controller is made from something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.  What's old is the design of the Dual Shock controller, which has made a return appearance on the PS3 after everyone in the universe expressed their hatred for the pointy boomerang.  What's new is the removal of the vibration motor that put Sony in hot water with Immersion Technologies.  What's stolen borrowed is the motion sensor from the Wii controller, and what's blue is me after discovering that Sony took a sledgehammer to the only distinguishing characteristic of Nintendo's next system.

1. WITH GREAT POWER, COMES GREAT PRICE:  You want a Playstation 3?  Well, you'd better start saving those pennies.  And quarters.  And rolls of hundred dollar bills.  And twenty-four karat gold bars.  What I'm trying to say is that the Playstation 3 will be far too expensive for gamers who had to live on two straight weeks of ramen and tuna fish just to afford a Dreamcast (read: me).  A barebones Playstation 3, with a 20 gig hard drive but no slots for memory cards, will cost $499.  If that left you reeling, just wait 'till you hear this!  The total Playstation 3 package, with a 60 gig drive and all the fixin's, will set you back a dumbfounding $599.  That's only a hundred bucks less than the 3DO when that was first released... and we all remember what happened with that system.  If you don't, you can always remind yourself by having Trip Hawkins bag your groceries the next time you stop at Wal-Mart.

May 5, 2006...  RIP Long John Baldry

Well, that was a lousy time to have a personal crisis!  I completely forgot that the Electronic Entertainment Expo was scheduled for next week.  I'll be covering the event for the fine folks at Stage Select, so be sure to read that site regularly for the juiciest industry news!

Some of that coverage will no doubt wind up on The Gameroom Blitz as well... but I'm going to spend more time just having fun with the site, the way I did when I first started it ten years ago.  It's been ages since I've reviewed a Japanese Saturn game, and I've got so many of them in my collection that are just begging for the coverage.

Then after I've squared away my obligations to Stage Select and 1UP, I'll finally hit the books... or rather, that NES book that I put on the backburner for far too long.  I wanted to finish it in time for the 20th anniversary of the system, but that never came to pass... with a little luck, though, it'll be ready by the end of THIS year, just in time for the release of the Revolution.  Er, the Wii.

There's one another matter of importance I should address before ending this update.  I just found out that Long John Baldry, the voice of Doctor Robotnik and the sole redeeming quality of The Adventures of Sonic The Hedgehog, died last year from a chest infection.  I don't know how I missed this news, and I was even more surprised when I did a little research and discovered all of Baldry's other accomplishments.  The man pulled Elton John out of a spiral of depression that nearly claimed his life.  He inspired famous musicians like Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart.  He lent his voice to a number of fondly remembered cartoons, including Captain N, Reboot, and the short-lived Dragon Warrior.  Long John Baldry, for your many contributions to the pop culture of the 80's and 90's, I salute you... and wish you all the best in your next life!

May 1, 2006...  April Showers Bring May Doubts

Before I begin, I probably should point out that there's a new full-sized review on the site, the first one in well over a month.  Special thanks go to my friend, electronics whiz and long-time Blitz reader Duane Bendt, for making it all possible.

As The Gameroom Blitz reaches its tenth anniversary, I slip into a state of deep, introspective thought.  What have I accomplished in the past ten years?  Has anything on the site been of any great significance to my readers?  Is anyone still reading the Blitz?

All right, maybe it's not so much deep introspection as it is self-pity.  Still, I wonder what the future holds for The Gameroom Blitz, or if the site should even have a future.  The pop-ups "generously" provided by my hosts at ZTNet continue to become more frequent and resistant to ad blockers.  I've talked to the editor of Overclocked about this, and received only vague assurance of a solution, not results.

Now that I'm getting Internet service from Charter, I've got the option to move the site to my own alloted server space (currently used to host my other pet project, On-File).  However, that's not my only option.  I could spend hours transferring the files of a site that's lost most of its readers to a new, more obscure address, guaranteeing that it will lose ALL of its readers. 

Alternately, I could follow the lead of Overclocked alum Zeroes Unlimited and put The Gameroom Blitz into retirement, starting work on something entirely new and different.  Ten years is a long, long time to spend on a single site, and other webmasters, like the editor of Gamengai (formerly Japan Gaming), have been reenergized by the change of scenery.  The only problem is, what direction should I take this new site?  I don't want it to wind up being a clone of this one.

Then there's the third option, one I already tried back in 2003.  I took a vacation from the site for the entire summer, hoping that the extended absence would make me eager to return to the Blitz.  It worked at first, but it didn't take long before all that enthusiasm evaporated, leaving me back on square one.  When I stop and think about it, I'm not even sure if creating a new site will make a difference. I'll still be the same bitter, obnoxious loudmouth I've always been, and that's something that will never change.

The final option is to just sit back and accept the status quo, writing updates and reviews out of a peculiar sense of obligation.  After all, I've been doing this for ten years... why stop now?  It would be a shame to end the Blitz with so many articles left unfinished.

I guess I've got a lot to think about in the next few months.

April 28, 2006...  The Name is "Dumas."

THE LAST CONFEDERATE, ER, EA WIDOW REVEALED: The wife of the man who was worked like a dog without just compensation for Electronic Arts has finally made herself known to the public. Erin Hoffman blew the whistle on EA last year, forcing the company to do the right thing and pay its employees for their hard work. Good for you, Erin! · · · JUAN STUPID IDEA: Here we go again! Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, a senator of Texas, has proposed a five percent tax on ALL video games. That money would be invested in the state's public school system, so it couldn't possibly be a bad thing, right? Think of the children! Just don't think of the abuse of our first amendment rights. · · · MANATEE KOMBAT: Hoping to promote the release of the American Dad DVD, Fox cooked up a Flash-based fighting game that pits characters from Family Guy against the decidedly less popular stars of American Dad. There's even a cameo by Ryu from Street Fighter II... an appearance that makes even less sense than most of the random pop culture references in both shows. · · ·

Man, Nintendo just doesn't have a clue.  If the name of their newly christened game system doesn't prove this, the oblivious comments made by Nintendo spokesman Perrin Kaplan on IGN almost certainly do.  Just... just listen to this.

IGN Wii: Some overzealous readers have created some truly phallic Wii designs. We e-mailed you several of them, as you saw. Any plans to use any of these brilliant materials in your official marketing plans?

Perrin Kaplan: What a nice way of asking that question! We actually have had a day of a lot of smiles around here with a variety of things that fans have created, let me just say that. It shows you that people are big fans of Nintendo.

Big fans?  BIG FANS?!  Big fans don't take your latest, most prized creation and turn it into the butt of endless dick jokes.  THEY'RE MAKING FUN OF YOU, YOU EMPTYHEADED SCHILL!!!  Honestly, she can't be that stupid.  They've got to be paying her millions to act this stupid.

And to all the "hardcore gamers" out there who say that the name doesn't matter and that true video game fans will buy the Nintendo Wii no matter what... get over yourselves!  Marketing is an essential part of this industry... if you can't entice customers to purchase your product, it's going to stay on store shelves, and you're not going to stay in business.  Nintendo is crowing that the new name has generated a lot of talk, but then again, so did New Coke, and we all know what happened with THAT little disaster.

When Namco brought Pac-Man to the United States, they had the good sense to shorten the name from Puck-Man to protect it from cheeky vandals and jokesters.  Twenty five years later, an industry powerhouse like Nintendo with decades of experience under its belt can't figure out how much damage a name like "Wii" will do to its chances of competing with Sony and Microsoft in the United States.

Of course, as a friend of mine pointed out on his 1UP blog, they might not even care.  The Nintendo brand name has lost a lot of its luster in the West, but the company continues to shine brightly in Japan thanks to the explosive success of its DS handheld.  More than anywhere else, Nintendo has a shot at claiming victory in the next generation console wars in Japan.  Gamers in that country love using the DS stylus to interact with their games, and the Wii wand will bring even more dimension to that interaction.  The Xbox 360 is a failure in Japan, with no hope of recovery.  The Playstation 3 still doesn't exist, and even when it does, it won't bring any new innovations with it.  The name "Wii" has no phallic connotations in Asia.  Bring all these ingredients together, and you've got a recipe for market dominance in Japan.

If Nintendo can claim their own country in the next generation system wars, and it seems likely that they will, all other markets could quickly become irrelevant... including our own.  In the past decade, Nintendo has shown no interest in placating America's increasingly demanding and hostile gamers, insisting on doing its own thing regardless of the consequences.  After all the grief Nintendo has been given by Americans over the past ten years for this stubbornness, the decision to stick with the name "Wii" may be the company's way of saying "screw you guys, I'm going home."

April 27, 2006...  'Tis But A Flesh Wound

Quick, dirty... but entirely necessary.

CASTLEVANIA KICKS IT OLDSCHOOL: Rumors are circulating that the next Castlevania, Portrait of Ruin for the Nintendo DS, will return to the roots of the series with linear level designs and a continuation of the story in the Genesis game Castlevania: Bloodlines. Hey, at least Konami's not going for the puppetronic look of Super Castlevania IV · · · LESS THAN XERO: Former crooks, er, executives of Gizmondo Europe have jumped that sinking ship and have landed aboard Xero Mobile, a cell phone service that plans to offer the same Smart Adds system as the handheld voted most likely to wear cement shoes. Looks like the Swedish Mafia still hasn't learned that crime doesn't pay! · · · XBOX 360 CHILLS OUT: Kotaku reports that Microsoft is planning a new version of the Xbox 360 that's cooler, faster, and even less popular in Japan. Uh, strike that last part. The improvements will be made by shrinking components when the technology becomes available. Now the only thing that will be running hot are the tempers of early adopters! · · · · · ·

April 24, 2006...  RIP Sean Pettibone

Before I begin, I'd like to request a moment of silence for a fellow fanzine editor.  Sean Pettibone died of unspecified causes last Thursday, just shy of his thirtieth birthday.  Sean had a knack for stirring up controversy in his newsletter In Between The Lines, but everyone who wrote a fanzine in the early 1990's will remember him for his writing talent and his sharp sense of humor.  Sean Pettibone was a cornerstone of video game fandom, and without his influence, gaming journalism as we know it today would have suffered greatly.  Keep fighting the power, Sean, wherever you may be!

I guess there's not much else for me to say, aside from this...  we interview Adventure II creator and Atari 5200 devotee Ron Lloyd in the fourth and final installment of The Brews Brothers.  Also, we're closing in on the tenth anniversary of The Gameroom Blitz... we'll celebrate the date with the continuation of Systematix 2006, as well as a few other surprises you're sure to enjoy.

April 21, 2006...  DS Game Review Explosion!

Forget about the blues tonight!  In this update of The Gameroom Blitz, the PSP takes a backseat (oooo-ooh...) to the Nintendo DS.  We'll break out the stylus and get physical with four great games, the ones that you'll want for this totally hot handheld.  Enough talk... I've got reviewin' to do!

ADVANCE WARS DUAL STRIKE:  I'm not overly fond of turn-based strategy games, but I was instantly won over by this slick Nintendo release when I played it briefly at a local LAN party.  After purchasing a copy of my own and spending a little more time with the game, I can understand my almost instant infatuation with it.  Advance Wars has the unmistakable flavor of SNK's Metal Slug series, from the hard-hitting soundtrack to the humor that takes some of the edge off the military combat (soldiers fly off the screen when pelted with machine gun fire and stomp any city they capture into the dirt).  It plays incredibly well with the touchscreen, too... just pick a unit, tap their destination, and off they go!  The only flaw I've noticed so far is the trendy dialogue that smacks ever so slightly of desperation.  I've seen enough exclamations of "owned!" on the Internet to last me three lifetimes... I don't need to see that dreck in my video games as well!

PHOENIX WRIGHT:  With his stern gaze, threatening poses, and the most gravity-defying hairstyle this side of Conan O'Brien, Phoenix Wright looks more like your next opponent in Rival Schools than a competant attorney.  You'd be surprised at just how good he is at his job, however.  Phoenix Wright is as much Sherlock Holmes as Perry Mason, piecing together bits of evidence to rescue his clients from certain conviction and put the real killers behind bars.  Everything you've heard about this game is true, even the negative stuff.  Phoenix Wright is arguably the most linear game on the Nintendo DS, with absolutely no action and very few options for the player to select.  However, once you spend some time with the game, you'll understand why it's so very difficult to find on store shelves.  The courtroom battles are so dynamic and outrageous they make the OJ Simpson trial look like an episode of Judge Joe Brown... Phoenix slams his desk and uses violent hand gestures to intimidate witnesses, who fall apart on the stand when their latest alibis are torn to ribbons (complete with the sound of a samurai sword slicing through bare flesh).

BUST-A-MOVE DS:  I'm sorry I didn't mention this one earlier.  I've been a fan of this entertaining puzzler for years, ever since I first discovered it playing on a Neo-Geo arcade machine in the mid 1990's.  However, I began to lose interest in Bust-A-Move at the turn of the century, when Taito made the unwise decision to retire the familiar stars of Bubble Bobble and replace them with a parade of increasingly disturbing and poorly drawn heroes.  It took an S+M teddy bear and an animated life preserver to make Taito realize just what they'd done to the series, and try with all their might to put Bust-A-Move back on the right track.  Bust-A-Move DS is the ideal resurrection of the franchise... I could not have asked for a better sequel.  Not only are the audiovisuals faithful to the first two games, but there are a lot of new features that add to the fun without complicating the gameplay.  Bubbles are thrown into the playfield by pulling back and releasing a rubber band, the first control scheme in Bust-A-Move history that actually works better than the classic rotating arrow.  Add spectacular multiplayer modes and a swap bubble that gives you a way out of impossible situations, and you've got a title that comes oh so close to dethroning Meteos as the best puzzler on the DS.

BRAIN AGE:  In the tradition of Animal Crossing and Nintendogs comes another DS title in Nintendo's Obli-gaming series, Brain Age.  This game claims to make anyone who plays it smarter, but the flawed handwriting and speech recognition often guarantees that the people who play it will only get angrier.  No matter how clearly or plainly you say the word "Blue" during the color-matching Stroop Test, the system will just sit there with a stylus up its butt, flashing an error message.  After much frustration and a little experimentation, you discover that the trigger word is in fact "Brew," like in the Canadian beer ad starring a bear and a dozen drunk Japanese businessmen.  Way to go, Nintendo... you think maybe you could get the stylus out of your OWN butt and spend more time localizing the next Brain Age title?  Despite the quirky interface, Brain Age definitely earns its keep, putting players through the wringer with a variety of fiendish timed challenges.  If the rapid-fire calculations or the memorization doesn't keep you mesmerized, the devilishly addictive Sudoku almost certainly will.

By the way, in case you haven't noticed, there's an interview with Chrono Resurrection developer Nathan Lazur on the Brews Brothers page.  I'm meeting you dirty Square-lovin' hippies halfway!

  THIS IS WHY I DON'T PLAY ONLINE GAMES: World of Warcraft players who were paying their respects to a deceased friend were shocked when troublemakers invaded the online funeral, taunting both the attendees and the dead man they were honoring. Apparently, the perpetraters were all wearing rings that added +5 Douchebaggery to their stats. · · · PLAYSTATION 2 LOWERED IN PRICE: But not by enough, it would seem. Sony's plan is to drop the system's price from $149 to $129 in April, but this move seems rather miserly when you consider that the original Playstation dropped to a more reasonable $99 just four years after its US launch. The new, slimmer PS2 needs a slimmer price to match. · · · DUMBER THAN ADVERTISED: UbiSoft has been promoting its recent Splinter Cell title with a quote from GameSpy, which proclaims it to be "one of the best games on the PSP." However, the quote was from a preview... the actual review of the final product was far less charitable. The two stars it received suggests that Essentials is only great... for GameSpy to poop on! · · · · · ·

April 17, 2006...  Take Once Daily

Over the past few years, I've noticed that Nintendo is fond of what I like to call "regimen gaming"... basically, video games that require a daily effort from the player.  The company first dipped its toe into this genre with Animal Crossing on the Japanese Nintendo 64 and GameCube, then jumped in with both feet when the Nintendo DS was released.  Now we've got the virtual pet simulation Nintendogs, and most recently, Brain Age.

The games aren't so much addictive as they are compulsory... they're quite enjoyable at first, but after a couple of weeks, they start to feel like an obligation.  This is especially the case with virtual pet sims which grab you by the heartstrings and refuse to let go, no matter how bored you get with taking that puppy out for a walk or feeding a chubby dragonette brightly colored eggplants.  Brain Age takes that sense of obligation once step further by calling itself a tool for self-improvement.  The player is warned that if they fail to play the game on a regular basis, they're not hurting an adorable digital pet, but themselves.

Personally, I don't see what the big N hopes to accomplish by using emotional blackmail to chain players to their controllers.  I remember a time when people kept playing Nintendo games because they wanted to do it, not because their arms were twisted by the bloated head of a Japanese professor.  Besides, isn't forcing players to come back to a single game only hurting Nintendo's chances at selling more of them?  There's much to be said for lasting replay value, but when you're returning to a video game out of a sense of obligation, your opinion of it is bound to change from admiration to resentment.

UBISOFT SHOWS STARFORCE THE DOOR: After receiving thousands of complaints, French developer Ubisoft has finally removed the Starforce copyright protection from its latest PC titles. Gamers everywhere are eagerly awaiting the inevitable threatening response from Starforce's mad Russian product representatives. · · · WOULD YOU LIKE FRIES WITH THAT?: Here's a rumor from the "too weird to be true" file... Burger King is planning three games for the Xbox, starring its creepy new mascot. The games will sell for four dollars each with a purchase of a value meal. I wonder if the fighting game will have catsup instead of blood? · · · PLAYSTATION 3 NOT IN FIGHTING SHAPE: Sony may have been a bit too ambitious while designing its upcoming Playstation 3... there's so much hardware under the hood that they can't keep it shut! Either the PS3 will have to be slimmed down or its case bulked up before the system can be released. · · · · · ·

April 14, 2006...  'Cuz She's Got Big Fake Boobies!

I just got back from a college lecture about video games.  Can they really be considered a legitimate form of artistic expression, and is there really more to Tetsuya Mizuguchi's Rez than slick graphics and a thumping soundtrack?  Any gamer worth his salt already knows the answer to the first question, but it turns out that Rez is far deeper than I realized... as a work of art, at least.  I also discovered from the lecture that the game can (and sometimes should!) be played passively; a tribute to the teachings of rotund religious leader Buddha.  If only that much thought had been put into the gameplay!

What else?  Oh, I guess I should mention that there's a new Tomb Raider game out now.  After all the comedy I was able to wring out of Lara Croft's big fake boobies, the least I could do in return is give her latest release some free publicity.  So what's up with Tomb Raider Legend?  Can it put this once wildly popular series back on its feet after seven years of bad luck?

Personally, I think that the Tomb Raider franchise was damaged beyond repair after three increasingly awful sequels, and that no amount of atonement will ever be enough to make Lara Croft relevant to today's gamers.  Still, I've got to applaud Crystal Dynamics for fixing much of what was broken in the previous Tomb Raider games.  Lara Croft is no longer chained to a "turn-walk-turn" control scheme; instead, you can move her freely in any direction, and point the camera wherever you like with the right analog stick.

It's a step in the right direction for sure, but the developers still have a long way to go before Lara is as nimble as the stars of Ninja Gaiden or Prince of Persia.  The control isn't as tight or precise as it should be, resulting in missed jumps and painful falls.  Lara's got the aim of a Stormtrooper, and many of her tools and even basic moves like climbing cliff walls are more difficult to use than necessary. 

Why do game developers insist on using EVERY button on the PS2 controller, anyway?  The otherwise fantastic God of War had the same problem, forcing the player to key in awkward button combinations for many of Kratos' magic attacks.  This wicked excess is even more unwelcome in a game like Tomb Raider, with its many perilous jumps.  When you need to scramble up that cliff RIGHT NOW, you don't need to play a guessing game with the Dual Shock controller to find out which button will rescue Lara from certain doom.

Fans of Tomb Raider will be quick to point out the improvements in Legends, but gamers not blinded by brand loyalty will acknowledge that the game is still lagging a few years behind its competitors.  At least the Tomb Raider franchise is stuck in 2003 now, rather than 1997!

April 10, 2006...  I Give This Game 108 Stars!

The next installment of the Brews Brothers is just around the corner... but first, how about a few cartoon reviews, courtesy of contributor John Roche and myself?

By the way, RPG fans with reservations about Suikoden V can buy the game with confidence.  There's more to this recent Konami release than a once-trusted brand name... it really looks, sounds, and feels like the Suikoden games of old.  If only I could say the same thing about Grandia III!

MAYDAY! MAYDAY!: Word on the street (actually, the word was in the latest EGM) is that the new, slimmer DS Lite will be available in America this May. A price for the system has yet to be determined, although $150 is probably a safe bet. More good news for DS fans... New Super Mario Bros. is also set to be released that month. · · · CAPCOM MEETS CAPONE: Capcom has been doing a little "creative accounting" in Japan, hiding over forty million dollars in taxes from the government. They could lose an additional fifteen million in fines if authorities in Osaka are in a bad mood. Better hope they haven't played Final Fight: Streetwise! · · · EMPTY HEAD HUNTERS: Square-Enix is taking a new approach to human resources, seriously considering resumes from anyone and everyone that walks through the door, regardless of qualifications or experience. After playing Grandia III, I was convinced that they'd started this policy a long, long time ago! · · ·

April 6, 2006...  Crime Doesn't Pay

It was a long time coming, but Systematix has been updated with a brand new Jessboard and reviews of nearly twenty different game consoles!  Check it out, and see how your favorite system matches up against the rest!

All right, with that out of the way, it's time for that bitter ranting you've come to expect from The Gameroom Blitz.  You remember when I heaped all that praise onto True Crime: Streets of L.A.?  I stand by every word of it, but none of those words apply to the sequel, New York City.  Actually, it's not so much a legitimate sequel as it is a completely shameless and totally awful clone of Grand Theft Auto.  I told the designers at Luxoflux as much in an E-mail, but the message mysteriously (heh) bounced.

That's fine, though!  I'm going to make darned good and sure SOMEONE reads this, if only to make sure that nobody else makes the same mistake I did and pays good money for this sham of a sequel.


I loved True Crime: Streets of L.A., but this terrible sequel had absolutely none of its energy or excitement.  All the tongue-in-cheek humor, all the thrilling arcade-style action, all the fun of tracking down and stopping crime as it erupted throughout the city... it was all gone.  Why?  WHY? 

Even after reading the negative reviews in video game magazines and web sites, I gave True Crime: New York City an honest chance.  However, when I got it home and popped it into my Xbox, I quickly discovered that it wasn't the True Crime I loved so much on the GameCube.  It was just another mind-numbing, soul-sucking, crotch-punching Grand Theft Auto clone, right down to the awkward jumping and the monotonous missions.

If I wanted Grand Theft Auto (and I don't), I'd PLAY Grand Theft Auto.  Here's the thing, though... I didn't buy Grand Theft Auto.  I bought a True Crime game, and that was the experience I was expecting.  That's not what I got.  I feel like I was cheated out of the sequel I really wanted.  I sincerely hope the changes made to the game were forced by the management, because I'd hate to think that Luxoflux would willingly compromise its integrity just to cash in on fleeting industry trends.

When you make a REAL sequel to True Crime, let me know.  I sure as hell won't play another game like New York City, and judging from the unflattering reviews it's received, I doubt anyone else will.

April 3, 2006...  Brews You Can Use

The latest installment of The Brews Brothers is up and ready for your perusal.  Wish I had more to say, but I'm just not in the mood... this will have to do.

April 1, 2006...  Blast from the Past

Click here for this year's April Fool's joke.