Posts from January, February, and March of 2006.

March 29, 2006...  Graciously Accepting Defeat (also, N-Gage gripes)

I have seen the bottom of the handheld mountain, brothers and sisters... and I call it the N-Gage.

For the right price, I was willing to give the system an honest chance.  I finally had that opportunity when I spotted an N-Gage QD and three games on eBay for just under seventy bucks.  I've spent more money on dumber things (like the gargantuan Tekken 5 controller that's gathering dust in my entertainment center), so I figured I'd take the plunge and add the system to my growing collection.

I just received my N-Gage in the mail today, and after spending some quality (?) time with the system, I'm starting to wonder why I didn't save that money for that other embarassing handheld blunder, the Gizmondo.  Sure, the software selection is even worse, but it's a much more exciting conversation piece... what other game system can claim to be the product of a money laundering scheme by the Swedish mafia?

It's not the hardware that holds the N-Gage back... judging from the three games I own, and the time I spent with Pandemonium! at a mall kiosk several years ago, the system is about as powerful as a Playstation.  That's as much as anyone can reasonably expect from a portable game system, especially one as small as the N-Gage QD.  Games like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and Tomb Raider are faithful to their console counterparts, and look just a little sharper on an LCD screen.

So it's not the hardware that's the problem here, but the cumbersome shell wrapped around it.  The N-Gage QD shares many of the flaws of other cell phones with hastily tacked on support for video games.  There are way too many buttons (c'mon, Nokia, game systems with numeric keypads are soooo 1983), the joypad is stiff and unyielding, and even the power switch is more difficult to use than necessary, hidden under a rubber bumper on the side of the unit.  It's as far from ergonomic as you can make a game system.

But wait, there's less!  The screen is agonizingly small, about the size of a Game Boy Advance cartridge, and the interface borrows a little too heavily from other cell phones, with menus and context-sensitive buttons complicating its use.  There are even load times which, while not as obnoxious as those on the PSP, shouldn't even be here at all when you consider that all the games are on cartridges.  So yeah, the N-Gage experience isn't quite as awful as Penny Arcade made it out to be, but those guys exaggerate practically everything.  It would have been impossible for Nokia to meet those outrageously low expectations without poison-tipped blades popping out of the sides of the N-Gage every time you turn it on.

So, now that you've got seventy dollars that you won't be spending on an N-Gage, where should that money go?  Into the hands of the developers of Under Defeat, of course.  Sega claims that this will be the last Dreamcast game... just like the last one, and the one before that.  However, unlike all the iffy vertical shooters that came before it, Under Defeat is a real keeper, and the perfect way to top off your Dreamcast collection. 

It not only offers the commercial-quality polish that Radilgy and Chaos Field lacked, but it's fun to play, with just the right amount of bullets and an aiming system straight out of the Capcom shooter Gun.smoke.  The three-way cannon fire isn't as versatile as Zero Gunner's omni-directional aiming, but it's also not nearly as confusing!  If this really is the last commercial Dreamcast release, the system will have gone out with the spectacular bang that it so richly deserves.

BOMBER-MAGNUM OPUS: Perhaps in an effort to make up for the recent "mature" games in the Bomberman series, Hudson has given consideration to releasing Saturn Bomberman, considered by many to be the apex of the series, for the Xbox Live online service. A PRICE REVOLUTION: Nintendo's president Satoru Iwata has vowed to make games for the upcoming Revolution less expensive than those released for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. He hasn't specified a price point, but any reduction in cost is a welcome one. RESERVED JUDGEMENT: Leading video game retailer GameStop has decided to sell already reserved copies of Kingdom Hearts II to anyone who asks for a copy. Now the only reservations gamers will have is about buying software from GameStop in the first place!

March 26, 2006...  Jammin' with the Brews Brothers

Recently, I interviewed several members of the homebrew gaming community for an article published on the 1UP web site.  There was a lot of material I couldn't use in the feature, so after receiving permission from 1UP's editorial staff, I've decided to print the interviews in their entirety here on The Gameroom Blitz.

The first interview in this four-part series is with translator Neill Corlett, the man who brought Seiken Densetsu 3 (the TRUE sequel to Secret of Mana) to an entirely new audience.  In later installments, we'll chat with Atari game developers Kirk Israel and Ron Lloyd, as well as Nathan Lazur of the promising but ultimately cancelled Chrono Resurrection project.  If you're at all interested in the underground gaming scene, you'll want to stay tuned for all four interviews!

I'd like to thank everyone who participated, along with Jeremy Parish for giving me clearance to publish the interviews on The Gameroom Blitz.  Kudos to you all!

CAPCOM 8 86'ED: Maybe Final Fight: Streetwise wasn't such a wise idea after all. Unflattering reviews of the atrocious beat 'em up have convinced Capcom to drive a stake through the heart of its American game design devision, known as Capcom 8. If only they'd done this after Final Fight Revenge! REVOLUTION GETS TURBOCHARGED: Hudson Soft will make its library of TurboGrafx games available for download on Nintendo's next system, the Revolution. The system wasn't especially popular in the United States (fifteen minutes with Keith Courage will explain why) but it's great news for the Japanese. LIKE SANDS THROUGH THE HOURGLASS: The Nintendo DS is getting a Legend of Zelda game... and to everyone's great relief, Tingle isn't the star of this one. Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass features a cel-shaded Link along with puzzles that take advantage of the system's touch screen.

ACCLAIM ADS IT ALL UP: In a desperate attempt to prove that yes, they are every bit as evil as the old management, the new owners of Acclaim plan to seed their online RPGs with advertising. Fortunately, gamers will be too busy not playing Acclaim's games to ever see them. LOSE THE FORCE, LUKE: Hated copyright protection developer Starforce has created spyware that digs deep into your PC and forces it to reset after detecting potentially illegal activity. Strangely, there's nothing illegal about the software itself. LEMMINGS FALL INTO PSP: Ever wonder what happened to the scruffy stars of the classic Amiga puzzle game Lemmings? Well, they're back, courtesy of Sony Liverpool (formerly Psygnosis) and Worms creator Team 17. The game will be available to Americans this May.

March 22, 2006...  Doko wa Origami Desu Ka?

It seems that the already crowded handheld market will have to make room for one more competitor next year.  Microsoft's planning a portable game system of their own, and it's not the tablet PC Origami.  Not much is known about the miniature Xbox at this point, but it's probably safe to assume the following...

*  The hardware will be more powerful than what's in the Nintendo DS.
*  The hardware will be LESS powerful than the 733MHz processor in the original Xbox.
*  As usual, Microsoft will "borrow" all of Sony's marketing strategies when promoting the device in 2007.
*  The portable Xbox will be designed with convergence in mind (hey, just like Sony's PSP!).
*  A handheld Halo (the only thing that kept the Xbox alive during its freshman year) is a certainty.
*  Viva Pinata will most likely be another launch title, even though the junior Xbox will be geared to adults.
*  Microsoft's perplexing support for the Nintendo DS will just as mysteriously vanish sometime this year.
*  Steve Ballmer will throw a fit at a stockholder's meeting,
loosening the bladders of everyone there.
*  The editor of The Gameroom Blitz will complain endlessly about yet another handheld glutting the market.

POTENT PORTABLE: The PSP just got a whole lot more appealing. Sony has announced that original Playstation titles will soon be available for download. There's no word on what games will be offered, but even first-party titles would dramatically increase the size of the system's software library. CANDY CANED: If you thought Conker's Bad Fur Day was an odd move for British software developer Rare, you ain't seen nothin' yet. The Microsoft subsidiary is planning a cartoon starring brightly colored pinatas, with a game to match. Good news for anyone who's ever wanted to mercilessly beat the stars of Banjo-Kazooie with a stick! DELAYED STATION 3: If you're waiting for the Playstation 3, better pull up a seat. Sony has officially announced that the system won't be released until the end of the year... and that's in Japan! The wait will likely be even longer for Americans, who will have to get by with the Playstation 2 until 2007.

March 16, 2006...  The PSP Strikes Back

Holy crap.

Between this announcement and the release of top-notch games like Pursuit Force and Mega Man: Powered Up, the future is looking a whole lot brighter for the PSP.  So Nintendo, whatcha got planned in response?

THIRD TIME'S THE CHARM?: After the disappointing N-Gage and the outright disasterous Gizmondo, Europe still hasn't learned its lesson. The continent is once again throwing its crumpled hat into the handheld ring with the Lavod PocketPlay, a tiny MP3 player that also plays Sega Game Gear titles. FIGHT THE POWER!: Instead of tucking its tail between its legs and running for safety, the Entertainment Software Association is finally taking a stand against politicians who've made a career out of attacking the video game industry. At long last, they're acting like a lobbyist group should! STATION NATION: Stop me if you've heard this before. Sony plans to let owners of the Playstation 3 download software designed for its past game systems. There's no news on how much the games will cost, when they'll be available, or if Sony's just making empty promises to keep Nintendo's Revolution from gaining momentum.

W FOR WICKED EXCESS: A massive controller, apparently ripped from the nightmares of H. R. Giger, was recently unveiled for the Sega Saturn in Japan. This peripheral was designed for another gigantic monstrocity, the light gun game Death Crimson. The custom-made controller is not for sale, but sadly, Death Crimson still is. RISE OF THE PHOENIX: Good news for those of you who missed Capcom's unique graphic adventure the first time around... a second pressing of Phoenix Wright is set to hit stores later this month. Now you can save all that money you would have spent on the game for other insanely overpriced eBay merchandise! THE CHOICE OF A PREVIOUS GENERATION: The aging Game Boy Advance gets a shot in the arm this month with the introduction of the Player's Choice label, once reserved solely for GameCube titles. Several of Mario's best handheld adventures will be available as Player's Choice titles, complete with a more appealing price.

March 11, 2006...  Hot Pursuit (oh yeah, and a bunch of other games, too)

And now, a quick round-up of the latest games I've purchased...

GOD OF WAR:  Producer Dave Jaffe has taken a very cinematic approach to your typical action game... but I mean that in a good way.  Rather than stalling the battles with endless cut-scenes, he uses the fast-paced and often brutal fighting to tell a story as the game progresses.  Classic shooters like Gunstar Heroes, Metal Slug, and Gradius V scratched the surface of story-driven gaming, but I have yet to play a game that does it as effectively as God of War.  Fights with major enemies often require Kratos, the burly hitman of the gods, to use the surrounding environment to his advantage, slamming the mythological beasts against walls and impaling them with the broken mast of a ship on the verge of sinking.  If GOW's high retail price left you thinking twice about a purchase, there's good news... its new, lower price tag should make the decision a whole lot easier.

NINJA GAIDEN BLACK:  This pumped-up, budget-priced version of the Xbox's only Japanese killer app mirrors the gameplay of God of War in some respects... most of the time, you'll be running from room to room, lopping off the heads of rival assassins.  However, Ninja Gaiden's hero Ryu prefers speed and style to Kratos' brute force, running along walls and over water on his way to the next bloody confrontation.  Ninja Gaiden Black's storyline isn't as well integrated or as entertaining as the one in God of War, and its vicious difficulty level makes the game less approachable than Sony's smash hit.  On the other side of the coin, Ninja Gaiden Black's got sharp, vivid graphics and a generous helping of unlockable content, including all the previous titles in the Ninja Gaiden series.  Yes, even that arcade game that nobody but myself liked.

PURSUIT FORCE:  Oh man, was this ever worth the wait!  I had high hopes for this outrageous racing game, and it has yet to disappoint me.  Pursuit Force is packed with more adrenaline than a king-sized Snickers bar, Jimmy Carter, and the entire state of Georgia has peanuts, borrowing its best ideas from arcade favorites like Roadblasters, Hydra, Spy Hunter, and Chase HQ.  It even takes inspiration from an unexpected source, Taito's underappreciated Wild Western.  If you're close enough to a criminal's vehicle, you can take it from them by leaping from your own car onto theirs!  The graphics are spectacular (moooove over, Burnout Legends!), and the sound is straight out of a campy buddy cop film.  If there's anything wrong with Pursuit Force, it's that the gameplay is sometimes a little too mechanical... you can't draw your weapon unless you absolutely need to have it, and once you leap to another car, you just can't miss it... it's like you're magnetized to its roof.  Nevertheless, it's doesn't matter how many racing games you've got for your PSP... there's still plenty of room for this one!

THE INCREDIBLE WIZARD:  We're off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Astrocade!  Did I mention that I absolutely detest the new title of this conversion of Midway's Wizard of Wor?  Well, it bears repeating.  However, a rose by any other name still smells as sweet, and no rose- er, game- on the Astrocade has a fragrance this alluring.  Don't let anyone tell you that this is a perfect port... the voices are absent, and so is that ominous percussion in the background that raised the tension of this heart-pounding action title through the stratosphere.  The somewhat blocky enemies also seem to be a little stingy with their laser fire as well, holding it in until the sixth stage on the normal difficulty level.  None of that matters, though, because the game is still the BEST conversion of Midway's classic you'll find on a home game console.  Not even the emulation of Wizard of Wor on Midway Arcade Treasures 2 is as satisfying as this finely aged translation.

BANJO PILOT:  What, you didn't think I'd like ALL of the games I've reviewed here, did you?  Banjo Pilot sounds like a promising concept at first... after all, Diddy Kong Racing was one hell of an impressive Nintendo 64 release, once you got past those aggravating boss battles.  Unfortunately, while Diddy Kong Racing was able to soar to the top of the N64 library, Banjo Pilot can barely get off the ground.  It's not just the flat Mode 7 scaling, but the paint-by-numbers gameplay and incredibly lame Banjo-Kazooie cast that makes this one a big letdown after the exhilirating highs of Rare's last versus racing game.

COLECO... SUAVE!: Fans of classic game systems with an itch to program their own software will be overjoyed to learn that there is currently a BASIC compiler in development for the ColecoVision. It's being designed in part by programming ace Eduardo Mello, so you know it'll be great. Gentlemen, start your imaginations! YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WASTE: Hillary Clinton, the place where boners go to die, is back on the warpath! She's using the Center For Disease Control as a weapon against the video game industry, along with fellow anti-fun activist Joe Liebermann. With these jokers around, we'll be churning butter as a hobby in ten years. KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND PLUMBER: That legend among video game designers, Shigeru Miyamoto, was knighted by the French government in recognition for over twenty five years of spectacular software. Maybe now, he won't look so ridiculous when he arrives at press events brandishing a sword and shield! Well, maybe.

March 9, 2006... The Money Pit

I've got mixed feelings about my recent purchase of the Neo-Geo AES and its disc-spinning counterpart, the Neo-Geo CD.  While I take great satisfaction in finally sinking my claws into the systems that I so desperately wanted as a teenager and young adult, both consoles were costly additions to my collection... and it's become clear to me that this was not a one-time investment.  I'm starting to feel like I'm trapped in that film starring Tom Hanks and the snooty chick from Cheers...

It's no secret to collectors that Neo-Geo cartridges are jaw-droppingly expensive.  The high production costs and state of the art technology used to make the carts resulted in high prices and low supply right out of the starting gate.  Fifteen years later, many of these games have become more valuable... and costly!  If you had told me back in 1993 that we'd be playing video games with Jurassic Park-quality computer rendering, carrying around full-color 32-bit handhelds no larger than my fist, and that Neo-Geo games would be selling for well over their original retail price of $200, I would have laughed in your face.  Over a decade later, it looks like the joke's on me!

It's almost as funny that the Neo-Geo and its accessories aren't nearly as sturdy as their high price tags would lead you to believe.  The Pro joystick that came with the system is exactly one half of a great controller... the stick itself is made from quality parts, but the plastic buttons are well below the standards of a genuine arcade machine, and even most sanely priced game consoles.  The one I purchased from eBay was broken right out of the box... it turned out that a grounding wire had dislodged itself from the solder on one of the circuit boards.  It was nothing that couldn't be repaired with a touch of a red-hot soldering iron, but even after the wire had been returned to its rightful place, the stick still wouldn't function properly.  It was just a little LESS broken than before.

So there you have it.  The Neo-Geo is unquestionably the most impressive game system of its time... but it's not going to win any stress tests from Morgan Von Webb.

WELCOME TO THE PINBALL OF TOMORROOOOW!: You've got to be a huge fan of Futurama to build an entire pinball table based on the short-lived cartoon, complete with polished playfield art and a miniature TV that plays clips from the series. Evan K. of the web site Special When Lit is that fan. IT'S BAAAAACK...: Like the stars of its NES games Friday the 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street, you just can't kill Acclaim... it will only come back to terrify a new generation of gamers. This time, everyone's least favorite publisher is hoping to leave its mark of mediocrity on a new frontier, the world of online gaming. PARKED IN YOUR POCKET: Korean manufacturer GamePark is resurrecting its open-source handheld, the GP32. There's just one small difference between the new XGP mini and the old GP32... and when we say "small," we're not kidding. Despite vastly superior hardware, the XGP mini is as tiny as Nintendo's Game Boy Micro!

March 7, 2006... A Portable-Packed Post

I'm just wild about handhelds... and they're just wild about me!  Pundits have been crowing that the future of video games lies in online interaction and distribution, but it seems clear to me the path of this industry will lead straight to our pockets.

Just look at the Game Boy Micro!  When I first slapped down the hundred bucks for this system, I thought it was the dumbest gaming purchase I ever made.  Months later, I've quickly come to realize that it was one of the smartest.  Its tiny size means that there's no stopping you from taking the best games ever created anywhere, and when you couple it with a flash cart like the Supercard SD, the Game Boy Micro's already massive library grows even larger, including all my favorites on the NES, Game Gear, Master System, and ColecoVision.

Then there's the Nintendo DS, and the PSP, and this little bugger from GamePark (it's the second of the two systems shown).  You might remember GamePark as the creators of the open-source handheld, the GP32.  Apparently, the XGP mini will be the new model of this system, with all the power of the original but a lot less of the bulk.  This is especially exciting news for PSP owners reluctant to upgrade their firmware... there are more emulators available for the GP32 and its tiny cousin than any other handheld, finally giving PSP fans the excuse they need to fully devote their system to official releases.

There's still room for the console market to grow, but in this writer's opinion, it will be far more exciting to watch handheld game systems evolve over the next ten years.  We've already seen some pretty amazing advances since the original Game Boy debuted in 1989... battery life has improved by leaps and bounds, hardware has advanced to near-console levels of performance, and the color screens which were once considered impractical have become an industry standard. 

You can't help but wonder... what's next?  If technology continues to improve at its current rate, in another ten years we could find a handheld as powerful as the Game Boy Micro and as thin as a credit card at the bottom of a box of Fruit Loops.

SPORE DRIFTS ONTO HANDHELDS: Electronic Arts claims that Will Wright's upcoming PC game Spore will also be released for handheld game systems. They haven't said which ones, but a PSP version is a safe bet. Judging from EA's past output on the system, it's also safe to say that the Nintendo DS version will suck like there's no tomorrow. SORRY, I FOLD: Never mind the footage you saw in that promotional video... Halo will NOT be officially released for Origami, the tablet PC currently in development at Microsoft. The closest you're going to get to Halo on a handheld is a PSP hack of the first-person shooter Iris, starring Master Chief. Cease and desist letters ahoy, captain! ECKO THE DOUCHEBAG: Frustrated by lukewarm reviews and poor sales of his premiere video game Getting Up, fashion designer Mark Ecko referred to gamers dissatisfied with his product as "divas" and "the nerds who got wedgies in high school." It's funny how Ecko's sour grapes taste like the sweet fruit of victory to everyone else, isn't it?

March 2, 2006... Manhandle That Handheld!

Now, it's time for America's favorite game show, Manhandle That Handheld, where we void the warranties of popular portable game systems in the hopes of improving their functionality!

Here comes our latest contestant... introduce yourself, please!

"Hi, I'm Jess Ragan, and I'm a freelance writer and disgruntled PSP owner from the state of Michigan.  My hobbies are playing video games, then writing smarmy reviews of them for my site, The Gameroom Blitz."

Thank you!  Now, let's begin the game, shall we?  In a valiant effort to improve his handheld experience, Jess has attempted to graft a new D-pad onto his Playstation Portable.  He's taken the faceplate from an, ahem, "retired" system, then used a soldering iron to burn a hole through the left side of the plate, where the PSP's directional pad rests.

"Not one of my better ideas.  I probably got fifteen kinds of cancer breathing in those plastic fumes..."

He may not play wisely, but he plays to win, folks!  Jess then opened a Sega Arcade Pad, then pried off its D-pad and sanded down the shaft on its underside.  Finally, he took a dab of Super Glue and set the shaft of the pad firmly in the center of the PSP's directional pad, holding it there for several minutes until it dried.  After a good night's sleep, he put the system back together.

"So, how'd I do?"

Not so good, I'm afraid.  The D-pad is a bit more responsive, but not enough to justify the permanent damage done to the PSP's faceplate.  Plus, your system's a whole lot uglier and a lot less portable, with the D-pad sticking up like a sore thumb hitching a ride to the nearest doctor's office!

"Aw, man!  C'mon, I tried!"

Trying's not enough in this game, my friend!  That's all right, though... we've got a lovely consolation prize for you.  How's a year's supply of Rice-A-Roni sound to you?

"Sounds like I'll be eating seasoned rice for the next 365 days."

Stay tuned next week when our next contestant presses his luck and tries to replace the firmware on his Nintendo DS!  He's putting his system in jeopardy for faster access to his flash cartridge... will the gamble pay off, or will he be left with a really dark, really expensive makeup mirror?  Come back next week and find out!

CRYSTAL COLONICALS: Now Final Fantasy can go anywhere, and we do mean ANYWHERE. The Final Fantasy Potion is now available in Japan, and the bottle of this sports drink looks remarkably like a high-tech enema kit. The potion's twelve dollar price at import stores means that you'll get it up the butt in more ways than one if you buy it. FROTHING FANBOYS KILL LINTNER KOHLER: Wired editor Chris Kohler was swarmed en masse by Morrowind fans, who took time out of their busy schedules of adjusting their pocket protectors and using their Primatine mist to flame him for his honest assessment of The Elder Scrolls. Hell hath no fury like a pasty nerd scorned! IT'S THAT TIME OF THE MONTH: Time for the release of Super Princess Peach, that is! The Nintendo DS title is the first Mario game since Super Mario Bros. 2 that lets the dainty ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom play the role of the hero. Ladies and gentlemen (but mostly ladies), it's time to go totally menstruel on Bowser's ass!

February 27, 2006... Attack of the Phantom Post 

No idea what happened to this post!

MYSTERY BONUS: There's a secret toy surprise inside specially marked boxes of the new PSP, but nobody's sure just what it will be. Is it eight gigabytes of Flash memory? Is it just one? Will a camera be built into the new PSP? Nobody knows, and Sony's not tellin'. LOWERED INTEREST: According to a recent Forrester poll, 43% of the 10,000 gamers polled admitted they're less interested in gaming than they were two years ago. The poll also suggested growing interest in computer gaming... a trend that should be eerily familiar to older gamers. TO FREE OR NOT TO FREE?: Penny-pinching Xbox owners who were thinking they could get their game on for free in the first weekend of April had better think again. Verizon dropped its sponsorship of the free Xbox Live event faster than its nerdy mascot gets on peoples' nerves.

February 25, 2006... One State Pissed Off, Fourty-Nine to Go!

In a rumored act of incredible arrogance (its latest), Sony plans to challenge the Nintendo Revolution... by dropping the price of its Playstation 2 and introducing a few me-too peripherals for the aging system.  Sure, the Revolution's going to be the least powerful of the three next-generation consoles... even Nintendo isn't denying this.  However, Sony's seriously underestimating the Rev if they think they can directly compete against it with the least powerful of this generation's consoles.

In other news, Utah, land of suffocating theocratic rule, is set to treat violent video games like pornography, complete with stiff penalties for sales to minors.  Oh, those wacky Mormons and the unlawful enforcement of their backward, repressive beliefs!  If it's any consolation, maybe there's a loophole in the law that lets kids buy a whole bunch of games at once...

OLD-SCHOOL DS EXPELLED: Word on the street is the Nintendo will phase out the original DS design in favor of the upcoming DS Lite. First model DS systems will be available in the United States until August, when Nintendo will cut off the supply of its less portable portable. N-GAGE A GREAT EXPERIENCE?: Most owners of the failed phone/handheld hybrid would probably disagree, but that's the word from Nokia spokesman Jani Karlsson. He claims to have learned a lot from the N-Gage. One can only hope that it taught him to stop making crappy game systems. CERO TO ZERO: The Japanese rating system CERO is set to change, replacing its completely logical age labels with a more cryptic grading system. Family-friendly titles get an A, while mature-rated games get a D or even a Z! Finally, Grand Theft Auto will get the grade it deserves!

February 23, 2006... Oh, Reginald?  I DISAGREE!

The only thing that makes me angrier than the recently announced delay of Zelda: Twilight Princess (the latest of many) is peoples' complacent acceptance of it.  "Oh, well that's OK... I'm sure it'll be out eventually!  Reggie says so!  In the meantime, we can always play Chibi-Robo, and, uh... Chaos Field, and... well, Dora the Explorer..."

What is wrong with you people, anyway?  You're so eager to accept anything that comes out of the mouth of the husband from Bewitched that you don't mind that your GameCube has become a purple doorstop.  Where's the outrage?  This was supposed to be the console that fixed all the mistakes Nintendo made with the N64, yet the software support is still just as thin and Nintendo's relationship with third parties developers is still just as strained.

Sorry, Nintendo, but I'm not dazzled by the empty promises from tough-talking apologists with an eerie resemblence to Dick York.  Reggie's told us that he's all about kicking ass and taking names, but we've been seeing a lot more licking from the GameCube than kicking.

GARFIELD HATES MONDAYS, NINTENDO: In his 2003 book And Now A Few Words From Me, advertising watchdog Bob Garfield complains at length about a Nintendo commercial... that aired nine years before the book was published. Not exactly quick on the draw, are we, Bob? MINI ME-CHASSAULT: Majesco announced an upcoming DS version of the popular Xbox title Mechassault, proving that they're not down for the count yet. More interesting, this will be the fourth Microsoft- licensed title on a console they don't even manufacture. Who's up for some Halo DS? EIGHT HUNDRED DOLLAR GORILLA: Merrill-Lynch reports that the Playstation 3 will cost eight hundred dollars per system for Sony to manufacture, meaning a huge loss for the company if the PS3 is sold at a competitive price. At least you won't be the only one to have to take out a loan to buy one!

February 19, 2006... Prime Rib and Squirrel Burgers

It took a decade and a half, but the future is finally now for The Gameroom Blitz.  The Neo-Geo CD I'd purchased on eBay arrived at my house yesterday, and I'm expecting a Neo-Geo AES (the more desirable cartridge-based system) sometime next week.

You'd think I'd be too busy sitting in front of my television playing Samurai Shodown to tell you about my latest acquisitions, but there's just one problem... I don't have an AC adapter for either the Neo-Geo CD or the machine I'll be receiving shortly.  I thought I could sidestep this issue with a universal adapter, but wouldn't you know it, the Neo-Geo CD has a funky port on the back that's designed exclusively for SNK brand power supplies.  Knowing SNK's outrageous price structure from back in the 1990's, they probably cost at least fifty dollars, which is likely why I've had no luck whatsoever finding them online.

In the worst case scenerio, I'll never get to actually play my Neo-Geo systems.  Even if that turns out to be the case, I'm still glad I have them.  They're the most prized of all the trophies in my gaming collection, and the next best thing to having an arcade cabinet in my living room (without the hernias or the massive shipping charges!).

LIFE IS GRANDIA: The long-awaited Grandia III was released in the United States this week, courtesy of Square-Enix. Well, it WOULD have been long-awaited, if it hadn't been for that awful spin-off Grandia Xtreme. Curse you, Dean Cain and Lisa Loeb! IRRESIST-A-BOLL: After three progressively awful films, director Uwe Boll has found a way to convince movie-goers to watch the next one. Boll claims that he'll be slain by his critics in the upcoming Postal. Talk about your cast of thousands! DS SINGS OPERA: The PSP won't be the only major handheld with online functionality, if Nintendo has its way. The web browser Opera will soon be available as a cartridge for the Nintendo DS in Japan, and could find its way to America as well.

February 16, 2006... One Stake, Not So Well Done

After many months, The Gameroom Blitz finally has its fight back.  Specifically, Fighter's Misery, the feature that dares to examine the filthy underbelly of fighting games and pick off the bloated ticks clinging to it.  The latest parasite on display is Stake: Fortune Fighters, an Xbox release with a lot less meat on its bones than its hearty name would suggest. 

Dig in while it's hot, folks!  It might be a while before you get a second helping.

TOTALLY TO THE MAX!: Datel Industries is releasing a four gigabyte hard drive that turns the Nintendo DS into a multimedia dynamo. On the downside, it adds to the weight of the system, and at $225, it'll take the weight out of your wallet. There's no word on its compatibility with homebrews or the new DS Lite. GRIN AND BAER IT: The U.S. government took a break from demonizing video games to give industry pioneer Ralph Baer a medal for creating the world's first commercial Pong unit. It's refreshing to see a game designer receive a shiny metal object from a politician that's NOT pointed and stuck in the back!

February 14, 2006... LAN in the Place Where You Live (Now Place Second)

After competing in a tournament held at a local LAN party, I've discovered that I'm the second best Mario Kart player in Mount Pleasant.  That's worth a bandanna and a Serious Sam II poster, if the prize I received is any indication.  I had a shot at first place, but there was a twist at the end of the tournament that would have made even M. Night Shaymalan jealous! 

Instead of the usual Double Dash race, the other finalist and myself were pitted against each other in the battle mode of the very first Mario Kart game!  To say I was unprepared for this would be an understatement... it's been years since I've played an honest-to-goodness Super NES!  I started out strong, but an inability to properly use the feather power-up was ultimately my downfall.

Win or lose, I had a whole lot of fun at the party, and met some pretty cool people there.  I'll certainly make it a point to attend the next one!

TIME FOR A RECHARGE: After a three year hiatus, the British web site Higher Voltage is planning a comeback. Higher Voltage was famous for its fighting game coverage... so much so that its Eleet Speak message board is still frequently visited by fans. GRB wishes EvilNeil the best of luck with the site's re-launch. LET THE GAMES BEGIN!: He may look like the husband on Bewitched, but Reginald Fils-Aimes really knows how to work his magic on his fans. Fil-Aimes announced the US launch of wireless download kiosks, which will allow Nintendo DS owners to download content for existing games and demos of upcoming ones. PSP GOES TO THE DOGS: The virtual dogs, that is. Yuke's Media Creations is developing an eerily familiar Nintendogs clone for the PSP. This follows in the footsteps of other Sony-sanctioned knock-offs of Nintendo DS hits, like Brain Training and Wario Ware. What's next, Mammalia Crossing and Killzone Prime: Hunters?

February 10, 2006... Warning: Recession Ahead

I don't usually talk about the business side of gaming, but fortunes are changing so wildly for several industry leaders that even I can't resist getting in my two cents.  Take-Two, Electronic Arts, and Atari have all been rocked with heavy losses, while Capcom is finally raking in the big bucks after limping through most of the 21st century with stagnant licenses (Street Fighter, Mega Man) and innovative but ultimately unsuccessful new franchises (Phoenix Wright, Viewtiful Joe).

It would be easy to predict an industry crash at this point... even Nintendo seems a little worried that it could happen, if this report from Joystiq is any indication.  However, I've been making that prediction every year for the past thirteen years, and it has yet to happen.  There will be changes in the future, for sure... old industry giants will crumble, and new ones will arise to take their place.  However, I have a funny feeling that, even after all the chaos, the gaming industry will be around for many years to come.  It may be a completely different animal in a decade, but it'll still be here.

So, what's new on The Gameroom Blitz?  There's a fresh batch of reviews on the cartoon page... in this installment of Frame by Frame, we witness both the thrill of The Boondocks and the agony of Camp Lazlo.  You can't blame Cartoon Network for trying to capitalize on the success of Spongebob Squarepants, but next time, let's hope they try a little harder...

DUMB AND DUMBER: An organization of gamers tried to make, uh, some kind of point by sending bouquets of flowers to professional douchebag Jack Thompson, only to have every stem and petal forwarded to Take-Two president Paul Eibeler. Seems that their flower power was no match for Jack's GLOWER power! GIZMON-DODO: The brain (donor) trust responsible for the Gizmondo has went bankrupt in Europe, resulting in a court-enforced liquidation of all Gizmondo products. That's right, now you can get your three ads a day for just pennies on the dollar! Or you can wait a few weeks and just dig a Giz out of the trash. SUNDAY, BLOODY SUNDAY: After a failed attempt to take Lara Croft as his bride, there's talk that U2 lead singer Bono is considering the purchase of Take-Two Interactive. You know your company is in trouble when you've suddenly become sloppy seconds to Eidos!

THE PRICE IS WRONG, BILL!: Joystiq reports that the Xbox core system has been discontinued, replaced by a package which includes Forza Motorsports. Sadly, the price of the bundle remains fixed at $169.99... and the Gran Tourismo clone it's anchored to remains as boring and anal-retentive as ever. I HEARD THE NERDS DOWN IN AFRICA: An online RPG set in Africa is being developed in Atlanta, with funding from the country of Ghana. The plan is to make a game as fun as the heavyweights in the genre, with lower overhead for the PCs in African Internet cafes. Hey, if it distracts Nigerians from their 409 scams, I'm all for it! WINNERS DON'T USE IN-GAME ADS: Fifteen years after the "Winners Don't Use Drugs" campaign, the US government is planning to indoctrinate a new generation of kids with public service announcements in video games. How do ads about staying in school sound? Well too bad, you're getting them anyway.

February 5, 2006... Get Equipped with Mega Man Collection

This update is all about The Man, you dig?  I'm talking about none other than Mega Man, that squeezably soft battle droid who's kept the world safe from the scheming Dr. Wily for nearly twenty years.  Here are my observations on the latest batch of games starring Capcom's Swiss Army robot.

First on the menu is Mega Man Collection.  I'm late to the party on this one, I know... it was released nearly two years ago, and I only recently added it to my personal library, after the price of used copies dropped to a reasonable fifteen dollars.  I've spent about an hour and a half with it so far, and it seems like a pretty solid collection of Mega Man's earliest adventures, with only a few minor flaws. 

Of course, those flaws don't seem so minor when you're itching to use your favorite game controller, and Mega Man Collection refuses to acknowledge its existence.  Like Namco Museum 50th Anniversary, Mega Man Collection actively searches for analog joypads, and refuses to operate without them.  And just like Namco's latest Museum release, there's no logical reason to limit the player to a controller poorly suited to games that required, at most, a single joystick and four buttons.

If you can stand being anchored to a Dual Shock 2 while playing these games, you're bound to have a good time with them.  Atomic Planet's done a fine job with the emulation... I played through the original Mega Man in its entirety and all my old strategies worked perfectly.  I even managed to develop a few new ones while fighting the Rock Monster, beating him for the first time ever without using the Select button as a crutch!

Fans of the series know that Mega Man is even more fun when he's powered up, and the upcoming release for the PSP confirms it.  After playing the demo version of Mega Man: Powered Up on the Mega Man X: Maverick Hunter disc, I'm very much looking forward to the final release.  Capcom's done a great job of balancing the old with the new... the polygonal graphics give the game a 21st century sheen, while retaining the cartoony charm that was a signature of the original series.

Maverick Hunter's not too shabby, either.  I gave that a quick spin as well, and was impressed with what little I saw of it.  Mega Man X is probably my least favorite of the four Mega Man series, but I can't deny that Capcom has put a lot of effort into this remake... a lot more than they invested in Mega Man Legends. 

Out of all the Mega Man games for the PSP, Legends is the least likely to make an appearance in the United States, and when you see the blocky textures and rough polygonal edges, you'll understand why.  It's hard to say why Capcom chose to port Mega Man Legends directly to the PSP without any improvements to the outdated visuals... a little cel-shading would have done wonders for the game!

KOJIMA FLUSHES THE BOLL: Hideo Kojima dived on the grenade that was Uwe Boll's threat- er, promise- to make a Metal Gear Solid movie, stating that a Boll adaptation of his baby was "impossible." You know, like following the plot of any given MGS game. THE BRAIN COMES OF AGE: Japanese DS favorite Brain Training is coming to the States as Brain Age. Nobody knows if the game will catch on here, but Nintendo hopes to sweeten the deal with Sudoku puzzles and a lower price tag. Smart move, guys! NVIDIA STILL DOWN WIT AGP: reports that Nvidia, the leading manufacturer of graphics cards, is still making high-end cards for computers with AGP ports. That's good news for those of us who still can't afford a ride on the PCI Express.

February 1, 2006... New Site Design: The Blue Period

After years of stubbornly sticking with the jet black layout first introduced in 2003, change has finally come to The Gameroom Blitz.  Function takes precedence over form in the latest design of the index page... flashy graphics and loud colors have been reduced to a minimum, replaced with easily accessible links to the site's best content. 

I've also used some of the real estate on the sidebar for links to my favorite sites, including fresh entries like Joystiq, Higher Voltage, and the incredibly useful online reference guide Wikipedia.  This should satisfy peoples' requests for linkbacks; at least until I can add more detailed descriptions of their sites to the main links page.

What's been sacrificed in the new design?  Well, the archives have been shrunken down a bit... the links to each month of news from the past four years have been condensed into color bars, each labelled by year.  To read what appeared on the site that month, just click the appropriate section of the color bar.  If a section of the bar is missing, either the site was on hiatus that month, or it just hasn't happened yet!

I've also removed the art section, simply because it wasn't getting updated frequently enough.  I considered developing a seperate site for my collection of drawings several years ago, but I've since settled for an account on the DeviantArt website (the name might make you a little uncomfortable, but trust me, it's a lot less scary than VCL!).  The comics page will remain on this site, but only as an archive of my past work.

Oh yeah, one other thing!  I've created a news scroll at the top of the page.  The news will be taken from sites like Joystiq and my buddy Chris Larson's Stage Select, then injected with GRB's unique brand of world-weary sarcasm.  The news scroll appears in Mozilla Firefox, but not Internet Explorer 6.0, giving you yet another good reason to switch browsers... if you haven't already!

Finally, there's the issue of content.  What should you expect from The Gameroom Blitz as it enters its tenth year online?  I can't make any promises, but I'm hoping to update the site more regularly than I did last year.  2005 was not kind to the Blitz, but now that the index page has been streamlined, it should be easier for me to add fresh material to it.  I'll also be more active on the forum, because heaven knows it could use some new activity!

I guess that's all to report for today!  If you like the new look of the site, drop by the forum and let me know.  Even if you don't, stop by anyway and tell me what you think it's missing.  This layout's going to be around for a while, but I'm sure there's room for improvement!

BETWEEN A ROCKSTAR AND A HARD PLACE: Take-Two Interactive continues to be burned by Hot Coffee, as lawsuits pile up while profits vanish. Could Hillary Clinton, the place where boners go to die, also become the graveyard for this former industry giant? ONE RESIDENT, FEWER PRESIDENTS: After a year on store shelves, the GameCube version of Resident Evil 4 finally makes the "Player's Choice" list. That new label comes with a new price... just twenty dollars! Unless you shop at Target, where everything's double the cost. YO YO, D'OH!: Undeterred by the one... out of five rating it received on XPlay, insecure white teens take time out of their busy schedules of fronting and pulling up their baggy pants to buy a million copies of 50 Cent: Bulletproof. This proves that money, not youth, is wasted on the young.

OH, THE IRONY OF IT ALL!: Strange but true... although the Xbox 360 interface was adapted from Windows 2000, Xbox 360 controllers will not work on PCs running that operating system. Now what do I do with this stinking joypad? A DOSE OF COMMON SENSE: David Jaffee, lead designer of God of War, has expressed contempt for cut scenes in video games, complaining that they interrupt the action. Good thing he doesn't work for Square-Enix... that kind of talk could get a guy fired over there! WHERE IN THE WORLD IS GUN?: Whining protest group the Association for American Indian Development laments that Activision's Gun doesn't accurately reflect the history of American Natives. Wait, was this supposed to be an educational game?

January 20, 2006... Ein, Zwei, Drei, Endy!

Here's a little something to keep you occupied while I retire the Christmas site design for another year and bring back the traditional Blitz layout... it's the 2005 Endy Awards!  I don't usually do features like these, but I've played enough of last year's games to make this article at least somewhat credible.  In addition to the usual awards for the best games released last year, I hand out a few prizes that nobody would want!

January 13, 2007... Full Automatic for the People

In the year 2006, there is room for only one racing game on store shelves, and in the hearts and minds of Xbox 360 owners.  There is no Project Gotham Racing 3, no Need For Speed: Most Wanted, and certainly no Ridge Racer 6.  There is only Full Auto.  Sega's soon-to-be-released masterpiece has no equal.  It takes the excellence of Burnout 3 and elevates it to a state of near nirvana by giving you missiles, machine guns, and the ability to tear apart an entire city as you race.  What is mere wallpaper in other racing games is yours to demolish in Full Auto... not even the highest neon sign nor the tallest skyscraper can escape your wrath!

The title of the game does not lie...  Full Auto truly is the complete arcade racing experience, and the Xbox 360's first killer app.  Watch for the final release next month.

January 2, 2007... Reflections on the Past, Present, and Future of Technology

As I sit back and reflect on the past year, the thing that amazes me most about 2005 is just how far technology has advanced.  We've reached a point where color LCD displays, once available only in the highest end of products, are included in toys retailing for thirty dollars or less.  MP3 players like Apple's iPod line let people bring their entire music collections along with them on their morning jog, and digital cameras continue to rise in quality while dropping in price.  Even camcorders can fit in your pocket, being a small fraction of the size and cost they were in the 1990's.

Twenty years ago, the rise of home computers had left people convinced that they were living in an advanced age.  However, it's not the mere existence of technology that proves the future has arrived, but when that technology becomes so small, so widespread, and so cheap that it's taken for granted.  Now that the average man or woman can burn DVDs at home for less than a dollar a pop, and buy a portable media player for every member of their family, including their kids, it's safe to say that this day is finally here.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to tomorrow.