Posts from April, May, and June 2007.

MAN OVERBOARD: Rockstar is in hot water after its latest controversial game, Manhunt 2, was given an AO rating by the ESRB. Neither Sony or Nintendo will allow AO-rated games to be published on their systems, leaving Rockstar with just two options... either hope that Microsoft will be more receptive to the sadistic stealth action game, or revise it to receive a more kosher M rating. - - - JOIN TOGEHER WITH THE BAND: Five years ago, I joked in my old newsletter that Konami would release Orchestramania, a music game that required a fifty-five instrument peripheral. Now, thanks to Electronic Arts' Rock Band, that doesn't seem quite so far-fetched. The upcoming competitor to Activision's Guitar Heroes offers support for two guitars, a drum set, and a microphone! - - - KICK IT UP A NOTCH!: PSP owners will soon be able to tap the full power of Sony's handheld... if they haven't already flashed their systems with custom firmware. The latest official firmware revision, 3.50, will do what homebrew-friendly PSPs have done for over two years and allow players to set the clock speed of their systems to 333MHz. Better late than never, I guess! - - - -

June 24, 2007...  Just Reward

Word on the street is that GameSpot (not to be confused with the chain of used game stores) will be renovating its review system, replacing the decimal system with a base unit of .5.  All right, so technically that's a decimal too, but you're not going to see anything more exotic than a .5 once the redesign is complete.  1UP went the same route about a year ago, actually making its formerly fraction-less ratings more precise rather than less. 

However, GameSpot is taking things one step further by giving medals to each video game based on their performance in a number of categories.  Especially pretty titles like Oblivion would receive a medal in outstanding visual achievement, games with tight control would receive an award for that accomplishment, and so on... you get the idea.  So in honor of this innovation, I would like to present the editors of GameSpot with a medal of their very own...

No need to thank me, guys!  You've earned it!

So anyway, the video reviews on YouTube have been a big success so far.  After just one week, I'm already up to twenty subscribers, and have received encouragement from experienced reviewers like SashaNein and UrinatingTree.  So it seems my plans to become the anti-Angry Game Nerd are starting to pay off.  There's been criticism too, and I can't really disagree with the individuals who've told me that my voice is too loud and that I'm being too hammy.  However, I'm confident that I can smooth out these kinks in later reviews.  If you'd like to watch the latest review, you'll find it
right here.

June 18, 2007...  Blitz Videos Debut

I know it's been forever since I've updated, but I have a perfectly good reason for it, honest!

I've noticed an unpleasant trend in video reviews like the ones by James "The Angry Video Game Nerd" Rolphe.  Do a little searching on YouTube, and you're sure to come up with a lot of hastily thrown together, senselessly vulgar rants by individuals who sound like their enthusiasm for video games has left the building a long, long time ago.  I'm hoping to reverse that trend with reviews that are scripted, carefully edited, and largely free of the profanity that too many reviewers use as a substitute for real humor.  Come on, people... production values MATTER!  Just because it's on YouTube doesn't mean it's OK to half-ass it.

Anyway, give the review a look and let me know what you think of it.  If people like what I'm doing, I'll follow it up with more.  Heck, I might do that even if they DON'T, since Windows Movie Maker is so much fun to use!

THAT HIT THE SPOT: In a recent interview with Bloomberg News, a representative from Microsoft acknowledged that $199 is the "sweet spot" for selling a game console in the United States. However, he stopped short of actually announcing a reduction in price for either the premium Xbox 360 or the gimped base unit. Hey, what did you expect? These guys are still selling wireless adapters for a hundred dollars! - - - REGGIE KICKS ASS, TAKES CONCERNS OF THIRD PARTIES SERIOUSLY: Nintendo has come a long way since the NES days in its relations with outside developers. The company that once chained third parties to demanding and unreasonable licensing contracts is now doing what it can to rebuild the bridges it burned in the 1980's, starting with Shin Unozawa from Bandai-Namco. Unozawa remarked that the new, more humble Nintendo was a welcome change. - - - HERE WE GO AGAIN...: Kotaku keeps reporting on the fabled slimline PSP, hoping against hope that someday their long-running prediction will come true. This time, the system is supposed to be half the height of the original, with an energy conservant OLED screen, a faster UMD drive, 8GB of internal memory, and a partridge in a pear tree. Sorry guys, but this is going to have to come with some proof this time. - - - -

June 10, 2007...  Big Robots and Bigger Appetites

The struggle to shape the round, squishy ball of clay that is my body continues. I'm actually starting to notice some muscle tone on my arms and calves after less than two weeks of workouts, but my thighs, pecs, and abdominal region are all still in the same sorry shape. Anybody got some suggestions for trimming down the fat and bringing out the brawn in those areas of the body?

Well, enough of that. You've come here for the gaming coverage, and that's exactly what you're going to get. I downloaded Pac-Man: Championship Edition from the Xbox Live Arcade service on Friday, and believe me when I say that it exceeded all of my expectations. This is no half-baked remake, but rather a supercharged sequel in the vein of Tempest 2000. The main differences are that the designers don't try to blind you with a constant stream of screen-filling special effects, and that the original developer (in this case, Toru Iwatani, the man behind the Pac himself!) was directly involved with its design.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Iwatani has kicked his creation up a notch with a brilliant new play mechanic that requires the player to "balance" the screen. You'll dart to the left side to gobble up dots, then race to the right to snag a fruit target that dumps more dots onto the side of the playfield you just cleared. So there really isn't a goal in this new iteration of Pac-Man, aside from earning the most points in the brief time you're given. In that respect, it's actually more old-school than the original, and a far cry from the games of today which have divorced themselves from points entirely.

Unsurprisingly, the people who've been shrieking that the user-friendly Wii will be the downfall of the industry have had no kind words for Pac-Man: Championship Edition. They say that it's much too expensive for ten dollars, that it ends too quickly and doesn't offer the player enough options. Well, nuts to them, I say! There's an elegence to the simplicity of Pac-Man Champ... like Tetris or Galaga, there's not much here, but all the pieces fall into place perfectly. Besides, after spending a frustrating hour with Armored Core: Last Raven, it's refreshing to go from using all the buttons on a modern game controller to none at all!

Yeah, about Last Raven. I was a pretty big fan of the Armored Core series back in my youth, starting with Project Phantasma on the original Playstation. It was a mech game that dispensed with all the frustrations of its predecessors, offering a deep but streamlined experience that holds up well to this day. Nearly ten years after its release, it's still fun to play Master of Arena on my PSP, using the Popstation emulator.

However, it seems that in recent years, the series has hit a backward slide rivaled only by other 21st century time bombs like Bust-A-Move and Tomb Raider. It all started with Frame Gride, the Japanese Dreamcast spin-off with a tighter focus on arena combat. Sure, the graphics were swell, but it was lacking in complexity and difficult to play with the Dreamcast controller. Shortly afterward, Playstation 2 owners were given Armored Cores 2 and 3, which both missed a golden opportunity to fix the awkward control scheme that was only a necessity before the advent of the Dual Shock controller. That joypad was a luxury for the humble Playstation, but standard equipment on the PS2... equipment that the Armored Core sequels failed to utilize.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2007 (hey, that's right now!). We've got two recent Armored Core games, both with crippling issues. Armored Core: Last Raven was first up to bat, offering the dual stick control that should have been an option since the year 2000. It gets credit for that, but loses a lot more for fugly graphics that aren't up to the Playstation 2's modest standards and an obsession with using every damn button on the Dual Shock controller. Yes, even those idiotic ones hidden under the analog thumbsticks! Just say no to L3 and R3, kids.

More recently, gamers have had to put up with Chromehounds and Armored Core 4. People didn't like Chromehounds, but they were willing to overlook From Software's Xbox 360 blunder because like Frame Gride, it wasn't really Armored Core. You can imagine their shock when they fired up Armored Core 4 months later and discovered that it was the EXACT SAME GAME. All right, that's a slight exaggeration, but next to that miserable tactical strategy title on the PSP (now with hastily tacked-on gameplay!), it's probably the game least deserving of its lofty pedigree. The stages that were once sprawling and immersive on the ancient Playstation have now been compressed into tiny rectangles, leaving you feeling like the dog that humped one too many legs and is now trapped behind an invisible fence with a shock collar around its neck. Yeah, this is just what the Armored Core series needed... a house arrest mode! The final insult is that the graphics are still crap, even on the mighty Xbox 360. Sorry, but grey buildings, skies, and mechs in 1080i is still just a whole lot of grey.

There's still hope for the series, but not while From Software insists on making it worse and worse with each passing installment. If you want to keep this game from turning rotten to the core, guys, here's what you need to do. First, ditch the dreary hues... we're using color television sets now, and it's about time you did, too. Let up on the micro-management and pile on the arcade-style action we all loved on the Playstation. Finally, no more mime boxes. Nobody likes to sacrifice their progress because they stepped out of bounds... it was rarely an issue in the Playstation games and it shouldn't be one in this modern age.

You can ignore my advice if you want, but just keep in mind that you're short on backup franchises... and that even your core user base in Japan will start seeing red if you keep giving them nothing but grey.

June 5, 2007...  Thoughts on Videocasting


You know there's a problem when it's a colossal struggle just to update the Blitz on a weekly basis. It doesn't seem like that much to ask, but lately just getting out of bed has been a Herculean feat. I'm hoping that my recent exercise routine will help me break the blahs and get back to a more reasonable schedule.

I also need to step away from the Internet for a while if I hope to make any real progress on both the Blitz and outside projects like that stupid NES book. It seems like all work comes to a complete and sudden halt the moment I approach a Wi-Fi point. It's a Catch-22 situation, because without Internet access, I can't upload files to the Lakupo server or do the necessary research to finish up the guide that's been a work in progress for nearly three years.

Anyway... back to the site. I've been thinking of tackling the content on the Blitz from different angles. I've even purchased a cheap DVR from eBay in the hopes of dabbling with videocasting. It's the hip new thing that all the kids are doing, and besides, I've seen some really effective uses of the medium that manage to transcend the limitations of video sharing sites like YouTube. After all, it doesn't really matter if you can't see the video clearly as long as it's entertaining!

Some videocasters do a better job of bringing humor to their game reviews than others. I never understood the appeal of The Angry Nintendo/Sega/Atari/Whatever Nerd, and now that he's been absorbed by the writhing corporate mass known as Viacom, he hasn't really improved per se... just changed, in the way your yippy chihuahua did after that special trip to the vet's office. All the mindless profanity and violence has been replaced by industry observations that are astute, yet too boring to be called insightful.

On the other hand, there's a guy named UrinatingTree who's taken the foundation created by The Angry (fill in the blank) Nerd and built a thing of beauty on top of it. His Half-Assed Theatre is jam-packed with comedy, and ranks up there as one of the best things YouTube has seen in its brief but colorful life. Who knew a hilariously pompous voice and random pop culture references could bring so much to an otherwise horrendous NES game like Heroes of the Lance?

If I do start making video reviews, I want them to be a lot closer to what UrinatingTree has done with Half-Assed Theatre than The Angry Video Game Nerd's show. I want them to be lively, yet meaningful. I want them to express outrage at the worst this industry has to offer, but not to be polluted with pointless profanity. I want them to be loaded with references to obscure games and old television shows and cringeworthy current events, but I want all that stuff to be in the proper context. I'm not under the delusion that my work will be as good as Half-Assed Theatre or even XPlay at its most relevant, but that's what I'm shooting for.

May 30, 2007...  Rotten to the Core

I've been struggling for a way to say this... but since Parish already did it for me with his usual eloquence, I'll just dispense with the pleasantries and tell the so-called "hardcore" gamers out there that they're being dicks.  For that matter, so are the analysts, but I doubt that's news to anyone.

They're all gnashing their teeth and rending their garments, lamenting that the Nintendo Wii will be the end of gaming as they know it.  "The hardware won't be powerful enough to handle the industry's latest innovations!," they shout, while clinging to their copies of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Halo 2.  "All we're getting on the Wii are mini-games!," they squeal, while conveniently forgetting Konami releases like Elebits, Kororinpa, and the upcoming Dewy's Adventure.  And when all these arguments don't grant them the comfort they desperately seek, they offer themselves false assurance.  "Oh, the Wii's just a fad anyway... all of MY friends have stopped playing it!," they boast, ignoring that the system still outsells the Playstation 3 two to one and that stores are still having trouble keeping units on shelves.

Why does the Wii strike so much fear into the hearts of these individuals?  I just told you... because they're dicks!  Specifically, they're selfish dicks.  The "hardcore" gamers who never picked up a controller in their lives prior to the release of the Playstation have gotten used to the industry catering to their every whim... at the expense of everyone else.  For the past twelve years, Sony has actively discouraged the development of 2D games, opting instead to promote the latest pop culture trends and the most retread of sequels.

Thanks to the popularity of the Wii, there's a possibility that another game company will be in the driver's seat of the industry... and the "hardcore" gamers are in a panic, acting as though the apocalypse is upon them.  It doesn't help to remind the Haloites, the Thefties, and the Madden-men that the companies which have historically serviced them (in that "oldest profession in the world" sense) will remain open for business.  They'll just throw themselves on the floor and pound their fists until the entire industry gives them exactly what they want, when they want it, regardless of who gets shut out.

Well, since they're so unwilling to share, maybe it's time the dicks get a taste of their own medicine.  The more experienced gamers, those of us who've been around since the Atari days, have been left out in the cold for over a decade thanks to the tunnel vision of companies like Sony and Microsoft.  Nintendo wants to expand that focus beyond the "hardcore" gamers to those of us who have been forgotten by the rest of the industry... and normally, that would be enough to satisfy me.  But since the dicks are so intent on keeping the hobby exclusively to themselves, that's no longer enough.  

I want Nintendo to forget about the "hardcore" gamers entirely and work harder to win back those of us who were alienated from the industry.  I want more mini-game collections, more brain-sharpening exercises, more pet simulations, and dare I say it?  Yes, even more Pokemon sequels.  I want Microsoft and Sony to follow the big N's lead in a desperate attempt to catch up to their competition.  I want the dicks to watch helplessly as all their favorite franchises wither and die, just like Sonic and Mega Man and Street Fighter and all the other classics that suffered an agonizing demise after the Playstation 2 was released.

In short, I want it all.

ILL-ANNOYANCE: When you're governor Rod Blagojevich, there's no price too high to keep those nasty video games out of the hands of kids... even if it means cheating your other constituents out of important government services. Blagojevich used a million dollars earmarked for health care and economic development to revive an anti-gaming bill that was already ruled unconstitutional by a federal court, proving that it's not video games that present a danger to Americans, but the politicians they elect. - - - THE ART OF FRIGHTENING: Electronic Arts chairman Bing Gordon raised some eyebrows in an interview with Gamasutra, when he asserted that "everyone is for sale" and that "the thing about acquisitions is that the only time it works is if you've got an intellectual property that can succeed without the people." Gordon followed up this provocative response by giving a Nazi salute, sacrificing a small child to Cthulhu, then biting the neck of the interviewer for his sweet, lifegiving blood. - - - DOC KAWASHIMA TO THE RESCUE!: Gamers who weren't grooving with the mustached blob in Big Brain Academy will be ecstatic to know that Japanese neurologist Ryuta Kawashima and his big-ass head will be making a comeback in the true sequel to Brain Age, coming to the Nintendo DS at the end of the year. Kawashima will be bringing a handful of new mini-games along with him, as well as handwriting recognition that's even better than it was in the first game. However, there's still no news on whether or not Kawashima will understand the word "blue." - - -

May 26, 2007...  Sphere of Influence

You're going to hear a lot of alarmist warnings from internet pundits about Odin Sphere and its importance to the continued development of 2D games.  They'll tell you that this could be the last one you'll ever see on a home console, and that if you don't purchase it, developers like Atlus will never take another chance on a side-scrolling action game again.

It's tempting to buy into the fear-mongering if you're an old-school gamer, but don't take the bait.  Regardless of your motivation for doing so, Odin Sphere is NOT the kind of game you want to blindly purchase.  With so many flaws in its design, it doesn't deserve your forty dollars simply because it's the last of a dying breed.

Odin Sphere's first major flaw is that the fighting is slightly awkward and very limited.  By now, we're all tired of turn-based combat, and Odin Sphere deserves some credit for distancing itself from those boring battles with fast-paced, side-scrolling swordplay that borrows heavily from Capcom classics like Street Fighter II and Strider. 

However, you'll start to notice after the first few fights that you're not given many options while locked in combat.  There's only one attack button, and it's limited to elaborate, long-winded strikes that do less damage than expected and leave the player wide open to retaliation.  This isn't a problem when taking on a single soldier, but it's a lot harder to accept in a battle royale against a pack of crazed Vikings bent on earning a one-way trip to Valhalla.

Items and magic do add some variety to the fights, but both require you to stand still and pause the action before they can be accessed.  You can't bust out your best moves with a handy controller motion like you could in Guardian Heroes or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night... you've got to freeze the action and choose them from a menu, defeating the purpose of real-time combat.

Strike two comes from the jaw-droppingly cheap bosses, which will use every trick in the book and then some to empty your health bar in the blink of an eye.  The dragon Belial is especially obnoxious, gobbling up a squadron of your comrades and turning their vacant armor into lethal projectiles. 

As he fills the screen with leg braces, boots, and chestplates, you'll also have to contend with wave after wave of hostile reinforcements, taking potshots from the distant edges of the playfield.  Try to kill the fairies and you'll get clobbered with the rain of scrap metal.  Try to attack the dragon himself and you'll get swallowed for hefty damage.  Throw the disc against the wall and you're out forty dollars.

That brings us to the game's last, but perhaps most serious flaw.  When you've got a combat system that's woefully lacking in depth, what do you do?  If you're the developers at Vanillaware, you put that depth into everything BUT the fighting that needs it the most!  Ordinarily simple tasks like collecting experience points and buying items from shopkeepers is turned into needlessly obfuscated ordeals.  Why am I making change to buy things?  Why do I have to grow trees in the middle of a battle to restore my health?  Why am I even playing this when Oblivion offers dozens of fun things to do that DON'T seem like pointless busywork?

After playing Princess Crown on the Sega Saturn (essentially the same game with fewer dumb gimmicks but even clumsier combat), I should have known better than to buy Odin Sphere with nostalgia for a past era of gaming as my sole motivation.  However, you've got a chance to avoid repeating my mistake.  Don't give this one a free ride.  Rent Odin Sphere first, THEN purchase it only if you feel it's earned your money.

May 22, 2007...  Geometry Wars Hits the Wii

I'm breaking the weekly cycle of updates for this important (and completely puzzling) announcement...

Geometry Wars. On the Nintendo Wii. Really.

This isn't without precedent... back in the 1980's, console manufacturers would develop software for their competitors.  Heck, even Microsoft has made games for the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS, but they were all leftover projects from when Rare was a subsidiary of the big N.  However, Microsoft delivering one of its strongest properties to a rival console is a pretty big deal.  And what's more, we're not talking about a straight port here... this is a sequel with an "extensive single player mode," suggesting that Geometry Wars Galaxies will have more complex level structures and a larger assortment of enemies.

There's no guarantee that the game will scratch that itchy trigger finger the way its predecessor on the Xbox 360 had.  There's already word that it's being handled by a different team of developers, and that it will be anchored to a new, possibly less effective motion-sensitive control scheme.  Still, even if there isn't an option to play with the classic controller, I'm willing to give this a fair shake.  I can't fathom why Microsoft insists on supporting other console manufacturers, but if it results in mindblowing multi-platform releases like this, I'm all for it!

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE: Finally, an Xbox 360 game that everyone can afford! The latest Xbox Live Arcade release, Aegis Wing, is currently available free of charge. This side-scrolling shooter is similar to Gradius and R-Type, but with a twist. Four players can take on the swarms of aliens together, and even make like Voltron by combining their ships into a mammoth flying fortress! - - - IT'S A BEAUTIFUL THING: It's forty dollars more than Aegis Wing, but it looks like Odin Sphere will be worth every penny. Designed as the follow-up to the Sega Saturn sleeper hit Princess Crown, this fantasy beat 'em up will dazzle American audiences with its astonishing hand-painted visuals this Wednesday. - - - THE REFRESH THAT PAUSES: You remember all those other reports of a PSP redesign? Well, here's another one to add to the pile. Sony is planning a "hardware refresh" for its handheld game system, which suggests that all those rumored improvements may finally see the light of day. - - -

May 21, 2007...  Etrian Aneurysm

Lately, it's been getting harder and harder to force myself to sit down and write.  Just finishing the end of year special was an epic struggle.  Needless to say, that doesn't bode well for the other features I planned for the site.  I've got to find a way to shake this funk!

Anyway, I just wanted to warn... tell... er, warn-tell you about Etrian Odyssey.  It's the latest role-playing game by Atlus, the company that's taken Working Designs' place as the king of making obscure Japanese titles relevant to an American audience.  However, there's not a lot of text here for Atlus to cleverly localize.  What Etrian offers instead are fifty layers of underground forest, packed with nasty monsters. 

The game's first-person perspective and character creation will remind older players of SirTech's Wizardry series.  However, there's a twist inspired by an even crustier computer game, Hunt The Wumpus.  Ludicrously powerful enemies called F.O.E.s roam each level, forcing the player to either sneak past them while their backs are turned or man up and challenge them to make progress. 

Every F.O.E. can (at least in theory) be defeated, but it's up to you if you want to take that risk.  Victory earns you a huge bounty of experience points and the satisfaction of bringing down a beast that would have torn a lesser band of adventurers to shreds.  Defeat costs you any progress you've made since the last time you saved the game... and with the only available save point being placed not-so-conveniently at the forest's entrance, that can be a lot of hard work down the drain.

So when I tell you to look out for Etrian Odyssey, you can interpret that in one of two ways.  If you don't have the patience for a game that puts you on a leash, then yanks it violently whenever you try to outpace it, then it's in your best interests to treat this one like cyanide-laced kryptonite.  If you're the easy-going type, and you don't feel threatened by any game you can't finish in less than a week, then Etrian Odyssey is worth a shot.

May 16, 2007...  The 2006 Endies Debuts

Boy, that sure took a while.  I hope it was worth the wait!  And by "it," I mean this...

Well, what are you waiting for?  Click on that logo!  Click like the wind!

WAVE RUNNER: How's this for a survival horror game? Instead of zombies or humans possessed by tentacle-flailing parasites, your worst enemy in the upcoming Hydrophobia is water. Try killing that with your combat knife! Anyway, Joystiq reports that Hydrophobia will be available for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, and will showcase the most realistic liquid effects ever seen on a game console. ? ? ? DOUBLE THE DRAGONS, DOUBLE THE FUN: If you're a fan of old-school beat 'em ups and own an Xbox 360, there's good news! Double Dragon was released today for the Xbox Live Arcade service. The best part is that it's the arcade version of the game, so you won't be spending a half hour bashing invisible thugs in the second level to earn all the moves. (What, me bitter?) ? ? ? THE NEXT CAVE STORY?: Well, yes and no. La Mulana is the latest title by celebrated underground game developer Pixel. Like Pixel's previous release Cave Story, La Mulana is a sprawling side-scrolling platformer. However, this one requires a little more headwork. Piecing together puzzles is the only way to escape an ancient tomb infested with hungry monsters! ? ? ?

May 9, 2007...  Site Updates (plus, concept art for The Lost Rings)

Here comes the next page redesign!  The Waku Waku 7 FAQ has been given a touch up, with new information about Sunsoft's sleeper hit along with improved formatting and more intuitive, graphic-based move lists.  What's next on the menu?  The year-end special and an in-depth look at Pelican's Capsule handheld.  The next big change for the Blitz is a little further down the road, but I'll give you a sneak peek at what's in store for June...

I've got several contributors helping me out with this, so it's bound to be one of the best features this site has seen in years.  Stay tuned, folks!

May 3, 2007...  Sayonara, Semester!

Well, that just about does it for this semester of college.  It was a rough one, but I got through it with minimal scarring and emotional trauma.  Now I can get back to the one thing I love most about life... sleep!  Well, that and gaming.

There's a lot of software in my collection that has gone neglected thanks to my heavy workload.  With all that out of the way, I can catch up with all those games I left on the shelf for the past three months.  I can also make good on my promise to hand out the 2006 Endy awards... hey, it's better late than never, right?  Finally, I'm planning to bring back the Saturn section of the site in full force.  Reading Segagaga Domain makes me remember just how much I love that old game system... and how much I miss the extensive coverage of it on my own site.

Finally, I want to touch up the pages that are already here.  Some of them look downright grody in higher resolutions, and I'd like to bring them into the 21st century with designs that look great no matter what computer you use to view them.  I've already started working on this... the features page that had looked awful on modern-day computers has been touched up to look sharp on everything from my aging Windows 2000 desktop to the Nintendo Wii.  However, there's plenty more work to do on the Blitz.  At least a couple of the pages date back to the mid 1990's, and it's up to me to bring them up to code.

It's going to take a lot of time and effort getting the site back in shape after three months of almost total dormancy... but I have a funny feeling that it's going to be a lot of fun doing it!

April 29, 2007...  Sony, You Slay Me


SOLDIER OF FUTURE: After three Nazi-smashing adventures, the Call of Duty series will finally step into the 21st century with Call of Duty 4: Modern War. Those curious about this radical departure for the series can satisfy their curiosity by watching a preview of the game on ESPN this Saturday. · · · IT'S ALL GREEK TO ME: Ready to take that PSP out of mothballs? You can get a taste of the hotly anticipated God of War: Chains of Olympus by becoming a member of Sony's Playstation Underground mailing list. After you join, Sony will send a copy of the Olympus demo to your mailbox... and lots of spam to your E-mail address! · · · I'D LIKE TO GIVE THE WORLD A WII: Still don't have a Wii? Never fear, Coca-Cola is here! Every Coke product you buy earns you points which you can use to purchase merchandise, including the coveted Nintendo console. The bad news is that you're going to have to down over two thousand cans to earn the system. That's a lot of, uh, wee. · · ·

April 25, 2007...  Gaming on the Cheap (Konami LIVE! and Pelican Capsule)

First up, I'd like to make a correction to an earlier post.  Blitz reader Ronobo pointed out that KSS did indeed last long enough to release a sequel to Anarchy in the Nippon (aka Japanarchy).  Here's the twist... the game was only available on the Playstation!

Now to the update.  I've had a morbid fascination with plug 'n play game consoles lately. Sure, they either stiff you on games (five titles for the price of a more robust classic collection on the Xbox or Playstation 2? Sounds like a deal to me...) or are packed to overflowing with cheap Chinese shovelware, but there's a campy, low-rent charm to these units that you won't find on a traditional game system. Sometimes, you want to indulge in a high-class, high-cost beverage like Coke Classic, but on rare occasions, you just want to bring home a case of Towne Club cola and gulp down the sugary sewer water until you slip into a diabetic coma. Right now, I'm on my sixth bottle of Towne Club, and I'm nadda batta stah bah hubble blarrgh...

(falls over, then picks himself up from the floor)

The first plug 'n play I'm going to review is Konami LIVE!. This one's special because instead of a television set, you connect it to the USB port of your computer. The unit is designed specifically for use with the internet... in fact, it's so dependent on an online connection that you won't be able to play a single game without one! Only the interface is built into the Konami LIVE! controller... everything else must be downloaded from Konami's servers.

Once you've downloaded those five games, you'll notice that they bear a striking resemblence to Konami's offerings on Xbox Live Arcade. The enhanced versions of Time Pilot, Gyruss, and Contra all have the same redrawn backgrounds and grandiose special effects as their counterparts on the Xbox 360... only the remastered soundtracks and XLA perks like achievements are missing.

With the Konami LIVE! controller selling for as low as fifteen dollars in some stores (I got mine at a Goodwill for $3.99), it sounds like a great way to save money on Microsoft Points. Ah, but there's a catch! All the titles were originally written for a game system with a 3.2GHz processor. When you port them to a computer with completely different hardware, the results aren't pretty. The games are perfectly fine when played in original mode, but they drop to a third of their normal speed if you dare switch on the enhancements. Granted, I don't own the world's most cutting-edge computers, but when even my year old laptop struggles to keep up with twenty-five year old video games, there's a serious problem. C'mon, Digital Eclipse... you've been writing emulators for well over a decade now. You can do better than this!

If Konami LIVE! was a tragedy, Pelican's new VG Pocket systems could both be considered triumphs. The decision to base their design on drug paraphenelia wasn't the best of ideas... with both a Tablet and Capsule available, the only thing missing from the line-up is a Syringe, complete with rubber band tie-off wrist strap! Questionable marketing aside, the units are a quantum leap ahead of the last VG Pocket model. The old blue and white unit had an 8-bit processor and the ugliest color display this side of the Atari Lynx. The new systems are packed with 16-bit power and have screens on par with high-priced heavy-hitters like the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP. The colors are bright and distinct, the text is easily readable, and the resolution is stunning, especially in the more luxurious Capsule.

The games are also significantly improved thanks to more powerful hardware under the medicinal hood. You get a small handful of licensed titles, along with dozens of games straight out of Hong Kong. Bust-A-Move, Space Invaders Part II, and Burgertime round out the licensed offerings in the Capsule, and they're all fair conversions. Bust-A-Move looks a whole lot better than it sounds or plays... maybe I'm spoiled by Bust-A-Move DS and its lightning quick rubber band, but turning the lever to adjust your aim in the Capsule version of the game is unbearably slow, especially after popping a cluster of bubbles. Next comes Space Invaders Part II... contrary to what the box and main menu will tell you, this is not the original game released in 1977. Rather, you're getting the enhanced game with smarter invaders and that crowd pleasin' "rainbow effect." Burgertime is probably the biggest disappointment of the three... the visuals are incredibly faithful to the arcade original but the control is utterly woeful. If you're even a pixel away from the center of a ladder when you try to climb it, you're not going anywhere, and you're probably getting a weiner up your ass. Why is it that after twenty five years and countless game systems, the crusty old Intellivision still offers the most playable version of Burgertime?

The other titles are "entertaining" in that MST3K sort of way. I want to cover them more thoroughly in a future article on the Blitz, but I'll just say for now that the games borrow heavily from existing ones, not only in concept but audiovisually as well. One game is a low-rent version of Don't Pull, part of Capcom's Three Wonders collection, while another is the Super NES version of Aero Fighters with all the characters removed. Nope, there's no unnaturally dextrous babies or dolphins to pilot the planes... you just get the jets themselves. Yet another title takes the submarines from Nazca's In The Hunt and puts them into a simple maze navigation challenge. There are a few titles here with original content... just not that many.

The games aren't works of art, and they're sure not unique. However, when it comes right down to it, I've got to recommend the Capsule. It's the perfect symbol of the progress the industry has made in the 21st century... what would have cost hundreds of dollars a decade ago can be had for chump change in 2007. The future's grand, ain't it?

TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK: Life just got a little sweeter for Xbox 360 owners! Microsoft has released a patch making the system compatible with over a dozen Xbox classics. The games supported include Panzer Dragoon Orta, Mercenaries, Jet Set Radio Future, and cult favorite Phantom Dust. · · · MEAN STREETS: Not to be outdone, Nintendo will offer a number of popular Genesis titles for its Virtual Console service in May. Perhaps the most exciting of the releases planned for next month is Streets of Rage 2, an intense beat 'em up with a techno soundtrack supplied by musician and part-time game developer Yuzo Koshiro. · · · SNOOP DOUCHE: In semi-celebrity news, rap artist Snoop Dogg was invited to perform at an event hosted by children's charity UNICEF, but refused to take the stage until an Xbox was brought to his dressing room. One wonders why the shizzit hizzead didn't save the self-centered whining for his albums and just take a PSP with him to the event. · · ·

April 19, 2007...  The Real Slim Shady (Slimline Playstation 2 review)

I promised a review of the slimline Playstation 2 on the 15th, and today, that's exactly what you're going to get!

So, where do I start?  I'm amazed at how well this thing runs... when you pop a game into the system, no matter what it is, it starts up right away. That's in sharp contrast to my old PS2, which spent up to a minute on the BIOS screen before a game would boot. That screen full of blue translucent cubes was pretty cool back in 2002, but the thrill is gone after seeing it so much in the past five years. The slimline PS2 dispenses with the flashy introductions and takes you right into the action, a welcome improvement over the previous model.

Another point in the slim PS2's favor is its diminuative size. At nearly half the height of the already small Nintendo Wii, it's a triumph of micronization. Sometimes I wish it were larger than it is, because at its current size it tends to be a little too inconspicuous for its own good. You can't put the blasted system inside an entertainment center without it vanishing from sight!

Unlike the past Playstation 2 units, the slimline console's got a flip-top door for discs. This bothers some folks who would rather have a front loading tray or even the disc-gina built into the Wii and Playstation 3, but I don't mind it much myself. After all, if a flip-top drive door is good enough for the Saturn and Dreamcast, then it's good enough for me!

What worries me a lot more is the system's rumored incompatibility with older Playstation 2 games. If the slim PS2 only has difficulty with throwaway titles like Crash: Twinsanity, I wouldn't make a big fuss about it, but I'll be a lot less understanding if it won't run quirky cult classics like Culdcept or Gradius V.  I'll need to test the console more thoroughly to discover any gaps in its compatibility.

One thing I can say for sure, however, is that it does a wonderful job of playing original Playstation games, a skill that my last PS2 has long since forgotten. After playing PSOne games on everything but the system that was designed for them, it's a welcome change of pace to enjoy these titles the way nature (and Kutaragi) intended.

In classic system news, I finally landed myself a copy of Anarchy in the Nippon (or as I like to call it, Japanarchy) for the Sega Saturn. Legend has it that the game was developed by a bunch of Virtua Fighter fans, and you can certainly see that influence in the gameplay. However, rather than the slow, floaty jumps that have become a trademark of Sega's long-running series, Japanarchy gives you... no jumps at all. Wait, what?!  This puzzling omission limits the game's technique, giving it a stripped-down, rudimentary feel.

That's unfortunate, as the game holds promise in other areas. Fighters with a cast of high school students were nothing new even a decade ago when this game hit store shelves, but you've got to give KSS credit for coming up with characters you won't find anywhere else. Submitted for your approval are a chunky female judo expert, a butt-touching shop teacher, Edie McClurg with a black belt in kung fu, and a guy who looks like the long-haired stoner from Clerks but fights like Bruce Lee from Enter the Dragon. Now there's a combination I wouldn't have expected!

The graphics aren't too shabby, either... they're not up to the standards of Virtua Fighter 2 or Dead or Alive, but the bright colors and relatively high polygon counts make it look at least as good as Virtua Fighter Remix.  The visuals are accompanied by an equally competent but unremarkable heavy metal soundtrack. 

That seems to be an ongoing theme for Japanarchy... getting the job done but not doing it with the necessary flair to bring it to the front of the packed crowd of polygonal fighters on the Sega Saturn.  The game suffers not only from a lack of ambition by its designers, but by a wealth of competitors with strong identities.  Last Bronx has a gritty urban setting and big-ass weapons.  Fighter's Megamix is packed with characters and finishing blows so powerful they can demolish walls.  Final Fight Revenge... well, it sucks, but at least it has fun doing it!  Meanwhile, Japanarchy is just... there.  This not only explains why the game never made it to these shores, but why KSS didn't stick around long enough to make a sequel.

April 15, 2007...  Portable Gaming Extravaganza!

There's been an eternal tug of war between the Nintendo DS and the PSP in my household... one day, the DS will get all of my undivided attention, while the next, the PSP will steal the spotlight. It's very rare for me to give both systems a workout on the same day, but that's exactly what's happened last night after I discovered the homebrew title Word Up on DS Fanboy, and a cache of old Playstation titles elsewhere.

In addition to being a catchy song by 80's funk group Cameo, Word Up is a puzzler that combines the laid back word-building of Bookworm with the more frantic block stacking of Tetris and its offspring. Letter tiles drop from the top screen to the bottom, and you've got to remove them by drawing a line through any words you find. Straight lines, zig-zags, and loops are all fair game, but you can't pick up the stylus while drawing your line, and you can only use each tile once.

As you're building words, more tiles rain down from the top screen, forcing you to work quickly to clear the stack. You're offered a reprieve in the form of tile-obliterating bombs, but those can only be earned by spelling out especially long words. The pressure put on the player makes each game of Word Up brief, a sharp contrast to Bookworm where a single session can go on for an hour or longer. This is a critical issue in the game's design.  Word-building challenges take more careful contemplation than Word Up is willing to grant the player, leaving the game at a disadvantage when compared to top-shelf DS puzzlers like Bust-A-Move or Tetris.

To its credit, Word Up is one of the system's best homebrew releases. The game looks as sharp as any DS cartridge stamped with Nintendo's seal of approval, and the touchscreen control is nearly flawless. The music, an unwelcome tribute to the dusty old Commodore 64, is a sore spot, but the high-pitched gurgling is easily forgiven when you compare it to Zoo Keeper, whose screeching symphonies would leave even the most faithful Commodork scrambling to turn down the volume. Word Up is free to anyone with a backup cartridge, but there's enough here to justify the thirty dollars a puzzle game on the DS would normally cost.

Then there's the PSP. I haven't been spending much time with the system's official releases, but it really doesn't need them... not when it's compatible with the lion's share of the original Playstation library, anyway! It's a major pain to convert the games to a format that the PSP can recognize, but once you've finally got them on that memory stick, life is good. I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that Playstation emulation boosts the system's library (and its appeal) exponentially... in fact, after having played old favorites and newfound Japanese obscurities, and being dazzled by the graphics in both, I have to wonder why Sony didn't design the PSP as a portable Playstation with a higher clock speed. They could have cut the price in half, doubled the battery life, and still had enough power left over for the the most gorgeous handheld games on the market!

Let's have a look at some of those Playstation games that have been given new life on the PSP...


Gamers with more eccentric tastes are going to notice that FOTNS2 looks eerily similar to Godhand. That's not a coincidence... the outrageous finishing moves, the post-apocalyptic scenery, and those huge shoulder pads all had their origins in the profoundly influential Fist of the North Star animated series.

Ironically, FOTNS2 addresses the fatal flaws of Godhand, seven years before that game even existed! The turn-walk-turn control scheme that Shinji Mikami refuses to leave in the past is nowhere to be found here... the camera is pulled away from Kenshiro, leaving him free to nimbly race around the screen as he paints the playfield with the blood of his foes.

However, the game has its own Achilles' Heel, in the form of long, unskippable cut scenes. I'm sure they're a thrill for Fist fans who can make sense of all those kanji subtitles, but those of us who came to watch Kenshiro do what he does best- popping heads like balloons- are just going to be left hammering the Start and X buttons in frustration. Sorry Bandai, but I'd much rather be pounding on those goons!


Capcom vs. SNK was one of those games with a concept that was far more exciting than the actual product. Fighting game geeks such as myself couldn't resist the thrill of Zangief planting Kyo Kusanagi into the dirt with a spinning piledriver, or Mai Shiranui trading blows with Capcom hotties like Cammy and Chun-Li, even if it was in a title that didn't stretch the boundaries of the aging genre.

It didn't use the Dreamcast to its full potential either, but Capcom vs. SNK was a better fit on the more humble Playstation. That fit became even more comfortable when Capcom squeezed two new characters into the roster. The kings of karate comedy, Dan Hibiki and Joe Higashi, brought a sense of humor and more variety to a game that badly needed both.

Not much was done to bring balance to the stilted ratio system, and the game's migration to the Playstation brought with it an abundance of load times. However, without a port of the exceptional Capcom vs. SNK 2, this is the best way to settle that long-standing grudge between Ryu and Ryo on the PSP. The graphics look right at home on the hardware, and the gameplay is as responsive as it can be with the system's always aggravating separated cross.


Now that's the way to bust a move! Slap Happy Ryhthm Busters brings together over a dozen eccentric DJs for a battle royale that's part Street Fighter Alpha, part Jet Set Radio, and part Dance Dance Revolution. Slap Happy was planned for America, only to be scrapped by T*HQ at the last minute. After you play it, you'll agree that there's no excuse on Earth that can justify the game's US cancellation.

Your first reaction to Slap Happy will likely be "How did they make this look so damn good?" The developers got a near-Dreamcast level of detail out of the game by packing the polygons onto the cel-shaded characters, then dropping them onto flat backgrounds. That means there's no 3D movement whatsoever; just classic fighting action inspired by the biggest arcade hits of the 1990's. You'll fling CDs instead of fireballs, and swing from a wire with guns blazing instead of performing a boring old dragon punch. It's all familiar, but it's all good.

The finishers radically transform the gameplay, and really put the "beat" in beatdown. Just press the two shoulder buttons together when your rival is low on energy, and you'll enter a dance challenge where every correct button press is rewarded with a fist in the helpless opponent's face. Miss too many dance steps and your foe escapes with minimal damage, but make all the right moves and you'll wrap up the attack with a humiliating final strike!

All right, that's enough outta me.  I'll be back in a few days with an analysis of my recently acquired slimline Playstation 2.  You might be surprised by what I've got to say about it, so stay tuned!

THE POSTS WITH THE MOST: Unsatisfied with climbing to the top of tall buildings, video game legend Donkey Kong has made his home inside of one! Students at UC Santa Cruz stuck thousands of colored Post-It notes onto the windows of the college's engineering facility, creating a pixelated mosiac of Mario's first arcade adventure. · · · SADNESS = DEADNESS: Remember that intriguing survival horror game announced for the Nintendo Wii last year? Well, there was a reason that "developer" Nibris never offered any screen shots to go with that sweet commercial. FrontLine Studios, the design firm pegged to bring Sadness to life, has quit the project, leavingt it in limbo. · · · HERE WE GO AGAIN!: Because you never can get enough Pac-Man and Galaga, Namco is releasing another installment of its Namco Museum series. This one's for the Nintendo DS, and it offers a port of the GameCube sleeper hit Pac-Man Vs. Namco promises that it'll offer all the fun of the original, without all those pesky wires! · · ·

April 10, 2007...  Wasted Words

Lately, there's been a lot of talk about a new web site called
Action Button, from the creators of Insert Credit and Large Prime Numbers.  Like so many other gaming sites, Action Button offers reviews of the latest software for consoles like the Xbox 360 and Playstation 2.  However, there's an important difference.  From Zelda: Twilight Princess to God of War II, each critique on Action Button is written with the goal of antagonizing the reader.  It's sort of like Something Awful, with the bold-faced sarcasm replaced with overt criticism of minor gameplay issues that would generally be squeezed into the end of other reviews... if they're mentioned at all.  Some have lauded this approach to game criticism as daring, original, and thought-provoking.  I think it's manipulative, gimmicky, and hollow.

Action Button is edited by one Tim Rogers.  He's made a name for himself on the Internet with his, uh, distinctive writing style, packed with long-winded anecdotes about his personal life and absurd metaphors that swallow his reviews whole, leaving little room for the games they're supposed to cover.  In many ways, Rogers is everything that I am not... successful, prolific, and fondly regarded, but also evasive, indirect, and smugly assured of his own wit.  He doesn't really review games per se... he writes rambling Livejournal entries with the shredded scraps of a game review sprinkled on top as a garnish.  Then people who really should know better pay him for it.

I resent this style of writing.  It demonstrates both the reviewer's love for himself and a mocking contempt for the reader.  If you'll pardon a metaphor of my own, it's the journalistic equivalent of tying a dog out in the front yard and dangling a juicy steak in front of it, regaling the slobbering beast with tales about the cow it came from, the supermarket where it was purchased, and the marinade it was left soaking in overnight, until at long last throwing a small chunk of meat in the dirt, just within the hunger-crazed hound's reach.  Action Button worsens the situation by slapping the dog around with the steak before giving it an enema with the sharpened end of the T-bone.  To put it in simpler terms (the kind Rogers never uses), Action Button is dishonest and antagonistic, adding more static to an internet where the signal to noise ratio is already appallingly low.

There's nothing wrong with giving a wildly popular game a thumbs down.  Heaven knows I've done it plenty of times myself!  However, if you're going to pan a game, honesty should be the sole motivating factor in that decision.  Manipulating your readers in an effort to present yourself as avant-garde, or wasting their time with page after page of irrelevant nonsense, is doing them a huge disservice.

ERTS 50.36 down 0.08 · · · SNE down 0.60 · · · TTWO 20.14 down 0.96 · · · ATAR 3.31 down 0.06 · · · ATVI 18.94 up 0.11 · · · Twins 6 - Pirates 4 · · · Athletics 6 - Giants 4 · · · Blue Jays 1 - Reds 0 · · ·Diamondbacks 12 - Padres 8 · · · Rangers 4 - Brewers 3 · · · Stay Tuned For An All-New Episode Of Desperate Housewives! · · · Carl Rove Raps, The World Cringes · · · How Much Wood Could A Woodchuck Chuck If A Woodchuck Could Chuck Wood? · · · Dog Food Recalled, Horses Laugh Derisively · · · Blades of Glory Number One Movie, American Taste In Serious Doubt · · · McDonald's Sells The Big Xtra For A Dollar, About Three Dollars More Than It's Worth · · · Trix Returns To Puffs. Now If They'd Just Get Rid Of That New Cookie Crisp Mascot... · · · This Is A Test Of The Emergency Broadcast System. This Is Only a Test · · ·

April 1, 2007...  We Are the NiGHTS Who Say Wii

Can you believe it?  The Gameroom Blitz is nearly eleven years old.  At the rate things are going, the site will be in publication 'till the sun goes supernova and all life on Earth is painfully extinguished!  Hopefully the server will have moved to another planet by then...

Anyway, here's the latest gaming and tech news.  That's why you're here, right?  Somebody might as well be giving you this information today, since nobody else will!  The latest from Kotaku is that Toys 'R Us will be opening its floodgates and drowning its customers in a sea of Nintendo Wiis.  Nearly five months after its release, the system is still as hard to find as prison stripes on Paris Hilton... hopefully, the sudden generosity of Toys 'R Us coupled with Nintendo hiring two more factories to produce consoles will change all that.

But wait, there's more!  Kingdom Hearts Final Mix Plus has been launched in Japan... and it's brought with it news of another Kingdom Hearts title; something darker and angrier than the previous games in the series.  Oh crap.  If the marriage of Square and Disney characters wasn't hard ENOUGH to swallow, now we'll have to deal with a Mickey Mouse who's got a tortured past and a chip on his shoulder!

What else?  Oh how I wish this was an April Fool's joke, but apparently it's for real... Ninja Gaiden, the game that threatened to melt your Xbox into a black puddle of goo with its life-like visuals, is coming to the Nintendo DS.  Indeed, Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword doesn't look anywhere near as good as it did on the Xbox, but the editors from IGN were pretty impressed with the game's control, claiming that it's just as responsive as the Xbox version despite the almost exclusive use of the touchscreen.

In other seemingly unlikely news, NiGHTS is making his (or her?) comeback after an eleven year absence.  Portugal's Maxi Consola magazine has shown early pictures of the game, and while it's every bit as vibrant as the Saturn original, it lacks the polish you'd expect from ten years of technological advancements.  It still has the potential to be a lot of fun, though... if there were any controller that I'd want to use to play a sequel to NiGHTS, the Wii remote would be it.

Just one more thing, folks!  I've updated the Nintendo DS page with five new reviews.  Swing on by and give it a look!