FALL 2008

Posts from October, November, and December 2008.

December 30, 2009... New Year, New Opportunities

Hey, I'm writing for money again!  I'll be reviewing homebrew software for 1UP's Retronauts blog, starting with Toyshop Trouble, an exceptional 2600 release by AtariAge.  You can check out the debut of this weekly feature, tentatively titled A Taste of Homebrew, by clicking on this link.

Oh yeah, there's also a new Awesome NES update.  This one's special, because the navigation bar has been updated in all the pages for a more uniform and convenient browsing experience.  As for the games, I've added reviews of Robowarrior (the closest thing the 1980s had to Bomberman: Act Zero, and that includes the mediocrity), the colorful feline antics of Rockin' Kats, and Rollerball, one of my all-time favorite pinball simulations.  Feel free to give that a look as well while you're here.

Guess that's it.  Enjoy the new year, folks!

December 20, 2009... You've Got the Look

So hey, I got impatient and decided to roll out the new design of The Gameroom Blitz a week early.  How do you likum?


Quiet, Desi!  Annnyway, this is how the site will look from this moment forward.  It's very modular, making it a cinch for me to maintain and expand.  I'm especially excited about the sidebar, which makes navigation easier for the reader and updates a whole lot less painful for myself.  The sidebar is contained inside its own page, then transparently integrated into the rest of the site through clever use of the iframe attribute.  In layman's terms, it means that when I add a new feature to the site, I'll have to update just one page to reflect the change, rather than a hundred.  It probably goes without saying that I'll be adding a similar sidebar to Awesome NES in the very near future.

Speaking of the future, here's what I've got planned for the site in 2009!

WII AND XBOX 360 REVIEWS:  These systems have been out for over two years now, yet coverage of both consoles has been woefully thin on this site.  It's about time that changed.

FOLLY OF DIOGENES:  Armed only with a lantern, Greek cynic Diogenes searched in vain for an honest person.  Thousands of years later, this cynic will embark on a similarly futile quest... to find an Xbox Community Game that doesn't suck ass.

SHOOTER'S MISERY:  The makers of Fighter's Misery (that'd be me and John Roche, if he feels like it) set their sights on the cheesiest shoot 'em ups in the galaxy.  The bi-curious bodybuilders of Cho Aniki are only the tip of the asteroid!

ASSAULT OF THE INVADERS PART 3:  This decade has almost come to an end, so it's time to wrap up this article to a close with reviews of Space Invaders Get Even and other titles from the groundbreaking series released in the 21st century.

Stay tuned, folks!  2009 is going to be a big, big year for the Blitz!

December 19, 2008...  Hindsight (plus, Aegis Wing reassessment)

All right folks, I'm going to be doing some major maintenence on the site, startiiiiiing... right now.  Don't be surprised if some of your favorite pages vanish only to reappear with the new design days later.

During the Christmas break, I've evenly split my free time between playing video games and retooling the web site.  I spent at least a couple of nights porting the archives to the new format, and all those old posts left me with mixed feelings.  Most of the video game commentary, particularly in the later years, seems remarkably insightful and entertaining.  However, those gems are buried under a lot of rough... posts about peculiar outside interests, crappy comics, and insufferable whining about my personal life that makes me wish I had a time machine just so I could smack my twenty-something self upside the head.  It's no wonder The Gameroom Blitz has had such a hard time finding a reader base... if I were anybody but me, I wouldn't want to read that shit either.  Hopefully next year I'll save the drama for my LiveJournal page and serve up more of the gaming coverage that makes this site shine.

Speaking of gaming news... although it's extremely limited in scope, I'm loving the Friendship is Free promotion on Xbox Live that lets you play online games without the need for a Gold account.  I played through all five stages of Aegis Wing with my good friend FreakServo, and enjoyed the experience far more than when I played the game by myself when it was released last year.  It's not just because I had a friend along for the ride, either... this seemingly dull shooter steadily improves as you progress, evolving from a Community Games-quality effort to a legitimately fun and exciting shoot 'em up.  It's common practice in video games to save the best stuff for last, but if the Aegis Wing designers had made all the stages as exciting as the final one, it wouldn't have taken nearly as long for me to come back to it after its initial release.

All right, I need to get back to work on the site redesign.  I'll leave you guys with another Awesome NES update.  This time, we're taking a spin with Roadblasters, taking out terrorists in Rescue: The Embassy Mission, and taking on the world's least threatening gangs in the cult classic River City Ransom.

December 13, 2008...  You Take My Self-Control (plus, PSP death throes)

Another day, another controller hack.  This time the victim is a MadCatz Arcade Stick I had taken apart and left in the closet for nearly a year.  After doing a little research online and discovering that it had a single ground (most Xbox 360 controllers have several), I immediately took it out of cold storage and went to work on an adapter for my customized Saturn controller.  Hours of soldering and testing later, this was the end result:

Like my previous controller adapters for the 3DO, Nintendo 64, and GameCube, it ain't pretty, but you can't argue with the results.  It's raised my scores in Xbox Live Arcade games, but more importantly, it's made them a lot more fun to play.  I was on the fence about how to rate Pac-Man Champ in the past, but with this adapter I can confidently give the game high marks.

Sadly, the adapter's not compatible with everything... there weren't enough buttons on the Saturn controller to include support for the Guide and Back buttons on the Xbox, so that means Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is out of the question.  I could probably use AND logic gates to trigger those two orphaned keys with a combination of buttons, but that will have to wait until I've got the money to blow on spare parts.  As for the analog thumbsticks, I'd like to connect Atari paddles to them, but that's a tall order.  I'm sure it's possible, but not feasible until I learn more about how they work.

Now onto more general gaming news.  You remember the Mercenaries 2 DLC that was promised in late October?  You know, the patch that included two presidential candidates as playable characters?  Well, Pandemic has finally gotten around to releasing it... over a month after the campaign ended and Sarah Palin settled for being the shame of her home state rather than the entire country.  Great timing, guys!  On the plus side, the DLC adds new missions to the game and won't cost you a penny.  On top of that... you have to admit that hijacking tanks and leveling entire buildings as our next president is an exciting prospect.  I just hope they found a suitable voice actor for Obama, rather than phoning it in and having him parrot back all of Phil LaMarr's obnoxious lines.

Also, things aren't looking so hot for the PSP at this late point in its lifespan.  In a recent interview, Sony Computer Entertainment of Europe president David Reeves has claimed that his company isn't planning to release a successor to the PSP.  He also reluctantly admits that third parties aren't on board with the struggling handheld, preferring to support everything short of the N-Gage instead.  Are these early signs of the PSP's impending demise? 

Wired's Chris Kohler is adamant that the potent portable will rise again, but given the increasing popularity of the iPhone and its super fantastic ability to play mobile phone games that don't completely suck, I've got a gloomier vision of the PSP's future.  Apple's already referring to the iPhone as a gaming platform, and there's been speculation from analysts that the versatile handset will compete directly against the DS in the future... and ultimately come out on top.  Even if the analysts are wrong about the outcome, it's likely that the PSP will be the first casualty of this battle.

Before I go, and before I forget, there's a fresh update to Awesome NES that you might want to check out.  There's a refreshingly diverse selection of titles in this installment, including a fine port of the exceptional Atari Games coin-op Rampart.  It's part Tetris, part tower defense, and 100% terrific! 

December 7, 2008...  Off to See the Wizards

I had no idea what I was going to post about in this update, until I stumbled upon a couple Wizard of Wor remakes designed by fans of the venerable Midway arcade game.  They're both faithful adaptations of the original, but each have new play mechanics and distinct visual styles that make them unique.  Which of these unofficial sequels has what it takes to be considered the true follow-up to Bob Ogden's classic?  Read on and find out...

And that's not even half the playfield!

This is Wizard of Wor Remake by Iteration Games.  Hey, the title's not catchy, but it's definitely accurate.  You're still hunting down bouncing wolves and six-legged warthogs inside a labyrinthine dungeon, with a friend helping to stave off death (or, if you're the sadistic type, offering another target to blast).  However, the mazes are a lot less cramped this time, with four times the real estate of the dungeons in the arcade game.  There's also a new ability called folding space, which lets you race to the end of corridors in the blink of an eye.

Wizard of Wor Remake isn't much to look at, recycling much of its artwork from the thirty year old arcade game, but the raw presentation has a certain retro appeal to it, vaguely reminescent of LCD handhelds from the late 1970s.  When the Worluk makes its appearance, the dungeon's segmented walls flash wildly and techno music blares from the speakers, building the intensity to a teeth-gritting, nail-chewing climax.  It's that excitement that lets the game rise above its shortcomings, including irritating sound effects and levels that are too sprawling for their own good.

Judging from this screenshot, you'd think that Return to Wor would be the better of the two games.  However, the isometric viewpoint that makes the graphics shine also hobbles the gameplay.  That's the curse of the three-quarters perspective, unfortunately... it gives 2D games a remarkable amount of detail and visual depth, but also makes them frustratingly difficult to play.  Just finding your Worrior in the sprawling dungeons is a challenge, let alone staying alive with a dozen hungry monsters at your heels.  

Return to Wor also commits the capital offense of becoming MORE difficult after you've lost a life.  Fallen soldiers rise from the dead and pursue you along with the Burwors, Garwors, and Thorwors, except they're more resistant to damage than the garden variety monsters.  You'll have to blast these reanimated corpses four times to send them back to their graves.  The relentless zombies coupled with the awkward view of the action means that you'll be lucky to finish the first stage... and even luckier if you manage to enjoy it!

By now, it's already pretty obvious which game I prefer, but you can download them both by clicking on the pictures in this post.  Oh yeah, be sure to get a Joy To Key utility to go along with them, since neither game has built in joystick support.

Just one more thing... there's a new Awesome NES update, including reviews of everything from R.C. Pro-Am to Rad Racer.  As usual, it's fun for the whole family... or at least those members of the family obsessed with old video games. De

November 30, 2008...  Captain, We Need More Power!

Might as well sneak in one more update to the site before the month ends.  I've updated the Video Power page... there's a new banner, more pictures, and even a "Where Are They Now?" segment about the former Johnny Arcade, Stivi Paskoski.  It brings a whole new meaning to the term "too much information," doesn't it?

November 22, 2008...  Respect My Communitah

Still pluggin' away at the new site design, folks.  All of the system pages and most of the features have been adapted to the new layout, with the exception of crusty old pages that date back to the 1990s... you know, the tributes to long-cancelled television shows and the like.  Honestly, I'm thinking about dropping them from the site entirely.  Sitcom Hell in particular was a lot more relevant back in 1996, when the Olsen Twins were still midget orangutangs and not the wafer-thin harlots they've since become.

Anyway, I've been playing more of the Community Games on Xbox Live, and I've got to tell you, very few of them have made the positive impression that Weapon of Choice had.  I did really enjoy Biology Battle, a sleek omnidirectional shooter in the vein of Geometry Wars, but everything else has been varying degrees of disappointing.  Colosseum is a monotonous beat 'em up in spite of its sharp cel-shaded artwork, and Alien Ambush is as shameless a clone of Megamania as you can get... the only thing the designers forgot to rip off was the fun.  Other games suffer from high concepts that don't work well in practice, like the shooter that's an awkward hybrid of Missile Command and Starcraft.  Two great tastes that taste great together?  I don't think so. 

I still have high hopes for Community Games... this is the first time since the Yaroze project that a console manufacturer has openly embraced homebrew game development.  Yet at the same time, I wish were there was some quality control to filter out duds like Rift.

All right, enough of that.  There's a new Awesome NES update, but it's slim pickins this week.  I've reviewed all the games starting with Q, but since only two of them exist...

November 19, 2008...  Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Scrotum

Forget the avatars!  The most exciting thing about the New Xbox Experience dashboard is the inclusion of Community Games.  These titles were created by hobbyist programmers with the XNA design utility, but at least one of these new releases looks like it could rival Xbox Live Arcade content produced by more seasoned developers.  And that game is...

Attack of the Terrifying Terrestrial Testes!  Uh, no... make that Weapon of Choice.  This release by Mommy's Best Games is a hybrid of Contra and Smash TV, with the side-scrolling run 'n gun action of the former and the omnidirectional firing of the latter.  Weapon of Choice has a few of its own tricks up its sleeve, too... you've got a backpack which can cling to walls and hanging vines, and there are downed soldiers in each stage who can be added to your team of mercenaries.  Well, if you can hold onto them, anyway!

I haven't played much of this game yet, but the demo was promising (and short!) enough to convince me to buy the full version at a rather thrifty five dollars.  I look at it this way... even if it turns out to be a disappointment, I've spent more on worse.

November 17, 2008...  Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

Wow, they've got a DS game for EVERYTHING these days!  I don't think this will help as much as the patch, or the gum, or the torture room from that old episode of Tales from the Darkside, but if you want to quit smoking the 21st century way, you'll want to wrap your filthy tobacco-stained hands around a copy of this.

Oh yeah, it's probably worth mentioning that D2K, the unofficial sequel to Donkey Kong, is now playable on Misfit MAME.  It's got four new stages, and they're all extremely faithful to the rounds in the original game.  In other words, they're as fiendishly difficult as anything Shigeru Miyamoto could devise.  I'm not going to give you the link to the ROM, buuuuut if you want to see the game in action, I'd be happy to point you in the right direction.

November 16, 2008...  Welcome to the 21st Century

Another day, another long overdue update.  As penance, I've added two pages to Awesome NES rather than the usual one.  Also, just so you know that the last two weeks haven't been a complete waste, I'm hard at work on a new design for the site.  The Gameroom Blitz has been through a lot of changes over the past decade, but this is likely to be the last.  Although nothing's set in stone, it's likely that the site will be put into retirement after a couple of years.  The enthusiasm I once had for gaming just isn't there anymore, as you may have noticed from the lack of coverage for game systems more recent than the DS and PSP.

Annnyway, this is how the site looks now, and this is how it will look at the start of the new year.  It's a simpler, more skinnable design than the ones I've used in the past, owing a great deal to the layouts of web sites like GameSpite and Insert Credit.  The new design will also give The Gameroom Blitz more consistency.  In the past, each page was so wildly different that it felt like The Blitz was stitched together from seven or eight web sites, like an online Frankenstein.  Now, the only thing that will change about the design of each page is the banner at the top of the page.  All the content on the site, from features to reviews, will be unified under the new design, with the likely exception of Awesome NES.

I may also dabble with cutting-edge Internet features like CSS and RSS ("Hey, CSS has been around since 1996!"  "Quiet, you!").  There's a lot I don't understand about cascading style sheets, but one thing I do know is that it makes spreading sidebars across multiple pages a whole lot cleaner than it is with tables.  RSS has promise as well, but I know precious little about its benefits and absolutely nothing about how to add it to the site's framework.  It's something I'll have to research over the Christmas holiday... The Gameroom Blitz has been stuck in 2002 for six years now and it's about time I bring it up to spec.

November 3, 2008...  Massive Election

Just wanted to remind you all to vote tomorrow (for Obama), because it's your responsibility as an American (to vote for Obama) and you'll happy that you did (vote for Obama).

Aside from the election (vote Obama), I don't have too much to report at the moment.  I upgraded my Xbox 360 to the new dashboard over the weekend.  This sneak peek has cost me three weeks of access to Xbox Live, and I can't even bide my time by creating custom avatars.  However, from what little I've seen, it does appear to be an improved experience, or at least a faster one.  I'm also happy with the recently played tab in Xbox Live Arcade, which has been expanded from a single game to a more handy six.  There's also an option to store DVD-based games on the hard drive, but I haven't had the chance to try it.  I'll have to clear out the cobwebs (and practically everything else) on this dinky 20G drive before I can give it a spin.

Also, I managed to fix one of these little beauties (that picture is courtesy of Earl Green's LogBook web site, by the way).  Sadly, I had to sacrifice a Pac-Man tabletop to get it running, but hey, everyone knows that Ms. Pac-Man's more fun than her drab husband!  Besides, this system goes for a mint on eBay... and in my current financial state, I'll probably need every penny.  Man, 2008 totally sucked...

October 30, 2008...  Cruelty to Animals

Klo-new-a?  Klo-NO-a is more like it.  This is the proposed redesign for Namco's kid-friendly hero, and although it's not completely terrible, it looks like they stuffed an entirely different character into Klonoa's clothes.  It looks like something an amateur furry artist would whip up after playing too much Kingdom Hearts.  If you're not fond of the dopey new design, please let Namco know by clicking on Klonoa 2.0.  He'll use his awkwardly positioned forefinger to point you to a survey, where you can register your disgust with the makers of the series.

October 2, 2008...  First Thoughts on the DSi

Holy nuts!  There's some great footage of the recently announced DSi (yeeeeeOW!) on Kotaku.  Man, if they had shown all those fantastic games at the last Electronic Entertainment Expo, people would have been singing Nintendo's praises rather than cursing its name for the last three months.  The RPG fans alone have plenty to get excited about, with Kingdom Hearts, Chrono Trigger, Shining Force, Mario and Luigi, and several flavors of Final Fantasy all scheduled for release in the near future.

"But what about the hardware?," you ask (assuming that you're even here to ask that question).  Well, the DSi represents a pretty big change from the previous two units in a number of ways.  First, the bad news... the rumors that the Game Boy Advance cartridge slot would be kicked to the curb turned out to be right on the money.  It's gone for good, just as Game Boy Color support was dropped from later models of the Game Boy Advance.  If you have an older flash cartridge or one of those cart-based peripherals, you'd better hold onto your current DS, because the new unit won't take them.

Now for the improvements, and there are a lot of them!  The DSi includes not one, but two cameras.  The first is set on the system's hinge, allowing you to interact with specially designed games.  The second, set in the back of the top screen, has a much sharper resolution and lets you take snapshots of your friends.  Then there's the greatly expanded BIOS... previous systems gave you rudimentary features like a clock and Pictochat, but the new DS offers PDA-like functionality, with an MP3 player and web browser.  It's probably safe to assume that the DSi has extra RAM built in to accommodate these two features, since the previous two handhelds required a cartridge to surf the web.

The DSi also has an SD card slot, which leads us to its most surprising new feature... Internet commerce.  You'll be able to download games and other content from Nintendo's servers, which opens up intriguing possibilities for gamers as well as ample opportunities for Nintendo to shake its loyal user base for every last dime.  The downloadable content ranges in price from free (gee, my favorite!) to 200, 500, and even 800 points.  The thought of a download service for the DS doesn't sound all that enticing... after all, if Wii Ware games are scaled down from their retail counterparts, how much more simplified would a DS download be?   However, it does open the door a tiny crack for Game Boy Advance titles, which would otherwise be inaccessible on the DSi.

So that's what you can expect from the latest Nintendo DS.  It's dropped the backward compatibility, but gained a lot of nifty gadgets and gimmicks that expand the scope of the system.  It's starting to move into convergence territory, an approach that didn't work so well for the PSP but may actually pay dividends for Nintendo.  If it doesn't, they can always do what they did with the Game Boy Micro and pretend it never existed!