Posts from April, May, and June 2008.

June 26, 2008...  Blitz Video Tweaks

I've got big changes planned for The Gameroom Blitz's video content.  It might be a while before everything is ready to go, but I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with the new format.  Rather than a random jumble of reviews, features, and comedy, all of these elements will be brought together in a structured bi-weekly series.  I'm also planning to review more recent games; not necessarily the latest releases, but newer titles for systems like the Playstation 2, Nintendo DS, and the Wii.  It'll be a fun experiment, and I hope you'll be along for the ride.

Before I go, I'd like to direct your attention to the latest Awesome NES update.  Kirby's Adventure is the main entree, followed by a light Kiwi Kraze salad, a finely aged King's Quest V wine, and the excessively bitter King's Knight as an aperitif.  Be sure to stick around for the second course, which will be served later in the day.

June 19, 2008...  Cable Withdrawl (also, Dark Cloud 3)

If you'll forgive the cliche, you just don't know what you've got 'till it's gone.  After enjoying a full spectrum of cable channels over the past three years, I lost all but a handful of them today.  That's right, no more MSNBC, no more Cartoon Network, no more Toon Disney, and no more... wait, those were the only three channels I watched regularly!

Nevertheless, I'm going through some serious withdrawl right now.  I'm using the TVUPlayer in an attempt to calm those raging cravings, but despite a wide assortment of channels, it just isn't getting the job done.  I've got the Viacom networks, and I've got access to dozens of stations spanning the globe, but I've still got a Chowder-shaped hole in my heart that none of these channels can fill.  Damn this cursed unemployment!  If I only had a steady job, I would claim all that was mine and more!

Anyway.  There's some pretty exciting news for Playstation 3 owners.  Word on the street is that unsung game developer Level 5 is working on the third Dark Cloud game.  Good thing they waited five years... that's how long it took for most gamers to finish the last one!

Also, as you probably expected, Awesome NES has been updated.  This time, we're straddling the Js and Ks with a lone review of Jurassic Park on the J side, and reviews of Karate Champ, Karate Kid, and Kickmaster on the K side.  Sense a theme?  Uh, no you don't.  It's just a coincidence.

June 16, 2008...  It's Gold, Jerry!  GOLD!  (also, Xbox Live avatars)

Another hot font is coming your way!

This time, it's Alpha Gold, based on the typeset used in some CPS2 fighting games.  This one looks really good in Windows Movie Maker, and I imagine that it'd be right at home in MUGEN, too.  I'm going to keep cranking these out until the evaluation period for FontCreator expires, so if you've got any suggestions for video game fonts that haven't already been done by someone else, leave me a note in the forum.

There's also a new Awesome NES page packed with sports celebrities (Jimmy and Jordan and John, oh my!) and a YouTube video that's markedly different from anything I've done in the past.  Get it while you can, folks... knowing the megalomaniacal jerk who owns Viacom, it probably won't be there for long!

All right, onto video game news.  There's a report on Joystiq that Microsoft is planning to retire its old-fashioned Xbox Live gamer pics and replace them with avatars, which all bear an uncanny resemblence to the super-deformed duffers in Hot Shots Golf (well, they're always duffers whenever I play that game...). 

It's pretty obvious that Nintendo's own personalized characters motivated this change, but with the Xbox 360 fast approaching its third birthday and expectations for the Xbox Live service already cemented in the minds of gamers, will it even matter?  Some critics even feel that there will be a backlash from the more mature Xbox 360 user base, who will resent being represented with childish personas. 

It's all starting to feel like the New Coke debacle from 1984, when the Coca-Cola Company messed with success by changing the formula of its flagship product.  Although focus testing suggested that New Coke would be a smash hit, consumers were furious that the Coca-Cola Company turned its back on tradition, and rebelled by boycotting the new product while hording cases of the old one.  It's even worse in this case because there's no way to hold onto the gamer pics you've purchased once Microsoft purges them from Xbox Live. 

Just a word of advice, Microsoft... reconsider.  The Xbox 360 is in a precarious position already, sandwiched between the Wii and Playstation 3 in sales.  A sudden and extreme change to the universally loved Xbox Live service could upset that delicate balance and put the Xbox 360 dead last in the console wars.  You've already been given a lot of undeserved breaks from your fans, who have stuck by the Xbox 360 even when their systems have broken multiple times.  Don't press your luck.

June 13, 2008...  Department S

Awesome NES is in jeopardy... but only because that's the subject of the latest batch of reviews.  We're looking at the three games based on the long-running game show, along with Jackal (jackal!  Jackal!  It's a jackal!) and Jackie Chan's Action Kung Fu.  There's also Jaws, which I hadn't played until fairly recently.  It reminds me of an underwater version of Friday the 13th, with a similarly unkillable villain.  On the plus side, LJN squeezed in wannabee Galaga segments to keep the player from succumbing to a frustration-induced aneurysm.  Hey, it's better than a sea urchin in the pants!

Also, I've updated the YouTube page with a brief VIC-20 retrospective.  This was my first computer, so you can imagine how forgiving I am of its many shortcomings.  It's got a sixteen color display, an appallingly low resolution, less than 4K of memory (today's computers have 500,000 times that much!), and even the case is a throwback to the dark days of disco.  However, none of that matters to me, because it had some incredibly fun games, and it's where I learned the fundamentals of computer programming (kind of like this guy, except without the love and admiration of millions of nerds).

And while I'm on a VIC kick, I might as well share this with you:

Thanks to a pretty darned awesome shareware program called FontCreator, I was able to whip up this custom font, based on the VIC-20's typeset.  Sharp-eyed gamers will also recognize it from classics like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and River City Ransom.  The design is still pretty early- some letters aren't properly spaced- but I'm really impressed with how it looks so far.  You're free to download it, but if you like it, I'd really appreciate a PayPal donation sent to mneko13 (at) yahoo (dot) com.

[EDIT: I've reposted the font, fixing most of the errors that were present in the first build.  It should be the next best thing to typing on an actual VIC-20 now!]

Yep, I'm totally broke.  So what else is new?

June 10, 2008...  Frame by Frame: Disney Afternoon Debuts

I've taken a break from Awesome NES to work on an exciting new feature... a look back at the late, lamented Disney Afternoon.  There are reviews of all sixteen of the cartoons featured in this syndicated programming block, along with artwork, trivia, and clips from each series.  If you're a member of Generation X, you'll get a warm fuzzy feeling from this retrospective.  If you're a little younger, you'll learn how the rest of us got by before cable television and DVD players gave the world cartoons on demand.  Either way, I'm sure you'll enjoy it!

May 29, 2008...  You Can Run, but You Can't Hydlide

There's only one game featured on Awesome NES today, but boy is it a doozy.  You remember Hydlide, right?  Yeah, I tried to blot it out of my mind, too.  However, as much as I'd like to deny its existence, I'm obligated to relive that trauma for the sake of the list.  Don't say I never did anything for you!

I've also uploaded the second half of the Super Stupid Fighting Game Crossovers feature.  I'm pretty proud of it, but I have a funny feeling that future videos will be even better.  See, I'd purchased a copy of Ulead's VideoStudio several months ago, but could never get it to work.  However, after being frustrated with Wimpos Movie Maker's limited features and constant crashing, I gave the disc another shot.  I shut down the antivirus software and shut off the wireless adapter prior to the installation, and that made all the difference... the annoying codec errors that once barred my path vanished, allowing me to experience a world of editing features I once had to do without.  You mean I can combine videos without having to awkwardly splice them together?  And I can drop titles anywhere, even at the top of the screen?  Oh, VideoStudio, where have you been all my life?

May 22, 2008...  Misery Loves Company (also, Jack Thompson convicted)

First things first.  Like clockwork, the Awesome NES section of the site has been updated.  This week's victims include Heavy Barrel, Heavy Shreddin', and Hatris, the puzzle game that's guaranteed to make your eyelids heavy.  You may also be interested to know that the first half of the Fighter's Misery video special Super Stupid Fighting Game Crossovers is available on YouTube, with a higher quality version soon to be uploaded to Revver.  I've always loved bagging on crummy fighting games, but it's even more fun to serve up that snark in a video!

Now onto the news... and there's a lot of it to report!  First up, every fighting game manufacturer has gone crossover crazy!  Not long after Midway confirmed a Mortal Kombat game starring the cast of the DC Comics Universe, Capcom announced its own team-up with Japanese animation giant Tatsunoko.  If you're not familiar with these guys, well... neither was I.  However, a little research reveals that they were responsible for many of the shows that were the foundation for modern Japanese cartoons.  Only four characters have been confirmed so far, but the stars of Speed Racer, Samurai Pizza Cats, and Neon Genesis Evangelion could all find their way into the cast.  Tatsunoko also worked on Superbook, but I think we can count out the possibility of beating the tar out of bible thumpin' wind-up robots...

Also, Joystiq reports that anti-fun activist Jack Thompson was found guilty of twenty-seven counts of abusing his position as a lawyer.  Unsurprisingly, nearly all of these were related to his ongoing crusade against video games.  There's no news yet on how he'll be punished, but considering all the headaches he's been giving the Florida Bar Association over the last three years, it's likely that it will go well beyond the scolding and minimal fines he's received in the past.

What else we got?  Well, Madden's taking a step back to the past with a holographic image mode that looks like Tron, or more accurately, those cheesy intros they used to show at the start of televised football games in the early 1980s.  If you like your sports stars glowing and featureless, it might be worth a look.  There's also an Oddworld game planned for the next decade, with technology that will make its creepy yet strangely endearing characters look more realistic... or should I say more surrealistic?  An increasingly fastidious Microsoft plans to unrelease any Xbox Live games which haven't been bringing home the bacon and winning over the critics, while Nintendo seems intent on releasing anything on the WiiWare service, reviewers be damned.

So in other words, it's been a weird week.

May 19, 2008...  Crossbow Capers

I was indifferent about them in the past, but these days, I've grown to appreciate the accessibility and the visceral satisfaction of light gun games.  There's no level building, no cryptic puzzles, and no emphasis on a storyline that was probably more interesting to the developers than the player.  You just point, shoot, and watch your onscreen target burst into a million pieces.  Sometimes you have to hold your fire when friendly characters appear, but that's as complicated as these games get... and I prefer them that way.

With this in mind, it probably won't be a surprise that I enjoyed Link's Crossbow Training.  This game, offered as a bonus with Nintendo's space-age redesign of the Zapper, was actually more entertaining to me than the official Zelda that launched with the Wii back in 2006.  All the fat and even most of the meat has been trimmed away from Twlight Princess, leaving behind an handful of challenges that test your speed and accuracy with the Zapper (or even better, Nyko's smaller, more realistic, and easier to assemble Perfect Shot). 

Each stage is split into three sections, with a different setting and goal for each one.  Sometimes, you'll be frozen in place as you blast targets, and other times, you'll lead Link on a hunt for goblin barbarians or even-creepier-than-usual spiders.  Whatever the scenario, the objective remains the same... hit onscreen targets while keeping friendly fire to a minimum.  Oh, and there's one other thing: you can't miss.  Individual targets have a low base value, but a bonus multiplier builds with each successful hit.  That multiplier drops back to one if you miss, forcing you to hit targets cleanly and consistently if you hope to earn medals and unlock new stages.

And that's really all there is to it.  Like most Wii games, Link's Crossbow Training is a brief and simple diversion, but as a child of the 1980s, I don't see a problem with that.  When I was growing up, every game was like that, and it certainly didn't hurt their appeal.  If anything, those titles from days past were more entertaining because you could get your fill in ten minutes, pull yourself away from the table, and come back to them later with your hunger renewed. 

Today's games have turned into that famous scene from Monty Python and the Meaning of Life.  You get your fill an hour after you start playing, but there's so much left on your plate that you can't stop until long after your taste buds have deadened and your engorged belly has spilled over the table.  Then the snooty waiter comes by with the after dinner mint and it's game over!

All right, enough Luddistic babble from me.  Before I go, have an Awesome NES update!  In fact, have two!  We're reviewing everything from classic shooters like Gradius and The Guardian Legend to oddities like the R.O.B.-powered Gyromite and Gumshoe, the side-scrolling platformer that you control with a light gun.  If you're having trouble imagining such a game, just pretend that Mario was replaced with Ringo Starr, and that you had to shoot him to make him do anything.  That should put you on the right track.

May 13, 2008...  Skate, Minus the "Or Die" Part (also, Wii Ware begins)

The animation section was long overdue for some new content, as well as a new layout.  Fortunately, I've rectified both issues, and went one step further by adding commentary to some of the older reviews.  If you love cartoons, and I suspect that you do, I highly recommend you give the page a peek.

Now onto the video games!  While shopping for the Playstation 2 version of Soul Calibur 2 (it's going to be prominently featured in the upcoming crossover special), I was able to give the Playstation 3 version of Skate a quick spin.  I heard that the game was a departure from the Tony Hawk series, but I didn't realize just HOW different it would be from Activision's long-running extreme sports series. 

Playing Skate was like trying to learn to ride a bike all over again.  Instead of simple button presses, you've got to use the two thumbsticks in concert to control both your skater and his board.  It's more complicated than Tony Hawk, yet also more intuitive.  Somehow, flicking the right thumbstick down, then up to jump just makes sense.

I had the chance to buy Skate several months ago, but passed because I wasn't sure I'd be able to adapt to a new control scheme.  Now I'm starting to regret that decision.  As much as the media would like you to believe otherwise, Skate is not a Tony Hawk killer.  It covers the same ground, but does it in such a completely different way that both games can exist harmoniously.  It's entirely possible to enjoy them both, although I suspect that it will take a lot more work to master Skate.

While I was out, I also picked up a copy of Link's Crossbow Training (sans the ugly-ass "Zapper" that was originally packaged with it) and Zack and Wiki, that celebrated sleeper hit which stands out as one of the best games in the otherwise lackluster Wii software library.  I haven't tried either game yet, but I'm itching to break out Link's Crossbow Training just to put that long-neglected Perfect Shot through its paces.

Monday's debut of the Wii Ware channel will give me yet another excuse to rouse my system from its lengthy hibernation.  A lot of the games look disconcertingly amateur, like Pop and Defend the Castle, but I'd be willing to take a chance on Lost Winds, and the Final Fantasy spin-off looks surprisingly gorgeous for such a small download.  Too bad it's a territorial development simulation, rather than the overhead view action that people have come to expect from Crystal Chronicles...

All right, that's enough outta me.  Before I go, have an Awesome NES update!  This time, the two Ghostbusters games are the topic of discussion, along with Ghengis Khan, Ghosts 'n Goblins, and the frankly puzzling Gilligan's Island.  Who the heck thought this would be a great subject for a video game, anyway?  It wasn't even a good television show!  The biggest laugh I got from this stupid sitcom was when half its cast was arrested for smoking dope.

May 9, 2008...  Back in the Tube

Yikes!  I completely forgot to update Awesome NES yesterday.  Oh well, better late than never, right?  This time, we're marching into battle with G.I. Joe and its sequel, then taking to the skies with the arcade classic Galaga and the less famous but still reasonably entertaining Galaxy 5000.

As promised earlier, I'm also dipping my toe into the YouTube scene after a three month hiatus.  Here's a preview of my next feature, which should be finished sometime next week.

May 4, 2008...  Video Killed the Internet Star

Just a friendly reminder, folks... even when I don't have anything to say on the front page, I'm still updating Awesome NES twice a week.  I'm closing out the Fs with reviews of Flying Dragon, Freedom Force, and that crown jewel of everyone's NES collection, Friday the 13th.  Conventional wisdom states that it's hard to express sarcasm on the Internet, but I'm pretty sure that bit of snark came through loud and clear...

Now that I'm out of college for the summer, I'm thinking about investing some of that newfound free time in video reviews.  It's been close to three months since I've updated my YouTube page, and I'm getting that itch to make more content.  However, there's a possibility that I'll shift production over to Revver.  It offers superior video quality, as well as a mature audience that's less likely to gawk at the latest online train wrecks.  Actually, they're less likely to look at anything due to the site's relatively small user base, but anything's an improvement over getting a constant stream of nasty comments claiming that I suck because I'm not enough like that Angry Video Game Nerd jerk.

I'm getting rather bitter so I'd better end this update.  See you on Thursday... same Blitz time, same Blitz channel!

April 29, 2008...  Bereft of Theft

Now that Grand Theft Auto 4 has been released, you're probably expecting me to go on some long, obnoxious rant about the game being exactly the same as the half dozen that came before it, that the graphics still look clumsy and robotic despite the next-generation polish, and that you might as well use your empty skull as a flowerpot if you'd even consider purchasing it. 

I'm not going to do that, though.  The fact is, people are going to buy this game regardless of what I think of it.  The only thing I can do is offer an oasis from the avalanche of Rockstar-fueled hype on other gaming sites.  To that end, I'm adding a handful of reviews to the Atari 5200 page, and working on an update to Fighter's Misery that should be worth the (long, looooong) wait.  It's coverage that's 100% retro, and 0% Grand Theft Auto!

April 25, 2008...  Gaming Redefined

There's been a lot of discussion lately about what makes a video game a video game.  Epic Megagames is convinced that the secret ingredient is progressively realistic visuals.  Bioware thinks that narrative is that defining characteristic.  However, neither of those elements were important in the early 1980's, when games first found a mainstream audience.  Back then, storyline was a quaint novelty, and graphics were merely functional; simple icons meant to represent concrete objects.  This leads me to ask... shouldn't the sole determining factor of a video game be the game itself?

On a related note, I wish companies like Epic and Bioware would spend less time trying to find ways to invalidate the Wii as a game system and more time supporting it.  Bioware claims that the Wii isn't powerful enough to offer a deep storyline in its games (conveniently forgetting the Infocom adventure games that managed to do it on far less capable hardware), and Epic doesn't even bother with an explanation, instead cutting the Wii in half with a chainsaw at industry events.  Come on, guys.  It's been nearly two years, and the fad prediction hasn't panned out.  The Wii is the current industry leader, and will remain that way for some time; possibly for the remainder of the console cycle.  If you want your companies to remain financially healthy and culturally relevant, you need to swallow your pride and hop aboard the Wii train before it leaves you behind.

Anyway... the Awesome NES page has been updated.  This time, we're covering all the Es, ranging from Elevator Action to Excitebike.  Also, be sure to try Eliminator Boat Duel if you ever get the chance!  You probably missed it the first time around, but it's never too late to see what you've been missing!

April 17, 2008...  When No One Was Looking, Alex Hugged the Teddy Bear

Dragons are the stars of the show in this installment of Awesome NES.  We've covered the first three games in the venerable Dragon Warrior (or is it Dragon Quest...?) series, along with Dragon Fighter, Dragon Power, and "Smells Like" Dragon Spirit.  Oh yeah, there's also Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, but you don't want that.

Speaking of the good old NES, River City Ransom is finally being released on the American Virtual Console service, along with the loose NES conversion of Double Dragon and the much-maligned Renegade.  I see this game get kicked around by other gamers and I still don't understand why... it doesn't have the impact of Technos' other Kunio games, but it's perfectly playable and a great deal better than its Western-designed "sequel."  Target: Renegade... yeesh!

One last thing before I go.  Japanese Wii owners can now play their favorite Virtual Console titles with a Super NES controller, the way nature intended!  The replica controller plugs into the bottom of the Wiimote and looks just like the real thing, without any unusually shaped buttons (cue the picture of Hori's digital controller for the GameCube).  It's a step in the right direction, but what I'd really like to see is a six button Sega Genesis controller; one that could connect to the bottom of the Wii without any pesky cables to get in the way of the action.  Throw in Thrustmaster's mapping feature and you've got yourself the ultimate controller for this or any other game system!

April 10, 2008...  Ice Cold Brew

Here's the good news.  Sony is finally aware that a homebrew community exists for the PSP.  The bad news is, they don't seem particularly enthused about it.  I'm detecting just a hint of passive-aggressive behavior in a survey they recently published on the Internet...

Why are you hacking your PSP?



I'm an ungrateful little punk






Hey, I just wanted to be cool!






I feast on the flesh of the living






I don't fear prison or anal rape






Voiding my warranty gets me off






I hate America and kick puppies






I'm one of those filthy DS owners






Don't worry, Sony!  Since I bought my Asus EEE, I haven't hacked my PSP in months!  Heck, I haven't even used it in months!

Anyway, I know what you're here for, so I'll just move out of the way and let you sink your teeth into the latest Awesome NES update.  This time, we're covering that game where a big, hairy ape with a nasty temper climbs a tower.  Then after the Die Hard review, we'll spend some time with the Donkey Kong series.

April 6, 2008...  Samba de Amiga

Open wide, folks!  Here comes another heaping helping of Awesome NES!  This time, we've diving deep into the Ds with a serious case of Deja Vu, as well as a seriously watered down translation of Stargate and Demon Sword's Kage, a serious contender for Olympic gold in the high jump event.

After some discussion with the NES fans on Jeremy Parish's GameSpite web site, I've been thinking of reformatting these pages to make them a little easier to manage.  As it stands now, the sidebar on every page has to be updated in order to keep the layout consistent and make navigation easy for the reader.  This will be a fantastic pain in the butt when I've cracked one hundred pages, forcing me to consider designs that will be more convenient for both my readers and myself. 

Right now, I'm experimenting with frames.  You'll find the fruit of my labor here.  The problem with this design is that it varies wildly depending on the user's screen resolution.  There's way too much empty space on my laptop, while a friend with a standard CRT can't seem to fit the whole page on his screen without scrolling.  I'm trying to make the pages more consistent, not less, so maybe I'll pass on that idea.  In all honesty, I've never been all that crazy about frames, anyway!

So now, I'm leaning toward either cascading style sheets or a database.  I just need to find the time to learn the latter, and build the former.  Using a database would be especially handy, as the data could be transferred to a number of different designs with little difficulty, and would make comprehensive searches a breeze.  Need to look up a game by its release date, or by its developer?  Just pick the desired criteria from a drop down list, hit the search button, and that information is dropped right in your lap!

All right, enough about the NES.  I've got some darned good news about another system in my collection, the Amiga CD32 (mine didn't come with a giant video game playing brain... guess that was an optional feature!).  After two frustrating years of trying to bring this console to life, I've finally roused it from its eternal sleep with a hacked PC power supply.  Sadly, I don't have anything to play on the machine aside from a bunch of music albums and the appropriately named Disposable Hero.

However, even without much hands-on experience with the CD32, I can still say that I like the system's charmingly simple interface and its case design, a head-on collision between classic Commodore ugly and the sleek futuristic style of game consoles from the early 1990's.  I'll probably be even more impressed with it once I've spent some time playing its games (I mean good games, not Disposable Hero).