Posts from January, February, and March of 2009.

March 25, 2009... Down with GDC (yeah, you know me!)

I didn't even realize this Game Developer's Conference was all that significant, yet here we are, getting tons of megaton announcements from the event.  Support for high-capacity SD cards on the Wii!  The option to (sort of) play games straight from an SD card!  A new Zelda game for the DS, and not a sequel to the craptastic Twilight Princess!  Arcade games on the Virtual Console!  A sequel to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles where you play as the villain!  Oh yeah, that's a whole lot to look forward to in 2009, at least if you're a Nintendo fan.

Here's something else that may be of interest to you if you own a Nintendo DS... a brand new review of the recently released Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure!  Originally called Monkey Business, this title merges two separate genres to create a refreshing new experience.  Its release was a brave and unexpected move from Electronic Arts, and hopefully this won't be the last time the company moves beyond its comfort zone of Madden sequels.

March 20, 2009... Rinse, Lather, Repeat

My apologies for the lack of updates, folks.  I've been suffering from can could be best described as writer's constipation, which will hopefully clear up in a couple of months after college ends and I've settled elsewhere.

So, how about that Battlestar Galactica ending?  Remind you of anything?

March 12, 2009... Can't Sleep, Clown Will Eat Me

Fantastic.  This is going to be another one of those nights where sleep just won't come, until 10AM in the morning when the sun is blazing in my face and I wake not-so-refreshed at 6PM at night.  I might as well make good use of the insomnia by updating the web site.  First off, you'll note that the old Pandora's Palace banner has been replaced with something more colorful and exciting.  With spring fast approaching, I thought it would be the right time to make the change.  Secondly, the next batch of reviews for Awesome NES is up.  Actually, it's been up for a couple of days now, but you probably wouldn't know that until I specifically told you.  There are some pretty sweet games in this installment, including Solomon's Key (best described as Super Mario Bros. for MENSA members) and Solar Jetman.

What else is on the menu?  Oh yeah, there's a detailed interview with Jerry Lawson on the web site Vintage Computing and Gaming.  Lawson is the creator of the Fairchild Channel F, widely recognized in classic gaming circles as a pretty terrible system but an important industry milestone thanks to its introduction of swappable media.  In the past, games were hardwired into consoles, generally playing four flavors of Pong.  However, Lawson recognized that a Pong by any other name (even an exotic one like Jai Alai) would still be just as boring after a couple of months, and created his console with a cartridge slot on the front.  When players got tired of the system's two included games, they could stick a new one in the cartridge slot, greatly increasing the lifespan of the Channel F while giving Fairchild a steady source of revenue from the console.  It's this razors and blades approach to retail that has defined the way the video game industry does business, helping it earn twenty billion dollars in the last year alone.  So while Mr. Lawson's game system may not be a lot of fun to play, no one can question its significance.

Taking a mad leap from the past to the future, there's word of a Wii remake of A Boy and His Blob, developed by the fine folks at Wayforward and sporting a hand-painted, Braid-inspired look that's ten times better than the original game's woefully primitive graphics.  Sony is also mum about the next-generation PSP, neither confirming nor denying that the handheld will drop the UMD format that made its predecessor so vulnerable to piracy and not at all tempting to third party developers.  Finally, Microsoft is trimming the fat from its line of Xbox 360 systems, replacing the Elite model with a series of limited edition consoles designed to promote hit games like the upcoming Resident Evil 5.  All right, maybe that's not so much trimming the fat as rebranding it.

March 9, 2009... The Real Ultimate Experience in Your Hand

I just received an AceKard in the mail last Friday, and put the DS flash cartridge through its paces over the weekend.  I was a little dismayed at first when I couldn't get the cart to work, but a trip to the official web site revealed the source of the problem... unlike the Supercard, which is usable right out of the box but forces you to run DS files through a converter, the AceKard requires an operating system to be installed on a memory card but runs software without the need for conversion.  Downloading that operating system is a bit of an annoyance, especially since the AceKard doesn't come with instructions, but it's much preferable to running each and every game through a sluggish converter before you play it.

Another big plus is that the Game Boy Advance slot that was once occupied by my Supercard is now free for peripherals, including the memory expansion cartridge that opens the door to Neo-Geo emulation.  I've spent a couple of hours playing my favorite games with Neo DS, and I must say that it runs titles like King of Fighters '99 and Twinkle Star Sprites better than anyone could reasonably expect.  My only gripe is that it's practically impossible to chuck fireballs in the fighting games... dragon punches and even SNK's obscenely complicated desperation moves come off with little effort, but the games stubbornly refuse to read quarter circle forward motions, even if you leap over your opponent first.  I don't know if this means my DS Lite is on its last legs or if the emulator needs a little more work, but either way, it's aggravating when you consider that the Neo-Geo library consists of 90% fighting games by volume.

Let's see, what else?  The official site claims that the AceKard can play DS games without slowdown, although I never noticed it with the Supercard either.  It also has support for cheat codes, which I never used with the old cartridge, and a skinnable interface, which might be fun to play around with but certainly not essential to the experience.  What I'd like to know is if the AceKard supports realtime save states... they would be immensely helpful in games like Trauma Center, which borders on impossible without them!  I can't get a straight answer from, so I'll have to do a little digging on the internet to know for sure.

Well, that's it for now, folks.  If you're interested in new articles, you'll probably want to visit 1UP for my weekly column, A Taste of Homebrew.  While you're there, you really ought to check out the articles by Jeremy Parish, Ray Barnholt, and Nadia Oxford, who's got a fun retrospective on cartoons inspired by video games.  Also, I should have a new installment of Awesome NES up in a couple of days, so keep your eyes peeled!

March 3, 2009... Everything Must Go!

As you may know, Midway is selling some of its franchises to pare down its massive debt.  What you may not know is that the company is open to selling just about everything in its software library, and that a handful of gamers have given some thought to purchasing the rights to a couple of the company's more obscure titles.

I know, it all seems a little far-fetched.  Don't dismiss it too quickly, though.  A member of the Talking Time forum contacted Midway's lawyers about acquiring some of the company's properties, and received this response:

Hi, Andy-

My name is Kayvon Bina and I am with Lazard Freres; we were retained by Midway
to advise it on its financial and strategic alternatives.

Glad to hear of your interest in the Cruis'n and Tapper franchises in Midway's
classic IP catalog. The company, as you might guess, is very focused on its
restructuring efforts and the legal department - which would have to do a bit of
digging to ensure all rights are clear to those IPs you've identified - is quite
occupied with the chapter 11 procedures underway. For us to move forward on a
deal for any classic IP I would really need to get an approximate sense for:

a) The organization you represent;

a) the type of deal you are interested in (e.g., outright IP purchase;
exclusive license);

b) the magnitude of the offer (a dollar figure);

c) your funding source (i.e., would you pay w/ cash on hand?)

I realize the above is quite forward, but Midway is evaluating a wide range of
offers and needs to work through inbound interest as efficiently as possible.



Judging from this letter, it seems that Midway is open to all reasonable offers for their properties.  It's unlikely that ordinary gamers will have the cash to get their hands on Smash TV, but it is a golden opportunity for smaller players like Raw Thrills, which could purchase the rights to all the games its CEO Eugene Jarvis developed for Williams back in the 1980s.  Don't let this chance slip through your fingers, Gene!

March 2, 2009... Glutton for Punishment

Don't get me wrong, I think Street Fighter IV is a fine game, but the online experience has only gotten more and more frustrating since its release.  Unlike Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, where my fights have been split evenly between victories and defeats, SF IV serves up a consistent string of humiliating losses each and every time.  It makes me wish there were a matching service available to help players find opponents of equivalent skill, because there's nothing that sucks the fun out of a game faster than getting steamrolled by an endless procession of unstoppable rivals.  I'm starting to feel like Ricardo Montelban at the end of the first Naked Gun movie, for crying out loud!

(You got the clip ready, Gene?  Whaddaya mean there's no clip?  Viacom pulled it?!  Damn it all!  All right, just give them the Awesome NES update instead.)

February 22, 2009... Square Peg in a Round Hole

During a recent conversation on Xbox Live, my good friend Freakservo brought up an excellent point about the individuals calling the shots at Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft; the leaders of the video game industry which determine what you'll play and how you'll play it.  In the early days, these companies were logically captained by video game designers, who had paid their dues on the front lines and left with an intimate knowledge of what their customers wanted. 

However, in recent years, the role of industry leadership has been handed over to marketing specialists, and rare anamolies like the carpet salesman who was put in charge of Atari have become the rule rather than the exception.  Before he was hired as Nintendo's lead spokesman, the Dick York-esque Reginald Fil-Aimes hadn't spent a day in the video game industry, instead developing the Bigfoot pizza for Pizza Hut and changing VH1 from a respectable music video channel into the all-Flava Flav network.

Freakservo expressed concerns that hiring marketing executives with little industry experience only widens the gap between game companies and gamers, and I'm inclined to agree.  One has to imagine that it would be excessively difficult to address the concerns of your customers when you don't share their passion for the products you sell.

February 21, 2009... RIP, Socks the Cat

CNN reports that Socks, the official first cat of the Clinton Administration, has died at the rather impressive age of twenty.  Socks was one of the only things I liked about the Clinton presidency, so he will be missed.  I'm also hoping that this event will trigger the long overdue release of Socks the Cat Rocks the House, a Super NES and Genesis title that was canceled at the last minute due to its White House setting.  All the bosses were caricatures of crusty old Republican congressmen like Bob Dole, giving the game the appearance of political bias and keeping the finished product from reaching store shelves.  However, now that Socks is gone, the 16-bit systems are gone, and most of the congressmen are gone (either from the senate or this plane of existance), there shouldn't be anything stopping the ROM from hitting the Internet.  Well, anything but the selfishness of prototype hoarders.

February 19, 2009... They Fight, They Fight, They Fight and Fight and Fight

Phew... sure has been a while since my last update, hasn't it? Guess I was having one of those manic Mondays. And terrible Tuesdays. And woeful Wednesdays. Uh, you get the point.

Fortunately, I'm feeling MUCH better now. And now that Street Fighter IV has been released, I have something to discuss on the site! Critical acclaim for this Capcom release has been nearly universal, but being the wet blanket I am, I'm going to break the streak and throw a few complaints into the mix. While Street Fighter Alpha and its sequels offered remarkable flexibility in the way that super energy could be used, Street Fighter IV goes back to the stingier days of Super Street Fighter II Turbo, with only one super attack for each character and a four segmented super meter that take an agonizingly long time to charge.

In the game's defense, there are enhanced specials in the tradition of Street Fighter III and Darkstalkers, but they lack the flourish and impact of Alpha's super combos. Ooh, a fireball that hits not once, but twice!  Big flippin' deal.  Ultra moves do a better job of filling the gap, acting as Capcom's more strategically viable answer to the fatalities in Mortal Kombat. However, they require energy from a seperate meter, which can only be filled by absorbing hits. Putting your fighter in jeopardy for a chance at victory is a hard sell, even if some of the Ultra moves are an incredibly satisfying way to end a match.

Then there's the end boss. Oh, that miserable, miserable end boss. Seth is a hellspawned hybrid of every fighting game villain you've ever sworn at in the past eighteen years. He's got the wholesale move theft of Geegus, the selective gravitational pull of Orochi, the iron defense of Kryzalid, and the absurd character design of Gill, all wrapped up into one tremendous pain in the ass. Oh, but Capcom wasn't finished there! They had to twist the knife by giving him the most aggravating voice they could find... namely, the Voice of the Agency from Crackdown. He was hard enough to stomach when you were the genetically engineered superhuman stomping gang members like so many ants, but his sneering arrogance is all the more frustrating when you're the one getting stomped.

While I was out, I also picked up Retro Game Challenge and the King of Fighters collection for Wii. Everything I've said about Game Center CX in a past review applies to this localization as well, although the translation to English is a nice bonus. Numerous nods to defunct game magazines can be found in the game's fictional publication GameFan (no, not that Game Fan, although they seem to share editors!), and Arino's voice is far less grating now that it's in English, even if he's the manliest sounding kid since Ash took up chain smoking for a couple of seasons on the Pokemon cartoon.

The only downside is that I've already seen everything else that Retro Game Challenge has to offer, making me wish that I had waited for it to hit these shores before playing it from beginning to end. It's the R4 curse... you save a lot of scratch on games that nobody in their right minds would ever buy, but when you finally find the one release that's actually worth the money, the temptation to finish it before the purchase becomes irresistable. I did the same thing with Super Princess Peach, burning through a large chunk of the game before adding it to my collection, and having to repeat all the sections I'd already finished hurt the experience.

However, I don't mind returning to the games in King of Fighters: The Orochi Saga, no matter how much I've played them in the past. I'm not entirely sure why... perhaps it's because there's a lot less commitment involved. You can just jump in, play for fifteen minutes, then quit when you've had your fill. Maybe it's because of my deep-rooted nostalgia for the Sega Saturn and all the time I spent in Arizona arcades. Maybe it's the relief of finding the first truly outstanding fighter for the Wii (sorry, but Tatsunoko vs. Capcom wasn't that game). I still haven't decided... all I know for sure is that I've finally got a reason to turn on my system after weeks of neglect.  You really can't go wrong with five King of Fighters games for twenty dollars.  Well, actually, you CAN, but that's why I bought the Wii version instead of its sad-sack Playstation 2 counterpart.

Anyway, there's a new Awesome NES update, featuring Skate or Die, Silkworm, and more crappy Simpsons games than should ever be available for one game system.  You know what to do, folks.

February 8, 2009... Tainted Love

Tatsunoko vs. Capcom?  Yeah, it's not that great.  There's nothing wrong with the graphics... I couldn't imagine better on the Wii, with solid cel-shaded character models and picturesque backgrounds that would be impressive on any system.  However, there's nothing that can redeem the heinous gameplay.  Developer Eighting has taken twenty years of Street Fighter tradition and thrown it out the window, cutting the number of attack buttons in half and leaving the player eternally confused as to which one does which.  Worse yet, the control is puzzlingly stiff, making super moves a dangerous crap shoot in a close fight. 

The greatest crime of all is that the cast of heroes is incredibly lame.  Series regulars like Ryu and Chun-Li are joined by obscure and largely useless bit characters like Rock Volnutt, Saki, and some jerk from Onimusha.  On the Tatsunoko side are a half-dozen sentai heroes who are so dated and generic that it's hard to fathom how they justified this crossover.  I wasn't even born when some of these characters made their Japanese television debut, and my receding hairline and expanding waistline should make it clear that I'm not a young man.

Tatsunoko vs. Capcom is a bitter disappointment not just because it's the worst game in the Capcom crossover series, but because the underlying engine demonstrates that it could have been one of the best.  Let's hope Capcom gives it the overhaul it deserves and releases it in the United States with a six button control scheme, and without all the dead weight in the cast.

Anyway... there's a review of Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD on the Xbox 360 review page.  You go ahead and read that, while I suffer through my Shakespeare homework.

February 6, 2009... The Things I Do For Love!

A love for Capcom fighting games, that is.  I didn't bat an eye while shelling out nearly sixty bucks for a Street Fighter IV pre-order, and bought Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD despite some initial reservations, but even I'm having second thoughts about hacking my Wii to play Tatsunoko vs. Capcom.  Thanks to SoftMii, the system menu looks like something the original Xbox threw up after a night of binge drinking, and even official US releases won't run unless I use the Homebrew Channel.  Man, this had better be worth the trouble!

One decision I'm not second-guessing is buying an iPod Touch.  I was never all that thrilled with Apple's line of music players in the past, but this is an entirely different animal, offering internet access, rudimentary gaming, and multimedia features in a gadget roughly the size of a wallet.  This thing is like a Swiss Army Knife for the digital age!  My only beef is that the gaming is a little too rudimentary for my tastes.  Some games have higher aspirations than others, but even in the more full-featured titles like Rolando, a touchscreen is no substitute for a D-pad and buttons.  Just something to keep in mind when you start work on the third generation iPod Touch, Apple!

All right folks, I'll leave you with an Awesome NES update.  Actually, I published this last week without mentioning it on the front page, but if you haven't seen it, it's new to you!

January 25, 2009... Not Cool, Dude

No, I DON'T accept that.  You can't pick fucking Akuma, then disconnect immediately after I beat you!  What kind of bullshit is that?!  I suck like nobody's business at Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD with Almonds, but at least I stick it out through all my ranked battles... and my dismal win/loss record proves it.  If you choose a broken character like Akuma in a ranked match and lose, you deserve to have that on your permanent record, and pulling out like a desperate teenager after prom night shouldn't erase it.

Well, enough of that.  In a misguided attempt to compete with American developers, Jaleco Holdings topped Sumner Redstone's $100,000 sale of Midway by dumping Jaleco for the low, low price of a penny.  We will not be undersold!  Days after that, Aruze (best known to gamers for its attempted murder of SNK) determined that its own gaming division Seta wasn't even worth selling, and shut it down.  If you've ever played NES games like Castle of Dragon or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, you'd understand why.

The closure of companies like Jaleco and Seta is no great loss, but it's only the tip of a very distressing iceberg.  The shift from Eastern to Western game development has drastically changed the landscape of the industry, with many of the big names from my childhood closing up shop.  Even the companies that are still around have retreated from the video game business... Vic Tokai's now an internet service provider, and FCI is running a television network.  Maybe it's because I've always preferred Japanese games, or maybe it's an unwelcome sign of my own advancing age, but either way, it's difficult for me to accept.

January 21, 2009... Whose Sequel Is This, Anyway?

Thanks to the steep price cuts at Amazon, I'm playing Ninja Gaiden II right now.  This game is a much different animal than previous entries in the series... sure, you're still slaughtering shinobi, but the slow, methodical pace of Ninja Gaiden Black has been abandoned for gameplay that's faster, flashier, and above all else, dumber than ever.  Throw in more meat carving than a butcher shop and the most improbably ridiculous cutscenes you've seen since the last Matrix movie (I think it was called Wanted) and you've got a game that feels more like Devil May Cry than anything you'd expect from controversial developer Tomonobu Itadaki.  Was Ninja Gaiden II created around the time the 'ol horndog was fired from Tecmo?  That would certainly explain the sudden, violent shift in the game's design.

January 20, 2009... Inaugural Bash

Well, it's official, folks.  Barack Obama is the 44th president of the United States... and not a moment too soon!

On less pleasant news, there are reports that Fukio Mitsuji, the creator of the beloved Bubble Bobble series, had died late last year.  That news has not been verified by a credible source-'s Ray Barnholdt would only call it a rumor- but it certainly seems plausible.  The series is over twenty five years old if you count its humble beginnings with Chack 'n Pop, and Mitsuji was probably in his thirties when he started working on it.  Add a tendency for Japanese programmers to smoke heavily, and his death is not that much of a surprise.  Tragic yes, but not that shocking.

Mitsuji's work was a strong influence on my formative years as a gamer.  I loved the way that Bubble Bobble bridged the gap between the fast-paced, single-screen action of early 80s gaming with the power-ups and satisfying depth of the NES era.  There were a few legitimate sequels, including the gorgeous Bubble Symphony, but more often, the Bubble Bobble series would stray from its roots, dabbling with new play styles.  Some of these spin-offs were anchored to lame weapon systems that weren't as functional or fun as the bubbles from the original game (rainbows?  Seriously?), but others shined just as brightly as the first Bubble Bobble, especially Bust-A-Move which remains one of my favorite puzzle games fifteen years after its arcade debut.

If the rumor is true, the video game industry lost a legend on December 11th.

Oh yeah, before I go... I probably should mention that Awesome NES has been updated.  We're digging into the Ss with reviews of Section Z, Seicross, and way too many Sesame Street games.  Hey, they've got to be covered too!

January 15, 2009... Come on Over to Katzroy's Place

I guess I'm supposed to make fun of the black guy who will make his debut in Final Fantasy XIII, at least judging from all the other blogs I've read in the past week.  I've got to be honest with you, though... I find Katzroy's more realistic design a lot more appealing than the plastic prettyboys who've become a trademark of the series.  According to Wikipedia, he'll also be the polar opposite of the last African-American to play a leading role in a Final Fantasy game.  Unlike Barrett with his second-rate Mr. T schtick, Katzroy is a real nurturing type who adores chocobo hatchlings and has a tendency to cry at the drop of a hat (which incidentially couldn't possibly fit over his Richard Pryor afro).  I still won't be buying the game, but it's encouraging that Square is finally starting to color outside the lines with its character designs.

What I will be buying is Street Fighter IV.  I had mixed feelings about the game at first... to me, it just looked like a rehash of Street Fighter EX with more camera mugging.  However, after watching Dan Hibiki in action, I'm convinced that the designers really know what they're doing.  They've perfectly captured the personality of Capcom's cocky comic relief, from his frantic running animation to the way he sticks his upturned thumb into the player's face after socking an opponent with a super combo.  Also, Street Fighter IV is probably going to be the only full-fledged Xbox 360 release this year with that classic fighting game feel, so I'd better take advantage of what will likely be a rare opportunity to chuck fireballs.

Before I go, let me leave you with... no, not Awesome NES this time!  Nice guess, though.  This time, I'm bringing back The Lost Rings with twenty classic reviews of import Saturn games.  I've even expanded upon a couple of the crusty old critiques, particularly Keio Yugekitai and All-Japan Pro Wrestling which read like entirely new reviews!  If you're one of the few, the proud, the Saturn fans who imported games during that system's brief heyday, swing by the page and soak in the goodness!

January 8, 2009... What Goes 1UP Must Come Down

Like a lot of aspiring young game journalists, it was a dream of mine to write for EGM, even in the early days when Steve Harris was calling the shots and the magazine was not that great.  Yesterday, the magazine came to an end... and so did the dream.

There were signs that EGM wouldn't last much longer in an age where gaming news comes fast and free over the Internet.  Even the magazine itself seemed aware of its impending demise, with a recent issue bearing the headline "Watchmen: The End is Nigh."  However, the news that 1UP, the magazine's online counterpart, was sold to The Hearst Corporation was harder to rationalize.  Hearst wants to turn it into a branch of Underground Gaming Online, but that site hasn't been relevant in years!  The last time UGO made a splash on the Internet was when they were doing that promotion where Gary Coleman would answer questions from the few people who still remembered he was a television star and not just a hot-tempered security guard.

The real kick in the teeth is that this happened just two weeks after I was hired to contribute to 1UP's Retro Gaming Blog.  Given UGO's tendency to pander to the Halo and Grand Theft Auto crowd, I wonder if I'll have that job in a couple weeks when the transition from Ziff-Davis to Hearst is complete.

Oh well, at least I'll always have The Gameroom Blitz!  Speaking of that, I just finished writing a feature review, the first on this site in over a year.  I'm giving some much needed publicity to Spelunky, Derek Yu's action title that serves as both a tribute to the Broderbund computer game and a means of addressing its most aggravating flaws.  You'll find the review right here.

January 2, 2009... Whoops

So, I was poking through the Xbox Live Video Marketplace last night, and found this slogan buried in the networks section of the service...

This unfortunate coincidence reminds me Thicke of the Night, the shortlived talk show hosted by Alan Thicke of Growing Pains fame.  The series was such a disaster that even the commercials seemed to hate it, with one ad proudly announcing "Once you try our maxi pads, you'll never go back to thick again!"

Speaking of falling asleep at the wheel until the car veers off the road and into a tree, Microsoft also let Warner Bros. sell a World War II-era Superman cartoon called Japateurs.  Yes, Japateurs.  It's exactly what you'd expect from the title... the man of steel thwarts an Axis sabotage attempt by throwing buck-toothed Japanese men around like ragdolls.  It's incredibly tacky and insensitive, but at least Microsoft didn't do something really idiotic, like trying to sell a cartoon based on that awful Control+Alt+Delete comic.

Wait, they did?  Seriously...?  That's it, I'm out of here.  If you want me, I'll be on the Wii.

Oh yeah... before I go, I'd better post a link to the latest Awesome NES update.  We're closing out the Rs with Romance of the Three Kingdoms, its sequel, and a few games that won't bore you to tears.