Posts from April, May, and June 2011.

June 6, 2011... The Continuation?!

The Gameroom Blitz isn't back back... I just felt like posting whatever video game crap I wanted here because I was bored.  Hey, it's just like when the site was alive, but without the expectation of anyone reading it!

Anyway, Sony just unveiled its next handheld at E3.  The Neo-Geo Pocket can finally have its acronym back, because the official title of the NGP is...

The Playstation Vitameatavegamin!

No wait, it was the Playstation Vita?  Well, close enough.

Here's what we know about the Playstation Vin Da Bona so far.  First, thanks to careful trimming of the hardware specs and good old fashioned hardware dumping, the system will retail for $249, with a 3G-enabled cousin available for $299.  Of course, since the wireless service will be exclusively supplied by AT&T, you might as well forget the deluxe model exists.

Second, numerous sources (including my old stomping grounds at Stage Select) confirm that there are eighty titles in development for the Playstation Vini Vidi Vici, including heavy hitters like Uncharted, Modnation Racers, and a special edition of Street Fighter X Tekken with Cole from Infamous as a guest character.  (What, no Sly Cooper?  C'mon, it's not like he'd be that out of place in the nutty Tekken cast.)  There may also be a Bioshock game courtesy of 2K Games, but it's still extremely early and nobody knows if it will be a release of the first game or a spin-off of Bioshock Infinity.

So all right, I'll give Sony some credit here.  I didn't think they had the grapes to push the Playstation Danny De Vito under the $250 price point, but they made it happen.  Also, the line-up of games seems solid, aside from the occasional mystifying choice like a yet-unnamed pool simulation.  Does anyone even play pool anymore?  I mean, aside from middle aged guys with "Fats" in their name and barflies whose livers have soaked up ten times their weight in alcohol, and I'd wager that neither are Sony's target audience.

Oh yeah, there was some other news from E3 too, but no great shakes.  Ubisoft is planning a new Rayman game with lively cartoon graphics, Microsoft is doubling up on its support for the Kinect, and Electronic Arts has announced a release date for Mass Effect 3 (3-6-12... it's three to the awesometh power!), but beyond that, it's the usual sequels for familiar franchises.  I suspect we won't be getting the really good stuff until Nintendo's press conference tomorrow.


May 21, 2011... The End

It's just as you feared from the two week absence, folks. I'm dead.

No, wait... I mean the site is dead! There, that's better.

I've been editing The Gameroom Blitz for a decade and a half now, and it seems that as each year passes, a little more of my enthusiasm for gaming goes with it. It's not that I've outgrown games... it's more accurate to say that they've left me behind. From my perspective, today's titles are too overproduced, too complicated, and above all else, much too long. 

When I was growing up, you could get the hang of the latest release just minutes after you dropped in the quarter.  When you were done fifteen minutes later, you weren't just satisfied, but exhilirated. These days, everyone expects games to be at least ten hours long, but how much of that is spent doing anything fun? It's all stat building, inventory managing, and cut scene watching, no doubt a by-product of the massively successful Final Fantasy VII. I didn't like that game when it was released, and I don't like the path it's forged for the industry.

I briefly took refuge in the iPhone and its return to a simpler time for the video game industry.  However, my enthusiasm for the format sputtered out as well, the victim of general disinterest and hardware that's three generations behind the latest releases.  That leads to my next point... I can't afford to keep up with the hobby, and I can't even afford to keep what I've got. Recently I had to sell a dozen Saturn games just to pay a month of overdue bills. Many of the games were acquired during my brief time in Arizona, and they were all I had left from the experience. It's bad enough that I have to give them up... it's even worse that I get nothing out of the deal but some fleeting relief from my creditors.

Unless my fortunes change, you're not going to see a lot of activity here. I'll write the occasional feature for 1UP as long as the management sees fit to keep me around, but beyond that, I've got nothin'. My apologies to the fans of The Gameroom Blitz who remained loyal through the site's decline... I wish things could have been different.

God how I wish things could have been different.


May 7, 2011... When the Moon Hits Your Eye, That's Atari

Remember those 2600 game reviews I promised yesterday?  Yo.  This time, Moon Patrol, Dig Dug, and the homebrew title Ladybug are up to bat.  They're all great games, but which one is the best?  Click here and find out!

Seriously, right here.

Click click click.


May 6, 2011... All You Do Is Talk Talk

I'm going to take a different approach with this update.  Instead of waiting for the writing bug to bite (where the hell is he, anyway?  Did someone light a citronella candle?), I'll just pick up a microphone and talk about anything that comes to mind for seven minutes.  Viva la podcasting!

By the way, that was indeed me yakking away on 1UP's Retronauts podcast earlier this evening.  That scattered jumble of thoughts should be available on the site in about a week.  New Atari 2600 game reviews should be available on this site much, much sooner.  I'd give it another day or two tops.

Oh yeah!  I'm sure you've already heard, but Guardian Heroes will be making a comeback on the Xbox 360 in the near future.  I hope they actually mean that this time... if I had held my breath for that port of Radiant Silvergun, my lungs would have exploded by now.


May 1, 2011... Two Scoops of News

I was going to skip the update today (like I did yesterday, and the day before...), but some pretty big things are going down in the video game industry right now.  First, there's word that IGN and UGO, two rivaling giants in the gaming press, are merging, with the former distancing itself from its parent company News Corporation.  Anything that gets IGN away from Rupert Murdoch is a good thing, but I'll admit I'm a little worried about what it means for UGO properties, particularly 1UP.  I write for these guys!  I'd kind of like to keep writing for them!  I suppose I won't know for sure what will happen to me until the deal goes through... I just have to hope for the best.

Onto that other bit of information.  Sony plans to make up for its recent PSN snafu with a free month of premium service, a month of Qriocity (evidently a streaming media service.  Sorry, I've been out of the Sony loop for a while), and various other goodies offered at no charge.  That's not likely to stem the time of class action lawsuits, but it's a start.  Frankly, given Sony's history, I was expecting months of denials and veiled shots at the competition.

There is one other thing... Osama bin Laden is dead.  I don't know what that has to do with video games, but after a decade of this rather unpleasant fellow being on the run, it bears mentioning.


April 28, 2011... Station-Nary

It's been several days since Sony admitted that hackers infiltrated the PSN network and snuck away with the credit card numbers of its members, roughly seventy million in total.  Nobody's happy about this, but frankly, I'm not very surprised by it either.  It just seems like the latest punchline for the Playstation 3, which has been a comedy of errors from its 2006 premiere.  It was ludicrously priced at launch thanks to its Blu-Ray drive, continues to vex publishers with its convoluted hardware, and has been hobbled by an indecisive marketing campaign that changes with the weather.  First the PS3 was compatible with the past two Playstations... until key components were removed from the hardware as a cost-cutting measure, leaving Playstation 2 fans in the lurch.  Then it was open source... until Sony found that inconvenient, and pulled Linux out from under the feet of players who went to the considerable trouble of installing it.

Sony's unpopular decision to drop Linux may have snowballed into the recent PSN fiasco.  Anonymous, a group of would-be terrorist nerds, promised an attack on Sony's online properties in response to the company's legal assault on hacker George Hotz.  PC Magazine reports that the Primatine-huffing purvayors of online mischief distanced themselves from the threats shortly after PSN went down... but as well organized as Anonymous believes itself to be, the attack on PSN could have been the result of an overly enthusiastic member who forgot to read his E-mail that day.

It's still not clear who was responsible for PSN's extended downtime and the leak of its members' personal information.  However, Sony has to carry some of that responsibility on its shoulders.  It's not just because the company's online service wasn't properly protected from hackers, either.  Sony's wishy-washy support of Linux, along with an antagonistic attitude toward gamers who still support the operating system, practically invited this attack.  Instead of switching sides at its convenience, maybe Sony should have picked a stance on open source software and stuck with it.


April 24, 2011... Easterday Night Fever

I've been out of commission for a few days so there's a lot to report.  I hope you'll bear with me!

Now to the first order of business.  I've got to tell you about a new blog devoted to vintage gaming called Retro Collect.  It's what I hoped to accomplish with the short-lived Re:Activator, except this updates more frequently and looks about five times better.  I've added Retro Collect to the links on the front page, and will be referencing it often in the future.

The second bit of news is that there's a new consolized Neo-Geo MVS unit, with a fine walnut finish and a price that matches its regal appearance.  Six hundred and forty nine dollars?!  Good lord, the original Neo-Geo cost that much back in the technologically hamstrung early 1990s, when the closest you could get to an immersive 3D experience was a Darth Vader helmet plugged into a Dire Straights video.  (Seriously, check out what passed for polygons back in those days.  You'll get a good laugh out of it.)  Don't get me wrong, I like the Neo-Geo.  I just like paying my rent and not getting evicted from my apartment more.

Third on the docket?  NBA Jam for the iPhone.  The price of this slammin' update to the classic Midway arcade game is just ninety-nine cents over Easter weekend, and if you've got any brains in your head you'll pick up a copy right now.  It's silky smooth even on the oldest iPhone models, running like a champ on my first generation iPod Touch, and the action is even more outrageous than you remember, with two story slam dunks and a quick-witted announcer who's got a sly remark for every occasion.  You bet your sweet potato casserole that's worth a dollar!

Let's top it all off with a little personal news.  Fortune hath smiled upon me this Easter, as I now have an official game to play on my PSP.  I bought a copy of Lumines II at a thrift store last year, but since I didn't have the system at the time, I completely forgot about it.  Well, I did, until it reminded me by turning up in the back seat of my mother's old car.  Score one for me!  Actually, score two for me, since someone will be sending me a copy of Patapon in the mail shortly.  Between those two titles, dozens of Playstation classics, and countless emulated games, I think there should be enough to keep me glued to my PSP for months to come.

That's it, folks.  Enjoy your Easter, and be sure to pick up all that stringy green plastic stuff from your baskets before you leave.


April 20, 2011... Handicapable vs. Handheld Incapable

Many apologies for the absence, mem sahibs.  Writer's block, blah blah blah.

So!  Jeremy Parish recently posted an article about Rapid Reload (the European version of Gunner's Heaven) on his web site.  That's a handy coincidence, as it was one of the first games I installed on my recently acquired PSP.  GameSpite contributor Mike Zeller hit the nail on the head when he described the game as lacking "the unrestrained wildness of Gunstar Heroes," but one thing he leaves unmentioned in his review is that Rapid Reload is an impressive 2D showcase on the allegedly deficient Playstation hardware.  The lush colors, abundance of sprites, and constant explosions in this launch title give no indication of the Playstation's 2D handicap, making me think the system was just faking it to collect a social security check. 

The often-criticized Playstation conversion of Darkstalkers gives me the same impression.  Sure, the animation isn't arcade-quality, or even Saturn-quality, but it's a more than adequate conversion that's undone only by the existence of two vastly superior sequels.  After playing NightWarriors and Vampire Savior, going back to the original game with its straightjacketed special meter and dearth of moves is like building a five story mansion, then living in the basement.

One more thing before I go.  A year and a half after its inauspicious debut, the PSP Go is officially being put out to pasture by Sony.  Alas, tiny digital distribution-shackled handheld, we hardly knew ye.  Mostly because hardly anyone owned ye.


April 15, 2011... Will Wii or Won't Wii?

This could be a big deal... or just more grist for the rumor mill.  (What the heck is grist, anyway?)  There's word that the original Wii will drop to $150 in May, and that its successor will be announced at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo.  Here are some of the features of the rumored Wiiluxe, if the system actually exists:

High performance hardware, more powerful than either the Playstation 3 or Xbox 360
Developer-friendly system design makes Xbox 360 conversions a cinch
Backward compatible with both Wii and GameCube titles
Supports all Wii peripherals
High-definition graphics (it's not clear if Wii and GameCube games will be upscaled)
Compatible with Blu-Ray media (unclear if it will run Blu-Ray movies like the PS3)
New controller with a built-in touchscreen display
An exclusive, undisclosed feature

It all sounds grand, but it also sounds expensive, and Nintendo's not known for catering to an upscale market.  A controller with a touchscreen display?  With the current Wiimote Plus selling for forty dollars, it's hard to imagine how they'd get the price of this new controller under three figures.  I don't doubt that some of these features are accurate, but others just seem too far-fetched to take seriously.  At least people have stopped talking about that silly holographic projector...


April 13, 2011... Outrage

Asphalt 6 for the iPhone is ninety-nine cents right now!  Are you stoked?  I'm totally stoked.  Words cannot express my stokage.

Some unfortunate news for fans of quality games... both Marble Blast Ultra and the Streets of Rage remake were taken off the internet as a result of the copyright issues.  I don't clearly understand the circumstances surrounding MBU's removal from Xbox Live, but the cease and desist against the Streets of Rage fangame was a clear-cut case of Sega fighting to keep the rights to a game they've neglected for over a decade.  It's less Kramer vs. Kramer and more Kramer vs. Dahmer.  They should have made an arrangement to distribute the game themselves while giving the developers a small cut of the profits, rather than forcing them to abandon the project completely.  That would have made everyone happy, rather than the standard Sega modus operendi of making nobody happy.

As for Marble Blast Ultra, well, it'll still work on your Xbox 360 if you purchased it before the pull, and you can even buy the upgrades if you'd like.  Still, it makes me think twice about building that trackball to play the game it was meant to be played.


April 12, 2011... The Day the Cartridge Died

The Videocart cartridge feature is an exclusive Fairchild option that allows
the owner of our Video Entertainment System to continuously add to a library
of Video games.
- Fairchild Channel F (VES) instruction manual

Jerry Lawson, the engineering whiz who created the Fairchild Channel F in 1976, died last Saturday at the age of 71.  This may not seem like such a big deal to younger gamers, since the Channel F doesn't make much of an impression with its chunky pixels and a limited color palette.  However, the system broke important ground by allowing the player to swap cartridges, rather than having software hardwired into the unit like its competitors.  It was an idea so good that Nolan Bushnell borrowed it for his Atari 2600... and it's been a crucial part of the video game experience since.  The format may have changed, from solid-state cartridges to plastic discs, but the principle of giving players the freedom to choose their own games remains the same.

On a lesser note, the Fairchild Channel F was also the inspiration for my own game Solar Plexus, released back in 2005 for the Atari 2600.  Digital Press praised it as "a poor man's Solar Fox" (wait a minute, that's not praise at all!), but the truth is that the gameplay was an eclectic blend of both Solar Fox and Dodge It, one of the Channel F's few standout titles.  Maybe someone would have stumbled upon the idea of interchangeable cartridges if Jerry Lawson hadn't done it first, but I'm absolutely sure Solar Plexus wouldn't have existed without his paradigm-shifting genius.  So thanks, Jer.

Before I go, I just wanted to mention that a good friend of mine surprised me by giving me his old, yet remarkably well-preserved PSP.  It's an awesome gift and I deeply appreciate the gesture, but it's been over two years since I've actually owned one of these things and have no idea what I've missed in that time.  Are there any good (preferably cheap!) PSP games released between 2009 and 2011 that I should be playing right now?  If the answer is "not really" or "Monster Hunter" or "a big buttload of Japanese RPGs," I'll just do with this PSP what I did with my last one... load up a memory stick with PSOne obscurities and call it a day.  It'll give me a chance to finally finish Einhander after all these years!


April 9, 2011... The Third Wrong

And now a statement from Jack Tretton, President of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, on competing game consoles from Microsoft and Nintendo.

"The great Sony empire will purge the world of the inferiors!  They are naught but meaningless playthings, toys of the past which have no place in the glorious new world order!  Their very presence is an affront to god and nature.  There is no 3D but that offered by Sony!  There are no handheld game systems but those touched by the genius of Sony's engineers!  We will make!  We will BELIEVE!  Über Anal Allies!  ÜBER ANAL ALLIES!!!


April 7, 2011... Family Reunion

Sonic's back!  No, that one never left, as much as we all begged.  I'm talking about the original Sonic from the Genesis games, who will co-star in the upcoming Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 title Sonic Generations.  Not much is known about the game beyond the slick promotional film shown online, which is... uh, what suckered us all into believing that Sonic 2006 was going to be a return to form for the series.  However, given the relative success of Sonic Colors on the Wii, this one could be a keeper.  I'm willing to keep an open mind about it... just not an open wallet.

So, you remember those iPhone reviews I promised you earlier?  They're heeeere...


April 5, 2011... On the Rocks

Rock Band 3, the grand experiment by Harmonix to breathe new life into the stagnating rhythm genre, recently had its price chopped to twenty dollars.  My inner miser is jumping for joy, but I'm also disappointed that the game wasn't as successful as it should have been.  Its compatibility with real instruments addressed the complaints critics had about music games, and could have helped a new generation of musicians get their start.  If only people had given it a chance!

New iPhone reviews are comin' up, folks.  My apologies for the delay... writer's block is a bitch!


April 2, 2011... May The Bio Force Be With You

My April Fool's joke this year?  No April Fool's joke at all!  Oh man, you should have seen the looks on your faces!  I'm a comedic genius, ranking right up there with Sinbad and Gallagher!  Yes, both of them.  And Peter Gallagher too.

So, you've probably heard by now that Bio Force Ape, the object of every NES gamer's desire for nearly four years, was finally distributed online.  I spent a good chunk of yesterday playing it on my Nintendo DS with an emulator, and although the game itself isn't what I'd call a classic, it's built on the foundation of a very impressive engine.  The title character is pushed through the levels at breakneck speeds, no small feat for the pokey NES hardware, and the rotoscoped animation is stunning.  Bio frantically windmills his arms as he falls, clings to platforms for dear life as they zip across the screen, and dispatches his enemies with finishing moves so spectacular they'd be right at home in the next WWE Pay-Per-View event.

The gameplay is lovably surreal, as you'd expect from an NES game by a small-time Japanese developer.  Most of your foes are mutated hybrids of man and beast; less like the furries you've seen on the internet and more like the twisted abominations in Full Metal Alchemist.  For instance, there's an alligator that uses its jaws as a pair of legs and has a human face where its, um, hindquarters should be.  Battles with these freakish fiends aren't especially deep, but Bio's wide assortment of moves (including weak and strong variants for all his attacks) lets you mix things up a bit as you pound that angry wasp man into royal jelly.

Sadly, there are serious issues with Bio Force Ape, and I'm not just talking about whatever personal issues the character designers had when they dreamed up the game's enemies.  You only get one life with a small handful of hit points, and recovering them is tough because power ups are incredibly rare.  I've only counted two during the entire time I've played the game, versus the many opportunities you'll have to lose energy to enemies and traps.  Once your hit points are gone, the game is over, and you'll have to start from the beginning.  It's always aggravating when a game robs you of the progress you've made, but it's utterly agonizing in Bio Force Ape considering the size of its levels.

Maybe Seta would have fixed this in the final version... then again, maybe not.  It doesn't really matter, because the vast majority of players who try Bio Force Ape will muscle their way through it with save states.  With continues or without, it would have been a welcome late addition to the NES library, especially in 1991, when licensed disasters like Bart vs. The Space Mutants were the norm.  The design isn't entirely successful, but Seta gets points for effort... and a lot of effort was put into its design.