Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011: A Year In Review

With the end of 2011 fast approaching, I figured I'd stop looking for my late Christmas gift to arrive in the mail and go through some of my favorite gaming stories and favorite games from this past year.

The Fighting Game is back for the foreseeable future after two important games hit the market. First, Capcom releases Marvel vs. Capcom 3, then turned around and announced an update mere months later. It rubbed a lot of gamers the wrong way, but many of them bought it anyway. Secondly, almost 20 years after the original game released, Warner Bros. resurrected the Mortal Kombat franchise in a major way. This latest Mortal Kombat has proven to be one of not only the best fighting games of the year, but one of the best games of 2011 period. In addition, THQ released WWE All Stars, which gave gamers a great blend of modern graphics and old school arcade wrestling fun, and SNK Playmore righted the ship with King of the Fighters XIII. It was a great year for a genre that went dormant for some time, and with games like Street Fighter X Tekken, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, and Soulcalibur V coming in 2012, it looks to be another banner year for the fighting genre.

Activision's juggernaut, Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, had one of the biggest first weeks in the history of gaming. The game, which received it's typical great reviews, sold upwards of 12 million units over 4 consoles in it's first week on the market, easily making it one of the best game launches in history. Not to be outdone, Electronic Arts attempted to take on the king with it's latest entry in the venerable Battlefield series. While not as successful commercially, Battlefield 3 proved to be a critical success. Microsoft also celebrated the culmination of one shooter Trilogy with Gears of War 3, and the re imagining of the first game in it's venerable Halo series with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition. Microsoft also announced that the first Halo game since Bungie left their umbrella, Halo 4, would be coming soon.

After a development cycle that included every bit of controversy that a game can endure, 2K Games finally released Duke Nukem Forever, and nobody was ammused. The title felt dated, offended some gamers and may have pretty much killed the property for good. Meanwhile, Croteam released Serious Sam 3 and it has proven that a throwback First Person Shooter can work if it isn't bounced around for a decade.

Sony and Nintendo both announced new consoles, and Nintendo released a handheld that was effectively bashed by gaming journalists and messageboard fanboys all over the western hemisphere. During E3, Sony formally unveiled the successor of their Playstation portable handheld, the Vita. The Vita featured a touchscreen and a touchpad on the back of the console. Loads of potential and hype that will either be fulfilled or falter when it's released in the US in the Spring. Nintendo announced the followup to their high selling yet much maligned Wii console, which featured a controller with a 7 inch touchscreen right in the center. The console, named Wii U, was touted to have graphical horsepower superior to the Xbox 360 and PS3, but many folks speculate that the hard time developers are reporting to have with the systems development kits are pretty unsettling news for fans of Nintendo consoles.

Finally, this was a solid year for sequels. Gears of War 3, Modern Warfare3, Battlefield 3, Skyrim, Portal 2, Arkham City, Infamous 2, Sonic Generations, Rayman Origins, Zelda, Kirby, and Uncharted 3 all proved that sequels equal success if done correctly. It also proved that fewer new IPs are being created by developers, which makes for familiar yet eventually boring experiences. These are exciting yet precarious times for gaming, so here's to hoping 2012 brings a blend of great sequels and strong new IPs.

Happy New Year From The 8-Bit Animal

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Skyblazer: Sony's 16 Bit Gem

Once upon a time, before the Super Nintendo CD-Rom debacle that gave birth to the Playstation, Sony was a hit or miss game publisher who released games under their Sony Imagesoft label. Most of their games were basically cash in merchandising that was attached to movies. Those games ranged from Good but not great (Hook for the Sega CD) to utterly abysmal (Hudson Hawk for the NES). Their best achievement as a third party in my humble opinion is a little known SNES platformer named Skyblazer. It is a well crafted platformer that gave gamers a pretty good spin on the tried and true gameplay and storytelling mechanics found in earlier games. What makes Skyblazer such a great game is the way those well worn components are pieced together.

Every piece I've ever read on this game talks about how minimal the story is, even though the game tries to force it's reliance on the story early on. I tend to agree, since it's used as nothing more than a device to justify Sky(the main character) going through the land fighting monsters. Like I stated a few sentences back, Skyblazer follows the well worn damsel in distress pattern made popular by dozens of other games before. This time, instead of saving a princess, Sky is charged with rescuing a sorceress. The main antagonist, Raglan, is very reminiscent of Satan from the Ghosts 'N Goblins games. Come to think of it, This game has moments where it feels like a much easier version of Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts for the SNES.

Gameplay wise, Skyblazer is as solid a game as you can find on the SNES. The platforming feels solid and the inclusion of a climbing mechanic adds a little strategy to a sometimes formulaic gameplay style. combat is handled using standard punches and kicks, as well as special moves acquired after beating boss characters. There's also a sprinkling of shoot em up levels throughout the game. The level design in Skyblazer is actually pretty good, even if most of it is very linear, and sends Sky through treetops, under water, over cliff sides and valleys, and other diverse environment types.

It says a lot that a game like Skyblazer had a production staff of less than 15 people, and the graphics and gameplay still hold up after almost 20 years. If you interested in tracking down a copy, it typically goes for far less than $20 on most auction sites, a mere pittance for such a fantastic game. Skyblazer may be one of the last gems released by Sony before they got into the console business themselves.

Monday, December 12, 2011

I Watched A Train Wreck...And I Was Too Stupid To Look Away

Saturday night was quite the learning experience for me, as I gathered with the folks from Character Select and Nerdgasm Noire Network to view the 2011 Spike Video Game Awardshttp://youtu.be/xMV5FiFa1c0. I went in not expecting much, so in preparation of the train wreck to come, I went up to the nearest corner store and bought an alcoholic beverage. I should have bought two. During the course of the 2 hour award show, only five awards were actually given out on screen, with two(character and game of the year) being dragged out during the course of the show. The audience we were able to see was filled with industry folks who seemed to be so disinterested in the idea of being there, celebrity presenters who were only there to tell us that another trailer was about to air, and a host of other issues basically kept the show from being enjoyable. The banter between us over Skype while we watched and the alcohol made it bearable, because I don't think watching alone would be possible. The best part of the entire miserable affair were the trailers and only a scant few of them proved to be worth wasting two hours in front of a television without a controller in hand.

Now you may be saying: "Mr. Animal, how do you propose we fix the problems with the VGAs?" Well, Kahlief Adams said it best in his post http://thespawnpoint.wordpress.com/2011/12/11/un-occupythevgas/#wpl-likebox when he stated that Spike should pay attention to the steep decline in viewership that G4 suffered as a result of them abandoning legitimate video game conversation for low brow, bottom denominator garbage television. G4 has irreparably damaged it's relationship with a lot of gamers, and Gametrailers' involvement with the VGAs will result in the same if changes aren't made. One of those may be to further trim the show if you aren't gonna give the awards out on air. The brief section where they rattled off award winners fired off about 10 to 15 awards so fast that I don't remember who won what. either spend the 2 hours talking about more than trailers and give out some awards or just do a show building hype for upcoming games, because your "awards show" isn't really doing either well.

I don't want to dislike the VGAs, but they make things so easy. The good thing is, they are in a great position, because the show can be tweaked to make it worth watching by more than a few "dude bros" who are killing time before they hop onto Xbox Live or PSN and yell ignorant things at each other over Call Of Duty.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Clash At Demonhead: All Awesome, No Filler

Have you ever played a game that was so ahead of its time concept wise that it flew completely over your head for years before you understood how awesome it was? That was pretty much what happened when I played Clash At Demonhead for the first time. I had heard stories about how awesome this game was, but as a side scrolling platformer, it gave off the same vibe that many other games in the genre do. For those willing to explore, they were in for a major treat, as this game had incredible depth for a platformer from a publisher that wasn't Capcom or Konami.

The first thing one will notice about Clash At Demonhead is the incredible tight control. Jumps and attacks are precise and the hit detection is spot on. There is nothing that feels off about this game as far as the control mechanics. I'd venture as far as to say this game has some of the most responsive controls I've encountered in a video game, and I've played a bunch of them over the years.

Oh, I almost forgot an important thing about Clash At Demonhead. THERE IS A SUIT IN THIS GAME THAT LETS YOU SWIM THROUGH LAVA!!!
Story wise, it's nothing out of the ordinary with other games of that era, as it starts out as a simple rescue mission, but evolves into something much more. There's a demon that tries to control the main character, Billy Blitz, through mind control, and something about a doomsday bomb. The story is pretty random, but it just gives us a means to an awesome game.

Clash At Demonhead had some pretty good level design, as it required players to have to take multiple paths and do a bit of backtracking (much like in Metroid) to find the right items needed to advance. There's also an in game shop system that can be accessed whenever a player has a "shop call" from this shop, a player can purchase a wealth of items (much like the classic Sega shooter Fantasy Zone), which can also assist in gaining access to some seemingly unreachable areas. this shop system and the occasional grinding for money to buy items gives Clash At Demonhead a feel similar to Zelda II, and adds a mild RPG feeling to the run and gun gameplay.

So, tight controls, deceptively deep gameplay, and a story that seems pretty deep for an NES game all make Clash At Demonhead sound like one of the great games on the NES. Why wasn't it? That's a hard question to answer, as many folks only know the name because of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. Regardless of how one knows of the game's existence, I highly recommend Clash At Demonhead as it is one of the absolute best things I've played on the NES.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Random GamePlay Theater

I'm still waking up from a Turkey induced coma, so today I figured I'd show you guys some gameplay footage from a few really random games.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Saints Row: The Third Proves Why Reckless Activity Is Fun

When THQ released Saints Row in 2006, many gamers regarded it to be nothing more than a poor man’s Grand Theft Auto despite it receiving a great deal of commercial and critical acclaim. Its sequel garnered a similar level of success, and it was inevitable that a third game would be released. What nobody expected was how ridiculous this game would be style wise. The third installment of the Saints Row franchise takes everything you knew about sandbox games with a crime-laden storyline and gives it a swift kick in the grapes, but it unfortunately does little or nothing to correct some of the problems with this genre.

Saints Row: The Third begins with a brief synopsis of the events between the end of Saints Row 2 and this current chapter. Essentially, The 3rd Street Saints have risen to worldwide popularity, and as such have become far too occupied with their media empire to keep control of the streets they conquered. The game opens with gang members robbing a bank with an actor in tow. Unbeknownst to the Saints, the bank is owned by a rival organization called “The Syndicate”, and through a series of ridiculous events, that partly involve falling from an airplane, engaging in a gunfight, reentering the airplane, shooting folks, leaving the plane again, and shooting more enemies before grabbing a fellow gang member and parachuting safely to the ground, the Saints land in a new city which is controlled by The Syndicate. This leaves you having to rebuild your gang in a new city and topple anyone in your way.

Saints Row: The Third doesn’t do anything new, but what it does is incredibly fun. You’ll have a ridiculous level of customization of your character and any vehicles you acquire. You can add any and all manner of upgrades to cars, trucks, motorcycles, and even golf carBack to character customization for a brief second, at any point in the game, you can guide your character to the plastic surgeon office and change your facial features, build, skin tone, and gender. Clothing customization is almost bottomless, and you can pretty much wear (or not wear) whatever you want to during gameplay. From regular outfits, to animal costumes, to other, more creative, states of dress. For instance: you can go into your safe house, remove your pants, go outside pantless and start a gun fight with police, a rival gang, or both. Tell me that can’t make for amazing moments.

Speaking of amazing, the variety of weapons available is utterly unheard of in this genre of game. There are guns that fire regular bullets, but then there are guns that fire little octopi that will cause victims to flail around like jackasses, a gun that shoots chum at an enemy triggering a shark attack, a wrist mounted laser much like the Mega Buster, and a bunch of other craziness. Once you unlock a weapon, you just have to keep it stocked with ammo and store it at a safe house for future use. Oh and I almost forgot that early in the game, you get your hands on the controls to a military drone. The bombing runs are magic.

I’ve gone on at length about what I like about Saints Row The Third, but I have yet to play a “perfect game” and as good as this one is, it has it’s flaws. There is a rather large amount of popup throughout the game, most notably when driving. There are random glitches that take place throughout the game as well. There are instances where your character would fall through the game. It can be infuriating, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary for sandbox games. I expect this to be something that Volition and THQ will release a patch for, but it shouldn’t have to come to this. A game should be finished when it is released, but this has become the norm and it won’t keep gamers from playing and loving this game.

If it weren’t for a few flaws, Saints Row: The Third would be a shoe in for game of the year. As it stands, it’s a pretty good game with flaws that would deem a lesser game unplayable, but Volition developed a hell of a game that at it’s core is all about the fun of playing video games. Saints Row: The Third is built for gamers that want the gritty adult theme of Grand Theft Auto, but with the limitless potential of imagination that something like Little Big Planet. Saints Row: The Third has effectively set the bar for the upcoming Grand Theft Auto V to match, and it’s a hell of a bar to reach.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

EA Active 2 Initial Thoughts: Workout Option Or Flailing Jackass Simulator

by: Chris Louis
Guest Blogger

Is the Kinect and it's "controller free" a viable option for gamers trying to blend their hobby with a healthy lifestyle change? Guest Blogger Chris Louis chimes in with his initial thoughts on EA Active 2 for Kinect.

Most people are tired of monthly expenditures (cell phone, internet/cable, apartment/house bills, etc.) and would prefer to have a gym membership without adding to that list. With EA Active 2, the gamer can enjoy the benefits of a trainer- implemented workout without the monthly monetary membership or social pitfalls of a public gym. EA Active 2 is packaged with a large green elastic band & 2 straps that when combined, give the gamer dozens of different exercise abilities. Also included is the heart monitor unit, which is a velcro-strapped sensor that rests on your lower forearm (batteries are included). Lastly is the actual game disc. The title launches and the game is walked step-by-step through setup (including gamer’s name, age, sex, weight, & workout intensity), introduction (allowing the gamer to choose a male or female trainer), and program details (which exercises you want to perform, lifestyle surveys, & EA Active 2 communities of fellow exercising gamers).

Upon initial equipment setup & information input into the game (which took about 10 minutes), the gamer is given the choice to create their own workout blueprint or follow a pre-programmed 9 week curriculum. I recommend to fellow first-timers to follow the 9 week program. Be sure to have a towel & water/sports drink alongside as you work out. Multiplayer mode is available with two gamers working out at the same time. After the first time you have performed an exercise/drill during any previous session, the program skips the tutorial. This allows the gamer to maintain their heartrate & workout pace promoting a more aerobic workout, adding to the massive on-screen calorie burn tabulation.

There are occasional issues with the Kinect not picking up exact motions made during exercises. You will either see your avatar motionless or a “Player not recognized” prompt appears and pauses the workout abruptly. This is remedied by repositioning yourself or in-game Kinect Tuner calibration. Voice commands to the Kinect to “Pause Workout” or “Skip Exercise” are not always recognized & the user needs Kinect–manipulated hand menu navigation or the use of a controller to perform these functions. In regards to the heart monitor unit, the only annoyance lies in sweat accumulating on the forearm with the unit sometimes causes the unit to move & the on-screen BPM of the heartrate is temporarily ceased. A retightening of the strap usually fixes this issue. Additionally, I’ve already encountered exercises that, due to the lack of precision of the Kinect’s motion reading, I always skip to due to frustration.

With my first week completed, I have burned over 1000 calories and gained 100 GamerScore to my profile. Win! It coincides with this review because this is only a game, not a long-term fitness device. Supplementing the EA Active 2 workout plan with a sensible free weightlifting, jogging, and/or other sporting activity is highly recommended. $60 retail is the cost of the package, but a savvy shopper can find this cheaper & find themselves with a very good fitness title. After my 9 week session, I’ll tell you whether you need to pony-up or cancel your gym membership for EA Active 2.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Metal Slug: SNK's Last Great War

A while ago, I wrote a post on SNK's pedigree as a developer and publisher of some of the best games many of us ever put a quarter into. They have been responsible for some of the best action games in video game history, and one such series has to be Metal Slug. Since it's debut in 1996, the series hasn't changed anything, but for the genre of game it is, it didn't need to. Metal Slug may prove to have been the last really good thing SNK pumped into an arcade scene in the US that has been teetering on the edge of oblivion for a while. It was for a long time considered by a lot of gamers the high water mark of what an action game is supposed to be.

SNK borrowed from other classic action games like Konami's Contra and their own Guerrilla War when they came up with the inspiration for Metal Slug. Anyone who plays any game in the Metal Slug series can feels the influence from both games previously mentioned as well as Irem's Gunforce series. The Irem influence is primarily because of the development team being partially composed of former Irem employees. Irem's Gunforce games are such an influence to Metal Slug's look and feel that many gamers refer to Gunforce 2 as Metal Slug Zero.

Metal Slug takes the tried and true "one or two men against an army" storyline that has been a part of video games since the 80s and adds in rescuing POWs. In later games in the series, the enemy soldiers are replaced with aliens towards the end of the game and all hell breaks loose. Back to those POWs for a second: they may be some of the most entertaining NPCs seen in a video game in the 90s, as well as some of the most useful. They give you weapons, point bonuses, and on rare occasions, they will fight alongside you. I remember the first time I rescued a POW and he not only gave me a homing missile power up then followed me for a little while throwing fireballs at enemies like he was Ryu from Street Fighter.

I have gone this entire post and haven't even touched on the vehicle that the series is named for. The Metal Slug Tank is a throwback to S.O.P.H.I.A. from the Blaster Master game, a monster that will maul anything in it's path. Maybe I should say it will as long as it doesn't take too much damage. So maybe it's less like S.O.P.H.I.A. and more like that thing at the beginning of Contra III. While Metal Gears and Rush have changed, the Metal Slug has remained the same over the course of the series, much like a classic Pickup Truck. If it ain't broke, no need to fix it though, is there?

The Metal Slug series is 15 years old this year, but it's heritage runs deeper. It's gameplay is steeped in 8 Bit and Arcade tradition, and development team at Nazca, and publishers at SNK poured every bit of their history into what became the last great 2D action game series. If you still own a console that will play it, I advise you to track down a game in the Metal Slug series. With the exception of the first game on the Neo Geo AES(the MVS version is much cheaper), you can find may games in the series for decent prices. I am always willing to recommend something good to fellow gamers and I fully recommend the Metal Slug series to anyone looking for hardcore side scrolling action.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Stuff I Just Won On Ebay

Getting Up: Marc Ecko's Only Foray Into Video Games

I can't really recall why, but today I woke up with a particular game on my mind. I don't own this game, but I should have bought it a while ago. It wasn't an exceptionally good game by any stretch, but it also wasn't a bad game. In all honesty, it's one of the best executions of one of the elements of Hip Hop ever infused into a game. It was the brainchild of Marc Ecko and featured the voice acting of Talib Kweli(for better or for worse). The game I'm referring to is Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure.

Getting Up follows the exploits of Trane as he rises from amateur tagger to graffiti legend in an oppressive city that places their heel on the throat of anyone who tries to express themselves. Not only does he have to contend with the corrupt mayor's personal police force, but he also has to deal with a rival crew and in the process starts his own crew. The story was actually deeper than expected from a game about the art of graffiti, but as someone who never had to run from cops for my art, I really didn't know what to expect.

The core gameplay mechanics in Getting Up involve writing graffiti burners to spread your message of freedom against the corrupt government, and random tags on random smaller structures. This may reminds players of Sega's classic Jet Grind Radio, but in practice, Getting Up is very different. It plays like a hybrid of Jet Grind Radio and Prince of Persia with the use of platforming to get to various locations around the cityscape. Once a spot for a tag or burner is reached, you can scroll through which tag you want to put on a location, and how big you want it to be, then you get to painting the burner. As expected, you don't get unlimited paint in this game, so in similar fashion to the aforementioned Jet Grind Radio, players will have to scour the game looking for more paint while avoiding or fighting off police and rival crews. It really does feel like Jet Grind Radio without the cel shaded sheen.

For all the mediocre reviews Getting Up received, it was one of the better attempts at 3-D platforming on the PS2. It was also a very mature and gritty take on a gameplay concept made popular by Sega's classic. If it weren't for a few technical hiccups(the camera getting stuck in strange spots was my main issue), Getting Up could have been one of those games that's looked at with reverence. Sadly, it's a good game that a few gamers really like that is lost among the ghosts of the PS2s massive library.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Everybody Has A List: Some Of My Favorite Beat Em Ups

I was recently reading a piece in an issue of Game Informer magazine that listed the ten best Beat Em Ups of all time. I had a few issues with this list mainly because of one glaring omission, nothing from the Streets of Rage series was included. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was included, but nothing from Sega's legendary Beat Em Up trilogy. I was a bit confused, but then I started looking at other lists based in the Beat Em Up genre. I saw one that included Michael Jackson's Moonwalker and knew that I had to make my own in order for me to be satisfied. So, in no particular order, here are some of my favorite Beat Em Ups of all time.

Ninja Baseball Bat Man - Arcade - Irem: I discovered this one recently, as it wasn't in any arcade I ever entered during my younger years. I must say that Ninja Baseball Bat Man is the most ridiculous thing I ever played and it is still all kinds of fun.

Knights of the Round - Arcade/SNES - Capcom: Capcom had a way with this genre in the early 90s, and Knights of the Round was one of their high water marks. Everything about this one screamed quality, and it never got old.

Target Renegade - NES - Taito: The direct sequel to the game that spawned Double Dragon, River City Ransom, and and other classic games, Target Renegade is everything you should want in a Beat Em Up. It's tough, fun, and last just long enough for you to feel good about popping it into your NES.

Final Fight(series) - Arcade/SNES/Sega CD/NES/Saturn/PS2 - Capcom: The game that started life as Street Fighter '89 had enough legs to stand on it's own. Final Fight gave birth to a big chunk of the cast of the Street Fighter Alpha series, an excellent 8 Bit retelling of the original game in Mighty Final Fight, and sadly spawned two minor turds in Final Fight Revenge and Final Fight Streetwise. All in all, the Final Fight franchise is the stuff gaming dreams are made of.

Double Dragon(series) - pretty much everything - Technos Japan(developers): Quite honestly, the most important game in the genre. It was well done, and hasn't been properly copied since. Nothing else you can really say about the first game starring the Lee brothers. The sequels were as good as can be expected, with the best game in the series popping up on the SNES in the form of Super Double Dragon.The series went in the direction of one on one fighters, but it's roots made it worth playing.

Streets of Rage(series) - Genesis/Mega Drive - Sega: Sega was at one point known for bring their cutting edge arcade titles home, but this series was rooted in the rise of Sega's 16 Bit consoles, the Genesis and it's European/Asian counterpart, the Mega Drive. The series was known for it's crisp gameplay and thumping soundtrack. The high water mark for the series had to be second game, which was so widely praised that it shipped with the system for a while. Fans have been clamoring for a new game in the series for a while, so maybe Sega can partner with Platinum games and deliver.

TMNT: Turtles In Time - Arcade/SNES - Konami: The first arcade game featuring the Ninja Turtles was good, but Turtles in Time may possibly be the measuring stick by which all Beat Em Ups are compared. Everything about Turtles In Time was magic attached to a controller, and not even that horrible remake from Ubisoft could change that fact.

Battletoads(series) - Same As Double Dragon - Tradewest: The original game in the series is in all honesty one level (Turbo Tunnel) away from being quite honestly the best game in the genre, period. The only reason the game hasn't seen a sequel is that bloggers keep complaining about the difficulty so much that Rare(who developed the original game) thinks it would be a disaster to put it out. I honestly don't blame them either. Gamers are crybabies now.

Guardian Heroes - Sega Saturn/XBLA/Game Boy Advance - Treasure: For a developer like Treasure, a lot of your catalog can be considered high water marks in a genre, but Guardian Heroes was a GENRE DEFINING release at a time when good Beat Em Ups were becoming hard to find. Guardian Legends not only featured great gameplay, but also inserted branching paths, multiple endings and a karma meter for high replayability.

Castle Crashers - XBLA/PSN - The Behemoth: Part Gauntlet, part Crime Fighters, and part Alien Hominid is the best way I can describe Castle Crashers. It may have been the first thing that really made me want to pay money for Xbox Live. It's that great.

Metamorphic Force - Arcade - Konami: The best Konami Beat Em Up not attached to a license, and there are little gnomes in it like the ones in the Golden Axe series that can be beaten up for powerups.

Golden Axe(series) -Pretty Much Everywhere - Sega: Before Sega Developed the Streets of Rage games, their big entry into the Beat Em Up category was a homage to the days of swords and sorcery called Golden Axe. Sega's ubiquitous barbarian tale has spawned several sequels, including a Master system RPG, a Saturn fighting game, and a horrid 3D action game on the PS3 and Xbox 360.

River City Ransom - NES - Technos Japan: A Beat Em Up with RPG elements? Those two things shouldn't mesh well, but in River City Ransom they did in masterful fashion. It still holds up as one of the best games on the NES and one of the best games in the genre, period.

I didn't mention a few games in the list (The Simpsons, The Punisher, X-Men) Mainly because those are always mentioned. I love those, but I wanted to mention lesser known games like Ninja Baseball Bat Man and Target Renegade because they deserve it, and let's be honest, it's my list, so I can name what I want. These were a few of my favorites of the Beat Em Up genre, but if you want to add to the conversation, feel free to do so.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Latest Pickups, Stuff I've Been Doing, and Crunch N Munch

make sure you check all of this stuff out:

Nerdgasm Noire Network Blog:


Nerdgasm Noire Network Podcast:


Character Select (latest episode):


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Now That Is A Tasty Burger: A Look Back At BurgerTime

In 1982, an inventive twist on the "maze game" genre made wildly popular by Namco's Pac Man was released in arcades around the world by Data East. BurgerTime introduced the world to Peter Pepper and his rather interesting means of preparing hamburgers. the game played like a cross between the aforementioned Pac Man and Nintendo's Donkey Kong. I make that comparison because of the way you have to avoid enemies on a ladder filled playfield. The major difference between Donkey Kong and BurgerTime is that Peter Pepper has a much harder time avoiding the enemies that chase him around, and his primary weapon, a pepper shaker, is only useful a few times per game unless a bonus item is picked up during a maze.

Advancing in this game is easy in theory, but tough in practice. You go through each screen making the individual ingredients fall until the burgers are completely assembled at the bottom of the screen, but you have to avoid the enemies that all tend to move around the playfield attempting to take you out. When all of the Burgers are completed, the screen is cleared, and you move to the next level. There are a total of six screens in BurgerTime. After the sixth, the game goes back to the first screen, but the enemies are faster and there are more burgers to make.

Over the years, a few spinoffs and sequels were released, but none of them matched the success of the original game. One of the most notable spinoff titles was the Intellivision exclusive Diner, which was developed by the same person who worked of the Intellivision port of BurgerTime. Another notable game in the series is Super BurgerTime. It features 2 player co op gameplay and a number of powerups.

We live in a society that frowns upon obesity, yet we celebrate fast food. By this logic, a game like BurgerTime probably wouldn't be very popular today. It does two things that are heavily disliked in portions of today's society: it celebrates a really good burger, and it doesn't hold your hand. Much like many games of the early 80s, BurgerTime kicks your in the butt until you give up or come back for more. It's also one of those classic arcade games that gets lost in the shuffle when gamers discuss the all time great quarter munchers. It's one of the great gems from a Publisher that while no longer in business, has a long healthy lineage of incredible games to it's credit.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How Much Is A Platinum Plated Clover Worth?

Every now and then, a developer comes along that produces games that are so much fun to play that they don't seem to be tethered to some monolithic publisher.Somewhere in the last decade we saw a developer gain life almost as an offshoot of Capcom, create some quality titles, then disband and resurrect itself in part as an in house developer with Sega. The developer I speak of is Clover Studio, which died in 2006, only to return as Platinum Games in 2007.

Clover started life simply as an in house developer who wanted more creative control, and as such they were given this control thanks mainly to the "Capcom Five". When Capcom decided to port their hit Gamecube title Viewtiful Joe to the Playstation 2, the port was handled by Clover Studio. From there, Clover was the primary developer of every successive title in the series. They also developed Okami, which earned Game of the Year honors in 2006. They were also responsible for God Hand, which proved to be their final game. None of Clover's games proved to be big sellers, however they received a great deal of critical acclaim. Many gamers assumed that this would be another promising development house that would die in this fickle video game market. This would prove to be a falsehood, as they would rise again a year later.

Capcom decided that modest sales figures and critical acclaim were not enough to keep Clover around as an autonomous developer, so they decided to reabsorb the company, but the employees decided it would be best to simply walk away. This led to Clover being shut down. A few months later, the former heads of Clover resurfaced as Platinum Games and announced a four game development deal with Sega. This deal has produced four well received titles with MadWorld, Bayonetta, Infinite Space, and Vanquish all receiving a great deal of praise as well as a strong fanbase. The success of Platinum Games' titles has caused their deal with Sega to be extended to include a fifth title, Anarchy Reigns, that will be released in early 2012.

It seems that through their short history, Clover Studio did two things: had a tumultuous history and created some exceptional video games. I contend that their track record has proven to be as good as some of the great developers of the late 80s. It proves that perseverance can lead to great success, and it creates some exceptionally fun experiences.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Grasshopper Manufacture: It May Not Make Sense, But You'll Love It

You've played their games, but probably never knew who they were right away. They have a history of pumping out quality products without a huge deal of mainstream fanfare, and lets not forget that the games they released in the US were some of the better titles released here over the last 5 years. The developer I speak of is Grasshopper Manufacture, and while the development house started by Goichi Suda, who is best known by the moniker Suda51, has built a reputation for creating cutting edge, attitude laden content for multiple consoles, they have also continued to keep a low profile in this current climate of big budget video games. Suda51 has been called the Quentin Tarantino of video games, because of the chances he's willing to take and the amount of sheer bad assery infused in the games.

I first discovered Grasshopper Manufacture when I stumbled upon their Wii masterpiece No More Heroes. I knew of Killer 7, but hadn't touched that amazingly quirky title yet, and NMH called out to me as I searched for a quality Beat Em Up on the Wii. As I started this game I understood why Grasshopper Manufacture and their head, Suda51, were so influential among other developers. Then I started doing research and I learned that Suda51 has had his hands in a number of projects for multiple consoles over the last decade. He started out working as a writer for Human Entertainment, which had him put his hands on the Fire Pro Wrestling series, and continued to make waves in the Japanese gaming market until well after he left Human in 1998 and started Grasshopper Manufacture.

Other than No More Heroes and Killer 7, Grasshopper Manufacture has developed Fatal Frame IV, Shadows of the Damned, Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked, and Michigan: Report From Hell among other titles released either worldwide or only in Japan. They are slated to release two games for XBLA and PSN in the coming months through a partnership with Hungarian publisher Digital Reality. Those titles, Sine Mora and Black Knight Sword, are a side scrolling SHMUP and a side scrolling action platformer, respectively. GHM also has a very bloody zombie killing beat em up on the horizon with Lollipop Chainsaw, which is slated for a 2012 release.

Between working on the Subspace Emissary mode of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, work with Hideo Kojima, and collaborating with Shinji Mikami(best known as the mind behind Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, and Onimusha), Suda51 has proven to be a busy man in the gaming business as well as one of it's greatest creative minds.

Grasshopper Manufacture has existed since the late 90s, and only entered the American gaming lexicon in 2005, but rest assured that Suda51's declaration of independence will continue to carve it's own niche while scoffing at the big budget snooze fests that flood the gaming market now.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Goonies On NES: Tougher Than Sloth

In 1987, Konami released The Goonies II for the NES, and it confused the hell out of American gamers. This game had Goonies in the title, but it seemed as though it was a sequel to the movie. The it was learned that there was indeed a game that followed the events of the movie. It was made by Konami and was released on the Famicom, but for whatever reason, it was never released in the US. While the first game remains true to the original film(in a sense), the second seemed like a blind attempt at a cash, but it was a good one. Goonies II felt like it was as big as Metroid, but many consider it to be as confusing as Castlevania II, with multiple doorways that send players to all manner of random locations. It's very easy to get lost and to lose sight of what you're main objective is.

That leads to the story, what exactly was the plot of the second game? Well, much like the first Goonies game, players control Mikey, but this time, you're charged with rescuing the other Goonies as well as a Mermaid from the Fratelli's. As we saw in the first movie, and in the first game for those who played it, the Fratelli's hideout sits on top of a massive cavern filled with branching caves and booby traps, but in Goonies II, that cavern is taken to an extreme, with different caverns seemingly taking you to different parts of the world. There are jungle caves, frozen caverns, molten pits and anything else that shouldn't be under an abandoned restaurant in the Pacific Northwest. That's just a case of game designers getting creative though, so it gets a pass.

Konami's "big single level with backtracking" game design that was prominent in Castlevania II is also present here, and it proved as frustrating for gamers with this title as it did the last time. This game simply did not feel like little kids should be attempting it, or some adults for that matter. I've always considered myself a bit of a masochist when it comes to some of my gaming choices, but some games were not meant to be played by a 9 year old version of myself.

Goonies II was a faithful continuation of the story portrayed in the first game and the film it was based on, but alas, it proved to be so hardcore that it drove gamers away. I recommend this one for those who want to take an old school RPG approach to their gaming. To beat Goonies II, you need to make maps, document item locations, and be a tireless gamer. It probably would hurt to have Chunk around to do the truffle shuffle either.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Brief Look At Really Rare NES Games

I don't fancy myself as much a collector as I do a person who adopts wayward video games, and as such, a few rare gems have landed into my meager game library. some are worth more than others as far as resell value goes, but some are priceless as far as sentimental value. In my wallet, my copy of Contra Force is worth much more than my copy of Anticipation, but since Anticipation was bought for me by my now deceased aunt, it is valued as much if not more than that copy of Contra Force. For many collectors it is merely about money though, and those gamers are always on the lookout for incredibly hard to find gems. Today I thought I'd mention a few of the hardest to find titles on the NES, and a few of them won't cost you more than a car payment. You may also notice a little trend with some of these titles.

Little Samson - Taito - 1992: Little Samson is a gem of a game, it controls well, has a decent challenge, and it looks and sounds as good as anything on the NES. It would have been one of the biggest sellers on the NES if not for one important thing: it was release in 1992 and many gamers had already jumped ship to the SNES by that time. it's been spotted on eBay for around $160.

Bubble Bath Babes - Panesian - 1991: Nintendo watched over the content on their 8-bit console like a hawk, and anything that was the least bit questionable didn't get the coveted Seal of Quality on the box. Panesian knew their adult themed games would never get over the hump, so they made pirate carts. Very few copies of their games ever made it into the wild and so they are highly sought after. copies of this one can run up to $1,000 but a reproduction cartridge is currently in circulation through http://retrousb.com .

Caltron 6 in 1 - Caltron - 1992: Today we see multi game collections all the time, and most of the games in those collections prove to be horrible. It was the same during the time of the NES. This may explain why pretty much all of the multicarts released on the NES were unlicensed. Caltron released this pile in 1992, a full year after the debacle that was Action 52. While this one fares only slightly better that it's 52 game counterpart, neither seems worth the money. These will set you back up around $300, so tread lightly.

Snow Brothers - Capcom - 1991: A great arcade port typically sold quite well on the NES, which makes the rarity of Snow Brothers even more peculiar. For whatever reason, though, the NES port of Snow Brothers did not sell, and now commands prices easily above $100.

and now a few more affordable NES rarities:

Contra Force -Konami - 1992: It wasn't really a contra game, and it was a bit mediocre, but Contra Force commands anywhere from $30 - $60 online.

Adventure Island 3 - Hudson - 1992: It isn't extremely expensive, but it can be hard to track down. Copies of this one run between $25 - $50.

Bomberman 2 - Hudson - 1992: The original game typically costs no more than $10, but the sequel came along much later in the NES life cycle, didn't sell as well, and runs between $30 - $60 online.

I know I neglected to mention a lot of very rare games, but I didn't want to bore you with a list of games that most folks know about like Action 52, Stadium Events, or The Miracle Piano. If you would like a more detailed list of really rare games, drop me a line and I'll be happy to pass you one.

If you didn't notice, most of the really rare games I mentioned were released at the end of the NES life cycle.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Remember When...Video Games Didn't Exist And Nintendo Made Playing Cards

I've always been fascinated by the origins of many of the gaming industry's most important companies. Many if not all of them were involved in other industries for decades before the ping and pop of video games came calling. Many already made carnival games, and assumed that video games would be another fad that they could ride until something came along. I mean, nobody could have predicted that Ralph Baer's "Brown Box" or Jerry Lawson's breakthrough with replaceable ROM cartridges could be enough to convince a vending machine company called Taito Trading company to release Astro Race in 1973, nor could it convince a small amusement machine company called Service Games to get into the video game business in the 1970s by manufacturing their own arcade games. It definitely would not have been enough to take a venerable Japanese playing card company into the "Family Computer" business.

Most of gaming's most iconic taste makers started out in other places, yet they all gravitated towards the video game industry, and they all succeeded at some level. Taito, which was started by a Russian guy in 1953, was making jukeboxes and vending machines until they got into the gaming business in 1973. They made game after game until 1978 when they created what many consider the most important game in Arcade history with Space Invaders. Space Invaders had such an impact on the fledgling industry that entire arcades were dedicated to that one game for years after it's release. While they are currently owned by Square Enix, the Taito brand still commands a great deal of weight and respect among gamers.

Service Games or Sega as it's more commonly known, started life as a maker of shooting gallery games, jukeboxes, and anything else that could occupy a soldiers mind on a military base. Over time they developed more products until they got into the video game industry and scored their first major hits with games like Pengo, Zaxxon, and Tac/Scan. While they have suffered a number of ups and downs over the years, a lot of what Sega brought to the table is still regarded as revolutionary.

The Nintendo Playing card company seems like a good fit to enter the video game market, but their entrance was not the most graceful. Prior to entering the video game market, Nintendo dabbled in everything from instant rice, to taxicabs, to a "love hotel". None of these ventures proved successful though, and in 1974, they obtained the rights to distribute the Magnavox Odyssey in Japan. Then Nintendo began to manufacture their own brand of Pong clones with the "Color TV Game" series, and things slowly rolled from there until a young game designer named Shigeru Miyamoto introduced the world to Jumpman, Lady, and Donkey Kong.

The three companies I mentioned in this post are just a microcosm of the rich histories of many publishers within the video game industry. Much like many of the people who have enjoyed their creations over the years, these companies all started out somewhere else, and through many different paths, they ended up being a part of the video game industry. While some have ceased to exist, many still do, and it is up to us as gamers to keep these companies honest, because without us, they cease to exist, and we are then left with less room for innovation and variety, and that benefits no one who grew up with a controller in their hand.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Retro Quarter Munchers That Made It Big At Home

In the pre-Playstation age of gaming, a lot of noise was made about video games "bringing the arcade experience home", but what exactly did that mean? Was it all about graphics, gameplay, or something else entirely? For my money, it was all about giving me gameplay that was comparable to the coin op version of that game, and allowing my friends and I to have a great time playing it. A lot of arcade ports in the 80s and early 90s were watered down shells of their former selves, but some stood out and still stand the test of time to me. Here are a few of my favorites.

Smash T.V. - Acclaim - NES: Acclaim made a lot of bad games during their history, but they were always pretty good with the way they handled Midway's arcade games. The NES version was amazing in that two players had to use four controllers to play.

Final Fight - Capcom/Sega - Sega CD: For whatever reason, The SNES version of the game formerly known as Street Fighter '89 was lacking in something. The Sega CD version was incredible, and the soundtrack even sounds better than the arcade version.

Double Dragon - Accolade - Genesis: This version of Double Dragon, which released almost a decade after the original release of the arcade game, was the definitive version of one of the most important games to be released in the 80s. and it was completely unlicensed by Sega, which makes it even more memorable.

Mortal Kombat -Acclaim - Sega CD: This version of Midway's greatest gimmick was as close as you could get to the arcade version in 1994. It wasn't as pretty as the SNES version, but it was far more accurate.

TMNT IV: Turtles In Time - Konami - SNES: Minus a few things missing in the audio, this game would have pretty much been a direct port, which was amazing considering this was the early 90s.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Reasons Why "Blowing My Cartridge" Is Merely A Dirty Joke

It's a practice that gamers were taught since the days of the Atari 2600, and it became quite the prevalent act during the "Nintendo vs. Sega" days of the gaming industry. It was a habit that rose from necessity, primarily the need for one's cartridges to work on a consistent basis. It was also a practice that I later learned was a quick fix that led to the early demise of some very unlucky game cartridges.

The practice of blowing into a video game cartridge was so commonplace that it was widely accepted as the go to method for cleaning games by many gamers. it was so well received that I would buy the canned air computer cleaner spray sold at Radio Shack to clean my cartridges. I learned, however from multiple sources that the moisture and particles contained in a person's mouth could typically settle on a cartridges, which would eventually lead to those contacts tarnishing the same way old silverware and copper does. that tarnish could actually rub off the cartridge and severely damage the connections in a console, which is why so many folks have NES consoles that won't play any cartridges.

Another widely held myth (and one that I followed myself in my childhood) was that rubbing alcohol could work as a cleaner. The most obvious response to this is that it doesn't work, and it could do serious damage to your cartridges to your cartridges. I mean, the waring label on the back of the cartridges says do not clean with alcohol.

You may be wondering what your options are, and they are actually quite plentiful. one option is to use a non bleach or ammonia based all purpose cleaner to swab out cartridges. It is generally non abrasive and the contacts are cleaned without doing irreparable damage to them. Another I recently learned of is the eraser method. You'd need to open the cartridge, take a clean pencil eraser, and gently brush the cartridge contacts. This method makes me a bit nervous, since there something basically scraping the contacts of a game cartridge that in some cases cannot be easily replaced. One other unlicensed method of cleaning cartridges involves using a clean cloth or paper towel and polishing them with a small amount of Brasso. the trouble with this one is that there is no information on whether the metal polish would harm the non metallic portions of the cart if it got on them.

Several companies released cleaning kits for cartridge based consoles in the 80s and 90s, but that resource isn't as plentiful as it once was. Unopened cleaning kits, especially officially licensed ones, fetch some pretty steep numbers among the collecting community, but since the cleaning solution included in these kits was pretty much a tiny bottle of 409, all you need is a few cotton swabs to complete the kit.

Also, in the event that you have properly cleaned your cartridges and your NES still doesn't play them, there may be an issue with the 72 pin connector that allows the NES to play the games. Thankfully, this is an easy fix and can be replaced with another connector. They're typically sold on Ebay and Amazon for somewhere between $3 and $5. once replaced, pretty much every game from that console should work on an NES with a new 72 pin connector.

Remember kids: Don't blow in your cartridges...it does harm than good.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Little Nemo: What Dreams Are Made Of

In 1990 Capcom released a simple platform game with an interesting premise. that game had no fanfare, and the source material was something none of us 80's babies even knew existed. The game in question is Little Nemo: The Dream Master, and for many gamers looking for something off the beaten path, it proved to be a dream come true(pun intended).

Little Nemo: The Dream Master focused on a young boy who's dreams took him to an alternate world called Slumberland. Nemo was asleep in his home when he was invited to Slumberland by Princess Camille. She wanted someone to play with and for some reason chose Nemo. The story takes a turn when it is revealed that Nemo, upon arriving in Slumberland has to rescue it from a great evil. It's all pretty surreal and a little dark, but so was the source material.

Now, with Nemo being a little kid, you wouldn't expect him to be a powerful hero, and alone he isn't, but he does have something that allows him to beat the difficult odds ahead of him, and that's an infinite supply of candy. When Nemo feeds certain animals candy, they offer to give help him through tough areas. Most of these animals have special abilities like the frog's jumping skill, mole's digging, and the lizard's climbing. This definitely even the odds for Nemo, because with the animals this game is tough, but without them, the game may be impossible.

The level designs for Little Nemo were also quite different for this point in gaming history, and many levels had a goal at the far right, but to get there a player had to collect six keys, this makes the assistance of the animals in the game mandatory when keys were out of the reach of Nemo.

As far as the difficulty goes, this is classic "Tough Bastard" gaming at its finest. Little Nemo was never an unfair game, but it made gamers pull all of their skills together in an effort to beat that level that was giving you grief. This game is a far cry from games that hold a gamers hand, give them regenerating health, and other practices that have essentially watered down the single player experience in most modern games.

There's nothing like a game that makes a gamer feel good about the act of playing a game. Many games don't honestly provide that feeling now. In that sense, playing a game as fulfilling as Little Nemo: The Dream Master can be a welcome, whimsical departure from today's gaming climate.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Deus Ex Human Revolution: Welcome To A Brave New World

By: Shareef Jackson

Deus Ex Human Revolution is a follow up to the well regarded title Deus Ex that was released in 2000. That first person action RPG title was noted for its huge environments, dialogue trees, and the ability to approach any situation from a combat or stealth perspective. For the most part, Deus Ex Human Revolution keeps these aspects intact while infusing many modern game enhancements to the classic formula. This game will appeal most to players that enjoy long, complex games that require thinking before shooting.

The plot is a standard humanity vs technology story, but it is executed very well within a steampunk environment.. Character motives are ambiguous at best, and you can freely switch between trusting and disobeying the suggestions that you receive from them. The developers, Edios Montreal, spent a lot of time on the different scenarios that can occur depending on how you interact with an NPC. I'm currently on my second play through and I'm shocked with how much of the game I didn't see the first time around.

A major focus of the technology are augmentations, which are various upgrades that you pick up throughout the game. These augmentations allow you to gain superhuman abilities such as landing from any height without damage, detonating explosive charges, and an invisibility cloak. Each augmentation takes up a separate power bar, which slowly recharges to avoid abuse. You only have a limited number of augmentation slots, so you're forced to choose to fit your playing style.

The graphics and sound are slightly above average, but its really the art direction that leaves an impression. Cities feel lived in, from the citizens wandering about to the detail within each apartment room that you enter. Most importantly, it feels like the city is alive and that things are going on outside of your main quests.

The game is challenging, particularly if you opt for a combative strategy. Enemies can finish you off in no time with their weaponry. The cover mechanic is similar to Gears of War, giving you the ability to quickly switch between cover areas, aim out of cover, and blind fire if an enemy gets close. It's best to pick your shots and play strategically as opposed to run in guns blazing. The game does integrate a regenerating health mechanic, but it takes over 10 seconds to recharge.

I'd definitely recommend this game to players that don't mind spending 20-30 hours on an engaging experience and a fascinating story. Pick this one up!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bill Rizer And Marcus Fenix: Separated At Birth

As we near what may be the conclusion of one of modern gaming's most important franchises, I seem to have had quite the epiphany. It was a revelation that a lot of gamers may deny, one that I may be slandered for, and one that so obviously hilarious that I had to share it. Pretty much everyone who owns an Xbox 360 has played the Gears of War series, and most gamers who owned a NES have played Contra, so the statement I'm about to make is about to be very obvious.

Bill Rizer and Lance Bean are basically Delta Squad and Red Falcon's army are the Locusts.

The basis of the comparison is tied to a few factors, including the imprisonment of both Rizer and Gears' main character Marcus Fenix at a point in their story arcs. Now you may be saying: "How are they the same when the gameplay is so different?", and my answer is that at it's core Gears and Contra are very similar gameplay wise. For example: if you make Gears a 2-d action game, and exchange the roadie run/cover mechanic into a jump button, it becomes pretty close to what Contra is gameplay wise. Conversely, if you give Contra a 3-d perspective and replace the jumps with a cover mechanic, it's close to the core gameplay of Gears.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love both franchises, and I made the comparison because of this, but I just wanted to illustrate how I see the past in some of modern gaming's true gems.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Katamari Damacy Or The Little Guy Lights Up The Night Sky

I can remember walking into that Gamestop feeling like I needed a serious distraction from life after Hurricane Katrina. I asked for a recommendation for something "different" and the guys at the register offered two games: Shadow Of The Colossus and Katamari Damacy. Six years later, both games are still in my collection, and both hold a special spot in my heart. The point of this post, however in not a retrospective on what I was playing after Katrina in general, but a game that took a very basic premise, one that had been used in several games before, and gave it a shot of personality the likes of which hadn't been seen at that point since the 16 bit console wars of the early 90s.

Katamari Damacy was not a new concept when Namco quietly released it on the Playstation 2 in 2005, in fact, games where you guide a random ball around a play field have been appearing on consoles and in arcades since somewhere in the 80s. Having to collect items to advance has also been a hallmark of video games, but Katamari Damacy takes both little also rans of the early days of the video game industry and injected it full of undeniable personality. In Katamari Damacy, you roll a ball or Katamari around a designated area and in most cases, the stuff your Katamari comes in contact with sticks to it. I say in most cases because your Katamari has to be bigger than the thing you're trying to roll up. Why are you rolling up what essentially amounts to balls of random crap? Well it's quite simple actually, and this is a big part of what gives Katamari Damacy it's charm.

You assume the role of the Prince, who's father, The King Of All Cosmos, has effectively destroyed every star in the night sky. The King, in incredibly arrogant yet strangely charming fashion, attempts to blame the Prince, and charges him with rebuilding the night sky, including constellations. How is the Prince to do this, by rolling several Katamari of varying sizes into balls of stuff of varying sizes. if a player succeeds, then the star is released, but if he fails, he is scolded by his father, and sent back to try again. Another interesting quirk of this game is that while the King is talking to his son, you can't understand him. This isn't because he's speaking in Japanese, but because the guy speaks in DJ scratches. This made the Hip Hop Head in me smile.

As far as control is concerned, you move the Prince, and therefore the Katamari, by using the analog sticks on the Playstation 2 controller. another button is used to make the prince hop over the Katamari to reverse direction, another button switches to first person view, and that's pretty much it. The meat of the controls is getting used to steering the Katamari in much the same manner as a small car. and it's equally satisfying when you start picking up people, animals and pretty much any and small land masses and buildings with your ball of awesome. As fun as the actual game is, though, I do have a feeling that the soundtrack makes it even better. If Katamari Damacy had a sub par soundtrack of stale music then it would have been in the bargain bin instead of being considered one of the best games of the last decade.

The Katamari series didn't end with that game, as a sequel appeared on the PS2 as well as a followups that popped up on Xbox 360 and PS3. While each game shared many of the core elements of the original, there was something slightly different about them. Each game added a minor wrinkle that helped justify the Prince causing all manner of destruction with a ball.

Katamari Damacy is an anomaly in modern game design as it lacked many of the things so called hardcore gamers are looking for in a quality title yet it garnered a pretty big mainstream following. It will probably never be as popular as some of Namco's other franchises like Pac Man, Pole Position, Tekken, or Soul Calibur, but it will have a hallowed place among cult classics like Blaster Master, Earthworm Jim, and Lode Runner.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Stuff I Kinda Want In My Collection

I've never been big on emulators for home consoles, so I tend to miss out on some home console releases simply because I don't want to cheat to own them. In that regard, I am currently looking for other systems, some from other parts of the globe. So, in an effort to inform (or maybe to get some of my readers to "donate" to the cause), I figured I'd tell you guys about some of the games I'm currently trying to play and the consoles I want to obtain.

Crisis Force - Konami - Famicom: This may have been one of Konami's best 8 Bit releases, and that's saying a lot. Sadly it was never ported to the NES, and most gamers never got to play it. My problem is that I currently don't own a Famicom or a Famicom Twin, but if I did...

Samurai Zombie Nation - Meldac - NES: Quite possibly one of the strangest shoot em ups I've ever seen, but ridiculously rare. I'd love to add this one to my "Shelf of Awesome" but finding a copy that won't destroy my retro budget for 6 months is hard.

Doshin The Giant - Nintendo - N64DD: This one was only available on the N64 Disk Drive, which was only released in Japan, and was a bit of a commercial flop there. As it Stands, there aren't that many of the systems in circulation in the US, and therefore there aren't many games out there either.

Ibara - Cave/Taito - Playstation 2: I love a good shoot em up. I really love a good shoot em up that's harder than a pubescent boy at a strip club, and when you combine the two it typically won't be released in America. This is why I may be buying a second PS2 for import modding, but this one goes about $80 on Ebay regularly. Such a dilemma.

Dolphin Blue - Sammy - Atomiswave: I love playing this one, but now that there aren't any decent arcade options in New Orleans, I can't find it. Finding an Atomiswave cabinet might be a tough row to hoe, but it's my only means of tracking down a way to play the game. Since the system is similar to a Neo Geo in that the games are interchangeable, I'll be able to play other games on the platform

That's a small list of some stuff I want but can't play right now because of the lack of that system. I'll be on the lookout for them, but if anybody wants to donate to the cause, hit me up on Twitter @8bitanimal.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Fighting Robot And An Institution: A Look Back At Mega Man

I looked through past blog posts and realized that I never did a post on what may be the best pure series of action games to ever be released. That series not only helped define a genre, but it put a publisher on its back for years. That series is Mega Man, and while every game in the series wasn't perfect, they were better than most of the games being released in the market and the earlier games in the series still hold up today.

Mega Man (or Rockman as it's known in Japan), was first given life on the Famicom and Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987. The first game in the series was revolutionary in that it allowed players to select the order in which they attacked the games levels. It was also pretty interesting in that if a player was able to beat a "Robot Master", Mega Man would adopt that character's powers. For example: if you take out Bombman and beat him, then you can throw really big bombs. There was also a particular order that would make beating each "Robot Master" a lot easier than normal. The first game was known for it's difficult, yet well crafted gameplay, and it spawned a sequel.

Mega Man 2 was released the following year, and for all intents and purposes, it may be the best video game to be released in the 1980s. I know that says a lot, but it took everything from its predecessor, made the difficulty more balanced, and added an incredible soundtrack on top of that. to put it bluntly, Mega Man 2 was f&#@ing amazing. it still ranks very high on favorite games lists. After the greatness of the second game, Capcom threw more goodness into Mega Man 3. Capcom added a midboss angle to the game in the form of Protoman and expanded the final level in the game with a series of boss fights representing some of Mega Man 2's most memorable boss.

The series continued with Mega Man 4, 5, and 6. While these weren't bad games, and still better than most of the platformers hitting the NES in the early 90s, they didn't live up to the first trilogy. With a spinoff series called Mega Man X hitting the SNES, many though the original series was done, but Capcom released Mega Man 7 for the Super NES in 1995. While the seventh game in the series felt like no more than a rehash of Mega Man X, it introduced two new characters that became vital parts of the Mega Man mythos, Bass and his dog Treble(Forte and Gospel in Japan). A year later, Mega Man celebrated it's 10th Anniversary with the release of Mega Man 8. While this one felt a bit better than 7, it paled in comparison to the 8 bit efforts. Many figured the original series was done with the release of Mega Man and Bass, but assumptions are never a great thing to have when talking video games.

Ten years passed between that last game's original release and the next new game, which hit gamers with the greatest rush old brutal nostalgia some of us have ever felt. Mega Man hit major console download services in all of it's 8 bit glory in 2008 and was a huge hit. It also spawned a followup in Mega Man 10. Both games featured extra playable characters, a variety of difficulty modes and several challenge levels. The series has witnessed a strong revival among old school gamers as a result, and who knows how many more games will probably hit the series as a result.

The Mega Man series faced a few hiccups over it's long history, but no one should doubt that it may well be the best game for game series of action games ever created.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why Can't My Gaming Console Just Play Games?

After a long period of trepidation, I bought a few months of Xbox Live Gold this summer, and to be honest, I'm glad it was on sale. Whenever I do turn on my Xbox 360 and glance at what my friends are doing, they are watching Netflix. It almost feels like people own current gen consoles to play Madden or Call of Duty, and watch stuff on Netflix. I have no issue with any of this in particular, but more with the fact that video game consoles are capable of doing so much now that console makers have pretty much pushed their core application to the back burner. Sadly, for the most part, gamers fell for it.

Think about it: as video games became prettier and consoles became capable of everything from washing your car to providing oral pleasure, the overall quality of the gameplay in their core products has gone down. Most people seem more likely to turn on their game consoles to watch an episode of Mad Men or South Park than to play a quick round of Pac Man DX or Ms. Splosion Man. This sadly all adds to my point that for the most part, the video game industry is in a bad place creatively.

So to be honest, I won't be renewing my subscription to Xbox Live Gold after it expires next month, and I'm not sure when I will purchase another subscription, because apparently nobody is playing video games right now. Call me a cynic, but I'm still really big on my gaming consoles having games on them, oh and this isn't merely a shot at Microsoft, because it seems to be the same thing with all of the consoles hitting the market.

At the gaming conventions that have been going on, publishers have trying to make people care about the software they're putting out, while the console makers are talking about all these non gaming related applications being heaved onto their systems. The video game industry and those that make money from it have essentially duped gamers into spending more money for more fragile equipment that while producing gorgeous visuals, are becoming nothing more than a new version of the Sega Channel.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Trojan: One Of Capcom's Toughest

When you ask gamers who cut their teeth on NES games in the 80s about the hardest thing they ever played, they usually say Ghosts N Goblins. Capcom's brutally hard platformer is legendary for being unforgiving, but my some of my ultimate pain moments revolve around another Capcom arcade game turned NES game, Trojan. Trojan is a pretty straightforward side scrolling action game in the same vein as Rush N Attack or Kung Fu Master. It did not have a stand alone button to jumping, but a player would press up on the controller to make the character jump. That could be quite disorienting for players who up to this point were used to having a standard jump button in pretty much all of their games. An interesting new wrinkle inserted into this game was that a few enemies could knock the player's sword and shield away, causing the character to use punches and kicks instead. This adds an extra degree of strategy and difficulty to an already unforgiving game. I mean, I understand that Capcom had this reputation for publishing some bruisers for the NES, but this one as probably only matched by the first Mega Man and Ghosts N Goblins in terms of utter brutality. Because of this, many gamers panned Trojan as a bad game, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Why is this a bad game while something like Battletoads, a game known for being ridiculously hard, is a beloved classic? It's all a matter of perception in my opinion. Battletoads had all manner of marketing goodness behind it, including a cast of colorful, cartoony characters while Trojan was dark, bleak, and foreboding with very little marketing gloss. That's how Capcom did it in the 80s though; they were no frills and their games spoke for them, and Trojan says something very powerful. It's an uncompromising, brutally hard, pretty straightforward game that would pummel any gamer who didn't have the fortitude to stand up to the challenge. Trojan is really easy to track down for a number of consoles, but you can't go into it like you do with many modern action games. Trojan may just break you if you aren't ready for it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Boy Meet Blob

Somewhere in the last decade, it became the norm for most gamers to dismiss the idea that game with "cute" or "kiddie" overtones couldn't be deep, engaging, and fun. This theory was pushed to the back by games like Super Mario Galaxy, but it was brushed off due to it being a Nintendo property, but there are others that have bridged the gap between cute and being a solid game. A Boy And His Blob is such a game, and it pays homage to the NES game of the same name.

A Boy And His Blob starts with a young boy hearing a loud crash outside his window. When he goes to investigate the origin of the sound, he finds a little alien with no discernible shape, or a blob if you will. Upon bringing the blob back to his home, the boy is told of the blob's mission, to save his find a hero to save his home planet of Blobolonia from an evil emperor. He also discovers that the blob likes jelly beans, and reacts to different flavors by turning into different objects. Feed him a tangerine jelly bean, he turns into a trampoline, punch makes a hole, and so on.

This game oozes with old school puzzle/platformer gameplay, a lot like the original NES release of the same name. in addition to the core story, there is also a series of challenge levels that reward players with concept art, trophies, and other goodies. These are all simply thinly veiled bits of bonus content, however, and they neither add nor take away from the game.

Graphically, A Boy And His Blob is beautiful, even when compared to games on more powerful consoles, with beautiful, colorful backdrops and fluid animation. While this game is played using the Wiimote/Nunchuk combo, it doesn't require the gimmicky, forced in motion controls that have plagued the Wii for much of it's history. there's a button for pretty much any task you will have, like calling the blob if you get seperated, or giving the blob a hug to calm it down when enemies fighten it. Yes, this game has a "hug" button, but given how cutesy the graphics are, that shouldn't come as a surprise.

It has been out for a while, and or some reason, there aren't a very large number of copies in circulation, but if you come across a copy, it won't be very expensive. A Boy And His Blob is not only a great Wii game; it's a great game, period. If any retro remake is worth your time, it's this one.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Character Select Episode 1

A quick post to introduce you to a podcast that I was invited to be a part of...it's called Character Select, and should be around at least once a week.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Time Lord: A Ghost from Rare's Mediocre Past

One of Science Fiction's great mainstays has always been time travel. From the classic H.G. Wells novel to Doctor Who, we have always been attracted to the notion of going through time to explore our past, repair our present, and save our future. This premise has also been explored in the realm of video games. Two games I practically grew up with, Turtles In Time and Time Lord, both focused on the idea of a time travelling hero to great effect. The only problem is only one of these games decided to age gracefully. Turtles In Time is an action game masterwork, a great beat em up in every sense of the word, however, Turtles In Time isn't the focus of this post. I will however, discuss my experience with one of the many games developed by Rare in the late 80s, Time Lord.

Time Lord is quite a peculiar game, as it attempts to combine a few different genres yet it never gets any of them quite right. Rare had this problem from time to time back in the 80s as they were getting into the mold of pumping out great games consistently. Back to my point though, Time Lords gameplay revolved around a character who had one year in game time to eliminate enemies in four time periods, return to his own time and defeat the Drakkon King. The four time periods are: Medieval England, The Old West USA, The Caribbean during the age of Pirates, and France during World War II. The levels look really good, as does the games soundtrack, but the character animations seem extra loose at times. There is also and issue with some of the boss fights taking forever. this wouldn't be a bad thing, but considering the one year of game time translates to about 24 minutes of actual time, you can get a bit frustrated trying to defeat a boss that takes 5 minutes to dispatch.

All in all, Time Lord is a pretty straight forward game that honestly could have been one of the better games of the 8Bit system generation, but a few nagging problems keeps it from being truly great. This would be a great game for Rare to resurrect on Xbox Live Arcade, but it would need a lot of polish.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Catherine: A Woman Scorned...

Have you ever played a video game that was so different in theme from what you're used to that it mildly messes with you acceptance of popular trends in gaming? That happened to me a few weeks ago when I played the demo for Catherine, a very Japanese puzzle game with a mature theme that pretty much sold me after about five minutes. After spending some quality time with the full game, I can honestly say that Catherine is probably the most original thing on the shelf at your local Gamestop. Oh yeah, Catherine is a lot of fun as well.

In Catherine, the player assumes the role of Vincent, a man at a crossroads in his life. You see, Vincent has been dating a woman named Katherine for 5 years and she's pressuring him to take that next step, he's having cold feet though. One night at his local bar, Stray Sheep, he is approached by a younger woman named Catherine (yeah, things get weird really quick), and he wakes up next to her in his bed. Somehow, Vincent doesn't remember anything, and he is plagued with thoughts of how he should get this new woman out of his life. While this is going on in Vincent's daily life, he is having nightmares that will kill him in real life if he dies during them.

These Nightmares are what make up the meat of Catherine's gameplay. Each Nightmare is separated into a series of tower puzzles that require the player to maneuver blocks to climb to higher points. there are several hazards besides gravity to contend with, like sheep that are climbing the tower seeking the same freedom you are, trap blocks and ice blocks that will send a player crashing to the ground below. at the end of every Nightmare, or series of levels, players have to evade a boss that is in pursuit of Vincent. these can range from a giant baby, to the mutated "lady parts" of some woman.

There are a total of 8 stages or "Nightmares" in the game, and combining this with the story elements between them, the game can be pretty long. The gameplay between levels takes place at The Stray Sheep, the neighborhood bar where Vincent meets Catherine for the first time. Players can talk to bar patrons, play and arcade game called "Rapunzel" that serves as a practice mode for the Nightmare stages, and gain interesting information the can give clues to the identities of the other sheep in the Nightmares. I can't go into a lot of detail on the story, but it takes an incredible turn towards the end.

Over the years, we've gotten a lot of games that tried to act as interactive movies, and sometimes these games take very peculiar turns , but Catherine is very consistent. It starts strange, and ends strange, and it all feels well written and executed. Catherine has proven how great storytelling can advance a puzzle game of all things. I was highly impressed, and highly recommend Catherine to anybody wanting something a little off the beaten path of current gen gaming.