Monday, January 31, 2011

Michael, Leatherface, Jason, Freddy: Some True Horror

Horror movies have long been inspiration for video games, and the popularity of Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and other games. In the early 80s, there was no real quality control protocol with regard to what was being released for the different game consoles. Therefore, a lot of random games based on very random things were released. In particular, Wizard Video released two games for the Atari 2600 based on Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Both games are considered both groundbreaking and utter pieces of trash. They were groundbreaking because of the level of violence portrayed in each game, but from a gameplay standpoint neither game is as bad as E.T., but they pretty bad. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is notable because the player takes control of Leatherface and is charged with the task of catching victims and killing them, while Halloween features a playable character that can be decapitated by Michael Myers. Both of these games were deemed unfit to sell with the typical 2600 games, so they were kept behind counters and only taken out on request(much like the porn games I discussed in an earlier post). Wizard video stopped making video games not long after the crash of 1983, but bad video games based on Horror movies continued to see the light of day.

The rise of the NES saw many new publishers pop up in an attempt to release games based on movies. One such publisher who released a myriad of games based on any and every license they could was Acclaim, and under their LJN brand, they released games based on two iconic horror characters in Freddy Kruger and Jason Voorhies. Friday The 13th has been considered by all accounts one of the worst games released in the 80s, which is saying a lot. The pacing is terrible, the game's internal clock is poorly set up, and Jason's difficulty as a boss character leaves a lot to be desired. There are some, however who love this game, but then again, some folks like to have illicit encounters with farm animals. The game adaptation of A Nightmare On Elm Street wasn't as bad as Friday The 13th, but it was still pretty bad. Hit detection was off, some of the platforms suffered from invisible edges, and some of the enemies were simply broken. A Nightmare On Elm Street had a pretty good layout as far as game level design goes, but glitches with enemies made that game a pile.

There were other games based on Horror characters, mostly based on other established horror characters, like Castlevania, which featured a cast of well known horror movie creatures. Most of those were no where near as bad as the ones mentioned in this post, however. Michael Myers, Leatherface, Jason Voorhies, and Freddy Kruger deserved much better than they got from the video game industry, but in many ways, those games caused nightmares for those who played them. Maybe that was the point the whole time.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hype: It's What's For Dinner

It seems as though the hype machine is in full swing, and not just on the games front. Sony and Nintendo are poised to release new handheld systems during 2011, with Nintendo launching their 3DS in March ans Sony releasing the followup to their PSP(currently called NGP or Next Generation Portable by various sources). We honestly don't know a lot about the NGP, so we can't make any fair comparisons, but gamers have already began their coronation of Sony as the console maker to finally take Nintendo's top spot in the handheld market. Again, I'm not one to start making claims about Sony or Nintendo yet, but I will say this: since the debut of the Game Boy in 1989, many console manufacturers have tried to take Nintendo's spot at the top of the handheld market, but none of them have made even a dent in Nintendo's market share. I understand that on paper, Sony has created a much more powerful system, but remember they did the same thing a few years ago when the first PSP was released, and it struggled to see any headway against the DS. In all honesty, the Major reason the PSP sold at all was the proliferation of the hacker community with that system. as far as these new handheld systems go, Parents are going to buy the 3DS for their kids like they do every time Nintendo releases a new handheld, and teenagers who don't have to save their own money are going to cry for the NGP when it comes out. Those same little kids are going to be upset because their parents are going to buy them crappy games for their 3DS and the teen is going to put their NGP on ebay. My advice for both, give it a year and see what kinds of games are being released for them before you buy. At the end of the day, as powerful as the hardware is, it means nothing if there are no games worth playing. We saw that for the first year of the Playstation 3, and we still see it with the Wii.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Just A Thought

Today I just have a question. Please feel free to answer in the comments section:

What if all these gamers buy Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 and it turns out to be utterly horrible?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Namco: King Of The Quarter Munchers

I'm all about teaching the kids about their history, and that goes for video games too. Usually, if you ask someone over the age of 30 about video games, their first experience was either with Pac Man or Galaga. Those were two of the biggest arcade hits ever, and just a smaller does of what made Namco a household name among gamers with good taste.

Namco was started 1955 under a different name (Nakamura Manufacturing), and they operated children's amusement rides on the roof of a Tokyo department store. As time went on, Nakamura Manufacturing Co. (which Namco is an acronym for), decided to enter a new realm of amusement, arcade video games. In the 1970s, Namco purchased Atari's Japanese arm and became the sole licensee of Atari arcade games in Japan. They didn't start making their own games however until the 1978 game Gee Bee. they followed that up with Galaxian in 1979, and what many consider the greatest video game ever made, Pac Man. After that, Namco hits their stride with a number of classic arcade offerings. between1980 and 1982 Namco released Rally X, Galaga, Ms. Pac Man, Dig Dug, Bosconian, and Pole Position. That list alone is enough to cement any game publisher's legacy, but to see them all release in such a short span from one publisher is the stuff of legend in the game industry.

The mid to late 80s saw Namco continue to innovate in the arcade and home markets, but their streak of classic games seemed to have calmed a bit. While they released games like Mappy, Sky Kid(kinda obscure, but worth the effort to try it out), and Pacmania (My favorite Pac Man game), the output prior to the crash of 1983 just wasn't there anymore. This may be more due to caution on the part of Namco being cautious about the prospects of another crash looming.

The 90s saw Namco step back into an innovator role, being one of the first arcade publishers to venture into the polygonal graphics. Games like Starblade reintroduced the gaming community to the Namco that made a little yellow circle an icon, while Time Crisis, Ridge Racer, Tekken, and Soul Edge/Calibur solidified them as a top player in the arcade and home marketplace. The last decade seemed to not be as good to Namco as the last 2, and because they weren't so eager to jump onto current day fads, Namco's sale slumped, but nostalgia can keep a publisher with a great back catalog in business any day. So, Namco began to revive some of their older franchises, and games like the Pac Man World series grew in popularity. Meanwhile games like Mr. Driller, which most gamers saw as a spiritual successor to Dig Dug, continued to get sequels and spin offs. recently, with arcades nearly extinct in the U.S., Namco has merged with Bandai and their classic catalog has slowly began to evolve with the times. For example, Pac Man: Championship edition and CE:DX have both been considered the best games released on XBLA in a long time, which continues Namco's tradition of making it tough for other game publishers to follow suit.

Namco's arcade legacy is probably richer than most publishers, but it was never truly about the number of games they released, but about the dedication to introducing something new and fresh to the marketplace with each cabinet they released. Namco in some respects were the standard bearers for arcades, and in some cases, they raised the bar too high to reach it themselves.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Post 100: Gamer Memories

I didn't realize I was at number 100...I mean, who really keeps count when they're doing something they truly love doing. We have come to this milestone, though, and as a thank you to all the folks who have been read the blog over these last 99 posts, I wanted to make this post as meaningful to the folks who read it as possible, so I logged onto Twitter (@8bitanimal), and asked for tweets regarding your favorite games or greatest gaming memories. Some were quite poignant while others were utterly hilarious.

-When asked what his favorite games were one follower, @jwhiteproducer, gave a short list that included two classics (Super Mario Bros. 3 and Metal Gear Solid) along with a contemporary marvel in the world of modern Sports sims (NBA 2k11). He then stated that 2k11 is currently his favorite because: "Jordan puts it on another level".

-Another follower, @NinjaPleaseDJ, gave one game as his favorite, but it is heralded by many as one of the top five games of all time (The Legend of Zelda). His reasoning was broken down into a few words: "1st save option, levels the size of the world, and an epic game all around".

- @mootbooxle not only told us his favorite game, but told us why it holds a special place in his heart: "My favorite game of all time is Earthbound. First game I ever pre-ordered. I was obsessed. Giygas traumatized this 12-year-old!"

-@Ophelia_Key shared a funny moment involving her mom and Donkey Kong Country 2: "I remember trying to convince my mom she didn't have to swing the controller and hop around to get Donkey Kong to jump LMAO".

-The homeboy @Sandman333MU recalled an addiction: "Final Fantasy VII had me glued to my Playstation. It was like watchin a movie & I was a part of it. 1 of the greatest RPGs EVER!".

-@DeniseTourelle celebrated a milestone in an interesting manner: "Ok, best gaming memory was finishing my epic weapon quest on my 1st main character in EverQuest II...I literally celebrated with champagne. It felt like victory."

-@DreamChaserMJ gave me two good ones: "death of the Dreamcast. 1st time I was ahead of the curve on systems (or at least up to date). It was a great system but poorly executed. The NFL 2K series, Project Justice, MvC 2, Jet Grind Radio....there were some classics there, or when I discovered the rare but fantastic Alien vs Predator beat 'em up in the arcade (remember those?)"

-@Pr0d1gY_Ace saw his favorite gaming memory highlighted by some gaming heroics: "My gaming moment was playing Blur at a friend's house. He dare me to give the field a thirty second headstart and win the race. I won the race and made it look easy. I got in first place by the end lap 2 out of a 3 lap race. Best gaming moment ever."

-Finally, @Uniquity_NO remembers a moment most gamers from the 16 bit era will always remember: "The invincibility I felt running through a board of droids as Golden Sonic on Sonic 2. Nuthin like it."

It felt good getting feedback from readers for this post, but it seems unfair that I really didn't share a gamer memory of my own. I remember how my family would occasionally go to Lakeside Mall, and in the 90s, they had a pretty cool arcade. One day, I spot "The Punisher" sitting next to a Mortal Kombat cabinet, and I decided to drop a quarter in. A little while later, and I (with the help of some kids playing as Nick Fury), had beaten the game. Now my mom had only given me $2 to play with in the arcade, and I remember putting my hand in my pockets and having $1 left. Anybody who remembers those old Capcom and Konami beat em ups remembers how brutal they could be, and I ran through The Punisher with the top score on 4 credits. That's my memory.

Thank you to everyone who chose to participate in this little project, and if you didn't get a chance to, feel free to include your favorite gaming memory in the comments area below.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Saga Of Daikatana: Don't Believe The Hype

I've noticed that publishers tend to hype certain games up, and those games never live up to the hype that's been lauded upon a particular game. In Some cases, the game falls so short of the hype given to it by an almost payola type review system that the final product seems laughable in comparison. One notable example of this was John Romero' Daikatana.

Daikatana started out as the brainchild of Id Software's John Romero. To this point, Id was the darling of computer gaming, and Romero began to carry himself like a rock star. During this time frame, Romero began to conceptualize a game that would change everything gamers knew about video games. Romero began work on his new pet project, and vowed that it would be released within seven months. That deadline was missed, mainly due to the general lack of experience within Romero's team at Ion Storm. Several other poor choices plagued the development of Daikatana, including an ad that proclaimed in the most basic of terms, that "John Romero's About To Make You His Bitch". The ad seemed to sour many gamers on the project and Romero's arrogance. Even the early hype from Time Magazine's early praise of the Daikatana project couldn't help Romero find it's way out of the haze this game seemed to be stuck in.

When Daikatana was finally released three years after it's initial announcement, it was bashed by critics. For one, Daikatana ran on the Quake II engine, while other games, including Unreal Tournament and Quake III were already on the market. The gameplay was sluggish and glitchy, which turned gamers away. The N64 version was even worse, as it featured less characters, horrible textures, an incredible amount of fog(usually used in polygon based games to cover up redraw issues), and the Daikatana couldn't be used in game. Needless to say the hype surrounding Daikatana couldn't be matched by the product, and Romero's reputation suffered horribly for it.

For all the hype that surrounded Daikatana, Duke Nukem Forever seems to be in the grips of an even bigger level of hype. I personally hope that the oft cancelled and resurrected Duke Nukem doesn't turn out as badly as Daikatana did.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ice Climber: It's Cold Up There

It's been really cold this winter, and for some utterly obvious reason, when I think of cold, I think of ice. Now when I think of ice, as a retro gamer, the first thing I think of are these two little guys busting through floors of ice trying to climb mountains, all in an effort to escape the mountain and take back your vegetables from a condor. If this all sounds strange, then you obviously never played Ice Climber for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The 1985 platformer was for some reason one of my favorite games on the system for a long time, and it remained so until Kid Icarus was released in 1987. In Ice Climber, the player assumes the role of Popo, while during a two player game, the second player controls Nana, in a race to the top of the mountain. Along the way, Popo and Nana face Polar Bears, ducks, Yeti, and gravity as they ascend the 30 different mountains in the game. As with most old school arcade games, the difficulty can be a tad bit brutal, but by no means is it manageable. Ice Climber is one of those games that on the surface feels simple and shallow, but if a player takes a chance on it, they'll find an excellent action platformer with a great challenge.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Popo and Nana have been inserted to the Super Smash Bros. games to a great level of popularity.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Actraiser: One Godly Game

I remember the time vividly: it was 1991, the successor to the ridiculously popular Nintendo Entertainment System was just released, and the gaming world was ready to see what the Super Nintendo Entertainment System could do. In November of 1991, Enix, who up to that point was primarily known in America as the folks that made the Dragon Warrior series highly popular, released a game with an extremely interesting concept that would become a critical success. The game I am referring to is Actraiser. The plot in Actraiser focuses on a deity known as "The Master" and his efforts to rebuild his world after it is destroyed by monsters. In an effort to restore order to his world, "The Master" dispatches his servant, an cherub, to deal with smaller monsters while he focuses on using his power to make the land livable for his followers. Whenever "The Master" encountered a great evil, however, he would simply have to come down to Earth to combat that Demon and remove the affliction from the land. The levels where players assume control of "The Master" are old school side scrolling goodness, while the simulation areas are highly reminiscent of Sim City. Actraiser is also the owner of one of the greatest video game soundtracks ever. It's like they crammed a CD into the SNES whenever you played the game. A major point of controversy surrounding the religious symbolism in Actraiser, especially since Nintendo took such a strong stand regarding religious symbols of any kind (this explains why the US versions of the Castlevania games on Nintendo systems). As a younger kid, I didn't notice it, but now I can fully see the influences of Christianity and Monotheism in general on the bulk of the game. Unlike a lot of early 16-Bit games, Actraiser has aged exceptionally well. The sequel, Actraiser 2, was an okay game, but it was never as popular as the first game, and is a bit of a collector's item now. Actraiser will always be considered one of those franchises that if ever handled properly could have had a long run as a franchise, but alas, Enix decided that RPGs were better suited for them and they abandoned the Actraiser series, which is an utter tragedy. Maybe Enix(now a part of Square) can find it in their hearts to bring back "The Master" for a new adventure.

Monday, January 10, 2011

TurboGrafx 16: You Guys Almost Tricked Us...

Ok kids, I've got a quick history quiz for you: Besides Nintendo, Sega, SNK, and Bandai, which game developer essentially had it's own video game console? Take your time, I can wait...the answer is Hudson Soft. In the late 80s, Nintendo owned the 8 bit video game market in America, and was one of 2 or 3 dominant players elsewhere in the world market. So, game developer Hudson Soft, best known in the US for Bomberman and Adventure Island, partnered with Japanese computer manufacturer NEC after Nintendo balked at purchasing graphics processor technology from Hudson, and released the PC Engine in 1987 which was followed by a US release in 1989. The TG-16 was the first 16 bit console released in the US, and unlike the vast majority of games released on other systems, they steered clear of cartridges completely for their system. This was huge for video games since every system since the Fairchild Channel F used some sort of interchangeable cartridge to swap out software, but Hudson decided that instead of using cartridges, they would use a proprietary card system for all of their TG-16 games. and while the graphics were quite good, they seemed at first to look like souped up 8 bit games. The sound was also nothing that wowed gamers at first, but then NEC and Hudson released the CD expansion for the TurboGrafx 16. While it was priced way out of reach for most gamers ($399.99), it was quite groundbreaking in 2 important respects: it was the first CD add on for a video game console in the US, and it was region free, allowing gamers to play games from anywhere in the world. The TurboGrafx 16 could have been a great selling system in the US, but the system faced two problems. For one, NEC decided to claim that their hardware was better technically than the NES, Genesis or even the Super NES. In reality the TurboGrafx 16 was a souped up 8 bit console that could fake being legitimately 16 bit. The other major thing was the lack of third party support for the American version of the system. This was partly due to Nintendo's strong arm tactics with third party publishers, tactics that were later deemed illegal and led to Sega closing the gap with Nintendo. With very little in the way of quality third party support, inferior hardware, and very little actual retail shelf space led to the TurboGrafx 16 disappearing from store shelves in the early 90s. NEC did have some great selling points though, including a quality library of Hudson Soft's video games. many of these games are available Through Nintendo's Virtual Console service. Some, like Bonk's Adventure, are awaiting new sequels as we speak, and The TurboGrafx 16 and other NEC consoles are extremely popular among collectors. The TurboGrafx 16 had a short shelf life in America, but there were new games being released for it as late as 1999. Much like the Sega Dreamcast, the TurboGrafx 16 was a promising system that saw failure because of mainly bad planning on NEC's part.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Deathsmiles: Bullet Hell Returns To America...

There's something about a good shoot em up that makes me feel really good about being a gamer. It seems some of my favorites are extremely Japanese and extremely well paced, despite how much stuff is on screen at one time. I mention the amount of stuff on screen because shoot em ups have undergone a change over the last decade, and the on screen bullet count has gone through the roof. This is especially true of Japanese Shooters, which are as popular as they have ever been. Of the developers of these games in Japan, Cave stands almost head and shoulders above everyone else. They're almost like SNK used to be with fighting games or EA is with their sports game line. So imagine my utter excitement when one of Cave's more popular shooters, Deathsmiles, was given a US release. What was my opinion of Cave's first American console release? Keep reading and I'll be more than happy to tell you.

The U.S. version of Deathsmiles is a side scrolling shooter(also a rarity for Cave) set in in a gothic environment. There are a lot of ghosts, ghouls, and all manner of occult beasts to fight off, and they all dump lots of bullets at you. Boss fight range from manageable(Deathscythe), to the tough(Bavaria), to one that will make fans of Earthworm Jim burst into tears laughing(Mary, The Giant Cow). Thankfully the game gives mercy to those afraid of the possible body count by including multiple difficulty levels. All of the playable characters(four in standard versions, five in the Mega Black Label remixes) all handle well, while each has specific attacks. Each character also has a familiar that fires a secondary weapon at enemies, and that familiar handles differently between standard and Mega Black Label editions of the game. If I have confused anyone with the terms standard and Mega Black Label, don't be. The American version of Deathsmiles contains an Arcade mode, Xbox 360 mode, and a revised version called Version 1.1, but there is also a completely remixed version of those that is called Mega Black Label. For those who aren't familiar with this game in Japan, Cave released an extremely limited edition of Deathsmiles entitled Mega Black Label, and those versions of Deathsmiles were included with the version of Deathsmiles released here. Also to entice gamers to pick up a copy, Cave and Aksys saw fit to release Deathsmiles in standard and collectors edition. With the collectors edition giving players a soundtrack disc and an Xbox 360 faceplate for their extra $10. I'd consider $40 for the collector's edition to be a pretty good buy, especially if you consider yourself a collector of video games.

All in all, I love Deathsmiles, and consider it to be one of those shoot em ups that might end up flying below the radar like Axelay did when it was released on Super Nintendo years ago, but like any truly great video game, Deathsmiles will stand the test of time, and will probably be beloved long after the system it was released for has suffered from the Red Rings for the final time.