Tuesday, May 24, 2011

River City Ransom: Technos' Shining Moment

In the past I have offered my opinion on the collective works of several developers, one in particular being Technos Japan. Technos was responsible for some of the most important games of the 8 and 16-bit console cycle, most notably Renegade and it's spiritual successor Double Dragon. Nothing in the back catalog of Technos Japan would prove to be as genre defining as their 1989 Beat Em Up/RPG classic River City Ransom.

River City Ransom started life as many Japanese games that end up in America do, by having a very different back story than the version we ended up getting here.The American version featured the classic damsel in distress storyline featured in many other games, but it was focused on several groups of teenagers and wrapped up at River City High School. The gameplay is reminiscent of Double Dragon with the stat building of RPGs of Final Fantasy. being so full of exploration, River City Ransom can feel like you're playing The Legend Of Zelda with punches and kicks instead of swords and sorcery.

Over the years, River City Ransom has been remade, redrawn, upgraded, and down right ripped off. No matter what though, the source material has been the stuff of legend among young gamers who came along after 1989, almost to the point where it drove the value of copies of the NES game. even now, a copy of River City Ransom can sell for up around $35 for just the cartridge without manual or packaging. While games like Samurai Zombie Nation and Snow Brothers are extremely expensive in resell and very rare, River City Ransom ups the ante by actually being a very good game. If you know someone with a copy, you should do whatever you can to get it from them, just for the experience of playing a legendary game.

Monday, May 23, 2011

HAL Laboratory: Quietly Making Classics

One of the better pure multiplayer games to ever release on a Nintendo system was Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64. It was developed by HAL Laboratory. While HAL may not be as well known as Bungie, Rockstar North, or EA Tiburon, they are widely respected as a group who's history goes back almost as long as the three major console manufacturers.

HAL Laboratory started in 1980 and cut their teeth making games for MSX and Commodore computers before taking the big leap onto the Nintendo Famicom. While they made a number of solid releases in the early day, the first major shot in the arm came in the form of a game for the MSX computer system called Eggerland Mystery. Eggerland Mystery was a quirky puzzle game that forced gamers out of the standard "kill whatever moves" formula that was prevalent with a lot of early video games. For those who know their video game history, Eggerland Mystery evolved into The Adventures of Lolo on the NES. In addition to Lolo, HAL created a number of incredible games for the NES, including ports of Joust, Defender II, and Millipede, and two of my favorite NES games, Kabuki Quantum Fighter and Air Fortress. All of those games were good, but it took a little pink fluff ball to give HAL their biggest success.

HAL released Kirby's Dream Land on the Game Boy in 1992, and was an immediate hit, leading to several sequels across several Nintendo consoles. The character not only became a gaming icon, but Kirby was also the unofficial mascot for both HAL and Nintendo.

HAL was always seemingly low key as far as their branding goes which leads to Nintendo getting credit for the development of a game they only published. With games like Earthbound of even Super Smash Bros., unless you pay attention at the very beginning, you'd never know the game was developed by HAL Laboratory, and that may be the company's strongest selling point. There is no flash, no Pomp and Circumstance, just a developer that quietly goes about it's business creating classic games, and even some 30 years after opening their doors, HAL Laboratory is still quietly making classics.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rare Gems That I Want For My Collection

Over the last few days I've been trolling eBay and Craigslist and I've been taking notes. I'm at a point where I want to start looking for truly unique video game items. Things that most gamers either don't remember or didn't know they could buy for themselves. I figured I'd list a few things I've been looking for and if you find one you can let me know about it.

Nintendo M 82 Store Display Unit - In the early days of the Nintendo Entertainment System, this was how new games were previewed, the unit housed 12 games, was set on a timer, and allowed gamers to actually select which game they wanted to play. When they show up on eBay, they usually sell for around $800.00, with a still unopened unit going for $9,000.00.

FM Towns Marty - Fujitsu made great computers, and that success carried over to the Marty, which, released in 1993, beat the Amiga CD32 to market by a few months, making it the first stand alone CD based console on the market. they didn't sell well, which makes them major collector's items now.

Apple Pippin - The Apple Pippin was ahead of it's time when it released in the mid 90s. it Sported Mac OS, online support, and an extremely innovative controller. The problem was that it was way too expensive for the average gamer to afford and it really didn't have any must have titles available for it. It came in two versions "AtMark" and "AtWorld", there seem to be more AtMark systems in circulation right now.

Magnavox Odyssey - The first console sold at retail was unlike anything folks saw at the time, Ralph Baer's "brown box" evolved into the Odyssey, which gave birth to what we know now as the home video game industry.

Atari 2600 "Heavy Sixer" - Of the nearly one dozen derivatives of the Atari 2600, this is the rarest. The "Heavy Sixer" gets it's name from its rather heavy body, and the six control switches on the front of the unit. they also have the distinction of being the only version of the 2600 to be built in the US. If a reseller knows what they have, the unit can sell for quite a large amount, much more than other versions of the classic console.

Panasonic Q - When the Gamecube released, Nintendo became concerned with the impending release of Sony's Playstation 2, so they stuck a deal with Matsushita, the parent company of Panasonic, to develop a derivative of the Gamecube that could compete feature wise with the PS2. This brought us the Panasonic Q, which was a Gamecube with a DVD player, and several other stylistic and functional enhancements, as is the case with most very rare systems, the Q didn't sell well in Japan, which killed hopes of a US release, and made the Q a very sought after console.

Nintendo 64DD - The ill fated expansion unit for the last Cartridge based home console was a great idea which hearkened back to the days of the Famicom disk drive, but for some reason this didn't catch on and Nintendo cancelled the unit before it could reach American shores. The 64DD is still one of those things that fans of the Nintendo 64 talk about like it's a unicorn.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ubisoft Loses A Ton, But They Might Be Back

I just read a report saying that Ubisoft lost $74 million last fiscal year. The last really good games that remember from the publisher were Splinter Cell: Conviction and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, so it leaves me no doubt as to why they are losing money. They also said that long rumored games I Am Alive and Beyond Good And Evil 2 are still in development. Truthfully, that might be the thing that keeps them afloat. If I hear any new info on these games, I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Where's The Innovation? Blame The Gamer

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day, and as always, the discussion shifted towards video games. We started discussing games we were eager to play, and I noticed something that made me a little sad. Most of the games we were talking about were shooters. Either first person of third person cover based, we were primarily discussing shooters with the occasional RPG thrown in. This prompted me to ask this friend how many shooters he owns currently, and after some though, he told me a number: 16. Bear in mind this only factors in the ones he currently owns, and does not the ones he bought then traded in. This leads me to the point of this article, which I have discussed before, the stale state of video games.

Copycats cash in games are not a new thing, as long as video games have existed they have. Folks tend to just take the big game at the time and copy it. There were Pong clones, Space Invader clones, Pac Man clones, Mario Bros, Mega Man, GTA, Street Fighter...they have all had clone games floating around. Lawsuits don't help, as Capcom's attempt to Sue Data East for their game "Fighter's History" suggests. The current crop of look alike, play alike first person shooters bring nothing new to the table save for a few new maps or guns, but folks continue to buy them only to trade them in 3 weeks later for another game that does the exact same thing.

We as gamers constantly complain about how there's nothing new to play yet when something different is released, we ignore it for the next retread that is just like the other stuff in our collections. Hell, I'm guilty of it too, but we can all correct this problem. When games that put new ideas to good use are released, we should support them. At the same time, we shouldn't rush out to buy shovelware just because the publisher says it's new and innovative. Our need for things to stay familiar has placed video games in a strange quandary, but the ship can be righted and new ideas are still welcome in the marketplace, whether the majority will play them or not. In defense of the friend who owns 16 shooters, he also owns a variety of other game types, and he can consider himself a true gamer..he just really likes shooting stuff.

Monday, May 9, 2011

MDK: The Most Fun You'll Have With A ClusterF**k

I was going through some Dreamcast games the other day and came across MDK. For those that don't remember it, MDK was a quirky third person shooter with some interesting level design, innovative(for it's time) play mechanics, and all kinds of personality. The game follows the exploits of protagonist Kurt Hectic and his effort to save the Earth from aliens intent on strip mining the planet into oblivion. there isn't much more to the Story that you need to know, or that I can do justice to. MDK is one of those games that story wise where you "kinda have to be there", if that makes any sense. I remember when Shiny announced this one, and then concept art and screenshots started surfacing. I was already a fan of Shiny's work from the Earthworm Jim series and Wild 9s, but MDK was one of those games that just grabbed me and forced me to pay attention. By and large, it lived up to my expectations at the time. Kurt going into sniper mode and taking enemies out with his face mounted sniper rifle was a thing of late 90s polygonal beauty. gliding through levels with the ribbon parachute, an equally enjoyable experience. There was, or should I should I say currently is, a problem with MDK. It's the same problem that most games that are composed primarily of polygonal graphics that were created in the 90s have. They honestly don't age well at all. had MDK been a more recent game, or a sprite based game, it probably would not look anywhere near as muddy as it looks some 13 years later. Beyond that though, the game is still a lot of fun to play...even if it controls like an old first person shooter. MDK is a classic of the modern gaming age, and anyone who likes their action games full to the brim with weird, quirky, fun, mildly insane attitude should definitely dig up a copy of MDK.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, nobody at Shiny ever said what MDK stood for, so don't assume it meant Murder Death Kill.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Retro Goodness Coming To XBLA

I was originally gonna talk about something completely different today, but I saw a few upcoming XBLA games that got me geeked...so I figured I'd tell you about them. Two of the titles mentioned in this post were recently released, and will be reviewed this weekend.

Moon Diver - With Moon Diver, Square Enix hopes to make up for the utter travesty that was Mindjack. If you are unclear on Moon Diver's gameplay and why it seems familiar, it's because the game was born in the mind of the creator of Capcom's legendary action game Strider. This one hit PSN a few months back, and got a lot of praise by players and reviewers, which warranted an XBLA release.

Bangai O: Missle Fury - A sequel to Treasure's classically vicious arcade style shooter, Missile Fury looks to have some of the same classic gameplay with a gloss of high definition graphics thrown on top.

Guardian Heroes HD - Treasure resurrects one of their classics in the form of Guardian Heroes HD. While it will contain both versions of the classic game, Treasure promises that there will also be extra gameplay modes included in the final product.

Radiant Silvergun HD - A high definition remake of the holy grail for shmup players. Treasure's classic shooter is scheduled to land later this year, with hopefully the same gameplay that made the original so great.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

George Romero Puts Some Of His Zombies In Black Ops

So, as cool as the zombie expansions for the Call Of Duty games have bee, I've never wanted to buy a Call Of Duty game. I say, if I'm going to fight off a zombie horde in a first person shooter, I'll play Left For Dead. The latest expansion for Call Of Duty: Black Ops, entitled "Call Of The Dead" might change my mind, though. For one, it was written by the great George Romero, the king of the zombie apocalypse film, and the cast features Sarah Michelle Gellar, Danny Trejo, Michael Rooker, and Robert Englund. I seriously haven't been this enthusiastic about possibly buying an Activision game, let alone alone a Call Of Duty game, in a while. This expansion alone kinda has me considering getting Black Ops.

Check out the trailer and some bonus footage below...

Monday, May 2, 2011

Avoiding Getting Robbed Over PSN And Xbox Live

On the heels of the massive shutdown of PSN, and Microsoft reportedly working to prevent such an attack on Xbox Live, gamers have become increasingly nervous about using their personal info online. While some things are necessary to set up a PSN or Xbox Live account, some of your more sensitive financial info can be spared from your online gaming resource of choice by using something most of us are not willing to buy, prepaid gamer points cards. Now, I'm not sure how things work on PSN, but I'm sure one of those visa gift cards can work to buy DLC, while one can buy prepaid cards for different amounts of Microsoft points and Xbox Live subscriptions. Nintendo even supports this notion with gift cards available for Wii Points in various amounts. Such a handy tool may come in handy for gamers needing their online fix in this time of trepidation for your personal info. Word is that PSN will probably be up by the time you read this, and many gamers have saw fit to already cancel the cards attached to their PSN account, so my advice would be to use alternate means to get points for that latest round of DLC or the next great downloadable game.

I may be stating the obvious, but for some gamers, it clearly wasn't.