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 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.