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2:41 PM on 10.31.2009  

Movin' On

Hello Destructoid Friends,

I'm sure those of you who have read my blog have noticed that I haven't been around the site, commenting, or writing new articles for several months now. You would be correct.

It has occurred to me, that because I would like to turn my work into something professional someday (ie. published work, or writing for a website), that it would be advantageous to do my writing in an venue separated from an already established game site, where I can work on developing my own specific atmosphere.

I am writing this blog to let all my friends and readers know that I am movin' on. I encourage any of you who enjoy my style to check out my new blog, Mr. Gilder - The Consummate Nerd. I'd love it if you would add the site to your favorites! Although the articles now are merely recycled from my past DToid efforts, you can expect a whole lot more to pop up over time. The new site will contain not just writings on games, but looks at some of my other interests, most notably film, as well as literature, music, and toy/model culture.

I want to give out a heartfelt "thank you" to all my friends here at Destructoid who read, and commented constructively on my articles. It was you guys who, in your own way, convinced me to move along, and forge something for myself. I hope I can count on seeing comments from you all popping up in my new written world.

Best Wishes,

Chris, aka. MrGilder   read


6:16 AM on 05.28.2009  

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Scorned . . . by Street Fighter 4

There's no shortage of love for Street Fighter 4 here at DToid. I'm sure those of us with significant others aren't completely free of the sin of neglecting said partner to get a good match in now and then. Linda is acutely aware of this . . . and she's not gonna take it anymore. I'm not 100% sure if this is serious or not. It seems too blown out to be real; however, it is friggin' hilarious. Enjoy.

[embed]133736:19614[/embed]

Now if you'll all excuse me, I'm off to play with my "street fighter tournament keypad arcade mode."   read


9:01 AM on 05.21.2009  

A Very Happy Birthday to Mr. T [NVGR]

Today, 57 years ago, a very special man was born. One of twelve children of a Chicago minister, Laurence Tureaud would rise from humble beginnings in a city housing project to become something far greater than the sum of his parts . . . a popular culture icon.

On the 21st of May, we come together to celecbrate the existence Mr. T. A true man's man. T worked as a military policeman, a bouncer, and even a bodyguard to well-known stars like Michael Jackson and Steve McQueen, before coming into his own as a celebrated performer.



Of course, most relevant to us here on DToid is last month's fantastic announcement that developer Zootfly will be creating an action packed title based on T's graphic novel. The promise of pummeling Nazis in South America while controlling our favorite gold-clad A-team veteran is enough to get anyone excited.

Hats of to you Mr. T, and happy birthday. I pity the fool who does not wish you the best on this day.   read


12:52 PM on 04.05.2009  

Exemplary Openings: Wild Arms - A Promise of Adventure

What is your favorite RPG on the original Playstation? Is it Final Fantasy 7? Perhaps it’s Dragon Warrior 7? These big-name titles were backed by a decade of predecessors. Their massive pre-installed fan base almost ensured tremendous sales figures. These games helped define Sony’s flagship console, and they have a rightful place on many gamers’ lists of unquestionable masterpieces. My favorite RPG on the PS1, however, strays just a bit from popular path.



In the Spring of 1997, Sony and developer Media Vision chose to release the first in their premier RPG franchise, Wild Arms (WA). The game launched in the US mere months after Square’s dystopian epic FF7. Compared to its competition, WA emerged already looking like an outdated relic. Without the benefits of unprecedented visual flair, a rabid fan base, and a massive advertising campaign, Sony’s little RPG-that-could was destined to meet less than stellar numbers.

Wild Arms possesses more creativity, uniqueness and spirit than its sales figures could ever indicate. That is why the title is the subject of today’s Exemplary Openings. WA showcases a fantastic animated sequence that serves as a primer to its special world. Watch the below video, and come to understand how easy it is to inspire life-long love with eight simple guitar cords and the whistle of a warrior:

[embed]127586:18549[/embed]

For those unfamiliar with Wild Arms, the video should fill you in on exactly what makes Sony’s series so darn special. The gameplay features oldschool 2D map exploration backed by a fantastic tool-based system of puzzle solving that is not unlike that of the Zelda franchise. Battle sequences are rendered in 3D, and are fairly cut-and-dry. Where WA truly distinguishes itself, however, is through setting.

WA sports all of the staples of RGPdom; swordplay, magic, arcane technologies, lost civilizations, and headstrong princesses; however, the world that the story takes place in is something new entirely. The planet of Filgaia is a barren wasteland. This is integral to the story. Plants have trouble growing. Food and water are scarce. Survival is tough. Outlaws prey on the weak. The cultures of the more modern civilizations clash with the natural ways of the native Baskar tribes. This is a realm fashioned around the stereotypical American wild West.

The game’s intro sequence is the first true indicator of this inseparable link. Music is the first part of the equation. The video below is the opening credits from the classic 1964 Sergio Leonne film “A Fistful of Dollars.” Pay special attention to the movie's theme track.

[embed]127586:18550[/embed]

It is clear how liberally WA’s composer Michiko Naruke borrowed from the musical school founded by Western legend Ennio Morricone. The whistling and guitar are classic constants of the cowboy soundtrack, and Naruke has done an excellent job of applying them to Media Vision’s RPG. Over the years, the music of the Wild Arms games has become one of the franchise’s most endearing hallmarks. A strange and enthralling blend of Westerns flair with traditional RPG fantasy tunes. This was all spearheaded by WA’s intro sequence.

Aside from music, another stereotype of the Western is the thrill of adventure. The notion of taming a wild unknown with ingenuity, skill, and force if need-be is key to the genre’s popularity. In this realm, the hero/heroine is a person of true strength and grit, willing to face impossible odds and brave innumerable dangers to accomplish what is necessary. The expansive wastelands of Filgaia recreate this feeling of exploration, wonder and adventure. The intro paints this picture perfectly. As blue-haired hero Rudy mourns over the grave of his father, the camera pans not from him to the jagged cliffs that the monument stands upon, but from starts in the valley and moves to him. Again, near the end of the sequence, Rudy struggles to climb up a crumbling face of rock. At the top, he is met by understanding smiles from his teammates.

These images reveal two related themes in Wild Arms. Isolation in an unforgiving wilderness, and the notion that a group of trustworthy traveling companions can provide a bit of comfort in a dangerous land. As exemplified by Rudy’s efforts to scale the cliff, it is through sheer willpower and determination that WA’s heroes can accomplish what they must in a decimated world that is an enemy in itself.

The last topic that makes WA’s intro sequence so special is how it provides with telling looks at each of the game’s three main heroes. Although thorough character development is a must-have feature for any well-crafted RPG, the focus that the Wild Arms franchise places on it is one of its marks of distinction. The original games in the series each begin with a screen where you select which character that you want to play as to start. You will play a small campaign with this character, and then be prompted to choose again.

These small, single-character introductions go a long way toward showing off the characters as individuals. You learn about their personalities and motivations. When all of the characters finally unite, you already have an idea of who each of your party members are, and what their past and personhood will contribute to the present adventure. Without revealing any spoilers, this unique trend of the franchise even extends into the games’ enemies. From the first WA onward, the series has made an effort to humanize even their most atrocious villains and provide the player with insight into their motivations. The way that you may find yourself attached or relating to a Wild Arms enemy at any point in time could surprise you.


(Artwork of WA baddie Boomerang from the 2003(JP), 2005(US) PS2 remake Wild Arms: Alter Code F. If you don't end up with a load of respect in your heart for this fellow by the end of the game, then I don't want to know you.)

In keeping with the game’s character-driven method of storytelling, WA’s sequence makes a point to introduce its three key players in ways that define them. In an interesting choice, the introduction actually shows some images that are pretty pivotal to the storyline. Through this, the scenes serve not only to rope in the new player, but also to hit back with heavy emotional impact for anyone who understands their importance. This assures that the WA fan can watch this sequence over and over again with equal zeal. As I already mentioned, the video shows Rudy in two situations that showcase both the emotional and physical adversity that he is forced to overcome throughout his journey.

Jack, the skilled swordsman with a mysterious past, is showcased only once outside of the sequence’s end. He walks alone and shoots a wry grin at his traveling partner, the wind-mouse Hanpan. His story throughout the game is one of learning to overcome the isolation that he forces on himself, and starting to trust in friends again.

The magic user, Cecilia is shown in two scenes that document her evolution from sheltered princess, to an independent woman of great courage and power. She stands on the edge of a cliff. As a symbol of her renunciation of the chains of royal responsibility, she has just used Jack’s sword to cut off her long, flowing hair. She then releases the strands to the wind. It is a fitting way to represent a step out of the lap of luxury, and into a rough-and-tumble world of danger. Next we see her as a fully realized master of ancient magic arts. She calls upon her pact with the mighty Earth Golem, and levitates an ancient tome to the sky while surrounded by eldritch energy.


(Jack, Rudy, & Cecilia. I friggin' love these guys)

When Rudy arrives at the top of the mountain, after his harrowing climb, the three comrades unite. This mirrors the way in which all three characters come together in the game, after their respective solo campaigns. Now that the player understands them as individuals, he/she can understand the ways in which they can contribute to the team in their own way.

In conclusion, the animated intro to Sony and Media Visions 1997 title Wild Arms is an exemplary opening. Through stellar music, and visuals of the harsh landscape, the sequence draws attention to the conventions of classic Western film that the series is inseparably tied too. By showcasing each of the characters, the video also serves to point out the unique focus on deep character development that has become mark of honor for the franchise. Though Wild Arms is often overlooked in comparison to big RPGs from staple houses like Square-Enix or Namco/Bandai, it has secured its own niche fan base. By showcasing its unique features, revealing its special world, and, most importantly, providing the promise of adventure, the first title’s intro video should show even the most skeptic gamer why.   read


8:20 AM on 04.01.2009  

Leaked Screenshots Show Classic Nintendo Bruisers to Appear in Punch-Out for Wii - Bowser, and Max from Advance Wars Confirmed

It appears as if hardcore cries of Nintendo having forgot all about their old-school fans may not be falling on deaf ears after all. Fans who lament the fact that Ninendo's quirky title Captain Rainbow will probably never see the light of day on American shores for it's hilarious inclusion of classic Punch-Out star Little Mac might be pleased to know that things may be coming full circle. A series of leaked screenshots are showing that afew big-bad mamma-jammas from Nintendo's past might be making cameo appearances in the new Wii iteration of the old-school game. The historic cast of King Hippo and Glass Joe will be joined by Advance Wars' broad-shouldered, heavy weapons expert Max, and Mario's fire breathing rival Bowser.

I'm just yanking your chain.

Check your Calender! Happy April Fools!



Sorry! I couldnt' resist!   read


11:29 AM on 03.23.2009  

Gust's New Atelier Game to be 3D Cel-Shaded, Not 2D - I Cry a Bit

Ladies and gents, the cat is out of the bag. A slew of new screenshots over at The MagicBox have revealed the look of Atelier Rorona, the newest entry into Gust's long running alchemy based RPG series.



As you can see above, the series' leap onto the Playstation 3 will feature 3D Cel-shaded graphics in lieu of Gust's usual 2D hand-drawn sprites.

I did not hear about this when the game was announced, and I dare say, I'm a bit depressed over the whole business. The people at Gust have been at the forefront of oldschool anime style JRPGs for a while now. Their endeavors on the PS2 (the Atelier and Ar Tonelico franchises) have been providing nostalgic fun to hardcore fans with relatively little dissapointment. As most of Gust's games, with the exception of the radically different Ar Tonelico 2, almost always feel like little more than slightly improved rehashes of their last title, I find the desire to enjoy new, quirky sprites to be one of the few reasons to fork out that cash to buy each new iteration.

I was hoping that the transition to the PS3 would mean gorgeous high definition 2D visuals. I guess I was wrong. These Cel-shaded graphics certainly are attractive. They conjure up fond memories of Tri-Ace's Eternal Sonata; however, I can't help but feel like Gust is taking the easy way out, and filing in with the rest of the pack. I'm not necessarily giving up on Atelier Rorona in its entirety just yet, but the burden now lies with Gust to prove to me that the title will truly be worth my time. Am I the only one slightly saddened by this turn of events?   read


4:05 PM on 03.14.2009  

5 Great Game Soundtracks to Fuel your Workout

I have absolutely no misgivings about my status as a total tubby-boy. A “generous build” runs in my family, and it is something that I will never be able to totally escape. Curse you genetics! That being said, I try to do something for myself as far as staying healthy. I make an appoint to get my heart rate up, and get in some exercise for at least a half hour to an hour a day. It makes me feel good, and honestly, it makes plunking my butt on the couch to game until bedtime all that much more satisfying.

Make no mistake though, the sound of an exercise machine’s grinding hinges, accompanied by one’s own groans of agony and the wicked twang of your muscles and tendons snapping like cut guitar strings is an ill suited motivator. I doubt that anyone, from the simple hobbyist like myself, to this guy . . .



. . . would deny the power that some good music has when it comes to gettin’ your sweat on.

This article is all about music that is great for working out to. Since I’m writing this piece for Dtoid, however, I’m not going to bore you by raving about how much I enjoy doing sit-ups to Daft Punk, Chromeo, or Justice. Instead, I am going to list some video game soundtracks that I think you would be sincerely sorry to head out to the gym, iPod in hand, without. Have a look at these five favorites, and feel free to let me know in the comments section if there are any games that are particularly good motivators for you.

Battle Garegga
Platform: Arcade, Saturn

Battle Garegga (BG) is a classic example of the late 90’s school of sprite-based vertical shmups. It was developed by Eighting/Raizing, a company now known mostly for their contributions to the Naruto and Bleach anime fighting game franchises, as well as the stellar Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom, and the lackluster Castlevania Judgment.

Vertical shooters often have a reputation for hectic electronic music. It makes sense that this brutal, hair-tearing genre, often also called “Panic Shooters” would have music to match its gameplay; however, BG separates itself ever so slightly from the pack. Have a look at the video.

[embed]124854:17979[/embed]

It is really hard to recommend one vertical shooter’s soundtrack over another when it comes to workout music. They all really fit the bill. BG distinguishes itself in a special way though. Beneath all of the fast paced electronica, it is also bit funky. Most of BG’s tracks have two separate layers. The typical nonstop blast of sound is met by a second, more methodical and rhythmic portion.

Take note of the first level in the video. The background track, entitled “Fly to the Leaden Sky” is a fantastic example. The piano portion starts in jazzy and fast, and keeps you excited and entertained by the track, then the main electronic portion of the tune works its way in with more drawn out notes. Setting the pacing of your movement to the more rhythmic portions ensures that your workout will go nice and smooth, while the faster layer creates that speedy “chase” mentality that always provides great motivation.

Ninja Gaiden
Platform: NES, SNES (on Ninja Gaiden Trilogy)

Very few people realize that the NES Ninja Gaiden (NG) that we have all come to love is actually Ryu Hyabusa’s second adventure. The original game was an arcade beat-em’-up in the same vein as Final Fight or Streets of Rage. It bore little resemblance to the franchise that everyone adores today, aside from punishing difficulty. Tecmo wisely decided to take a different approach for later iterations. The slow, clunky play of the arcade title would be completely turned upside down.

NG is a champion of excellence in its genre. It is a finely crafted title that blends fantastic graphics, with challenging gameplay that was uncharacteristically fast for side-scrollers of the day. This trait is clear when you compare NG to other NES classics, such as the much slower Castlevania, which many believe NG’s weapon powerup system to have been inspired by. Take a look at some of the video below, and make sure to listen to the music.

[embed]124854:17978[/embed]

The video I chose to show is from a “no death run” of the first portion of the game. It is important to note how the game is played. It is a strategy of the practiced NG player to rarely stop moving. The title is structured to encourage this type of play. Like the dueling ninjas in the title’s iconic opening, Ryu is designed to run toward his foes, fell them, leap to the next, and keep going. This is a strategy that is equally mirrored in the new 3D version of the franchise, wherein idol defense is often met with death.

The music is NG is obviously composed to compliment the unique nature of its gameplay. The tunes are fast, catchy, and encouraging. Stage 2-1, the mine, is a stellar example, and my favorite track from the title. Like all of the game’s music, it attempts to set a subconscious drive within you to keep Ryu moving. If you can stand 8-bit blips and screeches, this motivation translates very well into reality when you set your workout to the Ninja Gaiden soundtrack. A long distance jog goes great with these tunes pushing you onward. Just be sure to dodge swooping eagles and motorcycle helmet wearing thugs with billy-clubs and you’ll be in better shape in no time.

*Note: There is also a port of Ninja Gaiden for the PC Engine/Turbo Grafix 16; however, the soundtrack is different. It is still very good, but it is not the one I am recommending.

Rez
Platform: Dreamcast, PS2, XB360

It would be insane for me to write an article about music and gaming without including at least one title by genius developer Tetsuya Mizuguchi. Mizuguchi is one of the key artists in the industry to spearhead the effort in tying music to gameplay. Originally released for the Dreamcast in Japan in 2001, Rez is an on-rails shooter in the spirit of Starfox or Panzer Dragoon, and is arguably his magnum opus.

In Rez, each level is based around a piece of club/electronica music composed by an actual careered artist from outside of the game industry. As you make your way through the ten sections of each level, the music gradually builds in layers and overall intensity. Your shots, and the notes played by enemies you kill constantly contribute by adding new beats and sounds, and ensure that you will never hear the track the same way twice. This opens up new avenues for play, as you can make the decision to merely blast everything as you would in Starfox, or hold back and time your shots, and work toward building the sounds in your own way. Have a look at the below video from the Rez’s 5th and final level. It features my favorite piece, Fear, by Adam Freeland.

[embed]124854:17977[/embed]
(The music gets mind-numbingly epic at the 3:30 mark. At least stick it out until then. It's all about the build-up, and it will not be as satisfying if you skip to it.)

Since these are real tracks by out-of-industry artists, one could argue that including Rez in this article is a bit of a cop-out. I would disagree. Mizuguchi selected these tracks based on their rhythm, and their ability to inspire interesting images for he and his team to craft stages around. The mixes within are also unique to the game, and quite different from the actual tracks, were you to acquire the artists’ CDs.

The contribution that Rez’s soundtrack can make to your workout should be relatively obvious. Good club music has always been among the best genres to fuel oneself with. This title’s tracks were specifically selected for factors that include their pacing, rhythm and motivational prowess. The complete soundtrack runs a whole slew of interesting sounds from the smooth hip-hop stylings of Freeland’s track above, to eclectic jungle rhythms, and all out stereotypical techno. The album is definitely a must have for the general, and game music enthusiast, regardless of whether or not a workout is in the plans.

Synaesthete
Platform: PC

Simply put, Synasthete is a true indie masterpiece. It is simple, fun, intuitive, and most importantly, can be gotten for free from the game’s Website:

https://typo3.digipen.edu/index.php?id=986
(Sorry, I cannot get this to work as a link for the life of me. There is a working link in the article mentioned below, however)

There is no need for me to go into too much depth about the title, as Dtoid’s Anthony Burch already did in March of 2008 in Indie Nation #10.

Synaesthete took the Best Student Game award at 2008’s Independent Gaming Festival with just cause. The title combines simple, stylish graphics, with quirky mechanics, and an absolutely fantastic, integral soundtrack to create on of the best afternoon playthrough that one can imagine.

Like Rez, Synaesthete ties music to the gameplay with inseparable bonds. The tunes, composed by the game’s Technical director, William Towns, bridge a number of electronic dance genres from House, to Trance, to Hardcore. Each level is themed around one of these styles, and contains several stages with unique tracks. As the gameplay in Synaesthete requires you to always be alert and stay on the move to avoid your enemies, the music is extremely conducive to this. All of the game’s tracks are rhythmically solid, fast paced, and largely upbeat. The complete album, which can also be gotten freely from the website, is perfect for keeping up the pace on a long cruise on an elliptical or stationary bike.

Bionic Commando Rearmed
Platform: PS3, XB360, PC

Bionic Commando Rearmed (BCR) is a remake of Capcom’s 8-bit classic by Swedish developer Grin. I went into detail about its many merits in my Top 10 of 2008 article at the end of last December. The title succeeds as both a new generation game, and a loving tribute to the original. In no facet of the game is this synergy any clearer than in its soundtrack.

Composer Simon Viklund, is also doing the soundtrack for the current generation full 3D remake of Bionic Commando. For it, he is putting together the type of epic, sweeping, orchestral score that everyone has come to expect for a title of such scale. For the oldschool download, however, Viklund chose evolve the 8-bit bleeps into pure modern day electronic genius. Take a look at the video below, which is the new version of the Bionic Commando theme, and also the track played during the first level of BCR.

[embed]124854:17976[/embed]

The music in BCR has a unique, fresh, sound. Like in the Battle Garegga soundtrack that I discussed above, many of the tracks have a particular dual nature. There are decidedly smooth, laid back components that mesh up seamlessly with chirpy and jarring electronic sweeps. In interviews, Viklund has admitted to being largely inspired by one of my favorite artists, French house duo Justice. Any fan of the afore mentioned band will pick up these likenesses with ease. Viklund has infused his tracks with just the right amount of victorious overtone and all out funky stuff.

BCR’s tunes feature a lot of build up. When you combine that with their slower, more methodical style, they hint at something big on the rise. I find that Viklund’s album works extremely well with likewise paced activity. Weight lifting, or aerobic exercise with heavy resistance all get a great boosts from BCR’s undeniable style. The full album can be downloaded from iTunes, so there’s no excuse not to include it in your mix.


YOU CAN DO IT!   read


8:28 AM on 02.24.2009  

Buying Ys for DS Today? Avoid Mistake #1!

Today, Atlus is releasing their slightly delayed Legacy of Ys: Books 1 & 2 for the DS. It's coming in another one of their delightful boxed sets with soundtrack CD, ala Luminous Arc 2. Many an oldschool RPG fan is twitching with delight right now. Hopefully, some younger, less informed gamers will also venture to pick this game up based on reading about it, or a dedication to Atlus's other fine products. However, if you are new to the series, it's important that you learn here and now how to avoid Ys mistake #1!


(Oh baby, you look so good to me. It's been a long long time.)

There is little doubt in my mind that if you've never played an Ys game, any real information you've gotten about the game has been via text, online. This means that you have probably never heard the title spoken, and may be teetering on the edge of comititng the cringeworthy offense of mispronouncing the title when you saunter into your gameseller of choice today.

Simply remember that Ys is a word. It's the name of a lost continent prominent in Anglo-saxon folklore upon which the game frachise's stories are loosely based. Thus, the title is not meant to be pronounced as the letter "Y." It is not read "whys" or "wise." Instead, pronounce the game with with a long "E" sound followed by a sharp "S" (or soft "C", whichever way you understand better). You say it like "fleece" but without the "fl."

So remember this little tip when you go to buy your copy of Legacy of Eece today. You'll look like the educated shut in that I know you are, plus you'll just make me proud as heck!   read


8:42 AM on 02.23.2009  

New Details and Media for Sega's Border Break - Very Pretty, Needs to be Kissed & Loved

Several days ago, I reported that Sega had announced a new Mech combat arcade game called Border Break (BB). My anticipation is now doubled as some new details have emerged. Apparently BB will be running on RingEdge, one of two new Windows PC based arcade engines from Sega. The prospect of such a technology, similar to Taito's Type-X board, should allow for a smooth home port on the XBox 360. This is a prospect that I had hinted at in my original post, and one or two other DToid members had expressed excitement over in the comments section. Twenty player Mech action may be just the thing to convince me to finally renew that XBL Gold account (unless there's also a PS3 version, naturally).

In other unique news, the game will support a touch screen. I can't imagine that this will be very conducive to fast-paced combat, but it should make menu selections, such as equiping your robot, quite a bit of fun. The controls pictured below seem to feature a flight-stick and a bizarre mouse-like aparatus. This would make sense considering the title is running on a PC platform.


(An interesting control scheme to say the least)

I would be lying if I said this setup did not confuse me a bit. I am a tad dissapointed to see that there is no dual-stick configuration. This throws alot of my "spiritual successor to Virtual On" speculation right out the window.

The most important thing in all of this is that new media has also emerged. Check out this excellent screenshot.


(Just look at the detail on the back of that Robo!)

Of note is the extremely intricate HUD. This leads me to believe that BB will be much more than just an pick-up-and-go arcadey affair. Perhaps your mech will be persistantly customizable using a card system like Sega's popular Initial D racing series. That would be excellent. Be sure to check out The MagicBox's story for a buttload of new images, and a much prettier version of the poster than what I had for my original article. The real icing on the cake lies on February 19th's update on The MagicBox. If you scroll down, you'll find movies!

Sega's Border Break has the gamer, and giant robot fan in me frothing with joy. The new screenshots have me absolutely enamored with the designs for the game's Mechs, and the unique control scheme has my curiosity piqued. If there was ever a time to lament the death of arades in America, now is that time.   read


7:04 AM on 02.19.2009  

Sega Announces Border Break - I Spazz Out and Speculate

In the past few months, Sega has been becoming progressively more relevant. Their attempts to gain ground again through bringing titles like Madworld and The Conduit to the Wii are admirable and welcome indeed. According to website The Magic Box, hardcore Sega fans have yet another reason to get all atwitter. The company has announced a new Mech battle arcade game called Border Break. Information is extremely scarce, but apparently the title will allow for 20 player 10 vs. 10 clashes. There is a small, terribly low res image provided:



Looking at this picture got me terribly excited and full of speculation. Besides being a giant robot fanatic of the highest degree, I am a ravenous fan of Sega’s Virtual On series. I, like many, believed the franchise to be dead after the generally awful PS2 iteration Virtual On: Marz. I cannot help but be reminded immediately of Sega’s fast-paced arcade classic immediately upon seeing the flyer for Border Break. The art, and even the style of the new game’s title are terribly reminiscent.

It’s obviously too early to scream that this is a series reboot from the highest rafters, but I cannot help but wish that Border Break will bring the same competitive, quick, metal smashing action that Virtual-On has supplied for years. The notion of such large scale battles is also very conducive to online play, should a console port occur. Hopefully more details are on the way!   read


2:15 PM on 02.14.2009  

Exemplary Openings: Neo Contra - Badass at its Best

In this first edition of Exemplary Openings, I am going to investigate the very definition of badass. If the two main points of a game’s demo movie are to, 1) Grab and hold the users attention, and 2) Show off exactly what the game is all about, then surely no title does this better than Konami’s Neo Contra (NC).


(The cover for Neo Contra, featuring art by celebrated American comic book artist Jim Lee)

NC launched for the Playstation 2 in 2004 to a mixed reception. Although it was considered a direct follow up to 2002’s Contra: Shattered Soldier, it mixed up the traditional Contra gamelay formula quite a bit. NC abandoned the series’ traditional, horizontal sidescrolling mechanics for an overhead view. This was reminiscent of some of the bonus levels in the earlier Contra titles and, dangerously close to 1996’s very filthy Contra: Legacy of War. That being said, purists’ concerns were largely ill founded. With NC, Konami crafted a tight, challenging, and ultimately fun shooter that easily belongs in the beloved Contra franchise.

The traditional series staple of almost necessary co-op play remains in tact. A new mysterious Samurai partner, Jaguar, for hero Bill Rizer also peppers up the formula by adding a risky but powerful close-combat katana weapon. Overall, NC encompasses everything that the Contra franchise has always been about. Over the top violence, massive, intimidating enemies, and brutal difficulty are all present in full force. The opening sequence for the game shows exactly that:

[embed]121681:17583[/embed]

Images of Jaguar calmly meditating beneath falling water, or preparing his blade in solitude are quickly juxtaposed with Rizer in a room stuffed with ammunition as he loads up his trusty guns. It is a bit like a version of The Odd Couple for a new generation, only I doubt Felix and Oscar ever had to funnel rockets into giant phallic mutants with angry, pulsating baby heads.


(A terrifying boss if ever there was one . . . I still shudder)

The primary strength of this video lies in the way it hints at one of the most important facets of the Contra experience; co-op play. The initial scenes set up each of the lead characters, and showcases their personal styles. Rizer mows down hordes of grunts with a massive autocannon. In my favorite part of the video, Jaguar skillfully battles axe-wielding, mounted warriors in the pouring rain to defend an unconscious young girl. After that, however, the majority of the sequence showcases the two soldiers working together to overcome massive obstacles. Jaguar drives a jeep against heavy resistance so that Bill can take out an enemy weapons train. The two run side by side to escape as fire billows down a corridor. Finally the warriors work in unison to topple a giant robot with rocket launchers. Composing the opening in this way was pretty smart on the part of the developers. Instead of taking the opportunity to simply explain story or atmosphere (which is admittedly minimal in a Contra game), this FMV makes a statement about the title’s actual gameplay.

It would also be foolish of me to ignore how simply stylish and cool all of the action in the movie is. The sequence makes no apologies for what it, or the game that follows, is; pure, unadulterated machismo. Lets compose a list of some of the totally badass things that unfold (in caps lock, of course, as it is all very exciting):

- TWO MEN BLOW UP AN ENTIRE TRAIN + A BRIDGE!
- ONE MAN CUTS AN AIRPLANE IN HALF!
- FIRE!
- BEEFY HANDSHAKE!
- A GIANT ROBOT!
- COMPLETELY HETEROSEXUAL ROCKET RIDING!
- MORE FIRE!
- AT LEAST 2 INSTANCES OF SLOOOOOOOOW MOTION!

All of those treats, and more, are present. Simply put, if this video does not get you pumped to blow stuff up for the next hour or two, then I do not know what will. Of course, it’s important to understand that while Bill and Jaguar do not die at all during the movie, you will die a lot in the game. You will die a whole lot.


(Jaguar is simply neat. The end. He cuts planes in half. Can you?)

The last point I want to make is about the music. The opening cinematic (and indeed the entire game) for NC’s predecessor, Shattered Soldier, contained some fantastic heavy metal music. NC, however, takes a different route. The opening movie contains an original theme song for the game, complete with vocals. It is cheesy? Heck yeah. Video game themes are rarely anything but. The song is, however, pretty cool nonetheless. The portion that plays during the scene were Jaguar battles in the rain gives me goose pimples every time. I declare that it is a hard-hearted man indeed who does not get just a bit nerd-giddy whenever that woman belts out “NEO CONTRAAAAAAAAAAA.”

In conclusion, the demo movie sequence for Konami’s Neo Contra is action packed and fun. Through this, it does a fantastic job or representing the actual game that sits waiting afterwards. The sequence even hints at the quintessential co-op play that the title offers without showing actual gameplay footage. With its catchy theme, and stylish scenes, Neo Contra’s demo movie is definitely an Exemplary Opening.   read


1:13 PM on 02.14.2009  

Article Explanation: Exemplary Openings

In my not-too-distant past, I put more than my fair share of time in video game retail. Four and a half of those years were spent working at, and eventually weekend-managing a small, independently owned store called Microplay in Whitehall, and then Allentown Pennsylvania (Microplay is technically a franchise, that was at one time pretty prominent in Canada; however, the United States stores were privately owned and relatively free of corporate puppeteers). During my time working there, unlike my time working at Gamestop, I was relatively free to set up any new games I wanted to demo on the store’s two TV sets. The owner was relatively clueless in regards to games, and relied heavily on his employees for actual knowledge of the product. Since I did not have to show off what head office told me to, and I did not really limit myself to showing off nonviolent E rated titles, I had a lot of freedom to attempt to drum up attention for some great, lesser-known games.

During this time, I quickly learned the power that a strong opening sequence has to sway a consumer over to a game that he or she may not have ever taken the time to look at before. Although opening sequences that showed gameplay were always a part of the equation during the cartridge generation, and provided many fantastic examples, it was when the industry made the transfer to disc based media, which allowed for the advent of the FMV sequence, that the demo video truly began to develop into an art of its own. Developers, and publishers (who sometimes changed things up for the a title’s Western release) took the opportunity to spice things up by combining gameplay footage, with clips from the games FMVs. Many games also feature a unique cinema exclusive to the opening. These videos often feature the best the game has to offer in terms of music, or even it’s own fresh theme song.

The film fan in me has a great respect for a well-executed opening cinema. Much like a game’s trailer, these sequences provide an opportunity for slick artistry and clever editing to really prove their worth, and showcase the best a title has to offer in a small window of time. In an age where game retail outlets are largely dependent on fake “shows” produced and distributed by head office that contain trailers, interviews, and pretty people with large plastic smiles for demos, it becomes ever more important to remember these fantastic mini-movies. This art form is by no means dead, but it has one foot in the grave. I hope that I can bring a smile to your face and stir some great nostalgic conversation, as I take a fond look at Exemplary Openings.   read







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