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1:55 AM on 03.21.2009  

Island of Forgotten Games: Strider 2 (Ninja Month!)



There are those games that defined a generation. Mention Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy or Metal Gear Solid and any gamer worth his salt will know what you're talking about. There are also the titles that are so horrendous, so three week old carton of milk bad, that any gamer will cringe at the mere mention of a title like Shaq-Fu, Bebe's Kids, or Deadly Towers.

But what about the games that are neither? What about the titles that may have been good games, even great ones, but due to unseen circumstances never caught on like they should have, resulting in full bargain bins around the country? This is the column for them: The Island of Forgotten Games.


Strider 2

There's been much talk since Street Fighter IV came out about which series Capcom should resurrect next. There are many people pushing for a new Strider game, but what's strange is every time I hear somebody say they want a new Strider game, it's "I want Strider 2. They should make a Strider 2."

Most people don't even know there was a Strider 2, which is bizarre. In fact, there's technically been TWO Strider 2's.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. For those not in the know, Strider was a fantastic single player arcade action game developed and published by Capcom. In it, you play the title character, Strider Hiryu, a mystical ninja of the far off future under the dominion of the evil Grandmaster Meio, an Emperor Palpatine / Darth Sidious wannabe. Hiryu must fight his way through multiple levels on every continent against the hordes of enslaved minions of Meio, and encounter giant bizarre bosses along the way.

Back to the sequel talk. The first (and un-official one) was published by U.S. Gold and licensed by Capcom, and only came out for the Sega Genesis. The second (and official) Strider 2 is what I'll be covering in this column.



Strider 2 came out at a VERY good time for Capcom when it came to 2-D games. The Darkstalkers, Street Fighter Alphas, and VS. series of games were essentially the pinnacle of 2-D sprites and animation in video games by the late 90's, and Strider 2 is no exception. All the character art is accomplished through Capcom's accomplished art team, with beautifully animated characters and lightning fast gameplay. The kicker is that all the backgrounds and vehicles in this game were created with 3-D graphics. It's quite a site to see these anime style characters running around in 3-D areas, the effect is sometimes jarring, but completely unique and effective, you won't forget the look of this game anytime soon.

The action in this game is fast and effective. Gone are the beast and bird sidekicks of Strider 1, now Strider Hiryu must fight on alone with his awesome double jump flip and amazing sabre attacks. This game can be hard, and by hard, I mean "arcade machines were made to eat your quarters" hard. If you have the Playstation version, make sure it's at an adequate difficulty setting, just know if it's too easy, your balls will never drop, this game will make a man out of you.

Plus, the variety of awesomness in this game is staggering. Take the Siberia level for example, it features a cyborg resurrected Woolly Mammoth as the opening boss. Did you understand that? a CYBORG RESURRECTED WOOLLY MAMMOTH. If that's not one of the most awesome things you've ever heard of, you must have problems. Mental problems. Plus, as anybody who read my Metal Storm review knows, gravity-flipping is super sweet, and it is in this level. Mammoths + gravity flipping = full of win.



Why Didn't it Catch On?

Because people are stupid, that's why. people are really fucking stupid. The game received decent scores from most of the major game publications, but the game slipped by unknown to most at retail. And for all the people shouting for a Strider sequel, Capcom would be smart to re-release this on PSN or XBL and feign ignorance about this not being a new game, most people would fall for it.

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10:12 PM on 03.01.2009  

March is Ninja Month



After my Hagane review from last month, I realized that all the up-coming articles I wanted to write were about games starring or featuring ninjas, so it's been decided that this blog, for the next month, is ninja-gaming HQ!


Awesome AND totally sweet.

Every Island of Forgotten Games, Late to the Party, retrospectives and my new columns, Awesomely Bad and Only in Japan, will feature games by, about, or starring ninjas. I'll be covering the usual titles, like Shinobi and Ninja Gaiden, favorites of mine like the Goemon (Mystical Ninja), as well as the rare, the obscure, the weird. So stick around for the next month, I'm hoping to have 2-3 new articles a week, so stay tuned for MARCH OF THE NINJAS!!!


Ryu is watching you poop.

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9:44 PM on 02.17.2009  

The Island of Forgotten Games: Hagane



There are those games that defined a generation. Mention Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy or Metal Gear Solid and any gamer worth his salt will know what you're talking about. There are also the titles that are so horrendous, so three week old carton of milk bad, that any gamer will cringe at the mere mention of a title like Shaq-Fu, Bebe's Kids, or Deadly Towers.

But what about the games that are neither? What about the titles that may have been good games, even great ones, but due to unseen circumstances never caught on like they should have, resulting in full bargain bins around the country? This is the column for them: The Island of Forgotten Games.



Hagane: The Final Conflict

Quick, name a popular ninja franchise that got three games on the NES, and absolutely no sequels in the 16-bit years? If you said Ninja Gaiden, you'd technically be right (Ninja Gaiden Trilogy doesn't count, doods.) But there was a game that took up the mantle, and not only did what the Ninja Gaiden series did, but also gave a 16-bit taste of what the future had in store for our stealthy friends.

The plot is your typical clan versus clan story, with the bizarre addition of the Holy Grail to the story. But that doesn't really matter, what really matters is that this game OOZES style thanks to designs by creature designer and film-maker Keita Amemiya, responsible for gonzo Japanese cult film Zeiram.



Game play-wise, this takes a lot from it's ninja action fore bearers, particularly Ninja Gaiden, but ESPECIALLY Shinobi and Strider. This game plays like a whacked, cracked-out version of Shinobi. The move list for Hagane is INSANE, he not only does the usual jump and sword attacks (which look suspiciously like Strider's sword swing) but he has some crazy flipping and dodging moves, as well as some awesome elemental Xi-powers.



Let me just get this out of the way: This game is HARD. HARD like rocks being shoved into your boxers and ground against your nuts hard. But what makes it rewarding is actually learning Hagane's moves and the timing it takes to pull those moves off effectively. Once you have a decent grasp of Hagane's mechanics, the game feels much more fluid, much like the X-Box revival of Ninja Gaiden, it rewards the player for knowing how to BE a bad-ass ninja instead of just slamming buttons.



Why Didn't it Catch On?

I honestly have no idea. Maybe the game was far too difficult for the average ten year old of 1994? I'm sure Hudson didn't advertise this game adequately, as I never heard of this game until a few years ago on the recommendation of a friend. Nonetheless, this remains a buried gem on the SNES, and deserves to be found by the hardcore looking for a challenge. Used copies usually go for between fifteen to twenty five bucks, so keep your eye out and grab it if you find it, it's well worth the play through.

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11:45 PM on 01.28.2009  

20 Years LttP: Sega Genesis



I was a Nintendo kid growing up. To be honest, most of the kids I knew growing up were Nintendo kids, owning the original NES and SNES, swapping games like Super Mario Kart and Donkey Kong Country. I think I only knew one kid that had a Sega Genesis in Elementary school. And I have no regrets about it. I'm PROUD that I grew up with Nintendo in the house instead of Sega. But for years, it was always in the back of my mind that someday, SOMEDAY, I would pick up a Genesis when the time and price was right.

Cut to 15 years later.

After the utter bombardment of quality titles that hit this past holiday season, January has looked pretty dry. February and March will have some crazy good games coming out, to be sure, but this past month has been slow. I realized my monthly budget for new games was collecting dust, so I thought it might be fun to pick around in a few pawn shops for a weekend. What did I find in the first one I went to? A Genesis 2, all chords and controller, for fifteen bucks. Sonic 1 and World of Illusion with Mickey and Donald, both a dollar each.

It was more than I could bear. I walked up to the front, handed the guy the merchandise, and bought them all for under $18. I then pilfered a few more pawn shops and used game stores, coming up with this list of merchandise:

-Sonic 2
-Sonic Spinball
-Castlevania Bloodlines
-Contra Hard Corps
-Comix Zone
-Ghouls N' Ghosts
-Adventures of Batman and Robin
-Vectorman 2
-Dynamite Headdy

I'm really excited, I'm getting to re-live an entire console's library, all for the very first time. So far, these are the titles I haven't bought yet but am guaranteed to eventually:

-Rocket Knight Adventures
-Gunstar Heroes
-Ristar
-Vectorman
-Sonic 3 / Knuckles
-Chakan
-Aladdin
-Streets of Rage 2
-Shinobi 3

So I now turn this to you, fellow D-Toiders, what other titles should I pick up? I'm thinking more hidden gems than the former AAA titles, any suggestions? And lets keep this at Genesis exclusives. If it's good and multi-platform, chances are that I own it on my SNES already.

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6:00 PM on 12.18.2008  

The Island of Forgotten Games: Omega Boost



There are those games that defined a generation. Mention Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy or Metal Gear Solid and any gamer worth his salt will know what you're talking about. There are also the titles that are so horrendous, so three week old carton of milk bad, that any gamer will cringe at the mere mention of a title like Shaq-Fu, Bebe's Kids, or Deadly Towers.

But what about the games that are neither? What about the titles that may have been good games, even great ones, but due to unseen circumstances never caught on like they should have, resulting in full bargain bins around the country? This is the column for them: The Island of Forgotten Games.



Omega Boost

Omega Boost is one of the best action/shooter games on the Playstation, and nobody knows about it. Developed by Polyphony Digital (the Grand Turismo team), it's one of the only games to completely capture the Macross mech feel and style for a console game.

The plot is a silly mish-mash of ideas about the Omega Boost mech going back in time to stop the super computer ALPHA CORE from taking over the world of the future (Seriously, what is with video games and giant super-computers? Three of my columns have games that feature evil super computers in their plots.) It also features one awesomely cheesy intro:



But the game itself? WHEW! Fantastic. Not only does this game show what the Grand Turismo team can do on a game that doesn't involve cars, but a big chunk of the Panzer Dragoon team, as well as lead programmer Yuji Yasuhara, also worked on this, and it shows. The combat in this game is essentially Panzer Dragoon with mechs, with the mech designs of none other than Shoji Kawamori, designer of the Macross saga, giving the game a timeless futurist look, closer to classic shooters like Gradius and R-Type than the sleeker world of Zone of the Enders, not to mention this is one of the best looking games on the PSX, with visuals that miraculously still hold up today.

The gameplay is fast and fun. Your mech can turn in 360 degrees in all directions during battle, as well as use it's back boosters to quickly turn in the opposite direction while firing. The game also has a lock-on system and shoot system, which then sends out a barrage of laser guided missiles, Macross-style, into oncoming enemy waves. The gameplay is fast and furious, and the frame rate never dips below 30 fps, making the game run as smooth as silk.



The game is not without it's faults, however. For one, it's too short. As good as this game is, you're left with wanting more, with only 9 main levels and 9 bonus levels, the game could've used a few more missions and zones. Also, this game gets extremely difficuly by Zone 5, separating the boys from the men, so don't go in expecting a cake walk, you really have to know the controls inside and out for this game. Nonetheless, it remains a riveting and wholly exciting last hurrah for the original Playstation.



Why Didn't it Catch on?

One word: Marketing. For a game being published by Sony in-house, you'd think they would've thrown their weight behind this game when it comes to marketing, not so. Omega Boost was plagued by negative media in Japan reporting the game gave players motion sickness while playing (pansies), which killed sales in the land of the rising sun, and was released with little to no fanfare in the U.S. I came across this game only because of a demo display that a local Target store had up for it in the summer of '99, and bought it as soon as I could.

Very few people know about this game, which is a shame, because it is definitely one of the best mech action games available for any system. It's too bad Omega Boost tanked so badly, now the development team is stuck making racing games instead of unique projects like this. I implore everybody who owns a PSX, PS2 or compatible PS3 to track down this title, new copies are available on Amazon.com for less than ten bucks, it's well worth it.

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11:48 PM on 11.20.2008  

Today In Gaming History: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time



Before I begin, I'd like the reader of this article to click the video below me, and just take in the visuals, take in the music, and let it transport you back to a time much simpler than today, to a time when 3D games were still fairly new, epic adventures were coming into their own, and we all took part in an epic adventure about a little boy in a green tunic.



Depending on when you're reading this, it is the day of or the day before the tenth anniversary of this historic game's release. We all have our stories of the build-up, the excitement, the joy at getting this game, and the amazing adventure we all collectively took part in Christmas of 1998, but I'd like to take a moment to tell my story, my story of the year that the corner-stone of video games turned forever, and how it affected me.

I was one of the lucky ones. The hype for the Nintendo 64 had been building in my brain for months, all thanks to the amazing propaganda whirlwind that was Nintendo Power. Nintendo fans were all anticipating the launch of the N64 as well as Super Mario 64, and there wasn't anything in the world that was going to keep us, or me, from getting it. I remember coming home from school Sept. 29, and immediately being told by my father
"Go to your room."
My heart started racing. I assumed I was in a heap-load of trouble for something I didn't even remember. My Mom and Dad both stood in the living room, looking stern. I was sure that it was a sign either I had done something or my parents were having a huge fight. I stayed in my room for fifteen minutes, occasionally hearing Dad rummaging around. What was going on out there? Finally, my dad spoke again:
"Okay, come on out."
From my room, the first thing that I would see as I came out of my room was the television, and coming from the television was the echoing sound of coins in the distance, then a shrill little voice that proclaimed "Itsa me, Mario!"

Mario was mine. One of the best days of my childhood.

Then, a month or two past, I was enjoying Mario 64, Pilotwings, and the occasional rental of Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey, but I didn't know how much longer my interest in the large black console would hold up. But then Nintendo published a new interview with The Wizard himself, Shigeru Miyamoto, published alongside this image:



I immediately knew what this was: Zelda, in 3D, like Mario. The possibilities went racing through my mind. What would it be like? Would it be top down, like Link to the Past? Who's that shiny knight looking guy? Will the Triforce be in it? But of course, the biggest question of all:

When can I play it?

The article gave the release date of Winter 1997. My brain immediately made a note of that. "Brain, remember, Zelda 64 is out Winter of 1997, be ready." Mario Kart 64 came and went. Star Fox 64 came and went. Goldeneye came and went. Winter of 1997 came and went. No Zelda, and very little in the way of media. There was one little taste that Nintendo gave us in that time, and it was this video:



Now, the word was that the game would be the Spring of 1998, and more screenshots started to come out, and the frothing anticipation for the game continued to grow.Soon, new info began to come out about the plot, describing it as the first game in the Zelda canon. Many a schoolyard discussion was made about speculating on the details of this new Zelda quest.

And just as Winter of 1997 came and went without Zelda, so too did Spring of 1998. The game, now subtitled by Nintendo as "Ocarina of Time" was now GUARANTEED a Holiday 1998 release. All Nintendo gamers hunkered down in their bunkers, waiting for the Holy Grail of games that this was appearing to be. Every piece of new media that came out about Ocarina of Time continued to make the game look bigger and bigger, nobody in their right mind thought that all the little details being talked about being in the game could ALL be in there.



September of 1998 hit, and we finally had a concrete release date for the game: November 21, 1998. The sound of a red marker circling that date on millions of calendars nation-wide was heard. Of course, when news came out about preordering the game, I made SURE. my Mom made it to Funcoland (R.I.P.) to preoder my copy, as well as guarantee that sweet t-shirt and guide!



Then, October turned personally bad for me. My sister came down with Chicken Pox, and as I was in close proximity to my sister as she IS my sibling, I ALSO came down with Chicken Pox. I was out of class for weeks, but it ultimately was no matter to me, as Nintendo Power released their special Ocarina of Time issue, self-declared as it's "Biggest Issue Ever!" I poured through the magazine. It seemed every waking hour was spent absorbing and re-absorbing each piece of Zelda knowledge. It got so bad towards the end, I actually had DREAMS I was playing the game, running around in the Lost Woods with my trusty bow and arrows.

Finally, after not weeks, nor months, but YEARS of waiting for this game, it was finally only a few weeks away. It promised to be big, grand, epic. It wasn't. It was MORE than that.



I would argue that the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time made games come of age. Video games no longer could be ignored as cheap time-wasters by the general public. THIS was the game that made the mainstream stand up and take notice of video games not just as entertainment, but also as a story-telling medium and, dare I say it, a field of expression. Ocarina showed all the people that doubted that a game could enrapture us just as much as any great blockbuster film could.



This was also a communal celebration by fans world-wide. There wasn't a person on my block who didn't get Ocarina of Time either the day of release or for Christmas who owned an N64, and we all played it. And we would all go over to each other's house and play it. We'd play it together and be up until four in the morning trying to get through the stinking Water Temple!

We all played it, and we can all look back fondly and remember our favorite moments: The first time Link stepped out of his tree house, or the first time Link stepped out into the open world of Hyrule Field, or our first Hyrule sundown or sun-up. The first time we played Zelda's Lullaby, when we all collectively rode Epona to freedom. All these moments shared by all of us, as gamers, and all of us taking on the role of a young boy in a green tunic.



Thank you Nintendo, for ten years of wonderful adventures, and amazing memories. And thank you, everybody who played it that first holiday season, for sharing in the experience.

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10:41 PM on 11.03.2008  

The Island of Forgotten Games: Kabuki Quantum Fighter



There are those games that defined a generation. Mention Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy or Metal Gear Solid and any gamer worth his salt will know what you're talking about. There are also the titles that are so horrendous, so three week old carton of milk bad, that any gamer will cringe at the mere mention of a title like Shaq-Fu, Bebe's Kids, or Deadly Towers.

But what about the games that are neither? What about the titles that may have been good games, even great ones, but due to unseen circumstances never caught on like they should have, resulting in full bargain bins around the country? This is the column for them: The Island of Forgotten Games.



Kabuki Quantum (Hair) Fighter

The NES had its string of weird-ass and whacked-out ideas for video games, including such possible future columns as Monster Party, Samurai Zombie Nation, and A Boy and His Blob. But none will ever beat the over-arching weirdness of Kabuki Quantum Hair Fighter.

The game starts with a sequence complete with ridiculously slow text about a computer virus taking over the Earth's missile defense system in the year 2056, and our hero, Scott O'Connor, selflessly volunteers as a test subject for a program that will allow him to take on a new, digital form in a digitized world of the computer infra-structure to defeat the virus. His new form is, yes, Kabuki Quantum Fighter. Don't ask me how an Irish-American guy is transformed into a Japanese theater character, nor what Japanese Kabuki theater has to do with computers, it doesn't make any sense, and that's partly why it's awesome.



The digital world of Kabuki Quantum Fighter is ridiculous. So ridiculous, I wouldn't be surprised if this game gave younger kids nightmares back in the day. The enemies in this digital world look like they'd be more at home in a Castlevania game than in a world inside a computer. Toad Men with swords, robot dogs, giant heads that shoot lasers and fire, robot dogs with swords, it's absolutely whacked!

The backgrounds give a very distinct Batman NES vibe, really dark and black with color details here and there, like giant beating hearts! I know my computer has hearts in it, does yours?



And the best part of all? Your character! His basic attack? His hair! He swings his giant Kabuki wig at enemies that get in your way. For a real good laugh, try out a turbo controller and hold the B-button so he's constantly banging his head, it looks just like James Hetfield in his long hair days!

The game plays really closely to the Ninja Gaiden / Batman style of side-scroller: Lots of running and jumping around and hitting enemies as they get close to you, with a boss at the end of every level.

Why Didn't it Catch on?:

Now the game IS fun, don't get me wrong, but let's be honest here: Was there really a demand for games about Kabuki actors inside Hellish computers in 1990? Add to that the fact that the box-art:



Is less than enticing to the average consumer seeing this on the shelves, and you have a title that could've declared itself DOA, which is too bad, as the final screen of the game features the main character bowing and asking to check him out in his next game, which never appeared.

Despite (or because) of it's bizarre exterior, Kabuki Quantum Fighter is all-in-all, a fun little platform / action game. If you're a fan of the Ninja Gaiden series or its equivalents, definitely try this out, it'll be worth your time, if only just so you can tell your friends you played Kabuki Quantum Fighter.

Note: This game was originally published by the now-defunct HAL America. HAL America is long gone, but I bet you can guess what happened to the development side of the company in Japan, can't you?

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12:31 PM on 10.25.2008  

The FEAR: The Music of Doom 64



So, it's that time of the year again, time to think about the shivers, the creeps, the things that go bump in the night. The point of this blog is to discuss the things in video games that made me poop my pants at the age of eight, but I didn't want it to be about a subject everybody would be writing a blog about, like Silent Hill or Resident Evil, it needed to be something legitimate and different.

So what really scared the crap out of me and still remains to this day an underrated piece of video game scare history? Doom 64, or more specifically, the music of Doom 64.

Now what makes the music in Doom 64 stand out? Long-time Midway and Doom composer Aubrey Hodges creates a completely visceral sense of dread and despair in the player, using less actual beats and tunes and instead does more of a mix-up of traditional video game music and atmospheric white noise effects of an abandoned space out-post. The first level in the game is a pretty good summary audio-wise for why this game is a stand out:

http://www.doom2.net/~doomdepot/music/doom%2064/level%2001%20(staging%20area).mp3

This soundtrack scared me so badly in the younger years, I refused to continue playing, but I couldn't get the unique soundtrack out of my head, it haunted me like a bad dream for days at a time. I would sometimes just turn the game on and sit at the beginning of the first level just to listen to the music. It was so good, I eventually used it on a mix tape I had put together for a Halloween party in 97, the year the game came out.

Doom 64, the game itself, strangely wasn't so horrifically scary. The graphics were dark and muddy due to the lighting effects in the game, but it essentially looked the same as previous incarnations of Doom. It only took the new, atmospheric soundtrack to get me to freak out so much at the thought of playing it. Doom 64 could be seen as an excellent case study for how sound can affect a game's atmosphere in very powerful ways.

If anybody is interested in the rest of Doom 64's music, or Doom music in general, MP3's are available at the Doom Depot site:

http://www.doom2.net/~doomdepot/index.html

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11:58 PM on 09.03.2008  

The Island of Forgotten Games: Alundra



There are those games that defined a generation. Mention Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy or Metal Gear Solid and any gamer worth his salt will know what you're talking about. There are also the titles that are so horrendous, so three week old carton of milk bad, that any gamer will cringe at the mere mention of a title like Shaq-Fu, Bebe's Kids, or Deadly Towers.

But what about the games that are neither? What about the titles that may have been good games, even great ones, but due to unseen circumstances never caught on like they should have, resulting in full bargain bins around the country? This is the column for them: The Island of Forgotten Games.



Alundra

Alundra, Alundra, a game after my own heart. As a dyed in the wool lover of classic Super NES adventure games like Illusion of Gaia, Secret of Mana, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (No duh) Alundra left a big impression on me when I first saw the ads for it in the Summer of 1997. Here was the pinnacle of the technologies that gave us those classic top-down adventure games, now popping up on the Playstation. And from the developers of Landstalker, to boot!



The game follows the adventures of a young boy named Alundra, who is plagued by horrendous nightmares. These nightmares prophecy that young Alundra will be the chosen one destined to save the world from darkness. After a storm leaves him ship-wrecked in the small town of Inoa, Alundra's adventure begins when he must take up the battle against a group of forest monkeys to save the villagers that have adopted him as one of their own.

Simple, yes, but there's more in the telling than the tale. Much like the Dark World in Link to the Past, Alundra can sometimes enter the Nightmare World, the world within our dreams, to save friends while on his journey. These parallel dimension areas are excellently inter-woven into the narrative of the gameplay, giving the game a larger scope, and putting secondary characters in harm's way, sometimes leading to their deaths, a rarity in this genre.

The dungeons in this game are not only fantastic, but also extremely difficult. Much like the best puzzles in the Zelda series, each dungeon has a number of brain-teasers that'll make you scratch your head and really push yourself to think outside the box to move on. This is still sometimes considered one of the hardest games on the original Playstation.



Graphically, the game has very nicely detailed 2-D backgrounds and character sprites, looking like a richly textured SNES game. The whole game has a very earthy feel, with lots of natural tones and environments with lots of texture. Character animation can sometimes look more limited than the technology at the time could do, but it doesn't really matter in the scheme of things. It looks and plays enough like an SNES RPG that more fluid animation could've pulled the player out of the experience the game is trying to build.

The music, the MUSIC! The music in this game is phenomenal. Composer Kohei Tanaka's score quickly can go from a very melody-based sound for villages and fields, to a very atmospheric effect for dungeons and the nightmare world. The soundtrack actually reminded me a lot of Mitsuda's score for Chrono Trigger, it's that good. Take a listen to the main overworld theme, The Wind That Shook the Earth:



So if this game is as amazing as it seems (completely honest here, it really is) why have so many people not heard of it? This really should be up there with the classic action RPG / adventure offerings on the SNES, as well as other Working Designs published titles like Lunar. So why isn't it?

Why Didn't it Catch on?:

Alundra was released at a peculiar time for the video game industry. More and more games on the next-generation systems at the time were being developed with 3D graphics, and two-dimensional games were seen as a dying breed of the past. Consider the fact that Sony actually published Alundra in Japan, but Sony Computer Entertainment of America refused to localize and publish it here, and you can see where the industry was going. Working Designs ultimately published it in the U.S. (with Psygnosis handling the game in Europe) and gave it a strong (for Working Designs) advertising campaign in the U.S. buying ad space in EGM, Game Informer and Gamepro for full-page ads.

The game was released in the winter of 1997 to fairly positive reviews. IGN gave it an 8.5 out of ten, Gamespot gave it an 8.8, and EGM gave it an 8.6.

As per the norm of Working Designs, only an initial print-run was made to keep demand up and to avoid discounted bargain copies at major retailers. It's somewhat rare, but isn't expensive like many classics of the Playstation era like Final Fantasy VII and Working Designs own Lunar:Silver Star Story and Eternal Blue.



Today, when I ask people about the game, I rarely will hear anybody has heard of it, let alone played it. I'm met with blank stares. In the last month of asking a ton of people if they've played Alundra, only one person has said they've played it, to which they enthusiastically followed up with "I can't believe somebody else has played it!"

Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that 2D games were a dying breed by late 1997, and gamers had already had their taste of Final Fantasy VII. Anything else would be a step-down to them, which is a shame, because if Alundra had been released for the SNES in 1995 or '96, it may have been considered a classic of the adventure genre. As it stands, it was a mild curiosity item to many in '97: an out of date dinosaur in a modern three-dimensional world. Don't write it off as many did, it just may be one of the best games nobody's played on the Playstation.

Note: There was a sequel released in February of 2000 in North America. This is a sequel in name only, as it's story has absolutely nothing to do with the original game. And it's in 3D.

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9:06 PM on 08.21.2008  

The Island of Forgotten Games: Metal Storm



This is the first of what will hopefully be a semi-regular column highlighting the games of the past that have slipped through the cracks of time.

There are those games that defined a generation. Mention Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy or Metal Gear Solid and any gamer worth his salt will know what you're talking about. There are also the titles that are so horrendous, so three week old carton of milk bad, that any gamer will cringe at the mere mention of a title like Shaq-Fu, Bebe's Kids, or Deadly Towers.

But what about the games that are neither? What about the titles that may have been good games, even great ones, but due to unseen circumstances never caught on like they should have, resulting in full bargain bins around the country? This is the column for them: The Island of Forgotten Games.



Metal Storm

Ah yes, Metal Storm. Quite possibly one of the best games Irem has ever made. What if you took the action gameplay of Contra, mixed with the shooter hell of Irem's R-Type series, then threw some anti-gravity boots into the blender? Metal Storm would be what came out. I think I'll leave it up to the back of the box description to summarize this particular gem:

"Battle Station Cyberg's massive computer that keeps throughout the solar system is no longer user friendly. It's gone wildly out of control. The LaserGun it operates has already destroyed Neptune. Earth is its next target.

As a high-tech hot shot, you must enter Cyberg's core and activate the system's self-destruct mechanism. Mankind is relying on your know-how and toughness to see this thing through. But time is running out...

Oh yes, one more thing. The powers of your "Gravity Flip" Suit are essential for a successful outcome to this mission. The Suit empowers you to proceed both upside down and rightside up as you dash to put this computer permanently "On the blink."'

And yes, that pretty much describes the awesomeness that is in store for the player.



As the description entails, the big part of this game that makes it fresh and stand out from the crowd of NES action games is the gravity mechanic. Considering this is the NES we're talking about, this must have been a programming miracle. The gravity-flipping mechanic is so unique, it's still impressive almost 20 years later.

Plus, this game is hard, I mean REALLY hard. Considering this was made by the same team that made the original R-Type, that should be no surprise, but then factor in that with the gravity mechanic, this game just became doubly hard, forcing you to make split second decisions about your movement either upside or rightside up. If you make the wrong choice, you're toast. The first one or two levels are balanced enough to get the hang of the gravity switching, but it gets hard fast. Only the committed should bother with Metal Storm.

Graphically and sonically, the game is actually really nice still, opting for a complex Japanese mech look for the game. Most of the mech designs actually reminded me a lot of anime like Macross and Robotech. And the bosses in this game are huge walking, rotating jumbles of pipes and gyros, and most of these bosses also force you to use your gravity powers to the best of your advantage.Special mention must be made of the explosion effects in the game, which are very nicely animated and still stand out today.

Why didn't it catch on?:

I have my own theories, the biggest of which being that Super Mario Bros. 3 came out only a few months earlier than Metal Storm, basically stealing any and all hype on the NES for the next few months. Metal Storm probably just got lost in the post-SMB 3 hype like many of the underrated classics of the NES (which will be discussed in future columns.)

Second of all, the gravity mechanic, while very cool, is hard to communicate through descriptions and screen-shots of the game, it's one of those ideas which needs to be seen to be understood. By not seeing the major selling-point of the game, most consumers wrote it off as another standard action game that the NES was pumping out its entire lifetime.

Metal Storm was a game that was definitely ahead of it's time to the point that many of it's time didn't get it, and unfortunately is not seen as one of the all-time classics of the NES era because of it. Used copies of the game regularly go for five to ten dollars on used game sites, so do yourself a favor and pick up a copy so Metal Storm will be unknown no longer!

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4:16 AM on 08.19.2008  

House of the Dead: Overkill Announced by Sega for the Wii!



Yes, a new House of the Dead game is on it's way for the Wii, due to the positive sales of House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return. Love the gritty grindhouse look and feel of the trailer, game looks like it'll probably be great too. Really like the carnival setting that's being cooked up.

Headstrong games are the developers for this new title, with an expected release date for the first quarter of 2009. More House of the Dead is always a good thing, plus the return of G!

"Suffer like G did!"

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8:29 PM on 08.18.2008  

DS Dump: First Impressions of Final Fantasy IV and Bangai-O Spirits

Between the dump-truck full of good games that came out in the Spring (Smash Bros. Brawl, Mario Kart Wii, Metal Gear Solid 4, Grand Theft Auto 4, etc.) and the eventual big 4th quarter titles hitting the shelves in time for Christmas, there sits the dog days' of summer, where the major publishers slow down releases and production for a good three months until the next big upswing. What's a bored gamer to do? Play the Nintendo DS, of course! Even though the consoles have slowed down, the DS is just heating up, and here's a quick first impression of two of my most anticipated games for the little hand held that could: Final Fantasy IV and Bangai-O Spirits!



Impressions: The new remake of Final Fantasy IV already is proving itself to be the hardest version of the game. I've played the SNES version and the GBA port of the PSX version, and I never died as quickly in this game as I have in this version. Super ridiculously hard. If you buy this, be prepared to do some MAJOR level grinding.

Despite that, the newly re-written text is ace, the CG cut-scenes are truly amazing, (Yoshitaka Amano character designs in glorious 3-d, YES!) the classic Nobuo Uematsu score has been finely re-mixed, the graphics in the game serve their purpose well, being closely comparable to FF III on the DS (Though sadly not as vibrant as the DS Crystal Chronicles game), but the summons during battles, Oh man! Amazing effects on these guys, what's also cool is the game allows you to customize faces on summons via the touch screen, how cool is that?

Overall, Final Fantasy IV DS seems to be the best version of this classic game ever released, hands down. Everything about the presentation is solid, and the increased difficulty and mixed-up boss weaknesses make the game a definite replay for Final Fantasy IV veterans.



Coming into Bangai-O Spirits, I'm a bit of a newbie to the series. I've played maybe five minutes of the Dreamcast version and never played the Japan-only N64 version. So what caused me to get excited about it? Treasure. Everything Treasure touches turns to gold, be it the classic Gunstar Heroes (And its equally impressive GBA follow-up Gunstar Super Heroes), the underrated Mischief Makers, the now iconic shooter Ikaruga, everything they make screams quality. These guys even made a good McDonald's game for gosh sakes!

Impressions: So far, Bangai-O Spirits lives up to this company's reputation and then some. Fantastic explosive shooter action abounds, and it's actually quite surprising how tailor-made Bangai-O feels on the Nintendo DS, the gameplay of a tiny mech firing off huge explosive rounds fits the style and feel of the Nintendo DS like a glove. What has really gotten me excited is the level customization option. You can make your own levels and send them to friends via Wi-Fi.

despite the slowness of the summer-time for decent gaming, the handheld market has turned out to be an attractive alternative for waiting around for something decent to come out on the major consoles, and these games especially have given me something to chew on for the next few weeks or so.

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