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nilcam's blog

Learning from the past: Handheld games
1:33 PM on 02.10.2013
Revisiting GameCube: Twilight Princess
1:15 PM on 02.05.2013
GameCube component cable review
3:54 PM on 01.25.2013
Moving forward by going back
10:45 AM on 01.21.2013
Neo Geo X final impressions
10:21 PM on 01.12.2013
Genre Breakers #1: Chrono Trigger
1:25 PM on 01.05.2013





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About
Old-school gamer. I started gaming with the Atari 2600. I became an addict with the arcade release of Street Fighter II at my college. The SNES release pushed me into buying that system and a lame arcade stick. I haven't looked back since then. I still consider the 16-bit to be the Golden Age of gaming. The current generation is keeping me pretty happy, especially with the fighting game renaissance that's happening lately. And, yes, I'm old.

Proud owner of: Kiwi Gameboy Color, Purple GBA, GBA SP, GBA Micro, PSP 3000, Clear NeoGeo Pocket, purple SwanCrystal, SNES, Genesis, N64, purple Gamecube, slim PS2, Dreamcast, Wii, PS3, Red 3DS LL,Blue 3DS XL and Wii U.

Favorite Games: Last Blade, Street Fighter Alpha 2, Mark of the Wolves, Zelda: A Link to the Past, Zelda: Minish Cap, King of Fighters Ikaruga, Macross: Do You Remember Love, Raiden Trad, Valkyria Chronicles, Professor Layton, Killer7

Games on my mind:
Ridge Racer 7
Dark Souls
Animal Crossing New Leaf
Shining Force II: Sword of Hajya
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There's a lot of talk about the handheld video gaming market. Nintendo and Sony seem to be struggling in the U.S. and the Vita is dying in both Japan and the U.S. Luckily for Sony, the PSP still seems to have a bit of life left in it in Japan and, in the U.S., the PSN is helping to expand the life of that system. So what does it all mean and what should these companies do?

The answer: look to the past.



The Gameboy Advance was the king of the market for a long time and, in my estimation, still has the best library on any handheld. The main reason is that the GBA didn't try to be a replacement for home consoles. There were a lot of SNES ports to the GBA to varying degrees of success but the games made specifically for the system were amazing. Consider the Advance Wars series. These games are meant for short bursts of gameplay and the game can be saved at any point. The graphics and animation are as good as they need to be but the system was not trying to be the GameCube. The majority of the GBA library was made up of battery-friendly pixel-based games and titles that were unique and lower budget. It's hard to argue that the Vita is trying to bring a PS3-like experience to the portable space and the price is a system that is barely portable and an abysmal battery life. Seriously, 3 hours between charges?

The other big problem with the 3DS and Vita are the operating systems. When you start up a Gameboy Advance, you get the GBA logo, a ding and then the game starts. These new systems take a few seconds to get you to the OS screen and then require navigation to start the game. By the time I launch a 3DS title, I could be on world 1-2 of Super Mario World on GBA. That's a real issue for portable play. There's a purity to handhelds that just play games. Why should my handheld do more than play games? Most people, me included, already own a smartphone that does everything else we could possibly want.

Speaking of smartphones
For one thing, Nintendo and Sony shouldn't sweat the smartphone market. I don't think smartphones are eating up that much of the handheld market. Sure, they're great for casual games but, in my experience, most games on smartphones are hindered by the lack of a physical controller. Touch interfaces work very well for some puzzle games and Angry Birds but suck for most video games. Who the hell wants to platform or play fighting games with a digital d-pad? Not me. That's horrible. I tried Final Fantasy on my phone and while it looks pretty good and the touch screen is great for combat, I have to navigate the overworld using a fake d-pad. In fact, most of the games I've played on smartphones skip over the obvious uses of touch screen interfaces and add in fake d-pads. Maybe when touch game developers learn to properly use touch screens, smartphone games will improve. The question is how long will that take? In the case of platformers, shooters, action and fighting games, the answer is pretty much never.

Instead of trying to integrate every part of our digital lives into your handhelds, try this: Make portable game machines that play games. Let players get into the games quickly and without using odd methods to navigate through content. Give us decent battery life and actual portable form factors. These were done to great effect several years ago and I have faith you can do it again.
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I'm skipping information on characters and story to avoid spoilers. Spoiler: I love the characters and the ending gave me goosebumps and made me feel sad to leave this world behind.

Controversy. If there's one thing video games, especially Zelda games, create, it's controversy. Whether I like or dislike a specific title, there are tons of people on the internet ready to publicly humiliate me for my opinion. There's a reason I bring this up: I both hate and love Twilight Princess. I hate the Wii implementation of the game. The pointer controls were okay but waggle sword fighting was awful. The mirrored world also felt a bit odd and that was before I played the GameCube version. Now that I've played the GameCube game, I love Twilight Princess. In fact, it is my favorite Zelda game of all time.

My history in Hyrule
Like many gamers, the Zelda series is my Nintendo franchise. While others love and excitedly wait for every Mario or Pokemon title, Zelda has been the main reason I purchase Nintendo consoles. My first Zelda game was A Link to the Past which was bundled with my Super NES. Everything about that game is bliss; I clearly remember how amazing it was to guide Link through the rain in those glorious 16-bits. At the dawn of the 32-bit era, I bought a PlayStation. It died upon completion of FFVII and, since Ocarina of Time was on the way, I purchased a Nintendo 64. As good as OoT is, I never felt that it lived up to ALttP. It was just a bit less fun to me, though still an amazing title.

My favorite Zelda games: A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Minish Cap and Twilight Princess. These are the titles I revisit frequently. I haven't played much of Majora's Mask, which I will remedy soon. Wind Waker misses the list due to the momentum stopping Triforce fishing expeditions. If not for that, WW would be one of my favorites. I love that art style.

But we're here to talk about Twilight Princess, so let's get to it!



Why Twilight Princess became my favorite
I'm an old school sort of gamer. I love me some pixels and, by and large, don't like polygons. Some games benefit from polygons, specifically racing games and mech/Gundam titles. If you had asked me two weeks ago if Zelda is better in 2D or 3D, my response would have been 2D followed by a sarcastic "duh" sound. Twilight Princess changed my mind.

Sure, TP is not the first Zelda to be rendered in polygons but I would argue that it is the first true 3D Zelda. I say that because many of the puzzle solutions were found above your head or below the ground and the player is forced to think and analyze the full 3D space. The player is trained to do this starting with the first dungeon and it remains relevant throughout the duration of the game.

Another aspect of Twilight Princess I adore is the sheer joy of the boss battles. Are the boss battles difficult? Not really but they are damned entertaining. The fight with the Stallord is one of the most exhilarating boss battles in video games. The bosses in the Lakebed Temple and the City in the Sky were also quite amazing. Both are heavily influenced by Shadow of the Colossus and that's a good thing. Even the mini-bosses are amazing and dripping with personality. I love that the Dark Nuts lose their shit and throw a bastard sword at you.

I'm glad that the Zelda team has looked at other games and taken inspiration from them and, in some cases, made improvements to great ideas. Link's wolf form is clearly inspired by Okami but I don't recall Amaterasu ever having to deal with door handles or other purely human interaction methods. And Epona is sooo much better than Agro in Shadow of the Colossus.



Items and combat
I love that most of the equipment upgrades in Twilight Princess are optional. I didn't get the Giant Wallet or the Magic Armor and survived the game. Zelda games are true RPGs to me; I'm on a mission to save the world, I don't have time to go fishing, catch bugs or anything else. I'M TRYING TO SAVE THE WORLD!!!!!! This alone makes the game much more enjoyable for me.

The items for this game are nothing short of amazing. The spinner added a level of fun that cannot be described. All of the old favorites are there but some have been tweaked. One such item is the dual hook shot is a work of pure genius and creativity.

The combat in Twilight Princess is sublime. I only learned three of the techniques but that made fighting deeper than in most games. There's nothing quite like rolling behind a heavily armored foe only to hit them with a shoryuken type move and beat them senseless. The finishing move is both brutal and fitting for the type of fighting in the game. Kudos to Nintendo.

The world
I don't think Hyrule has ever felt so realized to me than in TP. Everything about it just feels real and that feeling is heightened by its rendering in true 3D space. The characters are all amazing and emote completely through animation and some non-language vocals. I really missed that in Skyward Sword. There's a way that Nintendo tells story through minimal exposition and cut scenes that I find utterly charming and beautiful.

Controls
Ultimately, the real reason I love this game is the gameplay and the GameCube controller.



I adore the GameCube controller; not just for that fact that it can be purple or orange, but because it is the most expressive controller ever made. All of the buttons are not made equal and, due to that, the buttons can communicate the designer's intent to the player. In Twilight Princess, the standard attack is B and the big, green A button is the heavy attack. This lets the player know that the heavy attack is like a giant exclamation point, a stopping point, to the sword combo. The X and Y buttons are easily accessible but remind the player that these are your secondary weapons; the sword is the focal point of your combat arts.

The GameCube controller also has what I call the Nintendo analog stick. It has more resistance than a PlayStation pad and the divits at each point on the circle let you know precisely where the stick is at any moment. It reminds me of why I love square restrictor gates on arcade sticks.

The crisp controls married with the GC controller are a match made in heaven and a large part of why this game shines.

Conclusion
When I played Twilight Princess on Wii, I quit and said the standard "Fuck this game" as I did so. Upon revisiting the title on GameCube, my mind was changed drastically. I love this title. I think it's the best Zelda game ever. I truly believe that Twilight Princess is so much better on GameCube because that is the system it was designed for originally. Everything about the game communicates that fact and it's an incredible experience because of it.
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With my recent decision to revisit the last generation of consoles, I started to read about the mythical GameCube component cables. These cables are expensive, fairly hard to find and only work with pre-2004 systems. Luckily, my purple cube is one of those systems. Even better, I had $100 in Amazon credit and was able to find a new set of the cables for $150. So, like the fool I am, I bought it!

When the cables arrived yesterday, I grabbed my copy of F-Zero GX and got to work. The first thing I noticed was how heavy these cables are. The cables themselves are very thick and the connector, which apparently has a digital conversion chip in it, is very heavy. The cable themselves only have the video output connectors; the audio is handled by the A/V cable included with the system. I booted up the Cube using the standard cables and took a close look at the picture. I then added the component cables, rebooted the system while holding down the B button, which activates progressive scan, and took a close look.

Overall, the difference is pretty remarkable. Text and details are much clearer and the picture is overall less muddy. One of the reasons I chose F-Zero is that is supports widescreen as well as 480p resolution. In all honesty, F-Zero and Twilight Princess both look almost as good as Wii games. I was quite surprised by the difference. Colors are also much nicer. When I compared the video output of PS2 games to GameCube games on my HDTV, it's shocking how much better GC games look.

After my wife got home, I was playing Zelda and she was shocked at how much clearer it looked and decided that it was worth the cost. If you love GameCube and want the best video output, the cables are worth the money.

One last thing: Twilight Princess is much better on GameCube.
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nilcam
10:45 AM on 01.21.2013

As usual, I looked at the upcoming games list at Gamefaqs and found a total of 3 upcoming games I'm interested in - Fire Emblem: Awakening, Etrian IV and Naruto Powerful Shippuden. In the past, such revelations forced me to look into other systems and make some changes. The reality is that this current generation looks to be the last I'll buy into. I have no interest in the WiiU; all of the PS4 rumors are making me uninterested; the Xbox has never been very good for my tastes. With that thought in mind, I decided to dig out and dust off an old friend and revisit what I consider to be Nintendo's golden age.



I make no bones about the fact that I consider the SNES to be Nintendo's best home console to date. The library was amazing, importing was fairly easy and the system lasts forever. When the SNES generation ended, I bought a PlayStation and had a console die on me for the very first time. That event, coupled with Treasure's support of N64, sent me back to Nintendo. When the GBA was launched, I really thought I was done with home consoles since I found the 2D embrace of the GBA. Then Robotech: Battlecry was announced. I waited for the game's release and then went to EB Games and bought a purple Gamecube, Robotech and a memory card and life was good.

Now, the question is why do I consider the GCN/GBA era to be Nintendo's best when I concede that the SNES is a better system. Well, it's simple. The GBA is better than the SNES and Nintendo did a lot to tie the Cube and GBA together. Hell, the Gameboy player alone puts the Cube into the top tier of home consoles. Gamecube is one of the easiest consoles to import for and the Japanese market had some amazing games.The Gamecube was also home to some of my favorite games of all time - Ikaruga, Custom Robo, SD Gundam Gashapon Wars, Eternal Darkness, CvS2, Killer7 and P.N.03 - and you'll start to understand my position.

Also, purple hardware!

Over the next year, I plan to tackle a lot of my massive GBA collection and revisit many Gamecube favorites instead of buying new hardware. The one exception is that I did bite the bullet and buy a Gamecube component cable.

So, like I said: my plan to move forward is to go back.
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nilcam
10:21 PM on 01.12.2013

I've had the Neo Geo X for just under a month. After a lot of experimentation and comparison, I returned the console tonight. Basically, the handheld system is nice but the emulation is a bit sloppy and the video output is lacking. The best way to play Neo Geo games, other than emulation, is the Wii.



Since games look and play better on Wii, all that's needed is a stick. The Wii Neo Geo stick is optimal but it's hard to find and expensive. I decided to pick up a TvC stick, which costs about $55 on Amazon, and do some basic modding. I rewiredTvC the buttons to match the standard Neo Geo layout and put plugs in the remaining holes. The TvC has decent hardware so there's no real need to upgrade it. Once you've made this mod, you're all set.

I had high hopes for the Neo Geo X but it didn't live up to them. Here's hoping that Mark of the Wolves hits the Wii Shop Channel!
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I often find myself thinking about the games that were such a great entry in its genre, that it effectively killed the genre for me. This series will examine these games as well as how and why they were so incredible to me. No example drives that concept home harder than Chrono Trigger.



Back in the mid-90s, the JRPG was a bustling genre. On the SNES alone, there was FF II and III, the Breath of Fire games, Lufia I and II and a ton of other releases. At the time, FFIII was the crown holder. It had the best graphics, music, cast of characters and a unique and interesting story. I doubt anyone would have guessed that a title released as the death of the 16-bit era was happening that Square would release a game so good that it would essentially end its genre. That game is Chrono Trigger.

As soon as CT was advertised, fans were excited. Many people knew of Akira Toriyama's art from Dragon Ball and, possibly, from the Dragon Quest series but all were excited to see him working with Square. The art in Chrono really stood apart from the usual beauty of FF art by Yoshitaka Amano. Instead of flowing, beautiful art, CT had a more manga looking line and that made it very exciting for Square fans.

And then the game arrived to critical and commercial success, despite its retail price of $75 (about $5 more than FFIII when it was released).

The reason Chrono Trigger broke the JRPG genre for me was the many ways it challenged the tried-and-true aspects of the genre. CT removed random encounters and challenged the concept even further by removing a battle screen. When the players party encountered an enemy, the battle happened as an overlay on that screen. In fact, the screen became a background which had no real bearing on the fight. Furthermore, combat was animated. Each character moved toward an opponent and attacked or cast a spell. It really made combat fluid. Add in the dual and triple techs and you'll see that Chrono Trigger evolved the concept of character relationships through gameplay rather than cut scenes.When Chrono, Robo and Frog did a Triple Raid, you knew how familiar these characters were with each other as comrades.

CT also challenged the notion of time length in RPG games. In the 90s, video games bragged about the size of the cartridge and the length of time required to beat the game. While CT bragged about being one of the biggest SNES carts, it's completion time was roughly 25 hours, much shorter than the standard 40 hours of the time. I loved that CT rebelled against that aspect of RPGs and then rewarded players with multiple endings and the use of New Game +. There's nothing quite like taking down bosses that were incredibly difficult on the first play through with one casting of Lumiare. Good times!

The bad news is that Chrono Trigger killed the JRPG genre for me. None of the post-CT JRPGs ever held my interest. I played the hell out of Suikoden but I enjoyed the strategy part of that much more than the RPG parts. I still check out JRPGs from time-to-time but none of them really live up to Chrono Trigger. And, honestly, I doubt any ever will.
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