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About
For as long as I can remember, I've been a gamer. I was born in the 80s and grew up during the 90s. I was first introduced into gaming by my father when I played video games with him on our family's DOS PC. Some of those old titles included Commander Keen, Duke Nukem, Jazz Jackrabbit, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Wing Commander.

What really cemented my identity as a gamer was when he bought my brothers and I a SEGA Genesis for Christmas in '95, that was the day I was introduced to Sonic the Hedgehog.

From that day I've been fascinated with all facets of gaming and the culture that surrounds it. And despite starting out as a notorious SEGA fanboy (a habit I admittedly haven't entirely shook) I now spend my free time playing a wide assortment of genres across a variety of consoles.
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To be a Dragon you've gotta be strong. Humble, never braggin'!

Cross promotion used to play a much bigger role in video games when I was younger. It wasn't entirely uncommon to see cereal, toys or even cartoons based on video game characters. Case in point, in the early 90s DiC made several cartoon series based on popular franchises to limited success, one such series was Double Dragon. The television series itself was a mixed bag. The show was offered as a loose adaptation of the plot from the original home console port on the NES. Ultimately, I feel the show was big on ideas but low on the funds to properly execute them. Regardless, the show was popluar enough to be renewed for a second season and it even saw a video game tie-in on home consoles. That's right, the television series based on a video game was to recieve it's own video game adaptation. What a world we live in. As if to further compound the silliness, the game wouldn't be a side-scrolling brawler, instead it was decided to be turned into a one-on-one tournament fighter in the hopes of cashing in on Street Fighter II's recent success. TradeWest, who had published most home versions of the original games in America, would hand development for this new title off to their newly founded and short-lived internal development studio, Leland Interactive Media.

 

The 90s certainly wasn't suffering from a lack of fighting games. Following the release of Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, 16-bit consoles saw an influx of tournament fighters all hoping for a fraction of their success. It's no wonder then, that Double Dragon V would be viewed with some much deserved cynicism. Afterall, this game is one of the most transparent corporate cash grabs of it's time. This falls into the same boat as other shameless endeavours like Primal Rage, Cosmic Carnage or Clayfighter. However, for what it is, Double Dragon V is pretty darn good. For one, the controls are spot on. It's easy to pick up for the first time and executing special attacks is relatively straightforward. It's easy to discover special moves without too much trouble and the designers have strayed away from cryptic commands. Also, the AI offers a challenge without being as relentless as Eternal Champions or Mortal Kombat II. It's not impossible to complete the game's modes with just a little effort.

 

It should be said, despite all it's flaws, I really enjoy the cartoon series. I'm certain that your mileage with this title will vary depending on how much you enjoy the show as well. The game offers painstakingly recreated locales from the series. The environments are colourful, animated and populated with familiar toys vehicles. The cast of characters is also populated with the brothers' rogues gallery and special mention has to be given to their fluid animation. It feels like you're playing the cartoon and it feels great to play as Billy or Jimmy and make short work of these thugs. The game also features a "quest mode" that plays like an abridged episode. A few plot points have been taken from the show and it's a lot of fun slowly working your way towards the Shadow Dojo to defeat the Shadow Master. I do wish however, that characters like Abobo and Machine Gun Willy made an appearance. Admitedly they only had a brief presence in the show but it would have gone a long way to connect this game to the past ones. Even the dominatrix-esque character Dominique feels like a missed opportunity as the developers could have simply named her Linda.

Regardless, Double Dragon V manages to avoid many pitfalls commonly seen in the "me too" fighter crowd. The game is full of colour and plays surprisingly well. It's an obvious copy-cat but it's and obvious copy-cat that had some serious effort go into it. The designers clearly spent a lot of time on this project and it would be a shame to have all that work be forgotten simply because it's something different in the series. More work could have been done to better connect this title to it's roots but as it stands, Double Dragon V is a great fighting game, especially if you've played the classics to death. Lately, I've been feeling particularily nostalgic for those halcyon days when your favourite video games were simply everywhere. It was nice to go back for a while with this relic from the past.

Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls is available on Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo Entertainment System & Atari Jaguar. This overview was written after completing the game again on Sega Genesis.









It should come as a surprise to no one when I say that I grew up with the Sega Genesis. It would be accurate to describe the console as my first love in gaming. Even as the years have passed and other consoles have come and gone, the Sega Genesis marks the beginning for me. That's why it delights me that the console has enjoyed such longevity over ther years. But did you know that the Genesis/Mega Drive still has newer iterations being manufactured to this day? We're all familiar with clone consoles, their relative popularity with hobbyists and the slowly increasing market revolving around them. One need only to enter their local flea market or independant game store to find a small selection of them readily available. But what makes the Sega Genesis different is that their have been officially lisenced iterations of these clones available in North America.

The first series of these officially licensed clones was made available in 2004. Designed & sold by Radica Games, these microconsoles were to compete with the recent influx of similar devices from Jakks Pacific. I remember seeing these readily available at the likes of Walmart and Futureshop when I was in highschool. My family had since sold our Sega Genesis and I was interested in purchasing one only to be disappointed when I returned with the necessary funds, they sold rather quickly. What makes these units unique when compared to the subsequent consoles I'm going to discuss today is that they ran on actual Genesis hardware shrunk down to a single chip, much like the Famiclones that are all too common in China. Because of this, they are incredibly customizable with a brief search showing that they can be modded to output S-Videoaccept cartridges and even have authentic audio quality. It's a shame that units like these aren't available anymore.

That brings me to the main focus of this article and the current manufacturer of official Sega hardware, AtGames. There is an astonishingly limited amount of information regarding their partnership with Sega and these units themselves but I'll impart with you what little I've been able to discover. It seems AtGames began circulating their version of the Mega Drive in China somewhere in the mid 2000s. Later in the decade Sega began to officially endorse their products and license their games for sale with them in North America and you can find them available in big department stores and toy stores around the holidays. AtGames version of the Genesis doesn't run on a new iteration of the original hardware but instead runs on a 32-bit chip called the Firecore. Their consoles are typically sold with 15-40 games installed on them with the deluxe models actually including a cartridge slot. Sega must have been impressed with something about the hardware (probably how inexpensive it is) because these units are still being produced.

The Firecore itself is where most criticism against the units is levied. Afterall, AtGames' build quality is acceptable, the game selection always includes great Sega titles, many of these units include expandability in one form or another (more on that later) and they're widely available at a very low price. But the console's Achillies' heel will always lie in it's emulation. In proper Sega fashion, this new version of the Sega Genesis (sometimes referred to as the "model 4") has inferior audio compared to all prior models of the Genesis. In a move I suspect has been done to keep emulation at full speed, the audio has been downsampled. When playing a variety of different games the results can vary from indistinquishable from the original to downright awful, but typically the difference isn't too bad and that's coming from someone who played a lot of Genesis in the 90s. However, this difference is what keeps these consoles from being widely adopted by collectors and purists, who would (understandably) want no difference. Otherwise, emulation is excellent, seemingly running at full speed with a clean video out and responsive controls. I'm personally delighted that these are as widely available as they are and this clip from Annoyed Gamer sort of sums it all up pretty well.

Like I said, these are available in a wide variety of different versions. There's the deluxe model with two wireless 6-button controllers and a cartridge slot. There are at least two versions with motion controllers and faux-Wii games (shudder) in addition to a collection of Genesis games. And there's the one I settled on (pictured above) that is an arcade stick with 26 Genesis games and an SD card slot dubbed the "Arcade Master". And yes, the SD card is for exactly what you think it is. The included games are an excellent cross-section of Sega arcade games (Altered Beast, Golden Axe, Shadow Dancer, Virtua Fighter 2) arcade-style games (Arrow Flash, Eternal Champions, Streets of Rage) and a few others that nicely fit the theme (Kid Chameleon, Sonic Spinball). I also made a point of thoroughly testing the SD card support and encountered no problems among the 100+ games I tested on it. I chose this version because the arcade games have always been my favourite part of Sega's library and I prefer playing old games with an arcade stick. The controller itself is surprisingly well built and the stick/buttons feel authentic and responsive through the use of microswitches.

These aren't going to set the world on fire and they're not going to replace anyone's genuine Genesis. They're not even likely to replace your Hyperkin Retron. But they are pretty nifty and inexpensive, and for my money they'll work in a pinch. These toys are a cool novelty and a great conversation piece when you have your other gamer friends over and anyone who grew up with the Genesis is likely to appreciate that it's still available in one form or another.









About a year ago YouTuber TotalBiscuit created a video asking "Have single-player FPS gone backwards?" and his premise caused me to take pause. The first-person shooter genre is one that I had largely ignored in recent years despite their dominant presence in the industry. However, there was a time when I enjoyed shooters as much as any other game on my PC and I can even remember being excited when high-profile shooters were announced. I've spent the past year playing a large variety of classic FPS titles I remember from my childhood. Games like Wolfenstein 3D, Rise of the Triad, Quake & Half-Life. However, none of the games I played completely rekindled my love for the genre quite like Brutal Doom.

For those not in the know, Brutal Doom is a modification for the Doom series that decidedly cranks all of the game's best elements up to eleven. It's an assuredly juvenile good time that revels in copious amounts of testosterone-fueled violence & gruesomely depraved gore. Brutal Doom has been making it's rounds on the internet for a while now and has seen a level of unprecedented popularity in the Doom community. After recently gathering my collection of iD Software games I decided to finally see what all the fuss was about and I was more than pleasantly surprised. After installing the mod with my copy of Ultimate Doom I made short work of that title's four episodes, then I installed Doom II, followed by the Master Levels for Doom II and then Final Doom. I was abolutely hooked, Brutal Doom isn't simply the best FPS I've played in recent memory, it's the best FPS I've ever played.

This is, in part, due to the mod's 90s sensibilities. Doom is, at it's core, the antithesis of the modern shooter and Brutal Doom successfully upgrades all aspects of the game's core mechanics. The mod's new features compliment the original design without detracting from what makes Doom so great in the first place, all while slightly modernizing the experience (for the better). In short, Brutal Doom is a gore mod but leaving it at that would do a major disservice to all the hard work that's gone into the project. Do not write it off as a simple novelty, Brutal Doom also increases the number of monsters, the game's speed, difficulty and adds new melee attacks. However, it would be impossible to convey just how much of an improvement it actually is by simply listing it's new features because so much of what it adds is in the smaller touches. Like how the new weapon effects make your attacks feel more powerful or how monster blood, guts & flesh cast across the walls & ceilings of the corridors. The end result is a more visceral game that aims to be everything Doom can be without betraying what it actually already is.

I believe much of what TotalBiscuit mentions in his video is true. FPS games from their golden days in the 90s expected more from the player. Even without a modification like this you could still expect yourself to be surrounded by more enemies than you would in a newer release and with fewer supplies. You needed to minimize the damage you took because there was a limited amount of health packs but there isn't any cover around. Levels weren't linear, instead the player is faced with a labyrinth of corridors and passageways. It all adds up to make a gameplay experience I find to be much more engaging. And now, after having played through the entire original Doom collection I have sunk more time into this game than any other released in the past five years, and I've already played through these levels in my childhood. It stands as a testement to the original's excellent design that Doom can still manage to be this engaging after all these years.










This year I've been taking the opportunity to replay all of my favourite Sierra On-Line adventure games. Sierra is likely responsible for the inception of graphic adventures and they certainly did a great deal in terms of creating some of the most memorable entries in the genre. I began playing Sierra adventures when I was still in elementary school and they still stand as my favourite PC games. Fortunately for me, I was playing my father's extensive collection of Sierra adventures and had the benefit of his hand-written notes, hint books and personal guidance to act as something of a tutorial. These games are many great things, but they're certainly not easy for beginners to pick-up & play. With the recent announcement that the Sierra brand would be making a comeback with a brand new King's Quest release, I thought it may be prudent to write down some basic rules of play when it comes to enjoying these digital antiquities.

Rule #1: Save your game early, and save frequently


It may seem strange but I'm not joking when I tell you that you need to learn how to properly save your game when playing any of these titles. With most PC games your instinct would be to keep a small handful of saved games while you play, this would be a recipe for disaster when playing Sierra adventures. Instead, your collection of saved games should function as something of a timeline for each title. Anytime you arrive in a new location, make a new save. For example, if you entered a cave with a dragon, make a saved game called "Dragon's Cave" (always find a word to describe the location in further detail, this may not be the only cave you encounter of your quest). Then, if you find anything or do anything of significance (you'll know when your score increases), overwrite that save. However if you were to leave the location and return later it would be extremely important that you don't overwrite your original save file for this area, instead create a brand new save (in this case, "Dragon's Cave 2"). That way, you can always return to that previous instance. Just because you can return to most locations later in the game doesn't mean everything will be as it originally was. You'll need an effective timeline of everywhere you've been during your adventure and that will likely mean dozens if not a hundred separate saves.

Rule #2: Observation is key


Whenever entering a new scene it's important to look over every pixel on screen. The first thing you should do after saving your game is to liberally use the look command. Players can type 'look around' anytime to get a basic description of their surroundings (when playing the point & click games use the "eye" icon on the background). Read the description carefully as it will direct your attention to points of interest in the room. Likewise be sure to use to the look command to examine anything you find in more detail. Anything written in the game could be a clue to solving a puzzle, so it's important to read as much as possible. Not everything of importance will be mentioned in these descriptions so be sure to use your eyes as well to scan the screen for anything of interest. Sometimes important items can also be obscured by objects in the foreground as well, so leave no rock unturned.

Rule #3: Pick up everything that isn't nailed down. If it is, solve the puzzle of getting the nail out



As an adventure game protagonist the only weapon at your disposal is the collection of an endless myriad of seemingly useless junk cluttering your pockets. If it can be picked up, it's likely necessary to completing the game so you'll save yourself a lot of frustration if you pick everything up your first time around. Even the most mundane object will hold some value to you later and it's only under the rarest circumstance that you'll want to leave an object behind. If an item is irretrievable in someway it's important that you eventually figure out how to take it with you.

Rule #4: Remember to use commonsense



Sierra adventures operate on simple logic-based puzzles. That is, most of the time, commonsense is all you need. Whenever you're stuck be sure to ask yourself what you would do if this was real life. Be sure to take note of everything you've collected so far, what can you use to get yourself out of this scenario? Many times there are multiple solutions to a single obstacle, get creative and see what you can come up with. Even failed attempts can lead to helpful hints. Try everything you can think of before resorting to a hint book or FAQ.

Rule #5: Read the manual before playing



It may seem like a strange thing to mention but you should familiarize yourself with the game's manual before playing any Sierra adventure. Within the game's documentation could be several vital clues that will help you along your way or even copy-protection that the game may reference later. Parts of the manual's written narrative may even reference people or places you'll encounter in your travels. The game may expect you to know what's written in the manual to get through certain sections.

And lastly, there's something I like to tell all newcomers to these games and the adventure genre in general. Do not pick up anyone of these titles with the intent of finishing them. Play these games with the intent of experiencing them. It's easy to get frustrated when you're not making progress but the enjoyment these titles have to offer come from the puzzles, characters and environments. Really take in every moment, stop to appreciate the scenery and play at a slower, more deliberate pace. Boot up each game knowing that the odds are likely stacked against you, and for my money I wouldn't have it any other way.









A recent venture to the local dollar store yielded a small surprise for me. Amongst the eclectic selection of public domain films and K-Tel CDs I found a copy of 2012's Syndicate, appropriately priced at only one Canadian dollar. While only vaguely familiar with the series I couldn't resist promptly purchasing the oddity, if only to satiate my curiosity. I hurried home to begrudgingly install Origin (and I was successful after only two failed attempts) and after squashing a runtime error I was finally granted access to the world of Syndicate. Three hours later as the credits rolled I couldn't help but feel like the entire game could have been so much more. I'd like to preface this overview by stating that I have never played an entry in this series before, but I am aware that this iteration is a major departure from the originals. With that out of the way, let's take a look at Syndicate.

The game has an interesting premise, one that is becoming more and more relevant with each passing year. In Syndicate, the world is controlled entirely by large corporations and the majority of the populace is augmented with cranial implants. You play as Kilo (kilobyte?), a corporate raider/hired gun who fights for the large conglomerate EuroCorp's interests. You've just been implanted with the company's latest prototype chip to make you a more efficient killer and when one of EuroCorp's rivals readies to unveil a similar product you're sent in to stop them. One of the conceivable advantages to shifting the series' focus from isometric strategy to first-person action could be to tell a more personal story while letting the player explore this interesting future firsthand. Unfortunately Syndicate accomplishes neither, you're never given more than surface level details regarding Kilo and the moments when you're allowed to simply look around and explore are too few and far between. I wasn't expecting the same level of exploration seen in titles like Deus Ex, but Syndicate doesn't even offer you a guided tour like the BioShock series would.



The story is also woefully underdeveloped. Without pouring through data logs players will understand only the basics of their surroundings. Starbreeze Studios have engineered an attractive soapbox to discuss issues of globalisation or transhumanism and the opportunity has been completely squandered. Also, at only three hours long, the entire campaign feels like the first entry in an episodic series instead of a full fledged retail release. Kilo can't even be considered a hero for a majority of the game because he doesn't have his obligatory change of heart until you're two thirds of the way through the story. It's too bad because the game's presentation is top-notch with a competent voice cast and style to burn.


All of this would be excusable if actually playing Syndicate was fun & exciting. While the gunplay is fast & frantic it never manages to reach the absurd heights of Rise of the Triad or Bulletstorm leaving it largely forgettable. And while you have access to special abilities allowing you to hack enemies and environments you'll rarely need to make use of them. Halfway through the campaign I was having difficulty finding the motivation necessary to continue. My feeling of ennui is an unfortunate side effect to the development team's unfocused talent. Syndicate can sometimes be a feast for the eyes despite it's modest system requirements, it's just a shame that the game's large budget was wasted on such a disposable experience. It's certainly worth the price of a gas-station cup of coffee, but not much more.










Gameloft has a dubious standing in the game's industry. While they're known for almost consistently delivering a respectable level of quality with their efforts, the studio is almost universally looked down upon for what most feel to be an uncomfortable level of unoriginality or even downright plagiarism. However, littered throughout their catalogue are some of the best efforts the handheld scene has ever received, especially in regards to mobile phones. That of course brings me to the subject of my article today, Crystal Monsters. A brief examination of the game's promotional material would lead even the most casual of gamers to conclude it was simply a Pokémon rip-off of sorts. They'd be correct, at least, mostly.

Crystal Monsters is a curious release, initially made only available to Japan in 2008 for mobile phones under the title Monster Chronicles. Crystal Monsters was then ported to Nintendo DS in 2010 and released by way of the now almost irrelevant DSiWare service. It's not that I can't understand Gameloft's choice to make the title available for DSi, it's an inherently natural fit. What I can't understand is why they would choose to release it exclusively on DSiWare in our territory and entirely forego a release on Google Play or the iTunes App Store. On the Nintendo DS, Crystal Monsters would essentially have to compete for players' attention with the perpetually red-hot Pokémon franchise. On the mobile market, they would have almost no competition. Especially back in 2010, it had the opportunity to print money. Instead, Crystal Monsters will have to settle for being a largely forgotten footnote in the history of video games.


The game opens with a short text crawl explaining that there are many different realities and that in this story two separate realities have come closer together. One is a world much like ours and the other is a world inhabited by monsters. Your character is something called a "Neo-Seed", a genetic mutation that can see these creatures as they naturally roam the countryside. These monsters are otherwise invisible to normal people who call themselves "Pure Breeds". Many Pure Breeds blame the recent appearance of monsters and Neo-Seeds for much of the world's problems and some radicals have formed a political organization called the Pure Faction to lobby for the control of breeders and their companions. When your home town's celebrity breeder is injured before a regional monster tournament you're given one of three monsters to start your own career as a breeder and are promptly sent in his place to compete. However, it isn't long before you're swept up in an adventure to save the world from certain doom.


In short, the story is a bit ridiculous. But it is, at the very least, somewhat original and a great starting point for a series of interesting events. It's easy to imagine this as the set-up for a children's animé series. The game's presentation has taken significant inspiration from Pokémon but the gameplay has more in common with the Dragon Quest Monsters series with a greater emphasis on breeding and three vs. three combat. The differences persist as Crystal Monsters features a much more involved capture process. The game's creatures are effectively divided into nine elements and each requires a unique stone to capture. Later in the game, a crystal will prove to be quite ineffective when used by itself and capture will require the use of other items in conjunction with them. Also, you'll rarely find yourself in competition with other breeders, instead most battles will be with wild monsters or boss monsters. That's not to say that other breeders will never challenge you to a fight (Pure Faction will challenge you themselves in regular Team Plasma fashion), they simply do not make up the bulk of your obstacles.


Speaking of combat, that's where Crystal Monsters truly excels. Players need to exploit type advantages to chain together attacks much in the same way the Shin Megami Tensei series requires. Successful chain attacks are accomplished with on screen button prompts akin to Super Mario RPG. And your plan of attack will have to be thought out beforehand because you're limited to a team of three monsters and you can only have a grand total of twenty captured monsters. Your inventory requires similar scrutiny as you're limited to carrying a grand total of only fifty items including consumables used in battle. Halfway through the game, my inventory was always full and I was forced to carefully weigh the pros and cons of discarding any item in favour of another.



The systems in place are different enough to make the game feel fresh and playing Crystal Monsters for the first time was invigorating as I was flying blind (there is little to no information available online regarding this title outside of a half-dozen reviews and some dead forum threads). The creature designs are also similarly praiseworthy as they manage to be original, distinct and visually appealing. This game had been in the corner of my mind since first seeing it on the eShop and I'm glad I finally took a chance on it. At only $5 USD it comes highly recommended and I hope that it's sequel is eventually ported as well.
Crystal Monsters is available now on the DSi Shop for 500 Nintendo Points