hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts


touchofkiel's blog

1:47 AM on 08.03.2015

On Being Grounded and Other Gaming Inconveniences

A fellow Dtoider blogged earlier today about his ideas for a Twisted Metal reboot; it reminded me of a time, circa 1997. After a bad report card my mother began rummaging through my backpack, looking for all my undone homework - she found a copy of this, which I had traded for with a friend from school. 


A "Teen" rating wasn't always certain doom in my house, but a cover like that... yep, it was soon taken away from me.

It also reminded me of Twisted Metal: Black. To support its online "initiative" (laughable compared to Xbox Live, naturally), Sony sent out online-enabled, multiplayer-only copies of the game to members of - whatever, I forget. It offered two modes: 1v1 for those with dial-up, and full matches for broadband-only. At this point in 2002, I don't remember if dial-up was still the standard in the US, or if my family was just behind the times - probably both. 1v1 was a snooze, and I longed for - begged for! broadband so that I could get the full gaming experience (not to mention get disconnected anytime someone in the house picked up the phone...). Online console gaming was in its infancy, and I never had access to a decent gaming computer. My older brother had one, but he practically kept it under lock and key - no doubt to make use of what the internet was REALLY made for, that filthy fapper. The prospect of broader multiplayer really, really appealed to me - I was one of those dudes who played Everquest Online Adventures, for chrissake. And then the first SOCOM game came out. 

Something about pre-ordering a game really appealed to me back in those days. It was also a way to get around buying an M-rated game. Contrary to media reports about who-gives-a-fuck Gamestop employees, I was often restricted by employees from purchasing games with a Mature rating (this was the Jack Thompson era, after all), and my parents were kinda-sorta diligent about it - particularly when it was their money. But they never restricted me from pre-ordering any game - and paying for it in installments, so that when, say, GTAIII came out, I simply had to walk in and pick it up. A clever workaround, if I may say so myself. 

I pre-ordered SOCOM 1, with its included headset, eager to cap some - oh, shit, it's broadband only. 


For months I agonized, playing through its dull campaign, wishing, hoping, dreaming of broadband. Meanwhile I get caught (this is high school) with alcohol, and I'm grounded from games for a few months. It's this moment when my parents decide to upgrade to broadband - mercy, it's agony! There's no real punchline to this story - just that, even after waiting for broadband, I still had to wait a while after that before I could take advantage of it. And SOCOM became one of my favorite games. 

Long before that, somewhere in the 1st or 2nd grade, I remember having my Game Boy taken away from me for a week because I kept yelling "JESUS CHRIST!" while playing Zelda: Link's Awakening. I'm not a Zelda fan - it's the only entry in the series that has ever captivated me (believe me, I've tried to like the series; I just don't). It's a frustrating game. 


Later on, when Halo 2 was the rage, my mom overheard me muttering "cocksuckers!" over a game of Capture the Flag to my friends online. This was also the year Deadwood started airing, and I fancied myself a fine connoisseur of premium television programming (I think I just liked the fact that every Sopranos episode opened in a strip club). 

(On a side note, Halo 2 holds great memories for me. Not only was its MP honed to near-perfection, but it was also a game that seemingly everyone played, nerds, jocks, drama weirdos, and everything in between; we had entire full-team matches consisting of half the graduating class. Something that's never happened to me since.)

My mom's solution this team - clever, but not quite - was to just take away my controller for a week, to make it easier on herself I suppose. Little did she suspect that I kept another, rarely-used one in the closet, which I simply retrieved late at night, or when they went out to dinner. Gotcha, Mom. Still, to be unable to play Halo 2 at a time when its online play dominated my life... painful. 

So! Dtoiders. Tell me your stories about particularly agonizing groundings - or better yet, your clandestine way around them, your loopholes. We've all held a Game Boy in between the covers of a book, pretending to read; we've all been caught; we've all anxiously awaited the return of our goods.

Sorry about the lack of images; I'm feeling sort of lazy, and I haven't blogged in nearly a year. Yep. 


7:08 AM on 08.22.2014

Electric seaweed

Ah, the TMNT trilogy on NES. Not really a trilogy, but whatever. These are the kind of games a mother may buy for her child, and so that child might feel loved. Or something.

Turtle fever is in full swing; what started as a simple black-and-white parody comics somehow morphed into something with even less integrity but still beloved by, well, me, and probably you. There's a reason, after all, we like to say Michael Bay ruined our childhood; I wonder if some fan of the original comic felt that way when it was made into a Saturday morning cartoon. But I guess when you're busy starting indie comic grant foundations and marrying would-be porn stars, you're bound to lose sight of your baby. Or just cease to give a shit.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that you might fondly remember the first TMNT game on NES, and you would be a fool to do so. It is a true abomination, barely a step above Marvel's X-men. That game was such a heinous crime against games and comics that we can joke about it; even our young selves were aware of what garbage it was, and so our opinion is not tainted by nostalgia.

Not so TMNT! Even I have fond memories of this game, and I sort of loathe it. The kid who could make it past the water level? A schoolyard legend. The one who could make it past the rooftop levels? A giant among boys. Did you actually know anyone who could even make it to the military base, let alone navigate that series of sewers? Playing this game years later, when I discovered the magic of emulators (and the porn-ridden ROM sites; ah, to be young), I was sort of astounded by how much more game there was that I didn't know about. Not that it offers anything I hadn't experienced, but it's a pretty lengthy adventure.

I'll give Konami credit for two things: their ambition, and the decent graphics. Except "ambition" also means throwing a ton of on-screen enemies at once, and the game constantly gets bogged down with flicker, image blocking, and slowdown. So their ambition has undone their graphics. Addendum: I'll give Konami credit for their ambition and that's it.

The game starts off with an overhead map style. I guess I'll go to that sewer - Christ, I just got run over by a monster truck. I vaguely remember disliking Zelda II, you say to yourself, and this is like that. Strike 1. 

You can switch between the four turtles at any time, which is nice. There are a few minor differences - reach, speed, power - but they're so negligible that it essentially amounts to having four life bars. You'll then notice the wonky physics. Which isn't entirely bad - it's at least responsive - but the game demands some exacting platforming later on, and not in the good Batman way either. I'm talking about walking to the edge of a building so that only the minimum number of heel pixels are touching the ground, and even then it might not be enough. Or having to lightly tap the jump button just so, because if you go too high, you'll hit your head and fall through the gap. Which might kill you, or it might drop you down and force you to go through that segment again - with Ninja Gaiden-style respawning enemies and cheap, downright mean placement. You might enter a building, fight your way through generic enemies coming at you every which way, make your way to the dead end, only to find... a slice of health-restoring pizza. And then, yes, you have to fight your way out again. Did I mention there are no saves or password systems? And did I mention that I'm only describing the game's first few stages?

Very few people have seen beyond these stages, because of this damn level:

I remember beating it on occasion, but my turtles would be so depleted that I wouldn't last long after. Mostly, though, I remember getting to the dam stage, then remembering that the water stage is next, and turning off the system right then and there before I would allow those bastards to demoralize me like that.

The controls are unresponsive in this segment, the obstacles are highly dangerous, and damn near impossible to get through using a single turtle. Oh, and to disarm these 6 bombs, you have less than 2 1/2 minutes. 

People call this game "very difficult," which is nostalgia's way of saying "utterly fucking impossible." It' sort of amusing that we look back at "difficult" games and view them through the rose-tinted spectacles of our glorious youth, and we call it "old-school challenge," as if we've forgotten what obsessive little brats we were, with the time and dedication memorize layouts and develop these absurd reflexes, and most of us didn't have many options with our game libraries, or maybe we just didn't give a shit because HEY IT'S A TURTLES GAME. You've lost your Metroid saves, you've worn out your traffic cone-orange pack-in light gun, your brother has a girlfriend now (gross!) and doesn't want to play Contra with you anymore, and you just can't seem to blow the dust out of that old copy of Blaster Master. Hell, what else am I gonna play? What, like I'm going to visit that kid down the street? You know, that weird kid with his Sega Master System, who's gonna make me watch him struggle through Zillion again?

And so these are the circumstances in which I imagine no less than four million suckers bought this game. That puts it in the top 10 of NES games sold. And it doesn't get much better after the water level, either. The platforming gets tricky - it would be hard even with perfect controls and a decent physics system. The game throws even more enemies at you, and half the time it's bogged down with technical glitches and image cutouts. The enemies get stronger, and you don't. Levels get longer, your options open up , but what's the use? Half the time, beating a level means backtracking to the entrance. I'm playing this with Game Genie codes on, and I even had to map the quick save/quick load commands to my actual controller, and it was still one of the most frustrating games I've ever played. The final walk up to Shredder is a long, narrow corridor, with no jumping space, and waves upon waves of fast enemies that require 2 hits to take down, except there is not nearly enough time for that before they hit you. If someone could make it there, and survive it (possibly with the Ninja Gaiden-style projectile pickups), Shredder gives the final 'fuck you' - an instant kill that shrinks you down to a little turtle. 

A bad game is a bad game, but I would only harp on it if it showed some promise. Like I said, the game has ambition. You progress between levels on an outdoor overhead map type thing, eventually unlocking the turtle van. Roadblocks bar your way, and you're forced to seek special missiles for your van; in another instance, on the rooftops, you're required to find some rope to climb across an impossibly large gap. Hey! There is some merit in this. It's not exactly a proper Metroidvania, but it's a nice change of pace from strictly linear progression. The final act prevents a massive maze of sewers and underground passages that must be navigated in the proper order. All of this would be great if the game was actually fun and not controller-throwing cheap. Instead it's something closer to misery. Don't let your memory tell you any differently; you can't trust it. 

All screenshots are my own; cover artwork courtesy of GameFAQs. I actually meant to write about the other two TMNT games on NES as well, but this went on a little longer than I expected. Uh, sorry about that. Look for them over the weekend! If you're into that sort of thing.    read

12:57 AM on 08.19.2014

Those wonderful toys

I've long preferred Burton's pair of Batman films to Nolan's noisy, bloated, self-serious behemoths. But hey! This is meant to be about video games. And how the four very different games based on Burton's first 1989 Batman film kinda-sorta gave me some gaming confidence back. 

"Based on" is a pretty loose way of putting it when it comes the first NES Batman game. Contrary to what studios and publishers think, superhero movies really don't make great material for video games (superheroes in general, on the other hand, certainly have the potential...). For instance: this film. It's not exactly action-packed, and Burton isn't exactly an action director. I'd say he has the worst concept of filmic action of any major big-budget filmmaker, actually. You're probably familiar with the NES adaptation: awesome and hard as hell. 

The action platformer - the bread and butter of the NES library - well, hell, I guess it would lend itself to Batman too. Why not? We have city streets full of thugs and - well, throw some robots in there too. A chemical plant? That's the type of level NES developers live for. Death traps, insta-kill pits, electric walls, whatever. Do I look like I care that Batman is sorta sworn to never use a gun? Give him one anyway - hell, give him three different guns. 

Gee, guys, I don't remember much of the movie - did Batman go down to the sewers and fight hunchback monsters? We'll throw that in there too. Did he emerge in a massive underground cavern and fight tanks hand-to-hand? We'll pretend he did. What do you mean Killer Moth wasn't in the movie? Damnit, I've already drawn the sprites! Ok, throw him in there too. 

I'm sorry, I'm not very funny and I sincerely apologize. But it is amusing to me how the game quickly goes from "very loosely based on the film" to "fuck it, let's do what we want." By the time Batman himself punches Jack into the vat of chemicals, the game takes a steep turn into hardcore NES platforming action.

And it is hard, and brutal, and sadistic, but only occasionally unfair. The game sets itself apart in two ways: Batman starts off with a choice of three secondary weapons - a missile gun, a returning batarang, and a sort of spreadshot gun. You won't see other weapons, like in Castlevania or Ninja Gaiden - instead you'll be looking to pick up ammo from dead enemies. Luckily, they drop frequently - after the first level, it's not really in your best interest to use the short-range punch anymore. 

The real challenge is in the platforming. The key is the wall-jump; but unlike Ninja Gaiden, Batman only clings to the wall for a split-second. Like Castlevania, though, the general pace of the game is slower and more measured; there's a slight delay when jumping and punching.

The platforming mechanics are honed to perfection, but it can be difficult to see at first after you fall to your death for the 28th time. Reflex and memorization are important, like any NES game really, but what's more important is precision, especially when you get to the brilliantly devious death traps in the later stages. But the controls and the perfect way the challenges ramp up means you'll never die feeling cheated (well, usually). 

For games like this, that I know well enough, I like to turn on Game Genie codes, mostly so I can really take my time, take note of the details, and get some nice screenshots. I got so into the platforming bliss that I turned on an infinite ammo code, to get those enemies out of the way so I could focus strictly on pure platforming. But then you get to a boss, and who has time to memorize those kind of patterns anymore? Except there's no infinite health code. I got worried I might not even be able to finish the game - Mutant Mudds has recently been kicking my ass and making me feel like a platforming chump. 

This particular boss is harder than any other in the game, even the final fight against the Joker. But I survived - even that endless series of vertical, pixel-precise platforming in the final stage couldn't keep me down. Fitting, then, that the last fight against the Joker is something of a joke - an easy pattern, and an easy trick. 

I used to think it was a solid game with little more than nice graphics, a lovely soundtrack, and a brutally unfair difficulty. But I persisted, and discovered that this already-loved game is actually underrated. There's nothing like taking on a series of exacting platforming challenges and coming out victorious - and feeling like it was due to your precise and steady hand instead of dumb luck. 

In typical old-school fashion, Sunsoft adapted the film for Genesis and Game Boy, as well, and they're all totally different. The Genesis was only a year old by the time this game hit, and it serves more as a graphical showcase than anything else. Its platforming is fine, though standard, and the action leans more towards punching than throwing things. It follows the film more closely - except for that part where the museum turns into a massive deathtrap full of falling chandeliers and bottomless pits, and also the part where Batman gets in the Batmobile to take to the streets and shoot down any poor sap who happens to be on the road tonight - and there's a distinct emphasis on action rather than compelling platforming.

But like the NES game, it's lovely to look at, it has some great environmental touches (the way the rain changes in the first level, for example), and the music is even better than the NES. But the bosses are predictable and easy, and the game is unusually short. Batmobile and Batwing sidescrolling shooter levels are thrown in there, but they too are inoffensive and unremarkable. It could be worse, though - have you seen the way Spider-man was treated on the 8-and-16-bit consoles? 

And once again, the Game Boy adaptation is an entirely different game. And surprisingly not bad! Its platforming is limited to horizontal, and the action is entirely made up of Batman shooting guys. The platforming can be tricky, and the physics take a little getting used to, but it plays well enough. The central hook here is not wall-jumping, but instead destructible blocks. Littered through the stages are squares that can be shot - they can drop power-ups, they can be used as platforms, and they also can also impede your way to the next platform. 



The key to the game is choosing whether or not to shoot a block: you could get that power-up, but it will make the next jump that much more tricky. Or you might need to shoot it anyway just to make room for your next jump. It's a simple but clever mechanic, and it's well implemented. While the game does borrow the great music of the Genesis version, it can't match either game in the graphics department - even for a Game Boy game, it doesn't look particularly great. But that's fine, because the small sprites (Batman is literally half the height of the Joker) and lack of background detail actually affords more visibility - too often Game Boy games would spring for large, attractive sprites, and the screen would be overly cramped, sometimes making platformers a hellish experience on the handheld. 



There are a couple of Batwing stages thrown in, too, but they're more interesting than the Genesis fluff - they're hard as hell. And hey, what do you know, no Game Genie codes for this segment either. And I made it through! I can still get it up. What a relief. 




Here's one you might not know: Yes, another game from the 1989 film, this time an arcade game. And it's pretty obscure, as far as popular film adaptations go. Made by Atari, not Sunsoft, the game is a strange combination of action-platforming and Rolling Thunder-type shooting segments. It's an arcade game, which means it was designed to be cheap and unfair, and on top of that, it's clunky, inconsistent, and rather dull. It does use music and voices from the movie (though it eventually gets creepy hearing Jack Nicholson deliver those lines randomly in the middle of a level), and it is nice looking, but... no. Stay far away.

All screenshots are my own. Box art courtesy of GameFAQs.   read

9:36 PM on 08.14.2014

A funny thing happened on the way to Zanarkand...

FFX Spoilers, duh

So there I am, having killed Seymour (again, maybe) and approaching the 'point of no return' - you know, that point in JRPGs where the world suddenly opens up and you're given free reign to explore and grind and unlock ultimate weapons through absurdly time-consuming quests while the final boss waits patiently for you to come slaughter him. Tidus has just passed out and a lot of mumbo-jumbo was spouted about 'fayth' (gotta love Square's fanciful misspellings), dreams, Sin, etc. The cut scenes are getting longer and more frequent, as they're wont to do when the game's main quest winds down and prepares hashed-together answers for all those, ahem, deeply intriguing mysteries. 

But then Yuna drops a sphere - the game's superfluous doodad which serves as an excuse for flashbacks. Here we go again... 

About halfway through the main quest we, through the eyes of Tidus, who serves as the player's proxy, learn that Yuna's pilgrimage will ultimately end in her death. The sphere she drops later is something of a will, or just a monologue of memories. She goes through the list of guardians, recalling how they met and what each one means to her. Well, OK. I'm enjoying my time with the game, but its linearity has grown stifling and the narrative has begun to bore me, and then the strangest thing happens...

That scene moved me. 

Or, "all the feels," as the Tumblr hipsters like to say. Finally, nearly 40 hours into the game, Hedy Burress (who voices Yuna) moves beyond the stilted, breathy way of speaking she's used for, I dunno, the entire game, and finally, finally sounds like an actual human being.


I can't remember the last time a game genuinely moved me. Sure, I was shocked by Aeris' death - but the power of that scene comes from the heartbreaking piano tune, and not Aeris herself (who was barely a character). Games rarely match the emotional power of film, or literature, or drama, and that's fine, because they rarely strive to (which isn't to say that they can't or are unable to). 

And so I wondered why it was that this scene, spoken by a character who annoyed me, speaking about other shallow characters I didn't care much about, could really affect me. And I suppose I forgot about some of the basic principles of fiction - archetypes, character arcs, and catharsis (no worries; I won't be throwing any Aristotle at you). 

There is a certain mode of viewing for every artistic medium. For the media that is part of our cultural DNA, it's something we don't even think about - it is an unconscious recognition of various forms and devices. It's understanding that Greek nudes are not meant to be sexual; it's letting go of reality and not wondering why a murderous British barber suddenly breaks out in song; it's ignoring the massive plot holes in any number of mysteries or thrillers or action movies. It's a combination of suspension of disbelief and an unconscious knowledge of the devices that each respective medium employs in an attempt to reach its conclusion: emotional catharsis for the audience and/or a challenging of viewpoints. 

Anime is particularly important in this regard - for us in the west, the mode of viewing required is not necessarily innate in our culture, and those looking from the outside in are often baffled by "anime style." Devices like action lines, and big eyes, and the way the characters seem to grunt and gasp and moan and make so much goddamn noise. It's important to understand that anime makes use of very broad archetypes and a very standardized form of visual and aural language; so we know that big eyes is not meant to be cute for its own sake, but is meant to invoke youth, which invokes cuteness, which signifies the role that character has in relation to the story's world. We know that this anime character is not literally sweating, but that sweat bead is meant to represent an emotion in reaction to the situation - a visual shorthand, if you will. Anime uses these type of broad, simple devices more than any other medium - but that's the Japanese style, and we can see the same methods used in their traditional drama, in their paintings, in the bold violence of a Kurosawa battle scene, in the simple of lines of a haiku poem, and we can probably trace this all back to the general principles of Zen but holy shit this is supposed to be about video games damnit what is wrong with me-

All of which I mean to say is that Final Fantasy X is the most Japanese entry in the series, and it starts with the story and characters. It eventually occurred to me that the seemingly shallow party members aren't really meant to be considered fully-rounded characters; they're designed to hold fast to their archetypes, and their power lies not in their individual traits, but in how they play their role in the group's dynamic. The stoic warrior; the grizzled veteran; the cold big sister; the naive-but-sincere moron; the cute spunky girl; the self-serious, hesitant young woman. Sound familiar?

Other games in the series follow a similar pattern. But in, say, FFVII, most of the characters exist as caricatures until lengthy cut-scenes detail their backstory and motivations before they go back to being caricatures (a method that works with varying degrees of success; secret characters Vincent and Yuffie are given much more interesting and developed backstories than main characters like Tifa or Cait Sith). 

Not so in FFX. Here, characters begin as caricatures, but we rarely see any major flashbacks that are solely intended to develop a single character. Rather, we pick up bits and pieces of each character's history, which are (relatively speaking) weaved in and out of the main narrative in a more organic fashion. It's expert storytelling, but the problem is that this main narrative is nearly 40 hours long and so for much of the game you'll be wondering why you should care about them. Ah, but when you near the end - even as the minutia of the plots gets even hazier and bogged down in mystical nonsense - you realize that the game has just spent 40 hours slowly and patiently building these characters up and - oh, hey, catharsis, Yuna's memories, etc. 

What's even more impressive is that the quality of the voice acting improves as the game goes on - and as you get to know the characters better, what might seemed like stilted acting makes a little more sense (sometimes, anyway). When I first booted up the game - the HD remake on Vita - I thought, "Jeez, why is Tidus so goddamn shrill?" But his voice gradually becomes less annoying - in tandem with how his character develops and matures. That is some quality storytelling right there - it's a slow burn, for sure, but it is rewarding.

The same goes for other characters as well. Hearing Yuna speak confidently later on is key to understanding just why the acting seems so bad earlier. Auron doesn't speak like a poor Wolverine imitator because he's meant to be cool and tough - he does it because he's wounded and, hey, actually dead. Likewise for Lulu. And later on, knowing what we know of Wakka's naive belief system, his voice suddenly seems like a perfect fit.

Which isn't to say that all the voice acting is good. Nearly every secondary character and NPC has some terrible acting (except for that old historian dude you run into) - from Seymour and Jecht to Cid and (especially) the child actors. And again, while the way the character development is presented is expertly done, it still requires a commitment from the player - and those early hours can be dull as hell. 

It's funny how character development could be so absorbing (eventually) while the plot itself takes the opposite turn. It starts off well enough: Tidus is magically transported 1000 years into the future, and we're introduced to the main thrust of the game: the summoner's pilgrimage to destroy Sin. I like how single-minded it is, especially after the loose and vague plot of FFIX or the drastic turns that FFVIII took so often. It serves the game well - what, you want to go exploring on an overworld map? Too bad! You're on a pilgrimage, damnit, no time for that. It's no secret that FFX did the "run down the corridor" thing long before FFXIII did. The linearity is still stifling and rather dull, but at least it makes sense within the context of the plot itself.

A plot which isn't particularly interesting, it might be said. I did say that this was the most Japanese FF, and I meant it. A small group of watery islands (not the sprawling continents of FFs past) constantly threatened by an unstoppable earthquake/tsunami monster - gee, sound like any country we know? Even the game's fictional religion has more resemblance to eastern religion than JRPGs' usual target, the Catholic church (well, except for those Gregorian chants). 

There is potential there for a powerful metaphor, but it soon gets bogged down in typical FF nonsense. An unstoppable environmental threat is not enough - no, this is the Kitase/Nomura Final Fantasy, and we need an effeminate villain with mommy issues to shake things up. And while Tidus initially provides a pair of fresh eyes for the audience, the details of his plot - he's a dream, or something? - is as absurd and vague as this series gets. 

Ultimately the game is a major slow burn, and the pacing is about as lopsided as I've ever seen in a JRPG (excluding Xenogears, of course). And here you thought I could only write about old Captain America games! More fool you, I suppose.

Next time: Spira, its inhabitants, the battle system, and the endgame.

All in game screenshots are my own.    read

9:39 AM on 08.13.2014

The Last Avengers Game (no seriously)

What? Where are you going? No, don't leave, it's the last one, I promise! There's more to me than Captain America games developed exclusively by Data East. Honest!

So here's one you might not know. Remember when Primal Rage looked cool? Neither do I, but regardless, its digitized CG-esque sprites look incredibly dated today (and the same goes for Mortal Kombat, and pretty much any light-gun arcade shooter of the '90s. And every Sega CD game ever made.

Data East wanted in on the action - no more breezy 2D brawlers for us - and fighting games had replaced beat-em-ups as the quarter-muncher of choice in most arcades. They inflicted this abomination upon Marvel fans and gamers alike.

I've never actually seen Avengers in Galactic Storm in the arcades, and for good reason - it's utter garbage. Take the graphics of the cartoon ReBoot, put a Cheap Chinese Knockoff filter over them, re-record that three times over an old VHS, and pretend like you have cataracts. That's sort of how this game looks. Static backgrounds, stiff (though humorously awkward) animation, and a weird plastic sheen on everything. And a little Rob Liefeld anatomy.

It doesn't play much better, either. In story mode - which has you fighting random goons, but in fighting game style - you can choose from a whopping four characters: Captain America, temporary Thor replacement Thunderstrike, Crystal of the Inhumans, and, uh, Black Knight. Moves are generally Street Fighter based - quarter circles and weak/strong punches and kicks. Very little consideration seems to have been given to such advanced concepts like roster balance and general playability. 

To make it worse, Capcom was gearing up their own line of Marvel fighting games. The solid X-men: Children of the Atom had been out for a year, and the excellent Marvel Super Heroes hit arcades about the same time as this piece of shit. We might call this the Great Lakes Avengers of superhero games. 

But why am I even talking about it? For fighting game fans and Marvel fans alike, it's a pretty interesting game. According to Wikipedia (I really don't know my fighting history), the game was the first major - if not the first - fighting game to feature assist attacks, which are generally overpowered and act more like a level 1 super than, say, MvC's combo-starter assists. The assists are more recognizable: Iron Man, (the real) Thor, Vision, and Giant Man. And on the Kree side, one of the assists includes Ronan - you know, of Guardians of the Galaxy fame? See, I'm relevant! 

And that's what makes this interesting to Marvel fans. The entire game is based on an Avengers storyline - to be honest, I don't even recall reading it. It wasn't as huge as comic events are today, but it was a fairly major Avengers storyline. And when the entire roster opens up, you can select from four various Kree (you know, the bad guys from GotG). These include: Shatterax, Dr. Minerva, Supremor, and Korath. Seriously, even I am not familiar with all of these. Remember playing Marvel vs. Capcom and wondering who the hell Shuma Gorath is? Yeah, imagine an entire roster like that. Easily the most obscure and random assortment of playable characters in a Marvel game. 

But a shitty game is a shitty game, and this one exists as more of a curiosity for fighter and Marvel fans than anything resembling a game you should actually play. 

All in game screenshots are my own.

Next time: No, really, I'm done with the Avengers. It's finally time to pick apart Final Fantasy X, I'm thinking...   read

5:03 AM on 08.12.2014

ROGER, WASP: That other Captain America game

Not only did Data East make an awesome Avengers beat-em-up that sort of reveled in its own mediocrity, they ported it to NES like so many other classics. Except "port" isn't the right word; it's an entirely different game. In a time where multi-generation, multi-plat games are just watered down versions of the same thing (or beefed up versions, depending on your view), multi-gen games that were released in the twilight years of the NES and the early years of the 16-bit onslaught were often entirely different games. This is something I'll be looking at eventually, especially the curious case of Batman Returns.

And let's face it - at this point, in 1992 (a year after the arcade game hit greasy pizza joints and mall arcades everywhere), the NES isn't so hot anymore. Sega's hype campaign for the Genesis is in full blast, and the SNES is soon to challenge it. The NES is just so Janet Jackson, man - this is 1992 and the year of Boyz II Men

Which is sort of a shame because Data East's NES - we'll call it adaptation - of Captain America and the Avengers is an entirely serviceable game, and I don't mean that ironically or nostalgically. It's pretty standard NES fare - that old standby, the action-platformer - but like the arcade game, its attention to detail is pleasing, and it plays well. 

Iron Man and Vision are down for the count. The game opens with a map, not so unlike Bionic Commando. As Cap or Hawkeye, you take a superheroic road trip across the US in hopes of stopping various Avengers villains. Each starts off at two different points of the map, and beating the other's level will allow them to move as a team, after which they can be swapped in and out at any time. 

This is the central crux of the game, because unlike, say, the first TMNT game on NES, Cap and Hawkeye play quite differently. The fact that they feel like two very full-fledged playing styles is key to the game's success. There are situational instances that require one or the other's skill set; but otherwise, you're free to play with whomever you like. Cap has mobility - he can hang from bars and has a special dash attack. His shield goes through walls and is generally more powerful - but he can only throw it when standing, and in one direction. When holding his shield, it makes for - well, an actual shield against bullets, and he can use it to float in water or poison. 

Hawkeye, on the other hand, cannot hand from bars, and has no way of getting across water (though in a strange little change from the norm, water doesn't kill or even hurt). His arrows are generally weaker, and they can't go through environmental objects - but he can shoot them while crouching, or in the air, and he can aim up and diagonal. All of which gives him a precision that Cap lacks. I love to see this kind of thing in games - characters who aren't different enough to fundamentally change the rules of the game, but are different enough to keep things fresh. 

It's a lovely looking game - as an NES game released in 1992 should be - sound effects are noticeably in good form, and like the arcade game, the music is choice. Beyond that, though, the game just feels right. Platforming is smooth and the physics never leave you feeling cheated; taking an enemy out with a well-aimed arrow or Cap's dash attack is simply satisfying.

Which is good, because you'll be fighting the same two enemies for most of the game: dudes with guns and dudes with rocket launchers. Each character can be upgraded with crystals, dropped from little wall pockets (think candles in Castlevania or lanterns in Ninja Gaiden). More health; exploding arrows; a wider shield throw radius. Which is neat until you realize that those two enemies you keep fighting are getting stronger as well, and eventually powering up no longer feels like a reward for diligent crystal-grabbing, but rather a necessity for survival. 

And it's easy to miss the crystals because the levels aren't all linear; most of them take place in big warehouses (I think?), where your main goal is to hunt down the exit key and find the exit. It's a nice change of pace from typical left-to-right platforming action, but again, repetition is a ghastly thing. Cap and Hawkeye each have their own themes, which are surprisingly great; but that's all you'll hear for the majority of the game. 

Eventually you will die - or one of your Avengers will, anyway. The remaining Avenger will then need to backtrack through every stage and beat his original level to get him back on your team. It's an absurd and frustrating decision that nearly ruins the game. You eventually unlock the Quinjet, which lets you skip over cities - at the end of the game. Uh, what?

It might be mentioned there is no save feature, and there is no password system, and that this is not precisely a short game. It's a damn shame, because they got much of the game right - including the bosses. Wizard toys with you offscreen, shooting out the lights; Crossbones fights in a room full of deathtraps, while Ultron lowers your platforms closer and closer to the poisonous rubble below. In the end, Red Skull uses the power of the crystals - the same ones you've been collecting - to transform into some Super Skull. That crystal bit was a curious touch, the only reference in the game or story to the crystals that you've been collecting. I kind of like the reversal, actually.

You don't read much about this game - again, late NES release, and it's overshadowed by its notoriously-translated arcade brethren. It's worth playing, though, if only to wonder what might have been. With Game Genie codes and a quick save state finger, of course. But hey, don't take my word for it - the game did end up in Nintendo Power's top 10 NES games of 1992. 

More ports?! While Data East developed the arcade game, the competent Genesis port, and this little NES gem, those cruel men at Realtime Associates created an entirely new game (again, we'll call it an adaptation) for Game Boy and Game Gear. These are the same people who made that abysmal SNES port of the arcade game, so you know nothing good is coming.


First thing: it's neither a platformer nor a beat-em-up. It's strictly limited to two planes of movement, with the odd caveat that the backgrounds have that slightly tilted beat-em-up look... but nope, you're moving left or right, Avenger. 



Another thing: the game is exactly the same on Game Boy and Game Gear. The latter is superior simply by virtue of visibility. 


Yet another thing: it takes much more influence from the arcade game than the NES. It's actually sort of impressive how slavish they are in the levels - they're designed more for the gameplay, but they feature the exact same enemies and animation (as best as a Game Boy could replicate, anyhow), the same levels, nearly the same boss placement, the same text and chapter breaks - even the same music. Like the arcade version, all characters are playable - and again, all are the exact same. 



And another thing: this game has some of the worst hit detection I've ever experienced. Getting in close is sure to send you flying back, but your ranged attacks are incredibly weak. Your only hope is the jump kick, which requires you to press the jump button twice and is quite finnicky. Truly a miserable experience of heroic proportions.



One more thing: I paid thirty hard-earned allowance dollars for the Game Boy version back in the day. Even then it was a disappointment, but there was a weird satisfaction in knowing that I owned three very different versions of the same game. 

Next time: Yep, another Captain America game by Data East. The last one, I promise.

All in-game screenshots are my own; NES and Game Boy box art courtesy of Gamefaqs.    read

9:41 AM on 08.10.2014

THEY'RE IN THE SEA: Not Marvel's Avengers

This is what kids ate their vegetables for. Well, I did, anyway. I don't know what it is about this game, but I've played it countless times. Clearly I am a sick person.


The fact that I will always get a kick out of the dialogue and weirdly muffled digitized voices probably doesn't hurt. Long a staple of laundromats and local pizza joints in the early '90s, Captain America and the Avengers is a pretty typical beat-em-up; roaming the city streets, beating goons to a pulp, getting beaten unfairly by bosses in lazy attempts to extort more quarters from your greasy hands. These games were designed - like all arcade games - to drain your quarters. Bragging rights were won, not by who had the most quarters at the beginning of the evening, but who had the most at the end. 

Except that it's not entirely typical of the genre. For one thing, you don't last long in the city streets; soon enough, you're cruising high in the skyline in the game's surprisingly not-frustrating shooting segments, and you're headed down to a secret underwater base, and then outer space and the moon. Hardly the locale for Final Fight or Streets of Rage or TMNT

I mean, I'd like to think that I haven't played this game dozens of times out of pure nostalgia. I'd like to think I could make a case for it - so bear with me here.

Despite its shoddy attempts at English, its rote gameplay, its iffy mechanics - it simply never feels lazy. Faint praise, I know, but I think it's something the Marvel fan can appreciate. I wouldn't claim the journey is epic, exactly, but the way the battles zip from new location to new location just makes it all go down so easily. There's no backtracking, as is common; very rarely does a new wave of thugs appear on the same screen. The game is always pushing the player forward; in a genre that usually outstays its welcome 15 minutes in, this is a welcome relief. 

And it gets the bosses right. The game has very, very little variety in enemies, but at least the bosses are different, and their attacks are (mostly) in character. Whirlwind... well, you know what he does. Crossbones attacks with bombs, knives, and guns; Ultron shoots his robot-y blasts, while Mandarin has an array of attacks to match his rings. 

Occasionally other Avengers make cameo appearances: Wonder Man shows up to give Cap or Hawkeye a little air-go-kart; Quicksilver brings health, and Wasp gives you a sort of temporary shield (OK, maybe that's not quite accurate...). 


Ever the polite superhero.

Yeah, this jerk.

Still, the gameplay itself is nothing special. Pretty standard punch combo, throws, jump kicks. No room-clearing, health-draining specials, either - which might have been a relief when you get cornered later on. Each hero has their appropriate power attack - it doesn't drain your health, but it's not particularly powerful either. And there's plenty of random objects to pick up and throw, but they're not instant-kill attacks like they are in, say, TMNT. Just your average rocks, barrels, and, uh, soda cans.

Even still, it runs smoothly enough, and, again, it moves so quickly that you don't have time to get bored or even frustrated. What's legitimately impressive (for a 1991 arcade game, anyway) is how big and seamless the levels are. In one, you go from fighting atop an aircraft carrier, fighting a boss, hopping in the water for some shooting action, fighting another boss, emerging into an underwater base, fighting your way through it, and - another boss. Not a single transitory screen - totally seamless. Hey, trying to justify this game might be a fool's errand - but that's impressive.

"Taco" being a (wrong) romanization of the Japanese word for Octopus, duh.

The CRAK THWAK BLAM sound effects, the bright and varied levels, the sheer variety of locations, the absurd dialogue, the way the music turns heroic when you're close to beating a boss - this was as close as a young boy could get to playing a comic book. Sure, there were better superhero games - but none with this feeling. 

And that music. No lie - it's pretty great. Oddly enough, the Genesis version has the best.

Everyone knows the dialogue - it's absurd and meme worthy and totally ridiculous.

Captain America - defeated by the power of dopey comebacks.

Hell, they even got Namor right - only that arrogant son of a bitch would say a thing like this to Captain America:

Still polite after all these years. Even after they did this to "Lil Cap'n."

The ports: The arcade game was ported to Genesis and SNES a year later. The Genesis version is serviceable - it plays mostly the same, but it took a not-particularly-great-looking game and make it look even more lackluster. It's also incredibly easy, especially as Captain America. I won't bore you with the details; trust me, Cap is way overpowered in the Genesis version for very weird reasons. 

The SNES port is an abomination. It looks nominally better, but it plays like garbage. Very weird hit detection, as if it's not quite finished. The Genesis was ported by Data East, the folks behind the arcade game; the SNES version was developed by Realtime Associates, and if you look at that list, you can see they have a long history of porting laughably inferior games. 

Oddly enough, both console ports follow the arcade version to a T - same bad digitized dialogue, same bosses, same levels - even the same seamless transitions. And because they're actually somewhat easier than the arcade, they make for very quick plays. 

All in game screenshots are my own. Box art taken from Moby Games and GameFAQs, respectively. 

Next time: I just played through the NES version of this game - which is totally different - and tomorrow I'll be playing (trying to) the Game Gear and Game Boy versions. I can't believe I just wrote that much about the Captain America arcade game. 

Yeah, still having a few formatting issues, but at least I'm getting the images down. Sorry about that, will try something new next time.

4:39 AM on 08.08.2014

Castlevania starring CHRISTOPHER BEE as DRACULA

I'm trying out old games that I either missed or, for whatever reason, never worked for me. Pull up a chair.

Image courtesy of MobyGames

Here we are at last. A game - and entire series, really - that has never quite 'clicked' for me. Admittedly, I'm not sure I've ever given the series a fair shake, and where better to start than the beginning?

The novice will notice a few things. I am attacking with a whip. It's probably taken for granted what an unusual weapon this is, particularly in a 2D game. This observation isn't entirely irrelevant, either, because it doesn't take long to see what it means for the game's central conceit of slaying everything that moves in this massive castle. 

There's a sense of real weight and movement in these few brilliant frames of animation, and part of that is the speed. Here is a measured game with a measured pace; I was thrown off by how slow Simon's attack was at first, but it doesn't take long to understand its intent. After a few upgrades, the whip becomes a formidable mid-range weapon, and skillful, precise timing becomes more important than, er, whip-smart reflexes. 

In the shot above you can see Simon throwing the whip back to gain momentum for a full forward swing (word has it that this short frame can actually damage enemies who are close enough behind you). Which is odd, because the entire concept of momentum is ignored elsewhere.

Let's ignore the way staircases are treated, how they seem to be on a totally different plane than everything else. The novice learns: gravity is a vicious monster. Stepping off a platform (there is no running; Simon's movement is just as measured and slow as his whip-waving) results in a sharp, sharp, fast descent directly below the position you walked off. There is no forward momentum when walking off the platform.

To the devs credit - you know how vicious and cruel NES programmers could be - there aren't many areas where this is a particularly crippling concern, though it does crop up on occasion. It strikes me as very Castlevania, the kind of quirk that longtime fans tend to forget and take for granted. Like someone who's new to Mega Man and wondering, "hey, why can't I duck, or shoot up?" The answer being: well, that was how the game was designed.

That might be true of Mega Man, and that's also true of Simon's slow, mid-range whip - but I can't really come up with a justification for the sharp plummet he takes when walking off a ledge. 

It does force you to jump a little more often, though, and that's when you're at your most vulnerable. The game's difficulty surprised me - I guess I expected something along the lines of Ninja Gaiden hard, but enemies are mostly manageable. Sure, Medusa heads annoy, axe-throwing armored knights are tough, and leaping frog men can be your death - but they're introduced in such at such a steady pace that it never feels unfair. You'll learn how to deal with flame-spewing pillars alone; later, you'll learn how to predict Medusa heads alone. So when the time comes when you face incoming Medusa heads and a fire pillar, you'll feel well-equipped enough to take them down. Which isn't to say it's easy - like any well-made NES title, discipline, dexterity, and learning are still essential - but it never feels unfair.


Because by that point you'll have discovered most, if not all, of the available sub-weapons. Each one serves a purpose: knife for distance, axe for vertical, holy water for ground, boomerang (or whatever) for tough defenses. And my personal favorite, the stopwatch.

The stopwatch is another example of thoughtful game design. It's massively useful in most situations - either when you're swarmed by tough enemies, or faced with difficult platforming sections, or both - and it even works in bosses. Oh wait.

It is effective when you fight the giant Medusa head, and it doesn't take much to abuse it for an easy win. "I'm keeping this; screw the knife and the axe," you say to yourself. Until you get to these two guys:

And you realize the stopwatch doesn't work on them, nor does it on any subsequent boss. And so strategic thinking comes into play: will I keep the stopwatch, which will surely help me get through the level in good health? Or do I grab that knife so I can keep my distance with the upcoming boss?

Because you'll need a sub-weapon for the bosses. Did I say this game wasn't as hard as I expected? Well, I hadn't gotten to the grim reaper yet.

I suppose it's appropriate - it is Death after all - but this boss was a downright unfair, cheating, no-good, lousy son of a bitch. Or maybe I just suck. Regardless, in order to preserve my hair, my controller, my sanity!, I'm not afraid to admit I (temporarily) turned on some Game Genie codes for this guy. No joke; he's much harder than Dracula, the final boss (uh, spoiler alert?). 

I could go into how this game is a masterpiece of level design, but there isn't much I can say that Mr. Jeremy Parish hasn't already said. Seriously, read his entire series on Castlevania (and many more!). It will enrich your experience beyond what you could imagine from a simple 8-bit action-platformer.

One last random thought: the game's tone, and the series in general, has always seemed a little off to me. On the one hand, it seems take itself pretty seriously - and manages to stick it, for the most part. But then you have things like this:

Well, it wants to take itself seriously, or at least it wants the player to take it seriously, but it also wants to give nods to cheesy Universal horror movies and make puns on the name of those actors. Having cake, eating it too, etc.

I look forward to trying out Simon's Quest sometime soon, though I hear that game is an entirely new level of unfriendly game design...

All screenshots are my own, except for that box art at the top. And remember readers...

edit: Finally got the pictures working, after resizing them myself, but I'm still having a little formatting difficulties, as is apparent. It's certainly something to learn, and it's something you just have to be careful about especially when you're inserting this. Fixing some of the mistakes in this particular piece would probably mean re-writing the whole thing, and, uh, no thanks.

If anyone can offer help, particularly with getting full line breaks in between paragraphs (I prefer it to indenting), it would be much appreciated! 

5:51 AM on 08.07.2014

Mission Statement

Enjoy a little welcome music, from one of the greatest opening themes ever.

Mission statement. Well, that sounds formal. Some people have their trophies and their achievements and their high scores and their 100% game saves to validate the fact that they just spent hours of their lives playing a video game. Me, I like to write about them. 

But it's been a while. I used to blog regularly for 1UP, which tragically went under. I've been a longtime lurker and commenter at Dtoid, using Discus, but I figured it was time to start up the old blog again. 

Boring facts: I'm American, live and work in Japan. Which is all you're getting.

It's easy to cover and write games you know - most of the time - but it can be more rewarding to try new games. I'm making a sustained effort to try out the "classics" that never really clicked for me (Zelda, Metroid, Castlevania... many, many more) that, for whatever reason, I could never get into. I mean to give them a sincere effort, or perhaps try to understand precisely why these games don't click for me. 

And of course I'd like to continue writing about the games I know and love. I'm interested in the greats, but the shit is just as interesting. And let's hear a round of applause for that forgotten level, neither bad enough for infamy or good enough for acclaim: the mediocre. Most "average" games are quality games with good ideas that tend to be crippled by major design flaws. Or vice versa! A perfectly 'fine' game that does nothing new whatsoever. I'm interested in all of them!

RPGs are my bread, and platformers are my butter (though it often feels like I can't hang with the hardcore platformers anymore; either my skills have deteriorated, I don't have the patience and obsessive behavior I did as a child, or both). 

I'm especially interested in superhero games, particularly Marvel Comics. I may have stopped reading the comics (thanks Mark Millar!), but I'll always have a soft spot for the characters and associated media. Sort of like those "comic fans" who turn their pants brown when they footage of Superman v Batman, but aren't particularly interested in the finer points of Frank Miller's classic work. Guhhh what have I become-

I'm interested in trying new games and genres, especially the PS3 titles that are so, so cheap these days. The kind of game you hear about and think, "hey, that looks pretty alright," and then never can justify paying $60 or even $40 for it. I'm not sure I can have anything new to say about, say, God of War at this point; if ever I were to write about it, it would be from the perspective of someone who has played very few of these over-the-top action games from the past two generations. 

Games are too experiential a medium for us to rely on dry old descriptive text, after all; they're meant to be played, and everyone's experience is different.

(Which isn't really to say I'll have anything interesting to add to the God of War discussion, aside from wide-eyed "gosh darn this game is violent." But I'll try.)

Let's get this out of the way. I own a MacBook Pro. I don't really wish to apologize for it, but my first MacBook lasted 8 years. Non-stop usage, 24/7, careless abuse. Not a single problem. No hardware problems, no security issues, nothing wrong with the OS. As a console gamer born and bred, and as someone who doesn't need any Windows-exclusive programs, I never had any reason to consider otherwise.

But I'm looking to change that, though. That part about being a console gamer. I could probably count on one hand the number of honest PC games I have played in my life. I simply cannot get accustomed to using a mouse and keyboard. But I'm going to try.

See, I discovered GOG (and Steam, less so). And their wonderful selection of games - cheap games, and classic too. So many RPGs I haven't played. And genres - point-and-click adventure, simulation, grand strategy - that are more or less a bust on consoles. And they're available on Mac!

So I have a pretty robust list of PC games I've added to my massive [s]backlog[/s] pile of shame. Again, trying new things, fresh perspectives and all that. And when it comes to that, I do have Windows installed via BootCamp; I mainly use it to play Final Fantasy XIV, but I do have a few Windows-only games I've purchased from GoG that I'll get around to eventually. And OSX has some solid emulation capabilities, too.

Wait, emulation?

I have a decent collection of older games, but they sure as hell didn't make the trip to Japan. I'm not going to try to defend emulation, but here are my reasons for using it (with older games only):

[li]Screenshots. This is key - I prefer to take my own screenshots, rather than rely on sources whose links may or may not become broken in the future. [/li]
[li]Save states. When I write about a game, I try to finish it. But since I'm writing about old games, and since my skills (for whatever reason) are not what they once were, save states are a must. I try to limit my "cheating" to save states only, and not Game Genie. Surely there will be a few exceptions.[/li]
[li]Convenience. I own many of my favorite games that I'll be writing about (not all, I'll admit), but I simply could not afford to lug those systems to Japan.[/li]

Hell, I couldn't even bring my PS3 or Wii (though they're being shipped to me soon). At the moment, it's me, my 3DS XL, that beautiful white Vita, and... a MacBook Pro. 

For anyone interested, here is the controller I use for all my emulation:

Fairly cheap, decent enough. It's a nice replica of the SNES controller, except all the face buttons are convex, and the d-pad is a little stiff and click-y. But it works well for just about anything, really. For emulation, I use OpenEmu, a shell/library for an assortment of great emulators. 

I play a single MMO. And that is Final Fantasy XIV (i100 BRD, for those curious). Anyone on Exodus, feel free to hit me up: Dantes Winsome is the name. I intend to write regularly about it; it's an interesting game, and there's plenty to say about it. I used to play on PS3, but 1. I don't have my PS3 at the moment and 2. its performance is far superior, even on a Macbook running Windows. 

And... wow. That was a long-winded introduction, and I apologize. Next time I promise more pictures and shiny things and less navel-gazing. 

"Ooh, what will you write about next time?" I knew you'd ask. Well, I'm stuck on this guy at the moment... 

image courtesy of MobyGames

Wait, did I just say I was trying really, really hard to not use Game Genie codes? Get me a fork; it seems tonight I sup on my own words...[/left]

(If anyone has any tips on formatting, feel free to chime in. This is really not my thing, and some things... are not working for me.)

Back to Top

We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -