Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fun: College Humor Mario

My game controller is on the blink at the moment and there's not much going on in old school gaming news that I'm aware of, so y'all get some more entertaining videos. Hooray!

Fun stuff website College Humor has been doing a series of Mario-related videos as of late, all of them more or less hilarious. The above is just a sample . . . check out Bowser's Minions, Sonic and Mario's Awkward Reunion, Mario and Princess Sex Tape, Luigi Finally Snaps, and The Problem with Warp Whistles for the full Mario awesomeness.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fun: We Are Not Time Travelers

But what if we were? Sure, we could go back and kill Hitler or become our own grandparents, but those are pretty pedestrian paradoxes with little in the way of personal profit. So what would graphics designer Alex Varanese do with the awesome power of temporal displacement?

Well, perhaps you'd better just see for yourself.

WARNING: May be more awesome than you can handle.

Night Trap

Platform: Sega CD
Developer: Digital Pictures
Released: 1992
Genre: Interactive Movie

The Game
Something strange is going on at the Martins' residence. There have been reports of people going missing, including five young girls who were staying at the Martins' overnight. In response to the disappearances, the - oh, brother - Sega Control Attack Team, or - aw, come on - "SCAT" for short, has been sent in to figure out what's going on. And what's going on is that there's these weird ass blood-drinking mutant things called "augers" that are kidnapping people and draining their blood with these devices that look kind of like pesticide sprayers hooked up to the crappy (if amusing) robot claw toys moms buy their kids to shut 'em up. As a member of - ugh - SCAT, your job is to monitor the house through hidden cameras and activate traps to capture augers and save the latest batch of girly girls the Martins have lured.

Night Trap is one of the earliest games in a very short-lived genre sometimes known as "trap 'em up", as well as one of the first console games to include live-action video footage. It's main claim to fame, however, was its involvement in the series of congressional hearings at the time regarding video game violence that led to the creation of the ESRB. Like most such hearings, the jabs against Night Trap were largely overreactions, misinterpretations, taken out of context, or simply invented from whole cloth.

Though I didn't remember the name of the game itself, the big "damning" scene where a girl wearing a nighty is dragged away by augers as their hook thing drains her blood was one that I saw on the news when they were reporting the hearings, and it was the big reason I decided to try the game out. I'm a sucker for controversy.

And for girls in short night gowns getting dragged off by bloodthirsty monsters. Hubba hubba.

The Characters
You are the main character of the game, the voiceless, faceless member of SCAT who gets to stare at video feeds all night in the vain hope of catching some augers off guard so you can pummel them into submission with the many booby traps littering the Martin homestead. Rather than give you a name or any kind of characterization, all of the characters in the game just call you "Control".

The leader of SCAT is Lieutenant Simms, a mean man who yelled at me a lot and broke my controller on multiple occasions. He said it had something to do with me not being up for the job, but I think he was really just disappointed that I wasn't an omniscient and omnipresent god among mortals, capable of seeing the future and thus living up to his impossibly high standards of what a real man is supposed to be.

Kelly (or Kelli, or Keli, depending on which version of the game you're playing, apparently) is an undercover agent of SCAT played by the late Diff'rent Strokes actress Dana Plato. She infiltrates the Martins' residence by posing as one of the girls that were invited to stay for the weekend (or night, or whatever . . . honestly, I'm not sure how long they were supposed to be there or even why) and runs around the house looking for clues while you get to do all the real work.

There's the Martins themselves, a pack of vampires who deliver blood to the local community of augers as part of their "charity work", getting said blood from locals and transients they lure into their home. It was they who set up all the traps in the house in order to catch those unwary victims more easily. To give you the short rundown of each family member, there's the father Victor (wannabe French/Italian/whatever douchebag), mother Sheila (MILF straight out of a daytime soap opera), daughter Sarah (creepy bad actress with enormous gums), son Jeff (whiny teeth brusher), and cousin Tony (wooden lump).

All of the Martins are bad actors with poorly written lines and motivations, but Tony really takes the blood cake. He has the exact personality of a fence post, which I guess is his attempt to seem like a "bad dude" with a "rude 'tude", but all he really manages is to come off looking like he forgot his lines but he doesn't want anybody to know. He just sort of stands there with the same expression through the whole game no matter what he's doing, from talking about how they should change the security code on the traps to talking about how he's going to zap the shit out of Kelly with his vampiric lightning powers (I'm not making this up) and then suck all her blood.

He's the only member of the Martin family that seems to have a character arc, but it doesn't make any damn sense whatsoever. He's just as ready as the rest of the bunch to suck and/or drain the blood out of every last college-aged girl that comes into the house, but he starts to have doubts because one of the girls just happens to look 100% exactly like some other girl. Who this other girl is exactly is never clearly defined. Or even muddily defined. His long-dead girlfriend? His long-dead sister? His long-dead hairstylist? You got me.

Anyway, he tries to warn the girls away toward the end of the game, and then almost just as quickly tries the zap-and-snack on Kelly I mentioned. As he's slowly coming after her up the stairs, Kelly yells at control to trap him, and inexplicably Tony smirks (the only other facial expression he has, it seems) and says something to the effect of, "You really think they're gonna do it?" I'm pretty sure that the people who made Night Trap fully expected the player at this point to actually yell out, "HELL YAH I'M GONNA DO IT! YOU'RE TRAPPED, SUCKAH!" I didn't say that, however. I said, "Uh . . . why wouldn't I do it?" I dunno, did Tony try to bribe me in some deleted scene that I didn't see? I hate the guy. Not because he's an evil vampire or whatever, but because he's a horrible actor, and it would have given me nothing but the greatest pleasure to have sent him spiraling into each and every trap in that house over and over and over again.

Anyway, there's some other characters running around, but frankly, just thinking about them is depressing me. The short version is there's an extremely strange neighbor appropriately named Weird Eddie who built ray guns and inexplicably disappears about halfway through the game, a bunch of idiotic, ineffectual, and borderline offensive members of SCAT who all bungle things to almost epic proportions, the five girls who are staying at the house, and Danny, younger brother to one of the girls. He's the first to spot the augers, and he gets a ray gun from Eddie and his final scene is just a copy/paste job of one of his earlier scenes in which he screams and runs out the back door while being chased by augers.

The only one of these mostly-forgettable people that held my interest even momentarily was Megan, played by Christy Ford in apparently her only acting role ever. She was one of the few actors in the game that didn't seem to be taking the whole thing seriously in the slightest, which really worked. Her performance was over the top crazy and I felt she brought more personality to the show than all the rest of the actors combined.

It's just a shame that she couldn't also make up for all the rest of the actors combined. That much outpouring of over-the-topness would have caused even the sturdiest individual to explode.

The Writing



Night Trap is by no means an A-list movie. It's not a B movie. Nor a C, a D, or any other letter. The script for this terrible, rotten, no-good piece of crap shot straight past Z grade and just kept on tunneling. I don't know if I can even talk about it. I'm starting to dry heave just thinking of the tortured dialogue, the unfunny "jokes", the nonsensical storyline, and the gaping plotholes.

But I'll try to pick out a few especially horrific parts.

Sega Control Attack what the fuck ever. I've read that they changed this first word to "Special" for ports to other systems, but that doesn't change the fact that for this version it was SEGA CONTROL ATTAAARRRGH. That damn Lt. Simms even held up a Sega Genesis controller from time to time! And it said "Sega Genesis" right on it, just like a real controller! Why would they do something so completely and utterly stupid?! What happened here, Sega?! I used to think you were cool!

And as bad as that is, regardless of what the S stood for, the abbreviation is "SCAT" either way. I mean look, guys, I understand that you probably meant it as the "shoo, go on, get out of here" kind of "scat" and as a wordplay on SWAT, but if you're going to be making a shitty game, then you probably don't want to have an organization with a name that is also another word for "shit".

The vampires have lightning powers.

Tony wears sunglasses throughout the entire thing. This, I think we're led to believe, is because his eyes glow. But the thing is, all of the vampires have glowing eyes. And just like them, Tony's eyes don't glow all the time. So why does he continuously wear the sunglasses and act like it's important that he keeps them on?

The vampires have teleporting powers, yet somehow the traps are able to hold them and they aren't able to catch up with a normal bunch of girls running away from them. They also have lightning powers.

After characters have served their purpose, they just seem to run off into the wilderness and disappear forever. While in some cases that's not such a big deal, in at least three it makes even less sense: Lisa (who shimmies out a window, completely deserting her little brother), Danny (who ditches out in the aforementioned copy/past of an earlier scene, despite the fact that as far as he knows he's deserting his big sister, and even though before that he was totally gung ho about taking on the augers), and Weird Eddie (who goes downstairs with a ray gun and an auger disguise, but then is never heard from again).

Sheila gets knocked over onto a bed by one of the traps and then has time to have a conversation with Victor about it before the bed lifts up and catapults her out of the house or wherever. Thank goodness she couldn't have just, I don't know, stood up from the bed she was merely sitting on or anything in the five or six seconds in between!

THE VAMPIRES HAVE LIGHTNING POWERS. And they don't even use them! Tony and Jeff just kinda shoot lightning out of their hands a couple of times. Why? Just because they can, I guess, because they never actually hit anything, and most of the time they aren't even aiming it at anyone!

And I'm really wondering whether Victor's line of "THE WALL TRAP! AAAAAAAAAH!!!" was actually scripted, or just an imaginative ad lib on the part of the actor. Either way, it was terrible and both he and the writers should be ashamed of themselves.

Oh yah, and the vampires have lightning powers.

The Gameplay
You, as Control, have access to the series of hidden cameras and traps strewn throughout the house. You can switch the camera feed between the various rooms, but you can only look in on one room at a time. When nothing is going on in that room, the feed is a static picture display. When something is going on, the something is typically split into two different types: plot relevant scenes and auger capturing scenes. In the plot scenes, the various people in the house are moving around, going about their business, giving exposition, or just having some fun or doing work. Sometimes these are just transitive scenes as people walk from one room to the other on their way somewhere specific.

The other scene type is the meat of the game. The augers occasionally get into the house and lurk around, looking for tender morsels to capture and drain, and from time to time one or two of these monsters will step in the range of a trap. A trap meter resides on your control console, running from green to yellow to red, telling you when to strike. If you hit the trap button when the meter is in the red, then you've caught yourself an auger and are treated to a quick scene of them getting sucked into the trap. If you don't, they continue on their despicable way.

On rare occasion, you can capture good guys in the traps. Doing this gets you an immediate game over as Lt. Simms appears, bitches you out, and breaks your controller. He'll also snap it like a Slim Jim if too many augers get away from you.

Some few scenes close to the midpoint of the game and more often toward the end are combination plot and capture scenes in which one of the girls is threatened by augers. If you don't manage to capture one or two of the augers, allowing the girl to escape, then the girl is instead captured and drilled for precious, delicious blood, and then Simms pops up to tear into your shit again.

To operate any of these traps, you have to have the proper security code, which is one of a set of colors. The game always starts set at Blue, and then during preset times the code is changed to a different randomly selected color. If you don't switch your access to the new color, then none of the traps will work no matter how hard or often you press that button.

The changing color code is the first problem I'll be addressing in the cavalcade of horrors that is Night Trap's system. The code change happens during specific plot scenes, and if you don't get to the right room at the right time to listen in on the conversation regarding which color it's been set to, you're just shit out of luck. You have to randomly change your access code, try to find some augers, and try it out. If it works, hooray, you guessed right! If it doesn't, oh well, better luck with the next color. And you better hope you get it figured out before they change the code again, too many augers slip through your grasp, or one of the girls gets dragged off by the foul beasties.

So how do you know when the code is being changed? Well, that's the thing . . . unless you've happened across the scene in a previous playthrough and written down the time and place it was changed, you don't. It's entirely trial and error, restarting the game every time you learn of a new change time. And since the code change is randomly determined, you have to be sure you get to the scene in time, because you can't just write down a list of specific color changes.

This problem is endemic of the entire game, unfortunately. You never know exactly when a plot scene is going to be popping up unless you happened across it in an earlier playthrough and made a note of it. The only indication that an auger is near a trap is a popping noise accompanied by the count of possible captures on your console bumping up a notch or two. This does not, however, tell you where the augers are, so once again unless you already know from a previous playthrough, you have to search through all the rooms and hope you luck upon the correct one before the augers can slink away. And since your window of opportunity to capture them is mere seconds at most after you hear the pops, slinking away unharmed is usually what they do.

Also problematic is that plot relevant scenes will often play simultaneously not only with the auger capture scenes but with each other as well. This starts from the very beginning and continues virtually unabated throughout the entire game. A plot scene involving Sarah Martin starts playing right from time 00:00, starting in the bedroom and ending in the bathroom at time 00:24. At 00:02, two freaking seconds after the plot starts, an auger capture sequence starts in another room. And another one starts at 00:20 in the bedroom just as Sarah leaves. So if you try to pay attention to the capture scenes, you miss the plot scenes. If you try to pay attention to the plot scenes, you miss the capture scenes.

Now in this case, the plot scene isn't really all that important. It shows there's something not quite right with Sarah and that there are secret doors and passages in the house, but both of those points are shown many times over throughout the game, so you can catch onto it pretty quick. But it does the same thing over and over and over again after that during plot scenes that are important if you're to follow exactly what's going on. And capturing augers is definitely the more important of the two scene types since you get a game over if you don't capture enough of them, leading the player to miss tons of exposition and action elsewhere in the house.

Now given what I've already said about the story being just absolutely putrid, this might seem like a good thing. But really, even though they totally sucked at writing the story and acting it out, they did still take the time to write it and film it. One of the big boasts on the box art itself was that the game contained around one and a half hours worth of video. We the players might be glad to be spared all the lifeless acting, terrible dialogue, and weak action/horror, but why in the world would the people who made the damn game go to lengths to make sure almost all of their hard work would slide by unseen? What sort of sadistic bastards would make it virtually impossible to sort out their already nearly incomprehensible plot in even multiple playthroughs? It's like they're standing there going, "Ooooh, you want to watch this movie, don't you? But oh, dear, I'm sorry, we're only going to let you have a few glimpses now again because right now you need to sort out all of these rusty, handle-less knives right over here without any hand protection. Maybe when you've finished doing that, we'll let you have a peek!" And then when you do get your peek, what little you do understand about what's going on is complete shit!

So, in order to play the game, you're more or less forced to sit down and write up a list of all the different things that are happening around the house and when they occur. You then use this list to progress through the game until you get to a new section, then start listing the events that happen there as well. You have to play through the same beginning sections over and over and over again, watching each room one by one and writing down what happens until you finally get shut down by Lt. Sucks. In other games, your continued progression is generally based on getting better at the game, becoming more skilled at controlling your character and directing your attacks. In this game, skill has nothing to do with it whatsoever, unless you count "pressing a button when the game tells you to" as a skill. Instead, your character is pretty much just using a time machine to go back to the past with the knowledge they have gained in the future to proceed.

And even when you've got all the events listed, you still have to do multiple playthroughs in order to see all the different plot scenes that are happening simultaneously, then even further, in order to see the actual ending of the game, you have to do a perfect game, capturing every auger and vampire in the game and saving every girl without fail. This means that in order to see the real end of the story, you have to ignore almost all the other story scenes before it!

Who does this sort of thing?! Who?! And why would they do it?! Do they just hate us?! Did the people at Digital Pictures simply decide they hated video game players and then created the most awkward, idiotic, counter-intuitive gameplay mechanics ever devised just to make us suffer?!


The Challenge
I eventually decided to pull up a walkthrough for Night Trap so I could play through a perfect game. Even with the list telling me exactly where to be and when, I got a game over because my nose started to itch just as the second girl-threatened-by-augers scene popped up and I thought, "Surely I'm fast enough to scratch and be back at the trap button in time to save this hot, nubile young lady!"

No, I wasn't, and all the work I'd put into the perfect game was gone in a flash.

Even if the gameplay section above doesn't tell you everything you need to know about the bullshit challenge presented by Night Trap, just remember that I had a walkthrough for the perfect game, and I still utterly failed just because I wasn't fast enough to press the trap button in the half-second window provided by the game. All because my nose started itching.

The Sights
I vaguely remember hearing that Sega CD games had a reputation for being a little on the ugly side, and I really should have been prepared from the choppy graphics I'd already seen on the Saturn years back, but dah-yumn this game is uuuuuuh-glee!!! In order to compress the game down to where all the video would fit on the CD, it looks like they just beat it with an ugly stick until enough pieces were smashed off, allowing them to crowbar in what was left. So on top of having a story that starts off barely coherent and gameplay that ensures you barely get to see anything of relevance to the plot, you've got an impenetrable fog of video that would make Zapruder blush with shame.

Night Trap's big claim to fame is the controversy started over a scene where a girl in a somewhat revealing nighty gets attacked by some augers before getting dragged off to be drained of her blood good and proper. To be honest, this was the only reason that I decided to give this game a chance, 'cause if there's anyone willing and ready to watch a scantily clad girl get dragged off by monsters, it's me. But when I finally got to the scene, it was not only compressed down to the point where I had trouble figuring out which unsightly blob of color was supposed to be the hot chick, it was also plumb damn ridiculous.

The nightgown isn't really all that revealing, and was even slightly less so than some of the regular outfits the other girls were wearing. And not to hurt the poor actress' feelings or anything, but she was the one that I would have least wanted to see in a nighty. Not to say she wasn't attractive (she was, in an 80's richy bitch sort of way), but still, comparatively.

Also, the augers are just guys wearing black full-body clothing, their blood draining devices look like toys, and the most menacing thing they do is kind of hop around like idiot monkeys. Further, there's the Z-grade acting and shoestring budget "traps" that wouldn't be able to capture a . . . well, an anything, much less those weirdo vampire wannabes. All put together, it was like trying to watch a scrambled porn channel, and it isn't even good porn.

It's an awful looking game with stupid looking traps and moronic looking bad guys in idiotic looking costumes with pathetic looking equipment.

The Sounds
Fortunately the audio isn't quite as compressed as the video, but it still ain't really pretty. The popping noise that warns of auger incursion is repetitive and annoying. And having to listen to the "acting" is enough to make anyone's ears bleed.

The Night Trap song played during the party scene is kinda catchy, however.

The Bottom Line
Since I didn't actually finish the game (not even with the walkthrough) and had almost nothing positive to say about Night Trap, I had originally planned to relegate it to a spot in one of my Short 'n' Sour triple reviews. But as I started to write, I found that while everything I had to say was sour, it was in no way short. So I did some more research, started compiling my thoughts on the game more thoroughly, and decided to go with the full hate-a-thon you just read. This is hands down the worst game that I've reviewed so far, I honestly think it may be the worst game I've ever played, and I earnestly believe it may be the worst game ever devised by anyone anywhere ever, and I just had to share my pain with the rest of the world.

But strangely, one of the reasons it's so bad is because I want it to be good. I think that there may have been a real possibility for a good game here, it's just that Digital Pictures went about making it in the most ham-fisted and wrong-headed way possible. The fixes for their broken system would mostly be quite simple to implement, even on the primitive Sega CD system. Having already played Double Switch, which is another, later Digital Pictures game with the same setup, I've seen that they'd come up with one or two of those fixes on their own (such as alerting you to what rooms exactly are being broken into), but it still left a lot of other stuff broken. And that's one of the most infuriating things about all of this . . . DP just seemed to have absolutely no idea what to do with the very genre of games that they helped create and mold.

Sadly, whatever good ideas Night Trap may have contained were all buried under huge piles of manure, never again to see the light of day. And then the Senate hearings regarding video game violence as well as the awful, horrible quality of the games in the trap 'em up genre overall pretty much made sure those ideas would remain buried forever, only cropping up every once in a while as crappy DVD games in the extras section of kid's movies.

If you ever get the chance to play this game, don't take it. Just drop the disks, smash them if you can, and then run far, far away. You may think you want to play it just to see how bad it could possibly be, but I assure you, you don't want to do that. If you've just gotta see how bad the acting, writing, and traps are at least, then I'd suggest just checking it out on YouTube. Besides the obvious upside of not having to actually play the game, it's also composited from the PC version and the second edition of the Sega CD version, both of which looked way better than the original. But be warned, I wouldn't recommend watching that, either. The picture quality might be better, but the quality of everything else is just as terrible. It's not even worth watching to make fun of, and I love making fun of bad movies.

Seriously, this game is the devil. I find it offensive on almost all levels except the ones the US Senate was up in arms about. Avoid at all costs.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fun: One of the Seven Legendary Videos

You ever play one of those games where you can't rummage through people's houses without them getting all indignant, calling the cops on you, or trying to shoot you themselves? Man, what's up with those games? Don't they know who I am?


Blog: Things Of All Sorts

I know I only have maybe five or six readers, and I'm not even sure all of them are really paying any attention anymore, but I'm still gonna go ahead and apologize for not posting anything for Sunday. I promised I'd try to get at least one something up every day, and I failed all (five or six) of you miserably. But to be fair, I did have my reasons! One of those reasons is actually a pretty funny story, and the punchline is . . . veeerrrry drunk.

The other reason is that I'm thinking about taking weekends off from the blog. I've got other things in my life, y'know! And one of those things is actually playing the games that I intend to review for YOTGR. Another is trying to get a new job (horrors!), and yet another is just staring at the wall, contemplating the abyss. Oh, right, and I usually go visit my parents on most Saturdays.

Still, weekdays I'll be keeping up with YOTGR a bit, and as it's Monday, I'll be getting on posting something entertaining here in a bit.

But speaking of YOTGR, I'm thinking about changing the name. "Ye Olde-Timey Games Review" was something I just came up with after a few moments of thought when I decided to do this, and while I still kinda like it, it's a bit unwieldy. I think the place needs a punchier sorta name. I'm not sure exactly what kind of punchier sorta name just yet, but I'll hopefully figure something out soon enough.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sonic CD

Platform: Sega CD
Developer: Sonic Team
Released: 1993
Genre: Platformer

The Game
For one month every year, the Little Planet, home of the Time Stones, appears over Never Lake. Intent on harnessing the power of the planet and its stones, Dr. Robotnik takes over the place and starts doing his mad scientist thing. Sonic, as the designated hero, zips his way up to Little Planet and starts kicking robot booty.

Sonic CD (or Sonic the Hedgehog CD when its mama wants to make sure it knows it's in trouble) is the product of an interesting set of circumstances. It was developed by good ol' Sonic Team, the group responsible for making most of the Sonic and Sonic-related games in existence . . . but only part of Sonic Team. Yuji Naka, one of the most prominent members of the team, had himself a fit, grabbed up a bunch of the best and the brightest from Sonic Team, and went over to the US to start working with Sega Technical Institute on developing Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Naoto Oshima, the actual creator of Sonic, took what was left of his team and started developing Sonic CD.

Originally, the two were supposed to be the same game, but eventually they branched off from one another (quite wildly, I'd say) and became their own thing. So how does the CD side of the equation hold up? Well, let's see.

The Characters
Sonic the Hedgehog is the same rude blue dude as always, the somewhat callous but still heroic figure who beat Robotnik once and aims to do so again. The tools at his disposal are his super speed, his cutting quills, and a new figure-eight extra fast running move that was not in the first Sonic game and has never, to my knowledge, ever been seen again. He just revs up his legs in a figure-eight cycle and then blasts off. Whee!

Dr. Robotnik is the goofy but still somewhat threatening evil genius bent on dominating all in his path and turning everything and everybody into robots. He appears at the end of the third zone in each area with a new mecha monstrosity with which to smash, slice, crush, or puree Sonic.

Amy Rose got her introduction here in Sonic CD, though for American audiences she was renamed "Princess Sally", I suppose because Sega thought that American kids wouldn't understand why Sonic would have a love interest that wasn't Sally from the animated Sonic series made by DiC Entertainment. The fact that Sally and Amy look look absolutely nothing alike besides both being female didn't seem to deter them. Anyway, Amy is a young pink hedgehog with a complete and utter crush on Sonic, though Sonic does not return her affection in any way whatsoever. Her entire purpose for being in the game is to follow him around in a couple of the early stages while cartoony hearts float around her head, then get abducted by Metal Sonic.

And speaking of Metal Sonic, he's Dr. Robotnik's newest creation, a machine shaped like and (almost) as fast as his namesake. He is the primary antagonist in the Stardust Speedway level, in which he and Sonic compete against each other in a deadly race.

Besides these four, there are the usual array of evil robots trying to drill, saw, spike, or beat Sonic to death and - if you save them from a nasty Metal Sonic hologram - a bunch of happy, peace loving animals that bounce about the screen, forcing the player to consider if those mushrooms they ate just before starting the game had gone bad.

The Writing
What writing there is I cannot fault. It's a pretty interesting setting . . . a tiny world in temporal flux. Sadly much of the rest is pretty much boilerplate. An evil twin (albeit a very cool one), unrequited love, bid to take over the world, so on and so forth. Structuring one entire zone into a race was fairly inventive for the time, tho', so good on 'em for that.

The Gameplay
First off, let me say that I am a complete and total old school Sonic fanboy. The first one I played was Sonic 2, and almost every 2D Sonic I've played has made me quite happy. So it was that I sat down with Sonic CD with the expectation that I was going to have more or less a pretty good time. But . . . I didn't.

Oh, it was alright, I suppose. There were some interesting ideas going on in the game. But overall I found myself constantly frustrated, and it wasn't until I was almost finished that I realized why.

See, Sonic - both the character and the game series - is all about speed. Wooshing around like a maniac, grabbing rings and kicking 'bot butt. It really goes without saying, but I'm saying it anyway, and the reason I'm saying it is because Sonic CD isn't about speed.

It was when I was jumping from an inconveniently situated pit to an inconveniently situated ledge to another inconveniently situated pit et cetera in the Metallic Madness level that I came to this realization. One of the gameplay conceits of the game is that Sonic's temporal state on Little Planet has some leeway. If he touches a lamppost marked "Past" or "Future" and then keeps up his top normal running speed for a certain amount of time without stopping, he will shoot into either the past or the future where the zone layout is a bit different, the enemies are altered (or, in some cases, no longer present at all), and Sonic can make the future better by destroying the robot manufacturing machines in the past, thus eventually going on to get the Good Ending. Because of the need to run without stopping in order to time travel, the stages are built specifically to be a hurdle in this process. Even in areas where there aren't any timeposts nearby, there are little obstacles in the way that will keep Sonic from reaching and maintaining his top speed for very long.

Thus Sonic in Sonic CD is slow, and my brain rails against the entire concept.

Now, I like a thinking game as much as the next braniac. I rather enjoy puzzlers, games that test my wits and force me to figure out the optimal positioning to do whatever it is I need to do to proceed. But that's not what I play Sonic for. I don't go to McDonald's for their Chinese food, y'know? So it is that this game in which I have to pick out a good spot for an extended run, clear it of enemies, find a timepost, and hang on to the charge long enough to pull off a temporal jump just so I can go on a scavenger hunt instead of just blast through from beginning to end doesn't feel like a Sonic game at all. The entire gameplay mechanic has been toppled by a new paradigm of level design built to accommodate a new story element, and it bothers me.

I understand, of course, that this was actually very early in the game and it wasn't known at the time that Sonic 2 would pretty much forever place its stamp on all future Sonic titles, pushing the whole speed thing even further, perhaps even to ludicrous levels. Maybe if I had played Sonic 1 first and then went straight to Sonic CD, I would have been able to handle the change and even come to prefer it. But things didn't happen that way and I'm looking back at the game from the standpoint of being used to Sonic moving so damn fast that he leaves the screen at times because the camera simply can't keep up.

But I think you all get the point, so I'll stop harping on it. Instead, I'll go on to say that the temporal jumping is rather nifty and I found myself trying to make the leaps even when I didn't actually do anything ending-altering with it. The music and scenery changes enacted by those leaps made it worthwhile enough for me.

I also found the shrink ray areas in the last stage to be absolutely delightful. Running around as teeny tiny Sonic was both a blast and utterly hilarious. I kind of wish they'd had those rays in more areas of the game.

While I may not have enjoyed Sonic's new paradigm, I totally dug Robotnik's. Instead of just finding different ways to wail on him, you have to instead find different ways of getting to where you can wail on him. Eh . . . that sentence might not make too much sense right now, but you'll get it when you actually play the game. Just trust me, it's interesting.

I also liked the special stages, though I was a bit rubbish at it at first. I finally got the hang of it and got my first Time Stone, however, so yay me!

The Challenge
Even though they slowed things down a bit and put more environmental dangers in the way (hell, I'd say 75% or more of the game was entirely environmental dangers with only a handful of 'bots thrown into each level just to make things interesting), it's still a Sonic game in many other ways, and I've been playing those for more than half my life. I pretty much blasted right through it, with only the last stage giving me any sort of real trouble. Relative Sonic newbies might find it a bit harder, but not terribly so, I don't think.

The Sights
I read somewhere that Sonic CD was one of the only games on the Sega CD that looked worth a damn, and now that I've played a couple of other Sega CD games, I can definitely see where they're coming from. The game doesn't really try anything fancy (most of it would look right at home on the Genesis), and where it does it keeps the fanciness pretty understated. The result is deceptively simple, hiding subtle beauty wherever you look.

Once again I praise the special stages, and I was almost shocked at just how good their pseudo-3D look came off. Also wonderfully done were the animated sections at the beginning and the end of the game. Very reminiscent of animation in the Sonic OAV from way back, and I'm kind of curious now whether or not it was made by the same people. Not curious enough to actually look it up, mind.

If there's one place this game does not disappoint, it's in the looks area.

The Sounds
Dreams Come True, the composers of the music from the first two Sonic games, has spoiled me. Every bit of music in the series gets compared against the masterpiece that is the Sonic 2 soundtrack especially . . . but this does hold up well on its own rights. I liked the main theme - Sonic Boom by Pastiche - especially and may be playing it every once in a while and humming it to myself in the shower.

I've come to understand that the soundtrack I heard while playing the game isn't the original, and that there was some big hullabaloo over the change when it was first released over here in the states. I might end up joining the haters if I ever hear the original Japanese soundtrack, but for now I'm quite happy with what we got myself.

The Bottom Line
I want to like this game. I really really do. But I just can't get over my own preconceived notions of what a Sonic game is and isn't supposed to be. If it were something completely different, like a fighting game or an RPG, then maybe it wouldn't be a problem, but it's just too close to a regular title in the series for me to not see the differences.

Still, it's a gorgeous game, the music's pretty cool, and there are some few gameplay changes that I can get behind, so I'm gonna grade this one "well above average". I did beat the game but haven't gotten the Good Ending yet, and I find myself not entirely disgusted with the idea of giving a Good Ending run another try later on.

Short 'n' Sour - Kid Icarus, Golden Axe (Genesis), and Dragon's Lair (Sega CD)

Hello and welcome to the first installment of a new feature here at YOTGR . . . the Short 'n' Sour review. See, as much as I love old games, there are some that I simple just can't stand. It may be a long standing hate rooted in many many many many hours wasted sitting in front of a TV, computer, or arcade machine as I tried to plug my way through a game that was either unforgivingly difficult, poorly written, buggier than a roach motel, had a frustrating gameplay mechanic, or was otherwise Just Plain BAD. Or it could be a new hate, a fresh loathing for some bit of video game scum that I had somehow managed to avoid, be it through luck or purposeful deselection, until the day I foolishly decided to try and play it with intentions on reviewing it.

Either way, as I will almost always have only horrible, nasty, soul scarring things to say about games I absolutely despise and probably haven't ended up playing them all the way through, I figure making full reviews of them based on annoying fragments to be a waste of time and not entirely indicative of the game as a whole. Instead I intend to lambaste them in as few words as I can, and not even give them the dignity of having a post all to their own, having to share each SnS entry with two other horrible, soul crushing games.

I will most likely step on more than a few toes with some of my SnS reviews, as there will undoubtedly be some classic favorites out there that I shall cruelly and heartlessly toss into the garbage as if they were naught but dry turds scraped off the bottom of my boots. I may make some enemies. I may get some death threats. But my hate shall not be denied! FEEL MY HATE!

Are you seated comfortably?

Then let's begin.

Kid Icarus

Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Released: 1987
Genre: Platformer

The Game
You're an angel (or something) named Pit, and you're trying to defeat the goddess of darkness, Medeusa.

The Good
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. This game has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. If you like it then you are a bad person and you should feel bad.

The Bad
You've played Super Mario Bros., right? You know how hard the eighth world of that game is? Well, just imagine that the very first level was as hard as that one, and every level after that is also that hard. That is what Kid Icarus is like. Teeny tiny platforms, monsters that take forever to kill because they're immune to your shots half the time, a hero character who's sloppy control makes it seem like he's on ice all the time, rooms that serve no purpose or offer you items that you can only afford if you've spend at least half an hour farming hearts in one spot, an insta-death pit that's always at the bottom of the screen even where you absolutely know you just left a platform that would make it only a two inch drop at most, etc. etc. etc. I only (barely) made it to the second level before quitting in disgust.

Having played so many NES games, I'm pretty much inured to the completely featureless black background, but I'm going to bitch about it anyway because I'm bitter. I know Pit is supposed to be in the Underworld or whatever, but bleh. They could have at least tried putting in the hint of a stalactite or stalagmite in there somewhere, right?

Bad challenge level, bad graphics, bad mythology, bad controls, bad game. And if you win with 100% completion or whatever? Your reward is Pit getting a kiss from the goddess of light? Yah, sure, okay.

Go to hell, Kid Icarus. You deserve everything the Captain N cartoon did to you.

Golden Axe (Genesis)

Platform: Sega Genesis
Developer: Sega Probe
Released: 1989
Genre: Beat 'em up

The Game
The evil Death Adder has taken the King of Yuria, the king's daughter, and the fabled Golden Axe hostage and has threatened to destroy all three if the people of Yuria do not accept him as their ruler. Bent on defeating this vile being are a dwarf, a barbarian (named "Ax Battler", I shit you not), and an amazon warrior chick.

The Good
It's definitely a pretty game, I'll give it that. Not quite as good as the arcade version, but a worthy enough port. It's got a hot chick in an armor bikini, and that's all that really matters when it comes to good graphics, right?

And I suppose the challenge level isn't that bad, except . . .

The Bad
Oh, you want to constantly try to flank me and take me out from both sides, even going so far as to moving at almost the exact same speed as me so you always stay almost on either side of me unless I take the time to bop one of you assholes one across the noggin? That's fine! But now you wanna start doing that cheap ass run-and-kick move over and over again, especially every time I manage to get on one of the creature mounts for even a second? That's fine, too! 'Cause I'll start doing that bitch shit maneuver right back at you, over and over and over again until the entire game is nothing but seeing who can pull off the dash move first and most often! But don't worry, just for shits and giggles I'll try to hit you with a few normal combo hits until I end up trying to clonk you on the top of the head even though your head is actually about a foot away from where I'm trying to hit, and then you just up and hack at me before I can manage to get my character to stop beating uselessly at the gahtdamned air! That's fine!

That's just fucking fine!

Maybe someday I'll go back and actually finish this one up and give it a full, proper review, but right now all I want to do is strangle one of those little magic potion dropping imps until it shits out its own spleen.

Dragon's Lair (Sega CD)

Platform: Sega CD
Developer: Advanced Microcomputer Systems
Released: 1983
Genre: Interactive Movie

The Game

The Good

The Bad

Friday, June 18, 2010


Platform: TurboGrafx-16
Developer: Namco
Released: 1990
Genre: Beat 'em up

The Game
Rick and Jennifer, a couple of good ol' university kids, get caught out in a storm and decide to take refuge at the scariest, creepiest, most weirdest private residence in the entire town, West Mansion. Once inside, they are beset upon by numerous monsters who mortally wound Rick and steal away with Jennifer for undoubtedly nefarious purposes. Rick wakes up in the basement of the house some time later, alive thanks to a sentient object known as the Terror Mask (or "Hell Mask", if you live in a non-wussified country), which binds itself to his face and transforms him into a hulking monster. With the power of the mask at his disposal, Rick starts to tear his way through West Mansion and the monsters that inhabit it in search of his girlfriend . . .

Splatterhouse is the first of a trilogy and the only one of which was on the TurboGrafx-16 Entertainment SuperSystem, with the other two being made for the Sega Genesis. A remake is currently in the works and due out for the PS3 and XBox 360 later this year, and supposedly the remake package will also include all three of the original games.

Due to the violent nature of the game, a lot of content was either changed or removed outright when it was ported over from Japan. This includes swapping weapons out (a meat cleaver became a 2x4, for instance), toned down violence, and the removal of a few screams, amongst other things. But don't worry, there's still a fair amount of gore and horror to be had.

The Characters
Rick is a university student who nearly gets killed, gets fused with a sentient mask that turns him into a brutal monster, and rips West Mansion a new one.

Jennifer is Rick's damsel in distress girlfriend. She gets kidnapped by monsters at the beginning of the game.

Dr. West is a parapsychologist who's been missing for a while, owns West Mansion, and only gets a mention in the backstory. He might be the end boss of the game, but there's really nothing to indicate whether that's true, or if it isn't, what might have actually happened to him. For all we know, the dude's just off having a vacation somewhere, blissfully unaware that his house became a creepy spook joint while he was out.

The Terror Mask is a self-aware mask that can make people mutate into giant super-strong monsters, and it seems to have plans and motivations of its own, but it's left openended as to what those might be.

The monsters . . . man, I don't know. Maybe they'll explain it more in the other two games. And even if they don't, it seems that the remake will delve further into the mysteries of the mansion, at least. But as far as this game goes, all that's revealed is that they are monsters and they aren't very nice.

The characterization is so thin as to be virtually non-existent. The people are more or less just props for the setting.

The Writing
Having the main protagonist also be the main savage monster of the story is a nice spin, but in the end this is basically your standard low-grade horror movie plot. Monsters take girl, hero battles monsters, so on and so forth. There's a minor twist here and there, but nothing too far out there.

And this is one of those games where that's all it really needs. If more story gets added on in the sequels, that's cool, but this game is more about splattering monsters against the wall than some hoity-toity storyline.

The Gameplay
Pretty straightforward and, in some cases, somewhat disappointing fare. Rick can punch. He can jump. He can kick. He can jump and kick. He picks up the occasional weapon, but they only last for the one level they're picked up on, and they're more just for the cool splatter animations than actual necessities most of the time. There's one, the wrench, that's only found in one spot and can only be used once, as a throwing weapon. Since at that spot in the level there's usually one of the nasty ghoulies right within punching distance anyway, it's fairly pointless to even bother picking the damn thing up.

The Challenge
The game only rarely takes cheap shots, but when it does it can be particularly annoying, especially the ones dealt out by the final boss. Most enemies can be taken out by a single hit as long as you've got a weapon in your hand, and even when you don't have a weapon most of them only need two or three hits at most.

The main challenge, as with a lot of lazier games of the mid eighties to mid nineties, is remembering where everything is. The baddies only rarely switch up their positions from one run through to another, so making it through any given level without getting hit is just a matter of rote memorization. It's fairly noticeable throughout the rest of the game, but it's most blatant in the very last level where all you have to do is time your jumps over burning logs and your dashes under burning guys as they jump over you. No punches or kicks until you reach the final boss . . . just the simple rigors of an obstacle course.

The game is pretty challenging, but not for good reasons.

The Sights
Before this, I had never played a game on the TurboGrafx-16 before. To be truthful and to my shame, I was only barely aware that the system even existed at all. But having gotten a look at Splatterhouse, I'm looking forward to getting to know it. The animations are a bit weak (Rick doesn't really jump so much as he stands still and then suddenly launches up in the air without moving his legs at all), but the sprites and backgrounds are pretty well rendered, almost up to the quality of a Genesis game. The splattered forms of the monsters were pretty neat looking, and the entire house was well decked out with a grisly horror feel.

The Sounds
There were a few voice bits in there, which I wasn't really expecting, mostly extremely short phrases from Jennifer. The music was alright, getting across the sort of B horror movie vibe that most of the game seemed to be going for.

The Bottom Line
Eeeeeeeeh . . . I won't say I'm sorry that I played Splatterhouse or anything, but I really just don't feel it offered anything unique or interesting enough in a beat 'em up game. The fact that I know that I got a watered down version of the game is also sort of a turn-off, making it feel just that much blander, as the violence is supposed to be the main draw of the game.

Overall, it was an average game at best, worth one play through but not any more than that. Hopefully the sequels have some more substance to them, or at least more style. I think I'll also seek out an unfiltered version of the game to see if the changes really made a big difference.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

News: This Ain't Your Daddy's Space Paranoids

So, did you guys and gals hear about the new Tron movie coming out sometime around the end of this year? It's called Tron: Legacy, and here's one of the trailers just in case you don't believe my senile ramblings. Welp, little did I know that my review of Discs of Tron from yesterday was going to end up being somewhat topical, but it seems that the fine people at Propaganda Games are working on making a new tie-in video game called Tron: Evolution. Here, check it out:

Strangely, I find it somewhat reminiscent of the gameplay in Spider-Man 2 for the PS2, and I'm okay with that. The main attack mechanic at these early stages is the iconic ID disc, which it seems can be upgraded in various ways. I'm holding out hope, however, that you'll eventually be able to pick up different types of weapons as well as you go along. As regards the combat system in all . . . well, it's too early to make any real judgments, but I'm cautiously optimistic.

This? Wellllll . . . this I'm not so enamored with.

I love lightcycles, don't get me wrong. Just like every other kid who grew up watching the original Tron film, I found the the lightcycle game to be hypnotically cool. Even as an adult, my fascination with the system continued . . . the geometrical precision of it, the sleek look of the bikes, and the system of elimination of the opposition all made up for an extremely awesome game. I've downloaded and played several version of the lightcycle game, both officially licensed and not, and one of my favorite games on a Tron based MUD that I used to play was the ASCII who-types-the-fastest version of lightcycles.

But this? This is just a racing game. And I generally despise racing games or anything that has most of the trappings of a racing game. As much as I love the Grand Theft Auto series, I dread the inevitable drag race missions that encrust it like nasty little barnacles. As much as I love Final Fantasy VII for its setting, characters, and whatnot, I hate the motorcycle-riding escape from Midgar that sits at the end of the game's opening act. And now I'm gonna have to go ahead and get all geared up to hate the level (or, goodness forefend, levels) of Tron: Evolution indicated in this video.

One of the greatest parts of the lightcycle arena was the claustrophobic feel it evoked, a feeling which became more and more prominent as the game went on and the field grew ever smaller and more cut off as a winding maze of light trails were laid down. Racing along in a single direction with no sharp right-angle turns and apparently very little chance that you'll hit enemy light trails for any serious amount of damage . . . well, it just takes all the fun out of it.

That said, it is at least consistent with what can be seen of the lightcycle race shown in this Tron: Legacy trailer, but honestly all that really does is make me more pessimistic about the movie as well.

Still! As I said, cautiously optimistic. I might have preferred a direct remake of Discs of Tron, but I suppose I can give Tron: Evolution the benefit of a doubt for now. (via

Fun: Three Princesses, No Waiting

Nothing says "old school gaming" like the princesses from the Super Mario franchise, right? Peach and Daisy have been around for, like, ever, and though I wasn't exactly fond of Rosalina at first since she's relatively new and I am both afraid of new things and angry that new things even exist, I have to admit that she's grown on me. And by that, I mean that I am willing to overlook her horning in on the other princesses' action because she is quite attractive for a video game character.

Anyway, the point of me babbling on about P, D, and R is to point y'all's attention to some quality entertainment starring these three fine ladies!

The Three Little Princesses by Yves "The Bourgyman" Bourgelas is a fun little romp revolving around Rosalina's attempts to survive the insane attentions of Peach and Daisy, who have basically kidnapped her so they can have a sleepover. It's filled with slapstick, situational comedy, and hilarious cartoony visuals that are fun for the whole family! And it's all finished up, so you can read it from beginning to end right away, which I hear is pretty nice. If you like your humor light, frothy, and filled with people being comicly oblivious to the feelings of others, then T3LP is the comic for you!

The Three Not-So-Princesses by The Artrix (who's real name escapes me at the moment and I'm too lazy to bother looking it up) was inspired by T3LP, but Artrix is taking his offering in a far more depressing and disturbing yet no less entertaining direction. No longer princesses, Peach, Daisy, and Rosalina now share a flat in the dystopian city of Rothingham, working for their livings and generally having a rotten, miserable time of it. Other characters from the games - such as Wario, as seen in the page above - have popped up in this alternate universe, and there have been hints of more to come as the comic goes along. If you like your humor dark, sarcastic, and guaranteed to crush the souls of everyone involved, then T3NSP is the comic for you!

Me? I like 'em both. That probably says something about me.

Something like, "That Jim guy sure has good taste in comics".

News: Nintendo Becomes Remake King

Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals Various

I bet you were hoping for a screenshot from the Goldeneye remake, weren't you? Weren't you?! Well, since that's what everyone's buzzing about and because I'm an ornery old cuss that happens to like the Lufia series better than Goldeneye (that's right!), you get a picture of a whiny elf girl talking in Japanese instead. Or one of them there foreign languages, anyway.

I tend to automatically tune out all the E3 shenanigans that come my way, mostly because it's pretty depressing hearing everyone salivate over all the new, shiny toys that I won't get to play with until several years after they get released. I just can't get excited about stuff that's so far out of my reach that it takes the light emanating from that stuff at least a thousand years to reach my position in the video gaming universe.

But IGN and Nintendo are starting to school me rather harshly that if there was any year an old school gamer like me should be paying attention to that big old expo, it's most definitely this year. The Starfox 64 remake that I talked about yesterday really should have tipped me off on what was happening, but I'm kind of slow on the uptake. Along with developing all new installments in several of their oldest and most vaunted series, Nintendo is also working on a nice little stable of remakes, updates, and ports of old games as well.

Besides the aforementioned Starfox, there's the aforementioned Goldeneye do over for the Wii that's on everyone's minds right now since it sold roughly 10 billion copies and everyone on Earth and every other inhabited planet in the entire universe would gladly bend themselves over and allow the N64 James Bond classic to lavish their orifices with whatever it has that passes for an enormous penis. For those of you who couldn't penetrate that horrifically tortured metaphor, it means that people really really liked the original game and are apparently very excited about its upcoming remake.

And why shouldn't they be? Even though I wasn't as completely wowed by it as everyone else, even I could see that it was a pretty well constructed and definitely fun and entertaining game. Further, they're replacing ol' Pierce Brosnan with newest and coolest Bond actor Daniel Craig, updating all the graphics to insanely gorgeous levels, and adding new gameplay mechanics that will, amongst other things, emphasize stealth even more than the original did. There doesn't seem to be much reason not to be excited. I mean, look at this:

GoldenEye 007 Screenshot

Seriously. That's just pretty. (via IGN)

But now that I've pandered to the masses, I'd like to get all of my fellow old school RPG players to please turn their attention to the front of the class, because Nintendo is working on a remake of Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals to be called Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals and to be released on the DS. Now, there are going to be changes, of course, as there are with virtually every remake ever remade (the battle system, for example, is going to be action RPG rather than turn-based RPG style), but apparently the characters, storyline, and the like are going to be kept intact. Which is cool, because the Lufia series has always run some pretty good storylines with pretty good writing and characterization.

And I gotta say, it sure looks like they aren't going to be skimming on the graphics for this one.

Lufia: Curse of the Sinistrals Screenshot

Hopefully this is just the start of a revitalization of the entire series, which I figure is most likely the case since they're starting with the first game chronologically instead of just doing Lufia & the Fortress of Doom right off the bat. While Lufia may not hold quite the same obsessive shrine-like spot in my shriveled black heart that Final Fantasy occupies, I still hold it in very high regard and wouldn't mind seeing more extra pretty versions of it gracing the television and/or DS screens of the world. (via IGN)

Man, I'm starting this whole "hard-hitting old school gaming reporter" bit off right on IGN's teat, aren't I? I might need to think about looking into some other gaming news sites unless I start getting some of those sweet IGN bucks coming my way.

Fun: War of the Console Magi

This is but the beginning of the epic tale that is Sega Fantasy VI, a delightful parody of when they first started putting out game consoles that weren't just game consoles anymore, all using the ending of Final Fantasy VI as its backdrop. If you want to see the show in its entirety, you can follow this delightful little link here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Discs of Tron

Platform: Arcade
Developer: Bally Midway
Released: 1983
Genre: ---

The Game
Based on the 1982 Disney movie Tron, Discs of Tron puts the player in the glowy blue suit of Tron himself as he plays against Sark in the game grid. Specifically, they compete in a variant of the modified jai alai and disc arena games the programs are forced to play in the movie.

DoT was originally going to be a part of the first Tron-based arcade game (imaginatively named Tron), but Bally Midway was forced to cut it due to technical limitations that they just didn't have the time to surmount. And thank goodness, I say. The first game was a bit crap.

The Characters
You play as Tron, the security program dedicated to defeating Sark and the vile Master Control Program in order to free the ENCOM computer system from their nefarious control.

Sark is a right bastard, the right hand program of the MCP and tasked with the active duties of oppressing everyone and everything that isn't already in the MCP's grip.

The MCP doesn't appear in the game. Nor does anyone else, for that matter. It's pretty lonely out there in the game grid.

The Writing
Though based on a larger narrative, DoT is self-contained, simply running through the paces of the game over and over again.

The Gameplay
The playing field is comprised of two to six platforms (half on your side, half on Sark's) floating in space. Whenever there are multiple platforms on each side, Tron and Sark jump from one to another automatically. Later in the game, these platforms can be struck, causing them to blink out of existence for a short while, limiting Tron and Sark's movements until they reappear.

The main weapon of both programs is their ID discs, frisbee-like items that they toss across the gulf at each other. Both the player and Sark can have up to three of their discs in the air at one time, and if one gets destroyed for any reason, it takes a second or two for them to become usable again. Each side has their own special items as well . . . Tron has a deflection beam with which he can knock away Sark's discs a certain number of times a round, and Sark has some rather nasty energy balls that he can deploy to follow Tron around on the player's side of the field.

In the original arcade box, Tron is moved around the screen through the use of a airplane-style joystick while his aim is adjusted through the use of a dial. Playing the ROM on the computer puts the mouse in the place of the dial, which rides a little bit different from the dial, but still works pretty well.

Overall, it's a pretty unique system that I've always kind of liked.

The Challenge
The difficulty is pretty balanced for an arcade game, and once you start hitting the later stages regularly, the first few levels are easily put down. Sark rarely even gets a chance to throw one of his own discs at first since I tend to take him down so easily.

There are no continues in DoT, as the game doesn't really end. Once you've run through all of the different permutations of the game field, it just starts putting you through the different field types over and over again, the ultimate goal being to get the highest score possible while lasting as long as you can on a single credit.

The biggest challenge of the game, besides the environmental hazards and shields they put in your way, is trying to pay attention to both sides of the game field at the same time. You need to be aiming your discs at Sark and throwing them in ways that trick or force him into their flight path, but you also have to be constantly on the move, making sure his own discs and other tricks don't catch up to you as well. It's pretty good mental exercise.

The Sights
I'd say "for 1983, the graphics are pretty dang good", but the fact is they're still rather nice looking. There's a simplicity to the design that fits the movie environment extremely well, and it really manages to capture the feel of a three dimensional field. This is one of the reasons I said above that I'm glad it wasn't a fifth wheel in the original Tron game . . . it would have certainly looked far worse if it had needed to squeeze in between four other games.

The Sounds
There aren't many sounds in the DoT to speak of, but it does make an attempt at including voice acting with Sark alternately taunting you and cursing your name, depending on the outcome of the match. A lot of games around that time tried to do the voice thing back then with varying levels of success, but I think this was one of the better attempts, even if it didn't sound anything remotely like Sark.

The Bottom Line
I probably blew a few hundred dollars worth of quarters on Discs of Tron alone as a kid. When I first grabbed the MAME emulator, this was one of the first games I sought out, downloaded, and played. I'm glad it's held up so well over the years, being just as much fun now as it was back in the day. If I were a rich man, I'd pay good money to have one of the actual arcade machines for my own personal use.

News: I Guess I Should Be Thankful!

Star Fox 64 3D Screenshot

Nintendo is apparently working on developing a port/remake of Starfox 64 for the upcoming 3DS. So, one of the best games made for the N64 being given a complete upgrade of its graphics, being made in digital 3D, and playable on a handheld system? The only way it could possibly be more awesome is if it also made all your favorite dishes, downloaded legal currency into your bank account for every bad guy you shoot down, and performed oral sex on you while you played it. (via IGN)

Fun: Who Needs Video Game Soundtracks

. . . when you've got cockatiels?

Is that total win or what?

Yes, that is total win. But what is this little bird's favorite song?

Rock on, little bird. Rock on.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Blog: Expanding YOTGR's Scope

So, I'm thinking of actually advertising the existence of the blog a little more aggressively now that I've got a decent number of reviews under my belt, so it's time to start thinking of ways to make it a little more viable and marketable.  In short, I think I may need to give more reason for people to come by and stick around.

The reviews themselves will, of course, continue to be the main reason for the blog overall, and I hope they're entertaining and informative enough to keep folks from running off screaming and warning their friends and loved ones away for fear that I might end up corrupting them somehow with my awful, awful writing, opinions, and looks.  But I don't put up reviews every single day, and in these highly competitive internets, consistent updating sells.

To those ends and starting tomorrow, I will try to put up at least one news item and/or bit of entertainment every day as regards old school gaming.  Stuff like re-releases of old games, announcements of new games being made for old series, and videos of Mario saying swear words over and over again.  That sort of thing.  And just like the games themselves around here, a lot of this stuff (especially the entertainment parts) are probably going to be old, since I've got a good number of links to interesting stuff saved up in my bookmarks and I'm too lazy to bother looking for new crap all the time.  Still, if you haven't seen it, it's new to you, right?  Right!

Some folks may not care for this sort of thing, of course, and just want to read the reviews themselves.  Or maybe they just care about the news or just the pictures of Samus and Sonic getting it on.  To help facilitate that, I'll be marking the titles of those entries appropriately.  News items will start off with "News:", the entertaining stuff will be marked "Fun:", and entries like this talking specifically about the blog itself will be marked "Blog:".  Reviews will continue unmarked with just the name of the game itself as the title, though "review" will be placed in their tags so readers can sort out all the other crap if they wish.

Sound good?  Yah, that sounds good.  Cheers!

Beneath a Steel Sky

Platform:  Computer
Developer:  Revolution Software
Released:  1994
Genre:  Point and Click Adventure

The Game
A helicopter crash stranded Robert Foster in the wilderness of the Gap as a child to be raised by a tribe of hunters and scavengers.  This life is completely destroyed when years later security goons from Union City bust in, kidnap him, and kill his tribe.  Another helicopter crash strands him in Union City itself, and now he must find his way back out.  But as he delves deeper into the city on his quest, he finds that his past is catching up to him and a destiny he never knew he had is reaching out with writhing, grasping tendrils . . .

BASS, like Flight of the Amazon Queen from about a week or so ago, is a free-for-download game that can be played using the ScummVM utility.

The Characters
Robert Foster is our erstwhile hero.  He was stranded in the Gap (the future name of the harsh Australian Outback) and raised by a tribe that taught him to hunt and scavenge.  He also became a pretty good mechanical engineer and programmer from fiddling around with the scraps of technology he and his tribe found outside the cities.  He's a generally good-natured and resourceful fellah, and despite the fact that he's grown up in what's left of Australia and is surrounded by primarily Aussie and British accents of all kinds, he talks like he's from the United States.  Weird!

Joey is Foster's little robot buddy, who Foster built himself from bits and pieces he found in the Gap.  Joey is destroyed in the intro scene, but Foster manages to save his main circuit board, which he goes on to insert in a number of different robotic shells throughout the game.  Joey starts off as a helpful but sarcastic jerk with a heart of gold, but his personality undergoes changes both subtle and extreme depending on the capabilities and limitations of the shell he's inhabiting.

Union City is further populated by lots of colorful characters with which Foster and Joey must interact as they try to find their way back to their home in the Gap.  Most are simply callous toward Foster (Gilbert Lamb, the owner of the pipe factory) or simply too self-absorbed to give him much notice (security officers Sam and Norville), and most won't do anything for him without some sort of repayment (the travel agency clerk and Dr. Burke) or sponsorship from someone else (Billy Anchor and the bouncer at the club), but there are a rare few who are actively helpful (the lovely Anita).  And almost without exception, they are all wonderfully entertaining in some way.

The Writing
Humor is pretty much a staple of most point and click adventure games, and BASS is no exception, but in this case the humor is tempered by a dark and gritty cyberpunk plot filled with violent deaths, societal decay, paranoia, and generally mean and nasty people.  Which, personally, I love!  I'm a big cyberpunk fan, particularly the works of William Gibson, so the tale told by BASS is right up my alley.

But don't think I'm trying to sell the humor short.  A lot of it is dark, satirical, and sarcastic, but there's plenty of it in there.  I may not have guffawed out loud very often, but playing this game definitely kept me constantly smirking in dark satisfaction and thinking, "Yah!  Take that, society!"

The story itself is quite well constructed and the dialogue was stupendous as well as well delivered, giving me a real connection to the characters and their plights.

The Gameplay
Even more than some other point and clickers of the time, BASS has a pretty simple interface.  Right click to look, left click to use.  There's an inventory window that drops down from the top and uses the same basic mouse clicks.  Simple, elegant.

But while it's very well set up for the most part, there are a couple of points which caused some problems.

The first is that Joey is a slowass.  Joey's abilities are required to solve a number of different puzzles, especially at the beginning of the game, but he moves like his treads are made out of sections taken from a movie theater floor.  He also has a tendency to just wander around for a little while before he even realizes Foster has left the room, and you might be all the way over on the other side of one of the city levels before he's made it halfway through the first room.  There is fortunately an option to increase (or decrease) the game speed so he'll show up faster, but it still a bit of an inconvenience.

The second is that the game is somewhat buggy.  Occasionally Foster will get stuck while trying to talk to NPCs, necessitating a restore to the last save point.  Due to a compression problem with the sound files, it takes a second or two for each segment of dialogue to load up, making the characters all sound a little stilted as they suddenly stop talking partway through or in between sentences.  Sometimes you can perform sequence-breaking actions, such as the time I grabbed a glass from a guy before I was supposed to be able to . . . I still went through the motions I needed to perform that would have allowed me to have gotten the glass legitimately, but it was mostly pointless since I had the glass already.  And once I tried to use one of the LINC terminals and not only would it not work for me, it caused the game's lettering to shrink (as if it had been bolded before but wasn't any longer), making it a little more difficult to read.

These are all minor hassles, however, and didn't really detract too much from the overall experience.

The Challenge
The puzzles in BASS are a curious mixture of several types.  They're all your basic point and click puzzles in one way or another, but even in that narrow style, there are a few variations, and this game seems to want to try and incorporate them all.  There are those that open up only after you've gone through a specific series of conversations with specific people, necessitating you go from one end of the game map to the other - sometimes making multiple trips - before you can open up some new section or puzzle.  There are logically proceeding item use and combination puzzles where you rub everything in your inventory against each other and every NPC and static object you come across.  And then there's the moon logic puzzles.

I've played through BASS a few times now, though the last time was admittedly a long time ago.  The point is, even when I knew the exact reasons, results, and methodology behind a couple of the puzzles, it still doesn't seem extremely obvious to me just why I should pick up, say a cassette of kitty videos.  It just seems like a random item to swipe from someone's apartment, and it leads to a series of further events which kind of mystify me even though I know what they're all eventually leading up to.  I suppose what I'm trying to say here is that I understand in the end why Foster would take all these things and perform all these actions with them, but during the sequence of events themselves, I have to keep wondering "Why the hell would Foster use the kitty video to distract a dog long enough to steal its biscuits?"  These seem less like the actions of a hero (anti- or otherwise) and more like those of a madman.  And because these actions are sometimes so weird and out there at the time, it's hard to figure out exactly where you're supposed to go with them next without simply doing trial and error from time to time.

But perhaps I'm not being fair here.  I read in another review of this game (yes, how horribly unprofessional of me, but how else am I supposed to steal other people's ideas and pretend like they're my own?) that Foster's kleptomaniac-like tendencies were actually quite brilliant, and I have to say I found myself agreeing with their reasoning.  He used to be a member of a tribe that survived by scavenging everything they could find and using it in whatever way they could.  So in a way it makes sense for him to continue applying that mentality to his big city adventure.  He'd snatch up the kitty video and the doggy biscuits and all the other things he grabs simply because they weren't nailed down (though even that doesn't always stop him), and even if it didn't always make sense at first, he'd try his best to find some way of putting it all to use.

Still, for those of use who didn't grow up in the Gap, it's a method-in-the-madness that might take some getting used to.

Now, I'm gonna go ahead and spoil a later section of this review and say that I love the graphics in the game, but unfortunately they can hide certain things you need to interact with.  The backgrounds, foregrounds, and everything else are a little too lush at times, making smaller items difficult to make out, and it might take several passes with the pointer to figure out there's something you need to take, pull, push, or otherwise fiddle with.

So, what am I trying to say here?  Hmm . . . I forgot.

Wait!  No, I've got it!  The challenge is very uneven.  Not so much that I was ready to take a bite out of my keyboard, but still sort of an emotional rollercoaster.  Fortunately everything else is so damn good that it can distract from the more frustrating bits or deflect the anger caused by such.

The Graphics
omg it is so pretty

Every part of this game looks like a gorgeously rendered panel from a comic book, which - in a sense - is exactly what it is.  The intro is pretty much entirely a comic created by Dave Gibbons (he of Watchmen fame), and in fact it was included as an actual mini-comic with the game.  All of the backgrounds are based on his designs as well, making the entire game one long sequence of scenery porn.

Now, I haven't found anything to absolutely confirm or deny this, but damn I'd swear that all the character sprites and some other small objects and items are 3D, at least partially.  Even if they aren't - and I suspect that this is the case - they are so well made that they look 3D in many ways.  I think it may have something to do with the insanely beautiful and detailed shading job they did.  It makes my eyes bleed, but in a good way.  Also, the sprites are all so expressive, not always relying on just a few stock poses.  Foster especially has some movements that are unique to only certain situations, seen once and then never again, like a rare and beautiful butterfly that flits by, leaving only the bright memory of its existence behind to bring a soft smile to my face from time to time.

Sadly, I can't just leave this section as a testament to the everlasting perfection of BASS' graphical acumen.  There are a couple of perhaps ill-advised attempts to bring full and partial animation to the comic intro and (much shorter) ending of the game.  It's actually disturbing to see the horrific attempts to sync the stiff, unnatural lip movements to the spoken dialogue.  From what I've come to understand, Revolution relatively recently re-released (wow) the game with even more of this type of animation spread throughout the cut scenes . . . I can only hope they managed to do a better job with it this time than they did the first go-round.

The Music
The music was good, with my only real problem being the same as that I had with FOTAQ . . . it's a bit distracting at times.  Not as distracting, but still.  This would be even less of a problem if the music sound level slider would stay where I put it in between game sessions.  Instead, every time I opened the game in ScummVM, it would be right back up where I couldn't concentrate on what I was doing or hear what people were saying to me.

The Bottom Line
The problems are really minor, and they're easily ignored in the face of the superb story, voice acting, setting, backgrounds, sprite animations, humor, satire, and everything else that Revolution did oh-so-right.  There have been rumblings concerning a possible sequel (both Revolution Software - who still exist! - and Dave Gibbons are interested), and I fully support them having another go at it.  Even if BASS 2 ends up being only half as good as the original, that's still several times better than a lot of other games that have been coming out recently.  More BASS please!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Aliens (Arcade)

Platform:  Arcade
Developer:  Konami
Released:  1990
Genre:  Shoot 'em up

The Game
Lt. Ellen Ripley must bust her way through several levels of a space colony infested with vicious xenomorphs to save Newt, a young girl that was the only survivor of the alien massacre.  All she's got to get her through this horrific ordeal is a homemade rifle/flamethrower/missile launcher and balls of steel big enough to take down the Empire State Building.

Aliens is based on the movie of the same name, the second in a series of movies involving the titular xenomorphs and interplanetary badass Ripley, played by the lovely Sigourny Weaver.  The game was released about four years after the movie and was the second to have that name, the other being for the MSX home computer and developed by, of all people, Squaresoft.

The Characters
Ripley is the protagonist, and if you've got a buddy with some quarters to burn, she can be joined by Corporal Dwayne Hicks (played by sci fi darling Michael Biehn in the movie).  There's no real dialogue to speak of in this game to convey their personalities, but I think it's safe to assume that they're both the same awesome folks we see in the movie.

Newt is the spunky young girl who just can't seem to keep from getting kidnapped by those nasty xenomorphs no matter how many of them you dispatch.

The xenos are those nasty buggers trying to bite off Ripley's head and spit acid down her throat.  Unlike just the three basic types we see in the movies (queen, face hugger, drone), there's tons of different critters running around the game's colony, all of them working as hard as they can to end the human incursion into their nest with their various unique abilities.

The Writing
There's not much to speak of past the basic exposition given at the very beginning of the game to get the player caught up to speed, but I have to give major props to Konami for picking the best section of the movie to use for a game.  Though there's actually only some moderate action when Ripley goes down to retrieve Newt in the film, the leadup to her mounting her rescue mission definitely suggests that something more like this game should have happened.  Kudos to them for making this expectation a reality!

The Gameplay
Basic run and gun with pretty basic mechanics.  You can shoot at two levels for most of the game: standing for the big stuff or crouching to wipe out the face huggers and other small critters.  Bombs can be found scattered throughout the levels, as can gun upgrades, allowing you to plow through the xenos with missiles, scattershot, and purifying fire.  My personal fave is the flamethrower, not least because seeing the special burning version of the enemy sprites is pretty damn cool.

The basic blast-hell-outta-them levels are broken up by the occasional cart ride which operates like a rail shooter as you take out xenos that try to jump on the front of your cart and chew on your face, air vent crawls in which you get a HUD set up like the movie's motion detectors, and freight loader sections that have Ripley take control of that kickass yellow mecha that always fascinated me as a kid.  Hell, I'd still love a ride in one today!

The action is fast paced, xeno blasting fun!

The Challenge
I actually beat this game as a kid tooling around in the local arcade, and I remembered it being pretty hard.  This time, however, I pretty much blazed right through.  I still ended up using about three fake dollars, though.

Hey, remember back when all arcade games were only a quarter a play?  Those were the days.

The Graphics
I've always enjoyed arcade graphics, and even some of the earliest games still impress me.  That said, Aliens manages to impress even above many of the other impressors.  The colors are a little gaudy, but the level design is quite good and the enemy sprites are very well made, especially the bosses.  I think my favorite of the latter has to be the xeno with the black sectioned armor on the back of his entire body so that he looks like a big wad of cockroaches when he curls into a ball and rolls around.  The infested human enemies are pretty creepy, especially the half-a-bodies that crawl along the ground and try to shoot you.

The Music
Music?  I was too busy dodging acid blood and filling hardened carapaces with burning death to notice any damn music!

The Bottom Line
Aliens has long been among my favorite arcade games, and this recent playthrough hasn't changed that.  Great graphics, entertainingly hectic gameplay, and great selection of setting . . . this is what more licensed games should be like.  I just wish it was a little longer, but that's arcade games for ya.