Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Why I Haven't Written in a While

You honestly can't be too surprised to see that I haven't written in a long time. First of all, my track record has been sketchy at best, and I nearly quit this blog two times already, so you knew what I was when you picked me up.

There are a few reasons why I haven't been too diligent about writing in this thing lately: 1. I got an iPad. Yes, I took that plunge into the world of tablet computing and now I spend all my time shooting birds at pigs and monkeys and/or reading digital comic books. 2. I'm really trying to be a good husband and father. The times when I feel really plugged into my blogs, I tend to be a little distant with my wife and daughter. It's not that I don't love them, it's that writing is a lonely thing to do, and at times a selfish thing to do. So yeah, I have been spending more quality time with the wife and kid and I don't regret it. They are the people who matter most. Inasmuch as this blog has zero readership, I really can't justify how devoted I get to it at times. 3. I got bored. Yeah, it's the number one reason all my other blogs have failed. I didn't keep my own interest, so what's the point?

So what does all this foofaraw mean for this blog? I honestly have no idea. It might be a little easier to keep it up with an iPad, which is how I'm writing this very entry, but I don't know if I'll want to keep it up. We'll see. Anyway, this has been the state of the blog. Keep not reading and I'll keep not writing.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Galaga (NES Game)

When I was a kid, we never had a Nintendo. We had an Atari 800XL and about a zillion games for it. My favorite game by far was Galaxian. I actually practiced this game, honing my skills for reasons I couldn't explain then or now. I remember the day when my uncle told me that there was a sequel to Galaxian that was even better. My mind could scarcely conceive of the concept.

Galaga is basically the same game as Galaxian with a few more bells and whistles. The only thing about the bells and whistles is that each and every one of them is great. First of all, the enemy ships make a much grander entrance in Galaga. They swoosh and swirl before taking their place at the top of the screen. Also, one of the higher-ranking ships has a tractor beam that can steal your ship. This can actually be a good thing because if you shoot the enemy ship, you'll get your ship back and have two ships and double the firepower. One other bell and or whistle is the bonus stages. In these stages, ships will just come at you in rapid succession and you try to shoot them for extra points.

As a lifelong Galaxian fan, I can help but enjoy Galaga. This is exactly what a sequel should be. Every added feature is an improvement, and it still has the spirit of the original. I may be biased, but I'm giving Galaga...

Freedom Force (NES Game)

Freedom Force is a fun light gun game that I was not aware of until fairly recently. I wish I knew about it sooner because this is a really cool game. First of all, the graphics are fantastic. In the first level, the camera will scroll up and down the fuselage of a plane. Doors will open, some have hostages and some have terrorists. Your job is to kill all the terrorists you can and avoid killing hostages, all while trying not to get yourself killed. There are various powerups that will appear in the lower right hand of the screen. That's where to look if you need a bump in health or ammo, but be careful because a grenade will kill everyone on screen, including civilians and hostages. You also have to keep an eye out for grenades and missiles which you can shoot down in midair. If you don't hit these, it's instant death.

All of the levels are well-designed and have great graphics. In the airport terminal,  you'll even see a girl in a bikini who will pop out and wave at you as if there wasn't a major counter-terrorist action going down. Also, there's a kid on a skateboard who seems equally oblivious. Now that I think of it, there's an awful lot of whimsy in this game considering the body count.

Whimsy and bikinis aside, Freedom Force is about as good as light gun games get. It's non-stop light gun shooting, and the death animation for the terrorists is as fun as death can possibly be. The only issue with this game is that the difficulty does get pretty steep pretty fast. Aside from that, I've never had anything but fun with Freedom Force.

Fighting Golf aka Lee Travino's Fighting Golf (NES Game)

Fighting Golf is pretty darn good as far as vintage gold games go. It's no Golden Tee, but it's a highly playable and fairly enjoyable game. I also love how downplayed the Lee Travino sponsorship is. Travino's name doesn't appear on the end label at all, and it only appears in very small print on the front label. Maybe the game really wasn't licensed by Mr. Travino and SNK was hoping he wouldn't notice if they made the type small enough.

Sponsorships aside, Fighting Golf has everything you'd expect in a golf game from this era: club selection, power meter, overhead map, silly name, wind gauge, scorecard, etc. Fighting Golf really doesn't have any features you couldn't find on any other golf game from the era except one: it's actually possible to shoot under par in Fighting Golf.

I can't tell you how many golf video games I've played where it is practically impossible to shoot even par. Even worse, none of these games have handicapping systems. I don't know why I love golf video games. You would never catch me on the links in real life. At any rate, Fighting Golf is simple enough to actually be able to play well. Just practice the power meter a bit, and sink a few putts and you're basically a pro. Fighting Golf is by far the most enjoyable golf game I've played on the NES. I do have to downgrade it a bit because it can get a little boring, but maybe I should upgrade it for being boring like golf is in real life. Meh. I'm giving it...

Fester's Quest (NES Game)

I don't know what to make of this game. I just don't. Did I enjoy it? Maybe, I guess. Did I have any idea what was going on? No, not really? Will I ever play this game again? I really have no answer for that.

In the beginning of Fester's Quest, a UFO appears. This frightens Fester so he gets off his lawn chair and picks up his gun. Then he takes to the streets and shoot things, some of which look like little berries and some of which are definitely aliens...I think. I guess the UFO means aliens, right?

As Fester you'll wander pointlessly and aimlessly, wondering what you're doing. You'll shoot the berries and pick up cash and weapon powerups, which is highly satisfying. You'll also shoot aliens, some of which have satisfying deaths. You'll wander in sewers, which play exactly like the above-ground levels. You'll wander into 3D mazes with literally nothing in them except an exit door. You'll come across other members of The Addams Family who will help you on your quest. Quest to do what? I don't know. You'll also come across bosses who are terrifying and well-animated.

Basically, Fester's Quest is as much fun as you can possibly have without really knowing what the crap you're doing, which is to say it's only moderately fun because you don't really know what the crap you're doing half the time. So yeah, that's all you need to know.

Faxanadu (NES Game)

Faxanadu is an action RPG in the same vein as Battle of Olympus. You play an unnamed character who returns home to find his hometown nearly abandoned. You'll make your way to the king who'll give you the scoop on everything that has happened and will send you on your way to make everything right.

In standard RPG fashion, you'll start with a little gold and practically nothing else. A visit to a few key shops will have you holding slightly more than nothing. Obviously as the game progresses, you'll acquire better weapons, armor, and a few magic items. You'll explore the vast expanses of the world tree as you attempt to find who is killing the tree and poisoning the water supply.

You'll meet many odd foes along your way. As a matter of fact, I can't think of any other NES game offhand that rivals Faxanadu for weird enemies. Faxanadu has become something of a cult favorite over the years, but the reason for the cult status is not immediately apparent. The opening screen and first town are pretty bland looking (it's a dying world, after all) and you'll probably find yourself wondering what kind of subpar adventure you've signed on for. Once you get a weapon and find your way into the world and kill a few baddies, you'll probably find yourself nodding in approval.

One of the things I don't like about the game are the mantras. These are the passwords given to you by the priest in whichever town you find yourself in. Faxanadu doesn't have a battery save feature, so you'll find yourself writing down long passwords. If you make a mistake in either writing down or entering the password,  you'll be up a creek.

Aside from the mantras, Faxanadu is a highly enjoyable game. There's a lot to explore, and many monsters whose deaths are highly satisfying. The villagers don't weigh you down with much extraneous information, and you quickly learn which villagers are of no use whatsoever (they're the same ones in every village). Faxanadu is a very good action RPG. I'd rank it above Zelda II and slightly below Battle of Olympus.

Excitebike (NES Game)

Few NES pleasures are as pure and simple as Excitbike. It's a fairly easy game with simple graphics and cute music, yet the gameplay is fun and compelling. As the title would imply, you race on a motorcycle. You can compete in either solo mode or against CPU controlled players. The solo mode is almost too easy at first, but the levels get a bit harder as you go along. Competing against the CPU is a bit harder as they can knock you off your bike at almost any moment.

In addition to the two game modes, Excitebike features turbo boost, which can really shoot you over some of the steeper ramps. Be careful not to use too much turbo because your bike will overheat (as indicated on the handy temp gauge) and you'll have to wait for it to cool down. One other great feature of Excitebike is the track editor. As a kid my friends and I spent many happy hours trying to throw each other off with ridiculous track designs. The only feature lacking is the ability to save tracks, but that's a small thing compared to the immense enjoyment I've derived from Excitebike over the years.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Duck Tales (NES Game)

Disney had a few really fun games back in the day. You had great platformers like Darkwing Duck, Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers, Quackshot, and Mickey Mousecepade. Most of these games were ably created by Capcom, who has a generally good track record in general. So you'd expect Duck Tales to be on par with those games, but it unfortunately falls a little flat.

Duck Tales actually looks really good for an NES game, and the music is pretty good too. It's the gameplay where this game begins to stumble. It took me a while to figure out how to swing Scrooge McDuck's cane, and even longer to be able to swing it reliably. Maybe my system isn't running the game properly, but I've never had this problem with any other game.

With shoddy controls and unclear objectives, Duck Tales just comes up short. I just didn't have much fun with it. Sure, you can play this game, but why would you when there are better Disney games to be had?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Dragon Warrior (NES Game)

Dragon Warrior is a very simple RPG that spawned a host of sequels and imitators. I don't know what the first ever turn-based RPG was, but Dragon Warrior has to be among the first games to feature turn-based battle sequences.

At the beginning of the game after you enter your name, you'll find yourself standing before the king. The king will give you a little information about your quest and let you rummage through all the treasure chests in the room. You'll soon find yourself with a little money and practically nothing else. After a little time in some of the nearby shops, you will probably be carrying the cheapest weapon money can buy and possibly some very slightly protective clothing. Then you get to make your way into the world (pictured above) and go beat up some bad guys.

Your first enemies will usually be pretty easy to kill. You'll see a lot of slimes, drakees and ghosts. You'll need to kill as many of these baddies as you can so you can start levelling up. You'll also be picking up gold which will go toward your purchase of a decent weapon and some actual armor. The battles you'll find yourself in are randomly placed. Once you happen across a bad guy, you'll be greeted by the battle screen as pictured below:

As you can see, the battle screen is very simple. I usually can't stand to sit through games with endless turn-based battles. All your Final Fantasy games just seem so unnecessarily drawn out and boring. The reasons why I actually enjoy Dragon Warrior are 1) The battle screen is super simple and 2) the battles can move pretty quickly once you get the hang of things.

One of the big drawbacks of Dragon Warrior is that once you reach a certain level of experience and are exploring the parts of the world with more difficult monsters, it seems like you can't walk two feet (in scale, of course) in any direction without hitting a random battle. It makes it hard to remember where you were even going, especially if the battle takes several turns before it's over.

I feel compelled to point out, however, that this is not the sort of game I usually get sucked into, but I spent hours playing it recently when I intended to only play long enough to write this review. Somehow Dragon Warrior has compiled enough simple charm to make itself hard to put down. There's a tremendous sense of accomplishment when you level up or beat a monster who is slightly stronger than you. It sucks you in and you'll find yourself wondering how Dragon Warrior talked you into using the better part of your day to play it. It must be a good game because despite how I feel about turn-based RPG's, I still love Dragon Warrior.

Dr. Mario (NES Game)

This is my wife's favorite NES game, probably based solely on the fact that she is the ultimate champ as far as Dr. Mario is concerned. I have never seen anyone best her and I doubt I ever will. When she can't talk someone into playing against her, she'll just play by herself by starting on level 20 where all but a half inch of the screen is covered in viruses. It's really a thing to behold.

Dr. Mario is one of many puzzle games that came in the wake of Tetris. Much like Tetris, Dr. Mario drops pieces from above and requires you to position them correctly as they fall. Your goal is to kill all the viruses in any given level, hence the Doctor part of the title. Viruses are apparently easily killed by stacking four pills of matching color on top of them. It makes me wonder if cancer and AIDS are just odd colors, like a Navajo White that's just an impossible hue to nail exactly. I imagine rooms filled with eggshell, beige, and autumn harvest colored pills that didn't cure anything.

Anyway, Dr. Mario is a simple yet highly enjoyable puzzler. The music is catchy, the gameplay is easy to learn, the two player mode is just as fun as two player Tetris if not more so. Dr. Mario really has a lot going for it. Not only that, it's my wife's favorite game.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Double Dribble (NES Games)

Double Dribble is my personal favorite basketball game on the NES. I have fond memories of playing this game head to head with my childhood friend Jerry. He was much better at it than I was, but somehow I didn't get frustrated with the game. That says something for the playability and fun factor of Double Dribble.

As far as I can figure, there were only 8 basketball games total for the NES. Of those games, 6 are pretty much crap-ola and two of them are playable. The two playable games are Arch Rivals, in which you can punch opposing players, and Double Dribble. I prefer Double Dribble for one reason and one reason alone: the cutaway dunk shot.

Pictured above, the cutaway dunk shot is pretty impressive by NES standards. Any time you hit the shoot button and are either right under the basket or moving toward that vicinity, you'll get a shot similar to the one above. There are three dunks you can perform: normal two-handed, backward two handed, and one handed windmill.  The only downside to the dunk feature, which is in all other respects phenomenal and head and shoulders above every other basketball game for the NES, is that you can miss dunks. Here's what's frustrating about missing dunks: the CPU never misses a dunk, and I mean never. You, on the other hand, can go hot and cold sometimes throwing it down like Clyde the Glide and other times missing repeatedly like Birdman Anderson in the 2005 dunk contest. Your dunks can be wildly inconsistent, but it's easy to pick up the offensive board on a missed dunk, so at least you have that going for you, which is nice.

As for the rest of Double Dribble, here's what you need to know: 1) It's an infinitely more satisfying game if played in two player mode with a buddy. It lends itself to a lot of trash talking. 2) The CPU can be hard to beat. I used to beat the CPU easily on level 1, but that was back when I played this game a lot more often. Now I'm barely batting .500, which is frustrating. I even cranked it up to level 3 just to see what it was like, and I didn't get the ball across half court until the 3rd quarter and didn't score my first points until the 4th. I'd really like to see someone beat the CPU on level 3. 3) It's really hard to play defense. I can count on less than 5 fingers the number of shots I have blocked in this game. Basically, if you can steal the ball right after it is inbounded, you better hope the other guy misses his shot.

I know that Double Dribble isn't perfect, but it holds a boatload of nostalgia for me and I still really enjoy this game. My rating of it may be completely skewed, but I'm still giving it...

Birfday Acquisitions

So my loving wife bought me a gift certificate for the local vidya game store for my birthday, and I have now successfully spent every penny of gift card (I even had to chip in an extra buck fifty so I could walk out with all these prizes). Anyway, the local store is big on current games and short on vintage stuff, but I'm mainly concerned with the vintage stuff. So I did the best with what I had. Bear in mind that I was buying games because 1) I didn't already own them 2) They seemed at the very least interesting 3) I didn't want to leave any credit behind. It was part of my civic duty to use all of my wife's gift. So here's what I got:

Laser Invasion- I know nothing about this game. I had never even seen it before. I picked it up for a few reasons: 1) The Kiss-style s's in the title 2) It's a Konami game and they have a great track record on the NES 3) It was cheap. I still haven't played it yet, but with all the war stuff on the cover, I'm picturing a Missile Command clone.

Ikari Warriors- How weird is it that I didn't already own this game? I own many many NES games and somehow hadn't picked this one up yet. Well I can sleep easy now because I rectified the situation.
Axelay- I bought this game because I remember videogamecritic giving it a good review. I was right about the good review, but I was wrong about what this game actually is. I bought Axelay but my brain was telling me it was Actraiser. Axelay sounds like a medieval slice n' dice game, but it's actually a vertical-scrolling shooter. I really need to look more closely at label. There's no barbarian with oily muscles and furry underwear on the cover, it's clearly a spaceship.
Fatal Fury 2- Here's two SNES franchises I can't keep straight in my brain: Fatal Fury and Final Fight. The whole alliterative F-name thing throws me off every time. So I didn't know if this would be the side-scrolling brawler or the tournament fighter. All I knew is that I own both Fatal Fury 1 and Final Fight 1, so I was safe either way.

Shaq-Fu- When you can spend a mere 99 cents and pick up one of the most maligned video games this side of ET (for the Atari 2600. ET not only set the tin standard for poorly designed rush-job video games, it also set a precedent for video games based on movies being complete crap) you should do it. Not only does it make your collection look slightly fuller on the shelf, it will make every person who browses your collection stop and say, "Shaq-Fu? Why the crap do you have this game?!"

So those are my new acquisitions. I have not yet played any of these games, so I can't tell you if Shaq-Fu is better than hype would have you believe or if Laser Invasion is the secret shame of Konami. I will review each of these games eventually, but I just wanted you to know I have new stuff. That's pretty much it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Double Dragon II (NES Game)

Double Dragon II is the bomb diggety doo-dah that really brought beat 'em ups into the modern age. All of your Streets's of Rages, Finals Fights, and even Teenaged Mutants Ninjas Turtles owe a lot to Double Dragon II. Not only does it feature frantic non-stop cooperative beat 'em up action, it also brings in special moves, and unrealistic physics (I upercutted the guy in the picture above and he flew a good 8-10 feet in the air) that really make it a joy to play.

The big difference between Double Dragon and Double Dragon II is the cooperative gameplay. No longer does your buddy have to sit with a controller in his hand waiting for you to die like a schlub. In DDII he's right in the action beating up guys right along side you and pretending that he isn't annoyed that your score is higher than his.

In addition to the co-op mode which was a sorely needed improvement over the original Double Dragon, there are more special moves in Double Dragon II that are both fun and easy to execute. In the original Double Dragon, you could grab a guy by the head and beat him senseless without fear of retaliation, but you could never tell how to grab the guy. Every time I did it I would exclaim to myself, "Now how did I do that? I want to make sure I can do it again." In Double Dragon II, grabbing your opponents is much easier, and the variety of ways in which you can beat him up once he is grasped is more varied and satisfying. In Double Dragon you could perform a jumping kick, but it was a bit unpredictable. In Double Dragon II you can perform a jumping kick that's a whole lot more consistent, but you can also perform a helicopter kick, which is what really puts this game over the top. Who doesn't want to jump 8 feet in the air and spin like a top, kicking the crap out of opponents some of whom are nowhere near your kick. The helicopter kick is the very knees of the bees.

All things totaled, Double Dragon II is a fantastic game. It's a joy to play in single player mode, but it's an all-out blast to play in co-op mode. There is really nothing I can knock this game with. I love it and I really can't see anything wrong with it. For all the reasons, I award it a plethora of tanookis.