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Saturday, July 15, 2017

TWITCH STREAM TAKEDOWNS

List of games completed on my Twitch.tv stream:

Salamander 2 (PS1) - 7/16/2015
Life Force (NES) - 5/22/2015
Harmful Park (PS1) - 8/7/2015
Final Fight (PS2) - 11/27/2015
Captain Commando (PS2) - 11/27/2015
The King of Dragons (PS2) - 11/27/2015
Knights of The Round (PS2) - 11/27/2015
Magic Sword (PS2) - 11/27/2015
Metal Slug X (PS1) - 12/09/2015
Wendy: Every Witch Way (GBC) - 1/16/2016
Kirby's Dream Land (Gameboy) - 1/29/2016
Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap - 2/20/2016
Zelda: Oracle of Seasons - 3/16/2016
Zelda: Oracle of Ages - 4/22/2016
Zelda: Link's Awakening - 5/13/2016
Terranigma (SNES) - 6/14/2016
Gunman's Proof (SNES) - 6/21-2016
Neutopia (TG16) - 7/7/2016
Neutopia II (TG16) - 7/27/2016
Alcahest (SNES-J) - 8/16/2016
Legacy of the Wizard (NES) - 9/20/2016
Castlevania: AoS (GBA) - 10/31/2016
The Guardian Legend (NES) - 11/23/2016
Brain Lord (SNES) - 1/18/2017
Soul Blazer (SNES) - 2/15/2017
Illusion of Gaia (SNES) - 3/30/2017
Ys V: Lost Kefin, Kingdom of Sand (SNES) - 4/26/2017
Seiken Densetsu 3 (SNES) - 6/30/2017

ROM With A View on Twitch

Sunday, April 24, 2016

SUPER GAME - Zelda: Oracle of Seasons/Ages





I have always been a fan of the Zelda franchise. I started of course with the original 1986 title on the Nintendo. Even though I was not necessarily in to RPG or Action-Adventure games, the original game still captivated me. It was unlike anything else I had seen before. I primarily remember a few really boring text adventure games from the Atari home computer, and as such adventure games generally didn’t appeal to me. I remember hearing friends talk about Zelda, and eventually saw it firsthand at a friend’s house. To be quite honest, it wasn’t until years later that I would really come to truly appreciate what that original Zelda was, and what it did for the video game franchise as a whole.

The success of that original game of course led to an NES sequel, the Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link. With a few more RPG elements thrown in, I was never really as captivated by this one as I was the original, but I digress. What followed next were Zelda titles being developed and released on every subsequent Nintendo console that would be released thereafter. This included games for each of the portable handheld consoles. The Gameboy, Gameboy Color, and Gameboy Advance systems all had Zelda titles released on them.

I remember borrowing and playing Link’s Awakening on the original Gameboy when I was in Jr. High, but never got much of a chance to complete it. With the game not being in full color, I never really had enough of a desire to play it after returning it, and as a result I never bought it for myself.

Years later I learned about the two games that had been co-developed released for the Gameboy Color (GBC). I didn’t realize, mostly due to the fact that I never owned a GBC system, that these two games were, in fact, designed to be played in succession, and that they could be linked together using a system of passwords. This means that the two games themselves were actually connected, and could technically be considered one single mega game. Certainly this would be the first time in my memory that something like this had ever been done. Making it even more intriguing is the fact that it didn’t matter what order you played the games in. In fact, the replay value for them was that much higher when you consider that you would experience a slightly different game experience depending on whether or not you chose to play Ages or Seasons first. In all, these two games provided up to 4 different gameplay experiences depending on your choices.

So what kind of gameplay experience does one get with these two games? To be completely honest, I haven’t played through all four of the possibilities, so I cannot speak to every single aspect. I have played through both games, however, starting first with Oracle of Seasons, and finishing with Oracle of Ages.

I didn’t expect much from these games in terms of storyline or depth. After all most games developed for the handheld consoles were shorter, and less developed than what was available on the original NES or Super Nintendo consoles. I always attributed this to the lack of physical memory available on the smaller cartridges. 

Boy was I ever surprised to find out just how deep and rich these games ended up being. Seriously, there are some very complex and sophisticated dungeons found in both, although I would argue that Ages has the most. When you consider that both games not only include overtly impressive overworlds (Holodrum and Lynna), plus their own additional storyline worlds (Lynna past, and Subrosia the underworld), you end up with a very deep, enriched, and highly fulfilling game. I am very, very impressed with just how much there actually is to these two portable games. They would honestly give a good run to quite a few of the “bigger” games found on the main NES and Super Nintendo consoles.

Like most Zelda games, these two games feature non-linear exploration and puzzle solving in order to advance the storyline, and open up new areas of the world map. The added wrinkle of having to traverse the same world in different seasons or timelines in order to unlock or complete a puzzle just makes it that much deeper in terms of exploration. Sometimes you cannot access a doorway, cave, or dungeon, unless you have first travelled back in time, or changed the season to aid you in gaining an advantage. Examples include planting a seed in the past that in turn sprouts in to a climbable vine in the present, or using snow drifts in winter to bridge an otherwise impassable gap present during any of the other three seasons. A Link to the Past on the Super Nintendo included a few of these types of puzzles, where you would first need to traverse an area in the dark world, in order to surpass some immovable obstacle or boundary in the light world. The major difference between a Link to the Past and these two games is that these kinds of problem solving are a lot more prevalent in these games design. Meaning the game was designed with these added wrinkles being a bigger part of the overall game play and storyline.

If you are still not sold on just how large and expansive these games are, then please consider the fact that both games also include what is affectionately referred to as the trading game or fetch quest. Some people dislike this aspect of these games, as well as the one found in the GBA title The Minish Cap. While they are somewhat time consuming and vague, they add an additional level to the overall experience, and there is usually a nice reward at the end. Besides, it’s a lot more satisfying and fun to complete these games knowing that you have gotten 100% of the items and have also completed all of the additional side quests.

To sum things up: The two Zelda games found on the Gameboy Color provide a surprisingly deep, enriching game experience, and when you play them linked together, the game gets even deeper. Anyone who is a fan of the Zelda series is strongly encouraged to play them. Hell, even if you aren’t necessarily a fan of the franchise itself, you do owe it to yourself to play through what is probably the best game(s) found on the GBC.

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 Game of the Year: AXIOM VERGE


            


I don’t know what more I can say about Axiom Verge that probably hasn’t already been discussed ad nauseam across the various social media sites, gaming websites, YouTube, personal blogs, etc. Hell it made a cameo appearance in my 12 Games of Christmas as Game number one. You can watch it here:


It was a day back in early 2015 that I remember first hearing someone talk about this great new game they had played on the PS4 called Axiom Verge. I didn’t really think much of it until I started hearing more and more people mention it on Twitter. It was at that point that I decided to look a little deeper at this thing called Axiom Verge. It was reported that the whole game was developed by only one person.

What I ended up finding quickly set my heart a flutter. I spent a good chunk over the next few weeks watching various videos on YouTube of people playing this amazing indie title. That’s right reader, you read that correctly, my 2015 Game of the Year (GOTY) is an independently developed game that is NOT produced by a major game publisher. Three cheers for the little guy!

It was at that point I knew that Axiom Verge was one of those special games. A game that would be talked about for a long time.  Unfortunately I do not own a PS4 system, so I was unable to play this title myself. Then I discovered that is was scheduled for release on May 14th 2015 on Steam for the PC. I nearly shat myself with excitement, to the point that I even set up an alert on my calendar to remind when this game became available. Then I moved on with life…

My gaming life can best be described as somewhat chaotic. Meaning I jump from game to game with relative speed, so after setting that reminder I all but forgot about Axiom Verge. I was able to distract myself by doing what I do best, playing video games.

Then I awoke that fateful May morning. I had an alert on my phone….blinking at me….trying to tell me something, important.

Imagine my face when I unlocked my screen and read my alert, only to discover that it was the reminder that Axiom Verge was now available on Steam. It probably looked something like this:
                                         

In an excitement that is only rivaled by an 8 year old on Christmas morning, I rushed out to my laptop and logged in to Steam as quickly as possible. Then I remembered…I had recently had the good fortune of getting a Steam gift card for my birthday in April. I had loaded it on to Steam at the time, and was planning on using it for a future purchase, possibly even for this very game. In hindsight that was a brilliant move, because when I went to checkout, I noticed the option to pay using my Steam balance.  My life has not been the same since.

Finally. It was my turn. My chance to finally experience first-hand, what I had only seen online. My time to play Axiom Verge. Oh wait, I have to install it first…


Okay, now I was ready. I was ready to lose myself in the strange environments found within the strange high-tech world that the game is set in.

I will admit that at the time of this writing, I have yet to complete the game in full. I can hear some of you reaching for that mouse, but before you discredit me and click the exit/back button on your browser, hear me out.


While I have yet to complete the game, I can tell you that the hours I have had a chance to sink in to this game have all been worth it. The gameplay is fantastic, and I find myself actually getting really excited to explore new areas. Having grown up playing the games that inspired this title (Super Metroid, Castlevania, etc.) I can usually spot features or areas within the game that I know may come in to play later on. The ledges/platforms that are just a little bit outside of your initial jumping capabilities. Areas that have doors, barriers, or even walls with cracks or strange artifacts on/near them. I just know that I will eventually pick up an upgrade of some kind that will unlock an ability or allow me to transverse to new areas to explore. It’s a classic formula that works well, and one that has been executed very well in Axiom Verge.

As I sit here reflecting on this game, deciding on what to write next, I find myself trying to pick out flaws just so that this doesn’t sound like too big of a gush-fest. And in all honesty, I have found it almost impossible to find anything I don’t like about the game itself. The graphics are superb, the music is an absolute masterpiece. Seriously if the soundtrack alone doesn’t win some major awards I will be offended.

If I must nit-pick and find a flaw with Axiom Verge it would be the weapons selection process. The game is played by plugging in an Xbox controller in to an open USB port on your computer. No need to map or configure anything. The controls, for the most part are good, and are not much different than you would find in any other game of similarity. The left analog stick is used to control Trace’s movement, left, right, crouch, aim up, etc. You can also use the D-Pad if you so choose, and I sometimes find myself switching back and forth between the two. The right analog stick is used to cycle between your various projectile weapons.


At first it’s not too bad, as you only have a small handful to start out. Cycling through them is quite simple, and it’s easy to change on the fly to a gun that meets your current needs or situation.  As the game advances, and you pick up additional guns, it becomes a little more difficult to remember what gun does what exactly, so you may need to cycle through them in a tense moment before you find the one you are looking for. I know it’s better than the alternative of cycling through weapons one at a time at the push of a single set of buttons, but it can still be time consuming in a game that sometimes requires you to make a quick weapons change.

The other problem is not really a game design flaw, but rather a flaw of my ability to hold a smallish controller in my rather large hands. It should come as no surprise that a dude housed in a 6’ 5” frame would have large hands.  For you metric readers that equates to 1.95 meters (or is it meteres?). Playing games on a standard sized controller can be challenging at times, and the problem I have had with Axiom Verge is that my ginormous thumb will sometimes accidentally click the R3 (right analog stick) button in the heat of battle, and switch back to a default gun. Yeah, to go from killing enemies in a single shot, to something weaker or less effective can kill a good run pretty quickly.

Other than those two minor flaws with the control mechanics, the game plays really smoothly. The only other complaint I may consider throwing out there is that the world designs tend to become somewhat similar in texture and appearance after a while. It is easy to lose your sense of direction, and after on more than one occasion I found myself lost, and thinking that I had already explored this area. It was kind of like Deja-vu. The in-game map is certainly a very handy tool for when it becomes necessary to do a little bit of backtracking in this lovingly dubbed “Metroidvania” game.

If I haven’t convinced you to play this game yet, let me continue on by talking about the bosses.  The few I have encountered up to this point are skillfully designed, and even border on a slightly more whimsical side. Some of them reminding me more of the robot bosses found in the MegaMan games.

 

They are challenging, and will require you to study their movements and attack patterns in order to conquer them. So far they have been very fun and rewarding.  I expect them to ratchet up the level of difficulty on these bastards as the game progresses, and I may find myself hating some of them with the passion of a million suns. I guess I will find out.

At this point I really don’t want to run the risk of spoiling it too much for those that haven’t played the game yet, and I don’t want to research much further so as to not spoil it for myself. I will however, leave you with these final words:

GET OFF YOUR ASS (ARSE) AND PLAY THE CLASSIC CONSOLE EXPERIENCE’S 2015 GAME OF THE YEAR AXIOM VERGE!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

TEARING DOWN THE WALL

In my 30 plus years of playing video games, I have seen some great games come in to my life. I have seen games from the Atari and Commodore 64 system all the way through today’s modern consoles. There are also plenty of stinkers in the mix to balance things out, but I digress. It wasn’t until years later that I became fully aware of games that only saw release in Japan. I mean I always knew that video games and their respective consoles were primarily made in Japan. What I didn’t understand though was that there were games that only saw release in the land of the rising sun. As an adult gamer it is maddening to now see these games all these years later and wonder why the hell they were never brought in to the living rooms of American gamers.

                The popular conception is that some of these games didn’t translate well in to English, and/or that the story or events in the story gaming would not resonate with Americans due to the differences in cultures. It is also known that some games were simply rejected by the American side of the business because the content was a little too adult in nature. I guess the people in charge of deciding which games should be brought to North America didn’t like the idea of kids playing games with bikini clad anime characters. Too bad. Games like Parodius would have done really well here in America, I think. Boy am I ever glad the conservatives (read: assholes) got their way. It’s even more maddening when you consider that these games sometimes did see a release in Europe and/or Australia.

                To be fair, this is probably a two-way street. There were probably also plenty of games made by American developers that never made their way to Japan due to the cultural differences.
               
  The ones that I cannot figure out, are the ones where there is not a clear reason why the game was never brought to North America.  Great examples of this can be seen in both the Tales of and  Gradius series.

                By all accounts the games from both of these franchises saw a decent amount of success in North America. So when they made a sequels to them, why were it initially only available in Japan? This is still something that bothers me to this very day.  Mostly due to the fact that I love the Gradius series. Oh sure I can find it on the Gradius Collection for the PSP, but I would rather have it available to me on my big screen TV. When you factor in that the spin-off game Lifeforce was available to us
here in North America it just makes me wonder that much more. I can honestly see no rhyme or reason as to why this game was not ported to the North American consoles of the day.
Luckily for us, our top scientists have since found a few ways to skirt the system and stick it to the man. With today’s technology we can now enjoy all of those wonderful Japan-only titles from the comfort of our favorite couch or gaming chair.

Between third party devices like the Retron5 console, various adapters, and other forms of mystical sorcery, we have been able to circumvent the region “lock-out” that was put in place to keep the communists out. We have even discovered that you can take a pair of simple needle-nosed pliers and snap out the two plastic tabs inside the North American Super Nintendo console and play Japanese Super Famicom cartridges.

Seriously, when you realize that you can often times buy the Japanese versions of popular SNES games on Amazon for a fraction of the cost of the North American version, you may just find yourself digging around in the toolbox looking for a pair of needle-nose pliers to perform your own open cart slot surgery. For example, the North American Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo is currently going for around $20-$25 USD on Amazon. The Japanese Super Famicom version of that same game is currently selling on Amazon for only $4 USD. While not every game will have this big of a price difference, there are enough out there that it does make searching for the Japanese version of your favorite games worth it.

If destroying things are kinda your thing, then you may also want to check out the phenomenon known as the NES 5 screw cartridge racket. Back when the Nintendo Entertainment System was first introduced to us fat Western slobs in the early 1980’s there were a handful of games that were made using the original 60 pin circuit boards that were used in the Japanese consoles. To assist in saving
costs, and to flood the market with games, Nintendo created an adapter that could be installed inside the casing and convert their existing inventory of 60 pin mother boards in to a cartridge that would work on the North American machines that worked on a 72 pin connection. Nintendo eventually began to manufacture the 72 pin circuit boards for their new games, and the converter technology was abandoned.

In order to accommodate this additional piece of hardware the two external halves of the game case were held together using 5 tiny screws. The later cartridges only required three pins, and used two plastic tabs along the top to secure it. So if you can find one of these old original cartridge games from the NES library and you are feeling a little bit frisky, you can pop it open and harvest the converter and use it to play imported Japanese Famicom titles on your North American NES console. There are dozens of articles and videos available online to help you learn more about this practice.  You could also just purchase and import a used Famicom console online or go with a third party console like the Retron5 witch is designed to play these import cartridges.

But enough about that. We are talking about the games that never did make it to the shores of the North American continent. There are plenty of them out there, and thanks to the more nefarious and highly-controversial ability to emulate older gaming consoles, we can now play a lot of these games for free on our home computers. Heck we have even found ways to slightly modify or manipulate some of the newer gaming consoles and handheld gaming devices to allow us to emulate these older consoles using the hardware from these newer systems. This means that you can use the wonders of the world wide web of wonderfulness to seek out and obtain digital copies of the ROM or disc image files to play these games at no cost.

Yes, through the wonderment of modern computing we can once and for all play these foreign games for free to try them out for ourselves. This enables us, the consumer, to evaluate and decide what’s in our best interest, and show those old fuddy-duddies who so idiotically took a pass on bringing these games to North America all those years ago, that they were wrong.  We are in control now. We can play these games for free. We can then order physical copies of these games online, and have them shipped right to our front door, and play them through one of the methods listed above.

It feels nice to finally break free from the heavy hands of the companies and parties that so stupidly tried to keep North American audiences away from some of these otherwise fine games. In today’s modern global economy it is easier and easier for even the most casual of gamer to connect with all the different corners of the globe. Wait a second…globes are round and have no corners….that’s the stupidest phrase ever fucking thought of. But I digress…The point I am trying to get at is that in today’s modern world of global gaming, it makes less sense to regionalize games. I feel like we are seeing more and more international releases than we did in the days of the classic consoles. Sure there are still some games that only see Japan releases these days, but there is a bigger market for these kinds of games globally than there was back then, and with all the online video services out there, it’s a lot more difficult to ‘hide’ these kinds of games from the international audiences. I would like to someday see a world where games are released on the international level on the initial go. If that means delaying the release a little to make sure that what is being brought forth unto the world is going to work on an international level, then so be it. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

MALDITA CASTILLA VS GHOSTS ‘N GOBLINS




I realize that it’s somewhat unfair to compare these two games when one is 30 years older than the other. But the similarities between these two games warrant a closer comparison between the old school and the recent trend in retro-themed games in video game development. And these two games are similar enough on the surface to be used as test subjects.

GAME #1 – GHOSTS ‘N GOBLINS (1995, Capcom)

(From Wikipedia):

Ghosts ‘n Goblins is a platform game where the player controls a knight names Sir Arthur, who must defeat zombies, ogres, demons, cyclops, dragons, and other monsters in order to rescue Princess Prin Prin (nice name BTW), who has been kidnapped by Satan… Along the way the player can pick up new weapons, bonuses and extra suits of armor that can help in this task.

GAME #2 – MALDITA CASTILLA (2012, Locomalito)

(Based on Wikipedia entry):

Maldita Castilla is a platform game where the player controls a knight named Don Ramiro tasked by the king to end a demonic nightmare that looms over the Kingdom of Castilla. Along the way the player can pick up new weapons, bonus items, and shields that can help in this task.

Aside from the main objectives, the games are almost identical in terms of the style of game play. Let’s go ahead and dig in a little bit deeper to see what other similarities we can uncover.

DIFFICULTY:

Both games are brutally difficult, and have a well-earned reputation as being some of the most difficult games to complete. The enemies and boss battles are relentless, and even the most grizzled of video game veterans will find the going a bit tough. The bosses, although tough, can be beaten
with a lot of practice, and a little luck. When you factor in the knock-back effect, and the sometimes finicky jumping elements found in both games, the level of difficulty really goes up. One difference worth noting at this point is the number of hits it takes to achieve death. In Ghosts ‘n Goblins Sir Arthur dies after 2 hits (the first knocks him out of his armor, the second reduces him to a pile of bones), while in Maldita Castilla our hero is given 3 hits (represented by hearts) per life. As such, death seems to be easier to achieve in Ghosts ‘n Goblins, mathematically making it more difficult to make it all the way through each stage.

GRAPHICS:

Honestly it’s not fair to compare graphics from games that came almost 30 years apart. That being said, Maldita Castilla was purposely designed with the intent of looking like a game from the same era as Ghosts ‘n Goblins, so I think it is fair at least make a few general observations.

Maldita Castilla (left) and Ghosts 'n Goblins side by side.

Super Ghosts 'N Ghouls (SNES) screenshot


When you see screen shots side by side of the two games, it’s apparent that Maldita Castilla has a darker look, and that shading and texture design was maximized. In fact I would say it’s more fair to compare it to the SNES game Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts than it is to the original NES game. Even though I feel like Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts on the SNES has better graphics than Maldita Castilla, the latter is still very well done, and is a great example of a retro-themed game.

GAME PLAY:

Both games offer the player an action packed, side-scrolling, platform adventure. Controls are for the most part responsive, and smooth, and it does not require any amount of time to learn the basic game mechanics of run, jump, and shoot.

The most notable game-play differences are as follows:

Multi-directional shooting – Maldita Castilla offers the ability to shoot in 4 directions; left, right, up, and down (while jumping). It would have been nice to have the 4 diagonal directions included, but it sure makes regular combat and boss battles a lot easier. By comparison, Ghosts ‘n Goblins only had the ability to shoot left and right, making things a lot more difficult.

Double-Jump – This ability is absent from both Ghosts ‘n Goblins, and from Maldita Castilla. Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts on the other hand, did use a double-jump feature, one that would have really improved the overall gameplay in both the aforementioned titles.

Continues – Simply put, both Ghosts ‘n Goblins and Maldita Castilla provide the player with an unlimited number of continues, so there is no advantage to hand out for this category. Also, neither game has any kind of save feature available, so if you are going to beat them, you have to do it in a single sitting, or at least refrain from powering off the game.

MUSIC:

As with the graphics, it’s not a fair comparison when you consider the age gap between the two games. Both games offer basic musical scores that complement the action on the screen, but neither is exceptionally noteworthy save for a few tracks. I would say that the edge would probably go to Maldita Castilla based on the more complex and variety of melodies found in the game.

ENEMY/BOSS/STAGE VARIETY:

Both games offer a pretty decent variety of enemies and bosses, but I would say that the overall winner has to go to Maldita Castilla. There is always something new with each stage, and I have yet to see enemies repeated. Also, the bosses in Maldita Castilla are unique, and are borrowed from all kinds of mythical stories and legends. Among them are a Manticore, Nuberu, a Don Quixote based boss, and even a two-headed vulture. 

Maldita Castilla is also the winner when it comes to the variety of stage designs. Along with the traditional left to right stages, the game also has our hero travelling up or down a series of platforms
to reach the top of a tower, or the bottom of a deep chasm, only to battle it out with one of the aforementioned bosses that guard or inhabit these domains.

OVERALL EXPERIENCE (CONCLUSION):

While both games deliver a challenging game experience, both games also provide enough in terms of frustration that you will find yourself stepping away from them to prevent things from becoming
broken. Yes, both games are hard as hell, and both of them will require a lot of patience in order to complete. I will admit, that at the time of this writing, I have yet to complete either game in their entirety, including Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts.

For whatever reason I find myself coming back to Maldita Castilla with a better overall attitude. I have stopped playing Ghosts ‘n Goblins so many times in the past, and have to mentally prepare myself to pick it up and play it again when I find myself wanting to experience it.  Ghosts ‘n Goblins is a good game, don’t get me wrong, but the level of frustration it provides really deals the death blow in terms of replay value.

If you enjoyed either Ghosts ‘n Goblins or its successor Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, then there is no reason that you shouldn’t get Maldita Castilla. The game is currently free, and can be downloaded from the developer’s website (www.locomalito.com/maldita_castilla).  Be sure to also check out the other free titles that are also available from this fine independent developer.