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Friday, August 17, 2012

Game 11 - Life Force (Salamander)

Platform: Nintendo
Publisher: Konami
Series: Gradius
Release Date: 1988 (North America)
Genre: multi-scrolling shooter

For Starters:

This was the first game, outside of Contra, that I remeber using the "Contra Code" on. The ever-famous "up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start" would yield 99 lives when used at the start up screen on Life Force. It wasn't actually until years later that I learned that it was also referred to as the "Konami Code" and was useable on other Konami games. What a wonderful little code, and one that comes in handy when playing a game like Life Force.

My friend Ben was the person who introduced me to Life Force back sometime in the 90's. I had never heard of it, but he said it was a cool game, and when it came to video games, Ben knew his shit. So if he said its a cool game, then that meant it was a cool game. Ben was right.

I admit I knew nothing about the whole Gradius series until years later. I still kick myself for not knowing about the other Gradius games that were available on the SNES. I LOVED Life Force! This game was amazing, and still has a very high replay value to this very day. I have yet to find a game in the entire series that I haven't enjoyed.

Konami found a successful formula, side/multi-scrolling shooter games, and ran with it. All of the games in the Gradius series were done using the same formula over and over again, and in my opionion, it worked. The old saying, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" seems to be the best way to summarize this franchise.


Life Force is a futuristic space shooter game. You take control of the Vic Viper, and fly through a mix of horizontal and vertical scrolling stages, with a boss battle at the end of each one. The stages themselves are all very unique, and different from one another, some even crossing over in to the bizarre realm. The more interesting enemies included Red blood cells, flaming worlds of fire, laser-shooting ribs, Egyptian themes, brains with tentacles, boulders, eyeballs, and even a boss battle with King Tut himself. Crazy!

The other aspect of this game is the power-ups. By killing specific enemies along the path, you can collect power-ups tokens that allow you to upgrade your weapons, and flying speed. Some of the upgrades include missles, lasers, ripple lasers, and one they call "option". The Option is simply an added entity that surrounds and follows your ship and fires the same weapons you have, essentially giving you multiple lines of fire. It's probably my favorite upgrade, when combined with the ripple-laser.

If you play with a friend, and use the Contra Code to aquire 99 lives each, then boy were you in for some quick fun. The best part of playing co-op was that if one of you ran out of lives before the other, you could push start and begin taking the other players remaining lives. Yeah, Ben and I would run through this game from start to finish very quickly.

The Bad:

There really is nothing bad about this game. There isn't much about this game that I don't absolutely love. If I was to make one complaint about this game it would be the sheer number of enemies. There are stretches of this game where you are accosted on all sides by swarms of enemies, and their associated bullets. Without the 99 lives code this would be a very difficult game. I have tried to beat it using nothing but the origial 3 lives and continues. It's pretty improbable that it can be done. I have never beaten it using nothing more than what the game provides. The entire series is the same way. Every game flings hoardes of enemies at you, testing your relfexes and navigation skills. But, In my opinion, this it what makes the game so fun.


I have heard of people doing speed runs of various games on various consoles, and I would say that this game is probably the first game I remember speed-running through. Ben and I would always try to see how quickly we could run through Life Force. I don't recall us actually timing it, and it was in a time before YouTube, so alas, I have no record of the various speed runs we made. It's amazing to me that after all these years, I still enjoy playing this one....over and over. Luckily for us all, Konami continued to build on the original Salamander game, and in so doing, created a wonderful world of Gradius games for us to enjoy. Aside from Castlevania, Gradius is probably my favorite video game series. Thanks Konami!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Wayback Machine - Pinball

I recently had a chance to go visit a local nickel arcade, something I do every so often with my girlfriend. Usually we play the games that spit out tickets, so we can collect them and get prizes, but that's another story. After we had gathered enough tickets to satify our needs, we decided to wander through and play the other games, you know, the regular old cabinet style arcade games. Well I rounded a corner and saw a blast from my past, Star Wars Pinball.

Pinball machines have been around forever, and are probably the oldest school when it comes to video games. Even though pinball is not really a video game, it is a form of entertainment that can still be found in modern-day aracdes everywhere. This is a testament to this wonderful little invention. They have been a staple in modern society, and even spawned a rock opera (The Who's 'Pinball Wizard'). Yes I could go on and on about the pinball machine, and it's history, and importance in modern life, but I think I will stop here and move on to my own experience at the flippers.

I don't remember where I played my first machine, nor do I even recall what my first pinball experience was. I do have a memory in the dark recesses of my mind that involves me as a young kid, in a dark arcade, in a pizza parlor playing some form of the game. I also remember sucking at it. I was awful at pinball as a kid, and in fact I still suck at it to this very day. But man what wonderful things they are. Flashing lights, music, garbled speech, trap doors, and small pinball rollercoasters, all things a kid like me enjoyed. I would always prefer to play the ones that had the most elaborate roller-coasters. In my opinion, the more elaborate, the better.This probably played a big role in my later love of the classic arcade game "Marble madness"

As I got older, I continued to play whenever I found one, and like I said before, I never was any good at them. I think in the whole history of my life, I have only ever once gotten one replay for getting a high enough score, but then again, it may have been a replay based off the "match" feature found on some games when you lose. Either way, I am completely suck when it comes to pinballing. But my suckiness has never stopped me from continuiing to play them whenever I see one that looks like it could be fun. Unfortunately most of the ones I see these days are run down, and half the lights, and bumpers have stopped working. I usually pass on those. I have tried playing pinball games that were ported on to gameing consoles, and never found them quite the same. There is no substitute for an actual physical pinball machine.

For me the greatest amount of fun is unlocking the multi-ball. There is nothing more exciting than playing pinball with multiple balls on the playing field. You really must find a zone, and just focus all your attention on the flippers to keep as many balls in play for as long as possible.

Things that bother me about pinball machines:

- Insanely high replay scores: Usually in the neighborhood of like 200 million points.
- Outlanes: The annoying little lanes on either side of the main flipper drain. A.K.A. Insta death.
- Gravity: Some times a ball will get lodged somewhere in the workings of the hardware. Game over.
- Outlanes without a kickback.

The good parts:

- The bump and jolt associated with playing the game.
- All the pretty colors and flashing lights.
- The rollercoasters.
- Outlanes with a kickback (death thwarted).
- The mini-games.
- Multi-ball.
- The nostalgia of childhood.

So in conclusion, pinball machines are a timeless classic. A possibly dying industry, that still has something to offer today's younger generation of PS3 and XBox junkies. I challenge everyone to go out and find a pinball machine, and re-ignite that relationship with an old friend. You will not be dissapointed.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Game 10 - Ghosts'N Goblins

Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: 1986 (home consoles); 1985 (Arcade)
Genre: Platform (side-scroller)

For Starters:

Shit biscuits! This game is a mother-fucker! While this is one of the classic games found on the NES, it is also one of the most frustrating games ever created. Addictive, and challenging, Ghosts'n Goblins will keep you coming back for more, until you either suffer a mental breakdown, or break your Nintendo system by throwing it out an open window.

I first played this game in the arcade at the mall, and immediately fell in love with the music, and the graphics. Unfortunately, the game always managed to feed me Alcatraz Sandwiches, and I could never get past the first fucking stage. When I finally found it on the NES, I thought...maybe if I owned it, I could actually spend the time, and finally beat that damned first stage. Holy shit was I ever wrong, and here it is over 20 years later, and I still struggle to get through that initial fucking stage.

Why is this game so difficult? This game throws a steady stream of enemies at you, from both directions, some of them shooting fireballs. Then, they give you impossible jumps, some of them involving moving platforms. This game will break your balls, and like a sucker, you will come back for more.

The Good:

There are enough good things about Ghosts'n Goblins to keep you coming back for more, time and time again. The music, the graphics, the pure adrenaline associated with this game is enough to bring you back. Most of all, is the idea that keeps growing in the back of your brain, that maybe, just maybe you will
advance to the next level. And to be honest, the more you play, the further you get, even if it's just a fraction of a screen further. This game taunts you. It teases you. It shows you something that looks so easy, yet you will continue to die, and you will find yourself screaming in determination to beat that one single part of the game. I guess that's the biggest draw this game has, outside of the music, is the addictive challenge that this game forces upon your fragile little psyche.

The Bad:

Do I really need to list the bad qualities of this game? Haven't I already illustrated the sheer hell this game will put you through? Challenging jumps, swarms of monsters, and the possibility of permanent damage to your
Dick-head takes girl...go get her Arthur.
console, and/or home as a result of the fits of rage this game will induce? Well, you sadistic little sap, here are a few more to help quench that thirst that now grows inside you. You sick puppy.

This game does allow you 2 hits before death. The first hit knocks you out of your armor, and allows you to continue fighting in your red undies.  The second blow will cause you to turn in to a pile of bones. Bones = death.
From frog to death...

If these traits are not bad enough, the game itself makes you beat it twice in order to complete it. That's right. You have to play through this thing TWICE in order to beat the game. UGH! Once is difficult enough.


Yes Ghosts'n Goblins is difficult, and frustrating, but it has managed to remain  one that I continue to play over and over again. It does enough right to make this one a classic. If you play this one, be warned, it will cause fits, and will frustrate the hell out of you. But, you will find yourself playing this one again and again. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Random Modern Rant #1 - Facebook Games

I am setting aside the classic console games for a moment, but fear not, a new Classic Console Blog is coming soon enough.

For now though, I would like to step in to the modern world, and discuss the latest technology. Facebook games. Everybody plays, or knows someone who plays them. Facebook has become as mainstream as oxygen. Everyone, or almost everyone, is on Facebook these days, and what is there to do on Facebook besides post your latest adventures, or photos of your breakfast? Why play games of course. Games like The Spims, Monkey Bubble Nuts, Farmvillage, Killin' Gangsters, and Restaurantopolis have all been played to death. Most games are created, then copied, cloned, and advertised all over Facebook.

We have all been sucked in at some point, invited by friends to play some game on Facebook, or asked to help someone out with a quest to kill vampires, or give gifts of some sort. Then we start playing, and get hooked. The game consumes you, occupies your every waking thought. Then when the game gets interesting, people stop playing, and you get stuck at some roadblock, or stop leveling up, because none of your friends are playing it anymore, and have moved on to a clone, or copycat game.

Rant 1 - Social Network games are pointless. They require you to have friends that play the game in order to achieve higher level status, or to advance to a new map area. If you don't have enough friends playing the game you are hooked on, then you inevitably get stuck. But not to worry.....

Rant 2 - If your friends stop playing, you can advance your game by paying real life money. Did I just say that? You pay to advance further in a game.... Really? Coming from the 80's I am accustomed to playing old games on Nintendo/Super Nintendo/ Atari. Where there was no such thing as pay to play (except for the arcade 'Play Choice 10'). Imagine not being able to advance to world 4-1 in Super Mario Brothers, or not being able to advance to the next dungeon in Zelda unless you either A) convinced your friends to give you pointless shit, or B) payed cash to Nintendo or the game creator in order to move on.

Rant 3 - If you do get enough friends to play, and can actually advance the game without having to pay for it, the next problem you encounter is limited playability. Most Facebook games give you a certain amount of "energy" or "lives" each day. Sure they give you more of these after a certain amount of time has passed, but they stick you with a maximum amount of energy or lives. But not to worry, once again, you can pay real money to either acquire additional energy capacity, or you can pay a little more and get unlimited energy. You can also pay to have more energy added to your dwindling reserves.

Rant 4 - Some games require certain power-ups, or items in order to advance. Unfortunately these items usually cost an unrealistic amount of coins (the kind you earn during game play) or you can simply pay real cash. Either way, as soon as I reach these road blocks, I stop playing, and delete the game from my list of apps.

In summary. Facebook games are addictive, and fun, but if you have no friends, and don't want to spend real life money on the additional goodies in the game, you are limited to what you can do. True video games from the classic era of the console wars never had these features. This is why I will continue to play the classic console games from my youth. They allow you to play your favorite games the way video games were meant to be played:  unhindered, and free of the sleazy art of paying additional monies to actually beat them.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Console 3 - JXD A1000

JXD A1000
You may remember the post I made about the Dingoo A320. If not, scroll down a few entries and find it. You can also simply go here: Console 2: Dingoo A320 - Classic Console Experience .

Well, as awesome as that thing is, the JXD A1000 is on par, if not slightly above the Dingoo.

A little background is warranted at this point. The Dingoo took a spill and died. Apparently the Dingoo was not designed to take a minor fall, and the soldering components easily bust loose, and make the device inoperable.  So I was in the market for a new handheld emulator. My birthday was coming up, and my mom asked me what I wanted. Well I stumbled across this little thing on Amazon, for half the cost of what the Dingoo was listed at. The biggest problem was that there were not a lot of reviews to be found online, anywhere. I watched a partial video on YouTube about it, and read some buyers reviews on Amazon, and it appeared that the JXD A1000 could do everything I was looking for. So I emailed my mom a link to the item on Amazon, and she purchased it.

The day finally came when it arrived at her house, so I rushed up there after work to go get it. Wow! This thing looks impressive right out of the box. It looks just like a Sony PSP, but it's not. Whenever people see me playing it, they always say, "Oh, is that a PSP?" Nope, nothing even close to a PSP. Once I show them what it is, they ususally say, "Oh, cool..." or just kind of acknowledge it, and move along.

The major difference between the JXD  and the Dingoo is that the firmware is not "open" on the JXD as it is on the Dingoo. This means you can't install the Dingux (Linux for Dingoo) on the device. To be honest, the Dingux, was not that great. It allowed you to install some additional emulators on the Dingoo, but it was mostly just a pain in the ass. The JXD has yet to be opened like the Dingoo, and I am fine with that. Here is what the JXD has to offer the casual user:


The JXD comes loaded with emulators for Nintendo (NES), Super Nintendo (SNES), GameBoy Advance (GBA), GameBoy (GB), GameBoy Color (GBC), Sega Genesis (GEN), and flash games. The machine handles all of these emulations great. The GBA is by far the best. The larger 4.3" screen (as compared to the smaller 2.8" screen of the Dingoo) really brings the games to life. The LCD screen is bright, and easy to see. The games on all systems, do not lag, there is no frame rate issues, nothing. This thing is great. The Dingoo did not come with a GameBoy emulator, but there was a homebrew emulator that could be installed on to it. The biggest problem was the audio output on that emulator. It constantly buzzed, and you would constantly need to adjust the volume so that it could be muted. The JXD on the otherhand, comes with a GameBoy emulator, and it has ZERO audio problems. Not only that, but the LCD screen smoothes out the blocky pixels of the 8-bit GameBoy games, and makes the games actually look great. Here are some pictures of the screen resolution for the main emulations:

Castlevania Legends (GameBoy)
Castlevania Harmony of Dissonance (GameBoy Advance)

Sonic The Hedgehog (Sega Genesis)

Double Dragon (Nintendo)

The Legend of Zelda - Link To The Past (Super Nintendo)

As you can see this machine handles everything just fine. I tried to find some flash games to install on this, but couldn't find anything that ran easily and good playability.

On top of the emulations, this machine will also play movies, and music. I have used it to watch a few movies already, and even though this has a small screen, the resolution is amazing, and makes it fun.

The Bad:

Let's be honest. As amazing as this thing is, it does have one downside. It is minor, but worth mentioning. Button configuration. The button configuration for the SNES is incorrectly mapped. As such, you have to re-train your brain to play anything on the Super Nintendo games. Its a minor flaw, but it is something that you can learn to live with.


I love my JXD A1000, and at half the cost of the Dingoo, it is highly worth it. Anyone who enjoys old console games, as I do, will absolutely love this little device, purely based on the capability of the emulators found on it. The rechargeable battery provides hours of game play ability. The ability to play movies, makes a great alternative to your iPOD. It makes road trips fun (only if you aren't driving).

I highly recommend this inexpensive device to anyone who enjoys gaming.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Game 9 - SimCity (SNES)

System: Super Nintendo                                                           
Release Date: 1989
Genre: City-Building
Developer: Maxis

For Starters:

    Sim City. The very name should conjure up memories in the minds of most gamers, of all ages and platforms. SIMply put, the Sim City series has been a cornerstone of the video game industry for a long time. Sim City has been available on PC's and consoles for decades. It's success has even spawned sequels, and spin-offs (The Sims, Sim Pets, Sim Copter, Sim Tower, etc.), and even clones.
    Two of the versions that found their way on to the Super Nintendo were the original Sim City, and Sim City 2000. Super Nintendo also provided Sim Ant, and Sim Earth, but those are entirely different games than the original Sim City. Now that I have some of the background out of the way, let's move on to my own experience with this fine game.

The Good:

    Even though this game was available on the Super Nintendo, the graphics used for this game were not a full demonstration of what the SNES could handle. But when it comes to Sim City, it's not necessarily required to use full graphic capability. That being said, the graphics used for this game were good enough to
provide a basic feeling of an overhead city scape. Could some of the graphics been better? Yes, did it matter that they weren't? Not at all. Sim City is about planning and designing, and managing a city's growth and it's associated problems (crime, pollution, traffic etc.), so who has time to worry about weather or not the skyscrapers look realistic enough? So to begin with, you choose a name for your city, and a name for yourself (mayor). Then you can select the land structure, and finally the difficulty level. The 'Easy' setting has the highest amount of starting funds, so who wouldn't choose that( I know I always did)?
    Now begins the actual game play. Move the D-pad to control your on-screen cursor, to select the building items from the menu, and begin building the city of your dreams.All seems fairly easy as you get started, but you soon find out that the money goes quickly when you go on building sprees, and it takes an eternity for you to earn enough back in taxes to meet the demands of the citizens, when they begin demanding stadiums, or when you are finally prompted to build things like an airport, or a seaport to boost commercial and
industrial growth. The best thing to do is to bump up your taxes for a while, and then go outside and jump on the trampoline, stopping occasionally to check on the growth of your funds.
    When all is said and done, the over all game play is fun, but very time consuming for a SNES game. You can literally spend hours, days, and weeks playing this game. Mostly due to two facts, one being that it takes forever to accumulate funds, even with the game speed set to high, and the second being that the game is more or less open-ended. Meaning that even though the goal is to eventually reach the level of 'Megalopolis' (500,000 population). Even after reaching the level of Megalopolis, the game doesn't end, it just continues to
run, and run, and run. Of course reaching that level is tough enough considering that you have to run through statures of town, city, capital...etc. The best advise is to just keep plugging away at it, and turn off the disasters.

The Bad:

    Normally I follow my good comments with the bad comments, but with a game like this, I will skip it, due to the fact that, even though it can take a long time acquire money and the Megalopolis status, there really are no bad aspects to this game.


    SimCity has been on multiple platforms over the years, and each one provided the same basic gaming experience, so anyone who has played SimCity on any platform already knows that this game is addictive and fun. The SNES version rewarded players with special Mario Statue gift, as well as a city attack by
none other than Bowser himself. But other than those two things, the game is the same from system to system. Enjoy!

Update: I have made a video about SimCity and posted it on YouTube. PLease visit it here:

ROM With A View: SimCity 

With a little patience, you can build a Megalopolis like this one.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Game 8 - Cool Spot

System - Super Nintendo (SNES)
Release Date: September 1993 (US)
Genre: Platform
Publisher: Virgin Interactive

For Starters:

    I am not entirely certain where to begin when it comes to doing a blog about the SNES game Cool Spot. It's a game that is on the lesser known side when it comes to most gamers, yet most people over a certain age remember 7-Up's marketing campaign in the late 1980's that involved an animated red circle wearing sun glasses. Simply know as 7-Up Spot, this little icon from the late 80's spawned a small series of video games. The only one I ever played was Cool Spot on the Super Nintendo. I found out later that this same game was also released on the Sega Genesis, and that it had a predecessor game (Spot) on the Nintendo and the Gameboy that was basically a flop. Having never heard of, nor played the NES or Gameboy game, I only stumbled upon the Cool Spot game at a local video rental store,that also rented out a large library of SNES games. Being a child of the 80's, and being purely sold on the game's potential by the screen shots on the back of the rental box, I decided to give this game a go. With that little intro out of the way, on to the game itself.

The Good:
    After being captivated by the game's potential, albeit based off of the screenshots on the back cover of the game box, I quickly learned that this game did in fact meet the expectations I anticipated. Simply put, Cool Spot is a fun game. The graphics are amazing, the controls are responsive, and the actual game play itself is challenging, and fun. I would like to add here, that the game designers got one important aspect of game play right. The ability to shoot in multiple directions. Yes, Cool Spot allows you to fire left, right, up, down, and even in diagonal directions. If you think back to Contra on the NES, one of the things that made it fun to play, was the ability to shoot in multiple directions. I can't think how much better games like MegaMan would have been, had they consistantly provided multiple directional firepower. I know some MegaMan games did allow for multi-directional shooting, including, diagonal, but I digress.
    The basics of this game are to rescue your friends, who have been captured, and held in a cage that is hidden somewhere within each level. Your only line of defense are carbonated 7-Up bubbles that you can fire relentlessly at the enemies that stand in your way. Once you have blasted your way through each level,and collected the required number of "cool spots" you must then locate your captured compatriate, and rescue him. Levels include a beach, the inside a wall, a pier, a toy room, and an inflatable kiddie pool. The enemies
that block your path are mice, crabs, bees, worms and a variety of everyday items, such as nails, and push pins are scattered throughout the levels that can cause damage.
    The greatest aspect of this game are the real world feel of the levels. 7 Up Spot exists in a world where everyday objects are larger than him. As such, each level utilizes a "Honey I Shrunk The Kids" look and feel. The open world feel of each level, allows you to explore not only left to right, but up and down through a simple, yet complex maze in search of each cool spot point. The game is generous in that it provides in-game means to restore your health meter, by means of collecting 7-Up logos, that are actually distributed somewhat
generously throughout each level. Each level has a time limit, but you can collect various extenders that will add additional time to the game. Some of these extenders are placed in precarious areas, but generally speaking, they are plentiful, and easy to reach.
    I have decided to save one of the best aspects for last. The music. The music of Cool Spot is well rendered, and sounds like it was composed by someone who actually understands music. I would guess that this is one advantage to having Virgin Records produce a video game. A little research found that the music for Cool Spot was actually compsed by musician Tommy Tallarico, cousin of Aerosmith leadman Steven Tyler. Tallarico also provided musical scores for games such as Earthworm Jim, Prince of Persia, and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series. Not a shabby resume. No wonder I liked the music in this game.
    Even though this game is exciting, fun, and imaginative, it is not without it's frustrations. I will now move on to the lesser aspects of this game.

The Bad:

    As mentioned above, the game play is open, and allows for fast fluid level exploration. While this is an attribute to the game's better qualities, it  is also the source for one of the bigger frustrations, being blindsided. The open world aspect of Cool Spot, requires you to travel up, down, and around various stages, and sometimes, you cannot see hazards that lie just off-screen. You may drop off a ledge and land on a nail, or an enemy, or, you may be trying to jump from one baloon/bubble to another, and miss it, since it is hidden just
out of view. You can use the L and R buttons on the top of the controller to scan up and down from your current view, but it doesn't always give you a clear idea of what is above or below you. Nothing is more frustrating than working your way through a level, only to miss a bubble or baloon, and then fall all the way back down to the beginning of the stage. When time is a factor, this causes you to sometimes hurry, and become careless in your leaping. The best way to beat a level is to take your time, and ALWAYS, look before you leap.


    When I think back to how I randomly encountered Cool Spot all those years ago at Hastings Video in Logan, Ut, I often wonder who else may have stumbled across this hidden gem. If you can look past the fact that the game is a giant endorsement for 7-Up, you will be rewarded with a fun little game, that will challenge even a hardened gamer. I know this game did not have a huge following, as most people were soured by the games initial stint in the 8-bit world of the NES and Gameboy. But those like me that never experienced the
original Spot game on the NES were rewarded with a decent platform game, that has a high replay value.