Thursday, April 28, 2011

Medal of Honor (PS1)

I'm not sure what got me into playing these games after having just repaired my PSone. I guess I was in the mood for shooters. World War 2 shooters, to be exact.

Well, it had been a while since I had played the original FPSes that started the World War 2 FPS craze so I thought now would be a good time to revisit them. Medal of Honor was the first FPS I played on a console and I remember being impressed by the controls at the time. I was, of course, familiar with the PC FPS mouse+keyboard setup so I was at first very critical of how Medal of Honor would play. That didn't last long. From the get go, I enjoyed blasting the endless troops of Nazi soldiers.

Fast forward to 2011. How would the game fare to today's standards? I didn't expect the control scheme to be any good. Turns out there's a control scheme in the game that you can choose that fits today's modern console FPS dual analogue stick control scheme. I was truly surprised by that as I thought the control scheme would be more akin to earlier PS1 FPSes where you moved using the D-pad and strafed using the shoulder buttons.

Thanks to the modern control scheme, the first Medal of Honor is surprisingly playable by today's standards. Well, barely. There are still some flaws. For instance, there's no targeting reticule. When you're aiming, you really have to use your gun as your guide to shoot. Great for realism, not so great for gaming. I had no idea where I was shooting and ended up wasting bullets half the time. And thanks to the limited power of the PlayStation, there was a very limited draw distance and a limit of about 3 enemy soldiers appearing on screen at a time, which made the game a little too easy at times. The enemy AI is occasionally a little wonky as well, which makes it frustrating when enemy guards spot you when they're not supposed to but at other times are painfully unaware that I have a gun pointed at them right under their noses.

However, even with those flaws the game does have its truly memorable moments. One moment you're covertly sneaking across a village while taking out enemy soldiers, and the next you're undercover as a German officer attempting to sabotage their artillery. There's a lot of variety in the setpieces of a mission - you go from French countryside to a submarine. Pretty impressive for an FPS from the PS1 era.

As good as this game was, I didn't finish playing it however. The lack of reticule was just too much of an annoyance for me, which is a shame because I truly wanted to know where the story was going. The developers actually fix this issue in the sequel, Medal of Honor: Underground, also for PS1, which I will be talking about in the next blog post.

Meanwhile, here's a gameplay Youtube video of the game (courtesy of user elbryan42):

If you feel like playing this, I think you can get this cheap on PSN under the PS1 classics label but seeing as hackers brought PSN down and stole our personal information, I can't be sure.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Regarding those Wii HD rumours...

So the rumour mill has started on the next home console from Nintendo. One of the big features is apparently going to be a controller with a HD screen built-in. This can only mean one thing...

Zelda: Four Swords Adventure 2! Woohoo!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Concerning a Station where you Play games.

Yes. The PlayStation. With a Super NES pad. You probably already know the famous story of how the PlayStation came to be, in which case you know it was originally supposed to be a Super NES with CD capabilities.

I'm using that Nintendo connection as a segue to my future series of posts concerning... tada! The Sony PlayStation, aka PSX, aka PS1, aka PS one.

Yeah, yeah. I know I'm supposed to be this big Nintendo fan who only blogs Nintendo stuff and I promised to blog about Gamecube stuff and... I haven't. Not yet anyway. But thing is, I was cleaning out my house the other day and I found my old PS one, looking all cute and white... and neglected.

The problem with my PS one was I had bought it after my previous original body PlayStation had died and very soon after the PS one died as well. Fed up with Sony's apparent lack of quality control I gave up on the PlayStation forever and moved on to (supposedly) more reliable world of PCs for my gaming needs.

But that was a decade ago, and absence makes the heart grow fonder, as the old adage goes. When I rediscovered my PS one, I decided to open it up and see if I could do anything to bring it back to life. It's main problem was that it just wouldn't power on, and before it died permanently, I would have to press the Power button on and off a couple of times before it would actually power up.

Taking advice from multiple console hacking forums like, it was possible that one or more fuses had blew out, as it was a common problem with the PS ones. So I bought a multimeter and prodded all the fuses I could find on my PS one's mainboard... and all of them were working. Deciding that this was no longer a job for an amateur like me, I sent it in to a qualified technician to get it repaired.

And now I have a working PS one again! Hurray! This made me google up some old games I might have missed back in the day. I didn't think I'd find much because well, I'm a video games nerd -- I spend all my time on the internet reading about video games and haunting retrogaming forums. There's not much that escapes me, video game-wise. But because the PlayStation library was so vast and it was an area of interest I had long neglected, there were actually a lot of games I had missed out on.

Most notable are the Japanese games that never got an official translation but eventually managed to be translated by fans, like Persona 2 - Innocent Sin. Or games that did get a Western release but were translated poorly but were reinserted with a better translation from the PSP rereleases of the games, such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Final Fantasy Tactics.

Anyway, because of the revival of my PS one, I will probably write more about PlayStation games, seeing as I have more of those games than I do for my Nintendo systems (they're easier to find for me). I'll still write about Nintendo games, of course but I'm just saying I'm hot and bothered for my PS one right now.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Retronauts Live 6 - Jeremy and Gang talk the GBA.

Now that Retronauts is firmly back and comfortable with its new call-in format, I can rest easily that my need for retro gaming chatter is easily satiated every time a new episode goes up.

The most recent episode was about the Game Boy Advance, one of my favourite handhelds as you may know, and while it was a good episode on the whole, with mentions of the Gamecube attachment, Game Boy Player, (thanks to our friend noiseredux from Game Boy Player Land), the three Castlevania games, Riviera, Super Mario Advance, the tendency of the GBA to mostly get 16-bit console ports, Mother 3 and even Rhythm Tengoku, I was slightly disappointed that the Game Boy Micro got no love (despite the Famicom limited edition being the image for the episode) and neither did Advance Wars.

For shame. If only I had a skype headset, fast internet and a time machine, I could fix this. Still, it's not all doom and gloom! It's actually a good episode, despite my complaints. This is the internet, after all. What is the internet without someone complaining.

Monday, March 21, 2011

10th Anniversary of the Game Boy Advance.

Today is the tenth anniversary of the Game Boy Advance, my favourite little handheld that could, and boy did it do it oh so well.

I've mentioned before that I bought my indigo GBA near the Japanese launch and the only games I could get at the time were Japanese ones so I opted to get Super Mario Advance and F-Zero. Both totally awesome experiences, especially F-Zero, which made me feel like I finally had a Super NES... IN MY HAND.

And the GBA was that essentially. A GBA in your hand. It would later go on to inherit the legacy of the Super NES as an all round awesome 2D graphics handheld portable gaming device (phew! That was a mouthful) by being the place for awesome 2D RPGs.

The GBA would be home to a series of some of the greatest Castlevania games ever, two great Metroid games, great (but not perfect) remakes of Super NES RPGs as well as many other great games.

Unfortunately this awesome little thing had one big great flaw. While it did allow you to play awesome games, it unfortunately didn't allow you to actually see them thanks to the lack of a backlight. This particularly sucked if you were playing in a cramped bus with ridiculously dark tinted windows, such as the bus that ferried students to my university.

Though Nintendo eventually fixed that problem by releasing a new version of the GBA, it came with a new form factor -  a flip-top design, which was popular with phones of the time. While it made the new GBA more compact and therefore more portable, it was a digression of sorts. Players now held the GBA like they would the old Game Boy, which resulted in cramped hands. Well, at least it had a backlight now. (Technically it was a frontlight. A later revision would bring a proper backlight and that model is more sought after by collectors.)

Nintendo then decided to end the GBA's life prematurely after only three years (a stark contrast to the previous generation's lifespan of fifteen or so years) by announcing the next generation handheld, the Nintendo DS.

But before that happened Nintendo released two more variants of the GBA, which nobody bought but was in no way less awesome.

The Game Boy Micro, a mini GBA of sorts was actually released after the DS was launched. It had a bright and vibrant, but smaller screen and it returned to the original GBA's "wide" form factor. But because of its mini size, players' hands still cramped up.

The Game Boy Player was an add-on for the Nintendo Gamecube. It was basically a GBA without a screen which attached to the bottom of a Gamecube and allowed you to play GBA games on your TV with either your Gamecube controller or a GBA with a GC-GBA cable. What is notable about it is that despite its physical form, most GBA adaptors and accessories were compatible with it, something the Game Boy Micro can not claim.

The GBA was the last of the Game Boy line only in name, but its spirit lives on in the DS... and hopefully the 3DS as well, which will be releasing around the world this week. (I think. Too lazy to check.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Done with Mother 3. For now.

This morning on the commute to work, I spent the whole train ride trying to defeat the most difficult boss in Mother 3 I have encountered so far. My train ride lasts about 40 minutes, and the whole time I was just fighting him. Victory never felt so sweet as when the train pulled in to my stop, the boss finally succumbed. To say it felt marvelous is an understatement. I then saved the game, switched my DS off and promptly walked to my office.

However, during my lunch break, I found to my extreme horror that the save file had disappeared.

I checked my last save backup I made and it was early in the chapter I was at. The boss I defeated this morning was at the end of the chapter. This particular chapter happens to the longest chapter in Mother 3.

So yeah, I'm feeling a wee bit frustrated with the game now. I really wanted to finish it, but it looks like I won't be revisiting it anytime soon. I don't feel like replaying a whole chapter. As far as I'm concerned, I am DONE with Mother 3.

I'm going to play another game. Radiant Historia looks enticing.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

This is now!

So I registered a new URL for my little blog:

I can't believe I was able to snag this domain name. Did no one else thought to register it? Anyways, Blogger is smart enough to reroute the old URL to the new one, but update your bookmarks anyway!

In other news, I am still slowly making my way through Mother 3. I am in the penultimate chapter (I think) so not long now till the end.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Revisiting F-Zero: Maximum Velocity.

I've been a bit busy at work lately so I haven't had the time to update this blog as frequently as I wanted to. There's a bit of a lull right now so I'm taking this chance to throw together some random, maybe unrelated thoughts on this blog.

After finishing Aria of Sorrow last month, I've been at a lost as to what long-term game I was going to concentrate on next. I was adamant this time I would not play yet another Metroidvania, so I've gravitated towards several games, some new to me, some old yet haven't received much attention.

I had bought a GBA around the time of its launch in 2002 and I thought I wanted to revisit the games I had bought back then - Japanese versions of Super Mario Advance and F-Zero (known as F-Zero: Maximum Velocity in the West). I still have the boxes of both games but the carts have long disappeared, thanks to a brother who doesn't know how to keep things properly. (Yes, I'm bitter over it.)

Loaded the roms onto a flashcart and played them both on my DS Lite. I didn't warm up much to the Mario game, despite me loving it a lot. I think I'm just sick of platformers at the moment. F-Zero however sucked me back in and I was transported back to a time when I was back in college, living with a bunch of collegemates.

The apartment I lived in had trouble with their electricity supply and the fuse often blew. That meant lots of nights in the dark and if we needed light, we had to open the front door to get light from the corridor outside. I had managed to convince a housemate who also bought a GBA around the same time as I did to also buy F-Zero and so on one of these powerless nights, we hooked both our GBAs together with a link cable and attempted to race each other.

The GBA of course did not have a backlight, nor a frontlight. So there we were hanging out in the corridor, racing our high speed hovercars, holding our GBAs at ridiculous angles just to see properly what was going on in the game.

I didn't think the lack of a backlight was that bad at the time, but having recently had a short play of Aria of Sorrow on an original GBA, I wonder how my eyes even survived.

Anyways, back to F-Zero, I've only played the first Cup on Beginner so I haven't spent a long time with it yet. Due to the controls forcing you to tap the accelerator button over and over while holding either of the shoulder buttons if you wan to corner effectively at high speeds, I quickly developed sore thumbs. I love the game but I don't want to injure myself playing it.

So now I'm not sure if I'll continue to play it. We'll see. Maybe I should just get back to my unfinished playthrough of Mother 3. I think I'm very near the end already in that one.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

GBA Review: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow

So today it’s time to talk about a game many consider the greatest GBA Castlevania ever made – Aria of Sorrow. When it was first announced in January 2003, I was cautiously excited about the game and pored over every screenshot and trailer released. But I never really got into the game when I bought it after it was released in May of that same year.

I really should have liked it more, because at the time, Aria of Sorrow was as close to Symphony of the Night as one could get. It was just by that time I had moved on from gaming in general and had started to pursue other interests. Still, this is a good time as any to rediscover the GBA games I’ve overlooked.

I don’t usually play the same type of game, much less a direct sequel to the game I just recently finished. I like to try finding a different type of game for a different type of gaming experience than the one I had just had. I was thinking of perhaps playing a racing game or a typical jRPG after completing Harmony of Dissonance.

But having just finished Harmony of Dissonance, and finding myself at my wife’s parent’s house in the middle of the monsoon season with nothing to amuse myself with but for my DS lite and a copy of Aria of Sorrow. I had no choice (unless I wanted to play in the rain and become a flood victim) but to take the leap and jump straight into another Metroidvania game.

Because I immediately jumped from Harmony of Dissonance to Aria of Sorrow, I couldn’t help but make instant comparisons. Two things came immediately to mind upon starting the game: 1) the quality of the sound was significantly improved, compared to Harmony of Dissonance, and 2) control of the main character felt a bit sluggish.

Let’s talk about the sound quality first. Instrument samples and synths have been hugely improved. No longer do the music sound like 8-bit chiptunes. Instead they sound more like real instruments, very similar to what was achieved with Circle of the Moon’s soundtrack.

And now we come to the controls. Harmony of Dissonance made controlling Juste, the hero of that game, akin to controlling a speeding cheetah. Just press either shoulder button to dash, dash, dash everywhere. It was smooth to the extent that it spoiled me for playing other Castlevania games. Every other Castlevania game would move like a snail from now on.

And so it was when I first played as Soma Cruz, teenage schoolboy and pretty boy protagonist of this game, I had to take a while to acclimatise to Aria of Sorrow’s controls which seemed to feel “slower” but once I discovered that it actually was very much akin to controlling Alucard in Symphony of the Night, it became much more acceptable and I learned to “unlearn” the constant zipping and dashing around of Harmony of Dissonance.

Soma Cruz’s similar controllability to Alucard is not the only thing in Aria of Sorrow that it shares with Symphony of the Night. There’s a lot in this game that was intentionally designed to make it not only similar to Symphony of the Night in terms of controllability but also in terms of Soma Cruz’s powers and abilities, which is managed by a system called “Tactical Souls”.

Tactical Souls allows Soma to collect “souls” occasionally dropped from creatures he has defeated and use their powers for himself. I like how when Soma collects a soul, the animation is very similar to when Alucard steals monster’s souls to heal himself in Symphony of the Night.

For you see, and I’m coming into spoiler territory here, Soma Cruz is very much alike to what Alucard is, except not quite. The game’s story delves into this quite a bit and if you want to know more, I suggest playing the game and finding out for yourself. (I pity those who’ve already played Dawn of Sorrow, the DS sequel to this game before playing this game as it spoils the major reveal of Aria of Sorrow right in the beginning.)

As with a lot of GBA games released during that era, there was a bit of a Pok√©mon influence in Aria of Sorrow. Because players could collect souls in the game, there were many chances to collect multiple souls of creatures. You only needed one, so what to do with the extra souls you amassed? Why you traded them via a GBA link cable of course! This was probably an interesting feature if you had a lot of friends who played Aria of Sorrow, but seeing as I’m the only one around playing the game, this feature was quite useless to me.

There’s only one castle this time but it’s a huge one so a second castle isn’t really missed. The castle has the classic setpieces expected in a Castlevania, like the opening hallway, the trademark steps to Dracula’s throne room and of course the clock tower. There are some new themed areas as well, like an unexpected pirate ship in a cave, perhaps a tribute to The Goonies.

All these different locations are drawn in that beautiful 2D way that is becoming increasingly rare nowadays. The graphics are detailed, with many little touches making it seem like the castle is a real place. Light from the illuminated statue bounces of the walls in the sacred Save Room. Huge groups of bats fly in the background near the entrance. The clock tower in the background of the stairs that lead to Dracula’s throne room is rendered in 3D that’s not out of place, just like in Symphony of the Night. Monsters and enemies are incredibly detailed with an amazing amount of sprite animation. But hey, that’s always been the case with Castlevania games, especially the Metroidvania games made by IGA.

IGA himself wrote the scenario that moves the plot behind this game. Is that a good or bad thing? I dunno. It’s 2035, and Soma Cruz is visiting his friend Mina Hakuba (a not-very-subtle homage to Bram Stoker’s similarly named character in the novel, Dracula), who is the daughter of a caretaker of a Japanese shrine. It so happens the moment he visits is also the moment a solar eclipse is happening right over the shrine. Just as he steps into the shrine, he finds himself somehow teleported and trapped in Dracula’s castle that was trapped in a solar eclipse in 1999.

Yeah, the story’s a bit ridiculous but the backstory on what actually happened in 1999 is quite intriguing, and major points to IGA anyway for trying to make this game’s story different than the usual “random-Belmont-comes-to-kill-Dracula” plot.

Still, the story allows for several supporting characters to appear, including a Belmont and someone called “Arikado” who seems to have the similar powers to Soma. It’s never really told outright that Arikado is Alucard, but the game drops enough hints. It really doesn’t take a genius to figure it out. The Belmont character in this game is of course the secret unlockable character, very much like how you can unlock Richter in Symphony of the Night and Maxim in Harmony of Dissonance.

Aria of Sorrow, though having only one castle to explore, it took me much longer to complete than Harmony of Dissonance and it provides a better level of challenge. Still think it’s easy? No worries, there’s hard mode for the masochists. The game rewards you for collecting as many souls as you can and even provides a New Game+ mode, which allows the player to carry over souls from the previous game to a new one, ensuring high replayability.

Early on I said that many consider this the greatest GBA Castlevania ever made. Count me among them. It’s the game that comes closest to the benchmark, Symphony of the Night, and is highly replayable.

I’ll end this review by mentioning a song in the game that really stuck with me even after I finished it. The remix of the classic “Heart of Fire” song from the original NES Castlevania makes it into Aria of Sorrow during one of the battles, making it one of the most epic battles in a Castlevania game, probably more epic than when Alucard had to battle a brainwashed Richter in Symphony of the Night.

Do play this game if you ever have the chance to.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Retro Boy Advance - the Handheld.

It has come to my attention that my carefully thought out name (okay, not really) for this blog was already being used by other people to name their modded consoles.

Here's one.
Here's another.

Ah well. Chalk it up to coincidence!

Monday, February 7, 2011

GBA Review: Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance

My first entry into Castlevania was the very first game for the NES. I hate to admit it now but when I played it I thought it was a dumb game. Having come from the Mario School of Perfect Controls, I thought the controls were terrible and awkward. Ugh and let’s not talk about climbing stairs!

My standing with the series has improved quite a lot since then though. Having played and enjoyed Castlevania: Bloodlines and Symphony of the Night many times over made me a true fan and I have since actually finished the original NES Castlevanias, along with a few others as well, including Castlevania Chronicles on Playstation.

Symphony of the Night however remains my favourite Castlevania to date and while I love the linear platforming of classic Castlevanias, there is nothing I enjoy more than a good Metroidvania-style romp against Dracula.

The Game Boy Advance, awesome system that it is, launched with Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, which was a game that was deeply inspired by Symphony of the Night. Unfortunately, it was made by a different team, Konami Kobe, who incidentally were also the developers of the infamous Nintendo 64 Castlevanias and that somehow made fans slightly wary and less accepting for it. A shame, for it was a great game. A lot of things can be said about Circle of the Moon but perhaps I should save that for another time when I actually get a chance to replay it.

When Koji Igarashi, one of the main developers for Symphony of the Night, announced that he was heading a team that would be creating a new Castlevania for the Game Boy Advance and screenshots leaked, the internet exploded. Well, okay, maybe just the little corner of my internetexploded. More specifically, the Castlevania forums on GameFAQs and Castlevania Dungeon exploded, which is where I hung out back in those days.

People were excited that this was a “true” Castlevania sequel, made by the guy who had “made” Symphony of the Night and had clearly become the de facto Castlevania guy at Konami. Even now, people mostly assume that Koji Igarashi, or IGA, as he is fondly known, had spearheaded Symphony of the Night, when the fact is he was merely an assistant director and scenario writer. He only became producer of the Castlevania series starting from Castlevania Chronicles, and even that was just a remake and not full blown wholly new game.

And yet because of that very assumption, people thought this new Castlevania from IGA would be the BEST Castlevania EVAH!!!111

My personal theory as to why people thought this was so is because on the Castlevania Chronicles CD, there was a mini documentary featuring an interview with IGA, in which he claimed (or at least the subtitles did) that the “the major work of [his] would be directing and programming CASTLEVANIA –Symphony of the Night-.” Also of interest in this interview is that IGA reveals that he has built a big team comprising staff from both Symphony of the Night and its prequel, Rondo of Blood, for an upcoming game. He promises that this game would be “astonishing!!!". The three exclamation marks has been quoted verbatim from the interview.

So the stakes were high. IGA had his dream team and they were working on a yet, unannounced Castlevania which would blow people's minds. It would be "astonishing!!!".

And astonished some fans were when the first footage and trailers appeared for that "upcoming game" IGA had mentioned, mainly for two reasons. For one, the graphics looked bright and cheery, a marked contrast from Circle of the Moon, which was dark and gloomy, a fitting atmosphere for a Castlevania game but a terrible design decision which hampered players’ ability to actually see the game on a handheld system that had not yet implemented a backlit screen.

The second reason, and the reason that received the most backlash from fans expecting a second Symphony of the Night from IGA, was the notable downgraded quality of the sound that was apparent from the trailers. Symphony of the Night had a brilliant and remarkable soundtrack, an opinion which is still highly regarded today and so fans had expected something that would at least match the fantastic audio of that game. And despite many fans indifference towards Circle of the Moon, it had a good soundtrack with remarkable audio quality for a Game Boy Advance game. But this new game seemed to have a soundtrack right out of the 8-bit era and fans would NOT take this lightly.

It’s a pity. Nowadays, the chiptune scene is highly regarded and even a new game with retro stylings like Scott Pilgrim could not only get away with a chiptune soundtrack but would be highly acclaimed for it. Back then gamers would have none of that. The Game Boy Advance heralded a new era where 8-bit gaming had finally been left behind so having this new, modern Castlevania with a last-gen soundtrack, especially after the expectations Symphony of the Night had created, was something fans could not accept. Not from IGA and his dream team.

When the game finally came out, I vaguely remember the general consensus being that the game itself was excellent, aided by beautiful 2D graphics but hampered by its terrible soundtrack. I’ve always been a fan of the 8-bit sound so I never found this to be a problem and have always wondered why people hated the soundtrack so much. The quality may be lacking, but the compositions themselves were quite brilliant with quite a number of memorable tracks, most notably the theme of the main character, Juste’s Theme, which also had a high quality sampled version for the game’s ending credits.

The reveal of the trailer also brought with it the game’s Japanese title which fans translated into “White Night Concerto”, a title I thought horrible. Fortunately, localisers fixed this for the Western market and called it Harmony of Dissonance instead.

Having finished Symphony of the Night several times by that point, and with both US and Japanese versions (yes, I owned both), I was suitably hyped by the game. I simply could not wait for the game to be released and when I finally had it in my hands I spent the next few days playing the game non-stop. I don’t remember exactly what I thought about it at that point but considering that I actually finished it, I must have thought it was loads of fun. It wasn’t memorable though, because when I replayed it last week, I could barely remember any of the scenes that happened in the game.

But revisiting it with no expectations and no memories of the game gave me a somewhat more enjoyable experience than I had playing it the first time all those years ago. I wasn’t disappointed with the ridiculously bright graphics the designers had put in to circumvent the darkness of the Game Boy Advance unlit screen. I wasn’t disappointed with Juste neon blue outlines telegraphing his location on the screen all the time. I wasn’t disappointed with Juste’s inability to deftly manipulate the whip like Simon in Super Castlevania IV or like Richter in Symphony of the Night.

In fact, I gained a new respect and fondness for the game for incorporating aspects from classic Castlevanias which I simply did not notice before. The most obvious of this is the collection of Dracula’s myriad spare parts, reminiscent of Simon’s Quest. But my fondest throwback is when Juste manages to collect a particular item and a particular magic book, he gains the ability to perform the very same powerful “Grand Cross” Item Crash move which Richter can perform in both Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night.

All in all, I think Harmony of Dissonance doesn’t deserve most of the criticisms it gets. I think the soundtrack is great despite (or really, because of) its 8-bit chiptunes. The castle map is huge and the two castle concept from Symphony of the Night returns again, having given Circle of the Moon a miss. Juste is one of the most nimble Belmonts out there, with the ability to dash left or right with simply a tap of the L or R buttons.

Perhaps the only criticism I can level at it is its difficulty, or the sheer lack of it. I managed to complete the game within 8 hours (more or less) with all the endings. I didn’t bother getting the two secret characters’ endings but I doubt that would take me much more time if I put myself into it.

So would I play it again? Probably not. At least not within the next decade or so. It’s a great game, but it’s not Symphony of the Night, which is an unfair assessment I know, yet the fact is that's the game we compare all Castlevanias to.

Oh, and before anyone still thinks I hate the original NES Castlevania, I don't. Not anymore. A few years back, I went and played it again until I beat it. I enjoyed every second of it.

Richter fan art image credit: Candra

Friday, January 28, 2011

Break for Lunar New Year.

I almost forgot that the Lunar New Year is upon us. I'm heading back to my wife's hometown for a while but I'll probably have more updates up next week. Got more stories I want to write for my ongoing Tales of the Famiclone series, so look out for that!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tales of the Famiclone - How I Discovered Beat 'em Ups.

I wouldn't get my own famiclone (we kids just called it the Micro Genius) until late 1993 and by then the Super NES (not to mention the Sega Mega Drive) would have been in full swing.

But I'm getting slightly ahead of myself. Rewind back a year to 1992. It was the new school term, I was in Standard 5 and there was a new kid in my class. His name was Azmi and a bunch of us was chummy with him. He had a Micro Genius with a bunch of games and invited us to come to his house and play.

When a bunch of people come over to play video games, the games of choice would of course be multiplayer games and so one of the games we played was Double Dragon II.

To say the game blew me away was an understatement. The games I had played prior to this were simple one-screen games like Donkey Kong, Popeye, Tetris and like I mentioned in my previous post, Battle City.

Double Dragon II had a story (which I could not understand due to it being in Japanese) told in cutscenes, something those other games I played didn't have! Unfortunately my friends had the tendency to skip over by pressing Start. I was always a little annoyed by that because I really wanted to savour the delicious anime-styled cutscenes. To this day, I don't skip cutscenes... ever.

And the gameplay. Down right addictive. Press one button to punch this way, punch another button to kick that way, press both to jump and off we go! Yeah! I was some dude in red, my friend was the dude in blue and everyone else needed to be punched to death and that was all we needed to know. It was exhilarating. We played that game over and over until the music kept playing in my mind days after.

We didn't finish the game in that day's session, so for sure we would visit Azmi again another day to try beat the game. And beat it we did, eventually.

Reaching the ending was oh-so-sweet, never mind the fact we didn't understand what was going on. We just knew we won and we were some kind of heroes... and there was a girl. Or something. We didn't really pay attention.

I didn't think about it at the time but I was definitely impressed with how some scenes were set in that game. Fighting through the mean back alleys, climbing pipes to get to the rooftops, only for the bad guy to escape on a helicopter.

But in the ensuing cutscene, it turns out the heroes manage to climb on to the helicopter anyway and that sets another memorable scene - the fight in the helicopter. The screen is remarkably smaller, only about three quarters of the usual game screen to show the cramped space in the helicopter.

If that wasn't already bad enough, the door in the corner of the screen kept opening and shutting and every time it opened, it would drag everyone, heroes and enemies included, towards it. So it became a sort of strategy to try get the bad guys knocked down and wouldn't have time to get back to their feet before they got sucked out. It felt like I was in an Eighties Action Movie and I was the Star.

To this day, I occasionally load up the Double Dragon II Arranged soundtrack and get transported back to a simpler time. Of course, I could just load up the game itself and play it myself but I don't have a NES, Famicom or famiclone anymore and playing on an emulator just isn't the same.

Double Dragon II was my first beat 'em up game and I was interested to play more games like it after we had played it to death. I asked Azmi, "Any other games similar to this?"

"Wanna try Double Dragon III?" he said.

"They made a sequel???"

"It's not as good..."

"I don't care! I wanna play it!"

But that was when Azmi's mum came home from work, which was my cue to leave.

So another day, another Double Dragon, and I guess, another blog post!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tales of the Famiclone - How I Discovered the Micro Genius.

My first memory of video games was in 1990. I was 9 and my family had just moved in to a new house. Our neighbours had this new thing called a "Micro Genius" plugged into their TV and their kids were playing a game where you controlled some fat guy with a mustache.

Yep, the Micro Genius was a famiclone and the game was Super Mario Bros. I given a chance to play that game but when I pressed right on the pad, I died at the first goomba. I hear everyone dies at the first goomba. I instantly took a dislike towards the game.

The next game they gave me to try was called Battle City. I've never actually heard or seen anyone talk or write about this game but when I first played it I thought it was the bee's knees. You (or with a friend) controlled a tank and your mission was to protect your base from being attacked by enemy tanks. The base was represented by an eagle at the bottom of the screen and it was surrounded by a wall that could be shot down by either you or the enemies.

This was particularly important because if you weren't careful, your friend could actually sabotage you and shoot the damn eagle himself and thus end the game. You could also shoot your friend, but I think you could only disable him for a few seconds, which also made him vulnerable to enemy tanks. This was truly a game made for assholes.

I wasn't a asshole, but turns out the neighbours kids were (and they continued to maintain that level of prominence for years after) and so they kept shooting the eagle to kill my enjoyment of the game. You see, it was their parents who asked them to let me have a go at their Micro Genius when my family came over to visit. The kids were initially reluctant but they finally let me play albeit begrudgingly.

I had a few moments of fun at least and when we got home I asked my parents whether we could have one too. The answer was a firm NO.

Apparently my parents had earlier read an article somewhere about how this new thing called video games were out to destroy the minds of children and they had kept me safe from such harm right until that moment. There was no chance I’d be getting a video game system of any kind under their watch.

It wasn't until much later till I got my own video game system. It was still a famiclone but it wasn't a Micro Genius. But that's a story for another blog post.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Old Games. Just Like New Games.

So I've been thinking about what games I would want to get for the 3DS at launch but none of them really excite me. The only game I can even consider buying and actually enjoying would be Piloteings Resort but ehhh, I dunno. I've never really played the previous Pilotwings games and from what I know about them, it doesn't really make me want to play them.

I'm willing to give it a chance though. I just wished there were other games in the launch day lineup. I was really hoping Ocarina of Time and StarFox 3DS would make it for the launch day but now Nintendo is only saying sometime "before June". I want those games when I buy the system dammit!

Yes, I'm impatient.

The other two games that have me excited for the 3DS but have left me disappointed because they're not at launch either are actually the two announced Virtual Console games, Super Mario Land and Zelda: Link's Awakening.

What does that say about me? I can't wait to get the latest Nintendo handheld but all I want to play on it are all old games.

I'll probably just end up playing Dragon Quest IX on it until something worthwhile gets released.

The Consoles I Own and Want to Own.

So currently I own:
  • 1 x Game Boy Advance (JP, Indigo, melted screen)
  • 1 x Game Boy Advance (EU, Indigo) [added: 22/03/2011]
  • 1 x GameCube (NTSC, Indigo)
  • 1 x Game Boy Player (NTSC, Black)
  • 1 x Game Boy Micro (EU, Silver)
  • 1 x Game Boy Micro (US, 20th Anniversary Edition) [added: 22/03/2011]
  • 1 x Wii (NTSC, official Malaysian unit)
  • 1 x Nintendo DS Lite (Crimson Black, Korean)
I know it's somewhere, I just have to dig around a bit:
  • 1 x GameBoy Pocket (Yellow)
So yeah, not a particularly impressive collection but I am planning to get some older consoles down the road, whenever the time is right. I will update this post when I obtain them. My current wish list:
  • Famicom
  • Nintendo Entertainment System (NTSC)
  • Super Nintendo (NTSC)
  • More GBAs (regular or frontlit/backlit SPs)
  • Virtual Boy (haha, well, we'll see)
I will try do a list of Nintendo-related games I own but that will have to wait, I think. I just moved and I'm still getting my house into some semblance of order and that is going slowly because I seem to be using the money I should use for shelves (I have a LOT of books) for buying old, useless video games instead.

p/s Oh yeah, I'll be getting a 3DS as well.

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    Warning! A huge battleship "3DS" is approaching fast.

    I know I said this blog would be about old games and old game consoles but with all the recent hoopla regarding the 3DS, I just can't help myself. I'm not a true Nintendo fan if I don't gush over newly-announced Nintendo handhelds, amirite?

    So now that the US price has been announced ($250) and launch date has been confirmed (27th March 2011), what do I think? I guess the price is fair, considering the amount of tech the 3DS has within its guts. 3D screen, 3D-capable cameras, touch screen, gyroscope, accelerometer, pedometer and an always on tag mode (now called StreetPass).

    That last point I find quite intriguing because the most interesting feature in Dragon Quest IX was its tag mode ability, which allowed you to trade maps and add other players' characters as guests in your game. Unfortunately this was hampered by the fact that you had to actually stop playing and specifically set your game to tag mode. I found this slightly annoying because the most likely place for me to tag people would be on the train commute to work but of course, I'd rather be playing the game rather than spending the whole train ride waiting for someone to tag me.

    I also like how the pedometer tracks how many steps you've taken and rewards you with coins, with  which you can use to spend and buy in-game rewards. A genius take on the Achievement and Trophy systems on the Xbox 360 and PS3 respectively. I do a lot of walking everyday in my commute to work and back so I hope to use this to it's utmost potential.

    Like with the Wii and DSi, the 3DS will also have an online store, this time called the eShop. Apparently you can transfer over your DSi games, which is good but seeing that I do not own a DSi, I will not be using this feature. Nice of Nintendo to be thinking of us users, though. Would have been nicer if you gave us the ability to create accounts so we can carry over games to any console tied to that account, like what Sony does with PSN. But hey, that's Nintendo. What interests me about the eShop is that it also has its own Virtual Console and will offer Game Boy and Game Boy Color games. Screens of Zelda: Link's Awakening and Super Mario Land have already been shown so I guess that pretty much confirms them for appearing on the VC at some point in time. I loved Link's Awakening and wouldn't mind buying that from the eShop day one. I really hope they give it more support than they did the Wii's Virtual Console though.

    And speaking of games, the 3DS launch games for US don't really impress me that much. I'd probably go with PilotWings Resort and maybe Ridge Racer 3D but the rest is just, I dunno... bleh to me. I don't like fighting games so Dead or Alive Dimensions and Street Fighter IV is out for me. Still, nice to know Kid Icarus, Ocarina of Time, StarFox 3D, Animal Crossing (for the missus) and Paper Mario will be coming out by June.

    On a final note, the colour selection at launch is pretty weak but I guess that's on par with all Nintendo handheld releases. The best colours are always saved for later in the console's life. All regions will be getting the blue and black variants at launch but I had really hoped they would release the red one (like in the pic above) as well. Neither blue nor black really gels with me but I'm guessing I will go with blue.

    Now to make the decision whether to preorder in the US or preorder here. Decisions, decisions...

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011

    Obligatory Introductory Story.

    Hello world!

    I was talking to a colleague and the conversation hovered over an issue of Retro Gamer and that soon led to our mutual love for old Nintendo consoles, mainly the Super Nintendo. Well, for me it was the Super Nintendo, for him it was the Super Famicom. We grew up in the same country but apparently we grew up with different consoles.

    So anyway, soon he made the suggestion that I should start a blog about retro games, seeing how I love retro gaming so much. This blog will not concentrate on just the Super Nintendo/Famicom however but will cover mostly the GameCube and GameBoy Advance-era games and occasionally I will branch out and touch upon the other retro consoles.

    So why make yet another blog about retro games, specifically Nintendo ones, which many people have already poured thousands upon thousands of words over? Because I love Nintendo and just one more blog about them can't hurt, right? In any case, this blog will be a catalogue of sorts for my passion (or obsession, really) with all things Nintendo.