Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Day 135: All-Star Weekend 2008 with Tommy Lasorda Baseball

You know how I'm alway bitching that I never know which randomly chosen fielder I'm controlling in most baseball video games? Well Tommy Lasorda Baseball solves that problem and gives me something brand new to bitch about: the robot voice that yells out which fielder is active every time a ball is hit into play. It doesn't completely solve the problem, since it's still hard to tell which little guy is which sometimes on the extremely jumbled fielding screen.

Let's see, here we have six members of the pitching team, two umpires, two base coaches, three base runners and three more base runners on the field map in the bottom right corner of the screen. Notice how it looks like there's a man running from first to home about to collide with the batter running to first? That's not confusing at all in the heat of the game.

Tommy Lasorda is a pretty average representative of the last generation of baseball games before they were all replaced with baseball simulators. Pitch movement is still controlled using the d-pad rather than just selecting curve or slider and aiming. There are no real teams. No real players. No real stadiums. No real stats. In other words, Tommy Lasorda Baseball looks and plays like pretty much every other 8-bit and 16-bit baseball game out there.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. The game moves fast and is easy to figure. It feels familiar because it is. Tommy Lasorda Baseball lacks both the personality of earlier games like Bad News Baseball and the realism and depth of later games like the MVP and MLB series. It's sort of stuck somewhere in between the baseball game and the baseball simulator.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Day 134: All-Star Weekend 2008 with Steve Garvey vs. Jose Canseco in Grand Slam Baseball

Steve Garvey vs. Jose Canseco in Grand Slam Baseball finds some very ingenious ways to solve the problems that plagued baseball video games of the time. For example, fielding, especially in the outfield, is often difficult in these older games that use a ball follow camera view, meaning players have to move fielders that currently on screen. In Steve Garvey vs. Jose Canseco in Grand Slam Baseball this isn't an issue since batters rarely make contact with the ball. In one nine inning game I recorded 23 strikeouts against the computer and struck out nearly as many times myself.

In other baseball video games, I sometimes get frustrated when my infielders automatically move to cover a base when they should be be one fielding the ball. That's not an issue with Steve Garvey vs. Jose Canseco in Grand Slam Baseball because none of the fielders ever move on their own. To record an out at first base, I first have to throw to the first baseman (Done by moving the joystick down and to the right and pressing the fire button. Left and fire throws to the second baseman. Up and fire throws tho the center fielder. Seriously.), then manually run the first baseman to the bag, hopefully getting there before the batter.

Sometimes, with other games, it can be hard to tell which fielder I'm controlling until it's too late and I've moved the shortstop away from a ball I thought the third baseman was going to field. That never happens in Steve Garvey vs. Jose Canseco in Grand Slam Baseball because every ball not hit past the infield grass is handled by the catcher. Even the pitcher graciously stands aside and allows the backstop to field balls landing just pixels away from the mound.

Another problem I often face with other baseball video games is having to individually command each over zealous base runner to retreat on a fly ball. Steve Garvey vs. Jose Canseco in Grand Slam Baseball solves this by conveniently ignoring the rule that base runners can't advance on fly ball outs.

Steve Garvey vs. Jose Canseco in Grand Slam Baseball was a game that was years ahead of its time. I don't think I encountered a baseball video game with this level of realism until the first time I played World Series Baseball 2K1.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day 133: All-Star Weekend 2008 with Reggie Jackson Baseball

Reggie Jackson was a big time baseball star in the 1970's. In the 1980's, his production declined and he became that guy who used to play for the Yankees and alway wore big glasses. By 1988, when Sega released Reggie Jackson Baseball for the Master System, he had retired from the game.

Reggie Jackson Baseball improves slightly on the first baseball game for the Master System, Great Baseball which, for the record, should have been called Awful Baseball. The gameplay remains basically the same, though the 20 home run per game common in Great Baseball has been reduced to a more realistic 10 or so here.

The option of auto fielding included here is nice, but the computer controlled fielders seem to do an even worse job than I would. Outfielders appear to be scattered about at random and have to run in from off screen to field a ball no matter where it's hit.

The stadium's groundskeeper should be fired. The grass is brown. No one should play baseball on brown grass. And no one should look up at the stadium JumboTron and see this:

Is that one of the New Kids on the Block? Are they having a concert after the game or something? Shit. I'd better leave now. This game's a blowout anyway.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Day 132: All-Star Weekend 2008 with Legends of the Diamond

Legends of the Diamond is a pretty standard NES baseball game made better, as most things are, by the addition of Ty Cobb.

As with most baseball games of the era, fielding is tricky. Balls hit to the outfield require moving the fielder without seeing him. And the computer sort of randomly picks which players you will control. Infield flies are sometimes confusing because there are several players visible though it's not always clear which one is going after the ball and which ones are just moving to cover a base.

Strangely, though the game lists each player's position in their profile, it pays no heed to that when creating a lineup. Thus it's possible, in fact probable, to play a game with Willie Mays catching, Babe Ruth at short and Mickey Cochrane patrolling center field. The only players for whom position matters at all are the pitchers.

Despite the quirks, Legends of the Diamond is one of the more enjoyable baseball games for the NES. It's based on the same engine used for Baseball Stars, easily one of the best games for the system, and adds a lot of neat touches.

Harmon Killebrew does not like striking out.

Nor does he like being hit by a pitch.

I said take your base, Killebrew. Let's go.

There's even a fan wearing a glove in the stands to catch home runs. Pitchers and batters have unique stances and animations. Not necessarily modeled after the real players, but they do give each player a unique look and personality. It would have been nice to have a few more players or a few different ones. Bobby Richardson was a good ballplayer, but is really only "legendary" for the shot heard 'round the world. How about giving us Stan Musial or Ted Williams instead?

OK, I'll stop before I go into my list of who should and should not be included on a roster of legends of the diamond. Despite the exclusion of The Man and The Splendid Splinter, Legends of the Diamond is enjoyable game that's still playable today. Not bad for a bunch of old guys.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Day 131: Action 52 Friday with Meong

Today is a big day. I've reached the second screen of Action 52 games.

Eighteen game title that haven't been staring me in the face for the last four and a half months. They could be anything. It's like Christmas in July. But it's Christmas when you're in junior high and everyone stops giving you fun gifts and starts giving you pen sets and book bags.

Meong is the pen set of video games. It took no effort whatsoever and no one's ever going to use it.

As far as I can tell, the point of Meong is to move the little purple thing up the screen, avoiding all the black squares as well as the random deadly gray squares. I don't know what the destination is. I never made it that far since I have little patience for video games that kill me at random and then make me start over from the beginning. Ideally I could memorize a path through by remembering where I was each time I died, but since everything looks the same there aren't any landmarks to go by.

Meong is unfinished, severely flawed or just plain awful. Take your pick. Any future references to Meong made in my presence had better be in reference to these:

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Day 130: Super Tux Kart

Ten years ago, Super Tux Kart would have been a perfect substitute for Mario Kart 64. It looks and feels every bit the mid nineties PC games it wants to be. Which makes it so unfortunate that it is currently 2008.

With several well done and very creative tracks, a nice assortment of characters and power ups and challenges to complete, Super Tux Kart is the sort of game I would have paid money for back in the days when everyone but me owned a Nintendo 64. Now it simply looks outdated. And not outdated enough to be retro cool, either. Just old.

It has a lot of features that could make it a great game. There's support for up to four players, but no control pad support, so you and three of your friends could huddle around the keyboard and invade each other's personal space and interfere with each other's driving. Up to ten karts can be in a single race, at the cost of severe slowdown to gameplay.

When you get right down to it, Super Tux Kart is just another kart racer. If I didn't already have so many at my disposal, I might be more impressed with but, frankly, it does nothing to distinguish itself from the crowd.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Day 129: Robot Finds Kitten

Robot Finds Kitten has been ported to many platforms since its creation, most recently the Nintendo DS. I chose the Atari 7800 version because, frankly, given the unimpressive list of titles for it, this may be my last chance to visit the console.

Robot Finds Kitten isn't a game so much as an exercise in random time wasting. The goal is to find the kitten, which is one of the random symbols displayed on the screen. Touching an item reveals its randomly generated identity. The robot keeps searching until he finds the kitten.

The kitten is a different symbol each time you play, so don't think you can skate and just head straight for the purple sigma. Despite its simplicity, or maybe because of it, Robot Finds Kitten is strangely compelling. There are enough random objects to play for a while before repeating. Some of them are funny. Some of them are just strange. There are no bonuses for finding the kitten quickly, so there's no way for anyone to be better at it than anyone else. It's the perfect game for the age of everyone's a winner.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Day 128: Perfect Dark

Like everyone else who was playing video games in 2000, I logged many hours playing Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64. But, like many others I'm sure, I never played the Perfect Dark game released for the Game Boy Color. I'm going to put your mind at ease now and tell you that you didn't miss anything by not playing this game.

As in the console version, the Game Boy game puts the player in control of Agent Joanna Dark on a series of missions, the details aren't important, that are completed by shooting a lot of people. Unlike the console game, this version uses a third person overhead view. The controls for the portable game don't feel as instinctive (as instinctive as killing hordes of people can be for gamers who don't leave the house if they can avoid it). Reloading and picking up items are more of a hassle. Game movement is slow and clunky.

Most importantly though, this Perfect Dark lacks the multiplayer mode that was the bread and butter of the N64 game. No one played Perfect Dark alone if they could help it. Why on Earth would they want to play Perfect Dark alone and on a tiny screen?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Day 127: Impossible Mission

Impossible Mission isn't just a clever name. Thanks to a programming error, the Atari 7800 version of the game actually is impossible to complete. And with the possibility of winning off the table, that leaves a lot more time for making fun of stuff.

The goal is to find all of the pieces of a key card that gains access to the lair of the evil Elvin Atombender. The pieces are hidden behind the furniture of Atombender's vast complex, so you'll have to search each piece while avoiding a bunch of robots that don't want you messing with their stuff.

Expect the vast majority of your searches to come up empty.

But occasionally you will turn up something useful, like one of those key card pieces or a password that allows to to temporarily disable that room's robots. Maybe a punch card that will come in handy if you ever want to play tic tac toe against UNIVAC.

Impossible Mission could be a really great game. In fact, it is in Europe. The programming glitch isn't present in the PAL version of the game. It's a great combination of action, puzzle solving and falling into bottomless pits after misjudging jumps. There's just that one little problem that can't be avoided.

In the North American version, that programming bug means some of the pieces you need to beat the game are hidden behind computer terminals, and computer terminals can't be searched. That devious Dr. Atombender, somehow he knew I would be too distracted by the flashing screen of his Apple IIGS to look behind it! Curse him!

Actually, I was joking about the tic tac toe thing. Oh well, since it's here...

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Day 126: Tower Toppler

I've found that the best motivation to keep playing a video game a day is to occasionally play a really good video game. Tower Toppler is a really good video game. It's so good that if I were Harry Knowles, there would be bodily fluids all over my floor right now.

Fortunately for my pants, I am not a 500 pound shut in who made a name for himself saying by that The Phantom Menace made him shit himself.

The goal of Tower Toppler is to guide the little frog like creature to the top of a series of towers. The beautifully rendered and animated towers each present a series of puzzles and obstacles which must be navigated before the timer reaches zero. It's nearly impossible.

But the game is so unique and well done that I don't care that I'll never see the end of it. Tower Toppler is a cruel, unforgiving mistress, and I am her bitch.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Day 125: Meteoric Shower

The only even remotely interesting thing about Meteoric Shower has nothing to do with playing the game. It has to do with how it was released. Meteoric Shower was built in to a Colecovision clone called the Dina, released in the United States as the Telegames Personal Arcade. For many years there was debate amongst the retro gaming crowd as to whether or not it existed in cartridge form until it was revealed that nearly every European collector had about three boxed copies of the game, although no North American cartridges have surfaced so far.

The game is a pretty standard Galaga wannabe, with one exception. The aliens can attack from both the top and the bottom of the screen, requiring the player to turn around and shoot down.

Rather than make Meteoric Shower more exciting, this feature just makes it more annoying. Since the ship doesn't rotate and can only face straight up or straight down, you have to be above or below the aliens to shoot them. But since moving the controller up or down also reverses the direction of the ship, you can't shoot while backing away like in other four directional shooters like Galaga 3 or Centipede.

Meteoric Shower doesn't deserve to be on a cartridge of its own. It barely deserves to be added to the Action 52 cartridge. The graphics are ugly (why does the earth have rings?) and the sound effects are dull, but at least the collision detection works. As soon as someone unearths a North American cartridge, it will even lose its historical footnote status, making it just another bad game.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Day 124: Action 52 Friday with Atmosquake

Hey, I've already played this one, haven't I? It's the one where the player controls a space ship and has to shoot other space ships while avoiding terrain that sometimes kills him and sometimes doesn't but never kills the enemy ships. That sounds familiar to you too, right? I can't believe that the Action 52 guys would just swap the sprites out of another game change the name and call it a whole new game. I must have not been watching close enough at the selection screen. That's got to be what happened.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Day 123: Mad Nurse

Mad Nurse is actually more fun to lose than it is to win. Yes, there's a certain frantic excitement to rescuing a house full of babies from themselves, but it's more entertaining to watch and listen as they poison and electrocute themselves. It's not like they're real babies. I mean, I like to think that if a real baby was in danger, I would rescue it. Unless it was one of those babies that won't stop screaming in a restaurant. Just kidding. Actually, there are a lot of babies out there I would like to rescue from their moron parents, but that's called "kidnapping" a carries a hefty prison sentence. Wait, aren't I supposed to be talking about video games?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Day 122: Normy's Beach Beach Babe-O-Rama

I believe you've met Normy. He's the middle aged guy with the ugly clothes and flip flops. He may insist on growing his hair into a ponytail even though he's been bald since he was 24. He's got something you don't and he knows it. So do all the women you try to meet. They say it's "experience." It's actually the Porsche Boxster convertible which they don't know is the crappy Porsche. So when aliens kidnap all these vapid, shallow women, why on earth would we want to help Normy rescue them?

Honestly, I don't. I wish the aliens had taken Normy too. The fewer of these people we have, the better off the entire planet would be. But Normy's little adventure makes for a decent video game. It has some nice cartoony animations, even if the graphics are too pixely to really make the look work as well as it should. The puzzles are solvable without being insulting to my intelligence. If only I wasn't rooting for Normy to fail, I'd really enjoy playing this one.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Day 121: Guitar Hero Aerosmith

It's Guitar Hero! Again. Guitar Hero Aerosmith is the sixth game in the franchise since it was launched in November of 2005. That's six games in 32 months, or one game every 5.3 month. Not impressed yet? Think about this: Mario Kart Wii was the sixth game in that franchise, which began with Super Mario Kart, released in 1992.

I'm not going to insult your intelligence explaining what Guitar Hero is or who Aerosmith is. I shouldn't even have to tell you that Guitar Hero Aerosmith is a sequel dedicated almost entirely to a certain American rock band whose name escapes me at the moment.

Gameplay in Guitar Hero Aerosmith is identical to the previous games in the series. Plastic guitar. Notes on screen. You know the drill. The only slight difference is the way the tiers of songs are broken up. The first two songs are non-Aerosmith songs, played by the "opening act." The last two and the encore are Aerosmith songs, played by Aerosmith, all motion captured and digitally recreated.

All of the Aerosmith songs and half of the non-Aerosmith songs are original master recordings, and the covers are of much better quality than in past games. So much so that the cover artists are actually credited. The soundtrack includes songs by Cheap Trick, The Clash, Joan Jett, Run DMC (DMC is an unlockable character), Ted Nugent and more. The Aerosmith songs focus (thankfully) on the band's time as a 1970's rock band and not as a 1990's power ballad factory.

This is by far the easiest game in the series. Most songs (even the non-Aerosmith tracks) consist of little more than two repeating riffs and a solo. Still, with new characters and locations (following the rise of the band through places like Max's Kansas City and the Super Bowl Halftime Show), it's more of a complete game than last year's Guitar Hero Rocks the 80's. But unless you're a die hard fan of either the franchise or the band, you're better of waiting for Guitar Hero World Tour, due to hit stores in just a few months.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Day 120: Kung Fu 2

Having successfully executed to most used video game scenario ever (rescuing the damsel in distress) in their first game, the makers of Kung Fu desided to mix things up and try their hands at the second most used video game scenario (taking down a crime syndicate) for Kung Fu 2. Thomas, the hero of the first game, has joined some Guardian Angels type of group (which explains the gaudy new outfit) and changed his name to Jonny Spartan.

The change in scenery (Jonny now operates in various underworld locations, like the subway and a plane full of circus performers, more on that later) is about the only difference you'll notice. Most of the game is still spent kicking your way through a seemingly never ending barrage of thugs on your way to kicking the stage's boss. Speaking of bosses, now that Jonny's working for the man, he has to get his orders in between stages via comlink.

Wait for backup? When has anyone ever waited for backup? On to the next stage! Which is just like the first stage only in a warehouse. Then to the third stage, which is just like the second stage only on a ship. Then, this--

Fortunately this primitive cut scene takes care of the death defying leap from helicopter to airplane. Based on Jonny's poor showing leaping over boxes on a conveyor belt in stage two, I don't think he could have made it on his own.

Anyway, the cycle continues for a couple more stages before the big showdown with the final boss, who Jonny kicks into submission, thus dismantling a global crime ring in less time than it will take Lenscrafters to finish his new prescription aviator glasses.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Day 119: Dirk Valentine and the Fortress of Steam

My extensive research into the British people and their customs (several episodes of Are You Being Served? and a copy of Cricket for Dummies) has led me to conclude that they are a people with a low threshold for excitement. How else can you explain millions of Britons watching three days of batting practice with rapt attention?

Another case in point is Dirk Valentine and the Fortress of Steam, a game that combines beautiful pixel art with steampunk and a giant chain gun but still manages to be a dreadful bore. The main problem is Monty. Monty is the old guy trying to look like Albert Einstein who appears every 10 steps to explain exactly how to get through the next part of the level, completely removing any challenge that might have existed.

The game itself is pretty straightforward. Blast your way through The Baron's giant flying steam fortress, collecting medals which seem to have no defined purpose, and rescuing other British fellows, who cheer and then leap inexplicably to their deaths, before reaching the final battle with The Baron.

The controls are a combination of the arrow keys and the mouse, which is a bit strange since it left me playing the entire game with my left arm stretched across my body. Clearly Dirk Valentine is meant for those who've made the move to laptop computers with their fancy centrally located touchpads.

Dirk Valentine, like all things British, is too polite for its own good. It spends too much time pandering to me and not enough time kicking my ass.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Day 118: Guitar Hero On Tour

Let me show you why the Guitar Hero franchise is so popular.

That guy looks like a rock star.

Now let me show you why Guitar Hero doesn't work on the Nintendo DS.

That guy looks like he's getting real time stock quotes on his Blackberry.

If Guitar Hero was just about the music, On Tour would be fine. It's not he most comfortable game in the world to play. The buttons on the guitar grip are small and the whole thing can be difficult to hold on to sometimes, but it works, however awkwardly. There's a decent selection of songs, some from GHIII, some new to the series, and the sound isn't awful.

But if Guitar Hero was just about the music, players would play it sitting on their couches holding standard controllers just as if they were playing Halo or Madden. Guitar Hero is about strapping on a plastic, 3/4 size guitar with no strings and feeling like you're Jimi fucking Hendrix, not some guy who sits on the couch all day, controller in hand, playing Halo and Madden.

In that sense, the only sense that matters, Guitar Hero On Tour is a complete and total failure, even with "We're Not Gonna Take It."

Friday, June 27, 2008

Day 117: Action 52 Friday with French Baker

I've been trying to come up with a less exciting name for a video game than French Baker. So far all I've got is Brown Paper Sack. I'd probably have more fun playing with a brown paper sack than I did playing French Baker, which is another climb around the platforms and shoot everything else game, a premise we saw just a few games ago with Chill Out. French Baker looks and plays like something I would have been embarrassed to produce for the Game Boy, much less the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Day 116: Cosmo Fighter 2

This game really made an impression on me. Hours after turning it off I still have vivid memories of playing something on the Colecovsion.

If Cosmo Fighter 2 looks just like every other early 80's shooter game out there, that's because it is just like every other early 80's shooter game out there. Except that Cosmo Fighter 2 was made in 1997. As scary as it is to think that 1997 was more than ten years ago, it's even scarier to think that fifteen years after the heyday of games like Galaga there were still people out there not only making these games but using the word "spectacular" to describe them.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Day 115: Sonic Drift

Riddle me this: Why did Sega release their kart racer for the floundering Game Gear handled system instead of their wildly successful Genesis console? Not only would this have made for a much better game, it would have made for a game that people might have actually played.

With the word "drift" right there in the title, you might expect to do a lot of drifting. And you would be right. Once you master drifting, you can also expect to win most of your races very easily. Just look how far ahead of the other racers I am.

Sonic Drift doesn't offer a lot of depth. There are only four characters to choose from and power ups are limited to speed boost, temporary invincibility and spring jump and play a very small role. Yes, there are three cups with six races each for a grand total of eighteen tracks, but only the last three lap race lasted longer than 1:15, it clocking in at 1:40. I was able to play through the entire game in less than half an hour.

Given the Game Gears notoriously short battery life, maybe programmers felt they had to make the game as short as possible. But they still could have made it interesting.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Day 114: Velocipede

Velocipede is the true story of a man, his bicycle, and large quantities of hallucinogenic drugs.

The goal is to get to the beach, avoiding obstacles real and imagined. This is usually done by leaping or dodging. Think of it as Moon Patrol after leaving a Dutch coffee house.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Day 113: Bomberman Max

Bomberman Max is the Porsche Cayenne of video games. See, for years, Porsche had its thing. It made sports cars. They looked cool, they went fast and people liked them. Porsche made sports cars in the seventies when everyone else was making tiny little fuel efficient cars. They made sports cars in the eighties when everyone else was making minivans. The came a trend that Porsche just couldn't ignore. The SUV. So Porsche made an overpriced, butt ugly SUV.

For years, Bomberman had been pretty much the same game. It was unique, it was fun and people liked it. Bomberman remained basically the same game even when everyone else started making first person shooters. Then came a trend that Bomberman just couldn't ignore. Pokemon. So Bomberman became Bomberman Max, released in a red version and a blue version and full of cute little creatures to catch and trade.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Day 112: Knight Lore

Knight Lore is like one of those resorts that gives rooms names instead of numbers.

There's the Apple II room.

The Virtual Boy room.

Knight Lore even caters to alternate lifestlyes, like those who prefer a bed of nails to a comfy pillow top.

Most rooms are furnished.

Though a few are left bare for those who prefer a more spartan setting.

Regardless, you'll always find a little something special on your pillow when you arrive.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Day 111: Golvellius - Valley of Doom

To Whom It May Concern:

The League of Concerned Parents regrets to inform you that your game "Golvellius: Valley of Doom" does not meet our standards for video games and cannot be sold or marketed in the United States until the following changes are made.

The word "Doom" must be removed from the title. That word implies feelings or defeat and hopelessness, which plays right into the hands of the terrorists. We suggest replacing it with the word "Freedom." Also, some there was some confusion as to the meaning of the word "Golvellius." Some members of the board believed it to be nothing more than the name of a fictional location, while other feared it might have some satanic meaning. We suggest replacing it with "America" to avoid confusion and help instill a feeling of patriotism in our youngsters.

We also noticed early in the game testing that the protagonist always faced to the right, even when moving to the left. This is very reminiscent of the "moonwalk" made famous by known child molester and anti-American Michael Jackson. This "glitch" must be corrected before we allow any American children access to your game.

Several members of the board took exception to the protagonist's appearance. They felt his long green hair projected an anti-establishment attitude that would be unhealthy to expose to young children. Instead of a "cyberpunk," we feel you should use a hero with a more traditional, wholesome look.

We sincerely hope you are able to make these changes in time for the upcoming holiday season.

Best Wishes,
The League of Concerned Parents