Thursday, July 30, 2009

I, Gamer: Cobra DIEangle

Mike here, on my sophomore post and realizing I should give my rants a bit more substance than making them into pseudo-walkthroughs. I'll try to make this a bit more focused, and add a few images for the hell of it. I'd like to talk about another Rare game, a classic from the late 80's when they decided that making games meant to break and dissolve the sanity of anyone who may have been willing to try them. One in particular stands out from my childhood as being awesome yet so incredibly evil. It was Cobra Triangle, an action/racing title that takes place on what I'm almost sure is the River Styx.

The game has no apparent plot aside from you're on a boat motoring through various streams and canals. I wouldn't doubt that Rare sacrificed all storyline to cram as much challenge into the game as possible. The result is twenty-four increasingly hellish levels with various goals with eight different challenges throughout. The gameplay is something I can best describe as R.C. Pro-Am, a previous Rare title, set on water and with more variety aside from racing, though this game does have a few such levels. The racing bits are the easiest in my opinion, and I find this ironic because I usually suck at racing games in general. It's not that they're cakewalks, and there are a few mean parts where you're required to take a leap of faith and hope you don't land on solid ground (which instantly blows you up no matter how soft the surface looks), but compared to fight... say, a scary sea monster, like the one featured on the title screen, racing is nothing.

Hell, taking on the dragons or the sharks or the giant enemy crabs aren't even all that bad. At least you're able to continue on the spot if you have enough bonus lives. Also, it does not hurt to grab every power pod you can find. Acting in a power-up system quite similar to Gradius, you cycle through the power-ups of increased speed, more powerful guns, homing missiles, and temporary invincibility. Isn't it frustrating to know that all your efforts to succeed can be foiled by your time running out? This is likely to happen in the Reach the Finish levels, where logs and whirlpools of doom (which would also appear in level 5 of Battletoads), and later instant icicles all impede your progress. Or what about the Destroy the Mines levels, where you have to drag explosives into the safe area while dodging this obnoxious prick who keeps trying to steal them back from you? Though, perhaps the most hated of all stages are the ones where you have to... ugh, Guard the People.

You worthless little dipshits can sink for all I care. Why would you go swimming in waters inhabited by hostile enemy ships and UFOs?! No, that's not a mistake. Amidst the abductor boats are saucers that fire homing paralysis missiles at you, stopping you for a few seconds which is just enough time for the ships to run off with your precious human cargo. For the most part, the game's relatively fun, but these stages are just far more infuriating than they should be. Maybe it's just my inherent hatred of protection missions where you're the sole force against a bunch of immobile jackasses who can't be assed to even pick up a small weapon for defense. However, I think I hate the Jump the Waterfall levels even MORE than guarding the people.

You die so fast on these stages that it feels less like a challenge and more like a slaughter. It's bad enough the ramps that you need to hit to jump the falls move left and right and it takes intense reflexes and a dash of luck to hit the ramps, but some pipesqueezer* saw it fit to place whirlpools in front of most of the ramps to boot. You might as well strap a bloody bomb to the hull of the boat that explodes if you drop below forty miles per hour while swimming on toxic waters full of jagged metal! The difficulty in CT feels very artificial and arbitrary at sometimes, and it doesn't help that you only have three continues amongst whatever lives you can find. Hell, I used to think that this game had unlimited continues until I realized that I used a Game Genie to give me infinite tries... and I STILL quit on the damn thing! That's right, I couldn't even beat CT with a Game Genie, and until I do that, I can't even hope to take on the thing in earnest.

There are some bonus stages that offer you more lives and pods to marginally increase the odds of you getting to see the end of this game, which act as the game's only reveal of mercy. You are offered no quarter otherwise. Cobra Triangle is an ambitious game that ultimately collapses under its own crushing pressure. It may offer old-school arcade-style fun at a fast pace and without any narrative, but if you're aiming to actually clear all levels, you will have to be devoted to beating it as an insane cultist is to a false messiah. Now if you're simply aiming to achieve a high score and no further, then I would recommend this endurance test to see how far you can get. Only the most insane need apply to kick this game's entire ass, and while my mind's getting there, I'm not locked in the loony bin just yet. If there's any game that's going to send me there, I swear on a stack of Nintendo Power issues that this game will be the foremost factor.

(Thanks to GiantBomb for providing the images.)

[* = "Pipesqueezer is a dubious adjective taken from the animated Super Mario World show. How it got past the censors, I don't know, but it's become a favorite word of mine.]

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cybertroopers Virtual-Lawn

dai jou bu here. Haven't been able to do anything for the past week or so since I've been busy with real life lately!

Anyway, I found something quite odd while walking around in Sears. Since their logo kinda looks like Sega's it felt pretty weird when I found them selling a contraption like this in their store:

So yeah, some of you are probably thinking right now, "What does this lawn mower have to do with videogames?" Well, if you take a good look at the instruction sticker right between the spots where you place your feet when sitting down on the thing, steering this contraption is almost like controlling a Virturoid:

This lawn mower costs a little over 2000 dollars. And you thought Hori's asking price for their Xbox 360 Twin Sticks were expensive.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Otomedius Not-So-Gorgeous

The gaming room at Otakon rarely disappoints, and is usually a good way to spend a few hours of downtime. This year, they were sorely missing King of Fighters XI (and yet they bothered with the Sunsoft Fighters collection? Why?) but they did have a few Japanese Xbox 360s playing some shooters, including Death Smiles, Mamoru-kun Has Been Cursed! (I forget the Japanese title at the moment) and Otomedius G. I want a Japanese 360, but the prices are absurd and all I really want are these small number of shooters, so it was great to try them out.

Death Smiles is a Cave game, which should mostly speak for itself. It is sidescrolling, which I like, mostly just I feel more attuned to hori games than verts. You can fire either left or right, and there's cool lock-on shot, although I never quite figured out how the scoring system was supposed to work. It features redrawn sprites, which frankly look quite ugly, because they clash with the still-low-res backgrounds. I know some people balk at the whole goth-loli things, but it's handled in a far classier manner than Muchi Muchi "Do You Like Fat Chicks" Pork, where generously proportioned women pedal on a bicycle to fly through the sky.

I wish I could say more about Mamoru-kun, but I only got to play it during the customary Saturday night drunkenness, so I only have vague memories at what it was about. It's made by G.REV. and while it looks like Shikigami no Shiro (ie. quite ugly) it actually plays more akin to Pocky and Rocky, in that there's no forced scrolling, and the whole setting is very Japanese. I did put the soundtrack on my Zune later on, and it's quite peppy and enjoyable.

But this post is mostly about Otomedius, which is the one I was most excited about, especially with all of the Konami shooters I'd been playing lately for the article. I'd heard some negative reports about the game, and after spending some time with it, I'd kinda have to agree. The graphics clearly weren't designed for HD, making it look instead like a very crisp Dreamcast game. It's colorful, but compared to all of the details that went into the 2D Parodius games, it still can't help but feel a little bland. Compared to Sexy Parodius, it's not nearly sexy nor funny enough either. The character designs appear to exist just to draw people to it, but once you're out of the select screens, none of that actually applies ingame. I also found myself constantly underarmed, because upgrade orbs were sparse. Furthermore, unlike classic Gradius, it respawns your character automatically, and there's seemingly no way to disable it. Because of this, I spent most of the time with the standard pea shooters and a handful of options which, like Salamander and Gradius V, can be picked up after you die.

What I didn't realize is that I was playing on Gorgeous Mode. I was under the impression that this console-exclusive mode was the same as the Arcade Mode, just with a widescreen view (compared to the Arcade's 4:3) and some extra levels, but no - it actually REMOVES several elements from the Arcade Mode, including the D-Burst functionality, which is a method to obtain more power orbs. I guess Gorgeous Mode was an attempt to bring it back to classic Gradius, but with the instant respawn and badly balanced power-ups, I can't say thet did a good job.

Honestly, I can't condemn completely without having played the Arcade mode. Still, I'm not so sure the Gorgeous Mode is the only thing wrong with it. Mostly, the whole game just feels kinda dull, and the pacing seems sluggish. The levels just appear big and empty, even when I was playing on hard mode. It's sort of like R-Type Final compared to all of the other R-Types - with the claustrophobic elements removed, it doesn't feel like Gradius, and without the proper revamp of, say, Gradius V, it just doesn't work. Apparently it gets tougher at even higher difficulty levels or loops, which I guess could help.

There are other problems, too, apparently, like the repeated plays necessary to unlock some of the bonuses. There are plenty of extra weapons to purchase, although I don't know precisely how that's done. And they also appear to be gravely overcharging on DLC for extra characters (400 points per, that's a whole game of Geometry Wars!), as well as new levels and music packs. I guess the only reason Konami bothered to port this was to ride the success of Idolm@aster on the 360 and its ability to exploit the otaku chump crowd.

At any rate, Daijoubu is currently working on a fuller article for HG101 on Otomedius. He has a more positive impression than I do, and benefits from actually owning the game and spending more than an hour with it, so perhaps his review will come off less dour than this little write-up.

Japanese Arcades July 2009 (Daemon Blade)'s Tokyo Rude: King of Fighters XII was a complete failure. It was released, last month right? It's almost non-existent in arcades now. I can find the arcade release of King of Fighters 2002 Ultimate more easily than KoFXII. There's also some lone guy playing the computer at KoF2002U, and I think I'm the only one that plays XII at the arcade closest to my house (which doesn't have 2002U.)

Sketcz: I thought it would be interesting to disseminate the decent posts of other people I find on the internet, since all too often an insightful comment, interesting story or worthwhile piece of text will be forgotten in obscurity on some small forum, surrounded by the feverish banality of a billion internet voices all shouting about absolutely nothing.

Tokyo Rude wrote:
Another update about a country none of you live in. I've once again found this information pretty interesting.

King of Fighters XII was a complete failure. It was released? last month right? It's almost non-existent in arcades now. I can find the arcade release of King of Fighters 2002 Ultimate more easily than KoFXII. There's also some lone guy playing the computer at KoF2002U, and I think I'm the only one that plays XII at the arcade closest to my house (which doesn't have 2002U.)

I think Tekken 6 fever is finally dying down. The most surprising thing about Tekken was the people that actually bought cards for it had a win/loss ratio of roughly 50%. This was almost every one that played the game. This pretty much reflects my opinions on Tekken, as I've always gotten halfway bored with it.

Virtua Fighter VR revision whatever is pretty mixed. Half the arcades no one will be playing it and the other half it'll be packed. Street Fighter IV has probably the best luck, with lots of Ryu and Zangiefs to go around.

Not even going to go into the Gundam games.

Though, Daemon Blade appeared on the scenes this week. I hadn't even heard of this sucker before, google tells me it's the Arcana Heart guys. I haven't played it, but stood and watched it at every arcade I've seen it at.

It looks roughly like a Saturn fighting game. I seem to remember Arcana Heart having a little more graphical muscle. As for the characters What the hell?. Oh okay, I guess that's not actually the main character or whatever. So less moe~ more garish design trainwreck.

I'll play this game tomorrow and actually report with opinons on how it plays, and not that it looks like a Guilty Gear level of cluster fuck I don't want to understand.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Digital Distribution and Japan

Digital distribution is either the savior of the video game industry or a vile scourge, depending on who you ask. I hate it for all the reasons people tend to bring up, so I'm not going to regurgitate them here. What does interest me is a comment I read/heard somewhere, and I wish I could remember where so it doesn't seem like I'm pulling things outta nowhere. Apparently the Japanese are wary of digital downloads because they don't trust it, and would rather have physical goods. It's interesting to hear this applied, because if you try to poll America or anything else, I don't think you'd get a straight, consistent answer. It might be a huge over generalization - apparently the Japanese iTunes is also making a killing over there, although the markets are completely different - but let's for a moment say it's true. So the question is, why would that be the case?

I think the PC game market has a lot to do with it. Ever since the appearance of hard disks, gamers no longer needed their floppies unless they needed to reinstall, and usually just kept packaging around for copy protection purposes. Eventually CDs required use of the media to play the game, but within another decade or so, hard drives became so large that nearly all games just copied themselves entirely to the computer anyway, with the CD/DVD only been used for irritating copy protection. And with that has come an increasingly annoying number of disc-based DRM schemes like Securom (aggrvating but not terrible) and Starforce (The Devil in the form of a rootkit.)

It's more than just that - the packaging for PC games has become all but non-existant. In the days long past, Infocom games would come with tons of near little extras. Sierra games also usually had fun little supplemental material - Space Quest in particular had a made-up tabloid. But then as time marches on and the emerging management class wanted to cut costs, these went away. Now many PC games are in small, generic cardboard boxes, which can't even afford the decency to put the disc in a jewel case, opting instead for a sleeve. You're lucky if you get an instruction manual that's not a PDF. There are still games that cone in thick DVD-style cases, but even those are sad. Last year, Xbox 360 gamers complained about the release of Lost Oddysey, where three of its four DVDs were stacked on a single spindle, and the fourth in a paper sleeve wedged into the instruction manual. Little did they realize this was commonplace amongst PC games. Futhormore, there's no marketplace for used PC games (outside of Amazon and the like online, which are a bit shifty due to DRM), so people don't assign "value" to them like they would console games, to be traded at Gamestop or elsewhere. The long and short of this has taught PC gamers that physical media is not only a hassle, but also worthless.

Now, we're seeing the PC and console markets merging together even closer, especially with the dominance of Western games in the marketplace, so it's natural that some of that PC mentality would blend in. Japan, however, doesn't even remotely have the same PC game market. As mentioned several times elsewhere, it consists entirely of (A) Western games (B) a small selection of Falcom stuff, and (C) porn. The markets haven't merged in the same way, because that market is tiny to begin with.

I think another big difference has to do with the fanbase, and how Japanese companies (I can't think of a nicer word) exploit them. For a lot of them, their products diversify far beyond games, moving into art books, soundtracks, manga, figures, and any number of assorted trinkets. Part of being a fan is part of being a community, and with that mentality, comes a lot of collecting, which by virtue involves material goods. That, of course, includes the game itself, or any other games in the series. And with this spawned the huge collectors item releases. Take that aspect away, and what do you get? By comparison, digital distibution is remarkably unfulfilling.

(As a tangent, some of that mentality is bleeding over to the Western audience, although not in the same way. "Limited editions" are becoming more prevalent than before, but Japanese special editions are usually a lot more than a tin case and bonus disc, and are usually a lot more expensive too. The only Western game that really tried this on the same scale is the Halo 3 Legendary Edition, which performed rather underwhelmingly. You're seeing this sort of things being marketed more and more over in the US - the soundtracks from Sumthing Else, or the Capcom artbooks from Udon - but it's not nearly to the same scale as Japan, and I have no idea if they're even profitable. )

So I don't think it's a case of cultural sensibilities getting in the way. Rather, it's just the nature of the marketplaces in the respective territories that have conditioned consumers in a certain manner. I'm sure the corporations realize this, and know that change can't come overnight, and will try forcing it on us anywhere, hoping that time will sway people. I sure hope it doesn't.


Sketch brought up a point I completely neglected - compared to the rest of the modern world, Japan kinda hates credit cards and are, comparatively speaking, more of a cash-based society. Why, I don't know - it's a whole other topic - but that alone would obviously make people wary about buying little ones and zeros over the internet. It's definitely one of the main reasons for the existence of prepaid cards. (The whole ordeal also makes shopping there as a tourist extremely aggravating, and it doesn't help that most of their ATMs don't take foreign cards...)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Suda 51 and Wild Palms

New York Times says: An acid freak’s fantasy, drenched in paranoia and more pop-culture allusions than a Dennis Miller monologue

So I’ve got myself a modded Wii and I’m playing the American version of No More Heroes (because the UK version was butchered by the censors – those bastards), and it made me think again about the similarities between Suda 51’s work and the Oliver Stone creation, Wild Palms. (If you’re wondering why these screengrabs look so grainy, I thought it would be cool to give them a kind of Sega CD vibe)

Is that a rhino in your pool?

For those who’ve never seen it, Wild Palms was a surreal, abstract, Twin Peaks styled Sci-Fi TV-series and/or film trilogy from 1993 (depending on which country you saw it in – South Africa’s MNet ran it has a multipart film over three days). It’s about 280 minutes long. That’s about 4 and a half hours. It was produced by Oliver Stone and written by Bruce Wagner (apparently he based it on a comic strip he’d written prior, says Wikipedia), and it starred James Belushi and Kim Cattrall, long before she started having Sex in the City.

Do not trust the TV sets, and old ghosts come to life through holograms

And damn, was it one helluva weird film. WEIRD.

I’ve not played Suda’s earlier works such as Moonlight Syndrome and Silver Case (both on PS1), but Killer 7, Flower Sun and Rain, and now No More Heroes, all bear striking similarities, both thematically and stylistically, to Wild Palms. As an aside, Michigan: Report from Hell doesn’t really bear much resemblance to any of the above – though it’s still an interesting and extremely weird game.

A woman in white with a blood stain will show the way

The story of Wild Palms follows Henry Wyckoff as he slowly slips into madness, tormented by dreams involving a rhinoceros in his swimming pool, terrorists living under his pool, a global conspiracy to control society via TV, drug addiction, murder, and shocking secrets about his past, his family, and the history of America. I’m going to say it’s the biggest mind**** I have ever watched, and although I’ve never read any interview that says Suda 51 actually watched it himself, Wild Palms has the kind of insane, incestuous plot twists that he’d seriously get off on if he did.

I’d like to mention more, to encourage you to watch it, but to reveal anything would spoil the surprise.

In the rough part of town, Henry goes to a place called Hungry Ghosts to find the truth


The biggest comparison is obviously that Wild Palms and Killer 7 both feature swimming pools with secret chambers under them, plus the fact that most of Suda’s games contain palm trees, but there’s a lot more going on beyond the plainly visual. It also has to be said that games like Flower, Sun and Rain also borrow heavily from films like Groundhog’s Day.

Wild Palms deals with the subversion of reality, of not knowing what is real and what is virtual. In Suda’s games you’re constantly given the impression of being in a semi-dream state, and made to question reality.

There’s that rhino again

In all works there are strong themes relating to corporate and media evil. Can you really trust those in charge? Not really. Visually we have TV sets, broadcasting subliminal messages and housing the personalities of other people. In Wild Palms, the people in your TV are able to step out and touch you.

In a way, No More Heroes’ Travis Touchdown and Flower, Sun and Rain’s Sumio Mondo both mirror Henry Wyckoff, as unknowing pawns getting into things deeper than they can understand.

This man will die by swallowing a fist

Here’s a spotlist of things off the top of my head I’ve seen in Wild Palms and Suda’s works:
* visual metaphors
* churches
* god complexes
* immortality
* media control
* subliminal messaging
* possessed TV sets
* blind people made to see
* kids with knives
* drugs and serums
* holograms
* amnesia and the loss of one’s thoughts
* virtual reality and artificial worlds as real as this one
* woman in a white dress with a giant blood stain
* humans disintegrating in particle explosions (though, Lawnmower Man also did this)
* being unable to wake from a dream
* LA surrealism
* celebrity worship
* strange, eccentric characters
* terrorism
* paranoia, and a world on the brink of chaos and revolution
* lies, deception, trickery and enough red herrings to make your head hurt
* Obviously... palm trees

There’s more, A LOT MORE, and Killer 7’s narrative alone warrants its own article, but if you like any of Suda 51’s games, or the themes or characterisations found within, then you should really track down Wild Palms on DVD and watch it. Even if there isn’t actually a connection with Suda 51, Wild Palms is worth watching in its own right.

Just don’t expect to come away understanding everything.

PS: Oh, and if you’re a member of the press interviewing him, for god’s sake, ask him about this!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Battletoads: A Brief View

Hey all. Mike here, also known as "sotenga" on that wacky Internet. I talked to Kurt about whatever I could write for a post, so I asked him "can I write about Battletoads?" He more or less approved the idea as long as it was relatively focused. I figured I'd give it some focus by looking at all twelve levels of the infamous Rare platformer. So, without further to do, here be a quick look at all twelve levels of Battletoads!

1: Ragnarok's Canyon = Beat up the baddies and trash the Big Walker at the end!

Straightforward beat-em-uppery applies here. There's not all that much to it; just beat on the pigs and walkers and dragons until they give up; or, alternatively, jump on one of the dragons and ride them around! The only serious danger is being booted off the waterfall. Other than that, I'm sure most gamers could at least pass this level if they tried well enough. The Big Walker at the end is a joke; just stay out of its way and toss the rocks back at it. Really, it's not all that bad.

2: Wookie Hole = Descend into a vertical cavern while taking care of the crows, plants, and robots on the way!

If you want to survive the rest of the game, it pays to do well here. If you hit one of the crows enough times, he gives a free 1-up. If you do this with several crows, you'll have lots lives to supplant you for much of the game. It can be hard to juggle the jerks, but it's a bit easier if you get one of the "beak blades" from one of the crows that can snip your rope and kill you instantly. To destroy the plants, the "Wrecking Ball" attack where you launch from the wall works wonders. The only big challenge I find in this stage is avoiding the laser gates; other than that, this one's not too bad. Though, I usually restart if I don't get enough lives from the crows.

3: Turbo Tunnel = After whomping a few antagonists on foot, take up the Speeder and blaze through a tunnel lined with momentum-halting walls!

THE stage that everyone knows and fears, the TT is daunting to many people, and I can see why. However, if you play through the stage enough times and have a decent reaction time, it's really not THAT bad. Oh, it's still bad enough, but later stages are much worse than this. Just keep your eyes peeled for the floating blue walls and ramps, stay back and leap over the mini-rockets, and just keep going up-and-down rapidly through the final segment. I'll admit that last part still trips me up, but if you've got a good rhythm to it, you'll pass through it eventually. Oh, and if you want to skip the next level, run into the tenth wall at the final segment. ;)

4: Arctic Caverns = Slip and slide through a geological nightmare while avoiding malicious snowmen and spiky crystals!

THIS one is harder than the Turbo Tunnel in my opinion. Slippery ice invariably makes for an obnoxious stage in a platformer, and that's no exception here, particularly with all of the instant death spikes and killer snowmen about. To break down the gates, you either need to toss ice cubes at them, throw snowballs, or coax a snowman into throwing the balls for you. Jumping straight up halts your slide, but be careful of spikes overhead. And for the love of jeebus, don't stand next to the snowmen for more than a second. This is a frustrating stage; all I can recommend is to keep practicing it to know where all of its traps buggle you.

5: Surf City = Ride the waves over logs, whirlpools, and mines, and kick Big Blag's bubble butt!

The surf parts, while odd to control and suitably annoying, aren't too bad in my opinion. They're like the Turbo Tunnel but a bit slower. Granted, the mines in the second bit are instantly fatal and can be tough to dodge sometimes, but there's an infinitely-spawning 1-up in that segment which dulls the sting of losing, so I can deal with it. What DOES cheese me off is the mid-section where you fight against Big Blag, who is a damn cheater. You die INSTANTLY if you get crushed beneath his heft, and he pokes you with his tail if he gets close to you. I'd say keep far away from him until you see a good opportunity to run forth and smash him with a headbutt. If you're uber-bold, you can juggle him with several headbutts, but screwing up this chain results in a death squish. Blag will likely lose you a couple of lives, but if you beat him, the rest of the stage (with the aforementioned mines) is not that bad to me.

6: Karnath's Lair = Board several giant snakes who refuse to take a straight exit through spike-laden caverns!

This stage is MEAN, and it takes some quick reflexes (and a bit of prior practice, especially in the last segment) to win the deal. The first segment is a breather; there aren't even any spikes you can die upon. The snakes themselves cannot harm you, only annoy you with all the bends and loops they take. However, all snakes follow the exact same pattern every time, and once you realize their movements, you'll pass the first bit. The second bit has some spikes, but I don't find it too bad either. It's the third part where you have to worry, as one slip-up means instant death. There's also a really mean jump you have to make between two spikes at some point, and the snakes get really fast at the end. The last segment is just nasty; one bit forces you to cling on a snake until the very last millisecond so you can land on it while you're being threatened with a spike ball above. It will take practice and technique, perhaps even a bit of trial and error, but it IS beatable.

7: Volkmire's Inferno = Jump on logs to avoid landing in a dubious purple substance and ride aero jets through electric barriers, fireballs, and concussion missiles!

This level is the Turbo Tunnel's bigger and meaner brother; even the starting segment on foot where you have to leap upon logs can be a bit tricky, though not too bad with good timing. However, riding the jet is a part that takes some fast maneuvering and a bit of trial-and-error memorization to clear. The initial barriers aren't bad, the fireballs I honestly don't find too tough (look for a 1up), and the missiles are best avoided by staying in the middle of the screen (though you get another 1up near the top of the screen near the end of the missile assault). But the last two segments involve some wicked gate-flying, some of which open and close just as they appear. The very last move you need involves VERY precise movement to pass, and it can take a few tries, so stay focused and keep trying until it works. Tough, but passable.

8: Intruder Excluder = Robot sentries, deadly gas, electricity, and killer fans all impede your upward climb to the top of the shaft where Robo Manus awaits!

The fact that it's relatively easy to fall to your death constantly may seem daunting, but this level isn't too bad in my opinion. The instant death gas sucks, but they're easily punctuated in how they blow. The robots' bolts can be ducked under even when you're RIGHT next to them. And if you're an experienced platform gamer, jumping shouldn't be too much of an ordeal. Just be careful with accidentally double-tapping, initiating a run off into the void as I've done sometimes. Robo Manus is a tough fight, but I think he's a bit easier than Big Blag. It's instant death for getting jumped on, and nigh-instant if hit with his machine gun, but he always fires it every time he jumps and it can be ducked under. He moves more as he takes more damage, so get it as many sequential headbutts as you can early on. From there, just do your best to be careful and headbutt him as he's coming down from a jump but before he fires. Once you beat him, take some aspirin. You will need it.

9: Terra Tubes = It's the obligatory sewer level! PRAY!!!

This. Level. Sucks. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it. The robots explode and kill you instantly if you don't hit them fist first. The wheels kill you instantly and it sometimes takes more than one life to figure out where they stop. The orange fish can very easily bump you into a spike and kill you instantly. The sharks can attack you quickly and kill you nigh-instantly. The eels can petrify you and have you fall onto a spike which will kill you instantly. The rubber ducks KILL YOU INSTANTLY AND ARE INVINCIBLE... though they can be stunned. So, if you don't get the idea, EVERYTHING CAN KILL YOU INSTANTLY IN THIS F@#$ING STAGE. All I can really offer for advice is... keep trying. Hell, cheat with a level skip and practice this stage repeatedly until you can do it without losing more than ten lives. Just do your best, and good luck. If you beat it, the rest of the game pales in comparison. Still a massive challenge, though. What, you expected a BREAK? This is BATTLETOADS. You will DIE. So very MUCH. IT HAPPENS. DEAL WITH IT.

... whoo, sorry about that. On to the last quarter!

10: Rat Race = Beat Scuzz to the bomb before he flips the killswitch and beat the snot out of General Slaughter at the finish line!

This is an incredibly frustrating stage, albeit with a novel concept. You have to run down three vertical shafts and kick off the bomb lying at the bottom, beating your rival Scuzz to it. The first two races aren't too bad, they simply require some savvy B-Toad maneuvering down a conveniently-patterned set of gaps. However, the third race is frustratingly tough and almost requires a flawless run down the gaps. There is a trick that you can time to benefit your odds; if Scuzz is in your line of sight, running and headbutting him will bounce him up, causing him to jump over and miss the gap until he runs back across it. Other than that, it'll probably take you a few tries to do it right. Get through it and you fight General Slaughter at the bottom; he's about as tough as Robo Manus, though without the gunfire. He gets faster the more you beat him up, so keep your eyes peeled about where he'll head after you bounce him into the air. Getting crushed is death, of course, so it might take a few lives, but he'll collapse eventually.

Level 11: Clinger Wingers = Speed across a zany course with more turns than a revolving door and get revenge on your pursuer, the Hypno Orb!

There is honestly no advice I can give about the racing portion of the stage. You have to hold your d-pad in the direction in which you're heading, and you'll have to change this direction many many times. Just don't stop holding under any circumstance and change direction the instant you drive over a corner. All it takes is a pair of laser-focused eyeballs to win. The Hypno Orb at the end is a boss who's relatively easy compared to most other big bads in the game; it can shock you with just a touch, but it is pretty easy to trap in the corner and score several hits. Just be careful when it starts bouncing high to instantly crush you. I personally think this stage is a breather before the vicious final level.

Level 12: The Revolution = The Dark Queen beckons your presence a mile above terra firma, and all that stands between you and her is a massive tower rife with death!

This is a very damn hard final level, but at least it's not total bullshit like the Terra Tubes. It's a bit lax with checkpoints and final lives, though, so you need to be on your best game to destroy it. There aren't too many segments that require advance knowledge to pass; what you see is as it is. It takes many jumps on springs to reach the top, some of which move around. The yellow rhinos can be annoying, but not as bad as the red ones which devour you for a whole life. Also, the cloud blow instant death bubbles, but their pattern of flying repeatedly around the tower is easy to see. There's not much else I can say, other than the Dark Queen cheats frequently with her tornado-morphing ability and can be nigh-impossible to avoid at times. Oh, and, but of of course, you die if she lands on you. Just make the final fight a battle of attrition and don't give up, keep on fighting until victory is yours!

... hmm... well, despite being "quick," this took me a while to write. Don't that beat all? Oh well, hope you enjoyed my examination of Battletoads. Makes me think I should write an article on the series someday. Until then, this is Mike, slightly less sane for having beaten the damn game. Twice, even. I don't expect you to believe me, but I can't open my head to show you the mental scars I've suffered from it. :D

Friday, July 24, 2009

Monkey Island and Me

Like most folks, I got hooked on the point n' click adventure genre with The Secret of Monkey Island. Sure, I'd dabbled in it throughout my youth - various Marvel superhero themed text adventures on the Atari 400 (before I could even type properly), Kings Quest and assorted Infocom games on the Apple IIc, and the likes of Maniac Mansion and Shadowgate on the NES. But Monkey Island was easiest the most I'd ever laughed at a video game. I didn't have a PC at the time, but I rented the Sega CD version, and managed to enjoy it despite the long and aggravating load times. Between it and Wing Commander (which also had an iffy Sega CD port, though I didn't realize it at the time), I desperately wanted my parents to ditch that crappy old Apple II for an IBM PC, mostly so I could play their respective sequels.

Later that year, my dad got a 486/33 Compaq, and I was ecstatic. In addition to happening upon the brilliance of Sam & Max Hit the Road - unaware they were also made by Lucasarts - I tracked down Monkey Island 2 a few months later to much elation.

I was actually a little bit disappointed in it.

I'm not exactly sure why, to be honest. I remember I was distraught and confused over the ending, and some recent googling around has shown me that I wasn't alone. I also didn't think it was quite as funny, which I sort of agree with, but I think Monkey Island 2 is a much better game overall. I think, line for line, the original game might have some slightly better dialogue. And most of the interesting characters from Monkey Island 2 were carryovers from the previous games (Stan, the Men of Low Moral Fiber, the Voodoo Lady, etc.) Wally only became retroactively interesting after his appear in Curse of Monkey Island, and Largo isn't so much funny as a plain old jerk.

I do like the situational humor a lot more, like the general silliness of the costume party or the whole Governor Phatt (fat lol) thing. The game in general is much brighter, with more varied locales, and feels less claustrophobic than the original. A lot of the atmosphere is also conveyed with the amazing soundtrack. The first Monkey Island game had some great music, but it was sparse, and huge chunks of it are played in silence. Monkey Island 2 was the first game that used the iMUSE system, which perfectly transitions the music from screen to screen. Every screen in Woodtick village has a unique melody, each of which exemplifies its inhabitants but the town in general. I've been humming the various themes for the past week, much to the annoyance of everyone around me.

I still don't think it's quite as funny - one of my favorite parts of the first game was barging into Meathook's house and senselessly mocking him for no great reason. I also loved the insult swordfights, although not so much anymore. I've appreciated some other jokes more though - for some reason, the idea that the Monkey Island inhabitants communicates passive aggressively through a series of notes is oddly funny now, though I didn't quite get it back then.

People's sense of humor (and perceptions in general) tends to change over time. Upon my recent playthrough, I liked Space Quest V a lot more now than I did when I was younger, which I also had felt paled to its predecessor. Of course, this is one of the big reasons I've been replaying all of these old adventure games from my youth. Revisiting old media can be preyty dangerous, considering a lot of the cartoons and movies I loved as a child don't quite hold up (with occasional exception of something like The Goonies), but I'm actually finding new appreciation in my (somewhat) older age, rather than disdain.

I'd be lying if I said that nostalgia didn't play a part in this, though. Our first online service was Prodigy, and I got hooked on the message boards, where I joined The Monkey Island Fan Club and posted under the name Muad'dib, having just seen the Dune movie. We actually got together to design a theoretical Monkey Island 3, since the previous game ended on a (sorta) cliffhanger and Curse wasn't coming for at least four more years. I'm sure they're lost now, but I wish I could dig up those old text files. They were probably awful, much like anything you would do when you're thirteen, but it would've been cool to see how it compared to the real sequel.

Top 50 Games

Hey all! This is Matt B., AKA Onyx. I'm actually taking a position of contribution here at HG101! I know, I know. Shock and awe.

Dual and I were talking about a top 50 games list in the HG101 IRC channel a few days ago and I think it'd be a pretty ambitious project to do. Not to mention a massive undertaking. Note that this would be a personal Top 50 list and wouldn't be representative of the community or even the staff's opinions. Just my own.

The plan is to gather my thoughts, look through my various collections, replay some stuff, and then narrow down things to a good 50 games. Then the hard part begins: ranking them.

Once I have an order down I'm happy with, I think I'll do write-ups on them in chunks of five or ten, probably with pictures of the older games that I can take screencaps of.

Needless to say, I think this will be very difficult. For older games, I'm going to have to replay them to see if nostalgia plays a part. For newer games, I'll have to see if they survive being something more than just flavor of the week and are truly great games, not just games I'm really enjoying at the time.

As an update, I have about 75 games on this list so far, and this is just from Nintendo consoles, PC, and Arcade (including Neo Geo). I haven't even gotten to Sony, Sega, or Microsoft consoles yet. But I can tell you the way it works is that I'll probably put what I think is the definitive version of the game as the sole entry, including all ports, revisions, etc. For example, if I put Street Fighter II on, it'd be represented by Super Street Fighter II Turbo, or if I put Final Fantasy V, it'd be represented by the Game Boy Advance port.

That's all I got for now.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Intro to the Japanese Doujin Music Scene

It's always fun comparing the fan communities of different cultures. Both Western and Japanese fans have a fairly high creative output, producing web sites, comics, video games, and, of course, music. Which brings us to today's topic - doujin music CDs.

The biggest difference between Western and Japanese fan communities is that the latter can actually sell their goods. America in general is a much more litigious society, but they're willing to turn a blind eye to fan creations as long as the material in question isn't for profit. On the other hand, the Japanese have a whole economy driven by copyright infringement. This mostly results in huge amounts of porn featuring popular characters, as well as unofficial video game spinoffs (see Duo Princess, an action game featuring the characters of Square's Threads of Fate, or Elepaper Action, a beat-em-up starring the girls from Read or Die.) Naturally, this applies to remixed music CDs, too. OCRemix releases its arrangements for free, because they have to, but that doesn't apply to Japanese remix circles. (There have been exceptions with Western groups selling albums, like Project Majestic Mix and its Final Fantasy arrangements, or OneUp Studios releases of some Yasunori Mitsuda and Sega tribute albums awhile back, but they actually went through the proper legal channels to license the tracks.)

Much of the actual content is similar, of course. If you wade through all of the various doujin circles, you'll be overwhelmed by Mega Man, Chrono Trigger, and countless arrangements of Final Fantasy battle themes. It is a good way to find new and interesting stuff outside of the video game music mainstream (yes, such a thing exists!), which is largely what makes the doujin video game music scene so appealing. You'll find that a lot of them have huge appreciation for Romancing SaGa, a series all but disdained outside the country, along with tributes to companies like Sega, Cave or Falcom, or themed albums based on various genres like fighters or shooters. There are also an ABSURD amout of Touhou CDs - it's quite boggling how popular the series is. (I haven't heard much of the arranged music, but the OSTs are quite good.)

Doujin albums are also a lot cheaper than official music CDs, often wavering between 1000-1500 yen, as opposed to the 2500-3000 yen usually commanded in record stores for official CDs. Furthermore, the days of extensive officially sanctioned arranged music CDs of the 90s are long gone, with only an occasional one trickling out, so not only do doujin CDs fill a niche, but they do it quite cheaply too. (There was apparently a case where a Mega Man rock CD called Megalomania was pulled around the time that Capcom was releasing their own similarly styled albums, but I don't know the details or what became of it. I actually do own the album, though, and will probably review it in the future.)

The problem is, finding these CDs for Westerners is often quite difficult. Most regular albums can be found at, but doujin albums aren't even sold at regular record stores, instead inhabiting conventions like Comiket or anime good stores like Toranoana, who refuse to ship overseas to dirty, ignorant foreigners. So, much like all doujin goods, anyone outside of Japan usually just resorts to pirating them. Occasionally you can find them at places like,, or, and eBay can occasionally yield them too, especially from the seller champ_des_pins. But their selection is spotty and shipping can be killer at some of them. A CD that should be $10 quickly jumps up to $25 when markup and shipping is accounted for.

Now that we've got some background, please look forward to some doujin music CD reviews in the future! Places like occasionally have tracklists and such, but I've never really found any place that reviewed them, so I'm hoping to fill in the gap, at least a little bit.

Welcome to your doom?

So hey! Welcome to the Hardcore Gaming 101 blog. This is another experiment I've been thinking about implementing for quite awhile now. I'm actually not a huge fan of blogs - I have nothing against reading them, but they tend to lack permanence as compared to an old-school website, as the post become more and more buried (and irrelevant) as time goes on. Still, sometimes I'll end up writing some stuff that isn't detailed enough to post in an article, but I'd still like to put up somewhere. The same goes for a lot of people who want to contribute articles but don't have the time to deal with the rigorous requirements for comprehensiveness and screenshots. So hopefully this blog will be an entertaining read - I mostly intend to put up comments and reviews of stuff I'm playing at the moment, and maybe compile them into fuller articles in the future. We'll see how this goes!