Sunday, October 30, 2011

Articles to read / games to play on Halloween

October 31st is drawing menacingly near, and once again its the season to scare away greedy children, drink blood and get out your favourite horror movies, books and games. Just in case you've grown sick of all of them, try some of these suggestions. Yes, we do have a convenient list of all the horror games covered on Hardcore Gaming 101, but some entries lend themselves better to the Halloween atmosphere than other. Here are my recommendations:

Sanitarium convinces through its constant eerie atmosphere and creepy imagery rather than thrilling shock effects, which makes it the perfect fit for the occasion. In an early area, a whole village populated by mutilated children, you even get to explore an overgrown pumpkin patch.

Bad Mojo
Easily one of the most disgusting games ever, Bad Mojo transforms you into a cockroach to explore the darkest corners of your home.

Sure, Halloween is kinda about horror, but getting stalked by a group of children consisting of Wednesday Addams, the Frankenstein monster and Donatello from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles gives it a distinct cartoonish quality. Here comes Darkstalkers, where Little Red Riding Hood kills Mummies with machine guns.

Monster Party
Halloween is one big Monster Party, and that's why this game delivers the title image for this post. Hitting the same comical vein as Darkstalkers, this is one NES game you'd never have expected 1989's Nintendo of America to allow it to slip through their insane content control.

Few games are darker than Nocturne. LITERALLY, so you better bring a good screen to play it. With B-Movie charme and colorful characters, it entertains just as much as it scares. It even was released on Halloween 1999.

Another funny game, only this time it's involuntarily so. Roberta Williams' foray into the horror genre isn't really a good game, but at least its hilariously bad, and it's effects look like something you would come up with for your Halloween pranks.

Starring a Jason Vorhees-lokalike that tears up demons in his spare time, this is the most morbid 16-bit action game series.

Sweet Home
It's a painfully archetypical horror plot: A group of people come to a haunted house they'd best stay as far away to as they could, and of course they decide to explore it instead. Although Sweet Home was only released in Japan, there are several patches to play it in English. Don't watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show this year, play Sweet Home.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Update 10/29 - Que Pasa, Perro?, Ultima IV - VI, Princess Tomato, VGM Poll Results, Faselei!, Neugier, Video Game Books, Mission: Impossible

We've actually got three (3) feature-type articles this update! First off is Que Pasa, Perro?, an early 80s-style graphic text adventure, which is downloadable and completely playable. It's entirely in Spanish, but also ridiculously silly. The 1000 Top Video Game Music Tracks Of All Time per our poll last month has also been collected together into a proper page, complete with Youtube links. I initially had a plan to assemble MP3s for all them, build a Youtube playlist, and write brief descriptions for each of the Top 100, and that may yet happen, but it's not going to be for a good awhile. And also, we have a new running feature about Video Game Books, where we review...well, video game books, old and new, English and other languages. There's not nearly enough proper books devoted to video games (that's why we wrote one), so they deserve to be catalogued a bit better than they are now.

For proper articles, the next installment in Ultima is up, which covers Quest of the Avatar (IV) through The False Prophet (VI). The earlier games have also been updated with some new pictures. Faselei! is a unique strategy game for the Neo Geo Pocket Color, which is thankfully available in English despite (apparently) not having seen a proper release in North America due to the total (and unfortunate) failure of the system. Neugier is one of the many action-RPGs for the Super Famicom, this one developed by the infamous Wolf Team, although this one never reached the US. Mission: Impossible (1998) covers the N64/PSOne game based on the Tom Cruise movie, and while it's not great, it is a good example of a pre-Metal Gear Solid stealth game. And Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom is a silly adventure game from Hudson, mostly known to English gamers for the NES port, but was actually a PC-based text adventure from years before. The graphic style is absolutely bonkers, similar to Que Pasa, Perro?

Our Spotlight Article is Radiant Silvergun, which was released on the XBLA a few weeks back. Apparently it's not doing so well? It's unfortunate, because it's a great game, but perhaps the 1200 MS price point was too high, especially since Ikaruga is not only newer but also slightly better, and still goes for 800. Nevertheless, that's still at least 1/10th of the price it had costs to get a legit copy of the Saturn game, which is an insane bargain still. And Your Weekly Kusoge is Sprung, a dating sim released at the launch of the DS, and is easily the most embarassing game that I own that isn't Bubsy 3D.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The pros and cons of developer-fan communication(or lack thereof), and keeping the niche alive.

(Shameless rip from the XSeed Blog, a group of crazy fans and developers that I have much respect for.)

Sometimes developers aren't just gamers: they're fans too. A forum poster of this very site, a self-professed Falcom Fanatic, is pretty much living the dream by helping XSeed localize the games he knows and loves, as well as many other niche gems that might otherwise never have a prayer of seeing release in the US.

Like most gaming fans, developers have likes too, and sometimes they even join in on discussions of their favorite titles, even if it's also partially business.

Sometimes, this practice shows that publishers really do have love for their fans, especially when a release is very much a labor of love, such as Corpse Party's pending US release. If it weren't for an XSeed employee's love of the game, which lead him to show the game around the office, it probably would never be coming out here.

Unfortunately, sometimes, staff being overly accessible to fans can also have disastrous results.
A simple comment from one employee to a fan can rapidly lead from one thing to another, and before anyone knows it, rumors and misinformation run wild.

The situation in question: a member of XSeed's staff, also a member of the NeoGAF message board, commented about the immense effort that translating the second chapter of Trails in the Sky will require, which is reportedly an ongoing effort. This lead to rampant speculation of the game's release being unlikely or even impossible, and still others thinking that XSeed staff were 'blaming the fans' for not supporting the original enough and encouraging them to get others to support the first chapter's release.

(While XSeed is a relatively small company, especially compared to big-time publishers like Activision and Sega, this just makes them all the more reliant on the support of their fans. Maybe a show of support for the little guys trying to help more obscure gems get noticed by gamers isn't too much to ask.)

Of course, even bigger teams like Sega have their communication avenues. Nearly everyone from indie developers to the likes of Tim Schafer frequently use twitter to collaborate and occasionally bicker with fans, which leads to no small amount of rumor-mongering and drama.
(Such as the recent incident with an IGN reviewer being called out on rushing through a game by its developer via a twitter argument, which then lead to the review in question getting modified.)

Sega, for instance, used this avenue to reveal to the beleaguered Valkyria Chronicles community that the third game, a PSP exclusive, almost certainly won't be getting localized; an even bigger shame since it's supposed to be a return to series form which the sequel drastically deviated from.

When it all comes down to it, even though there's guaranteed to be complaint and even organized movements among fans who want their voices heard, sometimes it's better to know then to be left wondering.

Personally, I'd rather know VC3 is a doomed effort, as opposed to being left in the dark for years on end, such as Atlus USA has done with its parent company's long-running Growlanser series.

Career Soft, a second party of Atlus, has been keeping Growlanser going for years, and we've only been lucky enough to receive the second, third, and fifth games in the series. The first and fourth, wildly acknowledged as the best games in the series, still remain exclusive to Japan, despite recent PSP ports which added significant new content. It's safe to say SCEA wouldn't object, with the likes of 5pb's Corpse Party and Idea Factory's Hakuoki seeing US release later this year.

Never let it be said that Aksys Games don't have cojones. Since being formed by ex-Atlus USA staff, Aksys have joined XSeed in taking up the mantle of the niche publisher. While responsible for publishing hits such as Arc System Works' BlazBlue, they're also known for taking risks on games that might otherwise have never seen release here; such as ChunSoft's 999, which has since become both a significant critical and cult success.

Atlus USA, in the meantime, seem to have left their niche roots in the dust. I've persistently been keeping interest in the first and fourth Growlanser games alive at Atlus USA's own message boards, and although fans have been supportive in trying to persuade the US branch to give Growlanser another chance, our efforts have so far proven fruitless.

While you have XSeed trying to keep the fan interest in their projects alive, and Sega outright shooting them down, Atlus USA maintain a stagnant neutral ground: they refuse to comment on the state of Growlanser in the US, and this is not likely to change anytime soon.

Some might say this is because of their parent company's recent acquisition by Index Holdings, but Atlus USA's shift away from the gaming niche isn't exactly recent. The massive success of Demon's Souls seems to have spelled the end for the likes of further niche releases from the publishers who used to specialize in it. New entries in the Luminous Arc, Super Robot Taisen, and even the STING family of games remain Japan exclusive, despite ongoing hopes from fans, which may ultimately prove fruitless. Aside from the ever-stellar works of the core Atlus JP developers such as Catherine and the future of the Persona series, it seems the Atlus Faithful won't have much to look forward to, aside from the likes of The Cursed Crusade.

When you consider how many developers turn a blind eye to the pleas of fans, sometimes, I think it's nice to hear from a company that still cares what the gaming community thinks of them.

Shine on, you crazy diamonds.

Saigo no Yakusoku no Monogatari (PSP)

I quit Saigo no Yakusoku no Monogatari (Final Promise Story) after about 5 hours.  It's the first game self-published by Imageepoch and was supposed to be the first game in the next generation of JRPGS.  As you imagine that wasn't really true.  It captured my interest with those lofty aspirations and the amazingly bad reviews it got. It definitely fails as a piece of media to distract me from my mortality.

It's a pretty great premise as anime plots go.  Your small kingdom is invaded by an impossibly large force of robots.  The prince just killed himself to save you and the princess with a blood sword.  That makes you commander-in-chief of the whole army against a beautifully melancholy soundtrack.

Then you start wandering about Persona mazes.  The battle system is -granted- kind of neat.  Enemies target the last thing that hit them or the last person that cast a healing spell.  So there's sort of a nice balancing act.  The problem comes that your homebase helper announces everytime the enemy changes target.  That gets really annoying really fast.  Each time you level up you get points to unlock various skills, you have the ability for the cost of money (in a kingdom under-siege)  to completely reset your skills.  

When you first start playing there's a clock on your screen that is terrifying in the way the moon in Majora's Mask is terrifying.  Then you realize it's only moving forward as you do quests (in a kindom under-siege) at every hour it moves on to the next story bit.  

The quests you get from your helper and almost entirely consist of going to an arbitrary point in the maze to meet someone.  Then you and the person you "rescued" get magically transported back to headquarters.  You are then told you rescued 30 civilians in the same way you rescued dalmatians in Kingdom Hearts.  This number never goes down and you never get the feeling that you are being invaded as everyone in your little base in the center of the castle is fine.  You even get plenty of dumb anime subplots and stereotypes!  

As a dungeon crawler it's mediocre and as the next generation of JRPG it consists entirely of things you've seen before.  While the chance of it coming out in the West is zero, it's not something you should learn Japanese over or be sad that was skipped.  I'm sure it was planned to come to the US as imageepoch signed a publishing deal with Nippon Ichi America and then just made PSP RPGs.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Update - 10/22 - Ultima (Pt 1 of Lots), Wizorb, King's Valley, Zombie Nation, Ground Zero Texas, Video Game History Casebook

I've been wanting to cover more classic CRPGs recently, and thanks to some awesome contributors, this is now coming to pass. To follow up on the Might and Magic article from the past few weeks, we now have the first part of an article on Ultima, the progenator of the genre and inspiration for hundreds of games. It's a massive series that we'll be posting updates for weekly, as right now it covers the intro and the first three games.

Following that up are some single game articles. Wizorb is a brick-breaker that was recently released on the XBLIG, which adds some RPG elements to make it stand out from Arkanoid, and features a cool post-retro graphical style. Zombie Nation is an NES "classic" where you control a disembodied samurai head against marauding invaders who are terrorizing the United States, including a Mesuda-ized version of the State of Liberty. And SPLAT'ERS is a very early first person shooter, predating Wolfenstein 3D and available only on the Macintosh, which shows some of the roots of what is now the most popular genre in gaming today.

We also have a feature article dubbed the Video Game Casebook, which is a series of blog articles focused around the issues of researching video game history. Your weekly crap game is Ground Zero Texas, one of the Sega CD's many dire FMV games, although here it gets a fairly even-handed assestment despite being largely insufferable. And I can't remember if we've made Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky a feature article before, but we're doing it anyway. Last week Siliconera posted an interview saying that the PSP game, released a few months ago, hasn't quite gotten the sales numbers to convince their investors to localize the sequel. So, you should buy it if you remotely have any interest in Japanese RPGs. It's classic-styled through and through, but it's better than most that come out nowadays, and is a welcome antithesis to anyone who complains about the dire writing so prominent in Japanese games.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bloodrayne: Betrayal is a good game, but not as good as it could have been

Looks like I'm a bit late to the party with this one. I read somewhere that Wayforward's reimagening of Terminal Reality's Bloodrayne series was delayed to October, and since I didn't spot it on the XBL marketplace, I assumed that to be true. It appears, however, that Microsoft merely does still chicken out of releasing mature rated content on the German marketplace. So I bought some MS points for my illegal fake pirate UK account, and was finally able to play it. Sadly, I'm not quite satisfied. Many have likened the game to classic Castlevania, and it is true that it shares many aesthetic elements (the Gothic-ish architecture, the style of the music), but in gameplay it couldn't differ much more while still being a sidescrolling action game. Regardless, Bloodrayne: Betrayal is actually a good game, but there was potential for so much more. Or rather, less, as less truly would have been more at parts.

The platforming in this game is simply beautiful. Ever since smooth controls have become the standard over Mario's wonky high-inertia physics or Castlevania's stiff mechanics, platformers have struggled to keep the challenge up. Almost all of Betrayal's higher level jumping sequences rely on the abstract physics mechanics: Either she has to dash in mid-jump, slash to keep her suspended in the air, or get off the ground with her super-high backflip (done by running a few steps and then turning around just before the jump). In best Super Mario Bros. tradition, enemies serve as stepping stones with her footstomp move. To get to all the secret areas (mostly to collect hidden red skulls, which substitute experience points), often all of the above has to be applied in order. Environmental hazards like moving chainsaws and laser barriers put extra pressure on the player. There are also dozens of lovely hommages to the classics, like the rotating cannons of Super Mario Bros. 3. The only thing that pisses me off about the controls: Rayne can't duck. I consider that a terrible sin in a sidescroller, that's why I never liked Mega Man much.

Unfortunately, platforming is only half the game, as Rayne spends at least the same amount of time fighting monsters in a boring Devil May Cry style combofest. Most of the time battles take place in super lazy locked single-screen areas. The game often gets ultra-chaotic with several different enemy types on screen at the same time, and that's were combat draws all its difficulty from. Rayne carries a gun for crowd control, but ammunition is very limited. The system shows much potential when combined with the platforming, but the drawn-out arena fights are just unecessary padding. After each stage, Rayne gets a ranking for her performance. After a normal playthrough, it's almost invariably "F". So in theory there's much potential for score runs, but the only way to really improve on the ranking in a meaningful way is to solve the arena fights more quickly. Given that they're the part one would prefer to skip in the first place, there's not much motivation to go back, tough.

At least sometimes they make clever use of Rayne's ability to use environmental hazards to her advantage, in a more varied manner than it was the case in Bloodrayne 2. (It even has portions were Rayne uses slain enemies as platforms to cross bodies of water/acid, which was planned for Terminal Realities last game in the franchise but ended up being left out in the end.) They haven't been very creative with the bosses, though. Up to stage 10, there are merely three boss fights, and two of them are against variants of the same monster.

In other parts loyalty to the original games is sporadic at best. Many monsters are clearly inspired by the TRI horror universe, but the drawing style makes them all look much too cute and not nearly as disgusting and horrifying as was probably intended. The coffin rocket Rayne uses to get from level to level maybe would have had its place in an anime-style franchise like Gungrave or Hellsing, here it just comes off as silly. The worst part is the dialogue, though, which is truly abysmal. BloodRayne never was Shakespearesque, but it very well captured that certain B-movie charme with its mix of trashy one-liners and awkward pathos. Here, however, it's embarassing fanfic at its worst. There's even a shitty emo vampire who helps out Rayne by turning into a white raven (Rayne later learns to turn into a bird herself). The game could have significantly improved just by cutting out all the dialogue (and the crappy emo vampire)—it'S that cringe-worthy. At least the lines are few and far between.

Regardless, BloodRayne: Betrayal still is a really good platformer. For fans of Devil May Cry, the combat might even be rewarding as well, while everyone else is annoyed by the arena brawls balancing the more well-integrated fights for the worse. Whoever liked the original games' flair will get a toothache from all the bullshit anime tropes, but at least it's easy to ignore most of them. Also, budget title developers really need to stop thinking that blacking out all the sprites is artistic. It's not artistic, it's annoying and boring. Please stop doing that! And give me a ducking animation.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Update 10/7: King's Field, Might and Magic, Dead or Alive and TMNT (iOS)

So that Dark Souls game came out this week, didn't it? I still have to get around to properly playing its predecessor, Demon's Souls, since my PS3 died right when I first started it and never got back into it. But anyone with an interest in either game should read up on King's Field, the first person action-RPG from whence these games sprung. Originating on the original PlayStation, they're very...well, old and clunky, but as usual they're interesting from a historical perspective. And if you want even older RPGs, we've finished up the Might and Magic article, covering all nine games in the main series. Look for more computer RPG articles in the near future!

Our Spotlight Article is for Dead or Alive, which recently saw a new-ish entry on the 3DS, and will apparently be getting a fifth installment soon. Your Weekly Kusoge is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the iOS, a shamefully bootlegged product that made it past Apple's ace product approval squad and stayed there until the blogosphere discovered it. Of course, those guys didn't play the game and just quoted the few user reviews on the App Store - we hear at HG101 took the bullet for our readers and spent the $5 on it, just so you could mock it with us!

Also, the video game music poll finished up last week. You can check out the preliminary results here, breaking down the top 1000 tracks, although in another week or two we'll have a proper article that isn't just a forum post with Youtube links. The gist is, according to our readers, the two best video game songs of all time are Time's Scar (the opening theme) from Chrono Cross, and Dr. Wily Stage 1 & 2 from Mega Man 2.

Rom Cassette Disc In SUNSOFT CD Review

The title of this album is terrible. Rom Cassette Disc In SUNSOFT? What the hell does that mean? And what on earth is going on in that cover? But in the spirit of not judging a book by its cover, let's explain this album actually is - it's a two disc (plus bonus disc) compilation of all of the music for all of Sunsoft's Famicom cartridge releases. The "Rom Cassette" part distinguishes it their Famicom Disk System games, which is a separate album and none of which are worth mentioning.) The first CD's track list don't suggest anything anything particularly worthwhile - Super Arabian, Route-16 Turbo, Ikki, Atlantis no Nazo, Madoola no Tsubasa, Toukaidou Gojuusan-tsugi, Shanghai, Ripple Island and Maharaja. None of these were released in the US, and in spite of a few alright tracks, the music is not really all that great, although the extensive speech synthesis in Toukaidou Gojuusan-tsugi is impressive.

Near the end of the first CD, the list of amazing games starts up: Chou Wakusei Meta Fight (AKA Blaster Master), Batman, Raf World (Journey to Silus), Gremlins 2, Dynamite Batman (Batman: Return of the Joker), and Gimmick!. (The linked samples aren't directly from the CD, they're just whatever I found on Youtube at the moment.) Sunsoft isn't as widely discussed as Nintendo or Konami when it comes to amazing NES music, but they really should be, because their sound programming was absolutely incredible, resulting in some of the most standout soundtracks on the system. All of the games listed in this paragraph are essential to fans of NES music. Even the lesser soundtracks (relatively speaking), like Battle Hunter (Super Spy Hunter), Hebereke (Uforia) and Nantettatte!! Baseball (unreleased outside of Japan) utilize the same synth and sound pretty decent. It is missing Fester's Quest and Platoon, however, since neither was never released in Japan.

Although the back of the album implies that each game only has a single track medley for each game, each song does indeed have its own track. And there's a lot of music here - 99 tracks on the first disc, and 89 on the second. Of course, many are quite brief, and most don't loop. While there's no a huge advantage to listening to this over NSFs, it's cool that these tracks are in one convenient place, and those who are sticklers for authenticity will approve of the recordings as well. The tracks from Gimmick!, which used an extra sound chip in its cartridge, sound every so slightly better than the emulated versions.

First printings (or perhaps all, it's hard to tell) have a bonus third CD, whoch include two long arranged tracks from Madoola no Tsubasa and Dead Zone (the latter OST does not appear on this set since it's an FDS game.) They're recorded straight from a very old cassette tape, so not only is the quality somewhat iffy, but it's very late 80s. It's not great, but it's an interesting obscurity.

The album can be bought from seller champ_des_pins on eBay, or much cheaper from I went the latter route, and while the SAL shipping took a good three weeks, I can vouch for them being an excellent vendor. There is also a remix album scheduled to come out later in October, although based on the characters on the cover, it seems like they may focus on the "nostalgic" Famicom games rather the ones any of us are likely to care about.