Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Nintendo Power Retrospectives - Part 1

For the past few months, I've been doing a bi-weekly series on YouTube re-capping old issues of Nintendo Power, starting with the Fun Club News, and doing reviews of each game featured in the magazine. If this sounds familiar, I started something like this earlier in written form.

Over the next few weeks, I'll post one video per week until we get current with the series.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sony Gamer's Day 2012 in Saudi Arabia

On the 17th of October, the Riyadh International Convention & Exhibition Center (RICEC) played host to the fifth annual Sony Gamer's Day. I managed to attend the first day and get an overall impression of the event. I apologize in advance about the article being more about the cultural phenomenon of the convention and less about the actual games. Also, forgive the poor quality photos because I had to take them with my cellphone camera.

First, let’s get the good out of the way. The move to RICEC, even if only a single area was rented out from the several that are available, was a huge step up from the tiny hotel floor space of TGXPO. The convention space was a nice 48x75 meters room with several games getting multiple demo stalls. Entry to the convention was free but required a simple Eventbrite registration which entitled you to a free PSN Plus subscription. Despite being a Sony-only event, the lineup of upcoming games was considerably more impressive than the minimal offerings from last year, including but not limited to: Tomb Raider, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3, Hitman Absolution, Assassin’s Creed 3, WWE ’13, Little Big Planet Karting, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Wonderbook, Epic Mickey 2, Ni no Kuni, Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale and Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. We also got two guests this time in the form of head Tekken producer Katsushiro Harada and former wrestler Mick Foley, who were here to promote the newest games in their respective franchises.

Unfortunately, while this all sounds great in theory, the execution is where things went downhill. I arrived at the exhibition center half an hour after the convention started and met up with a friend. Once again the organizers were overwhelmed by the incredible amount of attendees who swarmed around the entrance. It turns out that about an hour earlier people started showing up and the exhibition staff discovered that the system for reading the registration tickets’ QR code had crashed. Eventually, the crowds got fed up of waiting and forced their way past the paltry security and into the convention. The exhibition floor of course quickly filled up and the organizers were forced to close the doors to prevent more people from entering. It didn’t take long of course for some of the crowds to get really rowdy. Banging repeatedly on the doors, busting locks and breaking part of the gate partition are just some of the assorted acts of vandalism that went down.

When we finally managed to get in after the security gave up, things weren’t that much better off inside. Maneuvering through the crowds was a chore, and the staff was forced to cut down demo playtime significantly to allow as much people as possible. M-rated games were in enclosed areas to allow some form of age control over who gets to try them, but that policy was only loosely enforced, to say nothing of the fact that the Tomb Raider demo machines were Xbox 360’s! Dumber still was how several of the fighting games being demoed on the floor were only being assigned one controller, which is ridiculous and narrow-minded when you consider that TGXPO allowed two players to try out Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 and the demo of Street Fighter vs Tekken.

When the time came to inquire about Harada’s scheduled appearance we were met with more disappointments. Harada had left early after being rushed by an overwhelming swarm of people, causing any hope I had to get a photo with him to go up in smoke. Instead I had to suffer through people crowding around obnoxious local and out of town Youtube personalities.

It didn’t take long for upper management to finally get fed up with the chaos and had all the displays shut down two hours before the scheduled time, ending the first day of SGD 2012 with a miserable whimper.

The next day of the convention began early morning and several people reported that things went a bit smoother. Unfortunately, the chaos erupted once again around the evening and went full swing when Mick Foley arrived. The man barely stuck around for twenty minutes before leaving in a huff amidst a large crowd of insane fans, though a friend of mine did manage to get him to sign a belt so at least someone got something out of this mess. By the time I had arrived, the place was already closed four hours ahead of schedule. The following vids speak for themselves:

The embarrassment didn’t end there. On top of the laughable management, there were multiple reports of display PS3’s being stolen and a Mustang displayed on the show floor having its windshield broken. The biggest stroke was the cancellation of the women-only third day, which upset the female gaming population quite a bit until GCON took over and reorganized it into two exclusive women days in November, with the stipulation that no one would be allowed to attend both days.
It’s hard to determine exactly why things got ridiculously out of hand compared to TGXPO. Was it the more notable and open location of RICEC? Was it the high profile guests? Was it the early preview of Black Ops 2? Either way it’s a harsh lesson for Sony’s handlers in the region that they would do well to learn from.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Update 2/24 - Bonanza Bros, KickMaster, Jones in the Fast Lane, Crimson Shrod, I, Robot, Again, Hyrule Historia

Bonanza Bros. is an early 90s Sega co-op game ALMOST made it in the first volume of the Sega Arcade Classics book...but I had to cut it for space. It'll be in the next one though (which should be done...sometime this year I hope). I have to admit that I put other games that I favored like Crack Down, because I initially I didn't much care for Bonanza Bros. But like Quartet, Crack Down and Gain Ground, it's more fun in two player than single player mode.

Also up: Crimson Shroud, the very old school-type 3DS RPG designed by Yasumi Matsuno (Ogre Battle, Vagrant Story, FF Tactics), which was released as a part of the Guild 01 project and separated as its own digital release recently on the Nintendo eShop; KickMaster, a late-gen NES game designed by KID, the same folks as the G.I. Joe NES games, as well as Low-G-Man; Jones in the Fast Lane, a Sierra-developed board game similar to The Game of Life; I, Robot, the first game to used shaded polygons, released in 1983 and still looks spectacular today, especially compared to its contemporaries; and Again, a DS adventure game from Cing (Trace Memory, Hotel Dusk), their last game before unfortunately going bankrupt.

On the book review front, we take a look at Hyrule Historia, the fancy but slightly disappointing Legend of Zelda art book; the iOS shooter article includes Seawolf Attack, Neon Wars (pictured), Falcon Raider, Apache Overkill, and Room War Deluxe; and we have a new feature called 500 Word Indies, were we spend 500 words to take a quick look at some of the more interesting games to come out of the independent scene. Your Weekly Kusoge is Saint Seiya: Ougon Densetsu Kanketsu Hen, one of the many low-tier anime licensed Famicom titles.

And regrettably, last week, famed game developer Kenji Eno passed away at the young age of 42. About two years ago, we featured an article on games from his company, Warp, which include the relatively well-known D games, as well as the Saturn cult classic Enemy Zero. We're featuring this article is his memory, for he created some truly unique and unusual games.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Generation Xth: Code Hazard [PC] Fan Translation Demo

If you like dungeon crawlers as much as I do(I'm kind of obsessed), the idea of a modern-futuristic cyberpunk RPG should sound like paradise.

At least until Soul Hackers comes out, anyway.

From the project lead, Shram:

Team Muramasa, to exaggerate slightly, are responsible for the resurgence of Wizardry-clones (old-school, first-person dungeon romps) in the East, and subsequently in the West. The popularity of their official Wizardry games, Xth and Xth 2 on the PS2, caused a flood of games like Elminage, Etrian Odyssey, Unchained Blades, and many more.

The Wizardry Xth games boasted a fairly open world, an extremely intuitive but in-depth crafting system, and many overall improvements to the Wizardry formula, particularly focusing on speed and efficiency of controls. They took that formula to the indie PC scene in 2007 and created the Generation Xth trilogy, the first entry of which, Code Hazard, is the reason why you are here now.

Team Muramasa continued after the Generation Xth trilogy to create Meikyu X Cross Blood, then Students of the Round, which was successful enough to warrant a 360 and PSP port, and now they're working on two new dungeon games for the PSVita and 360 under Kadokawa publishing, called Demon Gaze and The Stranger of the Town of the Blade (Tsurugi no Machi no Ihoujin).

Info website:

Hope you all find them as enjoyable as I do.

Here's some screens:

And the demo just came out today:

It's a beta, so tread cautiously, and enjoy.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Update 2/11 - Last Bronx, Dark Edge, Hotline Miami, Eryi's Action, Spectral Force Genesis, Game Club 199X: Blackthorne

With the incredible success of Virtua Fighter (at least in Japan), Sega capitalized on the 3D fighting game craze as quickly as possible, developing vaguely similar titles like Fighting Vipers, Sonic the Fighters, and Last Bronx, the last of which we have a very detailed article on. Entries in those series were released a few months ago on the PS3...except for Last Bronx, which apparently got the short end of the stick in the popularity contest. Still, it was popular in Japan back in the mid-90s, enough that it spawned a rather sad direct-to-video movie. Predating any of these games, we also have Sega's Dark Edge as part of the "noble failures" department, a 3D fighter using 2D sprites. It's borderline unplayable, but fascinating to see and play nonetheless, just for the crazy 3D effects they try to pull off.

Hotline Miami was one of 2012's indie darlings, and for good reason - it's one of the most stylish games ever made, taking the 80s Miami vibe of Grand Theft Auto Vice City and pumping it beyond 11, then melding it with an overhead stealth/action shooter which demands near-perfect reflexes. Meanwhile, Eryi's Action is a Japanese title published by Nyu Media which is much friendlier on the outside, but is (intentionally) platformer hell on the inside, similar to other masochistic titles like I Wanna Be The Guy and Battle Kid.

Your Weekly Kusoge is Spectral Force Genesis, wherein we take some time to pummel Idea Factory just a little bit more. The latest Game Club 199X episode features Blackthorne, Blizzard's early attempt at a Prince of Persia/Flashback-style of action-platformer. And the iOS shooter page has been updated with Platypus (a clay-themed shooter that also saw release on the PSP), Cobra Strike, P-47: The Phantom Fighter, Blazing Star (an excellent Neo Geo shooter which really needs its own article here someday), and Spacestorm.

Power Play - One of Germany's greatest game mags is back (sort of)

I don't check the games corner in the newspaper shops very often these days, but today I've been reminded that it can be worth to pop in every once in a while. Started in 1988 as a companion booklet to Happy Computer, Power Play was one of the earliest German computer and video game periodicals. Together with almost all other old mags in the country, it was discontinued around the turn of the century, but now it's back! Well... sort of. Although the cover bears the enchanting label "N°01 2013," at the time being the new Power Play unfortunately is only a one-off special of the general computing magazine Chip.

The good news is, this isn't a mere resurrection in name only, but actually put together by some of its founding fathers and other veterans of the trade - compare the list of contributors below with the people I've mentioned in my earlier look at some ancient German mags.

With almost everyone's age on the team being beyond 40, the publication focuses on games with a history - be it retro remakes, sequels of long-lived series or games that follow design philosophy of old.

The mag itself takes a very mature (in the real sense) stance towards the medium. With several making-of features and developer interviews (Richard Garriot, Chris Hülsbeck, Ron Gilbert and many others) there is a strong focus on "proper" journalism. Thanks to the bundled experience, the quality of the writing is superior to any other mag out there (please pardon my wooden English translations of the quotes in this post). Several contributors get their own column, which they mostly use to bitch about recent negative trends like achievement exploitation, the oversaturation on the iOS app store, or soulless cash-ins on beloved franchises, as Heinrich Lenhardt writes on Lord of Ultima: "It doesn't play one bit like something one would expect with the name Ultima. The damage to its image shouldn't be underestimated. As EA is now trying to bake a modern follow-up to Ultima IV with Ultima Forever, part of the fan base will be somewhat reserved due to the adulteration in Lord of Ultima."

The new Power Play also does reviews, but ditches the ridiculous percent rating system that is still dominating the German games journalism landscape in favor of a personal 5-star rating. The choice of titles to review is also very selective: "Our team of reviewers is proud of its Midlife-Crisis-worthy average age. We hope for a higher compatibility to the taste of a mature readership. (...) An obscure indie game with retro style elements or the remake of a classic may be more exciting to our reviewers than the generic sequel of a popular series."

The 2-page reviews all contain an overview of the history of the franchise or its designer, and a selection of three quoted opinions from other (online-)publications. About a third of the reviews is squeezed onto a single page, where those are missing.

Fifa 2013 - the longest review - is accompanied with a collection of 11 soccer game milestones.

The mag ends with a retro section proper, which contains company profiles of Super Fighter Team and Psygnosis, an overview of the Commodore Amiga's career, a making of about Q*Bert and a number of retro reviews - now without any assigned score, but interesting quotes the authors (and some of their German colleagues) wrote about the game back in the day.

All in all, stumbling over the mag has been a very pleasant surprise, the writing is top notch, and the selection of topics is perfect to the taste of a Hardcore Gaming 101 editor/reader (the only slip-up being the interview with the German alternative rock band The Donots, which apparently just happens to like video games).

The mag comes with a DVD, but distributing the contained freeware games, demos and tools this way now really feels anachronistic. It has also a video show moderated by Lenhardt that contains a few neat features like a visit at Chris Hülsbeck's studio and a tongue-in-cheek comparison of Fifa 2013 and the 1983 C64 game International Soccer, alongside trailers for Wreck-It Ralph, the reality TV-style retro tournament movie Brot und Spiele (another one of those, ugh!), Chris Robert's new space sim Star Citizen/Squadron 42, but that doesn't even run in regular DVD players, and they would've been better off just posting it online to keep the costs low.

The price of €8,90 for 130 pages might seem a bit prohibitive (or am I that out of touch with the price range of print mags these days?), but I cannot but urge any German-speaking reader to make that purchase - who knows when we'll ever see such a well-written, well-composed magazine again? (Actually, the editorial hints that more issues might be a possibility if this proves successful, so buy, buy, buy!)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

I think you'll find he left 'sausage' out of his Dictionary, Baldrick

The title and heading image are from the Blackadder episode Ink and Incapability, dealing with the first ever English dictionary - which apparently lacked a number of words including sausage. Rather apt given that this blog entry lists EVERY SINGLE WORD in the video game known as Wordtris (GB version). And it too is missing the word sausage. Join us for some ROMhacking fun.