Sunday, October 23, 2011

Obsession: A Games List

My cousin James and his girlfriend Tovah sat down today and catelogued my entire gaming collection. There's 1140 so far, without counting my PC gaming collection.

I'd say I feel like I wasted my life, but that's a total lie. It was awesome. Screw social events and having money.



Sega Master System



1. Altered Beast

2. Fantasy Zone

3. Golvellius- Valley of Doom

4. Hang on/Astro Warrior: The Combo Cartridge

5. Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

6. Miracle Warriors: Seal of the Dark Lord

7. My Hero

8. The Ninja

9. R-Type

10. Rastan

11. Rocky

12. World Grand Prix


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

To Fix an Xbox

In August, my cousin James and I tried to repair his red-ringed Xbox 360 console. Though I was there with my tools and taking pictures, this is really his saga.


To Fix an Xbox



















All fixed.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Because Joe Said So #1: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

My longtime friend Mike got married a few weeks ago, and in between taking notes for my own wedding plans and trying not to accidently offend anyone by screaming the word “anus” during the ceremony, I had a chance to reconnect with another friend of mine, Joe Tasker. Joe’s a respectable guy, so when he scolded me for ignoring this blog, it stuck with me. Well, not like the end of All Dogs Go to Heaven stuck with me, but you know what I mean.

Then it dawned on me: Why not let Joe tell me what to write every once in a while so this blog doesn’t get too dusty? It just so happens that he had mentioned to me that he’d like to see a review one of his favorite games, so let’s talk about Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – because Joe said so.

Meet Alucard, Count Dracula’s renegade, half-vampire, half-poor actor son, who was apparently named by the same people who thought that it was cool that Nilbog is Goblin spelled backwards. Alucard helped out the whip-crackin’ NES hero Trevor Belmont in 1990, a year Konami seems to think took place in the 1400s. Anyway, after sending the D-man to his eerie 8-bit grave for the 4,000th time, Alucard took a big long nap. Everything was cool until Richter Belmont, Trevor’s acrobatic, fashion conscious relative – who hundreds of years after Trevor still hadn’t figured out how to attack in more than two directions – got himself abducted by Dracula, who had once again been given flesh by a bunch of miserable piles of secrets who were paying him tribute.

Alucard, sensing his father’s asshattery, wakes up with a new, much more homosexual wardrobe and shockingly white prettyboy hair. (Because sleeping makes you gay. Take note, homophobes!) He heads to the newly resurrected demon castle Dracula to save Richter, bang a hot, enigmatic 17-year-old chick named Maria and quell his father’s newest uprising by punching hundreds of mermen in the dick.

Symphony of the Night is one of the greatest, but also one of the easiest Castlevania titles. Once you get the hang of the “Metroidvania” style platforming and find yourself a few decent weapons, smacking Dracula’s pale white hiney and the assorted hineys of his demon apprentices just isn’t that difficult for a seasoned player. However, hasty players can miss the entire second half of the game if they’re not careful, reducing Symphony to a title you finish while waiting for your girlfriend to get out of the damn bathroom already, damn it.


Symphony’s real entertainment value lies in exploring as much of the map as possible and collecting as many cool nick-nacks as Alucard can fit in his seemingly endless pockets. For example, there’s new armor, hit point increasing items, and pair of boots that “discretely increase the wearer’s height.” These boots actually do make Alucard a few pixels taller, which makes it harder to time jumps and often leads to Alucard’s dementedly comical death. But the fact that Konami added things like those accursed boots just shows their dedication to, uh, screwing gamers who try to the play the game as intended.

You know what? Maybe that’s a bad example.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night came out in 1997 and over the last almost 15 years, I’ve completed the game almost 10 times. Despite several useless items and a maddeningly convoluted system of using food items, Symphony of the Night is one of the greatest examples of a well-crafted, highly entertaining interactive experience. When a video game has the power to covert non-players to members of the PlayStation-toting masses, it’s got to be something special. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is more than just a game – it’s a joy.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Somebody Call Wardrobe!

So I got Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition and predictably, I destroyed my arm with it. Again. For the third time in 18 months.

"You overpaid for my shoto ass!"

I couldn't be happier. ...well, aside from how it took me 54 continues to finish the game with C.Viper on Hardest, but that's another story of another dark, dark day.

But lo! I got the disc version of the game for posterity,  in case my PS3 ever dies years after PSN is no longer available. Apparently I was supposed to get extra costumes for the four "new" characters as a bonus. I got nothing of the sort.

I saw Legend of Chun-Li in theaters. Capcom owes me. So two weeks ago, I sent them a nifty little email:

Dear Capcom,

I purchased a brand new, disc-based version of Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition for PS3 on Saturday, Aug. 27, and I did not receive the alternate costumes for Yang, Yun, Oni and Evil Ryu. According to information culled from the Playstation Store, "it is not necessary to download this content" if I have the disc. I have purchased most of the other downloadable costumes for this series and am familiar with the process of getting them to work; said costumes simply do not appear as an option on the character select screen.

Were the costumes supposed to be available when I first turned on the game? Or did they come as a download code that simply didn't find its way into my new copy? Either way, would it be possible to rectify this issue, perhaps with a download code?

I have been a loyal Capcom customer since the late '80s and I own all three revisions of Street Fighter IV (and basically any game with the Street Fighter logo). I even saw both Street Fighter the Movie and Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li in a theater, so for a guy like me, not having a full compliment of alternate costumes has me bummed out.

Please forgive me if this e-mail has been sent to the wrong address, and if possible, please forward it to where it needs to go.

Thank you very much for your time,

- A Street Fighter Fan

 
Hopefully I'll get my costumes yet!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Star Odyssey Lost in Space? 'No!' Says Cobb!

Brandon Cobb, SFT President
My loyal reader(s) are familiar with the ongoing saga of Matt vs. His Mailbox, RE: Star Odyssey, the newest Sega Genesis/Mega Drive game released by Brandon Cobb's Super Fighter Team. After ordering a copy of the game two months ago and receiving nothing by crumby credit card applications, I was starting to think that the only space-based RPGs that would ever grace my 16-bit Sega would involve an egregious misspelling of the word "fantasy."

But lo! An e-mail to the Super Fighter Team reveals that there's still hope yet for my Genesis to catch some out-of-this-world action this summer.

Cobb's reply in full:

Hello, Matt.

My name is Matt and I am a freelance writer and author of Wordsmith VG: A Gamer's Blog. I ordered Star Odyssey on June 27, 2011 and have still not received the game. I understand there's a production delay, but according to an e-mail sent out by Brandon Cobb,  June 27 was the cutoff date for getting a first-run copy of Star Odyssey. I can only assume that I was one of the first buyers to secure a second-run copy of the game. Either that or something has gone wrong.

Don't worry, nothing has gone wrong and you were indeed one of our customers who ordered "in time" to be included in the first production run of 300 copies. I apologize for the uncomfortable delay; my schedule as of late has not provided me with enough time to process and ship as many orders at a time as I'd prefer. Thankfully, this situation will soon be remedied, allowing me to fully catch up on the shipment of all orders placed on or before June 27th.

I need to know if my order is still active or if we need to fix something. I'd like to review the game when it arrives.

Your order is currently in our shipping queue and I will get to it as soon as I can. Of course, we will appreciate any press coverage that you are able to provide, once you've had proper time to play through Star Odyssey.

In the meantime, I was able to play through both Legend of Wukong and Beggar Prince while waiting for Star Odyssey to be sent to me.

Great! I'd be happy to know what you think of them.

Hopefully Star Odyssey will have no spike puzzles.

Ah, that was a fun bit of frustration, wasn't it? As you may be able to imagine, I had a *lot* of fun with that one, during testing. O_o

I wouldn't mind a spell that drops giant pig heads on my opponents, though.

Ha ha. That was one of my favorites, too.

Thank you for your time.

It's my pleasure. If you have any additional questions, please let me know.

Thanks and have a nice day.

--

- Brandon Cobb
President, Super Fighter Team


This is great news indeed! I'll keep you all posted on what happens next.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Callin' Out the Team for a Super Fight

Stop me if you've heard this one before.

Super Fighter Team Logo
It's been about six weeks since I ordered Star Odyssey and still no game. In the mean time, I've played through both of Super Fighter Team's other Genesis/Mega Drive releases, The Legend of Wukong and Beggar Prince. They were both soul crushing chores in their own unique ways, but judging from the screen shots, I've got a lot of faith that Star Odyssey will blow 'em away.

All I've got left is Pier Solar, which apparently will take me until my unborn children finish high school to play through. But after the time it's taken to get here, now I'm worried that I'll be done with Pier Solar before Star Odyssey has a chance to grace my doorstep and whittle its way into my black heart.

Enough is enough. I decided to e-mail the Super Fighter Team asking where my game is. In SFT's defence, it's basically one guy sending out more than 300 orders. But in my defence, I'm out $48 with, so far, nothing to show for it. I can't remember if Wukong or Beggar Prince took this long to arrive, but I think the cogs spun a little faster than this.

Here's the e-mail I sent out this afternoon:

To whom it may concern,

My name is Matt and I am a freelance writer and author of Wordsmith VG: A Gamer's Blog. I ordered Star Odyssey on June 27, 2011 and have still not received the game. I understand there's a production delay, but according to an e-mail sent out by Brandon Cobb, June 27 was the cutoff date for getting a first-run copy of Star Odyssey. I can only assume that I was one of the first buyers to secure a second-run copy of the game. Either that or something has gone wrong.

I need to know if my order is still active or if we need to fix something. I'd like to review the game when it arrives.

In the meantime, I was able to play through both Legend of Wukong and Beggar Prince while waiting for Star Odyssey to be sent to me. Hopefully Star Odyssey will have no spike puzzles. I wouldn't mind a spell that drops giant pig heads on the opponents, though.

Thank you for your time.


- Wordsmith VG: A Gamer's Blog

Hopefully this will get me some answers. In the mean time, I'll be lamenting Sega's decision to require three separate power sources for the Sega CD/32X combo.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Crossing the Streams of Oppression

I hurt so many with my playing.
The sad truth about most of the Ghostbusters video game adaptations is that they are bad, and you FEEL bad while playing them. There was this one time where I got highly intoxicated at a friend’s house and fell asleep in his mother’s china cabinet, my face covered in wet potted plant soil and my pants blissfully missing. When her wheelchair-bound father finally pulled my twitching body from the cabinet’s cold, wooden embrace, I was told I spent most of the night playing the NES version of Ghostbusters.

I still haven’t forgiven myself. I probably never will.

Another sad truth – one of the saddest truths in video game history – is that all but a measly two Ghostbusters games leave out good ol’ Winston Zeddemore – and one was only released on PAL territories. If you live in America, your only chance to see the oft-forgotten fourth ‘Buster in action is 2008’s Atari adaptation of the franchise for next gen consoles (and also the Wii).

On the NES? No.
Poor Winston is one of the most under-appreciated characters in comedic cinema history. As the last Ghostbuster to join the fray against the demons and demigods trashing the semi-innocents of New York City, most viewers see Winston as “the token black guy,” but his appeal – and his merit as a paranormal investigator – go far beyond his genetics. Mr. Zeddemore represents what would happen if the viewer were clad in a silly jumpsuit with an unlicensed nuclear accelerator strapped to his or her back: While the other three ‘Busters are trying to find ways to take down the ancient evils roaming beneath the city streets, Winston is cashing his paycheck, paying his rent, and praying to the Almighty that he gets out alive and home in time for a beer with his wife. Also, Winston has a really rockin’ mustache, which is indeed the truest measure of a man’s character. So thumbs up to you, Winston Zeddemore, and thank you for all you've done to protect the living from the wrath of the evil dead. Hopefully the days of your video game oppression are finally over.

In the meantime, I’m going to go petition Sega to re-release the Genesis/Mega Drive version of Ghostbusters with Winston as a playable character. Then not only would bustin’ make me feel good, it would make me feel progressive. Yes we can, Sega. YES WE CAN.

UNACCEPTABLE.
Also Peter looks like a rapist and Egon looks like Billy from the Power Rangers.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

“A Slight Delay” and Other Lies My Super Fighter Team Told Me

Brandon Cobb lied to me.

Cobb, founder of the retro game publishing company “Super Fighter Team,” said in an e-mail July 9 that there would be a “slight delay” in the shipment of the group’s newest old game, Star Odyssey for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. I excitedly threw down the $48 admission fee for the classic cartridge on June 27 – exactly one month ago today.

And one month later, I got nothin’. My Sega is very sensitive about things like this and it feels like it was stood up. If anyone knows a good way to get a moody Genesis/Mega Drive to stop being finicky with audio-visual inputs and start making me dinner again, please PLEASE leave a comment as I am very bored. Also hungry.

But this isn’t the first time that smooth talkin’, retro game slingin’ Brandon Cobb told a fib. He also said that his company’s last 16-bit revival, Legend of Wukong, is fun. It’s not.

It’s horrifying.

The title screen. That thing doing a peace sign in the back is a TIME MACHINE.

While waiting on Star Odyssey to apparently soar to my home from the farthest of galaxies, I thought I’d whet my old-school appetite with The Legend of Wukong. I snagged a copy when it first came out, but thanks to a television set that went out of its way to make Genesis/Mega Drive games look like skillfully arranged legos and chunks of vomit, I decided to put off playing it until now.

Everything starts out okay as a hyperactive 13-year-old named Wukong smashes buttons in a time machine and accidently blasts himself back to ancient China – clearly a very timely and relatable tale. Then The Legend of Wukong plays like a standard RPG for a while… until the first boss.

No matter how many levels you grind, he is nearly impossible to defeat.

Random battle.
  After 70 million attempts though, you’ll eventually take that bear-faced freak for a ride on the pain train. But immediately afterward, the game goes from prohibitively difficult to eye-meltingly easy. Halfway through the bosses aren’t even a threat anymore, and by the final chapter, they’re actually easier to defeat than the normal army of pallet-swapped fiends you and your party must battle every four steps. I took out the final boss in two rounds of combat. He hit me once.

I think Wukong and his friends might have felt a slight tickle.

You might be thinking that I was over-leveled and that’s why things were so easy, but I can guarantee that I wasn’t. You see, despite a counter with four digits, The Legend of Wukong’s cast maxes out their abilities at level 50. There’s no point in fighting the last 10 percent of the enemies you run into, which could have been tolerable if the run command ever functioned as advertized; the enemies always prevent your escape only to be slaughtered. On a serious note, the bizarre inhabitants of the Wukong world would do well to talk to someone about those suicidal tendencies; I recommend Dr. Spaitso.

All maxed out. Same crap happens to your money.

Okay, so The Legend of Wukong wasn’t exactly Super Fighter Team’s proudest moment. But I assure you that their first release, Beggar Prince, fared much better. However, that’s fodder for a different post. In the mean time, I’ll keep looking to the sky (and my mailbox) for Star Odyssey.

And also cooking my own meals. Damn you Brandon Cobb, you home wrecker!

Friday, July 22, 2011

That's One King-Sized Kong


I was going to play the Xbox 360 version of Peter Jackson's King Kong today because I heard from a somewhat reputable source that it's a pretty good waste o' time.

But then I saw this:



I... I don't think I want to play anymore.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Missed Potential #1: Mortal Kombat II for Gameboy

"So Evil. So Deadly."
Today I whipped out my Gameboy Color, and after stealing the batteries out of my trusty Gameboy Advance, I was ready to party like it was 1989 (through about 2001). I suppose I could have used an emulator, but emulation is for suckas and Japan only releases. But mostly suckas.

Thanks to both my packrat nature and a two-for-one original Gameboy sale at Electronics Boutique about seven years ago, I could survive for months after a nuclear war by eating nothing but Gamboy cartridges. So out of all those choices, including titles from the Dragon Warrior/Quest series, Super Mario Deluxe and four out of five of the GB-exclusive Mega Man games, what did I choose to play?

If you said a crappy port of Mortal Kombat II, you win a cookie!*

*OFFER NOT VALID EVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES; GET YOUR OWN FREAKIN’ COOKIE YOU SLACKER

The Gameboy version of Mortal Kombat II offers players a staggering eight characters and one boss, compared to the 12 fighters and two bosses found in the arcade version. Yeah, I know the Gameboy is a lesser system than the other 97 consoles/toasters on which MKII showed up, but I’m pretty sure the programmers were taking advantage of the fact the players generally don’t expect much out of Gameboy software. This is pure laziness; a cash-in on the mighty Mortal Kombat franchise. Don’t tell me there wasn’t enough space on the cartridge to hold the likes of Kung Lao, Baraka, Raiden and Johnny Cage; the fact that Mortal Kombat II was also released as a “kombo pak” in the same ROM with the first game dispels any doubt. I’m pretty sure the programmers thought that if one could buy a nearly complete version of MKII for about half as much as the SNES and Genesis/Mega Drive versions, some players would just stick with the cheaper option.

Can you tell the difference between these ninjas? Neither can I!

So who are were left with? Virtually indistinguishable versions of Scorpion, Sub-Zero and Reptile, skank sisters Katana and Meleena, and three other dudes who actually use their own sprites. The original version of MKII was skating on thin ice with its reliance on clone characters, but the Gameboy version looks like some kind of bizarre ninja jamboree that Jax, Liu Kang and Shang Tsung snuck into so they could meet some chicks. Consider this: Every time your boot up MKII for the Gameboy, statistically, there’s more than a 50 percent chance that you will be playing as a palette swapped clone. And 50 is a LOT of percents.

There are three backgrounds, but unless you meet up with a secret character, you’ll only ever see two: The Pit and the Kombat Tomb. Who are these secret characters you say? Why, it’s Jade and Smoke, more ninjas! Yaay!

No, Kang's not doing a super move; my camera just sucks.

So I’m saying that this game sucks, right? Well, not quite. The Gameboy does an impressive job of cramming most mortal moves into a two-button scheme, with the Start button substituting for the all important block, just like in the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive version. There’s no high punch, low kick or ducking punch, but everything else – including the ever-infuriating, rinse and repeat foot sweep and the trademark MK uppercut – are present and accounted for. The moves are all easy to execute, with the exception of, oddly enough, jumping toward your opponent.

Whenever I load up MKII on the Gameboy, I feel like I’m playing a pretty good beta of a game that’s going to be released in the next four months or so; it’s a great start, but it could have been so much more. The missing characters are too many, the backgrounds are too few, and would it have been too much to ask to have mapped high punch to back and punch like on the Genesis?

No. But it would have taken more time and effort to complete, and God forbid anyone put time and effort into a Gameboy title.

What we’re left with is an almost competent fighter, which was sorely lacking on Nintendo’s premiere portable. With a few tweaks, Mortal Kombat II’s little monochrome brother could have delivered a rim rockin’ headshot to the on-the-go gaming market. But instead all it heaped upon mini Mortal fans was a bloody bucket of missed potential.



I wanted to record myself playing Mortal Kombat II for the Gameboy, but that required me to hold the camera with one hand and fight with the other. All I could reach was the low punch button. EXCITEMENT!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chi is Flowing Like a River, Flowing Out of You and Me

Parishioners of Catholic churches (and possibly other variations of Christianity as well) are asked to donate a little bit of money to their place of worship during services. This is called an offering. When I was a kid, they just passed around a bunch of wicker baskets and people threw in a dollar or two each. I haven't been to church in a few years, so I was surprised when I found this lying around my house:

Apparently, offerings are now given in envelopes with the family name on them, possibly so parishioners can keep track of their donations for tax purposes.

So why am I posting this on a blog about video games, you might ask? Well, if you take the illustration in the lower left hand corner and flip it sideways...
HADOKEN!

The power of Christ engulfs you, apparently.
For comparison:
From the Street Fighter II Turbo (SNES) manual

Whenever I used to wear my Street Fighter shirts to church, I always felt out of place and just a touch blasphemous. Little did I know that Jesus is a Ryu player.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Star Odyssey (Sort of) Delayed!

Perhaps there's no such thing as bad publicity, but it looks like the Super Fighter Team has stumbled on too much good publicity: The day the company's founder, Brandon Cobb, sent out an e-mail promoting the release of their newest retro gaming effort, Star Odyssey for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, is the same day Super Fighter Team sold out their initial stock.

I'm not sure why Super Fighter Team didn't see this coming given the runaway success of their previous two Genesis/Mega Drive offerings, but according to Cobb, the initial batch of 300 copies of the upcoming RPG was sold out within six days. According to a follow-up message sent to those who ordered a copy of Star Odyssey, quick witted gamers who responded to the initial e-mail blast within a few hours snagged the last copies of the first production run. Cobb's newest e-mail, sent Saturday, July 9, said that purchases made between June 22 and June 27 will be filled in the order received; there will be no delay for these customers.

"[In this case,] the copy or copies that you ordered will be shipped to you as soon as possible," said Cobb.

This battle isn't going so well...

So what happens to those who waited a split second to take their credit card out of their wallet and wound up buying the game after June 27?

"If you placed your order after June 27, there will be a slight delay before your order ships, due to the fact that we must wait for the additional stock of the game to arrive from our factory," Cobb wrote. "It has already been ordered and is currently in production."

In case you were wondering, I ordered my copy within an hour of getting the e-mail on June 27. Though I've spent the last two weeks eagerly checking my mail (and freaking out the mailman), I have yet to receive anything from Super Fighter Team.

Some town.

"I would like to sincerely apologize for the delay in getting the game delivered to you," Cobb wrote. "Though I am the president of Super Fighter Team, I also fill many other roles within the company, one of which is packaging and shipping orders. While Super Fighter Team is a full-time job for me, it is not my only full-time job. My schedule is always filled with work of one kind or another, and though Super Fighter Team often takes first priority, this isn't always possible.

"We hope you enjoy Star Odyssey, and we look forward to hearing your feedback about the game when it arrives. If you have any questions or comments, please feel welcome to contact me directly."

According to the Super Fighter Team website, Beggar Prince, the company's first Genesis release in 2006, sold 1500 copies. Cobb says that The Legend of Wukong, unleashed upon retro gamers two years later, sold 600 copies.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

If You Give a Gamer a Camera, Part II

...he'll ask to make more gamer movies.

Pow!

As you may or may not remember from this post I made a while back, when I wasn't frantically writing papers in one night or watching my love live crumble into tiny, possibly tasty pieces, my undergraduate days were filled with jogging about holding a borrowed $5000 video camera in my sweaty hands and editing together comical but slightly disturbing student films for a variety of (mostly evil) applications. I took the opportunity to make as many allusions to gaming culture as I could in my work, on the dim hope that someone in the masses who appreciated Nintendo, Sega and the like as much as I do would take notice, and chuckle knowingly to him- or herself.

The following videos are possibly my greatest contribution to society thus far, a truth that would be merely shrug-worthy were it not for the horrifying fact that they're more than six years old. Also, my Ultra Omnisphere 3000 movie, circa 2001, was probably funnier.


Misprint! - A Reporter's Tale
Starring Matt Frey, Sarah Shepherd, Kristy Wormann, Kara Boivin, Shannon Morris and Dave Kotchie/Dave Frey as The Ninja. Featuring the musical stylings of Sandy Devasia and Jessica Jagielski.


As a Media Studies major, I had to come up with some kind of huge, year-long final project in order to receive a small piece of paper stating that I didn't have to go to class anymore. It was akin to the fabled "thesis" students of some majors are forced to write, only my project was allowed to have ninjas. So I wrote a novella (available online here), crunched it down into a gamer-friendly script, and filmed this bad boy in time to walk at my own graduation.

Featuring lovingly crafted allusions to the Silent Hill series, Super Mario Bros., Fatal Fury, Street Fighter II, Duke Nukem 3D, Metal Gear Solid, Sonic the Hedgehog, the Final Fantasy series and more, Misprint! - A Reporter's Tale is sure to make you feel at least slightly uncomfortable. Also, I somehow forgot Earthbound though, and it makes me sad to this day.

Trailer:



The Feature Film:



Out Takes:

Monday, July 4, 2011

New Sega RPG "Star Odyessy" Revitalizes Genesis Scene

Finally coming to a Sega near you!
Super Fighter Team, the same group of Sega retro-gamers responsible for the Genesis/Mega Drive offerings Beggar Prince in 2006 and The Legend of Wukong in 2008, are at it again! Super Fighter recently resurrected the old-school role playing game Star Odyssey, originally slated for release in the United States in 1991 or 1992 but cancelled for unknown reasons, and released it late last month to eager 16-bit devotees.

You can bet that I ordered a copy as soon as I heard about it. It looks like my Sega's gonna sizzle the summer away even more than I had anticipated. Stay tuned to Wordsmith VG for my thoughts on the game.

Longtime Sega fans might remember Star Odyssey from a handful of blurry screenshots released in the Genesis's heyday. However, the title never materialized.

As of this writing, copies of the game are STILL AVAILABLE.

Here's what Brandon Cobb, Super Fighter Team's founder, has to say about the project:

---

STAR ODYSSEY, our newest role-playing adventure game for the Sega Genesis, Mega Drive and all compatible systems, is now available! Originally released in Japan under the title Blue Almanac, the game was slated for release in English in the early '90s but alas, it was not meant to be... UNTIL NOW. Announcing the first new game to be published  in the classic gaming market in cooperation with a company in Japan:

Super Fighter Team proudly presents Star Odyssey @
http://www.starodysseygame.com/

Battle!

I vividly recall the first time I set my eyes on the ramshackle prototype of Blue Almanac as it had been adapted into pseudo-English. Here I held a game cartridge that few eyes had ever looked upon, despite it having been advertised in the publications of the time. People saw it, and people had interest in it, and despite that? POOF. Gone. Never set right with me for a moment. And that's fine, because Super Fighter Team has made it our job to remedy unfair situations like that one.

As I was putting the finishing touches on the game's new script, I took a look at one of those old press ads for the first time. The phrase "Your Star Odyssey is about to begin!" caught my eyes immediately, locking me in a silent moment of realization. We did it! We took this thing from myth to manifest. As a result, perhaps a few of the people who stared longingly at the blurry screenshots inside those early '90s magazines will now find some pleasant closure. I'm damned proud of that thought.

Buying important equipment.

June 22, 2011: Twenty years to the day after the release of Blue Almanac in Japan. We have done right by Hot-B Co., Ltd., licensing their fantastic role-playing adventure set in the future, and preparing it for a long overdue release worldwide.

We now invite you to enjoy the fruit of that hard work, by visiting the game's official website and ordering a copy.

http://www.starodysseygame.com/

You're sure to enjoy it.

---

Along with WaterMelon Team's original Genesis/Mega Drive RPG Pier Solar, Star Odyssey marks the fourth new game released since 2006 for the system Sega officially discontinued in 1996. So far, it looks like Star Odyssey is a must-have for fans of Phantasy Star and Super Fighter Team's other Sega releases.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What’s Blood Got to Do with It?

A lot of video games, particularly RPGs of the SNES and PlayStation 1 era, request a hodgepodge of information at the beginning of the mission. Asking for the player’s name makes sense; after all, you’ve got to call the main character something other than “generic spunky teen,” “guy who never talks but always leads the party” or “idiot amnesiac with outlandish hair.” Even when Earthbound for the Super Nintendo asked me what my “favorite thing” is, it eventually became important to the storyline.

But sometimes the questions get a little bit creepy. Take Dragon Warrior III for the Gameboy Color, which asks of new heroes, “Do you find life boring?” and “Is the sun the king of nature?” Apparently these bizarre, probing inquiries into my hilarious but ultimately trivial psyche somehow determine how hard the hero can swing a sword and how many magic points he or she gets at the start of the quest.

One of the seemingly least important questions a video game has asked before it would let me adventure boldly to my early grave is, “What’s your blood type?” Found in games like the original SaGa Frontier for the PSX, the age-old blood type query is apparently just as pointless as “Is adventuring a hardship?,” another (potentially self defeating) gem from Dragon Warrior III. HOWEVER! According to Japanese culture, one’s blood type determines plenty of aspects of his or her personality, from their temperament to who would make the best lover. I guess it’s a little bit like astrology and horoscopes, but I’m guessing that this stuff doesn’t appear next to Japanese Garfield strips.

To those wondering, here’s a nifty chart explaining the whole convoluted mythology (click here for a larger graphic):



Source: http://www.phlebotomist.net/

Of course, credit where credit is due: This graphic was designed by Lorena O'Neal; you can check out more of her work here.

So the next time a game asks for your blood type, take the question seriously – it just might pay off in the end. Or it’ll be another dumb question you had to answer before the killing can begin, but hey, sometimes that’s just the way things are.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The History of Valve

I finished playing though Duke Nukem Forever a week or two ago and I still stand behind my original assessment: It’s a fun, solid game that should please fans of the Duke – and few others. However, I couldn’t shake a feeling of Forever’s similarity to another shooter that I played long ago: The original Half-Life by Valve. I was starting to think that I was grasping for straws when near the end of the game, when he’s solving a puzzle involving steam pipes, Duke utters, “I hate valve puzzles.”

Maybe I’m not so crazy after all: Duke’s one-liner is a clear allusion to the company responsible for Half-Life 1 and 2, the Left 4 Dead series, and Portal, which educational theorist James Gee often points to as a game that helps students think in nontraditional, nonlinear ways. And Duke making fun of Valve is pretty ironic, given Half-Life’s heavy influence on Duke Nukem Forever.

We’ve been waiting on Half-Life: Episode 3 since 2007, a mere drop in the bucket compared to Duke Nukem Forever’s 14 year development cycle. Also mirroring Duke Nukem Forever’s released date of “when it’s done” is the answer given in March of this year to players demanding Episode 3: “Hang in there.” No specifics where given.

But Valve’s been far from dormant for the last few years. Perhaps taking precedence over Episode 3 was Portal 2, Valve’s recent sequel to the first person genre-bending sleeper hit of 2007. Or perhaps it was the development of Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 that sidelined Episode 3.

But regardless of what’s been delaying Half-Life: Episode 3, the history of Valve entertainment is an interesting one. I found the following awesome chart right here! You might want to click the link for a larger, more easily-read chart.


Source:Video GameDesign Colleges.org


A revenue of 10.5 million in 2008... I'll bet with Portal 2's release that it's doubled by now. Either way, let's hope that it doesn't take another 10 years to see Half-Life: Episode 3.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Happy Anniversary, Sonic!

With his limitless supply of dopey friends, a bizarre appeal to the freakiest of internet crazies and a facepalm-worthy string of successively worse last and current gen titles, Sonic the Hedgehog has fallen on bad times. But 20 years ago today, the original Sonic the Hedgehog game blasted its way onto the Sega Genesis in North America – and for the first time, Nintendo’s fat plumber had a worthy rival.

On June 23, 1991, Sega’ 16-bit revolution forged one of its brightest stars.

YOU CAN'T CATCH WHAT YOU CAN'T SEE. (No, not chlamydia.)

Created by artist Naoto Oshima, programmer Yuji Naka and designer Hirokazu Yasuhara, Sonic the Hedgehog on Sega Genesis/Mega Drive featured the speed that had been missing from most other platformers of the day. Instead of plodding along looking for secrets and timing jumps with great precision as players were used to doing in titles like Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog encouraged gamers to tear though levels at breakneck speed, stopping for a breather only when a boss appeared. Sonic’s adventure spanned six unique zones, including the lush Green Hill, the bouncy Spring Yard, and the ominous Scrap Brain, home of the evil Dr. Robotnik. Yes, his name is technically “Dr. Eggman.” But that sounds dumb. He’s Robotnik, damn it.

Sonic’s popularity boomed as players all over started noticing Sega’s 16-bit powerhouse for the first time. Finally, Sega had the “killer app” they needed to become a threat to the Nintendo juggernaut; and though the Super Nintendo had yet to hit the market in the United States, it could be said that Sonic the Hedgehog was the first victory in the 16-bit wars that characterized the era. Sonic 1 also planted the seed for Sega’s “gaming with an attitude” campaign, which lasted throughout much of the ‘90s and gave birth to the iconic SEGA! scream.



Notably, the original Sonic the Hedgehog is home to what just might be the worst kept secret in gaming history: The level select code. By pressing up, down, left and right at the title screen, then holding the A Button and pressing Start, players were brought to a screen containing every zone in the game, including the special stage. Perhaps because of its ease of use, the code spread through seemingly every playground and schoolyard in America. Players who used the cheat were likely surprised to find that the zone order in the level select menu was not the same as in the game itself, a curiosity that, we would find out later, was evidence of just how quickly the game was rushed to the market.

I'm out of order? YOU'RE out of... no, wait, you're right.

North American cover art
Sonic’s 16-bit career spanned four titles in the main series on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, such as the massively popular Sonic the Hedgehog 2, as well as Sonic and Knuckles, which featured impressive “lock-on technology” wherein players could piggyback S&K with older Sonic titles to create new experiences. Sonic’s other Genesis/Mega Drive offerings included Sonic Spinball, where Sonic was the speedy stand-in for the typical silver sphere in a giant game of pinball; Sonic 3D Blast – aka Flickie’s Island – an isometric experiment in 3D that pushed the limits of Sega’s black box but ultimately provided lukewarm gameplay; and a host of cameo appearances in other Sega titles.

Sonic’s fall was as swift as his rise, beginning with his second Dreamcast appearance. After Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic titles experienced a massive decline in quality. Sega, it seemed, couldn’t recapture the glory of Sonic’s 2D days. Whether Sonic is an outdated hero from a bygone era or if the franchise was handed poorly for the last decade is debatable, but recent Sonic efforts such as Sonic the Hedgehog 4 and Sonic Colors on the Wii were much better received than almost all Sonic games of the mid and late 2000s. Perhaps the upcoming Sonic Generations, for PS3, Xbox 360 and the 3DS, will settle the debate once and for all.

However, this is not the day to think about the future of Sega’s Blue Blur – this is a day to concentrate on his past. Take some time to pick up Sonic’s first crusade against evil today and you’ll see just why a hedgehog of all creatures took the gaming world by storm 20 years ago.

Sonic's so fast, he can run UPSIDE DOWN.

But don’t knock yourself out just yet: The summer of Sega is only just beginning.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Another Sizzlin' Sega Summer

For about the last 12 years - starting right after the death of the 16-bit era and the rise of 3D capable 32-bit systems like Sony's PlayStation and Sega's Saturn - the soothing, searing heat of the summer brings with it my renewed obsession with Sega's Genesis/Mega Drive and its many failed add-ons. During summers past, I've found myself playing through the Phantasy Star series one year at a time; immersing myself in mediocrity with the likes of Cosmic Carnage, the lazer-blasting humming bird Kolibri, and the forgettable "action" RPG Sword of Vermilion; and basking in the warm glow of the Sega CD/Mega CD's many, many full motion video games. Perhaps my greatest pro-Sega project spanned the length of four summers: I created back-ups of the entire North American Sega CD catalogue, spanning about 250 CD-Rs. The madness even included Bug Blasters, Citizen X and all the other nostalgic crap Good Deal Games resurrected in the early and mid-2000s.

Middle: My Sega CD back-up collection.
Top Left: Some Good Deal Games releases.

This summer greets me with limited access to my collection thanks my clever cousin taking up temporary residence in the "Sega room" and my preoccupation with finding a more suitable job. (By the way, did you know that a Master's degree will get you 50 cents more an hour at Best Buy than a Bachelor's? THANK GOD FOR ALL THAT COURSE WORK I DID.) But despite these factors - and my best judgement - I've got Sega on the brain yet again. You can thank the PlayStation Network re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-release of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for getting this little gem stuck in my head for the 6000th time in my life:



In case you've never experienced it, that's theme of the Hidden Palace Zone, the most publicized of myriad cancelled levels in Sonic’s second adventure. I used to sit and listen to this song in Sonic 2's sound test for hours on those lazy summer days, thinking about the "zone that never was." I’d seen a few pictures of a shimmering underground world, mysterious and alluring. What could it have been like? Why was it cut out of the game? Would it ever be finished on the Sega CD?

I guess I was the introspective type even at 10 years old.

Outrun!
This year, my cousin and I recently raged our way through the streets in Sega’s seminal Streets of Rage 2, bringin’ back memories of ass-kickings of old; seeing the manual to Altered Beast right now is making me want to travel back in time and "Wize from [my] Graweve," and I'd like nothing more than to jam out in the nearest graveyard with the killer robot version of Michael Jackson in Moonwalker. As the sun sets over the lush trees in my quiet neighborhood and the birds tweet their greeting to the coming summer season, I know there are epic battles yet to be fought in Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side, freaky buttons to be pushed and madcap consequences left to pay in Panic! and a plethora of cross country races left to win in Outrun.

I've never understood what it is about warm weather and the sweet scent of 10,000 flowers pouring gently through my window that gets me revved up about Sega's little black box and its uninspired upgrades, but like clockwork every year, the house that Sonic built takes center stage in my gaming world. This summer, grab a cool drink, take up the mighty 3-button controller and  find out for yourself just why the Sega Genesis once again does what Nintendon’t.


Long live Sega's 16-bit battles and the sun's spectacular rays!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Forever Begins Today

The man.
It once looked as if Duke Nukem Forever, the ever-vaporware sequel to the 1996 blockbuster PC game Duke Nukem 3D, would live up to its name by keeping gamers waiting endlessly: By the time a full decade had passed and the game was still in development, DNF had become the gaming industry’s biggest running joke of all time. But in May of 2009, right when the blonde bomber was poised to finally pound the plutonium pavement once more, the Duke of Nukem was blasted to an early grave when his parent company, 3D Realms, had a nuclear meltdown.

For months afterward, a toxic cloud hung over the heads of the Duke faithful, but as wise man once said, “Always bet on Duke.”


That man is an asshole; I lost thousands at the roulette table when I told them to “put it all on Duke” and the little ball instead landed on red 36. Yet it’s all worth it, because Duke Nukem Forever has finally been unleashed upon rabid fans and curious newcomers today, a mere 14 years after it was first announced.

And as you can see, I’ve got Balls of Steel.


I know I’ve been critical of shooters in the past, but Duke Nukem has become a radioactive ray of light in a world gone mad with realism. Hangin’ with the Dukester has always been about hittin’ on hot chicks, blowin’ stuff up, and layin’ the smackdown on a bunch of evil ETs straight from the pages of some sleazy comic book, not this super serious Tom Clancy dreck that the current crop of 14-year-old Xbox fanboys soils themselves over.

Thankfully, DNF holds true to the old run ‘n’ gun formula – for the most part. Forever’s got significant problems and doesn’t have the juice to surpass the legendary DN3D, but unless you’ve got lead shielding your heart, this Duke is gonna nuke his way right into your good gaming graces with a smile on his lips and a shotgun in his hands. The king is officially back, baby!

Relive the final battle of Duke 3D in Forever.
Damn, Duke is looking good in Forever with sweet textures and all the devious details you’ve come to expect from the franchise. The fang-toothed, snarling invaders from space are back too and looking as bloodthirsty as ever, but in all honesty, these graphics aren’t breaking much new ground. Also, besides Duke himself, the other human characters look a little uninspired; I guess one of Mr. Nukem’s stipulations for finally appearing was that no one could look better than him.

Speaking of self-indulgence: The classic numerical representation of Duke’s health is a thing of the past, replaced with an “ego bar” that rises whenever Duke does something manly, such as beating the heck out of an enemy with his bare hands or downing a cold brewskie. If the player hangs out awhile after being shot at or blown up, the Ego bar refills and Mr. Nukem has another chance to take out those slimy alien dirtbags. Regenerating health might make Duke’s latest adventure a little too easy for some, but it’s not all that different from the endless supply of health players can tap into by abusing water fountains in the original Duke 3D.

"He's really, really all out of gum."

You’re going to need all the ego boosts you can find if you plan on swapping lead with the alien menace besieging our planet and stealing our chicks, but Duke’s hardly the walking arsenal he was in previous titles. There’s a great variety of weaponry, ranging from handguns and shotguns to explosives and futuristic gadgets galore, but annoyingly, Duke can only hold one type of weapon category at a time (one bullet weapon, one explosive weapon, etc.). To balance this out, there are plenty of guns hanging around in Duke’s domain, so switching weapons on the fly is easy. I suppose this mechanic adds a bit of strategy to the mix, but I much prefer toting around my own armory like in the first person shooters of old.

Sorry for the quality; I was using a TV and a crappy camera. But... PIG COP!

There’s a lot of interactivity with the manmade environments, from picking up and drawing with markers to using showers and toilets, but much of that interactivity disappears in more open levels like the desert, making them pretty stale in comparison. Furthermore, horrendous load times whenever the player starts or restarts a level are a real drag and the rude jokes Duke is known for sometimes cross the line from clever to just crass.

Duke's new pad, and his new women, the Holsom twins.

Occasionally Forever goes beyond self-awareness and reaches the point of unintentional self-parody, but I’m pleased to report that much of that old Duke magic has managed to survive three engine changes, 14 years and the efforts of countless programmers and artists. Even though it took forever, everybody’s favorite foulmouthed alien asskicker has once again delivered a dandy dose of old school, irreverent entertainment.

What are you waiting for, Christmas? Come get some!

It's good!