Thursday, January 12, 2012

Feelin' Down Over DLC

The infamous Mr. Karate
Think back to a time before Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were the heavy hitters of the home video game console industry, while the once-mighty Nintendo amuses fewer and fewer fans with its parlor tricks. Now go back even further, past the PS2 era and the original Xbox Live. If someone had told you then that you could download extra features for your existing games for a few dollars, you’d probably have been pretty psyched; I would have been too.

Now hop on Xbox Live or PlayStation Network. We’ve all become used to how downloadable content (DLC)  is bundled and sold, but try to look at it from the point of view of your old self. You check on Street Fighter IV content and instead of new characters and stages, you see that it’s $3.99 for four or five ho-hum alternate outfits. Then you find out that characters for Marvel vs. Capcom 3 were made and put on the disc, but cost $4.99 each to play.

I bet your old self is pretty disappointed right about now.

Earlier this week, a character called Mr. Karate was released for King of Fighters XIII for $4.99. He’s a minor variation of a normal, you-got-him-already-when-you-bought-the-game character. Mr. Karate is also a 6 kilobyte download, which mean’s he’s already on the disc but is being held for ransom by SNK-Playmore. It’s not content that was made at a later date, which one could consider a true add-on; it’s content that was made from the get-go with the intention of chagrining you for it later.

If Mr. Karate were $1 or $2, I’d have been excited and picked him up. But even from the perspective of this longtime King of Fighters fan, Mr. Karate is not worth $4.99.

Businesses are out to make money and no one is forced to purchase DLC. Capcom, SNK-Playmore and every other gaming company has the right do what they want with their intellectual properties. But if they don’t start using DLC in more creative, interesting ways – or at least start pricing things more reasonably – fewer and fewer players are going to purchase it.

The best DLC is what you probably would have come up with when you were younger: New levels or another campaign to kill an afternoon with, like Red Dead Redemption’s Undead Nightmare add-on; not a freaking hat for Ryu that costs more than a bottle of cheap wine.

Like I said before, companies are out to make money. Speak with your wallet and eventually they’ll eventually get the picture. Example: I purchased all of the alternate costumes for the Street Fighter IV series. It was a waste of money to be sure, but as a Street Fighter fanatic, it’s what I wanted.

Later on, there were a whole slew of new costumes for another $3.99 a pop – this time requiring a large download, meaning that the content was truly new. So what would have happened if guys like me hadn’t dropped the dough for the first set of new duds?

From now on, unless they’re substantial or at least reasonably priced, no more add-ons for me.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Because Joe Said So #2: Android Assault: Revenge of the Bari-Arm

A.D. 2192 – The independent military nation Zias, established on Saturn presumably so no one finds out about its silly name, builds an army of titanium-reinforced killing machines and outfits them all with the “living-fighting computer geo system,” which is apparently much more sinister than having Neo-Geo systems in the cockpits like I had hoped. The Zias fleet begins attacking the United Nations, which for whatever reason is stationed on Jupiter – probably because they needed the space for a Target parking lot no one on Earth knew it was missing anyway. Somehow, the mighty United Nations’ usual stall tactics and easily ignored edicts had no effect on the laser-breathing, flesh-searing deathbot armada. The U.N.’s only option was to equip their final (read: only) space ship with their own Neo-Geo, pat it on its shiny metal hiney, and send it off to take on the entire red-eyed, child-gnashing horde by itself.

“Problem solved!” exclaimed the U.N. and they went back to endlessly negotiating Earth’s world peace.

On Jupiter.

That’s the ever-so-slightly paraphrased story of the space shooter classic, Android Assault: Revenge of the Bari-Arm for much maligned Sega CD. I’ve always thought that sending one ship to destroy thousands of snarling mechinoids is a terrible idea, yet somehow that’s the only thing that video game protagonists can think to do in times of crisis. From a real-life point of view, if one side of a conflict has a convoy of motorized horrors ready to pry open the other side’s rocket jalopy like a dented can of Cambell’s soup and suck the pilot’s soul though their platinum groinal hoses, the smart money is on the other team.

Though I respect their historical significance and contributions to the industry, I never really liked shoot-‘em-ups – or as some heathens call them, “shmups,” which sounds too much like “schmucks” to be a viable name for anything but the U.N.  But Android Assault is different. This shoot-‘em-up has something special that resonates with me to this day; something that makes it one of the few Sega CDs that’s really worth owning.

That something is the soundtrack.

No doubt that the interstellar jams surround the Bari-Arm like a sonorous cocoon and protect it from harm on its suicide mission; given the futility of the ship’s mission, it’s the only realistic explanation for things like “scoring” and “Stage 2.” Many a time have I rocked out to the soundtrack’s robo-righteousness while whizzing around in my 2006 Hyundai Bari-Sonata. In fact, I’ve spent more time listing to Android Assault than actually playing it. It’s taking a spin in my CD-ROM drive right now and I feel like my computer is nearly indestructible as a result.

But there’s a game on this awesome electro-rock album too and despite my position on shoot-‘em-ups, it’s pretty good. Though the graphics are sprite-based, they’re vivid, colorful, and a step above what could have been pulled off on a normal Sega Genesis. From almost serene, rural landscapes (minus the desperate space struggle occurring in the foreground of course) to futuristic factories and cities, Android Assault is a tour de force through a dystopian wasteland spotted with the odd oasis that resists the bloodshed surrounding it. In other words, it’s just as one would imagine a world run by the United Nations.

On Jupiter.

Vertical and horizontal flying sections – which at the time were not often in the same game – are populated with the expected assortment of upgrades like murderous missiles, lasers of atomic death and that one weapon no one knows how to use properly, so everyone goes for the heat-seekers instead.

I never made it past stage four or five of this seven-stage game and I don’t ever intend to. But that’s not necessarily a negative reflection on Android Assault: The thought of jumping into the cockpit of the Bari-Arm, grabbing that Neo-Geo joystick and blasting away until the soundtrack can no longer deflect the fiery death raining down upon me is still appealing, even though I’ve owned the game since Clinton’s second term. Some games become a chore to play after awhile, but Android Assault is not one of them. Though I’ll never ride the Bari-Arm to victory for the United Nations

on Jupiter,

I’ll always be willing to give it a shot. For the Sega CD, a system with so little to get excited about, that’s a great accomplishment.

To be fair, I consider another shoot-‘em- up, U.N. Squadron for the Super Nintendo, to be a better game overall. But U.N. Squadron doesn’t have alliteration in the title, it’s named after the same asshats who think Jupiter is a great place to talk about Earth’s problems, and still I can’t figure out how to ram the SNES cart into my car’s CD player. Therefore, Android Assault: Revenge of the Bari-Arm gets my vote as best soundtrack shoot-‘em-up of all time.