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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Gang's All Here

fye had one Koopa Troopa left and he was all I needed to complete my collection of Super Mario Plush toys. Kinda hard to believe there were only five in this particular set. Toad's head is huge and his lack of a neck is even more present in his plush form than in the games, but eh, whathcha gonna do? It was hard to get a Yoshi's eyes into view. What can I say, that freakish nose is just too huge.

It was fun coming across this brand of plush toys (Goldie) and collecting them all. I doubt this will be the only set of Mario plush toys I own. There's probably a brand that makes plush toys for Bowser and Peach. And I absolutely must have a Goomba plushie in my collection someday.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Virtual Console Purchases #5

Sonic the Hedgehog (GEN)
I was planning to get around to downloading this game eventually and since the blue blur's 20th anniversary just passed, now seemed like a good time. The first Sonic game is still a lot of people's favorite. It still has some of the absolute best designed levels, music and platforming elements. Looking back at this game, it's hard to believe that I was originally against Sonic simply because he rivaled Mario. Now, I'm just as big a fan of the hedgehog as I am of the plumber.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (GEN)

While I certainly don't think this is the best Sonic game (I can already hear Justin Sivak berating me for saying that), it's one of the best in the whole series. So what if the level design isn't on the same level as the original? Sonic 2 is still a fun, fast-paced game, was the first time Tails was playable, the introduction of Super Sonic and the first time we saw the Death Egg. These days I struggle to get all seven Chaos Emeralds and turn into Super Sonic because Tails keeps screwing me up. At times, it's hard to imagine that I once did it years ago as a kid. But thankfully, we have cheat codes for the lazy and there's no rule that says I have to play by the rules every single time I play a game I've beaten so many times before.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (GEN)
Are you seeing a pattern yet? When Sonic 3 came out I was beyond stoked. I read every feature on the game I could find in numerous magazines. The knew character Knuckles, the Floating Island, the small snowboarding section at the start of Ice Cap Zone, I drooled over every bit of information that surfaced on this game. For a long time it was my favorite Sonic game. I even bought a used copy at Blockbuster with my own allowance. It took some time before I got the hang of the special stages. Since Tails always stays behind you no matter what, he can't trip you up. Every time I failed on the special stages it was my own fault. Imagine my surprise when I found out years later that Sonic 3 was actually only half a Sonic game. Even on it's own, it's still very good.

Sonic & Knuckles (GEN)

The later half of Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Sonic & Knuckles was originally released nine months after the first game. The reason was due to Sonic team missing their deadline. But if they hadn't missed it, we wouldn't have seen the awesome lock-on technology that allowed us to play Sonic 2 as Knuckles and play through the Zones in Sonic 3 as Knuckles. Like Sonic 3, Sonic & Knuckles is still a competent Sonic game in it's own right, but to play Sonic 3 as originally intended, it's best to use the lock-on feature with Sonic 3, resulting in Sonic 3 & Knuckles, my all-time favorite Sonic game, and largest of any Genesis Sonic title. The final battle with Robotnik as Sonic is still, in my humble opinion, one of the best final battles ever. I also find it pretty groovy that there are super forms for not just Sonic and Knuckles, but Tails as well, but you really had to work to get his. Getting a total of 14 emeralds is a lot of work, but since Super Tails is more broken than the Hyper forms of Sonic and Knuckles, Sonic Team probably figured it was well worth the payoff. Unfortunately, I've never experienced the brokenness of Super Tails myself. (Sigh) Someday.

The Revenge of Shinobi (GEN)
What, a Virtual Console download that isn't Sonic? Well, I wasn't quite ready to grab Sonic Spinball and I've always hated Sonic 3D Blast. The Revenge of Shinobi was one of the Genesis earliest games and was the very first Shinobi title I ever played. Would you believe I didn't play this until the summer of 2001 when I found a copy at Funcoland (before they all became GameStop)? Even though it's an early Genesis title, it rocks sweet 16-bit visuals and a highly memorable soundtrack, thanks to the very talented Yuzo Koshiro. The Shinobi (Round 1), Terrible Beat (the regular boss theme), and China Town (Round 6) all have a spot on my MP3 player. I once watched my friend Justin Sivak play through the entire game in a short amount of time. My Genesis copy only has Spider-Man and not Batman as a boss, but really, what's more important, the gameplay or some comic book heroes as foes to fight? It doesn't bother me all that much if Spidey has been recolored because Sega doesn't have the license to use him for the VC game. All I care about is throwing kunai knives as Joe Musashi.

Games Bought: 5
Time Spent on Wii Shop Channel: 44 minutes
Total Virtual Console Games Owned: 67

Monday, June 27, 2011

GS Gives Ocarina of Time 3D an 8.5

One of the most anticipated 3DS games was released last week in the US, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, an enhanced port of the N64 game. While many other game sites gushed all over the game, giving it similar praise to the 1998 original with scores of 9.5s and 10s, GameSpot give it an 8.5. Oh. Snap.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not appalled that the portable, arguably superior version of Ocarina of Time got an 8.5. But many Zelda fanatics probably are. This certainly isn't the first time GameSpot has given a Zelda game a score lower than a 9. Twilight Princess was rated a very high score of an 8.8. To say that a good chunk of the fanbase that reads GameSpot flipped out over the score would be a massive understatement. This was seen as an insult, almost as if the score meant that Twilight Princess was a bad game. Is there some decreed rule that demands every Zelda game must be given a 9 or a 10 to be considered good? I mean, come on, you know an 8.5 is a very high score, right? 8.5 is the marking of a great game. Bad and subpar games get rated 5 and under, like Duke Nukem Forever.

This does make me wonder. Did Zelda fans freak out when Majora's Mask rated an 8.3 on GameSpot? Or what about when Ocarina of Time hit the Virtual Console and scored an 8.9? Were there riots in the street that I did not know about? Someone please tell me so I can sleep well at night.

By the way, GameSpot isn't the only site that gave Ocarina of Time 3D a "less than perfect score." 1UP gave the game a B+. Man, it must be a terrible game.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sonic 20th Anniversary Plush Toys

Seeing as how it's Sonic's 20th anniversary, it only felt right getting some sort of memento to commemorate the occasion and you can't go wrong with plush toys. (OK, so I would have gotten these anyway, but I made sure I bought them on June 23rd.) Great Eastern Entertainment put together these awesome plushies for Sonic's 20th birthday.

As far as I can tell, each of these plushies has the classic Sonic design. Sonic sports his pot belly design
with an all too familiar index finger pose. I ended up getting all of Team Sonic. It just didn't seem right having Sonic without Tails and I've always been a fan of Knuckles. These plush dolls have really lanky legs and arms so they can be a bit tricky to sit up, what with their heads being so big and all. This is doubly true for Knuckles who not only has big hands, he also has big feet. Then he's got those dreadlocks. But really, all this stuff is just nitpicking. These things are just so flipping cool. They can also be hung on the walls or even in your car, which is pretty cool if you're into car decorations.

As far as I know the only are plush in this set is Amy and I'm still not sure if I'll get that one. Yeah, she also has her original design. Not that I have a problem with her Sonic Adventure and on-wards look. I mean, seriously, is there a more annoying character in the Sonic universe? Amy is irritating no matter what she looks like.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Latest Game Purchases 7

Super cheap haul of games this week. I managed to snag games for four different systems and two of the cheapest imports I've ever picked up.

fye has had some really good deals on stuff lately and they are giving me more and more reasons to stop in. all three of my PS2 games came from them alone.

I owned Shox years ago. I picked it up at Best Buy for ultra cheap but traded it in without ever playing it and ended up regretting it. I've always been fascinated my Rally Racing and Shox was more or less the sport with a twist. I never imagined I'd come across Shox again and for so cheap. Video Game Heaven actually had a copy on cheap as well but I ended up being at fye first so I bought their copy, which was also complete. Think I'll actually fire this one up soon.

Cobra Triangle is actually a Rare developed game and one of their earlier NES titles. You're on a boat, playing from an isometric perspective. If memory serves, it's a combination of racing and shooting levels. I owned this one years ago for some stupid reason, I traded it away. It's so nice when you can make up for past mistakes.

I never played or owned Rogue Galaxy but have always been intrigued to check it out. The low price made the decision to finally pick it up quite easy. RPGs have been a tough genre for me to get back into lately but if I can put 70+ hours into a 3D Mario game, surely I can get back into doing that with RPGs.

Because I already had two PS2 games I was purchasing, I was able to buy a third one for a dollar. I was already considering buying ATV Off Road Fury and when I was told I could get it for next to nothing, I was sold.

Star Fox Command is a DS game I've been wanting to check out for a while now. Imagine my surprise when I go into Video Game Heaven and they have a copy for under $5. It was even complete, too! By far, the least amount of money I've ever put down for a DS game.

When I think of After Burner, I can't help but hear Hiro's epic musical compositions in my head. Now if I I could play these games and not be terrible at them. I really can't even tell the difference between the first After Burner and After Burner II, though if I'm not mistaken, After Burner II uses slightly different music and you have to have a pretty good ear to spot those differences. If it's wrong to like a game you're awful at, I don't want to be right. Of all the Sega Ages Saturn games I've seen in Video Game Heaven, this was by far the cheapest at $7.99. It was complete, too. That seems to be a reoccurring thing with all the Saturn imports I've bought thus far.

Capcom Generations Volume 3 contains 4 games. Son Son, Vulgus (which sucks), Exed Eyes, and Higemaru. I'd actually forgotten that Capcom had released some of it's arcade games on the Saturn in compilations in Japan until I saw this. It was so stupidly cheap that I think I'd have felt bad for not buying it. Also, it was complete.

Mail Call #2

I got a package in the mail on Thursday, something that I ordered from more than a week ago. It was my first time ordering from Play-Asia. I've been aware of the existence of Play-Asia for sometime now but up until now, I've never bought anything from them. After browsing the site and seeing what all they've got to offer, I'll probably make more purchases from them from now on.

Regional encoding is no longer the boss of me when it comes to Sega Saturn imports. I have gone into the dragon's den and slayed the beast and I can now play all the Japanese and European Saturn games I can get my hands on. The Action Replay 4M Plus, wonderful little device, has three functions. It's an Action Replay so it's loaded with cheat codes, which I'm not above using if I feel a game has screwed me over one too many times. It's also a 4M memory card, which rocks because the built in memory on my Saturn died years ago. I can finally save my game on NiGHTS. Lastly, it's a 1/4M expansion RAM card. Some import games require extra ram in order to be played on the Saturn such as X-Men vs. Street Fighter.

Unlike the faulty 4MB cart that Sega made, the Action Replay works like a charm. All I had to do was put that sucker in and I was tossing screen clearing Hadokens in X-Men vs. Street Fighter and playing horribly in After Burner II. I cannot wait to get more imports for my Saturn now. There are already a number of titles I want like the Salamader Deluxe Collection, the Gradius Deluxe Pack, and a few others. I may end up with quite the collection of Saturn imports.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sonic the Hedgehog Turns 20

After Nintendo had revived the North American video game market in 1985 with the NES and Super Mario Bros., they were king of the hill. The company was the undisputed champion of video games with an unfathomable 90% death grip on the gaming market. Other companies that tried to compete were crushed. Even Sega's 8-bit Master System just wasn't in the same league as the NES. Sega wanted a piece of the video game hardware pie and was fed up with settling for scraps. The 16-bit Genesis (named Mega Drive in Japan and Europe) made it's debut in 1989 and boasted graphics and sounds far above that of the NES but it still wasn't enough to topple Nintendo, who had their own 16-bit machine on the way. Sega needed an edge, something that would not only divert attention away from the upcoming SNES, but from Mario as well. Spanning 11 months, and the combined talents of Naoto ƌshima, Yuji Naka, and Hirokazu Yasuhara, Sonic Team was formed and a Sega mascot was produced to rival Mario and prove that Nintendo was not untouchable.

Our first in-game look at Sonic.
It's a hot summer day on June 23rd, 1991. You're giddy with delight because your parents just bought you a Sega Genesis. After all the connections are made, a cartridge is dropped into the console deck and the power switch is flipped on. The word "SEGA" is seen and heard on the TV screen. Shortly after that, a logo that reads "Sonic the Hedgehog" appears and the blue rodent himself pops out of the title with a smirk on his face, waving his index finger at you. Sonic wasn't like that nice boy Mario. He was different. Sonic had an attitude and very little patience.

Like many youths of the 1990s, I, too, was part of the great divide that took place when Sonic the Hedgehog came rushing onto the scene. Being a kid that had already invested 5 or so years into Nintendo hardware and games, I sided with the camp of Super Mario World. Anytime someone said Sonic was cooler, faster, or all around better than Mario, I would stand up and defend the plumber to death. Sonics, attitude, speed and arguably superior visuals didn't matter to me. Supporting a character thar rivaled Mario just seemed like treterchy in my mind.

The Japanese box art for the first Sonic
the Hedgehog.
Box art for the American release. 
European box art.
I remained fiercely loyal to Mario until one Sunday afternoon when I went to a friends house. My parents had gotten me the SNES for the 1991 Christmas season and my friend had recieved the Genesis. All the way to his house he was talking up Sonic the Hedgehog. Since my friend had good taste in games and we'd been friends since as long as I could remember, I was willing to go in with an open mind and give the Sonic a shot. As I watched my friend play through all three acts of Green Hill Zone, I realized that up until that point, Sonic was the only character that could match Mario when it came to pure platforming goodness. Commercials had often advertised Sonic's speed and attitude at the forefront of everything else that I never stopped to consider what the core gameplay of Sonic would be like. Sure it was much faster than that of Mario, but it was also undeniably entertaining and that was the best part about it. There was a remarkably fine tuned game underneath all that 'tude that Sega bragged about (something that Sonic's countless imitators would sadly overlook.) From that day forward I knew that it was perfectly fine to like Mario AND Sonic and Sega had won themselves another hedgehog fan.

Green Hill Zone, the first level of the game
and the first level of the very first Sonic game. It
has a memorable, distinct appearance and some
of the best first level music. Ever.
The competition that resulted from the SNES/Genesis 16-bit wars is still fondly remembered to this day. Despite the fact that Nintendo was a heavy contender, Sega belittled Nintendo and Mario at every opportunity. If Mario and the SNES were pimped out Huffy mountain bikes, Sonic and the Genesis were Harley Davidson motorcycles, at least that the way Sega portrayed them in magazine ads and TV commercials. But Sega's attitude towards the competition brought out some of the very best stuff from The Big N. Super Metroid, Super Mario Kart and many of Nintendo's first party SNES offerings are widely regarded as some of the finest games the company has ever made. With Nintendo being such a worthy adversary, Sega couldn't afford to slack and in turn, their games were also legendary, with Sonic leading the charge.

Going back to the little hedgehog that could, Sonic's first game was revolutionary for it's day. As mentioned before, speed was a core gameplay mechanic, tasking the player with running loop-the-loops (a staple of the series), running across collapsing platforms and smashing all sorts of killer robots with some of the most spectacular visuals and sounds a home console had to offer. Of course not everything was speed-based. While running fast was key, doing it all the time was a good way to get yourself killed. The first area could quite literally be breezed through. Areas such as Marble Zone and the devious Labyrinth Zone required the player to slow down, carefully time those jumps and in the case of the later zone, stop for air bubbles or suffer the terrible fate that is drowning. Rather than save a princess, Sonic had a whole planet to save from the awesomely named Dr. Robotnik, a mad scientist with a 300 IQ bent on world domination. To make him even more sinister, he's captured the planet's animals and imprisoned them in the robot foes Sonic encounters on his quest. If stuffing cute animals in killer robots isn't cause to make you want to tear a megalomaniac a new one, I don't know what is.

Pretty as Sonic the Hedgehog was, all the visual performance in the world wouldn't do a lick of good without solid level design. Thankfully, the people at Sonic Team knew this and didn't let Sonic coast along with just lovely colors. The first Sonic game has some of the most stylishly designed levels of the Genesis era. There are ancient ruins, underwater temples, metropolitan factories, things that are common in many games today but at the time, these environments had never been pulled off so well, nor had they looked this good on a home gaming system. As extraordinary as the games last five zones are, the most iconic area would have to be the first one, Green Hill Zone. Decorated with palm trees, a fantastic view of the ocean and huge loops, Green Hill Zone has gone on to become one of the most remembered first levels of any video game. It isn't just it's look that makes Green Hill Zone so iconic. Like Super Mario Bros. 1-1, Green Hill Zone is loved so much because of it's theme music. While Sega obviously couldn't get Koji Kondo to do the music for them, they did make the right move in getting Masato Nakamura to compose the game's music. A member of the Japanese pop band Dreams Come True, Nakamura gave Sonic the Hedgehog music that would stay with the player long after the power button on the Genesis had been shut off. There's not a person alive that will say bad things about Green Hill Zone's music. Even the sound effects of the first Sonic game are classic, so much so that many of them haven't changed since the first game.
Contrary to popular belief, Tails did not
make his debut in the console version of
Sonic 2. The Master System/Game Gear
version of Sonic 2 landed in Japan, Europe, and
the USA before the Genesis version in all
three regions, making it the first true
appearance of Sonic's faithful sidekick.

Japanese box art for Sonic 2. Sonic & Tails, represent!
The American and European Box art. Sonic 2 released
in America and Europe on Tuesday, November 24, 1992.
Sega dubbed that particular day "Sonic 2s day."  
Sonic & Tails in the first area in Sonic 2, Emerald Hill Zone.
The bonus stages in Sonic 2 take place on
insanely cool half-pipes.
The FMV opening to Sonic CD is still fantastic to watch.
Sing it with me now! "Toot too Sonic Warrior"/"Sonic Boom"

In the years that followed the release of Sonic the Hedgehog, he became arguably as popular as Mario. Sonic appeared in cartoons, comics, and nearly everything else that could be marketed and sold to children. At his core, Sonic was still a video game character and the sequels that followed the original were standout games. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for many fans is the best of the series, while for me, Sonic 3 & Knuckles is my all-time favorite Sonic game.

Japanese Sonic 3 box art.
American box art for Sonic 3.

Japanese box art for Sonic & Knuckles. Looks awesome but
those words about the sun under the logo are just odd. Really, was
that even needed?
The American box art for Sonic & Knuckles. Sports a stylish
black background and is thankfully
spared the babel about laughing suns.
It hasn't been a completely smooth ride for Sonic, though. The 3D era is rife with Sonic games that focus on gimmicks above all else. These have ranged from decent (Sonic Unleashed) to just plain awful (Sonic the Hedgehog 2006) but there are still fans who enjoy 3D Sonic action. I myself really liked Sonic Adventure and Sonic Colors is being hailed as the best modern Sonic game.

Even through his rough patches, Sonic has managed to endure and in a field where you can easily be tossed aside and forgotten, that says a lot. Sonic owes much of his success and staying power to his many fans. Sure, some of them can be an angry, fickle bunch, but without the fans, Sonic still wouldn't be around today. I may not have liked him from the beginning, but I feel honored to have been there when Sonic first stepped into the gaming world. Well, writing this piece was fun, but I've got a some Chaos Emeralds to collect and a mad doctor to foil.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mario and His Friends Have Gone to Pieces

It's been years since I bought a puzzle. I occasionally work on them with my nieces but this is the first time in a very long time I've bought a puzzle for myself, and jigsaw puzzle at that. Naturally putting Mario and his pals on the cover is a great way to get my attention.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii Collector's Puzzle is a 550 piece jigsaw puzzle that comes in a stylish red box packing just like the Wii game of the same name. In fact, the puzzle is the cover of the game's box art, something I'm a bit bummed about. That being said, I've always been fond of New Super Mario Bros. Wii's cover art and even if I've seen the image a million times, the puzzle being over 500 pieces means it will probably take me some time to put together. Since it's been a while since I've worked on such an expansive puzzle it should be fun (and maybe a little frustrating) to work on sections at a time.

This puzzle also runs pretty cheap. I got mine at Barns & Nobles for just $14.95. It can probably be picked up for a big cheaper if you shop around, I'm sure. There's also a Super Mario Galaxy Collector's Puzzle that's 550 pieces as well and sells for around the same price. I'll pick that one up if I spot it or order it offline.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Game Art #6: Zelda Showcase

Majoras Link by Odewill
Ocarina of time by tititotm
Young princess Zelda by ReevolveR
The Legend of ZELDA by captainosaka
Twilight Princess by GENZOMAN
20 Years of Zelda by hylianmage
Zelda by auspiciouspanda
Zelda: Around the World by rubberyjido
-Link's Awakening- by kichisu
Tetra and Link by GENZOMAN
25 years Legend of Zelda by Miyukiko
The Legend of Zelda - Color by living-oxymoron

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mario in My Yahtzee

As long as they keep placing Mario and company in popular non video games, I'll more than likely keep buying them. This time, the game is Yahtzee. I've actually never played Yahtzee before. Nearly 30 years on this planet and I've never played one of the most acclaimed dice games. A shocker, I know.

Like the Jenga Donkey Kong Collector's Edition, Yahtzee Super Mario Collector's Edition is the classic game of Yahtzee with a twist. What twist that entails, I cannot say because again, I've never played Yahtzee before. I like the collectible "?" block that came with the game as well as the special Mario-themed dice. Even the packaging is pretty cool so I'll be hanging onto that as well. Maybe I'll try the game out on one of my upcoming days off. I still haven't played Jenga so maybe I'll knock that out, too.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Time for a Newer DS Model

I've had my original fat Nintendo DS since the summer of 2005. It has served me well, delivering hours of entertainment with Game Boy Advance games and of course, DS games. But the touch screen isn't as clear as it used to be, and I sure wouldn't mind having one of the sleeker models. Now that I'm working full time and making good money, I figure it's time to upgrade.

I'm leaning towards getting a DSi. "But Reg, why don't you just get a 3DS?" Because it's two hundred and fifty friggin' dollars, that's why. That kinda money for a handheld, by Nintendo or any other company, is not cheap. Besides, if I put money down on Nintendo's first 3DS model, I'll be kicking myself later when Nintendo releases the 3DS+, 3DSi or whatever upgrade the 3DS will no doubt get in the future. When I buy a 3DS, I'm only buying one version of it and no more.

The fact that many of the 3DS' triple A games aren't here yet also make it easier to pass on right now. Yes, I'm fully aware of the Ocarina of Time remake that drops this month and as a huge OoT fan, I want it just as badly as the rest of you, but it isn't enough to make me part with $250. Nintendo is promising Mario Kart 3DS and the new Super Mario 3DS game by the end of this year, but this is Nintendo we're talking about, a company that is notrious for delaying games. So if either of those games hit store shelves before December 31, 2011, I'll eat a piece of glass.

There are still plenty of DS games I need to play like Bangai-O Spirits, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hour Glass, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow and way too many more to mention. Heck, there are still some GBA games I need to play/finish.

I'd like to get a DSi new, but I'm not opposed to getting a used one. Much of my used stuff functions extremely well to this day (my PS2). So I'll probably check the net for some good deals.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Virtual Console Purchases 4

Man, I so wish Compile was still around. When they weren't cranking out games for the Puyo Puyo series they made some truly excellent shooters, chief among them being the Aleste games. MUSHA is one of the best the genre has to offer on the Genesis and is quite rare. I actually scored a loose copy back in 2007 for less than $20. MUSHA being available on the Virtual Console is a miracle in and of itself. At 800 points, it's beyond being a steal. MUSHA also marked one of those rare instances where even the American box art was awesome. I got to the final stage of this game but as never able to complete it. I'm hoping to rectify that.

R-Type III: The Third Lighting (SNES)
One of those rare SNES carts, R-Type III was ported to the Game Boy Advance in 2004, but it was a pretty pitiful effort, one I quickly traded in. Video Game Heaven actually has a boxed copy of R-Type III but I shudder to think what it costs, so I'm more than content with a digital version of Irem's premier shooter. I've heard this one is rather difficult. That's not much of a surprise. All of the R-Types are insanely hard games. I think the only ones I've actually beaten are Super R-Type and R-Type Final and that took a lot of time on both.

Bonk's Adventure (TG-16)
From what I've heard, Bonk was to the TurboGrafx 16 what Sonic and Mario were for the respective platforms back in the day. While the kid with a ridiculously huge head may not have been on the same level as Sega and Nintendo's mascots, he did hit a positive vibe with TG-16 owners, serving up some of the best platforming action on the system. I nearly picked up his entire platforming trilogy on the TG-16 because they were only 600 points a piece but decided to settle with just the first for now. I'll more than likely grab the remaining two later on and probably the Air Zonk shooters as well. I wish Hudson Soft was still around.

Streets of Rage 2 (GEN)
Streets of Rage 2 has been on my mind a lot lately. Because of my current setup, I can only have about four systems out at once and I really didn't feel like unpacking the Genesis just to play Streets of Rage 2 again. Once more, the Virtual Console saves the day. Like most fans, I firmly believe Streets or Rage 2 is the best of the bunch. The first game is good, the second one is even better, with the third being way harder than it should be. I could gush all over Streets of Rage 2 and why it's a marvelous game but then, that would be repeating what millions of games have already said.

Castlevania (NES)
The Grim Reaper is not the only reason Castlevania is such a hard game. It has tricky platforming, tough bosses, nasty enemy placement and the ever so annoying Medusa Heads. Make no mistake, the original Castlevania is why many people loath Medusa in any shape, medium or form. Blood, sweat and tears are linked to this game for many of us, yet it's still highly regarded as a classic. For a game that came out in 1987, it still looks and sounds quite nice. Wicked Child is in desperate need of more remix love. Seriously, tone it down on the Vampire Killer and Bloody Tears arrangements, people.

Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (NES)
I actually own the entire NES Castlevania trilogy on carts but for some reason, my copy of Castlevania III always crashes on the first level in mere minutes. This one is praised as being the best of the traditional (meaning non Metroidvania) Castlevania titles. Personally, I believe that honor goes to Super Castlevania IV, but maybe I'll sing a different tune after spending some quality time with Castlevania III. As hard as the original Castlevania is, I'm told this one is even more so. Time to check and see if I have enough aspirin.

Games Bought: 6
Time Spent on Wii Shop Channel: 1 Hour & 23 minutes
Total Virtual Console Games: 62

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tom Nook is Still a Jerk

So I finally opened up and started playing Animal Crossing City Folk late in the night hours after work on Monday. The game started off very similarly to the first Animal Crossing. I was riding on a bus and some cat sitting next to me (the same cat from the first Animal Crossing) strikes up a conversation about moving to a new town, which I named Snestown (a No Prize to anyone who guess where that name came from). I hop off the bus, go to town hall to meet the mayor and then I go house hunting. The houses are much more spread out this time around. After checking out the first house, I leave and guess who's outside waiting for me? Everyone's favorite monopolizing raccoon, Tom Nook. The only raccoons I like in video games are the ones that fly with their tales and Rocky from Pocky & Rocky. I despise Nook with a passion that cannot be put into words.

Now, it isn't like I wasn't aware that I'd have to contend with Nook again. With the way City Folk began just like the first game, I knew only too well where this was going. Still that didn't make Nook's presence anymore bearable. Just like the first AC, you're immediately made Tom Nook's personal whipping boy/girl and must deliver gifts, plant trees, write letters, you know, all the usual slave labor that fiendish rodent hangs over your head. Of course it's not over when he says he has no more work for you to do. No, you still have to come up with a way to pack him back for your house! Gah! It's 2002 for me all over again!

In spite of dealing with Nook, I really am enjoying my time with City Folk. Snestown is a great place to live. Things from the first game return like bug and fish catching, finding fossils and paintings, which can all be donated to the museum. You can also talk to your neighbors to help them out, send them letters, invent new catch phrases for them to say. It's all light hearted fun. I've found the Animal Crossing games to be very relaxing and sometimes I need a game where I don't have to save the world.

I was always a big fan of the wardrobe in the first Animal Crossing and some old clothes from that game return here with some new stuff. As with the previous game, you can design your own patterns to wear on your shirts, put on the town flag, and on your wall/floor. There are cool little accessories you can wear like sunglasses, a doctor's mirror (look's like a monocle the way your character wears it) and some other stuff like tribal headgear. It's neat little touches like that which help make City Folk all the more fun.

New to City Folk is a City that you can visit, which houses an assortment of stores not found in your own town. During the day hours, the city is bustling with people, including some faces from the original Animal Crossing. I got a kick out of seeing Cookie and Savanna again even if they didn't acknowledge who I was because it was a new game. I'll have to get more bells if I want to buy some of the fancy clothes and change hair styles in this game. Doing stuff in the city tends to cost more than what it would in your hometown. I'm still making my first payment to Nook on the house to make it bigger, and the only way I have of making money right now is selling apples. So yeah, I gotta get different types of fruit somehow and plant more trees. Being broke again sucks. By contrasts, I was filthy rich with maxed out cash in the first game.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Virtual Console Review: Contra III

System: SNES
Genre: Run & Gun
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Virtual Console Release: January 29, 2007 (USA)  / January 19, 2007 (EU) / January 16, 2007 (JPN)
Original Release: April 6, 1992 (USA) / November 19, 1992 (EU) / February 28, 1992 (JPN)
Cost: 800 points
Players: 1-2
Rated: E (Everyone)

What is it with aliens in Contra games? Humans never seem to be able to sip tea and crumpets with these extra terrestrials. They always gotta come down to planet Earth with an attitude. Their first order of business in Contra III: The Alien Wars is nuking an entire city. As Bill Rizer and Lance Bean said, "It's time for revenge," and we will most definitely be attacking those guys "aggressively."

After blowing up a city this guy shows up to troll about it. Jerk.
As is the case with other Contra games, your ultimate goal is to take back Earth from the alien invaders. The first level drops you in the ruins of a destroyed city, shooting your way through ground soldiers, alien dogs and even has you manning a tank! It really gets your blood pumping and is a fantastic way to start out the game.

"Welcome to Earth!"
Four of the game's six stages are 2D side scrollers with the other two being played and viewed from a top down perspective, a bit similar to that of Super C. In the side scrolling stages, you shoot your way through the stage to face off against the stage boss. In the top down levels you have to eliminate five targets before gaining access to the stage boss. You're also given the option of choosing your starting point on these stages. If you're playing a 2 player game and choose game A, these top down levels will be played in split screen mode, which is great for covering more ground. 2 player game B keeps both players together. For extra added freedom, you can use the L and R buttons to rotate your character and even fire both guns at once. Huzzah!

Remember this guy? He was the final boss in the original Contra.
That whole take-over-Earth business didn't go down so well so
he was regulated to sub-boss status here.
No matter whether you're playing the side scrolling levels or the top down stages, the action in Contra III is relentless. You face danger at every turn, are attacked from all sides and every stages is packed with several sub bosses, some big enough to be the level boss. You need quick reflexes to survive in the world of Contra III. On easy the game isn't too tough but you'll probably lose some lives in the later stages. Playing on normal and hard gives the sub bosses and stage bosses more attacks and throws even more waves of enemies at you. If you want any type of true ending to this game, finishing it on hard is required but if you don't mind a simple congratulations, then play it on anything other than hard. You can crank the number of lives to seven in the options menu (highly recommended) and the higher the difficulty you choose, the more continues you're granted.

This Terminator-themed bosses is one of the best in the game.
He breathes fire, shoots homing lasers and is equipped with
nasty detonator bombs. Even the way he dies is stylish! 
As difficult as Contra III can get you are thankfully give what is arguably the best arsenal in the Contra series to defend yourself with. Your default machine gun is actually pretty handy, though you'll no doubt want to pick up one of the five guns you see through out the game. The flame thrower, while short in range is quite powerful. Homing missiles lock onto enemies, great if you don't feel like aiming your shots. The fan favorite spread is actually the weakest of the five weapons, but covers the most firing range of any of the guns. The laser  is insanely powerful and will pierce through sub bosses like butter but it's attack line is extremely narrow. Crush missile is an excellent gun to have in any situation, exploding when they collide with enemies, casing massive damage. You can carry up to two guns at once but when you lose a life, whatever weapon you were using at the time goes bye-bye so if you're know you're about to bite it, you might want to switch guns. Finally, there's the smart bomb. With these, you're limited to the number you can carry but the damage caused fills the entire screen, sweet for getting rid of those pesky mooks and putting some hurt on bosses as well.

The first top down level of the game.
Despite it's run & gun nature, Contra III has some varied level designs and bosses to keep things fresh. In addition to the top down levels, there's an awesome motor cycle stage that has you offing aliens passing over you on hover bikes and climaxes with you riding shooting missiles to destroy an alien warship that's been giving you grief about halfway through the level. The third stage has you fighting a sub boss over a bottomless pit with a rotating bar for you to hang onto and immediately after that comes another sub bosses which is fought while scaling a huge wall. Once you get to a certain point, the boss pulls a top and bottom portion of the wall out with spikes on both ends. The boss then proceeds to try and crush you while his weak point is exposed. Contra III is the very definition of the term "thrill ride."

Bill and Lance are so awesome that they can hang on to flying
missiles and it doesn't have to make sense how they can do it.
Even though it was one of the earliest SNES games, Contra III is still a marvel to look at. Destroyed cities are dark and haunting, with the best example being the third stage where smoke from several destroyed buildings fills the sky with blackness. There's also some highly impressive mode 7 effects in the top down stages, most notable being the boss of the second level, a giant, robotic spider that tries to crush you after its takes enough damage. The war-themed soundtrack is every bit as good if not better than the visuals. Rather than play it safe and just give the music from Contra and Super C the 16-bit audio treatment (the only tune that received that was the stage clear jingle), Konami went all out with brand spanking new music. The track that plays in the first level, actually titled "It's Time For Revenge", gets you stoked to shoot anything that moves. On the third stage, the tune "Battle Runner" plays in the background and perfectly matches the scenery of the destroyed city and black sky, illustrating both visually and audio-ably how badly those aliens have wrecked our planet.

Contra III is often praised as the pinnacle of the Conta series. Later Contra titles like Contra: Hard Corps, Contra: Shattered Soldier and Contra 4 have all been splendid Contra entries, but Contra III is Contra perfection, ranking as one of the best games of the 16-bit era and one of the best run and gun games. Download this now.

Screen shots from

Take it Easy in Japan
Known as Contra Spirits in Japan, the Japanese version of Contra III features infinite continues regardless of the difficulty setting. In addition, the game also uses the Konami Code to give the player 30 lives. There's also a code to select any stage in the game and listen to the game's music via sound test (remember when nearly every game had that option?) The American and European versions have no such codes or infinite continues, making an already tough game that much more difficult. It certainly wasn't the last time Konami did something along these lines with a Contra game outside of Japan. The Japanese version of Contra: Hard Corps originally had a life bar allowing up to three hits before you perished along with unlimited continues. European and American gamers were of course, screwed.