It's a pity this Namco sleeper never became as popular as its Williams counterpart Sinistar, because judging from my experience with the MSX version (or more specifically, the fMSX version, but that's a long story and one which I'll discuss in detail in the next issue), this quirky shooter deserved far more attention than it ever received in the early 80's. You are cast as the pilot of the Star Destroyer, a powerful Galaga-ish ship with the unenviable task of destroying space stations bristling with defensive systems. There are two ways to eliminate these stations: take out each of their six habitat bubbles, or the more delicate process of sending laser shots directly into their cores. As stations are destroyed, your opposition grows, and enemies begin to swarm around you in an attempt to distract you from your mission. Ship formations a'la Time Pilot and spies also appear at random intervals, awading skilled players with bonus points should either be destroyed. In other words, it's your typical shooter from the early 80's, which is by no means a bad thing... in fact, the ability to hunt down your enemies is a refreshing change of pace in a genre inundated with forced-scrolling blastfests. The mono-colored sprites are a real turn-off (and quite unnecessary, judging from later MSX releases), but that aside fans of the arcade original will find much to like about this sterling translation.
I've had to put up with more than my share of generic, uninspired, and outright terrible Genesis games in the last two years thanks to Sega's disastrous mishandling of the system, but Deep Space Nine is insulting to me as both a Genesis fan and a DS9 fan, and that is just inexcusable. None of the charm and charisma from the series is captured in this no- frills side-scrolling adventure... although there's a little dialogue, the characters look exactly alike save for some barely distinguishable faces, and the bulk of the game concentrates around Sisko's having to perform ridiculously menial tasks like diffusing Bajoran grenades left scattered around the station. This wouldn't be quite so bad if it weren't for the lousy control and confusing play mechanics... it's overly difficult to drop down from one ledge to another, the weapons selection system is needlessly complicated (owners of the six button arcade pad should have been able to select items on the fly, since Sisko can only hold three of them, but they too must hold down the C button to access their tricorder or phaser pistol), and punching is as futile as Dole's bid for the presidency in 1996. Needless to say, I don't recommend this to fans of the series, or for that matter, anyone else.
Oh, joy and rapture. Another game based on what could possibly be the most formulaic, emotionally manipulative film of all time, E.T. Apparently, Atari didn't learn its lesson from the resounding failure of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial for the 2600, because this is even worse... as Elliot, you've got to assemble the pieces of a telephone left scattered around an ugly playfield while avoiding stick figures (CIA agents and scientists, assumably), then take each piece home so everyone's favorite wrinkly freeloader can call his fellow aliens which then proceed to blow up the White House and get their asses kicked by the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Oops, wrong overhyped cookie-cutter sci-fi film. I mean, so E.T. can call his ugly little friends and leave the planet, yanking on everyone's heartstrings and making Steve Spielburg a multi-millionaire in the process. That's better. Anyway, after you assemble the phone, E.T. croaks "E.T. Phone Home" in the world's worst digitized voice, then sets out on his own to find his ticket off the planet while avoiding the above-mentioned CIA agents. Oh, the excitement. With its primitive graphics, limited sound effects, and dull, simplistic gameplay, only one thing can be said in E.T. Phone Home's favor... it's faithful to the license in that both it and the film suck donkey.
There have been many sequels (too many, if the Mega Man X games are any indication...) to this revolutionary side-scrolling shooter, but the first Mega Man remains the most memorable of these games because 1. It stretched the limits of its host system further than any other early NES release, and 2. It has a chrome-plated, serious style of artwork that sets it apart from the other games in the series. I guess that's probably why people think I'm insane for considering this the best of the Mega Man games, but to me, the cold, metallic look gives the game a sense of urgency and impact that the sequels just don't have. For instance, there have been many characters throughout Mega Man's history that have attempted to replace the huge one-eyed sentinel that guards each boss' hideout in the first game. In my opinion, all of them have failed miserably to reproduce the sense of dread that arises from being cornered by this bizarre monstrosity. I still get a chill down my spine whenever I hear the metallic clomp of Big Eye's lone foot beating against the ground, making its way towards my character in an attempt to squash him flat. People also seem to think that the sequels improved upon the first Mega Man visually... but is that really the case? Certainly, the bosses were larger, and the enemies were cuter, but they weren't necessarily more detailed. Moreover, many of them were drawn without a hint of light-source shading, making them look more like anime' characters than actual machines. Where's the realism in that? I dunno... I'm not saying that the other Mega Man games weren't good; I just feel that the game that started it all hasn't gotten the respect it deserves.
This game's power over people never fails to amaze and annoy me. Everyone from Time to Next Generation has called Nintendo's overhyped and undersupported Nintendo 64 was "The Best Game System of the Year" after playing Super Mario 64 briefly, and even some fan-eds have fallen under its spell, slathering the game with praise after giving it a quick test drive at their favorite retail outlets. The problem is, SM64 is one of those games you can't judge from a first impression. Sure, it'll suck you in with its terrific graphics and gameplay at first, but after an hour or so, you'll begin to notice that poor Mario has tumbled into bottomless chasms and pools of molten lava a great deal more often than necessary. And after a couple MORE hours, you'll begin to question your own sanity after Mario careens off the ice slide in the Snowy Mountains stage and squeals "Mama Mia!" for what seems like the sixteen thousandth time. So, if you're absolutely convinced that you should buy an N64 after playing Super Mario 64 for fifteen minutes, it's obvious that you haven't played it long enough.
Saturn owners have nothing to fear, as their version of the survival horror adventure is up to the standards of the Playstation game. Compared to Tomb Raider and Super Mario 64, however, Evil leaves much to be desired. Many reviewers have compared Evil to a good, scary horror film, but this quality works as much against the game as it helps it. The atmosphere is indeed very tense... like a horror movie, it knows just when to lull you into a false sense of security, only to shock the hell out of you with an unexpected and often fatal attack. I literally screamed when I walked by a window in a cramped hallway, only to have a rotting Rottweiler leap through it and lunge for my throat!
Unfortunately, surprises like these aren't random and as such don't stay surprises for long. Evil's "puzzles" (if you can call them that) are about as hard to figure out as the next plot twist in a Freddy Kreuger film, and as you've heard, the acting is even worse. Watching Jill mime out such classic lines as "That's what I was going to say!" will either make you grimace or laugh out loud. One voice-over artist in particular sounds like he's trying his very hardest not to do the latter...
Worst of all, the control is hideous... the characters move like the panzers in old 2600 games, making Jill quite literally a tank girl. Firing weapons is a dicey affair at best... you have to draw your gun by holding down a shoulder button, THEN aim with the D-pad, THEN fire. By then, you're meat on a stick. Um, Capcom... there's a neat new invention called a 3D controller. Try writing code for one sometime.
Overall, Resident Evil is a fair rental, but fans of established genres won't find it as satisfying as a good RPG or first-person shooter.
Entertaining and realistic, Virtua Cop succeeds where the dozens of lame shooting galleries with digitized graphics fail. All of the scenery and characters in Virtua Cop are, trtue to Sega's Virtua series, texture-mapped polygons, which means that if you shoot at something, it reacts as if filled with real lead. Fuel tanks explode, windows shatter, and wooden boxes are reduced to a hail of splinters, and it's all in ultra-realistic, pull-no-punches 3D. In other first-person light gun shooters, it's not uncommon to fire at an enemy, only to watch them flash and disappear. In Virtua Cop, the bad guys double over, hold their wrists in pain, or are knocked head over heels depending on where they've been hit and whether or not they're standing on solid ground. Add to this an almost hilarious 70's meets 80's soundtrack and the fact that nobody ever really dies, and you've got a video game that the old television show Starsky and Hutch would be proud to loan its license to... not that it would need to, of course. Virtua Cop easily stands on its own without cheesy TV or film tie-ins, a lesson Acclaim would be wise to learn.
Since I bought a Saturn, I've found it harder and harder to go back to playing my Genesis. It was a fine system for its time, but let's be honest, it wasn't exactly the preferred platform for game designers even when 16-bit systems were popular. Moreover, playing a conversion of a Neo-Geo hit like Viewpoint on a Genesis feels a great deal like performing the works of Beethoven on the kazoo you'd find inside specially marked boxes of Lucky Charms. I feel the same way about the Genesis version of Super Street Fighter II now that I own Street Fighter Alpha 2. When I can slide a little piece of heaven like Street Fighter Alpha 2 into my Saturn, why the heck would I want to go back to pitting a tiny E. Honda against an even smaller Cammy with laryngitis, pasted onto what looks like a water-damaged painting of a British castle? I don't, which is why my Genesis is gathering dust in a broom closet while Street Fighter Alpha 2 is near the top of my teetering pile of Saturn games. Anyways, you've read about a million reviews of SFA2 already, so I'll just say that everyone else is right about the game and that, if you like the Street Fighter series, Street Fighter Alpha 2 for the Saturn is a required purchase.
By now you've heard countless reviewers (including Moltar in a surprise segment on Cartoon Network's Toonami programming block) describe how great this game really is by detailing its immersive gameplay, spellbinding music, innovative design, blah blah blah... so I'll approach this from another tack. Here's a list of reasons why I'm not an RPG fan, and what Panzer Dragoon Saga has done to distance itself from standard role-playing conventions, making it the first game of its kind that I actually bothered to finish. Feel free to shout 'What!?" after each rhetorical question I ask if that gets your ya-yas up.
You know what I hate about RPGs? Endless battles with a combat interface that's about as interesting as a cup of uncooked Minute Rice. You select your course of action with a series of menus, then trade blows with the opposing forces until one party is mashed into compost or runs for their miserable lives. It's like Windows 95 with a probability factor and the occasional squirt of blood! But Panzer Dragoon Saga doesn't follow this path... it adds a sense of urgency and involvement to its fights. You've got to dart around and select the right weapon for your enemies to lessen your own damage and maximize theirs. And, of course, since this is all happening in real-time, you won't HAVE time to get bored.
You know what I hate about RPGs? Stale graphics and characters that look more like Beanie Babies than hardened warriors. It's very hard to ROLE PLAY when you're surrounded by scenery straight out of a Care Bears episode and your "barbarian" looks like he'd be more at home on the top shelf of a twelve year old girl's bedroom. Well, forget all that! Panzer Dragoon Saga has a unique post-apocalyptic visual style, and its cast members are fully articulated for that always cool action figure look. What's more, the battle scenes will take your breath away, with beautifully animated, otherworldly enemies and an illusion of flight so real you'll be tempted to break out a comb every time you land.
You know what I hate about RPGs? Cliche'd storylines that read like a passage from a bad fairy tale. You know the kind... boy meets girl, girl is abducted, boy frees girl from the clutches of a dastardly villain, boy wakes up before he can get anything more than a kiss for all his hard work (paging Dr. Miyamoto...). Fortunately, Team Andromeda has more respect for our intelligence, and gave us a plot with some real depth. Panzer's world has a detailed history (revealed in a series of books you'll find as you explore new towns and forge friendships with other characters), and the stunning conclusion will leave you staring at the screen slackjawed in disbelief.
You know what I hate about RPGs? Tedious level building and stupidly cryptic objectives. I felt like shooting myself by the time I wandered back and forth mindlessly killing enemies for hour after monotonous hour in games like Zelda II and Hydlide. And if Square is such a master of this genre, why haven't they realized after ten years that people just don't like searching every millimeter of an area for a damned crystal goblet, just to return the trinket to a miserably ungrateful non-player character who opens up whole new opportunities to search even MORE land for even MORE worthless crap? Panzer Dragoon Saga throws these annoyances out the window by giving the player enough opportunities to level up on the way to the next town, so they don't have to fly back and forth seven thousand times to survive the next boss encounter. Moreover, the game is linear enough to make hunting down items enjoyable, but not so much so that you'll beat it in a few hours.
You know what I REALLY hate about RPGs? DUNGEONS!!! Those creepy, claustrophobic caverns crawling with high-Ievel monsters just waiting to stick a fang into my veins make me want to chuck a grenade into the entrances and pretend they never existed at all. Panzer Dragoon Saga has just one dungeon... ONE. And it's in the monolith at the end of the game. You don't even have to explore it thoroughly if you don't want to, and frankly, I don't. Thank you, Sega, for stopping the insanity with this one simple gesture.
You know what? I don't hate RPGs anymore. And if that doesn't make those of you who never did jump through a plate glass window, fall from a ten story building, and run fourty miles to the nearest used game store for a Saturn and Panzer Dragoon Saga, I don't know what would.
I'll admit it... when I first heard about Parappa the Rapper, I thought it was a pretty dumb idea. But when I played the sequel, Um Jammer Lamrny, at E3, and tried the original game shortly after that, I started to understand the draw to this new genre of games. Unfortunately, while I really liked the vivid cartoony graphics and catchy tunes in Parappa and Lamrny, I never got used to the gameplay in either title, which was akin to Simon but with twice the buttons and a lot more confusion.
Konami tried to fix this problem with the Beatmania series, replacing the Playstation's obnoxious controllers with more natural peripherals like turntables, drum sets, and keyboards. They make skilled players feel like they were creating the music instead of just following along, but if you couldn't get used to the complex instruments, the only enjoyment you'd get from the games is from letting a more talented friend play, then listening to the music and watching the freaky Beatmania(TM) brand slideshows. I never touched Pat Reynolds' personal favorite in the series, Guitar Freaks, again after playing it twice and doing just as poorly the second time as I had the first, with the guitar held upsidedown. In contrast, Pat can nail three hundred note combos and finish some of the tunes with a perfect rating. There's no way I could even hope to compete with that!
Lucky for me, Sega created a Beatmania derivitive with controllers so easy to use that even I can play the game without driving my performance guage into the floor in the first ten seconds. Instead of rapidly pressing combinations of buttons while scratching a record or strumming a guitar, all you've got to do in Samba de Amigo is pick up a pair of maracas and point 'n shake as directed. It's still challenging, but it's not confusing like most music games... one of the reasons I avoided Parappa the Rapper for so long was because I knew I'd have to memorize and repeat long strings of those horrible little hieroglyphics Sony used to label the buttons on the Playstation controller.
The maracas themselves aren't perfect either... you can't just plug them in like a controller or one of Konami's Bemani instruments. Even when you've got the floor mat, sensor, and maracas set up, you have to pick from a list of height measurements before you begin the game to make sure that everything works properly. Moreover, the maracas are large and heavy, so if you play the game with a friend, be sure he's as far away from you as possible... otherwise, someone's going to get clobbered when things heat up and both players swing the maracas like crazed Vikings rather than Latin dancers.
But what the heck... Samba de Amigo is worth the risk of taking a plastic gourd to the groin, and here's why. First, the maracas are the most involving and intense controllers since Robotron's two joysticks, and you can both hear and feel their response to every shake. This tactile response gives Samba a more authentic feel than Guitar Freaks, whose controllers looked more like something you'd find in a child's toy box rather than in the hands of a rock star. Secondly, the music is fantastic! Unlike the tracks in Guitar Freaks, most of the tunes in Samba de Amigo are from film sound tracks and pop albums. Unfortunately, some of the songs, like Tubthumping and the Macarena, have been overplayed... er, make that beaten so far into the ground that they're half way to the Earth's core. Fortunately, Sega pepped up Tubthumping a bit, and, um, you can always skip Macarena. Finally, the graphics are muy fabulouso... all the characters look like they snuck out of a second hand stuffed animal store on the border of Mexico, and if you can hold on to an A rating, the demented monkey that's running the show gets stars in his eyes while more colors and shapes than anyone could possibly count float by.
I've heard reviews claiming that Samba de Amigo isn't for everyone... well, I'd hate to think that there's someone out there who wouldn't enjoy it. Trust me... you'll want the game if you can afford the maracas.
For the longest time now I have wanted to try any version of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, but with the onset of adulthood comes responsibility and responsibility requires forsaking the game-playing habits of old. Frankly, I hadn't picked up a game controller in about six months. However, the prodigal son has returned. This game has made me want to quit school, tell my boss to go fuck himself and re-devote my life to gaming. Well, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but it is a great game.
Having been away from gaming for such a long time, I really haven't seen what the current cutting-edge in graphics is, but quite frankly I think that Tony Hawk is teetering on the brink. More than that, the graphics were as clean in the background as they were in the foreground. There was no need for fogging or other such nonsense to hide the limitations of a processor. The movements of the skaters are fluid and almost lifelike as you put them through the paces of grinding rails, curbs, and... well, pretty much everything you see is fair game. Almost every surface is skateable, which means you can put together some awesome combinations on multi-surfaced levels. After a few hours of play I was able to put together some basic tricks, so it's a major plus that the learning curve is set for someone like me, whose familiarity with combos is limited the drive-thru.
I really got into the music, being a punk rock fan. It may not be to everyone's tastes, however, so keep your hand on the mute button. For me, it was pretty awesome (and somewhat disturbing) to hear the Dead Kennedys' Police Truck blasting from my speakers as I tear it up, grind and coast over ramps, ride walls and bail hard from serious heights. There are also ten real-life skaters, ten unlockable courses, and plenty of carnage when you wipe out. I also took perverse pleasure in hearing my character cry in pain as I collide with concrete walls and crash through windows, which is just another cool element in a very fun game. Pirate it if you can, buy it if you must, but find some way to play this game.
I can't believe Midway had the ping-pongs to release this. This not really new, not really enhanced Dreamcast edition of Mortal Kombat couldn't win gold at the Special Olympics, let alone in a competition against the two dozen fighting games available on the system. There's very little to distinguish it from Mortal Kombat 4 on the Playstation, except a few, ahem, "new" warriors (since this is Mortal Kombat, there are never any truly new characters), the ability to select your weapon, and oh yeah, lots of freaky bugs. My favorite happens a lot when you lose a match and start falling down the continue well... your fighter grows an extra polygon that shoots out of his foot and stretches to the edge of the screen. If you continue with the same character, the enormous splinter remains in his heel and stays there while you fight. Even more hilarious is the instruction booklet, which warns you not to save games even though you're given the option in the main menu. Now that's innovation... Gold is the first Mortal Kombat game that not only lets you perform fatalities on your opponents but also the Chao you've got tucked away in your VMU!
Since Midway didn't even bother to bug test the game before releasing it, you know there aren't any new features to keep the player entertained, or the Dreamcast challenged. There's notag-team mode... the best you're going to get is a two on two fight with lots 'o load time and exploding character parts (because remember, boys and girls, according to Midway, blood and gore make up for the flaws in ANY game!). There's no character edit mode or even a color edit mode... apparently, Midway feels that only it has the right to palette swap a ninja, give him a few new attacks, and pass him off as an entirely new fighter. And there's no Soul Calibur-style missions with artwork and other goodies to unlock... which is fine, really, because if there were any Easter eggs in this game, I'd probably want to leave them hidden. The stuff you CAN find in the game without much trouble is bad enough... I mean, have you seen the endings? Oh... my... word. In addition to some of the crappiest voice overs ever, you've got blurry video quality, idiotic storylines that seem written just so the designers could make yet another character explode, badly rendered characters who move like they're on strings, and primitive texture maps straight out of Rival Schools. When a cut scene from Soul Calibur or Dead or Alive 2 looks better IN DIRECT COMPARISON to the movies in Mortal Kombat Gold, it really makes you sit back and think. Specifically, it makes you wonder who's the biggest moron in the equation... Midway for making the game or you for playing it.
Calling this game a cure for insomnia is too kind... I'd say it's more like a cure for the will to live. If your craving for blood and gore is so strong that you'd consider buying this before Marvel vs. Capcom 2 or Soul Calibur, just slit your wrists... that way, you'll be doing both yourself AND the gene pool a favor.
Luckily for you, I don't have enough room to write an opener, so I'll just let you know about a helpful service that many libraries offer their members. The interloan program allows you to search for literature in a large cooperative of libraries, at little or no cost to you. It's the easiest way to find the books reviewed here, so by all means ask your local library about it. Now back to CBS Storybreak...
Despite the author's fondness for the word "awesome", and the constant reference to the saucers in Asteroids as Wally and the Beaver, this is a pretty entertaining book. Craig's coverage of arcade games is top-notch: it's both informative and humorous, with entertaining sidenotes (for instance, the author goes into detail about a trio of donut shop employees who designed several Pac-Man patterns. I'm still not sure why, but the additional information is entertaining nevertheless) and plenty of opinions to go around. The home game reviews are equally inspired... Craig (like most classic game collectors) is not especially fond of the Magnavox Odyssey2, and he isn't afraid to make that abundantly clear with scathing and absolutely hilarious reviews of Computer Golf! and Alien Invaders: Plus! (or as he calls them, Computer Golf? and Space Invaders: Minus!). All is not perfect with The Winner's Book of Video Games- Kubey wastes time with a video game quiz (although the question about George Plimpton was pretty funny) and he occasionally makes comments that are alternately patronizing and tasteless- but overall, the book is still worth reading.
I'm telling you, people, this book is 'da bomb. I loved reading "Score!" as a child, and surprisingly enough, Ken Uston's authoritative guide to arcade games has only improved with age. All your favorites from the early 80's (and a few obscurities, such as Star Castle and Make Trax) are covered in prestine detail here, with strategies for both novice and experienced players and an incredibly helpful "Video-Graph" which gives readers an idea how well they're doing at all sixteen games (according to the graph, I'm an expert at Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, and a novice at Donkey Kong... c'mon, the arcade version is hard!). The writing is typical of Ken Uston- intelligent with a reserved sense of humor- and even the interior artwork is helpful, with cleanly drawn game screens and control panel layouts for each title. Here's the bottom line: if you regularly play older arcade games, or even their ColecoVision, 5200, or Vectrex counterparts, you've gotta have this book. It's that simple.
Despite Ken Uston's dilligence in compiling a huge list of reviews of games for every programmable game system released in the late 70's, this guide comes up short for a variety of reasons. First, it's very old, so only the 2600, Odyssey2, Astrocade, Fairchild Channel F, and Intellivision are covered. The ColecoVision and 5200 are mentioned in passing, but (if this is any indication as to how old the guide really is) neither are given definate names. Secondly, judging from the reviews, it appears as though Ken has never met a game he didn't like... even Todd Fry's horrific translation of Pac-Man and just about every game in the Fairchild Channel F library were spared hostile reviews (I'd like to see Joe Santulli's reaction to that!). It's ridiculous! Don't get me wrong... I have the highest respect for Ken Uston's work, but I just can't recommend this.
I wasn't terribly enthused about How To Win At Video Games, but if you're desperate and can't find any of the other books I've reviewed, you might want to give it a try nevertheless. George Sullivan dedicates most of this Scholastic release to popular arcade games from the early 80's, but there's a little home game coverage as well (it's not GOOD coverage, mind you, but it's there). Also submitted for your disapproval are a list of excuses to use at your favorite arcade (which was shamelessly ripped off from Ken Uston's Mastering Pac-Man), a video game quiz (hopelessly outdated, even as a test of your knowledge of the oldies), and some other odds and ends which are of negligible value. The writing is merely adequate, and the pictures (draw representations of actual game screens... yeech!) are lackluster, but to its credit, 'How To Win isn't patronizing, and the arcade coverage is somewhat informative. Still, you won't find anything in this book that Craig Kubey and Ken Uston haven't already covered in greater detail.
JOSH AND ZOE'S NOW PLAYING
JOSH AND ZOE'S NOW PLAYING
Josh: Howdy, everyone, and welcome to Josh and Zoe's Now Playing. The name of the column is an homage to (ripoff of) the one and only interesting column Nintendo Power magazine ever had. Anyone remember George and Rob's Now Playing? It wasn't THAT great, but to have any semblence of commentary in that infernal mag is a miracle. Of course, the articles proved to be a little too interesting for its tapioca-brained readers, so they ousted the column faster than you can say Wilson Phillips. What is it about Nintendo loyalists that makes them so durn braindead anyway?
Zoe: Right now, we're listening to Sharon Apple's Cream P.U.F .sound track. For you non-otakus out there, Sharon Apple is an artificial intelligence entertainer in the Macross Plus anime. Her music is awesome, but it ultimately becomes responsible for zombifying all her fans (in the anime). Maybe whatever they put in Sharon's music has also been implemented in the games made by Nintendo.
Josh: Yeah, except that I'm one of the millions who have played Super Mario 64 for 12 dozen hours, and I don't feel as if I've lost my free will and intelligence.
Zoe: True... that screws that theory.
Josh: Tempest 2000, on the other hand...
Zoe: Uh, shouldn't we be introducing ourselves?
Josh: Yeah, sure... (ahem) My name's Joshua Lesnick, the former author of Video Apocalypse, the only project I ever worked on that was remotely popular. I went by the name "MJ" when I wrote that 'zine, but I don't anymore, so don't call me that, or I'll kill you.
Zoe: And I'm Zoe. For those who've never known anyone named "Zoe", it's pronounced "Zoh-ee", not "Zoh". I was born in Josh's brain. I'm half-human and half-lizard, and I love fountain drinks. I'm obviously a fictional character, but Josh thinks I'm real.
Josh: Don't be so modest.
Zoe: You are quite insane, that you are. Aren't you going to mention to the readers that you love anime?
Josh: Oh yeah... I didn't mention that, did I?
Zoe: I think it would be very important that you'd mention that...
Josh: People, I am a complete and total otaku. All I do is watch anime, read manga, draw manga, and buy more anime merchandise than I can afford. I spent a couple years away from videogames so I could pursue this hobby of mine, but recently I've started playing games again. And me and my familiar are here to talk about them. Care to start, Zoe?
Zoe: Street Fighter Alpha 2.
Josh: I do love that game.
Zoe: Considering how miraculous it is for you to enjoy a tourney fighter, it makes you wonder why more people don't play it.
Josh: I dunno... by the time Super Street Fighter 2 came out, the general videogaming public finally got winded by all the Street Fighter 2 rehashes. And apparently, they got so tired of the game that that's what they see SFA2 as... just another rehash.
Zoe: Yeah, "just a rehash" with completely different music, moves, animation...
Josh: I know! It's a sequel by all rights. I guess no one's fond of the overall lack of new characters and are annoyed by all the Ryu clones in the game. But give me a break... If that's a big problem, why hasn't anyone complained when Mortal Kombat 3 was given only a few new characters and seven clones of Scorpion?
Zoe: Don't even mention the name of that game!!
Josh: What... Mortal Kombat 3?
Josh: Well, we'll get to that later. As some of you may know, I hated the original Street Fighter 2 when it came out, so why do I like SFA2? I'm not really sure, actually, but I think it has something to do with Sakura.
Zoe: You're a sick puppy, Josh.
Josh: Yeah, yeah, so I have a thing for Japanese schoolgirl outfits... nothing wrong with that.
Zoe: So, if Pamela Lee wore one in the movie Barb Wire, you probably would've watched it, eh?
Josh: Well, now that you mention it-- Er, uhh, another thing I like about SFA2 is the anime-style graphics and cool noises it makes when you strike your opponent. A lot of people say that in the long run, graphics and sound have no effect on the actual gameplay, but I dunno... I think games like this tend to prove that statement wrong. And the cool alpha moves (usually) add some new skill to the game without becoming overly cheap.
Zoe: A lot of people have complained about the custom combos, but I don't know why. They don't do THAT much damage and they can be blocked pretty easily, though I HAVE seen you pull off some nasty ones using Chun Li.
Josh: Chun Li's a good character to flail around on the controller with. That's why she's the character I win most of my fights with.
Zoe: So basically, you're saying that Chun Li's a good choice for people who are lousy at this game?
Josh: Yeah, you could put it that way. Shut up.
Zoe: How 'bout "Magic Knight Rayearth" for the Saturn?
Josh: (excited Japanese babbling)
Zoe: Okay... Anyway. This game's not that great for an RPG, because-- and I am not exaggerating-- a majority of your game will be spent talking and listening to voices, as opposed to actually doing anything. Still, if you're a fan of the manga and anime series by CLAMP and have access to and can afford imported Saturn games, it's in your destiny to buy this.
Josh: You don't HAVE to have access to imports, since Working Designs will be bringing the game to the US. But as much as I respect Ireland-sama, I can't recommend buying this version. Working Designs really does do a good job with their translations, but it's just not the same hearing the Magic Knights speak English. That's why I'm glad the dubbed TV series never made syndication.
Zoe: Kinda funny how all those videogame mags kept printing how the TV series was coming out "this fall" in the videogame descriptions, even though it's never going to happen.
Josh: That's right! Everyone, don't believe what EGM and others are printing... there will be no Rayearth TV series in the US this fall, nor will there ever be. And be glad. TMS finished quite a few translations of the show, and while it was all for naught, some people got a look at it on videotape, and no one liked it. Victor Ireland himself thought it was terrible. If you want to see the series the way it should be seen, search for "Silverwynd" on the World Wide Web and order the fansub.
Zoe: Ah! Phil Collins!
Josh: Yeah, this musta been the 50th time I popped it in the CD player since I bought it two weeks ago. His new album really grew on me. Not as good as his But Seriously album, but still one of his best. Certainly a lot better than Both Sides.
Zoe: Everyone go out and buy Phil Collins' new album Dance Into The Light right now! We're not being paid to say this!
Josh: Here's another one for the "insanely bad timing department": Phantasy Star IV.
Zoe: That crazy Sega... Phantasy Stars II and III were chock full of little problems, then they release a near-flawless third sequal...
Josh: And just when you think they finally got things right...
Zoe: They go and release it AFTER the Genesis is clinically dead.
Josh: So no one bought it. And it's a shame... this really is the best RPG Sega's released so far. Everything you loved from Phantasy Star II (that was missing in Phantasy Star III) is back in Phantasy Star IV. And the game also contains something PSII never had...
Zoe: A plot?
Josh: Bingo! Phantasy Star II sure was hilarious, wasn't it? Some guy named Rolf (which is a really stupid-ass name for an RPG hero) walk around Motavia trying to fix the problems being caused by this "Mother Brain" machine which looked like it walked out of Brave New World. A cute bioengineered life-form gal named Nei tags along with Rolf at the beginning of the story, and winds up dying in an extremely confusing battle with her twin or something. Rolf dreams about Alis, the hero of Phantasy Star I, twice, and it has nothing to do with the story. What a half-assed way to try to link the two plots together. I don't even want to get into the game's ending, or the entire plot to Phantasy Star III.
Zoe: It's obvious that Sega realized that PS3 was an utter mistake. It looks like some game companies ARE capable of learning from their mistakes after all. Not only did they use the same game engine as PS2, they barely mention PS3 in the plot at all. Thank Todd!
Josh: PSIV has actual dialogue, along with neat graphics during the intermissions. The plot is much easier to follow (there are no holes this time), and they even managed to patch up all the loose ends left by the past two games! I assure you people, you'll love the ending... it's the first PS game that actually left me with a feeling of satisfaction after completing it.
Zoe: They even managed to provide a valid explanation as to why you ALWAYS have to fight Dark Force at the end of each game! If that ain't impressive...
Josh: I don't know how they did it. And the gameplay, the graphics...
Zoe: They're exactly the same as Phantasy Star II. The battles are the same, and while the graphics have improved, they have the same look. Techniques are used, the bosses are hard, the game looks, feels, and plays JUST like Phantasy Star II! Is this a good thing?
Josh: Sure it is! The only things that annoyed me about PS2 were the awful plot and its tendency to force you to hunt monsters for hours on end so you can afford weapons and stand a chance against the next boss. While the latter problem does show up a bit in PS4, it's not nearly as bad as 2 was. Genesis owners, buy this game.
Zoe: The Phil Collins CD is on its last track.
Josh: I love this one! Great cover of a Bob Dylan song.
Zoe: It goes to show you how slow you are at typing articles, doesn't it?
Josh: Yeah yeah yeah. I wonder how many pages I've typed so far. Jess probably won't print it all.
Zoe: Maybe we should stop.
Josh: Hell no! Let's see, what's next. Zoe, what's your pick for the best system so far?
Zoe: Same as yours, Josh... the Saturn.
Zoe: Er, remember, I'm a creation of yours. That means that virtually all my opinions match yours, you know.
Josh: Yeah, this column doesn't have quite the excitement of Siskel & Ebert, does it?
Zoe: Perhaps you should consider getting a REAL co-author for this column?
Josh: But... you ARE real.
Zoe: (Sigh) Never mind. Anyway, we were talking about why we like the Saturn the most. My reasons for this are (gasp) exactly the same as Josh's!
Josh: Excuse me while I put on my Mamono Hunter Yohko CD...
Zoe: You're beginning to sound Paradox's colophon!
Josh: Sorry. Continue.
Zoe: The reason we prefer the Saturn is--
Josh: And don't make fun of other fanzines.
Zoe: I'M not the one making fun of them... you're typing mypart of the article, you know!
Josh: No, I'm not.
Zoe: You're a nutcase, Josh. Aaaanyway, the reason we prefer the Saturn is--
Josh: Actually, I guess it WAS just good-natured ribbing. If Chris Johnston can't take a lighthearted joke like that, then he deserves to be pestered anyway.
Zoe: WILL YOU STOP INTERRUPTING ME?!
Zoe: Look, will you just promise to let me finish this one paragraph?
Josh: I promise.
Josh: Cross my heart and hope to be forced to listen to Hootie and The Blowfish.
Zoe: The reason we prefer the Saturn is--
Josh: Asuka Langley sure is cute...
Zoe: I was hoping we could make it through the article without me having to smash him with a statue of Buddha...
Josh: Duhh... fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads...
Zoe: The reason we prefer the Saturn is quite simple... It's the system that will be getting all the RPGs in 1997... apparently. It's also the system that has the cute Japanese import game Keio Yugekatai. That was reason enough to get Josh to buy it. There's also the matter of the Saturn simply running better than the PSX does. So what if the PSX will have "Final Fantasy VII"? We'll take the system which DOESN'T freeze up and hand us terrible access time, and the one whch will have a dozen more RPGs for us, some of which just might possibly be as good as Final Fantasy VII!
Josh: You forgot to mention the Nintendo 64, not that it really qualifies at the time we're typing this. Is it just me, or did the Super NES have a much better launch than this did?
Zoe: Gee, you sure recovered quickly.
Josh: Yeah, I tend to recover fast when I'm hit with a fictional object.
Zoe: But I thought you said I was real.
Josh: YOU are, but the Buddha statue wasn't.
Zoe. Uh huh. At any rate, you're right about the N64. With less than ten games out at the time this article was written, I can't help but wonder how Nintendo managed to sell ANY units, much less one hundred thousand in one day. At least the Super NES had Final Fantasy II by Christmas! So far, the only N64 game worth playing is Super Mario 64!
Josh: I hear Wave Race 64 is a good game too. And at least there's Super Mario 64 which may keep players busy until the system finally gets more games.
Zoe: True... Nintendo couldn't have done much better than Super Mario 64. And the greatest thing about it is seeing all the pathetic attempts other companies have made to compete with this game. NiGHTS? Crash Bandicoot? Bubsy 3-D? Ugh!
Josh: NiGHTS is OK.
Zoe: No, it's not.
Josh: There, see? We disagree on something!
Zoe; Have you ever come close to getting an "A" or "B" on that damn game?! And the weirdass graphics and controls! That game shoulda come with an icepack instead of an analog controller!
Josh: Hmm... you're right. And the game DOES have the lasting appeal of slapping a walrus. Maybe it DOES suck.
Zoe: So much for disagreeing on something.
Josh: We agree on Mortal Kombat 3, too.
Zoe: Must we?
Josh: Let's just quickly mention to all the fans of this game that they're a bunch of imbeciles and leave it at that.
Zoe: I concur. I believe we have the same message for fans of Tempest 2000?
Josh: Yes. And let me add something. A while back, I rashly criticized the game in the last issue of Fantazine, before I even got a chance to play it. I admit that this uninformed conjecture wasn't exactly the best of ideas. However, I had gotten a chance to play the PC version since then, and it turns out that everything I said was true anyway. It's just the original Tempest with filled-in polygons, some powerups, and a bunch of glitter which obscures the entire playing area. I don't think even Steven Hawking can get past the third level of this game. It may take a genius like him to scientifically decipher why the entire videogame fandom was drooling over this game when it came out for the Jaguar. My review in Fantazine was conjecture, but it was good conjecture. I have been vindicated.
Zoe: Do you know what the word "vindicated" means?
Josh: Not really. Well, as much as I would like to blab on about games such as Quake and Puzzle De Pon, we really should call it quits. Say goodnight, Zoe.
Zoe: I refuse to do that stupid line.
Josh: Good for you. So long, everybody!
Josh Lesnick, everybody. Give him a hand. If you'd like to know more about him and his 37 other personalities, check out the Abunai-Neko web site [ed. now the Girly web site].
TEN REASONS THE SATURN
TEN REASONS THE SATURN
At $400 in 1995, when the Super NES and Genesis were still relatively popular and the 3DO's price had been hacked down to a managable $300, the Saturn doomed itself to a long, dusty life on store shelves. It's not that the Playstation, at $300, was a much better deal, but every penny counts to the consumer, and Sony's system was much more anticipated by the public (see "The Media" for the reason why).
THE LOUSIEST OF LAUNCHES
Sega's been pretty cocky since their surprise upset of the NES back in the early 90's. It was obvious that they seriously underestimated Sony's presence in the industry, because they'd introduced the Saturn at a bad time, with a bad pack-in, with a bad price, and hyped it to death with bad advertising (see "Sega!!!"). A similar misfire on Sega's part was Daytona USA, one of the system's initial releases. While hardly a bad game, its low frame rate made it look like quite the joke in comparison to WipeOut and Ridge Racer.
The Sendai-era EGM and its evil cohorts in the professional video game magazine circuit were so blatantly and shamelessly biased against the Saturn it was absurd. Remember the issue of VideoGames with its Ten Reasons Why The Playstation is the System To Beat? Or the issues of EGM and Die Hard Game Fan which claimed that the Playstation version of Street Fighter Alpha was superior to its Saturn counterpart, when in fact the opposite was true? Nick Rox used piddly excuses like "it's too hard to taunt" and "the super combo colors are wrong" (oh, come ON!!!) to denigrate the Saturn version of Alpha, whereas EGM, true to form, didn't even have the guts to come right out and lie about the game. Instead, they implied that Alpha was innovative on the Playstation but old and tired on the Saturn when the basic concept of the game was identical on both systems. I've made the accusation before, and I'll do it again: if that ain't media bias, I don't know what is.
This company didn't seem like much of a player at first... Namco was considered by most to be a has-been after the immense failure of the cheesy side-scrolling platformer "Pac-Land", and it and Hometek never really made much of a splash in the Genesis and Super NES markets. However, they'd set a dangerous precedent by announcing that they would design games exclusively for the Playstation, and rubbed cyanide into the wound by releasing high-quality games that were similar enough to Virtuas Fighter, Cop, and Racing to make those Saturn releases seem less exclusive than Sega had hoped they'd be.
This was the company's surprisingly effective rallying cry for most of the 90's but eventually it got to the point where Sega had screamed its name into gamers' ears so often that they were beginning to go deaf. And those ads! Who was the genius that thought optic nerves disguised as Ku Klux Klan members would actually sell Saturns!? Similarly grating was the Fighting Vipers ad where heavy metal morons screamed "We won't do what you want us to!" (that just about says it all with regards to that game's unintuitive control...) and the Sega Choice Cuts CD, where a creepy Uncle Fester lookalike introduced an amalgam of grainy video game clips, drowned out by some of the worst speed metal tunes ever devised.
When garners bought a Saturn, they naturally expected Sega to introduce a unique new Sonic game which took advantage of the system's capabilities, just as they had the Genesis, Sega CD, Game Gear, and even the 32X (if you count Knuckles Chaotix, which was the finished version of Sonic Crackers) .What they got instead was an androgynous purple jester thrust into a beautiful but shallow derivitive of Looping on the ColecoVision. The game wasn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, and was met with critical praise, but it couldn't satisfy American Saturn owners' thirst for a real Sonic game. This dream delight turned out to be Sega of America's worst nightmare.
It's not that the Saturn is inferior to the Playstation... it's just that very few programmers (aside from the AM R&D departments of Sega, of course) know how to exploit its strengths. Virtua Fighter 2, Sonic R, and NiGHTS prove more than anything else that the Saturn can hold its own against its competition, but does it matter when the power of its two processors is so hard to harness? Compare this to the Playstation, which with the Yarouze development system can be programmed by anyone with a personal computer and a working knowledge of C.
You'd think it was 1943, the way Sega of America tries to hide its Japanese roots. This is most evident in its ad campaigns, which patronize American gamers to the utmost extreme with "hip" settings, mohawk-topped, toungue-pierced airheads, and (of course) tiresome heavy metal music. For further proof of Sega of America's apparent Nippon-o-phobia, check out- if you dare- the Sega Choice Cuts CD. Absolutely painful.
That's using the term loosely. The truth is, Sega has never taken its customers seriously, since the breakout success of the Genesis. Anyone who owns a Game Gear (screwed over), Sega CD (screwed over), 32X (REALLY screwed over), or even a Genesis (surprise! Screwed over) will attest to that. And the people who refused to be screwed over with Sega's systems (the 32X specifically) were openly attacked in a Sega press release that was reprinted in GamePro and Game Players magazines! Well, at least they received some sort of response. After complaining to both the Japanese and American branches of Sega about the premature abandonment of the Saturn, I'd gotten NO RESPONSE in return. I guess Sonic isn't the only Sega employee famous for flipping people off...
FEAR OF COMMITMENT
And last, but far from least, is Sega's annoying tendancy to release the "greatest, most advanced" systems ever, then dumping them like hot rocks when the competition rears its ugly head. Example: the Genesis. Sega released not one, but TWO worthless hardware upgrades to try to keep up with the Joneses when all they really needed to do was put more research & development into the Genesis software (as Gunstar Heroes and Ranger-X, which shattered the system's 64 color limitation, proved). A better example: Sega's licensing games to its competition. Not only can PC owners buy Sonic games (released by Sega itself!), but so can owners of the portable debacle game.com (uh, remember that one handheld system YOU used to make, guys?). It's a wonder that Sega remembers it makes its own systems at all!
I don't have much more room so I'll make this brief... here are the five reasons why the Playstation SHOULD have failed: Crash Bandicoot (a mascot worse than NiGHTS!), Sony's industry inexperience, lousy joysticks, Sony's 2D phobia, and flimsy break-a-minute hardware.
See, I told you I'd be back! Well, there's more coin-ops on the roster, so let's jump in with both feet...
I didn't think I had a remote chance of finding Namco's new classic collection arcade games, so you could imagine my surprise when I'd spotted both of them in a Tucson mini golf palace. I've gotta tell you, I like the concept of offering players both classic and arranged (read: better) versions of oldies like Pac-Man and Dig Dug all in one machine. The game selection process involves using the joystick, which makes picking your favorites much easier than with the Neo-Geo, and the redeuxs of classic Namco hits are, for the most part, more entertaining than their emulated counterparts and make the collections worthwhile to even the most hardened retro game hater.
Of the two, Namco Classic Collection Volume 2 is by far the best... I skipped over Rally-X (I was never a huge fan of this to begin with, and the arranged version didn't look that much different than the original aside from the spiced up graphics) and went straight for the new versions of Pac-Man and Dig Dug. Dig Dug has a sort of Bomberman-esque feel... I'm not sure if it's the similar title character or the two player simultaneous gameplay, but it's definately there. I really like how the new power-ups, enemies (including the crowd pleasin' exploding robots!), and gigantic rocks complement the old Dig Dug gameplay perfectly. Even better is Pac-Man. It LOOKS like a bad shareware version, but don't be fooled... it has the heart and soul of a true Pac-Man game. Pac's been given a whole new bag of tricks, which include a clone who takes on the opposite site of the maze for you and dash zippers which let you bowl over any monster stupid enough to get in your way. The bad guys are beefed-up as well; they can split apart or even meld into crazy creations with deadly new powers (ever wonder what Sue would look like if she worked in a Playboy lounge? Play this and wonder no more).
Namco's other collection is kind of a dud, however. Submitted for your disapproval are new versions of Xevious and Mappy, the latter of which is actually less complex than the first game. There's a two-player mode, but screen height has been brutally sacrificed as a result, even if you're going it alone. The new Xevious is almost exactly like the first, albeit with one power-up (whoohoo!). Needless to say, it's not worth your time if your arcade's got Striker: 1945 or the newest Raiden game. Oddly enough, the one gem in the collection, Galaga, went unplayed. I'm still not sure why I avoided it; perhaps I was too distracted by...
...Street Fighter EX. I've heard opinions about this ranging from awesome to wretched, but I'm personally on the fence about it. On one hand, the polygonal graphics engine does pump out some nice eyecandy (although watch out for Zangeif! He's got Legomania!), and the gameplay is largely the same, but the new perspective does get confusing and the CPU is ludicrously cheap. The new characters are fine; not up to the standards of Street Fighter Alpha 2's newbies, but close. My personal favorites of these EX-clusives are D. Generes Dark (TV's favorite lesbian, armed with a jackknife, some explosives, and a trip rope), the dominatrix Blair, and C. Jack; not for his fighting ability but for the fact that he looks like the lead singer of Blues Traveler in the character select screen.
The Neo-Geos scattered around the arcade captured much of my attention as well. I finally had the chance to play the newest King of Fighter games, and both are very good... I prefer KOF '96 to the more current edition, largely because the latest revision includes crummy digitized graphics and an "only on pay-per-view!" subplot that makes me want to retch. When I saw big breasted girls prancing around with the round numbers on large cardboard signs, I kept wondering if Don King was going to jump out from behind a bush and offer my characters big bucks to throw the match... The only well endowed babe I want to see in KOF is Mai "boobs are big" Shiranui, who's still a lot of fun to play, and even bounder than ever. I swear, one day SNK's programmers are going to commit mass suicide because they've run out of keen new ways to make her Jell-O jiggle... And then there's that new Fatal Fury game... uh, "Super Mega Mighty Fatal Fury Real Bout Special With Chocolate Sprinkles" or something like that. It's no King of Fighters, and the button configuration is bound to confuse you, but it has Mai, and that's all it needs.
Somewhat perplexing were Capcom's Street Fighter 3 upgrade and Midway's Mortal Kombat 4 precursor War Gods. I was shocked that NONE of War Gods' characters were even remotely appealing... the only one that came close was Warhead, who looks like a post-holocaust Johnny Cage. The graphics are fine (although the sound... ack! Who the heck decided to put in effects from the old He-Man cartoon series?!) and the gameplay is classic MK, but with Mortal Kombat 4 and especially Street Fighter EX around, why bother? Street Fighter 3: Second Impact is better, but its new characters aren't. Especially laughable is Urien, who I'd instantly renamed Jacques Strap thanks to his disconcerting lack of apparel. Hugo's a little better, but Capcom: if you insist on recycling Final Fight villians in the Street Fighter series, please make sure they join Alcoholics Anonymous first. That's all I'm asking. And that's a wrap!
Every man has an enemy, but not every enemy is respected as a skilled and honorable warrior. I asked several fanzine editors to list three of the video game bosses that stood above the rest as worthy foes, and here's who they came up with after some careful thought.
Naturally, I get first crack at this. And my choices are...
Geese Howard, Fatal Fury (Neo-Geo)
This cruel industrialist is arguably the best character in SNK's extensive South Town series (a line of games which includes not only Fatal Fury but The Art of Fighting and The King of Fighters as well). Geese's abilities are nothing special, but what makes him much more threatening than other video game villains is his startling level of character development. For instance, Geese is labelled as the murderer of the father of Fatal Fury's title characters, but it's later revealed in The Art of Fighting that he forced Takuma Sakazaki (the father of that game's central character) to do the job for him. This instantly thrusts Geese into the center of the South Town universe, making each fighter's relationship to him important in its own unique way.
Seven Force, Gunstar Heroes (Genesis)
There were literally dozens of bosses in this intense shooter. and from the seemingly harmless Minion Soldier to the Treesweet orange-filled Pit to the relentless Core Defense System, all were fun and inventive in their own right. But nothing can compare to the towering mechanical menace that is Seven Force. Piloted by the traitorous Gunstar Green, Seven Force has the ability to transform into a variety of deadly weapons, including a panther, a sea urchin (trust me, it's nastier than it sounds), and an enormous pistol which actually changes clips as it runs out of ammo. Best of all, Treasure perfected the sprite linkage technique first explored in Centipede, making the mighty mech's animation incredibly smooth (especially for its size). The final battle with Golden Silver seemed almost anticlimactic after two encounters with this behemoth.
Gorfian Flagship, Gorf (arcade, VIC-20)
Admittedly. this is a bit of a stretch as a choice, since Gorf's massive space cruiser can be destroyed with one shot. However, hitting the flagship's weak spot (a pixel-wide vent leading to an ominously glowing nuclear reactor) with one blast is a mighty tall order, especially when said ship is pelting you with an endless barrage of galactic brimstone. Chipping away at the hull makes the job easier, but the resulting rain of scrap metal further impedes your movement, making the battle even more intense. In short, this is arguably the most fun and inventive boss fight in the history of the hobby, which is saying a lot when you also consider that it's the very first.
Well, let's see...
In descending order of coolness...
The Changeling, Wizards & Warriors (NES)
Wizards & Warriors had endless, come-back-to-life-where-you-died continues, which is probably the biggest combined blessing and curse in video games that I can think of offhand, in that it constantly denies the player an excuse to give in to frustration and do something else for a while. I'm not even going to TRY to speculate on how much time I spent, in one single afternoon, trying to beat that forsaken Changeling from W&W. It starts as a tiny, bone-thowing skeleton that grows and grows as you beat on it (yeah, yeah, go ahead and giggle at that sentence). It was nastier than the last boss of W&W, took an interminable amount of damage, and BOY was I relieved beyond belief when I finally killed the damned thing. The Changeling has my undying respect as the hardest boss fight I've ever had to deal with in a video game, the most TIME I've ever spent in one stretch on any single boss, and THE MOST ANNOYING SON OF A BITCH I EVER WASTED MY PRECIOUS PREADOLESCENT TIME, EFFORT, AND SANITY TRYING TO KILL. Rock on, Changeling. Take your brownish-red bone and dig my grave.
Ex Death, Final Fantasy V (Super Famicom)
Without question, THE coolest, baddest, bitchinest boss Square has come up with. It had two forms (doesn't EVERY RPG boss?), both of which were innovative and artistic (first form: a man-faced worm made of twisting vines; second form: a strange amalgamate of semihuman body parts), and was MUCH more impressive than Chaos (zzz...), Zeromus (which end is up? What IS that thing supposed to be, anyway?), Kefka (wuss), Sephiroth (wuss), or any of the Japanese Final Fantasy bosses. And it put up a great fight, too. Hard, but not impossible, unpredictable, long-lived, exciting... the works. If Final Fantasy V had been released in America, Ex Death would have set a new standard in final RPG bosses. For certain.
Ridley and Kraid, Metroid (NES)
I can not, in good conscience, choose between the two, nor can I split them up. They share this honor. Metroid was a great mood game, was brilliantly original at the time, and had two of the most kick-ass bosses ever. When I was ten, I wanted to BE Ridley or Kraid. Hey, when a game only HAS two bosses (let's face it, Mother Brain just sorta sits around and lets you shoot her), they'd better be damned good.
Hmm... this could take some thought...
Bloody Malth, Ninja Gaiden (NES)
This was the guy who would put a serious hurt on you unless you had the cajones to get right in his face and mercilessly hack him to death with your sword. Sure, once you knew this trick, he was a snap to defeat, but he gave birth to a new gaming phrase my friend Rich Plummer and I use to this day... if a boss or enemy can be defeated in this manner of mindless beating, you're "doing the Bloody Malth".
Sagat, Street Fighter series (various)
I defy anyone to tell me that any other Street Fighter boss is as cool as Sagat. This guy took a dragon punch to the chest and lived to fight on. He laughs mercilessly when he wins. And that Tiger Uppercut is just so damn cool. Sagat is the man.
Sephiroth, Final Fantasy VII (Playstation)
Probably the single coolest bad guy in the history of video games, Sephiroth is the main villain in this game, and you must fight him in many different forms throughout this adventure. Near the end he "pulls a Tetsuo" and mutates into a couple crazy monsters, but for the final encounter, he reverts back to his normal self and takes the beating of his life at Cloud's hands. Add to that the fact that he kills off one of the main party members halfway through the game and there's nothing you can do about it, and that his final monster form has its own extremely cool theme song, and you've got a truly classic RPG boss character.
Okie dokie... this is going to be tough, but I'll rack my brain...
Birdo, Super Mario Bros 2. (NES)
He's a transvestite dinosaur who spits eggs, which you need to throw back at him. He can even help you out from time to time. Need I say more?
Bowser Koopa, Super Mario Bros. (various)
The best thing about Bowser is that even though you KNOW he's at the end of every Super Mario Bros. game, you never know what he's going to do. In the first game, he threw fireballs, hammers, and jumped around on a bridge suspended over molten lava. In Super Mario Bros. 3, he tried to leap on you but wound up crashing through the floor! In Super Mario World, he rode in the Clown Copter. In the sequel, he smashed his way toward you in Mode 7 glory. And in Super Mario 64, he attacked in full 3D. It's always a surprise to see how he's going to attack next.
Kefka, Final Fantasy VI (Super Famicom)
After defeating his gigantic, three-story high statue, and just when you think it's finally over, Kefka descends, looking nothing like his previous goofy self and everything like an evil Renaissance archangel. He even talks to you as you battle!
Robo-Z, Bust A Move: Dance & Rhythm Action (Playstation)
Here we have an entry from one of the most recent games, Bust A Move [aka Bust A Groove in the US... -ed.]. As cars swerve and blow up around him, the boss character continues to pull off his techno beat dance moves. Woulda thought a giant robot could be so funky? Yeah, baybe!
Mother Brain, Super Metroid (Super NES)
Yeah, I risked picking something someone else picked here, but I had to do it... not just for the boss itself, but the great sequence that takes place when fighting it. The poor mutant Metroid sacrifices its life to save its mommy (sniffle). Samus then gets a kick-ass beam, and great alien shrieks are heard when Samus nails the bitch in the face with it.
Spaceman the 3M, Keioh Yuugekitai (Saturn)
In my opinion, when video games try to be funny, they rarely succeed, and to make me laugh out loud... that's almost unheard of. But I did just that several times when playing Keioh. The alien spaceship Rami-chan fights uses a crane to pick up cows, engulfs them, and fires meat at her. After Rami does enough damage, the spaceship reveals its true form... and a sexy pair of gams!
That... thing. Faxanadu (NES)
What the ruck? Our hero goes through all the trouble to find the DRAGON sword, and the last boss isn't even a dragon! It's just a lame-o demon head perched on two legs! Gimme a break!
Dark Force, Phantasy Star II (Genesis)
Nothing can foul up an RPG like a cheesy boss which forces you to spend 753 hours wandering around gaining experience so you can get through one round of battle without getting killed. Whee... fun. Defeat him and the "Mother Brain" and you're treated to the most unsettling ending in RPG history.
The Shadow Guy, Double Dragon II (arcade)
You've beaten Willy to death... your revenge for Marien's pointless demise is complete. It's an appropriate time for the game to end, but no, good 'ol Technos thought it would be cute to tack a "true" boss onto the end of the level: an evil clone of Billy, whose existance has no explanation whatsoever. He has a COMPLETELY UNAVOIDABLE move which kills you in three hits, which he does every ten seconds. I sacrificed more lives fighting this fuck than I used getting to him!
The Shadow, Zelda II (NES)
Everybody musta been real tired and in a hurry to go home on the day they came up with THIS guy.
Ghaleon, from Lunar (Sega CD)
After SO much buildup and anticipation, you'd think he'd try to put up a halfway decent fight.
Dr. Robotnik, from the Sonic series (various)
Never very hard to beat, never very ominous or impressive, never really developed as a character...
Motaro, Mortal Kombat 3 (various)
Here's proof positive that, for a game to have artificial intelligence, its programmers must possess a little of the genuine article. That jackass of a centaur Motaro is COMPLETELY impervious to projectiles and doles out grotesque amounts of damage with every cheap hit, reducing battles with him to futile jump kick fests. That's entertainment?
I must admit that I was very skeptical of the Dreamcast when it first debuted in Japan six months ago. It was incredibly frustrating to watch normally rational people praise the system to the heavens when the bitter taste of the Saturn's demise still weighed so heavily on my toungue. Thus, I decided to take a stand against the system. It wasn't long before another fan-ed criticized me for this, claiming that I needed to actually SEE the Dreamcast in action to fairly judge it. I hate to admit it, but he was right. It took a first-hand experience with Sega's 128-bit powerhouse to understand what all the excitement was about...
So there I was, hanging out at the Elcon Mall with myaunt, her ex-husband, and their two screaming grandchildren. We were searching in vain for a Tucson restaurant which had recently relocated... I had no idea that I would come face to face with Sega's latest and most anticipated game system instead.
It was at the mall's Software Etc., running a demo of Sonic Adventure (y'know, the game every Saturn owner had been begging Sega to release since 1995... but let's not open that wound right now). I pulled myself away from the slick full-motion video intro just long enough to ask the rest of the fam for a few minutes... just enough time to see if my contempt for the system was warranted. I took a quick glance at the Dreamcast itself and was a little surprised by its appearance... the system was smaller and more delicate than the early pictures in Tips & Tricks seemed to suggest, bearing a slight resemblence to something you might find hanging on the wall of a ladies' room in a Japanese restaurant. Because it seemed more likely to dispense tampons than play killer video games, I was convinced momentarily that the system was a mock-up and the footage I'd seen was actually running from a VCR.
After coming to my senses and realizing my mistake, I approached the sales clerk and casually remarked, "So... I see you have the Reamcast." Not taking the bait, he replied, "Heh, yes... you mean the Dreamcast." I watched a conversation between Sonic and his female counterpart Amy Rose before resuming my own discussion with the man behind the counter. "I'm sorry... I just call it the 'Reamcast' because I get the feeling that Sega will do to Dreamcast owners what they did to everyone who bought a Saturn."
"You're entitled to that opinion," the clerk replied, "but Sega means business this time. The Dreamcast is an incredible system, and licensees have been lining up for blocks to design games for it. Besides, with Sega, Hitachi, and Microsoft behind it, how can it go wrong?"
I was too distracted by Sonic Adventure to mention that Hitachi manufactured the Saturn hardware as well and that Bill Gates' last stab at the video game market (the MSX, a computer designed primarily to play games like Konami's Penguin Adventure) was a miserable failure in the United States. A simple "Good point..." was all I could muster as I stared at Amy Rose, who was wandering through a beautifully rendered hall. The petite pink hedgehog looked as though she were made of plastic rather than polygons, but this phenomenal detail come at a price... I noticed just a touch of slowdown as Amy approached a cache of rings. Almost as if embarassed by its mistake, the Dreamcast quickly faded out and returned to the Sonic Adventure title screen.
There were a small stack of CDs on a shelf behind the counter. I politely asked, "Could I see another game?". To my surprise, the clerk agreed and reached for a disc on the shelf. "I suppose I could put Power Stone in..." There was no holding back my astonishment- my jaw dropped as he opened the system's drive door and swapped discs. "Holy cow!", I shouted, instantly shattering what little remained of my facade of disinterest. "That game isn't even out in arcades yet!" The clerk smiled and proudly announced, "That's the beauty of the Naomi hardware. Arcade conversions take no time at all because the Dreamcast is nearly identical to Sega's newest arcade board."
I couldn't wait to see Capcom's next big fighting game, but I would have to... the Dreamcast requested four blocks of memory, as no save card was loaded into the system's controller. Perplexed, I asked, "Doesn't the Dreamcast have internal memory?". Hesitant to answer, the clerk sheepishly finally replied, "Well... the Dreamcast saves the date, time, and basic system data, but no, you can't save games to its internal memory like you can with the Saturn." He then fiddled with the Dreamcast's BIOS screen and finally coaxed the game to run. I was a bit disappointed by this news... it's hard to imagine why Sega would force its customers to buy pricey add-ons after they'd created the ultimate save system for the Saturn. Perhaps they wanted to create an interest in their handheld VMS unit and SNK's Neo-Geo Pocket, but heaven knows the world doesn't need another portable game system, let alone two.
After a title screen which seemed to last forever, Power Stone's attract mode finally began, giving the Dreamcast a chance to redeem itself. I wasn't sure what to think of the opening- the hand-drawn characters looked sharp but strongly resembled the cast of Sunsoft's Waku Waku 7- but the actual game was very impressive. I watched in awe as the combatants scurried around a lavishly detailed, beautifully lit room, collecting gems and hurling pots at one another. Suddenly, after collecting a third jewel, one of the fighters was bathed in a swirl of bright light and emerged clad in a scarlet helmet and body armor. In a flash, I responded in my best Dennis Miller: "Whoa... go, go Power Rangers!" I could almost feel the clerk wince as he muttered, "You just had to mention that, didn't you?" Well, hey, who could resist?
Conscious of the time, I thanked the Software Etc. employee for his and went on my way. As I walked back to the car with the rest of the family to resume our search for the perfect buffet restaurant, I'd marvelled at how much my mind had changed about the Dreamcast. I still have doubts about its chances of success here in the States, but the system is incredibly powerful, and the list of titles planned for the Dreamcast's stateside launch (which include such hits as Marvel vs. Capcom, House of the Dead 2, and the incredibly weird but incredibly fun JoJo's Venture) would tempt any self-respecting gamer.
I just hope Sega gets its act together this time... Sony has become arrogant, lazy, and most importantly, vulnerable thanks to the success of its Playstation. This is Sega's best and only chance to plunge a sword into the heart of its competition and become a driving force in the industry, just as it had in 1991, when Nintendo's refusal to obsolete the NES gave the more advanced Genesis a head start in the next generation system wars. The Dreamcast needs to strike a chord with players secretly disgusted with the currently abysmal quality of the Playstation's software library... if Sega can capitalize on Sony's insane decision to bring the Rugrats to a 32-bit game system, and claim that the Dreamcast is intended solely for serious players, this could severely damage the Playstation's reputation as technologically advanced and pave the way for another Sega revolution. If Sega doesn't take advantage of Sony's momentary weakness, their last chance for glory will be extinguished, and the Dreamcast will be just that... a beautiful illusion which will fade from the memories of gamers everywhere in an instant.
Click here for the interview.
I thought about putting my usual jumble of rants and raves here, but since that's already been covered in the return of Half-Ass, I felt I should get this off my chest.
Y'know, it's odd... I thought that getting a Playstation would lessen my overwhelming Saturn bias, but now I hate Sony more than ever. I don't know about you, but I rather resent being FORCED to own a system I don't like just to continue enjoying a hobby I've loved for nearly twenty years. Sure, Nintendo had its own monopoly in the 80's, but they've been a major player in the industry for decades, and have an unparalleled knack for customer satisfaction. Meanwhile, Sony doesn't seem to give a damn's damn about Playstation owners, since the system is but a small (albeit very profitable) part of the electronics giant's empire.
I could write an entire fanzine about the flimsy first run of Playstation consoles, but that's old news... let's discuss Sony's pathetic customer (dis)serve hotline instead. It's a good thing these calls are monitored and recorded for the benefit of trainees, because the guy I wound up with could teach them volumes about how NOT to treat customers. Put succintly, he was the biggest douchebag in the history of telecommunication. His smug yet lifeless voice scraped at my brain like a rusty hook, and he was armed with some of the most ridiculous, straight-from-a-Sony-press-release rhetoric I've ever heard. Obviously, the rep was hired as a mouthpiece for Sony, but even with this in mind, the propaganda he was spewing was completely beyond my realm of tolerance. Just listen to this:
"I've heard that Sony has a policy against 2D
He then went on to claim that Capcom was the one who decided not to release the Capcom Collection series in the United States (so much for "the buck stops here"...), and that it would be ridiculous for Sony to have a policy against 2D games, which we all know is bullshit because every major game magazine under the sun has made statements to the contrary. This brings me to my next and perhaps most important point: people complained bitterly about Nintendo's policies against violent and sexual content, but this hardly compares to Sony's almost draconian stance against games which they feel do not exploit the Playstation's "advanced" hardware. Hey, assholes, I've got news for you... your system's meager 33MHz clock speed has been eclipsed many times over by not only the Nintendo 64 but by a vast array of Intel and Apple computers as well. Besides, what right do you have to dictate what we can and cannot play? Nintendo and (to a lesser extent) Sega never passed up a chance to offer its users creative games even if they didn't tap the full potential of their respective systems. All we get from Sony is the same old garbage... endless sequels to Tomb Raider and Crash Bandicoot. And damn it, I don't care I HOW many dimensions these games are presented in... that just doesn't hide the fact that they're shamelessly derivitive of Prince of Persia and Super Mario Bros., two games Sony wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole.
It's a crime that a company which knows so little about video games and is so indifferent to its customers is currently a leader in this industry. It's even worse that gamers are practically forced to own a Playstation, and STILL aren't given the titles they want when Sony breaks their spirits and drags them to the dark side. It's time to end this cycle of oppression... speak out when SCEA refuses to localize an inventive new Japanese title. Buy imports to spite them when they deny worthy games a chance for success in the United States. And most importantly, diversify the market by purchasing other game systems. There's nothing more damaging to a creatively driven industry like video games than a monopoly... if Sony is allowed to tighten their grip on their licensees and customers, they run the very real risk of strangling our hobby to death.
To be totally honest, I never ever thought that I'd get to give the Playstation 2 a spin before it got to the US or I got to Japan... whichever came first. But here it is, one week to the day after the PS2's March 8 launch in Japan, and I've just finished messing about with the latest and grea... well, the latest video game system, that's for darn sure. How did this opportunity come about? I'm currently teaching a class on the history of video games at Tufts University, and one of my students has a friend in Cambridge who apparently has way too much money, as he had just purchased the PS2 ($750), the four standard launch games ($80 a pop), and Konami's Drummania/controller combo ($200). In retrospect, my student probably took me with him to suck up and get a higher grade, and it definitely worked.
So not only did I have the opportunity to see the PS2, I got to see and fondle each and every game and peripheral available. I won't fool you into thinking I spent much time with the games, only a few hours, so I can't say I've played them in death. I do, however, have a solid first impression of the system and its offerings, and so I am reasonably confident in my opinions.
I'd seen so many pictures of the system itself that I wasn't exactly drooling all over it. The Dual Shock controller is lighter and the analog sticks firmer. Everything is black, from the system to the controllers to the game boxes. Sony is obviously going for a distinctive and very anti-Dreamcast look for its product line, and it works pretty well. The game boxes are slick but also practical; everything has its place and there are firm clips to hold them there. The instruction books are large, even bigger than N64 booklets and a welcome change from the jewel case inserts of late. The first launch game that we put in was, of course, Street Fighter EX3.
Here began our descent into The Rushed Crappy Launch Games From Hell. SFEX3 was probably the best of the bunch in terms of it being, well, a Street Fighter game. But it's not like the EX series was everthat great anyway, and EX3 is no exception. Take EX2 and give it a tag-team feature, and you've basically got EX3. The graphics, as you've probably heard by now, are actually worse than Soul Calibur's, displaying rough, jagged edges. In any case, we did suffer through a few matches before turning the system off and giving Eternal Ring, From Software's RPG entry, a go.
The opening to King's Fiel... uh... Eternal Ring was the first FMV we had sem for the system, and, to be honest, we tried to delude ourselves into thinking that it was realtime footage and that the PS2 was as good as the Dreamcast. The difference was obvious, though, when we started playing. ER, probably the worst of the five games we'd played, is a first-person perspective action/RPG in which battles take the form of stabbing identical enemies with your sword. Movement is sloooooooow and areas are unnecessarily difficult to navigate. Once we had played through the first dungeon and fIrst town, we were basically ready to quit. I did get to impress my friends by reading the Japanese, though, and between their knowledge of Chinese and mine of Japanese, we were able to figure out most of the dialogue. We did spent a good deal of time (relatively) on Eternal Ring, but we were soon ready to move on to Koei's strategy offering, Kessen.
We were again fooled into thinking that Kessm's opening sequences were realtime. As it turns out, they were just bad FMV. No harm done, though, we thought, at least until we saw the actual gameplay screens. All the actual play is done on an ugly top-down map with incredibly simple character icons. Once two units engage each other, you can zoom in and watch the battles take place, but you can't do a thing. It is more complicated than I'm making it sound (hint: if you can't read Japanese and can only buy one title, don't buy this one), but overall Kessen left the same disappointed feeling in our stomachs as Eternal Ring did. At this point, enticed by the aroma of the drum and guitar in the comer of the room, I wanted to move on to Drummania, but we decided to take a look at Ridge Racer V, Namco's latest, fIrst.
If I had to sum up RRV's graphics in one word, that word would be "shit." If I had to describe RRV's graphics in two words, those two words would both be "shit." Get the picture? While RRV is without a doubt a worthy successor to the Ridge Racer series, it is obvious that Namco had the most problems with the PS2 hardware. Sure, in comparison to the Playstation versions, RRV looks wonderful, but head-to-head against Sega GT, there is absolutely no comparison. Jagged polygoos, pop-ups (weren't those supposed to be obsolete three years ago?), and a general blurry, unfinished feeling permeate this game. RRV plays well, if only as well as the Playstation games. But gleefully bashing away at RRV soon became tiresome, and we were itching to make some music.
If you're familiar with Kooami's Bemani series, you've already guessed that Drummania doesn't feature any sort of flashy graphical effects. What you're doing is just playing the drums (six pads and a bass pedal) to the instrnctions onscreen. There are various songs you can play, only one of which is anywhere near easy. The rest take serious amounts of practice to learn, but when you finish, you'll actually KNOW how to drum. Drurnmania also Ietss you plug in the Playstation guitar and jam, guitar and drums, with a friend. You can even use two guitars if you so desire. This, ultimately, was the most fun of the five games, but only because we had both peripherals and could jam togaher .I was pretty terrible on the drums, but I had the guitar down pretty quickly.
In any case, Drummania was a lot of fun. Of course, given the cost of the system and the add-ons, this begs the question: was it one thousand dollars worth of fun? The answer is no. If you're considering importing a PS2, at this point I would advise against it. The initial lineup of launch games is without any semblance of a killer app, and this is probably the first ever system launch without a first-party title. You can find better playing and better looking games right here in the United States for the Dreamcast.
The final question that this raises is, how will the PS2 fare at its US launch in September? One thing's for sure, Sony will need more and better games, and quickly. The Japanese launch games were all rushed out the door and suffered terribly because of it. All Sega will have to do to sweep Christmas 2000 is to set up Dead Or Alive 2 next to Street Fighter EX 3 and note that DOA2 plays on a system that is $200 cheaper. That is, if Sony doesn't get its act together; and they doo't have very long to do so. Gran Turismo 2000 will sell a few systems, but Sony is still missing and probably won't have a Mario or Sonic to carry them. Don't get me wrong: they'll sell a lot of systems whenever they decide to put it out there, but unless the launch lineup changes dramatically, you won't see me in line.
AND NOW, 23 QUESTIONS...
Q: Have you heard from Sean Pettibone lately?
Just a few Qs to ponder while gazing at your navel.
My, aren't we inquisitive? From the top, we have...
A: No (not that I'm complaining...)
Gee, it looks like I've got space to fill. Urn, uh... how about that Tyson/Holyfield fight? I guess the critics were right when they said "the day Tyson loses a match is the day Michael Jackson has children!" Anyway, thanks for your interest in GRB... and my navel.
GREETINGS FROM LANOIE
Yes, yes, I know it's been quite a while since I last wrote, but I finally got off my buns when you sent that little poll, and hey, things happen. I don't do stuff as often as I would like to anymore.
Most of my opinions on The Gameroom Blitz #1 are scribbled on your survey; I hope you can read them. Gotta love any fanzine where the author can sketch himself as Quark! Er, I should say, a Ferengi. The Star Trek theme was a pretty good idea. Unfortunately, it doesn't really help your issue much, because frankly, every Star Trek game I have ever played sucks. Star Trrek is all about the fact that aliens didn't invade the Earth, humans didn't erupt into nuclear war, etc., but all the Star Trek video games seem to be about is about, and let's face it, killing. Thought most actual episodes in all the Star Trek series (should that be serieses? Series?) have this sort of stuff in them as well, under no circumstances do we see the Enterprise blazing through space, taking out everything it encounters. And the games that have tried to do more than action are usually just plain boring. I guess what I'm trrying to say is that what I love most about Star Trek is the character interaction, not the phaser blasting, and no game really reproduces this very well. That said, it was nice reading about all the odd versions of Star Trek that were released for all the older game systems. Your reviews of the series were cool as well, highlight being the Safe Predictions, of course.
Somehow, I knew you would kinda bitch at Microsoft since you got your new PC. Really, I think when I complain about Win 95, I'm mostly just joking around, or going with the crowd. Win 95 really is a nice piece of work (I hear OSR2 is really quite fast). There are some things about it that really irk me, though. Win 95 seems to have a conflict of interest: by calling directories "folders" and using shitty, "easy-to-use" but worthless programs like Explorer (I always use File Manager, except to change .PIF files...), it apparently tries to cater to newbies, making the simplest task anal. Saving a file, for instance. Opening a little save box takes as long as it does to open most entire programs! That's mostly due to the excessive, crappy graphics, but the save-file interface isn't very good either, compared to how quick and easy it was to save things in Win3.1 programs. Who really cares if you have to learn what a drive is? I really don't like people that expect to grasp all computer concepts without giving them a bit of thought. O'oh! And I was praising Win 95, hee hee... Anyway, basically, Win 95 is a great operating system. I installed Linux a few days ago, and the interface is very arcane, even in X-Windows. Although learning Linux may make some people feel cool (and it does have a few added benefits), mostly, it just makes every little task hard. So while in a way Win 95's catering to newbies really annoys me, Linux's making everything hard just for the sake of it isn't that great, either .
Before I let you go (I'm working on Infestation #17 right now... you should be receiving #16 in no more than a week [damn copy place!]), I just want to say a bit about fighting games. Now, I've played most of the "big" 3D fighting games, like Tekken, Toshinden (what does that mean in English, anyway?), etc., but the "3D" parts did not do diddley squat for the game. Neo-Geo fighting games like Fatal Fury 2 let you jump around in the background, too. How is a game suddenly changed because its graphics are now in "3D"? It's ridiculous. I played Street Fighter EX today. It was a pretty awesome game, but the "3D" aspect of the graphics made the game look much, much worse. I saw nothing in that game that could not be done easily with sprites. Perhaps the showing off of the last few hits needs "3D" graphics to work, but I'm sure we could get along without that, since it does nothing for the gameplay. I am truly puzzled. What is so good about "3D" fighting games? Baffled, I am... from nice looking, smooth sprites, to blocky polygons, just for the sake of it. For the love of [insert your favorite deity here... -ed.], WHY?!?!?!
Oh well. I'll try to keep in touch more; do the same, later...
You know... you're absolutely right. Star Trek's emphasis on plot and character interaction has made for some great moments on television, but it hasn't done jack for video games. The material itself isn't entirely to blame, however... some of the fault should lie squarely on the shoulders of the programmers who foolishly attempt these games, as they never try hard enough to make them work as entertainment or Star Trek memorabilia. As bad as Crossroads of Time was, I would have given the game at least another ratings point if the designers had taken the time to add digitized pictures of the cast. Unfortunately, the geniuses at Playmates thought DS9 fans wouldn't care if their favorite characters from the show were given Tic-Tacs for heads, making Crossroads that much worse.
I don't have much to say about Windows 95 (in fact, I'm kind of wishing I had a copy of it... as much as I hate to admit it. I've really gotten attached to the new interface). 3D fighting games, on the other hand... now that's a different story. I've always believed that fluid character movement and stiff, unintuitive control make strange bedfellows, yet that unlikely combination has been the defining characteristic of every 3D fighting game I've ever played. Someday, that will change, but until then, I'll stick with playing Street Fighter Alpha 2, NightWarriors, and whatever Neo-Geo game the dweebs from Next Generation are mindlessly bashing this month.
BOY OH BOY OH BOY!
BOY OH BOY OH BOY!
Has anyone caught those crazy ads starring Nintendo's new GameBoy Pocket? I tell you, I liked them so much that they inspired me to think up a whole line of GameBoy brand products! First is the GameBoy Green, at the forefront of ecologically sound electronic gaming. Just stick a lemon on the prongs located conveniently at the top of the system and you've got over an hour of princess stomping, mushroom rescuing fun! Just be sure to fold the prongs back before sliding it into pocket...
A similar but more controversial concept has been adopted by the GameBoy Probe, the only game system that's fueled by the power of your own colon! If this doesn't get your kids to eat their beans, nothing will! It also includes a Rumble Pack... for those of you into that kind of thing.
Of course, who could forget about the Super Duper GameBoy, a peripheral which hooks up to your Nintendo 64? Just plug in your favorite game, and it's texture-mapped to a cube floating aimlessly in space, for no other reason than to show off the power of Nintendo's fabulous 64-bit system!
For those of you with a taste for the finer things in life, but want a GameBoy anyway, how 'bout a twenty-four karat version in a platinum casing? Last (and definitely least) is game.boy. It has limited Internet capabilities, plus the gratuitous use of speech and the ability to play all existing GameBoy games at roughly half their original frame rates!
THE SMS TEST
THE SMS TEST
Spring these questions on your favorite video game company (or more likely, your LEAST favorite game company) and see how they stack up! By the way, any resemblence this test has to Chris Kohler's GMS Test is strictly intentional...
1. There's a new game out starring your company's popular mascot. It was released for...
A. Your newest and most powerful game system
2. Treasure, the programming team responsible for Gunstar Heroes, has released an incredible game for your console that's sure to sell product. You...
A. Hype it incessantly and sell thousands of games and systems
3. You finally release an original game for your flagship system starring your company's popular mascot. The game in question is...
A. An extremely impressive first-person action platformer that's on par
with Super Mario 64
4. The time period between game system releases for your company is...
A. Four years
5. You've asked Eidos, the designers of the wildly successful Tomb Raider, to design a 32-bit version of your company's popular series of side-scrolling fighting games. You...
A. Release the game as Streets of Rage 3D
6. It's said that "a house divided against itself cannot stand". With this in mind, you...
A. Solely devote yourself to making high quality games for your
7. Your approach to customer service is...
A. "Do whatever is necessary to make them happy"
8. Your flagship game system has failed miserably and has put your company in extreme financial danger. Your current frame of mind is...
A. "We've got to do something fast or we're all doomed!"
Add up the number of times you answered C. If the number is eight, congratulations! It's gotta be Sega!
AND NOW, TEN THINGS WE DID NOT
NEED TO SEE IN 1997
AND NOW, TEN THINGS WE DID NOT
NEED TO SEE IN 1997
10. War Gods
We asked several fanzine
We asked several fanzine
'That thing has saved me a fortune on Ex-Lax... I just plug in a game
and awaaay I go!"
"My collection of soon-to-be-defunct game systems just isn't complete
"Well, SOMEONE has to keep Tiger in business!"
"I'm conducting an experiment for the local college: we're gauging the
effects of fun deprevation on a test group of students."
'What?! This is a GAME.COM!? Dammit, Mom, I wanted a GameBoyl
"Yo, man, that shit is phat! It be da bomb! It to-tally fuckeeng rulz!
"It makes the perfect April Fool's Day gag gift!"
"Someone told you I had a game.com?! That's a disgusting lie! I'm
calling my lawyers! Get that damned microphone out of my face!"
'The quality software! I can't WAIT for Gun.Smoke, Rug.Rats, and
'The frame rate reminds me of those films Charlie Chaplin used to do in
"I couldn't resist... the damned sales clerk taped a picture of Claire
Danes to the screen! Oh, my sweet, sweet Claire..."
"It's my link to the Internet. Er, well, sort of..."
(Editor's Note: No. these aren't real quotes. And none of us own a game.com, except Russ, who got one for his birthday and was too polite to return it.)
THE YEAR'S TEN LEAST
THE YEAR'S TEN LEAST
10. The Game Informer Final
Fantasy Collection Strategy Guide, neither sponsored, endorsed, or
approved by... its author Chris Kohler.
STAR TREK SERIES REVIEWS
STAR TREK SERIES REVIEWS
Captain: James... T... Kirk... a man who (despite his speech impediment and thinning hair) is quite popular with the green space babes.
Coolest Crew Member(s): The only logical choice is Spock. Leonard Nimoy's portrayal of the eternally level-headed Vulcan is pure genius.
Lamest Crew Member(s): Probably Sulu. He sounds more like a radio deejay than a starship officer. And what's with that name!? Sure sounds Japanese to me...
Best Episode: What else? The Trouble With Tribbles!
Potent Quotables: Hey, this is the series that made such quips as "Scotty, beam me up". and "IT'S DEAD, JIM! IT'S DEAD!!!" household phrases!
Memorable Moments: The bad special effects! I don't even think the Power Rangers would stoop so low as to face off against the dorky reptile in Arena...
Weird Cameos: The guy who played Lurch popped up in one episode as a towering robot.
Safe Predictions: The lowly red-shirted ensigns will die approximately five minutes after touching down on any given planet's surface. 80% of the cast members from Star Trek will bloat up like balloons and/or endorse celebrity psychic lines.
Tricorder Reading: The series had to start somewhere, but Star Trek wasn't as revolutionary as died-in-the-wool Trekkies would have you believe. If it weren't for the films, Star Trek would have suffered the same fate as other corny 60's science fiction shows.
STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION
Captain: Jean-Luc Picard, the stiff, bureaucratic Frenchmen (with a British accent?) who first made baldness a fashion statement.
Coolest Crew Member(s): Smart-alecky engineer Geordi LaForge, and of course, Commander Data, the android who despite a high intellect just doesn't understand the mechanics of human social behavior.
Lamest Crew Member(s): The crew could just as well have done without whiny empath Deanna Troi and bratty ensign Wesley Crusher.
Best Episode: The Q episodes are the most fun, although I'm dying to see the one where Quark faces off against Worf.
Potent Quotables: There's always "Make it so", but my favorite's got to be where Worf commands a crew member's wife to "have your (her) baby immediately!"
Memorable Moments: Some of the special effects are just mindboggling, especially for a series which began in the late 80's. Also, who could forget Q's gift to Data?
Weirdest Cameos: Whoopi Goldberg's role as Guinan could be the best acting performance of her career.
Safe Predictions: Picard will always, always, always take the diplomatic way out of a situation. Wuss.
Tricorder Reading: Star Trek: The Next Generation single-handedly justified the franchise and turned a lot of Star Trek haters into bonafide Trekkies. The pace of most episodes is a little plodding in comparison to Deep Space Nine's, however.
STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE
Captain: Benjamin Sisko, who has played two roles in the series: an introspective commander struggling with the death of his wife and his role as the Federation liason to Deep Space Nine, and a captain with almost as much personality as the razor he uses to shave his head.
Coolest Crew Member(s): Quark, the conniving intergalactic troll, and his archrival Odo, played to perfection by Rene' Auberjonois. I'm also partial to Quark's nephew Nog.
Lamest Crew Member(s): Without a doubt, Quark's brother Rom. He's probably the most inconsistantly written character in Star Trek history!
Best Episode: The Visitor. Although you know how it's going to end, you can't help but feel for Jake Sisko (brilliantly played by both Cirroc Lofton & Tony Todd) as his life crumbles around him.
Potent Quotables: It's not even a word, but Odo's gutteral "Hrrumf!" gets me every time.
Memorable Moments: Quark's got some mean one-liners in Body Parts, and that weird gesture where he wraps his forearms around his head (when Odo just barely escapes getting blown to bits) totally obliterates the aftershave scene from Home Alone.
Weirdest Cameos: First Ometik'laan (the Jem H'dar leader) was also Link from The Mod Squad.
Safe Predictions: Expect a plot twist within 20-30 minutes after the show begins. Quark will always concoct a scheme to make profIt (illegally), which Odo promptly foils.
Tricorder Reading: Action, adventure, drama, humor... there's something for everyone to appreciate in Deep Space Nine. Its widespread appeal comes at a price, however... it's too easy to guess what will happen next.
STAR TREK: VOYAGER
Captain: Kathryn Janeway, the arms specialist with a hair bun that would make Princess Leia wince and a voice straight out of Gone With the Wind.
Coolest Cast Member(s): The (yet unnamed) Doctor is basically just a sarcastic rehash of Data, but he is nevertheless entertaining.
Lamest Cast Member(s): Kes, Kim, Chakotay, etc. etc.
Best Episode: The one where Janeway defeats the very embodiment of fear. Definately one of the best endings ever in Star Trek history.
Potent Quotables: Janeway to Kim: "You're in Starfleet, Mr. Kim. Weird's part of the job."
Memorable Moments: How disappointed I was with the series after watching my first episode.
Weirdest Cameos: The guy in the fear episode was none other than Squiggy from Laverne + Shirley.
Safe Predictions: When given the chance, the crew will always do something incredibly stupid (ie negotiate with treacherous body harvesters to get an antivirus for Janeway, who can survive without it).
Tricorder Reading: Voyager's gotten better, but it still feels like a mediocre attempt to capture the essence of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
WINDOWS 95: THESE CLOUDS DON'T HAVE
WINDOWS 95: THESE CLOUDS DON'T HAVE
After endless delays, Windows 95 hit the PC market just in time to deserve its trendy title. It's now 1997, and despite flaws in the operating system that have required two updates to repair, most PC users have made the switch from Win 3.x and MS-DOS to Win 95. Was the breakout success of Windows 95 due to an aggressive ad campaign and the public's blind trust in technological "progress", or are there enough genuine improvements to the Windows engine in Win 95 to consider it an intelligent purchase? Yes. Truth is, while the latest version of Windows offers users a more intuitive interface (with, surprise, surprise, plenty of features stolen from Apple's System 7.0) and smoother DOS performance, its extravagant hardware requirements and bug-ridden design makes parting with Windows 3.x a sweet sorrow.
One of the most aggravating things about Win 95 is that its features sound great in theory but don't always work in practice. Take its set-up program, for instance. It graciously offers to detect hardware add-ons for you, only to warn you that "Windows may lock up while detecting hardware. If there is no hard drive activity for several minutes, reset and try again." Believe me, it's not just saying that to be cautious... it happens. Even if the set-up program works, there's no guarantee that Windows 95 will. "Out of Order" signs are peppered around the computer lab at my local college, and the culprit is almost always Win 95. That's inexcusable when you consider the number of computers which worked perfectly with Windows 3.x.
As for the claim that MS-DOS applications and older Windows programs work better with Win 95, it's true... sort of. Win 95's 32-bit processing adds some zip to software written for older versions of Windows, but they won't always work properly under the new environment. The same goes with DOS applications. Most of them will work just as well from Win 95 as they would in MS-DOS, but games and other programs with graphics must still run in a full screen, and games which use both high and low resolution graphics have a peculiar habit of crashing Windows.
The verdict is still out on Windows 95... is it worth the $90, and moreover, the time it takes to learn a new operating system? It depends. If you're considering the investment just to take advantage of Microsoft's Win 95 exclusives, forget it... they're inferior to products by competitors like Qualcomm and Novell. However, novice computer users may take to its speedy DOS performance and similarities to Apple's notoriously friendly MacOS series. If you upgrade, just keep an older version of Windows handy in case your new operating system spites you...
MICROSOFT INTERNET EXPLORER
This is a tale of two programs, Microsoft Internet Explorer 1.0 and its much-improved offspring, version 3.0. Although MSIE 3.0 is the latest update and can be downloaded from the Microsoft web site at no cost, it's worth taking a look at the original simply because Microsoft has foolishly included it with current Win95 upgrade packages. What can I say? In direct comparison to Netscape 1.0, MSIE 1.0 falls flat on its face in regards to its performance and visual flair. With its shameless lack of features and an interface replete with tiny, simply drawn command buttons, you can't help but suspect that Microsoft punched Internet Explorer out in a week to cash in on the increasingly trendy and potentially lucrative Internet. Thankfully, MSIE 3.0 appears to be more of a complete overhaul than a simple update. Its graphics are a vast improvement over 1.0's, and there are a wealth of helpful programs included that even the latest version of Netscape doesn't offer. Not bad for a freebie, eh? If you're itching to get on the World Wide Web and you're not interested in paying for a web browser (you cheap bastard!), MSIE 3.0 should more than suit your needs.
In its own right, Word is a fine word processor with plenty of options... you can import artwork and text from a variety of formats, align and spell-check paragraphs on the fly, and even add frames and columns to pages. In the all-important categories of user friendliness and ease of use, however, Word doesn't hold a candle to its main competitor, Novell WordPerfect 6.0 (and the more recently released Corel WordPerfect Suite 7.0). Two wonderful examples of this from my days as a computer lab assistant spring to mind... the first involved a young woman who needed to create a relatively simple document. She'd made the mistake of choosing Word for this task, and had no idea how to format the first few lines of the page. I'd suggested using WordPerfect instead, and after a brief explanation of its mechanics, she took to the program like it was designed just for her. Another, older woman had similar problems with Word, but didn't have the option to use another word processor because her assignment had specifically requested it. I had to take her through nearly every step of her project! Veteran computer users will have considerably less trouble with Word, but it doesn't really matter. WordPerfect isn't just easier to use than Word... it's BETTER.
Sure, Microsoft Exchange allows you to send integrated Email messages complete with multiple fonts, embedded images, and voice, but there's a catch. Wait... make that several catches. The worst of these is ME's absurd loading time. It can take you upwards of two minutes to actually read your mail after clicking on Win 95's In-Box icon if your PC is networked... contrast that with the almost instantaneous load time of the PC version of Eudora Light and you've got a serious design flaw that even staunch Microsoft supporters can't ignore. Next on the list is Exchange's unattractive, no- frills interface. For a program that takes so long to load, you'd expect Exchange to offer the user more than two measly windows filled with non-descript folders, but sadly, that's not the case. Finally (and this is most important), Exchange's advanced formatting features are completely useless if Email is sent to or from one of the dozens of Email readers on the market. In the end, you'd be tempted to brand this with the time-honored cliche' "you get what you pay for", but in true Microsoft fashion, this Win 95 freebie is actually a step down from other freeware Email programs, like Qualcomm's Eudora Light.
One of Geeky Gill's most dismal failures was this condescending GUI, a "revolutionary" integrated software package which was supposed to make PCs easier and more fun to use. Uh, right. I guess that perfectly explains why I couldn't do a damned thing in this graphically overloaded mess after having learned Windows 3.x with relative ease. Apparently, the designers had forgotten that the term "computer illiterate" was a figure of speech, so they'd done everything within their power to keep the user from reading text prompts. The result? You'll be left stranded in the opening screen, desperately clicking on everything and having inane, cryptic conversations with Bob's cast of animal assistants until you either press control, ait, and delete (the traditional PC panic button) to escape or miraculously find a way out on your own. So much for Bob's "ease of use". If you're desperate for a simple way to use your PC, you can take your chances with Boob, er, Bob, but in the end, you'll find it far wiser to bite the bullet and learn to use Windows.
MICROSOFT VISUAL BASIC 3.0
Finally, a Microsoft product that's not overshadowed by another, far superior piece of third-party software. Visual BASIC is an exciting way to design your own Windows-compatible programs... once you understand its basic mechanics, the design time for programs is surprisingly short, and as an added bonus, everything from the fonts on the control buttons to the colors of the windows themselves can be customized. This is a refreshing change of pace after putting up with years of dull, utilitarian Windows applications... However (you could see this one coming from a mile away, couldn't you?), Visual BASIC is tough to learn if you're a veteran of Quick BASIC or another text-based programming language. There's as much dropping, dragging, and clicking as there is typing, and this can be disorienting if you're not familiar with object-oriented programming. Also, programs written in Vis BASIC- even compiled ones- will not work in Windows without a .DLL file supplied with the program, so you can forget about distributing your best creations to friends without including the .DLL along with them. Even with these flaws, Visual BASIC is a great way to design everything from simple calculation programs to huge on-line reference guides. Now all they need to do is release a game designer's edition with the graphics commands that made Quick BASIC so much fun to use...
BAC IS BACK!
BAC IS BACK!
For those of you who don't remember this from Video Apocalypse, here's the deal: I'm going to take a look at some of the animated television series designed by Americans, for Americans. At the end of each description, there'll be a rating in the form of a question: "Is This Worth Watching?" Since these are after all American cartoons, you can probably already guess that most of them will suck, but I'm giving them all the benefit of the doubt with ratings since a few of them are classics. Got it? Good. Let's go...
The Simpsons, new episodes (Fox): Make them go away... somebody PLEASE just make them go away! The Slmpsons just hasn't been that funny since producers Al Jean and Mike Reiss left the show to work on The Critic. The newer episodes are just too damned full of repetitive jokes, preachy object lessons, and cop-out endings for me to be even remotely interested. Even Russ Perry, Simpsons lover that he is, grudgingly admits that the show's quality has been slipping lately. If that doesn't tell you something's wrong, I don't know what would.
WORTH WATCHING?: Not if you can help It
Freakazoid (Cartoon Network): This short-lived offspring of the wildly successful Animanlacs croaked for the same reason that The Critic did... It was just too strange for fans of the show that inspired it. The early episodes were really funny (love that Jonny Quest send-up!), but somewhere along the line, Freakazoid just ran out of steam. It's still good for a few laughs, though.
WORTH WATCHING?: Sometimes; not always
101 Dalmations (ABC): I just KNEW I was going to hate this one when I watched an obnoxious chicken whine about the evils of excessive video game use. Add primitive, stylized artwork and some of the most annoying characters ever and you've got one helluva bad cartoon. Somebody needs to get these dogs spayed and neutered.
WORTH WATCHING?: Put Cadpig to sleep and I'll think about it
BRUNO the Kid (syndicated): BRUNO isn't the first cartoon created solely to boost the ego of a self-absorbed celebrIty, and unfortunately, it won't be the last. Bruce Willis is the voice of an eight year old brat who foIls the plans of those always nasty industrial poliuters, with the aid of an ugly computer generated bust (of... who else? Bruce Willis) and Tony Jay, the villian from Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. If It weren't for Jay, I would have changed the channel in five minutes, and even with him, this still sucks.
WORTH WATCHING?: No way, no how
Rugrats (Nick): Surprisingly, this... this... THING has been around for as long as Ren & Stimpy, and even more surprising, it's gotten pretty popular in the last three years. I guess a cartoon from a baby's point of view is a unique idea (If you overlook the crappy DC comic which did the same thing), but who the hell cares? Besides, the characters look like they've been dragged through a toxic waste dump. Nickelodeon should have aborted this one a long, LONG time ago.
WORTH WATCHING?: Only as an altematlve to drinking battery acid
Johnny Bravo (Cartoon Network): Well, you can't call the concept unoriginal. Johnny Bravo's a womanizing bonehead who tries desperately to get a date, and constantly falls despite his studly physique (hey, it's the 90's... anything's possible). His raging hormones and empty head get him into all sorts of wacky situations, and you'll be laughing your butt off whether he's solving one last mystery with the Scooby-Doo gang or fighting crime with Adam West. Great idea, and a great cartoon.
WORTH WATCHING?: Whoa, mama! (that's a yes)
Cow & Chicken (Cartoon Network): Everything about the cartoon is stale... it feels like it was cooked up in a board meeting in a blatant attempt to leech from the success of Ren & Stimpy. Let me ask you this: how popular has R&S BEEN lately? It's nice that Hanna-Barbera can afford great voice-over artists lIke Michael Dorn from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but his booming voice is wasted on a piece of crap like this.
WORTH WATCHING?: Once, but never again
King of the Hill (Fox): This meandering redneck chronicle seems really boring at first... and usually stays that way. Yet, it's hard to pull yourself away from an episode once you've gotten into it. It's got that "I don't WANT to watch it, but... uh, give me five more minutes" quality that made Mike Judge's previous shows (Beavis & Butthead, Daria) such hits. Getting past that, however, there's not really much Hill does that The Simpsons used to do better.
WORTH WATCHING?: Yes, but get a drool rag
Space Ghost Coast To Coast (Cartoon Network): Like Beavis & Butthead, this show is painful to watch, but strangely enjoyable. Imagine what would happen if The Tick was addicted to acid and got his own late night talk show and you'd get the general idea. The scripts by Sarah Dyer and Evan Dorkin are reasonably clever, but the animation is lousy (intentionally so, I think) and the show is, well, pretty dumb most of the time.
WORTH WATCHING?: The Tick is better