Giana Sisters DS

November 22, 2011

Bit of history to start out with… when Super Mario Bros. was released in the mid-80s, there were no shortage of copycats that sprouted up to take advantage of the renewed side scrolling genre. But one game stood above the others as the most blatant rip-off of Nintendo’s mascot, The Great Giana Sisters, which was released for the Commodore 64 and the Amiga (among other PC systems). How blatant a rip-off? Just take a look at a screenshot from the game…

Yeah. Published by Rainbow Arts in 1987, it was pulled from shelves almost immediately due to pressure from Nintendo’s legal team, though one could hardly blame Nintendo for wanting to nip blatant copycats in the bud. Hard to find, it was widely sought after by collectors and few people knew about the game until game emulation via the internet began to sprout up in the mid 90s.

Over twenty years later, a new Giana Sisters game was developed and released (officially!) on the Nintendo DS in Europe, titled simply Giana Sisters DS. Oddly enough, it only features one sister, Giana, though perhaps one could consider her powered-up “punk” form as a separate character. The game featured eight different worlds, filled with bite sized, yet at times tough levels filled with tiny platforms to maneuver and quirky enemies to avoid and defeat. The gameplay certainly won’t challenge Mario’s crown anytime soon, but it’s solid and enjoyable. The graphics are well animated and the characters all have cute animations to them. The music is very catchy and remenicent of the game’s Commodore origins, with a very chip-tune vibe to it. The game even features recreations of the original game’s levels, provided you find enough hidden gems to unlock them. Overall, despite it’s brief length and occasional cheap difficulty, it’s a great title worth playing.

Despite growing interest of the title, it remained a European exclusive for years, as stateside release dates were announced and passed over. Even Nintendo Power reviewed the game in its February 2011 issue, giving it a 9 out of 10, yet no release was in sight. With the Nintendo DS in its last year of life, it seemed like importing the increasingly expensive title was the only option for those who wanted to play it.

However, last month, the game was quietly released by publisher Destineer to several internet sites, such as Newegg.com, for the low, low price of twenty bucks. Seeing as how the game has yet to be available on more mainstream sites like Amazon.com, or even in normal brick and mortar stores, this game has the potential to become a collector’s item in the future, much like the internet store exclusive Electroplankton or Pokemon Box.

Much like it’s original release. If you’re even remotely interested in this title, I highly suggest picking it up before it’s too late.

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Cool S#*%: Gamecube Interactive Demo Disc #9

November 20, 2011

Spent the last two and a half hours playing some Skyward Sword (spoiler: it’s frackin’ AWESOME), but I thought I’d take a break from the game and touch on a bit of history about that purple box that celebrated its tenth birthday last week, the Gamecube. While it was the least popular in terms of sales, it was always number one in our hearts (dawwwwwwwwwwww).

It was a different beast than previous Nintendo consoles in many ways, but one way in particular in the fact that the Gamecube was the first (and to date, only) Nintendo console that had multi-game playable demos available in stores. Before that, store demo units were usually limited to one game, which was an obvious side effect of sticking with the cartridge medium. But with the Cube, we finally saw a change, as we saw demo discs with timed game segments consisting of anywhere between two to seven different games. There were even GBA demos that could be played via emulator, almost like a Gameboy Player or Super Gameboy, complete with a unique screen border! A few of the demo discs even allowed you to download data to your own GBA games, the most famous example being the “Berry Glitch” patch for Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, which fixed a glitch and gave you a shiny Pokemon to boot.

I have one of these store demo discs… okay, several…

Fine. I’ve got thirty-one out of the thirty-five that were eventually released. I had friends in the electronics department at Wal-Mart, all right? Just don’t tell Nintendo, or they’ll take away my Fun Club membership. I won’t go into detail on all of them, so I’ll just pick one at random, Disc #9, which was released in late 2002.

This volume contained two demo games for Metroid Prime and Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Surprisingly, when I started up the Prime demo, it actually had an option for progressive scan! Impressive. The demo itself is pretty much just the beginning of the game, as you venture into the abandoned space station only to confront a huge insect like monster. Since the demo is limited to ten minutes, you really have to work hard to make your way to the boss. Still, this little demo is much more enjoyable than all of Other M. I kid! I kid!

Not really.

The Wind Waker demo features three different segments. “Dungeon”, drops you into the Dragon Roost Cavern, “Stealth” has you venturing into the Forsaken Fortress, and “Boss” pits you against the firey Gohma. The rest of the disc is filled with videos of Metroid Prime, Wind Waker, 1080 Avalanche, Wario World and Black & Bruised (a punch out clone that I’ve never played, actually), as well as an ESRB Ratings video featuring some baseball player. This was also the first disc featuring a new, flashier menu system, most likely in an effort to inform people that the Gamecube was not “teh kiddie”.

There were many other demo discs released for the system, and some featured some interesting differences from the final retail versions that would appear, though through Nintendo’s typically odd way of distributing these discs, they were not easy to get your hands on and took a bit of work to obtain. But as the world slowly moves towards digital downloads, it’s nice to have a bit of history you can hold in your hands.

Bustin’ makes me feel good!

October 17, 2011

With Halloween approaching, I turn once again to my usual binging of watching both the incredibly awesome Ghostbusters movie, as well as the animated series. Of course, a couple of years ago gamers were treated to a new Ghostbusters adventure, with Ghostbusters: The Video Game, which served as a third movie of sorts, taking place shortly after the events of Ghostbusters 2.

“Generally you don’t see that kind of behavior from a household appliance.”
There were essentially two different versions of the game, an HD version for the PS3/360 consoles featuring realistic graphics and a version for the Wii, which adapted to the smaller horsepower by giving the characters a more stylized look, which was, rather appealing actually. Kind of looked like what we’d get if Pixar was tasked with creating a Ghostbusters sequel. I compared notes with a friend of mine who owns the PS3 version (I, naturally, got the Wii version), and we discovered that each version followed the same basic plot, but they also had exclusive levels and bosses unique to each version, which is actually kind of cool. The plot, by the way, takes place two years after the second movie. Instead of playing as one of the main Ghostbusters, you play as a new rookie Ghostbuster, and join the others on various missions, which range from the fancy hotel from the first movie to the weird and errie “ghost world”. The dialouge in the game is outstanding, and easily the highlight of the game. The writing is witty and clever, and there is no shortage of amusing riffs between the Ghostbusters as you bust ghosts. There are also nods to the movies to be found in the game, such as the painting of Vigo the Carpathian hanging out in the basement of the firehouse, who talks to you on occassion (usually with amusing results). The game also uses the score from the movies as background music, though sadly the familiar Ghostbusters theme can only be heard during the end credits sequence (which turns out to be a target shooting minigame featuring a certain green ghost).

“What we have here is what we call a non-repeating phantasm, or a class-5 free roaming vapor, real nasty one too.”
Of course, the biggest difference between the two versions is play control. While the HD version went with traditional controls, the Wii version essentially turns the Wiimote into your own personal proton blaster. You wrangle ghosts by zapping them with your beam, then following the prompts to swing your Wiimote and smash the ghosts into objects, weakening them. Once they’re weak enough to be captured, you swing out the nunchuck to toss out a ghost trap and send the ghost packing! It’s actually pretty immersive, and it can get physically tiring as well! But like they say, being a Ghostbuster isn’t easy. The other Ghostbusters will also help you out, reviving you when you run out of energy, giving you general advice, or helping you wrangle a pesky spirit. Fortunately, it appears Egon has worked out the kinks with the whole total protonic reversal thing, so you don’t have to worry about crossing the streams. The PKE meter also comes into play, taking after Metroid Prime by allowing you to scan and obtain records of ghosts you encounter.

“Well, there’s something you don’t see every day.”
Of course, the game isn’t perfect. There will be a few occasions when a Wiimote swing doesn’t register, and you lose the grip on your ghost. I’ve also encountered a few glitches that forced me to restart a level, including one where the boss I was fighting actually fell through the floor, leaving me no way to complete the stage. There are also a few frustrating segments. One in particular, in the sewer stage in the later half of the game, involves a puzzle where you must cross a river of slime while pulling levers with your proton pack with perfect timing, otherwise you take a dunk in the river. It took me about twenty tries to get it right. Fortunately, checkpoints are frequent and your lives are unlimited, so that does help alleviate some frustration.

“Venkman, shorten your stream! I don’t want my face burned off! “
So, should you check out Ghostbusters: The Video Game this halloween? Absolutely. It’s a fun romp, no matter which version you pick up. Some of the technical flaws can be annoying, but it more than makes up for it with some entertaining gameplay and excellent writing. Plus, it can be found for under twenty smackers, which makes it a total no-brainer.

The Return of the fall… and further fallening of Sonic the Hedgehog (Part 2)

October 5, 2011

Previously, I said that after many months of waiting for a price drop, I finally picked up Sonic Colors for the Wii. This came after many disappointments from the blue rodent, and even after many glowing reviews I was hesitant, but after it dropped to just over $19, I decided to risk it. After several days, it arrived on my doorstep. I tore open the package and popped the disc in. This was it. Sonic’s last chance.

Oh boy… another 4Kids worthy intro video… horrible singing… though the music itself ain’t that bad. Aw, dammit, the song’s in my head now.

Hey, the orchestrated version on the title screen is actually pretty damn good. And you can actually control the camera… nice.

What? No long winded cinema scene about evil clones, ancient gods or werehogs? Right into the action? That’s… damn, thanks Sega! And the music is pretty damn good here, no talentless hack singing about racing through a theme park? Control’s a little squirrely, but nothing I can’t quickly get used to. The 2D segments are full of platforming goodness, the level designs are interesting, the 3D segments are quick and to the point, there are occasional cut scenes, but they’re actually kind of amusing and well acted, and…

Oh my God…

I…. LIKE THIS.

They did it. They finally did it.

A Sonic game that doesn’t suck, isn’t merely mediocre, but is actually GOOD!

I spent the whole game waiting for the other shoe to drop… thankfully, I can say that it never did. The whole game (well, maybe not the 2 player mode, more on that later), has a certain polish to it, it actually feels like, well, EFFORT was put into it. Little touches, such as the fact you can jump and break through the results score at the end of a stage to find random 1ups, stand out to me. The camera, probably Sonic’s biggest enemy, has finally been fixed; the only issue I ever had was when it drew back from the action too far, to a point where I had a hard time seeing Sonic, but those instances were few and far between. The music is outstanding, enshewing the Pearl Jam from previous entries for a more orchestrated/electropop feel. Also worth noting is the voice acting, which is vastly improved by recasting Sonic and Tails. Robotnik, however, nearly steals the show, as he is constantly speaking over the park’s P.A. system, and each smartass comment is more hilarious than the last.

The plot is also fairly lighthearted this time around… no ancient gods or evil clones here, just Robotnik acting like a dick, creating an interstellar amusement park as a cover for kidnapping aliens to use as a power source to, you guessed it, take over the world.
Of course, none of this would matter if the gameplay wasn’t any good. Fortunately, the gameplay (finally) delivers, with (mostly) 2D platforming action, interspersed with 3D speed segments, and it all controls rather well. The aliens Sonic rescues also give him the “Color” powers of the game, allowing him to burrow through the ground or hover in the air, which gives you plenty of opportunites to explore the levels and find hidden areas, and you’ll have to explore them all to unlock hidden levels within the 8-bit themed “Sonic Simulator”, which is basically a 2 player mode that works much better in theory than in practice. Fortunately, you can play through it in single player mode.

They even found a way to make the water levels in a Sonic game not only tolerable, but actually FUN. The only negative thing I can say about the game is that the difficulty spikes pretty high in the last few stages, mainly due to poorly placed (or in one case, lack of) checkpoints. That, and the credits song is an auto-tuned piece of garbage. But hey, those are all minor notes in what is Sonic’s best game since his 16-bit days. If you enjoy platformers, then by all means, check out Sonic’s latest adventure. It’s a Sonic game that finally makes him a contender against that pesky plumber again.

I think it was in the game’s fourth world, Planet Wisp, when it finally clicked… I was jumping around, smashing through blocks and zipping through tight spots, when I realized… hey, I’m actually ENJOYING this. THIS… this is what Sonic should’ve been all along. No tag teaming with his shitty friends. No manditory fishing games. No epic final battle with a demon god. And no making out with a human. Just Sonic bouncing along a bunch of grassy hills, gaining enough speed to leap up and grab some rings. That’s all we need, Sega. Just keep that in mind and Sonic will be just fine.

The fall… and further fallening of Sonic the Hedgehog

October 1, 2011


My Wavebird skidded across the floor… why, you might ask? Well, I had thrown it out of frustration while playing Sonic Heroes. It was 2004, after the whole “Sega Goes Third Party” dealie, and this was Sonic’s first brand new multi-platform game. This was the one, they promised, the one that would return to the fun of the Genesis titles (oh, how many times they would re-use THAT line over the years). I somewhat enjoyed the two Sonic Adventure games, in spite of the horrid level designs that would plague the latter halves of both of the titles, not to mention that gawd-awful camera.

And here it was, years later, and I was still having the same issues, only moreso. I was in some stupid haunted house stage, trying to get Sonic and his loser friends through to the end. The level design was insipid, and the camera had somehow gotten worse, deciding right in the middle of a jump that it should cut to a different angle, causing me to plummet to my death. But it was one segment that caused me to just turn the game off forever… to get across a bottomless pit, I had to homing attack a series of enemies. Only one problem… half the time Sonic would not auto target an enemy, and plummet to his death. I could NOT get past that segment due to the stupid camera and awful controls. Finally, I said those three magic words I’m sure anyone probably said while playing a modern Sonic game.

“Fuck this SHIT.”

I pressed the power switch on my Gamecube, took out the disc and put it back in its case, never to be played again. Fifty bucks down the drain, that I could’ve spent on a GOOD game. Or some decent entrees at a good restaurant. Or fifty 20oz bottles of Pepsi.

The next several years were not kind at all to Sonic… not in the least. Things only went downhill after Heroes, with some terrible spin-offs like Sonic Riders and Sonic and the Secret Rings, culminating with the universally reviled “Sonic 2006“, which most assumed would be the death-kneel for the series. The only bright spot was Sonic Rush on the DS, which was decent, if only because it was a 2-D platformer that kept the spirit of the Genesis games alive. And in all honesty, I was disappointed. I was a Nintendo kid growing up, but I still enjoyed playing the Sonic games on my friend’s Genesis. I wasn’t a console snob; I’d play anything if it was fun. So it was kind of sad to see Sonic go out like this, with the best memory gamers would have of modern day Sonic was his appearance in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

When Sonic Unleashed was revealed, it showed a lot of promise, with a comprimise of both 2-D and 3-D gameplay, and many people believed it could finally be the game that redeemed Sonic. Even I started to believe that Sega learned from their mistakes and stopped shoving in more stupid friends and pointless gimmicks…

Until that damn werehog showed up.

At that point, I gave up hope. Sega had learned nothing, and Sonic was doomed to suck. Not that it mattered much to me, as Nintendo was providing plenty of platforming love in the shape of Super Mario Galaxy and New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Even when a new, Wii exclusive Sonic game was announced, I dismissed it, expecting some other stupid gimmick to be involved.

Then the reviews and player feedback started to come out. And it was almost all POSITIVE. Sega had actually pulled off the impossible, brought out an enjoyable Sonic game that wasn’t filled with gimmicks, horrible controls, or an insipid story involving clones or ancient gods. But still, I resisted. I’d been burned too many times already, and I wasn’t going to be fooled by that blue bastard again. I told myself that if I ever saw the game for under twenty bucks, I would pick it up, since I could probably recoup my purchase by reselling it if it sucked. And for nearly a year, it stayed in the $40-50 range.

Then, one day, while browsing Amazon.com, I saw it marked down to $19.16.

“Oh, fine. What the hell.”

I placed it into my shopping cart and clicked ‘Check Out’.

to be continued

 

1000 Days of Wii Fit

September 23, 2011

I got a pleasant surprise when I booted up my copy of Wii Fit this morning… I have spent exactly 1000 days using it since received it as a Christmas gift nearly four years ago. I hadn’t planned on picking it up, but considering I was teetering on the edge of obesity at a touch over 200 lbs, I decided to give it a shot.

Forty pounds lighter, and several clothing sizes slimmer, I’d say it was worth it.

I’m not gonna say that Wii Fit was the only thing that got me back into medium size shirts. I also changed my diet, as well as added another game to my routine, Dance Dance Revolution. And it took a while for the results to show, I did experience some periods when I actually gained more weight. And there were days when I had to force myself to do my routine. But I kept at it.

The past year I’ve sort of plateaued, and I seem to stuck at around 160, which actually is average for my height. I would love to drop down to 150 eventually, but I feel good about what I’ve accomplished, I have more energy, and not to brag, I look pretty darn good.

So I know a lot of gamers out there like to bag on Wii Fit, but for me, it’s helped me lose some extra pounds and in general made me feel better about myself.

Thanks Wii Fit!

Super Mario All-Stars + World

September 2, 2011

I don’t think it’s any secret that I have a thing for mustachioed Italian plumbers…

NO NO NO!

NOT like that, you sick bastards! I’m talkin’ the awesomeness that is the Super Mario videogame series.

Super Mario Bros. DOMINATED my childhood (and teenhood, and adult hood), and it’s probably no surprise that I’ve spent more gaming hours playing Mario related games than any other series. The controls, the gameplay, hidden secrets and tons of challenging levels kept me coming back to these games time and time again, even as Mario leaped to the third dimension and journeyed into space.

The three NES games came out during the perfect time in my life, when I was young enough not to have much responsibility, and old enough to have decent motor skills. Suffice to say Mario WAS my life for a while there. So when Super Mario All-Stars was released, it was the perfect excuse to play through these games all over again.

It was a little bit later that Nintendo started to bundle new Super NES units with a special version of Super Mario All-Stars that included Super Mario World. One might think Nintendo would just slam both ROMS together on a cart with a simple select screen and call it a day. But they actually worked Super Mario World into the actual game select screen in All-Stars (and even added an extra save slot!), as well as insert Yoshi into the new title screen. It was actually quite smoothly done, but they even went the extra mile with Super Mario World, by giving Luigi a bit of a makeover. In SMW, he was simply a pallete swap with Mario, but in the All-Stars version, they altered his sprite, making him a bit skinner and giving him new unique animations, both during gameplay and during the cut scenes that appeared after defeating a Koopa Kid. Since the game was only available bundled with new systems, it’s actually kind of hard to find now, at a decent price anyway. I was able to pick up a copy myself rather cheap, long before the retro nostalgia kicked up and sent prices skyrocketing.

Luigi sprites shamelessly stolen from The Mushroom Kingdom. You should visit them. They are totally awesome!

Oddly enough, this version was only released in America and Europe; Japan never got this edition, which may explain why last year’s Wii Super Mario All-Stars Special Edition only gave us the standard Super Mario All-Stars (well, that, and Super Mario World was being sold for eight bucks on the Virtual Console). Kind of a shame, since the little differences in the two games really stand out to die-hard Mario fans.

If you’re a Mario fan, and you ever spot this cartridge out in the wild, grab it! It’s a very interesting collectable, and a nice piece of Nintendo nostalgia.

Gun.Smoke

April 22, 2011

If you were an NES kid growing up in the 80’s, when you visited the home of a friend, chances are he or she would also have an NES and oftentimes, would have a different assortment of games than you did. Since I could only afford to get a few games a year, it gave me a chance to experience games I didn’t have, such as Castlevania, RBI Baseball, and of course, Gun.Smoke.

I’ve always enjoyed western movies and settings, so Gun.Smoke was right up my alley when I visited a friend’s house one summer. After playing a couple of the standards such as Duck Hunt and whatever lousy licensed crap we young kids were suckered into buying (I think it was the Back to the Future game), she popped in Gun.Smoke and we started blasting away.

It was a scrolling shooter, much like in the vein of Xevious, but you controlled a cowboy shooting away with a pair of six shooters. Shooting barrels revealed powerups, which increased your speed and bullet range, as well as a horse you could ride, which essentially gave you three extra hits from enemy fire. Shopkeepers would sell you new weapons, as well as a wanted poster, which you needed to face the stage boss. Without purchasing (or finding in a barrel) the wanted poster, the stage would loop forever, something me and my friend were unaware of, so we never did finish that first stage.

Years later, I came across a copy of the game at the local dirt mall (for those who have never seen Mallrats, that would be another term for flea market) and the guy running the booth offered to pop it in his NES to make sure it worked. He died pretty much instantly, then handed the controller off to me. Much to his suprise (and to mine, actually) I spent the next five minutes shooting baddies and dodging enemy fire, then defeating the stage boss.

“Wow,” he said, “You must have played this a lot!”

“Yeah,” I replied, lying.

Of course, the game ramps up in difficulty and to this day I still can’t get past Stage 3. But it’s still a game I enjoy popping in once in a while. It has a certain charm most other shooters lack, and it’s got a great soundtrack. My only suggestion if you’re going to play this game… do your thumbs a favor and pick up a turbo controller. They will thank you for it.

End of an Era

February 5, 2011

I’m not ashamed to admit it… I’m a regular watcher of the Pokemon cartoon. Have been since the series first started airing back in 1998. And I do admit to suffering burnout from the series toward the end of the “Advanced Generation” era; the whole Team Magma vs. Team Aqua arc had tremendous promise, but it all petered out in the end, the same could be said for Ash’s journey, as the show set up plotlines that never really played out. I tended to tape episodes and not watch them until much later. It wasn’t until Nintendo booted 4Kids from dubbing the series that my interested picked back up, which is fortunate, since the Pokemon DP series is probably the best written and best paced era of the series by far (yes, better than Kanto was, and remember, this is coming from a longtime fan). Plot points that were seeded early on actually paid off, side characters made return appearances instead of just being a random “Character of the day”, Ash had a serious rival that he butted heads with constantly, and the Team Galactic story arc was interesting and kept you guessing. There was also the matter of very little meddling with the source material with 4Kids gone (no more obnoxious paint edits to hide Japanese food), and the replacement voice actors that everybody whined about really grew into their characters and made them their own (at times even out-performing the original actors). Overall, I really enjoyed the show and looked forward to new episodes each week.

Which makes me rather sad to see the final episode of the Diamond and Pearl series. It’s a fine episode, as it wraps things up for each character… Ash naturally continues on his path to be a Pokemon League Champion, Dawn decides to fine tune her skills with some Pokemon Coordinators she met earlier in the series, and Brock makes the decision to study and become a Pokemon Doctor. Even Jessie, James and Meowth earn themselves a promotion within Team Rocket… by lying on their recent status reports, of course.

I do look forward to the new Black/White series, though I am afraid it probably won’t be nearly as good as the D/P saga was. The mere fact Team Rocket is no longer the comedic bumblers they used to be has me worried, as is the way the new series is apparently apeing the earlier Kanto series (right down to duplicating the stock footage of Ash spinning his cap and throwing a Pokeball). But only time will tell. At the very least, I’ll have the D/P box sets to rewatch.

Animanaics Super Gameboy

January 1, 2011


If you grew up in the 1990s, chances were good that you were a fan of Animaniacs, a fantastic Warner Bros. cartoon that ran for several seasons. And like most cartoons, it spawned off a few video games. In 1994, Konami released Animaniacs for the SNES and Genesis, but both were very different games. Wherein the SNES was hectic, frustrating, almost brawler-like affair, the Genesis version took a more straightforward platforming approach. The following year, Konami released a version of the Genesis game on Gameboy, though a couple of levels were trimmed out. The gameplay is rather basic, almost puzzled based, as there are few enemies and most of the danger comes from environmental hazards. However, what’s amazing about this title is the amount of effort poured into the Super Gameboy support.

The graphics recieve a colorful upgrade, not only providing a colorful status bar, but the game uses various tricks to display more than the standard four colors in the gameplay screen, and even more on static screens, such as the level select and cut scenes between levels. The sound is even more impressive, replacing tinny tunes on the Gameboy with near SNES level music. It’s actually quite amazing to see, and though it seems odd that a licenced Gameboy game would receive so much detail to it’s SGB mode, when you realize that this version was developed by Factor 5, it makes sense.

The game is decent, though some parts are a bit too frustrating for its target audience. I wouldn’t necessarily pick the game up for its gameplay; but if you want to see the Super Gameboy pushed to its limits, this is the game to try out.