Thursday, March 17, 2011


Happy St. Patrick’s Day folks!

Now, admittedly, I’m not overly knowledgeable about the patron saint of Ireland, but his holiday encourages me to celebrate by drinking copious amounts of beer and putting Flogging Molly on the jukebox - that’s my kind of holiday brother!

In honor of the day I thought I would feature a unique little Irish-themed arcade game that I saw when I was at the American Classic Arcade Museum last October – Leprechaun.

Leprechaun was introduced in 1982 by Tong Electronic as one of the Moppet Video series of games that targeted a younger audience than the typical arcade rat. The cabs were a little under 4 feet tall, only weighed 110 pounds, and the difficulty level of the games was reduced so as to make it more amenable to the average 4-8 year-old.

In the game you play as a boy running around a forest searching for gold. You gain points by touching the trees which changes their color (and slows your pace as you are walking through them) and then you complete the level and get bonus points by diving into the pot of gold. Of course the wiley leprechaun is out to stop you so he chases you around and if he touches you you're dead. He also occasionally picks up the pot of gold and moves it. There are a couple of houses or similar structure on the screen that you can duck into to escape the leprechaun momentarily - you go in one house and you come out the other.

I'd never even heard of this game, but I stumbled across it in the kiddie area at the ACAM and the tiny size of the cab caught my eye so I popped in a quarter out of curiosity.

I wish I could say it was a gem and you gotta check it out, but no - it sucked.  It was pathetically easy and excruciatingly boring. I didn't even finish my game, I just left it there on auto-pilot. And there wasn't even a kid around for me to let play and be the big shot - darn!

Jean Baudin holds the official record for the game with 412,690 points on June 8, 2001. There is even a picture of him on display at the ACAM – at least I assume it was him. I don’t know how long it took him to get to that score but I salute his fortitude for hanging in there on this dull and mind-numbingly easy game - I couldn't do it. Apologies to any Leprechaun fans out there – but c’mon, you know it’s true.

After I got back home I read that Leprechaun had a big-boy version called Pot of Gold that was the same game but in a full-size cab and with increased difficulty, so I pulled it up on MAME to see if I liked it any better.

Nope it pretty much sucks too- just sucks a little faster.  But the increased difficulty at least adds a little challenge, so if you are above the age of 5 and feel the need to check out the game go with Pot of Gold instead of Leprechaun.  Just be sure to take a few shots of Irish whiskey first to grease the wheels a bit and don't expect to find a new favorite because, well, it is just like Leprechaun.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Mommy, Why is That Man Taking Pictures in the Washateria? (and Strikers 1945 Plus)

When I was a kid I spent a decent amount of time in arcades - when I could actually get to them. But in my pre-driving days I was more often relegated to the offerings within walking distance of my house. The primary destination of my strolls in those days was the neighborhood washateria. I played several great early 80's games there like Gorf, Astro Blaster and Star Castle. And the convenience store next door had more classics like Defender, Tempest and Pole Position so it was a decent little gaming corner.

I visited that same washateria a while back when I was in the old neighborhood and although it still displayed the same "Video Games" sign out front I was disappointed when I went in and discovered it was a lie - no video games in sight.

So I struck out there, but it stirred a curiosity within me which has led me to develop a rather odd habit of late. If I'm driving around in no particular hurry to be somewhere and I happen to see a washateria I will often pull in and go inside to see if they have any arcade games. And more often than not they do. What kinds? Well it varies, but I can tell you that I have had more than enough of Ms. Pac-Man and Neo Geo Puzzle Bobble.

I pretty much never see any games from the 80's (other than Ms. Pac-Man and the occasional Galaga) but every once in a while I stumble across an uncommon find from the '90s. Last weekend Mrs. MP and I were driving down Westheimer in Houston and I spotted a washateria so I ducked in and saw an arcade machine in the back with a Windjammers marquee. Windjammers is kind of a glorified pong with frisbees - not a GREAT game but I'd never seen one in the wild so I went over to check it out. Turns out it wasn't actually Windjammers but was something better - a dandy little vertical shoot 'em up from Psikyo called Strikers 1945 Plus.

Strikers 1945 Plus is sort of a cross between 1944: The Loop Master and Gunbird 2, which is pretty high praise in my book. If you've never played any of those 3 shooters I suggest you add them to your list of games to check out.

At the outset of Strikers 1945 Plus you choose between 6 different planes each with signature attack moves and special weapons. The gameplay is pretty much standard 1942 fare - nothing particularly innovative but great execution of the formula. You acquire various weapon power-ups by shooting the red enemy planes, pick up bombs to use and gold bars for points. In addition to your regular shots - which depending on your power-ups can be a very impressive display of firepower - you also have a "supershot" which gets charged as you shoot enemies and you deploy by holding down the fire button for a second or two and then releasing it. The bombs call in some sort of squadron or giant bomber - again depending on your plane - that typically block enemy fire for a few seconds while also shooting away at the baddies.

Like most shoot 'em ups there isn't really a story - just blow the hell out of everything unlucky enough to get in front of your guns.

If you've never played a "bullet-hell" game before then you might be intimidated by the huge amount of glowing death slowly making its way toward your plane, but Psikyo makes their bullets large and glowing pink or blue so they stand out well against the background to help you avoid them. And this game isn't quite as hellish as some I've seen. Colliding with any of the bullets is instant death, but if you collide with the enemy fighters it doesn't kill you it just progressively removes any power ups you may have acquired.

You can continue by pumping in more quarters which is fine, but it also keeps adding to your score which is an approach I always disliked. But the final number on your score is increased by one with each continuation so the high score table will tell if your score was a result of crazy skill or deep pockets.

All-in-all it is typical Psikyo - pretty graphics, chaotic fire, nice sound, and the most impressive 2D explosions you'll see on any arcade game.

Strikers 1945 Plus was also released for the PSP in 2009 although reviews were not very positive. Personally I can't see how you would be able to successfully navigate your way through all the bullets with the small screen and d-pad or tiny joystick nub, it's challenging enough with a full-size arcade screen and controls. So if you have a gamepad or joystick to use I suggest you check it out on MAME. The ROM file is rather large - about 75 MB - if you want to download it you can get it here.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Charlie Sheen Winning at Call of Duty: Black Ops

How much cocaine can Charlie Sheen snort in one sitting?  Enough to kill Two and a Half Men...

If you have watched any of the recent lunacy that is Charlie Sheen you might find this video the guys over at IGN made amusing like I did. Thanks to Stee at Botchweed for pointing it out.

Some of the sound bytes are so insane it is hard to believe he truly said them, but I heard most of them actually fall directly out of his drug-addled head before I got sick of listening to him so it's really him.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

Dead Space 2 and Game Difficulty

I completed Dead Space 2 last night. I liked it quite a bit but near the end I was pretty much ready for it to be over. I completed 14 of the 15 chapters on the "Zealot" difficulty setting (the most difficult) and there was this one part right before the endgame where I kept getting killed over and over again. It was annoying the hell out of me so even though I was very near the end I said screw it and changed the difficulty level to "Casual" so I could go ahead and get through and see how the story wrapped up. I won't throw out any spoilers but turns out chapter 15 is VERY short. So after I completed the game on Casual and saw how little I actually had left I went back to a previous save before I switched difficulty levels and went ahead and completed the game on Zealot. It actually wasn't that difficult after I was armed with the foreknowledge that there wasn't much left and I could really cut loose with my ammo and stasis.

But it made me think about my selection of difficulty levels on games. I used to always play my games on the normal or default difficulty level even when a more difficult choice was available. Then somewhere along the way I switched over to always selecting the most difficult level available. And although some games on the most difficult level did prove challenging - like God of War III if I recall - most were more or less doable without TOO much trouble. But there were a few parts in Dead Space 2 where I got killed quite a few times before I got through them and it started to interrupt the flow of the game. The emotions of frustration, anger, and impatience that I felt at those times were not really compatible with the fear, panic, and dread the game's story was supposed to be immersing me in.

A while back I finally got around to playing Kung-Fu Panda which came with my XBox 360. It's not a game I would have purchased and I didn't really take it too seriously so I played it on Easy mode to just blow through it. And what do you know I quite enjoyed that little game. The absence of any significant challenge did not impede my enjoyment of the game. Now I'm thinking I might switch back to Normal difficulty on my games for a while and see how that goes.

So I'm curious - when presented with the option of choosing a difficulty level, which do you typically select?

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Cardapter for the VIC-20

[Updated: 3/5/2011]

OK this is starting to get annoying. First I got hoodwinked by the fake Atari Foghat 8-track and now this! 

I was familiar with Colecovision's Expansion Module that let you play Atari 2600 games on the Colecovision and I had heard of the Intellivision's System Changer too, but when I came across this old magazine advertisement for the "Cardapter" for the VIC-20 it was totally new to me.

It was supposedly designed by The Computer Works and manufactured and distributed by Cardco, Inc to "explore a new galaxy of entertainment pleasure with your VIC-20 computer". Well that may be a bit of advertising hyperbole, but it would allow you to play Atari 2600 cartridges on your VIC-20 and I thought - hey! I've got a VIC-20 and lots of old Atari games - this thing would be cool!  (I've also got 2 working Atari 2600s but that's beside the point).

So I started searching high and low on the internet to see if I could locate and buy this obscure little device. But it didn't take long to discover that these things were nowhere to be found. Then I stumbled onto a forum where they referred to the Cardapter as a famous piece of vaporware in the classic computer scene. Even though these ads ran in a number of magazines it appears that they may never have actually been manufactured.  At least no one on the internet seems to have seen one anyway.  So it's just a cool little old ad for a device that never existed I guess.

Damn - I have to start reading magazines that were published within the last 10 years.


I came across another ad for the Cardapter in the Spring 1983 edition of Commodore Power Play which offered the device for $89.95.

Sorry Cardapter, fool me once...

But a few pages later in the same magazine was an ad for a different product that also offered a way to play Atari 2600 cartridges on your VIC-20!  And this one shipped with a free Atari cartridge to boot! It was called the Game Loader from Protecto Enterprizes - and I had actually heard of them before!

My curiosity was stirred once again and I hurried off to do some searching. And... according to the experts on the net this one was never actually manufactured either.  Dammit!

Still I did find another ad where the Game Loader was being sold along with several other items from Protecto that I know definitely existed - so maybe it's out there SOMEWHERE...

Ah screw it - I'll keep playing Radar Rat Race on my VIC and if I feel like playing Chopper Command I'll just break out the real 2600.

End of line.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

InFAMOUS 2 Will Have User-Created Levels

I mentioned before how I quite enjoyed the 2009 PS3-exclusive title InFAMOUS and was strongly considering buying the sequel that is set to release in June of this year.  Well, yesterday I heard that developer Sucker Punch sweetened the pot by taking a page out of the Little Big Planet playbook and providing the tools to allow user-created content. Here is an excerpt of what they had to say about it on the Playstation blog yesterday:

"We thought inFAMOUS 2 would be better if it didn’t end—if you never ran out of missions and mini-missions to play and things to do. So… we spent the last two years adding a User-Generated Content feature to the game. With User-Generated Content, inFAMOUS 2 players can build new missions, then share them with the world. I think you’ll all quickly discover that while building missions is a lot of fun, seeing people play and enjoy those missions is even better!

There really aren’t a lot of limits to the sorts of missions you can build. Sure, you can build the sort of missions that will ship on the inFAMOUS 2 disk. Mission creators have access to the same set of characters, creatures and props—so if you want to set a pack of Hive Lords rumbling after Cole through the streets of New Marais, you can do it. If you want to have Cole and Zeke face off against Nix and Kuo, you can do it.

If you want to bend the rules of inFAMOUS 2 to create new kinds of missions, you can do that too. Wish I2 had pure stealth missions? No problem, you can create stealth missions. Looking for more of a challenge? Try taking away some of Cole’s powers—see how the player does facing a platoon of Militia wielding only his Amp. Or add an old-school platforming challenge, or a race, or… I could go on all day.

It’s pretty easy to do missions that are more like mini-games, too. Skeet shooting? No problem. Disc golf? Assuming you’re happy tossing around cars instead of Frisbees, sure. How about a mission where Zeke just tells you bad jokes until you shoot him? Um, yeah, you can do that, too.

Building missions is only half the story, of course—we make it super easy to upload your missions to the network, so other players can see your cool new missions. User-generated missions show up in the world just like regular missions. When you walk up to them, you see the PSN tag of the mission creator, plus extra information like the mission’s current rating. And back at Sucker Punch headquarters, we’ll be watching—missions that get high scores will get promoted to the Sucker Punch Featured Missions list, and those missions will end up just about everyone’s copy of New Marais."

They released a little video as well:

Looks pretty cool to me. I was still a little on the fence before but I guess now it's settled. I'm going to buy Infamous 2.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Yars' Revenge Rebooted

Atari is rebooting a few old Atari 2600 classics, and one of them is an old favorite of mine - Yars' Revenge. In fact I have this commercial playing on my emulator frontend at home before it boots up the Atari 2600 menu.

Lord help me I fear I probably looked a lot like that kid at that age - just darker hair.

I like it when old franchises from the arcade and early consoles of my youth get a reboot nod, but I'm often disappointed in the product. So I'm trying to decide if the new Yars' Revenge (or Yar's Revenge now it appears) looks like it will be worth downloading or not. I think I would have preferred if they had stuck with the 2D shooter model and just given it a new HD facelift with some new features, but they went with a 3D rail shooter along the lines of Panzer Dragoon or Rez. Here is a video of some of the gameplay:

Did you notice when she activated her shields they used that same multicolored static affect as the safe zone in the Atari 2600 version? I thought was a nice tip of the hat. The new Yar's Revenge is scheduled to be available sometime this spring on the Playstation Network and XBox Live. It will cost $10 which is right at my limit for gaming curiosity micro purchases so I might just get it.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter