Friday, May 27, 2011

Uncharted the Movie, Still a Chance!

Yes, Sony and their open-door policy regarding my personal information and credit card numbers has been irritating me a bit of late.  But at least for the moment they went from goat to hero for this old gamer when I heard that they had, in essence, fired the idiot director David Russell from making the upcoming Uncharted movie - which apparently is no longer upcoming, at least for now.

From the article in yesterday's Variety

"A pair of tentpole-sized studio projects have lost their helmers, as David O. Russell exited "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune" over creative differences with Sony".

Word is that Sony is now searching for a new writer/director for the movie and the casting is starting from scratch.  I don't even care anymore whether or not it's Fillion playing Drake. I'm just glad they are restarting to try and hopefully stay a little closer to the storyline instead of Russel's opium-fueled vision of a globetrotting family of treasure protectors - or whatever the hell it was.  And of course, the big win here for mankind at large, is that there is just a little bit less of Marky Mark Wahlberg in the movies.  I think everyone can agree with me, even Mark himself because I have to believe he is filled with self-loathing, that less Marky is good for everybody.

So thank you Sony. I salute you.  Now seriously, stop giving away my credit card numbers. 

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Majestic Twelve (Super Space Invaders '91)

I saw a documentary on the History Channel about the Majestic 12 - the alleged code name of a secret committee of scientists, military leaders, and government officials supposedly formed by Harry Truman in 1947 to investigate UFOs following the incident at Roswell, New Mexico. Now whether or not there is any validity to that story is debatable but it gave me an excuse to boot up the ol' MAME cab and finally complete the old Taito arcade game Super Space Invaders '91 (called Majestic Twelve - Space Invaders Part IV in Japan).

Super Space Invaders '91 was released in 1990 - don't ask me why it wasn't called Super Space Invaders '90, I never could figure out why they do that with cars either. It is the third arcade sequel of Taito's 1978 seminal classic behind Space Invaders Deluxe in 1979 and Return of the Invaders in 1985.  Two more arcade sequels would follow - Space Invaders DX in 1994 and Space Invaders '95 - The Attack of the Lunar Loonies in 1995, but '91 might just be the best of the bunch.

Super Space Invaders '91 features the familiar gameplay of the original but with nicely updated graphics and a multitude of new invaders and improved sound effects. The game also introduces several new features to the series including power-ups, bonus rounds, boss battles, and the excellent added option of 2-player simultaneous play to really give it a new twist.

The power ups are dropped from the mother ship crossing the top of the screen if you are able to hit it. Power ups include the Buster Laser (a vertical laser that can vaporize multiple vertical columns of invaders), the Hyper Laser (vaporizes the lowest horizontal row of invaders), Shield Up (strengthens your ship's shields), Arm (creates physical shields like in the original Space Invaders that block enemy shots but you can move them up with your lasers to collide with enemies, Power Up (rapid fire laser shots), Fire Flower (a missile that blows up in a flowery explosion), Destroy Beam (my favorite - multiple bright tracers shoot out and slither rapidly all over the screen destroying everything in site, and Time Stop (a giant butterfly floats onto the screen and all the enemies freeze in time allowing you to blow them away with impunity).

There is a wide variety of invaders as you progress through the levels - complete with different background graphics, and this time the invaders have more attack patterns than the simple left all the way to the end, drop down, right all the way to the end, repeat.  Some invaders widen to twice their original size when you blast them so you have to blast them some more, some split into two invaders, some attack in a circular vortex pattern (kind of like the black hole level in Gorf except with a bunch of them instead of 1 at a time), some dive bomb you, some disappear into the right side of the screen and reappear on the left side of the screen, and some break away from the pack and conduct their own separate pattern.

You no longer blow up from a single shot, your ship is equipped with shields that can absorb several shots before you explode. And unlike the original game, if the invaders reach the bottom and land on earth the game isn't over, you just blow up and lose a man.

There is also an enjoyable little cattle mutiliation bonus round where flying saucers abduct your cows for their damnable alien experiments and you have to blast the saucers without accidentally hitting your bovine buddies. If you manage to shoot the saucer without blasting the cow he oddly floats safely back to the ground for bonus points.  Extra points are earned the higher in the sky the saucer is when you hit it. This little bonus level plays a lot like the old 1980 Namco arcade game called King & Balloon.

This version also adds several boss battles - I think there were 4 different ones (damn - I should've kept better notes). The bosses looked different but the fights were all pretty much the same - avoid their fire and shoot them in their small vulnerable spot which was intermittently open to fire.  The bosses were not that difficult to beat but like the cattle mutilation bonus round provided a nice break from the regular invader blasting.

Co-op play adds a whole new dimension to the franchise to try and keep the gameplay as fresh as possible. Co-op shooters are one of the few arcade games that my wife actually enjoys playing with me so we joined forces to complete the game.

After we completed the arcade version I tried out a few of the ports - Super Space Invaders was also released on the Master System, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, ZX Spectrum, Amiga, Game Gear, XBox, PlayStation 2, and PC (as part of the Taito Legends 2 compilation on the last 3).

The nice thing about these gallery shooter games, they translate well to a variety of systems.  The Master System version included a nifty little introduction where a communique was being transmitted to you from Central Space Command (or whatever it was called).  It played very well and was pretty true to the arcade version.

For some reason the Speccy version decided to make the background the same color as the invaders which gave it a monochrome look. Maybe this was done due to technical limitations, but it made it a little difficult to see all the invading going on.

The Amiga version was particularly solid - staying true to the arcade version but also including additional animations and storyline details before, during, and after the game that weren't on the original arcade version. Oh, and the Amiga introductory theme song is pretty cool too - it incorporates the game sound effects into the song.

Now, this is a Space Invaders game, so the gameplay does get repetitive after a while, but all-in-all this is a solid facelift to the age-old classic and I've come back to it on several occasions. For me the original arcade game is the definitive version and I'd rate it a 7.9.

I couldn't find the official arcade machine record high score, but according to Twin Galaxies, the high score for Super Space Invaders '91 on MAME (without continues!) is 382,290 by Brandon Y. LeCroy. My best effort so far without continues is only about half that.

If you like vertical gallery shooters like Space Invaders, Galaga, etc. and get a chance to play one of the versions of this game I suggest you check it out.

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Crush the Castle!

OK - I know I lazily embed these videos from Dorkly way too often, but this one led me to try a nifty little online flash game that I'd never played before so... I gotta do it. Like I've mentioned before I'm not a portable gamer and I avoid phone games pretty much altogether, so I've never experienced (nor do I expect to ever experience) the casual gaming phenomenon known as Angry Birds. But I'm not against spending a few minutes on a free online flash game.

Like the Tiny Wings bird, I was unfamiliar with Crush the Castle so I googled it and gave it a play. Turns out it's a nice little physics-based online game wherein you control a trebuchet to sling various projectiles at castles to bring them to the ground and crush the royal subjects within. The structural integrity of some of the castles is extremely suspect and they fall easily, but some of them are quite sturdy and some of them actually require a little bit of puzzle solving as far as what area to target to bring it down. Then a map pops up and you move on to the next castle. Your projectiles upgrade after a while to multiple boulders, then larger boulders, then a bomb. There are some other features too like building your own castle etc., but like most online flash games I found it amusing for a while - long enough to destroy all the castles on the map in this case - but not interesting enough to entice me to fully explore all the features. But like I said, a fun little waste of a few minutes at work so try it out HERE.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Killzone 2 (another FPS), and Hogan's Heroes

I just got around to completing Killzone 2 for the PS3 (thanks Fallguy - I think that's all of them now I'll ship 'em back).  It was a serviceable FPS game, but nothing memorable.  I don't really understand how it got such high ratings from most reviewers - on Metacritic it got a Metascore of 91/100.  Me, I give it more like a 73/100.

You play as Sergeant Sevchenko (a fact it took me a very long time to realize) and are bringing the space war to the Helghast planet. I don't know the history of this war since I never played the first Killzone, but according to your own government's propaganda anyway the Helghast started it.  OK fair enough.  And that's pretty much the story - kill all the Helghast baddies and work your way up the boss chain to Vasari - the head big bad daddy - basically Future Hitler of this army of Space Nazis.

However, even though the uniforms, symbols, etc. all had a decided Nazi flair to them, for some reason all the Helghast spoke with an English accent. Does this mean that a London scientist invented the universal translator that enabled me to hear the Helghans swearing at me?  Or maybe the future British were allies or collaborators with the Helghast?  Maybe there is even some sort of connection to Grand Moff Tarkin - that overconfident member of the Imperial English aristocracy that stubbornly refused to evacuate the Death Star in his moment of triumph (should've evacuated Moffy). I dunno.

And of course when I talk Nazis, well I'm gonna talk Hogan's Heroes.  Colonel Radec, the no-nonsense sadistic Helghan officer was, as far as I'm concerned, modeled after Major Hochstetter - the no-nonsense Nazi who was always busting Colonel Klink's balls.  And maybe Vasari, the leader of the Helghast, was supposed to make me think of Hitler, but to me he was the long-lost brother of one General Burkhalter - another of a long list of Nazis that enjoyed busting Klink's balls and was always throwing around that threat of sending Klink's ass to the Russian front.

...and of course the vast array of almost identical Helghast soldiers who march single file into their role as cannon fodder are all the loveable Sergeant Schultz, except of course that they are constantly cursing at you and have an unrealistically optimistic expectation of killing you.

The AI of the enemies is pretty poor and the AI of your squad mates is even worse. They are constantly getting in your way while simultaneously barking at you to get off your ass and follow them.  And you can't shoot them - I tried. I emptied full clips into their eyes in frustration and blood flew everywhere but not a scratch. By the way, all FPS games should, by default, have friendly fire enabled. Nothing breaks up the realism of a firefight worse than when you accidentally fire a round into a fellow soldier's head and he just yells something stupid at you like "OK! that hurts!" or "don't shoot at me, shoot at them!"

And the guys were CONSTANTLY swearing.  It's not like I'm offended by cussing. Fuck. See? It's just that the cussing was so relentlessly forced and the dialogue was so juvenile it just seemed silly. Kinda like Starship Troopers if you've ever seen that movie - except sillier. And all the steroid-soaked characters were so interchangeable - like Gears of War with its soul stripped out.

The various levels and minimal cut scenes felt generic and gave virtually no sense of progress - so much so that I think if you randomly mixed up the play order of the levels you wouldn't even be able to tell the difference.

And I kept hearing about how great the graphics were but they didn't look particularly good to me. Even for 2009 when it actually came out. Like the rest of the game the graphics seemed average.

And that's it in a nutshell - Killzone 2 wasn't bad but I'm forced to damn it with faint praise. It was passable. Decent. Average.  In my opinion, there really just wasn't much to Killzone 2 to set it apart from all the other war-based first person shooters out there. An OK shooter but basically forgettable.

Now, understand that I'm only referring to the single-player story campaign here. I didn't even play the online multiplayer which I of course realize is the target audience component of the modern FPS game.  I know a lot of FPS guys don't even play the single-player story and would tell me that I'm missing the best part of the game, but I just don't really enjoy the online deathmatch stuff that much anymore.  Back when I played the first Resistance on PS3 I quite enjoyed it. Then when I got Modern Warfare I still enjoyed it but maybe a little less. And my interest in the online multiplayer has just continued to wane since then until now I am at the stage where I just won't buy a FPS game unless the story component sounds like it is enough up my alley to merit buying it on its own.

So anyway - it sounds like I'm trashing the game, but I'm not. It was a decent middle of the road shooter. Just nowhere near as good as I had heard and not quite good enough to prompt me to try the multiplayer, replay, or want to buy Killzone 3.

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Thunder, Thunder, Thundercats... HOOOOOOO!!!

I recently saw a picture (on Dorkly again) of the comic Carrot Top juxtaposed with his twin brother Lion-o of the Thundercats.

If you don't remember the Thundercats it was the 1980's cartoon about the race of humanoid cats from the planet Thundera, led by their Lord Lion-o in regular battles against the evil Mumm-Ra. Thundercats came out quite late in my cartoon-watching youth so I wasn't a die-hard fan or anything but I did see enough of them to figure out that I hate Snarf - the Jar Jar Binks of the Thundercats.  Here is the intro for the cartoon.

I thought I recalled seeing an ad for a Thundercats game in one of my old gaming magazines and sure enough there was one - released in 1987 by Elite for the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Amiga and Atari ST. So I gave the C64 version a go.

The game is basically a horizontal scrolling hack and slash game along the lines of Shadow of the Beast or maybe Ghosts and Goblins (but not nearly as good). You are Lion-o and are trying to rescue several fellow Thundercats and recover the fabled Eye of Thundera from the evil clutches of Mumm-Ra and his henchman. You run, crouch, jump, slash, and shoot your way through a number of different levels, one of which even allows you to pilot a laser-firing air-car. The game seemed like it would be quite easy at first glance, but it turned out to be pretty damn difficult - mostly due to to sluggish controls that almost never gave you time to slash one guy at your front and then turn around to kill the dude heading your way from behind even though it looked like you should have plenty of time. This was extremely frustrating to the point where my wife got sick of hearing me yell out cusswords and basically told me to shut the hell up.

In a nutshell here were my reactions to the game - number of plays approximated:
Try #1: Nice theme song. Game looks kinda weak, but easy enough to run through quick. Wow dead already - OK guess I'll actually try next time.
#2-5: Dang, this game is actually pretty challenging. And better than I initially thought. Not bad. What the hell are those things? Pigs?
#6-7: OK. New joystick - this one should work better than that old Atari joystick. What the... dammit!
#8-10: OK! Another joystick switch. My old Gemstick should do the trick! Arrghh! Why the hell does Lion-o vaporize any time one of these guys even just barely touches him? Are they antimatter or something? Stupid!!
#11: Goddamn this game. Fuck it - I'm switching to the Trainer mode with unlimited lives so I can at least see all the levels and then cross it off the list.
#12: Bored. Wanted to hang in there till the end but screw you Mumm-Ra. I'm done.

I've always felt that way about cheats for infinite lives. Even on great games (which this isn't) it just makes the game boring. So I gave up before the ending but I saw online that the ending was extremely lame. Basically the last level was a fight with Mumm-Ra not much different from other fights then this dazzling ending screen was revealed.


If you care to give the game a go you can try an online Java version at But like I mentioned before the best part about the game is the theme music played at the opening screen - pure SID goodness. I discovered that the tune was actually created by Rob Hubbard, somewhat of a legend in the Commodore 64 music scene (yes, there is still a C64 music scene). A guy posted the entire song on Youtube with screenshots from the game so check it out:

Oh, and finally, I came across a review of the game in the December 1987 edition of Zzap!64 magazine. If you care to read their review from back in the day you can click below - they gave the game 74%. I wasn't quite that generous.

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Friday, May 6, 2011

Take That To Shut You Up, Mario

Another little arcade video from that I'm retweeting - except I don't tweet so...

Come to think of it - why the hell DID Donkey Kong always climb away with the girl?  What was he afraid of?  Never really thought about it - but makes no sense at all.

Do these Dorkly videos look choppy for you guys?  Sometimes the embedded video does for me, but not natively on their page. Didn't know if it was just me and my trusty 286 or everybody.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Is the 3DS For Kids?

Damn. I just read over this before hitting 'Publish Post' and it is definitely an overlong sleepily-worded ramble, so I completely understand if you choose not to read it folks. But I'll be damned if I'm going to have written all this only to delete it (I do that fairly often actually) - so screw it here it is.

I heard that Sony Playstation CEO Jack Tretton recently ruffled Nintendo fanboy feathers in a Fortune magazine interview by essentially saying that the 3DS was for kids. "Our view of the 'Game Boy experience' is that it's a great babysitting tool, something young kids do on airplanes, but no self-respecting twenty-something is going to be sitting on an airplane with one of those, he's too old for that."

Well, I'm sure there will be TONS of twenty-somethings playing them on airplanes and although I do in fact own every iteration of Game Boy (bought used for pennies on the dollar years after they originally appeared), I cannot really argue the basic underlying premise of Tretton's statement regarding the general nature of Nintendo's target demographic for its handheld systems. Or any handheld system for that matter. Don't get me wrong - in addition to my Game Boys, I also own a PSP and am on the lookout for older handhelds like a Game Gear, Lynx, DS, etc. if I can find them dirt cheap, but the idea of playing any handheld in public feels juvenile to me. Then again, I've never been much of a portable gamer anyway even when I was younger so I pretty much never play them even at home, and I'm rarely in public situations where I even have an opportunity to play them either so it really just has never been part of my world - but still, if I were riding the metro to work one morning and had 30 minutes of ride time to kill I'd feel kinda funny breaking out the PSP for a little Chains of Olympus action. And it's just not really something I would feel like doing. But then I'm not twenty-something - I'm forty-something.

So yeah - I wouldn't have worded it in such an alienating and insulting manner but I generally feel that handheld gaming devices are more for children than adults. That includes Nintendo AND Sony. But additionally, Nintendo has historically targeted a younger audience on all its systems than its competitors. That's one reason I always tended to go with another system - the Genesis over SNES, PS3 over the Wii, and the PC was the old standby over pretty much all of them.  I'm not casting stones at so-called childish activities - I'm sitting here watching an episode of Batman Beyond right now and earlier tonight I was playing Thundercats on the C64. I'm just saying, me and Nintendo never quite clicked.

So anyway, I got my first hands-on look at a 3DS this last weekend when a friend of my brothers broke it out at a restaurant (he's 30-something by the way). I'm a gadget guy and I must say I thought the 3D effect was pretty cool.  He showed me some 3D photographs he took that popped out of the screen and then he took a picture of his girlfriend and turned it into a shooter game where I was trying to shoot down multiple copies of her head that were flying around the screen.  Weird and quickly tiresome even for a minigame tech demo, but still, I found the effect technically impressive.

So even though my interest level in portable gaming is minimal as is my interest in Nintendo in general it did pique my curiosity a bit. So when I found myself (much to my chagrin) in Wal-Mart yesterday I decided to check out their 3DS display.

Let me just say that when there is a store display to show off 6 of the 3DS' library of games and the first 3 are Nintendogs titles, well that's not gonna reel in this old gamer.  "But they are totally different games dude!  That's the French Bulldog, Toy Poodle, and Golden Retriever editions!  Plus now they have cats!".  Yeah. Still. 

I'll just put the 3DS on my list of portable devices that I'll buy one day on Craigslist or eBay when the price drops to the $20-$40 range - and since this one starts at $250 I'll probably be a 50-something when I finally get one.

Oh well, now that Nintendo has made me feel even older, let me see what Sony's PS3 Move display has going on.


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