Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Midweek Music Box: Music to Move by: Paperboy (NES) and "Move" by I Fight Dragons

Moving stinks.  Especially when you like where you live, have great neighbors, the wife's workplace is only 2 blocks around the corner--but then suddenly need to move because the landlord hiked the rate up $240 and it's cheaper to just buy your first home...he said without a trace bitterness and like it wasn't happening to him right then. 

But I digress.

Okay, so there are some benefits to having to suddenly move, it will be nice to own a home.  Regardless of that, it still means tons of tedious wrapping, packing, and getting some decent, dust-free boxes for the NES collection.  So during the wrapping and boxing, it can some times feel like another day at work.  You plug along, packing things in boxes, and sometimes have horrible interruptions like a hot rod trying to plow you over because you're obviously going too slow in your minivan full of boxes getting put in storage...

or your on a bike delivering papers on a certain street.

Yeah, this tune keeps going through my head during packing.  There's not much to the simple tune for Paperboy by Atari, but it's instantly recognizable.  I remember hearing it on a mailbag episode of the Angry Video Game Nerd, and as credit music for another video game show and recognizing it with a smile.  And why shouldn't I?  I played it tons in the arcade partly due to the unique controls, and partly because I had a blast firing off papers through windows and at random people walking down the street.  The port for the Nintendo was pretty decent.  Obviously they couldn't replicate the control scheme on the NES like they could today with a Wii-mote or similar motion control device.  But, they did do a good job with the music.  even the port evoked the same questions I always had when playing:

 "Did teenagers do this sort of thing in real life?" "Were they vandalizing tombstones and evading remote control lawnmowers?"  "Is this why I keep hearing about horrible teenagers are?"

Yes, these thoughts and more crossed my mind as I played, and when playing it at home, it was fun for a few rounds, but then it would start feeling a bit too real.  Too much responsibility.  People getting upset when I miss the mark and cancelling their subscriptions.  I'd turn off the system and switch games.  Wish I could that with moving.  This game of packing is boring and if I smash something I can't replace it by hitting reset.  But you hum the Paperboy tune and does go a bit more easily.

So what do you do when things get a little too "Paperboy" for your tastes?  When plugging along starts to drag a little too much?

You put on a rock band with tunes that sound like they come from a game and crank it up!

Well, as you have probably already guessed by now thanks to the top image, I'm a fan of the pop/punk rock band, I Fight Dragons.  Their tunes are fun, peppy, energetic, and they have a pacing I like for times like now when I need to be actively cleaning or when I need to...well, move.  Their use of video game-esque sounds and actual sampling from video game effects has a charm that always brings a smile to my face.  I like the "Move" song in particular because, well, it has move in the title and I'm moving.  I like listening to songs with ironically appropriate titles and settings.  You need fun tunes that make you smile whether going through the tedium of delivering newspapers or....

Even when you have to move.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday Night Rentals: Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos

"Hard to beat!!"  You ain't kiddin' pal...

One day, a year after the deadly Jaquio's defeat; Ryu Hyabusa found himself strolling on rooftop (as ninjas are want to do) when he was ambushed by a gang of thugs and a monster.  What was going on?  Why was a mysterious man in the shadows telling Ryu his girl had been kidnapped?  Why are the forces of darkness on the rise once more?  Well, whatever the case, this looks like a job for a ninja!  

As a kid, if there was one thing for certain, if something had anything to do with ninjas, likely it was cool.  At least, that was the reasoning I had when I rented the first Ninja Gaiden.  After all, TMNT was popular, they were ninjas, and ninjas were awesome, "ninja" was in the title of Ninja Gaiden--naturally I had to rent it and beat it over a weekend. Well...

I never beat the first Ninja Gaiden, but I came a heckuva lot closer with The Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos.  Forgive me, but I likely owe at least partial gratitude to a walkthrough via one of the game magazines of the day. Now, in all fairness, it's not like I only got anywhere in the game thanks to a strategy guide.  A map can only show you where to go and the enemies you'll face, but it can't make those jumps for you, nor does it automatically stop you from rocketing five feet backwards off a ledge when you're lightly bumped by an eagle swooping in on you or a guy randomly respawning because you backed up too far.  Yes, Ninja Gaiden II was a brutal game, and the "Hard to beat" text on the box wasn't just an idle boast, the game was brutally hard in places back in the day, but it was still loads of fun.  So, does the game still stack up as a fun challenge?


I like that things explode when you slice them with your blade.  Not just because "explosions are cool" though that is true, but because you have that satisfying audio cue that you've beaten the enemy.  Sure, the in game graphic shows the mini-boom, but there's something truly cathartic about hearing that little explosion.  It's even more satisfying when you defeat an act's end level boss and hear many explosions.  Each little chime when an item is picked up has a unique charm as well.  They work well for the game and don't distract, but rather enhance the gameplay.


To this day I remember the intro and it's music for Ninja Gaiden II.  It feels cinematic and it needs to be.  After all, if you go so far as to name each level an "Act" you need to deliver on every aspect available to you in order to create a full movie experience.  Each level fully delivers.  However, that first track you get to hear as the game introduces you to the main antagonist, Ashtar, lets you know in no uncertain terms that you are in for an adventure.  A Ninja adventure.  Did I mention how cool ninjas are?


One of the reasons we use "Nintendo Hard" is because you get games where the controls work flawlessly, you never once feel like you were cheated by buggy movement or slippery controls--but dang does the game get difficult fast!  Everything in The Ninja Gaiden II has a tightness and fluidity that makes every sword strike and shuriken toss satisfying.  That said, the game has a brutal streak and you will face punishment thanks to your enemy.  No, I'm not talking about the villainous Ashtar, I'm talking about those stupid eagles!  One of the main complaints that you have even to this day about the Ninja Gaiden series is how your hero, Ryu, goes flying back into open pits with the greatest of ease.  Most times it's thanks in part to randomly respawning enemies in the form of a giant eagle.  It makes the game ridiculously difficult.  Not unfair mind you, just that the game earns a deserved "Nintendo Hard," badge.  

You run along, jumping and slashing easily, and it's all great fun.  Thanks to the game's story, you get varied backgrounds and unique challenges on each level.   One of the more notable levels is a mountain top where you get have to watch what direction the snow blows in order to time your jumps just right so as not to get blown off the edge.  This particular stage can get aggravating quickly as a sudden wind change can cause your character to stop dead and even go backwards during a jump resulting in an impromptu cliff-diving experience.


As I mentioned before, each level in The Ninja Gaiden II has a flavor all its own.  From city rooftops, to high, wind swept cliffs, to ancient temples; the locations make you feel like you really are in a globe trotting quest to stop evil.  Though you might encounter the same enemies in different levels, it doesn't feel like character recycling as it works within the story's narrative that you are fighting a certain band of evil-doers.  The game has the same basic character sprites as the original, with a few touches here and there to keep the look fresh while feeling familiar.  You can especially appreciate how the color varies from the more powerful orange power-ups to the more basic blue-gray shuriken.   Whether you are looking at the power-ups or the enemies though, just a quick glance is all you need to tell that you are playing a Ninja Gaiden game, and it's nice that the game has a unique "thumbprint."

Final Thoughts:

Whether I have residual memories of the walk-through, or just have a bit more skill (and patience) not that I'm an adult, the first few levels are easier to deal with now.  Note:  not easy mind you, just easier to deal with.  I can't tell you how many times I sent Ryu to his death on that cliff top, and that was only the second level, I mean, act.  I didn't want to wait for the wind to blow the right way, I had a game to beat and the weekend was wasting away!  Endless continues also didn't mean quite as much to me back in the day as I knew the moment I had to power off the game for the night I would have to start over again.  I rented this game several times and I honestly think the only reason I didn't just buy it back in the day was because I probably was thinking that I wouldn't want to play a game a second time through once I'd beaten it.  Well, show just how silly I was as a kid.  I still haven't managed to beat this game.  Guess I'm all the more grateful that I own it now, because even when the weekend runs out, I won't have to return the game.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Midweek Music Box: Kingdom Hearts 2 (Passion)

Even today the concept of merging Final Fantasy and Disney characters sounds bizarre and a tad goofy--no pun intended.  When Kingdom Hearts was first announced for the Playstation 2 I expected it to end up in the dustbin of history and was half certain we would end up talking about it years later as one of the dumbest game ideas ever...

But surprisingly,the whole thing works, in fact, it was fantastic.

In that weird and wonderful way many of the Magic Kingdom's projects seem to go, the fusion of Disney characters and Final Fantasy ones not only works but seems a natural fit.  Truthfully, I never expected to like this series as much as I did, much less fall in love with it.  Yet here I am, wanting to spend a little time praising the music from the sequel, Kingdom Hearts 2.

 "Passion" or "Sanctuary" as we call it here in the states, by Hikaru Utada brings a synthesizer J-Pop feel to the soundtrack giving the game an oddly ethereal sounding theme song.  Funny enough, just like the odd fusion of the of Disney and Square works, so does this infusion of Japanese pop music. There a dozens of surprisingly satisfying little touches throughout the song, here are a few that I enjoy in particular.

Set to cut scenes, the music starts the game, and I love that about it.  Making use of reversed audio, the background beat of the song mixed with electric guitar riffs and synthesizer padding helps the music set an adventurous tone for the game.  It doesn't do it using orchestral music or something that feels vaguely reminiscent of the "Raiders of the Lost Ark" theme, but in a way that still fresh to this day.  Another key moment in the song that always gets me is the bridge mid-way through.  I like the driving beat you get during the sequence where Sora, Donald, and Goofy run up the spiral staircase from Chain of Memories flashback.  It not only serves the cut scene well, but it keeps the tune from growing stale.  The swooning vocals never feel overdone nor do they painfully remind me of many tunes that try, even to this day, to find ways to imitate Celine Dion's vocals from the infamous "My Heart Will Go On," song.

To this day "Passion/Sanctuary" remains one of my favorite video game songs.  I love hearing not only the video game version of this, but the original Japanese version as well.  Instrumental versions of this song have played a key role during my marathon story writing sessions, and in general it transports me back to where I was in life when Kingdom Hearts came out nearly a decade ago.  I've included links to both the intro video and the Japanese language version of this song.  I know that some have called this song a "phony music track" that has "tricked" you into thinking it's good.  I to heck with that.  For me it has always been a great single and always will be.  I will likely go on about some of the other music at another time, but for now, here are the tracks:

"Game Version"

"Japanese Language (and video) Version"

Monday, August 17, 2015

Satisfying or Shovelware: DS Deluge

An anthropomorphic lump of boogery goo?  Aliens, corridors, and a limited supply of marines?  BOOKS on a game system?!?!  Have we entered into madness?

NO!  We've entered Satisfying or Shovelware where I take a quick look at a group of games and see whether they are worth your time to pick up or belong in the dustbin of history.  This week we branch out from downloadable Wii U ware into the physical realm of DS games.  Most of these games you can find at a Game Stop or the discount bin of your local used game store.  The question of course remains whether you should snatch them when you see'em or leave them for some other poor soul--I mean more interested gamer--to retrieve.

100 Classic Books

Books on a game system what strange madness has come to pass?  This collection of books is pretty much what the box claims to have.  Pop it in your DS, hit the switch and BAM!  You'll have access to 100 classic books ranging from Moby Dick to selected works by Shakespeare.  The interface for turning pages and reading the books is user friendly and selecting books from the virtual shelf is amusing as is the page turning effect.  It even has a nice bookmarking feature, but it only let's you bookmark one book at time so no switching over from War and Peace to Othello for you!  Since you're dealing with a DS screen, the amount of text displayed will naturally be limited more than it would if you had a similar collection on a Kindle or say--a real book.  Shorter novels easily turn into a 1,000 plus page epics, but don't let that daunt you as it's just an artificially inflated number thanks to the limited text space.

Some of the book selections seem a little too random and if you aren't into classic literature it might take you back to the worst parts of high school English class.  Being a bit of book worm I liked it, but personally I did wish Treasure Island was on here rather than some of the other writings of Robert Louis Stevenson, but that's just the English nerd in me speaking I suppose.  Overall though, I would really recommend picking this up and popping it in a portable game case for your DS if you're anything like me and sometimes head on a vacation but forget to bring reading material yet always remember to bring a portable gaming system.

Final Verdict:  Immensely Satisfying (for book nerds like me)

Mr. Slime

Mr. Silme looks like an unpleasant lump of left over booger with a creeper like smile leering at you from the shadows.  I think SouthPeak Games may have been trying to create a cute mascot much like Kirby, but Mr. Slime is just too unpleasant to look at.  Whatever the original intent was of turning this character green, it backfired.  Sadly, it's not just looks where this game falls short.

Do you like extraneous back stories for uninteresting characters?  You're in luck, because Mr. Slime has tons of it before you are allowed to even play.  Even trying to skip through dialogue takes a long time.  There was a wall of text explaining a long and continuous cycle of war and peace in the world of Mr. Slime and it was waaaay too much backstory when your character looks like the remnants of a used tissue.  I mean, really?  What the heck do I care about this disgusting blob's backstory?  Likely him and his whole species will be wiped out in the near future thanks to a hearty nose blowing.

I will say this, it does have good mechanics and nice control.  Reaching from one floating pylon to the next to get to the exit works well and making use of the natural stretchy quality of Mr. Slime feels satisfying.  And that's where the satisfaction ends. Remember that stretching from pylon to pylon and reaching the level exit I mentioned a sentence ago?  Well that's it for gameplay, that and grabbing items for points.  Apparently whatever struggle Mr. Slime and his kind engage in involves dominance of these little pylons.  If there's more to the game I don't know and don't care as getting through the first few levels and it's tedious hand-holding with more un-skip-able dialogue bored me to tears.  For a more satisfying Mr. Slime experience, I recommend blowing your nose.  If you want to experience the game in "virtual" form, explain to yourself why you blew your nose and how it some how affects the fate the planet.

Final Verdict:  Shovelware.  

Aliens: Infestation

Set between the movies Aliens and Alien 3, in Aliens: Infestation a band of marines are investigating an adrift spaceship and determined to rescue the life form detected aboard.  Obviously whatever still lives on this craft can't mean anything good for the marines, after all, this is the Aliens universe.

You start off with four marines, but there's the possibility of meeting up with more marines and having other characters to play as, each character has their own unique in-game dialogue making each one feel different in a satisfying way.  Unlike other games where if you die you just restart as that character, in Aliens: Infestation once a marine dies, he's gone.  You can keep playing until you're out of marines including the found ones, but once the last one dies it's Game Over man, game over!  The game has a Metroidvania feel as you wonder corridors, finding key cards to unlock new areas and gain new weapons and tools.  At first you are left wondering when you get to square off against the aliens and you might think at it's you're going to be fighting robot guards the entire time, but just hang on because soon those deadly xenomorphs show up and you fleeing in no time.

The controls are solid and maneuvering corridors while firing you gun is extremely satisfying.  The gun and motion sensor sounds are straight from the movie and they really help add to the atmosphere of the game.  Although the music adds to the game as well, I found it a touch too loud and really wish there was a way to turn it down or off entirely to help add to the over all spookiness of the game.  I would recommend throwing on some headphones while playing to get the full effect of the sounds as it really does a great job making you feel like you are a part of the aliens universe for being a handheld game.

I picked up this little gem from a local Game Stop for less than four bucks and it was well worth it.  I was pleasantly surprised since I went in with a bit of bias against the game because of it being loosely based off a movie franchise.  Glad I took the gamble and I think you should too.

Final Verdict:  Extremely Satifying

That about wraps it up for this installment of Satisfying or Shovelware, I hope you find some cheap gems out there as well and if you do, let me know.  And if you find some garbage as well...well, I might give that a shot too.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Friday Night Rentals: Jackal by Konami

Buff dudes plow through deserts, jungles, and various other locales in their jeep as they use a seemingly endless stream of bullets and bombs to take down bad guys and bring on the pain.  Sounds like something from the 80's starring Schwarzenegger as a muscled man o' war out, doesn't it?  Well it's not a movie and don't bother strapping into this jeep, because seat belts are for pansies--it's time for Jackal by Konami!

Good grief, can you believe the cover art on this game?  What's the guy in the back of the jeep even shooting at?  The chopper looks like it's behind him so he must just enjoy pumping rounds into the air and bellowing out his war cry.  There's probably a wake of disposable baddies behind him sinking into the ground because they're filled with a ton of lead or squished cartoon style with a big ol' jeep tire tread running down the middle of their back.  Does this game still have the exciting action feel that it had back in the day?  Or has it become so cheesy that it belongs in the bargain bin of "forgotten 80's classics?"


Remember when Konami was good?  When they had a stock set of familiar sound effects?  I paused and unpaused this game a couple of times before making my way through the first level.  Just something about that sound makes me smile.  The rest of the sound effects aren't half bad either from the machine guns to the bomb effects.  Sure, harder enemies make that annoying ping sound when you shoot them--all the more reason to beat them quickly and move on.

And as far as music goes?  Well, just take a listen:

Listen to that beautiful 8-bit bass and quick rhythm.  Doesn't it just make you want to keep moving along and keep blowing away bad guys?  Doesn't it remind you of when Konami was good?  Sorry, yes, I know that some of their modern stuff is decent too, but this had a good beat and more than it's share of character.  I mean, who would want to do about 1,000 reps and 300 push ups in order to get those big ol' Arnie muscles?  I know I'd do a rip of this soundtrack to my iPod so I could get ripped when I have the time.


The gun only shoots forward, but you can lob bombs and missiles in nearly any direction.  The jeep movement is nice and fluid, and you never feel like you aren't in control or have to do awkward maneuvering in order to get the jeep in the right direction.  The bad guys don't stand a chance from your gun or the grill.

You proceed through several stages in various 80's era soldier action movie settings while gunning down (or running over) enemies soldiers and rescuing hostages.  At the end of each level there's a boss fight with enemies ranging from a group of tanks to an enemy battleship and other military hardware.  I always found it funny that you could lob a missile or bomb at one of the places hostages are being held the place absolutely explodes yet the hostage walks out totally unscathed.  If he's that invulnerable to an explosion, I imagine he wouldn't have much to worry about with a few pesky AK 47's pointed his way.  


Though the game is a port of an arcade game, it has the same basic feel and hasn't really lost anything in the translation.  Jackal has a classic Nintendo feel to the graphics and the setting, and that's just fine.  I don't remember seeing this in the arcades really that often, and I imagine there was more detail in the jeep and the explosions and such, but for what it's worth the game is done well and doesn't suffer for having less detailed graphics.

As far as style goes, it's a run and gun in jeep.  But of the run and guns out there on the Nintendo, this was definitely in my top ten.  I was too young to see Schwarzennegar movies when I was a kid, but I remember seeing commercials for those now classic action films, not to mention this was sorta like playing as a character from G.I. Joe, only with you actually killing people and not missing no matter how many shots were fired.

Final Thoughts:

When I rented Jackal back in the day, I remember the copy I grabbed kept freezing up on the second level.  Only after several dozen Q-tips and half a bottle of rubbing alcohol was I able to get it playable and clean to the point that no more black was coming off the pins.  In one of the weirdest bits of nostalgia I've ever had, it froze up on me again mid-way through the second level.  And yes, once again I had to use tons of Qtips and cleaner.  Aside from that oddness, it was everything I remembered it to be.  A glorious top-down action shooter with a bass-filled soundtrack, classic Konami sounds, and enough replay value to keep me coming back again and again.  If you don't already have it in your collection, go, now!  Get to the choppa!--I mean nearest retro store or eBay and pick it up.  Then, after playing through this game and getting in a pumped action mood; grab yourself a rocket-launcher, a cold drink and watch Commando with Arnie to help calm the nerves.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Midweek Music Box: Forest Temple Music (Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time)

Have you ever wanted to experience that eerie tingling sensation at the back of your neck?  Do you ever have the need to feel uneasy and vaguely uncertain as to what might happen?  Do you need inspiration that tickles that part of the mind and the heart, in a way that make you feel like reality has gone slightly wrong?  Well, I do when I'm writing.  And when I need to evoke that sense of unease I don't just turn down the lights or work late into the night when all has gone quiet--though those things help.  When want to have an uneasy mood, I look no further than the Forest Temple Music from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

A large part of what makes the Forest Temple's music great and so perfect for the temple at the heart of the Lost Woods comes from its ability to tap into a subtle but deeply seated sense of unease within a person.  As a human you are unable to connect in the proper way with the forest.  The lush, green surroundings, the vines crawling over ancient stone pillars, the creatures skittering through the undergrowth--the music helps this Nintendo 64 game feel deeper and richer in a way that many modern fantasy games should envy.  When playing Ocarina of Time it truly made me bristle and feel unnerved on a core level that still gets me to this day when I listen to it.

"Forest Temple Music"

The ghostly woodwinds grow and fade, creeping close enough to hear, but never close enough to feel as if they are truly beside you.  The odd chanting noise sounds almost animal-like, but seem like something a human would make...or something trying to sound human.  The music puts me ill at ease and always has.  Probably because the woodwind sounds reach an almost happy tone, but then the chants and the synthesizer padding with ethereal overtones give off a melancholy feel.  Because the music does this unique blend, it leaves me feeling like if I only knew a bit more about the chanting, if I only knew a bit more about why the blending of moods I would feel better.

It's creepy, it's haunting, it makes me feel vaguely unwelcome but filled with a desire to learn every secret that forests of the real world have.  But it also fills me with caution.  That unease still lingers, still makes me feel like an outsider to nature.  I know it might sound a bit overly poetic to wax on about this particular soundtrack.  After all, many of the tunes from Ocarina of Time are worth talking about and likely will show up in future Midweek Music Box articles.  This one though, this one with all it's beauty and mystery still leaves me feeling creeped out, but in a good way.

Sudden piano hits and scraping violins from "scary games" always feel cheap to me.  They rely on quick jolt in your emotion that doesn't linger.  But music like this, music that lingers with you hours afterwards and makes you feel uneasy just thinking about it--that makes it not just great video game music, but great music period.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Satisfying or Shovelware Vol. 3: A Satisfying Week of Cheap Games

Do you ever pop over to the eShop for the Wii U only to be met with a baffling bevy of bgames? (Sorry, couldn't think of a "b" word for games.)  Do you wonder if you dare drop a dollar or two and take the risk of cash going down the tubes?  Or maybe you see it as a chance for a fun gaming experience that you don't want to miss out on.  Whatever the case, we've all faced the dilemma of whether or not something will be great or garbage.  That must mean it's time for another installment of Satisfying or Shovelware!  Time's a wastin'...or will time be a wasted?  Let's find out!

In Kung Fu Fight by Nostatic Software you are a kung fu master who must kick, duck, and jump over hay bales, ninjas, sumo wrestlers and other obstacles while running non-stop in a quest to rescue your girl from an evil ninja master.  Here we have another runner game trying to copy the style of gameplay that was perfected by Gaijin's own Bit.Trip.Runner and Runner 2.  Kung Fu Fight! offers varied backgrounds, interesting enemies to avoid, and various unlockable difficulties as well as awards--all done in a retro-esque style.  Kung Fu Fight! has a goofy premise, but it takes full advantage of it with tongue in cheek text bubbles uttered by your character as you race along along as well as silly enemies like the aforementioned sumos.  The music is nice but nothing special, the sound effects help give a sense of satisfaction as you punch through enemies and obstacles, and the controls are smooth and responsive.  I only have two minor complaints about the game; the first being that you must complete the game on normal mode before you get to play the subsequent harder modes.  I just want to see how insane things get from the start and though I enjoyed the game I can't see wanting to beat it three different times just to unlock all the difficulty modes.  The other complaint I have is the button placement.  Like I said, the controls work well.  However, you use the "X" and the "A" button to punch and jump and this just feels odd.  Why not "B" to punch and "A" to jump?  If you're doing a game with a retro style, then why not emulate the controls as well?  Again, not a deal breaker and the game is cheap enough that it's worth a download.

Final Verdict:  Satisfying

In Land It Rocket by Petite Games you must pilot your cute little pink rocket from the start point to the cute little pink landing pad.  Sounds simple, right?  Well, before I forget to mention them, there are friendly yellow walls, cute little missile launchers, and cute little death spikes that block your way to said pad.  The game plays in a satisfactory manner with tight controls and decent physics, once you get used to them.  There are dozens of levels and variations of traps and walls which keeps each stage feeling like a fresh puzzle to solve. You are awarded stars for how quickly you get the rocket to the pad, with a maximum of three stars possible.  On the one hand it's nice to see an actual reward for the better you play the game, and the game even tells you how close you were to getting the two or three stars possible.  However, there is no on screen timer and no pre-stage definition of how quickly you need to beat a level to get said stars, which is a little disappointing.  The music is nothing really to talk about, in fact, I can't even remember it as I sit here typing.  The game does have nice bright colors though, and the color scheme reminds me of any given episode of the Power Puff Girls.  The shapes are simple, but all the more fun for their simplicity and there are some nice background animations such as clouds moving, leaves falling, and waves moving up and down.  Again, these are done in simple shape form such as triangles, squares, and circles, but this just makes the game feel all the more pleasant for it and not that they were "copping out" in the design department.  The game could use a tweak here and there with better music and more clearly defined timer goals, but it still was fun enough that I'd likely play it again if I had little bit of time to kill and didn't want to get too involved in something.

Final Verdict:  Moderately Satisfying

There are no space pirates, no eternal forces of darkness and light locked in eternal battle, and no princesses needing rescue from castles.  For in Color Zen by Large Animal Games there exists only pleasant music, simple shapes, and color based puzzles that needs solving.  The pleasant synthesizer pop music feel of the soundtrack reminds me of something you'd hear in the background of an 80's movie that was taking a guess at the kind of music we'd all be listening to in the distant future of the 2000's.  Really though, the music is peaceful and relaxing and it helps set the tone the game designers were going for. Gameplay consists of you using the Wii U Pad to glide various shapes of similar colors into one another so that they fill the screen.  For example you touch a purple triangle to a purple square and the screen fills in around the remaining colored shapes up to the boarder with the color purple.  You need to be careful in what order you trigger the colors though as the objective is to have the last color to fill the screen be the same as that of the boarder.   If you do it wrong, it's game over.  And...that's it.  Just color matching and pleasant music.  No hard mode, no timer.  Just colors and music.  True the game lacks depth, but it doesn't need that as the game is more about inducing a state of calm in the player.  I guess that's why they call it Color Zen.  It's not overly addictive, but at the same time you'll find yourself wanting to play "just one more level" before putting it down.  I really like this game as I've actually used it a few times to unwind late at night when I had trouble falling asleep.  Not to say that the game is boring, just that it has a smooth pleasantness about it that makes me want to nuzzle into my easy chair and drift off.  Not to mention it's a heckuva a lot easier to drift off to synthesizer-esque music and basic colors than it is to a space marine yelling in your ear about alien forces--but I digress 

Final Verdict:  Highly Satisfying

Don't get me wrong, there's a whole lot of  garbage games or games that seem like they'd be better off going on the free side of somewhere like Facebook or Armor Games.  (Not to knock the game makers, but these aren't triple A games by any means.)  So when you come across a game that's five bucks or less and it's not an original Nintendo game made available for download, it's natural to feel skeptical.  I say this as a bracer because this time around I winded up actually liking all the games I downloaded.  It was like pulling the lever on a nickle slot machine and getting all cherries.  Sure the payout was small, but it was still satisfying nevertheless.  So this week yeah, all the games fall under the satisfying category, but don't you worry.  Just as surely as there are great payout days, next time around I'll probably strike out but pull that lever again hoping against hope that I don't get three little pictures of garbage.  

So there you have it, a fairly satisfying week all around.  Sometimes shovelware is kept at bay and you get round up a some pleasant little gems that are fun to play and a nice diversion.  Remember, none of these are really games that are as involved as a regular game you'd pick up from a Best Buy or Target, but each of them is trying to offer a little something you may not have know you wanted to play.  If you like the games or are interested, be sure to check them out.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Friday Night Rentals: Karnov

There's nothing quite like spending a Friday evening playing as a muscled and mustachioed fire-breathing ex-circus performer Russian who fights dinosaurs, flying eyeballs, and Inca heads in his spare time.  Truly, those were the best and...oddest of times. I had no idea how oddball this game was when I rented it as a kid, after all, weird things just happened in video games.  Mario ate fungus to grow big and fought a dinosaur/dragon thing to rescue a princess while being attacking by turtles and scowling mushrooms.  Master Higgins ran around in leaves and road a skateboard to fight a head-changing witch doctor.  Rock travels around the planet defeating various robot masters and collecting their weapons after defeating them. Whatever the vehicle was, platformers were fun when done well but even then, as I've mentioned before, you need to stand out from the crowd.

Data East's Karnov may not have had nearly as much going for it as other platformers, but it certainly had replay-ability and weirdness going for it.  When I rented this game on Friday night as a kid, I'm pretty sure I beat it by Saturday night when I learned the patterns of the enemies.  By Sunday afternoon when the game was due, I had little reason to replay the game other than get a higher score...which I did.  In fact, I remember Karnov was such goofy, accessible fun that I rented it a second time (a rarity only shared by a few games) just because I enjoyed playing and wanted see if I could grab more power-ups and a higher score.

When I ran across it in a video game store not too long ago, I knew I had to pick it up and play as that brawny bruiser of blasting breath once more.  Was it as good fun as I remembered?  Or was it just fond memory romanticized by a nostalgic heart and head full of weirdness?

Music and Sound

"Stage Theme"
I imagine if this were played a violin it would have an even more Russian feel.  The stage music has a quality that reminds me of the Russian ballet section from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker.  Note that I say stage music, as in, there's only one tune for every stage.  It doesn't get too old too quickly as the game itself is fairly easy to beat, and is something you could speed run if you wanted to.  There's a melody for when you beat a level, lose a life, or get a game over.  Nothing really special here, and mostly just functional, but it does it well and it never gets annoying to listen to.

Again, not too much to talk about here, the sound gets the job done, but maybe it's worth noting that it does so in a satisfying way.  I like it when I game has individual sound effects for my weapons and for when an enemy gets hit.  It brings a certain level of satisfaction to the gameplay that sometimes was missed by other platformers of the time.

Graphics and Style

Beware the...uh...alien with wings...

If I haven't made it clear already, Karnov was weird.  The graphics were decent for the time, the style was uniquely it's own.  There were plenty of odd games out there for the NES.  But seeing your guy go from flesh-tone to green after he gets hit was just funny.  In my mind he was about to hulk out, but I guess the reality was that he was supposed to look sickly.  In any case, as you run around you notice a cornucopia of characters.  Bats, other muscle men, mermen--and more.  They were each drawn well enough, never really had a theme in the game for each stage.


There are monsters and you kill them with your fire-breathing awesomeness much like you would were you holding a gun.   But you only have two hits, then you are dead.  Not to worry though as teh monsters are largely easy to defeat and in some cases outright avoid.  The game offers little in the way of background design, and seems oddly cobbled together in places when it comes to set pieces, but that's not really a big deal.  Never do background and bad guys blend together to running along and fire-breath'ing bad guys stays satisfying every time you do it.  As for the bad guys themselves, they are so easy to beat that it's almost like they're oblivious to the oncoming Russian firestorm.  The only real challenge of the game lies in the fact that if you jump, you can make it a fair distance as the titular Karnov can do Mario-esque jumps.  However, if you fall, you can't control your decent at all and are locked into the fall, even if that is over a pit or into enemy fire.  It doesn't ever get frustrating though.  Just more of an, "Oops!  Hope I don't pay for that," moment here and there.

Final Thoughts

I was going to write an "In Soviet Russia fire breathes you" joke, but honestly the game is so-danged weird that such jokes don't do much for it.  All these years later and I still have no clue what's going on and why Karnov does what he does.  He doesn't rescue a princess at the end, the power-ups are neat and all but seem to serve little of the story other than provide you the opportunity to get more points.  And there-in lies part of my answer as to why the game is so...unique.  This game was a port of an arcade game.  Not that this somehow magically explains the odd realm that Karnov inhabits, nor does it make the game any less fast to play through.  The whole thing is beatable in under half an hour.  What it does tell me though is that the reason so much attention was given to points was the fact that most arcade games revolved around the concept of who could get the highest score.

There's not much depth to the game, and spoiler alert......the game ends on just a text scrawl of telling you congratulations.  Thing is though, I still have a fondness in my heart for the game.  As a kid, I always like it when I could beat a game in a weekend.  It made me feel as if I had actually gotten something done in between wasting time on stuff like chores and homework.  Well, you'll have to excuse me.  I'm off to speed run Karnov rather than waste time cleaning the kitchen.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Midweek Music Box: Elevator Action

Most times that my family was at an arcade it meant that we had just finished a round of mini-golf and we were only going to spend a few bucks at most for each person.  This meant that I would usually go for one of two options:  Either play pinball games (because I was halfway decent at them), or hunt down a game or two that I knew I could play for a long time on only one quarter.  After all, I was a kid and trying to milk as much time possible out of an arcade trip was something you would just do.  I was lousy at Donkey Kong, couldn't cut it with the "newer" games like Golden Axe, and managed to make poor Qbert plunge to his doom more often then change the squares to the correct color.  But there was a game or two I could last for a good long while when I played.  One of them was Taito's own Elevator Action.  

Just take a listen to this little tune.  Sorry, had to link to gameplay to get the music:

The depth and richness of the...uh...somethingness.  And the rhythm of the tone gets you...uh....Oh Ok!  

Admittedly, this is not the best soundtrack I've mentioned on this blog.  It gets the job done, the tune is an endless loop that serves a decent functionality in terms of putting you in the mood for some secret agent'ing.  When I was trying to hunt down an Elevator Action cabinet I would listen for it, not so much because it had some mind-blowing soundtrack, but because it had a distinct one.  Despite not having the best music in gamedom; Elevator Action does hold some great memories for me. 

As I mentioned before, I could last for a good long while when I played it.  Now, this isn't really meant as a boast, just that Elevator Action was my game and I loved losing myself in it much the same way other people would lose themselves in Pac Man or Donkey Kong.  Every one has that one game.  If you don't think you "have a game," that one game where you just kick butt and welcome all challengers, trust me you do, you just have to find which one it is.

In addition to playing it every time I went to the arcade, I remember when I got it as a gift from my folks to help me through some tough times.  I was really sick as a kid, had a number of hospital visits here and there.  I still remember following a particularly rough procedure my folks tried to perk up my spirits by getting me two games.  One was a little title called Amagon; the other was the home port of Elevator Action!

I remember the first time I popped the game into the NES and the screen popped up. I was thrilled beyond belief.  When I hit start, it was just like I was in the arcades as that familiar tune started up:

All things considered, the home version did sound and play a lot like the original arcade game.  And it wasn't long before I lost myself in the game and was going building through building shooting spies and stealing secret documents.  It still remains one of my favorite go-to games for just losing myself for a good long time while attempting to rack up a high score.

The arcade was a treasure trove of blips, beeps, and various synthesized gunfire; so hearing a specific game soundtrack above the general din was difficult.  But that doesn't mean I didn't perk up my ears and try to listen for those familiar few notes as they cycled.  It doesn't always take a full soundtrack to trigger great memories, especially if those memories are ones of playing in the arcade attached to the mini golf.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Adventures from a Backwards Perspective: Roving Rogue Review


Kurt the Righteous stands triumphant over the fallen form of an evil magician and his would-be apprentice!  A winner is you!  Time to roll the credits, silently thank the makers of the game and then......well, then what do you do after the bad guy has met his demise?
Why you head back the way you came and claim your reward of course!  But no one ever said the trip back would be easy.  The crazy castles and dangerous dungeons you fought so hard to find your way through need conquering again.  And all those goblins and spear wielding soldiers that populate those areas?  They don't seem too happy with you for having slain their master and left them unemployed...

In Padaone Game's platform puzzler game Roving Rogue you play as Kurt, a fellow with the unique and quite helpful ability to teleport a several feet ahead--even through solid walls!  So what does happen to all those heroes when the ultimate evil has been vanquished and the day saved?  Rogue attempts to show what happens in a humorous way, but does it succeed?


When it comes to control, this is where Roving Rogue really excels.  Though it might take a few tries to get used to the teleporting mechanic and how to properly finesse certain jumps; once you do get used to it, you'll find yourself trying to master various ways in which to beat levels as efficiently as possible.  Several times while playing I found myself goofing around just to see what was possible in terms of moving around the screen while teleporting.  It's fun to use and highly satisfying when you are able to land several difficult ledge jumps in a row followed up by a teleport or two.

Graphics and Style

Tricks, Traps, and Mayhem Ensue...
With bright and colorful character sprites and smooth animation, what's not to like about the pseudo-retro look of  Roving Rogue?  Much like 1001 Spikes and Shovel Knight, Roving Rogue does a quasi-emulation of the 8-bit to 16-bit era of gaming.  As a fan of retro games, I do like the style and like seeing it pop up from time to time in more modern games.  It's neat to see what developers can do with a wider color palette while still using the style of an older area.

That said, the game doesn't bring anything "fresh" so-to-speak to the table.  While I love the style, I sometimes feel that it can get a bit gimmicky at times.  It's fine enough here, and I like that there's a bit of parallax scroll going on.  It's just...well, even retro emulation can feel a little vanilla at times.  Almost like it's a given in action movies that the hero will toss off one-liners, it feels like a gaming given that a retro-esque game will have a warm and familiar look.  Again, this isn't meant as a knock against the style, just that it is what it is and nothing more.

Music and Sound

"Gameplay Trailer"

Ordinarily I like to link to a sampling of music from the game in this section, but as of the time of writing, the best I could find were trailers for the game itself.  That said, there's nothing overly noticeable about the music.  It does have a charm to it, and it certainly helps to get you into the mood of the gameplay, but it doesn't feel inspired or as thrilling as it tries to be.  Not that I'm knocking it, just that it's pretty much par for the course for a game like this.


The "wooshing" effect that plays as you teleport around to various points on the screen helps to both sell the tone of the game and seems fitting for the assassin meets magic look that your character sports.  Other than that, not too much stands out when it comes to sounds.  I'm not sure if that's a lack of imagination or just a mistake on the part of the design team thinking that because the game sports a retro look, that it must mean there isn't much to offer in terms of sound design.


You teleport through certain walls and not others in order to reach the little red door at the end of each level.  Along the way in your backtracking quest there are traps, enemies, or sometimes level features (such as rising lava) trying to kill your little guy.  There are little check mark flags throughout the level as you progress, which is a nice feature because although the game gives you unlimited lives; dying before you reach a checkpoint can send your character hurtling back past previously conquered traps and enemies.  Not that this challenge proves overly annoying, just after several resets the fun of individual levels can wear off.

A particularly interesting, and sometimes annoying mechanic of the game comes in the form of your character's inability to attack enemies anywhere except for directly behind them.  Not that I'm about to decry the back-stabbing encouraged here, just that it almost feels like Padaone Games was trying to add something reminiscent of a stealth mechanic to Roving Rogue.  It feels unnecessary and only added to my frustration along the way as I would occasionally teleport at the wrong time and an enemy would pivot into my guy and instantly kill him for his ill-timed jump.

Final Thoughts

Roving Rogue is a fun enough game and all, but once you get past the goblins and the poofs of purple smoke, it feels like a wasted opportunity.  Roving Rogue does have a unique charm to it with the teleporting mechanic and the way the storytelling is told from the end to the beginning.  There's even a bit of cuteness in the way the game does the main character's narrative and plot development via Twitter-esque scroll "posts" and a storybook read from end to beginning.  Also, I like that there's a bit of mystery going on as you have somehow forgotten just what it is your quest was about and the only way to help remember is by picking up little statues placed throughout the levels.

However, there's something about the game that just feels a little too forgettable.  Although you are offered the opportunity to replay levels and attempt to achieve a better overall outcome (less deaths, more statues collected, etc.) I don't feel like there's enough incentive for me to do so.  There's an interesting multiplayer mode available, but as I don't really have game night at my place and my wife doesn't play video games, I likely won't ever be able to comment on this feature.

The game is solid overall with nice designs and pleasant enough gameplay, but suffers from a lack of uniqueness in an already crowded platformer marketplace.  It reminds me of summer movies that are enjoyable enough at the time you watch them, but if asked about it in a month you'd have a hard time separating the plot out from one of a dozen other similar films.  

Visual Style: 7/10
Music/Sound: 7/10
Control: 10/10
Gameplay: 6/10

Final Score: 7/10

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Friday Night Rentals: Strider

Is it too late to save up to $10 ?

For all the world I would swear up and down the guy on the box is wearing a fluffy white cowboy hat.

Anywho you are Hiryu, a "Strider."  The Strider's are an elite team of spies/assassins/heroes who protect the world from low orbit in a ship much like the Justice League's lookout tower.  Whenever there's trouble that needs taking care of, the Strider's are there.  As the game opens, you find out you're friend and fellow operative/Strider Kain has been captured.  Vice Director Matic orders you to locate and kill Kain before he can spill the beans about the Striders.  Will you be able to follow through with your orders?  Or is something more than just a captured comrade going on?  It's up to you to search the globe for your comrades, clues, and apparently, a nice set of boots in Capcom's adventure platformer Strider.

Okay, time to fess up.  I'm pretty sure I used my copy of Nintendo Power to plow through this game when I rented it back in the day, and now that I actually have a copy thanks to a member of the Denver Retro Gamers I fully intend to NOT look up a walkthru video or map or hint guide online.  But back in the day I only had a few days to play and beat a game and since I was a kid, playing through a game and getting the job done--so to speak--meant that whatever was at your disposal for beating the game was fair game.  After all, it was three or four bucks to rent a game for the weekend and that was big money to a kid.

Now that I'm playing the game "for realsies" how tough is it?  Does it hold up to my memories of being a fun, but nevertheless hard experience?  (Hey, I was a kid, and strategy guides tell you how to play but don't actually play the game for you.)

Music and Sound

"Title Theme"

The title music starts with a slower, melancholy tune and it does a great job of selling you on the tone of the game.  Of course, the level tracks all have a nice fast paced rhythm appropriate for an action game.  But when it wants you to take the game seriously it does the right thing and changes the whole tone of the music.  I appreciate it when a game does that, and I loved when it happened back in the day.  Instead of just filler action paced tracks, the music takes time to slow down and have us focus on the story It reminds me of Ninja Gaiden that way.

Every time you slash your way through an enemy soldier or robot, the accompanying explosion noises are both satisfying and confusing.  Are the bad guys stuff with C4 that they detonate like bombs when hit?  Any way, the noise your sword makes (yes, you brought a knife to a gun fight) not only has a satisfying metallic sound as you slash, but the scraping sound it makes as you hit something is highly satisfying as well.

Graphics and Style

Time to dispense some justice, strider style.
With a nice mix of bright colors in sparse patches (such as hair or sword glistens) and metallic gray around the structures, the overall look and feel of the sprites both works well and is pleasant to view.  It doesn't try to mimic the arcade look and feel too closely, and it actually benefits from that.  Rather than just a Run n' Gun (or Run n' Slash in this case) Strider takes on the look and feel of a game that has a bit of depth.  The lightening effects through the first stage bring an ominous touch, and there's hardly any slow down or flicker on screen when there's multiple enemies and effects.

Something about military games from Capcom make them have a similar feel. Not that this is a complaint really, but that back in the day, such distinctions could help you spot the company's product a mile away.  I still like that about these games.


 Unlike the arcade action platformer which the game is based on, Strider for the NES shares more in common with Capcom's port of Bionic Commando, and I love the game for it.   You fight and search through different areas of the map in order to gain disks which hold clues to progress the story.  Sometimes you have backtrack, but never does it really get tedious as can happen in more modern games like the GTA series which can sometimes feel like you have to quite literally travel by foot across the entire state of California just to do one thing.  I like that you have to work to open up new areas, but that it's not to such a degree as to be frustrating.  That said, it's nice there's a password feature because even now, a couple of hours combing the same areas and trying to trigger the right event can start to get a little wearisome.

Final Thoughts

I'm glad I have the chance to play this game again, and beat it the hard, the way it was meant to be beaten.  No Walkthru, no passcodes except those I earn myself, and no game genie.  I really do want to get this done right this time.  It was a great game back in the day and still is now.  It's still really satisfying to chop through enemies with your sword and send them flying back to explode as if they were packed to the gills with TNT.  Even though it's hard trying to figure out where to go at times, I still get a kick out of watching the little blip that represents the Strider Hiryu leaving the space ship to go to a new area.   And hey, who couldn't like the fact you have to collect floppy disks in order to advance?

With the charm of old school Capcom music and graphics, it's nice to finally call Strider my own.  I have to go now, somebody misplaced their boots in China and it might take a little while to find them?

China, has just become the world's largest sofa cushion...

*Note:  I posted this a day late due to the passing of Roddy Piper, I wrote a brief tribute to him: OVER HERE