Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday Night Rentals: Black Friday Memories

You rent, you play it, you beat it, and you move on....

...Or you didn't move on, you didn't beat it, and you kept on wanting to play it and eventually, you got it.  

Or maybe there was a cool accessory that you wanted that.  Or maybe there was a game you had beaten on easy, but wanted to beat on hard mode so you could get the "real" ending.  Whatever the case was, when the weekend after Thanksgiving would roll around, my folks would want Christmas lists from us kids, and those lists meant a chance to possibly get video games.

When I was a kid I would spend hours poring over Christmas catalogs from toy stores, electronics emporiums, and any other retailer who sold video games.  I would hunt down advertised games that I'd beaten, games that I had enjoyed, and games that seemed like a deal and that I would probably enjoy playing.  My folks weren't independently wealthy, and I was too young to get a job so Christmas was the time when I was likely to get the most games.  So when making a wish list, I wanted to up the chances of getting something by making sure it was a game that I knew was likely to last a while.

As an adult looking back, there are a so many games I wish I would have asked for when I was a kid.  I hope I don't sound greedy saying that, because I'm not saying that I would have asked for everything under the sun that had a Nintendo Seal of Approval slapped on the cover---It's just that there were a number of games I beat when I rented them, and figured were off limits when it came to asking.  Why expect someone to pay good money for something that I had already seen the ending credit scrawl for?  You overcome a challenge, and then move on, right?  And since whatever games I got were just nice surprises, they were gifts after all, I wanted to ensure the game was something fresh and fun.  Something that either couldn't be beaten, like the puzzle game Yoshi's Cookie, or a game that would likely take a while to beat, such as River City Ransom.

All new 2000 character password system!

As an aside, games like River City Ransom were practically like buying an RPG as far as younger me was concerned, what with the ridiculously long password system and the way you could level up your characters.  On top of that, it was a two player game which meant my brother and I had to have time off together to play it, so that would further stretch the amount of time a game would last.  Usually what dominated my stocking and under the tree unwrapping time were games like Paperboy and Klax though.  I don't regret that one bit just to be clear.  I love the games I got and still do.  Playing through Paperboy and losing hours on Klax still is a lot of fun to me.  Just...there are times I wish that I had gotten Ducktales as a kid.  Such a phenomenal gem, and if I had gotten it as a kid, I would have the manual and box still in all likelihood.  Mega Man frustrated me so much, and I ended up beating the game because I wanted to have that badge of honor.  Now if I want to beat it again, and not as part of an "Anniversary Collection," I'd have to shell out roughly 70 bucks.  I'm an adult, I could afford it now I guess...

But dang do I kick myself for not asking for it as a Christmas gift back in the day. 

I never sold a one of my Nintendo games that I got for Christmas.  All the games that my brother and I played as a kid are still in the collection today.  It has been a great deal of fun over the years to plug in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade and remember the hours my brother and I spent playing it.  Great times were had by all, and some of my fondest memories were of gathering around the Nintendo during Christmas afternoon to try out the new games.  Though I may occasionally lament not having gotten certain games back in the day, I can't imagine not having any of the carts from the collection of games I consider the "family collection."  Whenever Black Friday rolls around, I remember those days and what it was like to try and pick just the right game.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Midweek Music Box: World of Goo

Faster and faster!

 Higher and higher!


Yes, it's World of Goo by Kyle Gabler and Ron Carmel, the team at 2D Boy.  I remember hearing good things about those goo balls when the game was first released, and I was intrigued by the trailers.  The music in particular for the trailer really grabbed me and sent a surge of excitement through me in a way that few games ever have.  But getting it for my Wii would mean the only way to get it was through download.  I was a bit more hesitant to do that.  After all, what if the early buzz was just hype?  If I downloaded this game simply based on how well put together the trailer was and how pleasant the music was and it turned out it was shovelware...I wouldn't even have a physical copy of something to sell away and get any money back for my folly.  Well, I think you can pretty much guess what I decided to do in the end.

World of Goo was one of the first, if not the first game that I ever downloaded to a console, and I have never regretted for a second.  From the fantastic controls to the clever and challenging puzzles, to the unique and wonderful art style; World of Goo simply "oozes" personality in a way that no other puzzle game has to me.  Sure, Tetris will always be a classic, but to have such a definitive character and to tell an actual story as you progress..,I think I always will find World of Goo a bit of a masterpiece of gaming.  What sold me the most though was the music though, that music from the trailer, the snippets that appeared here and there were as gripping to me as some of the best Legend of Zelda music, no joke.

Here's the soundtrack in it's entirety if you've never checked it out, but I would recommend hunting it down and downloading a copy for yourself, it just makes such fantastic background music for any and all occasions:

Much of the music feels like Danny Elfman himself could have composed, or are even better that some of Mr. Elfman's work.  Then there's other tunes that set a bleak mood without that Elfman-esque feel such as "Cog in the Machine," a slow moving, soliloquy of a song that has mournful echoing metal guitar strains, powerful drums beats, and nice synthesizer padding.  You get a sense of someone relentlessly trying their hardest to overcome an insurmountable goal.  I can almost picture a driving rain as a hero plods along streets more than I can stacking balls of goo into bridges.

"Cog in the Machine"

The entire soundtrack has incredible gems that are constantly in my music rotation, and I always know in an instant when I'm listening to a track from World of Goo without having to look at my computer's music library.  However, one sound track in particular, to me at least, epitomizes the "World of Goo Experience" as a whole.  And that's this one here:


Like a carnival calliope gone mad, the music touches something deep inside you.  The track entitled "Tumbler" makes you feel compelled to do all things faster.  You need to type faster, work faster, play faster, speed along before everything comes crashing down...much like it can in the game.  Not only was the soundtrack that buzzed along in the background of the trailer while showing you gameplay, but it provided such a strong emotional hook that it was incredible to me.  If you had trouble trying to describe the game to somebody, all you need do is point them to this track in particular and it should tell them all they need to know.  Your mind buzzes and flits around with possibilities of what can be done and what needs to be done during the game.  You rush frantically around from stage to stage hurriedly completing each task and then...and then there's a feeling of deep melancholy when you realize that you've finished not just the end of the stage, but the end of the game itself.  No more goo balls to rescue, no more bridges to build.  Just an end sequence to watch, and the hope that somewhere, deep in space, more goo balls are out there...

"Ending Theme"

Kyle Gabler gave the adorable little goo balls a distinctive voice, and I don't just mean that cute little squeaky one from the game.  I can't imagine World of Good would have been nearly as memorable as an experience without the fantastic soundtrack.  It's well worth downloading and deserves more praise than I can give it.

-and don't forget the Sign Painter

Monday, November 23, 2015

Satisfying or Shovelware: Dollar Madness!

Grabbing a cheap game reminds me those times I'd actually plunk money into a crane game.  You feel a few coins in the pocket as you pass one in a mall or other setting, plunk in a little bit of money into the slot, hope for a great result, and either end up doing a minor fist pump in victory...

...or you end up slamming the controls in frustration as the claw grabs air, flails about, and gives you nothing in return.

Yes, it's time once more for Satisfying or Shovelware; where I review three games hoping to pluck out hidden greatness--but some times find nothing but empty flailing as the result.  This week I'll be taking a quick look at a few games which are available for roughly $2 or less on the Wii U.  So let's see what was grabbed this week, shall we?

If you've ever played the arcade game Head On by Sega, or Crash by Exidy, you've pretty much played Don't Crash by RCMADIAX.  You take laps around an two lane oval shaped track while trying to avoid getting smacked "head on" by another driver driving in the opposing direction.  You tap the A button to change lanes, you get points for every successful lap completed, and an additional point for having narrow misses.  The sound effects are nice, and the cracking animation as you and the other car collide are cute in their own little way.  I paid roughly a $1.50 and it wasn't that bad.  I just with there was more to it.  Even Head On and Crash had multiple tracks for you to switch between and pellets to grab to complete the level.  The concept and execution are overly simple, but overall it was still a pleasant experience.  It's likely something I would put on when I have only a few minutes before having to head out somewhere and don't want to get too involved, and truthfully it feels like something I would download to my phone.  Ultimately, it would have been that much better to me if it completely cloned Head On and added the twist of points for narrow misses and successful lap completion.

Final Verdict:  Vaguely Satisfying

Every time somebody calls a Shoot'em Up a "Shmup," a butterfly dies.  That's not fantasy, that's scientific fact.  So naturally when a game developer calls a game a shoot'em up but in reality has produced a clunky mess; some adorable animal must also die.  Scientists have yet to determine what animal that is, but likely some animal that was full of life, joy, and cleverness ---because those things are the exact opposite game known as Hold Your Fire: A Game About Responsibility.  Okay, let me take a step back for a second; I didn't drop that much money on this and there were some things that I want to highlight about the game which were good.  The background music helped to set the space shooter atmosphere quite well and the sound effects were straight out of an old school Atari space shooter.  You fly through space effects which feel as vibrant and as rich as some of the best shooters.  Even the little death-splosion is well animated.  They go so far as to single out the animator of that particular effect in the credit scroll.  

And that's about where the praise ends.  

I guess I should get to the basics of the game, and they are basic.  You fly along, three ships appear, and one of them may or may not be a bad guy.  Hint:  If they are firing at all, you need to blast them to space dust.  Later levels feature asteroids which you must also blast away.  Remember that death-splosion I mentioned before?  Hope you really liked it, because you'll be seeing it a lot.  If you get hit by enemy fire, naturally you die.  But kill a non-firing ship by accident?  Hello again explosion.  Miss an asteroid?  Yup, death for you too.  Miss an enemy and let it pass off screen?  Yes, you guessed it, you die!  Seems that star command has the itchy trigger finger they didn't want you to have.  If bad guys and obstacles don't kill you, those in charge will destroy you instanteneously for your miserable failure.  This wouldn't be so bad if the game moved along at a clip or  had some flow.  Unfortunately, you just plod along.  I should also mention your hit box feels huge.  There were times I swear I dodged enemy fire or missed an object only to explode.  I give the development team points for the funny text scroll that follows the various ways you die, but even that wasn't enough to save this game from making me feel like I wasted my time and money.  And I did give it time, almost a solid hour in fact, hoping that there was some sort of mechanic or skill I would pick up which would help me enjoy the game.  No such luck.  Shame too because they clearly have a good art and music team at Alkterios Games.  Too bad the execution of this outing was so lacking.

Final Verdict:  Shovelware

I feel odd discussing a sequel to a game I've never played, but in this case I believe it's okay in the case of the fantastic action puzzle game 99 Moves.  

In this puzzle game by EnjoyUp Games you have 99 moves to reach the end of the level.  Your character moves like you're drawing with an Etch-A-Sketch, and it may sound odd, but that type of control scheme feels great here as you need to make many quick, sharp turns in order to progress in the game.  You needn't worry that your sprite is a huge block man as you only need to worry about the glowing red energy dot at the center of your block guy.  As he flies along the various corridors, avoiding assorted obstacles, you can collect icons for extra points.  These icons will also reset the status of your block guy should you bump into a wall.  What happens if you hit a wall?  Well, not only do you lose a chunk of your available moves, but the little red blip inside your block guy grows, making the narrow turns and alleyways that much more difficult to go through.  Take too many hits or run out of moves and it's game over.

I liked the graphical style choice as it had an old school feel that many try to replicate, but few do so well.  The music worked well and was satisfying to hear, but a little on the dull side so it likely won't make it to my iPod anytime soon.  Each level had an interesting layout and clever challenges that never felt cheap and always forced me to think through whether I had made the most efficient move possible.  If it turned out that I ran out of moves before reaching the end, I felt it was my fault and not the game's for some how having stupid-hard difficult.  Every puzzle has a solution after all.  

I don't want to gush further other than to say it was well worth the $1.50 sale price, and would have been worth the full price as well.  I'd definitely recommend picking this one up if you haven't already.

Final Verdict:  Highly Satisfying 

That does it for this round of Satisfying or Shovelware.  Next time you seem a load of cheap games in the downloadable game pile, don't be afraid to reach in and see if you can pluck out something awesome.  You never might have found something great to "take home."  See you next time.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday Night Rentals: Heartache in a Halfshell: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

If you were to search top five "Nintendo Hard" games list, likely this would turn up on many, if not all of them.  Developed by Konami and published by Ultra Games, this little gem has caused so much swearing among gamers that it would make Yosemite same blush.  

I love the cover of this game, as it looks less like the cartoon and a bit more like the original comic that spawned the phenomenon that was, and still is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Not that I don't still enjoy the cartoon and didn't love it back then, but it was kinda neat for some reason to see all the turtles wearing the same colored mask.  

It was and still is brutally hard.  The dam can cause you to utter its name with blasphemous undertones.  Navigating the labyrinthine levels sometimes can feel like a chore.  Raphael, far from playing the part of a bad-you-know-what like he did in the movies; has an completely useless weapon and will always be your last resort or first to die.  For all her nattering on, April supposedly giving you her support means diddly squat when the Foot Clan seems to have recruited fiery goblins from hell to murder you.  What about music and sound though?  Well, the sound of blades, bo staffs, and other weapons whipping through the air was cool.  The various effects you hear throughout the game shows off not only the particular sound design that was Konami, but shows how they were usually on point with what they were doing.  Music for this game was another matter though.  For those of us expecting to hear the classic cartoon theme, it was a let down.  Just listen:

Not exactly what you'd call the 8-bit version of the ol' "heroes in a halfshell" variety.  But it still works for the game tonally and puts you in the mood for the action.  But if you were hoping to sing along--yeah, it was disappointing.  So what has the game really got then?  Yeah, it has the turtles, but with insane difficulty, oddly laid out maps, and unevenly balanced weapons it wasn't at all what I was expecting when I rented it.  I was hoping for something that was an action-packed awesome-fest like what I saw during the cartoon.  Aside from the graphic design of the turtles making them look pretty decent; I admit I was disappointed and knew playing the game was fighting an uphill battle, only this uphill battle had machine guns firing at you as you made the climb.  I was hoping for bright colors and cool boss fights, not endless wandering around the same stupid sewers over and over again.  But...

But for all that, it's still utterly incredible.  You were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!   Beating the Foot Clan wasn't supposed to be a cake walk.  If you weren't fighting a punishing, uphill battle, then conquering the game wouldn't have felt nearly as satisfying.  Who cares if it was hard navigating the electrified seaweed on the dam level?   Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were awesome and everything about them was awesome.  I asked for this game for Christmas and got it.  And you know what?  It's still an awesome game.  I still get a smile when I hear the "overworld" theme as you wonder the streets looking for buildings or sewers to go into.  Who couldn't listen to this and get a peppy, upbeat feeling inside? :

"Overworld 1"

It might seem odd to heap such high praise on a game that easily qualifies as a "Nintendo Hard" game.  But hard doesn't mean it wasn't fun.  It just meant you were going to have to push through the problems of limited continues and high-difficulty bosses.  After all, it's what the turtles themselves would do.  How would they do it you might ask?


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Midweek Music Box: 720

Before the epic soundtrack of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, before the tunes of Skate or Die, there was...720.  

Mindscape did a decent job turning this arcade classic into a worthy home port.  The controls felt nearly as good as the arcade, the challenges were just as tough and fun, and even the famous "Skate or Die" line made it into the game.  What didn't make it though was the music.  When you listen to Arcade vs Home...side by side, there isn't much that the two have in common.  Here's the arcade version:

"720 Arcade Music"

Ahhhh...those characteristic Atari arcade twangs and beats.  They were obviously trying to imitate the rockin' and bodacious attitude of those crazy kids and there funky skateboards.  But Atari didn't want you to get too into the tunes and forget safety first.  Not only does the guy wear a helmet, but you're also cautioned not to try any of the stunts you're about to see depicted in the game.  I guess they thought kids would want to try out some radical moves back home on their own skateboards.  I'm pretty sure I never wanted to mimic the multiple face-plants I put my character through whenever I played.  One thing that obviously wasn't mimicked at all was the soundtrack.  Check out the home version of the 720 NES soundtrack:

"720 NES Soundtrack"

Yup, no awesome tunes for you.  Just a simple whistle-type sound and maybe a few beats if your lucky.  It was safe to say that when 720 made it's way to the NES in 1989, Atari decided to give the ol' sound card a rest.  I knew it was unlikely I would get to hear the same level of music quality from the arcade, but I was admittedly disappointed the modulated voice yelling "Skate or Die" didn't make it to the home port.  I really enjoyed that as it not only added a fun bit of tension, but it let me know it was time to get my "A" game on and bust out some sweet moves....

Yeah, I was never that good at 720, but I did enjoy the game.  Just the music...the music was a little lacking and flat.  For an 8-bit chip tune, there are times that the sounds remind me of something I'd hear on the Atari 800.  As I said in my Elevator Action review though, it doesn't always take a full soundtrack to trigger great memories.  I enjoyed the heck out of this game as a kid, and it really was like playing the arcade at home.  It may not have had the some " 'tude" music of the arcade, but that didn't really matter.  If I heard that music playing in the other room while I was working on homework, I knew it meant my older brother had popped in 720 and was doing digital kick-flips so I needed to rush my homework so I could go play too.  

Not every soundtrack needs to be a winner or be iPod-worthy in order to trigger some great memories.  Not that I think the music was terrible, but yeah...not exactly up there in the leagues of Super Mario Bros or The Legend of Zelda.  Still, whenever I hear it, I know it's time to grab a board and skate or die because those killer bees are coming and I'm just a few spin tricks away from my next park ticket...

Monday, November 9, 2015

Bustin' Makes You Feel Good:Extreme Exorcism Review

Take one haunted mansion and one group of plucky ghost exterminators and a set of ghost-bustin' weapons and you've got a recipe for adventure.  Be careful where you shoot and jump though because every move and trigger pull can and will come back to haunt you.  Whether it's your own ghost from the previous round or just some happy haunts the decided to join in the fun the spirits of Extreme Exorcism are on a mission to add you to their ghostly ranks.  So does bustin' make you feel good, or does the haunting get too hectic?


Even for a game where you eliminate ghosts, the controls can get a bit "floaty" at times.  (Hooray for puns)  There were ledge jumps where I swear I made but would slid off.  Other than that the control is pretty solid.  I do like how the mechanics of jumping are similar to Super Mario in that you can control the direction of where you go when you jump or fall, but yeah...sometimes it feels a little off.  When the action really heats up and you have dozens of sprites on the screen it can get a little frustrating trying to blast a boo and miss because your character didn't move quite right.

Music and Sound

Extreme Exorcism has a fast-paced, but upbeat "dark" tone to the music.  The piano, drum and cymbal beats of the main screen have a haunted house feel that perfectly suits the game.  The stage music is also really well done as not only does it present a fun, rhythmic soundtrack with plenty of exciting keyboard pounding, but there's also a distinctly digital sound to the bass line and it 'really reminds me of something I might hear from a 90's arcade cabinet.  Check out this tune called "Music for Ghosts to Rock to" and I think you'll see what I mean by that distinctly 90's arcade sound.

"Music for Ghosts to Rock to"

The sounds from the game are similarly styled, never feeling out of place or too tinny, but rather like they were from a game you might find in the back corner of a local of your local arcade.  I really enjoy the style of music and sound as a it doesn't just reflect the theme of the game, but really helps add to the action on an enjoyable and visceral level.

Graphic and Style

Emulating a pseudo-8-bit era look just feels wrong for the game in my opinion.  Not that the little sprites running around the screen aren't appropriately cute and not that the animations are poor, just that I'm a little too reminded of the mobile game Tiny Tower.  Given the quality of music I wish they'd done a slight graphical upgrade or put a touch more detail into the sprites.  It wouldn't have to get too fancy, I just wish it had a little more uniqueness to it, and something that felt 90's-ish.  It probably sounds like I'm stuck in 90's mode at this point, but at this point I feel like too many companies are trying a little too hard to make a game have a "retro" feel and as a result end up with unimaginative character graphics that look all the same.  Note that I'm not saying design.  The ghosts are cute and I like the little attacking chairs and all, but I were a little varied looking.  Maybe it's just me, but everything looks like Tiny Town lately when it's pretending to look retro.  Tiny Town looks aside, the animations are fun and really work for the tone of the game.  Each different room has some nifty little background animation, like flickering candles and moving books.


The game is set in a haunted mansion in one of several single-screen play fields like a library, a conservatory, and other places that will strongly remind you of Clue. You choose between four different characters, all of whom play the same, but have their own unique character design.  All characters can hold up to three weapons at a time.

Each round starts with you destroying a haunted chair with one of the weapons that materialize on one of the several pads around the room.  The next round, a ghost appears and mimics your movements from the prior round;  including all the shots, knife throws, and sword swipes you took the previous round--then things start to get insane.  With each progressing level, more ghosts appear on screen, as well as more weapons.  The ghosts themselves can't hurt you, but the weapons will end you in a second and you have only three lives before it's completely Game Over.  The hybrid of puzzle and action blends well as you attempt to plot out your next run through in order to avoid previous shots and swipes.  Your first instinct might be to pepper an area with gunfire, but if you do you're likely to run into the "ghost" of those shots next round.  You can end the round quickly though by destroying the crown-wearing "king" ghost, who mimics the oldest set of moves you have on screen.  You can also take the insanity down a notch by grabbing the exorcism wings which allows you to permanently banish some of the ghosts from the play area.  Things can quickly descend into madness and the game has an enjoyably hectic pace.  However, it's sometimes easy to lose your character in all the confusion.  Especially as some of the characters have the same greenish glow as the ghosts.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed the fast pace of the game and the quick respawn into action.  If this were an arcade game I could easily see myself unloading a couple of bucks in quarters into this thing.  You can rack up points to open up more areas and more weapons fairly easily, and with all the challenges and modes; the game offers plenty to do.  I really wish that it offered more stylistically, but that's my only major complaint.  It was fun to unlock a new weapon to defeat ghosts, and I found myself enjoying trying to strategize where I would go and how much I would or wouldn't move.  If you like your action platformers with a little bit of a puzzle twist, then this game is for you.  If you haven't already downloaded this game for the Wii U or are a little thrown off by the price, it's well worth the full price or should be grabbed the next time it goes on sale.

My Take On That

Graphics: 7/10
Style:  7/10
Music:  10/10
Sound: 8/10
Control: 7/10
Gameplay:  8/10

Overall Score:  8/10

Friday, November 6, 2015

Friday Night Rentals: Ironsword: Wizards and Warriors

Absolutely Fabio-los

With a swish and flick, your foes fall before you, unable to withstand your might.  And no, it's not your fabulous hair that you're flicking, and the "might" you display has nothing to with the hulking hunk who infamously adorns the cover of this classic game.  You are Fabio!--er, KUROS!  The greatest warrior in the kingdom and vanquisher of the evil wizard Malkil!  (Gotta love those retro villain names.  Just mash malice and kill together and POOF!  You've named your bad guy.) 

I suspect I must have overheard my mom mention his name before, or seen him on TV or something, because even back when I was a kid I knew who Fabio was, and I was left wondering why the bodice-ripper beefcake was on one of my beloved NES games.  Go back to the so-called "Romance" section of the local bookstore yah weirdo and stay away from my game cover!  

Regardless of who was on the cover though, I always found the original Wizards and Warriors a fun challenge.  So when I found the sequel, Ironsword, sitting on the shelf of the video rental store, I knew I had to try it out.  Even if it meant that I had to hand a game to my mom that looked for all the world like something from the cover of what I considered the "girls section" of the book store.

I vaguely remember that I found the game hard, even harder than the original as a matter of fact.  But I was a kid who was worried that he might actually find himself playing through some weird romance novel too.  So when I picked up Ironsword at a swap this past year, I figured my remembrances of a game with frustrating difficulty were as silly as my concerns that I was going to play as a pixelated male super model.

Turns out a game where I played as Fabio might have been less frustrating.  How did my nostalgia stack up against modern me playing?


"Title Theme"

Even if Fabio seemed out of place, the game music seemed spot on.  Ironsword's music still has the same charm of the original.  The tunes convey adventure, a sense of eeriness when needed, and a fast pace when you battle Malkil in one of his elemental forms.  However, I really miss the quick-tempo music that plays when you start to get too low on health.  Sometimes games suffer from an annoying, persistent beep when  you are low on health.  Other times, the music changes pace or tone to let you know that you are at death's door.  I really appreciated how in the first game you got this fast-past music when you had one, maybe two hit points left.  In Ironsword no such tempo change takes place.  As such I was surprised a couple of times by dying thanks to not hearing the sound cues."

Aside from that, the music did the job and did it well.  I'm not sure if they will ever find their way onto my iPod's video game music play list, but nevertheless, they were enjoyable tunes.


You battle your way across various landscapes themed along with the elemental form Malkil has taken.  From clouds, to fiery pits, to water and earth; Fabio, I mean Kuros, has an epic quest ahead before he can engage in the final battle.

Good ol' Fabi--I mean Kuros still controls as well as ever.  In fact, it's even easier now to swish the sword around and prepare to stab any manner of vile creature that tries to stop you on your quest against the evil wizard Malkil.  However, it still feels like the sword has almost no reach, and I was never a fan of how enemies above you seemed able to knock you down and drain energy with ease, while you had no idea whether or not you scored a hit.

An added improvement is the shop that appears in the first portion of each level. You can buy health, or a special spell to help battle the baddies.  If you wanted, you could even play a pachinko-like game of chance with the opportunity to gamble some of your hard earned gems for more moolah.  With more money, you could get a spell more easily or fill you health.  But even if you do choose to fill your health, it almost feels like a waste of time as you could drain to less than half a life bar as soon as you step out of the shop.  Not to mention that several of the enemies drop what looks for all the world like what you'd expect from a health power up--BUT NO!  Most of those drops are actually little nuggets of life-draining death-bird!  I don't know who thought up that one, but it seemed insane. 

Graphics and Style


Those eyes looked goofy to me as a kid, and they look even goofier now.  Why did I have to go hunting for Kuros' helmet anyway?  Why was it locked away in a trunk?  Did Malkil sneak in and steal it away?  Couldn't Kuros have simply picked up another one?  Why doesn't the shopkeeper have a spare lying around that Kuros could use?  

Whatever the reason, you start off each level with a slightly bug-eyed look that makes it seem like Kuros' armor must be squeezing his head too tightly.  I swear if those saucers he calls eye balls were any bigger they pop out on the floor.  Anywho, once you find the helmet and mercifully hide your head, Kuros looks like he's back to his old, knightly self.  The character design still seems solid, and the various enemies and animations are fairly well done.  At first the brightness of some of the colors seemed a bit weird to me.  Wasn't this an adventure game with knights in shining armor and evil wizards that needed defeating?  Well, I'm glad that the style has grown on me over the years, because I remember not liking it as a kid.  Even the screen-filling boss battle, though looking a little on the cartoony side, are well animated and have a nice style to them which I like seeing..  I still like the fact that you twitch about before finally dying.  Even if you have to lose (and by-golly do you have to lose, like, a lot) it's funny to see your guy flail.  I hope that doesn't sound too morbid, just that I appreciate the effort taken to make his death seem different then him just falling to the ground.

Final Thoughts

I had to look it up, and from what I can find online, the only reason Fabio graced the cover of this game was because Acclaim was looking for a well known guy to model as Kuros, and Fabio's agency put his name in for the job.  Another interesting tid-bit that I found was that Fabio was up against none other that Hulk Hogan for the job!  Kinda funny that.  I can only imagine what that would have looked like, and given how things have played out for the Hulkster of late, I'm kinda glad that Fabio made the cover.  (Which I never thought I would find myself saying.).

Fabio-focus aside, as much as I liked the game, I never could get anywhere in it.  I would barely make it to the boss battle in the first stage, and I think I may have gotten to the second level once or twice.  Even if I hadn't worried that I looked like I was asking to rent a playable romance novel I probably would never have rented this a second or third time due to it's difficulty.  As I've mentioned several times before, most times I rented a game for the weekend it was in the hopes I could finish the game off.  Despite a password system and familiar gameplay, I didn't ever plan on renting Ironsword beyond once or twice.  Now that I own the game as an adult; I can't be too sure I'll pop it in my NES ever again.

Unless a Game Genie is involved that is.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Midweek Music Box: Top 5 Pause Sound Effects

Time for a break from the normal routine.  A brief "pause" if you will.  Normally I like talking straight up music.  I love all aspects of video game music both retro and new.  From the oddly modulated bass of Super Nintendo games to the occasionally tinny music of the Sega Genesis to more modern full-bodied orchestral soundtracks you get from games like Skyrim and Super Mario Galaxy; nearly all of them have something great to offer. 

But what happens when you have to stop playing for a bit and don't want to turn the game off?  Or more likely, if you were playing back in the day and couldn't turn the game off because you'd lose all of your progress?  Enter the pause button.  Usually you would trigger it by hitting the start button and a little sound effect would issue forth to let you know that yes, you could safely leave Mario sitting there when you ran off to have dinner while the Goombas were frozen in place.  Or maybe Dr. Wiley's Castle was proving just a little too taxing and you needed to stop and do homework.  Whatever your reason for stopping, sometimes it had to happen.  While these may not be musical notes, they were welcomed sounds by gamers everywhere when it came time to run to the bathroom.  Here are my Top 5 Favorite Pause Sound Effects.

#5:  Mega Man

It's not a "pause trick!"  I'm just...uh, clever, yeah.

Whether battling a robot master or trying to exploit the infamous "pause trick," I must have heard Mega Man's pause sound over a thousand times--no joke.  Between the constant weapon switching and using energy tanks in later sequels, I think I easily spent half the time I played any given entry in the franchise hitting the start button and fiddling around on the menu while the game was paused.  Funny enough though, it never felt like the game-flow was too interrupted by this constant jamming on the start button.  Changing from the regular pea-shooter to something like the near unbeatable saw blades from Metal Man was a quick and user friendly experience.  I think the only real problem came when I would pause a Mega Man game for dinner and come back a few hours later only to have forgotten what weapon I should be equipping.

#4: Sonic the Hedgehog

What? Why would you pause a runner?

Sometimes you gotta go fast! ...And other times you gotta go slow.  Like so slow that you have to out and out stop going so darned fast!  Stopping for any reason though while playing a Sonic game probably seems like heresy.  Despite the speedy nature of the game, sometimes you'd have to bring things to a halt.  It was hard enough pulling away from a Sonic game thanks to the feeling it gave you of being constantly in motion.  But knowing that you had to make the world's fastest hedgehog come to a complete standstill felt like I was doing something boarding on criminal.  Still, hearing those familiar chimes let me know that even if I felt a little dirty for freezing the little blue fuzz ball he'd be waiting to zip away as soon as I got back.

#3: Battletoads

Never beat the game.  Never got past the Turbo Tunnel.  Never stopped renting it.  Why?  Well, even though I was fairly certain that all of my attempts to get anywhere in this infamously hard TMNT knockoff would end in failure I could be sure of one thing:  The Pause music was awesome.  In fact, I think Battletoads is a classic example of what I call the "War Games" syndrome.  The only way to win is not to play the game.  But dang, that was some awesome pause music...

Yes, that's a 10 hour loop of the music that I linked to above.  Yes, I know that rather than a chime or ding sound like several of the other sounds on this list this is straight up music; but for me this was a new thing.  I was so used to a click, a bleep, a bloop, or some other sound effect that let me know the game I was playing was paused.  Not so with Battletoads.  You hit start on the controller and instantly cue the boom box and scratches and clap effects.  There was no wonderig or worrying that you might not have hit the pause button.  So long as the "hip beats" were flowing, you knew that your game was safely stopped until you came back to it so you could lose as quickly as possible at your own convenience.

#2: Super Mario Bros.

"Pause Sound"

Too many times, my runs on the later levels of the original Super Mario Bros. would look like this:

This probably won't end well...

Confession time.  I would leave my Nintendo on overnight at times.  I hated getting all the way to World 8-4 and then have to call it a night.  I would sometimes hide the little red power button with a piece of paper or something so my folks wouldn't' see that I had left the Nintendo on.  After all, getting all the way to Bowser--the real Bowser--was ridiculously hard.  What am I saying "was" for?  It's still ridiculously hard getting to the real Bowser!  

Not only was I constantly pausing the original Super Mario Bros. for bathroom breaks, meal breaks, and homework breaks; I was pausing it for, "Holy cow, I need to beat this game but am too tired to finish this tonight and need to come back to it tomorrow" breaks.  

But then there were those other times I paused the game...

Those times of denial.

I don't know if there's a way to flood your whole body more quickly with unfiltered rage-quit feelings than missing a platform jump or slamming into a fire rope in Super Mario Bros.  Often times I would pause the game, searching the screen to see where I went wrong,  or what cheap thing had killed me.  Other times I would pause it just to see if Mario didn't really just die.  I was in utter denial of the fact that I had just lost a life.  Somehow pausing the game was my one last desperate act of hope, hope that I hadn't just screwed up and would now need to start all the way back at World 8-1.

No such luck ever happened.

#1:  The Konami Pause

THE pause sound

You know the sound.  You've heard it before.  In everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Blades of Steel and seemingly countless others.  This was one of the first sounds that I ever recognized as having been used in multiple games.  I remember listening for it when I was a kid and feeling a bit of goofy delight in knowing that I had heard the same sound in not just one other game, but in multiple games spanning totally different genres.  Even as a kid I recognized it as a hallmark of quality.  As if simply by virtue of the fact that team at Konami were using familiar sounds they had a mythical leg up on the competition.  It didn't make a lick of sense back then and it doesn't now.  Why should a recycled sound show anything other than a company that was too cheap to make something new for each game?

Because for me it was like the Nintendo Seal of Quality.  I took it as branding that knew it kicked all sorts of butt. Like saying, "Yeah, we put that sound in there because we knew you'd want to hear it!  That's right!  We're Konami!  We're kick butt!  We made Contra!  That sound is our little love letter to you.  Like it?  Just hit start and you can relive the magic!"  Back in 80's Konami was a game-making juggernaut that knew how to churn out beloved hits that would stand the test of time.  Not only was the gameplay tight, the controls intuitive, and music great, but Konami did a great job using old assets in a way that didn't feel forced, but rather welcoming. 

Man I miss old school Konami.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Lego my Dinosaur Eggo: Lego Jurassic World (Wii U) Review


Never in his wildest dreams could John Hammond have imagined such a thing was possible.  A world not just of living, breathing dinosaurs, but of LEGO dinosaurs!

Welcome to Lego Jurassic World!

*Cue inspiring John Williams music*

"Jurassic Park Theme"

Ah yes, truly a movie for the ages, filled with moments of intense awe and boundless wonder....  

Not to mention kick-butt action and dinos gobbling guests like they were so much snack food.  Naturally a franchise that was box office gold and spawned multiple sequels was going to the video game treatment, and thankfully for us we are far enough forward in the timeline so LJN no longer poses a threat.  Not that we haven't seen our share of lackluster movie tie-ins for the Jurassic films, but that in my opinion they never felt like they were scraping the bottom of the barrel.  So when Jurassic World came out in summer of 2015 and made box office billions, it was only natural we'd see a video game made from it to further cash in on the popularity.

What game did we get from the Jurassic juggernaut? 

Que Lego Jurassic World, another entry from the gang at TT Games that has brought you every other Lego-themed game that's come out over the past decade.  Not that this is a criticism mind you, just that they've put out these games for a while now.  So how does this particular entry rate?


As always, the control scheme for the Lego games remains easy to adapt to and a joy to use.  Admittedly, I was a little lost at first on how to control my character, but that's entirely my fault as roughly a year, possibly more, has passed since the last time I played a Lego video game.  This wasn't really a problem though because familiarizing myself with the style of control was a quick refresher and soon I was smashing every object in site in my quest to collect every possible Lego bit I could get my little, yellow claw hands on. 

Graphics and Style

 I still remember when I played the very first Lego game, Lego Star Wars, and was thoroughly impressed with how much the blocks mimicked the real deal.  10 years on and I can say it looks just as good, and even better than ever.  Funny how in other games having a character that looks a bit on the plasticy side would be considered a detriment.  Here though, TT Games shows they've really perfected their craft over time.  The greater hardware power has allowed TT Games to make the Lego blocks seem ever more like the blocks I frequently find strewn about the floor of my home.  Thankfully I usually have bare feet and can find those almost as quickly as I find hidden blocks in the game.

As far as style goes, just like the various other installments in the Lego video game franchise, you find yourself exploring a cutesy-fied Lego version of the various Jurassic Park movies.  Everything not only looks like Lego blocks, but the programmers got really creative in the ways that objects around the game are built.  It's just like seeing what you would do in real life if you had a set of Legos that you were using to build a Jurassic World Lego set.

Music and Sound

You can't go wrong with a classic John Williams soundtrack, and the theme music from Jurassic Park is about as iconic as they come.  The world might be made of Legos, but they don't pull any punches and those tunes are great to hear whatever the back drop.  I don't feel the need to include a music clip here as most of you should already own the original Jurassic Park soundtrack and if you don't, shame on you!  Stop missing out and grab a copy or download it today.  Seriously!  This music is just awesome.  Anywho--

Making a return to the Lego video game franchise are those familiar clacking and clicking sounds as you build, or destroy, various Lego creations throughout the game.  There's something cathartic about the building noises and I absolutely love hearing them every time I play.  However, I will say that I'm not a huge fan of how they sample actual movie audio for the game.  The first Lego games had a "Sims-like" speech and made funny noises rather than talk, and I liked the goofy charm that it added to the game.  Some how it just doesn't feel as cute with the actual dialogue there.  Speaking of speaking, so to speak, I'm not a big fan of how random NPC Lego people have "funny" dialogue they sometimes babble.  The humor is really hit or miss and it just seems to lack the charm of the goofy "Lego-speak" from the original PS2 and Wii games.  While I appreciate the designers trying something new, it just feels unnecessary.


By now the premise feels as welcome and familiar as a favorite t-shirt, or in this case movie.  It's still as fun as ever to control your little Lego characters and act out the movie in Lego form while completing various building (and destroying) tasks.  I like that they don't just drop you off at the beginning of the action from Jurassic World, but instead they have you play through the original Jurassic Park story from the very first moment on that dark and stormy night when raptors were transferred to their cages--to the those final moments of Jurassic World which...

 I won't spoil if you haven't seen the movie yet.

You manipulate various Lego-style characters, taking advantage of their individual abilities to overcome obstacles and, as you progress in the game, revisit certain areas with new characters you've unlocked which will allow you to explore previously unreachable areas.  It's fun and easy to switch between various characters and see how they react to various situations in their little Lego world.

It's like taking playing pretend to a whole other level.

Final Thoughts

One might think the Lego games would have overstayed their welcome at this point.  From Lego Indiana Jones, to Lego Harry Potter, to Lego Hobbit, to...well--it seems like if it was a family-friendly major movie blockbuster, it had a Lego game made of it.  I look forward to playing Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens when it comes out as well!  

Although you could probably make the case that every Lego game is essentially the same game only with a different skin--it still feels fun and fresh every time.  Admittedly, there are some changes that have come along that I'm not overly found of.  The voice acting is okay, but the dialogue just gets a little annoying at times.  Sometimes the cameras aren't placed as effectively as they could be, which sometimes leads to "found" set of Lego nibs you didn't know were there and that makes you want to run into corner walls just to sure you didn't miss anything.

Overall, if you loved the previous Lego games, you'll love this one too and should pick it up.  True, it's more of the same.--but dang it, if sports fans can get over a dozen Madden games I should be able to get my goofy Lego game a few times over, right?

My Take On That

Graphics/Style  10/10
Music and Sound 8/10
Control and Gameplay  9/10

Overall Score: 9/10