Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Console Wars

So this post isn't about games, it's about the hardware I use to play said games. Because having a bunch of cartridges is meaningless if they're just stacked around like coasters.

The Tried and True Original

So yes, I do actually have a Nintendo Entertainment System. In fact it's the same NES my parents bought me for Christmas when I was 5. So it's over 20 years old and still going strong. Now granted I was an only child and really easy on my system but I'm still operating off the same controllers and same 72 pin connector.

There is nothing that can quite replicate the feel of those original controllers. Even the crinkling sound the cords make when you wind them up brings back a wave of nostalgia. There's a sturdyness to them which is reassuring considering I've been stuck on the same level of Lolo 2 for about a month now. The wall has sustained some damage, the controllers are still going strong.

The Portable Assistant

So sometimes I want to play Super Mario 3 while waiting in line at the grocery store. Or maybe the tv is in use but I have to, have to, beat this level of Adventure Island right now. That's where the FC Mobile II comes in. So if you've never heard of this, it's basically a portable system that plays NES cartridges. It has a little screen with a D-pad, A/B buttons and rapid fire buttons. It also can plug into the tv and operate as a NES console. It has two wireless controllers and a wireless zapper gun so you can go to a friends house and play original Nintendo without lugging your system around.

I don't usually use the TV adapter/wireless controller mostly because I found that the controls weren't very sensitive. To be fair, that might have to do with the distance between my couch and the TV, therefore the controllers might be out of range of the FC Mobile system. I really like this thing even though it chews through batteries. I mostly use it at home while lying in bed so I can just have it plugged into the wall. Also there's a couple of games that are actually easier on a screen this small. For some reason I find it easier to play Tetris and Dr. Mario style games on a small screen 3 inches from my face while yelling obscenities.

The Stand-In

What about the games that were only released for the Famicon? Or really rare hard to find things? Or things so awful I don't actually want to purchase them? Well then there's emulators. The one that I use is called NESoid and it's for my phone. (A Samsung Captivate). I like this one because the ROM search feature is built in and I can get Japanese-release only games. It's also handy because it takes screenshots and offers save states.

For those not in the know save states are the ability to save at any point in the game and load from that point. Which is really helpful if you want to play something like Rygar but don't want to burn your NES out by leaving it on for 90 hours straight. I like that it's right on my phone so it's always with me, but honestly there's nothing like holding a controller in your hands. There's tactile feedback of the buttons and D-pad but since it's a smooth touch screen you can't slide your thumbs around to find the buttons.

If given a choice I'd play everything on the original NES. But it's good to have some options. Especially when the urge to play Darkman strikes suddenly while waiting for dinner or mid-cleaning the kitchen.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Tiles of Fate

Game: Tiles of Fate
Publisher: American Video Entertainment Inc.
Release Date: 1990
Platform: NES

So one day a company decided that they should make a game. And this game would be a game everyone knew and loved so this company would make millions of dollars and retire to Tahiti. What game is more well loved by people wanting to kill time? Soli – I mean Mahjong. Then this company went, you know what Mahjong REALLY needs? Canons. Also you know what people love nowadays? Ridiculous magic based move systems. Oh wait, and explosions.

Clearly this is Mahjong as Michael Bay intended.

So the basic premise is clear: it's Mahjong. But you are also conquering Chinese dynasties as you progress through the stages. Because I suppose throwing in a random history lesson means parents were okay letting their children play this for hours on end. So here's the plot: you control the forces of symmetry. That's right. Symmetry. But symmetry is a fickle magic power and can only move in 90 degree angles for reasons which us mere mortals can never understand. And how does symmetry make the tiles disappear? Well with a fireball naturally. One tile will shoot a fireball at the next tile and they will vanish in a small but exquisite 8-bit explosion. In addition to controlling symmetry you can collect magic upgrades which will allow you to stop the timer, destroy bricks in the way of your perfect 90 degree angle world and cast a spell which will make the next available move for you. I beat the entire game without ever using them because I don't have the manual and couldn't figure out how to access them, and as it turns out it's not necessary.

There's a level editor where you can create and play your own level that's pretty fun. Though it turns out I like making them utterly impossible to solve.

Final Score:

4 bits out of 8
As a game it's pretty meh. It's Mahjong, which is significantly easier to play with a mouse rather than with a d-pad. I have better time killing options than this particular game. But it's not awful and if you have a serious hankering for exploding chinese tiles with the power of symmetry, than this is your game.

The Story So Far:

Tiles of Fate: Completed 12/3/2010
Binary Land: Currently on Level 5
Tetris: Currently on Level 19
Dr. Mario: Currently on Level 21

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Binary Land

Game: Binary Land
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Release Date: 1983
Platform: Famicom

My first foray into my challenge is Binary Land. Don't let the name fool you, it doesn't involve computers, numbers, faceless slender entities, or math. It's actually the touching tale of two penguins in love who have to free caged hearts held hostage by evil spiders.

The premise and design of this is actually pretty intriguing. You have two penguins, a pink one and a blue one, and have to guide them both through various mazes to free a heart and achieve true love. The twist is you control them both, at the same time. Each penguin begins on the opposite side of the screen with spiders, webs, rocks and walls between them. You control both penguins at once, you can be either pink or blue (depending on if you want your main character to be left or right, respectively) and the other penguin is mirrored. So if your blue penguin is speedily heading right to get to the heart, the pink penguin is speedily heading left, into a spider, or a web, or a wall.

It's frustrating but fulfilling. It's great as far as puzzlers go, but it's a bit mind numbing to think in reverse when you're trying to get your opposite penguin to shoot down a spider. You're armed with a freeze gun (though I don't have the manual so it could be pepper, a yo-yo or a whip for all I can tell) and can shoot down the sticky webs and the spiders. The game actually wouldn't be all that difficult if there wasn't also a time limit. Another challenge is that the penguins need to get to the hearts at exactly the same time. And it takes a lot of maneuvering to get them to do this.

All in all I'm on stage 5 and I'm pretty sure I'll keep on going with this one. My brain might be fried by the end of this, but at least I can say I helped two penguins achieve true love. Can any of you say the same?

Time to get RetroGraded

So recently I embarked on a quest to finally beat all those old NES games I never finished as a child. I didn't have a very long attention span and the only game out of the 50 or so I own that I actually remember beating is Adventure Island.

I figured with age came experience. I've played enough Geometry Wars that my hand eye coordination should be amazing right? After spending a frustrating few days with Dr. Mario, Burger Time and Doki Doki Panic (my three favorites as a kid) I realized that this wasn't the case. I actually think I've somehow gotten worse.

Since I made this pact with myself I've started about 10 games, but haven't finished any of them. Well the time has come to rectify this. Time to grab the Dr. Pepper, put on my Power Glove, and beat these suckers.

It's time to achieve glory. 8-bit style.