3DS: Take Two

September 15, 2014 Leave a comment

I’ve been getting reacquainted with the Nintendo 3DS over the past few days. I’ve had one here that I’ve held onto for awhile; I got a good deal on it at Best Buy about a year ago and pulled the trigger, but really didn’t use it much… until this past weekend.

The reasons for this renewed interest are twofold:

First, I heard about the Super Smash Bros. demo, which had early access codes released last on September 12th. Thanks to a friend on Twitter, I got one of the codes and decided to fire up the 3DS to download it and check the game out. It didn’t disappoint. The cel-shaded character designs struck me as odd initially, but the game performed really well and it had all of the key things that made the previous Smash Bros. games so interesting to me– classic characters, easy to learn but difficult to master mechanics, great sound and music, and performance on handheld hardware that I honestly did not expect. I’m not very good at Smash Bros. games, honestly, but I appreciate them because there’s so much history included that spans decades of Nintendo games… and some non-Nintendo games, as well. (For the record, I’m terrible at the demo, too… except with Mario. I do okay with him.)

The other reason is that quite a few fellow college students seem to have 3DS hardware, and watching them get into games in the cafeteria or get a quick few minutes in before class energized my own interest. I think that it will be nice getting to campus this week and passing the time before my first class playing 3DS (and DS) games, as opposed to the generally mindless web surfing that I usually do at that hour. It might stimulate my brain a bit before class, too… or, at least, that sure sounds like a nice theory. Doing some StreetPassing will be a nice bonus, too; I have a ton of puzzle pieces to get.

I’m starting from scratch for a 3DS library, though. I didn’t have any 3DS games– and only a handful of DS games– to start with, though I managed to grab a couple of cheap games over the weekend:

  • Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy: I was psyched to find this for $6 and snagged it. It’s basically a remake of Ace Combat 2 (released for the PlayStation back in 1997), but it implements some unique concepts, including Attack Maneuvers (for offense) and Evasive Maneuvers (for avoiding incoming missiles). It also has a revamped story that ties in better with Ace Combat 5 and Ace Combat Zero. I’m only a handful of missions in, but I’m already loving this game.
  • Ridge Racer 3D: I had this back when I had the 3DS back in 2011, and it’s great to have it back for just $5. It’s basically Ridge Racer IP fan service… which is fine with me. Tracks from multiple games in the series are here, as well as a great collection of music to choose from and some pretty neat 3D effects. It’s great to play this in bursts, rather than in a marathon fashion; the game has plenty of stuff to unlock and seems to have a very fair difficulty progression.

Money is tight, of course, so I don’t know when I’ll be adding games to my library. That said, I’m glad that I’m finally using the 3DS and I think it’s going to be one of my go-to gaming experiences going back and forth to campus for classes.

If you want to be my 3DS friend, my friend code is 5215-0177-7999.

Look for more detailed impressions of both Ridge Racer 3D and Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy in the coming days.

Consoleation Time Machine: Mortal Kombat Thoughts

September 10, 2014 Leave a comment

When I talked about notable September 9th releases yesterday, I totally forgot to mention the 20th anniversary of the Mortal Kombat II port for consoles. I thought I’d write a little about it now, before Shao Kahn finds out and kicks my butt.

For starters, I should make it clear that I’m a Street Fighter guy. Back in the early 1990s, people who played fighting games were in one of two camps: you were either a Street Fighter person or a Mortal Kombat person. That’s not to say that people didn’t like both series, but more often than not, players were generally either better at or more loyal to a certain series. I had practiced my fireball (Hadouken) and Dragon Punch (Shoryuken) controller sequences thousands of times, plus I was used to not having a block button. Mortal Kombat was different enough that I had problems adjusting to the core gameplay… in fact, I still struggle a bit with Mortal Kombat games today, because my fighting game education revolved around Capcom’s systems and not Midway’s.

That said, I still bought Mortal Kombat for my Super Nintendo back in 1993. (Yes, despite the censorship.) I wasn’t great at it, but the digitized graphics always caught my attention and it was always a challenge to pull off fatalities… even the easier ones, like Scorpion’s. I have Mortal Kombat for SNES in my library now, and it’s pretty neat to go back to it every now and then.

The first time that I saw a Mortal Kombat II machine was actually at a bowling alley in Auburn, MA. It had just been added, apparently, because the crowds were a half-dozen deep to play and the volume was set at maximum. I peered between people to see what the commotion was about, and the game was a pretty big expansion on the original. Reptile was playable from the get-go? Whoa. The new stages were interesting to look at. What is the creepy thing with knives for hands? Raiden has multiple fatalities?

My mind was blown… but I still stunk at the game. I didn’t play it very much, but I did watch. In fact, watching Mortal Kombat and/or Mortal Kombat II matches was interesting because of how brutally they could end… as long as the winner knew the special stick/button combination to bring about fatalities. These games were really the first ones that I had more interest in observing than playing. I’m sure I could have improved my skills, had I paid more attention to each player’s actions, but again: I was a Street Fighter guy. I was fine with being Ken or Sagat and playing my game, staying in my comfort zone.

Despite my Street Fighter allegiance, I bought Mortal Kombat II for the SNES without hesitation back in 1994. With the censorship from Mortal Kombat SNES gone, I felt confident that I was going to get an experience at home that was very close to arcade quality… and I sure did. I scoured magazines to get fatalities and special move lists so that I could get an edge against the CPU– or against my then-girlfriend’s brother, who always dispatched me with extreme prejudice on Mortal Kombat SNES. Admittedly, it was very cool to play a port that (to me, anyway) felt close enough to the coin-op original that I no longer needed to pump in tokens or quarters… plus, like I did with Street Fighter II, playing the console version helped me to play the arcade games a bit better.

I played Mortal Kombat II for many hours, and, honestly, it was– and still is– my favorite game in the series. It was more meaty (pardon the pun) than Mortal Kombat was, while not adding too much complexity. Mortal Kombat 3 lost me with the Run button, which was just another piece to the intricate play control puzzle that I had already found very difficult to solve. I liked Mortal Kombat 4, though; in fact, the PlayStation version was one of the first games that I bought with my initial paycheck from FuncoLand back in 1998… along with NFL Blitz. The PlayStation 2 (non-arcade) Mortal Kombat games were decent enough, and it’s probably no surprise to confess that Shaolin Monks is my favorite of these. I unfortunately struggled with the PS3/360 Mortal Kombat game, but I will admit that it sure looked and sounded great; in fact, I enjoy watching these battles on YouTube– not terribly dissimilar to watching others play Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II in arcades 20 years ago.

The Mortal Kombat series still has a lot of fans today, and rightfully so. Despite my personal lack of ability, I still think the games are great; they’re shocking at times, they have interesting characters, settings, and stories, and they’re not afraid to insert a bit of humor from time to time… so as not to take themselves too seriously.

I may always be a Street Fighter guy, but I will always respect what Mortal Kombat has brought to the fighting game arena. If we ever get a Street Fighter Versus Mortal Kombat crossover, I’m totally in… but until then, I think it’s best to wrap up with this:

Consoleation Time Machine: One Date, Two Great Consoles

September 9, 2014 Leave a comment

Today, September 9th, marks a couple of key release anniversaries for me.

The first one honors the PlayStation, which was launched at retail back on September 9th, 1995. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 19 years. The PlayStation was the first console that I ever preordered. I traded in quite a few games (and a couple of consoles, including the 3DO) and paid down my remaining balance weekly over July and August so that I could simply walk into Electronics Boutique in the Holyoke Mall and pick up my system. I skipped lunches and saved what money I could to afford to buy Ridge Racer and NBA Jam: Tournament Edition for my first two games, along with a memory card to save progress.

Unfortunately, my launch experience with the PlayStation wasn’t exactly smooth. Unbeknownst to me, the television set that I was using was had compatibility problems with the console, so I had a continually bouncing picture. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time… so I made a return trip to Electronics Boutique to get a new system (because I thought mine was defective) and I bought an RF cable to try after the second PlayStation gave me the same problem. I wound up using the TV that was in the living room to hook the PlayStation up to until I wound up buying a Samsung GxTV the next year.

The PlayStation gave me a lot of enjoyable gaming experiences, and, while I no longer have original PlayStation hardware, I do still play many PlayStation games today. I’m a big fan of Ace Combat 2, NHL ’98, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the Jumping Flash! games, PaRappa the Rapper and UmJammer Lammy, the Ridge/Rage Racer series, and lots more. I know that some gripe about the blocky and polygonal nature of PlayStation graphics and that they don’t hold up today, but it really doesn’t bother me. I’m hoping to continue building my library of original PlayStation games and relive lots of memories as time goes on.

The other significant anniversary is the launch of the Dreamcast, back on September 9th, 1999. I was thrilled to be working at FuncoLand as a store manager back at that time, and I went all-in on the Dreamcast launch from a consumer perspective. I spent more than $700 at 1:00am– after working the midnight launch– in cash and store credit on the Dreamcast hardware, an extra controller, multiple Visual Memory Units (VMUs), and a ton of launch software. Sonic Adventure, NFL Blitz 2000, Ready 2 Rumble Boxing, Hydro Thunder, and SoulCalibur were just some of the games that I bought at launch.

When I say that I went all-in, I mean that I traded in large parts of my game collection back then in order to afford everything that I wanted. That meant my entire NES collection, which was large at the time and included a few games that are uncommon today… including R.C. Pro-Am II, Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom, Final Fantasy, and many others. Of course, looking back on that decision now, I was pretty dumb for having done so, but finding $700 on a store manager’s salary was no easy task and I felt the need to just buy everything I wanted instead of being more gradual with building a Dreamcast library.

I remember being blown away by the Dreamcast and what it could do. The games looked and sounded great, the VMUs were a novel idea, and online connectivity on a console was a very cool thing back then. I loved having so many coin-op conversions in the first wave of software to play, and the later release of NBA Showtime for the Dreamcast continues to be the best version of the arcade game available on any console.

Overall, I loved the Dreamcast… until January of 2001, when Sega pulled the plug. I went on to trade in my Dreamcast collection towards a PlayStation 2 just after the news about the Dreamcast’s discontinuation broke. While I don’t necessarily regret my actions, since the PlayStation 2 became one of my favorite consoles ever, I do feel a sense of loss without a Dreamcast in my retro library. I had it, and I had a really decent collection, but I let anger take over and I got a PlayStation 2 more out of spite than out of enthusiasm’s sake. Perhaps, one day, I’ll own a Dreamcast again.

Both of these great consoles deserve a bit of recognition today. If you have either– or both– I encourage you to take some time and show the PlayStation and the Dreamcast some love.

Signposts: Final Fantasy VII

September 8, 2014 Leave a comment

I was reminded by fellow Retroware content creator Coury Carlson that we just passed another anniversary for the release of Final Fantasy VII here in the United States.

I remember 1997 very well. It was one of my favorite years for video games, and it was an especially strong one for the PlayStation. We got Rage Racer, Colony Wars, PaRappa the Rapper, Ace Combat 2, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Cool Boarders 2, Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha, and Crash Bandicoot 2 that year… and that’s besides the release of what’s arguably the most popular Final Fantasy game of them all, back on September 7th, 1997.

I had preordered Final Fantasy VII from an independent game store called Fantasy Realms, which I’ve mentioned here on the blog in the past. I was psyched to get the game home and start playing it. The wait since the demo that I played (thanks to Tobal No. 1) almost a year earlier had been long and impatient. When I finally picked it up, after a long shift at my day job, I raced home to pop it in and begin playing. It was– at least for the first disc– as great as I could have hoped for.

Sure, the first part of the game is basically the same as the 1996 demo. That was okay, though, because it made getting through that first section a breeze. I remembered exactly where to go, I remembered most of the enemies that I would face, and I remembered the strategies that I had employed to complete the demo. Knowing what was coming didn’t make the first sequence any less enjoyable– or important. After all, now the party’s stats were going to carry over when the familiar stuff was done.

So, about the first disc… yeah, here’s a sad confession: I never played past the end of that disc. In fact, I still haven’t managed to do so in these 17 years since Final Fantasy VII first came out. I remember many of the specific events that took place on the first disc, but something has always managed to jump in the way after that.

In 1997, it was because the live-in relationship that I’d been engaged in for most of that year ended after infidelity; I experienced financial issues shortly thereafter and really hit rock bottom in my personal life at that point. I’d stopped playing video games entirely for much of the first few months of 1998 and worked to rebuild my life from the ashes. I sold off Final Fantasy VII– along with some other games– to pay debts, and wouldn’t wind up owning the game again until 2010, when I bought it digitally on the PlayStation Store for my PS3.

In 2010, I started playing Final Fantasy VII again, but by then, Gaming Attention Deficit Disorder had really set in for me. I’d play the game for a little while, but then something new would come out, and I’d relegate Cloud and company to the “later” pile. I tried playing again last year, and the same thing wound up happening; I only made it as far as the Don Corneo sequence before getting distracted by other games and pushing the game off to the side once more.

Will I ever get around to playing Final Fantasy VII more… or even playing it all the way through? I’d like to, sure, but I’m not sure that I will. When I look back on the game, though, it will always remind me of some my the highest of highs and lowest of lows in my life outside of gaming. That’s why I consider it to be very special, and a gaming signpost for me.

A couple of things…

September 8, 2014 Leave a comment

A couple of things:

1. Behind the scenes: The Fall Semester has begun, plus I have some things going on offline. These factors are limiting my writing productivity of late, although there will be something new going up here shortly. In addition, recent online events and controversies have left me questioning my motivation to write very much. I’ve become rather disheartened by a lot of things in the online space and, honestly, have spent more time over the last week or so just playing video games and insulating myself from the other crap.

2. Blog Comments: I have disabled comments here. I realize that this may be an unpopular decision, but a recent influx of spam comments of late that I’ve been unable to control makes it necessary to just shut them off. I may reactivate them at a later time.

From here on out, this blog is directly game-related. Memories, retail visits/experiences, game impressions/reviews, and other similar content is what will be going up here. No more personal status updates, complaints about gaming media, industry gripes, or any of that stuff. I’m done with that. Most of that has been negative, angry (without reason), and really useless. This blog needs to have a better identity, a better representation of the kind of content that I’m not only interested in writing… but interested in reading or viewing. Perhaps it’s actually more challenging as a content creator to not be angry or not to whine about everything, as I’ve been so apt to do over the last few years.

Honestly, I’ve seen so much awful stuff lately that I’ve been snapped to a revelation: Let everyone else do the yelling and pontificating, and instead, focus on the games. This blog will be the best way for me to accomplish that goal, from now on.

Categories: General Tags: ,

Shooting Straight: Gamers Are Bad People (Again)

August 29, 2014 3 comments

There was a time that when being a “gamer” had negative connotations– especially in the 1980s and even the early 1990s.

Video games were for kids or for nerds/geeks back then, based on reactions I got in high school and beyond. Classmates thought less of me because I played video games instead of sports. My mom wasn’t at all a fan of my video gaming hobby and constantly pleaded with me to spend my time differently. I had few friends in high school because I refused to compromise; if you didn’t like my video game hobby, you didn’t like me. I never took it personally, and I did eventually find a small group of like-minded people to hang out with.

Then came a time when being a “gamer” was kind of a cool thing.

It may seem like forever ago today, but honestly, it was as recent as the sixth generation of consoles that being a “gamer” was in. The industry referred to us as “gamers”. The gaming press did, too. So did the mainstream media, as video gaming continued to ascend to popularity in pop culture. I thought it was a great time to be a gamer. I proudly wore the gamer badge and spread the word that video games were awesome.

Now, being a “gamer” is a bad thing once again.

What’s interesting is that the movement to restore negative connotation to being a “gamer” comes from within the very media that covers video games to begin with. These were the people who used to be okay with the classification, mind you. These people called people like me “gamers”, and it was a positive. We were a group. A community. I championed the idea. I helped to spread the word. Heck, the positive attitude and enthusiasm that came from gaming press is what motivated me to want to start writing in the first place.

Unfortunately, thanks to the actions of a vocal few– out of millions of people– “gamers” are bad people. As bad as racists, according to at least one person. A vitriolic piece on Gamastura proudly declares that “‘Gamers are over'”. A similar, though somewhat less angry piece on Kotaku offers a similar view. The war between gaming press and its readership has reached a flashpoint, pushed to that end by what are admittedly some despicable actions by some people in recent days and weeks towards several independent developers and certain members of the gaming press.

Some never equals all, but, like parents who get frustrated when none of their children admit to breaking that hypothetical lamp, we are all punished for the actions of someone else. We can’t– we shouldn’t– allow ourselves to be classified as “gamers”. It doesn’t matter what other designation we decide on, or even if we decide not to have a designation at all, but “gamer” doesn’t fly anymore in the eyes of the industry that just told us within the past decade that it was acceptable.

What those who are engaging in this war fail to realize is that not everyone wants to pick a side. Some just want to play their video games, to read about the video games that they’re wanting to buy and play, to be excited for video games as many have been for years. There’s now active judgment going on of these people. If they’re not voicing an opinion, not on someone’s side… then they’re obviously against and become enemies in a war that they don’t even know about.

I know that I don’t want to be a part of this war. Video games have always been an escape for me from the crap that goes on away from the controller. I don’t want to be pushed into topics that make me uncomfortable, or force me to take a controversial stance, or detract from the enjoyment that video games have provided me over the years. If that’s the way video games are going… if it’s because video games are art, or they’re growing up, or some other argument other than having fun… then it’s proof-positive that getting out of the modern video game scene is the best thing that I could ever do for myself.

I don’t subscribe to the Gamers Are Bad People school of generalization. If the gaming media wants to think it, and if people want to agree with them, that’s their right. I’ll continue to be the same person who plays video games, regardless of his age or of what people may think. I’ll still write stuff about actual video games now and again (instead of stuff like this). I’ll still tool around in my gaming-related t-shirts and play video game music in my car. I’ll still promote the work of content creators who actually talk about the video games themselves… those who demonstrate enthusiasm and a generally positive attitude. This badge isn’t coming off just because alleged thought leaders who represent my hobby tell me that it should.

I guess it’s more disappointing to be ostracized by my peers, by those who are generally considered to enjoy video games, for considering myself a “gamer” than it was to be ostracized by fellow classmates and other people when I was younger for being the same way that I am now.

Categories: Shooting Straight Tags:

Shooting Straight: We Are Community

August 21, 2014 1 comment

There’s a whole lot of… stuff going on when it comes to the video game scene lately. It’s causing a lot of divisiveness, a lot of emotion, a lot of finger-pointing, and a lot of negativity.

I’m not writing this to discuss any of that stuff. I’m writing this for a different reason.

See, you and I, we probably have video games in common. Somehow. We may like different genres, or maybe we play on different platforms, but our mutual enjoyment of video games unites us. When we talk about video games in a public setting, when we interact with each other to share our favorite games, or favorite memories, or anything else, we often are seen by other people who also enjoy video games in some way. You, me, and these other people– we are part of a bigger thing. We’re part of a community.

The video gaming community.

I think that, at times, the community tends to forget about its common bonds. It’s easy to do when emotions run high. Disagreements become arguments, and arguments can devolve into name-calling, finger-pointing, and other actions that we don’t always consider the ramifications of. People have their feelings hurt at the minimum– and, in more severe cases, their lives can be turned upside down as a result of being judged by other members of the community to have done something unacceptable or inappropriate.

I’ve been there. I’ve said things that I’ve not been happy with saying after the fact, and I’ve walked away feeling awful about it. I know that my cynicism sometimes does get the best of me, too, and negativity often begets more negativity. I had a regrettable exchange with someone on Twitter, and am grateful for the fact that we not only overcame the interaction– but we each found a mutual level of respect for each other afterwards. He did not have to forgive me for my words and actions, as I got caught up in emotion at the time and said hurtful things… but he did.

To me, social media represents opportunity. Never before have we had the opportunity to be in contact with so many people in our community simultaneously: game developers, publisher staff, gaming press, video/written content creators, and many others who likely share the same passion for games. Social media is an open door for the sharing of thoughts, ideas, images, videos, memories, articles, and many other things that can enhance our passion and increase our enthusiasm. I’ve had the opportunity to have conversations with many people whom I admire and who have inspired me, either in the last few years or over the span of my game-playing days. I’ve also had the opportunity to get to know thousands of others in our community and it’s given me a platform to share my thoughts on and memories of gaming.

If we continue to use social media as a platform for judging others, for speaking poorly of and disrespecting others when it’s not necessarily our place to do so, for threatening people who we don’t agree with or who we heard did something that we don’t think is right… we close that window of opportunity. Many of the industry people who we’d never had access to before social media may go dark, for their own safety and well-being. Many others who bring enthusiasm, interest, and excitement to the community may shrink away. As social media becomes toxic, poisoned by anger and saturated by negativity, it becomes a weapon– and a scary one at that. We’ve seen the damage such a weapon can do time and time again.

It’s not my place to say that people need to adjust their behavior. What I ask is that we all take a step back and think about our contributions to social media, as well as how our actions affect our community and its perception by others. I ask that we remember what brings us together as a community in the first place, and that people who we have arguments, disagreements, and exercise judgments of character about are genuine human beings with feelings, emotions, and lives away from the keyboard. We don’t have to like people to show civility and respect towards them, and we might do well to recall that video games– things that we have in our lives that bring us joy and entertainment– are a strange thing to go to war with someone over.

What I can do is to strive to be a better member of this community. I need to be a better listener, to be more cognizant of the content I share and how it might affect others, to be more supportive and appreciative of my fellow community members, and to try and temper/balance my cynicism with more a positive, even enthusiastic, attitude. I’m working on these things, although I have much to do to reach my goals. I can’t control what others do, but I sure can control what I do… and that’s one step towards overall progress.

Finally, I want to recognize all of you. If I’ve ever tweeted at you, shared your content, had a conversation with you, or interacted with you in any way: I thank you. Each of you has added something to my online life at the least– and my offline life at the most. I think that you’re all important. On Twitter, I’m inspired every day by learning new things and having new conversations. If you’ve ever visited this blog before, your visits have inspired me to keep writing, even when I’m not always motivated or when I’ve been ready to close up shop. Video and written content creators, including my Retroware family and the many folks who I watch on YouTube, inspire me to keep creating, too.

We may disagree, or we may argue. You may view me as a retro snob or an old curmudgeon who won’t let go of his past. You may be a fan of my work or social media activity. Or, you may be more neutral towards me and we may have only had a few interactions here and there. I appreciate each and every one of you, and I’ll always be grateful that I’m part of this expansive, passionate community of people who like video games… even if we forget that unifying factor sometimes.

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