Wednesday, July 19, 2006 

Classic Gaming Wednesday

As always on Wednesday, here's the Classic Game of the Week. Because, remember, you can't go forward unless you know where you've been!

Back when "Animal Crossing" came out on the Gamecube in 2002, everyone and their mother was obsessed with trying to obtain all the old NES games that you could collect as gifts from the various animal townies you encountered throughout the course of the game. While there were plenty of classics that were up for grabs, the one game that everyone salivated for was "Punch-Out!!". Some of the game's younger players, however, never quite understood what was the obsession with trying to obtain the "Punch-Out!!" emulator. Sure, they understood the desire to collect all of the NES games that AC offered, but, to actually want to play them? It just didn't make sense to them. Why would you want to play an old 8-bit boxing game for any extended amount of time?

Because this ain't just some ol' 8-bit boxing game, youngbucks. This is friggin' "Punch Out!!". And regardless of how old it is, you can still pop this game in (after blowing on the cartridge about 20 times, of course) and have the time of your life with it. It's a "timeless classic" in every sense of the term and because of that, "Punch-Out!!" is our Classic Game of the Week.

Back in 1987, Nintendo's "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!" graced NES systems around the world and introduced players to the underdog, everyman protagonist dubbed, "Little Mac," who is determined to climb up the ladder of the WVBA (World Virtual Boxing Association) and become World Champion (with your help, of course). After facing a variety of oddball opponents spread throughout three boxing circuits, you eventually earn the right to participate in the "Dream Fight," in which you finally get to face the game's title character, Mike Tyson. Three years later, when Nintendo's licensing agreement with Tyson ended, Nintendo changed the name of the game to "Punch-Out!!" and replaced Tyson's image in the game with a character named Mr. Dream.

'I'ma eat your children! Er, I mean, I'll fight you..."

What makes "Punch-Out!!" so fun is its combination of incredibly quirky characters and great "easy to learn, hard to master" gameplay that keeps players coming back for more. Whether you're facing a loser Frenchman, a drunken Russian, or a dancing Spaniard, you can be assured that each match will be fun, challenging (especially in the later levels), and full of silly stereotypes. The key to succeeding in the game is to learn your opponent's attack patterns so you could dodge their hits at the right time, ring up "Stars" (which enable you to unleash a furious jumping uppercut when used), and to watch your stamina.

Little Mac was really "little."

Growing up, there were three gaming achievements that were guaranteed to impress your friends around the schoolyard; beating "Contra" without the Konami Code, getting past the fifth level in "Ghosts 'n Goblins" (never mind actually beating it!), and coming out with a win against Mike Tyson in the "Dream Match" in "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!". Tyson's videogame representation is arguably one of the cheesiest friggin' bosses in the history of gaming, and anyone who could beat him has definitely got skillz. While Mr. Dream, the character that replaced Iron Mike after 1990, has the same moves, there was that key something that made a difference when you stepped into the ring with the sprite representation of the "Baddest Man on the Planet." Call me superficial, but I will always consider the Mike Tyson version of "Punch-Out!!" to be the real version of the game. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I find it easier to swallow losses in match after match against the former heavyweight champion of the world than some random fictional character. Either way, that last match is a doozy, and remains an incredible test of skill for even the most experienced of gamers. To this day, there are still people who proudly proclaim that they were able to "beat Tyson/Mr. Dream" in "Punch-Out!!" (myself included), simply because it remains to this day one of the most celebrated gaming achievements around.

Cheesy bastard!

So, whether you're facing Glass Joe, Great Tiger, Soda Popinski, or Mike Tyson himself, "Punch-Out!!" was, and still is, an incredible game that will bring a smile to anyone's face from the moment it boots up. "Punch-Out!!" is NES gaming at its absolute finest, and is certainly worthy of a spin this week in honor of Classic Gaming Wednesday. If you don't have the game in a closet somewhere, you can find copies of "Punch-Out!!" just about anywhere they sell classic NES games, and if you're lucky, you might even find the licensed Mike Tyson version. If that doesn't sound appetizing to you, there's the very real possibility that Nintendo will re-release the game as part of the Wii's "Virtual Console" feature. And that, my friends, would be a very, very good thing.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Modern Day Sequels?
Nintendo released the sequel, "Super Punch-Out!!" for the SNES in 1994. (a gaming classic in its own right) There haven't been any other installments in the series since then. Out of all the classic games that Nintendo has in its back catalog, "Punch-Out!!" remains one of the few that have yet to see life as a standalone game on one of its current systems. Outside of the "Animal Crossing" emulator, the game has yet to see life outside of the NES.

Fun Fact: The character, Soda Popinski, was actually originally named "Vodka Drunkenski" in the Japanese version, but thanks to NIntendo of America's self-censorship, the name was changed in order to avoid referencing alcohol to minors. However, Drunkenski's mid-match quotes remained from the Japanese version, such as "I can't drive, so I'm going to walk all over you," or "I drink to prepare for a fight. Tonight, I am very prepared!"


Sony Beginning to Produce PS3s

According to the folks over at Next-Gen, Sony has started to churn out PS3s in anticipation of its launch in November. Thus far, they're getting about 200,000 out the door a month, with yields expected to increase as more manufacturers come online in the next few months. The news has yet to be confirmed by Sony, however.

Even if this is true, unfortunately for Sony, it looks as if they will suffer the same kinds of manufacturing delays that plagued the Xbox 360's launch last year. And with rumors circulating that "Cell", the advanced IBM processor that powers the PS3, will have incredibly low yields , there's a real possibility that the PS3 launch can be an even larger debacle than the Xbox 360.

Sony sure has been getting an incredible load of negative press ever since E3 came and went. Between eroding developer confidence, perceived arrogance, allegations of racism, greater consumer interest in the Wii, and the death of UMD (just to name a few), it's no wonder that market analysts are beginning to mark the end of Sony's dominance of the video game industry.

At this point, Sony couldn't even BUY good PR.


15 Years of "Final Fantasy IV"

There are few gaming franchises out there that get fanboys' blood pumping more than Square-Enix's "Final Fantasy" series. It seems as if the second someone mentions "Final Fantasy", the fanboys come out in droves and begin to engage in heated debates over which game was their favorite, which characters kicked more ass, and whether or not FF VII ruined the franchise forever.

Well, today just so happens to be the 15th year anniversary of the one Final Fantasy title that established the gold standard for all other subsequent sequels: Final Fantasy IV. People can talk all they want to about how the first three Final Fantasies rocked, but let's be honest with each other here; until FF IV came out, Final Fantasy was Phantasy Star's bitch. For an entire generation of American gamers, FF IV (released as "Final Fantasy II" in the US) was the one game responsible for popping a lot of people's RPG cherries, and became one of the first games in American history to be gripping enough to get people to call out sick from work/school just to play it.

Jeremy Parish, over at Toastyfrog, pays proper homage to the occasion with a blog entry dedicated to the RPG classic. Make sure you check it out right here

So, Happy Birthday, Final Fantasy IV! You're still pretty damn awesome, 15 years later.

Sunday, July 16, 2006 

Currently Playing (7/16 - 7/23)

With an incredible heat wave slated for most of the continental US, here's djkibblesnbits with his list of games that will give him an excuse to stay indoors this next week.

1) Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem: I never got the chance to play this game when it first came out early on in the Gamecube's lifetime back in 2002, but now, thanks to the wonderful folks at Gamefly, I can now take the time to play through one of the most underrated gaming classics of the current gaming generation. How's it going, you ask? Let's just say that all the acclaim it received is well-earned...

2) Final Fantasy IV Advance: I remember when I first played through FF IV all the way back in 1993 at a friend's house... I was never the same after that... Now, years later, I'm reliving my youth and playing through FF IV's Lunar Ruins, finishing up the game that I had officially ended back in December. Can't wait till FF III is released for the DS!

3) Mario Kart DS: I pulled off the greatest move ever the other day on some kid from Japan... I actually avoided his blue shell and won the duel! Yessssssssssssssss.

4) The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: ....Oblivi-crackkk... Hmmmmm....

Friday, July 14, 2006 

Don't Go Into That Building? Why?! Because, It's "Condemned!"

Shortly after the Xbox 360 launched in North America, the folks at Monolith Productions got Sega to publish the survival-horror game, "Condemned: Criminal Origins," for Microsoft's then shiny-new console. While it's been more than 8 months since the title's release in North America, I figured that, being the rather dry gaming summer that it is, why not play catch up and see what thrills the title has to offer.

And after running through the game, it must be said that this game does indeed have plenty of thrills to "boot." (Heh, heh, a wonderful "no-prize" to those people who can get the pun.)

Those looking for a completely radical shift in storytelling for survival horror games will be disappointed to discover that there really isn't much different here from the thousands of other horror games released in the past decade. You play as a cop (an FBI agent, to be exact), who has to investigate a murder scene that apparently involved a serial killer. Of course, the place you're going into happens to be dark, and you happen to be the only person who can do the job, AND, there's something rather supernatural about the whole thing. Sound familiar? I thought so. I mean, it's only the same backstory and setting that you can find in just about every other popular survival horror game. To be fair, the game takes a different turn after about the first level or so, when the story veers away from the traditional survival horror game formula and actually has more in common with movies like "Seven" and "Silence of the Lambs," than games from the "Resident Evil" and "Silent Hill" series. Without giving too much away, you basically chase after a serial killer while trying to deal with your own personal demons (heh, heh), getting past crazed homeless people, collecting dead birds (not sure why...), and staying away from a local police force that mistrusts you. It gets rather interesting as you go on, and there are definitely some "holy shit" moments as you progress through the game's creepy levels.

Okay...maybe I will...

As you chase after your suspect throughout the game's ten chapters, you are required to use some special FBI-issued forensic tools to collect evidence and track your target's trail across the game's expansive levels. Thankfully, because your character has good "instincts," you always know when to start searching for clues thanks to an onscreen prompt which alerts you to press a context-sensitive button in order to whip out a device. (Your character always knows what device to select, so you don't have to fumble around with the different forensic tools in order to get your evidence). The tools themselves range from a digital camera to a sampler, which evaluates a specific target's chemical make-up. All the information you collect somehow automatically gets sent over to a remote lab via a mobile videophone for evaluation. The tools are pretty cool, but by the time you get to the later levels, the whole novelty behind data collection gets rather old. Because of your "natural instincts," collecting evidence becomes nothing more than a glorified game of "find target, press button." Don't let the whole "evidence" thing fool you; you're certainly not being asked to use your brain to uncover clues. No one's going to mistake "Condemned" for "C.S.I.", that's for sure.

Checkin' for clues...

Some people have mistaken "Condemned" for a FPS, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. Sure, the game does take place in first-person, and you do get to fire off some guns every once in awhile, but this ain't no "Doom 3." Instead of going through level after level, blowing homeless bums and other freaky perps into smithereens, you are asked to completely beat the snot out of them using an assortment of wonderful blunt objects such as crowbars, pipes, street signs, 2x4s, and even mannequin arms. "Condemned" features an incredibly deep and realistic-looking melee combat system in which you have to learn how to find the right combination of attacking and parrying in order to defeat your enemies without sustaining too much damage. Each weapon you grab has its own set of attributes that affect your attacking speed, power, and ability to block. The enemies you encounter also tend to have some great A.I., so they will be doing everything they can to catch you off guard, including hiding behind corners, initiating head-fakes, cursing you out, and of course, stopping your attacks with parries of their own. However, you can always disarm your enemies using a tazer, which temporarily disables your enemies long enough for you to run up to them, take their weapon, and then use it against them. There is a catch with the tazer, however; you can only use it once before you have to wait for it to charge after about 30 seconds, so it's not like you can run through the game abusing it. With that said, the melee system is pretty balanced and certainly provides a rather different experience from games before it.

Sometimes, you'll run into actual firearms, but unfortunately, you're not allowed to reload in the game, so many of these guns are only good for about 5-7 shots and then that's it. At the very least, you can then turn the guns themselves into melee weapons, but only for a limited amount of time, as the guns tend to break after a few successful hits.

Graphically, "Condemned" is a great-looking game. It's clear that the people at Monolith spared no expense to use the 360's processing power to create the incredibly grotesque and expansive gaming environments that you'll run into over the course of the game. They also did some great things with the lighting; at some points you might find yourself literally jumping at the sight of your own shadow. And with the variety of locales that you'll go through from level to level, you'll certainly see first-hand the amount of work that Monolith put into making environments that'll make you want to play with the lights on, whether you're running through an abandoned department store, or an empty train station. Combine the graphics with the incredible sound that the game features, and we're talking 'bout a pretty complete package as far as "horror" is concerned.

Bad attempt at a slam dunk?

For whatever reason, "Condemned" connects to Xbox Live to post "high scores," but honestly, I could really give two shits about how I compare with others at completing the game. It almost seems as if Monolith just put in the "high score" aspect of the game just to appease Microsoft's desire to have every game whore out Live. I mean, if you care about that kind of thing, go ahead and knock yourself out as you attempt to replay the game again and again to obtain a good global ranking, but outside of acquiring a few Achievement Points, there really isn't a good reason to replay the game again and again. Once you beat the game, you really have no incentive, from a "fun" perspective, to replay the game again. I went back through some levels to pick up some Achievement Points that I missed the first time around, and it certainly wasn't as fun as when I first played. It almost felt like it was a chore to go back to those levels. So, the game's replayability is questionable.

Speaking of Achievement Points, it's not too hard to obtain them, and unlike other 360 titles, each award actually unlocks special content within the game, such as "making of" videos, character and level sketches, "outtakes", and special FBI files that fill in some holes that were not explained within the main game's story arc. As a result, you actually have an incentive to obtain the A.P.s. The hardest AP to get is the Gold Melee Award, which rewards you for completing the entire game with melee weapons only. It's certainly not too hard to obtain, but unfortunately, there's a slight bug in the game that affects whether or not your 360 recognizes the Achievement. In this case, you might have to replay it over and over again just to get it to register, which is not fun at all.

"Condemned: Criminal Origins" is a great game that's certainly worthy of at least a weekend rental, if only to experience the kinds of thrills that the guys at Monolith have created on the 360. Average gamers should finish the game in about 15-20 hours, so it's certainly possible to finish the game in a weekend. Play this game with the lights off and the sound up, and I assure you that you will be playing one of the scariest games ever created. Guaranteed.


1) Decent storyline that will keep you playing all the way to the end.

2) Looks and sounds great.

3) Will scare your ass off.

4) Melee combat system is well-balanced, hard-hitting, and innovative. Getting hit with a sledgehammer never looked so damaging.


1) Some levels are just too big and dark for their own good; real easy to get lost. (ahem, Grid 4 Subway Tunnels, ahem)

2) At times, the game's checkpoint system proves to be incredibly annoying. You can't save whenever you want to, and instead, have to wait to reach a certain point before you can save. This can be real bad when you have to keep on replaying through hard parts over and over again just because you couldn't save.

3) Forensic tools get kind of old after about the 4th Chapter.

4) You get the feeling that there's going to be a sequel... too many questions left unanswered. Like... why the hell is everyone nuts in the first place!?

Shouts to for some of the images posted here!


Oh, Gaming Mascots, Where Have You Gone?

There's an interesting article that was published on the wonderful gaming industry news site, Next Generation that asks the question, "Whatever happened to the videogame mascot?" Using Sega's mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog, as an example, Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh points to the rise and fall of the blue speed demon thanks to corporate mishandling and making games, "just for the sake of there being more Sonic games in the world."

It's an interesting article, and one that I'm sure will get gamers who grew up with mascots to get a little teary-eyed. But hey, at least we have Mario, right?

"CULTURE: Mascots and Messages" (Next-Gen)

EDIT: Fixed broken link to Next-Gen article.

Thursday, July 13, 2006 

Microsoft: Host a Party in Your Pantalones! (Or at least your house)

I was running through Microsoft's Xbox website, when I ran into a link that led to an announcement for "Xbox Live Arcade Party-in-a-Box." According to the page, Microsoft is giving away (while supplies last) a free Papa John's pizza, 1000 MIcrosoft Points, and a code for a free music download for those looking to host a "Wednesday Night Arcade" party. This promotion is running alongside M$'s push to release five titles over a five week span on Arcade.

Sorry, I know it says "Party-in-a-Box," but there's no liquor involved. And no more than one pizza pie, either.

All they ask in return? Take pictures and be a corporate whore for an evening.

Sound good to you? Well, drop them a line and let 'em know you want to host a party!

Party-in-a-Box website


"Prey"-ing on Live

For you 360 owners looking for something to do on Live during this rather slow gaming summer, check out some of the more recent uploads on Live, courtesy of the folks at Microsoft.

1) "Prey": It took about 10 years for 3D Realms to release this FPS, but they finally did it (unlike their other, yet to be released project, "Duke Nukem Forever," ahem...). This demo is friggin huge at over 1 GB, but it'll definitely entertain you for about 45 minutes. I haven't played the full version yet (since, after all, it did only come out this week), but if the free demo is any indication of the actual game, it looks like it's going to be good fun for those looking to tear through yet another FPS to pass the time. Disgusting-looking levels and weapons? Check. Defying the rules of gravity? Check. Savage aliens? Check. Native-American folklore? Check. And funny ass commentary, courtesy of main hero? Check, check, check. So, at least go and download this bad boy, see what it's like, and then go frag some biznatches in the demo's multiplayer mode. (It's already in the top-10 Live multiplayer list according to Microsoft, and that's just the demo!

2) "Frogger": We've been waiting for Microsoft to release more titles on Xbox Live Arcade (where's Street Fighter?!), and all we get is friggin' Frogger. WTF?! I'm sorry, but seriously, this is one of those titles, that while, yes, it's a classic, it's been whored out way too much. I don't see the need to waste five dollars to buy a game that's worth 2 cents in this day and age. Definitely nothing to get too excited about. On the bright side, M$ is expected to release another Arcade title every Wednesday for the next five weeks or so, including Street Fighter II on August 2nd...let's see if they stick to that release schedule.

3) "NCAA Football 2007" Yawn. Yet another EA sports title release, except this time, we're getting college football for the first time on the 360. As of now, I don't see it on Live yet, but it's supposed to be on there any minute now.

If none of these tickle your fancy, well, you could always pop in Crack, er, I mean, Oblivion...


RIP to Sony UMD: We Barely Knew Ye

According to the good folks at Kotaku, Target department stores are going to stop carrying UMD movies, a couple of months after several movie houses decided that they were going to abandon releasing movies for the format altogether.

When the Sony PSP was released over a year ago, the Sony hype machine was quick to declare victory by announcing that sales of UMD movie titles had quickly made the proprietary UMD format a "resounding success". In an effort to cash in, studios doubled their efforts to release as many movies onto UMD as they could, and within a few short months, close to about 500 titles were available on UMD. However, these studios would soon realize that the brisk UMD sales figures that Sony quoted early on in the PSPs lifespan only happened as a result of the fact that early adopters were looking for SOMETHING to pop into their brand-new $250 devices, especially at a time when there weren't nearly enough good games available for the handheld upon initial release.

As time went on, consumers got hip to the whole UMD-format thing and realized that they really weren't all that great to begin with. So, people voted with their dollars, and now, it's safe to say that the UMD movie format is practically dead.

So, in retrospect, why did yet another Sony proprietary format fail? (Betamax, Mini-Disc, ATRAC, Memory Stick)

A) Cost: At $20-$30 bucks a pop, UMD movies are waayyy too expensive, considering that people could get far superior DVD versions of these movies at $10-$20. Combine the price with the fact that the UMDs did not come close to offering the extras that people have grown accustomed to on DVDs, and you have a recipe for certain failure.

B) Lack of playback devices: Sony never had any plans to release a product that allowed consumers to play their UMDs at home, so, when you combine the price of the UMD movies, with the fact that you could only watch them on one device, it really didn't make sense to buy them.

C) Poorly made movies: Some UMD titles were released so haphazardly, that they didn't even feature chapter menus, which made searching for specific scenes in movies an incredible chore. Once again, why are you going to pay so much money to have a broken viewing experience? All that technology, just to relive the days of VHS playback? No, thank you.

D) Ripped Movies: Ironically, the PSPs ability to play digital versions of movies straight off Memory Sticks might have quickened the demise of the UMD format. Think about it: people really did want to watch movies on their PSP, but they didn't want to pay $30 a pop for the ability to do so. The solution? Rip movies from cheaper DVDs, re-encode them into a format that the PSP could understand, and BAM, you can watch movies on your PSP. It isn't the easiest thing to do, but where there's a will, there's a way.

Knowing Sony, they might just blame the fact that UMDs failed because of "piracy", even though the truth is that the format failed because of their stubbornness in sticking with expensive pricing. I don't know about you, but I would much rather spend a quick $5-$7 for a movie on UMD rather than spend three hours encoding a full-feature movie to UMD, wouldn't you? At a price like that, it's a friggin' impulse buy.

So, now... anyone think history is going to repeat itself, again, when Sony finally releases Blu-Ray to the world?

The above picture courtesy of the folks at Gizmodo

Wednesday, July 12, 2006 

Hands-On With the DS Lite

It certainly feels as if everyone and their mother out there in the blogging world already got their grubby hands on a DS Lite, so we feel as if we're the last ones who were invited to the party. Regardless, like our parents are always apt to say, "everyone else ain't [us]," so here are our own personal impressions, courtesy of djkibblesnbits.

From the moment you take the handheld out the box, you realize that this version of the DS is a completely different animal from the first one. While the original DS (hereby forever known as the Clunk) felt kind of cheap and flimsy, the Lite's springy buttons dramatically improve the feel of the handheld. The power button has been moved to the right side of the case (no more accidently turning off the system with your thumb), and the microphone has been moved above the bottom screen, right at the joint where the Lite folds down. Based on looks alone, the Lite's iPod-ish look gives it that "high-tech" look that the Clunk lacked, especially when comparing it to the once superior-looking Sony PSP. At the same time, while the Lite has a shiny finish like the PSPs, for whatever reason, the Lite does not feel nearly as fragile and sensitive as the Sony handheld. Still, you wouldn't want to shove this baby in the same pocket as your car keys or something. (Hell, yes, you CAN put it in your pocket, unlike both the PSP and the Clunk!) It may not be priority #1 with the Lite, but I would suggest that you get yourself a sleek little case that can match the style and grace of the oh-so wonderful looking Lite.

Outside of the look, the biggest improvement is the backlighting on the two screens, which makes the light about 20-40% brighter than the Clunk. Trust me when I say that this new backlight makes gaming on the DS soooo much better. You pop in any game that you might have played on the Clunk, and I'm telling you, you're going to see colors and textures that you never thought were programmed into the game to begin with. Who knew a little more backlighting could make that much of a difference?

There's a huge difference in backlighting...

The battery life on the Lite is not as good as the Clunk's (about 8 hrs), but it really isn't that big of a difference from the original's 10 hr lifespan. That's still about 2-3 times better than the power-hog PSP's paltry battery life. The Lite's charger input is smaller than the Clunk's original, Firewire-like input, so, you're not going to be able to use the old charger for the new system.

Hmm...I see where the inspiration came from

Sound-wise, the two systems are about the same. Both have normal headphone ports, so you don't have to go and buy special headphones for the DS Lite, which is a good thing.

Because the Lite has been reduced in size, one of the things that was sacrificed was the size of the GBA port. Now, when you stick your GBA games into the DS Lite, the cart sticks out instead of fitting snugly into the handheld's shell. It's not unlike the way original GB carts stuck out of the GBA SP. The cool factor dies down a little bit when you have a cart sticking out on the bottom, but it's not that bad. And when you don't have a GBA cart to cover the bottom port, NIntendo has kindly provided us with a port cover that goes perfectly with the DS Lite. No more worrying about dust getting into the GBA port, as you did with the Clunk.

Overall, the DS Lite is an incredible revision, and certainly worthy of a purchase, should you already own the Clunk. I'm telling you, once you play games on the Lite, you can't go back to playing games on the original. And at $129, you're not paying anymore than what the Clunk costs, so go ahead and live a little.

And if you don't have a DS, period, well, you certainly can't go wrong with jumping on the bandwagon, beginning with the DS Lite. As far as other colors are concerned, currently, only the polar white version is available in the US, but there are other colors available in other countries that you could import. And given the fact that the DS is not region-coded, you can buy a DS anywhere in the world and play a game from any region.

So what you waiting for? Go get one!


Classic Gaming Wednesday

Once again, it's Wednesday, so here we are with yet another Gaming Classic for you to tear through. After all, you can't go forward if you don't know where you've been!

"Rise from your grave!"

Back in 1988, Sega released the arcade classic, "Altered Beast" in Japan, and then shortly brought upright cabinet over to American shores a few months later. Before long, the game, a side-scrolling, 2-player, beat-em-up, became popular enough for Sega to whore off the the game and port it to a number of systems, including DOS, Atari 2100, Amiga, the NES, and of course, Sega's own gaming systems, the Master System, and the 16-bit Sega Genesis. When the Genesis was first released in the US, Sega offered Altered Beast as a pack-in, thus making it one of the most-played Genesis games early on in the system's lifetime.

Like many other stories found in video games during this time period, the background story behind this game was a bit corny, if not confusing. Basically, you control some guy who has been brought back to life by the Greek God, Zeus, and you have to go and rescue the Greek goddess, Athena, from the clutches of minor Underworld God, Neff, who somehow kidnapped one of the most kick-ass gods in Greek mythology and holds her hostage. Along the way, you run into these "Spirit Balls" (how original!) which are like steroids or something for your main character. Every Spirit Ball you collect makes your muscles get all huge, and if you collect three of them, you turn into a beast. ("Balls turn me into a BEAASSSTT!!!") You can turn into a werewolf, a tiger, a bear, or even a flying dragon, depending the level you're on, and when you do eventually turn into a beast, the music changes, and all of a sudden, you're rocking out to some upbeat music, killing random enemies as you go along.

More steroids than Barry Bonds...

The control scheme is rather simple, like almost every game from this era (punch, kick, jump). While the action is dated by today's standards, there's something that still cool about controlling the beast, with that whole music thing going on around you. If you gather a few friends around when you play this game, it's almost guaranteed to get everyone smiling and having fun with this little bit of nostalgia, all while you blow through the levels and make fun of the game's design.

While there have been numerous ports of the game, you can find the best versions on the Sega Genesis and the Turbografx CD (Japanese version-only). Sega released the Sega Smash Pack Vol. 1 for the Dreamcast, which featured an emulated version of Altered Beast, but sadly, this port is incredibly awful, and really isn't worth playing. The Sega Master System version isn't bad, but if you don't have it already, it'll be harder to track down this system and this game rather than just getting an old Genesis version, which you can find practically everywhere they sell classic consoles. Recently, there was a port of Altered Beast for Tapwave's Zodiac handheld, but it wasn't worth the media it was printed on, unfortunately. Just stick to the Genesis version. You can't go wrong.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Modern Day Sequels?
In Japan, there was a 3D sequel to the original game, entitled, "Project Altered Beast" for the PS2. There were plans to release the game here in the States, but thankfully, the idea was canned after it was poorly received by Japanese gaming critics. It was hyper-violent, incredibly bloody, and had little to do with the original, save for the beast-changing part. There was also a recently GBA game, published by THQ, titled, "Altered Beast: Guardian of the Realms," that was more like the original game, featuring new beasts, and new destructible environments, but in this case, they stuck so close to the original blueprint, that the game looks as if it could've been made on the Genesis instead of the more advanced 32-bit GBA.

FUN FACT: Many gamers consider the title theme and the music from the first level of the game to be among gaming's most instantly recognizable gaming soundtracks of all time.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006 

It'sa Me... NEWWW Mario!!!

It's been a few years since we last saw Nintendo's venerable mascot, Mario, running around in a brand new platformer. While I didn't have anything against Mario's most recent video game incarnation, "Super Mario Sunshine" for the Gamecube, I couldn't help but shake this small feeling on the inside that I kinda missed seeing Mario in a classic 2D platformer likes the classics of yesteryear.

Well, apparently, Nintendo was listening to me and the 3 million other people that have bought the game around the world in a matter of a month and a half. "New Super Mario Bros.," squeezes everything we all loved about the classic 2-D Mario platformers on the NES, and makes it all available for Nintendo's dual-screened wonder-handheld. The game itself feels like they took parts of SMB 1, 3, and World, and mixed it all together with some of the moves of the 3-D titles. Nintendo wanted to make sure that this game never got too complicated for older gamers looking to relive their youth, so you only wind up using two buttons and a D-pad, just like the NES Mario games, to control the loveable Italian plumber. And don't bother looking for Yoshi, Star Road, or any of those other things we all got used to after playing Super Mario World for the SNES; this is a straight-up, no frills, NES-era classic Mario game.

Just because it's classic gameplay, however, it doesn't mean that the game is old, by any means. This is a brand-new game, and it features brand-new power-ups that are exclusive to this game. First, there's the Mega Mushroom, which makes Mario incredibly HUGE and invincible for a limited amount of time. And then, there's the Mini-Mushroom, which, as you can expect, can make Mario small enough to run through tiny spaces, and also gives him the ability to run across water. And finally, there's the blue koopa shell, which turns Mario into Koopa/Mario hybrid that's good at richocheting off walls and swimming in water. None of the cool power-ups we saw in Super Mario Bros. 3, like the leaf or the frog suit don't make it into the game, but it's not like you miss them considering NSMB has plenty to do without them.

While the graphics won't blow you away and don't even come close to pushing the DS to its limits, the levels and characters have been well-crafted and animated and sport somewhat of a 3-D feel. It's safe to say that no 2-D Mario game has ever looked this good.

It won't take long for Super Mario veterans to tear through this game, but thankfully, there are secret levels that one can find if they look hard enough. And, if the single-player mode isn't enough to whet your appetite, you could always try you hand at the numerous mini-games that the game has built-in, and you could even play these games with up to four other players. Some of the mini-games are just rehashes of the Super Mario 64 DS ones, but nonetheless, they are still great fun, and take advantage of the DS' touchscreen in ways that the single player game just doesn't.

Overall, this is an excellent game to add to anyone's DS collection, and is especially good looking in one of those brand-spanking new DS Lites. I wouldn't consider this game a "system-seller," but it's definitely a must-buy for anyone who misses playing the classic Mario games and is fed up with just how "complicated" modern games have become.

"Man, we are sexy together!"

PROS: Anyone who's ever played the original NES "Super Mario Bros.," (it must be asked...who hasn't?) will be able to pick up this game and feel right at home. No instruction manuals, no tutorials. Nada. Just straight up pick up and play. The controls are pinpoint, and it just feels right.

CONS: It won't take long before veterans will be able to completely polish off this game, and it doesn't take much to do so. This is, after all, a game aimed at people who were scared off the Mario series once it required more than two buttons to play. Also, the mini-games and multiplayer mode won't keep you entertained for too long, especially when there are much better multiplayer alternatives on the DS. (Ahem, Mario Kart, ahem)

Wish List: Maybe, just maybe, another powerup? And what happened to the boss fights? Incredibly easy and repetitive, if you ask me.


Classic Gaming Wednesday

Every Wednesday, the folks at PSTP will honor our video gaming yesteryear by selecting a certifiable classic that we should all take the time to sit back and enjoy for at least an hour.

Back in 1989, when the NES ruled the video game world, the people behind the now-defunct Absolute Entertainment smoked some incredible illegal substances and came up with the incredibly strange and quirky NES classic, "A Boy and His Blob." Apparently, some kid became cool with an interstellar blob with an intense liking for jellybeans from the planet of "Blobolonia." If that wasn't strange enough, the blob asks the kid for help in defeating the evil emperor of Blobolonia, who has overwhelmed the planet with, get this, junk food! The only way that the unlikely duo can stop this almighty emperor is by collecting vitamins on Earth and feeding them to him. (Man, I KNEW those Flintstones vitamins were powerful!)

Cheesy story aside, what makes the game cool is the way that you, as the boy in the game, can feed the blob different jellybeans to make it change into different objects and overcome various obstacles blocking your path. For example, you can feed the blob licorice beans to make the blob turn into a ladder, or apple ones to turn the blob into a jack to lift objects (get it, Apple Jacks?). There were 14 different jellybeans you could collect in the game, and each one did something to the blob. I still can't figure out why the hell the vanilla beans turned the blob into an umbrella, though...

Now of course, the graphics are incredibly dated by today's standards, but it's certainly not unplayable by any means. (I mean, we ARE talking about the NES here, and not the Atari 2600 or something like that.) You might find yourself impressed with some of the city backgrounds you run into as your progress through the game, as they push the NES to its absolute limits in some cases.

Look at those graphics!

One thing that I found really annoying back when I first played the game years ago was the fact that the blob was rather, well... stupid. Like, you'd run or whatever to go from one objective to the other, but you had to wait for the blob to catch up to you. It was so retarded. Like, "hurry up, you bastard!!!" The only way you could speed up the friggin thing was to either give it a honey jellybean to turn it into a Hummingbird, or toss a ketchup one to make him "catch up." I remember screaming at the television screen, "You fat bastard! You don't need anymore to eat!" And then, to make things worse, the kid threw like sissy. Seriously, I could spit farther than he could throw. He'd throw a jellybean, and the shit would land a foot in front of him. And of course, being the fat bastard that it was, the blob wouldn't even bother to make an effort to catch the beans. So, if you weren't careful, you'd wind up throwing beans onto the ground, rendering them useless. (The blob was too good, apparently, to eat things off the ground. Like, c'mon, bastard, 5-second rule!) This was especially annoying when you had a limited number of beans in your arsenal.

He hates junk food, but takes "cola" jellybeans? Huh?

Lazy blob stuff aside, the whole jellybean aspect is what makes this game so innovative for its time and makes it a classic. So, check out "A Boy and His Blob" and get your fix of some classic gaming action for like, 2 bucks, at any good NES-game reseller.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Modern Day Sequels?
After the Game Boy release of "The Rescue of Princess Blobette" in 1990, no one heard anything about this franchise until last year's E3, when Majesco announced that a sequel was in the works for the Nintendo DS. However, it's been more than a year since that announcement, and we haven't heard anything since. Considering that Majesco is undergoing some financial problems, it doesn't look like we'll be seeing this sequel anytime soon.

FUN FACT: David Crane, the creator of the uber-gaming arcade classic, "Pitfall," created this game.

Gotta love Dueling Analogs

Tuesday, July 04, 2006 

360's Can Blog, Too!

Even though some of us have been toying around with this site for more than a month now, for whatever reason, we failed to blog about it. But, it's better late than never, as we say. is a blogging site that allows 360 owners to sign up, merge their gamertags with the site's built-in code, and BAM, your 360 now has a personal blog. Everytime you turn on your 360 (provided that it's connected to the internet, of course), the 360 "blogs" what it does and tells the world what you've been up to with the system, including detailing any new achievements you may have earned or games you may have played. And if you haven't played with it, well, let's just say that your 360 gets rather angry...

So, sign up! Head on over to and check it out!


Happy 4th of July!

Well, since all of us here at PSTP are American, we all get to enjoy a wonderful day off and get a chance to catch up on some video games, sit on our bums, and watch the fireworks go off as we stuff our faces with bar-b-que.

And if you don't celebrate the holiday, well, whatever, keep gaming! :-)


My Brain Is 850-years old?!!! F@% you!!

Remember those oh-so wonderful golden years of gaming during the mid-90's, when, the US Government wasted taxpayer money in an effort to sue the be-jesus out of Acclaim and Midway for the "evil" Mortal Kombat franchise? (Then again, when isn't Uncle Sam trying to sue the bejesus out of video game makers? Yesterday's "Mortal Kombat" and "Night Trap" is today's "Grand Theft Auto.") In an effort to battle critics who said that video games have no real intellectual value for children, some game publishers took it upon themselves to establish "edutainment" titles that would, in theory, serve as the perfect combination for growing children: video games, that were not only fun, but also educational at the same time! Nintendo was one of these publishers, creating such classics as "Mario Paint," and the absolutely memorable, "Mario is Missing." (Yup, it was memorable... for its absolute horridness... You can't hate on "Mario Paint", though...)

Of course, hardly anyone bought these games, and within a couple of years, as the US Government began to ease off the gaming industry, these titles dropped of the face of the planet, and rightfully so, as the vast majority were just completely horrible and unimaginative. Some joked that these "games" were made horrible on purpose just to scare children off of video games forever.

Now, while edutainment titles have pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur, Nintendo's recently released DS title, "Brain Age: Train Your Brain Minutes A Day," on paper, could be mistaken for one of those old titles. I mean, what could possibly be fun about solving simple math problems as fast as you can, reading passages aloud, counting the number of syllables in a sentence, or drawing the continent of Africa from memory? Believe it or not, there's quite a lot of fun to be had in this tiny cart.

Somebody doesn't know their math...

As one of the first titles Nintendo has released under its "Touch Generations" line of games, "Brain Age" is a title that aims to serve the needs of non-traditional gamers (read: everyone who isn't 14-21 years old, male, and likes to kill things) who enjoy games, but find that too many of them are simply too complicated to get into. The entire objective of the game is to improve your personal "Brain Age," an IQ-like measuring scale. According to the scale, the older your "Brain Age," the more "tired" (read: stupid) your brain is, with 20 being the youngest your brain can be, and 80 being the oldest. The game encourages you to play for a few minutes every day, religiously, in order to keep improving your Brain Age, and charts your progress over time. Skip a few days, and the game's built-in virtual doctor, Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, reprimands you slightly, but then encourages you to keep playing.

The game's brain exercises take full advantage of the DS' capabilities, such as the touchscreen and the built-in mic. Some of the exercises in the game include the aforementioned "Math x 20," where you have to solve as many simple math problems in 20 seconds using the touchscreen, and one where the game flashes the word of a particular color, and you have to say aloud what the color of the word is, not what the actual word says. For example, the game will flash the word, "Red," but you have to identify the word's actual color. The word "Red" could actually be yellow, so, you have to say aloud that the color is "yellow." Another game, "Time Lapse," measures your ability to tell time on a traditional clock, and asks you to identify how much time has passed between two different clocks, in as quick a time as possible. And it's even got Sudoku, that number-crunching puzzle game that has taken America by storm, built right into it, as well.

More likely than not, you'll probably feel absolutely retarded when you play the game for the first time, as you'll more than likely freeze up during your first encounter with "Math x 20." For the life of you, you just won't remember what the hell "9 x 7" is, and waste valuable seconds coming up with the answer. You'll be mad at yourself for stalling on a problem that any 2nd grader could do, and you'll find yourself playing the game every day just to make up for your first failure. And this is where the game really shines; it takes advantage of your own competitiveness and gets you to come back time and time again to keep improving your personal times.

The thing about the game, however, is that you can't sit down with it and play it for hours, as with traditional games. As the title says, you're only encouraged to play this game for a few minutes every day, as it will only record your times for the individual exercises and test your Brain Age once a day. In a way, you have to think of this game like a vitamin; you take it once a day to get your brain going, and then you move along to something else. The emphasis is to improve your brain over time. If you believe Nintendo's hype, the game is supposed to be beneficial to you in real life if you play it every day. In my personal experience with the game over two months, I actually did notice that my ability to figure out restaurant tips, for example, improved dramatically. So maybe there is some truth to the whole "Training" aspect of this title.

One thing that I've noticed about some of the recent DS titles is that while they're innovative and good, after awhile, they kind of lose their freshness and get old rather quickly. "Nintendogs," for example, was an incredibly innovative title that came out last year that took complete advantage of the DS' built-in hardware features, but did not deliver on the longevity aspect; I stopped playing the game after about 3 weeks and never bothered to pick it up since. "Brain Age," however, has actually maintained a spot in my DS over time, proving that at $20, this game is an incredible value, and doesn't require you to spend a whole lot of time with it. And, if for whatever reason, you can't play over an extended amount of time, you could always pick up the game, and pick up right where you left off. So, if you have a DS, and this sounds like your cup of tea, then go get it, or at least, demo it. Nintendo is offering free downloads of this game at participating Best Buys across the US, and if you're in New York City, you could stop by the Nintendo World store and pick up a free demo copy of the game as well. And if you don't have a DS, well, what are you waiting for?

PROS: Like a prostitute in Amsterdam, it's cheap, quick, and fun. Like many other games on the Nintendo DS, this game is unlike any other out there on the market today. The training exercises are varied and interesting enough to keep you coming back for more, and at times, the game might even just surprise you. The Sudoku portion of the game, which is separate from the rest of the Brain Age exercises, is a great alternative to using the traditional pen and paper method. The game's multiplayer mode is also fun as all hell.

CONS: At times, the game's voice recognition system behaves rather awkwardly. For example, when playing the color identification game, the voice recognition fails to pick up the word, "Blue." I've spent countless times shouting, "BLUEEE!!! BLUEEE!!! BlUE, bitch, BLUUEE!!!," and nothing. However, one day, I decided to try pronouncing the word in "Engrish," or English in a Japanese accent. Low and behold, the word, "Brew" worked better than "Blue," and I never had a problem after that. "Yerrow" worked, too, for those keeping score at home.

Wish List: Besides better voice recognition, it's hard to wish for more for a game like this besides the usual "more games" bit.