Archive for June, 2008

Dragon’s Lair

Friday, June 20th, 2008

If you’ve never seen a Laserdisc, it kind of looked like a giant CD. And since folks had some kind of fascination with putting games on CDs that consisted of nothing but video clips, it only made sense that they could also use the Laserdiscs to make video games that were also made by stringing together video clips.

But why stop at boring regular live-action footage when you can have cartoons!

Dragon’s Lair is a fully cartoon-animated game that features you, not really playing as, but more like directing Dirk the Daring on his quest to rescue princess Daphne. But, it’s a little bit different from any game that I’ve really played before of since. You pretty well just kind of sit there and watch the movie unfold. Occasionally a glowing spot will pop up on the screen or Dirk’s sword will glow. This is your cue to move the joystick in the same direction that you saw the glow, or if his sword lit up, hit the ’sword’ button. If you do the move with the correct timing, then the movie continues, but if you get it wrong (and the timing window is ridiculously small), then you lose a life in a comically tragic fashion.

I would only play this game one time at my local arcade, and that wouldn’t happen until several years after it had left most other arcades in the country. It was only there for about a week before it disappeared again, so it kind of makes me think that the game was taken back to the owner’s personal collection.

But the time that I was there and was able to play it, I had a degree of fun with it… until the windows to input the actions based on the cues came too fast for me to react to them. Which meant that I’d have to, essentially, memorize the game if I wanted to succeed, and that wouldn’t be too big of an issue for me, but the game disappeared before I got the chance, so I guess I’ll never know how good I might have gotten at it.

But, in my brief stint in the video game industry I was co-workers with the guy that programmed the game. And that’s just about as good as mastering the game would have been. At least, that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself.


Thursday, June 19th, 2008

I kind of have an unhealthy affinity for one versus one games. I just kind of like having a one on one contest where the better person emerges. Oftentimes that ends up being the player that’s not me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy them, right?

Rampart is a game about castles, wall building, and heavy artillery. You, and up to one of your friends (up to two in the arcade version) each take control of a castle with a wall around it (a rampart, don’t you know).

So, first, after you pick a castle, comes the ‘place your cannons’ phase, and then the shooting phase. Your goal is to use your cannons to bust up the ramparts of your opponents while they’re doing the same to yours. After a few seconds comes the rebuilding phase.

In the rebuilding phase you have a limited amount of time and some tetris-like blocks that you have to use to reconstruct your walls. Your goal is going to be to surround your cannons with a complete wall, but you can also extend your walls to claim other castles to use in your battles. More castles = more cannons at your disposal, but you also have to make sure you claim at least one castle, or it’s game over for you!

There’s also a single-player mode where you get to go up against boats controlled by the computer, but that’s way less fun.

I really had a lot of fun with this game. You really had to use your noodle a little bit to strategically destroy the wall in a way that the weird tetrimino-like wall pieces would have a tough time to fill. But you also don’t have a whole lot of time to do much in the way of scheming, the game just moves too fast for that.

But you have plenty of time for trash-talking whoever’s sitting next to you while you tear their walls down, which just kind of loses something if you do it over the Internet.

Dusty Diamond’s All-Star Softball

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Before I found Dusty Diamond’s All-Star Softball, I had never actually played a video softball game. In fact, the only thing I knew about softball at the time was that it was a whole lot like baseball only with a bigger ball and the guys pitched underhanded instead of overhanded. Even so, it was a sports game, which I don’t normally get into so much, so I don’t really know why I decided to give this one a try. Probably because I was drawn in by the art on the back of the box or something.

It turns out that this game takes a few liberties with the game of softball.

The games you play each take place in places other than baseball stadiums, places like a schoolyard and a cliff-side. That means that the different fields not only actually look different from each other, but they have other ‘house rules’ that makes it actually worth playing on the fields. Stuff like, if the ball rolls under the fence and off the cliff, then that’s a ground-rule double. They just kind of spiced things up.

The other thing that I thought was pretty awesome was that several of the players had different abilities. Most of the folks in the game were bog-standard hoo-mans, but there were some that could, for example, walk better over rough terrain (they hopped a lot), or some that could jump in the air and float there, stuff like that. But there were others that brought odd implements with them to bat with. Brooms and spiky clubs are what I remember seeing the most. And on top of all of that the players actually looked different from each other, rather than being the same guy with a different number on his shirt, as is what you get with most other games like this.

This is actually the only sports game that I can remember that I rented more than one time on purpose. Mostly because the game was pretty silly, silly enough that I could overlook the fact that I was playing a game that was, essentially baseball, but with less rigid rules. And I can completely get behind something like that.

Metal Gear

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Some time ago my local Hills store went out of business, and of the mounds of junk that I got from there, the thing that I most remember was a Tips and Tricks tape for various games on the NES, hosted by the US National Video Game Team. Other than me deciding that I really wanted to be a member of said team, I was presented (in full motion video!) several games in which I’d get pretty terrible hints at how to play. Most of which I’d never play or even see in Real Life(tm), but a few of them did cross my path, and I was pretty eager to put my skills that I learned via the VHS Arts to good use.

I rented Metal Gear one night because of what I saw in the video, and not because of the infamous hilariously mistranslated dialog. So, let’s get that out of the way first.

I feel asleep!

Yes, yes, very funny.

But there was an actual game to be had beneath the garbled communications. A game about sneaking around a military facility to do away with the titular Metal Gear. What is it? What’s it do? You just have to kind of figure out that part as you go along.

You just kind of have to skulk around and work your way into the Nebulous Military Facility, killing people as you go along, enough so that they don’t detect you and not so much that they get suspicious of all their buddies dying. It’s a delicate balance, and one that I was not quite able to achieve.

I didn’t really do much in this game because I did something that I never have done since. That game video I got on the cheap had in its Metal Gear section a password that started you at the end of the game, so the first thing I did when I got the game was put in the password, then I hopped in the elevator, and saw the ending. I just did the equivalent of reading the last page of a novel first (which a friend told me he always did so he wouldn’t wonder how the book was going to end).

And just like that the game was spoiled for me. I tried to go back and play through it, but just didn’t have the motivation. That was the day that I swore off using a walkthrough as a first-resort. I’d save that until I was absolutely stuck, that way I’d avoid ruining the experience for myself.

World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade

Monday, June 16th, 2008

I played the original World of Warcraft from launch in November of 2004 until June of 2005, and while I liked the game well enough, I just kind of quit for a variety of reasons. Mostly because my schedule didn’t jibe with that of the folks I was playing with, and you can only play a game designed to be played in groups by yourself for so long before boredom sets in. But, years go by and I still keep up on some of the happenings in the game, I occasionally check the forums and look at patch notes, and I get the odd promotional disc begging me to come back.

But I would resist for a long time, mostly because what I didn’t want to happen was that I’d reactivate my account and then really like it, which would mean that I’d have to pony up forty of my dollars for the privilege, which I didn’t really think was cost-effective.

And then, around Thanksgiving last year I found the expansion pack for $20. I looked at it, and passed on it, but I somehow convinced myself that it must have been some kind of sale or something, and couldn’t possibly be twenty dollars forever, and, really, what’s twenty dollars? Twenty dollars is less than I’d pay for a large pizza and some drinks, and even if I get it, I didn’t have to play it, I just would have that option if I get bored one day, right? And then, somehow, the game ended up in my house, on my shelf, waiting for me to play it.

But I’d hang on to it for a while longer, not really convinced that I really wanted to play it, but not convinced that I didn’t want to play it. Remembering that the game was really well put together, and that I had a lot of fun playing what content that I could get through on my own, and I had a free two-week trial with no strings attached that I could play and then cancel, and my character and all my stuff was still there, so I could restart the game with my level 55 mage without actually grinding all that content again. And, then, somehow, after about ten weeks, the game ended up installed on my hard drive and I was in the midst of reactivating my account.

So, after nearly three years of being away from the game I was about to log back in to what would really be a wholly different game.

In the interim from the time that I played the game a whole lot had changed, most of which doesn’t bear going into here. But gamewise lots of stuff was added and changed: Battlegrounds, daily quests, epic mounts, new areas to explore, new races, new classes available to each side, a whole new continent to explore, and about a million little changes.

So I logged in and picked up my character pretty much where I left off, riding my horse through Stormwind toward the bank to see what in the world I thought was worth saving at the time, get my bearings and start adventurin’.

The game was, even with all the changes, more or less how I remembered it. At least the ‘old world’ was. So that made things a little easier to get back into the swing of things and to work off a little bit of the rust. But in the years since I’d played the game my guild had disbanded and all of the people that I had played with had switched factions and servers, so there wasn’t any way I could play with anyone that I knew without rerolling a character on their new-fangled server and then spending copious amounts of time getting his levels up to a respectable level, which didn’t sound too fun.

So I created a new character on their server and on their side of the ‘war’, but I had to make sure that I created one of the new races so that I could see the new starting area. Which, admittedly, looked really good. Then I joined up with all the Old Friends and began his ascent to reach the level seventy(!) plateau that I’d need to get to to play whatever regular content that they all did weekly.

But I also wanted to check out the higher-level content, so I was splitting my time between two servers on completely opposite ends of the WoW spectrum. High-level Alliance solo player, who got guild invites every few minutes (I guess people just see someone in the low 60s without a guild and they figure that she needs some friends), and a low-level Horde character who had a group of buddies that were available sometimes, when they weren’t doing all the Fun Stuff with their high-level ‘Mains’ while I was schlepping along in the lower ranks trying to get up to speed.

And that’s what I did for a couple of months. I got my high-ish level character high enough to see the new continent, Outland. I got to see the front of the titular war. I got to see the new starting area for the new races. I got to see pretty much all of the new stuff. And then the realization that I would have a lot of work to do if I wanted to get my lowbie character up to speed to let him get to the ‘good stuff’. Even with friends that was going to take a while, so I just kind of let my subscription run out after three months.

But, since my characters’ data will be there for the life of the game, if I ever decide to check out the next expansion pack, whenever that comes out, I’ll have a character who can check out most of the new stuff. Of course, I’ll have to wait for it to come down to $20 or less before I even do that, so it may be a while.

R.C. Pro-Am

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

I mentioned before that I don’t really like the realistic racing games, and that’s still mostly true. But I also tend to gravitate toward games that are on the fringes of realism, so I can occasionally be found playing a realistic racing game, so long as it’s only on the fringe of realism.

Like R.C. Pro-Am. It’s a game about racing radio-controlled vehicles around a series of tracks for as long as you can. Sounds kind of lame and generic, I know, but there are several twists, each twistier than the last!

Like in real R.C. racing you see the action from the sidelines. But unlike real R.C. racing (or, more accurately, my interpretation of real R.C. racing) there’s crap all over the track that you have to pick up, each one somehow enhances your car on the spot and gives you a little speed boost. Better tires to help you turn, better engine parts to make you go faster, and other better engine parts to make you accelerate faster.

And then there’s the weapons.

Just because you’re racing little toy cars around tracks doesn’t mean that you have to race fairly. You get to pick up missiles and bombs to try and temporarily incapacitate the other schmucks on the track. You can’t actually take them out for good or anything, but you do slow them down a bit, and you need to slow them down a bit. The main reason is because one of the cars is a dirty cheater. Every once in a while you’ll hear this high-pitched noise and one of the cars will get some kind of super-speed and rocket ahead of the entire pack. In my experience, this happened when you were battling to stay in third place, then the last place car would get its super-boost and rocket into first place, leaving you in last, which means, unless you have some continues left, you’re staring at a big, fat, Game Over.


There’s all kinds of other stuff to pick up, roll cages to make you temporarily nigh-invulnerable, letters to the word ‘NINTENDO’ that, if you get them all will give you a better vehicle, and that kind of thing. And you also have to contend with track hazards like oil slicks, tiny rain squalls, and that kind of thing, you have a lot to think about in a sub-minute race.

But with all that crap to think about, it’s actually a whole lot of fun… until the computer cheats. I actually used to be reasonably good at this game, routinely making it through thirty or more tracks without too much trouble, but never quite seeing the end of the game. So I decided one day to use my Game Genie to make sure that I would come in first place every time (the other cars will just race around in circles). And then I raced and raced and raced for an entire afternoon. Although I don’t remember the precise number of tracks I went through, it was close to a hundred. It was about then that I decided that this game didn’t actually have an ending. It just ended when you either got tired of the game and turned it off or you just couldn’t keep up with it any more. And it’s pretty amazing how quickly the former will happen if you don’t have any competition.

Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

I really liked the two Pitfall! games for the Atari 2600. I liked taking Pitfall Harry on whatever wacky adventures the game designers dreamed up for him to go on. So a few years later a new game game out in the Pitfall! universe, this time starring Harry’s son. Apparently Harry’s gone missing in some jungle or other and it’s up to Junior to find and rescue him.

Since I liked the the original games so much, I decided that I had to play this game. So on one Friday night I grabbed it for a rental. Thinking that the game would be some kind of unique spin on the Pitfall! formula, I instead got a generic ‘run around a huge level looking for the end boss’ game that was actually pretty unremarkable.

‘Unremarkable’ might be overstating it a bit. The game was just kind of generic with Pitfall!-esque stuff tossed in to give it some kind of ‘cred’. But it was just kind of ‘blah’, so I got bored with it real fast. But, the best thing about this game was the ending sequence.

Spoilers, yeah.

In the end of the game you rescue your pop from some kind of Mayan… thing. But instead of updating his look to make him blend in with the game, they used his old Atari artwork.

<sarcasm>Hah! Juxtaposition of new, good looking graphics and old, busted graphics. How hilarious, exciting, and it totally makes a generic game less tedious to play!</sarcasm>

In fact, to save you from actually having to track down and play this letdown of a game, just watch this video.

There you go, you’ve now seen the best moment of this game without wasting hours of your life or any of your dollars.

You’re welcome.

The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures

Friday, June 13th, 2008

I just kind of have to wonder about the world in the Zelda universe. From what I’ve played the landscape is literally stuffed to the gills with dungeons full of monsters and treasures. It’s really kind of a mystery to me how Link manages to live in that world before your game starts without tripping over enough items to arm him to the teeth.

Like the Four Sword. Link has to go find it to vanquish the latest non-Ganon threat to the land, some joker named Vaati. But the when Link finds the thing (it’s not hidden very well) and yanks it out of its pedestal it splits him into four Links, and they all have to work together to solve all the puzzles.

You might remember that the GameCube has four controller ports, and that in each port you can plug in a cable to connect up a Game Boy Advance to use as a controller. And getting four people, each with their own Game Boy is the ideal way to play.

The game takes place in a world that looks a lot like the world in the Link to the Past but with a few tweaks to take advantage of the ‘Cube’s hardware. But, when you go underground into the various tunnels and dungeons the action goes into your Game Boy. Which, for some reason I thought was completely awesome.

Throughout your adventuring you have to both work with and compete with up to three of your buddies to solve the puzzles and to collect ‘force gems’. Force gems don’t really do much other than let you finish the stage and buy some continues, but the Link that collects the most wins the level. Which, really doesn’t do much… except for giving the player who got it bragging rights. And I really like to have bragging rights. Of course, you could play this game with one player, control all the Links, and have the GBA screen pop up on your TV when you go into some cave, but that’s not nearly as much fun.

I played this game one time with three other people, and had an absolute load of fun playing it. I didn’t really find anything too tough about it, but I just really liked the ‘everyone has to work together while engaging in friendly competition’ aspect to it. But the guy that owned the game decided to take it back with him when he went home to the next state.


So I’d actually kind of forget about for a couple of years until I was at my local Gamestop and saw that they had the package (complete with link cable) for $20. Of course, by that time most of the folks that I knew with GameBoys had traded them in for the new-fangled DS units, so I couldn’t really round up four people at the same time to play this game with me.

But what I did do was charge up my GBA, hooked up the link cable, and dove into this game with both feet. I had expected the game to take maybe 5 or so hours to complete, to be on par with the Super NES offering (you know, since they looked similar). But I instead managed to lose over a dozen into the thing. And that was actually pretty awesome. Instead of occupying one weekend, it took two!

Now I just need to play it again with the full compliment of equipment.

Sonic Spinball

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

Sonic 2

Take a look at that picture. It’s Sonic the Hedgehog doing a pretty mundane jump. But, he kind of looks like a ball, right? And what else looks like a ball? Besides that. Right, a pinball. So how about taking Sonic in his Adorable Ball Form (or A.B.F.) and chucking him on a pinball table? Sounds… uh… well it sounds like a game, I guess.

So you take mostly indirect control of Sonic as you try to navigate around a series of tables by thwacking him with the flippers and making him roll around and hit things. Your goal is to hit the targets, collect the Chaos Emeralds, and… um… something. I never actually got very far into the first table.

I should like this game, since it’s kind of similar to RPG mode in Pinball Quest, but while that game was charming and unique, this game is unique but dull. The tables are kind of small and connected by tunnels, and what that meant, at least in my case, was that when I slightly mis-hit Sonic he’d go off into some other part of the table where I wasn’t working on trying to hit some targets in some really restrictive time-limit. That meant that I’d have to try and work my way back to the prior table somehow, and what that meant is that I gave up real quick.

Tunnels of Armageddon

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

So what would you do if you had access to a series of tunnels beneath the Earth’s surface and a ship that was specially designed to drive around said tunnels? Race through them at breakneck speed? Shoot stuff off the walls?

Yeah, me too.

Tunnels of Armageddon is a game about taking said ship through a series of tunnels and collecting stuff for points. Your only weapons are a gun, a mysterious ability to jump, and the maneuverability to turn left and right (though not at the same time).

Now, there are items on the walls that you can pick up, but you can’t actually pick them up by touching them, that would make entirely too much sense. You instead collect them by shooting them with your gun.

I’m not sure how that works, either.

But part of the problem is that the items you have to collect-shoot are on little protrusions. Not a big deal though, right? You can just kind of drift out of the way of the protrusions. Except! Your ship has a limited amount of fuel. What that means is that you have to fly through the tunnels at super-extreme speeds, and what that means is that you have a seriously reduced amount of time to move into position and shoot the thing, lest you collide with the wall, which will cost you your precious forward momentum, and do a little bit of damage. And then you might not be able to finish the level. Horrors!

The thing that I most remember about playing this game was that I first played it on a NeXT computers laptop that had a red monochrome screen. Which, for some reason, made the game just look that much more intense. Seeing it now in color just kind of takes some of the edge off.

But I never really played this game much. Not because I got motion sickness or headaches or anything like that. I just felt like I saw everything I needed to see in it after playing through the first couple of levels a few times.

Well, that, and I hit a level that I couldn’t pass.