Archive for July, 2007

Wario Ware: Mega Microgame$

Saturday, July 21st, 2007

This article originally appeared on my main site back in March of 2004.

It’s really hard to classify a game like Wario Ware. It’s what I like to call a Metagame. It’s a game that’s made up of a lot of smaller games, kind of like the Mario Party series, except that this is (mostly) a one player experience.

So what is it exactly that you do in this game? Well, storyline aside, your goal is to progress through ‘courses’ of micro-games, each one with a distinct theme and a boss-game every so often. The controls for all of the micro-games are different, but they are fairly intuitive, and they have to be. You have about three seconds to figure out what you’re supposed to do and then do it before the next game starts.

The micro-games that this cartridge offers is where the game really shines. There are about 200 of the things locked away in this cartridge, and while there are some similarities between some of them, they are different enough that each one seems like a whole new experience. The games are broken up into themes (or courses) that are presented be the characters in the game. Jimmy with the gigantic afro has sports games, Mona rides a scooter and presents the weird games, and 9-Volt the grade-schooler presents the old-school games just to name a few.

The graphics in this game are extremely varied. They range from extremely simple, to photographic quality. Every one of the games has a distinctive look to it, which is quite a feat considering the amount of them that there are. The scenes that play out to tell the story of the game are particularly well done.

Running through the courses of the micro-games isn’t all there is to do in this game. The game offers a practice mode where you can hone your skills at a particular game (as well as unlock some of the game’s secrets). There are some full versions of some games that you can unlock that have a Wario flavor to them such as Dr. Wario and Sheriff (an very old Nintendo arcade title), there are some extended versions of some of the micro-games and there are a few two-player games that require both players to use the same Game Boy. Definitely an interesting experience.

Wario Ware is one of those games that is perfectly suited to the Game Boy. It’s a game that’s got an incredible amount of variety, it’s easy to pick up and play, and it’s a good game to play in between other games, or on road trips or wherever. This is one of those games that you absolutely can not go wrong with.

Eric’s Ultimate Solitaire

Friday, July 20th, 2007

Keeping it short and sweet for today, I’d like to tell you about Eric’s Ultimate Solitaire. This is a collection of Solitaire games for your computer that will help waste great gobs of time. I know what you’re thinking, “I already have Solitaire on my computer.” Which is likely true. The problem is, it’s more than likely Klondike Solitaire. Klondike is probably the most well-known variation, but even with skilled play is very difficult to win. Heck, you can lose even if you make no mistakes. While Eric’s includes Klondike for completeness, it has around 20 more versions, with varying degrees of complexity and difficulty.

Of course, you could just buy a copy of Hoyle’s and a deck of cards for far cheaper than this game, but it has a few niceties that the deck doesn’t have. The game can be set to ‘auto play’. While it won’t play the game through by itself, the game can take the obvious moves and do them all for you. e.g. putting the next dozen or so cards on the aces on the top of the screen. Clicking on a card will show you all legal moves you can do, the legal moves will change color. By clicking on the wolf claw you can cheat (okay, you can cheat with real cards, too). And, perhaps most noteworthy, there is a silly cartoon wolf with a silly cartoon voice that talks to you through the game, offering encouragement, asking questions, and the like.

Try to get that out of a real deck of cards and a real wolf.


Thursday, July 19th, 2007

Skifree was one of those crappy little games that was put on nearly every personal computers in the 90’s thanks to being included in the Microsoft Entertainment Pack. It also happened to be one of my least favorite.

The game is you, an unnamed skier, skiing down a mountain, avoiding hazards, and generally trying to do stunts to increase your ’style’. The goal, then, is to get a high style score. And that’s pretty much it. There’s almost nothing to this game. Its simplicity does not hide a deeply nuanced experience. It’s just you, skiing down a mountain, wiping out occasionally.

Much too simplistic for my taste.

The Most Officialest SkiFree Home Page

Heroes of Might and Magic III: The Restoration of Erathia

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

I had always heard good things about the Might and Magic series, but somehow managed to miss all of the games in the series until the third installment. I picked it up for a song (and a smart little dance) and jumped right in.

The Might and Magic games have a ridiculous amount of lore to go along with them. Hit this link if you want to know the particulars, but to sum up: there’s a war, you need to raise an army and win.

There are a few features in this game that I would find out are hallmarks of the series.

Cities. Cities are hubs of activities. It is in the cities where most of the ’strategeries’ take place. You build training grounds to train and recruit units for your armies, trade resources, hire heroes, generate revenue, just about all of the micromanagement tasks you’d want to do. You’ll spend a great deal of time here, mostly building the buildings and recruiting/training allies.

So you raise up your army, but you need to have someone to lead it. Armies don’t lead themselves, after all. So you recruit a hero to lead your forces. Heroes are really only as strong as the armies they lead, so you give your hero some units and begin marauding across the countryside. In your travels you’ll come across enemy heroes and opposing random enemies. Taking them on will invoke the third hallmark, the battles.

Battling in this game takes place on a grid of hexagons. Each group of units is represented as a single creature with a number representing how many creatures it is. Colloquially known as a ’stack’. Heroes are stationed on the sidelines where they direct the battle and assist with special abilities. It’s up to you to use your hero’s cunning by proxy to outmaneuver and outwit your opponent to win.

Having said all of that, this game is hard. I played this game a few dozen times and was never able to finish the first mission, which is a little annoying since the mission can take upwards of several hours to complete. So I don’t actually know how good the game gets later.

Snow Bros.

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

In a back story that didn’t make a lot of sense (and isn’t especially relevant) two brothers were turned into snowmen by a generic evil-type person. They are determined to get back to normal, and to do so, must defeat throngs of enemies with the power of snow.

Each level is one screen with a series of platforms. You have unlimited, though tiny, shots of snow that you can lob at whatever rabble appears on the screen. Your goal is to cover the baddies with snow and then kick them to dispatch them. If your snowball hits other monsters on the screen, they’ll be KO’d as well, garnering you bonus points. It’s in your interest to set up chain reactions for the points (every so many nets you an extra life) but also for the hot sauce. Why snowmen use hot sauce for powerups is a mystery, but they give your little guy the ability to hurl more snow, hurl snow further, run around faster, or float around and flatten things. The first three can be combined and stay with you until you lose a life, which you will do. A lot. You’re pretty fragile in this game, the first hit kills you every time, unless you’ve eaten the hot sauce that lets you float around and bump into things, then you’re invulnerable.

The game’s numerous stages are punctuated by the occasional boss fight, huge things that take up most of the screen and are invulnerable to your pathetic little snow volleys, so you get to hit the smaller enemies that appear and crash the big snowballs into the creature to kill it.

I was able to actually finish the NES port of the game, and restored the brothers to their human forms, but inexplicably there seems to exist a 2 and a 3 in Japan. Story inconsistencies aside, I imagine it’s a lot more of the same, which in this case might not be too bad.

9 Dragons

Monday, July 16th, 2007

Crossposting from my main site today, lucky you!

A while back, Acclaim folded as a game company. The Acclaim name was bought by one of the guys from Activision, turned into Acclaim Games, and began pumping out MMORPG’s. Wikipedia’s article is somewhat lacking, but will give you a basic understanding of the situation.

I got an invite from one of my friends to try out one of their RPGs, 9 Dragons. It’s a game based on Kung-Fu. You travel the land, join a Kung-Fu clan, and beat things up. Seemed like a reasonable premise for a game.

Acclaim’s MMORPGs are the kind that are free to download, and free to play. The catch being that to generate money to cover bandwidth and development costs ads are injected into the game and you have ability to spend some of your real-world money to purchase things in game, such as extra abilities, exclusive outfits, and exclusive items.

The ads that you see are a nearly full-screen picture ad on each loading screen and a smallish one that will pop up in the center of the screen toward the top. It doesn’t obscure your view too much, but it certainly takes your focus for a second when it pops up. It’s worth noting that of the ads I saw, two of them were for the game I was playing, and the others were for Acclaim itself.

The download for the game is relatively small for a Massively Multiplayer game, weighing in at just under 800MB. After downloading and mucking through the obnoxious installer, I tried to start the game, only to find out that the desktop shortcut it installed would open up a new tab in Firefox. Doing a little digging, I was able to find out that the game inexplicably uses Internet Explorer to launch. Since I use Firefox as my primary browser, I had to follow these directions to make the shortcut on my desktop point to the actual game.

Once I was able to actually start the game, I ran through the fairly limited character creation process, created my character, and was told that the name ‘basscomm’ could not be used. The game apparently found a dirty word lurking in my handle. I’m not surprised, Uniracers invalidated my handle for the same reason. So, I chose a new name, ‘Food’, only to get the message that ‘This character has already been created’. Turns out that the message really meant that the name had been taken. I eventually settled on ‘Bland’, picked my starting area and started the game.

Immediately upon dropping into the game world, I had the option of doing a tutorial quest. This optional quest promised to show me the basics of the game, with a paltry reward at the end. I accepted and was spirited away to a field where someone behind me was needing some assistance.

It was here that I became acclimated to the controls. I’ve grown accustomed to the standard WASD controls or even the arrow keys to move around. In this game, you left-click on the ground where you want to move to, and hold the right mouse button and move the mouse to move the camera. Since you also use the left mouse button to talk to people and generally interact with the world, you need to make sure you click directly on the person that you wish to speak with otherwise you run right past them and have to fight with the camera to get back.

The tutorial quest is an escort quest, before you can do anything, you get to watch some instructions running through the basics of inventory management, enemy engagement, using skills, etc. I found it odd that instead of using in-game graphics, the person doing the motions in the tutorial was a small looping movie with a missing frame. I only knew that the frame was missing because he would turn into a large red block for a split second every time the video would loop.

After learning how to ready myself for battle, I started escorting my way up a hill and was attacked by three bandits. I was then introduced to the two modes you character can exist in, Peace Mode and Battle Mode. In Peace Mode you cannot attack anyone, and in Battle Mode you can. Why you would ever not want to be in Battle Mode. The bandits appeared behind me, so I ended up wrestling with the camera while simultaneously trying to frantically click on the enemies that were surrounding me. it didn’t help that you can’t press ‘Tab’ on the keyboard to select an enemy, that button is to go in and out of Peace Mode. So what happened was that I was running around in circles, not attacking because I was not in Battle Mode.

I eventually managed to take down the assailants and it crashed to desktop. No worries, I thought, I’ll just log back in and finish off the quest. Turns out that my progress was not saved, so I had to start the quest over, and I got to watch the tutorial videos again. Then my game crashed again. I went through this process a couple of more times before I restarted my computer. I never could figure out what was wrong.

After restarting, the game was much more stable. I was able to finish the tutorial quest, gained a skill that allowed me to regain my health, and entered the game world proper. To the game’s credit it looks reasonably good. Until you start interacting with things. Throughout the village I started in there were these pots that kept spawning on the ground. A couple of whacks with my stick cracked them open so I could get the gold piece that lay inside, but the animation of the broken pieces was almost comically bad. Chunks would fly up and then land on the ground, but had no inertia. It looked like they landed on flypaper.

I puttered around for a while killing livestock while I explored the town, getting stuck as my guy couldn’t figure out how to walk around anything. You can’t jump, so if there’s a couple of pebbles in the way, they’re suddenly an impasse.

Around the village there are folks that sell skills, I bought one, and then learned that you have go to some training ground to train in the skills you’ve purchased. I never was able to find the training ground, and so was never able to use my awesome fist skill. I was, however, able to load it into my quickbar. Four times, in fact. I noticed at this point that my ‘regain health’ skill (meditation) was gone, and that I couldn’t figure out how to remove the worthless skills from my quickbar.

I eventually found a quest giver who gave my my first real quest, killing the foxes that were harassing his chickens. Sounds easy enough, the foxes just kind of stand around the town and aren’t aggressive in the slightest, even when I’m bludgeoning them with a quarterstaff. While killing foxes, one of them decided to walk away from me, directly up to and then through the wall of a house. Cunning.

I finished my quest, turned in my ‘fox skin’, sold my ‘fox hair’, and was offered another quest. I accepted, logged off, uninstalled the game, deleted the uninstaller, and burned down my computer.

I don’t really think there was ever any danger of me getting addicted to it, even it it was free.


Sunday, July 15th, 2007

This article originally appeared on this site in July of 2005. Enjoy!

Nintendo had this great idea: To capitalize on the retro trend they would release a series of old NES games retooled to play on the Game Boy Advance… and charge $20 a pop. I know I’m not the only one who thought that this was a little steep for just one classic game, especially when you can get compilations like Mega Man Anniversary Collection for $30 that has 10 classic games. Fortunately, a trip to my local EBGames has revealed that at least one of these alleged classic games now retails for $9.99.

This package contains: the original NES Castlevania, original graphics, original sounds, original manual, and a battery-backed save system. So if you’ve played the original Castlevania, you know what to expect and already know if you think the game’s worth the cash. I’ve put more hours into the NES version than I did into my entire college education, so I may be slightly biased.

The story goes something like this: Dracula has cursed your family and you have to kill him. A simple premise for a simpler time. You have to work your way through Dracula’s castle fighting generic scary things, culminating in a fight with old Drac himself.

You have the standard assortment of evil-stomping weapons: a whip (which can be upgraded), daggers, stopwatches, axes, crosses (I mean boomerangs!), and holy water (I mean firebombs!). Some of the items that might have had something to do with religion were renamed due to Nintendo’s staunch ‘no-religion’ policy that was in place at the time. Anyway, the items are sufficiently different from each other and are each useful in certain situations. To progress at this game you will need to compliment Simon’s physical limitations with each of the different subweapons at your disposal.

The challenge this game offers is fairly typical of games of the era. The game starts out fairly easy, and each stage ramps up the difficulty until the end of the game where it’s so hard that you might feel like ripping your Game Boy in two. Thankfully, there is a save feature so you can actually turn off the game and walk away. Then you can pick up where you left off instead of trying to finish the game in one sitting.

Other than the save feature, this game is absolutely identical to the NES version, for good or ill. Your success in this game is absolutely dependant on your skill (or lack thereof). Simon does exactly what you tell him to, and there are very few random elements. Oftentimes in similar games that means that there is a lot of memorization to progress. That’s not entirely the case with this game. You just need practice.

Classic Castlevania is a perfect fit for the GBA. It’s got a good mix of fun and challenge, and the game-save feature makes it super easy to pick up and play in short bursts. Now that it’s finally down to the $10 price point, you can hardly go wrong with it.

Game Name: Classic NES Series: Castlevania
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Purchased from: EBGames
Amount of money I wasted on it: $9.99
One word summary: Good!

Tux Racer

Saturday, July 14th, 2007

Tux Racer is a simplistic racing game. It stars Tux, the penguin mascot of the Linux operating system, gliding down a valley on his belly. The goal is to get to the finish line in the fastest time possible.

There are a variety of objects on the course, patches of ice to speed you up, patches of rocks to slow you down, trees to crash into, and herring to collect for points. You need to both a fast time and a high score to go to the next level.

There’s really not a lot more to say about it, except that the game is Free. Free to download, free to play, and free to do just about whatever you want to. It has very modest requirements, so it will run on just about any hardware you can throw at it. And it is apparently easy to create custom courses to race down.

The Tux Racer homepage

Fast Draw Showdown

Friday, July 13th, 2007

Laserdiscs were very important. They showed us that a disc the size of a vinyl 33 1/3 record was still a viable medium for entertainment. It also paved the way for video games to be built with the very same technology. Instead of cartoony graphics that didn’t look a very realistic, suddenly you could see the most realistic graphics of all, real life!

Unfortunately, this meant that games that were built using this technology were usually pretty light on content. For every scene that the player saw, the developer had to set up and film the scene for the end user. When done well, the game could be pretty fun, though a bit short. Fast Draw Showdown managed to turn these weaknesses into a pretty fun little game.

The premise of this game (if there is a premise) is that you’re a gunslinger in the Old West, and you’re going to go up against a series of opponents in fast draw competitions. You have a gun in a holster attached to the arcade unit. When the light on the screen turns green, you have to out draw your opponent and shoot him before he shoots you. Your opponents range in skill, from the fumbling drunk old man to the crackshot preacher with a gun hidden in his Bible, and are frequently some degree of silly. Like the man who walks out of the Telegraph office, “Heh heh heh! I just wired your family, you’re dead!”

Eventually, if you manage to best all of the opponents you go up against Wes Flowers, pitchman for the game and ridiculously fast quick draw. When the light goes green, you have less than a second to react, draw your gun, and fire. You’re dead. He’s completely possible to beat if you either have phenomenal reflexes or time it like I used to. (He fires almost exactly 3 seconds after he touches his gun the first time, no kidding!).

Hitting my local arcade showed me that this game has been recently rereleased for some reason. It still stands as one of my all time favorite arcade games, even if you can see a car driving along one of the back roads in the Old West.

Cool Spot

Thursday, July 12th, 2007

The Cool Spot was the crazy-cool animated mascot character of 7-Up in the 90’s. It was the little red dot on the 7-Up logo, but with arms, legs, sunglasses, and attitude! It was inevitable, then, that the Cool Spot would wind up following in the footsteps of other odd mascot characters like the Noid and star in his very own video game.

I only played Cool Spot once and even though I’ve managed to block most of the game from my mind, I do remember a thing or two about it.

Thing 1: The game looked good. For a Super NES game, the game looked pretty good. Giant soda bottles looked like giant soda bottles, sand looked like sand, and the two-dimensional animated disc looked like a two-dimensional animated disc.

Thing 2: The game sounded good. Apparently scored in part by one of the least entertaining folks I’ve seen on television, Tommy Tallarico. I don’t find the guy particularly entertaining or insightful, but he’s fairly talented, so there is that.

Other than those two things, I just remember running around and killing things by shooting soda bubbles at them on my quest to rescue other two-dimensional discs from cages. Why couldn’t they just slip through the bars? Then we wouldn’t have much of a game, duh.