Sunday, March 5, 2017

March 3rd - Nintendo Switch (U.S.) Launch

What a weekend it has been! March 3rd has come and gone and that means the Nintendo Switch has officially been launched in the U.S. for a few days now. From what I've been reading in social media, Nintendo and retails have been really happy with the strong sales numbers at launch, but what are the consumers saying?

launch day haul

Back in January when Nintendo unveiled the Switch via their webcast, being on the east coast I had to stay up later than I would normally do on a work night to watch it. I was impressed, though like many others I had questions. I thought many of the games that were showcased looked fantastic, but was disappointed that some games weren't going to be in the launch line up. At that point, I really had not paid The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild much attention. When the presentation was over it appears that most rushed to their favorite retailer online to put down their pre-order. I did not. I still was on the fence. After all, I don't normally buy consoles on launch day...for several different reasons.

The next morning I awoke to some crazy stories on social media of how fast the pre-orders were selling out. Out of curiousity, I checked Best Buy to see what their stock was like and surprisingly the standard gray console was still available for pre-order. I went ahead and placed my order, for Zelda too. Then the wait began. Over the next 2 months we would hear all sorts of stories about battery life, frame rate dropped while in handheld mode, the lack of games, etc. I do have to admit I was not prepared to hear all the negative news and comments, but then again this is Nintendo we are talking about. It seems as if people love to hate on Nintendo.

Then finally, March 3rd came and I was anxious as ever to pick up the system. My little Best Buy didn't participate in the midnight launch, which was fine by me. Instead I opted to wait until the store opened up at 10 AM Friday morning. While I was waiting, I went to the nearby Walmart and Target to see what was going on over there. Walmart still had the big cardboard display up that the Switch was coming games or accessories were on display. I did however find that their stock of 30th Anniversary Zelda Amiibos were on clearance. I picked up the Wind Waker 2 pack for $12. Next I ran over to Target and at least they had games and accessories on display. I grabbed a travel case for $20 and went on my way. There was a small line waiting outside Best Buy. About 10 people maybe ahead of me. I believe they only had 5 or so Switch consoles that weren't already spoken for and were handing out tickets prior to my arrival. Just inside the store, they had set up a table with all of the games and accessories available. I basically just jumped in line to pick up my pre-order so I could go about my day.

I wanted to take the day off from work so I could enjoy launch day that much more, but I work from home most days so I thought I could still sneak some play in. Well the universe was against me that day. If things could go wrong at work, they did and so I had to handle them. I believe it was closer to 4 PM before I even unpacked the system and plugged it in for the first time.

I knew about the day one update that activiated many features of the Switch. I wanted to get this started as soon as I could because of course I was anxious to play Zelda. The initialization menus were easy and straight forward, however I had a hard time getting the Switch connected to my wireless internet for some reason. Once I did and got the system update running, it again kept losing signal. I finally restarted my router and problem solved. I believe the update took about 30 minutes or so, not terribly bad at all. While it was updating, I hooked up the dock to my TV. Once the update was done, I moved the AC adapter over to the dock and gave TV mode a try for the first time. It took about 3 seconds for the image to transfer from the Switch to the TV (but the other way around is near seamless). I set up a profile for my wife and browsed the eShop, but wouldn't you know it...dinner time.

After dinner was done and cleaned up and the kids were in bed...finally it was game time. Let me start off by saying that I'm not a big Zelda fan. I guess you could say I'm just a casual Zelda fan at best. I've played the original NES game a few times (never beat it). I bought Twilight Princess at launch with my Nintendo Wii (which was the last launch day console I bought) and I really enjoyed the game (dispite the tiring motion controls) up until I got to a fishing scene where I couldn't progress. Needless to say I was excited about playing Breath of the Wild, even though up until this point I still had stayed away from pouring over the content of this game. I guess you could say I didn't want to be spoiled and I wanted to discover everything for the first time...the first time.

Up until Sunday afternoon, I've put in about 20 hours into the game...and I'm not tired of it yet. I am absolutely loving exploring the open world and find out what is around the corner, on top of the mountain and across the sea. The puzzle elements in the shrines are starting to give me a fit, but overall I've enjoyed every minute of the game. I'm sad the weekend is wrapping up as I won't have as much time to play during the week.

Overall I've found the Switch to be another marvelous Nintendo system. However it's not without flaw. As many outlets previously reported, the left Joycon has a habit of de-synching itself in the middle of your gameplay (TV mode only). It will usually come back on by itself, but there were a few times I died playing Zelda because I'd try to walk to the edge of a cliff and Link would simply keep on walking...right off the cliff! It also seems as if there is anything in the way of your controller and the dock while playing in TV mode you'll notice some horrible lag, or downright unresponsiveness. At one point last night I crossed my leg and rested my foot on my knee...and the controller started acting up. I put my leg down and the controller was fine. This pretty much confirmed for me that I'm buying the Pro Controller as soon as the funds allow.

I've only used the Switch in table top mode a short time. I do like that option, but maybe it's just me but I found it difficult to open up the kick stand on the back. Perhaps that Hori table top cradle they've made is a worthy purchase in the future? I took the Swith with me to church earlier today to show my older brother and I ended up playing it in handheld mode in the car on the way to and from. I usually reserve my Sunday afternoons to get caught up on my comic reading, but wouldn't you know I sat on the couch for at least 2 hours (if not longer) playing. My guess is I got in at least 3 hours of play before I got the first low battery warning. For a game as powerful and large as Zelda, I'm OK w/ 3 hours. I most likely won't be playing it in handheld mode as much, but man I do love having that option.

The launch lineup was a little sparse, but I know that Zelda will keep me occupied for some time. I do want to download Snipperclips as I showed that to my wife, hoping that it would lessen the scowl of hers when I told her I had the Switch pre-ordered already! Not surprisingly, she does agree that could be a great co-op game for us both...and maybe even my 2 young daughters?

Next week I'll be downloading the new Blaster Master Zero for sure. The original in the NES is one of my all time favorites and despite the few successors it's had, none of them have been able to capture the excitement and feel of the original. Hopefully this one won't disappoint.

Of course before I go and download anything from the eShop I need to pick up a Micro SD card for myself. I'm not thrilled with the news that there isn't any way to transfer saved data from the console (at least, not yet), but I won't be downloading my games as I'm still one of those that perfers physical releases. Is the Nintendo Switch perfect? Nope, but it's the best new Nintendo platform I've played in a very long time and I'm really looking forward to what the future brings. I hope this is the first step in repairing relationships with third party developers because I would love to see the likes of Capcom and Konami bringing back new versions of their classic IPs (and new ones of course) to the Switch. I guess now only time will tell.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Shooter: Starfighter Sanvien (Sony Playstation)

Shooter: Starfighter Sanvein
Success / A1 Games (2000)

The original Playstation had a lot of games released for the platform so it's easy for this game, or any game for that matter to be looked over or lost in the shuffle. I'm sure I skipped over this game many times over the years. With it's rather bland packaging I can see how many fans of the shmup genre may have never seen or played this game.

Shooter: Starfighter Sanvien is a rather odd game. Not quite a traditional shmup, it's close enough for me. The game has a backstory, but it's not well integrated into the game and thus not that important to enjoy the gameplay.

At the beginning of the game, you get to arm your starship with it's main weapon. You can choose from Gluon, Photon or Graviton weapons. Gluon weapons have a wide spread attack, while Photon are more focused laser type weapons. Graviton has a more explosive type attack.

Once you've chosen your main weapon, you get to select your special weapon. You again choose from the 3 aforementioned types. The Gluon special weapon are homing missiles and I found these to be particularly effective. Photon's special weapon is a large laser and choosing Graviton gives you a land mine type weapon. The latter was my least favorite.

Instead of a horizontally or vertically scrolling game, you are placed in an arean if you will. Each stage is a called a floor and you get to choose what path you take. The menu is displayed with the floors as hexagons, with bosses mixed in each section. You have to choose quick however which floor you're going to tackle as the clock in the lower right corner of your screen is always ticking down. Each ajoining floor you select, you're base firepower will be upped by 1 level (eventually maxing out at level 6). While you are free to select whichever floor and route to the main boss you'd like, you are rewarded by taking more of a direct, connected path.

Your starfighter doesn't have health in this game, but you do have time. Take a hit and you'll lose 90 units of time. Take too many hits and it's game over. You control your ship using the Playstation controller's D-pad or left analog stick. At first you may find the it hard to control your starfighter, especially as you are firing. You get to move all around the screen, think Asteroids, Robotron, or Geometry Wars. Note that this game was released before dual analog joysticks were the norm. As you fire, you'll notice a little kickback to your ship. However it doesn't take long before moving around feels a little more natural. The object is to clear each floor as quick as possible. Usually you only have a few enemies to beat before you get ot move on. Once you defeat one of the bosses, you'll be granted with additional time. Make your way up to the central boss (at the top/center) of the level and you'll clear the area and be moved onto the next area.

Let me say that the game looks much better than what my meager camera was able to capture. While the game won't blow you away with it's visuals, it gets the job done. With the computer looking background and the gridlines, the techno like music fits very well. The game play is simple, but fast paced. I found it to be pretty addictive and ended up playing for about 45 minutes the other day. 

While the gameplay isn't really unique, it is a refreshing change of pace to shooting type games. It may not be for everyone, but it's rather cheap to be had (around $5-$10 on the secondary market) and if you play it you may just find it's better than you thought. I will point out that this game is NOT fully compatible with the PS3. The game will play, but it won't have sound. However if you've jettisoned your PS1 and want to give the game a try you're still in luck. The game is available for download on the PS Network.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Crazy Taxi (Sega Dreamcast)

Crazy Taxi
Hitmaker / Sega (1999)

I'm not sure what is more memorable about this game. Is it the actual game or gameplay or is it the soundtrack? Crazy Taxi is a fantastic arcade game by Sega that was ported over to the Dreamcast (among other consoles) and is the brain child of Kenji Kanno. When you stop and think about the game, it's a rather odd concept of a game. A taxi simulator? I would've never thought it would have worked, but man I am glad that I'm wrong as this is a blast to play.

The Dreamcast version is pretty faithful to the arcade version and if you ask some, the DC version is better than the arcade. Sega's home version offers the same arcade mode, but also offers and original arranged verison of the game to pump more replayability into it. There is also the added Crazy Box, which we'll look at in a bit.

The game is pretty simple. You chose one of 4 different taxi drivers, each with their own unique looking taxi. You can chose between Axel, B.D. Joe, Gena and Gus. In addition to the different vehicles each driver has, each vehicle handles differently from one another.

Axel's taxi as decent acceleration & decceleration and handling, but it's light weight and wide turns make it tough to navigate at times.

B.D. Joe's taxi has the fastest normal speed, decent acceleration & deceleration, it's a heavy car and it's easy to pull of crazy drifts. The weight of the car makes it hard to get knocked around in traffic and tight spots, but it also makes it tough to handle.

Gena's taxi has the fastest acceleration & deceleration speed of all the taxis, best brakes, handles the easiest and has a slim profile. It's light weight makes it prone to be knocked around however. The handling of this car takes some getting used to, but once you do you won't want to use the other cab drivers.

Gus' taxi handles really good and the taxi is rather slim, however it has the slowest acceleration & deceleration making it tough to use until you learn some the more advanced tactics.

I usually use Gena when I play, but on my latest playthroughs I've been trying to get used to Gus and his taxi. It's been awhile since I've played so I'm having to re-learn the Crazy Dash and Crazy Drift techniques! 

Gameplay is easy. Drive around until you see a customer with a dollar sign over them. Their pick up radius will be marked with a circle. Simply stop within this radius to pick up your customer and they will tell you where they want to go. The color of the dollar sign will give you an idea of the distance you'll have to travel and the payout you'll get...depending on how long it takes you! Green pay the most, but the passenger's destination is furthest away. Yellow is medium pay and medium distance while red will be a short drive and a small payout. 

Once you pick up your passenger, a large green arrow will appear at the top of the screen to help navigate you to your destination. However it's not always accurate and until you learn the maps the arrow may get you lost or take you the long way. You'll also see a timer beside your passenger. Get them to your destination while this timer is green and you'll get the Speedy tag and a better pay out. Yellow will get you the Noramal tag and Red gets you the Slow tag. Your passenger will usually berate you and kick your taxi when they get out. If you don't get to your destination before the timer runs out, your customer will simply jump out of the taxi while you're driving.

How you get from point A to point B is up to you. There are short cuts to find, or you can just plow through the park, parking decks or the hillside. The crazier you drive, the more tips your passenger will throw at you. Try driving on the other side of the road and threading the needle against oncoming traffic. Just be ready for the insults your passenger will hurl at you if you hit traffic.

Once the main timer runs out, you'll be graded based on the number of customers you picked up and delivered as well as the amount of fare you earned. You'll be reward with a class license based on your results. The best rating is Crazy License ($20,000 to $99,999) and the worst is an E class license ($.001 to $.999) or nothing at all.

If you are tired of playing the basic game, you can opt to play the all new Crazy Box. This is a collection of mini games, but these also help you hone your skills using some of the other techniques. My recent playthrough of these games was pretty ugly as I couldn't pull off the moves I needed to be successful.

Some of the mini games, like this one, require you to get your passenger to their destination within a certain time frame. In addition to that you have to stay on the road and out of the ocean. Sounds easy, right? Well this is one of those levels where if you haven't perfected the Crazy Drift you'll struggle as the road gets narrower and narrower the closer you get to the end.

Other mini games aren't as tough on you and puts you in a large arena with 20 large balloons you have to bust. You'll be able to use the Crazy Dash and Crazy Drift to help you accomplish your goal within the time limit.

Crazy Taxi is as fun today as it was nearly 16 years ago when I first played it. It's got a rockin' soundtrack thanks in part to the Offspring and Bad Religion, though if you play it a lot then the tunes may get on your nerves a bit. To me this is one of those games that is fun to play in small doses. You won't want to sit down for hours and play this...or at least I wouldn't. However it's a great game to play here and there or with friends to compete for the best class license.

The game went on to receive several ports on different consoles and even on a few handhelds like the Game Boy Advance and PSP...however the Dreamcast is the best version hands down. It features all of the original music and even the product placement of such brands as KFC, Tower Records and Fila. If you've never played it, what are you waiting for?! It's not that expensive on the secondary market so go and grab you a copy.

Friday, February 10, 2017

New Additions: January 2017

Here we are 10 days into a new month and I'm just now getting around to sharing the items I picked up last month. Man I long for the days I was a kid with less responsibility! January was a pretty good month, in fact I ended up with more new games than I thought I would. Part of this is due to having a little Christmas money to spend and finding some good deals / clearances.

The month didn't bring a lot of new items, but it did bring me some variety and another new console. Before Christmas I had purchased what I thought was a Japanese Slim PS2. It was from the NTSC-J region, but in fact was a Chinese PS2. It would play bootleg games (the seller included several) and it would play NTSC-U games, both PS1 and PS2...however that's not why I bought it. I wanted to branch out and try some of the shooters and other games that never made it outside Japan for the PS2. Long story short, I got eBay to make the seller accept my return, got a full refund and ended finding a seller in Japan that had that beautiful translucent blue PS2 you see. Now just need to pick up a vertical stand and I'm good to go. Since it won't receive as much play as my normal PS2, I think I'm just going to move the power and component cables back and forth between the two PS2s. After all, I only have so many inputs on my TV and power outlets at my disposal!

The seller I got the PS2 from threw in these two games. I know one of them is Ape Escape 2...or at least I think it is. The other is a wrestling game...I think it's called Online Pro Wrestling: Champion of the Network. I found find a listing for it in RFGeneration's database. Looking forward to giving both a try.

I know, I know. This 3D updated version of Altered Beast is supposed to be a giant turd...but I couldn't help but to try it out. Plus Stefano Bruni on Facebook hooked me up w/ the game at a very sweet price. If nothing else, at least the cover art looks pretty awesome!


With the Nintendo Switch on the way, I've been trying to pick up whatever Wii U games I could that looked decent. While traveling for work I found both of these used copies at GameStop and while I loath that retailer on many levels, I can't turn away a good deal. The Monster Hunter franchise has always been one I wanted to try out. Tank! Tank! Tank! I played in the arcade w/ my family and it was a lot of fun. Looking forward to spending time with both.

I'm very late to the Super Smash Bros. game. My kids actually found this at Best Buy. It was the only used Wii U game they had. Price was a little more than I wanted to spend, but I had a coupon and they wanted me to buy this over a few Amiibos. I'm sad to say that my 5 year old daughter is better at this game than I am!

I honestly don't know much about the Arslan game, but being from Koei/Tecmo and judging from the screen shots on the back it looked like a decent Dynasty Warriors type game. Doom finally dropped in price to $20 so I jumped on a new copy. Haven't played Doom in a very long time, but what I've played so far I've really enjoyed.

Clearance for $9.99. Even though I own the GameCube version, why not at that price?

I owned Splatterhouse once before and ended up trading it away due to the brutal unfairness of the game. Recently found it at GameStop for $3.99 and I couldn't just leave it sitting there. I hope my re-visit of the game goes better than the first time around.

I don't buy a lot of Reproductions, but Peter Tuttle of Onslaught Reproductions has been turning out some nice Genesis games so I took advantage of a sale around Christmas and picked up the Punisher. Love beat 'em ups and this game just continues to esculate in much that why even bother? Plus Peter provided new art and a nifty white shell to boot!

Last, but not least is Soldner X2 for the PS Vita. I initially forgot to include this in the group shot. Grabbed this from for a great price. I've got some more travel up ahead for work so I'm planning on taking this along for the ride.

Overall it was another great month for game acquisitions. During all of the craziness that was January, I was also able to secure my Nintendo Switch pre-order at Best Buy. I think I got one of the last pre-orders as I ordered it the morning after the late night presentation by Nintendo. Fingers crossed my order doesn't get cancelled like GameStop, Target and Walmart have been recently doing. Well, that's it for this post. The weekend is here and I've got some games to play!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Retro Game Store Visit: Edward McKay - Winston-Salem, NC

More of a used book store than a game store, Edward McKay is a chain of stores throughout North Carolina. Located in college markets, these stores carry everything from books, movies, pop culture items (toys) and of course video games. My first exposure to this chain was in Raleigh, NC. I was in awe of their selection of retro games and consoles. I believe that is where I picked up my complete copy of Alien Crush for the TurboGrafx-16 a few years back. It had been awhile since I've darkened the doorstep of one of their stores until a recent trip (March 2016) to their Winston-Salem, NC location off of Oakwood Drive.

I actually stopped by this store a few months back, but didn't buy any games. I saw one Master System game that I passed on and after leaving I regretted. Thankfully on this most recent trip the game was still sitting in one of their cabinets. Kenseiden was Sega's attempt at a atmospheric action/adventure game in the vein of Castlevania for the NES.

 I've often heard good things about the game and the store was only asking $15 for it. Turns out the game was also complete which just sweetened the deal. As of this post I haven't played the game yet, but I do eagerly await sitting down to play.

Along one side of the store they have these small locked cabinets with most of the retro games and accessories. They had loose games, boxed games, expensive games and cheap games. Everything from NES to Atari Jaguar in these cases. Prices for the games ranged from eBay prices to reasonable prices to cheap.

The more modern games were placed on nice wooden shelves that lined the side wall of the store. Most of them were turned face out so it was easy to see them. They had a decent selection of games. The PS2/PS3 and 360 selection was the largest.

In addition to Kenseiden I grabbed two loose handheld games I saw on a clearance rack when going to check out. To be honest I don't know much about the Desert Speedtrap game, but it was really cheap and I'm looking forward to picking up the Sega adapter for my RetroFreak console. The GBA game is Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 2. I remember playing this franchise on the original Xbox and thought it was fun. Plus my daughters are starting to discover GBA games via their DS units I recently bought them and I thought they may enjoy this one.

I love the sheer variety these stores offer and I really wish I had one closer to my home. They have another store near by in Greensboro, NC and while I haven't made it there yet I do plan on getting over there sometime soon to check out their gaming offers.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Crest of Wolf (PC Engine)

Crest of Wolf
Westone / Hudson Soft
Super CD- ROM, 1993

Crest of Wolf, also known as Riot Zone on the TurboGrafx CD is your standard fare beat 'em game. I don't know if it was intentional or not, but there are a lot of similarities with Capcom's Final Fight. Being that I'm playing the Japanese version, I wasn't able to follow the dialogue in the animated scenes that set the story. I don't need to read though to find out its your basic rescue your kidnapped girlfriend, beating up thugs along the way.

You can take control of either Hawk or Tony. Hawk is the blonde wearing a white t-shirt w/ blue jeans...he's basically this game's version of Cody from Final Fight. Tony is the big dude with the mohawk...this game's Haggar. Both players do play a little different and feature different animations in their attack, but like most beat 'em ups does it really matter who you choose?

Upon firing up the game I noticed that the game looks and feels as if its almost unfinished. The graphics are kind of ugly in places and the character designs leave a lot to be desired. At least the enemies are varied, but there are a LOT of color pallet swaps to make the additional characters. The animation for your character, as well as the enemies seems stiff. Hit detection is decent, however many of the enemies would land a chain of attacks on you that I just could seem to block or get away from. Thankfully the game didn't have any slow down of flickering that I noticed when there were multiple enemies on the screen.

Going back to the characters, do these enemies remind you of a particular ninja that garnered fame on various Sega platforms?! I fought a couple of shirtless fat guys that seemed to resemble Karnov as well. The big guys in the game run around like the big, fat bald guys in Final Fight. There are guys that slide kick across the floor just like the guys w/ knives in the previous mentioned game. At least there was some originality in the level design after the first level or so.

The one positive thing I have to say about this game is that the soundtrack is pretty great. There are a few tunes that I didn't care for, but overall I really enjoyed the guitar heavy metal. I felt it fit the game really well and I wish there was a sound test. At least you can listen to the game's entire soundtrack in the YouTube video above.

After you beat the boss of each level, you'll see your character walking down the street and up to a poster with an image of the boss and a reward listed below. You'll thing plunge a knife into the poster before the screen fades and loads the next level.

The boss battles throughout the game I found to be fairly easy, however the boss(es) of the first stage proved to be tougher than most. You fight an Asian martial artists by the name of Mr. Lee. Once you get his health to about half way, a female armed with Wolverine type claws joins the battle. Not overly difficult, but the lady did get some cheap hits in on me as she jumped around the screen.

Stage two's boss, Shauna, appears to be some type of dominatrix. When you first approach her, she is laying down on a board stacked upon cinder blocks. She has a sexual look to her, even though her character model really doesn't show that much skin. I can see this character being heavily altered/censored if this game ever appeared on the Super Nintendo. Despite her wielding a whip, she was a real push over.

Stage three's boss took place in what appeared to be a doctor's office? You see this guy sitting on a desk who jumps down, then all these spikes protrude from his body. He looks way more menacing than he actually was. Next.

Remember when you jumped into the wrestling ring in Final Fight to fight the boss, Sodom? Stage four's boss isn't some Japanese shogun warrior, but a big sumo wrestler named Fuji. I don't know if it was his larger size that made it easy to land hits on, but I was able to take him out fairly quickly.

Stage 5 has you eventually invade the enemies base, a penthouse at the top of a skyscraper. Why does that seem so familiar? I can't remember the name of the boss, but he has that pretty boy look. Kind of reminds me of one of the guys from the first Die Hard movie, only this guy knows martial arts. I didn't find him too terribly difficult to beat, in fact I thought I had beat the game. Did you notice those statues in the background? Well one of them there is more than meets the eye.

The final boss of the game is Toro, a statue that comes to life after you beat the pretty blonde guy. He attacks with a sword and if he gets any distance on you he'll fire a slow moving fireball your way. For the final boss he was way to easy to beat. Like with most characters and bosses, you could pin them in the corner and lay down on your attack button...or just use the handy built in turbo switches to really take it to them.

Once he falls, you walk into the next game and the love of your life runs into you arms. There are more animated scenes that help wrap up the story I presume. After that you are greeted by a screen with "Congratulations" spelled out in large characters. Roll credits and put a fork in this one because you are done.

Without changing any of the default game play settings, you get five lives. I was able to make it to the 5th and final level before I had to continue as I had earned a few lives based on my score. The levels are a tad long and the overall difficulty did seem to ramp up a little on the final level. I believe I had to continue twice in my play through. I don't know if the continues are unlimited or not, but when you do have to continue you get to pick up right where you left off. No going back to the beginning of the stage here.

Overall the game is OK. Games like Final Fight or Streets of Rage are far superior, but I still enjoyed it thanks in part to the soundtrack. The game isn't overly expensive and unless you really want to know the story behind the game, there isn't any reason to pay more for the US version. Plus the PC Engine version has the far superior cover art. If you are fan of beat 'em ups you at least owe it to yourself to try this game.