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Every once in a while, I kind of go on a “vacation” with the site. It’s not that I hate writing for this site (In fact, I love all those who read this site, especially those who leave hateful comments on that Doom mods article I wrote in 2014!), it’s that I get into a writer’s block, struggling for ideas. But then those vacations give me interesting ideas while I’m doing other things. Suddenly I get an idea, and get back to writing. Today, I’m dipping into a bit of late ’90s-early 2000s nostalgia.320px-Dreamcast_logo.svg

Sega was going through some rough times throughout the ’90s. The back-to-back failures of the Sega CD, 32X, Game Gear, and the Saturn put them in pretty bad shape by the time they released the Dreamcast. While they made a lot of games that I loved (Crazy Taxi and Chu Chu Rocket were my jams, man), it wasn’t enough to fend off the PlayStation 2 and the forthcoming GameCube and Xbox, forcing Sega to bow out of the console race for good around 2001. Nowadays, Sega is merely a husk of what it formerly was, occasionally putting out a Sonic, Football Manager, or Total War game to keep them afloat.

But let’s go back to the glory days of Sega. Around 2000, Sega’s PC arm made this game available to freely download, which became a wonderful time-waster during my middle school years:

What the heck kind of company is "Sega of America Dreamcast" anyway?

What the heck kind of company is “Sega of America Dreamcast” anyway?

Introducing Sega Swirl, a fairly simple puzzle game released by Sega, loosely inspired by the Dreamcast logo swirl (seen above).

Sometimes, simplicity is better than complexity when it comes to menus.

 

The gameplay is fairly simple: You’re given a grid of swirl colors, and your goal is to find groups of colored swirls for points. Removing them shrinks the playfield down, making it easy to build up combos. The only danger is removing a single swirl rather than a cluster, which’ll give you a score penalty.

They almost look like colored cinnamon rolls.

In the standard “Level mode,” you must complete five goals to finish the stage and move on, thus you want to chain swirls together for massive points. Fairly simple, but still fun.

ss+(2015-05-25+at+12.12.41)

Hot competitive Sega Swirl action going on here.

 

There’s also a Versus mode, where up to four competitors start taking enemy swirls for massive points. The goal is to knock your opponents out by eliminating that player’s swirls from the field. Like before, clicking a single swirl makes you lose points, but since your goal is to eliminate your opponent, it’s a good strategy to grab one swirl just to knock them out of the game faster. It’s an interesting strategy.

There’s also cross-platform play, where you can send plays via email to people to choose what play you wanted to do next. Around 1999-2000, that was an impressive feature, especially for those who wanted to do multiplayer but were in different parts of the world.

If you’re wondering: yes, it still works, though it won’t work if you aren’t using an email client like Thunderbird or Outlook. My test opponent (Bobinator of The ’90s Time Machine and Hardcore Gaming 101 fame) couldn’t send a move since he uses the Gmail web client, but I could send him a move since I’m an old fogey and still use Thunderbird to send emails. It basically requires opening a .swl file and associating it with the Swirl program to show what move the player used. Slow, but considering the period this was made in, it works.

So that’s the PC version in a nutshell. Surprisingly good despite its simplicity these days. No more complex than many of Shockwave/Flash games around that era.

This guy’s probably a better mascot these days than Sonic…

 

Now not only was there a PC version, they pimped this thing out for the fledgling Sega Dreamcast. Pick up any demo disc from Official Dreamcast Magazine, games like Sega Smash Pack Vol. 1, or even a Web Browser 2.0 disc, and there it is, Sega Swirl on your Sega Dreamcast.

Eh, cut them some slack, even if they use Comic Sans for everything…

 

Unlike the PC version, which looks fairly simple even by 2000s standards; the Dreamcast version looks more in line with similar puzzle games from the era, complete with an orange snake as our mascot rather than just a simple animation. In addition to the modes in the PC version, there was also four-player split screen multiplayer, a timed mission mode.

I bet this could get pretty frenetic…

 

Yes, even the play by email feature exists in the Dreamcast version, though it’s a bit harder to work these days considering SegaNet doesn’t exist anymore.

The Dreamcast version looks better and is more feature-filled than the bare-bones PC version, but there’s nothing wrong with the PC version of Swirl. There was also a Palm OS version of Swirl, but that one’s probably harder to find considering tablet PC games are scarce to find unless people had the mindset to keep them around.

This is ideally what you want to get, with minimal single swirls left. Tricky, but still fun.

This is ideally what you want to get, with minimal single swirls left. Tricky in the later stages, but still fun.

I’m gonna be honest, Sega Swirl needs to make a comeback. With how popular Candy Crush Saga is, Sega could make a killing using a free-to-play mobile version of Sega Swirl and make beaucoup bucks. Probably more than shoehorning Hulk Hogan into a mobile Crazy Taxi game does. Alas, much like Sega remembering that they have the great Chu Chu Rocket!, this will probably never happen, leaving this idea to be nothing but a mere pipe dream. :(

Surprisingly the PC version still works on modern devices, even on my Windows 7 box. (I can’t vouch for if this works in Windows 8 or 10.) If you wanna get it for yourself, Sega Retro’s got the hookup here. Have fun with one of the coolest puzzle games nobody remembered. Maybe I need to look into more strange puzzle games of the ’90s, because there were a bunch of them.

(Some screenshots courtesy of Honest Gamers and Sega Retro.)

One idea I had during my game show research was to cover most of the notable adaptations of game show games, such as Jeopardy! There’s one problem, though:

jeopardygames

There are a lot of Jeopardy! games. I mean a lot of them. MobyGames doesn’t even list all of them. Plus for a game as simple as Jeopardy!, there isn’t much to say about each one. So I decided to go smaller. Much smaller.

I kinda loved that starburst GameTek logo more than the later one...

I kinda loved that starburst GameTek logo more than the later one…

Today, I’m gonna talk about Jeopardy! on the Game Boy. Jeopardy! was one of the few game show games that made it to Nintendo’s greenscale handheld in 1991, alongside Wheel of Fortune. Naturally GameTek published this outing, and it boasted “Over 1,500 new questions!” on the box. Though technically they’re answers, but I’m not gonna get too nitpicky here.

Jeopardy (U) [BF]_11

I remember getting both Jeopardy! and Wheel in a combo pack at Target for about $10 each. This was the mid-90s, and Target was chock full of excess copies, so selling one to a young budding game show/video game nut like me was a treat. It also helped during vacation trips, such as the one time I went to a resort cabin with my family and was happily having fun with this, and probably Pokemon Red. There wasn’t much to do in the times before everybody had the internet in their pockets. :P

But enough reminiscing. Let’s play Jeopardy! on the Game Boy.

Jeopardy (U) [BF]_12

We’re off to a rough start where it shows these three options: Play against the computer, go head to head, or use a link cable to go head to head. The problem with the last one is that it’s ultimately pointless. Jeopardy! is not an intense head-to-head game like Tetris or Dr. Mario, and you already have a two players on one system option already in place. It just seems like a feature they slapped onto the box just to say they had it.

Notice that so far I’ve mentioned only two players. Well, here’s why.

Jeopardy (U) [BF]_13

As opposed to allowing three players, like every other Jeopardy! game in existence, this game is two players only. This is baffling, considering it probably wouldn’t be hard to support three players on the handheld. Oh well, let’s move on.

Sadly no Alex Trebek in this version. Nintendo Power once described the host as “Guy Smiley” from Sesame Street, but I’d say he more resembles Mr. Game Show‘s dorkier brother. Also, our intrepid not-Trebek is not at a podium, magically reading all the clues from a single question card, and occasionally teleporting to the board when a Daily Double is chosen. This guy certainly has some voodoo magic.

Jeopardy (U) [BF]_14

Now let’s get into the game itself. It handles pretty closely to the TV show, having all the clues, Daily Doubles, stuff like that. Though I can tell the clues aren’t nearly as refined or polished as the TV show’s. Guess they didn’t want to crib from old episodes for material.

Since I’m a loner, I decided to go solo with an AI opponent. We’re at this one clue, when suddenly he buzzes in with a few seconds remaining.

Jeopardy (U) [BF]_17 Jeopardy (U) [BF]_18

Oh right. Instead of programming a potential wrong answer, the game opts for a generic gibberish term. Now that I saw the clue and he guessed wrong, maybe I can buzz in-

Jeopardy (U) [BF]_19

What? Oh, that’s incredibly lame. The in-game timer resumes from where it left off. Since the AI buzzed in just before time ran out, it basically blocked me out of buzzing in and guessing. This also seems like an easy way to piss off your opponent by buzzing in and guessing wrong just to screw them out of money. Though it’s not the best strategy if you wanna stay in the black for Final Jeopardy.

These avatars are goofy even by 1991 standards.

These avatars are goofy even by 1991 standards.

There isn’t a whole lot to say about this one. It’s Jeopardy!, but with a few differences that don’t make it nearly as cool as the other versions. But did you know there was more than one Jeopardy! game on the Game Boy? There wasn’t just one Jeopardy! game, there were FOUR versions of Jeopardy! on the Game Boy. Four.

Love how the later ones have a glitched logo and the subtitle in Arial, like they put so little effort into it.

Apparently Jeopardy! must have been cheap as hell to make for GameTek, so they pumped out a few more of them during the Game Boy’s long lifespan. In addition to a Sports-themed Edition, there was a Platinum Edition with new questions, and a new Teen Tournament version with easier questions for the younger crowd.

There are differences between this and the original, though. Sports Edition added a delay when showing the clue to avoid quick autobuzzers, as well as resetting the timer to 5 seconds on a wrong answer to avoid cheating players out of buzzing in. The later Platinum Edition and Teen Tournament versions removed link play, and added Super Game Boy support! Wowsers!

It's not even *good* Super Game Boy support, as they just changed the colors and tweaked the sound slightly! Not even a fancy border!

It’s not even *good* Super Game Boy support, as they just changed the colors and tweaked the sound slightly! There’s not even a fancy border like other SGB games!

I’m not exactly sure who made these versions. The credits have changed very little from version to version, but I doubt the two designers credited were brought back every few years to add new clues. I guess we’ll never know who wrote the material, but they do make it important on the back of Sports Edition that Merv Griffin Enterprises didn’t write the clues for this version. I guess that was to avoid any legal trouble, but it’s weird to see on the back of the box.

48511_front

Now the Game Boy wasn’t the only portable to get the fast-paced quizzer. The Game Gear also received Jeopardy! as well as a Sports Edition. Let’s see if there’s any major differences between them.

Need an 8-bit Alex Trebek in your life? Here you go.

Need an 8-bit Alex Trebek in your life? Here you go.

Wow. They actually sprung the money to actually get Alex frickin’ Trebek’s likeness in the Game Gear version. Wonder why they didn’t get him sooner.

Though in-game he looks more like his present-day counterpart than his 1993 self...

Though in-game he looks more like his present-day counterpart than his 1993 self…

Anyway, the Game Gear game is similar to the other versions, but with some fancy enhancements. The game looks nicer, resembling the TV show more. The developers of this version decided that the SN76489 chip was so much better than the dinky sound chip the Game Boy used, because there’s DIGITIZED SPEECH! Hear Trebek say things occasionally while playing, as well as hear some of the sound effects from the show. It’s like the real thing!

Jeopardy! (UE) [!]003

However, it’s still two players, which is a shame. It also looks a bit… choppy animation-wise. I assume the designers were trying to work around the LCD screen that the Game Gear used, but it just looks weird outside of that. It’s better than the Game Boy version by a long shot, but that’s not saying a whole lot.

That's one creepy-ass smile, Trebek.

That’s one creepy-ass smile, Trebek.

It would take many many years and several portable systems before Jeopardy! would grace the handheld scene once more, when THQ released it alongside Wheel of Fortune in 2010. Maybe I’ll get around to those one day, but we can’t forget the GameTek era of Jeopardy! handheld games, where not-Trebek gave the answers, and you had to come up with the questions. Or if all else failed, yell “ZWXYZ” in a panic.

I'm using this as a gimmick answer from now on.

I’m using this as a response from now on.

PlayStation_Home_Logo

R.I.P. August 7, 2008 – March 31, 2015.

On March 31, 2015, a piece of PlayStation history died. PlayStation Home, the strange graphical chat client that had been running for about seven years, was ending on that day. I had almost forgotten about it until someone had mentioned it to me.

For those who never experienced it, Home was a graphical chat client that was meant to be used as a social hub. It was like Second Life but more PG and less phallic objects. Home was announced by then Sony executive Phil Harrison, complete with this trailer:


(courtesy of IGN.)

Naturally most of us laughed it off and mocked it incessantly. Webcomics, gaming sites, among other places were lambasting the idea, even more so when it was released to the public. For its entire run, it was a punching bag more than it was a legitimate thing.

Then again, it's hard to take it seriously when you see stuff like... this.

Then again, it’s hard to take it seriously when you see stuff like… this.

When I got my PS3 around 2008, they actually were doing their “closed beta.” In spite of the dog-piling, I decided to hop in and give it a try. As the years followed, there was always that moment of “Oh right, Home is still a thing,” and I’d pop back in to give it a look to see what’s happening. This was usually when a big event was happening that had a Home space, like when E3 came around. For instance, back in 2013 I actually did a video of me roaming around the E3 Studio, which was an interesting experience.

I think I still have those pictures on my PS3 somewhere…

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video game closet collage

I am a master at image manipulation.

For the past several years, I’ve been collecting my fair share of random video game stuff. Some of which I’ve talked about on this blog, others of which I still need to get around to. But it hasn’t just been physical stuff I find at Goodwills and other places, oh no. It’s also been loads of digital stuff.

Many years ago, back when I had a crappy old HP Pavilion PC with Windows Vista, 2GB of RAM, and 250GB of hard drive space, I was hoarding lots of digital video game goodies. Wallpapers, soundtracks, press kits, the works. That practice continued when I got my current PC in 2013, where I let them lay in my cluttered downloads folder. It didn’t dawn on me until I started moving it to a unique folder on my hard drive that I thought these were worth sharing, just like everything else I do on this blog.

The downside is that I’m slowly rebuilding my collection. When I was on the old PC, there were times where I had to delete some files to save space. So for now, some of the things I had are lost to time, unless I find them again somewhere. If these are still available on the official website, I’ll happily link to where you can get them, otherwise I’ll slap them up on my Dropbox for those who want it.

So let’s clean out my digital closet with these goodies…


Payday 2 wallpapers and posters!

post_hotline_miami-763x1080

Payday 2 has slowly become one of my favorite games in recent memory. While it’s flawed in many areas, it’s still a fun action-packed ride. For some of Payday 2‘s updates in 2014, Overkill was releasing free goodies to go along with the big Team Fortress 2-style update pages. This included wallpapers for the Shadow Raid mission featuring the Payday crew, a poster advertising the crossover between Payday 2 and Hotline Miami, and the Gage Assault Pack, featuring the smirk of weapons dealer Gage as he holds a FAMAS and carries an M79 on his back.

Thankfully Overkill is damn generous and put these wallpapers on their official website, however they’re only for 16:9 monitors on 1920×1080, so ones with other setups are left in the cold, which is a shame.

Here’s something I’m wondering: Does anyone still rock a 4:3 monitor in this day and age?

You can grab these and some of the wallpapers at Overkill’s fan service page. Some of the individual update pages have more, but not all of them do.


Shadowgate NES ringtones!

gfs_29041_1_1

I heard these games were notorious for being real dickish to you. I wonder how they got so popular, then…

I didn’t know about this until recently, but there was a reboot for Shadowgate a while back. As I never played any of the MacVenture series of games I can’t say much about it, but developer Zojoi didn’t want to forget the roots of the NES version. So they released a set of ringtones based from the NES soundtrack by composer Hiroyuki Masuno.* Now you can listen to some of those tracks without needing a pesky media player. Or you can pretend you’re the Gaming in the Clinton Years guy and have that Hall of Mirrors track as your ringtone. Either way, a nice treat considering how classic some of that music is.

You can snag those ringtones at the developer’s website here.

(*-Until very recently, no one knew who composed the special music for the NES MacVenture games. Thanks to the Video Game Music Preservation Foundation for solving the mystery of who composed those great tunes. Those guys do the heavy lifting not many others do, and it’s pretty great for a guy like me who loves nerding out about video game music.)

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A few years ago, I had found out there were gummy candies based off the then hot new property Angry Birds: Space, which I reviewed here. I decided to give them a try and was firmly disappointed how they tasted like gummy bears and not actual fruit snacks. Then I had found out thanks to a store called Rocket Fizz that there were several variants of this dumb candy.

Clearly I'm not gonna try them all, the first box I had was bad enough!

Clearly I’m not gonna try them all, the first box I had was bad enough!

Struggling with what I wanted to write about lately, I decided to hop into a nearby Dollar Tree in Portland. In addition to the rare sight of Pibb Xtra in bottles, I found these two gems:

Because video game candy can spur ideas more than anything else can.

Because video game candy can spur ideas more than anything else can.

Super Mario 3-Dees gummies and Plants vs. Zombies 2 fruit flavored snacks. Score! Because unhealthy things like candy and soda will always fuel my blog in some way.

I’m gonna review both of them today, in spite of them not having anything to do with one another except both of them are candy. This will be fun.

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Lately I’ve been on a kick of looking at old DOS game show games. There were a lot of official game show games of the 80s, from the greats like Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune to lesser-known classics like Now You See It, Fun House and Remote Control. But what I was really interested in were the game show games made by hobby programmers.

I remember seeing this in a Micro Star shareware compilation disc. I wonder if I still have it...

I remember seeing this in a Micro Star shareware compilation disc. I wonder if I still have it…

I was looking for Wheel of Fortune clones, but I could only find two. VGAWHEEL (aka EGAWHEEL, I’ve seen both names online) is a no-frills version of Wheel that has probably the prettiest wheel made for DOS. Oh, and it has a cute little theme that plays on the PC speaker. Alas, there isn’t much to say about VGAWHEEL, other than Russell Mueller made a pretty good Wheel clone for DOS.

However, the other one I found is most intriguing: Tommy’s Wheel of Misfortune.

Man, this guy even had a BBS line! I wonder if there were aliens on it.

Man, this guy even had a BBS line! I wonder if there were aliens on it.

Tommy’s Toys was a garage developer who made games “designed by aliens from outer space.” They made a lot of games throughout the ’80s and ’90s. We’re talking about hundreds of them released over ten years.  Tommy’s Toys pretty much disappeared by the time Windows became super popular, and the designer stopped making games to write books. At least that’s what Mobygames says, anyway.

So let’s dive into this alien-made Wheel of Fortune clone, shall we?

You know it's a DOS classic when you see that smiley face in there somewhere.

You know it’s a DOS classic when you see that smiley face in there.

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Let's ignore the stickers and look at the big prize: NEW MUSIC!

Let’s ignore the stickers and look at the big prize: NEW MUSIC!

It’s that time again. On February 12, 2015, Valve introduced a second batch of music kits for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. I had written about the first nine late last year, and it’s become one of my more popular posts recently. If you wanna see my reviews for the first nine music kits, click here.

Since there’s new ones, I thought it’d be nice to come back and write about these brand new ones and see if they’re worth your money.

Naturally, I’m going to review these, complete with videos so you can listen along. Like before, these music kits will randomly appear in the game as an offer for $6.99, or you can buy one on the Steam Market. Right now, they’re a bit overinflated (About $10-15 per kit compared to the $6.99 in game), but they’ll eventually even out once more of them appear in the store.

I’m also gonna throw one in that came out in December, after I had written the original CS:GO music kits post. Consider these music kits part of a “Series 2,” if you will.

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If you were around in the ’90s, you might be familiar with Tetris mania. The original game hit a myriad of systems, most notably the Game Boy, and became a massive worldwide success. Naturally when something like Tetris is popular, people try to reinvent the wheel and make variants of Tetris, with varying levels of success.

Some of these, like Tetris 2 or Tetris Blast just added a more puzzle element to the base Tetris game. Others were games like Tetris Attack, which was merely a rebranding of what we now know as Puzzle League. Then there’s the game that we’re talking about today:

Even the cover is similar to the original NES Tetris cover.

Even the cover is similar to the original NES Tetris cover.

Proudly mentioned on the box as “Tetris made Letter Perfect!”, Wordtris is a Tetris-like game released for several different systems. Though today we’ll be specifically looking at the SNES version of the game. Spectrum Holobyte took the block-building concept of Tetris and put a unique spin on it, which is hardly unknown territory to them. Wordtris was one of several Tetris spinoffs Spectrum Holobyte released, including Welltris and Faces: …Tris III. See, I wasn’t kidding when I said there were many Tetris spinoffs in the ’90s.

Surprisingly bare-bones looking for a game like this.

Surprisingly bare-bones looking for a game like this.

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The year is 2011. We’re nearing the final stretch of a console generation. We’re seeing awesome games made by awesome people. Here I was, browsing on Twitter like I usually do, until someone I followed retweeted this gem by one Clifford Bleszinski on Twitter one day:

Naturally, being the curious guy I am, I checked out the website and found out there was a free game. I download the 700MB installer, not knowing what to expect.

Making something sound so generic is quite impressive.

Making something sound so generic is quite impressive.

Duty Calls: The Calm Before the Storm is a parody game that makes fun of the long-standing Call of Duty franchise. This is very apparent by the logo that makes fun of the old Call of Duty logo, to even that important disclaimer that Activision had nothing to do with it. Because the last thing we need are lawsuits.

Parodying games in other games is a fickle thing. Sometimes you can be right on point and make it funny, otherwise you end up just making half-baked references like “That’s one Doomed Space Marine” from Duke Nukem 3D did. So let’s see how they did with this parody, shall we?

Must be very boring for the army today...

Must be very boring for the army today…

Our adventure begins with an introductory cutscene learning about some secret base, complete with a Call of Duty-style talking about how war has changed, and yet war never changes. Reminded me of that Wizard song from Idle Thumbs. After that, our intrepid shooterguy drops in with an M4 assault rifle and a secret base to find by some random commander dude. So let’s jump into the fray and fight the big bad.

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I’m convinced no one wants to be the sniper in a video game. Yeah, there’s parts of movies where being a sniper is cool, but most of it involves walking around and occasionally killing people at a distance with a bolt-action rifle. Unless it’s something like Call of Duty 4‘s “All Ghillied Up” mission, which is more of a stealth level than a sniping level.

Thus any game I’ve played where sniping is the focus, like Sniper Elite V2 or Sniper: Ghost Warrior, ends up being a fairly simple shooter with strangely elaborate sniping mechanics. I don’t know why people keep making games based on it, but then again they keep making sequels to the Sniper movies, so I guess there’s an audience for this stuff.

Today, we’re looking at another one of those sniping games, and this time, it’s a budget shooter…

If this doesn't look generic to you, I don't know what.

If this doesn’t look generic to you, I don’t know what.

CTU Marine Sharpshooter is a budget FPS where sniping is the base mechanic. Despite the name, you don’t play as Jack Bauer, but rather a generic soldier dropped into certain exotic locales and go pew pew at bad guys with sniper rifles.

The developer of this game was Jarhead Games, a master of making budget military FPSes, such as Navy SEALs: Weapons of Mass Destruction and Army Ranger: Mogadishu. The only other notable thing they made was NRA Gun Club, which is ironic considering the NRA was lambasting video games before. Guess they forgot about that one.I’ve played only one of Jarhead’s games before, and it wasn’t that interesting, so I don’t have high hopes for this one.

Man, what kind of gun skin is that, Spotterguy? Can I get that for CS:GO? :P

Man, what kind of gun skin is that? Can I get that for CS:GO? :P

You play as some generic sniper and his spotter buddy, with an M4 assault rifle. They don’t give them names, so I’m gonna call them “John McSniperdude” and his partner “David Spotterguy.”

What a good starting level, a big load of nothing.

What a good starting level, a big load of nothing.

After a thrilling introduction where McSniperdude and Spotterguy arrive to Afghanistan by boat, the game begins. Sniping in this game is a bit strange: You use the mouse wheel to zoom in and out. It takes a little getting used to, especially since I’m used to many other games allowing you to scope in with the right mouse button. As you play, Spotterguy will tell you that there’s enemies in a certain direction, also highlighted on your radar above.

Each set of levels gives you a unique sniper rifle: The starting Afghanistan missions give you an M40A3 that requires to chamber a round in each time you reload. Later, you get a Barrett M82, a heavy anti-tank rifle that the player uses like it was an assault rifle. The final set of levels give you an “AW”, which I assume is meant to be the Arctic Warfare Magnum, which would’ve been more appropriate in the other levels.

Get used to this weapon. It'll be your best friend in many cases, more than your sniper rifle will be.

Get used to this weapon. It’ll be your best friend in many cases, more than your sniper rifle will be.

When not sniping, you have two other weapons: A useless knife, and your SOCOM-MK23 pistol with an optional silencer. The pistol is really only useful in close quarter areas, of which there are a few. I’d recommend telling your Spotter to fire at will so you don’t have to switch between weapons or no-scope enemies often. You’re given 4-6 health packs you can use (signified by the crosses on the HUD), but they only refill when you change locales, so if you used up all your medkits on the early levels, you won’t last long. Also, your spotter has infinite kits and can heal himself willy-nilly.

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I think Devolver Digital is slowly becoming one of my favorite publishers. Earlier this year, they teamed up with The Expendables 3 and released a demo for Broforce called The Expendabros that was pretty damn fun. (You can read about that game here.) They gave the dormant Serious Sam and Shadow Warrior franchises new life with new games in the series, and published the awesome yet frustrating Hotline Miami. So yeah, they’re a pretty cool publisher.

Now they’re spreading some holiday cheer with yet another free game, this time featuring their mascot/CFO/Twitter darling Fork Parker. This one is quite a doozy…

This title is a damn tongue-twister.

This title is a god damn tongue-twister.

Fork Parker’s Holiday Profit Hike is a Christmas-themed promotional game featuring Parker and developed by Dodge Roll Games, a new studio who’s working on Enter the Gungeon coming out next year. Unlike Expendabros, Holiday Profit Hike is not a reskinned version of Gungeon. Instead, it’s a unique game of its own.

Fork Parker seems like my kind of guy.

Fork Parker seems like my kind of guy.

You play as Fork Parker, who must make a load of profits for Q4. His solution? Climb a tall “mountain” filled with perilous spikes, snowball-throwing yeti, and tacky Christmas sweaters while trying to grab cash along the way. If you get to the end and finish in the black, you’ve saved Devolver Digital. A fairly simple holiday-related story, and for a game like this it doesn’t need anything more complicated than that.

Holiday Profit Hike boasts a pixel art aesthetic, which I’m usually not a fan of, but I’ve been slowly warming up to it in recent years. Somehow Dodge Roll Games made a dodgy old dude like Parker into a cute-looking character thanks to the art style. It also has a few music tracks, one that loops endlessly. It’s a bit short, but it fits the rest of the game’s atmosphere.

The start of a short, yet rewarding journey.

The start of a painful, yet rewarding journey.

So what makes this game different from other platformers? Well, Parker comes equipped with a cool feature in which he can throw pitons at certain walls and floors and make a rope zipline he can ride with his cane. This is the core mechanic of the game, and is pretty unique for a platformer. He can even use his cane as a pogo stick to temporarily stun some enemies, taking a few tips from Scrooge McDuck. I wonder if Parker and McDuck are BFFs. They both share a penchant for cash…

This game follows the formula that games like Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV follow in which one hit is certain death. There’s a lot of spikes strewn around, and lots of slippery blocks will be the cause of many deaths. Thank god the game has checkpoints after every major puzzle, but even with those, it’s not an easy challenge. Nothing sucks more than getting past a difficult part, only to die in a spike pit, negating all progress.

This one part almost drove me insane. I'm surprised I beat it.

This one part almost drove me insane. I’m surprised I beat it.

I don’t get frustrated at games very often, but Holiday Profit Hike broke me. I died so many times that my swearing became shrieks and cries of “NO!” when I botched a difficult section. The part above is what wrecked me the most, causing me to swear and shout more than anything else in the game at that point. Eventually I got so frustrated from failing so much on this one section that I received concern from other people in my house. When people start worrying about me over a game like this, I knew I had to take a break.

This is why I'm not a businessman. Or a platformer expert.

This is why I’m not a businessman. Or a platformer expert.

However, I am not a quitter. I will push myself, yelling and screaming until I finally get past those damn difficult sections. After many failed tries, I persevered and got to the top of the mountain in an hour and a half. Alas, I got the worst ending, but it’s better than giving up and missing out.

The game isn’t very long, and doesn’t have much in replay value. The only other options are get better and beat the game with a positive score to get the best ending, or to speed run through it, which is an impressive feat if you can do it. I don’t think I’m up for replaying this, but I did enjoy playing through it in spite of it breaking me more than any game has in years.

If you wanna play this, it’s available on Steam for a limited time. It’s very frustrating, but still fun despite the hard difficulty. Props to Devolver for giving out a free holiday game, and to Dodge Roll Games for perfectly capturing the spirit of a balls-hard platformer. I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel of this. Just make it a bit easier next time, alright? :P

Hoyle Casino: Gambling on the go.

For a long while, I was fascinated by casino video games. Maybe since I was too young to actually play at a casino that I wanted to simulate the casino experience without losing loads of money in the process. It’s a shame that nowadays casinos are inundated with digital slots and video poker machines, with maybe a blackjack and craps table here and there. Damn kids don’t know what they’re missing.

During my teenage years, I was playing one of these casino games, back when I had just gotten the fancy new Game Boy Advance. Though, it was a Game Boy Color game…

Probably the best quality picture I could find. If my box wasn't crushed to hell, I'd just scan mine in.

Probably the best quality picture I could find. If my box wasn’t crushed to hell, I’d just scan mine in.

Hoyle Casino is a game sponsored by the Hoyle game company, which primarily was known as a card company though these days they’ve branched out to publishing digital games based on shows like Ice Road Truckers. This game is also unique because it was one of the few games Sierra published for the GBC, the others being Hoyle Card Games and a version of 3D Ultra Pinball: Thrillride. The game came to other systems, but today I’m looking at the portable release.

Pulsar Interactive worked on this, and they were mostly known for Game Boy games like Barbie Fashion Pack, as well as assisting in Quest for Glory V and Blood & Magic, as well as IBM’s Manage This!, which is not a video game but they were more than proud to feature it on their website.

I figured I played this a bunch because of the aforementioned fascination with casino games. Plus since it was on a portable and this was before everybody had smartphones, it was a great time waster when you had nothing to do, which was fairly common in my high school years.

Now, my gold standard for casino games is Nintendo’s Vegas Stakes – both the original SNES version and it’s Game Boy counterpart – so let’s see if Hoyle Casino is good enough to dethrone the king of casino video games.

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So for the past month and a half, I’ve been fixated on something a bit unusual:

When you need some jams while using the AWP on Dust II.

When you need some jams while using the AWP on Dust II.

Valve introduced “music kits” to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. These special items replace the game’s default music with unique tracks by nine different musicians. You can get one of these offered randomly in-game for $6.99, or buy one on the Steam marketplace if you’re looking for a specific one. Alternatively you can “borrow” anyone’s music kit who has a music kit equipped, so you can give it a try in action.

I love video game music. I also tend to get nerdy about the parts of video game music most people don’t notice. Naturally when this was announced, I was excited for something that was probably done to distract us from how broken the CZ75-Auto is in CS:GO. But I was curious on what each one sounded like, and if they were a good fit.

The first nine music kits introduced. A nice mix of game composers, DJs and rockers.

The first nine music kits introduced. A nice mix of game composers, DJs and rockers.

For the sake of this, I’m gonna give sort of a mini-review of each kit. Granted, I’m not great at reviewing music, but I’ll try to review it to the best of my abilities, and link to videos that feature each kit so you can listen to them for yourself. Without further ado, let’s get started.

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Hey, it’s that time again. That time where a certain beverage advertises a certain video game. Just in time for it’s release…

Shamelessly stolen from a Mountain Dew Wiki. Yes, That Exists.

Shamelessly stolen from a Mountain Dew Wiki. Yes, That Exists.

Yep, Mountain Dew Game Fuel makes its return. I’ve written about these in years past (here are my reviews of the 2012 and 2013 flavors), and I had totally forgotten that they were doing it again until very recently. Reviewing Game Fuel has become a tradition on this site, and I would be remiss if I forgot to cover this year’s model.

This year, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is our big sponsor, after Microsoft got dibs last year, forcing Activision to settle with Monster Energy cans with Call of Duty: Ghostbusters instead. You can read about that, and my virgin experience with Monster Energy here.

Something old, something new. It seems to be Mountain Dew's MO these days.

Something old, something new. It seems to be Mountain Dew’s MO these days.

So we have two flavors this time round: Citrus Cherry and Lemonade. I’ll make it quick on the Citrus Cherry, since it’s the same flavor as previous years: It tastes like Mountain Dew mixed in with a cherry tinge and gives a citrus punch that’s unexpected. I used to drink Squirt religiously, but I can barely tolerate drinking a glass of Citrus Cherry because of the citrus kick.

Because one should always taste test their drinks in a small glass. It's for maximum fancy.

Because one should always taste test their drinks in a small glass. It’s for maximum fancy.

As for Lemonade, it tastes like fizzy lemonade. It’s like having Tropicana lemonade if it was mixed with carbonated water instead of regular water, complete with the weird lemonade aftertaste that branded lemonade has. Certainly better than the Electrifying Berry of last year’s. I wish this was a regular flavor, it would be the only Mountain Dew-related flavor I’d actually drink!

Alas, Kevin Spacey’s visage does not make an appearance on the bottles, which is quite a shame. I would’ve been proud to say I owned a bottle of Mountain Dew with the star from House of Cards, but I guess he doesn’t sell soda compared to MILITARY DUDE WITH A STERN MILITARY FACE! OORAH!

I shouldn't be surprised this kind of promotion exists, but it makes me laugh every single time.

I shouldn’t be surprised this kind of promotion exists, but it makes me laugh every single time.

This year, they brought back the “DewXP” concept where you can input codes to give you free XP or bonus goodies in Advanced Warfare‘s multiplayer mode, now called “FUEL UP FOR BATTLE.” I’m going to guess that you’ll likely get free emblems, gun skins or other things you can customize, all with the appropriate Mountain Dew and Doritos branding.

Forgive me if I seem ignorant of what you can get out of the Fuel Up for Battle thing. Since I stopped following Call of Duty religiously not long after Black Ops, I couldn’t tell you what the multiplayer has, except it probably has XP, point streaks, weapon attachments, 10 game modes that everybody ignores except for Team Deathmatch and Search & Destroy; and 20 levels of Prestige for the hardcore players. It hasn’t changed much since Modern Warfare‘s multiplayer back in 2007. You play one of them, you played them all.

I wish I could be interested in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, but it just seems like a mish-mash of Black Ops II and Crysis 2 with a pinch of Kevin Spacey for added flavor. Since Call of Duty games come out every year and I can’t really afford games at full price, putting down $60 on a video game plus the game’s DLC and a subscription to Xbox Live or PlayStation Network seems like a ridiculous preposition to me. (I know the game is also coming to PC, but I have little faith of it being a good version, especially since how bad the PC version of Ghosts was.)

It doesn't help that stuff like *this* exists in the game. This beats Ace Combat Assault Horizon for "most ridiculous quick-time event ever".

It doesn’t help that stuff like *this* exists. I could see what they were going for here, but these are just as ridiculous as the ones in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon.

Oh well, I can still drink these special flavors of Mtn Dew and write about them. It looks like Game Fuel is here to stay, complete with the gamer stereotype of chugging Dew and gobbling Doritos while you get that sweet XP. See you guys in 2015 when we do this once again with some other video game. Here’s hoping that Citrus Cherry doesn’t come back along with it.

prge1

So this past weekend, I went to the Portland Retro Gaming Expo. It’s my fourth time to the con, and I remember when it was wedged into a small conference area in the DoubleTree Hilton near Lloyd Center to it’s current home at the Oregon Convention Center.

Last year I had recorded video footage from the event, but didn’t use any of it and didn’t write anything about it. This year, I promised myself I’d actually blog about it this time. Especially since the people that run the Expo actually linked to my entry from 2012, where I had gotten a bunch of stuff, talked to “Gamesmaster” Howard Phillips, and had David Crane sign a copy of Pitfall I found at the same expo. I have to thank the expo for even giving my podunk blog a few extra views every now and then. :)

This is more of a “what I saw” post. I didn’t spend much at the con itself, but I did find a bunch of really, really interesting gaming stuff. Join me as we look at some of the things these vendors had to offer.

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