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I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve had difficulty at times coming up with good, interesting stuff for this blog. Then I found out some video game is cross-promoting with a beverage company. To the 7-Eleven!

Well, that's one way to get people to buy your stuff.

Well, that’s one way to get people to buy your stuff.

Bungie’s Destiny teamed up with Red Bull to partially promote the upcoming Destiny: The Taken King expansion. Unlike the many years where I’ve covered Mountain Dew Game Fuel, this is merely just a rebranding of the existing product to tie in with an upcoming game. Oddly, this is only available at 7-Eleven. It’s weird how 7-Eleven is always the place where I find the dumb video game drink stuff…

This is probably weirder than the time Pizza Hut teamed up with Xbox to make an app...

This is probably weirder than the time Pizza Hut teamed up with Xbox to make an app…

I’ve covered video games doing promotions with energy drinks before, like Call of Duty: Ghostchasers III did with Monster Energy back in 2013. You can read about that here. But Destiny is a different beast. It’s as if Halo and Borderlands had mated and had a baby. I played Destiny during the early beta days, back when all that was available was Earth and that one brief time where they had a mission on the Moon. I liked the idea because not only did it have standard linear missions, but it also had free-roaming exploration akin to most MMOs. But it didn’t seem like something I wanted to jump into immediately since a lot of people were pretty down on it not long after release. Though I figure the game still has a modest following if Bungie and Activision are throwing advertising dollars at Red Bull for this.

The cans feature a code under the tab where you can redeem it for bonus rewards in Destiny that are timed exclusively to this event. Granted, they’ll be freely available to everyone in 2016, but if you want it right now, you’ll have to grab a can of Red Bull. Assuming it’s a code that hasn’t already been redeemed that is. I heard that the codes aren’t randomized very well, so people were redeeming the rewards by just guessing the codes.

Not only do the cans feature a Destiny Guardian and a silly code, they also feature noted eSports player Mike “Flamesword” Chaves as one of their big promoters for this, because he’s a “diehard Destiny fan” according to the website. Now I follow eSports fairly casually, such as Quake Live and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, but this guy is someone I don’t know about and can’t say much about when it comes to my eSports knowledge. Call me when they start putting members from Cloud9’s Counter-Strike team on energy drinks, then you’ve caught my interest.

Does Destiny even have a hardcore eSports community? Hell, I didn’t even know the game had competitive multiplayer until I stumbled upon Ray “BrownMan” Narvaez’s stream a few months back. I guess it makes sense considering how popular Halo‘s multiplayer was, but I always figured it built from the ground up to be a co-operative MMO.

I look at this can in absolute fear, knowing my past experiences. (and how I probably should've shaved before taking this.)

I look at this can in absolute fear, knowing my past experiences with energy drinks. (and that I probably should’ve shaved before taking this picture.)

But enough about #eSports and Destiny, let’s talk about Red Bull itself. Now I don’t drink energy drinks very often. Coffee and Dr. Pepper are my jams for keeping me awake. The last time I drank an energy drink was Monster for the aforementioned Call of Duty promotion above, and I wasn’t too pleased with the taste. Here’s hoping Red Bull is better.

…Wow, it actually tastes good. Probably because the combination of ingredients don’t make it bitter tasting like Monster did. It’s not something I’d drink regularly, but this is actually something I can drink without the disgusting flavor. Though I’ll probably stick to my standbys of coffee and Dr. Pepper, I won’t turn down a Red Bull.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: This is proof video games are getting more ridiculously mainstream. If big-ass popular games start showing up on drink cans and fruit snacks, I’d say video games have officially made it in the corporate tie-in market. It’s like the 1980s all over again, except things taste better this time!

As for Destiny, I’ll probably snag the “whole enchilada” edition coming out later this year that comes with the normal game and the upcoming The Taken King expansion. I’ve been strictly PC gaming for the past year and a half, and it seems Bungie doesn’t want extra cash by porting Destiny to the PC, so I’ll have to settle with a home console version. PS3 obviously, since I don’t wanna pay $50-60/year for PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live. :P

Hopefully Mountain Dew has something up their sleeve for this year’s model of Game Fuel. They are selling it normally on Amazon now in small bottles, but until they introduce a new flavor alongside it, it might be the first year I actually pass on what has become a yearly tradition on this site. Don’t let me down, corporate soda overlords.

I have a certain fondness for Wolfenstein 3D. Back in the early 2000s when I was just a middling teenager, I was playing a bunch of cool level packs for Wolfenstein. Hell, the first online blog post I ever made was talking about an old Wolfenstein 3D mods website that I thought was cool. Yeah, it’s kinda plain compared to Doom and Quake, but damn it, I still had fun going through mazes killing things.

I’ve played practically every major Wolfenstein game barring the Muse Software prequels and the most recent The New Order. I was even a hardcore Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory player back in the day. But I didn’t know that there was a Wolfenstein game I missed…

They don't make game covers like these anymore...

They don’t make game covers like these anymore…

Mission Pack 2: Return to Danger and Mission Pack 3: Ultimate Challenge are unofficial third party expansions to Spear of Destiny, developed internally at FormGen and released in 1994. If you were craving more Wolfenstein and were ignoring Doom for some reason, this was one of the few ways to get more digital nazi killing. That, along the Wolfenstein map generator mentioned on the box, gave you seemingly endless opportunities to expand your Wolfenstein 3D experience.

Both episodes have similar stories: Hitler recovered the Spear from B.J. Blazkowicz, and it’s up to B.J. to fight Hitler’s Nazi regime and recover the Spear twice more before he brings hell demons to Earth. It’s corny stuff, but back in those days FPS games were never known for having great stories.

Well, I hope you like blue because there's a lot of it.

Well, I hope you like blue, because there’s a lot of it here.

So what’s different in these Mission Packs compared to vanilla Spear of Destiny? Surprisingly there are a bunch of changes in this game. New levels (natch), new sprites, new textures, even the enemies look and sound different. So already this is looking promising, right? Oh, if only.

The best thing about Wolfenstein‘s level design is exploration. The goal is for the player to find the exit, but it’s likely behind a load of guards and often, a locked door. In several levels of the mission packs, exits are sometimes just on the beaten path, and locked doors only lead to more enemies and treasures. It’s great for people who want to run through these games quickly, but terrible for those who play the game normally. Several levels in the game will have multiple exits, all of them leading to the same place. It’s interesting because it gives a choice of easy path or hard path, but much like putting them out in the open, the game’s developers are discouraging exploration in exchange for pure speed and carnage.

The ultimate in dick moves.

The ultimate in dick moves.

The other important thing about Wolfenstein is that the levels are fun to go through. Several levels in the original games had annoying maze parts, but usually those just lead to secrets or cool goodies and weren’t critical to progress in the games. In both Mission Packs, expect to go through annoying mazes to just finish the levels. One boss level has you going through a maze full of enemies and props that block your path just so you can get the Gold key. Another level had a set of doors, most of which lead to a dummy wall. Yet another level forced me to use several secret pushwalls to make any progress, whereas a separate set of pushwalls would take me to a fast exit. It exacerbates a lot of the problems these have over the original Spear of Destiny levels.

The developers of these Mission Packs really loved the pushwall feature, so much so that in one level it’s required to push the right walls to get the gold key. In that level, I acidentally pushed a wall in the wrong place, making the key disappear inside the pushwall. I had to restart the stage and be more careful just to get the key, which is pretty annoying. There’s nothing wrong with putting pushwalls for cool secrets, it’s another thing when you make it a crucial part of the game’s mechanics.

At least they didn't make the bosses look too goofy...

At least they didn’t make the bosses look *too* goofy…

While there were some modifications to everything making it look and sound different, a fair share of the base game hasn’t changed. Even though they introduced new boss sprites, the text still refers to the original boss name at the tally screen (instead of “Submarine Willy,” the game will still say you defeated “Trans Grosse”), the game’s secret levels are hidden on the same floors as in the original, and despite the graphical differences, everything still plays the same way the original Spear of Destiny did. It looks like they put a new coat of paint on the walls, but if you look closely, you can see the spots they missed, complete with the old paint that chipped off. It just feels lazy at spots, especially for an expansion pack.

There isn’t a whole lot else I can mention about these two Mission Packs, except the final level in The Ultimate Challenge has a shoutout to a much superior game…

I bet there's someone out there who's made a theory that Wolfenstein and Doom take place in the same universe just by this area alone.

I bet there’s someone out there who’s made a theory that Wolfenstein and Doom take place in the same universe just by this area alone.

Nowadays there’s so many custom levels for Wolfenstein 3D and Spear that these mission packs are pointless in retrospect, but they are still an interesting curiosity. Thankfully these are not lost to time, if you buy Spear of Destiny on Steam, it comes with both mission packs. Slap them into a source port like ECWolf and you’re off to the races. Even though I was down on these expansion packs, they’re still an interesting part of Wolfenstein history, and you should give them a try even if they’re not as good as the original. Don’t come into this expecting gold.

Wow, I’ve been on a retro FPS kick for a while. I wonder what other old school shooter games I could talk about…

A few days ago I had found out a memory from my PC gaming past was going away. Xfire, a game chat client, was shutting down its client and account services. This news saddened me, as Xfire and me go way back.

Memories...

Memories…

To describe Xfire, it was part instant messenger, part server browser. It was a lighter, sleeker Gamespy Arcade, or for a more recent example, AMD’s Raptr client. While Steam has basically taken over that landscape, for a long time having a complimentary client like Xfire was sometimes mandatory, almost to a point where it was bundled with some games, even being used in console games like Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom, something that Sony Online Entertainment thought was fit for a press release.

Wasn't it fun to buy a game and find out that you couldn't play it? Such dark times...

Wasn’t it fun to buy a game and find out that you couldn’t play it? Such dark times…

For those who weren’t around in Steam’s early days, Steam was mostly garbage. Games didn’t run, you had to wait hours to install games (and there was no guarantee you’d get to play it right away!), and the most important feature, the Friends/Community, was perpetually broken and unusable. This is where Xfire excelled: It was a great chat client program to keep up with your gaming friends. Though it wasn’t just for Steam games, but other games where the server browser was cumbersome, like Soldier of Fortune II, or Battlefield 2, were also helpful for finding games back before peer-to-peer multiplayer was more common.

The Xfire website — which still exists, but only in a fragile shell nowadays — also had a fairly cool profile system setup. Here you could make friends, keep your favorite game servers for convenience, even take screenshots and video. All of these were considered pretty impressive for the mid-2000s, and paved the way for competitors to adapt that into their social features.

I think the last time I used Xfire for anything useful was around 2008-09. Since it was a good video capture client that was free compared to the $35 FRAPS, I captured a few videos here and there through Xfire. Though my fairly new PC, an HP Pavilion with 2GB of RAM and Windows Vista, was recording things smoothly with Xfire’s capture. The only times I used Xfire footage was for old Half-Life mods, and for a montage of Goldeneye: Source Beta 3 when it had just come out.

I was not a fan of Goldeneye Source. Still think it could be improved to this day.

In fact, the only thing that I was able to salvage from Xfire’s account system was an old video I did of me playing Left 4 Dead‘s singleplayer, rather terribly. I think it was for a video review I later did that was a real headache for me. Alas I had no other cool things from that era, so those are presumably lost to time (or on an old PC that no longer works.)

People also shared their silly videos of stuff, and I wanna say Xfire was where I first saw the infamous “Leeroy Jenkins” video. This was pre-YouTube, so finding these videos was a bit harder than it is today, so Xfire excelled at having cool videos on occasion. Xfire even had its hand in streaming games, which was considered an impressive feature in the days before Twitch existed. I remember watching a few streams through Xfire and thought it was a nifty little idea.

Alas, Valve finally got off their lazy bouncy ball and introduced the Steam Community around 2009, which has most of the ideas Xfire implemented years ago: Friends, servers, groups, screenshot and video capture. Thus Xfire’s purpose slowly disappeared, leaving it as a ghost town that I opened once every few months, only to be forced to mandatory update to support some of the newest games. It was around this point where Xfire got bought by different companies over the years, including Viacom, which also owned GameTrailers at one time. I don’t think they did anything with it, and by the time Steam had improved its features, Xfire just couldn’t keep up. Thus the era of Xfire being the king of gaming chat clients was over.

I had an account for 11 years?! My, how time flies. Also check out that military skin…

I found out they still had the old account info from my old days, and I took a screenshot for posterity. Look at all the old-school games I played! Plus I saw some of my friends on my Xfire list I’m still friends with today, like Blaze of Better Late Than Never and TSSZNews, and a few other friends from several different communities. It’s a great snapshot of what I experienced back in the day.

I hope that there’s people taking screenshots, videos and other assorted things (like the several sponsored client skins!) and preserving them, since Xfire is shutting down this stuff on the 12th. This was an important thing of online PC gaming in the mid-2000s, and I’d hate for it to just be a forgotten memory of the past.

Man, this is the second time I’ve written about something that’s died this year that was somewhat of an old memory, the first being PlayStation Home. I hope this doesn’t become a trend…

(I could’ve written another one about the ill-fated OnLive and it shutting down, but I don’t have any fond memories of it outside of finding out Homefront was garbage. At least I still have the game console and controller, which makes a great paperweight. :P)

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!

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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!

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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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