16 9 / 2014
So, it may seem like an odd choice, but I’m going back to my original gaming name TravistyOJ. Too many people want to be Capaneus. Check out my new blog at travistyoj.com.
I’m just keeping this tumblr alive because of links to the Skyrim ebooks that are still hit everyday.
20 1 / 2014
Somehow we accepted that rhythm games could only use geometric abstractions to inform the timing of actions, but KickBeat replaces these with goons to pummel and the results are refreshingly fun. You play as Lee or Mei, two cardboard cutout characters in a fight to protect… something. The story is not really important and doesn’t get in the way or improve anything. No matter your motivation, what’s clear is that you need to beat up hundreds of goons, and you need to beat them up with impeccable timing.
At first, the fighting/rhythm mashup mechanics can feel a little overwhelming. Your enemies encircle you, and in a specific sequence step into one of four quadrants represented by your action buttons. There are color-coded baddies, which inform how closely they can group, and if more than one can attack simultaneously. After a few songs, these rules seamlessly meld into your subconscious, and you can effectively groove into a Zen-like state that only good rhythm games afford. The note charts and timings of each track feel dynamic and fine-tuned. Each time a song drops a deep hook or a heavy beat, the corresponding skull bashing feels great. The difficulty scales well, and you feel yourself improving to the same tune as your opposition. Boss encounters provide slight variances to the core gameplay, and actually provide a decent change of pace.
In KickBeat, gamepads are not only supported they are strongly recommended. Because of the difference in spacing between WASD and the intended cross pattern of the action buttons, one can’t effectively get into the groove on a keyboard as well as with a controller.
As for the actual soundtrack, it’s difficult to comment on given how subjective musical taste can be, but I found the quality of songs varied wildly. You get a fair share of clumsy nu metal and rap rock, but you also have some well-crafted electronic, and some competent dub-step. What’s surprisingly missing is “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Stevens. Zen Studios, how did you miss this? Altogether, I’d say the soundtrack manages to have more good than bad, but some of the lower quality tracks have a tendency to bring you back down to earth.
Luckily, the bundled soundtrack is just the start, and you can import any song from your MP3 collection. However, don’t expect a fancy automated import tool. You will be required to tap a button to the beat of each song in order to calculate the BPM of that track. Additionally, the note chart created for each song will only be based on the timing of the beats - no fancy progressions based on the actual notes or melodies, just timed commands. It’s a feature that breathes a little more life into the original game, but not enough to keep you coming back for more.
As a devotee to rhythm games, I was excited to see if KickBeat could manage to deliver a new experience to a genre that has recently felt flat. It’s concept of using hoards of thugs as beat-fodder is more than a gimmick and provides satisfying play, but an inconsistent soundtrack, poor character design, and a weak track importer unfortunately keep KickBeat from being a true contender.
Final Score: 6.5
17 1 / 2014
I’m back with yet another edition of my year long countdown! If you’d like to read more about my countdown project, read the announcement post.
Punch-Out!! (NES - October 1987)
Originally released in the U.S. as Mike Tyson’s Pun-Out!! Nintendo elected to not renew the license, and just changed the final fight to Mr. Dream. Recently at AGDQ2014, sinister1 played through Punch-Out!! blindfolded. It’s been a favorite of mine since I was a kid, it’s got great characters, a fast pace, and it was a lot of fun figuring out each opponent’s weakness.
Super Metroid (SNES - March 19, 1994)
It’s still my favorite game of all time. With a big influence from moody space movies like Alien, Nintendo pushed the SNES to its limits with huge boss fights, a massive world, and tons of hidden items. The final sequence gave little Capaneus some of his first game feels too.
Streets of Rage 2 (Genesis - December 20, 1992)
While Capcom and Konami were fighting for brawler dominance in the arcades, Sega was happy to win the fight for best console brawler.
Shining Force III (Saturn - May 31, 1998)
Released as three scenarios across three separate volumes, many fans consider this entry the best in the series.
Metal Gear Solid (Playstation - September 3, 1998)
I didn’t play Metal Gear when it first appeared on the NES, but I was blown away by the cinematic presentation of this game. While the game’s muddy texturing hasn’t aged very well, the core gameplay experience is still a lot of fun.
Super Mario 64 (N64 - September 26, 1996)
Before Mario 64 came out, I remember thinking how weird it would be to control Mario in a 3D world. I had gotten so used to thinking of Mario as a 2D platformer, I had no idea if this launch title would work. It did. It was a huge blast, and despite some minor camera annoyances, the world that Nintendo made was amazing.
Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes (Dreamcast - June 27, 2000)
Wait. Shouldn’t this belong in the Arcade list? It’s true this game hit arcades first, but since the Sega NAOMI arcade hardware was essentially a Dreamcast with a RAM upgrade, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 remains one of the best and most accurate home console ports of all time. It’s also the best Marvel vs. Capcom game in the series, and is still played at dozens of fighting game tournaments around the world.
StarCraft (PC - March 31, 1998)
I remember when StarCraft first came out, I said, “That’s cool”, and immediately went back to Command & Conquer, but luckily a friend of mine kept insisting I play. After digging into the game, I realized how much deeper the game was, with different races, builds, and economic advantages. Still the biggest game ever in South Korea.
NBA JAM Tournament Edition (Arcade - January 17, 1994)
I love this game so much, I have dedicated 4-player arcade cabinet at my office. Probably my favorite sports arcade game of all time. Did you realize that NBA JAM made more money than Jurassic Park in 1993? It was a huge hit.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Game Boy - August 6, 1993)
You’re going to see a lot of Zelda games on my countdowns, so you better get used to it. Somehow Nintendo managed to fit all the fun and amazing design of Link to the Past in a tiny Game Boy cart.
13 1 / 2014
Nidhogg provides some of the fastest and most enjoyable monochromatic bloodletting one could hope to experience. The premise is simple. You are a pixelated swordsman in a territorial conflict with your opponent, most often your best friend sitting right beside you. Each standoff is lightning fast, and invariably ends in a gratuitous splattering of blood. Kill your opponent with a well-timed and well-placed lunge, hurl your épée at his head, or just knock him down and rip his heart out. Savagery is encouraged, and provides a hilarious counterpoint to the civilized image of fencing. Once you have managed to kill your opponent, you can progress to your goal until just seconds later, he respawns and you must again defeat him to progress. Lose, and he gains ground on you. This ebb and flow continues until one of you reaches the final screen where the winner is given a true hero’s sendup: He is eaten by a flying worm.
Nidhogg is not just a circus of inanity and violence, but is some of the best fun you can have with your friends. Controls are responsive, animations are fast and smooth, and landing consecutive killing blows provides a jolt of dopamine that keeps you coming back for more. There are multiple arenas to choose from, each one visually unique and designed to make you rethink your strategy. Some corridors are too tight for jumping or sword throwing, so both your opponent and the landscape will make you think on your toes.
Visually, Nidhogg exhibits a unique combination of minimalism through pixilation and solid colors. It highlights the expression of characters through animation rather than textures. It is aesthetically arresting and securely has its own style. These visuals are elevated even further when coupled with an exceptional soundtrack by Daedelus.
Nidhogg could have provided only the core one-on-one experience, but if you look deeper there are a lot of extras. There is a tournament mode supporting up to 8 players. There is a multitude of variants in gameplay to explore. There is a single player experience pitting you against an increasingly difficult array of AI personalities. Additionally, there is an online multiplayer component, but at the time of this review, I experienced some unfortunate glitches. In several matches I experienced moments where I killed my opponent, but immediately the game changed states, and my character unexplainably died. It wasn’t often, but it was often enough to sour the experience. I’m told that the online component is still a work in progress, so if you don’t have a friend handy to play local multiplayer check the forums for progress.
Nidhogg was first shown in 2010, and since then Messhoff, comprised of Mark Essen and Kristy Norindr, have worked to shine the core game into a full-fledged release. Nidhogg is available today on Steam for $11.99, and if you have friends, it is well worth your dollars.
Final Score: 9.0
10 1 / 2014
I’m back with yet another edition of my year long countdown! If you’d like to read more about my countdown project, read the announcement post.
Metroid (NES, August 6, 1986)
For the most part in 1986, console games were short experiences similar in design to arcade games, with the hook relying more on gameplay than on narrative. However, Metroid took a bold step in creating a completely involved world to explore and a story that actually informed your actions. Fans were further blown away when it was revealed that the protagonist was female. It was the first female protagonist in video game history.
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (SNES, October 4, 1995)
Despite the full title, this game wasn’t a continuation of the original Super Mario World. It was more of a prequel, with the adventure starring Yoshi who is tasked with protecting baby Mario. It is yet another example that Nintendo has made some of the best platformer games in history.
Phantasy Star II (Genesis, March 1990)
Shortly after the success of Final Fantasy, Sega decided that they also wanted to make an RPG. To put their own spin on the genre, they decided to mash-up both fantasy and sci-fi elements. The original Phantasy Star was made for the Sega Master System, and was received positively, but it was the second installation for the Genesis that really picked up its loyal fanbase.
Guardian Heroes (Saturn, January 25, 1996)
Many people still consider Guardian Heroes one of the greatest console brawlers in history. It combined 2D sprite scaling and transformations on a 3D plane into a fast paced beat-‘em-up. For years it was only available on the Saturn, but has since been re-released on Xbox Live Arcade.
Final Fantasy Tactics (Playstation, January 28, 1998)
Final Fantasy Tactics is the first “Tactics” release in the Final Fantasy series, but it is actually a spiritual sequel to the games Ogre Battle and Tactics Ogre, and was made by the same team that made those games. Essentially FFT is an isometric turn-based RPG set on a grid where movement and unit placement is just as important as the actions you choose. It’s a classic that has been rereleased several times on different platforms.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64, November 23, 1998)
The days between Christmas and New Year’s in 1998 were very simple for me. Wake up, Play Zelda, Eat Lunch, Play Zelda, Eat Dinner, Play Zelda, Sleep. This is exactly how I spent the last days of 2013 as well.
Soul Calibur (Dreamcast, September 9, 1999)
I bought my Dreamcast and Soul Caliber just a few months after their release, and I played this game like a madman. Little did I know that despite a great line-up, the Dreamcast would die an unfortunate and untimely death just a few years later. Heck, even if I did know that, I don’t think I would have changed a thing. I was having a blast with it!
Half-Life (PC, November 8, 1998)
Lights out. Headphones on. Every one else in the house was asleep, and I was creeping around corners checking for headcrabs. Looking back, it’s kind of ridiculous how ahead-of-its-time Half-Life was.
Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting (Arcade - Capcom CPS1 Platform, December 1992)
Capcom has a habit of releasing three versions of each Street Fighter, and almost universally the third release is the best. After World Warrior and Champion Edition, Hyper Fighting included mid-air specials, balance tweaks, and faster gameplay. It is the greatest incarnation of Street Fighter II.
Pokémon Yellow (Game Boy, October 19, 1999)
It’s only appropriate that the first two weeks start with the first and last release for the original Game Boy. Pokemon Yellow was a special edition re-release of Red/Blue and was available as a special bundle with Game Boy Color. I didn’t care if I was a senor in high school; I had to catch ‘em all!
07 1 / 2014
Another critic has stated that video games are not art. Jonathan Jones at The Guardian has written another piece to double down on his proclamation that video games are not art, and while this topic might be getting tired for you, I had some thoughts that I wanted to share.
I am providing the full text without his permission to prevent even more ad revenue to the article:
“I’ve occasionally been asked for my comments on video games. Are they art? My quick answer, when asked, has always been a fairly curt “No”.
And then guess what – Santa brought a PlayStation. Plus a variety of games, old and new. So am I all turned around on the joys of virtual play?
I certainly know (slightly) more. I am no expert (honestly, Lara Croft, I thought you could jump off that cliff without a scratch). But do I still suspect these computer game thingumajigs are the devil’s mind candy? Well, no. I think they’re a fantastic pastime.
The great defence of video games is that they are not the internet – no offence intended – with its ceaseless assaults on attention span. While many aspects of digital culture minimise concentration (hey you! You know who you are. Please read to the end of this short article before posting a comment …), games demand absolute attention over long periods of time. They create fictional worlds of great conviction and intensity. Above all, in an age when free online stuff is the norm, games have expensive production values and no one seems to resent paying money to reward those.
So in many ways, the world of computer games is an alternative model of digital life – a more creative, even contemplative, style of interaction. Until you post your scores online and blog about which game is better and the whole noise of random comment starts again.
Which brings me back to that old chestnut … can video games be art? And the answer is still No, or at least, Not Likely. It seems a bizarre and irrelevant question to ask. Like, if I was reading Jane Austen and you said, “But is it sport?” No, it’s not sport, it’s a novel. Why would it need to be anything else?
Electronic games offer a rich and spectacular entertainment, but why do they need to be anything more than fun? Why does everything have to be art?
Very few things count as Art. I would argue that very little art is actually art – because most of it fails, and failed art is not art. We just politely pretend that it is.
Better to create a good game than a bad work of art. Games give us pleasure and freedom. Art also does that, in a different way. But it is rare. I enjoy games. I hate bad art.”
Despite the fact that it was most likely written only to bring in traffic for ads, it is a deplorably close-minded perspective on what is classified as artistic expression. He tries to muddy the waters by comparing the discussion to asking if Jane Austin is sport, implying both that games even aspiring to be art is nonsense, and that art is defined by its medium. His opinions are not just poorly expressed, but are potentially destructive and could reinforce a mainstream stigma that video games are vapid time wastes only for social misfits. Mr. Jones, I am not here to declare unequivocally that all games are art. In fact, I would say most are not. It is as pointless as having a debate whether clay is art or not. It is merely a medium, and it is only realized expression that can be classified as art.
The most generally accepted definitions of art include two criteria: It was intentionally made and it is appreciated for its beauty or emotional power. Art is not bound by its medium and if you can find a way to elicit emotion from potatoes, farts, or jumping jacks, you have produced art. Now understand that before you put your cardio-fart-starch exhibit up at your local museum, that accessibility is also an important aspect of artistic classification. Enough people should be moved by your display for there to be consensus that it is art. And while the most non-conformist creatives can throw the art label on everything they see, mainstream consensus that games can be art is important to its advancement.
It’s a cycle that needs to be broken. If games are not perceived as a powerful medium worthy of intelligent and creative people to use, then creative talent will use other mediums for expression. So we do need mainstream acceptance that video games are a valid form of artistic expression. It is versatile, multifaceted, and capable of delivering narratives across a full spectrum of interactivity. Mr. Jones, I know you are trying to make a buck, but please understand it is not the job of an art critic to evaluate an entire medium. I’d be happy to see your review on Cart Life, Papers Please, Braid, Journey, or Flower.
03 1 / 2014
Excitebike (NES, November 30, 1984)
As my NES collection grew, I always seemed to go back and play this game. It’s so simple, yet I remember pushing myself to get faster and faster times. One of the first track editors I ever experienced as well.
Super Mario Kart (SNES, August 27, 1992)
In middle school a friend once told me that Super Mario Kart frustrated him so much he took a hammer to the cart, smashed it into bits, boxed up the bits, and buried it in his back yard. Keith Courtney, I always thought you were weird.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Genesis, November 21, 1992)
It seems Sonic Team took everything great about the first Sonic game and just made everything better. Faster and prettier, it was the basis for the “Blast Processing” ads that technically didn’t mean anything.
NiGHTS into Dreams.. (Saturn, July 5, 1996)
There are three Sonic Team games on this week’s countdown, a testament to the quality and variety of that team’s releases. I remember playing this on Christmas 1996, and the world actually became a Christmas wonderland. It was immersive and a lot of fun.
Resident Evil 2 (Playstation, January 21, 1998)
While the tank controls have garnered a lot of criticism over the years, I had a blast scavenging ammo and getting scared out of my pants. The abysmal voice acting is a plus too.
GoldenEye 007 (N64, August 23, 1997)
Few times in life have I experienced more joy than 4 player split screen deathmatches with dumb rules like no weapons but knives and proximity bombs.
ChuChu Rocket! (DC, November 11, 1999)
I use to lose myself for hours into Chu Chu Rocket. It starts out simple enough, the puzzles are easy to solve, but towards the end, you really start to go a bit insane. You have been warned.
Doom (PC, December 10, 1993)
I can vividly remember the first moment I saw Doom. I was at Sam’s Club, killing time while my mom bought insane quantities of food. I was immediately blown away. It wasn’t the first FPS, but it broke so much ground graphically and design-wise that games still adhere to conventions that Doom established.
Donkey Kong (Arcade, July 9, 1981)
There simply isn’t another arcade game with the longevity of Donkey Kong. People are still breaking records, and I’m confident people will still be breaking records decades from now.
Tetris (GB, June 14, 1989)
Is it crazy that a pack-in game is one of my favorite games of all time? Maybe, but it’s quite possible I’ve played Tetris for the original Gameboy more than any other game in my life time. Seriously.
03 1 / 2014
There are a many aspects of gaming that hold my interest, but over the past few years, I’ve been thinking more and more about the concepts of preservation. Videogames have a particularly unique and difficult path to follow when it comes to preserving them. Specifically, they are interactive pieces of art written in different machine languages, stored on proprietary media, controlled by various inputs, and displayed on shifting video standards. Though several have been defined, there isn’t a standardized model for abstracting out all the differences and preserving bit perfect versions of each release. Additionally, with digital distribution and proprietary DRM gaining mainstream acceptance, each successive generation of games will pose an increasingly complex hurdle to overcome to ensure these games are preserved.
But I’m not here to talk to you about the topic of preservation; there will be much more on that later. I want to talk about a topic complementary to preservation: curation. In my efforts to study and build a collection of retro games, I’ve found more and more torrents and releases containing every game ever made for a given system or for a given time period. While the act of preservation must be all inclusive, I think it is just as important to document and curate the greatest releases of each system. As an analogy, a museum doesn’t display every piece in its collection; it merely displays a select portion of that collection that has been deemed excellent by the curator. For me, this started out as a mental exercise. If I ran a video game museum, what games would I have on display?
The task was just mad enough that I decided to turn it into a year-long project with weekly installments. I would compile the 50 greatest games across 10 different categories, and at the end of 2014. I would have 500 games in the curated collection. I decided these would be the 10 categories for 2014:
- Nintendo (Famicom)
- Super Nintendo (Super Famicom)
- Sega Genesis (Mega Drive)
- Sega Saturn
- Sony Playstation
- Nintendo 64
- PC (1980-1999)
- Arcade (1980-1999)
- Handheld (1989-1999)
Now immediately you might perceive some flaws to these categories. First of all there is not parallel granularity within each division. Two decades of PC games will have immensely more candidates than the number of releases for the Sega Saturn. Not to mention that the groupings are inconsistent. Most are constrained to a platform, while others are constrained by years. The simple answer is that the categories are not meant to be compared to each other, they are just groupings that I want to create lists for.
Each Friday, I will list a game from each category, with a very brief explanation of why I find that game to be excellent. The first few weeks might be a little obvious, since I have the get the absolute best games out of the way, but I will try to have at least one not so popular release on the list. Games are not added in any particular order, so don’t assume a Week 1 entry is better than a Week 50 entry. Immediately following this post, you should see Week #1 go up, and as long as I keep my resolve and sanity expect each countdown release to hit on Fridays.
06 11 / 2013
We are less than a week away from Bioshock Infinite finally getting some single player DLC with Burial At Sea, and I’m excited! In fact, I’m so excited that I want to make it easier for any of you that still haven’t played what is one of my absolute favorite games of 2013. Come this Tuesday I’ll be giving Bioshock Infinite away to one of you lucky devils. You know the drill, get those entries in and good luck!