Thursday, November 30, 2006

Some Thoughts on the VC Release Schedule

This little graphic has popped up on a couple of gaming blogs already, so I thought it might be a good time to bring the subject up again. I wrote about the Virtual Console games that will be released in Japan this year a couple posts ago (look, it's right down there), so if you're not familiar with them, go take a look.

Now, as you would expect, the American kids are upset because the Japanese kids get to play so many more games on their VC's than we can over here. While you're having to settle for a handful of emulated titles, those lucky kids over there will get to choose from Castlevania and Contra and R-Type and Adventure Island and two dozen more games - all on day one. What's the deal with that?

I think Nintendo made two big mistakes in regards to their new console. One, the Wii is region-locked, which means you can't import any games. Two, the VC games cannot be transferred from one console to another. You can't store them on, say, that memory card you're also using on your digital camera.

I can understand Nintendo's desire to clamp down on piracy, not to say all of us who would just make endless copies of our games. This isn't a charity they're running. They're in this business to make money. Sorry, kids, them's the brakes. But, still, this is a bit much. It's overkill.

The best thing to do, then, is to release everything on the VC as quickly as possible. There's no reason that one region gets only 12 games, while another region gets 36. You do know that you can download all of these games online for free, right? This, dear readers, is a formula for growing a lot of disgruntled customers.

I'm assuming at this point that the VC situation is only temporary, and that all the Japanese games will be available in America. For now, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. But if we're still making complaints six months down the road, then Nintendo's going to have a serious problem on its hands. Those core gamers are going to stop lining up with their plastic cards, and they're going to stop buying VC games.

Heck, I've often said that there's no real reason to invest in VC until Nintendo implements online multiplayer. If and when that happens, then they'll have a winning formula. Then I'll gladly pony up the cash - $5-$10 per game. Until then, no dice. You know the emulators will be up and running before too long, so there's no pressure to buy in.

I'm a defender of the Virtual Console, or at least the idea of the Virtual Console. But the minds at Nintendo need to sit down and figure out, once and for all, what they want to do with it. But allow me to offer a piece of crucial advice; heck, I'll make a plaque for you. It'll read like this:

Rules for Virtual Console
#1 - Online Multiplayer
#2 - Get the Damn Games Out
#3 - Don't Piss Off Your Fans

New Wario Ware Twisted Moves Video

I'm really looking forward to Wario Ware on the Wii console. It promises to be the best of all possible versions, including over 200 microgames, and endless weirdness and classic game riffage. This latest gameplay video just appeared on YouTube, and it's all-new footage. Better start saving those pennies, kids - if you're looking for that next fix after Wii Sports, Wario is it. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Virtual Console Buyers' Guide

Nintendo has promised to release 10-12 games for its Virtual Console every week, after launching the Wii console with a short cross-section of titles across a number of consoles. I thought I should offer a buyers' guide for the current and upcoming VC games.

I understand Nintendo has left open the door for updates to the VC library. The Holy Grail that we're all really hoping for, of course, is online multiplayer. From a technical point-of-view, it shouldn't be hard to implement, and it's easy to see how successful it could become. I don't have much of an incentive to pay for emulated classic games when I already have them on my computer, but if you add online multiplayer - well, now you're talking a whole new ballgame. Give the kids the chance to play Goldeneye or Super Mario Kart online, and you'll see the classic games becoming more popular than the new Wii releases.

Keep your eyes peeled when Nintendo fully rolls out thier online service early next year.

Anyway, let's take a look at the upcoming VC titles, based on the Japanese release schedule for 2006 (I'm assuming these will all be available in the States) - Ratings out of ten:


Baseball: 2 - Most of the early NES games were pretty lousy. This is one of them. In fact, I'd go so far as to pull out that quaint, 20th Century lower-class euphanism. It's shit.

Donkey Kong: 5 - The NES version of Donkey Kong, which notoriously skipped out on the intermissions, and one of the four levels. Gimie a break.

Donkey Kong, Jr: 5 - Same as above. Another chincey port that's best forgotten.

Gradius: 8 - Now this is more like it. One of the most influential of side-scrolling shooters. The Konami Code works in this one, but only once per level.

Ice Hockey: 8 - Give me online multiplayer, and I swear this will become the greatest sports game of all time. Bring on the fat kids!

Pinball: 3 - It's shit.

Soccer: 2 - Total Shit. Why, Santa, why?

Solomon's Key: 7 - Great action-puzzler that was once in vogue on NES, due for a comeback. And, hey, look at at that! It's not shit! Unlike some other games.

Super Mario Bros: 10 - Not counting the arcades, this will be the fifth time you paid for Super Mario Bros. Maybe I should just send Nintendo a check every month.

Tennis: 3 - Absolute Total Shit. My eyes! The goggles do nothing!

Legend of Zelda: 10 - This is only the third time you're paying for this. Still a classic, but today's kids won't have patience to bomb every wall in search of secrets. I don't.

Urban Champion: 1 - Absolute Utter Fucking Shit. If you know someone who paid for this, hit them repeatedly over the head with a rolled-up newspaper. Bad dog! Bad!

Xevious: 6 - Not a very good rendition of the Namco coin-op. It was okay, so until MAME or an Atari 7800 emulator appears on VC, this is your only option.

Mario Bros: 5 - Yet another chincey port, ala Donkey Kong and DK, Jr. It's okay, but it's not the arcade. Wow, those early NES games were really lame.

Wario's Woods: 5 - Somewhat overlooked as a mediocre puzzler. But for now, it's your only option. I keep getting this confused with Walden Woods for some reason.

The Legend of Kage: 4 - Why would you waste your time on this when Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden is sitting on your shelf? Wouldn't you rather watch paint dry instead? C'mon.

Super NES

F-Zero: 8 - Loved this game to death in 1991. Really wish there was a multiplayer mode.

Street Fighter 2: 9 - The game that really saved Nintendo's bacon in the 16-bit war. Many wasted hours while listening to Megadeth and Metallica records. Many blistered thumbs.

Castlevania 4: 9 - All the kids who are used to the easy walk-in-the-park Castlevanias after Symphony are about to have their asses handed to them.

Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: 10 - You could probably spend the next six months playing nothing but Zelda games on your Wii.

Sim City: 9 - One bit of advice: learn the infinite money trick. It makes all the difference in the world. That, and you should name your town "Mr. Butt."

Super Mario World: 10 - This is the reason why we all lost interest in New Super Mario Bros. after two weeks. I promise not to tell you how to beat this game in five minutes.

Donkey Kong Country: 7 - The best of the DKC games, a little overrated, still looks better than everything else. What's with that? And did Sean Combs really name himself after Diddy Kong?

Contra 3: 10 - Gunstar Heroes without the drugs. Unless you're talking steroids. Then, yeah, this game is loaded with drugs. Cough.

R-Type 3: 7 - Is this the one with the really crappy slowdown, or the one with the only-slightly-crappy slowdown? I forget.

Nintendo 64

Super Mario 64: 10 - Duhhh. What planet have you been living on? Destined to become another Nintendo game you'll have to buy again every four or five years until the end of time.

Sega Genesis

Altered Beast: 3 - There's a reason it was the pack-in, kids. It was totally lame. The whole thing's over in 20 minutes.

Columns: 5 - Looks okay, but it's aged terribly. Spawned a whole pile of pointless sequels for some reason.

Ecco the Dolphin: 10 - Didn't I already write about this in Electronic Games magazine?

Golden Axe: 7 - I have fond memories of reading the strategy guide in Game Players. That, and beating up those little gnome guys and stealing their potions. Heh-heh-heh-heh.

Sonic the Hedgehog: 10 - Before Sonic became a burned-out meth addict, he kicked everyone's ass and then some.

Toejam and Earl: 9 - Destined to become a VC classic, if there's any justice in the world. Throw this on while listening to your favorite Public Enemy albums.

Gunstar Heroes: 10 - Contra on a lot of psychedelics while watching Future Boy Conan or Lupin III reruns, which officially makes it the Greatest Thing Ever.

Puyo Puyo: 7 - The second game is the better one, but, hey, it's been a whole year without another Puyo Puyo game. You're probably going through a sugar withdrawl.

Ristar: 6 - Colorful platformer. Tries to be Sonic, comes off more like Poochie. Sega keeps sticking this one in like a hanger-on at parties. The "desperate nice guy" of videogames.

Shadow Dancer: 6 - Competant action-platformer, but it was a great letdown after the glorious Revenge of Shinobi. Just another paint-by-numbers Genesis game of its time.

Space Harrier: 7 - Really does look a lot better than Space Harrier on 8-bit machines, but still a step below the arcade version. Ah, well, whatever. It's fun stuff.

PC Engine/Turbografx-16

Super Star Soldier: 9 - Didn't I already write about this one? You want a classic videogame, get this one. It's the best Turbo game on the VC until Devil's Crush shows up.

Bonk's Adventure: 7 - A little unfair to compare to Mario or Sonic, but a good solid platformer nontheless. Spawned more sequels than it was ever really worth.

Battle Lode Runner: 5 - I'm going back to my battle breakfast cereal now. Where did I put my battle spoon? Oh, there it is, right next to the battle sugar.

Bomberman '94: 8 - Maybe this is the '93 edition. I can't remember. Whatever. It's not Super Bomberman 2 or Saturn Bomberman, but great kicks if you can get 'em.

Dungeon Explorer: 7 - A good Gauntlet rip-off with some impressive stereo sound. It's probably aged somewhat, so this is probably more of a nostalgia kick than anything.

Necromancer: ?? - Which one was this one, again?

New Adventure Island: 7 - Never released in the US, as it also appeared on NES. Don't know if we'll see it here, but we'll cross our fingers.

Victory Run: 5 - Listed in the dictionary under "fucking boring." Here's the ending: you watch the sunset. In real time. There. I saved you six bucks.

R-Type: 8 - Excellent port of one of the greatest arcade shoot-em-ups ever made. Everybody and their uncle has ripped it off.

Military Madness: 7 - Wasted away far too many hours on this game back in the day. This is the actual war simulation used by the planners of the Iraq War. Which kind of explains a lot.

Three New Virtual Console Titles

This week, the three latest additions to Nintendo's Virtual Console appeared, to the joy of all you lucky duckies who've managed to score a Wii. While the rest of us are resigned to wait through the Holiday season, you'll be able to waste away your preciously short lifespans on classic games.

The newest games include Super Star Soldier, which was one of the finest shooters for the PC Engine. It never appeared on the Turbografx here in the States, which is too bad. If you were an American fan, you were pretty much screwed, as piles of great games were left in Japan, while Sega left poor NEC in the dust. Well, now's your chance to get in on the action.

For the Genesis, there's Golden Axe and Ecco the Dolphin. Golden Axe was among the first wave of Genesis games from 1989, and it's one of the best. You can appreciate Sega's dominance in the arcades, and that translated onto those first 16-bit titles. Sure, Golden Axe is one of those dreaded beat-ups, that genre that was once very popular, but is now looked down upon...something like leisure suits, or Milli Vanilli, or George W. Bush. No one wants to admit they were ever a fan.

That's too bad for Golden Axe. That's a crummy batch of pathetic losers to be stuck with. Why not remind yourself of what made videogames fun? Quick arcade action, instant thrills, not a lot of heavy thinking. It still beats watching TV.

Now, Ecco - this is one of the standouts of the 16-bit era. It came from Sega's absolute peak of the Genesis era, at the time of Sonic 2 and Toejam and Earl and Streets of Rage. Ecco was, and remains, a fiercely unique and inventive game. There are elements of role-play, adventure, puzzle, and platform games, often blending and blurring several genres at once, and completely shifting gears every few levels for kicks.

Ecco delivered some of the best graphics and animation at the time; it was one of those games you could admire and look at. And, hey, it has a dolphin! What more do you want? It's a pretty challenging game for its time, which means today's butterballs will probably get their fat asses kicked. Good. They need the exercise. Definitely get your hands on this one.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Takeover - Shuffleboard Deathmatch

I think one of the best surprises from Clubhouse Games is this little gem called Takeover. It's one of the few original games in the lineup, and follows the whole Touch Generation notion of bringing videogames back to its roots. In this game, players knock their colored puck across a field, scoring points by landing on neutral squares.

Sounds tame, but here's the thing that makes it great: if you knock another player's puck off the playfield, you get all of his territory and points. Given how small most of the playfields are (there are 5 in total), it doesn't take long to realize that playing fair is a suckers game. You're better off just knocking everyone else off the screen.

So, basically, Takeover is a Deathmatch Shuffleboard. This is probably what's going to happen when my generation is old and retired.

The standard setting is for 4 players, but you can go as high as 8, at which point any pretense of playing nicely is tossed out the window. It's all down to who gets knocked out and who doesn't.

This just goes to show you how solid game design doesn't require multi-million-dollar budgets or enormous art assets or endless hours of forced gameplay. You know, arcade games. Remember those?

Impossible Mission

This screenshot comes from the Solitaire game in Clubhouse Games, and it's about as close as I've come to actually completing it. Solitaire is usually one of those card games that any schmuck can solve after about five minutes of practice, but this version is damned near impossible.

Here's my real problem. Clubhouse Games offers three main game modes: Free Play, Stamp, and Mission. Stamp mode is my favorite, and shuttles you through a rising tier of games, starting easy and becoming gradually more challenging. In order to pass each section, you need three stamps, and even if you lose a game, you'll still get one stamp. It's not really meant to be anything more than a primer for all the various games that you'll be playing online, which is where the real action is.

There are five levels, with ten challenges each. I've managed to blow through all of them with ease, until I get to level 4-8, Solitaire. Now I'm stuck, and I don't know if I'm going to get past this. I may just throw up my hands and give up on Stamp altogether. If only I didn't have one more game to unlock. That pretty much means I'll have to figure out how to beat the stupid thing.

Have I mentioned how rediculously hard this Solitaire is? I think it's mostly because you have to deal three cards at a time, and are only able to use the top card. I only played this game once about a dozen years ago, when I was putting together one of my old fanzines on the computer. I figured the thing out, and solved it in about five or ten minutes. I've never touched Solitaire since; what would be the point? The whole reason for playing escapes me. Isn't this just a fancy way or reshuffling the deck?

Solitaire is a good indication that you need a real hobby. That's probably why the Clubhouse designers made it so damned hard. Jerks.

What's On Clubhouse Games?

I decided to post a list of all the games that are included on Clubhouse Games on the DS. It's a terrific little game, and should be a part of your collection. And did I mention that you can play online? Game on, kids!

Anyway, here's what's available if you're still mulling over whether or not to get Clubhouse:

Basic Card Games:

Old Maid
"I Doubt It" (better known to kids in my day as "Bullshit")

Intermediate Card Games:

Seven Bridge
Last Card
"Last Card Plus" (better known as Uno)

Advanced Card Games:

Five Card Draw
Texas Hold-Em
Contract Bridge

Basic Board Games:

Chinese Checkers
Dots and Boxes
Hasami Shogi
"Turncoat" (better known as Othello/Reversi)
Connect Five
"Grid Attack" (better known as Battleship)

Advanced Board Games:

Shogi (Chinese Chess)
"Field Tactics" (better known as Stratego)
"Ludo" (better known as Parchissi)

Variety Games:

Soda Shake
"Word Balloon" (better known as Hangman or Wheel of Fortune)

Action Games:


Single-Player Games:

Mahjong Solitaire

As I wrote earlier, there are a number of games that are just cheap ripoffs of known name-brand games. Why couldn't Nintendo bother to spend $20 for the licenses? The originals were better, anyways.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Videogame Classics - Clubhouse Games

If you play games on your PC, then chances are you've seen the variations on the Hoyle games series. I'm a particular fan of last year's Hoyle Board Games, which offers numerous board and dice games (variations on Yahtzee), a crazy cast of chattering characters (my favorites being the dinosaur, the bear, and the pirate parrot Capt. Scurvy), and and endless amount of unlockable material for your own character. Not only do you get to customize your own player icon, you get to clutter your space with lots of wonderful junk like stuffed animals, lava lamps, and junk food.

Needless to say, Hoyle Board Games is great fun. Moreso than it deserves to be.

If there's one thing that Clubhouse Games achives at, it's in showing that a similar style of game can succeed on a portable games system. Throw in wifi and you have a bona-fide classic. I can't say that Clubhouse Games is as good as Hoyle; it lacks that personality that all those characters brought to the fore. But it's the next best thing.

Clubhouse Games is a wide collection of 40 (or 42) games. Roughly half are card games, all the usual suspects like blackjack and poker and hearts and rummy, yadda yadda. All the usual board games are present, like checkers, chess, and backgammon. There are even some nice parlor games like darts, billiards, and a little bowling game that is more fun than it has any right to be.

It seems to be such a scattershot collection, but most of them work. If there's something you don't like (and I'm sure a few games won't be played more than once), there's more than enough to divert your attention. Clubhouse is part of Nintendo's Touch Generation series, which is an effort to capitalize on the interest of non-gamers and former gamers who just grew up. The folks who were sucked in by Brain Age and Nintendogs.

The videogame nerds who obsess over every 100-hour console epic likely won't even bother with a little collection of games like this. Whatever. It's their loss. The DS has always been the home for the quirky and off-center, especially the sort of games that work best in short bursts. The ride on the bus, for instance. This is probably one reason why Sony's Playstation Portable is such a disappointment. By the time you've finished waiting for games to load, your ride's already over. You could have better spent the time with a DS, or better yet, a book.

I'm a fan of these sort of games, probably more because of age than anything. I don't have the time or energy for anything more complicated than this. Unless, I suppose, that God Almighty is a real big Final Fantasy fan, and wants to hear my insights. If that's the case, my end of the conversation will be pretty sad.

Ah, yes, nearly forgot. There's one real beef I have with Clubhouse Games, and it's this - the publishers were too cheap to pay the money for a number of popular licences games. Games like Uno, Battleship, Parcheesi (however it's called), and Othello/Reversi. Instead, they change everything around just a little bit, or with the card games, make you use a regular deck. It's cheap as hell, and there's no excuse for it. Goodness knows, this game couldn't have cost that much to make, despite all the impressive bells and whistles. Compared to most other DS titles, the budget must've been chump change.

Also, while I'm at it, I wish there were some dice games like the ones on Hoyle Board Games. Okay, maybe I should just be honest and ask for a DS version of Hoyle. Clubhouse is a triumph, and shows just how perfect Nintendo's portable is for such a title. I want my Capt. Scurvy, dagnabbit!

So, yeah, Clubhouse Games is a terrific little game for Nintendo DS. It's definitely one of the standout titles in the library, the next great game after you've burrowed your way through Brain Age and Big Brain Academy.

If I had to give it a grade, I'd give it a 9 out of 10. Dock one point for the cheapskate version of Uno, and the lack of any talking parrots.