Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hottest March and Hottest Jan-Feb-Mar on Record

Meanwhile, here on Planet Reality, the world continues to burn because of our addictions to fossil fuels and reckless consumption:

It was the hottest March in both satellite records (UAH and RSS), and tied for the hottest March on record in the NASA dataset. It was the hottest (or tied for hottest) January through March in all three records.

The record temperatures we’re seeing now are especially impressive because we’ve been in “the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century.” It now appears to be over. It’s just hard to stop the march of anthropogenic global warming, well, other than by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, that is.

What is it going to take to wake people up?  What is it going to take to force our politicians to take the necessary steps to avoid apocalyptic catastrophe?  Nobody seems particularly motivated to act.  For the politicians, there's too much money pouring in from fossil fuel industries.  The citizens are no better, stubbornly clinging on to their toys, their gadgets, their deeply destructive lifestyles.

Changing your light bulbs isn't going to make any difference.  Bringing your own bag to the grocery store won't do a damned thing.  The problem is very simple - you consume too much.  Your lifestyle cannot merely be tinkered and nudged at the edges.  Your lifestyle is the problem.

And do you know the most frustrating part of it all?  We've known about this for over a century.  The first research paper addressing global climate change, and the burning of fossil fuels, was published in the 1890's.  Frank Capra made movie reels about global warming in the 1950's; you can watch it on Youtube.  But humanity has continued to flop on the seamy side.  Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death!

Scientists Cleared of Malpractice in UEA’s Hacked Emails Inquiry

This was from a week or so back, courtesy of the Guardian UK and Climate Progress.  I've been telling myself to document the event in any case.  This is now the second formal investigation into the hacking of emails of British climate scientists, which was jumped upon and trumpeted by Fox News and the Republican Party - proof that global warming is a hoax, a "climate-gate."

Well, not so fast.  Turns out the scientists have been vindicated.  Twice.  And the always-growing mountain of evidence for global warming continues.  Here's the usual short excerpt from the Guardian:

The scientists at the centre of the row over the hacked climate emails have been cleared of any deliberate malpractice by the second of three inquiries into their conduct.…

The report concluded: “We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it. Rather we found a small group of dedicated if slightly disorganised researchers who were ill-prepared for being the focus of public attention. As with many small research groups their internal procedures were rather informal.”

Monday, April 26, 2010

Global Warming and the Rise of Super Storms

Joe Romm lays out the case for more ferocious storms as a result of global warming.  The "storm of the century" is becoming almost routine, due to rising amounts of moisture in the atmosphere.  If you examine closely, you can see this happening with your own eyes.

Denial, magical thinking, and conspiracy theory will not save you.  These are delusions, fantasies...what Jean Renoir called "dancing on the edge of a volcano."  The pollution must be stopped immediately; not tapered, not slightly reduced, but eliminated completely.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Some Thoughts on the Loudness War

I posted these words on the Steve Hoffman Forums, dealing with the music business' Loudness War.

Most people, certainly the majority, either don't know about this issue or don't care. I guess it depends on whether you're an optimist or a pessimist to judge where that falls. The crank in me sees this as more evidence that humans are mindless sheep, shuffling along to the dictates of culture and authority. The optimist in me sees a rising awareness, a sense that something is wrong. Even if the music lover is not aware of the science of the loudness wars, they feel something is off. They simply don't listen to new music anymore, and may just assume it's a part of aging.

I knew something was off with music all through the last decade, long before I knew anything about mastering or engineering or waveform graphs. I just discovered that I wasn't playing music (mostly MP3s by this point) like I was with CDs in the '90s. I read something Dave Mustaine once said about MP3s being inferior to the wave files of a CD, and I grokked that concept, but the idea of compressing and crushing music was completely alien to me.

It was only when I bought a Numark portable turntable in 2007, and picked up an old Led Zeppelin IV for $3.20 (turns out to be a "Porky"), that the revelation hit me. I was literally knocked out of my chair, overwhelmed. I had no way of explaining why this record was soooo miraculous. The sound was deeper, richer, warmer, more alive, more real. And you could hear all these sounds, tones, instruments deep in the background, sounds that were missing completely from CD and MP3.

Like most people, I knew next to nothing about vinyl records. Turntable spins, needle, music comes out. That's it. But I felt like Dorothy stepping into Technicolor Oz.

Anyway, the whole point to this long Grampa Simpson story (did I mention that I wore an onion on my belt?) is that these larger issues of the loudness wars, analog vs digital, and the vinyl revival were completely alien to me, and I would suspect this is the same for most people. Audiophiles know the technical reasons behind these issues, but the average public doesn't. And we had to dig deep and read endlessly to learn. This is something the audiophile crowd doesn't realize. You're a small group, and you're holding on to all the secrets.

I think education is the key. You need to educate people about the art and science of music, about the loudness wars (one of nation's many uselesss wars), about analog and digital and CDs and turntables. I believe the tide has been slowly turning, and awareness is rising among music lovers and the musicians themselves. How many more bands now insist on greater dynamics, or analog recording and mastering for their vinyl LPs? Heck, the band Low (from Duluth, MN) proudly advertises "AAA" stickers on their LPs.

I wouldn't worry about winning over all the people. The smart, witty, savvy kids - they're the ones who will listen and learn. Go to the kids. Throw up a thousand videos on Youtube and educate them. Show off your stereo systems, your hi-def digital and your analog turntables. Don't count on the music industry to preserve this history. They're not leading; they're stumbling to catch up. We need to become the leaders and the teachers.

Friday, April 23, 2010

18 Veterans Commit Suicide Every Day

Holy fucking shit!

Thirty veterans attempt suicide every day.  And eighteen succeed.  For the love of God, stop these damned useless wars!  You cannot send boys off to war and keep them there forever.  War is not a profession.  It is a supreme violation against the human soul and all that is good; mankind's greatest crime.  And war has become normalized, trivialized in this American culture, this selfish and deeply fearful culture.

This permanent war is a disgrace and must be ended immediately.  Nothing good can come from this, only suffering and death.

*I should add, I really don't pull out the heavy-duty swear words and refrain from doing so in my writings, unless I'm very upset.  This was my honest, immediate reaction to that headline.  It's beyond obscene, the way this nation treats its men and women in uniform.  An absolute disgrace.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What's the Deal With USB Turntables?

What's the use in getting a USB turntable?  The whole premise has never made any sense to me.  Most people threw out their record players for CD and, later, iPod.  But they still have all their old records sitting in the attic.  So they go out and buy a new USB turntable...so they can digitize their albums and play them on the iPod?

How weird is that?  You've already got a turntable.  Why don't you just, I dunno...play the records?  Anytime I mention this idea to someone, I'm met with blank stares.  The very idea just doesn't cross their minds.  But Brawndo has electrolytes!

The deeper issue is that the greater public has bought into the idea of throwing out the "old" and buying the "new."  Planned Obsolescence is the gospel of today's consumer electronics industry.  And most just follow along, mindlessly, spending hard-earned money on some cheap, plastic USB turntable that is never used to actually spin records.  "You can only play digital music on iPods" is not chisled in stone.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

An Earthquake in Your Pants...Jackass

Sometimes I wonder if I bumped my head and traveled to the Onion universe.  Is this loser for real?  And what does that say for the suckers and chumps who believe him?

“Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes,” Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media. Sedighi is Tehran’s acting Friday prayer leader.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mozart Symphony No31 "Paris"

Here's another needle drop, this time of a Mozart Symphonies LP from 1968, on the Turnabout label.  The album includes Mozart symphonies 31, 32, and 34.  Here's Symphony No.31 - the "Paris" symphony.

Beethoven String Quartet, Op.130 - The Orford String Quartet LP

Happy Birthday, everybody!  In celebration, I wanted to share with you one of my favorite albums - Beethoven's String Quartet Op.130, performed by the Orford String Quartet.

This "needle drop" was recorded onto my PC via Audacity and then chopped up and uploaded to Youtube.  I'm very impressed with the sound, and I hope this gives you a good idea of what my stereo system sounds like.  Naturally, it's much better in the original uncompressed analog, but I recorded at the highest possible quality every step of the way, and I think you'll enjoy the results.

I found this LP in the 50-cent section of Treehouse Records in Minneapolis.  I've bought so many classical albums and box sets from those guys, nearly always for a dollar or less each.  It's a terrific way to build your music library and enrich your lives with a vast history of wonderful music.  Always search the discount bins in the music stores, kids.  The hidden gems only reward the persistent and the curious.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Marcee and Sasha the Dog at the Farm

Hi, Marcee!  How are ya, baby?

Marcee is at her friend's today, playing New Super Mario Bros.  Her internet won't be back up until Monday, so I promised a couple photos to cheer her up.  Yayy!  These come from her recent vacation with relatives who own a farm in the Colombian countryside, just outside of Bogota.  Sasha the Dog is theirs, too.  Yayy!!

Virtual Console Review - Ninja Commando (Neo-Geo)

Ninja Commando - ADK for Neo-Geo - 4/10

After playing through so many Neo-Geo games, it's pretty obvious to me that ADK was a second-tier developer.  Their games were nearly always duller, weaker, and slower than any of SNK's own titles.  They really were only good for one good video game, and that was Twinkle Star Sprites.  Everything else should be dumped into the generic leftover bins where they belong.

Ninja Commando is yet another example of this sad fact.  Here is an overhead run-and-gun game similar to Commando, Ikari Warriors, Heavy Barrel, and numerous other arcade games of the 1980s.  Heck, Rambo shoot-em-ups was SNKs specialty back then.  Ikari Warriors, Iron, Tank, Guerrilla War - those were classics, especially on the NES.

Ninja Commando wants to be Ikari Warriors, but it fails miserably for one key reason - you can't turn your fighter.  Yes, kids, that's right, you cannot turn and shoot in any other direction than up.  This goes against literally every other game in the genre, on every console and home computer ever built.  Every other game lets you shoot to the side, or shoot at an angle, because you're pretty much being hit by all sides.  Not so here.  Ninja Commando only allows firing forward.

What a sick joke.  Why would I dump quarters into this when I have so many better alternatives?  There's a reason why this game became obscure so quickly.  It sucks.

Being more charitable, I can appreciate the three different ninja characters, who have their own personality.  I might also appreciate the idea of time traveling and blowing stuff up all throughout history.  It would have helped if ADK offered level designs that were less cramped and a little more open.  Also would have helped if the weapons were more wisely designed.  The strength of your shots is determined purely by how quickly you mash the buttons.  How's that for a cheap gimmick?  Good luck with that gamepad.

Whatever.  I really don't care.  This game is substandard, looks flat and dull, is far too slow, and have I mentioned that you can't turn and shoot?  Yes, there is a move where you can throw ninja stars while doing flips, but it's extremely slow and weak - it doesn't effing work.  Did anybody playtest this game?

Oh, and that part about the characters having a personality?  I was only trying to be nice.  The truth is, they're dorks.  I mean, look at 'em.  Didn't the flat-top go out of style, like, 50 years ago?  Did the employees at ADK all wear flat-tops?  That would explain a lot.

Virtual Console Review - Top Hunter (Neo-Geo)

Top Hunter - SNK for Neo-Geo - 4/10

Top Hunter sucks.  Please don't waste your time or money on this clunker of a game.  Despite the gorgeous graphics and luxurious use of color, this is an extremely simplistic arcade side-scroller, with sluggish controls, annoying boss fights, and deeply repetitive gameplay.

The level designs are essentially a straight path from A to B.  There's a dual-pathway set akin to Sega's Shinobi, but it's never really used to any effect.  It's just a second pathway with the exact same enemies.  Have I mentioned Top Hunter is deeply repetitive?  Yes, it is deeply repetitive.  My mind just aches when I have to think at all the deeply repetitive moments I played through before reaching the end.  It's the same stupid pathway, the same stupid enemies, and the same stupid boss fights.

The gameplay gimmick is that you're a fighter who grabs enemies and throws them around.  Your arms also zoom out when you punch.  Neither are especially interesting, as no novel ideas are employed.  You would think the level design would take this into account, or there would be some challenging boss fights.  Sorry.  You would also think there wouldn't be a slight lag in the button pressings, or that the game designers had figured out walking and jumping.  This was a video game from the mid-'90s?  Sorry again.

Oh, and have I mentioned the audio is nothing but clown music?  Good Lord, I just wanted to punch the sound designer's jaw out.  This is the kind of music you expect when you're ordering a Happy Meal.  That sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach kinda feels like a Happy Meal, too.  Moral lesson: don't load up on empty calories.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Virtual Console Review - Neo Turf Masters (Neo-Geo)

Neo Turf Masters - Nazca for Neo-Geo - 9/10

I don't know if the claim will mean much to today's Nintendo Wii audience, but I'm of the mind that Neo Turf Masters on the Neo-Geo is the best arcade golf game ever made.  It's so easy to become spoiled by motion controls on Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort and Tiger Woods Golf, isn't it?  It's very tempting to toss aside all the older golf games and stick with the Wiimote.  However, I do strongly suggest that you hold on to this one.

I really love the presentation on Neo Turf Masters.  This game is wonderfully polished and you can see the care and dedication Nazca, the developers, brought to the table.  Golf games were decidedly second-tier in the arcades (usually reserved for PC simulations), and I think that's part of the reason gamers are so impressed.  Just look at the bright and brilliantly detailed graphics.  Note the excellent use of color, and note the spectacular animation of the golfers.  Observe the stunning use of scrolling to simulate 3D depth with sprites.

I certainly wouldn't expect four different courses, at 18 holes each.  I certainly wouldn't expect a variety of golfers with their unique skills, or a full set of clubs, or the ability to add curves or spin to the swings.  In other words, I would expect a stripped-down arcade game, not the full experience.  Nazca clearly proved their dedication and love of detail - a trait they would demonstrate again and again with their Metal Slug series.

Perhaps because this is an arcade title, the courses aren't recreations of actual locations, but offer the sort of surreal fantasy video games are made for.  I especially like the par-three holes which take place over cliffs. I also enjoy the brisk speed of the game; it's just a couple quick button presses and you're making your next shot.  It's fairly easy to make shots, but you will have to use your golfing skills, as the game is quite challenging.

And, hey, look at that!  I made it to the end of the review without cracking lame Tiger Woods jokes.  What an achievement.  I should get an award for this review.

Photos - Neo Turf Masters (Neo-Geo)

A collection of screenshots for Nazca's most excellent Neo Turf Masters on the Neo-Geo.  This was a surprise hit that came out of nowhere, and plays a damn good game of golf.  I'm not sure if Nintendo Wii owners will want to go back to pushing buttons after being spoiled by motion controls, but this is an excellent title that deserves a place in everyone's Virtual Console library.

Virtual Console Review - Baseball Stars 2 (Neo-Geo)

Baseball Stars 2 - SNK for Neo-Geo - 8/10

Baseball Stars 2 is one of the signature Neo-Geo titles.  It perfectly captures the rebel vibe SNK was going after when they launched their arcade/home system - flashy, brash, over-confident, and irreverent.

There have been a million arcade baseball games during the '80s and '90s, and to be perfectly honest, there isn't a dime's worth of difference between any of 'em.  The batter-pitcher view is always the same, as is the control scheme and play mechanics.  It's video game baseball, so you know the score.

What Baseball Stars 2 has in spades is attitude.  All of the baseball players are mutated steroid freaks, carrying powered-up bats that may as well be tree trunks.  Pumping fists, breaking the bat over the knee, macho poses, dramatic diving for the ball...haha haha, this is almost like a cartoon spoof of sports games.  What's interesting is that SNK's previous games in the series (despite the title, this is actually the third Baseball Stars) were playing it straight.  Isn't that weird?  Perhaps they just needed an over-the-top sports game on Neo-Geo.  The system mascot was a rabid pit bull, after all.

My favorite moment in the game is when you hit the batter with a fast pitch.  He gets knocked down, then rushes the mound, and punches the pitcher clean on the jaw.  I don't know why I always laugh when that happens.  The closeup shot makes me laugh.  I only wish the pitcher could fight back...hah!  The best part is that your pitcher becomes crippled after getting punched out - the pitches are all slow and wobbly.  Hah!

Other than all that, what is there to say?  It's arcade baseball.  It's best for short bursts of dumb fun, and especially good for showing off the graphics of the Neo-Geo.  I don't know if that sort of thing can impress teenagers in the year 2010.  It was really awesome in 1991.  Everything was awesome in 1991.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Virtual Console Review - Samurai Shodown 2 (Neo-Geo)

Samurai Shodown 2 - SNK for Neo-Geo - 9/10

Now we come to one of the all-time great fighting games.  Samurai Showdown 2 is a brilliantly executed and conceived sequel, a skillful and challenging game that should keep fans thrilled for ages.  This is universally regarded as the peak of the series, for good reason.

Half a dozen new fighters are introduced to the roster, all very impressive and unique, all while exploring different methods of weapon-based combat.  I'm very impressed that SNK managed to create new characters without copying anyone else.  Even Soul Calibur could barely manage a dozen fighters before double-dipping.  SamSho 2 brings the total to a very impressive 15.

The controls feel well-oiled, and matches seem to flow more quickly than before.  All fighters have more special attacks, including a number of defensive moves that were truly groundbreaking.  In addition to rolling, ducking, or hopping to dodge attacks, you can successfully parry an attack with precise timing.  At least, that's what Wikipedia says.  I'll be very thrilled if I can pull that trick off, so I better practice.

In addition, you can taunt your opponent, unleash super desperation moves when your POW (frustration) meter is filled, and even destroy your opponent's sword.  That is an especially thrilling moment, especially when you're clawing back a dramatic comeback.  I've saved my bacon more than a few times thanks to the desperation moves.

The graphics appear more detailed, more colorful, more smoothly animated.  The color palette hews darker for this sequel.  It's an autumnal tone, heavy on the reds and browns.  I'm a sucker for warm color tones, so obviously I'm a fan.  The arterial sprays look especially nice at the end of a match, and how often do you get to say that?  Even the camera scaling, a staple of Neo-Geo games, appears very smooth and refined.

I think SamSho 2 plays much, much better than the original, for all the reasons listed above.  The game feels more liquid, more loose.  Attack combos are now a factor, and this really speeds up the game.  Thankfully, the tactical approach to fighting is still present and has not been sacrificed.  I appreciate that Samurai Shodown is a smarter fighting game.  Button mashers are not welcome.  Smarts are what is required.

I love the Japanese vibe to Samurai Shodown 2.  It's even more steeped in the mythic past than the original, evoking Kabuki and Noh theatre and Kurasawa's samurai westerns.  The music and audio are especially grand at transporting me back to this lost world.  This game just breathes style with every note, every beat.  SNK really was onto something special.  Is this their greatest fighter?  Fans will no doubt flock to the King of Fighters series, and rightfully so.  Those are outstanding arcade games.  But this game has the panache.  It has style in spades.

Virtual Console Review - Samurai Shodown (Neo-Geo)

Samurai Showdown - SNK for Neo-Geo - 7/10

Here we finally come to one of the gems of the Neo-Geo library. When SNK debuted Samurai Showdown in 1993, its innovative weapons combat stood out among a sea of mediocre Street Fighter 2 clones. Who doesn't want to be a sword-wielding samurai or ninja? The game quickly became a great success for SNK, and would even appear on Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo - the first of many ports during the era.

Does the original Samurai Shodown still hold up today? I think it does. Gameplay is tight, stripped-down and focused squarely on the essentials. Special moves are few and thankfully avoid needless flash. Each attack counts. I do appreciate the focus on smart tactics, of knowing just when to unleash the most powerful strikes, knowing when to go for the throw. You must rely on your wits instead of endless strings of combos.

In that sense, Samurai Shodown is much closer to the '80s classic Karate Champ than Street Fighter. This is a tactical fighting game, and not a button masher. Many would cite this as a weakness, but I prefer to see it as a strength. Fighting games got away from casual players rather quickly, as they drowned in increasingly complex combat systems and painfully complex combos. This genre was taken over by hardcore competitive gamers almost from the beginning.

Also, I am more than willing to feel generous when the spectacular Samurai Shodown 2 is waiting in the wings. I can appreciate the basic structure of the original, since those foundations are so solid. This was without question SNK's finest fighting title when it was released in 1993. After trudging through Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting (and ADK's mildly tolerable World Heroes), Samurai Showdown is like stylized lightning from the sky.

I really enjoy the character roster, which thankfully avoids cliches and aims for originality. There are no clones, no cheap color swaps, no Bruce Lee look-a-likes, no Street Fighter wannabees. And for once, we actually get to have women fighters who aren't pinup dolls. Do you mean women get to wear clothes, too? And they get to have normal physiques, and not just be a sex doll for horny teenage boys? Wow, what a world.

Impressive moments abound. When fighters strike their weapons in close range, there's a short shoving match, and the loser suddenly finds themselves unarmed. Sometimes finishing blows unleash an arterial spray, much like Akira Kurosawa's Sanjuro, or may split the opponent in two. During the match a passerby throws bombs which explode, or food which restores your health. And when your fighters get hit too many times, they turn red and become frustrated. Good Lord, even the characters in this game think Neo-Geo is too damned hard.

I really dig this game. Sure, the computer is a pain in the ass. Yes, SamSho 2 is the superior sequel. Whatever. Life is precious and short, kids - get your kicks however you can.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Photos - Samurai Shodown (Neo-Geo)

And, rightly on cue, here are some screenshots from Samurai Shodown on Neo-Geo.  You have no idea how many virtual quarters I spent to get these photos.  I hope you appreciate all my hard work.  This is easily the best of the early Neo-Geo fighters.  SamSho 2 is better in every way, but there's no denying the appeal of the original.  Enjoy!

Photos - Samurai Shodown 2 (Neo-Geo)

I'm working my down to the end of the Neo-Geo games currently on Virtual Console, and I'm somewhat happy to finish all the reviews.  Here are a number of screenshots I snapped from the excellent Samurai Shodown 2.  This game is fiendishly difficult, as most Neo-Geo fighers tend to be, but at least I can complete a few stages before being smacked around by the computer.  Hooray!  I actually get to win a fight!

This has been a very good day for me.  Yay!

Tinkering Around the Blog

I've spent part of my day tinkering with this blog, as part of my constant revising refining.  I've added a "Reviews" category, which should make things easier for the gamers.  I've also shuffled around the right column, and I hope that makes it easier to find those reviews.

I keep telling myself that "Videogame Classics" and "Virtual Console Review" will one day work their way into a book, and that project is ongoing.  I still don't feel that I have enough material to send to a publisher.  And, as you can guess from a website like this (and my other website, The Ghibli Blog), my attention keeps veering in different directions.  I'm doing a better job of staying focused, but there are no guarantees.

Photos - The King of Fighters '94 (Neo-Geo)

A few more screenshots from King of Fighters '94 on Neo-Geo.  You get to watch me getting myself killed on all sorts of groovy environments.  Enjoy!

Virtual Console Review - The King of Fighters '94 (Neo-Geo)

The King of Fighters '94 - SNK for Neo-Geo - 5/10

What the hell's the problem, SNK?!  This game is too $%&@#! hard!  What's the deal with all these impossible Neo-Geo fighters?  Here is yet another one where I can't get past the first stage. In fact, I can't get anywhere on any of the system's early fighters.  I'm still feeling cranky about Fatal Fury Special and Art of Fighting 2.  And World Heroes can bite me for all I care.

Well, that tears it.  I know it's far too late to raise a ruckus about it now, since these games are 15-20 years old.  So I'm docking King of Fighters '94 three points off the review score.  I wanted to give it a solid seven or maybe an eight...but forget it, kid.  This game earns a 5/10 on the report card for teeing off the reviewer.

This is especially frustrating for me because, during the research for this game, I've become a great fan of the King of Fighters series.  That means I've been spending my time playing all ten titles on the Neo-Geo, from KoF '94 to 2K3.  And they're excellent games, just bloody brilliant, once the series gets rolling.

Strangely enough, only KoF '94 is currently available on the Virtual Console in North America, and the '95 edition is only available in Japan.  What's the holdup?  When is SNK going to bother to get around to the rest of the series?  They were kind enough to release a a compilation disc, dubbed The Orochi Saga, which contains the first five games up to KoF '98.  Unfortunately, this retail disc was released in 2008, and may be difficult to find today.  Way to drop the ball, SNK.

Anyway, enough complaining.  The King of Fighters '94 is the first of what would become ten yearly installments on Neo-Geo, becoming the console's flagship series.  It all but invented the "team-based" fighting games, as well as the "dream match," featuring characters from SNK's vast roster of arcade hits.  Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting are represented, naturally.  But you'll also see nods to Ikari Warriors and Athena, among others.  Years later, Sega, Nintendo and Capcom would all offer their own "dream match" fighters, and it all began here, with the first King of Fighters.

Since this is the earliest title in the series, it's no surprise that KoF '94 has the smallest characters, the fewest martial-arts moves, the chunkiest graphics, and the fewest animation frames.  And this is without question the most difficult.  The 3-on-3 teams cannot be edited or customized - a feature that becomes standard immediately in KoF '95.  The ability to dodge attacks by stepping to the side is interesting, but I much prefer the ability to roll, which also appears later.

In other words, King of Fighters '94 is the foundation for the classic series.  That doesn't make it a classic by its own merits.  In fact, I think this is the worst episode of the series.  You might have better luck than I have, so don't let my frustration get in the way.  But I would strongly advise buying King of Fighters: The Orochi Saga, or simply waiting for whenever SNK bothers to get around to releasing the sequels on Virtual Console.

Monday, April 05, 2010


Another key reason to end Prohibition - our overcrowded prison system.  Philadelphia takes crucial steps towards sanity and government by adults.  This useless Drug War funnels enormous profits not only to criminal syndicates, but the prison-industrial complex as well, and our justice system is overwhelmed as a result.  We need to devote resources to serious threats, not some college kid or cancer patient with cannabis in their pockets.  Good jorb, Philly:

The city's new district attorney and the state Supreme Court are moving to all but decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use in an effort to unclog Philadelphia's crowded court dockets.

Under a policy to take effect later this month, prosecutors will charge such cases as summary offenses rather than as misdemeanors. People arrested with up to 30 grams of the drug - slightly more than an ounce - may have to pay a fine but face no risk of a criminal record.

Hi, Everybody! Hi, Doctor Nick!

You just can't make this stuff up.  Thank goodness this guy isn't my doctor.

Republicans Finally Admit the Iraq War was a Mistake?

Are you kidding me?  Where were these losers in 2003, when I was marching across downtown Minneapolis and shouting as passing cars to protest this stupid war?  Now, at long last, after spending a trillion dollars and killing countless thousands of lives...now they'll admit it was a mistake.

This sort of phony mea culpas from the politicians might count for something if it results in changes to the American Empire's foreign policy.  Perhaps we won't be so eager to drop bombs and rush into endless wars the next time.  Heck, maybe these slick pols could really surprise us and take a hatchet to the Military-Industrial Complex.  What are the odds of that?  Fat chance.

Virtual Console Review - King of the Monsters (Neo-Geo)

King of the Monsters - SNK for Neo-Geo - 5/10

King of the Monsters was a big hit for SNK and Neo-Geo, and was successfully ported to the Genesis and Super Nintendo.  This is essentially a wrestling game, but with monsters stomping Tokyo.  If that sort of thing appeals to you, go right ahead, have fun.  The novelty of fighting as b-movie monsters does have a certain appeal, and there's a certain undeniable thrill in smashing building and throwing trains at one another.

Unfortunately, this is really nothing more than a button-mashing game.  Like most wresting games or the era, there is very little technique, and nowhere near the nuanced precision of martial-arts fighting games like Street Figther 2 or Tekken or Virtua Fighter.  You just mash buttons, punch, kick, and grapple.  I've never been a fan of these sort of games, and I don't see any reason to bother now.  The flashy graphics will not impress in the year 2010, and the typically clunky animation and slow pacing will not win over the tournament fighters.

King of the Monsters was mildly impressive at the time, but in out century it remains decidedly average.  Pass.

Virtual Console Review - Art of Fighting 2 (Neo-Geo)

Art of Fighting 2 - SNK for Neo-Geo - 5/10

You know, I am trying to like Art of Fighting 2.  I really am trying.  On my better days, I can convince myself that a quality fighting game lurks here somewhere, just under the surface, waiting to be discovered.  Most of the time, I find it to be a frustrating mess.

This game is impossibly hard.  I mean impossible.  Neo-Geo fighters are known for being difficult, but AoF2 takes the crown.  Either I just don't have the pacing down, or I can't figure out the special moves, or the computer just has a sixth sense and responds faster than I can.  Whatever the case, consider yourselves lucky to even clear the first stage.

The graphics on Aof2 are spectacular.  This is probably the best-looking game from the early Neo-Geo years.  Colors are vibrant, detailed, luxurious.  Fighters are immensely large, standing at 2/3 screen size in close-up.  SNK knew how to pull off flashy graphics, and you can see it every moment.  All of us kids with Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo were duly impressed.

The animation, however, continues to be choppy, clunky, almost half-finished.  There needs to be more frames of animation to these fighters.  Compared to Street Fighter 2's smooth movements, Aof2 is just stiff.  It's deeply frustrating because this affects the gameplay, and makes things more difficult than necessary.  And have I mentioned that this game is impossibly difficult?

The fighting roster is hit-or-miss.  Half the characters are excellent, and you'll see them reappear in the King of Fighter series again and again.  The other half are forgettable.  SNK doesn't seem to know what to do with the really big guys.  I've still yet to find one large brawler who can equal Zangief or E. Honda on SF2, or Wolf and Jeffrey on Virtua Fighter.  Why can't SNK's big guys have more throws, or, heck, more than one?  Why can't anybody have more than one throw?  And would it kill anyone to come up with some original fighting moves?  Fireball?  Dragon Punch?  Are you kidding me?

Ugh!  Frustrating!  I really want to like this series, I really do.  It seems SNK never quite clicked with their fighting games until Samurai Showdown and King of Fighters, and they never really mastered the genre until later titles like The Last Blade and Garou: Mark of the Wolves.  It's like they needed to break a dozen eggs before figuring out how to cook an omelette.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Virtual Console Review - Blue's Journey (Neo-Geo)

Blue's Journey - ADK for Neo-Geo - 7/10

Now this one is a real surprise.  The Neo-Geo is famous for its shooters and sports games and about a million fighters, but not side-scrolling platformers.  Perhaps ADK felt the need to fill a void when they conjured Blue's Journey, and they very largely succeeded.  This is a very fun and very entertaining game.

I think it's a bit unfair to compare Blue's Journey to Super Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog; this game is far closer in spirit to Hudson Soft's platformers like Adventure Island and Bonk's Adventure.  The level designs are relatively straightforward, left to right, with some impressive dips and turns and surprises.  One impressive feature is that your hero can shrink down to a tiny size, where he can slip through cracks into secret areas.  The ability to switch sizes on the fly is nice, real nice.

This game is very cartoon-like in its graphics, and I'm sure that didn't win any fans among the SNK crowd, which was becoming increasingly "hardcore" on Neo-Geo.  I think the graphics are very nice - bold, confident sense of color, well balanced, not garish or loud.  The artists knew what they were doing, and this is much easier on the eyes than ADK's earlier Neo-Geo titles like Ninja Combat.  I really like the look of this game.

After being subjected to so many awful Neo-Geo games, Blue's Journey feels like a breath of fresh air.  It's definitely an anomaly in the system's library, and I'm a bit curious why that is so.  I think there should be more - more levels, more variety, more surprises.  But that's really a hallmark of quality, don't ya think?  I'm spinning Paranoid, side two, on my stereo as I'm writing this, and I'm secretly wishing for just a few more songs.  I'm pleading with the sunset for just a little more time.

Virtual Console Review - Ninja Combat (Neo-Geo)

Ninja Combat - Alpha Denshi for SNK - 3/10

Augh....Most of the earliest game for the Neo-Geo were terrible.  I'm a bit embarrassed, and wondering to myself just why I am devoting a warm and (partially) sunny Sunday writing about this subject.  Why am I recording this brief moment of early-'90s pop culture for posterity?  Will future generations really be that concerned?  Will my brief paragraphs about terrible arcade video games appear in some post-graduate dissertation in the year 2050?  One can never outguess the future, but I highly doubt it.

So here's the lowdown, kids: Ninja Combat was an early game for SNK's Neo-Geo aracade system, developed by Alpha Denshi, who were responsible for other titles as Ninja Commando, Magician Lord, and the World Heroes series.  Eventually, they created the excellent puzzle-shooter hybrid Twinkle Star Sprites, which considerably salvaged their reputation.

Ninja Combat is a side-scrolling beat-em-up at heart.  The angled playfield, the layouts and level designs, the power-ups and bosses, all point to Double Dragon and Final Fight as inspiration.  The only break is that your character throws ninja stars instead of punching or kicking.  When you pick up a weapon, however, that's when you revert to pure fighting.

So we see that ADK tried to mix up styles for this game.  The idea is interesting, but in execution, it just doesn't work at all.  You can see that this is a second-tier developer, from the stodgy graphics and clunky, limited animation, the rather frustrating sense of collision detection (a long line of ninja can wipe out your health bar almost instantly).  This is a game goes from mindless to frustrating and back again.

The graphics are just terrible.  Why are all the characters so squashed and square-ish?  Why are their upper bodies so much bigger than their legs?  Why does everyone have the same facial features?  Does it seem like the entire game works from a single character template?  That was a cheap gimmick in arcade games of the late 1980s.

Ninja Combat becomes very frustrating very quickly, and the boss battles are especially unfair.  You will be killed with a couple hits, with no real chance to evade or escape.  In fact, you will burn through your credits in no time at all.  Bam-Bam-Bam and you're dead.  Then Pow-Bam-Oof and it's game over.  I don't know if the Virtual Console release offers unlimited continues.  If there are only a set number of continues, then forget it.  At least I can add endless credits on MAME; even then, it's a chore for me to continue.

Now that I think about it, Magicial Lord was impossibly hard, too.  What's the deal with these guys?  Count me out.  I want to go play outside and enjoy the warm sunshine.