Tag Archives: Arcade Games

Time Soldiers Review

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While the world was getting hyped about E3 last week (and yeah, there are some cool looking games coming down the pike. I’ve been peeking in on conferences when I can.) I was hunting for some additions to my collection. I stumbled upon a Master System cartridge I’ve rarely seen outside of conventions, and it was pretty cheap so I thought “Why not?” The box art alone was worth the price of admission. But I got a fairly compelling action title in the process.

PROS: A really cool take on the classic top down run n’ gun.

CONS: Difficulty spikes, occasional collision issues.

WOAH: Giant dinosaurs with laser guns. What’s not to love?

Originally a twin-stick arcade shooter by ADK (The folks who gave us World Heroes), Time soldiers was ported by Sega to the Master System.  Before you even open the box to put the game in you’ll marvel at the artwork. It has everything a child of the 80’s was into. Dinosaurs, rocket launchers, and tanks. Once you start playing, you’ll see it lives up to the lofty promises the box advertises.

The setup is that in the distant future, a despotic, intergalactic Warlord decides to conquer the Earth. To do this, he traps many of the world’s best soldiers in different time periods throughout history. The guy basically looks like the Anti-Monitor from The Crisis On Infinite Earths, and probably has a lot of the same powers. So “Why couldn’t he just destroy the world with antimatter?” seems like a good question to ask.

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Anyway, you have to go on a quest to rescue each of these warriors from their cells throughout history. On paper, this seems pretty straightforward. Go kill bad guys, and blow up stuff in a sequential order, and roll the end credits. Time Soldiers takes inspiration from earlier run n’ guns like Ikari Warriors, and Commando. You play from a top down perspective, and do just that. Kill hundreds of enemies who come charging at you guns blazing.

But what makes this game stand out from almost every other game of its ilk, is the fact that it is never the same game twice. Time Soldiers, places each of these hostages in a different place every time, and you have to kill a boss in order to proceed. Often times, the game will not place you in the proper time period from the get go. So you’ll play the first stage, and then be sent to a new era.

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Each of the eras has a few different versions, and these will vary depending on when you’re sent to that era. So if you get sent to the Prehistoric era on stage two, it will have one version. But get sent there again a few stages later, and it will be a variant. The game will also make you fight a mini boss if you’re in the wrong era for the current hostage you’re tracking down. Defeating the mini boss will then either open another time machine (which look suspiciously like the portals from Stargate) where you’ll have to go to another time period or it will summon the actual boss.

The bosses are pretty cool. They’re not nearly as difficult as the stages are. But they’re large, and interesting sprites. They remind me a lot of the encounters of Alien Syndrome, though the patterns are much easier to learn than in that classic. But don’t be fooled by a lower difficulty. Time Soldiers only affords you two continues  on the Master System. Since you die if ANYTHING touches you, this game still isn’t an easy one. Especially since the game may send you on longer paths during certain rescues. The saving grace are some boss warps that can skip you ahead to a boss fight. On the other hand, if you aren’t powered up, taking them down with a pea shooter makes things more intimidating.

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Time Soldiers does offer a wide variety of weapons. In that respect it can feel like Contra. The thing is, these armaments aren’t permanent. After so many shots, or so many seconds they run out of ammo. So often times you’ll want to conserve them for taking down bosses, or mini bosses. You get these, power ups, and boss warps by shooting specific enemies in any given level. Basically, you’ll want to shoot as many targets as possible, because as the game goes on things will only get tougher.

Time Soldiers has a really nice look to it, and embraces the absurdity of everything. Dinosaurs shoot lasers. Ancient Romans have shields that can take a ton of bullets before going down. The mini bosses continue the weirdness, with cutesy, pink helicopters just being the tip of the iceberg. Everything is colorful, and some of the backgrounds are interactive in a sense. Going over tall grass or mud will slow you down. There are a few catchy chip tunes to thump along with the action, and the sound effects stand out against some of the other titles in the genre.

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Overall, it’s a really good action game for the Master System, and easy to recommend you add to your collection. It’s also one of the more affordable obscure games out there. It was also available on some computer formats, but as I don’t have any of those versions, I can’t really comment on them. Still, if you have a chance to check one of them out, you just may want to. If I had any major issues with this Master System version, it would be the occasionally weird collision detection. Most of the time things go the way they’re supposed to, but I did notice a few occasions where I passed through enemies I shouldn’t have, or got stuck on a piece of scenery in one game, but not on a repeat attempt. It isn’t enough to ruin the game, but it is something holding it back a little bit. Otherwise, it’s a solid addition to any collector’s library.

Final Score: 8 out of 10.

Alien Syndrome Review

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Throughout the 1980’s Sega was making its mark in arcades. It pushed what was possible in racing games, and rail shooters with Outrun, Space Harrier, and After Burner. It gave us the awesome Golden Axe, and the visually impressive Altered Beast. Unsurprisingly many of these games were ported to its own consoles, the Master System, and the Genesis. But there is one of their IPs that came, and went in this period. Something so familiar, and so different. Something so difficult, and yet addictive. I’m talking about Alien Syndrome.

PROS: Great visuals, atmosphere, music, and control (most versions).

CONS: Obscenely difficult. Dark Souls difficult. In deep space.

ALIENS: One of many blockbuster influences that can be seen here.

At its core, Alien Syndrome seems like a typical overhead shooter. You move either Ricky or Mary, depending on which player you are. As you go along, you kill various creatures for big points. But it isn’t so simple. Where previous overhead run n’ guns like Commando, or Ikari Warriors had you kill enemies, and charge to the end of a linear level, this doesn’t. Alien Syndrome is unrelenting about its premise. Your mission isn’t a simple matter of killing things, and getting to the end. Each stage is a ship, and on each of these ships are a number of survivors you have to rescue. Not only do you have to rescue these survivors, (who are stuck in cocoons the way the ones in Aliens were portrayed) you’re timed. Because each ship has initiated a self-destruct sequence a la Captain Kirk.

 

This is to ensure that the menacing invaders cannot make it to Earth in the event you fail your mission. Also because each stage is a ship, there are no straight runs to the north. Instead, each of the stages is a maze, with its own distinct layout. So you have to explore every last nook, and cranny looking for survivors. The survivors are represented by a row of heads. As you rescue them, they’re depleted from the bar. If things get tough, or confusing (which they will) each of the ships have a few maps. Finding these on the wall will pull up a map on  the screen. On the map are flashing pixels, that represent the survivors.

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Once you find all of the hostages, the game will prompt you to get to the exit so you can escape. But in each of the airlocks is a boss alien. These are large, and diverse. Each of them is imposing. Each of them has a powerful attack, and the later bosses employ some very tricky patterns. The bosses all look really cool too. For a title that has fallen into obscurity, it has some of the most memorable bosses in arcade game history. Even the very first boss, is the sort of thing you’ll wish were made into an action figure or statue. These designs are that good.

But, run n’ gun games are often only as exciting as their weaponry, and enemies. Alien Syndrome has a great many of each. Again, taking influence from the Alien movies, there are flame throwers, fire-ball guns, and grenade launchers. But there are others, like the blaster that shoots laser beams like the Imperial blasters in Star Wars. There are also temporary shields, and chess pieces you can find for points.

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How do you get these things? There are cubby holes on walls, marked with the appropriate letter for the weapon. For example L is the laser. The enemies are also varied throughout the game. In earlier stages you’ll fight brain slug creatures, but you’ll see everything from aliens to creatures that shoot their eyes as projectiles. Quite honestly, everything on display is really cool. Every ship has its own decor. So you won’t see a lot of the same tiles in subsequent levels. Some of the ships are what you would expect to see in a space-themed game. Steel floors, technical circuitry patterns for walls, and other touches. But other stages are completely alien (no pun intended.). Some ships seem like they’re made of flesh, others are like stone. Many of the stages have some really cool parallax scrolling effects on floors to represent pits or other pitfalls. And fall you will if you walk over them.

Alien Syndrome is quite the challenge too, because there isn’t a single moment where you aren’t attacked by a horde of aliens. You have to be quick on the draw, as well as quick to react. Dodging projectiles, enemy creatures, while trying to rescue people at the same time. The difficulty especially ramps up after the first stage, and the bosses will often hand you your own behind on a silver platter. There are also no continues, making your performance all the more important. It really does give you the visceral action of the genre, while providing other challenges.

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There are many ways to play Alien Syndrome as it was ported to a lot of platforms. Interestingly enough, the ports to Sega’s own Master System, and Game Gear resulted to almost entirely new games. The scrolling is gone. Instead things work on an almost flip-screen mechanic, only scrolling when reaching the end of the screen in a Castlevania door style transition. The other major changes are almost entirely different maps, and new bosses. The core concept is the same, and it retains the songs from the arcade machine. But these changes make for arguably the worst version of the game. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t play Alien Syndrome on the Master System. It is still a pretty good iteration. It’s brisk. It gives you the same style of gameplay in a new, and unexpected way. Rather, it isn’t the best option for those looking for a replicated experience on a retro console. If you do pick this one up though, you’ll want something other than the Master System Control Pad, because the sometimes mushy d-pad will have you accidentally walking into an alien, or projectile. I recommend the Sega Control Stick. It just seems more responsive in this game. For whatever reason, this game won’t see a Genesis controller properly, so the Sega Control Stick is the next best thing.

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The other two major versions I happen to own ate the Unlicensed Tengen NES port, and the Commodore 64 port. Both of these are pretty good, getting the stage layouts, enemy types, and overall feel pretty nicely. The Commodore 64 version fares especially well though, as it’s the most responsive version I own. Everything is fast, and smooth most of the time. While there can be a bit of slowdown when an awful lot is going on, it still performs better than the NES version overall. The C64 doesn’t have as large a color palette as the NES, but it somehow gets closer to the arcade experience in terms of visuals. The C64 also has the arcade cabinet’s animated attract mode, and a really good original soundtrack. It’s another example of the staying power of the computer’s SID sound chip.

But Tengen’s NES port is no slouch either. It still looks pretty good most of the time, and even manages to add some pretty cool cinema screens to amp up the experience. I should also note that while the C64 has the better soundtrack, the NES version also tries to replicate the arcade’s songs rather than experiment with them, or add new ones. While it isn’t as responsive or quite as fluid as the C64 version, it is the only one of the three to offer continues. On the C64, and SMS you’ll need to clear the game on a handful of lives. For those out there who don’t own a vintage computer, but you have an NES, and a SMS it’s a pretty close race. For authenticity the NES port wins, but the SMS version looks a bit nicer.

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Of course, all of this is moot if you have Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for the Xbox 360 or PS3 though. Because the arcade ROM was included in the compilation. You’ll have a nearly 1:1 experience at that point. Be that as it may, most of the home ports all offer a pretty great send up of the original. Alien Syndrome also appeared on the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, ZX Spectrum, Sharp X68000, MSX computers as well as MS-DOS.

It’s a shame this IP has lied so dormant over the years, aside from a brief, largely ignored game on the PSP, and Wii that played nothing like the original. Alien Syndrome is a fun, if difficult run n’ gun. If you have any of the platforms it appeared on, you owe it to yourself to track down a copy. If you’re blessed to live near an arcade that has a working cabinet, do yourself a service, and put in a few quarters. With its challenge, memorable characters, and insane bosses, Alien Syndrome is one arcade classic you’ll never want to forget.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Tac-Scan Review

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Arcades were always experimenting in the early days of gaming. A number of games not only tried new things with game play, but with graphics technology. Atari made a number of games utilizing vector graphics instead of the more common place sprites. Asteroids, Lunar Lander were classics in their own right, but Tempest became a huge hit thanks to using the vectors to create a 3D visual effect. Of course the Star Wars Arcade game, and Battlezone took things even further. But Atari wasn’t the only company experimenting with vector graphics.

PROS: Fluid controls. Sharp graphics. Unique mechanics.

CONS: Short. Visuals haven’t held up as well as other vintage classics have.

CUT: The console port doesn’t have the transitions. Presumably due to technical limits.

Sega put out several vector based games. Among them was Tac-Scan. At first glance Tac-Scan may seem like a typical Golden Age shmup. As in other early shmups like Space Invaders, Galaxian, and Galaga the ultimate goal of the game is a high score. But Tac-Scan does a number of things that set it apart from the rest of the pack.

Tac-Scan gives you lives, but in a very different way. Instead of you having a set number of attempts, it puts them all on the line right away. You start with all of your lives flying through space in a Tac formation. Hence the name of the game. But it doesn’t end there. Each of your ships can be individually destroyed by enemy forces. Run out of ships, and you’ll see a Game Over screen. You shoot down enemy ships like in other games, however there are also mother ships you can destroy. Not only do these give you bigger point bonuses, but extra lives for every one you blow up.

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These lives are given to you in between waves. You’ll go through a sequence where you have to almost catch your reserved ship. As it falls down, you move your formation into position, and try to let the ship land into one of your open slots. This leads into the next wave. The interesting thing here, is that every second wave changes the perspective of the game! While Tac-Scan starts out as an overhead shooter, it changes to a third-person perspective during these waves. It feels like going from something like Galaxian into something like Gyruss seamlessly. After blowing away the following waves, you go through a wormhole, and back to the top down perspective. As this cycle repeats, the game gets faster, and it throws more enemies, and obstacles your way.

This continues until you can no longer replenish any ships in your formation. At which point you record your score, and either walk away or resolve to do better. But beyond the innovative transitions, the game also uses a paddle controller! This is interesting because so often the paddle was relegated to Breakout, and the games that built upon its core game play. Arkanoid, Circus Atari, Warlords are but a few such games.

But Tac-Scan is one of the only arcade cabinets that used one in a completely different genre. Not only did it use a paddle controller in a shmup setting, it did so with flying colors. Tac-Scan controls like a champ. Your ships steer around at high speeds, without a hiccup or a hitch. Everything feels smooth as you glide your ships along. When you finally lose, you never feel like you lost due to bad controls. You will very much put all of the blame on yourself.

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Sega didn’t end with an arcade cabinet however. They also ported the game to the Atari 2600. The VCS version doesn’t have the stylized line graphics of the arcade original. And to get any semblance of the game working on the console they omitted the third-person transition. But even though it takes a hit in the realm of visual fidelity it absolutely nails the game play.

The 2600 port uses the Atari paddle controllers, and the transition feels nearly flawless. Again, your formation flies smoothly, with little to no slowdown. Surviving wave after wave of enemy ships with any of your ships intact is still quite the challenge. The difficulty curve is well crafted as well. Early stages let you get a handle on the controls because the pace of the game is slow, and ships take long pauses in between firing. Surviving the first two or three waves will seem pretty feasible. The following stages increase the travel speed, and enemy accuracy a couple of notches. Eventually, everything becomes insanely fast, and requires every ounce of your hand, and eye coordination.

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Being that it is a high score game, it might not hold your interest the way some later shmups  may. Things like R-Type or Gradius where there are a set number of stages to complete, and an ending to experience may sate some players more. But there is something to be said for the days when getting the high score was king. It brings out a level of competition among players, and it’s something that can still be compelling today. It’s one of many reasons why a lot of Golden age games have stood the test of time.

Tac-Scan has the honor of both standing the test of time, and yet also becoming one of the more esoteric games of its heyday. Which is a shame, because it is such a good game. If you’re fortunate enough to have access to the arcade version you should really check it out. It uses vector graphics in a unique way while still being a very fun challenge. Alternatively if you have a PlayStation 2 you can track down the Sega Genesis Collection. Tac-Scan is an unlockable game in that collection. The only downside is you will have to play the game with a thumb stick, which isn’t quite the same as using a paddle.

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The Atari 2600 version, again, is pretty terrific. Despite the fact that it is missing a chunk of content, and doesn’t look as nice, it manages to be a pretty faithful port. But whichever way you decide to add the experience to your game collection, you’re in for a great time. It’s too bad that Sega let a lot of their earliest games fade into obscurity. This is one of them, and it is also one of the best games they ever put out. I would put it up there with things like After Burner, Out Run, Alien Syndrome, and Space Harrier. It is that memorable.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

ConnectiCon 2016 Recap

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Ah, ConnectiCon. As a resident of CT, it has become my annual mini-vacation. It isn’t too expensive as long as you buy your passes early. If you’re willing to commute, the cost of gas, and convention center parking is far less than area hotel fare. Plus it always seems to coincide with other fun events in Hartford, so there’s generally enough to do most of the time. There are usually a pretty nice list of celebrities, internet personalities, writers, and artists to meet. There are a lot of panels, cosplayers, rooms devoted to gaming, and tournaments to enter.

This year they had a few changes. First, the convention center changed its hours. In previous years, events the first two days went on to 10pm or later. This year the convention center closed up shop at 9pm. There were after hours events in the area hotels, and restaurants. But attendees used to late night panels would find themselves disappointed. It probably wasn’t the convention’s doing. But they’ll sadly get some of the blame. One thing they could have organized better were the lines during the Friday opening. In my experience, the first few staff members I talked to didn’t explain where the pre-registration line was very well. Both prepaid, and yet-to-pay lines were in the garage. I spent a confusing few moments until someone led a rallying cry that gathered those of us who pre-registered online, into the proper line.

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But beyond that, I really didn’t have too much to complain about over my three days. None of the staff came off as snippy or ornery. Even in that confusion.

I pretty much stick to panels at conventions. They’re typically the most interesting parts of a convention to me. Though I did spend some time getting photos of some of the more impressive cosplays I bumped into. There were a lot of pretty good ones this year. Sadly my camera’s motor decided to start acting up on me this year. So I didn’t get the number of photos I would have liked to.

Still, there were a few pretty good ones I managed to snap. There were also a lot of great panels I managed to get into. I didn’t get into every panel I wanted to due to conflicting schedules. But overall, I did get to see most of what I wanted to. On Friday I  made it into two main panels.

The first was the Channel Awesome panel. This was a lot of fun. Doug Walker reprised his role as the ever popular Nostalgia Critic. This year his brother Rob, and actors Malcolm Ray, and Tamara Chambers came along for a question, and answer panel. A lot of the questions were some you might expect. About their favorite episodes, favorite, and least favorite movies. But there were some unexpected ones, like personal childhood memories. Malcolm, and Tamara loved doing plays early on. While Rob enjoyed a trip where he learned his mastery of impersonating Jeff Goldblum.

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The audience also got to participate in a sight gag for an upcoming episode of The Nostalgia Critic, and the cast was there all three days feverishly meeting with fans, and signing autographs. I didn’t get a chance to speak with any of them this time around, but in previous years I have. They’ve always been appreciative of their audience, and generally very nice folks in person.

I also attended the Uncle Yo standup routine panel which did have most everyone laughing a lot. The material had a couple of funny political barbs. But a lot of the jokes ended up centering around cat ownership when the room was given an option.  He did plenty of gaming jokes too. Mighty No. 9, Pokémon, Zelda, and the Game Boy were all subjects of some funny gags. There was also a lovingly crafted tribute to his family. Really great stuff. If you have the chance to see him in your area, check it out. He has some pretty nice material. Particularly if you dig games.

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The convention also coincided with the Hartford Riverfest event this year. So I followed some friends, and acquaintances over to that event when I began to feel hungry. If you’re ever in the area when this is going on, I highly recommend you check it out. Get this, they have a smorgasbord of interesting, different food trucks. Typically, many of us hear “Food Truck”, and we just think “Carnival food.”. We think about corn dogs, burgers, and ice cream. This event had a bunch of stuff beyond that. There was one truck that was centered around making custom slush drinks. There was a truck centered around Irish themed foods. I bought a corned beef grilled cheese sandwich. It came on grilled rye bread, and it was awesome. There was one truck that served barbecue. Pulled pork, ribs, drumsticks. If it had barbecue in the title, it served it.

Aside from a bad heat headache by that point it was a pretty good day. I spent most of the rest of it mingling with fans, and wandering the dealer room. Next to that was the electronic gaming area, half was made up of console, and PC gaming stations, while the rest was composed of arcade  games, and a tabletop area. Most of the arcade games were rhythm games, though the table flipping game from last year made a return. They also had arcade versions of Pokken Tournament, and Street Fighter V set up.

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In the console area I saw Super Smash Bros Wii U, Street Fighter II HD Remix, Call Of Duty AW, Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 Ultimate, Ultra Street Fighter V, Mortal Kombat X, Killer Instinct, Mario Kart 8, and a smattering of other games. On the PC side there were huge set ups for League Of Legends, and Overwatch. There were ongoing tournaments for Super Smash Bros Wii U, and League of Legends which were being live streamed. Over in the adjacent hotel they had one main room devoted to RPGs. Pen, and Paper, and Card games.

 

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Day two started out with a bang. I went to a panel centered around the Atari 2600. It focused on game design, and how the limitations of the VCS forced early game programmers to be even more creative. Creating not only game ideas, but techniques to squeeze those ideas into a very limited amount of memory, and storage space at the time. It served as a lesson to aspiring creators that limitations can be a motivator. It also served as a reminder that one should start small, focusing on a core game play idea to build a game around. Even if you weren’t a budding programmer, it was a great showcase of just what makes the Atari 2600 such a fun console.

 

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After that I made it into two Star Trek panels. The first one was a smaller panel focusing on the future of the franchise. Star Trek is about to become 50 years old. There was a moment of silence for the late Anton Yelchin who tragically passed away in an automobile accident recently. After that discussion moved onto the upcoming film Star Trek Beyond, the new series coming to CBS’ streaming service, and the legal battles many of the fan projects are facing. One of them is in the midst of a lawsuit over the money that was raised on Kickstarter to complete it. Even though it was to pay the actors, and supplies to build sets, props, and make costumes. CBS apparently sees this as infringement. So much so that they released a set of guidelines that they want fan projects to abide by. These guidelines are so insanely restrictive, they basically disallow fans to make fan films. One high-profile fan project had to basically retitle the project, and make a laundry list of alterations to keep itself alive. Unfortunately many of the backers jumped in for a Star Trek project, that they’re no longer getting. The entire thing is a mess, but something that could see how fan projects by fandoms are going to be treated going forward.

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There was also some discussion centered around the many changes, and updates to Star Trek Online over the past couple of years. It’s also being ported to the Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Even the newest expansion Agents Of Yesterday, which ties the game into the Temporal Cold War storyline that was prevalent in Star Trek Enterprise. Things do seem to have been improved immensely since the game originally came out back in 2010. You can grind for chests that will have crew members, resources, or star ships in them. Since the game became a F2P title, you can try to play through the game without spending money on chests, but it can prove very difficult. The storyline takes place after the events of the 2009 reboot, making the game part of the original TOS/TNG/DS9/VOY time line. You get to see how ships, and races evolved in that time line. There are ways to play classes from every era as well.

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After that panel I got to see another Star Trek panel with Nana Visitor, and Michael Dorn. This was a great panel where the two actors took questions from the room. Discussions about behind the scenes practical jokes, disagreements on the set, the shock of Terry Farrell’s departure from DS9, and other anecdotes. Nana, and Michael both reminded us that Star Trek has always been a show about morality plays. A show that made people think. Sometimes about subjects that can be uncomfortable. One can only hope the upcoming series, and film will retain that quality.

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In between panels I often returned to the dealer’s area. I got to meet artist Tom Ryan while I was there the previous day, where he had some amazing work on display. So I returned the second day when I hadn’t left my cash in my car like an idiot. You should really check out his work at Tom Ryan’s Studio. It’s really amazing stuff. I ended up buying a really cool original ThunderCats print. He does all kinds of  work. Including commercial art commissions for breweries. He’s very kind, and very talented. Definitely check out his booth if he comes to a convention near you.

I also briefly got a chance to speak with Honest Trailers’ own Jon Bailey. He was really friendly, and genuinely enjoyed interacting with people. He also does a ton of voice work for commercials, shows, and video games. Just like the case with Tom Ryan, If he shows up at a convention near you, pay him a visit. He’s pretty swell in person.

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One of the  most entertaining panels I attended was for voice actor, Jess Harnell it opened up when a young fan led the room in an introduction by singing the Animaniacs theme. Around half way through, he forgot a word or two, and faked his way through it but still did a really good job overall. Jess was pretty impressive. He talked a bit about his band Rock Sugar. Unbeknownst to many, he has a music career. He loves hard rock, so his band came up with an idea. “What if a hard rock band thought that the pop rock, and ballads were hard rock?” So their project was born. It’s pretty great stuff. The results are some very fun mash-up covers of pop songs, done in the vein of metal songs.

These mash-up covers are so good in fact, that if you put them on without telling your friends what they are, they’ll be shocked when Enter Sandman turns into Don’t Stop Believin’. He has also been able to open for a lot of hard rock bands like AC/DC. It’s really impressive, and if you have the opportunity check it out. It’s pretty great.

He also talked a bit about how William Shatner once confused him for Gene Simmons, his first time meeting Steven Spielberg, and an odd time helping Pierce Brosnan record lines in Quest For Camelot. He’s also done some roles you may not be aware of, including the voice over on America’s Funniest Home Videos. 

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Another really cool thing happened in the panel, Rob Paulsen ( most known as the voice of Pinky of Pinky, and the Brain) called into the panel to talk to the audience! He, and Tress MacNeille  were originally going to be guests at the con, but unfortunately became ill before the show. So they couldn’t make it. But he did want to thank all of the fans personally, and he hopes to make it to next year’s convention. Rob, and Tress also pre-signed a number of photos so that if you wanted Jess’ autograph, you also got theirs.

After the panel nearly all  in attendance of the panel went to Jess Harnell’s booth. He was very kind to everyone. He went above, and beyond in his interaction with the fandom. I bought a copy of his band’s Reimaginator album, and he was even kind enough to sign it with a personalization. If any of the Animaniacs cast shows up at a con near you, pay them a visit. I got to meet Maurice Lamarche last year, Rob Paulsen the year before that, and they’ve all just been wonderful people.

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After that it was time for our annual trek to City Steam Brewery in Hartford. Not only do they make some of my favorite beers, they also make some of the best pub food in Connecticut. They have a huge restaurant built into the brewery, as well as a comedy club, business meeting rooms, and a bunch of stuff. It coincides with my buddy Dan’s birthday nearly every year, so he tries to get as many friends, and acquaintances as possible to have dinner together there. Dan also helms the Best Spuds channel on YouTube, and all of the spuds were there. I can’t say enough good things about the food, or service there. So often people only want to talk about bad experiences. I can’t say I’ve had a bad experience there. The food is always good. If in a rare instance they’ve gotten an order wrong it’s been promptly fixed.

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Plus there’s nothing quite like getting your favorite beer fresh. It might taste great out of a bottle or can into a frosted glass. But getting it fresh from the brewery is even better. I had some Buffalo chicken nachos, a black bean burger, and thanks to my friends getting full, two fish tacos. All of which was very delicious. I added another City Steam glass to my beer glass collection, as well as a Naughty Nurse IPA T-shirt to my closet full of T-shirts. Speaking of the beer,  Their new Wacked Out Wheat is really good. It has elements of both an India Pale Ale, and a Hefeweizen blended with mango, and pineapple. It was spectacular. I also went with a nice glass of Naughty Nurse IPA. It’s light, bitter, yet full of citrus notes. It’s fantastic bottled. Again, it’s even better fresh.

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The final day of ConnectiCon is always shorter, and usually, they put all of the best panels in the schedule for the first two days. Last year they tried to alleviating this by having some stuff on day three. This year, they did a little bit better by once again having some of the bigger guests do panels on the final day.

The first of these was a riveting panel by John Rhys-Davies, where he  talked about some of the challenges the crew faced during the filming of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and how they were able to overcome them. As well as how much one can benefit from optimal management skills, and the effect of scale in many topics. He also talked about some of the debates he had with writers in his time on Sliders, as well as his passion for theatre. Particularly Shakespearean plays. He even spent time talking about how Tolkien’s wartime experiences influenced the Lord of the Rings, as well as some time talking about general world history.

The second was a Q&A session with Michael Dorn. This one differed from the previous panel in that he was the only guest. A lot of similar questions were asked this time around, but he also spent some time talking about his love of tennis, and his love of aviation. He told the crowd about some experiences he had when accepting invitations from branches of the armed forces. He was humbled, and grateful for the opportunity to fly F-16’s, F/A-18 Hornets, and be a guest pilot with the Blue Angels. But he is especially appreciative of the young men, and women who work in the armed forces, doing dangerous jobs on carriers, and other means. He also talked about how seriously he takes all roles including comedic ones. He also really enjoys watching South Park, and cited how it can be edgy, without doing so just for the sake of doing so. Rather to illustrate a point.

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The final panel I got to see during the con was a panel on level design using Doom builder. This was hosted by aspiring indie developer Zodiacw who not only gave a nice tutorial on some of the basic tools, but gave an in-depth look at the importance of map design. Which also brought about conversations on how map making, and game design are intertwined. A map designer can set up game rules by setting expectations with a simple wall texture. Or easily lose players by not following the rules they’ve set up in previous stages. They also discussed how one can still impress medium, and large studios by pushing the boundaries of an older engine with a keen understanding of map design. As well as carrying the knowledge taken from making maps for Doom into newer, and more complex engines. Even if you aren’t someone who would want to make a career out of making custom content, the panel made even doing so for fun quite palatable.

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Aside from some confusion surrounding the pre-registration line on the first day, I had a pretty great time at ConnectiCon. Sure, I would have liked to have gotten into some of the other panels like Tom Kenny’s (SpongeBob Squarepants), Walter Koenig’s (Star Trek), or Sean Astin’s (Goonies, LOTR) but this is a convention that seems to get a little bit bigger every year when it comes to getting big names. So it simply isn’t possible to see every panel. But what I did get to experience was great, and as in year’s past many of the panels felt inspirational.

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For those who aren’t interested in the celebrity, and internet personality aspect, there was still plenty to do. There were a number of cosplay events, like the always popular masquerade, belly dance off, and death match. The video game area was populated the entire three days, and there were a lot of participants in the League Of Legends, and Smash tournaments. There were the aforementioned tabletop, card, and RPG game areas, and they even had an all day karaoke stage set up. I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch of other things. The convention center closing earlier this year was a bit of a bummer for the older portion of the crowd. But that was partially made up for with area restaurants, movie theatres, and a brewery to boot. Still, having the late night events moved to one of those places, or eliminated was a little bit disappointing. But overall my complaints are fairly minor. I still had a great three-day weekend leading into a week away from working. ConnectiCon is in many ways an inexpensive vacation for me. If this year’s experience is any indication, this will continue to be.

If you’ve stumbled upon this recap, I hope you’ve enjoyed it. If you’re interested in attending the convention you can get more info at ConnectiCon’s own website.

 

Atari Vault Review

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Ah, the video game compilation. Every few years we see them, bundling games of yesteryear for a budget price. We’ve seen them for Mega Man, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Bros, and so on. Lately we’ve even seen Re-mastered collections for Uncharted, God Of War, Gears Of War, Halo just to name a few. Over the years we’ve seen a lot of collections centered around the Golden age of consoles. Especially the Atari 2600.

PROS: Online multiplayer. Content for enthusiasts. 100 games!

CONS: There could have been some better titles included. Limited controller options.

PADDLES: Sadly, nothing has compared to them in nearly four decades.

So what makes Atari Vault stand out from other Atari 2600 compilations that have come, and gone over the years? There are actually a few nice features here. This is one of the biggest compilations of Atari games yet. In the past we’ve seen a disc of 20 games or a disc of 80 games. Usually dumped ROMs in a sub par emulator for whatever platform. The game shows up in stores, you pick it up. Done. Every so often a better than average one would show up with nicer emulation, and maybe some historical backgrounds. Other times there would be a terrible remake bundled with the original game.

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Atari Vault doesn’t feel slapdash at all. You get 100 games. Some of which are not Atari 2600 games, but Atari arcade games. Right away this shows that effort went in. Why? Because Atari actually had a complicated history after the crash of 1983/84. The company was originally founded by Nolan Bushnell. Eventually Time-Warner (Warner Bros.) bought the company from him. But when the crash happened, Atari was essentially broken up into two entities. Time-Warner sold the home division to Jack Tramiel. He had been ousted from Commodore, the company he founded. So from 1983 to around 1997 his family owned the half of the company that made the 2600, 5200, 7800, Lynx, and the Atari Jaguar. As well as a long line of successful  computers 400/800, XE, and ST. Time-Warner still owned the arcade division which they eventually sold to Midway. When Midway exited the arcade business Atari Games became Midway Games West. In a bit of irony, when Midway hit hard times they ended up being bought out by Time-Warner. Of course after the Jaguar tanked, the Tramiel family ended up selling Atari Corporation to JTS, a hard drive manufacturer. JTS started to flag, and sold Atari to Hasbro. When Hasbro had no success with it, they sold it off to Infogrames, who changed their name to Atari.

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In short, there were probably many months figuring out what Time-Warner has the rights to, what Infogrames/Atari has the rights to, and what may have slipped between the cracks. So it is pretty astonishing to see that this collection does give you both, arcade, and 2600 games to play. That being said, this is also the reason why you may not see some of your favorite games included. It’s disappointing. But at least it is understandable.

Still, with 100 games in the compilation you’re bound to find several you do like. There are the commons like Combat, Flag Capture, Canyon Bomber, Haunted House, Breakout, and Warlords. Interestingly, they also have a couple of prototypes, and unreleased 2600 games included here. There are even a number of uncommon games that came out near the end of the 2600’s long life cycle. Basically you have over a decade of 2600 history here.

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But the inclusion of the arcade games is another big reason you might consider picking this collection up. You get a pretty good selection of them, and many of them were games that used a Trackball. Missile Command, Centipede, Millipede, and Crystal Castles are here in their glory. What’s really nice is that you can play these with the mouse. If you happen to have a trackball mouse you’ll definitely love playing these. The developers at Code Mystics have gone above, and beyond too. Because they retooled their emulator’s inputs to mimic the response time of the arcade machines’ trackballs. So if you have a high dpi setting, expect to see some lag if you spin your cursor around thinking you’re going to have an edge. You’re not. The games really do play pretty close to the original machines.

Only the players with an encyclopedic knowledge of how those games played will really see a vast difference. They play great. Every game in the collection does. On top of this, every game has the appropriate machine decals bordering the screens, and there are even start button models displayed below to make things feel as authentic as possible.

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But the extra hard work doesn’t end there. They painstakingly tracked down Atari arcade cabinet art to scan in. The arcade manuals, and flyers are here to read. The arcade machines themselves, are modeled, and animated as you select what game to play. This carries over into the 2600 games too. Each 2600 game featured here has a box model textured with the original retail box art on it. Front, back, and spines. They also managed to track down every manual for every cartridge featured in the collection. So when you go to look at the controls, you’ll actually be seeing scans of the manual that came in the box when the game came out. They even have the original 1977 console manual scanned in here. They didn’t just dump ROMs into an emulator, and call it a day. They put in a lot of historical research, and time into getting a nice presentation down.

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If all of that isn’t enough for you though, Atari Vault also has internet multiplayer. You can play all of the games in the collection against other people. For most of the games you’ll still prefer playing these games the way we did 30 years ago, computer hooked up to the Television, with controllers. But for some of the games like Combat, internet multiplayer can actually make things feel fresh. It’s pretty great, and in my tests I didn’t run into much in the way of lag. It’s really worth checking out.

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If I had any complaints with the compilation it would have to be with the controller options. Every game will have different ways you can play depending on the title. Most of them will let you play with the keyboard, and the arcade trackball games give you the aforementioned mouse option, which again, works great. But Code Mystics doesn’t seem to like to put in options for a variety of game pad controllers. If you have an Xbox 360 controller, you’re gold. That controller works flawlessly. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the game to see my Steam controller, nor could I use my USB Retrobit controller, which is a perfect fit for collections like this one. These were the developers behind porting Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection to the PC, and I had the same complaint with that compilation. If you want to use a controller, you pretty much have to have Xbox 360 controllers.

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The other problem, which I can’t really levy at Code Mystics, is that nothing compares to a paddle controller. You can play classic 2600 games like Warlords, and Demons to Diamonds with a mouse, keyboard, or Xbox 360 controller but none of them will give you the feel of a paddle. Paddle controllers had a dial that you would use to move your character, and it just has a spot on, responsive feel that nothing has replicated in almost 40 years. About the closest you can get is using the mouse controls, which I would implore you to do. These games simply don’t feel as responsive using a game pad or a keyboard. A mouse will give you the precision you need, even if it does come up a little short in the feel. If you played a lot of Circus Atari as a child, it is still a lot of fun to play here, but it might take you a few rounds to get accustomed to using something else.

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Overall though, I highly recommend this collection. True, the selection of games could stand to be a little bit better. But considering the history of the company, and the rights hell some of those games may fall under it is understandable. There are a lot of good games here anyway. The internet play reinvigorates some of these titles, and finally having a legitimate way to play classic arcade games like Centipede is a boon. It’s a great bundle for older fans who might not have their physical 2600 collection anymore. It’s also a great bundle for younger fans who are interested in what came before.

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While not every game featured here has held up, most of them have stood the test of time with their rock solid game mechanics. These games are fun. If you’ve played them before, revisit them again. If you’ve never played them because you weren’t around for them, have an open mind. Check them out, you might be pleasantly surprised. Just make sure you have some Xbox 360 controllers for the games that didn’t use a trackball.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Berzerk Review

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Berzerk is another classic that doesn’t seem like I should bother reviewing. Everybody knows it is a classic. Everybody has played it, and every major YouTube star on the internet has told you how awesome it is. Except they  haven’t. I’m always finding myself surprised when someone over the age of 30 tells me they haven’t played this timeless classic. But spent hundreds of quarters on Space Invaders, Dig Dug, Donkey Kong, Defender, Tempest, Galaga, and Missile Command as a child.

PROS: Robots! Electrified walls! Voice Samples! Robots!

CONS: Evil Otto.

STRANGE: Two people have died while playing Berzerk.

Released by Stern way back in 1980, Berzerk was, and is one of the most important games ever made. It was a pioneer in many ways. It was one of the first games to have voice samples. It was one of the first games, to really change what you could do with a maze. Months prior, Pac-Man was an international smash. In a short span there were a number of Pac-Man clones, with similar goals. Mouse Trap, let you open doors. Ladybug altered the maze as well. But none of them ever matched what made Pac-Man so special. But before they came around, Berzerk was already taking the idea of a maze game into completely different territory. Other games were trying to expand on the aspect of puzzle game mechanics. Berzerk showed the world mazes could be used in action gameplay.

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Berzerk places you in the role of a human trapped on a world of hostile, sentient robots. Being a game about getting a Hi-Score, there is no other narrative. It’s about surviving as long as possible while getting as many points as possible. In short; you see how many killer robots you can take with you. There are hundreds of maze layouts. The primary objective is to escape each maze. But doing that alone isn’t going to give you the points necessary to get on the board. You have to shoot, and destroy as many robots as possible in the process. When you first start playing, the robots are quite frankly, rather easy. They shoot slow projectile lasers, will often walk into each other, causing themselves to explode, or accidentally shoot each other. They’ll also have fascinatingly slow movement.

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But before long the robots will be faster, begin to aim more accurately, and kill themselves a little bit less often. Before you know it, these things will be spawn killing you so fast you’ll have flashbacks to Modern Warfare 2 griefers. It becomes an insurmountable challenge. Making matters worse for you are two major obstacles. Electrified walls, and Evil Otto. You see, every wall in Berzerk is electrified. Touching a wall will net you the same effect as being shot by a robot’s death beam. Also, being too close to an exploding robot will kill you from the blast damage.

Evil Otto is the game’s boss, and quite frankly deserves his place in the pantheon of video game despots. He was named after designer Alan McNeil’s former boss, Dave Otto, who would smile when he was yelling at people. As such, Evil Otto is represented by an invincible smiley face. He appears at random. He takes no damage if you shoot him. He is lethal to the touch, and he will hump your electrified corpse into oblivion.

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Berzerk also has some really great voice samples in it. The hordes of robots will exclaim quips like “Do not let the humanoid escape!”, “Chicken! Fight like a robot!”, or “Coin detected in pocket!” at least the arcade, and Atari 5200 versions do. Berzerk saw three official home ports. The Atari 2600, Atari 5200, and Vectrex. The 2600 version is very faithful to the arcade version. The robots have a similar look, and you’ll even see a similar electrocution effect when you die. The game controls pretty fluidly, with eight way movement, and shooting. It even retains the neck trick, where a laser can pass the space between your head, and body without killing you. It is also the most common of the ports these days, and isn’t very expensive. The game also adds new difficulty settings.

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These difficulty settings change a number of mechanics from the robots’ ability to shoot, their run speed, and even affect Evil Otto. One mode shuts him off entirely, so you’ll never have to face him. Another actually does make him killable. But doing so awards you no points, and he will resurrect himself a few seconds later. These can be fun to tinker around with. But ultimately the game is best played with him on, and invincible because it presents a much higher challenge.

The Atari 5200 version retains the voice samples that the Atari 2600 version doesn’t have. The graphics are improved, and most of the 2600 features are also here. Sadly it still isn’t the best of these versions. Because the 5200 controller doesn’t always give you the precise control the game requires. On top of this, the 5200 controllers are notorious for breaking. It’s still a very good port overall, but if you have the option, pick up the 2600 version instead. Unless you find the inclusion of the voice samples absolutely necessary.

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Finally there is the Vectrex port. This is the most expensive version of the three, and appears to be a pretty good conversion considering the difference in graphics technology. The Vectrex version also has a nice screen overlay, should you find a complete copy. Unfortunately, it’s the only version I’ve never had the opportunity to play. So I can’t really critique the game play. But for those who do have a Vectrex, and want it for their collection, they can expect to pay between $20, and $60 depending on whether or not the game is loose or complete. By contrast the Atari ports are both fairly inexpensive, each costing a few dollars at most loose. Boxed copies go for a bit more however.

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Berzerk deserves to be recognized for the greatness that it is. It is as fun, and addictive now, as it was when it came out. The graphics, while dated, still manage to evoke both an appreciated charm, and a sense of dread. There is a lot of video game history centered around it, and even a pair of strange occurrences. Two people died from heart attacks while playing the arcade machine. Berzerk is also one of a handful of video games that was turned into a board game. It has even be referenced in Television shows like Futurama, making it even stranger that it hasn’t been as well remembered. If you never fired up this game back in the days of your childhood play Berzerk. If you’re someone who wasn’t around for it, play Berzerk.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

King Of Fighters XIII Steam Edition Review

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Many people don’t realize this, but fighting games have made their way to computers for years. From Karate Champ, to Street Fighter, tournament fighters have been around on computers almost as long as consoles. There have even been some exclusives, like Body Blows, One Must Fall, and FX Fighter. Some of these were wonderful games, while others were pretty bad. In terms of arcade ports, there were highs, and lows. There was a period of course where the genre almost completely disappeared from personal computers.

That changed when Capcom’s Street Fighter IV made its way to computers. Not only was it an excellent version that took advantage of beefy hardware, it opened the floodgates bringing the genre back to a level on PCs unseen since the late 1990’s. SNK has been one of the major fighting game developers to follow Capcom’s lead. In some ways the Steam Edition of King Of Fighters XIII goes above, and beyond.

PROS: Everything from the console editions of the game. Performance options.

CONS: Buying it now means there isn’t a lot of online competition for you.

RUGAL: Is reduced to a cameo. But the game’s final boss also has SNK Boss Syndrome.

KOF 13 was in arcades back in 2010, and was ported to the Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 a year later. The series goes all the way back to 1994, when SNK combined several of its fighting game franchises including Fatal Fury, and Art Of Fighting. Over the years it has added other SNK characters from a multitude of games spanning genres. Even the Ikari Warriors have found their way onto the roster.

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As is the case with Capcom’s Street Fighter, and Warner Bros’ Mortal Kombat the KOF games have a storyline. In most of them, there is an annual tournament in which the world’s greatest fighters come together to fight for supremacy. Usually as this is going on, there is an evil plot of sorts set in motion by a boss character. In the earlier games Rugal Bernstein was that boss character. In recent games he’s been replaced. Rugal was a character who was notoriously brutal. Players could easily spend ten dollars in quarters in arcade versions trying to beat him. On home editions over the years they could spend hours. Rugal’s insane difficulty led to the phrase “SNK Boss Syndrome”. To this day it’s parroted around whenever a boss in a game seems impossible to defeat.

Anyway, in this game a character named Ash takes Rugal’s spot, and continues the trend of SNK Boss Syndrome. But before you get to Ash you’ll go through several battles through either a traditional arcade ladder, or a story driven mode. Either one will have similar dialogue bubbles between fights, and cut scenes. The difference is that story mode ends the moment you lose a fight. So you’ll find yourself going back through the list of movies, finding the last one you watched, and restarting at that point. Arcade mode lets you continue on the spot. Story mode also opens up different paths through the short films depending on your character selection, and generated choices.

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What sets KOF apart from other fighting games is that you aren’t only choosing one character or a tag team. You choose a three member team. In Arcade mode you can choose any three people on the roster. In Story mode you’ll choose a predetermined team based on one of SNK’s many games. Most of them have a pretty healthy mix of styles, though some go more for grappling, ranged attacks, or speed. Instead of going 2 out of 3 rounds every fight you pick the order you will use your team mates. You go until either you defeat all of the opposing team, or until all of your characters are knocked out.  KOF XIII has a pretty deep fighting system as well. There are ways to have 1v1 fights too if so inclined, but really 3v3 is the standard in King Of Fighters.

You can set up all kinds of links, and combos in the game, and even use EX moves. This works similarly to Street Fighter, where you can do more powerful versions of special moves with your gauge. But beyond that is a robust cancel system, where advanced players can easily stop out of one move to combo into another, also at the cost of a meter. There is a Hyper Drive mode of this that has unlimited cancelling. Ironically within a time limit. Besides all of that, KOF XIII has finishers called Neo Max desperation moves. You can pull these off when you’ve completely maxed out your meters. Much like Street Fighter’s Supers, these will display quite the spectacle if you knock out all of an opponent’s energy when using one. The game also takes a page from Street Fighter III, and has a blocking meter. If you block too much, eventually it will deplete, and cause you to become stunned.

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KOF XIII also gives players a lot of content for their money. Besides the arcade mode, and its story mode variant you can play online or offline Vs. mode. Playing online gives you some nice filters. You can choose ranked or player matches. In the player matches you can choose regions, and preferred experience of opponents. You can also set up games with your friends, or allow people to challenge you in the middle of playing one of the single player modes. Ranked play lets you select a region for the game to pool opponents from. You can also choose quick matches where it will just pair you with the first available player.

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The game generally feels lag free online, and fairly smooth. At this point though, you might find it takes a while to find an opponent. That’s because the game is a couple of years old, and didn’t put up the numbers more popular fighting games had. That said, it isn’t a completely barren wasteland either, as a considerable number of people are still playing it. Most of them are going to be very formidable, since the bulk of the players are going to be made up of the core audience. Still, if you have a few friends with a copy you can enjoy the low latency in private matches.

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Obviously offline play will give you the best performance. KOF XIII supports multiple controllers, and is pretty accepting of most of the mainline ones. Fight sticks, 360 pads, and the Steam Controller all seem to work without a hitch. The game has a decent options menu where you can rebind keys, and choose a resolution. But it still doesn’t give you the performance options PC gamers expect. You can’t really tweak the level of AA, or texture quality, or sharpness of the sprites. You’re getting the minimum in those terms. Which is a bit disappointing considering how good the underlying gameplay is.

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But there are still plenty of things the game does right. You get the typical art galleries, where you can look at concept art, game assets, and movies. But beyond that you’ll get a pretty nice color customization option. Much like the one in Capcom Vs. SNK 2, you can change the palettes, and colors of every character in the game to make your own custom look. This is pretty cool because if you main a certain character, you can add a flair of personality to them. It would have been nice to see a full blown creator like the ones in pro wrestling games. But considering the large roster of hand drawn sprite characters, this is still pretty good.

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SNK also gets credit here for a pretty nice tutorial mode. One that almost forces you to learn the different nuances of the cancels, combos, and EX moves. It will keep re testing you until you get it right. Even during the main game it will throw little challenges at you. “Roll dodge three times” “Cancel a move” “Land a three hit combo using normal moves.” KOF XIII feels like it wants you to be good. Even if it does sometimes also feel like you should pick up the complexity fairly quickly. You’ll need to be at least competent to complete the arcade ladder or story mode, even on easy. You don’t have to be a tournament level player. But you’ll need to be competent at the basics. Because the final boss once again brings the SNK Boss Syndrome as I mentioned before. Knowing some of the advanced tactics helps a lot in this battle, because the game throws everything at you. Seemingly instantly.

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If you have trouble even after the tutorial, you are given a nice practice mode. In it you can select behaviors for the A.I. practice dummy, and spend time trying to make sure you’ve mastered a special move. Or experiment with trying to discover new combos. Or trying to practice how to perform many of the game’s cancels, and other advanced maneuvers. Beyond that, if you really want more practice you can try your hand at Mission mode. This mode lets you either take on the roster with one character until you beat them all or lose. You can play it timed, or not timed. Aside from that, you can also take a single character through a number of challenge lessons. Some of them are for learning certain combos. Others are different feats. Mastering some of them will be pretty frustrating for beginners since they’re very dependent on exact timing. But if you have the patience, you’ll find that learning a lot of the stuff here can be handy when playing with other people.

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Getting back to the boss fight a moment, you can’t really mash your way to victory during it. Because you can’t jump in, and mount an offense. Even if you are pretty good at the game, this fight is going to give you a lot of trouble. But whether you can win on your 3rd attempt or 475th attempt beating the boss will feel like an accomplishment. If you find yourself invested in the characters, and lore, you’ll want to at least play enough to see the different character paths, and scenes. Of which there are many. KOF XIII has 36 characters in it when all is said, and done. Some of these you’ll have to unlock, while the others are DLC characters that are hidden behind others. You select the DLC characters by pressing Select when choosing Iori, Kyo, or Takuma.

Most importantly though the game manages to be engaging enough for both the devoted series’ veterans, and the casual player who may only break it out when friends come over. Even if some of the advanced stuff may be intimidating to a newcomer. Plus the game gives you more content than a lot of other fighting games. Some late comers may even want to pick it up now to practice up for the upcoming KOF XIV, though there will undoubtedly be changes to the fighting system. This special Steam edition not only gives you everything from the console releases, but incorporates Steam cards as well. Not something that screams “BUY ME” but they are there for the Steam card fans out there.

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Overall, KOF XIII is a great game to pick up if you want a really good fighter you may have missed. If you already have it on a console, I don’t know that you need to double dip for this re-release. But if you’re new to the series, lapsed, or never got around to it on your game system of choice, picking up the definitive version on your computer is a great way to go. Especially with its low system requirements. One final caveat is that despite the similarity with some of Street Fighter’s features over the years, you should not try to play it like Street Fighter. King Of Fighters is a different beast altogether. Which is why it is a series that has endured for nearly as long. Some of its biggest fans may not rate it as high as some of the earlier games in the series. But it’s also one of the nicer fighting games you can play on your personal computer in recent years.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Double Dragon Trilogy Review

DotEmu brings the three arcade classics to PC after a quick run on mobile devices.  But before you let the nostalgia take over your senses, and pick it up without question read along. There are a few caveats you need be aware of.

PROS: Emulations of Double Dragon 1,2, and even 3!

CONS: Limited credits. Glitches. Barebones options. Stretch o’ vision.

SAD: Super Double Dragon was never an arcade machine.

Ah, Double Dragon. What child of the 80’s didn’t play it? It was ported to nearly every possible platform of the time. Some versions like the beloved NES trilogy making wild changes to the stages. While other versions like the Commodore 64 port staying closer to the arcade game. (At least in layout. As you’ll see later.) None of the versions came close to the arcade machines though. The NES, and Sega Master System were probably the closest in terms of gameplay. You had access to all kinds of moves, even if you did have to level up in the NES port to use them. The other versions either didn’t get the controls right, or had to make other sacrifices for memory constraints.

The C64 port made you fight bad guys one at a time, and characters had no waistline. Torsos honestly floated over legs. The Atari 7800 port wasn’t as bad as some of the others, giving players play control that came closer to the Sega Master System’s version. But in this case, Activision (who had porting duties for Atari consoles) couldn’t quite pull off the same smooth animation. Atari’s decision to cut corners by using the 2600’s sound tech also meant the 2600 version’s soundtrack would play. The fact the first game even made it to the 2600 in a barely playable state is something of a miracle. Seriously, look it up sometime.

Anyway, many of us enjoyed the NES versions, or found some fun in one of the other versions. Even the bad ones, begrudgingly so. But it was a rare treat to go to the arcade, and play the arcade version. Double Dragon II was an even bigger hit. Double Dragon 3… not so much. The point is, in those days the arcade versions weren’t entirely possible at home. So many will feel an instant sense of joy when they see these games are available to purchase legally on their computer. Unfortunately, there are a few problems here that might just deflate the excitement. Let’s get the good in here first though. All three games are by most standards emulated pretty well. They’re essentially the arcade ROMs, packaged in a nice bootable emulator.

All of the games are the same quick romps, and they bring along all of the good, and bad things they had back in the day. The games also can be played with easy enemies that go down in a punch or two. Harder enemies that fight with more health. Then the impossible enemies arcades likely enabled to suck out more of our quarters. Double Dragon II also lets you play with either the consistently reversing, punch, and kick button layout or the straight forward punch, and kick button layout. For those too young to remember DDII, or those who have forgotten the game had reversed buttons. To explain it better, when facing right, the punch button was a punch button. The kick button was a kick button. But when facing left, the kick button became the punch button, and the punch button became the kick button. It was set up so that kicks would always be back kicks. For whatever reason someone thought that it would be a great idea. The reality is, that for most people it was just confusing. This also carried over to the NES port. So if you’ve played that version, expect the same thing here.  But again it is nice that you can disable it here. Some players simply won’t wrap their heads around it, and so this makes things clearer.

Double Dragon II also added a couple of new moves, most notably a hurricane kick. If you press attack at just the right moment after jumping, you’ll spin in the air. If you hit an enemy with it you’ll deal a lot of damage. Which you’ll need to do when you get to the end of the game to fight the final boss. Double Dragon II was one of the series’ highlights. Double Dragon III was its biggest downfall. The game tried to go for a more digitized look, which to be fair, did look nice. But the machine had two major problems. First, it had some severe slowdown at seemingly random times. This made an already difficult game that much harder. Second, the game required you to go into shops to buy items to make the game more manageable. Shops that took actual quarters. So if you wanted to add a larger life bar, access to additional playable characters the game touted, or weapons you had to put in more money. The game was a huge cash grab, and resulted in a lot of resentment from fans. Outside of these problems the game could be enjoyable, but without a lot of tokens on hand you probably weren’t going to finish it.

Which leads me to something that is going to bother a lot of people when they try this collection out. The games have all been retooled to allow for just three continues. This was probably done to make these games challenging, like the reworked NES versions. But in the process they’ve removed the immediacy of the arcade experience. A lot of players back in the day wanted to win. Of course many tried to complete these games on a quarter. But a lot of players spent a couple of dollars doing so. That feeling of instant gratification is gone now. And while the case could be made that Double Dragon 1&2 feel a little bit closer in challenge to their NES counterparts, Double Dragon 3 is the worst affected. Because it was a game designed around the concept of paying to win. Without spending money in shops it becomes nearly impossible for many people.  The continue limit effectively means that even visiting a shop one time, can lead to playing with no continues. Basically you’ll only want to buy extra lives, and that’s once per level. Even on the easiest setting, some won’t be able to clear the game because of it.

The bundle also doesn’t seem to properly set the aspect ratio of these games. If you go into the settings, and set the resolution to 1920×1080 menus seem sharp. However the actual games will have a muted look to them. It appears the games are “stretched” to fill the screen, rather than being rendered in full screen resolution. Or displayed in the center of the screen under the proper aspect ratio. Control options fare better.Thankfully you can re-bind all of the keys on either a keyboard or a gamepad. Outside of the barebones video, audio, and control options there isn’t much to speak of. It would have been nice to have options for filters to mimic an arcade monitor. Or the option to turn on free play, or at least the option to simulate putting in quarters by pressing a button.

The last major problem here is that the collection appears to have a glitch that doesn’t show the game endings should you beat the games. It also skips the intermissions of the third game! It’s true that arcade versions of these games didn’t have particularly deep endings. Double Dragon, saw you save Marion. The sequel saw you looking at a photo, reminded she was killed, and that your revenge didn’t bring her back. The third showed you donating Cleopatra’s treasure to charity. (Yes. Really.) But if you spend any time enjoying these titles, and succeed in winning, you’ll still want to see them. To its credit, DotEmu has said on the Steam forums it is looking into that issue. On the plus side, all of the games again, play as you remember. Animations are the same, the responsiveness of the controls, and chip tunes you remember are all here. You can also play the games in their entirety, or choose to level skip. Level skipping gives you a set number of lives with no continues however. So you’ll probably only do it if you get stuck on a certain stage or boss character.

I know it sounds like I’m really ripping into this collection here. I really wish I didn’t have to. Trust me, the first two Double Dragon titles were great. Especially for those who loved playing them in arcades, bars, and laundromats back in the day. The third one, while not as fun is still part of an important franchise in the world of brawlers. It’s just too bad that these changes bring along so many inconveniences along for the ride. If the games came with a free play option for those who wanted it, scaled properly, and had the endings intact this would be a must buy collection for any retro gamer. As it stands, it’s a decent collection for die-hard Double Dragon fans who don’t have hundreds of dollars for the actual arcade machines. If you can deal with the limited continues, and bugs you’ll have a fun time. For those who need absolute flawlessness, you might want to wait, and see if improvements arrive.

Final Score: 5 out of 10