Tag Archives: Collectibles

C64 Mini Review

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Ever since Atari devised the original Atari Flashback line (Which it handed over to ATGames, who has kept the line going), the craze for replica consoles with built-in games has been going strong. Nintendo set the bar for them even higher with its NES, and Super NES Classic Edition machines. Even before this craze however, there were similar devices. Systems built into a controller from a wide variety of vendors like Jakks Pacific. And there was even the C64 DTV I reviewed a while ago. Well now there’s a new take on this mini console idea. As Retro Games LTD brings us a Commodore 64 iteration.

PROS: Excellent emulation. Feature rich. It’s a baby Commodore 64!

CONS: Game selection should have been better. No AC Adapter.

COMMODORE BASIC: You can actually code in it on this device.

Released throughout Europe earlier this year, the C64 Mini finally made its appearance Stateside, and so I picked one up. I pretty much had to as someone who used a Commodore 64 regularly throughout their childhood, and into their teens. The Commodore 64 was the best-selling home computer platform of all time. Released in 1983, and sold until 1994 when Commodore went out of business. And it was well supported in every major territory for most of that time. The American, and European markets differed in some of the game line ups. In Europe a host of publishers, and developers cut their teeth on it, and became the juggernauts they are today. Many games were exclusive to the European market despite being a machine made by an American company. Here in the USA, Commodore (as well as Atari, IBM,  and Apple) scooped up most of the publisher support consoles once had. When the great crash happened, and machines like the Odyssey 2, Colecovision, Intellivision, Atari 5200, Bally Astrocade, and others fell by the wayside it was the home computer platforms surviving companies shifted to. Even after the Nintendo Entertainment System reignited the console market, many games continued to see versions on the microcomputers. In Europe, the home computer platforms were almost always preferred, and so there was never really this kind of shift, leading to a wellspring of exclusive amazing games US owners never saw.

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Whichever part of the world you hail from though, the Commodore 64 had a massive following. As such it got a ton of games that not only appeared on consoles from the Atari 2600 to the NES to the Sega Master System, but IBM PC Compatibles as well. That’s besides the stuff that it had exclusively, or only shared with a couple of other computer platforms of the day. It was the platform to own until the NES showed up, and even then it still held its own into the shift toward 16-bit processor powered platforms like the Sega Genesis, Super NES, and Amiga computer line. And nothing has or ever will sound as awesome as a Commodore 64 again. It’s Sound Interface Device (SID) chip featured dynamic sound. Something even some arguably more powerful machines didn’t have. Bob Yannes truly was a master of sound chip design.

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So what makes the C64 mini so special? Well for starters, it’s a miniature replica of a Commodore 64. The designers got every major detail down on this thing. Of course they aren’t the defunct Commodore of old, so instead of COMMODORE being laden along the top, they’ve displayed C64 Mini. Other than that one change, it’s perfect. Mine had a minor tilted paint application by the power button, but one tiny manufacturing error is a very minor nitpick. I have to say that the presentation in this product is top-notch. The packaging is great. Like the Super NES Classic Edition, they’ve tried to re-create one of the C64 box releases, and have done well. On the back they show off the game list, and this is where the one disappointment crops up. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

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Opening the box reveals another box, one that feels luxurious despite just being more cardboard. It’s embossed with a beautiful logo, and upon opening it, you’ll see both the computer, and classic style joystick replica encased in a removable clamshell. Upon taking those out, you’ll find your cables, and documentation underneath. It should be noted that if you’re the type who likes to re-seal, and pack away your consoles when not in use, the packaging is accommodating. It’s very easy to put back everything where it goes for putting away. In the box you’ll get the C64 Mini, a Joystick, HDMI cable, USB cable for power, and documentation. Unfortunately for whatever reason it does not have an AC adapter. So unless your HDTV has a USB port for you use, you’ll need to buy a USB to AC adapter if you don’t already have one for another device like a smart phone.

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Upon turning on the device you’ll hear a glorious original chip tune, as you’re greeted with a simple language selection screen. Once you choose your language you’ll see a panorama of the devices built-in games. At the bottom are a couple of icons. You’ll have one for display options. These are very much like the ones on the Super NES Classic Edition. You can choose aspect ratio, and select from a few filters. Another icon lets you go back into the language selection, while the third lets you go in, and change other settings. One of which shows you the Firmware version. Here’s the cool thing. If you go to the manufacturer’s site, you can get the latest update for free. Put the update on a flash drive, and you can install it on the C64 Mini. When you do this, the device will reboot, and when it does you’ll see a USB flash drive icon at the bottom of the screen. This lets you read disk images off of a flash drive! So if you have a means to back up your collection to disk images, you have the potential to run them on the C64 Mini! This is also a great option for anybody who buys an indie game for their C64, as often times homebrew developers will have a digital image option or inclusion with their disk or cartridge. This is also great for anybody who enjoys the C64 Demo scene, as again, you can run these audiovisual projects on the C64 Mini!

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As for the games that are included here, the list of titles is a mixed bag. There are a few very memorable C64 games on here. Especially from the now defunct Epyx. The Apshai series is here, which is an amazing line of early Action RPGs. Jump Man, and Jump Man 2 are here, and while even back upon release they weren’t much to look at, they were amazing. These are two of the best platform-puzzlers ever released. This device also has the two Impossible Mission games which are also two must-plays.  Rounding out the Epyx catalog are some of their better known sports games including California Games. These aren’t what one would call system sellers, but they are probably the best versions of these titles.

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The Mini also has a few Firebird releases on it. Firebird wasn’t as well-known in the States as it was in Europe, but they still did release a lot of their better titles in the US. Two of the better ones here are The Arc Of Yesod, and The Nodes Of Yesod two games that feel like precursors to Metroid. They’re labyrinthine, and action packed games that while admittedly aren’t as good as Metroid, are still really well made. There are also a host of Shmups by Hewson Consultants on here which were always lauded back in the day. Cybernoid, and Cybernoid II are here, and play as great as ever. Cybernoid was an early C64 staple, and one that remains superior to its NES counterpart. Uridium is also here, which NES fans may recognize as The Last Starfighter. (Mindscape re-skinned it, and ported it long after the movie came, and went). They also put the excellent Zynaps on here, as well as Firebird’s IO. So there are some excellent Shoot ’em ups on display.

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The other two major titles on the device are Boulder Dash, and Tower Toppler/Nebulus. These games are excellent arcade style games with puzzle elements. I’ve talked about Boulder Dash a few times on the blog here, and truly is one of the best games of its ilk ever made. It’s great to see it here once again.  Tower Toppler is a very challenging game that has an awesome pseudo-3D effect at the forefront of its gameplay. It saw release on other platforms, but the Commodore 64 version was always one of the best versions. There is also a really cool Demo on it that doubles as an end credits sequence. It shows off the names of everyone involved in making it, and a lot of creativity in the process.

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As for the rest of the games, there aren’t too many I would say to stay away from. But they’re not the most compelling titles either. Save for Monty On The Run, many of them were lower tier releases in Europe, and so many North American players will not know anything about these games. It’s a real shame that the folks at Retro Games LTD couldn’t have found a way to get some of the major releases from Activision, Electronic Arts, Capcom, Konami, SEGA, Lucas Arts, or Data East. Or some of the classic Broderbund, Accolade, Cinemaware, Access Software, System 3, or Microprose releases. Granted few of these publishers are around anymore, and I’m sure there are all kinds of rights hell complications in getting their games to market again. Still, most of their exclusive games were amazing, and the ones that would appear on other platforms, were still excellent on the Commodore 64. (Most of the time. There were some ports that were stinkers.) I would have also liked to see some of the higher profile European releases like Katakis, Phantis, or Turrican II on here, or some of the American gems like Paul Norman‘s games Forbidden Forest, Beyond The Forbidden Forest, Caverns Of Khafka, Aztec Challenge, or Super Huey. Cosmi published them, and are still around today. They don’t publish much in the way of games anymore, but permission may not be out of the realm of possibility.

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Be that as it may, the fact you can run backup images, and homebrew releases makes up for the lack of more recognizable games in the roster. And although you may not have heard of some of the included ones, most of them are still enjoyable enough. You could very well find you get a lot of mileage out of  Who Dares Wins II It may not be the best Run ‘n Gun you’ll ever play, but it is a pretty respectable Commando clone. One really cool inclusion here is the classic Commodore 64 BASIC prompt. Like all of the 8-Bit microcomputers of the time, one had to use BASIC commands to load programs, search media for files or save files. But you could also code in BASIC! So if you’re a budding developer willing to learn the language, you can code your own games, and save them to a flash drive! You can also type in those old programs printed in classic magazines like Ahoy!, or Commodore RUN.

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The mini also has a spiffy on-screen keyboard you can pull up using the joystick, although I have to say, a USB keyboard is preferred. Especially when playing classic RPGs, coding in BASIC, or playing text adventures. The included joystick is a really well made one. It’s tactile, re-centers itself nicely, and the fire buttons have a nice mechanical spring design. The joystick also has a hotkey on it for pulling up menus, and the on-screen keyboard, as well as the Space bar button, and Return button. This makes navigating action games much easier, as you don’t have to frantically look for a key on your keyboard. However the drawback to this is that if for any reason you break the joystick, navigating things may become a bit iffy. So treat the joystick like fine china. Fortunately you can acquire spare joysticks separately. However, not all of the big box stores who carry the mini, carry the standalone joysticks. I also forgot to mention the C64 mini also supports save states. So you’ll be able to save scum your way through some of the more difficult sections of games, or just simply create a save point in general. Not every Commodore 64 game had a save feature, so being able to create a save file for some of the longer games available for the computer is very convenient.

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Emulation on the C64 mini is very good. Visually everything looks the way it is supposed to. The color palette is on par with the original computer’s. Graphics look crisp, and the sprites all look as good as they would on the original hardware. The different filters, and aspect ratios all work very well too. So if you don’t like the computer monitor look of the different settings you can put on one of the CRT filters I briefly mentioned earlier. Personally I recommend the pixel perfect or 4:3 aspect ratio, as they look cleaner. But if you prefer the look of scan lines, the filters do a pretty good job here.

Sound emulation is also spot on. Of course depending on the model of the original computer there were two major sound chip versions, with revisions of each throughout the production run. The mini appears to sound more like the earlier versions of the chip, which makes sense since the casing is modeled after the earlier version of the computer, and not the C64c re-release. The C64c had the later chip versions, and so there are some slight sound differences between the earlier C64’s, and the C64c (A C64 in a new casing). In any case, the sound veers toward the original model here.

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As far as the performance goes, it too is very good. Things run at a great pace, and I have yet to experience slowdown the original computer wouldn’t. I also haven’t noticed any considerable amount of input lag when playing games on it. I’ve tried it on three TV sets, a 720p 32″ Element LCD, an Insignia (Best Buy) 720p 19″ LCD, and a Samsung 4K 42″ LCD. I only ever noticed it on the Samsung, and even then, just barely. For the overwhelming majority of people who pick this up, it’s going to be a great experience.

 

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In closing, the C64 mini is one of the best of these miniature emulation devices to see release in recent years. While Nintendo’s releases have more recognizable games in their line ups, this device has better functionality. The ability to use virtually any USB controllers or keyboards paired with some of the best emulation around makes for an almost 1:1 experience. Plus, the inclusion of the classic BASIC prompt means you can make your own programs. This even adds an educational level to the package. Not only do you get a piece of video game history, but you can learn about, and learn how to code in a programming language.  True it isn’t as robust as a modern language, but it still gives you the building blocks, and helps you better understand where modern technology came from. I wouldn’t be surprised to find school teachers or other instructors picking this up for that purpose.

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Really, the only drawback is that it could have used a few more higher profile games in the line up. I would recommend getting a spare joystick for it at some point as well, just on the off-chance you somehow break the included one. The odds aren’t very high (again, the build quality is actually quite good.) but it’s just one of those just in case things you should have. Still, while it isn’t as cool as an actual Commodore 64 (though short of a FPGA powered clone compatible with the original’s drives, and software, what can be?) but it’s close. Real close. Its shortcomings are more than made up for by its features. This is simply the best mini platform not made by Nintendo. If you’re a long time Commodore 64 fan or collector, you’ll love that it makes C64 HDTV gaming a snap. If you’ve never experienced a C64, and want to without having to invest a few hundred dollars into obtaining one, its peripherals, and games this is a great option. It’s also a great device for anyone who wants to learn about early computers, and the use of BASIC programming as an Operating System. Even if none of those things apply to you, the wealth of indie homebrew games being made for the original C64 may just pique your interest. Again, the digital images for many of them can be run via flash drive.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

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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.

 

Amiibo Review

Activision’s Skylanders became quite a surprise hit with kids a few years ago, combining a video game title, with action figures that can interact with it. It became so popular that competitors were bound to show up. Disney was the first major contender with its own game, and collectible action figures. Looking for additional business to supplement its console business, Nintendo has entered the fray. But does this toy line have the chops?

PROS: Toys work with more than one game. Detailed. Durable.

CONS: No articulation. Some figures may go out of print quickly.

HOLY CRAP: Error figures have gone for thousands in online auctions.

Amiibo isn’t simply a Skylanders clone. It is a toy line that interacts with gaming, but that’s about as far as the similarity goes. The biggest difference is that the toys aren’t locked into usage with only one game. Nintendo’s toys work with the NFC (Near Field Communication) tech in the Wii U’s game pad as well as the tech in the latest version of the 3DS. Each toy has an NFC chipset inside, along with digital storage. Many titles are supposed to take advantage of the toys. Three of the biggest ones are actually available now. Hyrule Warriors, Mario Kart 8, and of course Super Smash Bros Wii U. Obviously the biggest of these is the latter. In Super Smash Bros,., the toys can be used as sparring partners. Over time the characters will take on new patterns, and styles. Eventually levelling up their stats. Because the toys can store data, Players can then take their leveled up partners to friends’, and relatives’ houses. There, the Amiibos can be pitted against each other, or against said, friends or relatives. In Mario Kart 8 certain figurines can be used to unlock themed costumes for your Mii racer. Hyrule Warriors has bonuses that the toys are tied to.

With other games coming out that will have compatibility with the toys, it makes the toys into peripherals. Future games like Captain Toad Treasure Tracker, Yoshi Wooly World, and Mario Party 10 will have features dependent on these toys too. As for the toys themselves, they are visually pleasing. The sculpts are dead on with a lot of little details, and great paint apps. For the purpose of this article, I’ll be displaying the Mario figurine.

Not everyone who buys these toys are going to be using them for the video game functionality. Many people are going to be picking these up as collectibles. With that in mind everything, even the packaging is going to be important. Because toy collectors often look at more than the toy itself. Most toy collectors collect MOC (Mint On Card). For those uninitiated with the hobby, opening the toy will immediately reduce the resale value. Many go as far as sending in their toys to be graded, much like comic books. So they’ll want solid packaging to be able to still display their collection without devaluing it.

Amiibo figures actually have a really nice blister card packaging. You can see the character art which is really designed well. In this case you can see the Super Smash Bros logo in the left corner, the character name (for the five people who don’t know who Mario is.), and the recommended age of the user in the opposite corner. The character art is pretty cool looking, with a giant, imposing Mario who looks like he’s ready to lay the smack down. The bubble on the figures is a nice cube shape, leaving plenty of room for viewers to see the entire figurine inside.

The back of the card shows off the same generic image along the top for every toy in the line. Interestingly the Mario figurine in that image is a much different pose, which leads to speculation as to whether or not they may have alternate versions of characters in the future. Each toy gets a specific graphic on the back as well pertaining to that character. In this case, it’s a fight between Mario, and the villager from Animal Crossing.  Collectors will probably like this design a lot. Because one can either stand the box on their bookshelves, or use the peg hole in the top of the card to hang it on their wall for displaying.

For those of you who plan on using these with games, or who plan on displaying them loose, you’ll be pleased with these toys. The details in the sculpts are awesome. Mario has wrinkles in his overalls. You can see the stitching job on them as well. There are little dips throughout the overalls to simulate a nice denim look. The knuckles on his gloves are raised up as they are in the many illustrations we’ve seen over the years. The details on his face are spot on, from the pout on his lips, to the moustache sculpt to the detail on his ears.  The other figurines go to the same lengths.  You’ll also notice that his base is the same as the bases on the trophies in the Super Smash Bros. games. It’s just an all around great sculpt job on these things.

If I have any problems with these, I would have to say that some of the painted on sections worry me. For instance the eyes on Mario, and the M on his hat seem to be done in a different paint that could possibly flake off over time if constantly handled. This probably won’t concern you if you’re displaying them loose, or you hold the figurine by the base when you use it. But if you have children who are going to be playing with them, that might concern you. Speaking of children playing with them, I think they’ll love these things. Aside from the minor paint nitpick, they’re pretty sturdy, and I don’t see them breaking unless they’re really thrown hard against a wall or pavement. Kids can play with them inside or outside of the video games. However, these do NOT have any real articulation to speak of. You can’t really alter the poses, tilt heads, or anything of the sort. If you’re the type who wants to set up poses for your displays you should focus on Jakks Pacific’s line of World Of Nintendo toys instead.

One final concern some may have is availability of certain characters. As of late, there has been a lot of discussion about some of the less mainstream characters going out of production faster than anticipated. Marth, the villager from Animal Crossing, and the Wii Fit Trainer are making headlines due to the rarity in stores. This is driving up the aftermarket prices as die-hard fans, and scalpers scoop up secondary characters. So if you do decide to buy one for use with a game or two, or you’re a completionist collector bear that in mind. Nintendo has said they always want to have their most popular characters around, but that due to retail space, some aren’t always going to make the cut.

In conclusion, Amiibo looks like it will be a pretty cool toy line. If functionality continues to improve in future games (IE: different characters yield different results) they’ll only become more sought after as peripherals. As a collectible toy line, they’re already on a great start. The sculpts are great, the character selection seems like it will have a lot of variety. Minor paint nitpicks, and lack of articulation are about the only sticking points. Just remember secondary characters sell out fast. So if you see a figurine from a less popular franchise you enjoy you should probably pick it up.

Final Score: 8 out of 10