Tag Archives: Console

The Legendary STARFY Review

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Nintendo has always been known for its platformers. Most would argue they’re the Kings. Super Mario Bros. Donkey Kong and Kirby are three of the most popular franchises the world over. Each of them involves going through a plethora of themed worlds on a quest with a playable mascot. And while that premise may sound similar the execution is different within each. Often to well deserved critical acclaim. It’s very rare to come away from one of their titles visibly upset with it. Other M notwithstanding, and even that game was far from the broken mess so many other games turn out to be.
But way back in 2009, another game was quietly released here in the United States featuring a new character that appeared to be a cuter Ristar.

Maybe it was the fascination with other games at the time. Maybe it was the mass market fascination with Nintendo’s Wii or the Call Of Duty sensation Activision struck proverbial oil with around that time. But in any case, this was probably a bad time for us to have crawled back under our rocks and gone back to whatever we thought was hip. Because in the process we missed a cool newish IP at the time.

PROS: Terrific graphics. Fun level design. Humor.

CONS: Probably takes more cues from other Nintendo platformers than it should.

HEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!: Everything Starfy says sounds like this.

I say “newish” because Starfy is actually a long-running series in Japan that started out on the Game Boy Advance. For whatever reason Nintendo didn’t think the series would translate to the North American market very well. But suddenly they changed their tune when the Nintendo DS was striking it big.
In this game, you take the Star Prince on an adventure (I forgot to mention Starfy is royalty.) when a mysterious rabbit in an astronaut costume crashes through his ceiling. The rabbit freaks out and runs away. So Starfy is sent on a quest to figure out just who the heck this bunny is and where he came from. A few stages in you’ll figure out that his name is Bunston and that the long-eared mascot has amnesia.

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The Legendary Starfy is in many ways its own animal, but it does borrow a couple of things from Nintendo’s better-known platformers. You’ll have the Super Mario Bros. 3 map structure. Each of the worlds you play through has an environmental theme and you’ll clear areas on the map to progress. Things on the maps often change when you clear a stage. But, it also will draw many comparisons to Kirby because of the cuteness factor of it all. Starfy looks like he could come from one of those HAL powered games. From the adorable smile to the cute “HEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” he’ll exclaim. And there are secret rooms as well in many of the stages.

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Finding these rooms will often give you an arcade challenge to complete. If you can do so there are a number of rewards for your success. Sometimes it’s new cosmetic items to dress your Starfy in. Other times its chat logs that explain more of the backstory. And in other cases, they lead to secret exits that open up new hidden levels on the map, which have secrets of their own.
Over the course of the game’s worlds, you’ll find most of the stages feature a lot of underwater sections. That’s due to the fact that many of the game’s mechanics are centered around swimming. Starfy starts out with some light twirl attacks, and there’s even a bit of jumping you’ll need to do when you’re not submerged. Most of the stages are surprisingly large with a lot of health pellets to collect. There are also hidden gems you can find that extend the number of hearts on your life meter. A big chunk of the fun in this game is exploring stages to find these items and the aforementioned secrets.
The combat in it does open up over time though. You’ll get upgraded swimming attacks, jumping skills and more. Plus as time goes on you’ll find items that allow Bunston to merge with Starfy. These mergers turn the two characters into different creatures you’ll need to use in order to solve puzzles, defeat certain enemies, or even access secret areas.

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In fact, many early stages have sections you can’t access until much later in the game when you have collected all of Bunston’s merger items. This fosters a sense of replay value as on top of the secret stages, these areas are more content for you to go looking for on a second run. Adding to this replay value is Starly, Starfy’s Sister. Throughout the game, you can call on her for help, and there is a two-player mode you can access through the DS’ local wireless option where you each can use a character. But if you clear the game, there is a bonus world that opens up where you play as Starly. Starly also plays a little bit differently than her default Brother does. So you can have a largely different experience using her.

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The game doesn’t have the high challenge of the Super Mario Bros. tougher entries, nor does it have the lower bar set by the Kirby games. It’s pretty easy going although there are a few moments where the game does surprise you with a puzzle or a boss. And most of the bosses here are really cool. A few of them even take advantage of the Nintendo DS dual-screen setup to give you a little bit of added depth. The final confrontation at the end can actually be a bit cheap at times, but once you master the pattern it isn’t too much of a spike.

One thing The Legendary Starfy does exceptionally well is its visual style. It’s a blend of 2D sprite work and 3D backgrounds. In a way, it’s a lot like Falcom’s releases of Ys on Steam. But it’s even better here taking advantage of a lot of colors. Even when you’re in kind of dreary areas in the game it’s still very colorful. A lot of bright reds, blues, greens with terrific gradients. Sprites are crisp and feature a lot of great details as well as a simulated cel-shaded look. It’s a beautiful game. Even though the 3D graphics aren’t the most exciting or detailed models, they still fit the world well and don’t really clash with the sprite work.

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The game also has full-motion videos that resemble animated comic book panels. These push the story along as you meet up with certain characters, fight bosses, and discover key areas that trigger them. Fortunately, you can press Start to skip these if you do get stuck on a certain boss or puzzle so you don’t have to watch a 2-minute segment every time you have to continue. And while I can’t say there are a lot of songs that stay in your head long after you’re done playing, they are all something that fit in the environment well.

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When you get done with the main game’s campaign and the bonus world you still aren’t fully done because you can go back to replay old stages to find new areas you didn’t find previously. Among some of them are minigames you may not have already found during your campaign. There are five of them. Once you’ve found these you can play these separately from the main game alone or with friends using the DS’s wireless functions.

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Overall, Starfy is a rather fantastic platformer. It may borrow a little bit from Nintendo’s mainline platformers at times giving an impression it might be derivative. But it really is far from the case. The majority of the game’s water-themed levels leads to some unique gameplay. Plus the bright, cheery, optimism of the game’s environment is a change of pace. Even from something like Mario or Kirby. It’s too bad the earlier games were never localized because Starfy is pretty great. It’s lighthearted, it’s fun and genuinely funny. Tose’s little Star has an infectious charm about himself even if the only thing he ever says is “HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”. The Legendary STARFY is one legend you’ll want to add to your Nintendo DS collection.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Things that most intrigued me from E3 this year.

Well, another year, another E3. Per usual there has been a slew of major announcements, directs, and panels. There’s a lot of talk about the Nintendo, and Square Enix presentations being the highlights of the year. While there’s no question there were a lot of major revelations and surprises that came from these two juggernauts, there was a lot of stuff overall. And while it’s true that some of the major panels turned out to be duds, there were some big titles that came out of the least hyped pressers.

E3 may not be as exciting as it used to be, but it still remains one of the biggest game-themed conventions around thanks to its long-standing relationship with being an industry, and press themed show. In recent years they’ve allowed fans to attend, but it is still geared far more toward showing off products than it is toward fandom.

In any case, every year I find myself more interested in some of the more obscure games than many of the popular ones. This year seemed to follow that trend for me, though there were still a couple of huge hits that squeaked their way in. In any event, read on. Maybe some of these will pique your interest too.

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10.) AMD Ryzen 9 3900X

A lot of folks were probably way more hyped about Final Fantasy than a computer component. But for those who tuned into the AMD conference this year, this was a major revelation. At $499 it’s price competitive with as well as comparable to the Intel i9 9920k.  They also showed off the benefit of extra cores when showing off the 8 core Intel i9 9900k, and 12 core AMD 3900X chips running Division 2, with OBS, on maxed settings. While the game itself ran comparably, the stream quality was night and day. If you’re a streamer who is going to be in the market for a new build in July, this may very well be worth your consideration. Especially when considering the current 12 core Intel solution is $1200 as of this writing.

 

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09.) No More Heroes III

While Travis Strikes Again wasn’t fantastic, it wasn’t bad enough to sour me on the franchise. No More Heroes 1, had a great story, fun characters, and dark humor. Bogged down by a barren overworld. No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle was streamlined and a terrific hack n’ slash game as a result. All we really got was a trailer with a glimpse of familiar gesture moves. But it was well put together. It veered toward the stuff we loved about the first two entries on the Wii. So I’m cautiously optimistic that Suda51 will deliver.

 

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08.) ASTRAL CHAIN

We previously only had a glimpse of this one, but the expanded footage made this game look even cooler. Giant robot monsters. Robot Police Officers. Fast-paced combat that Platinum Games is known for. The aesthetics are bombastic. The visual presentation is something that gets a resounding “Yes.”. Hopefully, this game continues Platinum Games’ tradition of quality action games.

 

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07.) Daemon X Machina

Last year Nintendo showed off a quick trailer of this one which looked amazing. Then they put out a short playable demo that gave us the basic concept. We know there will be a customizable character you can play as and that the system for doing so is deep. We know that you’ll be piloting giant mechs and that during missions you can even get out of them to fight on foot. The controls needed some fine tuning but other than that it felt like it would be a solid action game. This year’s trailer showed off a lot more. It looks even more expansive and the action looks even more hectic than before. Here’s hoping the extra time made everything that much better across the board.

 

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06.) Enter The Gungeon: House Of The GunDead

Devolver Digital always seems to have a great conference every year as they’re able to find a way to tell people what they’re releasing candidly while lampooning current trends the entire time. They showed off a few cool looking indie games but then they dropped a bombshell. The company is bringing out an actual arcade cabinet based on Enter The Gungeon. This game is a rail shooter in the vein of Operation Wolf, but with full-on light guns. It looks awesome. While I don’t have space to house it or the budget to buy one, I am interested to see one in action. Hopefully, a convention like RetroWorldExpo or Portland Retro Gaming Expo may have one on display someday.

 

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05.) The Messenger: Picnic Panic

The Messenger was one of the coolest takes on the Metroidvania in a while. It had fantastic action, a great story and terrific time-travel themed feature that was used very well. If you still haven’t played it, you should. It’s awesome. For those who have played through the game and were left wanting more Devolver also revealed that the expansion pack to the game will be coming soon. Plus it will be free! The trailer shows off a new beach themed area, new enemies and even a cool octopus boss fight. Any excuse to fire up more of The Messenger is a good one. Let’s see what Sabotage has in store.

 

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04.) Cyberpunk 2077

While RPGs aren’t my go-to genre, I can appreciate a good one and CD Projekt Red‘s next outing looks like it could be as big as their Witcher franchise. The expanded footage they showed off during Microsoft’s conference gave some nice details on the storyline where we’ll be playing the role of a mercenary in a dystopian future. The facial animations were quite impressive and the action looked great. This one may veer toward the Action RPG than the Witcher games did but even if that turns out to be true it will hopefully have enough to sate fans of the slower methodical pace of traditional RPGs too.

 

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03.) Outriders

While it’s hard to say how this is going to turn out as Square’s segment on it showed very little outside of a prerendered trailer, I am intrigued. For a couple of reasons. First, People Can Fly is a studio that has always made fast-paced First-Person Shooters of a very high caliber. Painkiller was an amazing FPS with a Smash T.V. feel. It was like a darker version of Croteam’s Serious Sam. Years later they would find themselves working with Epic and EA where they made Bulletstorm. This was another high-quality game that felt like Half-Life 2’s linear style of action game in one sense. You played through different set pieces as the story demanded. But on the other hand, the action felt a lot like Platinum Games’ MadWorld. You had to find creative ways in the environment to dispatch your enemies for big rewards. Oddly enough, Steven Blum voiced the protagonists of both Bulletstorm and MadWorld. Outriders will be a completely different kind of experience. It already seems like there will be some sort of hero or class system. But the character design looks really cool. Especially the monsters you’ll fight which remind me of the old Inhumanoids toys. Couple those toys with People Can Fly’s track record and we may see something special.

 

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02.) The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild Part II

Yeah, I know everyone is pretty much excited for this one. But seeing how great the first one turned out coupled with the imagery from the teaser, you can bet I’ll keep an eye on this one. There was a lot of Zelda shown off this year between the reboot of Link’s Awakening (which looks adorable by the way. I love the claymation art style going on), and Caydence Of Hyrule. But this one already looks pretty amazing. It’s probably a good two years out, but it looks great.

 

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01.) Chivalry II.

I’m going to preface this by saying that no, the original game wasn’t perfect. It had its share of bugs. When you made it to the highest level of play there were ways to exploit the movement system to do things the developers didn’t think possible. And while the expansion pack was fun, the lack of a true Team Objective mode meant many fans merely dabbled in it whereas in the base game they poured scores of hours into it. But in the grand scheme of things Chivalry was, and still is one of the most enjoyable competitive First-Person action games of recent memory. It did something few other games thought of at the time: Take the objective focus of a Modern Military Shooter like Battlefield and change the setting to the Medieval period. And while the game really veers into the Hollywood action side of things by portraying everything similarly to old time castle siege movies, there is some realism. The weapons in it existed. The missions take liberties with some of the dark war practices of that part of history.

So the original game was a blast in spite of all of its faults. This game looks to build upon the original’s solid foundation by adding new features. You’ll get to ride horses bringing essentially vehicular combat to the game. You’ll have newer objectives apparently. And they claim that the slashing action is being completely overhauled so some of the cheap looking stuff that could be done in the first game won’t be replicated here. I loved the original game so much that I put hundreds of hours into it. But as much as I love Chivalry I am tempering expectations a bit. The 1-year exclusivity with the Epic Games storefront is going to be a turn off for some. And while Mirage: Arcane Warfare was a fantastic take on the Hero shooter, it was a commercial failure. One can only hope that didn’t leave too bad a taste in the mouths of some buyers. All of those caveats aside, I really do hope Chivalry II lives up to Torn Banner Studios‘ advertised features. The trailer looked fantastic and something fans of the original 2012 release have wanted for a long time. It’s due out next year so hopefully, it shows up ready for primetime.

 

So there you go. Ten of the things that I was really invested in seeing. By no means is this complete, but these are the ones that stayed the freshest in my mind. But how about you folks out there? Feel free to comment below! Perhaps there’s something I missed or overlooked!

Fighter’s History Review

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It’s been said many times that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. While there is some truth to that old adage, sometimes it isn’t the motivation. In video games a popular idea being copied is nothing new. But sometimes a copied idea will still go in a different direction, and become transformative. Often times this has gone on to create genres. Street Fighter II was one game that had its idea taken, and tweaked time, and time again. Many times, good things came out of this. Mortal Kombat is an obvious example. But there were a number of great fighting games from SNK. World Heroes, Fatal Fury, Art Of Fighting, Samurai Shodown, and King Of Fighters. To name a few.

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But one could also argue Street Fighter built from the basics early karate games like Karate Champ, and World Karate Championship (Known as International Karate in Europe). The point is, that a lot of great games came out of experimenting with Street Fighter II’s rules. Two characters go one on one, until time runs out, or one player knocks the other unconscious. First to do it twice wins. Some did a lot of new things with that setup. Data East on the other hand, did not.

PROS: Graphics. Sound. Play control.

CONS: Not much to stand out from other games in the genre.

CLONES: Ryu, Chun Li, and Zangief doppelgänger fighters unite!

Fighter’s History is one of the more interesting video game clones in history. Because of just how close to Street Fighter II it truly is. The backgrounds may look different, and the soundtrack may be different. But that’s about it.  Nearly everything else in the game is almost identical to Street Fighter II. A couple of the characters are even a stone’s throw from being indiscernible from their Capcom counterparts.

In fact Capcom took Data East to court over the game’s similarities.  Which were acknowledged in the case. But Capcom would eventually lose on the grounds that the core tenants are those of the fighting genre, more so than those of Street Fighter II exclusively. Still, it was an interesting case that I’m sure one with a law degree would be much better adept at writing about.

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Anyway, the game was first released to arcades in 1993, and a year later to the Super NES. Again, the concept is the same as Street Fighter II. Nine fighters enter a tournament to see who will be crowned the best. So you’ll choose your fighter, and go into two out of three round match ups, and hopefully win your way to the top. Once you defeat the other eight characters, you’ll go on to face bosses who are behind the tournament. In Street Fighter games that usually means a mysterious dictator running Shadowloo or some other criminal empire. In King Of Fighters it’s many times Geese Howard. In Mortal Kombat it’s usually a demonic force led by Shao Khan or some other evil bad guy. In this game the mysterious K is Karnov. Yep! The fire-breathing guy with the beer belly you took on an action platforming adventure, or beat up in Bad Dudes is the boss. But before you fight him, you have to beat up a generic clown. A clown so generic, he’s just called Clown. With the other borderline infringement characters here, you’d think they would have attempted Not Joker, or Not Ronald McDonald. But no, you just beat up a clown.

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Be that as it may, Fighter’s History is also one of the better SF II clones of the day because it hearkens so close to the Capcom formula. Hit detection is pretty good, and the move sets work about as well as they do in the actual Street Fighter II games. I’ll give Data East credit in the graphics, and sound department too. Because even though a lot of stuff came blatantly from SF II, there are still moments of originality in it. Namely, the backgrounds. The details in the stages are quite nice. They could have just re-made versions of iconic Street Fighter II locations the way they did with some of the character design. But they didn’t. They made their own, with some of their own original background animations. It’s worth seeing them in action. The characters themselves are animated well, and when the game does give us a character that isn’t cribbed from a competitor, it works nicely. As much, as I harped on fighting a generic clown, and Karnov earlier, they do look pretty cool.

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Fighter’s History also does one thing few other fighters did back then, and that is it adds location damage. If you keep attacking one spot on your opponent, eventually that spot will change, and reward you with more damage. For instance, if you keep hitting the Ryu stand-in in the head, eventually he’ll lose his bandana. At which point subsequent hits will do more damage than they did earlier in the match. This does add a tiny layer of strategy to the basic fighting game rules set out by Street Fighter II. You can also play as the clown, and Karnov through the use of a code.

However, the game still pales in comparison when it comes to balance. Obviously no fighter can ever be 100% even across every one of its characters. But in Street Fighter there are enough pros, and cons to each to make them viable options for different kinds of players. Ryu is a good all around character. Zangief is all about powerful moves at the expense of speed, and energy. Dhalsim is a hit, and run strategists possible choice. Other games in the genre took that aspect of the game to heart more than this game did. Some characters may look the part, but weren’t given the same level of care. As such you have some characters that will dominate most of the roster once they’re placed in an above average player’s hands.

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Still, the game did well enough to get two sequels. The first of which was Fighter’s History Dynamite on the Neo Geo. This game continues the storyline from the original, as Karnov wants to essentially re-match everyone after his loss. The third game was exclusive to the Super Famicom, and came out in 1995. Over the years, the series has been briefly thrust back into the limelight, as SNK Playmore worked out deals to put some of the characters in some of the King Of Fighters entries.

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If you’re a die-hard fighting game fan, or you love curious titles with some historical significance Fighter’s History is worth looking into. It’s a cut above some of the other stuff you’ll find on the Super Nintendo like the awful Street Combat. (Oddly enough, another fighting game curiosity.). But if you’re not, there isn’t a lot of stuff here that will make you choose playing it over the ports of Street Fighter games, Fatal Fury games, or the World Heroes games. Those games offer more balanced rosters, and enough unique things to make you keep coming back. It doesn’t make Fighter’s History a bad game, and collectors may want to find a copy. But as far as its competition goes, a lot of it is superior or different enough to choose over this one. There aren’t even many modes. There’s the arcade ladder, a survival mode, and the quintessential versus mode.  It’s a good curiosity, and preferable to many a bad fighter. But unless fighters are your genre of choice, you’re better off playing the staples from Capcom, SNK, and Midway on the Super NES.

Final Score: 7 out of 10

The Edge Joystick Review

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With the recent news that the NES Classic Edition is going back into production next year,  you might be looking forward to the re-release. Especially if you missed out the first time around. Of course, with any new console (yes even the all-in-ones) come a host of third-party accessories, and peripherals. The Edge is one of them.

PROS: Arcade grade buttons. Also compatible with the Wii U, and Wii!

CONS: Mediocre base.

ADVANTAGE: The controller pays homage to Nintendo’s NES Arcade Stick.

The Edge is modeled after Nintendo’s own NES Advantage. A legendary controller that any NES collector should own. It was designed with arcade games, and ports in mind. Donkey Kong, Galaga, Pac-Man, Mario Bros, and Double Dragon were just some of the classics that were even more enjoyable with a proper arcade stick.

Well, several of these games’ ROMs came on the NES Classic Edition. With no official NES Classic Edition version of the NES Advantage (Nintendo only made the Control Pads) EMiO enters the fray. EMiO is known mostly for common accessories like cases, and wall chargers for portable devices. They’re also the company behind the Mega Man headphones.

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With the NES Classic Edition launch, the company capitalized on the lack of an arcade stick with their own Advantage clone. They also made knock off Control Pads to capitalize on the shortage of first-party branded ones. I can’t comment on these as I don’t have them to test out. But I did happen upon The Edge, and this is what I found.

The Edge Joystick gets a number of things right, and has a few nice features under the hood. It’s stylish, and really does capture the look of an actual NES Advantage. It has turbo switches, and dials like the original. It also has a slow motion button, and adds an A+B button which performs actions in games that require pressing both, A, and B simultaneously.

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One really cool thing about this one is the inclusion of arcade joystick grade buttons. They’re nice, comfortable, and give you the familiar clicking you’d expect. The stick also has a nice arcade spring, and feels nice when moving it around. They also included interchangeable joystick knobs. There’s the ball style that the NES Advantage had, and then there’s a more traditional wedge style you can use instead. These easily twist on or off, so you can use whichever style you like with ease.

One other thing to keep in mind is the NES Classic Edition uses the same ports for controllers as the Wii mote controllers have for attachments. That makes the controllers for the NES Classic Edition compatible with the Wii, and Wii U. The Edge Joystick can be used with old games purchased on the Wii Shop Channel, and Nintendo E-Shop. I tested it with several games, and the results were mixed.

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On the Wii U, I tried the stick with Mighty Final Fight. In this case things were pretty good. The controller was pretty responsive, and I was able to play the game fairly well. Nothing to complain about. I also fired up Wii Mode, and proceeded to go into my roster of classics. I started up Donkey Kong, which is also on the NES Classic Edition. This was the first game I had a big problem with. For whatever reason going from walking right or left to climbing up a ladder would never go seamlessly. I had to stop walking, then push up on the joystick to climb. Donkey Kong pretty much requires spot on movement, and this put a big damper on the game.

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I then tried a few non-NES games just to see how well it worked with some of the other emulated systems. Boulder Dash for the Commodore 64 in Wii mode worked okay. Not great. Not bad. Just okay. Holding the stick in any direction often overshot where I wanted to be by one tile. But tapping the stick allowed me to move one tile at a time well enough. It was playable, but Boulder Dash is another platform, puzzle game that requires spot on movement. In later levels where speed is as important as planning, you may just want to use the Wii Remote for this one.

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I also used the stick with Cho Aniki for the TG-16 in Wii mode. This controlled just fine with the stick, and I didn’t have much to complain about. I was able to move in all directions smoothly, and firing was just as responsive. Another one that played well with The Edge was Contra Rebirth. Running, jumping, and firing in all directions were smooth during my play time with it. I closed out the tests with Ninja Combat for the Neo Geo on the Wii. If not for the fact the game requires a four button controller, this would have been the best test game. Moving, shooting, and jumping worked perfectly. Unfortunately, only having two buttons meant I couldn’t perform every function required to play properly. Still, it was a nice surprise.

One nice touch is the Nintendo Power pastiche included in the box. It’s a small booklet with some strategies, and cheat codes for the 30 games included in the NES Classic Edition. So if you’re picking this up with the console, it’s a fun little bit of bonus material for you.

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Aside from some iffy performance on some titles, the big problem with this controller is the inconsistency with the build. The nice, arcade buttons for the A, and B buttons are great, and the stick component is pretty good. Regrettably though, I have to point out the very light, and cheap feeling plastics for the controller body. If you come into this looking for the same hefty, build quality of the original NES Advantage you’re not going to find it.

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The Edge is a mixed bag. For some games you’ll like it fine enough, while on others you’ll just want to roll with the standard pad or Wii mote.  The real disappointment is the flimsy feel of the plastics aside from the rather nice buttons. There are worse controllers for the Classic, Wii, and Wii U. But this isn’t going to be the most well-rounded option either. Unless you’re dead set on using a joystick, and don’t have the hundreds to drop on a high-end arcade stick, I would stick with the standard first-party control pads. Or a Wii Classic Controller Pro for playing on the NES Classic or the original Wii. Wii U owners can also use the Wii U pro controller for games on the eshop.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Atgames Atari Flashback Portable Review

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Have you heard the cries? Everyone clamoring for an NES mini, a tiny replica of Nintendo’s seminal console with 30 built-in ROMs. But this isn’t an entirely new idea. For almost a decade now, Atari has been doing just that. Miniature versions of their most popular consoles under the Atari Flashback moniker. However after the fourth revision, they handed off production to a third-party called Atgames.

PROS:60 VCS games covering commons, rarities, prototypes & homebrew. In a handheld!

CONS: Permanent battery. Some of the game inclusions are odd ones.

STRANGER: You can buy one in Bed Bath & Beyond.

Atgames has the dubious honor of making All-in-One Sega Genesis clones with, bad sound emulation. But while their track record with the Sega license has been less than stellar, their time on the Atari Flashback line has been good. Since taking over the reigns from Atari for the most part, the casings have been similar. Although the insides have been different. They’ve been systems on a chip, with emulation. But these have been pretty good by most accounts. A move even Atari was doing with the line themselves, with the lone exception of the Flashback 2, which used the original MOS 6502 chipset the original Atari 2600 did.

With the Atari Flashback Portable, Atgames has taken the same principle, but moved it into a handheld setup. And honestly, it’s a pretty good handheld. Right away, you’ll notice that it isn’t very large. It’s smaller than any of the Nintendo 3DS family of consoles, or any of the Sony portable consoles. Being an All-In-One, it doesn’t have a slot for cartridges.

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In the box you’ll get the console, a small instruction manual, and a 5 pin USB cable. The USB cable will let you recharge the battery in the console using your computer. You can buy a USB wall adapter to charge it from an outlet separately. Also sold separately is an optional AV cable you can buy from Atgames directly. That will let you hook the system up to a TV with composite cable inputs. Nice if you have an older model TV, but with many new TVs this is moot in many cases since a lot of the new models don’t include legacy inputs. So if you do want to use this with a modern TV you’ll also need a composite switch box that will connect to a HDMI port in addition to a composite cable.

One nice thing is that the system comes with a pre-charged battery so you can play it once you open the box. On the underside is the power button, and along the top you’ll have a volume dial, AV out port, a headphone jack, and an SD Card slot. The face of the unit gives you a D-Pad, and a fire button. In addition to those, the switches from the original 2600 have all been replicated as buttons. So you’ll have a Reset button at the top right, a Select button, Left, and Right Difficulty buttons, and even a Black & White TV toggle button.

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They also added a pause button (something the original VCS never had), and a menu button which is used to back out of games to go to the game list. When you turn the unit on you’ll go right into the game menu. Each of the 60 titles has a photo of the original box art, or a mock-up of box art. Pressing the fire button will boot up the game you’ve selected.

Construction of the console feels pretty nice. The D-pad is comfortable, and responsive, as are the face buttons. It’s pretty comfortable to hold. It’s lightweight, but it doesn’t feel shoddy. Around the screen is a pretty nice piano gloss finish, and the screen itself is also pretty nice. It’s really sharp, graphics look crisp, and things are easy to see despite the small size. The viewing angle is pretty good too for what it is. If you tilt it wildly far of course, it isn’t going to look good. But you don’t have to look at the screen dead on either. As far as screens go for a budget AIO handheld like this, it’s very good.

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But the big reason Atari fans may want to buy this is because it has an SD Card reader. You can put 2600 ROMs on a card, and then run those games on the Atari Flashback Portable. This is a great way to play homebrew on the go. If you want to play Halo 2600, or Zippy while spending an hour in a coffeehouse you can do it. You can also run many of your personal backups on it. The downside with this is that the feature can be abused with people running pirated games on it. It remains to be seen what Atgames will do if this becomes a widespread issue. Companies like Activision are still pretty protective of their original games from the era, often releasing retro game compilations, and devices of their own. Keep in mind that not every SD card is viewable by the slot. Smaller capacity cards are more likely to work with it, than high-capacity cards (SDHC). Try to find a card with 2GB or less if possible.

Battery life is really good. You can get several hours of game time before you have to recharge the battery. But that leads me into the console’s faults. There are two major problems with the Atari Flashback Portable that I must note. As much as I enjoy the system for what it is, the fact that it has a permanent battery is a big concern. Granted it isn’t very expensive, but in a few years when it fails to hold a charge any longer you’ll have two options: A.) Run the system on a USB charger through an outlet or a computer. Or B.) Pray Atgames as a newer model out with the same or better features, and replace the unit with the new one. You’ll lose portability with the first option, and if the line isn’t in production anymore when it happens you’re forced to use it plugged.

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Going with common batteries may have decreased the play time you would have, but it wouldn’t make customers feel like they’re forced into replacing it. Alternatively, they could have gone with a replaceable proprietary battery. This may have made the device cost more, but again, people could opt to buy a backup battery instead of having to get a new system or plug it in all of the time once the initial battery died.

The second problem is the game line up. Don’t get me wrong, the overwhelming majority of the game selection is great. You’re getting must play titles like the 2600 versions of Asteroids, Centipede, Millipede, Missile Command, or Crystal Castles. There are gems on here like Yars’ Revenge, Secret Quest, and Solaris. You even get a number of rare games, prototypes, and indie homebrew games on here if you can believe it.

Where the line up falters are some of the inclusions. Atgames bundled in Circus Atari, Breakout, Super Breakout, and Demons To Diamonds. These games used the 2600 Paddle controllers on the original VCS. The games do play with the D-Pad, but the D-Pad doesn’t control these games nearly as well as the Paddle controllers did. Beyond that, the line up is solid. Though to be able to play the Swordquest games properly in a public setting you’ll need to download, and print the manuals, and DC Comics the original cartridges came with as they required them in order to play through them properly.

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But beyond those two major caveats, the Atari Flashback Portable is really awesome. Fans, and collectors will enjoy it because there is now a convenient way to play these on the go. Sure you can buy these games on Steam, and play them on your laptop. But the portable makes this quick, and easy. There are also perfect games for some situations on the console For instance; in a doctor’s office or on a commute, where you can shoot for a high score in that 15 minutes. Obviously one can spend hours playing on it as well.

It’s pretty cool all around, but it’s especially nice for people who are lapsed, who haven’t picked up a game for themselves in 30 years. It has a nostalgic factor to it. It’s also a great device for retro game fans, since they can play most Atari 2600 files on it. Sadly the emulation won’t run quite everything, but it does work with the majority of titles. One might also consider picking this up if they’re interested in experiencing Atari 2600 games for the first time, but aren’t interested enough to devote time, and money into collecting the original console, accessories, and game cartridges. It’s a great way for a newcomer to learn about the first mass market console without having to make a major investment.

If only Atgames went with a replaceable battery, and thought out the game selection better. This would have been a must-own. As it stands though, it is still a great device worth checking out if you’re an Atari enthusiast, or a newcomer who is interested in the history, and enjoyment of video games.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Lootcrate Review

In what is most certainly going to seem an odd choice, today’s review isn’t a game. Instead I’ll be looking at a service gamers, and anyone into geek culture may find intriguing.

PROS: You’ll be surprised at how much you get in a tiny  box.

CONS: Not everything you get may be of interest to you.

NICE TOUCH: The booklet with articles about the items you receive.

We have all heard about the mysterious Fruit Of The Month Club. The subscription that delivers quality fruit to one’s door every month. It’s been referenced in many shows, movies, comics, and other media for decades. The concept is that the recipient receives a different kind of fruit every month for the duration of  the subscription. January may net a crate of bananas. February may be a delivery of apricots, while March might be grapes. Lootcrate uses the concept in a different way.

Lootcrate sends members a small cardboard box every month. But instead of fruit, the box is full of cool swag. Every month is different cool swag. For instance my first shipment contained a number of trinkets one would normally overspend on at a store. I got a Minecraft calendar, a Star Trek Starfleet Officer insignia sticker, a melting Rubik’s Cube sticker, A Star Wars trading card game package, and language translator guide. In addition to all of that was a NASA patch, and a POP! figure of Domo dressed as Superman.

The Lootcrate also comes with a booklet that has articles about the creation, and background of each of the items in the box for that specific month.  They also randomly send off a bigger box to a relative handful of members with items that are a bit more sought after.  In this regard it’s almost like a geek themed lottery. The difference being that even if you don’t score the larger box, you still get something fun, and tangible. They also go for some Easter Eggs. One example is typing in the Konami Code on the company’s site will take you to a YouTube video of a Lootcrate being launched into outer space.

I honestly hadn’t heard of or about Lootcrate until this past Christmas. My sister who never knows what to get me somehow found out about it, and bought me a three-month subscription. So far I’ve gotten the one box, but it does seem like you get more than $13 worth of swag for your $13, and change. Especially when you consider how much you will pay through most stores, or on a convention floor.

Now due to the randomness of each month’s swag bundle, not everything you get in the box may excite you. But it’s still a fun experience of seeing exactly what shows up. Plus there’s nothing stopping you from regifting anything you might not particularly care for. If I had any legitimate complaints at all it would be that the delivery of the first crate came much later than my sister was told it would. But that could have also been a rare miscommunication issue.

Members can also renew subscriptions at the end of the service if they want to keep getting swag every month. Or the company has options to buy one, three, or six month subscriptions at a time.

Overall, Lootcrate is certainly worth looking into if you’re in my sister’s holiday situation. When you have to buy for the geek who seemingly has everything, it’s a nice treat for them. It’s not every day one plans to go buy impulse purchase items like these. Even when one does, $13 nets you two of the several things you would have gotten in the Lootcrate.

In the end the service does succeed in doing what it sets out to do: become a Fruit Of The Month Club for geeks. If you’re looking for something different it might be worth checking out. Visit www.Lootcrate.com

Final Score: 8 out of 10.