Archive for January, 2011

The weather was sunny and pleasant in Manhattan Beach on Saturday, and it set the tone well for the whole event. Intellivision Lives! for the Nintendo DS is now available in wide release, and I had the opportunity to meet the Blue Sky Rangers, the original Mattel Electronics game development team.

For those unaware, the Mattel Intellivision was one of the three main competitors in the first console war in the late ’70s and early ’80s, going up against the Atari 2600 and Colecovision. It had a variety of memorable and innovative games and features, including a voice module and a disc-control instead of a joystick, not unlike the one that would later feature on Apple’s iPod.

The Blue Sky Rangers were Mattel’s first-party development team. Intellivision Lives! compiles their games into one collection, now available for the Nintendo DS.

The Blue Sky Rangers!

The event was very much to my liking – low-key, friendly, and very fun. I was a bit overwhelmed when I got there, but the Rangers were a great group. There was an original Intellivision hooked up (I have the later Intellivision II, myself) and I recognized the games that were played on it immediately: TRON: Deadly Discs, Frog Bog, and quite a few more. I had the opportunity to spend a good deal of time chatting with David Warhol, who, after Mattel disbanded their team, formed developer Real Time Associates. I learned a bit about the serious games initiative from him (games designed for a primary purpose other than entertainment), which is something I hadn’t given much thought before. I also sat down for a few moments with the president of Intellivision Productions and developer of TRON: Solar Sailer, Keith Robinson.

Intellivision president Keith Robinson shaking hands with yours truly.

One of the things that struck me was that every one of the Blue Sky Rangers seemed to know which titles the others worked on, off the top of their heads. There was an easygoing but tangible camaraderie among the Rangers. It was something else to be among minds that had been creating games since before I was born, and even more impressive to hear them talk about the development of their games and see those games in action.

I want to thank everyone involved in the event for making it a great experience. The Blue Sky Rangers were all awesome!

Also, the staff at The Comic Bug were very friendly and seemed just as excited as I was. They truly have one of the coolest shops I’ve ever been in, and if you’re ever up in the Manhattan Beach area, I advise you to check it out!

Best. Comic Shop. Ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stay tuned, because we’ll be giving away a copy of Intellivision Lives! signed by the Blue Sky Rangers in the next few days!

Extra thanks to Anthony Perez for taking pictures.

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Like many PS3 owners, before I jumped into Mass Effect 2, I had no real experience with the Mass Effect universe. BioWare and EA were nice enough to include an interactive comic (which is downloaded along with the Cerberus Network pack you download with the code provided in the game’s case), dubbed Mass Effect: Genesis, so that we don’t charge in completely lost.

Mass Effect: Genesis is essentially a recap of the events of the first Mass Effect game retold in comic form. There are two versions- one for a male player character, and one for the female character. It allows you to make some of the major decisions, and they carry over into the game as if you’d imported a save file.

It’s worth noting though, that you need to pay attention. Mass Effect: Genesis is best described as a crash course in the story of the first game. The narration moves pretty fast with no option to pause or recap. The only time the narrative stops is at each of the decision points. There’s also little clarification on any of the information you receive, so you may wish to spend a little time consulting the in-game encyclopedia (the Codex, in the pause menu), as I had to.

However, in spite of its fast pace, it was a nice introduction that helps you feel less ‘lost’, which was my biggest complaint about the demo. While you’re still obviously not going to be as immediately immersed as someone who’s played the first, it’s nice to know that we aren’t left out in the cold.

In addition, I like to think of this as sort of a ‘character creation’ segment. Not a lot of RPGs give you the option to choose your backstory. While your options are pretty limited, I do like how the choices I made have so far come into play. It’s reminiscent of the lifepath character generation method used in the old Traveller tabletop role playing game (a game which incidentally also takes place in a classic Space-Opera setting). Perhaps we’ll see more of this kind of thing in future games – and not just in games where players may be missing out on a previous game. It’s not a bad way to involve the player in a new universe and let them assimilate into it quickly.

Now granted, I recognize that it’s not a perfect substitute for playing the original – which I’ll be doing as soon as I get my new PC built – but it allows newbies to jump into the universe without feeling too out of place. I picture it as a bit of an extended Star Wars opening crawl.

Share Your Thoughts: For those who played the original and have also experienced Mass Effect: Genesis, what do you think of it? A good way to get new players acquainted with the setting, or a poor substitute for having the original game available?

Every system seems to have a canon list of tough nuts to crack. The NES had Battletoads (among others), the Amiga had Turrican, and for Genesis/Mega Drive owners, few games require the grit and determination of Kid Chameleon.

This one is inevitably linked to the holiday season for me, as it was one of the games my parents bought me with my Genesis for Christmas in the early ’90s. The mechanics are pretty simple – very much a platformer in the Mario mold, but with the addition of helmets you can pick up that give you different abilities such as a weapon, wall-climbing, or extra hit points. The variety of gameplay styles is one of the things that makes the game unique and fun.

But what makes the game so hard? The sheer size of the game – the game box claims over 100 levels. In eighteen years of owning the game, I can’t rightly confirm that – I’m sure I haven’t seen all of them – but there are tons of them. And on top of that, there’s no password system. If you sit down and start Kid Chameleon, be prepared to finish it!

Or not. With three lives and three continues, you may not last that long. Some of the levels are pretty unforgiving, with later ones requiring some serious precision and finesse.

Even harder? Some of the levels, depending on which exit you take, will offer branching paths. This is another factor in the difficulty – it can be a long and treacherous slog if you take the wrong path, and a few of the levels feature the ever-unforgiving advancing wall of doom, here charmingly referred to as a Murder Wall. The most infamous of these is the Bloody Swamp.

Oh dear God, the Bloody Swamp.

The Bloody Swamp is tooth-grindingly, nail-bitingly difficult. As far as I’m concerned, the people that have made it through this hell-gauntlet are myths, and video evidence of successful runs are forgeries. While it’s an optional level, it’s pretty likely that most players have stumbled into it accidentally. When this happens, it’s pretty much best to just hit reset. This level is so foul and cruel that Tim the Enchanter should appear beforehand to warn you that death awaits you. That precision jumping I talked about? Yeah, you have to do that while outrunning a one-hit instant-death-wall. If you want to try the Bloody Swamp, have fun, but I can tell you even after finishing the game several times – I avoid it!

This is an immensely difficult game, but at the end of it, you get to say, “Pff. Sure you’ve beaten Halo on Legendary. Easy as pie. I beat Kid Chameleon.”

X-Men: The Arcade Game Review

X-Cellent Fun

If you grew up in the late ’80s or early ’90s, chances are good you know the X-Men in one form or another. I myself started on the comics and the animated show, and at the bare minimum you’ve probably seen one of the films. And for me, as well as a lot of others my age, there are also memories of Konami’s 1992 beat ’em up, X-Men: The Arcade Game.

Well, it’s back and the game is, for the most part, a straight port with some modern conveniences. You can choose between a four and six player cabinet (four player operates in full-screen, while six is in wide screen), the US and Japanese ROM (there are a few differences, noticeably Japanese subtitles and the addition of powerups), three difficulty settings, and local or online play. It’s a very straight-up, faithful translation – no graphical upgrades, no improved music. And if Turtles in Time: Reshelled taught us anything, it’s that sometimes those things are better left alone.

X-Men: The Arcade GameFear not, the narmy lines that graced the original (“WELCOME TO DIE!”) are still intact, and as cheesily charming as ever. The graphics look the same as they always have – which is good, because they pretty accurately reflect the look of the comics and the animated series. And the music – I won’t lie, it’s pretty forgettable.

The game is simple to pick up and play (as arcade games should be) – an attack button, jump button, and a button to activate your character’s mutant power. You can choose from six X-Men, from the ever popular Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm and Nightcrawler, to the relatively obscure Colossus and Dazzler. Each character’s mutant power works a little differently, but the purpose is the same – one-shot whatever gets in its way. There are also some slight differences in their attacks – Storm has a little longer reach, and Nightcrawler’s jumping attack is a bit easier to direct, etc. The gameplay is simple – punch your way through hordes of Sentinels, Genoshan Magistrates (I think – correct me if I’m wrong, readers) and lizard men, among others. You’ll also run into bosses like Emma Frost, Pyro, and The Juggernaut(!). There’s not much to it, but it’s a lot of fun and it’s always easy to jump into.

And it gets even better when you’ve got a full team playing! The best part of the game is multiplayer, and I’ve found the online matchmaking to be, for the most part, quick and easy to get into. You have the choice of a quick matchup, selecting the game you’d like to get into, or creating your own. Just a tip – try to find a host with a good, quick connection. If your host player has a bad connection, the game will lag to a ridiculous degree and you’ll get the dreaded “Player X is not responding” message. However, I’ve found that going into the custom match and selecting a host with a low ping alleviates that little headache.

I have found that a few of the trophies are a little glitchy, and only trigger under very specific circumstances (although I found a workaround for my problematic one). Also, the game is pretty short – lasting about 30-45 minutes on an average run-through.

The Final Verdict

X-Men: The Arcade Game is a game one that I’ve spent quite a bit of time on in the past few days, and it’s pretty fun in spite of its relatively short length. The game holds up after multiple playthroughs, and is still very playable after all these years. For its low price, this is a game which both fans of the genre, and the franchise itself, may want to try.

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