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Vintage Gaming – River City Ransom

River City Ransom is one of those games that, if you’ve played it, you probably love it…but not a lot of people have played it.  I came across it by chance at the video store once, played the heck out of it, but it took me forever to find a working copy.  I finally did, though, and it quickly became one of my all-time favorite games on any platform.

The story is simple, as you might expect from an early NES game.  You play as either Alex or Ryan, and Ryan’s  girlfriend is kidnapped by a gang leader (Slick) from a rival high school.  I’m not sure why Alex would go on the mission solo when it’s not his girlfriend, but those details were not important, or perhaps were lost in the translation.  Anyway, your goal is to punch and kick your way across town, fighting increasingly difficult gangs and bosses along the way.  If you’ve played Double Dragon or other fighting games from the era, you know what’s up.  What set RCR apart from them was a pretty solid RPG aspect.  You gained money from defeated enemies, which could be used to buy items to increase your stats, replenish lost stamina, and learn new fighting techniques.  There are also weapons like rocks or pipes spread throughout the levels, or to be taken from the rival gang members.

The game has a ton of 8-bit charm.  The blocky sprites are large and colorful, with goofy anime-inspired designs.  The music fits well, and changes when something important is happening.  The gangs are color coded by their t-shirts, and have names like The Jocks or The Generic Dudes.  When defeated, the enemies say silly things like BARF.  But make no mistake, the game isn’t a cakewalk.  The tougher gangs and bosses with wipe the floor with you if you don’t fight strategically and improve your character.

As implied above, you can play it as a 2 player game, though in the US they didn’t include the mode that removed friendly fire.  So feel free to beat each other up if you like, it’s fun.  That’s what the game is about, FUN.  You can play it in emulation on the NES, or get it for the Wii Virtual Console.  Well worth the cost if you like old-school beat ’em ups.

Console Games

Old Game Tuesday – The Legend of the Mystical Ninja

When I was a kid, I rented a ton of games for my various game systems as even then I really hated the idea of wasting what little money I had on a bad game.  I also preferred renting the simpler action games rather than buying them, figuring something like Final Fantasy III, which took upwards of 50 hours to finish, was a better investment than a beat ’em up.

So, it was the video stores that introduced me to The Legend of the Mystical Ninja.  I probably picked it because it had ninjas and sort of resembled Zelda.  It plays a bit like Zelda, but if you took the serious parts of it and made it goofy.  If you’ve ever seen some of the more humorous Anime shows out there, you get the idea.  I’m having a hard time describing LotMN as anything but pure fun.  It made a great change of pace after slogging through FF for 6 hours.  And since the most likely way for people to play it now is via the Wii Virtual Console, you won’t have to write down huge, unwieldy passwords.  Definitely worth a play through if you get tired of dancing to lame pop songs on your Wii (that’s what everybody is doing now, right?).

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Call for Contenders – Best Star Wars Game

Since it began all those years ago with Star Wars (A New Hope), Lucas’s universe has spawned dozens of computer and console games of widely varying quality.  I’m very curious to see if we can come up with any sort of consensus of what the best Star Wars games are, and if one rises to the top.  Did you wear out your flight stick playing X-Wing?  Does your nostalgia lead you back to the green and red wireframe of the original arcade game?  Or are you an FPS guy, who things Jedi Outcast might be one of the best of that genre, Star Wars or not?  I didn’t even mention Super Star Wars series which I played the heck out of, or Knights of the Old Republic, so you can see the task at hand will not be hard.  What I want now are nominations.  Give me what YOU think the best Star Wars related game is, and WHY.  Either comment on this post or hit me up on the Twitters.

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Old Game Tuesday – American McGee’s Alice

In honor of the release of the long-awaited sequel, Alice: Madness Returns, I thought I’d talk a bit about the original game, Alice.  American McGee’s Alice (with American McGee, a former id Software employee as the designer) is a third-person shooter and platformer set years after Alice’s original adventures in Wonderland.  If that seems familiar, it’s because other media (including last year’s Tim Burton movie) have done something similar, both with Alice’s story and other fairy tales.

The twist with American McGee’s Alice, however, is that in the time after the original adventures, Alice’s family was killed in a fire, and she’s been committed.  She re-enters a dark and twisted version of Wonderland, and must battle her way through to save it – and her sanity.  And as you can see from the original cover art, with Alice armed with a vorpal blade dripping blood, this ain’t for kids.

Gameplay is pretty standard for a third-person game of the era – mostly fighting, with some jumping puzzles (hope you don’t get TOO frustrated by those), but what makes it is the style.  In a world populated by sci-fi alien-blasting games, this wierdly fantastical world stood out.  If the new game looks interesting to you, check out the original (buyers of the PS3 or XBox360 versions of the game will actually get a code to use to play Alice,  PC gamers are left out of this, which I find very strange), you won’t regret it.

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Old Game Tuesday – Lemmings

Ah, Lemmings.  One of the best puzzle games of the early PC era (indeed, it was developed for the Amiga!), it’s also one of the hardest to describe.  What are the lemmings, exactly?  They just…walk?  That’s the gist of it, really.  You have to guide the lemmings, who don’t really resemble the animal of that name at all, from an entrance to the level to the exit.  To do that, you can convert any lemming the drops out of the entrance into a worker of some type – you can dig, build staircases, create blockers to turn the lemmings around, and so on.  Sounds simple, yes?  Just like most classic puzzle games, it starts simple but quickly gets fiendishly difficult.  Some levels require pinpoint timing and accuracy, conservation of lemmings, and out of the box thinking.

It might interest you to know that the company that eventually became Rockstar North, the makers of the Grand Theft Auto series, is who created Lemmings.  I always love finding these things out, like when I see where else Ben Edlund or Joss Whedon or M. Night Shymalan show up  (Shymalan wrote the screenplay for Stuart Little, por ejemplo).  Anyway, fire up Dosbox and start up Lemmings (you can get it at Abandonia).  You might just find yourself sweating level 21 several hours later.

p.s.  There is nothing more theraputic in life then getting a bunch of lemmings on screen and clicking the ‘nuke’ button to explode them all.  My friends and I may or may not have done just that for the better part of an hour at various times…

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Vintage Gaming – Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Yes, another Koei game, actually I will cover the whole series of games, at least the ones I’ve played.  Romance of the Three Kingdoms games are at their core turn based strategy games centered around the eponymous timeframe in Chinese history.  You’ll remember that from my talk about Destiny of an Emperor.  There have been eleven games in this series (though not all made it to the states I believe), on platforms ranging from the NES, PC, Amiga on up to the Wii.  At their core, the games are basically the same:  you are building up your territory both economically and militarily, gather troops and generals to your banner, and waging war against your enemies.

I played I on my NES, but my favorite versions were IV and X.  IV, playable on SNES and PC (win 3.1!) was a great example of what the earlier games were like.  You had to improve your territories by repairing dams, improving farms for food, and had to balance increasing the size of your army with not stifling population growth.  Battles could take several forms, with field battles (where your advisor could set traps of pitfalls or bales of hay to set fire to), duels (where a powerful general could take out an enemy army in one fell swoop) and gate battles where enemies could try and bash your gate in and take the city.  That was another thing you had to build up and improve.  While not for everyone, the strategy was deep and satisfying for me, trying to find the right balance of domestic and militaristic improvement.

ROTK X, played on my PS2, was at it’s core the same style of game, with one big difference – it was played ONLY from the perspective of one single general, who could be the ruler of a territory, a vassal of another ruler, or just a masterless warrior wandering across China.  As an example, I played as Zhao Yun, one of the Five Tiger Generals of Liu Bei but at the beginning of the earlier scenarios, a free general.  You can improve your standing in the world by taking tasks to improve whatever city you are in, in the hopes of being recruited by one of the rulers.  I eventually caught on with Liu Bei, and at that point you get your tasks from your ruler.  You are still being tasked to improve various holdings or train troops, with the added benefit of getting to fight in the great wars.  I did well, and was left in charge of a city of my own.  As you advance like that, you get more and more freedom to act.  I eventually conquered all of China for Liu Bei, with he and some other generals gaining a few territories without me, but then Liu Bei died, leaving his son in charge.  Liu Shan, being distrustful of how much power I had, banished me, though part of the empire rebelled and came with me.  It’s a very realistic event for the time period, and played out very cool.

There is zero appeal here to folks who prefer games like Dynasty Warriors, but if you like strategy games, or city-building games, check it out. ROTX X via Amazon has a few used copies, otherwise check your local used game store.

Console Games Featured

Vintage Gaming – Destiny of an Emperor

I’m showing my age again to some of you young bucks, but when I mention my favorite classic RPGs, this one probably elicits the most blank stares.  Destiny of an Emperor was released by Capcom way back in 1990 for the NES, and was a fairly typical JRPG.  There were a few key differences, and those differences are what make the game one of my all-time favorites.

HISTORY!  Sort of.

The game is set roughly in the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history, which many of you will be familar with from the Dynasty Warriors and Romance of the Three Kingdoms series.  DoaE takes even more liberties with that history, having the game star Oath Brothers Liu Bei, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu in a struggle to save their village, then eventually save all of China.  Instead of hit points, you have soldiers.  This is an interesting change as how much damage you do to the enemy armies can vary based on how many of your troops are left.  Tactics replace magic in much the same way.

Yeah, I’m a big deal

You dare defy me?!

The gameplay is your typical exploration + random fights, sort of a mix of Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy, though there’s a twist – you encounter enemy generals in those random battles, and you can recruit them!  Your lineup typically includes 5 generals, with one in reserve, and one tactician.  Most of them are generic dudes, though, with random looking portraits.  You can tell the badasses when you spot a unique portrait.  As you advance through the game, only the best generals keep gaining soldiers (the Five Tiger Generals, their sons, Zhuge Liang and Jiang Wei).  So while there may be times you are better served with other guys, they are your go-to crew.  The story is interesting, with a few translation ‘quirks’.  Visually it’s about what you expect for a NES RPG of the time period.  The music is solid and did not bother me while playing.

I have good memories of this game, and it holds up well on replay.  I can still feel the tension of the final battle against Si Ma Yi, which took me several tries and I still just barely won.  It felt like a huge accomplishment.  Hey, what can I say, I’m a big nerd. You are probably going to have to play it via emulation, if you want to give it a try, hit me up on Twitter if you need help.  Enjoy it, won’t you?

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Old Game Tuesday – The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

I came to know Morrowind (I only figured out it was the third game in a series after the fact) through a friend.  He had taken time out from Everquest to play a new single player RPG that I hadn’t heard of.  I sat and watched for a while, and was intrigued.  There were a LOT of things different about Morrowind, such as skills that improved with use and not just from an arbitrary level-up.  The world was massive, with miles and miles of terrain with ruins and caves to explore.  You were free to roam anywhere and do the main plot at your own pace.  I really enjoyed that aspect, as it was one of the few games where you could really get in over your head in a dungeon meant for a higher level (but if you could sneak through and grab some of the gear it was incredibly fun).

It’s a game that is meant to actually be role-played, but that did mean that the gameplay was breakable if you were a bit of a min-maxer.  You could find (or steal) many solid weapons and armor right from the start if you were careful and had the patience, though the effectiveness of the armor stayed low until you had been hit in that kind of gear quite a bit.  You could also cheat the potion-making and enchanting systems by creating temporary stat boosting potions, using them (cumulative) and then creating even more powerful potions and so on.  Still, once you know how to break the game, it’s up to you not to do it.  I’d rather have the option to be creative than be hamstrung because of a few dopes.

The game itself looked good for the time, though it suffers (similar to Dragon Age: Origins) from too much brown.  The character faces were pretty muddy, but that leads to one of the other big strengths of this game series:  you can fix it with mods!  Bethsoft provided a fairly easy to use set of tools to customize the game, and gamers took to it.  There are 297 pages of mods listed at PlanetElderScrolls for Morrowind, and many of them are quite awesome.  Don’t like getting attacked by Cliff Racers?  Take them out of the game.  People are ugly?  Install new heads, new clothes or whatever you can think of.  Don’t like the housing options in your favorite town?  Build a new one, or heck, build a whole new island of your own.  People did, and it’s incredible.  There are numerous mods I wouldn’t start a new game without.

If you are as excited as I am getting for what you are seeing out of Skyrim, you owe it to yourself to go back and play Morrowind and Oblivion.  Classics.

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Links From The Blogroll

Hey, everybody.  Haven’t been around much to post here, mostly because I haven’t seen any movies or played any new video games to review. ;)  That should change this weekend.  What I would like to do is highlight some of the newer additions to my blogroll and give some examples as to why you should be reading these sites.

The Expanse – a shared blog about Science Fiction and Fantasy from Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck

These two gents are writers, whose collaboration via the pen name James S. A. Corey Leviathan Wakes is due out this summer.  I’ve read parts of it in other forms, and it’s awesome.  Their shared blog has the musings of two well-spoken men on a variety of topics, including racism and exoticism in sci-fi and fantasy novels.  Well worth a read for writers, or anyone who likes to know about others’ creative processes.

A Walk in the Dark – A look into the mind of a DnD Campaign Designer

Shifting gears slightly, you have the blog of David “Nighthawk” Flor, a software dev and game designer I know.  He’s done mods for Half-Life, so if the name is familiar, you probably played The Opera (he mentions it here).  Nighthawk has a lot to say about game design, whether about how to handle insanity in DnD compared to Call of Cthulu, or creating random dice rolls for games hosted online.


I won’t pretend to know all that he’s talking about in regards to synthesizers and such, but Thomas Emmons is a composer in California who has a ton to say about music, computers and more.  Here’s a post about social networks and collaboration in the music scene.


Mike is a photographer and dad, which combine for some cute pictures of his son, Jason.  He also writes some insightful stuff over at Life as a Human.  I trust Mike’s book and movie reviews, though like me he doesn’t get to do them as much any more thanks to having children.  On the plus side, he’s reviewing more ‘kid’ movies which is relevant to my interests.

So that’s a taste of what my friends are up to.  Most of whom are more creative than me.  I might do this once in a while to highlight the good work they are doing.

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On Sequels

Reading some of the reviews and discussions out there on Dragon Age 2 got me to thinking – Did Bioware do a disservice to themselves by declaring this game a sequel?  They call it a sequel on the game’s official site, and they put a ‘2’ after it, but it may have damaged the perception of the game a bit to do so.  Even the CNN review says it “isn’t exactly a sequel” and I agree with them.  A sequel, to use the wiki definition as an example, is:

a narrative, documental, or other work of literature, film, theatre, or music that continues the story of or expands upon issues presented in some previous work. In the common context of a narrative work of fiction, a sequel portrays events set in the same fictional universe as a previous work, usually chronologically following the events of that work.

Let’s examine DA2 in this context.  It *is* in the same fictional universe, though DA2 starts during DA:O, not after.  You’ve got a bit of character overlap but not much, but the most important character from Origins is not directly present, the Warden.  The new game is set in the same world, but all new locations.  The DA2 story has some elements you came up against in the first game, which I won’t spoil, but still, to me, doesn’t seem like all this adds up to clearcut sequel status.  It became clearest to me when someone mentioned Baldur’s Gate:  Dark Alliance, a game my wife and I very much enjoyed, but played quite a bit different from other BG games.  DA2 doesn’t stray THAT far away, but it did move.

That isn’t a bad thing, though.  The problem is not with the game, but how it was sold to the consumer.  When I hear ‘sequel’, I’m thinking of games like Diablo 2, Warcraft 2 and the like.  Games that are bigger/better/MORE of what came before.  Yes, there are new features, graphical upgrades, but you see the progression.  You don’t see that so much with DA2.  There’s enough things that are different (some would say downgraded) and enough gameplay has changed that it really feels more like a spinoff than a true sequel.  Instead of slapping a ‘2’ after the name and calling it a day, Bioware should’ve titled it something like “Dragon Age:  The Champion of Kirkwall” while simultaneously announcing development of a true sequel 2-3 years down the road, closer to the Elder Scrolls dev cycle.  Those playing the Kirkwall game wouldn’t necessarily be expecting ‘more of the same’ as DA:O, and a real high fantasy epic world-spanning adventure ‘true sequel’ would still be very welcome.  Everyone is happy, and we can be done with the whiners complaining about not having all the origin stories in the game NOT named Origins.

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Dragon Age 2 Demo Impressions

I played through one full run of the DA2 Demo (male rogue), and to be honest, it’s got me a little worried.  The visuals are definitely different, probably better, but with the way combat jumps around so much it feels more like an older MMO.  The powers recharge quickly, the action more frenetic (yes, I know you can still pause it), and I never got the sense of what was happening to my characters at a glance.  Maybe the interface is TOO sparse, the details too hidden for my tastes.  The conversation wheel is fine, probably a change for the good, as it allows the hero to talk and emote.  I didn’t like Hawke’s family that much,

I definitely want to give the full game a try, as the story could save it easily, and I may just need time to adjust to the new style of play.  Still, I am tempering my expectations just a bit.

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Future Games I Want

  • Dragon Age 2. Still gotta try the demo, but really, I’m all over it.  (have it now, see my reviews)
  • The Elder Scrolls:  Skyrim.  My favorite characters in Morrowind and Oblivion were both Nords.  Looks really, really cool.
  • Portal 2.  Please assume the party escort submission position.
  • Batman:  Arkham City.  Sweet trailer, sounds like a ton of improvements to a game I already enjoyed.  YES.

More as I think of them, and put your suggestions in the comments.  I love RPGs most of all, but RTS, FPS, Sim and adventure games are all welcome.  I have a DS, Xbox360, and a gaming PC.