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Vintage Gaming – Super Dodge Ball

Super Dodge Ball might just be the ideal game from the 8-bit era that you didn’t play.  It’s exactly what the title says, your team (USA in our NES version) battles dodge ball teams from around the globe in a tournament.  Each team (from places like Iceland, Kenya and China) had different strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes their dodge ball courts themselves provided difficulties, such as the Iceland court being…icy.  Each member of the teams could dash, jump, throw and catch the dodge balls, and also had superpowered moves if you timed them right while dashing or dashing/jumping.

If you check out the screenshots below, you might notice that it bears more than a passing resemblance to last week’s OGT entrant, River City Ransom.  That’s because, in Japan, there was a whole series of ‘Kunio-kun’ games (Kunio being the main character in most of them), with only a few making it over here.  SDB was made for a few other platforms, and is currently available via the Wii Virtual Console.  In addition to the tournament mode, you had 2 player VS play, as well as a schoolyard brawl mode (also 1 or 2 players).  There is one thing that makes Super Dodge Ball hard to enjoy in it’s original environment – there can be many times where there is too much activity on the screen and the characters flicker.  It was a limitation of the NES.  Still, I got past it easily and it shouldn’t stop you.

I consider Super Dodge Ball an ‘ideal’ NES game because it does exactly what you need it to do.  It’s easy to learn – your buddies could pick it up in a few minutes – but hard enough to entertain.  The same goofily endearing graphics from River City Ransom make nailing a guy with one of your super shots particularly fun.  It’s simple fun, and we can all use that.  Check it out, won’t you?

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Console Games Featured PC Games

Vintage Gaming – Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast

First person shooters were huge for me when I was younger, despite the fact I wasn’t very good at them.  That meant FPS’s that still had a single player story were much loved and more likely to be bought.  Jedi Outcast was the second ‘Jedi Knight’ game but the third game starring Kyle Katarn, one of my favorite ‘Expanded Universe’ Star Wars characters.  In Dark Forces, we learn that Katarn was instrumental in the theft of the original Death Star plans delivered to Princess Leia.  In Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight, Katarn learns of his Force sensitivity and defeats a Dark Jedi who killed his father.

The Kyle Katarn we see in JK2 is an older man who has set aside his Jedi ways and is trying to just live his mercenary life, having been scarred by very nearly turning to the Dark Side.  However, things go wrong when he encounters a Dark Jedi and is soundly defeated – and his partner presumed murdered – when investigating odd Imperial activity relating to Jedi history.  He takes up his lightsaber once more find the culprits.

The game used a modified Quake III: Team Arena engine which looked plenty good for the time, and performed well.  All of the typical Force powers are there, including lightning and grip (choke), and if there’s one problem, it’s that you don’t have the powers and your saber right off the bat due to the story.  Which is a great story, by the way, with the expected cameos (including Billy Dee Williams as Lando).

The other side of this is the multiplayer.  It was pretty popular for it’s time, I had a great time playing JK2 with friends and at LAN parties, and still install it for nostalgia’s sake every once in a while.  I keep it unpatched so I can use the ridiculously fun if overpowered Force grip power to grab dudes and toss them off ledges.  The bots are fun to play against and can have dynamic difficulty (so you don’t constantly pwn them).  Very handy if you don’t have enough people looking to play.  A nice touch with that is each bot plays differently – the Lando bot doesn’t use the Force, for example, but is deadly with the other weapons.  Which are fun Star Wars-ized versions of your typical FPS weapons.  Each has an alt-fire mode to add a little more depth.

But really, if you are playing this or any of the other Jedi Knight games (which will be covered too, all are awesome), you want to fight with a lightsaber.  You will not be disappointed with JK2 for this, as it kicks ass.  3 different combat styles, each with different special moves, combined with the ability to throw your saber, saber clashes and more really make the lightsaber combat sing.  Another nice touch is the ability to challenge another player to single combat, allowing you to duel your opponent without taking any damage from (or doing damage to) everyone else in the level.

Look, this is one game I could go on and on about (500 words and counting!) but I say, let’s play it.  SO, I am going to get my JK2 server up and running, maybe tonight, and I challenge anyone who wants to be destroyed beat the snot out of me to dig out their copy and have a go.  I’ll update the post with the server IP when I get it going.

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Featured PC Games

Vintage Gaming – Diablo

Ah, Diablo.  A game that I came to quite late – after it’s own sequel came out.  In case you are a young punk, or simply have lived under the gaming equivalent of a rock, Diablo tells the story of a town under assault by the forces of Hell itself.  Unbeknownst to the towns folk, the town’s cathedral was built upon the site where one of the three Prime Evils of their world, Diablo the Lord of Terror, was imprisoned.  The King and his son are corrupted, and the town the town quakes in fear until a hero arrives.  Guess who?  Yep.  Diablo basically originated most of the concepts of the ‘Action RPG’, where you still get to customize your character and their skills, but combat can be a frenzied click-click affair.  There are 16 levels, which were randomized for each new playthrough.  Character selection were the standard Warrior (smash-em up melee guy), Rogue (ranged weapon master), Sorcerer (magic user).  Half of the fun for me (both in this game and it’s sequel) was the loot.  Randomly generated items of various strengths could drop, and hours could go by with you killing dudes and frantically checking the ground for a sweet new bow or axe.

I actually played through all of Diablo at work – my old job (at the Pit of Despair, for those in the know) had let us know they no longer required our services, and so many of us started to find things to do that weren’t, shall we say, work related.  A network of our own might’ve been involved, strung over the top of the cubicle walls.  But between games of Unreal Tournament, I played Diablo while still doing approximately 5 times as good of a job as that place deserved.  Fond memories, these.

One interesting note, with Diablo, is that it had an ending that would probably have cause just as much of an uproar as Mass Effect 3 did now, had social media existed in any meaningful way back then.  If you don’t want it spoiled, LOOK AWAY.  At the end of the game, with the Lord of Terror defeated, your character walks up to the Soul Stone that imprisoned his essence…and JAMS IT INTO HIS OWN HEAD.  Yes, Diablo will live on in you, and hello sequel!  I remember some really ticked off folks back then.  Considering there are already people with their dander up over Diablo III, which isn’t even released yet, I can only imagine the meme pictures and Hitler videos and what not that would be created today.  Anyway, if you’ve never played it, you’ve missed out on a bit of gaming history.  If you want to try something newer, I recommend Torchlight.  Or heck, Diablo II.

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Console Games Featured PC Games

Vintage Gaming – Oni

Beat ’em up games have a long history, whether in the arcade or on your various console systems.  From Renegade to Double Dragon to River City Ransom, this style of game was a fun diversion from my RPG and Sim game-filled life at the time.  You might consider Oni a logical extension from those games.  Made by Bungie, Oni is a third-person perspective beat ’em up based in a near-future dystopia, with character design heavily influenced by Anime.

The story has Konoko, working for what amounts to Big Brotherish police force finding out she’s been lied to/finds corruption, and goes on to fight it.  Or something, I’m a little hazy because all I cared about was beating the shit out of dudes with the melee fighting system.  There are weapons, but you can only carry one, and if you run out of ammo, they’re no good.  But I didn’t buy Oni to use the weapons, I wanted to fight hand to hand.  That system was fun, with combos and special moves.  It would flash a different color based on how impactful the move was, or if it was blocked, and felt very fluid if your old machine could handle it.

On the negative side, I know many people were dismayed at how few and far between the save points were.  The devs also overpromised and underdelivered a bit, as people were expecting LAN multiplayer and a giant mech (based on one of the trailers).  Still, I had a blast punching, kicking and throwing my way through some pretty large (but fairly spartan) environments.  Tons of crates, too, if you’re into classic shooter level design.

Oni was available for PC, Mac, and PS2.  Your best bet would be a used copy from one of the sources linked at Amazon, there, if you are interested in trying this out.

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Featured PC Games

Vintage Gaming – The Temple of Elemental Evil

The tavern, an adventurer's natural habitat.

I’ve been on a bit of a DnD/RPG game kick of late (or really for a while), so I thought now would be a good time to officially revisit The Temple of Elemental Evil, a PC game based on the old Dungeons and Dragons module of the same game, but updated for the 3.5E rules.  ToEE was developed by short-lived studio Troika games, which was founded by some of the devs responsible for the classic Fallout.  They had two other games release before folding up their tents and scattering to other game companies.

The story involves the aforementioned Temple being reopened by evil forces, and your group of adventurers has to deal with it.  There are multiple ways to do that, however, including joining the Temple (good if you are an evil party).  There are some side quests to do as well, and some enemies placed just to challenge you.

The nice thing about ToEE was that it was actually turn-based.  So many of the Dungeons and Dragons cames out just before it had been modifying the rules to work in ‘real-time’, usually with the ability to pause, that this was a welcome change.  The radial menu, shamelessly borrowed from Neverwinter Nights, worked well for what it needed to do, and could provide you a way to use all the more esoteric DnD actions like 5 foot steps.  And since the game follows the DnD 3.5E rules closely, all the cheesy builds you know in your pen and paper game work here.  My personal favorite is the reach weapon tripper that can hit everybody with attacks of opportunity.

And there’s good reason to min-max, at least for me there was.  This game is pretty tough.  Since you start as level 1 characters, it’s very easy to die if you bit off more than you can chew.  Trust me, there’s nothing more embarrassing than getting killed after being swallowed by a giant frog.

No review of ToEE would be complete without mentioning the work of the fan coders at The Circle of Eight.  With the game not selling well, the developers could barely afford to put out what patches they did, which barely took care of the raft of show-stopping bugs the game shipped with.  In stepped Co8.  Not only did they pick up bug-fixing where Troika was forced to leave off, they’ve added back a ton of content in the pen and paper module and other additional content.  There’s even a conversion of The Keep on the Borderlands being worked on.

Things that suck:  the dialogue isn’t great.  Even with the improvements, the game can feel a bit unpolished.  The interface can feel a bit spare, as I’d like to be able to glance at the inventory and see what each thing is, but it’s workable.  Also, it’s hard to tell what each character can use when buying items.  It can be difficult to figure out where you are going in town, a quest list with map pointers would’ve been huge.  Still, for a game nearly 10 years old, it’s about what you expect.  You either see enough here to want to figure it out, or you pass on by.  I mean, we’re not THAT far from when game companies expected you to make your own maps and notes, right?

You might be able to find ToEE at your local discount store, but if not, the fine folks at Good Old Games have you covered – $5.99 gets you the game, and it’s ready for the amazing Circle of Eight mods right off the bat.  If you’re a DnDer who never bothered with this game because of it’s buggy rep, now is a great time to give it another try.

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Old Game Tuesday is now Vintage Gaming

I’m renaming the ‘Old Game Tuesday’ feature ‘Vintage Gaming’, so I don’t feel so bad about missing it/being late with it.  Also, when I DO write them up, I love it so much I want to post it right away.  So, now I will.  Also, if you have something you’d like to contribute or cross-promote that’s related, send me an email at mightytick at Google’s mail service. :D

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Console Games Featured

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.

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PC Games

Vintage Gaming – Star Wars: Rebellion

Star Wars: Rebellion (or Supremacy, as it was known across the pond) is a real-time 4X game Lucasarts released in 1998 to quite mixed reviews.  I bought it and played it quite a bit, though almost always from the Rebel side.  I have a hard time playing the bad guys.  Rebellion is set just after the destruction of the first Death Star at Yavin, and you have to win over support of the existing core worlds while colonizing worlds in the unknown territories.  You must also recruit more heroes to your side, and they make heavy use of the Expanded universe (or “Star Wars Legends”) so you are just as likely to find Grand Admiral Thrawn or Garm Bel Iblis as you are General Covell or Wedge Antilles.

Rebel Scum

Rebellion moved at a fairly slow pace, unless you jacked up the speed on how fast the ‘days’ passed.  You could build all sorts of buildings on the planets, such as mines and refineries, defensive structures, factories for ships, and training grounds for troops.  The only ‘action’ was ship to ship combat when two fleets met at a planet, and that’s only if you wanted to micro-manage it.  Most everything else was resolved automatically, such as diplomacy missions to neutral (or enemy) planets, sabotage, and orbital bombardment.

I think what I liked most about SW:R was finding and recruiting everybody.  You never knew who you were going to find, and it seemed really cool that a lot of them were from the books.  It was very hard to ‘win’ this game with the default rules as you had to capture the two main characters from the opposing side (Vader and Palpatine, or Mon Mothma and Luke Skywalker) and since they could be anywhere, including in transit aboard ships, it became very frustrating.  You can set the game to accept just destroying the home base as a win though.

There was a decent sized mod community, though I don’t know how active they are now.  I enjoyed Rebellion quite a bit in spite of the flaws.  Worth a spin, especially now when it’s discounted for May 4th.

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Old Game Tuesday – SimCity 2000

Man, how many hours did I spend on SimCity 2000?  More than my parents would probably like to hear about, that’s for sure. ;)  I enjoyed the original SimCity quite a bit, but was only dimly aware of other Sim games (I did rent SimEarth on SNES once, that was fun), but as woon as I saw SimCity 2000 (SC2k) in stores I HAD to have it.

Do I really have to tell you what SC2k is all about?  It’s a city building game.  It’s as simple and as complex as that, and SC2k really did have some complexity.  You could zone individual blocks now, instead of 9 at a time, you had more power plants, more infrastructure (schools, hospitals, police, fire), more detailed tax structure, dense or light zoning (if you want to keep nasty heavy industry out of your city center, for instance), highways, subways, and more even beyond that.  If you like, you can even modify the land directly as you can change elevation, add rivers and lakes, and plant trees.  I’m not the only one that created long ridges covered with waterfalls so I could make use of hydro power and wind power.  Your cities require planning – more than once when I was younger I would start a city, and just when I got it moving I ran into traffic problems.  So how do you fix it?  Do you bulldoze a few buildings for bus stations?  Might not be enough.  You can use a one tile space to put in a subway station, but the train tunnels are expensive.  You can build highways, but that takes up a lot of room.  That’s just one example of the balancing act of building a working city.

One strange thing that happened to me with these kinds of games when I was younger – my first city was ALWAYS my best.  I don’t know if maybe due to the learning curve, my first was built slower/more carefully or what, but future cities always seemed to fail.  Doesn’t seem to happen to me now, though.  I seemed to start out better when I wasn’t all worried about leaving space for mass transit, and planning for water power and all that.

SimCity 2000 remains an all-time favorite for me, and I come back to it again and again despite all the newer versions and competing games.

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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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Console Games

Old Game Tuesday – Final Fantasy VI

fftitle
The Title Screen

There was a time when I was perfectly happy just playing my original 8-bit NES. I had fun, time-consuming games like Final Fantasy and Uncharted Waters, and didn’t need any new console just for better graphics.

Then I was informed Final Fantasy II was coming to that newfangled SNES. Someone brought their system and the game and I was hooked.

I had to have it. So I got a Super Nintendo and FFI and played, and played and played. I couldn’t get all the way through, not without getting stuck or taking time away for a while…usually during the Earth crystal part, or the Tower of Bab-il. Final Fantasy III (which I came to know as VI later), on the other hand, I ripped through without stopping. It remains my favorite FF game in a landslide.

Why did I love it? For one, it was set in a more technologically advanced time, sort of steampunk-ish. That was pretty different to me, as the previous FF games and Dragon Warrior were all more medieval. The wide array of characters (with several battles that had more than one party in play) was something I hadn’t seen before. Graphically, it was an improvement over FFII (with the character sprites being larger and more expressive) and of course the music is fantastic. I was actually spurred on to write this (and play the game yet again) while searching ringtones for Final Fantasy VI. The story is a classic, with the typical ‘rebels fighting an evil empire’ motif…except the bad guy wins (for a while).

Exposition!
Exposition!

One other thing that stood out in going back to the game later in life is the sorts of issues the game speaks about, despite Nintendo of America’s normally draconian editing. Teen pregnancy, suicide, and the death of loved ones (not just vanishing into thin air) were all present. Notably, it’s also a game that did not suffer nearly as much as it’s US predecessor in translation (“you spoony bard!”, actually having no gameplay tweaks to make it easier). I mean, the game features an Opera performance for crying out loud, and I still enjoyed it. That should be all you need to know.

If you like RPG games at all, especially the Japanese style, you owe it to yourself to check it out. In addition to the original Final Fantasy III released in the US, you can also play this on Game Boy Advance and the original PlayStation.