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Text:AAA
Wednesday, Jul 2, 2008
Excited as anybody by the upcoming DS re-release of Chrono Trigger, I'm curious as to what makes it such a well-regarded and influential game.

Did you hear?  Did you?  Chrono Trigger is coming out for the Nintendo DS.  Chrono Trigger!


Of course, anyone who has witnessed Square Enix’s recent track record when it comes to re-releasing their old RPGs and still happens to be surprised by this isn’t really paying attention.  Chrono Trigger, which gained the majority of its notoriety as a classic RPG for the Super Nintendo, has already been re-released once, as part of Final Fantasy Chronicles for the original PlayStation, complete with a few bonus cutscenes created for the purpose of giving the included games a reason to live on the PlayStation.


Like a lot of kids who were just getting in to the whole “video games” thing in a big way during the time of the SNES, I simply didn’t notice Chrono Trigger amidst a sea of Final Fantasy games; my time with the SNES was limited as I didn’t own one, and the only RPGs that I ever played at my friends’ houses were variations on the Final Fantasy name (II/IV, III/VI, Secret of Mana and so on).  Phantasy Star was my drug of choice, RPG-wise, and Chrono Trigger barely registered a tick on my still developing hype meter.


As such, despite the fact that Square Enix might just be releasing another port for the sake of a quick buck at the hands of a ravenous fan base (most recently exemplified by The Brainy Gamer’s assembly of his RPG class syllabus and the drooling posts from some of the major blogs), I’m pretty excited about this, as it’s the first time I’m seeing Chrono Trigger during a time in which I’m actually likely to care (the PlayStation re-release came and went while I was transitioning from Nintendo 64 to PS2, unfortunately).


My question, then, is this:  What makes Chrono Trigger better than, say, Final Fantasy IV?  Or VII, for that matter?  Why should I play Chrono Trigger ahead of more advanced fare developed specifically for the DS, like the Pokémon games or Atlus’ Rondo of Swords?  It’s obviously an influential and beloved game, but why?  Or would it be better, at this point, to be surprised?


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Text:AAA
Tuesday, Apr 22, 2008
There is no better time than now for Cliff Johnson to release his long-awaited sequel to The Fool's Errand.

The time is right.  The time is now.


Please, Cliff Johnson, won’t you release A Fool and His Money?


Hell yeah Speedball was awesome.

Hell yeah Speedball was awesome.


Once upon a time, I bought an Amiga from a friend of mine for $300.  It seemed like an incredible deal at the time, given that he threw in something like 60 games for the thing, including some impressive technology show-off type games like Dragon’s Lair and Speedball.  Damn, I loved me some Speedball.  What I was coming to realize was that computers could do things that consoles at the time could only dream of, and the possibilities intrigued me.


Of course, finding out that I had to go to a specialty store to buy my Amiga games was kind of a buzzkill.


Regardless, one of the first games I ever came home with from that very store was The Fool’s Errand, which I mostly bought because its cover said it won some kind of award and my dad thought it looked good (and because it was one of the only new-ish games at the time that my Amiga, maxed out at a piddly 512K of RAM, could handle).  It turned out to be one of those games.


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Text:AAA
Tuesday, Apr 1, 2008
Nobody seems to mention it anymore, but Gyruss was one of the best shmups of the NES era.

For a good portion of the ‘80s and ‘90s, a major (major!) part of developing for the home console market was wrapped up in translations of arcade games.  This is an art that has slowly dwindled over the course of the last decade, as arcades have slowly but surely dwindled in popularity.


For an arcade port to succeed, it must do at least one of two things: It can either be incredibly faithful to the original, à la the console translations of Street Fighter II, which may not have been quite as powerfully in a graphical sense as their arcade counterparts, but actually managed to retain the spirit, the tight control, and the full set of characters and moves from the coin-op.  To a point, the Mortal Kombat ports were the same way (at least, the ones that retained the blood), and if you go back to the Atari 2600, Asteroids, Defender, and even Pong were games that were faithfully reproduced to varying extents, but it was truly their similarity to their arcade counterparts that led to their high amounts of commercial success.


In certain cases, however, a strict port of the arcade experience just won’t cut it—Gyruss, one of the more underappreciated NES experiences, is one of those cases.  For one thing, the arcade version of Gyruss had been around for a solid five years before the Nintendo version was released.  A port had even been released for the 2600 some four years before the NES version.  The fact that it was even a candidate for a port is a testament to just how popular the Famicom/NES was at that point in its life, as publishers scrounged up just about any property they had lying around to put out on the uberpopular system.  Given its already well established history, then, it made sense that a new version, five years late to the party, would have to be souped up a bit to appeal to an audience that may well already have tried three versions of the thing.


For those who have never seen it or heard of it, Gyruss is a “tube shooter”—think Tempest, or Space Giraffe if you’re a Jeff Minter fan.  Basically, you have a 360-degree range of motion, as you fly around in strict circles shooting at whatever shows up.  The enemies in Gyruss appear in Galaga-like patterns, swirling onto the screen before taking their spots in the distant center.  The point of a tube shooter like Gyruss is that it’s a way to give the player a three-dimensional combat experience using sprites; theoretically, objects closer to the outer circumference of the screen are “closer” to the player, while those in the center are further away.  It’s a play mechanic that takes some getting used to as you acquaint yourself to the perspective.


Still, once you do that, the thing’s a blast.  HRdK0rE shmup players won’t have too much trouble with it, as it’s probably one of the easiest shooters the NES has to offer, but those just looking for a good time blasting away some spaceships will find much to enjoy.


Thanks to the arcade version’s re-release via the Xbox Live Arcade, I was able to see just how much of the game had changed from the original arcade version.  Perhaps most notable are the boss fights—the Nintendo version has bosses that must be tackled before reaching each of the planets of the solar system, bosses that range from stupefyingly easy to oddly random and frustrating.  Thankfully, there’s another new addition to the NES Gyruss arsenal, that being the use of super shot bomb things that do a heck of a lot more damage than your typical pea-shooter.  There are a few other subtle changes like the order of the stages and the types of sprites used, but mostly, it’s the bosses that set this game apart.


It doesn’t seem like much of a change, really, but it actually does enhance the sense of accomplishment one gets from beating these levels and making it to the various planets.  Being able to modify the control scheme is nice, too, and even a little bit ahead of its time.


The NES Gyruss, sadly, has not yet made its way to the Wii’s Virtual Console service, and it’s a shame, as there’s certainly an audience for this sort of game; heck, non-popularity hasn’t stopped them from putting out a metric ton of Turbografx-16 shmups.  As such, hidden treasures like Gyruss are why God invented Ebay, and why any connoiseur of retro games needs an actual console in their living room.  Gyruss will never get your heart pounding with snazzy graphics or anything approximating true innovation (even for its time), but as far as don’t-blink arcade-style shooter experiences go, it’s one of the best the old-school has to offer.


Tagged as: gyruss, konami, nes, ports, shmups
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Text:AAA
Wednesday, Mar 26, 2008
As gamers get older, more and more emphasis is being placed on revisiting the past. ROM CHECK FAIL is a freeware PC release that may just snuff your urge to do so for a long time.

As gamers get older, their focus changes.  Gaming becomes a little bit less about competition, about winning at all costs, and a little bit more about the joy of being able to play at all.  Gaming is one of the few things that we can bring with us from childhood that happens to be a little bit socially acceptable—heck, Guitar Hero and Rock Band are becoming staples of the bar scene, cutting into karaoke nights everywhere, and the recent popularity of casual and multiplayer gaming is upping the emphasis of the social aspects of gaming.


As a part of that set, I’m all for the recent rash of retro-gaming that has graced the console and portable set of late.  Arcade ports?  For it.  Atari 2600 remakes?  I’m cool with that.  Sega Genesis compilations?  Yep.  The Wii Virtual Console?  I’m addicted.  As much as we love finding new ways to be drawn into our televisions with controllers in our palms, it’s almost as exciting to be reminded of what made gaming an interest/hobby in the first place.


After playing ROM CHECK FAIL, the latest offering from the up-and-coming indie developer known only as Farbs, I may not need to be reminded for a while.


The experience that comes most readily to mind when playing ROM CHECK FAIL is that of A Clockwork Orange, specifically the scene in which he is sitting with those metal things prying his eyes open, as he watches violent scene after violent scene, supposedly on his way to being cured of an addiction to violence.  ROM CHECK FAIL is like that, except that instead of violence, we get retro hit after retro hit, and instead of being forced to stare, we simply cannot turn away.


If you played video games at all in the ‘80s, there’s a good chance that on some level, conscious or unconscious, you will recognize every single thing in this game.  What makes it interesting is that you have never seen the juxtapositions of those things the way that they’re presented here.  By pulling sprites and tiles from the classic games we recognize, we are presented with something familiar but not; say, we could have Mario jumping on the ghosts of Gauntlet.  Pac-Man could be chomping on space invaders after turning them into blue ghosts with a power pellet, and he could be doing it in a level straight out of Bomberman.


No matter which control scheme you start with, however, don’t get used to it.  It’ll change in a matter of seconds.  This is what makes ROM CHECK FAIL so disorienting—every character you remember is saddled with all of the advantages and limitations you remember, but once you get used to the scheme behind whatever character you’re playing as, you need to adjust to a new one.  No sooner are you used to driving as the Spy Hunter car and shooting straight up than you turn into Mario, fall to whatever platform is directly underneath you, and accidentally jump into whatever it was you were shooting at.  It’s maddening, in the best possible way.


It’s so worth it once you get to the end, though.


Pictures cannot do this game justice.  The YouTube vid below is not even close to an accurate depiction of the maniacal action that the game offers.  You really have to play it.  It’s free, and it’s fun as hell, if not all that hard once you get the hang of it.  Give it a go, and you might not need to scratch that retro itch again for a long, long time.


Thanks go out to the IndieGames.com Blog for this one.


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