Thursday, December 25, 2008

Retrospective: Top Ten Games of 2008

The title of this post is intentionally misleading. What this retrospective is all about is taking a post to remember 2008, not in terms of new releases, but by examining the games that I spent most of my time playing. I encourage any readers to post their own lists, with optional commentary.

2008 was an extremely busy year for me, between working, applying to graduate school, blogging, programming and designing games I still found time to sink hundreds of hours into new and old classics. The following works of art are especially memorable and set the tone of 2008 quite nicely.

10. Animal Crossing: City Folk
Nintendo's latest entry into the Animal Crossing series has been a pleasure, and a slight disappointment. I was hoping for innovation and expansion of the series's scope, yet neither were delivered. What we received, however, was a solid entry and a slight improvement over Wild World. Incredibly fun if view objectively, one can't help but be disappointed. Though released only a month ago, I think this title sums up the mounting animosity that gamers have with Nintendo. They are abandoning their original consumer base, and, most frighteningly, it's working. Well, good luck in 2009 Nintendo, because there will be a lot less of your games on this list next year.

9. Ys: Book I & II
These classic TG-CD games were hotly anticipated, but were released without much fanfare. I finished Book 1, and am working on Book 2. This is one of two games on the list that I haven't beaten, but I was looking forward to its release for months. Adol's adventures running into the sides of monsters never grows old. If you are looking for some amazing music, look no further. Ys is also forever tied to history; it was the first CD-based RPG. This game really shows, like Mega Man 9, what 8-Bit game design combined with advanced technology can produce.

8. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
Another year, another Castlevania game. Don't let my brevity fool you, this is one of the freshest, most enjoyable entries in the series. Gamers unlocked the mystery of the sexy amnesiac and a gunslinger, and our faith in the series remained strong.

7. The Dynastic Hero
One of the first games I played this year, and one of the best. The Dynastic Hero impressed me with its bold visual style, CD-based audio, and intricate quest. Though originally a Wonder Boy game, I think the insect motif fit well with the environment. This game deserves serious credit for inspiring me to start 8-Bit City and to start blogging about lesser-known titles, because I had never heard of the game until it appeared on the Wii's VC. And although this masterpiece takes 250 blocks of precious Wii Storage space, it's worth every bit.

6. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
I'm a little late to the game, and this is the other game that I have not completed. Hurricane Gustav killed my momentum and I moved on to other gaming adventures (NES Pro Wrestling, which is definitely NOT on this list). I don't share in the disappointment for Twilight Princess, however, and I welcome the return of a serious art style. The Zelda series is definitely showing its age, and Nintendo must adapt. Either take the series back to 8-Bits, and keep it simple, or start innovating. The this work is not without flaws, but the true genius and beauty shine through.

5. Adventure Island 2
It's an island of adventure! Many parties this year ended in my friends and I playing Adventure Island 2. The smooth gameplay, lack of serious glitches, brilliant colors and balanced levels have made this game a favorite among my inner circle. I have owned Adventure Island 2 for over 15 years, and both the cart and my desire to conquer dinosaur island remain firmly intact. Keeping hammer tossing, Master Higgins!

4. Cave Story
Pixel's masterpiece painted a brilliant picture of sorrow and triumph. Cave Story showed us that one man can create great video game art. There is no title I anticipate more than the Wii Ware release of Cave Story, coming in early 2009.

3. Super Smash Brothers Brawl
How can I not mention the game that consumed over one month of my life and almost devoured my blog? Super Smash Brothers Brawl should act as a beacon for game designers. Never have I experienced so much content and balance in a fighting game. This game is so close to perfect, one wonders where the series can go from here. Probably down. Please prove me wrong.

2. Mega Man 9
I'm still playing Mega Man 9, in fact, I just beat the game without the helmet (and without dying). MM9 proved that 8-Bit is not an ancient necessity but a legitimate artistic medium. The conscious decision to used "outdated" styles caused ripples in the gaming community. The notion of "graphics" in professional reviews was questioned, and reviewers were forced to look at artistic design rather than technical capacity. Mega Man 9 aided intellectual video game criticism more than any other title and helped the mainstream understand that video games are a serious medium and that an increased vocabulary is need to properly describe them. In addition, Capcom managed to top Mega Man 2 and create the best entry in one of the most popular video game franchises of all time. I would have thought this impossible, and was thankfully proved wrong.

1. Final Fantasy VII
Love, life, and death. I journeyed through the world of Cloud and Tifa again this year, visiting old friends and exploring familiar locations. Everything about this game is dear to me; it is my favorite game of all time. Final Fantasy VII feels real while maintaining the mantle of fiction. It's ambitious story strives to tell a tale equal to the sublime heights of Dante's Comedy. Its themes are timeless, its music profound. It's unique, brilliant, and beautiful.

Extra Mention: 8-Bit Killer
I left this list for a few hours before posting it, and I realized that I left 8-Bit Killer off of the list. This title, along with Fallout 3 and others, are proving the legitimacy of the first person shooter. Anyone not a fan of the genre should play 8-Bit Killer and be converted.

Extra Mention: Monuments of Mars
Personally this game was a big inspiration and a breath of fresh gaming air when I needed a break from other games in which I was involved. Something different and ancient. Addicting gameplay and pure simple graphics.

Extra Mention: Super Paper Mario
I finally played this game, and though I am at the gates of the final castle, I haven't yet beaten it. A great game overall, this is the consciously retro and innovative platformer the Wii needed.

That sums up most of 2008 for me. Other titles probably should have made the list. Anything reviewed for this blog certainly does, but it'd be pretty redundant to just list them all. What about you, when you think back to 2008, what games will you remember playing?

Saturday, December 6, 2008


An 8-Bit video game I am developing. Now with screenshots!

In the ancient times there was a city of immense proportions with vast citizens and warriors. But the city fell into darkness under the influence of the Technomancer, a powerful wizard able to create matter and space. Unravel the mystery of the ancient city, Simulacrum, and your own haunted past.

You are Ishmael, a robot in the giant undead city. You'll explore decaying palaces, forgotten towns, fields of graveyards, a cursed tower, castles, ruins, and more! Solve puzzles and collect the artifacts necessary to unlock the key to the Necropolis and defeat the immortal Skeleton Kings. This cursed land is filled with thousands of individual skeletons programmed to kill you.

Featuring a real time battle system. You have no way of defeating any monster in the entire game. Dozens of unique monsters, including the impossible Skeleton Kings. You will have to outwit a literal army, with no weapons, to beat the game. It can be done.

Enlist the help of other heroes! Johnny Star, the human, Rocket, the red robot, and Arthur, the fallen knight.

Journey through the Simulacrum on an epic journey of knowledge, a tale of redemption and tragedy.

Stunning state-of-the art graphics will blow your mind as backgrounds are pre-rendered in stunning monochrome.

These screenshots are taken from a working build of Skeletronic, which has been in development for about 6 months, but was announced on the sidebar November 19th. A Summer 2009 release date is anticipated.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Monuments of Mars

Monuments of Mars is 4-part platformer released by Apogee in 1991, designed by Todd Replogle (who no longer works in the video game industry, I ran across an interview with him from 2001 where he discusses the video game industry, he is oddly quoted as saying "I'm not sure there is a future for the video game industry. Unless one has the capability of using both the left and right hands independently, I doubt video games will sell like they used to." What the hell man? You picked a bad time to get out of the video game industry, it's since exploded into billion-dollar-bills lining the pockets of corporate fatcats. You could have been one of those fatcats) and they are, to say the least, brilliant.

Unfortunately, Monuments of Mars doesn't run in Windows anymore, and you have to emulate it using DOSBox, a DOS emulator specifically designed to run old computer games. You might, however, have a problem obtaining the final 3 chapters to the Monuments, because only the first part was released as shareware, and the others have been lost to the internet aether. Luckily I came across a download page, and you can download all 4 episodes here.

But before we go any further, adjust your expectations. Monuments of Mars provides a few things, like fun puzzles, (troublesomely) addictive gameplay, and powerful (artistically) graphics. But it's riddled with problems. It's curious, often when reviewing games we point out the flaws to no end creating a heap of broken shards, nothing and a shallow blindness that refuses to acknowledge good design. I've played games my entire life, and I can easily be bored, distracted, or uninterested in some "perfect" games. Other games don't have to be perfect, because their merits are strong enough to exalt the game. For Monuments of Mars, I'll break it apart, but by the end of the article I hope the Monument is re-assembled to the satisfaction of the Martian overlord.

The game uses CGA graphics, meaning only 16 colors in their entire program. During gameplay, however, you'll see five: Black, Red, Brownish-Orange, and Green. Unsurprisingly, the art turned out well, and the lack of colors adds to the game by encouraging creativity. Monuments of Mars has the same intense light that classic arcade games possessed(LINK), the luminous glow of neon on black. This method of display has always been eerily popular. Why do we like bright colors on a black background so much? Does it remind us of the stars, glowing against the vacuum of space? Of signs and city lights ripped out of T.S. Eliot? How many games have you played that are bright colors on a black monitor?

The hit detection isn't spot-on (a result of the graphics engine used, FAST: Fluid Animation Software Technology. Apparently, the used fluid very loosely, because the movement is jerky. FAST registers hit detection based on the sprite's bounding box, so... don't get too close to anything or you'll explode. This engine was previously used in two other games, Pharaoh's Tomb and Arctic Adventure, to which Monuments of Mars bears more than a slight resemblance), walking up and down hills is slightly odd, and there is no music (I've created a Monuments of Mars playlist, mainly involving Dragonforce), and the sound effects are "clicky."

You have infinite lives, and this makes you something of a demigod. Or a Prometheus, dying only to reborn. A viking warrior living eternity in Valhalla. Take our pick, the actual story can be read in one of the screenshots.

There's a typo in the story... but I get a kick out of things like that. I know 8-Bit City is speckled with typos, despite my best efforts to edit and proofread.

Some levels will kill you in the first second, hilariously exploding your spaceman 7-8 times before you wise up and hold left as the level begins. There is a save function, so infinite lives is a nice feature because it saves you the trouble of actually having to save. Each level takes a few minutes to complete (after the initial "tutorial" levels, I use the term in quotes because there are no explicit tutorial levels, just some easy screens at the beginning that teach you about the engine) and some of the trickiest parts come right at the end of a stage. I wonder if part of the appeal of video games is that you can correct your mistakes, and learn from them... a luxury we don't have outside of digital worlds, and even then, not always. In this sense, video games are quite capable of transcending time (though still bounded by it).

Each stage is a single board, filling a single screen. You'll have to navigate your spaceman around enemies, collecting triangles and air tanks, sometimes stepping on a certain tile, falling through a certain hole, or grabbing a specific triangle will create/destroy some blocks, and alter the level. Every level is a puzzle, and you have a limited supply of laser beams (which, oddly enough, are represented by the air tanks you collect). You'll explore the barren Martian Landscape (and it does look a lot like Mars), Martian ruins (possibly those from Total Recall), and what appears to be construction sites.

I think the graphics that made me appreciate this game as a child, though outdated in 1991, we have the opportunity to refer to them as classic, but whatever you call them, they do a great job of suspending your disbelief and immersing the player in a sprawling landscape. With 80 levels spanning 4 games, Monuments of Mars makes a massively monumental monolith.

If you decide to give this game a try, take comfort in your independence, because no one else is playing it. No one else is writing about it, there are no FAQs (though one website has maps), or discussions other than this article. It's proof that fun games are often forgotten, and exposes the bias that time has on video games.

Had Monuments of Mars been released (sigh, how often do I say something along these lines) in 1981 it would have out-shined (or at least compared to) the arcade games of the time. they missed a chance to release this game on the arcade (for the scene was already dead and dying by 1991), it would have been a hit.

Released today, I think the game could see a renewed fan base and enjoy a healthy amount of popularity, provided it was priced accordingly. If released on WiiWare, I think the game would prove more than popular. People are willing to shell out 5 bucks for almost anything, and 80 levels of the distilled essence of pure platformer would be perfect. It couldn't hurt.

In order to best enjoy Monuments of Mars, purchase the shareware 3.5" floppy from a local drugstore, or download it off of UseNet, install it to your IBM 486 and sit in the dark while you play. You better be running the game out of DOSShell. Because sometimes Old School just isn't Old School enough and I want to play a game so archaic it echoes the chalk murals of the cavemen. Like T.S. Eliot said when saw the Lascaux murals, "Art never improves, but... the material of art is never quite the same."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pixel Art: Gigas

A robotic monster.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cave Story Wii Ware Screen Shots

New screens were posted to Go Nintendo, Kotaku, and, as expected the official Cave Story Wii blog. If you haven't been keeping up with development, the game is actually set to launch THIS YEAR, if all the bugs get worked out and whatnot. I suspect (hope?) that they will take their time, and not release the game until it's ready. Like Miyamoto said: a delayed game is good eventually, but a rushed game is bad forever. Above you can see the comparison of Quote, old and new. Below, are two screenshots from Cave Story, running on a Wii. You have the option to play with the old or new graphics... and for a while I was determined to stick it out and play the game with all of the original graphics/artwork... but damn, does the new artwork look good. Could Pixel defy logic and prove that more pixels == better? Yes, probably.

If you are a fan of Cave Story (if you aren't, I highly recommend you visit the official site, Tyrone R. (the producer for Cave Story Wii) and Pixel have been posting fanservice (not THAT kind) for weeks. You can check out other updated characters, enemies, Pixel's sketches, etc. etc. to etc.

Q: How many pixels does it take to upgrade Cave Story graphics?
A: Just one.

Help for the simple-folk: Double-click pictars make them bigger.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia

Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is the latest entry in Konami's (as far as I'm concerned) best franchise. Taking a page from Symphony of the Night, it continues the Metroidvania formula, but adds multiple levels to the mix. It's similar to Portrait of Ruin in that respect, but is much more focused, cohesive, and enjoyable. The lead female protagonist, Shonoa, is a refreshing change, but, unfortunately, doesn't get much characterization because of story-related issues.

Having recently defeated Dracula (i.e. last night), I've just started to explore the extra content that makes Castlevania games so damn enjoyable/replayable. You've got Albus mode (a teleporting gunslinger), hard mode, level caps, new game + and a boss rush mode; all unlockable after completing the main quest. I could go on and on describing the various aspects of this cart, but, and I hate to say it, it's really similar to the other titles in the series. What's impressive, is that this game still feels fresh. I recommend this title to anyone with a DS (though if you haven't played Dawn of Sorrow, you're probably better off starting there).

There was a time when I thought 2D gaming was dead for good. Today, not many gamers fear for the fate of platformers, and its titles like Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, Contra 4, and Mega Man 9 keep the genre alive in the commercial world. Indie games also embrace the 2D game, arguably out of technical limitations, but perhaps out of a love for the gameplay and an aesthetic appreciation less dimensions. It's nice to see 2D gaming develop as a distinctive style and maintain momentum in modern time.

I wish I had the time to go through all of the extra modes, but they will have to wait for a few weeks. My list of games to play is out of control. Want an idea of how bad it is? I've started (and would really like to finish in the next 6 months) Chrono Cross (need to completely restart because its been so long), Twilight Princess, Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, Ys: Book I & II, Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, Final Fantasy 9 (once again, I've got to restart it), Final Fantasy 7: Dirge of Cerberus, Yoshi's Island DS, Super Paper Mario (on the LAST level), Dragon Quest 8 (have to restart, been waaay too long) and La-Mulana.

There really is a superfluity of great games out there, and trying to play them all does lead to over-consumeration of video games. Yes, games are a commodity, but they are also art, and require a large time investment to be fully appreciated. Also, plenty of games are made and given away free (see, Cave Story, 8-Bit Killer, Hasslevania) so the idea that video games are purely a commodity is obviously flawed. I don't play games to waste time, I play games to better understand life, video games, software, art, programming, music, visual arts, design and to enjoy time spent.

Yesterday I began playing through Septerra Core, and ancient RPG from 1999 that was incredibly overlooked, which I started in about 2001 but never finished.

I needed an RPG to slow me down a bit and relax from all the twitch gameplay I'm so fond of. Thus far it is nothing short of amazing. I am only 2 hours into it, but plan on playing for 6 hours after this post. It's an ambitious title with a unique setting, interesting characters, and a serious storyline.

It's got a healthy dose of nostalgia, because I can remember fragments shored against the ruins of my memory. A cutscene or line will leap out, disturbingly familiar, yet different because of the time gap in between playthroughs. Nostalgia teaches us about ourselves, how we saw the game them, how we see it now, and often exposes the shortcomings of memory and the nature of time. Like visiting you high school after college, you notice the changes, and you learn about yourself. The connection is more prevalent in video games because the architecture doesn't change. The game is exactly the same, and the ability to be in identical spaces years apart creates an uncanny reality.

Shanoa art by hf-Zilch

Maya art by dune3001

Monday, November 10, 2008

Random Thoughts

By popular demand: another post!

Recently I've been playing the new Castlevania (Order of Ecclesia) and, as expected, it fails to disappoint (that is, it's awesome). However, it feels shallow to do a review, because we've all played Castlevania games before, and it's that standard fair. Though, the catch this time is that the game is broken up into stages AND Dracula's Castle, providing the player with more than enough to do.

But what's really on my mind (aside from programming) has been a freeware game, La-Mulana. I've seen screenshots of the game for a long time now, but I only played it a few hours ago, on my lunch break. Immediately the quality was apparent, and it's caused me to re-evaluate my approach to game design. It's very similar to Maze of Galious, an obscure MSX game (which, admittedly, has been in the blogs lately, probably due in part to La-Mulana). I'm going to hold off on posting a full review, because I'm yet to explore the depths of this massive game (place 5 skills points in dungeonering, please!) but I'll get there soon (saved right outside of Dracula in OoE, then I'll be free to play La-Mulana), so expect an update at some point.

The time for indie games is now, we are witnessing an explosion in creativity and dedication by indie developers. With modern technology gamers and artists are able to create and surpass games in the style of retro titles and technology. Exciting times, to be sure.

Finally, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Sami, 8-Bit City's number 1 girlfriend and reader!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

8Bit Killer

This weekend I played an FPS that really renewed my faith in the genre. That game? 8Bit Killer. If you haven't already guessed from the screenshots, title, and general nature of the games reviewed here, it's an 8-Bit Game. It plays like Doom or Wolfenstein and is actually a 2-D game. You can't aim up or down, and never need to. It was made by an indie game developer who goes by "Locomalito." My Spanish isn't the best in the world, but I think it translates to something like "Crazy Badass." You can check out his official site (and download 8Bit Killer, along with other games) here. The site has both Spanish and English versions (but is easily navigable).

The game tells a story of a group of marines defending Earth from an alien invasion. You are hopelessly outnumbered. Most of the aliens look like medieval torture specialists. The story is interesting, and extremely appropriate. And... well, I guess I should go ahead and confess: I try to only review games that I've beaten. This doesn't always happen, and I've broken the rule several times already, but at least I'm upfront. I've gotten to (what I suspect) is second to last level, and I loved every minute of it. I had a lot of free time over the weekend and spent a good 4-8 hours (who knows?) getting to the second to last level and successfully dying.

Things start out simple enough. The first level is strictly linear, one room after the other, no sidepaths. The second level is reminiscent of Doom, and is an exploring level where you have to find keycards, secrets, weapons, backtrack, solve puzzles, blow shit up, etc. Third level is a boss fight. When vanquished, you proceed to the next chapter. The first 3 chapters stick to this pattern, but the linear level is replaced by another free-roaming level in the (suspected) final chapter.

The design is fucking great. Brilliant. Even the linear levels are fun because they conjure memories of simpler times, when game design was bare-bones, but well thought out and interesting. You feel like you are playing an FPS incarnation of the original Contra at times. Other times you'll be reminded of Bionic Commando, Doom, Wolfenstein, Quake, but you'll be completely aware that you are playing 8Bit Killer, because the game oozes originality in an interesting way. If the NES had a First Person Shooter, this would be it (though I believe it is too complex for my buddy the NES). None of the concepts are new (except maybe that all enemy bullets can be seen, and dodged!) but the game makes them its own. It is not exploiting other works, but collaborating with them as part of a video game tradition. It converses with other games and carves its own identity, differentiating itself from the pack with its graphics and music.

Graphically, the game uses 32x32 pixel textures, but runs in a much higher resolution (maybe 1024x768?). The texture resolution is lower than even Wolfenstein, I believe. This method forces design creativity, and the color palette brings the game to life. The colors are rich, complementary, perfectly varied, and set the mood for each level wonderfully. The sprites are detailed and display master craftsmanship as far as pixel art goes. 8-Bit aficionados will be drooling, and if you're like me you'll wonder why a game like this wasn't made in the '90s. In fact, 8Bit Killer was released in June 2008, so it's still fairly new. It's proof that the graphics race is coming to a close, or, more appropriately, that gamers are gaining a deeper understand of what is meant by a game's "graphics." For a while, that meant realistic, (and I know I'm not the first to say this) but lately simpler graphics have a very big fan base. Mega Man 9 is proof of that, as well. Hopefully we can shed the term graphics when reviewing games, and use "art direction" as a more descriptive nomenclature.

Finally the music. 8-Bit chiptunes composed and programmed by RushJet1. You can access his website here. It's some of the best I've ever heard. As good as the best of Mega Man 2 or 9's music, maybe better. The game comes with 10 tracks, which is reason enough to download the game, even if you don't want to play it (but why wouldn't you?). The music quotes a few NES games, Bionic Commando, Mega Man, and possibly a few others, but it's never more than quotation. The songs, above all else, are catchy. They have an infectious quality and lodge themselves in your brain. It's unavoidable and completely welcome.

8Bit Killer has a few small problems, if you want to pick it apart (and why not!). One problem I noticed with the game was performance-related. It had a tendency to slow down at times, but the music never changes tempo, so it's not a huge deal. The game is easier to play when it slows down, but less fun, BUT at least it won't cause a cheap death. The second is the lack of options. Any options. It uses standard FPS controls (WASD + Mouse + Alt + Space + Esc) and I think you can opt out of the mouse. Another problem is that hitting ESC quits the game. Instantly... a simple Y/N screen would have been nice. I'm hoping for an updated version in the future that at least adds this small feature.

If you're still reading, you'll love the game. Go download it now, now! This game is so fucking awesome and it's so fucking free that there is no excuse. I hadn't played an FPS in a while before this weekend, and I've always had a bit of trouble navigating game. My usual strategy is just to bumble around killing monsters (or soldiers) until I find the exit. Not the best strategy, but serviceable. The levels can look similar at a first glance, but after a few playthroughs you'll have the layout memorized.

There are plenty of health and ammo powerups, including some that increase your max health and ammo, which is great because you will grow in strength as the game progresses.

You'll kill hordes of monsters, my first kill count was over 600 when I Game Overed. Which happens after 3 deaths. No saving. No continuing after that, it's back to Level 1-1. Brutal, but you (and I) shouldn't be dying anyway.

After all, you're Earth's last chance. Don't fuck it up!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pixel Art: Another Skeleton King

Another skeleton king.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Pixel Art: Skeleton Kings

This is some pixel art from an 8-Bit game I am currently developing. These badasses are Skeleton Kings. Game is about a robot in a maze full of skeletons.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fake Man: Mega Man 9 DLC Round 2 Boss Revealed

The new Mega Man 9 DLC was announced yesterday! For anyone not wanting the surprise spoiled, too late it's Fake Man! The new boss is the Police Robot that arrested Dr. Light at the beginning of the game.

The internet has been awash with rumors of the new boss. Gamers suspected Bass would be making his appearance as the boss, and other suggested "Overdrive Man" based on the OST (the song for Fake Man's level is entitled "Overdrive Scramble"). Others even suspected Dr. Eggman would appear, as a cross over to support the upcoming Capcom vs. Sega. And, as per usual, Mega Man X fans naturally hoped for Zero... and in a brilliant plot twist Capcom pulls Fake Man out of left field. But it was so obvious! He's already in the game, and featured far too prominently to just be a throwaway character. We all should have seen this coming, but I heard not one single rumor of Fake Man or the Police Bot. He's a sneaky fucking bastard... hiding right in plain site!

You can read the full interview with Hironobu Takeshita, the Mega Man 9 producer. He also goes into extensive detail about the design process of the 8 (9) Robot Masters. This is definitely a don't-miss interview for Mega Man 9 fans.

Still no word on the difficulties, but Monday should shed some light on the situation. I'm excited about scrapping the bastard who helped frame Dr. Light. Also, notice how the timer in the first picture reads 7 minutes... hopefully the new stage will be both difficult and lengthy. We can deduce his weapon (at least part of it) from the screenshot. He will shoot Mega Man-style bullets, though they appear slightly bigger than Mega Man's. It's possible he could have a secondary power, similar to Flash Man.

Finally, just a theory: Capcom hasn't announced any more DLC for MM9, but there are 2 good indicators that more will be appearing in the future. First, we probably won't be getting Fake Man's weapon, which still leaves a weapon spot open on the menu. Second, Bass appears on Wily's computer at the end... yet doesn't make an actual appearance in the game. I suspect we'll be seeing more of Bass, for a price, in the future. I emailed Capcom, asking if they would be releasing more DLC, but, in typical PR fashion, they responded with a "nothing has been announced at this time." Oh well, it was worth a try.

Only one question remains about Fake Man: will he appear in the Endless Stage if you have both downloaded? Probably not, but that would be a nice touch on Capcom's part. You hear that Capcom? No? Oh.

Update, a few hours later...

It's come to my attention, after re-reading the interview... that the special boss will, in fact, be Bass. Observe:

"GS: Are there any robot masters that didn't make the cut that you can share with us?

HT: I don't mean to evade your question, but there is one boss we'd love to introduce to the fans in this occasion. His name is Fake Man. He appears on the special stage available in downloadable content. He also makes a small appearance in the main content. This is a big hint! Some of you might have already gotten it by just telling you this. The special stage will be very challenging for most of you, and you may not be able to see him often. Don't be discouraged. He is waiting for you, to battle you!"

Notice he says, "a big hint" which makes no sense if it's Fake Man... he's just announced him a few sentences ago, the mystery is solved. But obviously there is more to Fake Man. Bass is the only character that makes a small appearance in the game who could possibly be an enemy. Wily had the schematics for Bass on his computer because he was altering Bass's appearance. Why would Bass comply, you ask? To lure Mega Man into a final duel, of course! Notice the shots that Fake Man fired, and I mentioned... who else uses a buster? Bass.

All the signs now point to Bass, but most people will probably be fooled because of the interview. A great double-cross, and a brilliant scheme by Capcom... and Wily.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Legend of Video Games

I was driving home, thinking about something Miyamoto said about Zelda. He said that his goal was to create a garden that people could keep in their dresser drawer. That resonated, because I saw Zelda from a different perspective, and it applied very well.

There are trees in the game, to be sure, but most of the local fauna are perfectly trimmed shrubs. The rocks are all neatly aligned. The lakes and rivers have been squared off... obviously because the programmers made it so. But is that no less a garden? It has all of the characteristics, except it is a digital construction.

Part of the world's interest in video games stems from the digital nature of video games. The ability to completely define rules to a smaller universe. It is life simulation in some cases, but in others it is purely abstract. They are the natural evolution from games played outside, or games played on a wooden board. The contradiction is understanding video games, and really understanding why they interest us so much. Some of the gaming universes are bigger than others, and it's weird to think that all of the place exist, in so many different consoles and computers, at different times.

This train of though has been completely derailed. I played Mega Man: Powered Up tonight (after dying on Proto Man's castle in Mega Man 5, what the fuck is up with the first boss, his strategy is to literally stand on top of you, and he moves about as fast, if not faster, than Mega Man) and it was pretty amazing. Along with Crisis Core, Dracula X, Valkyrie Profile, Lumines, Ghost and Goblins, Gradius... why don't I have a PSP? I'll always love climbing Elecman's tower and kicking his ass. One of the hardest stages in Mega Man, but oh so satisfying. Waltzing up this crazy Electric Wizard's tower and exploding him, and the best part is the music. But I didn't realize that MM:PU has two games, the original, and a remix. The remixed Elecman's stage was a mild letdown. To much horizontal, not enough vertical. I beat Elecman with the buster, and thus spared his life.

I noticed you could then fight Mega Man if you stared an Elecman game, but I didn't get a chance to see who the real boss was (the game displays his name as "Mega Man?")... Proto Man? Quint? a Doc Robot? Bass? Who knows? Not me.

On a final note, I've been playing Proto Man game in MM9, and it was great fun... up until Wily 4. I'll get it eventually, but let me say: fuck. Proto Man is not for the faint of heart or weak-willed warriors. Ironic that I'm having trouble both playing as and against Proto Man.

I managed to beat my Endless Level score as well... 137, which is pretty terrible considering the 3000+ score on the Wii leaderboard. I'll be satisfied if I can break 1000.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Quick Update: Mega Man 9 DLC

Last night I wrote a review(ish) of Mega Man 9, you should read it below, but the first part of the DLC launched today, and in case anyone was curious, I thought I'd review it.

First of all: go buy the Endless Level, for 3 dollars it's the best deal video games have ever seen. There are an unspecified number of pre-set stages, some of them remakes from Mega Man 1 and 2, some original. Every 30 screens (about the length of a regular stage) you fight a boss. It's truly amazing to behold. Every time you play, the level will be different. There are reports of stages altering the enemies slightly as well. I've seen remakes of Heat Man's stage, Dr. Wily Stage 1 (Mega Man 1), Bubble Man's stage, and Stone Man, among others. Eventually a comprehensive list will be compiled, and I suspect that there will be around 200 unique stages... more platforming than you'll find in the 12 standard levels of Mega Man 9.

Second we have Proto Man, for 2 dollars. He can charge his attack, slide, and deflect bullets while jumping. His downsides include: taking double damage, getting knocked back twice as far (FUCK!), and only having two shots (as opposed to Mega Man's 3) on the screen at the same time. Additionally, he can't unlock challenges, do time trials, or play the Endless Level. He's fun to play as, but he feels disjointed and awkward. I think the double knock-back is a bit much, considering he takes double damage. Also, one has to question why he can't pull out his shield while standing? Still, nothing says style like Proto Man, so skip on those 2 double cheeseburgers and download this guy!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Mega Man 9

For the past two weeks I've been playing Mega Man 9 almost none-stop. I take breaks to play Mega Man, the 8-Bit version of Mega Man 7 (here's the link if your interested, well this is the blog post I originally found it on anyway), Mega Man 2, 3, 4, etc. Twilight Princess is going to have to wait, because I really enjoy playing games when they first come out, especially epic event like Mega Man 9.

Before I go any further, I have to announce: Cave Story coming to the Wii (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). It's official. Here's the official site. At the time of this article, the site only shows Quote running and says the site will launch Monday Oct 6. Well, it's 12:20 a.m. here, I guess they mean when they get out of bed. Moving on...

It's epic because it's an 8-Bit masterpiece, without a doubt the best Mega Man game ever made. It's the best priced at ten dollars, and delivers everything you wanted in a Mega Man game. Excellent level design, excellent graphics, kickass graphics... and it does this by going back to the basics.

It feels historic. Capcom really outdid themselves. I have no complaints. In fact, I want to thank Capcom, IntiCreates, and Inafune for making such a great game. I want to look at criticisms of Mega Man 9, and prove them wrong. Look around the internet and you'll find 3 forms of Mega Man 9 criticism. The first, will criticize the graphics. These idiots can continue to screaeaaeem about HD and component cables, but completely miss the point. It's like criticizing a Jazz musician for not playing Pop-Rock. Second, some folks think the game is difficult. IGN, 11 year olds, and seniors have certainly been having a tough time getting through the swings in Jewel Man's stage. Little children are also easily distracted by the elephant's in Conrete Man's stage, in fact the flashing colors and pretty lights are almost too much for young children, causing them to slam their faces on their keyboard all over the internet. Those not looking for a challenge need not apply, but abandon not hope, the force is with you, thou has slain the Hornet Man, and thou has learned a new spell.

Ultimately, Capcom gave the world something I thought we'd never have: a new 8-Bit game. Mega Man 9 (and Cave Story) prove that 8-Bit (and this site by extension) is still relevant. And its evolving, as our understanding of video games matures, programmers and designers are free to go back to 8-Bit, 4-Bit, 16-Bit, to pick the form that works best for the subject matter. Mega Man 8 doesn't have a single polygon in the entire game, and manages to be more fun than 99.9% of all games released this year (and certainly has a chance at being the best downloadable game this year, something that only Cave Story could change.)

Finally, there are the DLC criticisms. For those that don't know: Mega Man 9 costs $10 for the basic package; Tomorrow Proto Man will be released for $2 and the endless level will be released for $3, a brilliant marketing scheme by Capcom; In 2 weeks they will release two additional difficulty modes for $1 a piece and a new Time Trial stage for $1. These are valid criticisms. One should pay one price for a video game, but perhaps that isn't the best model for anyone. If the game was more expensive, Capcom would have less consumers, and would release the game for $20 bucks (or more!) to offset that balance. They wouldn't be able to make an 8-Bit game if it weren't cheap. Corporate Executives are, on average, very fat and stupid, and require large graphics with convincing pie pieces to approve creative and intelligent ideas. What I'm trying to say is: it's 18 bucks for the entire package, and that's a bargain.

Up until now Capcom has been very tight-lipped on the downloadable content, releasing information on Proto Man, but not much else. Always a fan favorite, I predict that he is a distraction from the real excitement: the endless level. I'm actually listening to the music right now... And I wonder, what could this level be like? If it's a randomly-generated Mega Man platformer, with as much polish as the normal levels, it may very well be the best 2-D video game.

It remains to be seen. I've beaten Mega Man 9 5 times, and am working on various challenges. I can't wait for the new DLC, it's like Mega Man 9 launching all over again, and there is still ANOTHER release date to anticipate. I'll be reviewing each set of downloadable content as its released.

Fight, Mega Man! For everlasting peace!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

This is so Pro Wrestling

Finally, I am able to discuss Pro Wrestling, the most brutal game on the NES. For the past week or so I've largely been out of power thanks to hurricane Gustav, but civilization rebuilt and blog posts continue.

Pro Wrestling is one of the more popular titles on the NES, but it's actually a pretty terrible game (wait! don't stop reading here, you'lll still want to play this cart, unless you are a girl, then, based on my experience, you'll probably hate it). The palette is awful, the crowd graphics and ring are awful. I suspect they literally threw up on a computer and started picking palette colors at random. A fifth of the screen is pink, a fifth is gray, and the rest is a chaotic mess of amateur pixilation. Most of the graphics consist on solid colors, with no shading or detail, the crowd, judges, referee, and cameraman look like shit, and the wrestler's animations are choppy at best.

But graphics aren't everything, as we all know. The gameplay and characters are the redemption that keeps this rushed project from the dumpster. Each fighter has a few unique skills, a backbreaker or karate kick or a crazy flip. But you'll pick your fighter based on how cool they are, because, hey, who gives a fuck. Want to be Starman, the crowd favorite high-flying acrobat luchadore (who wears a pink jumpsuit)? Or King Slender, the golden boy with the brutal backbreaker (Protip: use King Slender to beat the game, you can abuse his backbreaker move from the beginning of a match, it hardly ever fails and does as much damage as backbreakers would in real life. Well, slightly less considering you have to do more than one). Kin Corn Karn can karate chop and kick. Fighter Hayabusa can kick people in the face if he is slightly lower and to the left of the opponent (and he's just terrible). The Amazon is a mutant who has the ability to stab people in the face with a fork (not making that up) and the villian of the game. The crowd never cheers for that jerk. Giant Panther, the politically correct head-butting black guy.

And if you manage to win 16 matches, you'll have the chance to defend your title once and for all against the Great Puma, a wrestler that surpasses all abilities. He can perform any wrestling move at any time, and he will kick your ass. Great Puma has quite the reputation for being a nigh-unbeatable boss from the 8-Bit glory days, but the backbreaker will end his triumphant reign.

The most surprising aspect of this game, however, is that the same system is being sed in games today (Fire Pro Wrestling Returns comes to mind). Grapple and opponent, then quickly perform a throw (or suplex, piledriver, etc). Pro Wrestling has carved legacy in wrestling games, and that's got to stand for something.

I never played Pro Wrestling as a kid. In fact, I played it once about 6 months ago and then forgot about it. The game truly appears terrible at a first glance. I was looking for some multiplayer games to bring over to my girlfriend's house for a party, and stumbled upon Pro Wrestling. What the hell? So my friend and I began beating the shit out of each other, mashing buttons, jumping off ropes, pile-driving, suplexing, punching, kicking, and something just... clicked. I'm sure we've all had that Joycean epiphany where a video game suddenly becomes fun and memorable. Unfortunately, females just hate this game. If anyone has anecdotal evidence otherwise, feel free to share.

Then hurricane Gustav hit and pretty much everyone in the state lost power. It was a strange feeling, wanting to play Pro Wrestling, and average game at best, but not having power. I could have yearned to play hundreds of video games, but, no, I wanted to play this one. Eventually, I did get to beat it at my girlfriend's house, which took a couple hours, and my interest has largely subsided, and I've moved on to other games (specifically Final Fantasy XII: Revenent Wings and Twilight Princess, expect a Legend of Zelda article in the near future), but Pro Wrestling was a fun title to play for a few days, and I think anyone can have some good times with this cart. Funny though, how if not for the weather I may have forgotten about this game entirely, but (especially after posting this) instead I will probably always have a few good memories about Pro Wrestling. Especially the only song in the game. After hours of playing... I've got the damn thing memorized. Overall, Pro Wrestling provides a solid single, or multi, player experience.

Oh, and I almost forgot.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Battle Lode Runner

Battle Lode Runner was never released in America, and was the first import VC title. Don't be fooled, however, we've had Lode Runner in the States for some time. Like most puzzle games, the gameplay is simple and addictive. You play as a "runner" sent through time to dig holes and collect piles of gold. Oddly, the worlds you explore are composed entirely of blocks, ladders, and ropes. You can't run or jump, but you can dig holes left and right, trapping enemies and (often) killing yourself in the process. But the unintentional suicides are part of the game's charm.

While the gameplay is simple, the game provides enough modes to warrant the $6.00 price tag. You've got puzzle mode, which are levels in which you must collect all the gold, then haul ass up a ladder to the next level. With 100 stages, this is an extremely long game! Then there's battle mode, where up to 5 players can battle (bots will sub in for missing players if you live and play video games by yourself). Powerups appear in this mode, and it's a lot of fun. The only downside is that you can only battle on 5 or so stages, and not the 100 levels from story-mode, which would have given the game near-infinite replay value. There are various battle modes, including survival and tag. I've haven't delved too deeply into either of these others modes yet. Finally, there is Edit mode, that's right, you can create up to 10 stages to play through, though you can't battle on them. I'm always a sucker for level editors, and this one is fantastic. Easier to use than Brawl's, and they don't limit the amount of items you can place on the map.

And that's it. Overall, it's nothing too spectacular (though the "Asian-theme" song is). That said, it's more addicting than it should be. Save your money if you have an XBox360, because you'll be getting a better Lode Runner game this year, otherwise consider click-buying this title if you think you'd like it.

Finally, thanks for the replies when I considered closing the site. I've decided to keep it open, because, hey, doing this shit is fun as hell. 8-Bit City is here to stay. Leave a comment!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Why Gamers Love Mega Man 2

In preparation of Mega Man 9, I've been replaying the classic Mega Man series. Let's take a look at a true classic, despite this site's premise of reviewing "lesser-known," "obscure," or "forgotten" gems. If you aren't familiar with Mega Man, well, you should go buy the Mega Man Anniversary collection for PS2, GameCube, or XBox, and learn about the Blue Bomber the hard way.

Ask any Mega Man fan which is their favorite, and 4/5 times he or she will answer Mega Man 2. Hell, ask Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune and he'll reveal its his personal favorite.

The reason, like Mega Man's weapon, is multifoliate. I would, however, like to look a a few very specific reasons why Mega Man 2 simply rocks. I could list them... but Mega Man 2 has so many redeeming qualities and so few shortcomings I'd sound like a crazy.

Instead, I'll skip out on the usual review, and relate some of my experiences playing the game. Most recently, I was playing the game an hour ago preparing to write this review. It's extremely difficult to get inspired to write after playing such a great game, which may sound contradictory. It's almost disheartening to experience a piece of art as good as Mega Man 2.

I brought my copy of Mega Man Anniversary Collection over to a friend's house. He seemed decently excited so we started to play. He asked which one I recommended, and, to be fair, I said that most people consider Mega Man 2 to be the best of the best, but others prefer Mega Man 3 and it's really good too. He decided to start with 3, and we fought through Magnet Man's stage and I breezed through Snake Man's stage and died using only the Mega Buster.

Which is an interesting side note: a fun Mega Man challenge is to beat each robot master with only the arm cannon. Some are more difficult than others, obviously. I'm currently working on this particular challenge and actually managed to beat Quick Man on my 3rd try. Usually I have trouble most bosses, but to beat one of the hardest was pretty fucking sweet.

And eventually we tired of Mega Man 3, and he wanted to check out Mega Man 2. We started playing, and he got through Metal Man's stage and I beat Metal Man (I can regularly beat this guy without getting hit. It doesn't take a kid long to realize that the Metal Blade is fucking awesome and beating Metal Man, if one has to beat a robot master without exploiting a weapon, while, perhaps not the easiest, is surely the most useful. Armed with the Metal Blade, you'll buzzsaw a path straight to the center of Skull Castle). And after playing a few more levels, I inputted the code (which I have memorized) starting at Dr. Wily's castle with 4 E tanks. I didn't beat the game, because I was frustrated at the bomb-wall boss... that one boss that is completely impossible unless you do it exactly right. I didn't even die, I just ran out of bombs. Protip: if you rapidly pause and un-pause the game at this boss, you will change to and from a beam of light, and become invulnerable to their attacks while in the shape-changing animation frames. This glitch can also be used to slow your fall in the underwater corridor of spikes.

Then a few days after that, two friends and I were playing Mega Man Anniversary Collection (and drinking). I was attempting Heat Man's stage without Item-2. It wasn't working out very well. Care to guess? That's right: the magnetic blocks. BVOOOM. BVOOOM. BVOOOM. GRAH! DEATH! I gave up and beat Air Man to get Item-2 and surfed my way over the pit. I cleared the remaining levels (and of course I had to use the Flash Weapon to get through Quickman's devious beams. I tried and tried without using the Flash, and finally gave up. Frustrated, I looked up the pattern on the internet today, memorized it, and beat the beams without it!) and showed my friend (who had never seen Dr. Wily's Castle) my favorite stage in the game. The music, obviously, which has been remixed more than any other song on the internet, and, secondly, the Dragon!

I remember the first time I got to the Dragon. I had rented the game, and was probably 6-8 years old. I would write down every password in marker on a giant poster board. I had different variations too. No surprise, really, before the internet and FAQs most people took notes or wrote down passwords when playing games. Video Game hobbies really do require a significant amount of paperwork.

But the Dragon! Jumping on the blocks, in time to the music, even though we only jump for 10 seconds before the music stops, and the boss music starts, and everything stops as his life gauge appears, where death and awesome are opposite and very near, and certain destruction flies forward, and we face those incredible mechanical odds, there are moments of pure reckless abandon as we heroically jump towards an almost certain death, and then emerge victorious with cool non-emotion on our 8-Bit sprite's face while we watch our enemy explode and fade into nothing. It's code cycle in the NES's cpu complete... The castle successfully stormed.

That's why so many gamers love Mega Man 2.