Saturday, February 27, 2010

Twelve Months, Sixty Dollars, and a Playstation 2: February

Okay, so my favorite local second hand, MUST HAVE MUSIC AND MORE, has a slew of Playstation 2 games and recently I discovered that a great number of them are being sold for the low, low price of $4.95.  For those of you who have been following along at home, this is how I came across Pryzm , Chapter One: The Last Unicorn, that little gem that I alone made famous last year!  As I was browsing through the stacks the other day I saw a good number of these $5 games that looked at the very least interesting, if not potential diamonds in the rough.  After thinking it over I came to a conclusion:  The PS2 has a vast library and very few catch the attention of the popular culture, but lots and lots of games get released. Somewhere in those stacks of discarded, unloved games must be some really great games just looking for someone to play them and at the risk of five dollars a go, I think it’s worth finding just what is out there.  The result is this on-going experiment, a journey that you and I are going to take through the unwanted library of the PS2.  So strap in, kiddies, we’ve got twelve months, sixty dollars, and a Playstation2 and we’re about to discover what we’ve been missing!


ROBOTECH: Battlecry

When I was a kid, ROBOTECH was that super awesome cartoon that was unlike anything else I had seen because it was like a regular action cartoon, but the story kept going from episode to episode and the characters actually developed over the course of the series.  This was revolutionary in a world of GI JOE, He-man and Transformers.  So naturally, I developed a fascination with ROBOTECH and all things related.
The point being, when I was wandering through my local second hand last month and I saw ROBOTECH: Battlecry on the shelf I was drawn to it.  A chance to take command of the Veritech forces was too good to pass up, and for $5 no less! 

Fortunately, the game does not disappoint.  You take command of a Veritech fighter in numerous battles that more or less span the storylines from the cartoon.  During each battle you can switch between Fighter, Guardian, and Battloid modes as the mission parameters or personal preferences dictate.  Missions range from space dogfights to search-and-destroy ground missions and everything in-between.  The action is fast-paced and the missions are diverse enough to maintain your interest throughout the various chapters of the game.

Graphically, the game is beautiful.  The cell-shading is used to great advantage translating the feel of the cartoon into an interactive environment.  The cut scenes are cartoon stills that appear to be created specifically for the game.  As mentioned above, the story roughly follows the storyline of the cartoons and features characters from the same.  However, to knit everything together, some of the cut scenes are surprisingly long.

ROBOTECH: Battlecry is a lot of fun to play.  The quick and responsive controls are simple to learn and get you right into the action.  The playfields are expansive and although not infinite, the borders are seamless and do not feel like matte paintings framing a playable area.  But be forewarned, the game is hard, at least for me.  Perhaps it demands more strategy than I have time to devote to it right now, or perhaps it assumes intuitions I do not possess, but the game is rather challenging.  It took me several tries just to complete the first chapter of the game, particularly due to a tough boss fight at the end of the third level.  At this point I am into the second chapter and am stuck on a level that wants you to protect a civilian structure that is under attack.  Needless to say, the bad guys are getting there and pounding the crap out of the building before I can fend them off.  More than anything, I’d say the game takes practice and wants you to master its idiosyncratic skills in order to succeed.  Not a challenge that I am incapable of, but one that is currently demanding more time and attention than I can really give the game.  The game has enough appeal, however, for me to take a longer look at it in the future.
So is ROBOTECH: Battlecry worth $5?  Most definitely, particularly for fans of the series.  How this game ends up with a $5 price tag is really a mystery to me.  It should at least be fetching upwards of $12 on a regular basis.  Perhaps its age (2002 release) is partly to blame, perhaps it was extremely popular in its day, but for whatever reason this game is now available for the more than reasonable sum of five American dollars.  Whatever the case, it would appear that I have once again found a possible classic among the discards of the PS2 library! If you happen across it and don’t have it, pick it up!
What’s coming next month?  I really have no idea, I haven’t had a chance to make it over to the second hand.  Maybe this week…

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Closer Look at Downloadble Content: Is it Really Good for Gaming?

A Closer Look at Downloadable Content: Is it Really Good for Gaming?

Oh sure it’s all the rage, from WiiWare, to Madden NFL roster updates on your 360, downloadable content is the new vogue in modern gaming.  But caveat emptor, my friend, downloadable content is seductive and chic, but it might leave you high and dry in the morning and it will never, ever call you the next day.  Don’t be fooled.

For me, it all started back in the heyday of the original Playstation.  Final Fantasy IX came out and it was awesome! I scrambled to get it.  After playing the peerless FFVII and the so-so FFVIII, I knew I had to have the latest installment of the Final Fantasy franchise.  Also, thanks to my knowledge of the previous games, I knew a good strategy guide would ensure that I would be able to ferret out every last secret from a game known for having some of the best kept hidden treasures in the gaming universe.  So, like a good consumer I rushed right out and picked up the Brady Games Official Strategy Guide to Final Fantasy IX.  I had bought both guides for FFVII and they were exceptional, so of course I expected the same from this publication.  Boy was I in for a surprise!  Much to my chagrin the guide contained no actual tips, secrets or, get ready, strategies.  No, if you wanted that kind of in depth information you would have to go online, following the links provided in the “guide,” to  Sounds fair.  I paid twenty dollars for a book to tell me to go online for free and get the information I am seeking.  Never mind the fact that this is back in the days of dial-up and my internet access was the equivalent of shouting across a canyon to a deaf-mute.

All of those things aside, this was not the most egregious part of the deal.  Oh no, that would come years later, when I decide to play through FFIX again, this time armed with a high speed internet connection.  Finally I could eke out a little satisfaction from that horrid “strategy guide” I paid for all those years ago.  So I go to and what do I see, absolutely nothing about FFIX.  Everything was all up FFXII’s butt, and it was as if FFIX never existed.  After some digging I discovered that when the newer games came out, all online support for FFIX was discarded.  So not only did I waste twenty dollars all those years ago, but my waste was compounded by insult when the company that initially ripped me off, ripped me off all over again by removing support for a product they had produced.  Little did I realize that this annoying incident would lay the foundation for something that would change the face of video gaming and collecting and not necessarily for the better.  Downloadable content was coming on fast, and it wasn’t all good news.

Now, let me jump ahead a bit and tell you that I absolutely love Mega Man 9, Castlevania Adventure Rebirth, and I am extremely excited about the new Blaster Master game that is available via WiiWare.  That’s right, I am guilty of partaking in the very thing I am about to rail against.  However, I am partaking with full knowledge of what I am doing and the implications thereof.  I wonder if my fellow consumers are doing the same.  If not, then it is the purpose of this missive to enlighten and warn the modern gamer/ collector that downloadable content may be the hottest new craze, but it is fraught with potential peril!  Brace yourselves, you’re probably not going to like or agree with where this is about to go…
Mega Man 9 goes in this empty spot

Downloadable content has caught on like wildfire and is only getting hotter.  Whether it is something small like unlockable online content, massive online multiplayer experiences, or something huge like an entire game obtained solely via download, this latest gaming fix is absolutely wonderful for gamers, but absolutely disastrous for collectors.  Take me for example.  As previously stated, I love the new Mega Man 9.  I have played it for hours and hours and hours.  It is great.  But guess what, it is also temporary.  Don’t get me wrong, I bought it, I downloaded it, I even saved it on an SD card (or at least that is what the wife tells me happened), but I have no real anything to prove that I have it.  I have nothing to put on a shelf, I have no documentation, instruction manual, warranty, or anything to prove that I own this game or that it exists.  Maybe I am old school, but there is something comforting about the shelves of NES, VCS, PS2, and so on, games that I have stacked up in my game room.  They ain’t goin’ nowhere.  But all of this new downloadable content?  I’m not so sure about it.

Sure I’m a gamer.  I love playing video games, so this new downloadable content is great, it comes right to my house and I don’t have to do much to obtain it.  The games are fun and appealing and they seem to know exactly what to release to get me in a buying mood.  But I’m also a collector.  I like having stockpiles of games on my shelves that I can pull out and play anytime I want.  I like inventorying them and basking in their nerdy glory.  I like the fact that I can go to my favorite second hand and pick up a SNES game I missed out on twenty years ago and experience like it was new.  I like that I can add it to my collection and sell it later or trade it or whatever.  So as I move into the 21st century, I wonder how Mega Man 9 fits into that aspect of my gaming life.  What would happen if I didn’t download Mega Man 9 right away?  What happens if it came out, I never managed to get it downloaded and then it is gone?  Am I going to miss out on a great game forever?  And what happens to my Mega Man 9 if something horrible happens to my Wii 15 years from now and I lose that data, or the SD thing gets corrupted (like all of those old 3.5 floppy disks that now sit in my filing cabinet mocking me) and the game is lost?  I know that bit rot and all of that can still happen to my Atari 2600 games (my Burgertime has been acting a bit scooters…), but if that should happen I can always find another copy at a flea market or something.  I’m not convinced that the same will be true for all of this new downloadable stuff.

And I know I have cause to worry.  If the FFIX strategy guide wasn’t historical proof enough, just last month Micro$oft announced that: “on April 15, 2010 Microsoft will discontinue Xbox LIVE service for original Xbox consoles and games, including Xbox games playable on Xbox 360. Our first step in this process will be to turn off auto-renewals for those members who only use Xbox LIVE on a v1 Xbox. While I can’t comment on the specifics, this change will allow us to continue evolving the LIVE service with new features and experiences that fully harness the power of Xbox 360 and the Xbox LIVE community. We did not make this decision lightly, but after careful consideration and review we realize that this decision will allow us unprecedented flexibility for future features.”  (source).  With so many games nowadays have HUGE online game play appeal an announcement like this is shocking and disturbing.   Particularly for those who cannot afford an XBOX360 and still enjoy their original XBOX.  What will be the quality and value of these largely online content based games once their support has run out?  Will HALO be as fun when there is no way to play it online?  HALO has been heralded as a modern classic and a triumph in gaming, but will those accolades hold true fifteen years from now when the support is gone and only the base game remains?
The lesson here is obvious:  the video game gods can giveth, and they can certainly taketh away.  Quickly.  This is what worries me as a gamer/collector heading into the future.  With so much downloadable content pouring forth from companies, how much of it can we really expect to hold on to as the years roll on?  The great thing about classic gaming is that it is a material commodity.  Not only do we get to play the games, we get to keep them and keep playing them for years.  Will this same thing be applicable to modern downloadable games 25 years into the future?  Will Mega Man 9 be lost forever to the annals of time and memory because someone failed to download it in 2009? How am I supposed to go to a video game convention in 10 years and pick up a copy of Mega Man 9 if I missed it?  These are my concerns.  Are we so enamored with the ready availability of downloadable content that we fail to see the pitfalls and longer reaching implications? Or am I just being overly dramatic and downloadable content is a fad that we should just embrace and damn the consequences?  Is downloadable content the future of gaming?  And if so does this mean the demise of the collector?
GameCon 2025: Not a Mega Man 9 to be found!

I think all of these things are definite concerns that the gaming community faces as we rush headlong into the latest, greatest offerings in the world of video gaming.  The gamer part of me is loving it, right now, in the moment, but the collector part of me is nervous.  Therefore, I cannot full condemn downloadable content as I would like to, but I can be wary of it. Downloadable content is a lot like the girl you love to date but can never marry.  As we move forward and consume more and more downloadable content and spend countless dollars, maybe it is also time to ponder some of these implications.  You can be sure I’ll be thinking about and lamenting that empty space on my NES shelf…

Join me next month when I’ll come to the defense of yet another LJN game and show you how I took a game that I deemed unplayable and turned it into one of my favorites!