Saturday, May 28, 2011

12 Months, Sixty Dollars and a GBA: May

F-Zero: Maximum Velocity
from Nintendo

I love F-Zero.  The N64 version is probably my favorite, but the franchise as a whole provides one of the best, turbo-charged racing games you will ever play. So when I was at Too Many Games earlier this month and saw the GBA F-Zero for only $4, May's installment of 12/60/1 was a no-brainer. (Apologies MUST HAVE Music and More, I'll be back in June...)  Little did I realize just what I was in for.
F-Zero: Maximum Velocity for the GBA is TOUGH.  I mean, I've played my fair share of F-Zero and still this game kicked my butt, repeatedly.  For the shameful record, I never completed the Pawn circuit on Beginner as of writing this article and it was not for the lack of trying.  However, I'm not sure that my difficulties were with in the game, I think it has more to do with the inherent learning curve that is associated with these kinds of games.  Simply put, you have to learn the tracks and race them repeatedly to master the game.  I know this because I have pretty much mastered the first track and now win it while lapping all of the other cars. Given the busy month I've had, I wasn't able to devote the kind of time it requires, but rest assured, I will, because while the game is hard it is also fun.
I'm also not entirely sure that I'm not having trouble with the controls on the GBA:SP I am using.  The shoulder buttons either activate the booster or the brake depending on how you set it up.  Unfortunately, I was unable to settle on a configuration that really fit my play.  So part of my difficulty could merely be in getting comfortable with the controls.
But none of that takes away from the fact that F-Zero: MV  is a lot of fun.  It's everything that is great about F-Zero, only it goes with you.  And the fact that I was able to find it for under $5 means, that you don't have to break the bank just to enjoy a great racing game on the go!  The graphics are solid, the sound is decent, but the game play is pretty much spot on.  If you can find F-Zero:MV for under $5 I strongly recommend you snag it.  Heck if you can find it for $10, you should still snag it.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Too Many Games 11

Dateline: Philadelphia PA
May 6-8, 2011

The Greater Philadelphia Convention Center was packed to the rafters with gamers, nerds, internet celebrities and pretty much everything you'll never find at the cool kid's house.  The reason: The 11th installment of Too Many Games Classic and Modern Video Game Convention and Expo.  For the last several years, the awesome organizers at Too Many Games have been putting together what is becoming the East Coast's premier video game show, creating a much needed replacement for the once heralded PhillyClassic that self-destructed in the mid-aughts (that's between 2000-2009 for you youngsters out there).

Too Many Games is celebration of all things video games and this year's show was a prime example of that philosophy.  In what is to my knowledge their largest venue ever, TMG filled the expanse of two convention halls and a couple of ancillary rooms in the convention center.  I'll break it down in greater detail later, but to summarize, one hall was dedicated to LAN gaming (which went around the clock) and free play consoles, the other hall was filled with vendors swapping all kinds of video games and video game paraphernalia.(much more on this later).  The smaller rooms were bustling with video game themed bands and a wide variety of panels and seminars on topics ranging from how to make your own game to video games as art.  There was even a concession stand right there on site. Regular convention goers will understand the significance of this.  The only thing really missing was a stand of arcade machines set on free play.  Had that been there, the scene would have been complete.
Lack of free-play Mr. Do! notwithstanding, TMG11 was an incredible show.  I was there in a co-venture with Podkayne Studios (the lovely wife's real job) selling pixel art, but that didn't stop me from taking in as much as I could of what the show had to offer, and at least a half dozen hot pretzels...
Before I get into my main focus of the show, I'll break down some of the other cool stuff that people were jazzed about.  First and foremost is probably the two-day appearance by the Angry Video Game Nerd.  Lesser nerds love this guy.  He's more popular than Columbo.  I kid you not, there was a line through one exhibit hall, down the hallway, and out the door to meet this guy and get an autograph.  It was crazy.  All due respect to the dude, though, he seemed like a real down to earth cat who wasn't letting internet fame go to his head.  Smart guy, he clearly gets it and was appreciative of the turn out.  Although, I heard rumblings of a movie in the works, which oft spells doom for culty followings like this.  It killed that Aqua Teen Hunger Force the kids were all a-buzz about a few years ago.  Let's hope the Angry Nerd can escape that fate.

She'd even speak to you!
Also on hand was actress and model Chase Masterson.  Ms. Masterson is perhaps best known in these circles for her portrayal of Leeta on the final seasons of DS9.  She was at the convention all three days and was very gracious and appreciative of her fans.  I only spoke to her in passing, but she was as cool as if we were old friends.  Again, it is nice to see people who get it.  This is one of Femme Fatale's 50 Sexiest Women in the World and she was just hanging out talking to fans and signing autographs like regular folks.  Very cool.  Ms. Masterson also accepted donations of anything video game related to help out Homeboy Industries ( a non-profit organization that helps at risk teens build a better life.  Again, very cool.  Check her out at and open your mind a bit and look at more than just the pictures pages, yes?
(continued elsewhere after this break...)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

12 Months, Sixty Dollars and a GBA: April

A Sound of Thunder
from our friends at bam!

This was going to be Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, but Aimee said, "don't get another movie tie-in," so I started looking for something else.  Tucked away at the back of the case was this game, A Sound of Thunder which no one in the shop, customers or staff, had ever heard of.  It was priced at $1.95, a sure sign it was a real winner.  As a courtesy, the owner of the store made an attempt to look the game up online.  The only thing he could bring up was a picture of the box art: an image of a man shooting a dinosaur in the mouth.  Things were looking up.  How bad could a game be where you either shoot a dinosaur in the mouth, or you try to eat a puny human as he meekly tries to defend himself?  Either way it's a win, right?  For $1.95 I was willing to find out...

Oh how I wish this were a Prince of Persia review...
Would that I could, Mr. Gyllanhaal...
But instead here we are with A Sound of Thunder, which as it turns out is a movie tie-in after all.  I'm probably the only person who has not seen this 2005 neo-classic, but if there are others like me out there, let me give you the scoop.  The movie, and subsequent game, centers around a time traveling hunter who inadvertently causes a butterfly effect when he accidentally sets off a chain reaction in the prehistoric era that  threatens to rip the fabric of space/time apart.  All in all, what could be a fun premise. If the movie was executed half as poorly as the game, it is no wonder Franchise Pictures is not a household name.

Think Tomb Raider without a buxom brunette and interesting level design and you pretty much have A Sound of Thunder.  The level design is uninspired.  The puzzle elements are weak and poorly implemented.  Difficulty is a mixed bag: some levels you can literally sprint through, in others you run out of ammo so often it's tiresome trying to alternately run away from the little dinos and zap them with your taser stick.  The game never inspires much fun and to that point I only made it about half-way through before saying enough was enough.
A typical day at the office

Graphically, the game is alright for a GBA game.  The characters and enemies are a little garbled, but the environments are well rendered.  The real shame is that the backgrounds are pretty bland, mostly office buildings and abandoned streets for the first part of the game.  Not terribly eye-catching for a game about shooting dinosaurs in the face.  And all of that would be have been fine, if the game had tried to build to something, but a bland plot about fixing the mistake in the past by doing something or other, and trying to stay alive while doing it needs a lot of help from interesting characters or plot twists.  This game has neither.

I would like to think it is impossible to waste $2 on a Gameboy Advance game, but A Sound of Thunder proves me completely wrong.  Anyone who paid full price for this game when it came out should be refunded their money and given a free copy of one of those popular Pokemon games the kids all rave about.  I just picked up a Mary Kate and Ashley game for the original Gameboy that is more engaging than A Sound of Thunder, and I only wish that were hyperbole.  Aovid this game at all costs, don't even accept it from someone for free, your AA batteries deserve better.

A Sound of Thunder gets the first EF Wooden Nickel Award...
Next month, a Too Many Games Exclusive Secret Game goes on the chopping block....