WedNESday: Blaster Master (1988): A Very (Very) Quick Review

See the source image It’s been difficult for me to find time to write an NES article lately but I felt I needed to get something online.  I decided on writing a very quick review of Sunsoft’s Blaster Master a Metroidvania action platformer released in 1988.  I’ve discussed Blaster Master before and have a certain nostalgia for the game as I think it was one of the first games of its kind that I actually beat, and I was absolutely captured by the seamless melding of genres: A platformer in the overworld, a top-down shooter in the dungeons.

In the game you play a kid driving a tank around a strange world.  Leaving the tank outside you are vulnerable, but you must enter dungeons to find upgrades and face each level’s boss, after which you will obtain an upgrade that allows you to traverse deeper into the world.  Each level contains distinct obstacles that require new abilities to overcome and the game uses difficulty progression quite well. The player is also forced to backtrack at times, with level entrances located inside of areas from previous stages that were inaccessible without specific abilities; a core staple of the Metroidvania genre.  The dungeons are short top-down action segments in which you control the hero as you collect gun upgrades to power yourself up before facing off with the level bosses.

I wouldn’t exactly call Blaster Master hard.  It is a lot like other titles such as Simon’s Quest and Rygar.  Once you know where to go, the game is actually quite direct and simple.  What saves it from mediocrity is that it is a well-crafted action game and it easily ranks among the best titles on the NES.  I believe one of the challenges a game like this faces at its age of nearly 30 years is falling into obscurity. Fortunately, Blaster Master Zero does exist for the 3DS and it is effectively a remake of the original, with a few improvements to the world to made the game longer and add some more exploration and depth and just add some necessary modernization.For collectors, Blaster Master is a pretty easy find.  It typically doesn’t run more than $10 and is certainly worth adding to any NES collection.  Chances are if you’re already collecting, you either have this one or it's on your list. For everyone else, the original game is definitely worth checking out on its own, even if you already have played through the remake.

WedNESday - Rockin' Kats (1991)

See the source image The NES has no shortage of quality action platformers.  Contra, Ghosts n' Goblins, the Castlevania and Mega Man series, all while being among the most well-known action entries on the 8-bit behemoth, only scratch the surface of the assemblage of titles that are really worth playing.  There are a host of lesser-known classics available that deserve their time in the spotlight.  So, let's start with a simple-but-fun title developed by Atlus in 1991 named Rockin' Kats, released on the Famicom as the cringingly-titled N.Y. Nyankies.

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In Rockin' Kats, you play as Willy, who is pushing pavement trying to rescue his girlfriend from a brutal mobster.  Armed with a spring-loaded cartoon fist, Willy can punch bad guys, pound the ground to bounce higher into the air and grapple and swing from ledges ala Bionic Commando, although the feel of the swinging is more akin to Ristar.  You select your stage at the start by choosing from a list of TV channels, and then you begin your adventure.  The levels are mostly standard platforming fare, but there are a few auto-scrollers, and we all know how great those are...

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In terms of overall quality, Rockin' Kats fits squarely in the fun-but-quaint category.  There was obvious effort put into this game but it does show its age a little more than something like Mega Man 2, with it never really taking any risks but still succeeding in providing a fun platforming experience that keeps me coming back.  It is the sort of retro game that naturally encourages you to improve your skill over time.  Some platformers, by the nature of their design, are more successful at this than others.  What makes Kats interesting is the grappling mechanic, which adds a layer of technicality that requires some skill to master and can open the door for some swift tricks to speed through levels and skip sections of each stage.

There are some notable differences between the NES and Famicom versions of Kats and it really just comes down to performance.  To me, the Famicom cart seems to play a little better.  This isn't uncommon for faster games or games that require a lot of timing as the Japanese versions can occasionally have slightly differing framerates and controller latency.  Emulation can often mask this, but if you play a Famicom and NES copy of Super Mario Bros. back-to-back, on-hardware, the difference is subtle, but it's definitely there.  The Famicom option is certainly worth going for here anyways considering the cost hurdle for the North American release.

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For collectors, the NES cart of Rockin' Kats remains in the gap between "very uncommon" and "rare".  It's a subtle place for games that aren't exactly hard-to-find on the market, but still fetch a high price due to demand (see: Fire n' Ice).  This game is sought-after and regularly brings with it a hefty $100+ price tag but you can generally find several on sale on marketplaces like eBay.  The Famicom cart is significantly-cheaper, though, provided you have the necessary hardware to support it, so for most serious collectors who focus on simply being able to play the game on original hardware over their collection's total monetary value, the import is probably the way to go  This is generally the case with very uncommon or rare games from Japan due to a lot of these imported games having been either shipped to North America in limited quantities (as was the case with Rockin' Kats) or ported very late in the NES's cycle after a majority of the gaming market had since migrated to contemporary 16-bit platforms.

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WedNESday: Tiger-Heli

Less than a year after its release, the Nintendo Entertainment System was a hot ticket item in the US.  Finally it appeared there was a savior for the dying games industry, which by 1985 had lost roughly 95% of all market value since its 1983 revenue peak!  After Nintendo almost single-handedly revitalized the gaming market by labeling the NES as an “entertainment system”, not a “video game system” (hence the famous “toaster” model not having a top-slot), more and more companies were encouraged to fill up the NES library.  For many publishers, ports of popular arcade titles seemed a safe bet.  Even during the games market collapse titles like Dig Dug, Pac-Man and Galaga were doing well on home PC electronics such as the Tandy machines and later the Commodore 64.  So, naturally the big brands who were limping along in Arcades sought to get as much of their software NES-ready as quickly as possible.  The question was, “How do we get all of these games ready for the NES by next Christmas?!”  Outsourcing, of course!  By 1986 (less than a year after the NES’s North American launch) there were dozens of ports of classic arcade games on the console, many developed by unnamed, third-party contractors.  Some were reworked from Famicom ports of arcade cabs that either had very limited releases in the US from Japan but others were pretty solid 1-to-1 ports of the most internationally-popular arcade games of the time; as best as the NES could manage anyway, due to the obvious hardware limitations of the console versus its arcade contemporaries.  Still, weaknesses of the console hardware aside, many of these arcade ports were very, very well done. Taito’s 1985 arcade classic Tiger-Heli received its NES port (redesigned by the short-lived Micronics) this very same year.  Micronics is an interesting company, having done NES and SNES ports of arcade games not only from Taito but Capcom, SNK and Activision.  They were not originally credited for their ports but Kazzo Yagi, the principal software engineer for Micronics, was open about the company’s involvement.  Nintendo, as well as a few of the major brands such as Capcom, felt that having the copyright owner’s label on the game (despite not actually developing the NES port) would help the game sell as many of the games they published from Japanese arcades actually did not receive a wide US release.

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Tiger-Heli is a very simplistic vertical shooter in the vein of Capcom’s 1942 (another Micronics port from the same period) in which you pilot a tiny helicopter through very long gauntlets of bullets and waves of enemies.  That said, I  believe Tiger-Heli is harder than 1942.  In fact, this is a prime example of “Nintendo-hard”.  Tiger-Heli’s difficulty stems from the slow-moving chopper you have to negotiate through scattering bullets and a global timer that often has all enemies on screen firing at the same time.  In terms of bullet hell games, this might seem like something that would make things easier, but not here.  You just do not move fast enough sometimes to get through the waves of bullets and your chopper’s hitbox is pretty large compared to that of other NES SHMUP’s.  

There are a few things to help you, though.  Your tiger doesn’t go “splat” on a single hit.  You have three health per life and when you are struck, bombs scatter around the place you were damaged, hitting enemies in a radius near where you were hit.  Powerups are also plentiful and include health pickups and support choppers who fly by your side firing either upward, expanding the width of your shots, or sideways to support taking out enemies who creep from the left or right.  Tiger-Heli also has destructible environments, so you can enjoy the comedy of flying over an unnamed suburban landscape and mindlessly blowing up all the denizens’ cars that are parked haphazardly in the grass near their tiny, 8-bit homes!

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Graphically Tiger-Heli doesn’t do much to impress.  It’s certainly more impressive than the endless waters of 1942 or the grey, black and blue anti-landscapes of Xevious, though.  There are just far more varied environments and slightly more detail to parts of the world.  This doesn’t stop things from getting repetitive, however.  Still, the game looks fine compared to its arcade counterpart.  In fact, the objects have an almost vector-style to them, a visual theme that was common in arcades at the time, but no so much on consoles.  The sound is also fine, but I hope you like the music you hear, because there are four songs you will hear in every stage, over and over again, and that’s it!  In terms of the sound, we are definitely not talking Konami-levels of audio variety and quality here.

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I would call Tiger-Heli a fun “score attack” game.  Pick it up and see how far you make it and see if you can improve upon your score.  There are two sequels as well.  The first, Twin Cobra, received an NES port but the third title, Twin Cobra II, did not.  In fact, the only port the final entry in the series ever saw was for the Sega Saturn in Japan that today ranks among the rarest and most valuable games on the system, and for the Saturn that is saying something!  Tiger-Heli on the NES though is a very, very common game.  You can typically find these lying in piles for a few bucks and, honestly, if you do not have it and you do see it, pick it up!  It’s certainly worth owning and is one of the better deals in terms of challenge and replayability in the “very-common” category.

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Nathan Checks Out Forza Horizon 3's Hot Wheels DLC

The latest DLC for Xbox One's Forza Horizon 3 is out and Nathan streamed his first half-hour to give you an idea on what you can expect. Just in case you were unaware, here's the PR details about this Hot Wheels Expansion:

  • Forza fans, your Hot Wheels fantasies are about to come true! The second Forza Horizon 3 expansion – Forza Horizon 3 Hot Wheels – arrives on May 9 exclusively on both Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs (Xbox Play Anywhere), and is included in the Forza Horizon 3 Expansion Pass. This expansion lets players travel to a brand-new location in Australia, a place where lazy Sunday drives are replaced by insane high-speed stunts on miles of looping, banking, giant iconic orange Hot Wheels tracks. Starring famous Hot Wheels vehicles like the Twin Mill, the Rip Rod, and the Boneshaker, Forza Horizon 3 Hot Wheels promises an automotive adventure unlike anything in Forza history.

Hyped for the Switch: It's Dangerous to Game Alone

[et_pb_section admin_label="section"][et_pb_row admin_label="row"][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text admin_label="Text"] Many at PSVG are excited for the Switch. Here are a few reasons why it's the right console for me, right now:

 

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Kevin's Weekly Rant: Nintendo, Stop Being Stupid.

Time for my delayed rant for this week (and last week): I’ve held off a little because every time I was ready to talk about this, something else would pop up, adding to my “salty rage,” as Jason so eloquently puts it. Nintendo needs to show us the NX -  like, RIGHT. NOW.  Hell, it should have been a month ago. As more and more “leaks” are coming out around this, Nintendo has been silent the entire time - from speculation regarding what it is, what it looks like, how it functions, and the games listed to launch with it and/or within the first year. At this point, whatever plans Nintendo had in trying to “control the media” on the message behind what the NX is, is LONG gone.

So, we have seen everything from detailed images on form factor to scribbles on a cocktail napkin. As pictured here:LetsPlayVideoGames mockup

Most of them are all pretty similar, at this point, with minor differences in analog stick layouts, controller format, etc.  With so many people reporting on it from different angles, I think it’s pretty safe to assume the end product will look something like what we have seen. We’ve also heard it’s going back to cartridge, similar to what the 3DS uses, through some patent leaks and trademarks.

We’ve also been provided with a list of games that are launching with or within the release window for the console as well. OK, I'm pretty sure all of these are legit, as well with some minor details that probably need to be clarified. Nintendo has also publicly stated that whatever this console is, is not a replacement for the Wii U. That's interesting, because the only major releases left for the console are Paper Mario Color Splash and Legend of Zelda (which is launching for this new console, as well)…everything else coming consists of 3rd party shovelware and indie titles that, for the most part, can already be played on other consoles or PC.  That sounds pretty dead to me (and anyone else with common sense). They also announced a Nintendo Direct for Thursday and explicitly said in it, "WE WILL NOT DISCUSS NX."

So, here is Nintendo’s problem: STOP BEING STUPID, AND TALK ABOUT NX. Your initial plan of not bringing it up at E3 was so that you could control the cycle and reporting; you didn’t want to be overshadowed by the others and wanted the spotlight on you. That’s understandable and I don’t blame you. However, that was back in June. Strong rumors suggest that they will unveil the NX sometime in September. Well, Sony has a press conference coming up, too, so you screwed the pooch on that again, Nintendo.  Because you have chosen to sit it out, all of these leaks are coming to the surface, leaving you with nothing to talk about when you do finally pull the curtain back.  We will all be thinking, "Oh, OK... we already heard about this. Thanks for confirming what I knew back in July, Nintendo." and "Oh, look  - you’re announcing Animal Crossing and Pikmin…cool, but I already knew that, too."  Now, you might say, "BUT Kevin, what if these rumors are not true???"  OK, I can see that happening as well.  Let’s say all of this is not true. Then, we will spend the entire time complaining that it’s not as good as we thought it was going to be: “Oh man, it’s not a portable?!?”  We can see that happening, too. What if they announce it and make no mention of Pokemon? The internet will explode: “I THOUGHT I WAS FINALLY GETTING POKEMON ON A CONSOLE! IT'S BEEN 20 YEARS! WTF???!” ...and so on.

The smartest thing for them to do is come out now, and not let the tension and excitement build up more with these leaks. Set expectations now, so that this doesn’t get worse. You have said you want to make sure the messaging is clear this time around, and that you have the games to support a launch. That’s great. I agree 100% with what you are wanting to do. But with leaks being reported by literally EVERYONE on an almost daily basis, you are losing focus before you even get started.

I have been a Nintendo fan my entire life, and I want them to win so badly with this launch. I want it to be great-  an event, a spectacle…but the longer they stay silent, the more concerned they are making their audience. Nintendo, you need to win over more gamers to stay competitive, while being careful not to leave your core behind in the process. We want to believe! Stop letting us down and show us the NX!

Since we here at Playsomevideogames.com shouldn't be left out of the rumor mill, we have it here first: Sources confirm, Mario NX will be coming...

Mario NX