Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Down for the Count

Well folks, it's been 19 days of Blaugust. That's two and a half weeks of daily blog posts. It's been fun writing about whatever comes to mind. This August I have reviewed seven games, compared several games, and given my thoughts on many more. I also compared two beers. I probably wouldn't have written about any of these things otherwise.

While it's been 19 days of fun blogging, it's been nearly a month of neglecting my other projects. I've got some big projects coming up in the next few months that I don't want to fall behind on. The daily blogs will end with this one. With that said, I'd like to thank anyone who has read along this month. I will continue to blog, probably on a weekly basis. And Belghast, if you see this: thanks for putting together such a motivational event. I may be cutting out early but that doesn't mean I didn't get a lot out of Blaugust.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Have you ever been told that video games are unhealthy? Have you tried working out but lost the motivation weeks later? I know I have. My girlfriend is working on a project to show how the Wii Balance Board can be used to help her patients improve their balance in a more fun and interactive way. It got me thinking about other ways video games could be used to improve one's health. I decided to push myself to get back in shape using only video games. "But how, Aaron?!" Over the course of the next month I plan on spending thirty minutes a day playing physically demanding video games such as Dance Dance Revolution, Just Dance, Wii Fit, and any other game I can turn into a physical exercise.

I will supplement these with Pokémon Heartgold. The game comes with a Pokéwalker peripheral that trades steps for in-game currency. Right now I'm going to aim for 5,000 steps a day, but it's been a while since I used it so that's just a rough average for now.

I believe that by adding the fun challenge of a video game to exercise I will be more motivated to keep going. I will also impose mini-goals on myself like unlocking every song in a game, beating Pokémon Heartgold, and finding the most unlikely video game to be a good work out (so far I can tell you that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer works great). I'm also hoping that more people will be motivated to try the GAME FOR YOUR LIFE! workout.

Monday, August 17, 2015

My MMO Mileage

Blaugust Day 17

Have you ever really wanted to like something, but just couldn't get into it? For me, that's MMORPGs. I like the idea of MMO games. I've tried to become interested in them quite a few times. They just never click with me for very long. The first time I was curious about MMORPGs was after I watched the anime .hack//Sign. In my mind it set the standard for massively multiplayer online role-playing games pretty high. Shows like The Guild made them even more appealing.

The first game of this type I ever played was the browser-based Runescape. A friend introduced me to it and we played for a while. He took a break and I stopped playing shortly after. He started playing again and may still be playing today. I found Flash games and they became my go-to online game.

More recently my interest in MMOs was reignited. I tried some of the more demanding PC games. I played Rift for a bit. I really liked the different monsters based on the elements. Coincidentally, my most vivid memory of Rift was when I played through a really bad tornado and hail storm. I played Rift with a friend until his trial ran out. I played until my subscription ran out, then uninstalled it.

As a Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic fan I was more interested in the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic anyway. I preordered it and when it chugged on certain levels, I upgraded my computer so the game would run better. I was loving all the different classes, the worlds, the characters. The story was more engaging than any MMORPG I had ever played. The crafting was fun and the job system didn't seem tedious. I was getting pretty far and I could see myself sticking with it. But then everyone I knew offline stopped playing. I happened to be in an area where I needed 5-7 players to go any farther. I kept having issues building a party and keeping a party. I was stuck. I stopped playing Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Not wanting to get burned again, I started playing free-to-play games on my own. I tried FlyFF because I love flying in games. I had a bit of fun with it, but trying to buy anything in the towns was awful. There were so many spambots that the game lagged up, sometimes for several minutes, when trying to do things the game required. I tried Aion, Lineage, Perfect World, Everquest 2, and a lot of lesser known games. They all had unique features but didn't hook me.

Don't get me wrong, all of these games are great in some way. Millions of people enjoy them. I figured "I must be playing them wrong." In the past I only ventured into MMO territory if a friend wanted me to play. Once they stopped, I played it by myself until I got bored. The thing I learned is these games are not meant to be played solo. It was especially difficult as I like to play support roles. After that I tried to play MMOs as multiplayer games, but I was never any good at making friends and keeping parties. People seem to want to do their own thing and I can empathize with that. Maybe this video game genre just isn't for me. Maybe I'm missing something. If you have any suggestions on how to get the most out of an MMORPG, I'd love to hear them. SWTOR will be waiting, and I want to go into Blade & Soul with a fresh perspective.

Handling the License

Earlier this week I touched on multiple developers creating a game based on the same license. This was in reference to Yogi Bear, but it happens all the time with video games. Sometimes one team will work on the console version while another team creates the handheld version. Sometimes the publisher has the license and contracts different developers over the years. Whatever the reason, I'm always interested in how the two (or more) games stack up against each other. I always try to judge a game based on its own merits, but I tend to make an exception for licensed games. After all, no matter how good the game is by itself, its likeness to the IP it is representing is most important.

In the case of Jurassic Park the Super Nintendo, NES, and Game Boy games are all pretty much the same game. They each do some things slightly different (with the SNES being the most unique) but the Game Boy version is pretty much a port of the console versions.

If you look at Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie you'll see that almost all versions are as similar as the hardware allows for. The DS version, while being the definition of unplayable, even tries to mimic the console version's format. But when I got to the GBA tie-in, Kong: The Eighth Wonder of the World, I was pleasantly surprised to find a decent action puzzle game that is its own game. It follows the same story but the style is more like Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past than the other games.

Then there's the last type. Games that come out around the same time but are developed by unaffiliated companies. This happens a lot with comic book characters. Understandably, people want to know which one they should spend their money on. Unfortunately, this leads to a good/bad mentality. As I said before, I think games should be viewed for their own value. Batman: Arkham Asylum being a great game doesn't diminish the value of Batman Begins. I enjoy playing both to see how each one captures the essence of the caped crusader.

Whether the same company makes one game for all platforms, has a team for different platforms, or different companies entirely are making similar games, those games will have differences. I will continue to enjoy finding these variances as long as different gaming platforms exist.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

More Sega

Blaugust Day 15

Yesterday I wrote about trying some Sega Genesis games for the first time. Today I scrolled through the Sonic Collection looking for more unplayed games and found one I've never heard of listed as Dr. Robotnik's M.B.M. It was labeled as a puzzle game. Awesome! I was hoping there would be another one of those. I started it up and saw that its name is actually Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine. After pressing start there was a brief conversation with some robot boss. I'm not sure if he's from any of the Sonic the Hedgehog games or not. I'm also not sure if he's speaking in puns or if there are a lot of typos. Either way, the text scrolled by faster than I could read it. Next I began the battle...hrmm, I swear I've played this game.

My first thought was "this is Puyo Pop!" Puyo Pop was the only GBA puzzle game I owned. It's a falling block game where you try to match up colors. There are two colors in each bar and you must match four blocks to make them disappear. Unlike Columns where I was fighting against the game design, in Puyo Pop you fight against each enemy and progress up the food chain Mortal Kombat style. For every match you get, a few colorless blocks get sent over to your opponent, and vice versa. The competition starts out simple and each new foe has their own technique. The formula used in the GBA game is identical in this Genesis game. Puyo Pop was one game in a series called Puyo Puyo. It turns out that Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine is a reskin of the original Japanese Puyo Puyo game. There's also a Super Nintendo version reskinned to suit its console: Kirby's Avalanche. I'd like to pick it up. I love the idea of keeping a game's gameplay but applying a new story to it. I'm definitely glad I found Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Sampling the Sega Collection (PS3)

Blaugust Day 14

I couldn't decide what to play tonight, but I knew I didn't want to devote a lot of time to one game. I looked at my shelf and saw Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection. Many of my favorite Genesis games are on this compilation. I decided to try some new games for once, though.

Shining Force
I've heard of this one but I haven't played it. My buddy Andrew reviewed it and since then I've been meaning to give it a try. It seems like a fun game with a lot of story and more side story. In the short time I played it I talked to some characters who were angry or annoyed with other characters or myself for some reason. I met the initial crew of the Shining Force. Unlike the few RPGs I've played that gradually introduce party members, Shining Force gives you quite a lineup off the bat! I realized this game was going to be too involved for a light Saturday night. I'll have to pick it up when I have more time to dedicate to it.

Alien Storm
This is one I've never heard of. Alien Storm is a side-scrolling beat 'em up with an alien invasion theme. One thing that sets it apart is at the end of each level you go into an arcade shooter mode. There are three characters to choose ranging from an Ellen Ripley type character armed with a powerful but short-ranged flamethrower, a mid-strength/mid-range dude, and a robot with an electro-whip. I played as far as I could on one life with the robot, then tried the other two. Alien Storm is a fun game. The AI is smart enough to surround you, so I'm sure it would be even better with a second player.

Decap Attack
I've never played this one, but I think I heard about it on Game Sack. In Decap Attack you play as a mummy who uses their severed head as a projectile weapon. You can also jump on enemies or jut your jaw out at them. It's a really comical platformer and you can bet it will be added to my list of Halloween games. There's a whole inventory you can fill up. When you get items you can use/equip them or ask the mad scientist about them. I didn't get very far on one life, and I got less far on the second. Moving on to something simpler.

I remembered really not liking Columns but I couldn't remember why. It was one of the 6-Pak games I would not play and I was poor growing up, so that says something. Playing it now reminded me why. Tetris is one of those games that has a nice difficulty curve. Simple concept yet challenging due to the pacing. Once you learn the basics you'll be managing block placement ten steps ahead of time. Columns appears to be a similar puzzle game, but fails at capturing the same challenge. Columns gives you one rotate button to cycle your colors vertically. You can't scroll back and there are quite a few colors to manage. It's not like shapes where you can tell if something is going to fit. You have to process all the colors currently placed, process the three colors in your falling bar, shift them accordingly, and reprocess. For me this is a nightmare. By the time I got the colors sorted the bar has found a home and a new bar is falling.

So that's the few games I decided to try tonight. I'll definitely be revisiting Shining Force, Alien Storm, and Decap Attack. This could just be me, but I'm a visual person and I find Columns disorienting. Tetris calms me and I could play it for hours. I just might play Tetris tomorrow. What are you playing this weekend?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Yogi Bear's Gold Rush

Blaugust Day 13

I'm always on the look out for a great licensed game. This often means looking up developers and publishers I like on Moby Games. Around the time I started to get into GameTek published games I discovered Yogi Bear's Gold Rush for the Game Boy. The screenshots I saw showed an interesting platformer with pic-a-nic basket collecting. I went to my local game shop and saw it for $20. I waited a few months and decided I would spend $20 on it. When I approached the game was marked $30! Long story short, I got it for $12. Always be nice to people who work in retail.

Yogi Bear's Gold Rush was exactly what I was looking for. A fun, simple platformer for the Game Boy. You play as Yogi and you collect picnic baskets. There's a handful of levels with different themes. Some have bosses, some don't. The goal is to collect all of the gold. If you don't, when you beat the game it tells you to play again and find the gold. The platforming and the level design are perfect. There are hidden areas that require you to jump into the abyss to get a 1UP, and you can do so confidently because the level seems to be guiding you to it. It's on the easier side, so I found myself risking a life or two trying to find secrets. Without collecting all the gold discs you won't beat the game. I'll give you a hint: one requires you to jump into the water.

This Game Boy game is so good I figured it must be a port! Googling Yogi Bear's Gold Rush turned up color pictures. Some of these were labeled as a Super Nintendo game. So of course I had to try the Super Nintendo Yogi game, Adventures of Yogi Bear. While Twilight developed platform perfection, the developers of the SNES game didn't have the same understanding of physics. Yogi is harder to control. Sometimes he seems to slide instead of coming to a complete stop. Trying to land a jump on a moving platform can be difficult. The bouncing mechanic will often lead you right into an enemy or a dead end. One positive thing about this game is that Yogi's sprite is big and detailed. Unfortunately this means he takes up a lot of the screen making the sloppy controls even worse. Overall, it's not very fun. The icing on the cake is that the color screenshot I saw online was of an unreleased Game Gear version of Yogi Bear's Gold Rush. Here's Adventures of Yogi Bear:

I remembered Sonic being cooler.
The handheld Yogi Bear's Gold Rush is a fantastic Game Boy game. It's simple and fun. The challenge comes from increasing your score and finding secrets. Its graphics are simple but resemble the license. The console counterpart, Adventures of Yogi Bear (or Yogi Bear: Cartoon Caper in Europe) is just a mess, and its challenge comes from fighting the controls and level design. It's interesting to see how different companies handle the same license. Even with something as standard as a 2D platformer you can get vastly different games. Have two companies ever surprised you by how differently they represented a license?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Vidya Beer

Blaugust Day 12

Have you ever thought "I wish there was a beer for me, a beer with a video game theme"? No? Me neither, but last year I made a point to try out all the Kansas breweries. Tallgrass became one of my favorite breweries. Their main beers include a Buffalo Sweat oatmeal stout, an Ethos IPA, and an 8-bit Pale Ale. The company recently expanded to a larger operation. Yesterday I found out they released a 16-bit Double Pale. I had to try it!

For comparison's sake I had to taste 8-bit Pale Ale before hand. Most people will probably conjure up NES or Atari 2600 game screens, or maybe Master System if you grew up in a more metropolitan area. Tallgrass chose to go with an arcade theme. A shameless Pac-Man look-a-like is the part of the can that drew me in. Terms like "PUSH START," 1 PINT (a play on 1 POINT?), and HOP ROCKETED over a Galaxy Hops ship sold me on the beer. True to the label, this ale is full of hops. You can smell a very strong aroma hop from a foot away. The taste is very hoppy and full of citrus. The head is fluffy and creamy. The 8-bit Pale Ale has a light orange color with a thin, cloudy sediment. This leads to a bit of syrupy mouthfeel that I really enjoy. Overall, it's a great beer that's easily made its way into my go-to rotation.

The 16-bit Double Pale Ale has different take. The Pac-Man face has become perfectly rounded, even too rounded for the game consoles it's trying to mimic. The can over all doesn't scream "video games" but if you look closely you'll see a reference to Mortal Kombat and the Super Nintendo logo. The color of the 16-bit Double is a light yellow, and much more transparent. The beer itself has a very faint hop aroma. The taste is more bitter but less flavorful. There's almost a sweet aftertaste, but it doesn't last very long. The smell, the head, the body, and the mouthfeel are all underwhelming.

According to Tallgrass's website they were going for a more drinkable beer. I don't go to Tallgrass for a subdued drink I can use to wash down a good meal, I go to them for their full-flavored stand-alone beers. I'm sure there is a market for this beer, though. For now I'll stick with their 8-bit Pale Ale.

Down, but not for the Count

Blaugust Day 11, a bit late.

It finally happened, I missed a day of Blaugust. I can be forgetful so it was only a matter of time. Does this mean I failed Blaugust? I might've failed the challenge, but that doesn't mean I'm giving up. I've gotten a lot out of Blaugust, and blogging in general, so far. I intend to finish the month unless life gets in the way.

Before Blaugust started I was just getting my feet wet with writing. I had written some articles before but they took me forever to write. When I didn't have writer's block I often found myself at a loss for words. I couldn't perfectly express what I was thinking, so I stopped writing. I even reached a point in my video reviews where I felt like I was using the same YouTube and game reviewer jargon over and over again. They weren't my words and they weren't conveying my thoughts.

I took some time to play games, read books, and watch movies. I started blogging just to get my thoughts out there. Instead of writing for other people and worrying if they get it, I was writing for myself and the words came more naturally. I decided to post a weekly blog. I had successfully done this for a month when I read about the Blaugust challenge on Pam's blog at It was the perfect challenge at the time. I started blogging daily and have done so for ten days! It used to take me a week or longer to get an article done (in addition to playing the game I was writing about). After blogging I've gone from a couple days to a couple hours to write a decent piece. Are they understandable to the average reader? I can't say, but I believe they've improved over time.

My buddy Stephen asked me what I wanted to get out of blogging. I think it's to be able to write freely about whatever I feel like. There's no need for the post to click with everyone since I'm not catering to a large audience. And I think that's what I like about other peoples' blogs. They feel more personal and not watered down or dressed up to appeal to more readers. I'd like to know, what do you get out of blogging?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Spider-Man, not that one.

Blaugust Day 10

Picking up where I left off yesterday, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 for the Game Boyor simply Spider-Man 2 as it was advertisedis the sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man. I'm not sure why they dropped off "The Amazing" but they use the same font style in the logo and the full title is displayed in the game. Maybe they were trying to create a connection to Spider-Man: The Animated Series that would debut a few years later, but that's just a guess. To recap, Rare's game featured a large, gangly, ski-mask wearing Spider-Man. The story was fitting for a Game Boy game but lacked originality. It had way too many moves and a terrible control scheme that made them unusable. To top it off the boss fights were way too easy. Did Bits's sequel fix these issues?

Not-so-friendly neighborhood stabber or a winded skier?
Well, to start with there is also a comic book cutscene in Spider-Man 2. The story is that Mysterio, Hobgoblin, and some new villains team up to frame Spidey for robbery. He must stop them all to get his cred back. Our hero looks a lot more like he should this time around.

Friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
The controls have greatly improved since the last game. Tap B to jump, double tap B to do a double jump, and hold B to jump kick. If you double jump onto a wall you will wall climb. Tap A to punchit's shorter range than kick but more powerfuland hold A to web swing. By default it goes up in a 45 degree angle but you can shoot directly up. While swinging or web-hanging you can adjust your height and speed, making it a really fancy mechanic for a Game Boy game and just really fun to do. You can also crouch and tap A to shoot web. These are all moves I figured out without consulting a manual. Spider-Man 2 gives you more moves and they are easier to learn and pull off. Spider-Man is now a more reasonable one-fourth of the screen height and can zip around really quickly. I found it hard to pull off consecutive web swings if I wasn't standing still, but with the double jumping and wall climbing it's easy to get around. In the last game I was not able to dodge enemies, and when I was I would get hit by other enemies. Definite improvement, and now I feel like the hero I'm controlling.

On the surface the gameplay might look the same. It's a side-scrolling beat 'em up with thugs blocking your path to the boss. But one thing I quickly learned is that you can't initially damage Hobgoblin. At the same time I was finding all sorts of items and adding them to my inventory. I watched the LJN Defender review and he explained that you have to bring Hobgoblin down to the ground by web-hanging on his glider. After learning this I decided to take another stab at it without any hints. What I found was that Spider-Man 2 is a lot deeper than it looks on the surface. In addition to the beat 'em up aspect there is also an adventure game element where you have to get the right items and use them in the right way. Also,the game doesn't really have levels as much as one big world. If I'm not mistaken, that makes this the first open world Spider-Man game! It also means it has some of the most unique gameplay found in a Spider-Man game.

After having my hopes crushed by Rare's Spider-Man game I was expecting Spider-Man 2 by Bits Studio to disappoint me as well. Instead I discovered a game that beat Neversoft's Spider-Man at being the first to feel like an open world you can swing around in.
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