Again, a package from Cryptic Allusion arrives, containing a yet another prize. If you didn't know this, let me tell you - Cryptic Allusion contests are probably the easiest contests on this planet. You can win stuff just by following simple instructions, like sending a PM to CA staff at their boards. So again, I recieve a prize and this time it's Space Invaders Revolution for Nintendo DS.
If you can think of a more iconic title than Space Invaders, representing the whole videogame industry, please drop me a comment and tell me what that title is. And no, Pong does not count, because a paddle is not an instantly recognizable game character and aliens from Space Invaders are.
Let me think for a second - how many different Space Invaders variations have I played? Too many to be bothered with remembering, that's for sure. Last time I played Space Invaders was when I got both volumes of Taito Legends and I was rather pleased with the relatively fresh looking Space Invaders '95. How does Space Invaders Revolution look and play, then?
I'm going to be brief, because there isn't much to talk about here. The word "revolution" in the title might just indicate that you're up for a wild ride through new ideas applied to the old Taito formula. Sadly, people responsible for this port were probably after some quick cash and nothing more. This so called revolution is nothing more than regular Space Invaders plus some slight variations in weapons department.
This is rather disappointing. Space Invaders were around since 1978 and that's all the developers could come up with in their Revolution? Except for the regular version of the game you can play a slightly altered one but the changes are almost purely cosmetic. Some polygonal cutscenes were added and they feel completly detached from the rest, to say the least. You're better off picking up the amazing Space Invaders Extreme by Square - This game will show you that there's still plenty of things that can be done with this classic title.
It's certainly been awhile since I last talked about comics, but this is to change. Right ... about ... now. I went on a small shopping spree and bought a few new books, one of which I will talk a little bit about in this entry. I'll probably talk about the others aswell, as soon as they arrive. For the time being, Thomas Ott and his fantastic work entitled The Number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8 are here and I'm completly under their spell.
First of all, the edition I bought was published in Sweden by Kartago Publishing House, thus the small title change [Numret 73304-23-4153-6-96-8]. A bit of important information here - no matter what country you'll buy this book from, Ott's graphic novel does not contain a single speech bubble. It is rather like a silent noir movie and it does work better than you'd expect it to.
Before I'll tell you about the story, let me emphasize one thing: the book looks amazing. It's a hardcover edition that has a really solid feel to it. Paper quality is great aswell, which is extremely important in this case. Being a black and white publication, properly saturated black is of highest importance and the publishers really did a great job. This is how Thomas Ott wants his books to look like, and no matter where you buy them, they're always hardcovers.
The story starts with an execution. A prison guard, after tending to the electic chair controls, finds a piece of paper with a number sequence written on it. The numbers, as you might have guessed already, are 73304-23-4153-6-96-8. He puts the piece of paper in his pocket and doesn't think too much about it. Shortly afer however, the numbers start to display their significance, affecting their bearers life and ultimately his choices.
I don't want to spoil the story, so if you want to know what happens, you'll have to buy the book, and I assure you, it's worth the purchase. Thomas Ott has created a really moody story that can be easily compared with best episodes of The Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt. The Number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8 is what you could call a classic horror story. It's not overworked and relatively simple, yet it manages to appeal to your senses.
The artwork is absolutely superb. The images look as if Thomas Ott used line engraving print technique, where it's the white lines that appear to be dominant. This creates an illusion as if white ink was used on black paper and not the other way around. Each page is a marvel to behold and I can promise you, the tiny pictures you see here do the art absolutely no justice.
US comic book market is mostly dominated by superhero comics, along with Japanese manga, which still remains quite popular, especially when a particularly hyped series get published [like One Piece or Naruto, more recently]. Japan and the rest of asia have their own thing and they stick to it - All that is just simply wrong. If you really like comics, take your time and pick what's best from each one of those worlds. When it comes to European comics, and horror stories in particular, I suggest you give Thomas Ott a try.
The Number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8 is an easy book to find, so I won't even link to any stores. You can find it on Amazon, and if you live in Europe, chances are someone in your country has already published it. Like I said, it doesn't matter where you get this, because there is no written dialogue. Look around for a cheap offer and get yourself a present - most likely the best graphic novel you'll buy this year.
In other comicbook related news, I bought the tickets to Watchmen, which premieres on March, Friday 13th. I have already voiced my concerns and soon enough, we'll find out if this movie is any good. I also talked to the movie theater folks and asked them to leave one poster aside for me. Let's hope they'll come through.
I have scored some nice deals in my life, but this one is certainly among the sweetest. While browsing through a local auction service a while back, I've noticed one seller who was basically giving away tons of hardware and software. I looked through his list and diceded to go with Dreamcast peripherals.
The guy had some positive feedback so I figured "why not?". I bid 1 [yes, ONE] Swedish krona [that's 0,11 US Dollars] on a set of 48 US Dreamcast memory cards and wouldn't you know it, I've won. The guy really took his time before I got the goods but today I picked up a 5.8 kilogram box full of Visual Memory Units.
I knew the seller wouldn't try to screw me out of money since he sent me an invoice, so I wired the money after I've opened the box. After all, aside from the 0,11 dollars for the cards, I had to pay 27 dollars for the shipping. With a deal like this it's kind of hard to believe that everything is ok. I thought that maybe they were cheap knocko-ffs or maybe they were damaged. Everything was ok though. Memory cards are original US Sega hardware, all in skeleton green cases.
The package contained eight boxes, six cards in each one of them. All packed by the manufacturer, brand new, never before opened. Having 48 VMUs, now I can rest assured that I will never run out of memory. And if I do, I can always use the Dream Explorer tool on each and every one of the cards to release those 41 unused blocks.
All the excitement aside, I have to say one thing. Sega really had it going on with Dreamcast. The console rocked. It was ahead of its time, it was the first 128-bit system, it was the first home platform to make proper use of the internet [not counting Saturn NetLink and Genesis X-Band modems], it used custom discs, double the size of CDs and it got the VMU, probably the most innovative memory device seen to this day.
For those who aren't really sure what Dreamcast VMU really is, it's a memory card. But it doesn't end here. Except for being a portable storage device, you can play games on it. Simple as they might be, they're still games. There were many Dreamcast titles that used VMUs extensively, Sonic Adventure being a particularly good example.
In Sonic Adventure you could catch a Chao creature and transfer it onto your VMU. From there you could train it, feed it and so on, much like a Tamagotchi. It grew stronger and faster and you could later transfer it back into the game and participate in races, etc. Sounds like fun, right? It sure was.
The VMU also served as a status display in many Dreamcast games. When plugged into the controller, it would show various things depending on a game. Some would display a static logo, some would show animation, but there were also those games that would show you useful information, like Resident Evil: Code Veronica. The game would show you your health in a form of the standard EKG readout.
Another cool feature was the ability to connect two VMU units with each other. The connector was designed so that two memory cards could be connected with each other directly. By doing this, you could swap save files with someone or even play a two player game.
It seems like the idea of mini game devices serving as memory cards was appealing enough for Sony, so a year after Sega they released their own hardware, calling it PocketStation. We all knew it was a VMU ripoff though and it enjoyed an even shorter life than Dreamcast. Ok, that's enough for today. I'm off to do some heavy saving and I'll be back to post about Quaker Wars.
There are a couple of things Namco is known for, the most notable one being their impressive game lineup - stretching all the way from the end of the '70s and including such unforgettable titles as Pac-Man, Galaga, Dig Dug, Mappy, and more recently Ridge Racer, Tekken and Soul Calibur. But it's not all about the titles when it comes to Namco. They made a reputation for themselves by creating the most impressive home platform conversions of their arcade titles, adding more than anyone could possibly imagine to the already perfect arcade experience. While most games get an arcade release first and a console port second, Soulcalibur III steps in to destroy this trend, premiering on Sony's PlayStation 2.
When Soul Edge got its PlayStation release, it was clear that it would become a strong franchise. Namco put alot of work into developing a great world the story is set in. Anything with that amount of detail was bound to be more than just a one shot, and so, in '98 Namco released a sequel called Soul Calibur. The game was great but Namco made some drastic changes to the gameplay, implementing their 8-way run system, adding depth to the fights. To put more emphasis on a new quality that was Soul Calibur, the old name was abandoned. Later, in '99, came the Dreamcast port and it was clear that Namco had developed one of the most impressive fighting games of all time.
The Dreamcast version of Soul Calibur was in fact so perfect when it came to graphics, that no other game in the series has managed to surpass this quality and create a noticable gap between how the game looked back then and how it looks now, ten years after its initial release. It's beyond me, but many characters in the game still look better on Dreamcast than they look on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 today. There's just something about how the hair [especially on female characters, most notably on Sophitia] and the faces were done that wasn't recreated ever since that memorable Namco and Sega teamup. Enough about history though, because I could write about it for days, literally. Let's focus on the game shown in the photos.
While the second Soulcalibur game appeared on GameCube, Xbox and PlayStation 2, third installment became exclusive to Sony's platform. Maybe Namco needed to focus on just one piece of hardware to improve a already impressive forumla? Maybe it was all about the money? I don't know and I don't really care. The fact is, game was developed as an exclusive title and was based on the same engine that Tekken 5 uses. Speaking of Tekken 5, Namco sure did spoil us with that one. Not only was it an amazing game on its own, but the single game disc included first three installments of Tekken, flawlessly emulated in all of their original arcade glory. To top everything off, Namco threw in their 3D space shooter, StarBlade.
After seeing the extra games in Tekken 5, I kind of expected something similar from Soulcalibur III. It wouldn't hurt to have Soul Edge and first Soul Calibur games on the same disc. After all, Soul Edge originally used Namco's System 11 arcade board, the exact same hardware as the one used by Tekken and Tekken 2, and Soul Calibur ran on System 12 arcade board, the one used by the arcade version of Tekken 3. This means that Namco already had the proper technology developed to emulate these titles, but for some reason just didn't do it. While Sega may own the license for the enhanced version of Soul Calibur, the arcade original is all Namco and so is Soul Edge.
Aside from that, Soulcalibur III looks and plays great. It's pretty clear that there's a strong tie-in to the first Soul Calibur game. Many arenas are basically enhanced versions of those from the first game. Taki's shrine and Kilik's proving grounds are good examples. On top of that, Kilik's stage has an arranged music from the corresponding Soul Calibur arena. It's a nice move on Namco's part. After the criticism of Soul Calibur II, they wanted to bring the series back to its 8-way roots and so they did. Even the final boss explodes into small glowing particles with the exact same animation as Inferno did in Soul Calibur.
One of the things Soul Edge was known for, were the amazing game endings rendered in real time by the game engine. It took Namco close to ten years to bring those back and I was happy to see them once again. I always thought the static art and scrolling text in previous Soul Calibur games lacked the flare of what Soul Edge had shown us on PlayStation. Another feature making a comeback are the weapons, each with its own abilities like healing, double the damage at the cost of our health and so on.
Except the regular one on one fights that take us straight to the next battle, Soul Edge introduced a story driven gameplay in Edge Master Mode. Similar to this is the single player mode in Soulcalibur III. You move across the world map and ocasionally you get to choose your route. It always comes down to beating your opponent, but at least you get the feel that you drive the story forward by your actions and it works. Every opponent beaten will earn you money that can later be spent to buy art and extra content [again, similarly to Soul Calibur] including items rangnig from new weapons to promotional footage from the game.
There are also a couple of features never before seen in Soul series. First is the character customization. Just like in Tekken 5 and before that in Virtua Fighter 4, you can create your custom player. The editor Namco provided is quite complex and gives us the possibility to alter pretty much anything, starting from the body build, to colours of clothes, hair, eyes and so on. The characters are saved onto the memory card and if you feel like it, you can beat your friend up with your newly created sumo wrestler named Wobbly Wallaby, or whatever it is you've created.
Soulcalibur III lacks any kind of online mode so unless you want to carry around your memory card, and you love playing with dolls and dressing them up, forget about the customization feature. Another new feature is a new gameplay mode called "Chronicles of the Sword". It's a strategy game that could be compared to board games where you control the actions of your troops in a war against the neighbouring countries. Again, it all comes down to fights, but it is a nice attempt by Namco to make things more interesting, even though I'd rather see something like the beachball from Tekken 3 or bowling from Tekken Tag.
Soulcalibur III is a great game. It's fast and it looks impressive. The soundtrack may not be nearly as good as Khan Super Session from Soul Edge, but it is pretty decent and it's certainly the best soundtrack in any of the Calibur games. Namco did try to stuff alot of content into the game and it shows. It's a solid production packed with unlockables and if you want to unlock everything, you'll need some time off work.
All that said, Soulcalibur III is the only weapon based fighting game around these days. Sega apparently doesn't feel like developing another Last Bronx title, so all there is left to do is to buy this game. If you like fighting games, it will be money well spent. It's not Namco at its best and I think they did a much better job with Tekken 5, but Soulcalibur III has no real sompetition and I'm not even sure if anyone else can do it better than Namco, even if they don't try their hardest.
Two titles for the PlayStation 2 and one for the PC join the ever growing, eclectic collection of mine. Nothing breathtaking, imported or recently released, but each of these releases deserves some attention. We have something for the first person shooter fans, beat 'em up combatants and classic arcade goodness connaisseurs. There will be time to write about Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and Soulcalibur III, but I wanted to start with my favorite from the bunch, Capcom Classics Collection Volume 2.
Many gamers out there can't be bothered to buy these fantastic collections of oldies, and do they ever miss out on tons upon tons of rock solid gameplay and endless fun. I'm a collections' supporter. I'll buy it all, as long as it's decent, like the recently reviewed Taito Legends Vol. 1 & 2, Metal Slug Anthology or a bit older Tecmo Classic Arcade. Capcom Classics Volume 2 is a definition of a high quality compilation and should serve as an example for many companies out there, especially for Namco with their endless conversions of Pac-Man and Dig Dug, which by now should be given away for free.
At first glance, the box doesn't look like much, but on the disc there are over twenty arcade perfect conversions, featuring many unforgettable classics from Capcom's CPS-1 era. Buy this collection and you'll play such games as Captain Commando, Knights of the Round, The King of Dragons, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Strider, Three Wonders [this single arcade board featured three titles: Midnight Wanderers, Chariot and Don't Pull] and many others.
Except for the games themselves, there is a rather impressive amount of bonus content. For each game you can unlock three content sections: strategy tips, art gallery and the soundtrack. Unlocking is done by completing various objectives, usually by reaching a specified amount of points in a game, reaching a specified stage and finally, completing the game. Aside from these bonus features, identical for every game, there's an in-depth Super Street Fighter II Turbo tutorial by David Sirlin [SSF2T expert and one of the people responsible for the Evolution tournaments held in the US].
So, why would you want to pick up this collection while there are ROM images and emulators out there? Most importantly, playing ROM images is illegal and if you think it's ok just because the games are old, you're a tool. Second, Capcom tried to and succeeded in recreating the arcade experience and you should respect their efforts. Get yourself an arcade stick and you're all set. All games support both 50 and 60 Hz refresh rates and progressive scan mode.
So what titles are the highlight of this great collection? To name top three titles, I would have to say Midnight Wanderers, The King of Dragons and Captain Commando, the first one being a right scrolled platformer and the other two, right scrolled beat 'em ups. If you're old enough to remember the '90s at the arcades, you have to know these titles, or at least Captain Commando. The '90s were truly the golden age of arcades and if you, like me, were feeding the machines with coins every single day of the week, you know what I'm talking about.
I've been collecting arcade boards for many years now, with the sole purpose of being able to enjoy these fantastic games at home. Many of these classic arcade games are hard to find or cost quite a bit and that's why I think it's great that Capcom has released those two incredible compilations, so that everyone can enjoy them. What better way to celebrate those great arcade years, than by buying a single disc packed with perfect conversions, dip switch settings included.
I sincerely hope that Capcom won't stop here and that more arcade titles will follow. Recently SNK started releasing new arcade conversions of titles that up until now were available only on Neo Geo cartidges. Capcom should follow this example by re-releasing some CPS-2 and CPS-3 games. Street Fighter II got a Hyper release, including all of the games in the series, same with Zero / Alpha. Why not release a complete collection of Street Fighter III games? After all, the first two [New Generation and 2nd Impact] are still only available on DreamCast.
Capcom also needs to release a proper arcade conversions of the few CPS-1 Dash [1.5] titles, including the praised and well known The Punisher and Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. While the first one got a home platform release, the MegaDrive version, as good as it was, could not be compared to the original. Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, originally released in 1993, never got a home platform release. The lack of any re-releases is probably caused by multiple licenses involved. There's Marvel in The Punisher's case and theres Kitchen Sink Press and Mark Schultz when it comes to Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. I'm sure Capcom has the money to release these games once again, so why wait?
Fo finish this entry, take a look at this video showing most of the games in action. If you're still not entirely convinced whether or not you should buy this collection, maybe this video will do the trick.