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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Retro Review Tuesday: Earthworm Jim


Earthworm Jim is one of the most popular platform games ever made. It spawned a line of toys, a cartoon show, and bunches of rereleases, remakes and sequels. It was released in 1994 on both the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Unlike most games released on both systems during this period, the Sega Genesis version of the game is widely considered to be the superior version and is the version this review covers. Besides, I proudly admit my status as a Genesis fan girl. :)



-Overview-
When you open the instruction booklet you find a well drawn mini comic which introduces you to the basic concept of the game:Jim is just a normal earthworm when fate steps in to change his life forever. One day a space suits falls from the sky, once inside this suit he finds himself able to move and act in ways no worm would ever dream of. He finds himself running, jumping and blasting his enemies (and his face occasionally) to smithereens. Unfortunately, he also pissed of PsyCrow who was in pursuit of the suit. Jim spends the rest of the game running away from PsyCrow and searching for Queen pulsating, bloated, festering, sweaty, pus-filled, malformed-slug-for-a-butt and her lovely sister, Princess What's-her-name.




You can tell just from that basic description that Earthworm Jim is a level of craziness you rarely find in modern American produced games. With the over abundance of cows (well, really one cow that gets around), the ridiculous settings of the levels and really the entire concept of an earthworm running around in a space suit, you're guaranteed raised eyebrows and fits of giggles and fits of giggles are exactly what you're going to get. Jim's silly sayings and idle animations(my personal favorite is when he drops his pants) are guaranteed to get you to crack a smile if somehow anthropomorphic brains and giant hamsters don't.


Graphically the game has held up very well over the years. The animation is bright, crisp, smooth and fluid. Character sprites are detailed without excessive pixelation and the backgrounds are big and colorful without being distracting. It also is rare instances of a "3d" graphic that was mind blowing and innovative at the time and still looks good today.

Sound wise it's pretty basic. Sounds and voices are clear and the music is memorable and quite appropriate, but nothing special compared to other classic games.

-Difficulty-

The game on every difficulty level ranges quite a bit from easy, silly, fun to rage inciting, controller throwing, impossibilities. When you start the game you can choose one of three difficulty choices: Practice, normal, and difficult. Practice mode even though it seems easy in the beginning still presents a challenge in the later levels, Buttville in particular can be ridiculous when you don't know what's coming. The harder difficulty levels render some portions neigh on impossible as you move on.

-Gameplay-

The controls are smooth and responsive. Like most older games they're pretty basic: A shoots your gun, either the normal or super plasma depending on what you've picked up recently. B whips Jim around which is good for things like killing crow and swinging across large chasms. C when standing still or running is good old fashioned jump, when falling it's used for the helicopter head move which slows Jim's fall, allows him to maneuver into different space and saves your butt more often than most of us would like to admit.


Like you'd expect for a platformer you spend the majority of your game eliminating or avoiding enemies, collecting items, and working towards hitting a continue or a boss. However, there are several levels that break from the mold and give you a bit of a different gaming experience, like riding a mini rocket, bungee jumping, piloting an airless and extremely fragile submarine and keeping an adorable little puppy out of harms way.


You start off the game in "New Junk City",a junkyard guarded by Chuck the fish retching overseer and Fifi his loyal worm hating canine companion. They aren't the only problems for poor Jim as he presses on in his quest, there's is also a steady stream of crows that are delighted with the sight of a giant worm and if given a chance they will grab poor Jim's head and not want to let go. Not to mention the numerous spike pits that dot the landscape.(which does beg the question as to why would a junkyard want or need spike pits...) After beating the area boss Jim pulls out his trusty pocket sized rocket ship and heads into space for a little race with PsyCrow you'll become all to familiar with as the game progresses (AKA Andy Asteroids). If Jim wins the race he heads to "What the Heck" a reimagining of hell where elevator music floats through the air and a cat named evil reigns supreme. If Jim loses the race he has to fight PsyCrow beforehand but still ends up in "heck".


The rest of the game proceeds in an equally as absurd and improbable manner culminating in an epic battle with the Queen, Queen slug-for-a-butt for short, so that Jim can finally meet with the lovely princess..and a cow.


-Conclusion-

Overall Earthworm Jim is a game that just about everyone in my generation played and remembers fondly. It's a game easily beat in one sitting but one that sticks with you whether because of it's comic genius, it's almost infinite playability, or just for nostalgia. It is easily one of most memorable games ever made and possibly the most influential game in the platformer genre. This game ranks among my top favorites and as an owner of hundreds of video games spanning a dozen systems that's no easy feat, even if I were liquidate the majority of most of our gaming collection this would be one worth keeping forever.



Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Retro Review Tuesday: Double Dribble

It's now 2009 and when you want play a basketball game you can just pop in NBA 2k9 when you want a realistic looking challenging game of basketball on your favorite console. But let's get in our time machine and set the dial to an era where you didn't always have the luxury of such a lush experience. Back when the Nintendo Entertainment System was the top of line in home entertainment and 8 bits were as much as anyone could handle. The year is 1987 and if you and your friends wanted to go head to head in a game of hoops, Konami had you covered with Double Dribble.





-Overview-

It's classic 5 on 5 full court basketball. You have 4 periods to score more points than the other team via 2 pointers, 3 pointers and free throws. You have the same four periods to keep them from scoring more than you and just like real basketball you can foul and have to give up free throws so you want to make sure your blocks and steals are of the legal variety. (though quite honestly it's always seemed to be to be random when the game decides that something is illegal.) For the time period it was actually pretty accurate to the sport is was portraying and was one of the first games to feature sound and cut scenes which was a real treat for those of us old enough to remember when that was not only a rarity, but the cutting edge of technology.



The gameplay graphics are pretty terrible by today's standards. Your characters and the crowd are faceless and undetailed but, to it's credit, the crowd does cheer in the background while the game is going on. However, this cheering is limited to just two frames of animation. The cut scene graphics on the other hand, are fairly detailed especially for the time period and are easily the most memorable part of the game.

The music is pretty standard Nintendo fare and is only present when something special is happening: the beginning, the half time show and the end. The remainder of the game is played to the sounds of shoe squeaks, passes and dribbling .

-Gameplay-

You start off the game by watching the crowd, which at this points seems to resemble old TV static, stream into an unnamed arena while the us national anthem plays and the Konami Blimp flies overhead majestically. After you wipe the tears from your eyes at the beauty of such a touching scene, you get to the selection screen. Here you shoot baskets to choose how long you want your periods to be, what team you'd like to be and if you're playing a one player game, if you'd like to be playing the computer at skill level one, two or three. Your teams while clearly based on existing American teams at the time, exist only in the mind of Konami's programmers.

The 4 teams available are:

The Boston Frogs: Who as you would expect have a green theme and a frog mascot.
The New York eagles: The team in white with an eagle mascot.
The Chicago Ox: The red team who has an ox mascot which is absolutely not bull in spite of what it looks like.
The LA Breakers: The blue team with a mascot that's completely indiscernible. As a child I was pretty convinced it was a blue raspberry freeze pop and my siblings thought it was a blue pickle. As I aged I decided it was a radioactive rod, but now I suspect given their name it's supposed to be a lake.(not to be confused with the Lakers)


Once you've made your decision based either on your personal affinity for the geographical location or silly mascots of these fictional teams, you start off with the jump ball. This is one of the things that supports the voice feature and actually sounds pretty much like what it supposed to be saying. (I can't say as much for some of the other Konami games that supported voice at the time - I'm looking at you, Blades of Steel) One team gets the ball and the game begins. The player you're controlling flashes to easily discern them from the AI players. Though this is an NES game with 10 playable sprites on the field and an active background so all the players flicker a bit sometimes making it seem as though your teammates are suffering from an advanced form of leprosy(this is especially apparent in some of the screenshots). If you've got the ball the active character can either shoot or pass and if you don't have the ball you can steal or block. The characters you aren't playing with work on very simple AI which basically causes them to run around the court not doing much of anything until a ball basically falls on them or you select them. When shooting in addition to your normal basics you can hit three pointers and slam dunks.

The three pointers are made from any place beyond the three point line though there are a few "sweet spots" where it's easier to hit them and they make a very gratifying sound when they sink and cause the crowd to go wild. The slam dunk is probably the part of this game everyone remembers. Whenever you get in close the basket from the front it will trigger one of three slam dunk cut scenes - two handed, one handed and behind the back. Be aware though that seeing the cut scene doesn't mean you've successfully gotten it in, all too often you'll often hear the brutal buzzing of shot bouncing off the rim.

After the first two periods your thumbs get a break as a squad of cheerleaders (which don't seem to be affiliated with any specific team) take the court and do several dance steps and formations as your chosen teams' mascots go by the crowd. Once the cheerleaders leave the court, the game resumes and you can continue trying to steal, pass, and shoot your way to victory. At the end of the 4 periods whoever has the most points is declared the winner and sees one player, always the same player in a jersey that matches your team's color, receives a trophy and the admiration of the aforementioned cheerleaders.




-Conclusion-

Double dribble may not sound like much, but It's been 22 years since it came out and most people who owned a Nintendo still fondly recall it and plenty have downloaded it to their Wii virtual consoles since Nintendo made it available again in 2007. It's not just for nostalgia either, I can almost guarantee that almost everyone who played it enjoyed it and probably spent a good number of childhood afternoons competitively playing it with their friends, family and neighbors. The game is a lot of fun and while graphically it has very poorly weathered the test of time, it's fun factor and playability are as high as ever. It's not as "epic" as many of the games I review, but it is a classic and one I heartily endorse.


~Stephanie

Don't forget to stop by our shop for vintage game collectibles:

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Wings of Redemption Spawn (series 32) and June's coupon code

One of my larger collections and one I don't think I've really discussed in this blog before is action figures. I will collect figures from any show/comic/movie/whatever if they're interesting looking. I especially love the super detailed highly articulated figures which means I end up with a lot of Mcfarlane figures, thus a lot of Spawn figures. However, If I tried to collect ALL the mcfarlane figures or even just ALL the spawn figures, I'd be completely broke all the time and have absolutely no space in the house. So, I try to keep some sort of focus, I try to only collect spawn figures with wings and repaints of The Heap. All sorts of other figures sneak in there as well, but those are what my primary McFarlane figure collection consists of and the ones I break out of the box immediately as I want to enjoy them. My latest addition is to my favorite, the wings of redemption series. The wings of redemption figures are based on the cover of issue #77 it shows spawn with a mighty pair of white feather angel wings. The first figure was released in series 21 and has had a couple of subsequent repaints and re-releases. My latest edition is the most recent one from series 34. This one feature a much more dynamic pose than the first, though it does not at all resemble the cover. The detail is the sort I've come to expect from a Mcfarlane figure, I am especially fond of the detail on each individual feather in the outstretched wings. I am however disappointed to note that this would be better called a plastic statute then an action figure. There are only 4 points of articulation none of which are particularly useful for changing the look. I realize I can't expect too much articulation as the pose isn't really intended for it,especially as he rather delicately hovers over the base(not shown in in my pictures) as is. but I really did expect to be able to do a little more with it. Also of note is that this one is much smaller than the other WOR spawns (barring the 3" trading versions). Overall this is gorgeous figure and while not as popular among collectors as the other WOR figures, it is a truly beautiful figure well worth the purchase price. One note though, this figure should be taken out of the package to be truly enjoyed. I've never been one to keep my figures in packages anyway, but I understand collectors wanting to keep everything completely mint. However this one looks like practically nothing in the package, it's well worth breaking the factory sealing for.

Next up, I set up the store coupon code for June: JuneBlog it will get you 17% off any order over $1 :) And I recently updated some fun things to use it on. The most interesting thing is probably A complete import copy of Kirby's Dreamland 2 (which has incredibly adorable box art!). I love that the gameboy and the DS are region free and use that to collect quite a few import titles that are either otherwise available in the states or when I just enjoy the import box art more. We're planning on a mid June vacation so we'll be adding loads more soon to help add to our trip funds so if you don't see something interesting now you might see something interesting next week.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Retro Review Tuesday: Super Punch-Out !!

As I did Mike Tyson's Punch-out!! last week, I felt Super Punch-put!! was a logical next choice. The only issue is that until very late in life I didn't own super punch out and other than when I was in college and starved for vintage goodness I've never really liked playing on an emulator. So once again I tapped my incredibly awesome brother (author of the Contra III review) to write this one as he's spent many more hours on it than I have.



-Introduction-

I can personally say that when I first heard of another Punch-Out!! game (besides Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!), I was rather excited. My older sister (owner of this blog, of course) first introduced it to me via SNES emulator on my dad's old Windows 95. My earliest memory of playing this game is losing to the very first fighter as a result of being unable to locate the emulator's controls (I hadn't quite had the revelation that the controls the game was showing me probably didn't match the emulator). Having gotten over that obstacle, I proceeded to play this new Punch-Out!! with an obsessive passion. In spite the fact that the gameplay would bear little resemblance to the classic NES predecessor and was so ridiculous that it makes all too much sense that the word "boxing" never appears once in this game.


-Overview-

As stated above, Super Punch-Out!! is a nearly complete overhaul from its NES predecessor. The one thing that does carry over to this version, is the comic relief that is the characters. You can still count on a punch to the belly to yield the most fantastic facial expression ever and the knockdown animations don't disappoint. (although none of them are quite as lovely as counting a Bull Charge, or downing Von Kaiser with a body blow) Unlike the 3-round matches of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! which, if spent, would end in a decision, Super Punch-Out!! Gives you just one 3-minute round, which elapses in real-time. However, there are no decisions. If you run out of time, tough shit, you lose.

Also new to this game is profile creation, eliminating the need for passwords. Your win record, time records for the specific fighters and total score for a circuit are recorded. You are allowed to play in new Time Attack Mode, freely choosing to fight whoever you wish from a list of fighters you've already defeated in the regular Championship Mode.


-Gameplay-
Like the old game, you advance your way through the circuits (Minor, Major, World, and Special)by defeating the current circuit's Champion , the three returning fighters from Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! who star in this sequel: Bald Bull, Mr. Sandman, and Super Macho Man, all take on the role of the Champion of their circuit.

When you initially start Championship Mode, you create your profile, choosing your own name (8 character count). You then save it, and proceed to the beginning of your journey to victory, selecting the circuit you wish to challenge.(minor circut when you start off of course) The special circuit is only available if you've got a loss record of zero in the three preceding circuits. This does not mean you cannot lose, ever. If you complete the Minor, Major, and World circuit and the Special circuit isn't available to you (its name will be displayed but you cannot select it), all you have to do is return to the circuits where you have losses and run through them, again, without losing any matches.
You will be introduced to your next challenge by an introduction screen, displaying your opponent's mug, name, record, weight, and age. Push start, and the fight begins.


The same basic layout applies here as in the old game, you and your adversary pretty much stand toe-to-toe the entire time, with a little more in-ring movement than before. Many of the fighters dance around the ring before some special maneuver. You yourself, have the ability to dodge attacks (left and right on the D-pad), duck (down), and guard your face (up) and abdomen (Default - push nothing). Some attacks can only be avoided by a specific defensive maneuver (For example, Super MachoMan's Spin Punch can only be avoided by ducking, not dodging or blocking). Your offensive moves include left and right jabs to the head, body blows, and an amped up Super Punch attack that, unlike Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!, is not limited, but rather, is always available once the Special Meter is filled via making contact with your opponent. You can use these attacks as much as you want until you are struck, which will drain much of your Special Meter. Your Special attacks include a powerful right hook to the jaw, an equally devastating left hook to the gut, and, by tapping the Special Attack button, you can unleash a fast and furious left-right combo to the face or stomach that can range from 2 to even 10 consecutive blows. For added creativity, knocking somebody down with a Special Attack will yield a more aggressive knockdown animation. If you are pummeling your opponent hard enough and constant enough, you just might render him into a defenseless dazed state, giving you a golden opportunity to finish them off. Almost all fighters have a daze state, and every daze state has a small window of time to land a Super Punch for an instant knockdown (some of these can be distinguished from normal knockdowns by their alternate knockdown animation).



-Characters-

Your Character: Often said to be little Mac, but throughout the game he remains nameless, his only resemblance to Little Mac being his green boxing gloves.
Signature Move: Super Punch/KO Punch(star punches in the NES version) - Whatever you want to call this, it's the weapon of mass hurt

Gabby Jay: A 56-year-old Frenchmen, this Glass Joe clone mirrors the win-loss record of his NES counterpart at 1-99. Getting beat by him is pretty much only excusable by not knowing the controls...and even then...(hangs head in shame).
Signature Move: Gabby's Rage - Decades of humiliation and defeat in the ring will occasionally get Jay's blood boiling, prompting trash-talk and a mean punch to the gut.

Bear Hugger: A huge but certainly not jolly Canadian, this behemoth will often goad you into taking a shot at his seemingly invincible and enormous belly.
Signature Move: Face Bash - Generally used as a counter attack after blocking a potention punch to the face, this manuver entails Bear Hugger spreading out his arms not unlike a bear about to pull you into its maw, and slams his gloves together, squishing your face like a berry.

Piston Hurricane: A throwback to the Arcade version of Punch-Out!! (Or so I am told), Piston Hurricane specializes in fancy footwork, and quick fists (relative to his early appearance in the game).
Signature Move: Hurricane Rush: A flurry of blows alternating to the face and body.

Bald Bull: The turkish brute is back, now hailing as the Minor Circuit Champ.
Signature Move: Bull Charge - Just like the classic game, Bald Bull will back up, get onto his haunches, and bounce (charge) at you, delivering a devastating uppercut once he reaches you that puts you on the mat without question.

Bob Charlie: Obviously not a Bob Marley clone, this dreadlocked ring-dancer will keep you off balance as he "shucks and jives."
Signature Move: Feel the Rhythm - Bob initiated this maneuver with a soulful dance, and will then decide whether to just jump back into the fight, or close his dance number with a heavy, spinning uppercut.

Dragon Chan: Everybody knows that every Asian is a martial arts expert, sportsthe last name "Chan." Beware of this one. As far as he's concerned, fists are but one weapon of the human arsenal.
Signature Move: Flying Kick - A maneuver which is completed with an instant knockdown, Chan will jump onto the ropes to the right, bounce to the ropes on the left, and fire himself back to you, nearly taking your head off with his mighty, silk-slippered foot.

Masked Muscle - Mexicans cheat. That's just what they do, right? This fighter (whom is a Soda Popinski clone) will use any trick necessary to win the match, so stay on your toes.
Signature Move: Spit-In-Your-Eye - This shameless brawler frequently attempt to spit in your eye, temporarily rendering you partially blind, and unable to attack.

Mr. Sandman: The heavy-fisted Sandman returns as the Major Circuit Champion to put you to sleep, once and for all.
Signature Move: Sandman's Uppercut Rush - Homage to his old self in the NES game, Sandman once again calls upon this now much easier to avoid maneuver, throwing three big uppercuts in a row.

Aran Ryan: This big-nosed Irishman boasts a tolerance to pain, and angers if struck hard enough.
Signature Move: Grab Him It looks as dirty as it sounds.

Heike Kagero: A very young and profoundly effeminate Japanese man, donning small bits of pink face paint (or makeup...), 19-year-old Heike utilizes many unorthodox maneuvers and dances to keep you guessing his next move.
Signature Move: Hair Whip - Putting his long, luxurious hair to good (further) use, Heike Kegaro violently swings his deadly locks in a two-hit combo, rather difficult to evade the first one or two (or ten) times you see it.

Mad Clown - Basically a more difficult Bear Hugger in a Clown Get-up, Mad Clown is a mean Italian entertainer , seeming to want his opponents to see the humor in their beating.
Signature Move: Juggling Juggernaut - Out of nowhere, this near-400 pounder surprises you with a backflip, and then proceed to juggle some red balls, which are then hurled at you from different directions. After this, another astonishing flip, into a devastating face-smashing, abruptly taking your down to the canvas.

Super Machoman - Once again the Champ of the World Circuit, the self-obsessed Super Macho Man flexes before your match, and flexes some more, as he waits for you to get up.
Signature Move: Super Spin Punch - Unlike the less (although certainly not low) damaging, single version of this move, Macho Man will give a big windup, and then throw as many consecutive spin-punches as he pleases, all with the ability to put you down in one.

Narcis Prince - Your initial bout in the punishing Special Circuit is with this self-centered little pillock. Obsessed with his own looks, striking Prince in his face will send him into a blind rage.
Signature Move: Rage of the Prince - During this state, Narcis Prince his very fast and aggressive, in contrast to his pre-rage style which consists mainly of showboating and playing.

Hoy Quarlow: --Right at about this point is where you begin to realize there never really was a referee. The counting and declarations of knockouts were mostly likely the services of an over-involved spectator, trying to salvage some order in the ridiculous sports federation known as the WVBA.---The 92-year-old Hoy Quarlow has two moves that resemble anything close to a legal punch. The rest of the time, he's smacking your around with a big stick. Let's not play around with a fancy term like "Cane" or Staff," it's a big stick. The only alternate to the two punches and endless Stick maneuvers would be the occasional kick to the face. So with all of this in mind, pay no mind to this old bastard's introductory commentary of "Please, take it easy on a poor old man...." In no strained about of time, you'll be ready to pound this prune-face right through the canvas.
Signature Move: None- What F***ing Signature Move does he need, he's got a big stick.

Rick Bruiser: An enigmatic, heavy hitting giant featuring no known age or place of origin, he is the brother of the Special Circuit Champ. And he is determined to convince everybody, especially his opponents that he is truly the best, despite his brother's Championship Title, using a variety of special maneuvers, including 3-hit combos, pounding elbows, and paralysis of your fists.
Signature Move: Earthquake - Rick jumps into the air, and smashes back to the mat, temporarily immobilizing you.

Nick Bruiser: The Special Circuit Champion. Nick Bruiser is the most enigmatic, silent, heaviest-fisted opponent you've met yet, and every knockdown you suffer by his golden glove will send you into a body-spin before you inevitably hit the ground. Every punch from him equates to the strongest attack of many past adversaries. Bruiser's expressionless visage will remain unchanged as he stares at your beaten and lifeless body for the undoubtedly dozens of matches to follow.
Signature Move: I-Don't-Know-What-This-Is-But-It-Knocks-You-Down-Right-Away-So-Don't-Get-Hit-By-It I don't know what this is, but it knocks you down right away so don't get hit by it.





-Conclusion-

Even if you're not a boxing fan, or a follower of any sport, the silly cartoonish nature of Super Punch-Out is sure to have you determined to see all there is to see within. Classic Punch-Out!! players will thoroughly enjoy it just as much as players new to the series. If you get the chance,as it is a rare game, give Super Punch-Out a try. It's a fun one.

~RM

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