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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Retro Review Tuesday: Barbie Vacation Adventure

So far in my retro reviews we've only done reviews of good games, and if not good they've at least been classics. Today changes all that, today I'm reviewing a game that has got to be one of the poorest excuses for game to have ever made it to a system as glorious as the SNES, a game that makes me ashamed to be a girl and even more ashamed to have enjoyed barbies, ever. Today I'm reviewing Barbie Vacation Adventure it was released on the Genesis and PC as well , but I chose to suffer through the Super Nintendo version.

***Introduction***

For many years game producers have had themselves convinced that girls are incapable of playing "normal" video games. No one with two X chromosomes has ever had any real interest in anything like Mario or Megaman, and forget about any fighting games or war games. Oh no, that's far too scary for us. So we were forced to play puzzle games maybe a few RPGs or a Kirby game if we were really adventurous, but mostly we just played Tetris. Soon, Tetris became synonymous with girls and video games. Producers saw this and thought to themselves Oh no! we can't have this, those girls could be providing us with a market share! We have to break them from their Tetris induced trances and get them playing other games! Other games we can profit from! Thus the genre of "girl games' was born. Games designed specifically to appeal to the female audience, with themes so cliched and fluffy they make magical girl shows look like serious drama. They usually center around dress up, care taking or puzzles and generally are borderline unplayable. The Barbie games fit right into this mold with vacation adventure reaching a special low. Not only is this game full of insanely boring cutesy family friendly tasks to do, you can't actually lose at any of them. Apparently the makers thought that given this game has the bare essentials of gameplay elements, that it might prove a bit difficult for the inferior female gamer and didn't think we could deal with the rejection of losing. But, I'm getting ahead of myself a bit. Let's step back and take a deeper look at this poor excuse for a video game.





***Overview***

I don't have the booklet for this game so I can only go by what the cartridge gives me. Your basic story seems to be that Barbie has decided to take a vacation (a very patriotic US vacation if the map is any indication). The object of the game is to go on vacation and then go home for a party. Yeah, that's seriously it...

Graphically, this did not utilize the capabilities of the SNES at all.The best looking parts of the game are the title screen and the map, they fool you into thinking this might have at least standard SNES graphics, it all lies. It's not really much better looking than the NES Barbie game release. Though there are more colors and there's slightly more background animation happening. Barbie's overall look and animation, though she's little more than a stick figure, is OK but, on the whole the character sprites are definitely lacking, there are scores of NES releases that look better than this.



As for the sound, the music, is well, music for a barbie game. That's a better description than anything else I could say, but I'll try. It's certainly not good, but it could be much worse. There was at least an attempt to make it seem interesting and complex though in reality it's a collection of midi music that represents rejected theme songs from a mid-eighties sitcoms and standard repetitive uninspired video game tracks. I can say one completely positive thing about the music, it can be turned off in the options screen. The other sounds are just kind of there, they don't really detract from the experience, but they don't really add to it either. They can also be turned off in the options menu.

The controls for this game are pretty crappy. You've got the entire SNES pad worth of buttons to work with, but A, B, X, & Y all do the same thing, a generic action button that makes barbie do the selected action depending on what she's currently engaging in. D-pad makes her move back and forth, though when you're Barbie she won't move up and down at all. When you've got a cursor, you can move in all four directions, Exciting! Start pauses, select doesn't do anything except when you're putting together the tent and the L and R buttons don't do anything I noticed. Barbie doesn't respond particularly well and when you couple that with the poorly rendered environments and elements she's supposed to be interacting with, it can get very annoying though there's very little gameplay to speak of so it could be worse.

***Gameplay***

The game starts and you see barbie on the title screen sitting on her pile of suitcases from here you can either start right away or hit the options menu. In the options menus you can change the difficulty from blocks to mortarboard, that's kind of unclear, but I think I can safely assume that it's changing it to easy or hard. You can set the game to one or two players adding in Teresa or maybe it's Midge(I'm not sure I haven't actually played it with a second player)and you can turn the sounds and music on or off. After changing whatever options you like you can start game.


When you start the game you put in your name and are then greeted with a map. The map gives a very rough outline of the US conveniently patterned with the American flag just in case you were unsure of which country you were looking at, and positions the sun right on top of the great lakes area. The sun crashing into the earth hasn't seemed to put a damper on Barbie's vacation plans, she even seems unfazed that the calamity seems to have moved the state of Iowa into where Illinois used to be. Moving on, you can chose one of the following locations: Iowa to go the county carnival, Florida to hang out at the beach, Texas to hit up a local horse ranch, Wyoming to go camping and finally back home to your California mansion.


I choose to go to Iowa/Illinois first as I couldn't take my eyes away from the terrifying clown head used to demarcate it on the map. Let me stop for a moment and ask what kind of vacation destination is Iowa? I can't knock it too heavily because I went on vacation there just this year, but seriously there are no county fairs in the entirety of California that would have made a more sensible stop? Anyway, before you can send Barbie to the carnival you'll have to make sure you take time out for the most important part of any woman's vacation plans, giving her the proper outfit! This happens in every location, Barbie has a preset outfit and you choose the colors of various parts of it. I have to say, for a game that's supposed to be fashion conscious the clothes are pretty awful, even when taking the time period into account and it is incredibly annoying that the "same" colors never match.

After taking care of the business with your outfit you make it to the carnival and find that a prize pig has escaped. Barbie is asked to help them catch it, why I have no idea, I'd think a bunch of farmers who are likely to be at least sort of familiar with pigs would have a much better chance of catching it than a super model. Apparently though I'd be wrong as the pig runs around the screen until barbie hits the action button at the appropriate time to catch it. It then follows along behind you and then you're able to play carnival games because you caught it. HOORAY for perfectly reasonable coherent story lines, there's no flaws in that logic!



The carnival games are: knocking down cans, throwing balls in clown mouths, and ringing the bell on a strength tester. They're not actually horrible, but they aren't great either. When you're all done you walk off the side screen, Barbie will then talk about leaving and sends "you,"(whatever name you put in at the beginning), a post card talking about what she did there, yay! Then the game tallies up all the points you received in that level and others if you've played them to give you a total. Then it's back to the map to choose a new destination.

Next I went to Florida after carefully choosing Barbie's outfit (which looks nothing like what she ends up wearing during gameplay), you can choose to have her play "volleyball" with Midge or search for pirate treasure. I start of with "volleyball" I put it in quotes because last time I checked volleyball doesn't use a beach ball bigger than either of the participants to play. However in Barbie's world things are rarely as they are in the real world. In any case, you play with Midge until one of you gets to 10 points. If Barbie loses, it's no problem because she can just play over and over until she wins. The controls are especially horrible here and it's very easy to miss the ball, but you should be able to pass it without too much trouble.



After that annoyance I went to search for pirate treasure. Funny thing about pirate treasure is that in this case it's not only been discovered, but cataloged as well as Barbie knows the exact number of pieces, lucky her that no one else seemed to want to bother to pick it up. Some other interesting notes about this treasure is that it seems to float completely stationary and consists of cut diamonds bigger than any the world has seen, a few red diamonds a bunch of gold stars, a couple of treasure chests and some blue things I can't identify. While you're collecting all this conveniently located treasure, Barbie is slowly losing air so don't forget to pick up the perfectly safe and intact oxygen tanks that are littering the sea floor. After you collect all the treasure, you get a bunch of points and can leave the area. Then you can head to the sign in the middle of the level to exit. Barbie says a few words, sends her postcard, and you see your points and can select a new location.


Next, I went to Texas, to the Western ranch to be exact. I picked my outfit and then picked a horse to do jumping with. There are three different horses, a white horse, a bay horse and a black horse to choose from. I tried them all and they didn't seem to move any differently than one another. So pick whichever one you find the most aesthetically pleasing (that's like totally the most important thing anyway right?) and start your race against the clock on the jumping course. The clock starts as soon as you get on the course, no need to worry though, the horse runs at a steady pace by itself so all you have to worry about is hitting a button at the right time to jump over the bars, you'll gain 10 seconds every time you hit a bar and if you hit too many bars you'll have to quit. Though you still get some points even if you have to stop, so it's OK, you can try again, as many times as you like. Also note how when you're jumping, you can see the fabled misty mountain ranges of Texas in the background (yes there are mountains in Texas, but not like that).

When you're bored with that you can go play horseshoes by walking off to the right of the screen. Barbie aims like she's drunk, but you should still be able to hit the spike without too many issues. Be sure to take a look at how absolutely crazed Barbie looks when pitching them as well, it's quite frightening. When you decide it's time to move on you walk off the left side of screen and barbie says her words and sends her card, you get your points tally and choose the next destination.



Before heading home, I decided to send Barbie to Wyoming to do her camping. As usual you choose an outfit for her before starting. She then starts off by setting up here tent, which is an insanely simple puzzle set up kind of like Tangrams. Once you've finished that barbie goes for a walk through the woods.



This is the only part of the game that really feels like a video game. Barbie has to cross several streams by jumping from rock to rock, but she has to be careful as if she slips and ends up in the ankle deep water she'll have to go back to beginning to dry off. As we all should well know, it's unreasonable to even considering being wet while you're out camping and hiking by the stream. Making matters worse are the animals that get in your way and can knock Barbie off the rocks, causing her to get wet. Especially heinous are the butterflies, the cruel aggressors will mercilessly toss barbie into the water if they touch her while you're standing on a stone. Once again the poor controls/interactions can cause this to take longer than it needs to. After you get through the jumping trials Barbie decides to take some wildlife pictures.


This basically means that barbie will keep walking along while you use cursor shaped like a camera viewfinder to take pictures of the animals. Every animal you snap gets you more points though you can only take each individual animal's picture once. When Barbie's done, she sends her post card, you get your points tally and then move on.


Now it's time to head home after so many not-so-exciting adventures! If you're playing on the harder difficulty you have to have enough points to do so. Otherwise, you can't select California and you'll have to keep endlessly vacationing until you have enough points to go home. Once that's cleared up you choose California, pick out Barbie's dress color and then you find yourself in Barbies beautiful, ugly and insanely tacky mansion. As soon as you arrive Ken will tell you that there are gifts hidden for you to find, and then walks off...seems sort of suspicious but whatever, it's present time! If you're playing the harder level, Ken tells you where they are but, excluding the first it's via a series of annoying rhyming clues.


When you find a gift you try to figure out what's inside it, as that's way more interesting than actually opening it! If you choose incorrectly you just try again, if you choose correctly you get points and get to continue. Ken shows up again, tells you more presents are left or gives you a stupid riddle and then walks off again (he does this in rooms where he couldn't escape, but he's just gone! It's kind of eerie really). This happens until you find all your presents and then Ken says there's a knock at the door.


Barbie makes her way to the door then you stand outside with Ken and your pink convertible and...nothing happens. It's stationary scene with no dialogue or explanations or anything. You just sit there until you hit a button. I'm not sure if the implication is that Ken got you new pink convertible just like the one barbie has always had or what. Anyway after you hit the button you get a scene of Barbie and Ken on a balcony, where nothing still happens... Then you see a one page credits list, before it kicks you back out to the main menu. That's it, that's the game. All those points you collected? Worth pretty much nothing, especially the ones you got for guessing the presents.



***Conclusion***

This game is such waste that you can't lose and you can't really win. You can just play it, if you can call subjecting yourself to these mindless digital tasks playing. The concept is bad, the controls are bad and the sound is bad. The only time you'll feel good about this game is when you turn it off and swear off ever playing it again. If you want to play one of the worst games to ever hit the Super NES console, by all means play this game. If you want to actually get even a small amount of enjoyment out of what you're playing just about any other game will do. OK, maybe not Bebe's kids, but even Shaq-fu is more satisfying than this piece of crap. As a true gamer girl who has played everything from doom to pokemon, I can admit that I am in some ways a sterotypical girl and I do still enjoy dress-up and puzzle games and barbies. I'm still disgusted that such a horrible piece of crap was ever supposed to appeal to me. After all, in these modern times, a woman can buy her own pink convertible.

~Stephanie

Don't forget to stop by our shop for vintage toys and collectibles:
https://www.avaneshop.com

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Collection update, more thrift finds!

I probably don't have to say this again, but I will, we love thrifting. The majority of things we're interested in adding to our collections is 10 years old or more, which means in the minds of many people, junk. So we're often finding all sorts of tossed out goodies. My favorite find was probably this coleco pac-man mini arcade still in the original box with original price tag. and still working for $5. I'm too lazy to take pictures of it right now, but I assure you it is an awesome thing. We've got all sorts of good stuff over the years that way and maybe if I ever get around to it, I'll post pictures of some of our older collections.

In the meantime, here's what we scored recently at our local thrift stores:

From the upper left hand corner:
Wing commander III PC game Complete in box with all inserts
McFarlane's Dragons series 2 Berserker Clan Dragon NIP though we'll be taking him out and proudly displaying him soon.
Tomb Raider III Lara figure in wet suit, her box is pretty beaten up, but as we haven't decided whether or not we're going to keep her because she's not in her normal outfit.
Two NES Control Pads in fantastic working condition, practically mint and only $1 each!
Odium for the PC
Carmen Sandiego's Think quick
The super Nova of light is Carmen Sandiego's word detective a cereal box game or I'd not have bought it without an original case, but I love Carmen Sandiego games(as I'm sure is obvious from my last retro review) so I had to get it too.
Hard to see, but over the top of the PC games is an Original Mario Brothers Game Watch, it needs a new battery, but looks like it should work just fine once we grab one. Woot!

All that stuff cost us around $25 including tax, but the joy all that useless old junk brings us is truly priceless. :)

~Stephanie

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Retro Review Tuesday: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego

In this review I'm covering a true classic, Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego. I vividly remember elementary school class days in the computer lab sitting with world almanac in hand searching for flags, currencies and landmarks, in my quest to capture the V.I.L.E. Henchmen and become a master detective. Finding a vintage late eighties or early nineties computer in the proper shape to play it would be a bit difficult for me the moment (though I admit I'd be oh so happy if one were available) so I decided to go with the port on the Sega Genesis.


-Overview-

I have to start off by saying this is an educational game, a way to trick kids into learning. I always liked to learn and world history and geography were just the sort of thing I was really interested in, so I found it rather enjoyable as a child and as an adult as well. However, I recognize it is a haphazard social studies lesson disguised as a video game. Moving on the basic premise of the game is that you're an agent for the Acme detective agency who's caseload apparently only includes high dollar, high profile robberies of national treasures from around the world.The perpetrators of these crimes are part of the V.I.L.E. crime syndicate lead by a lovely Ms. Carmen Sandiego, a former spy for Monaco. You track down Carmen and her crew by following some really vague tips from eyewitnesses.

The controls are pretty simple, it's converted from a point and click game and is still just point and click but with a controller instead of a mouse.

Graphically this game isn't one of the better genesis titles. There were several changes made to this release, but it still show the signs of being an early PC game. The pictures chosen for each countries "highlight" are highly pixelated, the images of the eyewitness' have some dubious proportions and some border on inappropriate racial stereotyping. Most of the game is static images, but there are some very simple animations, which are nothing spectacular but are highly amusing and one of the best parts of the game.



Sound wise there isn't much: the sound of footsteps, a plane flying and a couple of short midi tracks whenever you're on the right track and catch a glimpse of a V.I.L.E. Henchmen. They add to the ambiance of the game and I'd be sad if they were absent, but they aren't really anything special or particularly memorable.



-Gameplay-


You start of the game at Acme head quarters by signing in to the crime computer, this is basically so you can save your game and earn a password when you get tired of solving cases. After you sign in, you get a news flash which tells that a priceless world artifact was stolen. You get the name of the artifact, the country location and the sex of the suspect before being told it's up to you to solve the case before 5PM on Sunday. It's Monday morning at 9AM when you start off so you've got 6 days and 8 hours to catch Carmen or her cronies. It might seem like plenty of time, but every time you fly to new area it takes several hours,( the extract number of which depends on how far it is from your current location), getting a warrant takes a couple hours, and a growing detective needs 8- 12 hours of sleep every night (depending on what you're doing when it's past 10PM in the game). That's not even counting the time it takes to investigate the three areas in each location. Making matters worse if you accidentally choose an incorrect location, you have to fly all the way back from the location you left from before you can fly back to the country you should have gone to in the first place.

Now you're all stressed out, worrying about how you're possibly going to be able to fly across the globe , get a warrant, apprehend a criminal and still get your beauty sleep in so little time, but there's no time for that with dangerous criminal afoot so pop a Valium or something and get down to some detective work! The Acme detective agency apparently has a teleporter as you start at headquarters at Monday 9AM and at the scene of the crime was at the exact same time. You may take a moment to breath a sigh of relief as that's at least one bit of flight time you don't have to worry about. Now that you're in the right city, hit the little magnifying glass icon and start searching, you get three locations to investigate, out of nine total locations which vary depending on the city. In each location you'll talk to someone who had some sort of contact with your suspect and they will give you some really vague clues about where they might be headed and possibly some information about the suspect themselves.


This game is intended for children/young adults so if you remember what you learned in basic social studies in high school, you're probably going to know a lot of this information already. If you don't though a World book encyclopedia with all the information you'll need is included with the game. That's making the assumption that you're playing a physical copy that's complete in the box though, if you're playing it cartridge only or via an emulator, there's always search engines to help you along the way. It's also worth noting that this game is 18 years old, so some of the names of the cities and currencies are now incorrect, effectively giving you brief history lesson as well. While I'm on this topic, I have to admit that I have always wondered though how flight attendants and pilots would notice the type of flag the plane was flying and share this information, but not know enough to identify the country by name. These people travel to these places for a living shouldn't they know? (I can forgive the parrot's ignorance) But, I digress.


Once you've sifted through their information you hit the plane button and look at your possible destinations, hopefully you've gleaned enough information to figure out where you're headed. Choose your city/country and head out for another round of investigations. During your investigation you'll see little animations of V.I.L.E. henchmen letting you know you're on the right track. Once you've tracked them to their last location, you'll get animations making it clear that the detective isn't welcome 'round these parts, and if daggers and axes flying at you wasn't enough, the witnesses tell you that you should watch your step. Before you've gotten to this point though, you've hopefully gotten enough information about the suspect to get a warrant.


If you don't have a warrant then when you go to apprehend the suspect they get away and you lose the case. If you've picked up enough information you can just hit the computer button,chose warrant and put in the pertinent information to come up with a single match. However, you should be careful because there are several crooks with similar features and computing takes a couple hours so you should probably take a look through the dossiers to make sure you're going to get an exact match. Additionally sometimes the witnesses don't seem to give you enough information to pin point one crook by the time you get to the last city(especially if you're like me and choose your next destination at the first decisive clue) so you can guess at which one it is and add an additional trait to get the warrant to issue. I find myself curious though, as to why is it that the witnesses can recall how much the criminal did or did not like seafood and share that information with you, but don't think the detective would be interested in what color hair the suspect had. Same thing with note what sort of flag was flying off the vehicle they left in, but not what type of vehicle again... Putting that aside, so long as you've got your warrant you can track to the thief to the last town and capture them effectively.


Once you've captured the criminal successfully, you head back to acme headquarters where you sign in are told that the artifact has been returned to it's original location and let you know how many cases you have to solve until your next promotion. You're then given the option to choose to continue or quit. If you quit, you'll be given a password which will allow you to start from where you left off. Just make sure that you enter your name in exactly the same way as well. The game basically continues in this way until you've solved enough cases to become a master detective and capture Carmen herself. It honestly gets pretty repetitive and since there's a limited amount of countries, you'll probably become very familiar with flags, currencies and popular landmarks if you weren't already.

-Conclusion-

I can't say that this particular version of the game has stood the test of time particularly well. I've got a soft spot for educational games, and a penchant for recalling Jeopardy-esque useless information so it's got a lot of appeal for me. For someone not as interested in the educational game genre though this is going to get pretty old pretty quick. I can say though that it is a classic, I can't think of a single person over 20 that didn't get at least some of their social studies learning from a game or two of Carmen Sandiego. It's spawned countless games and variations as well as two TV shows and while the copy I reviewed may be old with some obsolete information, these games were popular for good reason. They're full of information and they're fun. This version of the game does have some life left in it though and it's interesting to note all the changes the world has gone through in almost two decades, besides if you're reading this there's a good chance you're a vintage gamer anyway so you probably remember when there were still francs and deutschmarks.


~Stephanie

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Quick review - Obscure 2: The aftermath

Anyone who reads this blog knows (and even if you're a new visitor it should quickly become obvious) that I rarely talk about new games. So reviewing one, even as a quick review, is an rarity but...I have a confession to make. I look far and wide for the worst video games ever made. This search started in an effort to find a game worse than the X-men game on the NES, which was one of the biggest disappointments of my young life. Surprisingly, I've actually been pretty successful and I'll eventually go into that in a later entry.

In any case, when searching for these steaming piles I usually narrow my search to the vintage systems, but occasionally something from one of the newer systems grabs my attention and if it's cheap enough I'll go for it. This is how the first Obscure was purchased. It's selling points were music by Sum 41 and a unique story line based on teen horror movies. You know when those are what a game sells itself with you're probably not in for anything good. It was less than $15 brand new and featured a Co-op mode so we decided to have some guilty pleasure gaming. Both fortunately and unfortunately what we got was actually a pretty decent game. The Co-op was pretty easy to handle and fun, the gameplay smooth and easy with some unique elements and the storyline, while by no means good, was passable and actually a bit engaging. The characters were pretty flat and the dialogue lacking, but those were my only major complaints with it. Overall it was a positive gaming experience.

When I heard Obscure 2: the aftermath was coming out I was excited. "WOO HOO! More co-op survival horror action!" I said to myself. I didn't buy it right away because we really didn't have the cash then. I don't usually mind waiting a bit anyway as our extensive game library keeps us from really needing to get new games often. The longer I waited to buy it the more terrible things I heard about the game so I decided to wait until it was at around the $10 mark before picking it. Just last week I scored us a copy for the PS2 for a whopping $6 including shipping. I thought to myself, "surely this game can't be worth such a paltry price." Then I tried actually playing it.



Obscure 2: the aftermath takes place 2 years after the incidents at Leafmore high. With two of the three returning characters attending classes at Fallcreek college, Shannon (who looks NOTHING like her original design) and Kenny. With the third returning friend, Stan , now working as a delivery driver in the area. All three sound and act almost nothing like they did in the first game, Stan is the most recognizable, but that's not saying much. We're also introduced to several new faces with their own unique talents and histories, you'll get the most familiar with Mei, Corey, Sven and Amy though you do get a few other teamates as well.

The controls are simple enough but not terribly responsive. I thought the aiming with L1 and shooting with R1 controls for the weapons was kind of annoying. I think the original aim with the shoulder button and shoot/strike with x made a lot More sense, but in time I got used to it could deal with it. The much bigger issues were the slow weapon reload time, occasional command delays, not being able to heal via the menu screen and the lack of map.

Graphically it's a mixture of good and bad. The environments are pretty nice looking and detailed, not as crisp and clean as the original, but that added an element of realism. The human character sprites during gameplay were passable, not too blocky,but not terribly clear or fluid. Though we did note all the special effort taken to ensure the girls gave an exaggerated hip sway when they walked so clearly the art team knew what sort of things were the most important. The monsters sprites fared better, being much more detailed with fluid movements. The cutscenes looked a lot worse than gameplay and featured some pretty poor sprite interactions. My major complaint though is the multiple instances of terrible clipping. In just about every area all sorts of environmental objects flicker and shine when they shouldn't and worse yet, it's very easy to get your character completely trapped on a piece of debris with little hope of recovery. For example: I once got stuck standing next to the professor, apparently his aura was holding me hostage because when I tried to move I only ran in place and turned in circles. His aura also apparently rendered me invincible, if immobile, as when Jen tried to hit me with a melee weapon in the hopes of setting me free it passed right through me*. I expect some clipping issues with any video game, but these issues got worse and worse until they became extremely distracting.

*note that you can usually hit your teammates with melee weapons knocking them around and making them spurt blood though it doesn't actually hurt them. Given how annoying they are, it's on of the few times you can truly feel fulfilled while playing this game.

Sound wise it's also a mix. Background noises, doors footsteps and things like that were nothing special, but nothing notably horrible either. Outside of a few gates that sounded like interior doors when locked I had no real complaints. Character voices on the other hand were completely awful. Some of it was just from the intentionally cheesy, but very poorly written dialogue (which mostly consists of crude jokes and innuendos), but most of it was just poor delivery. I get the concept of making a B movie video game, but at least the B queens could scream, these actors and actresses can't even master that, let alone any appropriate timing or feeling. Musically the game is actually on, it even excels in this field. Most of the score is appropriate, it's well written, beautiful and haunting . The cues could be better and you get a small dose of pop-rock crap, but overall I think the music was the best part of the game.

Game play wise the game starts off much like the first game, a cutscene followed by some short gameplay where you're just incredibly lost and confused. As things progress you add to your team and find new people with new talents that you need to use in specific situations. However unlike the last Obscure game where there were only a few instances where a specific character HAD to be used, this game is constantly forcing you to use specific characters so if you're using the wrong party you have to walk all the way back and choose the correct ones. There's no convienent "meeting point" button this time, to speed up the process for you either. However, you're often stuck with a specific pair of characters anyway, so you don't get the chance to pick incorrectly most of the time.

You progress through the game trying to figure what's happening to your friends and what it has to do with the sinister black flowers, which double as a party drug, blossoming everywhere.
Basically that translates into beating down monsters and hoping you don't die in the process, which is easier said than done. Most of the monsters in this game, even the one you see most often are tough and strong doing a lot of damage to you and not taking a lot in return. Given that you're better off saving your bullets for boss fights or the larger monsters you see later on, you'll be going at them with melee weapons. So, you're probably going to be taking a lot of damage. Though take note that ammo is only a little less common than healing items, most of which barely make a dent in your injuries. It's also worth mentioning that a change in this game from the last is that there isn't anymore innovation with tape and flashlights. In fact, light, while it's heavily implied that it will help you in the same way it did before, rarely does.

As the game progresses you see how much this new horror really relates to that hellish night at Leafmore while shallow meaningless and short lived romances blossom among your teammates. The storyline tries to stretch into the first game in a sensible way, but completely falls short of the mark. It then ends rather abruptly with no real explanations. However for a bit of a twist after you watch the credits roll the first time (and you DO have to let them go completely) you're rewarded with about 30 minutes of more gameplay and a bit more story. This culminates in an extremely annoying boss battle for which you rewarded with....another ending with even less explanation and the credits again! Exciting right? After the credits roll the second time you go back to the title screen. No "the end", no stats on how well you did, no new game+, no secret costumes, just the title screen. It's incredibly fulfilling, yet somehow fitting for this game. The whole thing was a huge disappointment, a good idea that just never made it.

If this weren't a quick review there are all sorts of other detailed complaints I could make, for example: the stupid saving system, the lack of item information and the poor planning of the puzzles, poor subtitling, and well I could go on like that for another paragraph without even touching on why those things are bad. Instead, I'm going just end it like this: If you're like me and take some sort of sick joy out of awful games, I suggest you pick this up immediately as it is most definitely one of the worst games on the PS2, right up there with Pryzm: The Dark Unicorn and Dark Angel: The Vampire Apocalypse. If you're looking for an enjoyable co-op survival horror experience run as far as you can in the other direction and pick up the first obscure or RE5 instead.

~Stephanie

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Store Updates and July's Coupon code

New coupon code! I apologize for it taking me until mid-month to get this up, but due to some internet outages and other things it was a hard month. To make up for the delay, this coupon code will get you a HUGE 25% off any order over $15 :) It's JulyBlog be sure to make good use of it. It shouldn't be too hard as I've been updating lots of things lately.

This months updates are primarily consisting of Video game collectibles.

Including a very rare Promo only Dead or Alive Extreme Gashapon of Kasumi in a special XBOX costume. it was only available to those who pre-orded the game and is very rare these days.


Also of note is a set of 3 Ace combat 5 Promotional patches. These were also only given away when you preordered the game and would not only be grat for a collector, but would be amazing on a flight jacket if you're a fan of the series.

Those are just two highlights, in addition to these and the other video game collectibles we've also managed to get some new manga, DVDs and some sailor moon stuff up so far this month, so go take a peek. We also have a bunch more goodies slated to go up soon as well so keep an eye out for something to use that coupon on!

~Stephanie

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Retro Review Tuesday: Friday the Thirteenth

Once again I have to apologize for the lack of entries I've got fun stuff it's just that we were without internet access for awhile last week.

This is another awesome classic review written by my awesome brother. Enjoy.

INTRODUCTION

Nearly thirty years ago, Paramount produced a move that would forever staple the "Summer Camp Horror" cliche into our hearts. Only a very special film company can turn a story about a vengeance-seeking homicidal mother of a dead mentally retarded boy into a never-ending series about an undead, invincible, hockey-masked super-human killing machine. It takes a very, VERY special video-game development company in LJN to turn this killing-machine into an 8-bit, blue-masked-purple-jogging-suit-wearing juggernaut squaring off against six faceless "counselors," while at the same time turning this into a zombie invasion. Can such a video game really exist? Why, yes, it does. And what can you do to be a part of the magic? Well, first you can read this ironically elaborate review.



OVERVIEW
Sarcasm aside, let's get this straight...it's an LJN game - it's terrible. That aside, it is actually one of LJN's better put-together games, and one of the first-ever survival horror games. And with the way Jason is usually presented to you, the game actually manages to "scare" you, when the masked maniac suddenly appears on screen with little to no warning, in many instances. And let's not forget the game's infamous difficulty.


Once the game is started, it goes right to a well-rendered intro sequence, which is an animated throwback to the famous cover design of the Part IV movie case, where a knife flies in from God-knows-where and sticks into the eyehole of Jason's Hockey Mask. Then the screen flashes violently. While you sit there, noting how they must have blown their entire budget for the game on that opening sequence, the title screen will appear. You push start, and after it tells you to light the fire places, you select your first character.

Your goal in this game is to destroy Jason before getting all six of the counselors killed off. Likewise with the fifteen children, whom were looking forward to an enriching summer of hiking, rowing, singing, not getting slaughtered, and fishing. You kill Jason by using six different weapons of differing strengths and uses (and by uses, I just mean strength.) When you hear the alarm, indicating to you that Jason is either attacking a fellow counselor in their cabin, or the campers, you race to the cabin, and have one of many, many battles with the Demon of Crystal Lake, until you finally put him down once and for all (or, at least until the next sequel).

Graphically the game is actually pretty well rendered. The backgrounds even change, in the distance based on your location, IE: changing to trees when you're getting near the woods, rock when you're near the cave, and water when you're approaching the lake. They are rather simplistic, but get the job done as far as clarity of the situation, except for Jason of course...nobody's every going to understand that.

Sound wise the effects are pretty crisp, although nothing resembles anything close to a realistic sound. All of the sound effects are your standard, classic electronic sound of some sort and notably missing is Jason's trademark sound (if you're familiar with the movies you know what I'm talking about.) The music is like most any other NES game, it is obnoxiously repetitive yet strangely intoxicating. The music that plays while inside of a cabin is especially notable, for its distinct sound and ambiance.

GAMEPLAY

-Characters-

I could get extra analytical about this and scout each and every character's strengths and weakness...or I could just put it like this - use Mark. Crissy and Laura are okay too, but Mark is who's going to do this for you. Avoid doing anything with Paul, Debbie, or George. Eventually it will become a necessity to use these three, but until that time comes, put them away in the closet, and take care of Mark and his girls. Okay, so maybe there's need for SOME analytical crap...




Mark - Moves fast, rows fast, jumps high, he's your guy.Take care of him so that you may make him last for the entirety of the game. Make sure he gets all the potions he wants and give him the Sweater (both of those things will be discussed, below).

Crissy - Also moves fast on land, jumps high, she's just about the female equivalent to Mark and you should also take care of her, as well.

Laura - She moves quickly, but sucks at jumping. She's still a better choice than George, Debbie, and Paul but only because of her speed.

George - is a useless cretin, he excels at absolutely nothing. Also, he's also the least attractive one, so it's a pretty standard notion than you want nothing to do with him.

Debbie - She's pretty much just female George, although when he throws a weapon, she really whips that thing. Still, with a name that even SOUNDS slow, Debbie is definitely on the reject list.

Paul - Paul's only better than Debbie and George because he's black. But even so, how black is he REALLY? His name is Paul, for crying out loud and he can't run OR jump. But you have to cut him some slack - he's the one most likely to die in this situation.

-Playing the Game-



You wander Camp Crystal Lake, wondering how a place that frequently experiences mass murders can STILL be a problem, looking out for goodies, and Jason. To keep you busy while Jason's deciding who to kill, you battle yellow and blue zombies, who even walk with the outreaching arms. They, of course, are the most annoying part of the game, however, killing them will give you the invaluable lighter (which the game refers to as a "torch" ...perhaps LJN are a bunch of bloody wankers from England?) and killing enough of them may even grant you a special weapon. Every now and again, Jason will appear, generally indicated by whatever zombies that are on screen walking off the screen and by the screen halting its scroll, as you move. When Jason appears he will throw spinning axes at you, which are rather hard to dodge. Hit him enough times with your weapon, and he will run away. The game is slightly realistic in the sense that if you follow him you will likely end up fighting with him again in a moment. Also, if Jason leaves and suddenly the alarm sounds, it will probably be very close to where you two had just battled.

Once the alarm sounds, you look to the status bar atop the screen, and see which indicator is flashing. If it is the Counselor Indicator (The one next to the potentially changing number of unhappy-looking faces) you then press start to see which cabin it is that Jason is occupying (it will be green and flashing). A timer will appear next to the flashing indicator, giving you sixty seconds to reach the cabin. It is pertinent that you get over there as fast as you can - the longer you take, the more Health the counselor inside loses. And you may need to use this counselor at some point. If you're dawdling, indifferent, or more likely - lost in the woods, and time expires, Jason will slay the counselor inside, effectively costing you one life, and the use of that character. GOD HELP YOU if it's Mark.If the Children Indicator is flashing, then you've got slightly more of a chore to deal with, as the only way to reach them is to row your boat across the lake to their cabins, all the while getting attacked by zombies, birds, and Jason, an attack which you can do virtually nothing about except wonder how it is that he's in the water attacking you while he's supposed to be killing the campers. The more time you spend dawdling on the way to the campers the fewer of them there will be. Once Jason has wiped out a cabin full of children he will move on to the next cabin when he strikes again. If all your children are wiped out it's game over so as much as you might like to, you can't ignore them.


Once you've entered a cabin, the screen switches to a pseudo "3D" screen, with very limited movement and excruciatingly slow progression. If there is another counselor in the cabin, you can switch weapons with them by pressing select and choosing the "PASS" option. Though leaving them with a weapon, no matter how nice it is, doesn't seem to help them fend of Jason's wrath without your help. You can also switch places with each other with Select-CHANGE. If you having a potion, cure them with Select-CURE. If you find a weapon or note on the cabin floor, take it with Select-TAKE. If you're in an empty cabin and press start you can choose a new character and you'll start from their cabin, if you do this in an occupied cabin, the cabin's original counselor will move to an unoccupied cabin.

While in a cabin, you can tell if Jason is there with you because his life bar appears at the bottom of a screen. Occasionally you will enter a cabin that Jason is randomly occupying, even if there's no alarm. If you are attacked by Jason in a cabin, you square off with the purple-suited psycho while he attacks with either his fists, a machete, or what you may at first think is a hair brush, but is really most-likely an axe. You throw the weapon you have at Jason with the B button. Jumping is disabled in the Cabin Mode. By pushing down and over in any direction on the D-pad, you can dodge Jason's attacks when he steps in front of you. Sometimes Jason will attack you twice in a row without moving, so stay on your pixelated toes. Once you've hit Jason enough times, he will flash and disappear like any other NES sprite, and a message will display on the screen, reading "You win...for now." Ominous, no? However, if Jason's Health Bar is low enough, he will fight you until it depletes entirely, something that really sucks if you only have one of the first two weapons. Jason's Health Bar depletes over the elapse of several different battles with him, so depleting it entirely can take quite a while. Jason may also try and fight to the death when he attacks you on the path, but here, you cannot see his Health Bar, so you just have to keep fighting until he flickers.

Once you've depleted Jason's Health Bar, you will get a less-than-congratulatory message, and you will find yourself having to kill him again - only now everything's harder.

-Days-

The game spans three "days," each new day starting when you deplete Jason's health. Each day follows a cycle, starting off in daylight, turning to dusk and then night, the progression being completely dependent on how often you enter and leave a cabin.

Day One - Everything's standard, Jason's at normal speed, takes off normal health, zombies are at normal speed...it's normal.

Day Two - Zombies are faster, and Jason is stronger and every now and again takes a snort of crack and starts really flying, making his attacks nearly impossible to avoid, completely.

Day Three - Zombies are still fast and possibly more frequent,  and crows appear on all the roads. Making matters worse it that Jason has become a non-stop speed-demon making every encounter with him a real labored attempt.

-Areas-

Aside from the cabins, there are four different areas to scroll, each of them exhibiting their own special traits and enemies.

Road/Path - The normal screen of the game, you can use the map to navigate this and see which cabins are where (although sometimes the distance between you and other cabins can be less-than-accurate.) If you happen upon a new, alternate path leading into the horizon, or one at your feet, you can press up or down to travel them, which may lead you to the perimeter of the cave or lake, into the woods, or into the cave or lake.

Woods - Taking on Labyrinthine qualities, it's very easy to get lost in both wooded areas, traveling up and down paths that don't always lead to the same place twice. However, the Woods do hold secret cabins housing secret items and they also yield an abundance of potions.

Cave - Dark and...scary? This area has bats and holes for you to fall down and die in. It's a bit hard to tell where some of the alternate paths are (the ones in the backgrounds are almost invisible their location hinted only by the crumbled rocks on the ground in front of them, among the other rocks), but once you collect the flashlight, it's much brighter and the paths are easy to see.

Lake - Here, you row your canoe to wherever you're going (the camper's cabins being the only non-pointless destination), while trying to avoid zombies jumping out of the water, birds, and Jason. It takes a little while for your character to accelerate the canoe to max speed, and the maximum speed is dependent on the character you're using (although honestly, in this situation, wouldn't you think that they'd use a motor boat?)

-Weapons-

All weapons are projectiles. Nice that picking up just one gives you and endless supply.

Stone - Your default weapon, it takes five hits of these useless things to take off a single pellet of Jason's life...Jason having thirty-two, randomly-numbered pellets in total. (I don't mean to mention crack again...but these ARE big, white rocks...)

Knife - You get this, along with many other items, by jumping in certain areas, triggering their appearance. You are guaranteed to have at least once instance where you accidentally lose a great weapon by picking up one of these by mistake. Four hits to a pellet, it's not a whole lot better than the Stone but it's still an improvement.



Machete - You can get this either by defeating Jason's mother in the Cave, finding it in a cabin in the Woods, or killing fifty zombies. Usually when you earn this via zombie-death, you're not ready for it, and either would have to downgrade your weapon to get it, or gain nothing, having already acquired a Machete. It's too bad to see it go to waste, as it kills zombies in one hit, and takes only three to take off a pellet of Jason's life.

Axe - A strong weapon, but slower compared to the others, you throw these spinning, just like Jason does on the road. This can only be acquired by defeated Jason's mother under certain circumstances, or finding it in a secret cabin in the Woods. One hit for zombies, Two-per-Jason pellet.
Torch - The most useful weapon in the game, this one can even be used to hit Jason in the Lake, making it a little more fair that you can do nothing to avoid the Lake attacks. This weapon drops to the ground when you throw it, burning for a second, and killing zombies that absent-mindedly run into it. This one only takes merely one hit it take a pellet from Jason, and it is acquired by lighting certain fire places and then finding it in a cabin by the lake, or by getting it from Mrs. Voorhees. It may also be available in a secret cabin.
Pitch Fork - Possibly the hardest weapon in the game to acquire, it is only available by killing Jason's mother on Day Three. It's very fast, and passed right-through zombies, killing them instantly. This one also takes off one pellet per single hit on Jason.

-Items-

Items can only be collected by coming into contact with them while jumping. It sounds dumb, but it actually makes it a little easier to avoid collecting unwanted pick-ups. However, it frequently threatens to do the very opposite for you while you're jumping to avoid an enemy.

Lighter - Use this to light fireplaces in big cabins.
Potion - You can use these to regain a small amount of health or to heal your fellow counselors in need. If you're carrying one of these when your Health Bar depletes, it will automatically be used and save you for the time being.
Key - These are used to unlock the doors of secret cabins and the door to Jason's mother's lair. One key can open everything without seemingly disintegrating in the lock, like with so many other games, which is rather nice.
Flashlight - This is found when certain fireplaces are lit up. It appears instantly after you do this inside of a cabin so don't leave the area or it's gone. You can use this to light up the cave and reveal hidden paths, rather useless once you know what to look for.
Notes - Random notes are left for you to in larger or secret cabins. They may hint on to where you may find a special item, or they may just tell you to go into a random cabin or into the woods.

-Enemies-
Zombies - The standard enemy of the game, they basically give you something to do while Jason's inactive. Easy to deal with, but you get tired of it, real soon.
Lake Zombies - These jump out of the water while you're rowing the canoe. Rather annoying, but weaker than normal zombies.
Birds - Maybe it's a crow? Either way, it appears after about 10 zombies come and go, takes only 1 hit to kill, but it's pretty annoying to deal with. Seen both on the road and over the lake.
Wolves - Appearing in both the Woods and the Cave, (colored baby blue while in the cave for some reason) they're very hard to deal with. They're fast, they jump, and they're very tough, sustaining a lot of damage before being eliminated. It's recommended that you just run away from them.
Bats - A weak enemy that appears only in the cave. Not a huge problem.
Jason - The Hockey-Masked killer we all know and love is done less-than justice, in his sky-blue mask, skin of the same color, and purple clothing, which, as stated before, looks like a jogging-suit. However, his admittedly hilarious look is no reason to take him lightly. Very strong and very fast, as is right, if someone's gonna get ya, it's him.
Mrs. Voorhees -
Jason's beheaded mother, she floats up from her candle-lit alter and basically...headbutts you with the remains of her body. You can battle Mrs. Voorhees once on all three days, enjoying her shifting of color for each. Her location is obscured, but if you defeat her, you will be granted a special reward, depending on the day it is, and/or the weapon you are carrying:

Day One Prize - Machete. If you already have one, Axe. If you already have that, Torch. Already have that? Axe again.
Day Two Prize - Sweater...in the movie series, the sweater played a notable part in Part 2. However, it was blue then. Here, the Sweater is a neon pink and yellow...yeah. Upon getting it, your current character will sustain only half the damage he or she receives. You will also flash from your normal color to green, making you feel extra special.
Day Three - Pitchfork. As stated earlier, very strong, very nice. Beware, though...Mrs. Voorhees is a real problem this time around.


CONCLUSION

So, there you have it, poor Friday the 13th didn't get to wait long enough to have its video game spin-off made...competently. But you know, thinking back to how "competently" the films were made...this seems right, in a way. It must be doing something right...I've spent hours and hours playing and beating this game over and over. It must be stressed again that this is no small feat. This game maybe bad, but it's also insanely difficult, beating it ranks you right up there with the Gods.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Collection Oddities: Sailor Moon Dream House

This week we're once again going to be taking a look at another hard to find and super ridiculous Sailor Moon toy from our collection of oddities, The Sailor Moon Dream house for 6" dolls. I'm never going to quite understand how exactly sailor moon accessories and items got green-lighted at Irwin. I can almost see that the sailor senshi dolls deserved their own base of operations of sorts as really there wasn't much for a small child to work with in terms of available playsets from the moon dolls. However, much like the vanity case and numerous other releases from this time frame, this bears little to no resemblance to anything appearing in the anime or manga leaving me to wonder who came up with the concept in the first place. But, enough questioning of it's existence. The fact is that it does exist and it's my sworn duty to highlight oddities like these, and so I shall! To the box!



The box is in both English and French and shows of the item in question as well as a cover model. Also like the vanity case, Irwin found one of the most frightening soul-eating little girls they could as a cover model. This one isn't grimacing, she's smiling and making and inviting gesture. However, that doesn't make it better, in fact it makes it much worse and make me much more convinced that she will steal your soul if given the chance. If her smiling wasn't enough to freak you out, there's also her unseen and cunning use of magic to consider. She's clearly keeping the dream house floating in mid air. Sure you can't see her other hand, but there's no way a little girl is steadily balancing an entire furnished house with dolls with one unseen hand. It's just not possible, her evil soul stealing magical powers are the only option.

Steering away from the evil, the box lists the features as being:
Build 2 styles of sailor moon's dream house
Deluxe furniture
Decorative wall and floor coverings (you know because you see so many non-decorative ones, they just had to be clear)
Front door opens and closes
Simple assembly!
So, that doesn't really sound very exciting does it? Apparently, Irwin felt the pretty pictures on the box would be so exciting they didn't need real descriptions. Looking at said pretty picture again, I also have to question if whomever designed the box layout knew anything about the show as Queen Beryl is just hanging out in the house as though she hasn't spent 46 episodes looking for ways to eliminate them and take over the world. I'll just ignore that for now, we have many more inaccuracies to explore so, let's get that box open and harvest it's sweet innards for our own enjoyment!

Inside the box there's a whole pile of stuff. More specifically it contains:
The instruction sheet in both English and french
1 plastic door
12 plastic pillars
1 plastic door frame
5 small plastic floor frames
3 big plastic floor frames
20 plastic wall pins
4 plastic roof caps
4 cardboard floors
3 cardboard walls
4 cardboard sidewalls
1 cardboard roof
2 cardboard roof windows
1 cardboard chimney
2 cardboard fences
1 cardboard kitchen cabinet
and 1 cardboard headboard

You can tell from that ridiculously long list that Irwin may have exaggerated the concept of "simple assembly" a bit especially when you consider that the above list doesn't include the furniture which also needs assembly. Just in case you're already panicking, relax, you've got the instruction sheet. The instruction sheet should help right? Except it doesn't. The instructions are worse than would you get with your latest piece of cheap Swedish furniture, vague at best, wrong at worst. We decided we were smart enough to figure it so we pressed on. As the box touts, there are two ways to assemble the house so we decided to be ambitious and use the L shaped "style B" layout. The "simple assembly" took 3 adults over an hour to finish completely as several sections had to be deconstructed and reconstructed due to a very unclear order of operations. I will admit that some of that can probably be attributed to choosing "Style B" which is a little less straightforward than "Style A".

Once the construction is completed and you take some time to really appreciate your hard work, you really have to worry about the sailor senshi's insurance rates on a house like that. There's overnight construction by inexperienced builders, cardboard and plastic as your primary building materials, no stairs on a 2 story house and huge missing wall fragments? That has got to require some sort of special policy. Likely one that would only be available to super heroes and heroines or possibly super models. You also have to wonder about the giant Sailor Moon logo on the roof. Sure we know the dream house is nothing like anything used in the show, but if it were to be used wouldn't that kind of put a damper on the whole secret identity thing? How inept would enemies have to be not to know where to find them all the time?

Moving on, let's take a tour of the lovely furnishings on the inside of the house.




Looks like the sailor team shelled out extra for all custom furniture. Most everything is pink or purple including the toilet and sink. Looks like all the carpets and drapes must have been custom as well as I've never seen anything quite so awesome tacky in any store I've ever been in. The wall art is also pretty questionable as it consists of Usagi's wands and a giant portrait of Sailor Moon in the bedroom and something that should never survived past 1987 hanging over the TV. Speaking of the TV, apparently the sailor senshi have a penchant for vintage rock, I'm not sure what band this but it somehow doesn't seem to be what Japanese teenagers should be interested in. But hey, who am I to question their eclectic tastes?
When you get right down to it the most important part of any doll house and doll house furniture, is how well it works with your dolls. So we took a couple of shots using the Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon dolls (as they were the easiest to get to for us).


Note how we took great care to put the sailor senshi in completely natural normal poses, Mars and Jupiter sharing a chat and a very light lunch , Usagi laying in bed likely avoiding studying and day dreaming about snacks and Venus officiating a Moon Cycle street race between Eternal Sailor Moon and Mercury. (the moon cycles are an oddity I'll go into in a later post)
As you can see though one of the redeeming qualities of the dream house is that the dolls fit very well and actually interact pretty well with the furniture making a good display piece. The only caveat being that we used Japanese 6" dolls which have bendable legs, (as is obvious in the picture below of Mercury resting before her race.) US 6"dolls don't have bendy legs so they may not work quite as well.


Overall this is a completely crazy item, I can't say that I'd really recommend it for a serious collector. It's useless to a purist as there's very little that ties into any real environment in the Sailor moon universe. It squarely falls into the "what was Irwin thinking category", but at least this time you aren't subjected to any terrible demented nephew fan art style decorations. For not so serious collectors it's something I would say is worth seeking out, though it's very uncommon, I've only seen one other in a collection. It's something we had a lot of fun with and is great way to display your 6" dolls.

~Stephanie

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