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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Retro Review Tuesday: Marble Madness

A special sibling joint review. We've both been too busy/distracted to do review on our own so we did one together.

Introduction


Marble Madness is the sort of game we rarely see these days, no real plot, no real characters and with 6 short but difficult to nigh on impossible levels. It was originally released in 1984 the arcade in and has seen several ports. We choose to focus on the NES version as it's the one we first became familiar with.



Overview

As I said in the introduction Marble Madness really has no true plot line as far as I know. You control a marble trying to traverse a series of increasingly complex mazes populated with strange and seemingly random enemies. Though I personally prefer my theory that your marbles are secret agents known as code names Left and Right, who's mysterious mission is to attempt to foil the evil plot of the Black Marble Syndicate, which is somehow tied to winning races in absurd locales...

Controls are simple in theory the d pad moves and the a button speeds up your marbles speed. however, the marble will move erratically before you get used to it's distinct movement pattern. This game originally used a ball for movement so changing it to d pad does create some responsiveness problems. Though honestly, I find it much easier to control with the slightly sluggish controls than with the original super sensitive type.


Graphically it's stood the test of time pretty well. The color palate is more limited than I'd like but it's pretty standard for games of the era. The 3d graphics were revolutionary at the time period and still look good even by today's standards. You really do feel like the playing field is completely in 3d you never get a sense that it was in fact way beyond gaming's capabilities at the time (though it really was). It doesn't have any of the clunkiness you usually associate with early 3d games half as old (I'm looking at you Virtua Fighter).


Musically, it's classic. The tracks an memorable, complex, and catchy. Even if you didn't grow up with these songs, if you enjoy vintage game soundtracks at all these are love at first listen. They also make for some great remixes, I have a fantastic one I got from OCR on the very top of my playlist. In fact the music from Marble madness is so good I'm going to share that remix with you. Here it for your enjoyment:


Didn't that fill your day with more awesome? You know it did, it's just a shame I don't have access to the original tracks to share.


Gameplay
Your try to roll your marble through the courses in record time to advance. It's important to think of your marble like a real character they get dizzy, they get hurt (though I imagine most humans don't shatter when hit enough*) and they scream when they go flying of the edge. You'll waste a lot of time with any of those afflictions so it's best to try to keep your marbles happy and healthy. Occasionally you can still win a tough race even after pitching yourself over the side a few times, but it's not something you want to do unless you've got an uncanny ability to attract the randomly appearing magic wands which will appear above your marble and grant you a 10 second time bonus.

As this game is basically about rolling marbles through courses so there's not much to talk about here other than the courses themselves and the enemies who make things just a little tougher.

You start off by selecting whether Lefty Blue is going to go in as a solo agent or if you're bringing your partner Righty Reddy with you. Once that's our of the way you make your way to the Practice Race: A very simple course, you'll have 60 seconds to get used to the controls and feel of the game. Nothing's too complicated, and a lot of the danger zones are barricaded. The time used here does not carry over to the next race. There's not a lot of reason to fail, here. This race is to make sure all that you retained some of the knowledge you learned back at marble academy. How to roll fast and straight without lobbing yourself off the edge. Though since it doesn't count, now might be the perfect time to lob yourself off the edge and contemplate how exactly your marbles scream without mouths.



From there you move on to Beginner Race. Don't let the name fool you, it's actually quite difficult, especially when you're new to it. Easy to fall down holes, with hostiles and obstacles to overcome, including special flooring to throw you off.






Next up is the Intermediate Race, actually not too bad, although still difficult when beginning. Paths are very narrow, and enemies are plentiful. Offers a shortcut at the expense of requiring more skill to make use of it.






You're probably thinking I got this, next is the hard race, but you're wrong. Sit down and don't raise your hand unless you've got a correct answer. What we really have next is the Aerial Race. Definitely the stopping point for beginning to intermediate players, this one's a big bad circus of marble death. An initial push in the direction of death welcomes you to this one. Vacuums to suck you up, catapults, and other obstacles will kick you around, guaranteeing your first successful run of this race will be anything but pretty.



In the unlikely event you managed to pass that last race you move on to, Silly Race. It gives what it promises. Physics work in reverse here, pipes make little sense, and enemies are so small you can crush them (giving you a 3-second time bonus for every one you squash). This one's mostly difficult due to the time spent overcoming the three preceding races (as the first one doesn't count) but its craziness will certainly give you much to think about.



If you managed to roll on through those first four you're given the supreme honor of falling to your death in the Ultimate Race. You'll use everything you've learned to take your best shot at this one. It's pretty tame to begin with, but once you reach the final stretch, you'll be challenged immensely, as you try to navigate your marble over thin, segmented, traveling floors. Should you overcome this harsh test of maneuverability, you will pass through the final flags and will have completed the game.

Now it's not as though racing through many of those courses isn't difficult enough just via their course construction, but the BMS (Black Marble Syndicate for those of you with short attention spans) isn't ready to just hand over their badges of pure evil without a heck of a fight. Oh no, they've got henchmen to make your little glassy life, just that much more difficult. So here come the enemies:


Black Marble - Henchmen for what we call the evil Black Marble Syndicate, these smash into your marble, throwing you off course, and sometimes causing you to careen off into oblivion. You can, however, shatter them either by fighting with them for long enough, or causing them to fall from a distance. You will see the first of these in the Beginner Race.


Eaters - With movement that resembles a Slinky on stairs, if you get to close to these amusing little guys, they will attempt to pounce on your marble, devouring it if successful, and licking its "lips" to add insult to injury. First seen in the Beginner Race.


Slimes - Green little puddles of something or other, these make their debut in the Intermediate Race. They slither across the ground and will melt your marble into themselves if you make contact with them.



Warp Birds: Strange creatures found only in the Silly Race, if these hit you they will warp your marble a small distance, possibly beneficial, possibly detrimental.


Conclusion:

Marble Madness is certainly one of the oddities of the classic gaming world. And in being this way, one can't help but be attracted to its quixotic offerings. It is a demanding but lovable piece of programming that truly deserves a place in this here blog; one that has forever rolled its way into our hearts.

~ Stephanie & Richard

* Sub Zero's freeze and shatter fatality not withstanding, because Mortal Kombat should probably not be used to formulate a medical hypothesis about anything.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Cell Gallery Update!

We just updated our collection of cels and sketches in our gallery! As usual I'm just going to post a few highlights;

Buyo from Inuyasha:

I bought this for Jen as an end of semester present. She's not actually to the end of the semester yet, but I gave it to her early as she needed a pick me up. I'll be putting it in her gallery at some point, but I thought it was too good not to put in ours as well.

A very smug faced Usagi from Sailor Moon:

We just couldn't resist Usagi's fantastic facial expression here.

And what we're most excited about, a new section for art from CLAMP's Clover music video:
We've been hoping to see art from this as soon as we saw the video years ago. We feel so lucky to have gotten beautiful sketches and backgrounds. The background and sketch sets were certainly our rarest and most important purchase this year. We're still squeeing with joy over them.

~Stephanie

Thursday, December 3, 2009

December Coupon Codes!

(sorry for the deluge of sales related stuff lately, but I want to see this stuff move)

If you use coupon code : BigSale in my bonanazle booth, you'll get a HUGE 40% off until monday only! There are some super great prices to be had. So head on over and get yourself some good deals! Many of these items would make great Christmas gifts!


I really want to clear a lot of the older stock out and get my booth in sync with our main store, which is the reason for the huge discount! However, if you're looking for a lot more variety, The main store has twice as many items and you can use coupon code decembergifts to get 15% off there this month. So If you're looking for rarer items and greater variety you should head there. You can mix and match though. If you make an order through both selling venues for different items you can use both coupon codes and I'll combine the shipping costs!* So you could save a huge amount!

~Stephanie

* If you choose to order from both stores you'd have to pay the full shipping cost quoted by bisi, but bonanazle orders have to be hand approved before being charged so I'd adjust the shipping via that invoice to get you the best possible rate!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Retro Review Tuesday: Vegas Stakes

Introduction

Nintendo is a company that never ceases to surprise us. Amidst all the Mario, Zelda, what have you, you forget that they do indeed have other great games. And one of those other titles would be Vegas Stakes. Perhaps you're not in the mood to save this princess, or that one. Perhaps you just want to tell both of them to figure it the hell out, and relax over in ol' Vegas, trying your luck on Poker, Roulette, Craps, Blackjack, and of course, the Slots. A real "just sit down and play" kind of game, Vegas Stakes offers the fun and interaction that [their interpretation of] Las Vegas has to offer. Place a bet, buy a lottery ticket, insert a coin, get your pocket picked, do it all in this very fun, classic gambling simulation.


Overview



The premise for Vegas stakes is five friends headed out together on a long planned trip Vegas. The main character is whatever you put your name in is , we played as Mr. Cooteller (No I don't why we named ourselves that either). I'm not sure of the motivations of your friends, but your completely reasonable and rational goal is to turn your 1 thousand dollars in to 10 million dollars before leaving Vegas. The game doesn't end until you hit that goal or spend every last dime trying.



Controls are very simple. This is one of the few games that supports the SNES mouse and obviously we all know how to use a mouse. If you use a control it's not much different as you only use 3 buttons anyway. They're responsive enough, though it honestly doesn't matter much as it's not an action oriented game.



Graphically it's pretty dated. The graphics aren't bad, but they reek of the early 90's limited Palette VGA "realism" graphics that are more commonly seen in PC games of the era. They were mind blowingly realistic at the time, but not so pretty by today's standards. However this game does feature some of the best facial expressions on NPcs in any game ever. Johnny's smile is my personal favorite.


Soundwise it's memorable if not a bit repetitive. Each Casino has it's own theme song that you'll constantly be hearing in the background. the songs correspond to theme of each casino IE the Buffalo head has a western song playing and the Laurel Palace has a generic "classical piece". In my opinion the best music is easily the electronica in the 2020, though I'm rather fond of Laurel Palace's music as well. Though regardless of which music you personally prefer, it is probably going to get annoying after awhile as it will play no matter what game you're playing and there's no way to turn it off.

Gameplay

You start off in the car with your friends all having a conversation about how excited they all are to be going to Vegas. Once you make it to the hotel you put in whatever name you choose and head up to your hotel room. From the room you can choose one of your friends, Cliff, Maria, Isabelle, or Richard to go out gambling with. We always choose Richard because he's so cute and non-threatening. Whomever you choose will give you info about the locations and games.When you want to take a break from gambling or just get tired of looking at whomever you've gone out with you can head back to the hotel room. Here you can save your progress and choose a new firend to go out with. Once you're prepared to hit the strip, you get 4 Casinos to choose from each with their own theming and table limits.


The Hideway: The Casino equivalent of a dive bar. This is the cheapest Casino you'll find with $1 minimums and $50 maximums. You won't lose a lot , but you won't make a lot. This is probably only a good bet if you've spent almost all your cash elsewhere.

The Golden Paradise: Your standard generic looking casino. This is the Casino your hotel is in and the one you start off in. It's right in the middle, not to high and not to low. Table minimums at $20 and the maximum $250. Definitely a good starting point to amass your vast fortune.

The Buffalo Head: The wild west, Vegas style! It's another middle of the road casino, with slightly higher minimums at $50 and Maximums at $500. Another good spot to start off amassing your fortune.

The 2020: Futuristic post apocalyptic sci-fi gambling. This is the last casino you can visit before reaching your high roller status. The table minimums start at $100 and go to $1000. This is probably going to be where you're going to make it to high roller status, but you're going to want to avoid it until you've got a good cash cushion built up or you'll eat through your cash in short order.

Once you've effectively gambled your way to $100,000 you're elevated to High Roller Status and you'll get new swanky hotel room and you gain access to the Laurel Palace.

The Laurel Palace: The creme de le creme of casinos with ornate detailing including marble statues on the slots. Even though you can gamble here as soon as you've reached $100k, it's a better idea to wait until you're at around half a million as the minimum starts at $1,000 and have no limit. It's very easy to blow through money here, but when you hit you hit it big. Once you're at a million or better you'll probably be constantly playing here if you want to make any real headway towards your $10 million goal.

Of course you don't make money just hanging out in Casinos so you've got your choice of 5 games which you can use to make your fortune.

Black Jack: Your standard rules game of 21. Beat the dealers hand or get 21 to win. You won't make a lot of money playing BJ, but your odds are pretty good.

Slots: You choose from 1 of 4 bet denominations. Depending on the Casino you get different machine style and a different choice of limits. Slots are probably the quickest and easiest means of making money also the easiest means of losing. Slots require no skills or planning just a lot of good luck.

Roulette: Another luck game. Bet on your lucky number and hope for the best. You can get the odds for each bet from whichever friend you've decided to go with.


Craps: A game of odds. Mostly toss the dice and hope for good luck. But there's a good amount of skill involved in knowing and playing the odds in your favor.

Poker: 7-Card Stud. The Most Complex game. You play with 4 other people random selected from the pool of 8 NPCs + 3 of your 4 friends (you can't play with whomever is with you) for total 11 potential players. Each NPC has their own unique playing style, bluffing style and tells. It takes a good amount of skill, research and luck to be successful. This is the most engaging and interesting game because of the other players and complexity of the game itself.

As if playing exciting Vegas games on your SNES isn't enough there are several random interactions with NPCs that happen while you're playing your games. In every case an NPC who magically knows your name will approach you and ask for something or offer something. Sometimes these are very good for you, sometimes they're very bad and sometimes they do a whole lot of nothing. They are however some of the most memorable and interesting parts of the game.

The Diamond: Occasionally someone will approach in need of money and asks if you're interested in purchasing a diamond appraised at $5000. You can make an offer for it, the lowest we've gotten someone to accept is $700. You can have one of two outcomes: The diamond is fake. After you've bought the diamond someone else will come along and offer you $100 for the diamond and tell you you've been conned. This is what happens roughly 9 times out of 10. The second, the diamond is real and someone will offer you $10,000 for it. In spite of the potentially high pay off this is probably a interaction best avoided.

The Watch: Someone will come along saying they need money for cab fare and asks if you'll spare $200 for a watch. As far we've seen this is always a safe bet. After purchasing it someone will come along and offer you between $400 and 1000 for it.

Sick Child: Someone will come along and ask you to help them paying for their sick child's bills. There are two outcomes, it's a con or it's legit. when it's a con right after you've given the money a police officer will approach you to tell you about a scam happening. If it's legitimate you'll get $200 back. It's only $100 so it's probably not going to hurt you unless you're just starting out, but the return isn't really great either. It's probably just best to say no unless you can't live with the guilt of not helping a child in need.

Oil Well: You'll be approached and asked if you're interested in investing in an oil well and you'll get double you investment. It starts off at $5000, but you can haggle it down to $3000. However, if you strike oil you still only get double back so you invest less, you get less. You can also strike water in which case you obviously lose your investment. It seems to be roughly 50/50 odds.

Lottery ticket: Someone will come up to you and ask if you're interested in buying a a lottery ticket for $500 that was a potential $10,000 payoff. Odds seems to be pretty good for this one, it's generally worth going for unless you're really strapped for cash. Sometimes when someone asks to wipe a spot on your shirt they'll give you a lottery ticket which will always win. The catch to this is they could be a pick pocket or they could do nothing.

Sports bet: Sometimes the person your with will say they're headed off to make a sports bet and ask if you're interested in making a $500 bet. If you win you double your bet. Odds seem completely random.

Check your meter: This only happens while playing slots, occasionally a casino worker will come by and ask if they can check your meter. You can send them away, but if you let them do their thing you'll get a free max bet pull on your slot machine.

Remembering the face: Someone will come up and ask if you remember them. Always say yes even if you've never seen them before that moment as they'll always give you what you for "being so nice" to them.

Returning the wallet: Whomever you're with will occasionally tell you that they found a wallet with cash and asks if you should keep it or return it. I suggest returning it not only because it's ethical, but because it can lead to a payoff much greater than whatever was in the wallet. Occasionally you'll get nothing, but it's a safe gamble given you're not out anything.

In a class of their own are the loads of Pickpocketing scams. They include: twisted ankles, bad luck and a spot on your shirt. While the claim changes from incident to incident, in each of these cases the perpetrator will come up to you and ask for something that requires them to get close to you. Most of the time they'll be walking away with half you current cash if you decide to aid them. Sometimes however, they'll be legitimate and will reward you handsomely for your help. Depending on how much cash you're currently carrying around really depends on whether or not you want to chance them.

Overall you just keep casino hopping, playing the games and dodging the scams until you hit 10million. It's actually quite engaging and entertaining.



Conclusion


Vegas Stakes is so much more than your standard gambling game. Sure all the games are there and you are in Vegas after all, but it's the interaction of that sets things apart. Maybe modern gambling games include pickpocketing scams and intelligent unique poker players, but this was revolutionary for the time period and has managed to stand the test of time admirably. I haven't noticed any real decrease in fun factor from playing Vegas Stakes years ago until now. I'm still just as happy to spend a lazy afternoon of gambling, scams and quick money.

~Stephanie

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