Everyone has a pile of shame - that large, frequently growing pile of games you buy, but don't play right away that sit next to your gaming station like some poor, lost children waiting for the love of their parents to finally come.
When I get sick, which isn't all that frequently, I end up tackling some of the games in my pile of shame, trying to justify buying tons of stuff that I never seemingly play - until I have no choice to but to amuse myself whith what's in the house. I have been able to curb my prodigous video game spending to the point where I actually need to go buy something new at times, but neverethelless, I have a number of games collecting dust and years in my geeks' library.
So this last week when I was home sick for 5 straight days, I decided to go on an NES-centric blast of some titles I never got to.
First on the list was Zelda II - The Adventure of Link. I had seen the game plenty when I was a kid. I remember it being a pretty big deal when it came out as the original Zelda had garnered quite a hardcore audience by then. I saw it at a friends house and really didn't get it. It seemed like a combination of two very disperate things - namely platforming and rpg's. I passed on it as good NES games seemed to be comming out every other day back then.
I picked it up for the first time since I saw it last in the late 1980's and gave it a go. First thing I noticed, the music was bland and tried too hard to be as majestic and special feeling as that of the first game. The overworld maps were totally devoid of any personality or good design. The creators should have really looked at Dragon Quest to see how to set up a good overworld, one that invites you to explore rather than look for the shortcut every time.
The controls aren't too bad, but there are issues with collision detection from time to time, tying your opponent and both scoring hits, which can be frustrating, especially when your un-upgradable sword is so short.
I went back to the pen and paper for mapping out dungeons and it really brought me back. I can't tell you how many maps and notes I took for NES games and it felt good to be doing it again. I mapped all but the last dungeon, mostly becuse its so freaking huge and I knew the pattern - left, right, right, left at the intersections - which helps not waste as much time as the dungeon wants you to.
I played the game through until the last dungeon and just lost steam. It takes forever to transverse the set-piece battles to even get to the dungeon and the dungeon is needlessly long, with a ton of rooms with one or no enemies inside. But that doesn't matter as much as the fact that those few enemies are crazy powerful and will take you out very quickly. Most aren't even worth fighting - running is definately the best tactic, especially as most lack any patterned movement at all.
Once you get to the last boss, everything is pretty much cake, from what I understand, but I just don't care to finish it. It misses for me on a number of levels - visually, its pretty uninspired and gone are all the enemies you came to love/hate from the first Zelda, which kinda kills the nostalgia factor.
The platforming is actually prety good, especially when you get the downward and upward stab movements and can blast through most screens pretty quickly, even if you are just bouncing along the tops of your enemies heads to get through the random battles.
Not a bad game, but not one of the NES's best and certainly not for anyone but the vintage-ly curious.
Next on the list was a game I had absolutely no time with - and for good reason - it was never released here. Earthbound for the NES was a rare one - translated and finished, it never saw the light of day in the US until some fans found the rom data and dumped it for all of the world to enjoy. I had a reproduction cart made at NESreproductions.com (along with Summer Carnival '92 - Recca and Super Mario Bros. 2 Japan) and I have been waiting for a rainy day to play it. It wasn't raining, unless you count the massive ammounts of mucus I seemed to be producing in unlimited quantities.
If you read this blog from time to time, you'll know I love me some old-skool RPG action. I like to grind, I like overworld maps, I have played Final Fantasy 1 to conclusion at least five times - all on the NES - and I have played through all of the Dragon Warrior titles we ever got here. So I was pretty excited to play this, especially as the fans of the series are legend.
In short, I had a blast. Awesome music, great overworld maps, a really sprawling world to play in and a bit of necessary grinding makes for a very good NES game. I played the first five or so hours with a smile on my face and just dug the hell out of it. It's slow, but old-skool slow and it's graphics, gameplay and music are dated for sure, but it's a helluva lot of fun. When you get a chance to discover something like this, it's pretty rare and should be cherished and that's what I did in my couch-bound state - cherished the hell out of it.
I laughed the first time I had to fight a hippie, I buckled down when I needed to find the young girl in the cemetary and I marveled at the dream world Magicant, a place so rare for games - a dream world that feels like it.
That's about as far as I got while I was sick and I may return to it, but as my hours for gaming are not optimal when I am not home on the couch sick, we'll see. I may save it for another future day with nothing to do.
I also decided to give Bionic Commando another shot and just didn't click with it for like the tenth time. I know there's something there, but I'll be damned if I ever find it.
At one point, I did try out SMB 2 Japan, but holy hell its tough. Not for the faint of heart. I haven't played SMB 1 in years and I couldn't make it past the first level without dying a lot more than I should. I'll save that for another sick day.
It took me all of two seconds to make the decision to buy this from a friend on shmups when he offered it to me for sale. After playing gunbird18's copy for the past month or so, I got to really enjoy the game and I knew I'd have to drop the cash to get a pcb when one came up. I did have to sell off my Dangun Feveron to get it, but truth be told, I like this game is much, much better.
After starting up playing the Advanced course to try for a clear, I decided to scale back a bit and play for a clear on the Normal course, which is only 5 stages as opposed to the 7 stages of Advanced (with possibly more due to the hidden bosses).
This run got me pretty far through the stage 5, where I finally died on the first of the last series of bosses. I have been using Miyamoto (C) and he works really well for me. The other characters I have been playing with will make a good team when I am ready to step it up and try for an Advanced clear and solid letter score - Flying Baron (B) and Strawman (A).
I'm pretty happy with my progress and I have come to really like this game. It's exceptional the way the mechanics feel - like you can move exactly how you want, when you want. There's so many ship choices, paths through the game and hidden things that it feels like I have soooooo much to learn still.
The OST is yet another Manabu Namiki masterpiece and just makes the game that much more enjoyable, especially the Sewer stage and Airport tracks. It really helps draw the game's elements together to make an excellent, fully realized world that becomes so much fun to play in.
Ever since Dave_K told me about KET (the Battle Garegga WR holder and [I believe] the admin of Garelab, a site dedicated to Garegga) playing live via a streaming channel on the web, I have been checking his feed each weekend and watching him play. It goes without saying that I am always stoked when he goes live.
Now I am really into watching superplays, which I have already covered here, but what makes this amazing is that this is live - he talks to people while playing and responds to comments posted in the chat channel, which is pretty cool. He even has a pretty good knowledge of English, so he'll answer questions posted by westerners. Very cool.
Watching a master at work is a lot of fun and week to week he plays different titles, but always seems to find time for Garegga and Armed Police Batrider. He plays a variety of characters and trys different thing most each and every run. His Batrider runs are usually low rank runs, missing chaining medals, and his Garegga runs run the gamut from low to high rank with virtually every character.
I was signed on and called gunbird18 and he joined me and we chatted all the while watching KET destroy boss rushes in Special stage in Batrider and we geeked it up pretty fierce.
Right before I thought he was going to sign off, he started in on DDP. We typed furiously in chat like happy school kids and watched him destroy the game, chaining most levels pretty well. gunbird18 had to leave just before he finished the game and he nailed a first loop clear with a few guys in reserve. A pretty nice run and hella fun to watch.
It is some extreme geekery to watch a guy in Japan playing STG's live with only 20-30 other people - all of whom are Japanese (except us one or two westerners), but it is amazingly cool nonetheless.
He'll usually post a link to his ustream channel from his twitter account here when he's about to play (http://twitter.com/ket_garelab) and he'll play on this ustream account (http://www.geocities.jp/garelabo/us_h.html) so check it out when you can. A very unique opportunity for those of you who want to check this master of Raizing's best.
It took me a while, about two days of constant playing (when I actually have free time) to finally get past the 70/80th area and make it past the 400K mark.
In fact, my goal for the evening was to try and get past the 300K mark and my first game past 300K was this 414,180 score.
With old school titles, it seems like the gains you make can be big if you have good control of the player craft and know the behavior of the enemies. In fact, the only thing that caught me out was a set of mid bosses I had never faced before and I got killed by their unusual patterns.
Its amazing, really, that older Toaplan titles seem to draw me in even more so than Cave's newer efforts. Maybe its just a phase, but damn, Toaplan really knew what they were doing.