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Friday, February 10, 2012

Esoteric Retrospective: On the Outside Looking In

Believe it or not, that cute little boy playing Air Zonk on his Turbo Express in his
grandmother's lap would grow into the embittered asshole you see before you.
I was six years old in 1989, and one of three children. With our Atari 2600, and Ultra Pong Doubles machines losing their luster, the three of us began clambering for a new game console. Our choice? The Nintendo Entertainment System of course. Everyday in the schoolyard I would hear tales of warp zones, rescuing the princess, and exploring the vast world of Hyrule. It was maddening! I wanted so much to join in on the conversation, but I had nothing to talk about. Nobody had any idea what the hell Crystal Castles or Space Invaders were (a cardinal sin today, I know), and I would often be teased for not owning the little grey box that could.

Our pleas would soon be answered with the the holiday season upon us and our grandmother moving in and supplementing our parents' income. Mom and Dad knew exactly what it was we wanted for Christmas, and we were certain that our months of awkward silence and being teased on the playground were fast coming to an end.

Then the day arrived. The three of us tore upstairs to gaze upon the bounty brought to us by Saint Nick. We approached a large box that could have contained only one thing, and our parents stood by, urging us to open it. Upon tearing off that first piece of colorful paper we were greeted by a bright orange box. The three of us looked at each other incredulously and continued to rip at the paper revealing the rest of the orange box and the big black rectangle on the front reading “TurboGrafx-16”. We looked up from the box-somewhat confused, to our mother who excitedly began telling us about how they had tried the NES and Genesis, but weren't really impressed until they played this strange machine that we had never heard of.

Though my first question was “Can we take it back and get the Nintendo?”, it turned out that this was the moment that made me the gamer I am today. A jaded outsider that went on to own other esoteric consoles that fell just outside the realm of what was popular, and experienced the world of videogames differently than most. I was one of the few players who didn't take part in the 16-bit console war, and would instead have the rare and wonderful experience, of growing up with the TurboGrafx-16.

This article was originally a pitch for The Escapist. Although it was ultimately rejected, I felt it was a touching enough story that it belonged here, and gave me a good reason to post that ancient picture from the Christmas after the one detailed. I'd also like to thank my parents and late grandmother for making me the man I am today.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Something Old, Something New...

Something Borrowed, something Blue. That actually sums up Sonic Generations pretty nicely, with the exception of one missing adjective. Something Good... for a change. In fact, Sega seemed to be pull out all the stops for the blue dude with tude's big 20th birthday celebration. Not only did we get the incredible, nostalgia-fest that is Sonic Generations, but also a digital release of the much-vaunted Sonic The Hedgehog CD that's actually a decent port! 2011 was the first year in a long time that core Sonic fans weren't counted amongst the hardcore-retro gamers that only play the classic titles, hords of 8-year-old children, or creepy Anthrocon attendees that are typically associated with the franchise. It seems Sega is finally releasing a product that we retroists want to play. This article isn't so much a review, so much as it's letting the good folks at Sega know that this is a massive step in the right direction, and we appreciate it.

This is the Metal Sonic fight we all wanted when we discovered him floating in a tank in Sonic Adventure.

Sonic Generations has been pleasantly surprising me since its announcement back in June of 2011. First I was stunned to see the classic Hedghog in his full 3D glory running alongside what was gaming's punchline for the past 10 years in the teaser. I was even more surprised when the demo came out in limited release and I didn't automatically hate it like I did when I tried the 2006 Sonic The Hedgehog. Sure Sonic was a bit teensy when compared with the larger than life HD Green Hill Zone, but the controls and the physics were pretty much what we've been looking for over the past decade, and the level design was on par with the classics we love. Playing the game was an even bigger shock when I actually caught myself having fun and wanting to go back to replay stages WITH MODERN SONIC! It took some trial and error, but it seems that Sonic Team has finally found the sweet spot when it comes to playing with Sonic in 3D.

The "story" is nothing to write home about, but that's nothing new. Honestly, this game feels more like a fan-service compilation alla Sonic Jam, than a stand-alone adventure. It might have been better without any kind of convoluted plot at all. Still, as bad as the story is, the writing is far better than past Sonic games, and there are some clever in-jokes that Sonic-faithfuls will pick up immediately that may leave the aforementioned children and perverts scratching their heads.

The Good!
• Wow! A Sonic game that didn't make me want to kill myself.
• Fun, fast-paced gameplay.
• Gorgeous environments that showcase the clever level design.
• Unique challenges both new and old.
• Nostalgic elements: There is seriously music from Sonic Jam & Knuckles Chaotix just casually thrown into the gallery room and menus!

The Bad!
• The "Story" feels more like a formality than anything else; despite the in-jokes and decent writing.
• Too few bosses... Seriously, there are only 4 actual bosses and 3 challenges with rivals.
• Too few stages. Really what I'm saying is the game is so good I wish there was more of it.
• No "Flying Battery Zone", though admittedly, that's a my own gripe.

I never thought I'd catch myself fawning over a re-release. I just never thought they could make this game look that good on an HD-TV set.
As against remakes and rereleases as I am, I found myself both buying, and thoroughly enjoying Sonic CD on my Xbox 360 and iPhone 4S. I'm not certain how they did it, but they somehow managed to get a pixel-perfect port to span my entire 47" LCD and not look like shit. If Sega keeps this up I might have to start looking forward to Sonic games again. They even introduced us American's to the fabulous Japanese soundtrack! My only issue? The lyrics for the Japanese intro theme are absent. Yes, the vastly superior intro and end-credits tracks have been stripped of their wonderfully bouncy, totally Japanese lyrics. I contacted Sega over twitter and they simply responded that there was a licensing issue. I did feel a pang of regret after my purchase when I powered it up and heard what they'd done to the best songs in the game, but that soon faded when I saw the stellar job they did on the rest of the port.

The Good!
• Wow! A Sonic game that didn't make me want to kill myself.
• Probably because it's one of the last really good Sonic games made.
• Pixel-perfect port that looks gorgeous on my HD-TV.
• The Japanese Soundtrack!...

The Bad!
• Is missing the lyrics that I fell in love with when I first played Sonic Jam.
• The look of the new menus is a bit ugly.
• Sonic is best when he leaves his asshole friends at home, so why was Tails invited to this party?
• Seriously. Fuck Tails...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Retro Road Trip Part 2: Digital Press

Digital Press StorefrontDigital Press Videogames
387 Piaget Avenue
Clifton, New Jersey

Anyone who's visited the massive retro gaming forums over at has at least heard of their brick and mortar store out in Clifton New Jersey. If you haven't, that's a problem I recommend you remedy ASAP! Digital Press Videogames is not only one of the largest vintage game stores in the country, it's also one of the most well known. Out of all the incredible stops on our road trip, this was by far the one I was most excited about. The store plays host to the North Atlantic Video Games Aficionados (NAVA), which has entitled them to some retro-gaming celebrity visitors such as James Rolphe (The Angry Video Game Nerd), and the late Bill Kunkel (the game doctor). The unique nature of the store also made it the perfect place for Capital One to shoot one of their commercials some time back.

Why all the fuss over just one game store? Sadly, without going there in person you can't truly know, but hopefully the following photos will give you some idea of why I got so excited at least.

The Store
Behold! Your last stop for that thing you couldn't find anywhere else.
Miniature Arcade
The miniature arcade that greets you on your way in is a nice touch.

Pac-Man Jr
I was lucky enough to catch them in the middle of maintenance. These people know what they're doing!

Imagine visiting a museum where you can buy the exhibits straight from their case. That's what this felt like.

Jaguar in-store display
I played on one of these kiosks as a boy. It's more impressive now than it was then.

Virtual Boy in-store display
The first time I played on one of these I couldn't figure out how to turn on the other two color channels...
Then they told me it's supposed to be red. 32 bits, one color.

3DO Advert
An incredible retro 3DO advert. The sheer amount of vintage POP was staggering.

Lords of Thunder POP
This POP is more in my wheelhouse.
Sadly, I only own the Sega CD version of this classic. Muted colors and shit music for me.

Hand Painted Pixel art
The hand-painted pixel art in the gallery at the back of the store is worth a look;
especially if you're looking for that unique addition to your game room that no one else has.
Their bargain bin actually had a better selection than some stores I've been in. *cough Gamestop *cough!
Sorry for the terrible iPhone 3G picture here.
The mini-museum was far more impressive in person.

Yes. That is indeed a SuperGrafx running Ghouls n' Ghosts.
I know, I never thought I'd see one in person either.

Ah yes, the successor to my beloved PC-Engine. One of these days... You will be mine.

Neo Geo MVS Carts
Neo Geo MVS carts! The perfect gift for that bat-shit crazy collector that has everything.
That wraps up my tour through the hallowed halls of the Digital Press store in New Jersey. Very knowledgable staff who were incredibly accommodating to my pregnant wife and I. I was pretty close to buying an Arcade card for my PC-Engine Duo R here, but then the responsibility bug bit me. Ah well, next time!

Check out the world's largest arcade on the next exciting update!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hoarders: Stories of Extreme Collectors: Phillip O'Riley

Phillip O'Riley resides in sunny San Diego California, where he has been gaming ever since he can remember, since the late 1980's. Phillip started collecting games once he started earning income in 2002. His favorite video game series has always been the Mario series. Phillip figures he started collecting because he didn't have a significant amount of games growing up, but enjoyed playing many varieties of games and systems in stores, and at friends houses. His collection consists of over 100 different game systems (including variants), and over 1,400 games. His favorite system to collect for is the NES. Phillip once met David Crane, the creator of Pitfall, and hopes to create his own video games someday.

Q: What can you tell us about your collection?
A: I currently have over 1,400 games and growing. I collect for almost every system, even for systems I do not own yet. Before I started my shopping spree, I had an Atari 5200, NES, SNES, N64, and a Dreamcast I have been gaming ever since I can remember, however, I didn't really start collecting video games with the intention of becoming a collector. Once I got my first job in 2002, my first purchase was an Xbox in June, a Gamecube in August once Super Mario Sunshine came out, a PS2 and Game Boy Advance in October. Around this time I visited a thrift store, and saw a Commodore 64 and had to have it. That is when it all began!

Q: What are your favorite genres?
A:My favorite genre is platformers. Mario being my all time favorite series. Side scrolling beat 'em ups are my second favorite, giving me the most nostalgic feelings of being a early 90's arcade rat. Run 'n gun shooters like Metal Slug almost hold the same spot for me as well. Horizontal shooters such as Gradius and Salamader (partial horizontal) keep me on my feet.

I don't know why, but I love seeing Japanese games
peppered into domestic libraries.
Q: Has your collection taken over your home, or just a room in your home.
A:I have somehow managed to fit everything in my bedroom. Or should I say, game-room with a bed. Finding room to place my new finds and purchases is always a challenge, sometimes involving rearranging entire sections of my room. I have managed to invade my bathroom with gaming merchandise. I have converted a Playstation into a tissue paper dispenser, and I have Space Invader soap bars.

I don't think that entertainment center
 can take much more.
Q: What can you tell us about the rig in your game room?
A:I have one standard definition 19" Panasonic flat screen CRT television which I have most of my systems connected to by two A/V switches and an RF switch. All ready to play on. I simply switch out the A/V cable to play the other systems . I have one television that's part of my Gamecube kiosk, and 2 computer monitors.

Q: What is the largest set in your collection?
A:I don't aim to own complete sets for any system, as I mainly collect games I'm interested in. The system I have the most games for is the NES, approaching 300 games. (Including Japanese Famicom games)

Q: Out of the 100+ consoles you own, what sticks out amongst them?
A:The one system I always receive questions about is my JVC X'Eye. People think it's a knockoff Genesis or something. The other system that perplexes people is a modern system, my Limited Edition red Wii, I'm glad I waited until now to purchase a Wii.

Remember when instruments existed in video games
that actually TAUGHT music? 
Q: Roughly how many peripherals do you have?
A:Wow, at least 5 or 6 drawers and boxes worth. I have a Miracle Teaching Piano, NES Power Pad, 2 ROB the robots, DK Bongos, Sega Genesis Menacer...

Q: What are some of the craziest things in your collection?
A:My giant Spyro plush, TOKIMEKI 2 Collector's Edition Japanese Playstation dating simulator with Pocketstation device, Konami Laserscope (looks ridiculous if placed on).

Q: Do you have any arcade cabinets or retail fixtures?
A:I have a Gamecube kiosk. I used to have a Phoenix arcade cabinet, but due to space limitations I had to let it go. It was a fun Galaga style game. I have some retail store posters and advertisements to be put on shelves.

Q: What's the crown jewel of your collection?
A:I don't have one particular item that I would say is my crown jewel, but I would have to same my boxed game systems give me the most satisfaction, mainly the Gameboy and Microvision. Oh, and I do have a prototype cart for Alien Vs. Predator for the Atari Lynx.

A great, big thank you to Phil, who has packed an ass-load of games into a relatively small space and was goodly enough to tell us about it. Truly a man who has earned the label of Hoarder. One of my favorite pictures below is of a young Phil holding onto his very first NES that he received for Christmas. This is a man who like many of us (myself included), got started in the wonderful world of video games at a very young age. If you want to catch up with Phil on the Digital Press Forums, his handle is buzz_n64. Here are some more pictures he sent us of his collection.

Somewhere there is a photograph like this of all of us.
Mine is of a confused kid looking at an orange TurboGrafx-16 box.

Extra credit for original boxes!

I'm always really impressed to see retail fixtures in the home.
Just because they don't belong there and make for an impressive centerpiece.

WhenI viewed the thumbnail for this I initially thought that wooden box
was an actual NES. Nice paint job!

Probably the tidiest part of the whole room.

It's like the 3DO was designed to be a base for the N64.

What started as a humble media center has turned into a twisted game
of Where's Waldo.

ROB has been making quite a few appearances of as of late.
I'm not complaining, it's just curious is all.

Ok, so what if I only added this image because of the Showgirls poster?
That IS an impressive stack of Genesis games.

I don't think I could bring myself to gut a GameCube to house snot rags.
But a Playstation...