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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Some Retrospective: Air Zonk

Bad dudes in shades? Just another one of the countless things ripped off by Will Smith.
Just a quick blurb to assure you all that I'm just busy and not dead. I thought I'd take a moment to remember one of Red Company's greatest games. Air Zonk is the one title besides Bomberman '93, that I always find myself coming back to on the TurboGrafx-16. I'm not certain how many times I've beaten it, but I thought I'd take a second to share my feelings with everyone out there.

Air Zonk is a shoot em up from 1992 from the famed developers of Gate of Thunder, and Lords of Thunder. Oddly enough, it actually fits into the Bonk's Adventure canon, as the main antagonist is King Drool, and Zonk is either a Cyborg Bonk, or sent into the future by Bonk to fight Drool's descendants. Zonk was primarily created to "out-attitude" Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog, and took over as mascot for the Turbo-Grafx 16 in North America. A Horizontal shooter, the difficulty isn't really on par with R-type, and other games of its ilk, but the gameplay far exceeds them as far as I'm concerned. 

It just doesn't get much better than this...
Beyond it's beautiful color palette, complex parallax scrolling, and the insane amount of sprites on screen at any given time, Air Zonk can best be described as "whimsical." Even hardcore shooter fans admit that the cartoony chaos has a charm all its own. Gamplay wise, Air Zonk is packed with powerups. Though powerful in their own rite, your weaponry feels downright cheap at times when charging up the alternate-fire mode and filling the screen with shards of hot death flying everywhere. The only thing that may deter you from getting crazy with the big guns is periodic slowdown. Sometimes the Turbo just can't handle the sheer amount of crap onscreen and slows up a little bit. That aside, this is still a crowning technical achievement for the system, and well worth playing if you haven't.

Along with the impressively huge selection of weapons peppered throughout each stage, you can also charge button I to spit out a huge, sunglasses-wearing bomb that fills the screen with destruction and kills everything. It seems that not even your console is safe as this attack almost always causes the game to hiccup, but kudos to Red for not cutting back on the devastation! You also have rocket shoes that either activate automatically when someone gets too close from behind, or that you can fire by hitting select. There's an assortment of buddies you can choose from as well, who appear and fuse with Zonk once you receive two giant smilies to create even more attacks! Have you ever encountered so many different ways to kill things in a game?

I could go on and on about the bosses that fill up the screen, insane powerups and beautiful levels which aren't just rehashes and palette-swaps, but this is already running longer than I'd like. Suffice it to say, you should drop what you're doing and either find an original copy at a place like eStarland, or download it on the Wii Virtual Console.

Summing it up
+ Beautiful graphics that seem to go beyond the TurboGrafx-16's native capabilities
+ Fast action that keeps you on your toes despite how much firepower you're boasting
+ Incredible music
+ Weapons, weapons, and more weapons
+ Rocket shoes!
+ Massive bosses that fill the screen
+/- Though incredible to execute, some of the attacks are so devastating that it almost 
      feels like cheating to use them
- Random slow down
+ They had me at "Lightning bolt mohawk"

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Taking Racketboy's VGA Adapter for a Test Drive

I know everybody says it, but it's no less true. The Dreamcast was way ahead of its time. Memory cards that served as portable gaming devices, online play and web browsing, 128-bit graphics processor, and the fact that it was capable of progressive scan. That's right, with the use of a VGA box or cable the Dreamcast was the first home console capable of displaying images in glorious 480P. Now this may not seem like such a major feat in a world filled with consoles running in native 1080P, but back in 1999 (and even 2001), displaying console graphics in progressive scan was almost unheard of. That was a rite reserved for the auspicious PC gamer. Using the VGA box however, that notion was thrown out the window, and access to the wonderful, interlacing free world of the PC gamer was granted to the perceived rabble of console gaming.

As I have an unending curiosity with regard to new peripherals for vintage systems, I couldn't help but try out a Dreamcast VGA cable for myself. I was skeptical at first as I've played my Dreamcast through the same RCA cable since it's launch in 1999, and wasn't certain the extra boost from VGA would be worth the hassle of disconnecting and reconnecting my Dreamcast. God was I ever wrong... Observe.

I thought I knew you Sonic Adventure...
Suddenly old-school has met high-def with's Dreamcast VGA Cable. I can't believe the overall increase in graphics quality this little box delivers. It's as though my Dreamcast has gotten a new lease on life, and I always thought it looked great regardless of interlacing. But don't let me try and convince you, check out these images to get an idea of what I mean.

Now before I get too into the examples, I think I need to explain the process used in gathering these images. Since I'm lacking the $300 device required to do true VGA screen grabs, the VGA examples were captured using a digital camera and tripod shooting the image on an HDTV. As such, you may notice some slight issues with color or distortion. This is pretty common with this capture method, and if you have a less-expensive workaround I'd love to hear it. The RCA examples were grabbed using a Canopus ADVC-110 and Premiere Pro. Though it's true this device also runs into the hundreds of dollars, it captures the RCA and S-Video I need it to. I never thought I'd need to capture from VGA for obvious reasons.

You could cut yourself on that hair.

Easy Hookup
No stupid sub-menu to configure?
This thing's practically ahead of the PS3.
The first thing to note right off the bat is the overall ease of set-up with this device. You basically jack it into the same port that your inferior RCA cables have been occupying for the past 11 years, and hook it up to the VGA display of your choice via a male-male VGA cable. The one thing I was curious about (and admit it, you were too), was how audio would be carried through such a device. Now that I've tried this thing out for myself, I know how obvious the answer to that question is. 

Audio out
It seems so obvious now...
An unexpected bonus with this device was the clarity of the audio output. whether through the TV's speakers or my crummy little iPod earbuds,the stereo-sound was actually a notch above what I usually get out of my composite cable. You could argue that my SD-TV's speakers are to blame, but it was an improvement for my setup nonetheless. The only beef I had is that there's no volume adjustment on the box itself for people who may want (or need), to connect it on their desk with a set of headphones that are lacking a volume control. That said, the volume coming through the device isn't loud enough to do any damage, nor is it so quiet you can't hear anything. It's actually at about the perfect level (for me anyway). Chances are pretty good that you're going to be hooking it up through your PC speakers anyway. This is really just a nitpicky thing, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention it.

What follows are a few more examples of the sharper image quality I received through using my Dreamcast with Racketboy's VGA cable.

Colors seemed much more vibrant. I just can't get over how sharp everything looks.
Here's a good detailed shot of the true benefit of the VGA cable. Note the detail around the edge of the nose, and around the lips and teeth of the image. To me, this is bordering on early-generation Xbox 360 quality.
Overall, I was very impressed with this particular VGA cable. Along with not eating up as much space in your entertainment center as a traditional VGA Box would,  it's small form factor makes it tremendously easy to store when not in use. It's short length is also handy on a desktop, where your Dreamcast is going to be competing for prime real estate with your keyboad, mouse, tablet, etc... If you have a Dreamcast, and want to get the most out of it in the post SD world, then this is a definite buy. Even if you're comfortable still running on an old CRT TV, this thing is great to own if you're taking your Dreamcast to a friend's for some LAN-action, or want to fire up some Bomberman Online on their big-ol' HD screen.

The games I tested through the cable were:
Sonic Adventure
Sonic Adventure 2
Jet Grind Radio
Blue Stinger
Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram
Gunbird 2

Out of all the games tested, only Gunbird 2 gave me a compatibility error, which was easy to bypass using the old-school, VGA workaround method of unplugging the cable right before loading the game from the system menu. Despite not being compatible, it still looked pretty sharp, and I was finally able to utilize the Arcade viewing mode in that game by rotating my LCD monitor 90º.

Summing it up
+ Clearest, sharpest picture I've seen on Dreamcast games that wasn't emulated
+ 480P on an 11 year-old console
+ Easy to use
+ Good stereo audio at a consistent level
+ Small form-factor
- Some details that were meant to be smoothed out by interlacing become slightly aliased,  
  but not badly, and primarily in games that don't support the VGA capability natively

Monday, April 11, 2011

Goodwill Hunting 2: Extreme Edition: Day 2

Who runs Barter Town?
Who runs Barter Town? Actually, it's the Bellwood Flea Market. Still, would you be surprised if they had a Thunder Dome equivalent?
Despite how much ass the first day of my thrift store journey kicked, the next day would prove to be even more advantageous. Due to major life events sapping my wallet dry, You'll notice I didn't purchase a whole hell of a lot of goods. That said, the experience of being there, handling this stuff, and speaking with the shopkeepers I encountered was almost worth a truly epic find. In the interest of brevity I'm keeping this article picture heavy, and word light. If you missed Day 1, check it out before reading on. Otherwise, On to Day 2!

Holy Shit!
You can't see everything in this picture, but if I'd emptied out this bin it would have looked like the whole of the 80's-90's gaming scenes exploded into the dirt. Consoles,games, controls. Just tons of stuff! I bought
Kung Fu (didn't own it yet).

Can you tell the difference between those two Playstations?

A tale of 2 Playstations
How about now? This is the transition between the working optical drive, and the one where you had to turn the console upside down to get the stupid thing to work.
N64, a Game Gear, and a pile of junk
There were an awful lot of Game Gears and N64s in this place... Actually, there were a lot of Game Gears everywhere I went now that I think of it.

If it was anything but Guitar Hero Guitars and a PS-ONE I'd think this was an odd scene.

What a mess
The woman running this stand wanted $35 for each of these GBA-SPs! That's actually pretty average, but there was only 1 power cable between them and I didn't come to the flea market to pay average prices.

Who runs Barter Town?!
Just to give you an idea of an idea of the scale of this joint.
Up until this point, I'd seen what could be called "typical flea market fare." Controllers, consoles, carts, and CDs stacked on tables, in bins, and the dirt. The last booth I would visit however, was far from ordinary... For a flea market at least. Behold!

Am I crazy for putting a mosaic over that kid's face? How about, I don't care, I'm not trying to get sued.

Seriously, have you ever been to a flea market where there were this many games, that clean, and under glass? How about any of those circumstances by itself even? Probably not.

This just keeps getting better and better!
The older couple who ran this stand definitely knew how to take care of this stuff... and how much it was worth too. I ended up buying Castlevania Adventure on the Game Boy from em. It was a little pricy at $5.00, but I couldn't help myself.
Not too much beyond that. I did pick up copies of Atlantis on the 2600 (which I confused with the super-rare Atlantis II), and Ducktales for the NES from another booth that wasn't all that photo-worthy, and stopping at a pawnshop later in the day would secure me a new in box copy of Vector Man for the Genesis, which only ran me around $7.00! It was a great time, and if you're ever in Richmond, VA, I highly recommend going on a little treasure hunt yourself!

What I went home with
That's the complete haul. Photo taken with yet another terrible camera. I'll be using my D-3000 again for the next post, so keep an eye out!
That's it for the epic thrift-store weekend. I got to see some unusual things, speak with new and interesting people, and more likely than not, became a carrier for a new strand of tetanus. I hope you enjoyed my filthy exploits. There are more pictures if you're eager to see more console porn (you can thank @AzureLeeonardo for that phrase :D), just check out the Retronick flickr page.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Goodwill Hunting 2: Extreme Edition: Day 1

Ether is a terrible drug.
This is what my camera saw the first time I tried to take a picture of this place.
This image is NOT Photoshopped. I must've turned my wrist... Or it was trying to warn me.

A thousand Apologies for the infrequency of updates. The forces that be have kept me from keeping the blog updated, but I will have a little more time free up in the coming weeks so bear with me. Last week, I teased a continuation of the Goodwill hunting series. Obviously not the movie, but the hunt through Goodwills and similar thrift shops, on my quest for rare and unusual video games, peripherals and merchandise. My travels would take me to Richmond, the capitol of Virginia. A city where I saw one stretch of about three city blocks occupied by a mammoth goodwill, a pawnshop, and four or five various other thrift stores. There was so much stuff in fact, that I will be breaking this post up into two parts, Instead of the anticipated one. So without further adieu.

The First Goodwill
Goodwill Game Gear
I can't believe someone would just give
this thing away!
From the moment we walked into the first Goodwill on our list of shops to browse I knew we were in for a rush of discovery, but I had no idea that the first leg of our journey would contain such a treasure as this. If I didn't already have one of these that recently had faulty video capacitors replaced, I would totally jump all over this thing. I mean, a Game Gear with a Game Genie, 2 games, a screen magnifier, car and home AC adapters, and a case? For $10.25?! That is the kind of find most collectors dream about. The only issue I could find with the unit was that you had to hold it at a 70º angle to see anything, but it was otherwise perfect! There were a few other odds and ends about, but this was the only article really worth going over in depth.

The Dirt Mall
Bait and Switch
The sign seems obvious... But that's not what's in there.

Flea Market?
Wow... Just... wow...
This was definitely an experience, I can say that for certain. What I can't say for certain is how I managed to not only go into this place twice without losing my wallet or an eye. This "FLEA MARKET" is not so much a flea market, so much as it is a dirt mall filled with knockoff shoes, clothes, electronics, color changing contacts (Good luck with those), and glass pipes for "tobacco." This place looks like an inner-city ghetto decided to squat in a K-Mart while the management was on vacation. Despite it's ragged look however, buried deep beneath the heaps of fake Gucchi bags, light-up belt buckles, fake designer jeans, and the creepy guy who tried to make me think I knew him as he walked by; this potential crime-scene held some remarkable retro gaming and pop-culture artifacts. So enough about the state of this place, let's explore the wonders within.

The Intellivision
Beautiful isn't it?
Even the "Intelligent television," has been known to go slummin'. Though I'm not the biggest Intellivision fan around, (that distinction goes to Samurai Smurfette who's featured in April's issue of Fraggs Magazine), I can't downplay the significance of this find. Seemingly complete and in near-mint condition with a manual, this bastard would have come home with me had it not been for the hefty $75.00 price tag and my lack of interest in the platform :-/. If it hasn't been micturated upon by vagrants or sold already, it's definitely a worthwhile trip to pick this thing up. 

Big Ol' Heap of Consoles
Genesis Does...
At least they aren't in a dumpster, right?
Just to the right of the Intellivision lie heaps of old, beat up consoles. Among them, a few Atari 2600s (both Junior and the old school wood-panel models), a Dreamcast, a stack of Sega Genesis systems, and some Sega Saturn games. This was the first real collection of used games and systems I came across in the dirt mall, so I Figured it warranted mentioning with a few photos. It's also the first merchandise I'd found that looked like it actually belonged in a flea market. I didn't buy anything yet, as I wasn't wanting for spare parts or systems, and I  was still waiting for a big score.

Atari 400
An Atari what?
The last booth we visited ,was a veritable gold mine! There were two guys manning it who insisted on not using ebay for some reason or another, and despite knowing the value of their merchandise, sold everything for far less than it was worth. Odd fellows, but from the sound of it, they simply got a big thrill out of buying up truckloads of unwanted stuff and reselling it via auctions and flea markets. They both seemed sorta crestfallen by the state of this particular flea market, and remarked that the way it was advertised was a bit of a bait and switch. But I was very happy to see them there. The Atari 400 to the left was only $10, but it was filthy and didn't come with any of the components. They assured me it worked, but who knows for sure? These guys were fairly shrewd as well. The younger of the two pegged me as a collector off the bat, and actually managed to answer any questions I had without struggle. Hell, they even offered to sell me the lot of consoles for $50. As tempting as a room filled with musty old game systems sounded, I passed. That's when I saw this sucker hanging out at the end of their little alcove.

Fortress Maximus?!
No dick jokes... What are you, twelve?
The Nerd Primes among you know exactly what this is, for everyone else, allow me to explain. What's pictured above is the coveted Fortress Maximus which-as far as I know, is the largest Transformer ever made. It also happens to be one of the rarest. This Fort Max may be in a state of disrepair, but think of it as buying a rusted-out hotrod. Sure it's rotting out in the driveway for all your neighbors to see, but as time goes by you find opportunities to work on it, and pieces show up here and there. Before you know it you've got a sleek roadster that simultaneously makes your neighbors jealous and your dick seem bigger... That, but in a toy robot... So it attracts way less pussy.

Someone tried to offer less than the $20 the owner was asking for it before I arrived, and left to try and make em sweat a bit. The owner said he'd sell it to me if I got him the cash first. Ten minutes later, I beat the kid by about 2 minutes, and got to bask in his defeated expression before making my final exit from the dirt mall. Seeing as how a complete Fort Max can demand a price well into the $600 range, it serves the brat right for trying to haggle on an already great deal. All in all, a successful trip.

A friend is going to pay me what I paid for Fort Max and I'll have his Christmas and Birthdays covered for awhile (this thing is missing quite a few pieces). As cool as Fortress Maximus is, the real cool shit went down on day 2.