April 1, 2011

The Death of the Video Game Manual

Since the mid-90's, Video Game manuals have been on a steady decline. EA announced last week that they are completely doing away with printed manuals in upcoming games.

I suppose the only thing we can blame is the internet, which rendered the manual obsolete. No longer did you need to write down the super-awesome secret you discovered in the "notes" section, you can look it up on GameFAQs. Need to learn how to play? The instructions are in-game now. I suppose it's a natural evolution, but one I'm not particularly in love with, y'know? Maybe I'm just a luddite.

But I like to reminisce to a time before I existed. The late 80's. Around that time, video game manuals were a significant part of the package. When you bought a game, regardless if it was for a home computer or console, it came packaged with a thick manual that was integral to playing the game. There were elements to the story, hints, information about various enemies. All-in-all, it made for an interesting read, sort of like the liner notes of an album.

What was especially interesting about the packaging for Home Computer games in those days, were something that were called "feelies." For those who don't know, Feelies were little objects, relevant to the game that were included in the box. This ranged from maps, thick manuals with back story, or little doohickies like nametags, keychains and other uselessly awesome stuff. We still see them today in the form of "Special Edition Boxsets." Yes, you now pay an extra $10-$20 for shit that used to be mandatory.

Everything but the spooky centipede!

A game that included an interesting pile of feelies was "The Lurking Horror," a Lovecraftian text adventure by the team behind the Zork series of games. The game included a student ID Card, a guide to the fictional University that the game takes place in, and a plastic centipede, which wasn't listed on the box. It's intention was to spook you a little bit before you play the game. Probably didn't work, but it was cool nonetheless.

Anyways, if you read this, I apologize. I just felt like ranting incoherently, that's all.

- Kyle K.

March 31, 2011

Akalabeth: World of Doom (iOS) Review

Richard Garriott (AKA Lord British) is a pretty important man. Not only did he single-handedly bring the Role-Playing genre to Video gaming prominence with his legendary Ultima series, he is responsible for the existence of MMO's as well as being one of the first tourists to ever visit the International Space Station. He's a pretty awesome dude.

His flagship creation, Ultima, is widely regarding as one of the most important video games of all time and is directly responsible for the creation of other legendary RPG franchises such as Wizardry, Dragon Quest and Hydlide. But Ultima wasn't the first foray into gaming for Lord British, thus I bring to you, Akalabeth: World of Doom.

Originally re-released on the Apple II computer back in 1979, developer QuantumToast has brought the game onto the iOS, under the close supervision of Garriott himself.

The game is an emulation of the original Apple II program, everything is relatively untouched, save for some additions for beginner players that we will touch on later.

You play as a Knight, adventuring the land of Sosaria (The name of the world in Ultima I) after finding the castle of Lord British, he tasks you with the slaying of 10 horrifying beasts. Ranging from Giant Rats to the terrifying Balrog.

The gameplay will be somewhat familiar to fans of the Role-Playing genre. You must navigate the randomly generated overworld map, adventure through dungeons in the first-person perspective and slay a variety of creatures. You begin in one of a handful of towns, where you can buy equipment such as weapons, shields, magical amulets and food. Like it's Ultima successors, food plays an important role in adventuring. You need it. Every step you take on the overworld map or inside a dungeon costs some of your food. Thieves and gremlins can also steal it, along with equipment that you own. Run out of food? You starve to death. Simple as that. As with most other RPGs, slaying beasts results in experience points, which allow you to level up and improve your character stats.

The Dungeons of Sosaria are riddle with wireframe beasts, such as the Carrior Crawler Chest.

The visuals and audio are left unchanged from the Apple II original, which keeps the charm of the game. All the creatures are blocky wireframes on a black background. While the audio is just a bunch of beeps, boops and whirs that come standard on a prehistoric platform such as the Apple II.

The iPhone version isn't an exact port of the game, QuantumToast has included a handful of minute additions which make the game a little more accessible to new gamers. These include the ability to save your location (Impossible on the Apple II), find food in treasure chests and the ability to start next to the castle of Lord British. They don't sound like much, but even a seasoned RPG-er is bound to die on the first few descents into the dungeons. Akalabeth also includes OpenFeint, so those who have an account can earn achievements during their adventure.

The game is a classic, Role-Playing Gamers, both hardcore and casual, will enjoy this piece of RPG history. You can download it on the App Store for $1.99. Which is a small price to pay for an engaging retro adventure. Check it out!

- Kyle K.

March 29, 2011

Nintendo doesn't want "Garage Developers" on their consoles

 I managed to stumble upon this article from Wired which I thought was pretty interesting. Apparently Nintendo doesn't want what they call "Garage Developers" on their platforms.

You can read the original article here. It's a pretty interesting read.

It sucks. Nintendo are draconian when it comes to developing on their hardware. Considering you can get hobby games that are oodles better than a lot of the Third-party garbage that Nintendo releases these days, I think they re-consider their perspective on this.

Look at the Playstation Network and the Xbox Live Indie Games service. There's tons of high-quality stuff developed by hobbyist gamers, same goes with the App Store. It's only so long before Nintendo is left in the dust. What do you think? Should Nintendo allow these "Garage Developers" work on their platforms, or is it a bad idea?

- Kyle K.

Holy SHMUP! A pile of SHMUP Reviews on the iOS!

I'm rather peculiar when it comes to my video games. My two favorite genres happen to be Turned-based Role Playing Games and Horizontal Shoot 'em Ups. Especially the ones from the mid '80s to early '90s, when they were particularly raw and interesting. Unfortunately, both of these genres are pretty much devoid of life on Apple's portable operating system, which makes me a sad Panda. But, they do exist, especially SCHMUPs, here's a handful of SCHMUPs that you may (or may not) enjoy on your iProduct of choice.

Earth Defense Force

Though they share a name, Earth Defense Force has little in common with the Third-Person Shooter on the Xbox 360 (Which is getting a sequel! Yay!) This EDF is a rather solid Horizontal SHMUP that was released by Jaleco in the Mid-90's in Arcades and on the Super Nintendo.

Not the most revered SHMUP, but still a classic nonetheless!

Ported by DotEmu to the iOS, the game itself is left relatively unchaged. Additions include a level select, unlockable weapons and a free-play mode, as well as Game Center achievements. The only turn-off is the games' relatively short length and the difficulty, which curves from super-easy to borderline insane midway through. But if you enjoy old school SHMUPs, it's worth the $1.99.

Aerial Assault

Not the most originally titled Shoot-em-up in the world, Aerial Assault is a Vertical SHMUP, released by GameVibe Studios. The game is completely unrelated to Aerial Assault on the Sega Master System, instead this game borrows heavily from the Raiden, especially in terms of enemy design.

This is the closest thing to a screenshot that exists for this game!

You pick one of three ships, each with it's own weapons loadout and you proceed to shoot everything in sight. The levels are short, but plentiful, each with their own unique Boss. The major gripe is the music, there appears to be a single song throughout the whole game. It's by no means bad, but it's irritating that they didn't include more rockin' tunes. The game is also $1.99. If you're a more hardcore SHMUP fan, you're better off passing on this one.


Another Raiden-influenced Vertical Shooter, HotField is weird. Instead of touch-based controls like the previous games, HotField has two control options, tilt, which can be occasionally unresponsive and flick, which gives you a digital control pad. The game combines sprite graphics (Stolen from Raiden) and a bit of Polygonal 3D stuff, which looks similar to something on the Sega Saturn.


The game has some sort of plot, which is pretty much impossible to follow. There's a whole pile of silly dialog and horrible one-liners like "How about I take you out for a walk! You worm!" Also, another interesting mention is the character portraits. They're literally pictures of Pokemon characters which have been retouched with what appears to be Microsoft Paint. For some reason, the designers thought putting huge, poorly-drawn eyes on a re-coloured Ash Ketchum was a great idea. Instead, we get pure Nightmare Fuel. The game is pretty fun and $1.99. One of the better titles on the iOS.

Jet Fighter Ace: The Secret Wars

Formerly known as Corsair, Jet Fighter Ace is what you get when you combine Raiden (Fuck, everyone loves that game apparently...) with elements of  Farmville. Every hour or so, you get fuel. You can use said fuel to fly in dogfights against a computer-controlled ship. Successfully destroying an enemy results in credits, which can be spent on new weapons and parts for ships.

The game has a variety of interesting ship upgrades and the weapons are generally pretty cool. You can real money to purchase extra fuel, as well as gems, which allow you to buy more badass parts. The game gets old after a little while, considering it's one-on-one fighting, with repetitive background tunes, but it's free to play, so I guess that makes up for things. It's worth checking out, for a little while at least.

Well, there you have it! There's a few more SHMUPS that I'll get around to reviewing, but unfortunately, the App Store is pretty bare of high-quality Shoot-em-up experiences. Maybe someday...

- Kyle K.

March 28, 2011

Sucker Punch - A slap in the face.

If you watch movies, you've probably seen a trailer for Zack Synder's latest cinema offering Sucker Punch. An insane combination of robots, guns, girls, dragons and all sorts of other wonderful ingredients, Sucker Punch has a little something for everyone. At least, that was it's intention.

Just a heads up, this isn't really a review, more of a rant. It's going to be full of spoilers! So if you haven't seen the movie and you want to. Don't read this. Everyone else, scroll down.


Sucker Punch is a bizarre film. It's not really a movie, it's more eye candy than anything. In fact, the movie has more in common with a porno than a big-budget Action-Fantasy. You're not there for the paper-thin and non-existent plot, you're there for the fucking. Or in this case, the action-packed fantasy/sci-fi dream sequences. If you look at Sucker Punch as a movie. It's an atrocity. Lacking any sort of substance or continuity. But as eye candy, it's a thrill ride suitable for our FPS-obsessed ADD generation.

 Unfortunately for me, I tried to make sense out of the plot, that's where my madness began. The movie tries to pull some Inception shit, with a reality, inside a reality, inside a reality. It's hard to tell which characters are real and what is actually happening in real life.

It all starts off pretty reasonable, the main character, Baby Doll, is sentenced to an insane asylum by her sinister Step-Father, who is after her inheritance. To cope with her life in asylum, Baby Doll imagines it as a club that secretly doubles as a brothel. There she is introduced to four other girls: Sweet Pea, Rocket, Blondie and Amber.

This is where things start to get weird. In order to transport to the alternate imaginary world of badassery. Baby Doll does a sultry, hypnotizing dance (That we never get to see.) and transports her mind into such magical places as Steampunk Trench Warfare, a Fantasy Battlefield and a futuristic transport train. These scenes are super cool and make the up the bulk of the film's appeal.

But the film is a pile of inconsistencies. Only three of the five main characters are actually observed in the real-life Asylum situations (At least to my knowledge.) Two of them die in the club reality, without any consequence in the asylum one and Vanessa Hudgens has a stupid face. It's shit like that. The character's cover is blown when Stupidface Hudgens breaks down into tears for no reason and is overheard discussing the plan by Blue, the asylum director/club owner. Why is she so upset? What exactly did she say?

Another confusing situation is when Baby Doll and her cohorts acquires the knife, one of the items that is required to escape. As they snatch it, they're apprehended by Blue, who punishes one of them and kills stupidface and another one. When Baby Doll is attacked by Blue a couple scenes later, she has the knife taped to the bottom of a drawer with the rest of the items. How did it get there? Based the on the scenes prior, there was not opportunity to hide the knife. So what the fuck?

As I mentioned a couple times, two of the girls, Amber and Blondie are shot by Blue for their offenses against him. He does it in front of the Asylum therapist/Dance instructor, Madame Gorski, who doesn't alert the police. Did he actually murder the characters? Did they exist outside of the Club reality. Doesn't seem like it. Sweet Pea and Rocket are the only main characters, aside from Baby Doll, that you directly observe at the beginning, at least to my knowledge. So what the fuck?

If you can somehow understand this movie in ways I cannot, be sure to explain things for me, because I am confused as shit. Other than that, this movie was not worth the $12 I paid on opening night. Not at all.

- Kyle K.