Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Chris' Functional Guide For Making of Spectacular Unlicensed Gaming - Major Unending Success!


While I'm sure many of you have a fair amount of games on your shelf already, I have no doubt that a few of you are just starting to assemble your game collection. So with that in mind, have you ever been out game shopping and you see a cart that looks radically different from the others? A blue nintendo game? A gameboy game with all of the pins showing? A game with an otherwise wacky size, shape or color? You more than likely have stumbled across an unlicensed game. Before you start shelling out your life savings trying to track down everything with an off-color case, perhaps you should ask yourself what you look for in a game and whether or not you need every unlicensed game out there. They range from Christian-themed games to pirated bootleg multicarts, to reproductions and more. So let us dive into the murky pond that is the unlicensed game world and see if we come up with a winner!

NOTE: I'm primarily focusing on the NES for this tutorial. There are certainly a fair share of wacky bootlegs and strange carts for other systems, but the Nintendo has the most notorious set of games and perhaps one of the largest collections.

Publisher: Tengen
Modus Operandi: Released (surprisingly faithful) arcade ports in black carts that slope down to a point on the top label side: resembling a paper airplane from the side.
Popular titles: Gauntlet, Tetris (Tengen,) Toobin, and Skull and Crossbones

Shinobi is pure ninja awesomeness!

Tengen was a branch of Atari and they released several wonderful arcade ports and a few original titles. Tengen is unique in that they started as a licensed third-party company; putting out games such as Pacman, Gauntlet, and RBI Baseball under the Nintendo umbrella. As a result of Nintendo's strict release policies, coupled with a spat over the Tengen release of Tetris: The Soviet Mind Game; Tengen started to release its games in their now familiar, unlicensed, black carts. Most of the games are ports of arcade classics such as Pacman, Toobin', Skull and Crossbones, and Fantasy Zone and a majority of the games were developed by Namco, Sega, or Sunsoft. Most Tengen carts will run you less than 10-15 bucks except for Tetris which has its own unique history of being pulled from the shelves due to a legal spat between Nintendo and Tengen over copyright. This game fetches a hefty penny for this reason - and also because it is considered a better version of Tetris with its 2-player mode intact.
It's available RIGHT NOW (as of this writing)

Publisher: Camerica
Modus Operandi: Released (moderately decent) original games and peripherals for the NES. The carts are typically gold or silver with a NTSC/PAL switch on the back. They also produced the Aladdin Deck Enhancer and the carts for it are squatty, black, and roughly shaped like an Atari 5200 cart.
Popular Games: Bee 52, Big Nose Freaks Out, and the Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy

I'm sure there's a joke about a wall, a big fall, and scrambled eggs here somewhere.


Camerica was a company that released a handful of peripherals and games developed by Codemasters. Along with Tengen, these carts seemed to be widely available in rental chains (in spite of Nintendo's strict policies condemning unlicensed games alongside their own) and the quality is nearly up there with the output of Tengen. Games such as Big Nose the Caveman, Bee 52, and The Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy are fun time-killers and while none of these games could be considered gems, they all have a quirky, fun, cheerful quality to them. Possibly one of the best Camerica releases (in my humble opinion) is Micro Machines. The Aladdin Deck Enhancer was a device made late in the NES' lifespan that was made to cut down on production/game costs by eliminating the necessity of a special chip in each cart to bypass the NES' lockout chip. Most of the games released for it are available in non-Aladdin form and there's not really too many reasons to recommend it aside for "collector's sake." What I would recommend picking up are the Quattro series that Camerica released. They are multicarts that feature 4 games of a given genre: Sports, Adventure, and Arcade. They give you a broad sampling of what Camerica has to offer and are really affordable.

It's...err...rare?!

Publishers: Color Dreams/Bunch Games/Wisdom Tree
Modus Operandi: Released (notoriously mediocre) original games and clones - as well as cannibalizing from their own library as the company later branched off from Color Dreams to Wisdom Tree to Bunch Games. Carts are usually either blue or black. Also known for releasing Bible-themed games under the heading Wisdom Tree.
Popular Titles: Spiritual Warfare, Bible Adventures, Tagin Dragon, Challenge of the Dragon, and Baby Boomer
Available in Black and Blue varieties! Gotta Catch 'Em All!


Ah, Color Dreams. Better and wiser game reviewers than I (Seanbaby, The Angry Video Game Nerd, and many more,) have decimated the Color Dreams/Wisdom Tree/Bunch Games collections for their shoddy controls, mediocre graphics, absurd storylines, and grating music. That being said - I know at least a handful of people (as well as myself) who have a strange, morbid nostalgia for this quirky little footnote in video game history. Many of their games are either clones of popular titles (Super Mario Bros 2, Legend of Zelda, Solomon's Key) or actually clones of their own games (Sunday Funday is Menace Beach with 30% more Jesus, Exodus is really just Crystal Mines gone all Old Testament, etc.) Some of my friends and I would actually file these games into the so-bad-they're-hilariously-great category. They come in baby blue and black varieties and many places online will tell you that one variety is rarer than the other. If that's true, I honestly don't understand nor care to understand the distinction. As far as I can tell the colors are interchangeable based on how much stock they have of one type or the other and just about every copy of Captain Comic I see has an "inverted Jenny" style label so just because your label is upside down doesn't make you a lottery winner. Besides, that game is so bad-it's-awful. So we all lose. Their rarer/ more valuable games are Baby Boomer, Tagin Dragon, Operation Secret Storm (a game based on the first gulf war!) and Challenge of the Dragon. Whether or not they are worth the price is based entirely on how hardcore of a collector you are. Lukie Games frequently has most of these games available on a fairly regular basis so if you need to fill out your unlicensed game collection, I can't think of a better place to do it!

Publisher: American Video Entertainment
Modus Operandi: Released (mostly forgettable) puzzle games, clones, and a handful of original titles here and there.
Popular Titles: F-15 City War, Deathbots, Wally Bear and the NO! Gang, Venice Beach Volleyball

Brought to you in Booty-vision!

AVE put out quite a few games in their time as an unlicensed game publisher - many of which are fair-to-middling games that would not be out of place among the game packs you get when you get a stock Microsoft PC with games such as Solitaire, Mahjong, Blackjack, a sliding puzzle game, and a Tetris style game as well. Probably the best game from AVE is F-15 City War which feels the most like a professional action shooter game. For the hardest of core game collectors - you should start with this game first, and then pick up oddities like Wally Bear and the NO! Gang,  Deathbots, and Mermaids of Atlantis. For someone looking for a lot of these games (as well as many other unlicensed games) should pick up the Maxivision 15, better known as the Maxi-15. It combines a few games from AVE, American Game Cartridges, and Color Dreams. The cart includes many of these AVE games as well as rare titles Menace Beach and Chiller which make the multicart worth the price of admission alone if you're a collector that needs every NES game but not necessarily every NES cart.

Let's not get it twisted - they aren't ALL individually awesome games...
Publisher: Panesian
Modus Operandi: Released (less than stimulating) adult games for the NES that were themselves clones/hacks of other unlicensed games with nudity shoe-horned in. Games were released in black carts not unlike a backwards AVE cart and housed in Clamshell VHS style boxes.
Popular Titles: Hot Slots, Bubble Bath Babes, and Peek-a-Boo Poker.
Earn yourself a cool 1000 Lukie Points in one sweep!

While this publisher only released three games here in the states - not much to justify bringing it into this list; it's a unique company in that they released the only set of Adult NES games here in the US (barring Sachen's Honey Peach and a few other Hacker International games that would wind up on strange multicart bootlegs.) There's really nothing special about the games themselves, 8-bit nudity aside - and they are all just naughty versions of other releases. That being said, they are interesting to collectors because they are very scarce (being available strictly through phone order) and very few made it into the market.

So that is a brief sampling of what is out there in the vast universe known as unlicensed games. There's certainly games that didn't make my list here. There's "Action 52"...but you don't really want that. And there's a slew of white, grey, translucent, and black carts that have multiple games, homebrew games, or unreleased games on them. If they are cheap and you're willing to take the gamble, pick one up! Most of the previously mentioned games are available at Lukie Games on a regular basis so get yourself a copy or put yourself on the waiting list!
Just say "meh?!"

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Wendy Every Witch Way (GBC)

wendy

Wendy Every Witch Way is a slightly obscure gem by Wayforward Technology which along with another slightly less obscure game called Xtreme Sports both pushed the limits of the Gameboy Color with vibrant visuals and for the most part decent soundtracks. These two games took the regular conventions of a typical Gameboy Game (a basic sports game, or shooter) and polished those themes till they no longer looked anything like their predecessors. Now here is a link to some gameplay footage, you may be thinking, “Well that looks like any other skating game for the handheld!” You would be right in saying that instance made the game look like it was just a run of the mill Tony Hawk impersonator, but let me tell you this friend. Xtreme Sports had story. Yes dear reader you read that correctly the game had a viable story complete with cutscenes and an over world that could be explored.

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I’d compare Xtreme Sports to Mario Tennis, only more anime styled.

Whereas Extreme Sports was a unique sports game, Wendy Every Witch Way is part Space Shooter and part Plaformer. The game stars Wendy the Good Witch a character from a comic series of the same name owned by Harvey Comics. Contemporary Gamers may know her better from her guest appearance in the second Casper movie, Casper Meets Wendy. It is worth noting that both intellectual properties belong to Harvey Entertainment. Wendy Every Witch Way is essentially about Wendy finding an odd chest in her home, and being of the curious sorts she opens it releasing many large green orbs (which are moonstones if the manual is to be believed) which cause a Castle floating above her home to collapse due to these gems reversing gravity. Wendy possesses a standard attack from her wand which can be upgraded by collecting the numerous stars strewn about each level, she also has the capacity to reverse gravity as she pleases moving from the floor to the ceiling with ease. Gravity can be a cruel mistress as changing gravity will also have an impact on the environment as certain enemies and hazards will move with the change of gravity.

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They are jealous of your mad Fred Astaire skills!

The game itself is broken up into 4 levels with 3 stages each, there are also 3 bonus space shooter mini-levels in between where you shoot enemies and collect stars. If you happen to beat the game with enough stars you are able to play through an additional series of stages through a rather crazy space stage. Each level of the game introduces a new concept you will have to overcome, the first level has you learning how to jump from the ceiling to the floor by altering gravity, the second has you dealing with stage hazards, and the third has you dealing with hazards and enemies that switch from the ceiling and floor, etc. You are eased into these over the course of the three stages so difficulty is never much of a problem even if you choose to be extra ballsy and selected hard mode at the start screen.

Wendy - Every Witch Way-1

I’m not enough of a badass to even consider doing hard mode.

Control-wise Wendy Every Witch Way is a pinnacle for what any platformer should be as everything is responsive, the gravity altering is incredibly responsive as if you are quick enough you can continuously alter gravity in mid-air over and over keeping Wendy perpetually in one spot. The Attack is quick and can be upgraded by grabbing stars (Stars are also representative of your life as when you have stars you lose one of them instead of dying if hit). The space shooter mini-stages are interesting and control just like Gradius where you can move all over the screen and shoot forward. Just like in the regular stages grabbing stars upgrade your attack and you can’t alter gravity but you can flip Wendy over which makes moving up or down slightly faster depending on whether you are right-side up or upside down.

wendgb008_m

And she’s so damn happy about it!

The game’s graphics are very nice and the stages all have a great deal of detail, especially for a Gameboy Color game. If you have a minute (as I’m sure you do if you are reading this) then give this video a look. Did you watch it? Did you notice the detail put into the moving background, how about the little explosions when enemies are destroyed, or just Wendy’s movement? Don’t just take that little gameplay video as an example…

NL3EditorIm

That’s a Screen from the transition screen before the first stage, just like Extreme Sports Wendy Every Witch Way pushes the limits of the Gameboy Color with it’s colorful and vibrant visuals. The sound for the game is also very nice with moderately catchy level tunes and even a simplistic voice for Wendy limited mostly to yelps from being hit and what not. Wendy Every Witch Way is a great game for the Gameboy Color and is a simplistic platformer that is insanely fun and has a good deal of replay value I highly recommend this game or any game by Wayforward Technology.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What console should I get? Pro's & Con's (Gen VII Edition)

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Quite often people ask “Should I buy a new video game console? Which one is best for me? Are any of the consoles superior to the other?” Well I can answer all of those questions with one word answers, however that would make for a poor how-to guide (Yes, True, and No) so instead I will discuss at length each console and it’s positives and negatives and hopefully by the end of this you will have a better grasp as to which of these beauties you want to invest your hard earned money into. IN GLORIOUS LIST FORMART!


#1 The Nintendo Wii 

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TL;DR: The Wii is cheap, it has good games buried under mounds of shit, it has the most intuitive motion controls out of all the current generation consoles.

Over these past six or so years no gaming console flew off the shelves faster then the Nintendo Wii, with it’s intuitive motion controls and large number of quality first and second party titles it cornered the market for the seventh generation and is historically one of the most bought consoles next to the Playstation 2. For the first year of the Wii’s lifespan it was the most sought after console and for many it was next to impossible to obtain as the demand for it grew increasingly higher even after the holiday shopping season had ended. Unfortunately though despite a powerful line-up of decent launch titles the console was flooded with massive amounts of third party shovel-ware making many of the consoles gems go unnoticed and unappreciated. Nintendo’s campaign of making a family friendly console went off without a hitch and many homes already have a Wii, though how much they are used is mostly determined by the reasons it was purchased.

Pro’s and Con’s

Pro’s:

High Quality First and Second Party Titles: if you are a fan of the “Legend of Zelda”, “Mario Brothers”, “Metroid”, “Resident Evil”, “Castlevannia”, or “Sonic the Hedgehog” series the console has many high quality titles, to supplement them there are a host of new titles like the “No More Heroes” series or “Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom”. Through the Virtual Console you can purchase and download older games that may or may not be hard to find which you can then play on your Wii using either a WiiMote, Gamecube Controller, or Classic Controller.

Backwards Compatibility: The Wii is fully backwards compatible with the Wii and many of its peripherals barring the Gameboy Player attachment, which means if your GameCube is on the fritz you can upgrade to a Wii and still enjoy your older games.

Intuitive Motion Controls: The WiiMote is, as of this post, the most effective and intuitive motion control video game peripheral, the WiiMote is responsive and with the new “Plus” version can now track full movement allowing for realistic sword or gunplay.

Well-Balanced amount of game genre’s: The Wii has games for everyone covering every single genre. You want strategy games? Bam! They have those. You want RPG’s? BAM! They have a bunch of those as well. Etc.

Inexpensive: The Wii is a generally inexpensive console and the games and peripherals are also fairly cheap to get as well.

Practically Non-Existent hardware Issues: Known hardware issues with the Wii are almost nonexistent and the system is known to run at top performance regardless of setup.

Many motion based games: A vast majority of games for the Wii are motion based which may seem gimmicky to some but the actual experience is something that needs to be felt to be believed.

Con’s:

Overabundance of Shovelware: For every good game released on the Wii console 20 Imagine Fashion Designer and Cooking Mama’s are released. The curse of being a desirable console caused third party developers to come out of the woodwork to put out as many games as they could for the console.

Non-HD console: For those who demand that everything they view be in 1080p ultra-mega-super-deluxe-chocolate coated super quality prepare to be disappointed as the Wii only has conventional AV output meaning nothing higher then 480p.

Unable to Play Non-game DVD’s + CD’s: Currently the Wii is incapable of playing conventional DVD movies unless you are willing to go through the hassle of modding your system.

Graphics: Many games on the console have only subpar graphics when compared to the Xbox 360 and PS3.

Shoddy Wi-Fi: The Wii has very poor Wi-Fi reception and commonly when trying to play games online one will experience lag unless they get an ethernet adapter or have very high quality Wi-Fi.

Notable Games:

  • Legend of Zelda (series)
  • Metroid (series)
  • Super Mario Bros. (series)
  • No More Heroes (series)
  • Castlevannia
  • Madworld
  • House of the Dead (series)
  • Super Smash Bros. Brawl
  • Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom


#2 Playstation 3

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Tl;DR: The PS3 is very Pricey, but for what you are paying you get a quality console despite it’s inability to play last gen games. If you are looking for an HD console and are focused more on traditional gaming this fits the bill very nicely.

Despite the Playstation 2’s immense worldwide success Sony’s latest brainchild the Playstation 3 was less well received by consumers worldwide. The Playstation 3 suffered slow sales from the get-go and was hard pressed to to push the console which at the time was priced at around $500-$600, even Sony chairman and CEO Sir Howard Stringer had a hard time keeping investors in the PS3 after such a terrible start. Over time however the sales of the PS3 have been steadily growing thanks to price cuts and a plethora of quality games for the console. The PS3 recently received the peripheral the Playstation Move which according to Sony has shipper 8.8 million units since it’s release in 2010, the move was well received averaging 8/10’s from most reviewing sites.

Pro’s and Con’s

Pro’s:

Quality First Party and Third Party Titles: Sony being the big corporation that it is has many groups under it’s belt pumping out games, many of which are subpar, though there is a massive enough amount of games that overall the good games make up for it.

Partial Backwards Compatibility (For the Original Fat 20gb PS3): The PS3 upon its release had partial backwards compatibility, notably only certain PS2 games would work on the PS3, however all PSX games work on it.

Quality Peripheral: The Playstation Move is the equal of the WiiMote in most ways, and has amazing motion tracking ability.

Adequate Wi-Fi capability: The PS3 has good Wi-Fi capability though once in a while the PS3 experiences lag though it isn’t very hindering. If possible it is recommended that PS3 owners who want to do things online use an ethernet connection for fastest speeds.

Heavy RPG focus: A Majority of the games for the console are RPG’s, many of which are console exclusive.

Rechargeable Controllers: The controllers have internal batteries which means that you do not have to spend money on batteries and what not.

Rare Hardware Issues: The PS3 has had hardware issues reported, though they are all rare and due to poor maintenance of the console. The most notable is the Yellow Light of Death which means either a hard drive failure or overheating.

HD Console: For the purist, the PS3 is capable of 1080p with use of a HDMI cable.

Plays DVD’s, CD’s, and Blurays: The PS3 can play conventional CD’s, DVD’s, and Blu-Rays. It cannot however play HD-DVD’s.

Con’s:

Limited Backwards Compatibility: The 40gb, 160gb, 320gb, and Slim models are incapable of playing any PS2 games. They can however play PSX games.

Lack of Support for Peripheral: The PS3 Move has only a handful of games released exclusively for use with it. However a decent amount of games that are released are compatible with the Playstation Move (Most are FPS’s though).

Expensive: The PS3 is very pricey regardless of where you look, it generally averages $200 for an older 20gb model, the newer versions and the slim go for even more.

Bulky: For the space conscious the PS3 is rather bulky compared to the other current gen consoles.

Notable Games:

  • Little Big Planet (series)
  • Infamous (series)
  • Uncharted (series)
  • Metal Gear Solid 4
  • Jak and Daxter (series)
  • Ratchet and Clank (series)
  • 3D Dot Game Heroes
  • Valkyria Chronicles
  • Disgaea (series)
  • Atelier Rorona


#3 Xbox 360

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TL;DR: The Xbox 360 is the middle child of the consoles price-wise as older models go for about $120-$160 and newer models go for around $200-$250. A majority of the games for the console are FPS’s with a small amount of RPG’s and Puzzles to dilute them. Older models are notorious for hardware issues but newer models like the Elite and S model are known to work fairly well. The system has many FPS’s and a healthy online user-base.

Microsofts notorious console, the Xbox 360 was a highly anticipated console by fans of First-Person Shooters all across the U.S. both prior and upon it’s release but was plagued by hardware problems which detracted many newer potential buyers. Despite the original problems of the console Microsoft has improved and fixed them over time with several new version of the console with the latest being the Model S. The Model S is boasted as being free of defects and as of this post no notable instances of the RROD have been announced. The Xbox 360 is renowned for it’s highly competitive, if not fickle, user base that generally jumps ship on the older games in favor of the latest. With the latest peripheral addition the "Kinect” Microsoft hoped to cash in on the casual market while boosting sales of their console, they report an increase in units shipped by several million.

Pro’s and Con’s

Pro’s:

Quality First and Third Party Titles: Notably the Halo, Crackdown, and Gears of War series.

Backwards Compatible: The Xbox 360 is able to play all Xbox games, however online functions on original Xbox games is nonexistent due to the servers having been taken down years ago. The game’s also save onto the systems hard drive, however they cannot be installed to reduce wear to the disc drive.

Plays CD’s, DVD’s, and HD-DVD’s: The Xbox 360 can play all conventional Music CD’s, Video DVD’s, and with the HD-DVD accessory it can play HD-DVD’s.

Heavy First Person Shooter focus: A vast majority of games on the console are FPS’s, many of which are exclusive to the console and Windows PC’s.

HD Console: The Xbox 360 is HD capable with use of an HDMI cable for 1080p picture quality.

High Quality Wi-Fi (in S model or with Wi-Fi Accessory): The Wi-Fi on the Xbox 360 is practically lag free and is incredibly fast compared to the other current gen consoles. The console also takes wired Ethernet connection for ultra fast connection.

Incredibly Competitive User-base: The entire 360 community is highly competitive so for most games it is incredibly easy to find opponents to fight or lobbies to join.

Voice Recognition and Input: The Kinect allows you to bark orders at it and for the most part it will do as you say. Occasionally it will do the exact opposite or something you didn’t say at all, but being the only thing of its kind it is a unique addition.

Con’s:

Wonky Motion Controls: The Kinect motion controls are sub-par and ultimately are reminiscent of the failed Eyetoy. If you move to fast it doesn’t read your motions and sometimes it doesn’t read them when you move to slow, overall the motion controls come off as gimmicky and not worth the $100+ it costs.

Pay-to-play online: The Xbox is the only console in which you have to pay a fee in order to play online. You are presented with the option of buying in increments of 3 months or a monthly basis.

Poor support for older games: As users jump to the next big hit, older games are played less and as a result many older games no longer have available servers for playing.

Hardware Issues: Older versions of the Xbox 360 are plagued with hardware problems, specifically the Red Ring of Death.

Peripherals are Expensive: All the Official Microsoft brand Peripherals are incredibly expensive, a wireless controller without any sort of recharging battery is $50 and a wired one is around $40, the play and charge kit goes for about $25, etc.

Notable Games:

  • Halo (series)
  • Left 4 Dead (series)
  • Gears of War (series)
  • Crackdown (series)
  • Perfect Dark Zero
  • Ninety Nine Nights
  • Dead Rising (series)
  • Blue Dragon


Verdict

So what console should you get? Well to be blunt none of these consoles is superior to the other, each specialize in an area and the area you (the customer) find most appealing is the console most suited for your needs. If upon reading this article you feel the need to repeat the question “But which console should I get?” then the obvious answer from there is that you do not need a console. If you cannot deign which you want from the information provided then you do not truly want nor need a console. Above amongst the pro’s and con’s of each console I included a list of notable games exclusive to that console if those games interest you then that is the system you should purchase.

 

*This Article is subject to revision at a future date due to new console versions being released and/or due to new accessories or revisions to consoles that cause a notable change.