Friday, June 27, 2014

God of War: Chains of Olympus (PlayStation Portable) Review

Since I fixed up that PSP, I've gotten my hands on quite a few games. This happened to be the first that I finished. I had played God of War once, probably back in 2006, on a friend's PS2. I remember thinking it was a pretty impressive, if slightly generic, game. Fast forward to 2010 and everyone is calling Castlevania: Lords of Shadow a God of War knock-off. This was curious to me in a few ways, but I didn't seek out a God of War game to see what they meant because I didn't really feel the need to. Beat-em-up games are all pretty similar; you've usually got a weak attack, a strong attack, a block, a dodge and maybe some magic. God of War has that, Castlevania has that, Devil May Cry has that, Dynasty Warriors has that, Rygar (PS2) has that, Anarchy Reigns has that, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World has that, so on and so forth. See what I'm getting at?

So why did Lords of Shadow become a God of War rip off? I'm really not sure. Maybe it's because stylistically, Gabriel's whip looks (and functions) similar to the Blades of Chaos? That's just about the only thing I can think of, because there's really not a lot going on in games like this. 

I think we've established that beat-em-up games aren't exactly beacons of originality, so let's get down to it. This game is a prequel to the existing story, which I knew nothing about. I figured it would be a good place to start with the series. Not really. This isn't an origin story like most prequels are. It's just a prequel. Who is Kratos? Why does he do what he does? I didn't learn it in this game, I learned it from Wikipedia. 

God of War takes place in a sort of alternate version of history where all of the Greek gods are real, and each does their job as you'd expect. That means that the sun is a horse drawn chariot driven by Helios, there's Olympians and Titans, and everything else falls into place accordingly.

Kratos is sent to find Helios after the sun falls from the sky and... he never does.

I'm serious. A little past the midpoint of the game, Helios' sister tells you where he is and you get the horses and carriage back in the air. You go to get him, fight the last boss... and the game ends. I sort of forgot what it was even about and I had to check a plot summary to make sure that was what it was about. That's all the focus I'm going to put on the story since this paragraph has more exposition than the entire game.

The gameplay is tight, but the content is a bit shallow. I finished the game quite quickly, which was sort of a let down. You only end up having two different equippable weapons, with three different magic attacks. They can be upgraded, and I figured that the game would have quite a few upgrade levels and that you'd have to play through it a few times to max out the weapons. Nope. I got everything maxed out before the end of the game, and managed to find all of the health and magic meter extensions as well. That was a big letdown, because I really enjoy games of this type and I was looking forward to being able to come back to it and work on powering everything up fully. Now there's not really any genuine reason to come back to it. There's some sort of challenge mode and higher difficulties. Personally, I don't much care for replaying games on higher difficulties. It's not that I can't, it's usually just not worth it. Some games do it right and the enemies are smarter and there's more of them. Some just give the enemies way more health, which is lame. 

Chains of Olympus feels like a full fledged console game. The production values are good, the control is on point, there's some well done music and the environments are really well done. While the graphics are good, they're a bit odd. The PSP has a 333mhz processor and prior to this game's release, it was locked at 222mhz. The developers managed to convince Sony to unlock the additional horsepower to have better lighting effects in this game.

You can see there that the lighting is great, but it makes the quality of everything else stand out. The graphics are pretty jaggy, and the textures are a little bit flat. The extra 111mhz did wonders for the lighting, but the game was still held back by a lack of RAM and not enough power to do any anti-aliasing. Running the system at 333mhz drains the battery significantly faster than any other game I've played as well. I was actually pretty surprised at how long the PSP holds a charge, so it makes sense that Sony wanted the system running games at 222mhz.

The game itself is fast and brutal and it wouldn't be unfair to call it a mythological beast torture simulator. Got some harpies bugging you? Grab that winged harlot out of the air, put your foot on her back, and rip her fucking wings off. Cyclops salting your game? Pull his eyelid open, stab him in the eye, then stomp your blade into his skull.

Reach in and pull the blade out afterwards, though.

There's a huge focus on chaining hits and the combo system flows pretty well. It's not impossible to get 100+ hit combos and it feels fucking great when you do. The only thing that's really bothersome about this game is the QTEs

Unfortunately, the Dreamcast's best known contribution to gaming.

Every. Fucking. Thing. is a QTE. It's so excessive that it actually becomes hilarious right before the end of the game. In an effort not to spoil anything, there's a small child at the end of the game who is hanging onto Kratos' leg. Now, a cutscene would suffice here. This hypothetical cutscene would have Kratos pushing her off, and then continuing on his way. Totally reasonable right?

HAHA, no.

You have to tap the circle button until you push her off. You just have to do that once though, right? Nope. I think you have to do it around five times before you can actually continue. It's fucking ridiculous. Opening a door? QTE. Turning a lever? World's most obvious QTE. Killing a boss? QTE. Having sex with some random women in the middle of a battlefield (seriously)? QTE. That fucking kid weighs as much as Kratos' left nut and you have to QTE her off of you. Now, I get that the story implications are more serious than I'm making it, but that doesn't excuse the scene. Way to take any drama out of it by making me sit there like a jackass and mash a button.

I realize I'm nitpicking, but it's a fucking issue.

Aside from nitpicking, there's not really a lot of bad with this game. It's well done, it's fun and it seems like it all goes by too fast. There's not a huge reason to return to the game once you've finished it though, which can hold a beat-em-up back.

The Score: 8.5/10

Monday, June 16, 2014

Mortal Kombat (Sega Genesis) Review

Let's just get this out of the way...


That's still awesome.

In the early 90s, Mortal Kombat was an attack on American decency. This game stirred more shit than Grand Theft Auto could ever hope to. This game has the grand honor of causing so much shit that it earned a congressional hearing, resulting in the formation of the ESRB. I'm not old enough to remember that business, but I do remember when Mortal Kombat 3 came out and that whoever had it was truly a bad motherfucker. Those of us who weren't allowed to own a copy were blessed to be in its presence.

My Super Nintendo is the one that says "bad motherfucker."

And if you got to slip off to the back of the arcade to plunk in the best quarter you ever spent? Pure bliss. Mortal Kombat was such an assault on decency due to its (now silly) digitized characters. Instead of animating sprites, they took photographs of actors in the different poses.

Granted, it did look really awesome at the time and Mortal Kombat never felt the same once it made the move to 3D. Mortal Kombat's usage of digitized characters spread to several other fighting games such as Primal Rage, Clayfighter and a few others that have become nothing more than footnotes in the annals of bad games. The digitized characters are sort of odd, as they don't animate smoothly. It seems as though the gameplay was held back by the limited amounts of animation that they were able to store at the time.


Those shots are from the arcade version, of course. What were we working with on Genesis?

Sort of...loses some of its impact. Also, all of the skies in the game are like that. Just... plain colors. I know that the Genesis has really limited colors compared to the Super Nintendo but it looks like you're supposed to Photoshop something in there.

You are.

The Sega Genesis version was the one to get back in the day because there was blood. Blood was sort of the point of the game. The SNES version was stripped of any and all blood because Nintendo was still censoring things so fast it made China's head spin. Blood isn't on by default; you have to enter the code "ABACABB" at the code screen. This is a reference to the band Genesis...because Sega Genesis and...Genesis I guess. The Sega CD version (!) had blood on by default. Mortal Kombat II came out on Sega 32X, so the dynamic duo wasn't left out of the Mortal Kombat fun.

Mortal Kombat clearly has an interesting legacy, but how does it play?

The controls are surprisingly responsive. The last time I played any Mortal Kombat it was Mortal Kombat II in the arcade, and I found the controls pretty stiff and unresponsive. Of course, this could have been due to the cabinet just being in poor condition. The moves go off without a hitch, which is likely helped by the Genesis' excellent d-pad. The responsive control makes this one of the best fighting games from the era, but this shouldn't be surprising. A lot of fighters from this time just didn't feel tight enough.

What ruins this game today is how unbalanced the game is. If you can do any special move, you can utterly devastate your opponent. Especially with Scorpion and Sub Zero. I don't know if the designers saw Street Fighter II and saw no one doing the special moves or what, but a QCF (quarter-circle forward for non-fighting game initiates) is all you need to win.  Something that I'm not particularly fond of is that the game uses a block button. This is something I've just never enjoyed in fighting games. Pressing back feels more natural and allows for a quicker reaction, and with the three-button Genesis pad the start button is block.

The single player mode can be brushed aside quickly, and if you're playing the game with someone who is good at fighting games, you'll be trading specials incessantly. If the other person doesn't have any skill with fighting games, it'll be about the same as the single player mode.

There's not a lot of characters to chose from, either. It's easy to see why this game stirred up a lot of controversy and was considered a lot of fun at the time, but it doesn't hold up too well. The game is still very fun, but it's shallow compared to what fighting games became in a few short years.

The game is a cheap pick-up, and it's worth adding to your collection. Don't expect to spend hours playing it and learning the ins and outs, because there aren't many.

The Score: 7/10

Friday, June 13, 2014

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (Nintendo DS) Review

I'm not a huge fan of Koji Igarashi's Castlevania games. I'm not saying they're not enjoyable... but how many fucking times can you re-use sprites from Super Castlevania IV? We're talking about a game that was 15 years old when Portrait of Ruin came out, and there were still re-used art assets. Of course, this alone does not make a game bad.

However, it makes a series incredibly stagnant when there's little to no true evolution of a play-style between games. Let's talk about Igarashi a bit before we get into this..

The Castlevania series used to be one that changed. Simon's Quest was a departure from the original game, while Castlevania III returned to the original style but added multiple characters. Super Castlevania IV gave greater control over the whip, and Rondo of Blood went back to the old style of just being plain hard, but having some diversity in the levels in the form of different endings. They're relatively small steps, but they're something new and directly affect how the game plays. Igarashi was first involved in Castlevania through Rondo of Blood. It's unclear what exactly he did with the game, other than popping in and making some recommendations. He's listed under special thanks in the credits.

When the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 came around, Konami started development of two Castlevania games. One was Castlevania 64 (the 64 is actually not part of the title, it's just Castlevania), which is honestly a fantastic and overlooked game (largely due to its camera). The other was Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Symphony of the Night was seen as a spin off, and was handed off to Igarashi. If you know anything about those two games, you know that Castlevania 64 ended up being considered the spin-off. I think Igarashi only had two SNES games, though.

If you're familiar with Metroid games or modern Castlevania games, you probably know the word Metroidvania. I find this to be a misnomer. Metroid did the adventure/RPG game style first. Castlevania did it later. I'm not accusing it of being a rip off. It's just that Castlevania is a Metroid-style game, and I'm not sure why Castlevania has a claim to fame for becoming a name for a genre, and I love Castlevania.

Anyways, Symphony of the Night was a damn fine game and certainly one of the best. I've beaten it several times. My problem with Igarashi is that every game after this was the same. There was Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness, but they tried to have the same exploration aspects while being mechanically similar to Devil May Cry. Nothing original. Every Castlevania game up until The Adventure ReBirth and Lords of Shadow were Metroid style. I don't think any of them are particularly bad games, but there's a breaking point.

There really weren't any key gameplay differences in any of the games, unless you count weapons as major differences. With how these games play, I don't. They were all just "go through castle, get weapons, level up, kill Dracula."

Thankfully, Portrait of Ruin changed things up a bit.

Portrait of Ruin is a somewhat direct sequel to Castlevania: Bloodlines. Bloodlines is a great title for Sega Genesis that seems to get overlooked a lot, likely due to its soul crushing difficulty. Bloodlines did a few things that make it stand out and also make it surprising that it survived Igarashi's purge of the Castlevania timeline. Bloodlines actually made Bram Stoker's original Dracula novel part of the Castlevania canon. Bloodlines features a character called John Morris, who is the son of Quincy Morris from the book. Bloodlines has two playable characters, John Morris and Eric Lecarde. Morris has somehow come into possession of the Vampire Killer and Lecarde uses a fucking trident.

He's also very pretty.

Portrait of Ruin follows up on this in a few ways. You play as Jonathan Morris, John Morris' son (really inspired, Igarashi), and Charlotte Aulin. At the same time.

You can switch between the two characters, or use them both simultaneously with the AI taking control of one character. You have some control over the other character, as you can summon them to attack and assist in moving objects and other things. It adds a unique dimension to things, but you'll mostly be using Jonathan as he's the more powerful character. Charlotte focuses on magic and can't take too much of a beating. It may not seem like much, but it's a change to the Igarashi formula that was heavily welcomed after so much of the same.

The other change to the game (that's similar to Bloodlines as well) is that the game doesn't take place solely in Dracula's castle. The castle serves as sort of a hub, with magic paintings leading to other worlds where the majority of the game takes place.

Again, really inspired Igarashi.

There's eight of these paintings, with the maps being paired off in twos and using similar art assets. This adds a lot of meat to the game, instead of there being only one castle. Igarashi's last real Castlevania game, Order of Ecclesia, had areas outside of the castle, but they weren't as elaborate for the most part. There's also quests that you can take, with the objectives spread across the different worlds. 

Since the game plays exactly the same as other Igarashi Castlevania titles, there's not a whole lot to say about that. I will say that this game has a really odd difficulty curve. You'll have a pretty hard time up until a boss battle that gives you access to the final four paintings. After that, you're relatively overpowered. Past this point, the only real challenge is Dracula and it's probably the best Dracula fight of the Igarashi titles. It's actually a challenging fight, and you won't be able to rely on level grinding alone. The fight requires skill, which is something that didn't come up too often in Igarashi games.

The story is serviceable, with some terribad "DON'T TALK ABOUT MY FATHER" dialog frequently coming from Jonathan. He's not a particularly likable character. The supporting cast is interesting, and makes it worth seeing out.

Something I really don't like about the game is the art style. Once Castlevania made the transition from Gameboy Advance to Nintendo DS, they switched to a really stereotypical anime art style. Dawn of Sorrow was really in your face about it, and there wasn't a great reaction to it. Portrait of Ruin scaled it back, but it's still present.

I'm not a huge fan of the heavily gothic art style of the other games under Igarashi's reign, but it does add an air of drama to everything.

Everyone looks... a bit effeminate.


I guess that's better than anime, though. It looks like it took more than 20 minutes to do. You could hang it on your wall if you listened to a lot of Tool.

In the end, I had a lot of fun with Portrait of Ruin. It took a step to change things up for the first time in a long time, and it turned out well.

The Score: 8.5/10

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Shinobi (PlayStation 2) Review

It's not a ninja game unless you're swearing at your TV until veins bulge out of your neck and the neighbors think a double homicide/suicide is going down. As far as ninja games go everyone knows Ninja Gaiden, whether it's the NES games or the more recent Xbox games. The first Ninja Gaiden (for Xbox) is an absolutely excellent game, one of my favorites. It's hard as hell and once you've beat it, the muscle memory is so ingrained that you can effortlessly do it again. I actually broke an Xbox 360 controller playing that game not long after I had first gotten my 360. I was playing it on 360 since I didn't have a dislike of emulation yet and, well, HD is pretty nice. If you ever find yourself in this situation, don't worry. Xbox and Xbox 360 controllers actually use the exact same joysticks. You can cannibalize an OG Xbox controller to fix your 360 controller.

Anyways, Shinobi. Shinobi is a long running franchise, actually starting before Ninja Gaiden. The series went pretty quiet for most of the 90s (as did Ninja Gaiden), before seeing a return in the 2000s (as did Ninja Gaiden). Ninja Gaiden's revival was a smashing success, and the game was re-released in a tweaked form as Ninja Gaiden Black, ported to PlayStation 3 as Ninja Gaiden Sigma, and then ported to PlayStation Vita as Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus. It went on to get a sequel for Xbox 360 (which was different, but still awesome), which had the same series of ports for Sony consoles. Recently, a Tomonobu Itagaki-less third sequel was released to jeers. I tried a demo. It was bad.

You can't take this guy out of the equation and make a good Ninja Gaiden game.

Shinobi has had a much more muted response. It got above-average reviews, with most of the bitching directed at the uninspired levels and the difficulty. I don't think it's really fair to knock a game for the reason of difficulty unless it's really truly absurd. I wouldn't say Shinobi is that. There are some incredibly infuriating parts, but it never feels as though it just can't be beaten. If Ninja Gaiden wasn't knocked for it in reviews (it was definitely mentioned), then Shinobi shouldn't have been.

Shinobi is the story of Hotsuma, who is the last of the Oboro clan. Some dude who looks like a Japanese version of Crusty the Clown wearing a kimono has summoned a golden palace in the center of Tokyo and has generally unleashed havoc. That dude's name is Hiruko and he has used some sort of Talismans to control the dead of the Oboro clan to fight Hotsuma. It's the sort of general madness that you'd expect of a game of this sort, and it's nothing of note. There's some betrayals, some twists that are telegraphed days before they happen and some bad voice acting for some cool cutscenes. In other words, Japan 101. Moving on.

The most immediately striking thing about this game is the music. Holy fuck, the music. Usually I'm not terribly impressed with game soundtracks (Óscar Araujo's beautiful Castlevania: Lords of Shadow soundtrack aside), but goddammit this game has awesome music. Check this shit out:

It's perfect for the play style. It's clearly a game borne of arcade roots, and it immediately evokes that feeling. Most of the stages have similarly excellent music, though there's a few duds in there.

The games' graphics reflect its Dreamcast origins. Even for an earlier PS2 title, it's not quite up to scratch. There is one very striking visual feature, and that's Hotsuma's scarf. It's always flowing and stretched out behind him. It's a nice visual touch for a game that can otherwise be rather bland.

The gameplay is what matters for this kind of game, so let's dig into that. This game really could have used a tutorial level to explain all of the different shit that's going on and how it effects enemies/you. I'm not talking about some bullshit like every modern game where a window pops up to tell you what to do every 30 seconds; just a level to let you play around in to understand the mechanics. Most importantly, the targeting feature. This is a horribly clumsy game if you're not locking on to your enemies, and it was clearly put there because they expected you to use it. Through the first two levels, I wasn't too pleased with the game. Then I realized you're supposed to lock on. That changed my experience considerably.

You don't have a wide range of attacks at your disposal. You've got a sword to cut up enemies, kunai to paralyze your enemies in place, and a few different kinds of magic that you can use if you find the power up that lets you use them. These are relatively rare. The key to chaining all of this together is using a dash move, which will create a shadow image of Hotsuma that can distract enemies for a second. There's no block, so this is your way to evade attacks as well. Once you understand how all of these elements work together, the gameplay is excellent and just what you'd hope it would be. I don't really have any complaints about the gameplay itself; it's well designed and limited in the correct ways to create a challenge while not feeling unfair.

There's also a time limit to the game, but it's not really presented as one. Your sword, the Akujiki, feeds on souls. You get these souls by killing enemies. Haven't killed an enemy for a while? Being a bitch and running past them? Well you fucked up, because Akujiki will just go ahead and suck your life away until you die. It adds a slight sense of urgency to the game that keeps you moving, but it never really becomes enough of a risk that it's killing you constantly. It works well as a way to keep the game moving. There's an interesting combo system to get more souls as well. If you kill four or more enemies quickly enough, the game will pause for a second and show a few of the enemies, and then Hotsuma turns or sheaths his sword, and they all fall apart into little pieces. It's pretty cool, but a lot of the time the camera angles don't work well. The combo can also be used to immediately kill bosses, but it's a risky tactic as waiting long enough for enough enemies to spawn usually results in Akujiki treating you like a buffet.

If I have one complaint with this game, it's the fact that Hotsuma cannot swim. There's water in a lot of the levels. You're a ninja. A deadly killer. You move so fucking fast that you can create a ghost image of yourself. You defy gravity and jump twice. You dash in mid-air. You can't fucking swim though. What the fuck? He doesn't even float or try to swim. You just hit the water and immediately disappear. Did the head ninja or whoever the fuck trains ninjas not know how to swim? Hotsuma's parents couldn't send him to a fucking YMCA to supplement his ninja lessons with some swimming and awkward showers?

You surfed in Shinobi III. That was Joe Hayabusa though, and not..Hotsuma. He's like Seal, he just has one name.

Moving on, the level design is sort of bland as I mentioned earlier. Later levels blatantly re-use areas in the same level. A large part of the final level is just square rooms connected to a hallway. It's not a major complaint, but some variety would've been nice due to Hotsuma being able to wall run and all. They definitely made sure to put water in at least half of the levels though. Which reminds me of something else. One level has lava. I figured, this motherfucker can't swim so I definitely don't want any of that lava business. Nope, he walks on it fine. It takes some health but other than that it's not a big deal at all. I suppose I should also mention why the fact that Hotsuma sinks like a fucking lead brick is so agitating. If you die anywhere in a level in this game, you go back to the start. This game does not fuck with checkpoints. You fucked up? Go the fuck back. It's usually not too bad, as the levels aren't long. It just makes the fact that Hotsuma couldn't go to a YMCA that much more frustrating.

The difficulty aside from there not being checkpoints? It's not bad. You have to stay on your game, but that's not a bad thing. What I mean by that is if you fuck up, you're probably going to get your ass kicked fast. Miss a dodge, and you open yourself up to a few hits. The other weird thing about the difficulty is that I never figured out the approximate health of enemies. Sometimes it feels like you're hacking away on a basic enemy forever and he just won't drop. Other times, it's one hit and he's down. I have no idea how the game figures out how strong an enemy is.

Overall, I really enjoyed this game. It's fun, the music is good, and the challenge is just right. It's not a perfect game, but it's worth playing through at least once. It has a sequel called Nightshade that I'll certainly be getting at some point.

The Score: 8/10

Friday, June 6, 2014

Game finds, June 5th. I own a 32x. I'm proud. I think.

I put in a request to get out of work early the other day and use same paid personal time. It was granted, and I didn't really have anything I wanted to do. I just didn't really want to be there. So, I decided to see what I could scare up for games.

First, I went to Half Price Books. This is a chain store, and I had previously only been to a Half Price Books outlet that gets all the shit at the end of the line. I had made some nice finds there (Bulletstorm PC, $3. Sonic Mega Collection Plus and Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay for Xbox for $3 each), but I wanted to see what a real store was like. Holy fucking shit, they have anything you can dream of, and a lot of it. All of the games I bought there were in great condition, and it seemed like every case I opened had a manual inside of it. I'm not sure if it's a requirement for selling there or what. Either way, I was impressed. Their prices were great as well. I can't imagine going back there too often though. I work insurance claims and their parking lot is fucking terrifying.

ToeJam & Earl III: Mission to Earth

This is probably the best pick-up I made there. This game's eBay pricing is a little bit erratic, but it seems to hang out around $20. It doesn't necessarily seem to have a high demand, but it doesn't seem like there's a whole lot of copies out there either. The mixed reception didn't really make me too anxious to pay that price for it, so I'm pleased with this. I'll probably play through this before I check out the Dreamcast beta, since it'll be more interesting to see the beta from that perspective (I think). $7

Lost Odyssey

I've seen this 4-disc beast called the true successor to Final Fantasy lately, and many people saying it's what Final Fantasy XII should've been. If it's 4-discs then it's probably true. Speaking of which, that multi-disc thing has gotten weird lately. I remember the idea of multiple discs used to mean "wow, there's a lot of game there." It seems to get mocked now, though. I suppose because the PS3 uses Blu-Rays and doesn't ever need two discs. I don't remember the game's initial reception being outrageously positive, but there were a lot of above average reviews. This is another game that I wanted to play, but didn't want to pay for. Again, it's a title in the $15-20 range. $9

Ninja Blade

I don't know what it is about ninja games, but they're usually pretty awesome. Ninjas seem to bring out the best of game developers, usually. Most ninja games are stylish and challenging, and I'm hoping this one follows the same path. I don't remember much about this one, but I remember playing a demo of it and thinking it seemed worthwhile. I just finished the PS2 version of Shinobi (review soon) and I'm ready for some more ninja. $8

I was pretty satisfied with what I got at Half Price Books, but I decided to head to a local place called Al's. It's a used music/game/movie store and there's usually something to find there. I don't know if I've ever left empty handed. Their prices are pretty fair, and there's usually a good find to be made in the bargain games.

Lumines Plus

Lumines really is one of the best puzzle games ever. It's addictive as hell and the music is awesome. I was kind of hesitant to pick this one up, but the price was right. I have the Xbox Live Arcade version called Lumines Live! and I was under the impression that Lumines Live! was a port of the original PSP game. I guess it is, and this game is supposed to be, but there are some new tracks and stages included. So, I'm actually pretty pleased with this. I was expecting an SD version of Lumines Live! with some differences. I don't know how much is the same or different, as I haven't played it very much yet. $3


This game was actually new and sealed. I played the PS3 version before with a friend, and I had fun but I was left a bit underwhelmed. The gameplay is simplistic to the point that it's almost strange. The only thing I was really impressed with was the graphics and the soundtrack. I really, really hope that this song is in the PSP version:

Anyways, I played it a little bit last night. It's pretty similar to the PS3 version from what I remember. I'm hoping the game gets a little bit more interesting in the later levels and that Stephen Fry shuts the fuck up at some point, which seems to be the opposite opinion of most people. I'll say that I've never had any experience in the level builder, which seems to be the main attraction for most people. Level builders never really light any fire for me. Wait a minute...

The PSP banner at the top is different on these two cases...

Goddammit, Sony. You couldn't just leave it at good enough. Now my shit won't line up on the shelf, and it's going to drive me fucking mad so I'll end up firing up Photoshop and printing out different covers so the cases match. The fucking controller logo and the UMD don't even line up. WHY THE FUCK NOT? You just had to move them down like a centimeter. If that's even a centimeter. Fuck metric. MURRRRKA

America: The Series. Mondays at 9/8 central on FOX.

Anyways, LittleBigPlanet cost $8

The Big Find... a Sega 32x

A 32x. Something I've always sort-of-but-not-really wanted. They sell for about $40 on eBay, which is out of my "yeah...I wouldn't mind that" range. I found this shoved to the back of a stack of various consoles. It was $10. There was a pretty cool employee there, and the employees at Al's usually aren't too talkative. He said that it probably ended up being $10 because it couldn't be tested. I sort of debated it for a while, but Sega consoles are generally indestructible. Reading online, it seems like the most common thing that happens is a flex cable comes loose inside that connects two boards inside together. Of course it's a flex cable. I decided to go for it. The employee was actually cool enough to get online and price it for me without any asking from me. I already knew what they were worth, but the fact that he went the extra mile to let me know it was a deal was pretty cool. 

I won't be too heartbroken if it doesn't work, so I figured that if it works for $10, then cool. If it doesn't, then oh well. It's not something I want so bad that it'll bother me to have a non-working one to the point I have to hunt down a working one. It doesn't have the video connection cable to connect it to the Genesis, so I can't test it out. I don't have an AC adaptor for it with me either, though I do have a second Genesis somewhere at my parent's house, and that has an AC adaptor. It uses the same adaptor as the Model 2 Genesis, so it won't be hard to find either way. It's actually sort of ironic that I say Sega products are indestructible as I've owned three Genesis consoles in my life, more than any other.

Anyway, reading about the 32x online and looking at the games, some of them are actually very impressive looking. Metal Head is actually shocking in how good it looks.

Look at that shit. It actually looks like a (slightly shittier) early PlayStation game. There's not a whole lot of fully 3D games, but I had no idea that the 32x could pull that off. Textured polygons? I'm shocked. I figured that the hardware was shit out so fast it would be a nightmare to make something even approaching that. Most of the 32x games are 2D, and while they look good, they're not mind blowing. There's about 8 or 9 games I'd like to check out for the system, so $10 was a good price. I remember really wanting Knuckles' Chaotix when I was a kid. There were ads for it in the Sonic Archie comics, and even a 48-page issue based around the game. My parents were, surprisingly, keen enough to know that of all of Sega's bullshit add-ons, I didn't have any of them and couldn't play that one.

So, now my Genesis can say it's getting fucked in all of its holes. It should be proud. The cables to connect it to the Genesis seem to go for around $10, so when it's all said and done I'll be in about $20. About half the price they usually go for, not bad. I imagine you can make a cable by splicing two Genesis cables together as well, but I'd imagine that two Genesis video cables would probably get damn close to $10 making it not worth it.

So, it was a good haul. I spent $37 and got a lot of cool shit.

BONUS! Non-video game purchase!

I really like the Friday the 13th movies, and I have no idea why. They seem to embody all of the worst trends of the 80s and the early 90s and they're really stupid, but they're strangely enjoyable. The first three are actually pretty well done movies. I wasn't really too excited when they announced the remake. Probably because they went apeshit and announced to the world that Michael Bay was producing.

Shockingly, that seems to have been no detriment to the finished product and I really enjoy this movie. I watched it once or twice around the time it came out and found it pleasing. Aaron Yoo's character in particular is great. I caught it on cable about a year ago after not seeing it for a few years and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Since then I had been trying to come across a copy in the bargain bin, but it seems to have fallen off the face of the earth. Best Buy didn't have a copy except in a ~$120 tin with all of the movies (which I had a hard time not buying), and they've usually got a pretty expansive selection. 

The remake plays it pretty straight and tells a coherent story. Jason is more intelligent in this movie, and has traps and this little underground cave network. It's not a movie that I'd call excellent, but as a genre horror movie it's definitely better than most. I just wish that they'd let Kane Hodder play Jason forever. He has such great physicality and aggression, I think he's the only person who has made Jason someone that you actually fear. Most actors who play Jason play it too subtly, like "yeah, he just squeezed that person's head until their eyeball popped out, but he did it so gently. I bet it was soothing."

Not Kane Hodder. Even if he's still relatively slow and lumbering, you know if he got near you he could fucking rip you apart. There's no defense.

Killing isn't enough, he's gotta put those bitches in sleeping bags and use them to kill each other.

Jason X is a fantastic movie, by the way.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The PSP 1001 Debacle, Part 3: Victory (Somewhat)

Let me talk about something else first. The day the PSP got delivered, I went to some pawn shops and scared up a copy of Monster Hunter Freedom. It was the only game that (presumably) didn't suck, and I was interested to find out why Japan goes apeshit every time a Monster Hunter game came out.

That's not the point though. I went to A&W after I finished the pawnshop raids. How fucking good is A&W? I don't know if A&W is honestly that good, or if it's just because it's something you don't have frequently.

Answer: Heart attack good.

You need a cigarette after you have A&W because their food just fucked your mouth. Their burgers are huge, the fries are good and dear god, the fucking root beer. Why the fuck is it so good there? Stop selling that half ass bullshit in a can, if you sold the shit that you have in the restaurants people would stop drinking water. Shit would turn into Idiocracy and we'd water plants with it.

Go away, baitin.

Anyways, what do we do with a PSP that's in cosmetically good shape and can't be revived? Put a new motherboard in it.

There can be only one.

I got this off eBay for $20. Not the biggest steal in the world, but buying it from websites which sell parts...they're a lot more expensive. So, at this point, I'm in it about $40. Honestly, not a great investment. I saved about $20 since I got a charger in the original deal and the PSP was in good condition, but not really worth the repair effort. Since I enjoy these things, it's worth it for me. Ultimately, if you decide to undertake something similar, message the eBay seller first and clarify what exactly is wrong with the PSP. Don't just go by their vague description. Get as much info as you can.

Anyway, since I already tore down most of the thing, we'll just pick up where we left off. To get the motherboard fully out, we've got some very small connectors for the speakers that we need to take out.

Don't fuck around with this shit. Get some tweezers and get them as far out as you can, then use a small flathead to completely dislodge them. If you pull on wires that small, you deserve to have speakers that don't work. 

...and apparently I stopped taking pictures at that point until I got the motherboard fully out. There's not a lot to do after that; unscrew the screw that holds the D-pad into place, and then disconnect a bunch of flex cables. Once you've done that, the motherboard will lift out and we're left with this.

Slip the new motherboard in and reverse the steps. Most importantly, don't be a fuck up and make sure that you test it before you close it up.

You have no idea how bad I've wanted to see that. I was a bit concerned as the seller hadn't put the board in an anti-static bag. Just a zip lock bag that was slightly larger than the board. Everything is good, though. Before you finish up, make sure that screen is clean. No matter how much you tried not to touch the screen, you fucking touched it. I use eyeglass cleaner and a microfiber cloth.

Now, I had no real interest in putting CFW on the PSP. I don't particularly like emulation, and I like to buy games. I know, that's strange. Anyways, it turns out some insane souls have set out to translate Final Fantasy Type-0 since it didn't get a US release. This is something I'm interested in playing, so I figured... why not? The motherboard I bought actually already had some old CFW installed, but I need a more recent version for some games, and I'd like to be on the latest firmware anyways. Before we continue though, here's a trailer of the Type-0 translation.

Having done some minor translations for Dreamcast and assisted for a major one (not with the actual translation) when I was heading the ReviveDC Project, I can tell you that their work is incredible. The smallest thing can ruin any translation, and the fact that they've done what they have with a game with as much text as a Final Fantasy game is fucking staggering. One of the strangest things I came across was in the Capcom vs. SNK 2 Taisen Fan Disc. There was something in the game that would redirect the text to an earlier line. So if a menu ended had "Replay videos, press A to view" then there was something in the text that would redirect it to the "press A to view" text, so it was only in the binary once. We ended up with some really, really odd wording since it was redirecting and we had to get the description in before it redirected. I think one of the members ended up fixing it, but I don't recall.

Anywho, I found this guide with instructions on how to install the 6.60 CFW. It seems... shockingly easy. Install the official Sony 6.60 firmware, then run the Pro installer, then if you have a 1000 or 2000 with the right motherboard, just run the CIPL flasher. Bullshit, I thought. What about all the fucks bumbling about with Pandora batteries and MMSes a few years ago?

Well, that's genuinely all you have to do.

I'm sure I'll take advantage of CFW more than I think I will. I really dislike purchasing download only content, and there's some PSP games which were only released as downloads. It feels like sort of a rip off to me since you're paying high prices (usually) and you're only getting the game. No box, no manual, no disc. Besides that, you don't really know how long you'll have it for. What happens if Sony takes PSP games off of the PSN? What happens if the publisher pulls the game? There's a lot of what ifs there for me. I just like having a physical game. On the other hand, if there's an Xbox Live sale and some game I want dips below $5, I'm all over that shit.

My initial impressions with the system are good. I like the weight to it, it's comfortable to hold for someone with large hands due to its width, and the way the back is curved where your hands bend is nice. The screen is absolutely beautiful and I'm a bit shocked at just how good it is. I had never really used one much before, and the only time I can remember doing so is playing some Star Wars Battlefront on a friend's and then using the hilariously primitive web browser to see if a girlfriend had emailed me while we were having a Halo 2 LAN party. That was back in 2005.

It's sort of odd to move while you're using the system because the UMD drive does make some audible noise. I suppose that's something I'll get used to, but historically moving something with a disc = scratches so it seems strange.

Anyways, time to find out why Japan flips the fuck out over Monster Hunter.

Maybe I should clean that sticker residue first...

Also, Sony announced PSPs will no longer ship in Japan today. Sort of ironic, since I'm just starting out.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The PSP 1001 Debacle, Part 2: Russian FTPs and Google-Fu

With bridging the power fuse failing, I had to turn towards the Pandora battery and a Magic Memory Stick. I didn't particularly want to buy a Pandora battery online and wait, so I just opened up mine and turned it into one.

It's simple, just pry the fucker open and then cut the bottom right pin on the bottom right chip. You can lift it, but I really need a new tip on my soldering iron (and a smaller one), so I just cut the pin with an exacto knife. It's not really any real problem, a glob of solder would fix it. Basically, when you cut this pin and the PSP tries to read the data on the chip, it forces the PSP into service mode.

The next piece is a Magic Memory Stick, which is a plain ass PSP Memory Stick Pro Duo with some software written into sector 16 of the physical memory. So, I put the memory stick into my printer since it had the correct card reader aaand...

There's a My Little Pony theme on the memory stick. Of fucking course. I do not get the My Little Pony shit. I fucking loved the Powerpuff Girls. When the movie came out, I didn't have school that day. I saw the first showing on the first day. That show is still awesome, too. I know the two don't really relate, but this was a really awesome show that was aimed more towards girls. I think the two have that in common. My Little Pony, on the other hand, seems like some strange fad that has a bit of irony and desperation to it.

That speaks for itself.

Anyways, I purified the memory stick with a brutal quick format. It immediately got a date and came home drunk and smelling of strange.

So, the internet recommended Rains' MMS Maker Ultra Lite. I injected the Time Machine IPL, opened the memory stick in a hex editor to verify that the software was at sector 16, put it in the PSP, popped the Pandora in... aaand... green light for two seconds, then nothing. I even held down L.

I tried a few more MMS makers, same result. Then I found an OS X version, but the one that worked best was a PowerPC application. My beloved PowerMac G4 MDD is across the state, so I pulled the SATA drive out of a 20gb Xbox 360 HDD I had and installed OS 10.6 on it. I figured this was a good choice in case something was going wrong with the MMS creation. OS X is, in my opinion, more reliable in matters of formatting drives in odd ways and making it work well. Besides that, since the OS is Unix based and many of these things originate as Linux programs, the tools for OS X are often more reliable than the Windows counterparts. 

I got 10.6 installed on the 20gb drive, got the MMS maker, formatted my card again and, of course, same result. I've tried virtually everything at this point. I even tried injecting the IPL myself using the hex editor. Next I used Rains' IPL Test (or.. something like that), which verified that the IPL was injected successfully. At this point in time, I decided to hunt down the original CLI software. If something is wrong in a situation such as this, it's usually best to go back to the CLI software since you can have total control over what the program is doing, and you get a more detailed error message.

Unfortunately, since PSP hacking is so easy, the GUIs became widespread and the CLIs were basically wiped off the face of the earth. That problem was compounded by the fact that every file on the internet from about 2007-2009 was uploaded on Megaupload. With the help of some Google-fu, I was able to find a lot of the original software on a Russian FTP. The CLIs gave me the same result. I went back to Rains' IPL Test and started testing out different IPLs. The older IPLs were giving me results all of a sudden; the multi-IPL (intended to boot multiple IPLs from the MMS) gave me flashing access lights and wi-fi lights. The original Pandora IPL gave me solid access/wi-fi lights.

I fucked with this for a while, and decided to go back to combing over PSP message boards from around this era. I came across someone with a similar problem to mine, and the result was... you're fucked. Of course, no one went so far as to say it was bricked. It was "your IdStorage must be seriously fucked." Well, let's see here. The only way to fix the IdStorage is to have the PSP working so you can run an application. If the PSP won't run anything.... that's a brick. The PSP 1001 is brickable. Don't be misled. What's IdStorage? I don't know, I stopped reading there.

Anyways, this makes it seem like this was a fast process. No, this was about 6 days of work. Adding to the problem was the fact that where the battery clamps onto the pins in the PSP to give it power broke off. So, I was just putting the contacts on the PCB against the pins to power the thing. That's another thing about Sony; any plastic piece that's attached to a PCB comes off incredibly easily. When I opened up my PlayStation to adjust the laser, the small plastic connector that gets power to the CD drive just fell off. No pressure was put on it. I hadn't even touched it yet. I guess by some grace of god, it had just stayed there. Thankfully a good friend supplied me with a replacement 5501 board, but christ almighty.

So, what do we do now that we've got a cosmetically good PSP and a fucked motherboard? Well, certainly not just call it a loss..