Man, Russians Sure Love Chip & Dale

by Matthew Edward Hawkins

Hey, it’s the day before Christmas!

Past few days have been nuts, wrapping up freelance commitments before clients head home for the holidays, and the like. Now I can rest and relax and watch my modest pile of holiday specials; just wrapped up the Red Green Christmas DVD. Next is Tim & Eric’s, followed by the Trailer Park Boys, then Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

And before anyone asks, Christmas NiGHTS is reserved for the morning of. But before all that…

Part Of The Club

- The big news around here in New York City is the Studio Ghibli retrospective happening right this second at the IFC Center. It’s pretty hot, though I guess I’d be far more excited if not for the fact that the last one I went to had the man himself in attendance, Hayao Miyazaki (not to brag and all).

Still, the chance to once again see Nausica, Laputa, Kiki, Totoro, and Porco Rosso, all on the big screen and in glorious 35mm is a good one. And can’t forget Pom Poko, with it’s almost two hours worth of tanuki testicles! Might also finally catch Whisper of the Heart as well. But I was at the IFC Center this past Friday, not for the festival’s opening night, but for a midnight screening of one of my all-time flicks, The Blue Brothers! And it was awesome, despite one very harsh realization.

First, while waiting, had to endure an insufferably annoying hipster couple’s inane chatter. They were like two poorly conceived SNL characters, with such exaggerated mannerisms that it felt like a huge act. The worst part was how the lobby was decorated with assorted Studio Ghibli posters, for the festival obviously. And how the two kept making silly assumptions, plus mispronounced everything. I had to really fight the urge to say something, and basically be “that guy.”

The biggest annoyance was, naturally, the possibility that they’d be blabbing through the entirety of Blues Brothers. If the notion of a cat bus was such a “mindf*ck” (God I hate that term; the word itself isn’t as douche-y as the people who actually use it) to them, I shuddered to think how they’d react to a movie that had both Aretha Franklin and lots of car crashes. Yet in the end, they weren’t there for Blue Brothers after all. Which made zero sense given how nothing else was playing at that time; were they just loitering?

Instead, the theater was practically empty. Yet one guy still wanted to sit near me; at least he asked. Thing was, I had chosen the perfect spot, ensuring the optimum viewing angle for the movie, dead center of the theater. And the guy knew already, because A few others were in attendance, ALL dudes. Seriously, not a single woman in the audience. Back to the guy next to me; in an effort to make polite conversation, I expressed my relief that the aforementioned hipster scum were not present to ruin the proceedings.

But his response was along the lines of: after a while, one tends to ignore such distractions. Sagely advice, given to a newbie like myself. You see, there’s a group of people, who live exclusively in Manhattan. Middle aged men who spend all their time going to see classic cinema, at odd times of the day and night. Sad and lonely cinephiles, a brotherhood whose ranks I brushed far too closely with that evening. I’m not quite there yet, though it’s impossible to deny that I exhibit certain traits already. At least it wasn’t a Woody Allen screening!

Even more depressing was, after geeking out on the exploits of Jake and Elwood Blues, I went home to watch the special features on the DVD, which I hadn’t done so in a while. And watching Dan Aykroyd dancing on stage at the House Of Blues, many years later (and many pounds heavier) is more depressing than anything else. Anyhow, back to the IFC, I finally had my first real reason to do use the Instagram app that’s been collecting dust on my iPhone…

… There’s also this one as well.

- The other big local news is how JAPADOG is in NYC! Learned of their existence via Mathew, who made sure to note that the Japanese hot dog stand I enjoyed so much at PAX Prime was in fact a rip off of a joint in British Columbia, Canada. Well, considering how good the copycat was, I can only imagine how the original fares.

Tried stopping by the past couple of days, but couldn’t find the time; will have to wait till after Xmas. Might make it a stop for when I’m out and about with Hilary, mostly so we can see how it stacks up against Crif Dogs (which she’s a huge fan of). Her being back on the east coast for the holidays is the third big thing that’s happening at the moment, btw.

- Speaking of the holidays, check out this super cute and super awesome e-card that I got from Tiny Cartridge!

Both JC and Eric are the very best ever. Thanks guys! And big ups to Ashley for the super cool art as well! As for presents, guess what my dad sent me…

That’s an entire box, a decent sized one, filled entirely with Arby’s sauce packets. There has to be at least five pounds’ worth. Yeah, my dad’s weird like that.

- I honestly dont say a whole lot in the latest edition of the Fangamer podcast. Mostly because it’s a look back at the year that was for Fangamer, and I’m still a relative newbie to the crew.

But you can still hear me trying to convince Reid to pick up a copy Flower, Sun, and Rain, aka my choice for game of year in 2009! Apparently, I was quite convincing, at least according to one listener…

BTW, the game is still on sale for just $10 via the publisher directly. It’s not for everything, but I guarantee that you’ve never played anything like it before!

UPDATE: Well, it would seem that XSEED’s sale is over, sorry about that. But you can still get a copy for less than twenty bucks, $14.98 to exact, via Amazon. Well worth the price!

- You’ll never guess what the most popular thread, thus far, is over at the fort90forum version 3.0, aka Canvas. Why, it’s the one on modern architecture

- Not sure if you’ve heard, but Dear Lead is dead. I’m speaking about Kim Jong-il, of course. Not sure if I ever mentioned it before, but my mother was actually from North Korea originally. Her and her mom (my grandmother) and her blind brother all snuck through the mountains, when the Communists took over the ball bearing factor that was the family business, shortly after the end of the Korean War.

All I can say is this: you know all the wacky stories you’ve heard about the place, including everything detailed in that Vice travelogue that everyone has been re-watching for obvious reasons? Guess what: that sh*t ain’t even one twentieth of how balls out insane things are over there, when compared to all the stories my mom used to tell me.

Here’s another thing: for a while now, I’ve secretly been entertaining the idea of visiting North Korea. You know, to see where you’re sorta from. Needless to say, when telling a few folks of my plans, more than one person pointed out that an American whose half a North Korean dissident would not go over well. Perhaps things might change under the ruling of the new guy? I hear he digs video games after-all.

Anyhow, now seems like a good time to pull out an oldie but goodie: footage of what traffic control looks like in that part of the world. Plus to remind everyone of how Luke from Anamanaguchi, aka Knife City, allowed him on stage at Blip Fest this year, to show him how its done…

9999 In 1

Well, instead of waiting for another two months for another massive link dump, how about a modest (and more sensibly) sized one, especially since the last one wasn’t that too long ago?

- I guess the biggest game related headline, at least the one I care about, is the release of Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda art book. Specifically how it lays out an official timeline, at long last. Which, for someone that’s way into the whole Zelda timeline like myself, is a HUGE deal.

Even though GlitterBerri has more than proven herself in the past, I’m still going to pass on her translations and wait for something more official (especially since she herself admits that she wasn’t able to process every single bit). Meanwhile, I believe this guy’s explanation makes the most sense, even if some of what GlitterBerri has translated contradicts certain parts (which again, is not definitive in my mind).

Not surprisingly, the response among diehard Zelda fans has been mixed. I don’t buy that much of the mystique of the series is now over, far from it. Ss the guy in his video also points out, there are still parts of the story that has yet to be clarified. And like many others, I also don’t believe that all the games have been produced in accordance of some master plan since day one. But I am far more impressed and satisfied with the pieced together effort that most it would seem.

Ultimately, it’s not so much fanboys getting their panties in a bunch, but casual observers who seem to have issue with Zelda timeliners that annoy me. Sorry, but how is this any different than people speculating about the backstories and whatnot in Star Wars or Lost? Yeah, like everything in those were laid out perfectly on day one. Also, to people going going “why don’t they just shut up and enjoy the games?” Well, for some of us, this is we enjoy Zelda!

- Reason #54,629 why GameStop sucks: as America’s largest retail avenue for games, when they screw up, they REALLY screw up. Apparently, them mistakenly telling customers that The Last Guardian was cancelled earlier today could result in countless sales of the game. Great job!

- Also via Gamasutra: it’s been a while since we last heard of Project Draco. So once again, it’s a new dragon riding game by many of the folks who worked on Panzer Dragoon! And for the Kinect well, beggars can’t be choosers!

- As most folks also know already, the PlayStation Vita came out in Japan last weekend. And as expected, the place to go for the real lowdown has been Danny Choo. Gotta love how he illustrates how small those game cards truly are

But seriously, his ultra detailed rundown of the system itself is definitely worth checking out, with a number of points that I have yet to see mentioned elsewhere! Especially the part about how the right analogue stick often gets in the way of trying to press the X button.

- And it was designed by the same guy who designer of the original Walkman? Whoa! And other fun facts.

-Not only is there an English patch available for the pigeon dating sim, but the full version of the crippled girls dating sim is almost here as well? Nice!

- My new favorite blog would have to be one that’s dedicated to the Dendy, which was a Famiclone that was super popular in Russia during the early 90s. It’s mostly dedicated to the wacky bootleg games that came out, like this one, which is simply one of countless titles that supposedly features the Rescue Rangers…

Then you have this Super Mario Bros bootleg, sans Mario on the label, or anyone leading man actually…

One staple of any clone console is 100 in 1s, which crammed in as many games (illegally) onto a single cart as possible. But I’ve never seen as many games as this…

- For those who haven’t seen it, check out Ed Piskor’s awesome look back at the golden age of the NES

- And here’s a neat comic that n0wak pointed out, about Street Fighter and traffic safety…

- If dig tiny consoles, you might be interested in an assortment of miniature PSXs, plus an equally tiny PSone, courtesy of National Console Support.

- You know those super sexy PS3 themes from the UK? Well, they’re finally available in America! Unfortunately, the price tag of each is a bit on the hefty side.

- Via GamOvr; this Chrono Trigger X Futurama mash-up is just way too good…

- The following has been making the rounds, for good reason; behold the brilliance that is the Designers Republic (once they were no longer associated with Wipeout, much of its special qualities simply vanished)…

- Via the FM Towns Tumblr; something rather hawt…

Actually, this is even better, but totally NSFW, hence why I’m sorta hiding it.

- Remember the whole Sonic running like an idiot meme? Well, as awesome as funny drawings can be, puppets can make anything even awesomer.

- Siliconera has been on a roll lately; time once again for some more Good People Die, almost 13 minutes’ worth actually!

- Check out this neat interview that covers the early days of NES development for Konami, along with the creation of “The Kode”!

- I mentioned last time how I didn’t particularly mind the new Katamari for the Vita, and was even somewhat looking for it. Well, this clip played a large part in winning me over.

- As much as I could give a rat’s ass about PlayStation Home, the portion of it that’s being built by the guy who created Disaster Report is enough to grab my attention. Though I’m far more pumped about his new company’s offerings, especially about the part in which it’ll include “controversial games”.

- So I guess the popular theory at the moment is how the new girl, in the Vita remake of Persona 4 is either related to Elisabeth and Margaret, or is actually the latter in disguise. Interesting!

- Speaking of P4, meet the cast of the upcoming stage version.

- And my brief rundown of creepy games coming soon from last time as well? I forgot to mention both If I Were in a Sealed Room With a Girl, I’d Probably XXX and Dream Club Zero Portable. How could I forget! BTW, be sure to check out the trailer for the latter, at least until the part with the banana eating.

- BTW, tried elaborating on the subject, over at Guyism, and got virtually zero response. Eh, when it comes to presenting my own esoteric tastes to that audience, some things works and some things do not. Can’t win every time.

On that note, it’s been a while since I highlighted what I’ve been doing to pay the rent. And it’s well over due; not just saying that because my boss on that end was nice enough to bestow both a nice little raise AND a Christmas bonus! Which, in the realm of freelancing in general, never mind video game journalism, is practically unheard of

- As explained a bunch of times already, I try my best to maintain a delicate balance of presenting mainstream news and the crap that I’m really into. Sometimes that means getting folks up to speed on stuff that should be common knowledge, but is not. Like The Legend of Zelda: The Light of Courage.

- I honestly cannot think of anything else that makes me happier than irrational anger on Xbox Live.

- One of the wells I’m dipping from is Machinima’s YouTube channel, and one of my favorite regular series that they produce is Sonic For Hire. The premise seems like such a one tricky pony, but the folks involved have done a great job creating an engaging, continuous narrative!

- Groups of people who dress up as video game characters, to engage in sketch comedy, or to pretend to be in a nonexistent film adaption of the source material, is dime a dozen on YouTube these. And I try my best to highlight the best examples. Though this might still be my absolute favorite example of Super Mario IRL.

- Another thing I try to do as much as possible is highlightthe convergence of video games and hardcore pornography. The end result? Various porn stars wanting to play video games with me. I kid you not.

- Naturally, my affinity for cosplay pics is a decent fit for Guyism at times

- Sometimes I kick whatever off with something that I know will be crowd pleaser, before getting to the goods. Which in this particular case is some insanity involving Tomb Raider.

- Am a huge fan of super plays; the longer, the better. Though I’m most a fan of watching people playing games plus hearing them mindlessly chit-chatting with pals (it also helps if they’re playing whatever in some kind of wacky manner, like with one’s feet in this example).

- Many were excited by the idea of watching Tommy Wiseau play video games, but how many actually followed along? To be honest, The Tommy Wi-Show was a mixed bag, though him playing Driver: San Francisco is still the best thing ever.

- Something else that I like to explore, whenever possible, is my love for the convergence of video games and parkour.

- Along with the popularity of video games among prisoners.

- Want to know how to make me give a rat’s ass about your video game? Have Tim & Eric do a commercial for it, that’s how.

- Has anyone been following Fighterpedia? It’s always awesome when someone’s an authority of a particular facet of gaming and is also actually funny when trying to be!

- Not much else to say, other than to repeat the title of this particular post: behold the greatest glitch ever in any video game.

- Also via Twitter, but also courtesy of the guy who inspired me to blog about video games in the first place, oh so many moons ago, aka Mr. Solid Sharkey!

- And finally: when I go to Long Island tomorrow, to spend Christmas with Dave and his family like I do every year, I’ll be leaving my MacBook Pro at home. Where it’ll be running this the entire time…

Speaking of Dave and Xmas, there’s also Sega. Not just because (and once again), I play the holiday themed demo of NiGHTS every morning of (whereas Dave prefers Streets of Rage 2, and even has his wife play along, as player two, though she mostly does it to humor her husband). It’s because…

Review: Sonic CD (Xbox 360/PlayStation 3)

My love for Sega turns twenty years tomorrow. Up until Christmas of 91, I was your average Washingtonian adolescent; a devout loyalist to Nintendo, the hometown heroes who saved video games in the US. I was definitely that kid, who had all the latest/greatest NES games, plus knew all the secret tricks. To the point that friends of friends would seek me out, for advice. I also found Mario & company a worthy replacement to the Transformers, for stuff to draw (along with TMNT; can still do a mean Rocksteady & Bebop if I don’t say so myself)

The only alternative, Sega’s Master System, wasn’t really much of one. Not helping was how it was the system of choice of this one kid in the 4th grade that I absolutely hated; name was Matthew Hopkins, kid you not. Wasn’t blown away with its 16-bit successor upon first encounter either; Revenge of Shinobi had a cool soundtrack and all, but that was about it. But along came Sonic the Hedgehog; I loved Mario and all, but Sonic offered something fresh, something different.

Plus by Xmas 91, the asking price for the system was reasonable, and having Sonic included simply sealed the deal. Wasn’t long until I became a HUGE Sega nut, their biggest advocate in my hometown, which its thoroughly strong Nintendo bias. I eventually got a SNES, but there was simply something about the Genny’s first and second party offerings that spoke to me more. I also always went for the Sega version if something had come out for both. I used to claim that they were slightly better, because its developers had to try harder by default (which was often true).

At this point, I was well into puberty, but instead of seeking out imagery from the pages of Playboy and Penthouse, to fuel fantasizes like a normal teenager, it was screenshots of Mega Drive games from the pages of EGM and Gamefan that got me all hot and bothered. And much like during my NES days, my collection and knowledgeability of Genesis games could not be beat. Yet one piece of the puzzle was missing: the Sega CD. Despite my wunderlust for all things Sega, even I wasn?t impressed at first, hence why I passed (the hefty price tag also didn’t help)..

The possibility of getting one was still there, but contingent upon two factors: the price of the hardware going down and a desirable assortment of software. At least one of the two happened. From the beginning, the only must have games were Sonic CD and Silpheed, and that never really changed. With the former being the only one I truly cared about, hence why it was basically “the one that got away.” I was the biggest Sonic fan you’ll find, and obsessed over Sonics 1, 2, 3, & Knuckles like nothing else, so it drove me nuts that I couldn’t play the CD based installment.

As time went on, it developed into a full-bore enigma. Partly because of it wacky production history; among the three dude who made the first game, the designer and programmer went to the US to create a sequel, while the art director oversaw his own follow-up in Japan (hence why Sonic’s sprite in CD is the same one in 1, despite 2 being a direct sequel; long story short, you effectively had two different part 2s). Then you had the controversy surrounding its multiple soundtracks, plus assorted parties claiming it was the best Sonic game ever (as a diehard fan of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, I found that notion impossible to fathom).

I would eventually get the chance to play the game, albeit in bits and pieces. First at Dave’s, again in LI, who had a Sega CD himself. Unfortunately, immediately afterward, it became a causality of the Quicken Forbidden live action movie we had attempted. Second, the Windows 95 port, via Jason‘s PC when we were roommates. Which didn’t play well, hence why I barely touched it. And third, version found on Sonic Gems Collection fo Gamecube. But despite it being readily accessible at long last, it just didn’t grab me. Though at this point, my love for anything Sega had almost entirely vanished, along with Sonic CD’s mystique.

But throughout 2011, those good old feelings started coming back. Mostly due to the brilliant Daytona USA port, plus the not quite perfect, but I’m happy to have it anyway Radiant Silvergun port. Let’s not forget the Guardian Heroes port as well! So the timing of a Sonic CD re-release, for XBLA and PSN, could not be any better (especially to cleanse the palette of the abomination of Sonic Generations). And this time, I played the game from top to bottom, gave it the full once over. So the verdict?

For those who don’t know yet, the basic gimmick that defines Sonic CD is how Sonic can travel through time. He can go either forwards or backwards in most levels (the ones that doesn’t include a boss battle with Eggman). The primary goal is to go back in time and find a machine that’s messing up the future, to then destroy it. This creates a “good” future, because otherwise, it’s bleak and horrible “bad” future. Which is characterized by everything being dingy and dirty. Unfortunately, other places in time are not as richly realized, which is just one of many issues.

Again, most levels have four iterations: the present, the past, the bad future, and the good future. Each has its own look (somewhat) and unique soundtrack (each stage has a signature tune, with accompanying variations that reflect each time period). CD quality audio was the main selling points for the Sega CD (especially since it honestly had no other advantage, other than more space for game data as well), hence the abundance of music. But instead of using real instruments, music from the past utilizes the “primitive” audio capabilities of the Genesis. It’s a wonderful touch, even if it did cause a pretty major inconsistency. More on that in a bit as well.

Here’s the thing that pretty much ruins the entire game: the levels, they suck. It’s clear that the folks who crafted the wonderful stages in part 1 were busy working on Sonic 2 proper. They’re wild and sprawling, to a fault. It’s easy to get hopelessly lost, and most annoying of all, stuck in loops in which you’ll have no idea how to break from; for a game with so much real estate, it forces you to follow certain specific paths, and it totally blows. Though losing track of one’s self is due to both poor level design and poor art direction.

In all the other Sonic games, the environments were clearly defined: sometimes the action took place on an island, on an oil field, in the arctic tundra, etc. Whereas every locale in Sonic CD is some place with neon lights and other bits of machinery in the background. Which not only lessens any semblance of direction in a given level, let alone progress in the context of the game as a whole, but makes no sense logically speaking. How can such technology exist in the past? Not saying that there needed to be dinosaurs in each past zone. Just wish a little more foresight had been used. I also know that’s a lot of graphics for whomever to come up with, but wasn’t the point of the Sega CD to have enough room for all that?

But the truly game breaking problem is again related to the crappy level design: time travel is achieved by running really fast for a certain amount of time. Yet, it’s pretty much impossible to build up the proper amount of speed 95% of the time, due to all the abrupt bumps in the road. Even worse is how the window for time travel (which is achieved by passing a particular sign post) is wildly inconsistent, though mostly not long at all. Furthermore, since the ultimate goal is to go back in time, to smash the aforementioned machine, going forward in the future is actually pointless, unwelcome even. Yet the problems don’t end there.

Sonic games have never been known for wonderful enemies, but man, I can’t recall them ever being uglier and stupider in any other installment. And the encounters with Eggman at the end of each stage, while conceptually interesting at times, are still somewhat boring and often quite frustrating. Especially in Collision Chaos; I cannot properly convey how annoying the whole thing culminates. Funny enough, it still makes perfect sense, given the context of the level as a whole; it’s an alternate take on making an entire level a huge game of pinball. Something that was executed brilliantly in Sonic 2′s Casino Night Zone, and absolutely not here. Too bad Sonic CD this time around is download only; I so badly wanted to smash a disc to bits at that point in the game.

Oh, and Sonic CD’s special stages are as bad as you’ve heard. Don’t even get me started why the Chaos Emeralds are called Time Stones all of a sudden. On virtually every level, Sonic CD feels like a very primitive version of Sonic 2, well before any of the problems were worked out and refined. The only real positive is the audio: as most folks know by now, the original Japanese soundtrack, which was very techno-ish (and video game-y) was replaced in America by something far more new age-like, but it still works for a game (yet it’s debatable if it actually suits Sonic the Hedgehog or not). Both has its fans, though more the latter than the former. Well, at long last, everyone can make up their own damn minds as to which one is best.

I personally think both are equally brilliant, and bring much to the table. It just sucks that Spencer Nielsen, the man responsible for the American soundtrack, wasn’t able to create his own “past” tunes. Instead, the US game used the same Genesis driven audio from the Japanese version (which is rather jarring, stylistically speaking, to say the least). Anyway, one key dare I say defining. aspect of the XBLA/PSN port is how all the stage music is looped (whereas before, because the audio was running from a CD, there had to be breaks). For the most part, it’s done well enough and you won’t notice the effect. But there’s instances in which the person who handled the port (Christian Whitehead, more on him in a sec) had to create content to connect the beginning and ends of certain songs, and it’s clear that he was not the original composer. Oh well.

Back to this Christian fellow, he’s otherwise known as The Taxman to those in the Sonic homebrew scene, and this latest Sonic CD port is based upon software of his creation, dubbed the Retro Engine, that Sega officially licensed, after checking out his proof of concept. He was also working on his own made up Sonic game, which doesn’t look half bad, eve if it’s a bit all over the place as well. Unfortunately, Christian completely neglected to include Spencer Nielsen in the credits, just the Japanese talent, which I find totally aggravating.

Another thing: all the vocals from the intro and ending of the Japanese soundtrack have been removed, for reasons unknown. What makes it especially perplexing is how (as noted in my last link dump), the Japanese soundtrack was released in America, via iTunes, and everything’s intact on that end. Huh? Also, the animated sequence in the end has been slowed down and chopped up, plus mixed into the credits. Unfortunately, the quality of the source footage is quite poor, so the whole thing looks rather jarringly bad. The list of minor/mid-range annoyances goes on.

The most important thing is that the core experience is as it was; by all accounts, it stands toe to toe with the Sega CD original, and is superior to the subpar PC edition. It’s actually in many ways better, since the ability to spin-dash from Sonic 2 has been added (otherwise, it’s damn near unplayable). After all is said and done, people can finally see what Sonic CD was all about (such as myself). And that’s a thoroughly overrated, profoundly disappointing, and flat out no fun at all, in the least bit, experience. It honestly feels like a Sonic game made by those folks who create the crap Sonic games of today.

And thank God I didn’t ask my parents to blow money on both a Sega CD and it’s best game, at full price, when I was a kid. I would have been so pissed.

Oh, BTW, Merry Christmas

Jesus Christ, had no idea that my Sonic CD “review” would end up so long and rambly. Sorry about. And I’m all out of time, so to end things off on a more positive and festive note, I present the following Merry Christmas everyone!

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